“Unnatural” Birth

March 17, 2014

My friend wrote a post on the Huffington Post last week called 12 Things I Loved About My C-Section.  It made me realize that I never wrote anything here about my own birth experience.  Before I was pregnant, the thing I was most worried about and almost made me decide to adopt kids instead of giving birth was my severe fear of childbirth.  I mean really, really severe – like I would cross my legs when someone spoke of delivery.  I read a lot of birth stories, books, and interviewed all my friends who had delivered “naturally” (I know who tore and how many stitches they had!).   I learned a LOT about the gruesome details, particularly post-birth recovery, or lack thereof, and ironically, decided that “natural” birth seemed like the furthest thing from “natural”.  I couldn’t wrap my head around it.  Yet, I eventually decided that I could and would do it.

When I was pregnant, I took a birth class where I diligently took notes and my partner learned how best to support me.  I chugged pregnancy tea, which I was convinced would strengthen my uterus so my two babies would come shooting out, and I tried to learn how to meditate.  When both my babies were breech, I headed to the swimming pool to do headstands, which ultimately flipped baby A (or maybe he just flipped on his own).  My doctor reassured me that that was what mattered – baby B could be “retrieved” naturally with a breech extraction.

Then, the week before I delivered, I developed preeclampsia.  After a couple of false alarms and threats of induction, I was told that I had to deliver that night and that there was no doctor available to do a breech extraction.  I had no choice – I had to have a c-section.  WHAT?!?!  I had not even considered this possibility.  Would my babies lack certain immunities by not traveling through my birth canal?  Would they have fewer IQ points?  I seriously considered these things because I had read about them in the context of the benefits of delivering naturally.  I had done virtually no research on c-sections, very uncharacteristic of me, and here I was about to have major surgery.  I cried.  I freaked out, but then I channeled my inner varsity athlete and got ready for game time.  This was what was happening.  I needed to get ready.

I had a c-section because I didn’t have a choice.  Well, I guess I could have refused, but I wasn’t willing to risk my life or my babies’ lives, so I had one.  It was kind of scary – I’d never had surgery before, but it was also kind of cool.  I don’t have a different birth experience to compare it to, but the big, bad things I’d heard about c-sections didn’t turn out to be true for me.  No one whisked my babies away before I could see them.  A nurse even insisted on taking pictures of us in the OR, which I adore him for.  The recovery was pretty easy (maybe even easier than if I had an induction and vaginal delivery from what I’ve heard) and not very painful at all.  I’m actually very grateful that I didn’t have a choice because I feel like I lucked out by being forced to have a c-section since it’s not something I would have chosen.  Maybe my kids will be obese or get celiac disease because I had a c-section, but I doubt it even though it was those fearmongering articles out there that made me dead set on delivering “naturally”.

Language matters.  It’s ridiculous that I have to distinguish my birth from a “natural” one.  Even saying that someone “elects” to have a c-section makes it sound like they’re making an unnecessary, bougie choice.  Why don’t we say that someone “elected” to have a vaginal birth?  Before my “unnatural” birth, if you had told me that you were electing to have a c-section, I would have judged you.  Now, I realize I was uninformed and sort of brainwashed into thinking there is a “right” way to give birth.  Of course, there are pros and cons to both the mother and baby of having a c-section, but when a mom makes that choice, who are we to judge?  (I do draw a distinction between myself and moms who elect to have c-sections very early to stay slim if those people actually exist.  I have a hunch they don’t and are created by People magazine).  The language of a “caesarean epidemic” certainly makes it clear how a good mom is supposed to deliver, but I support a woman’s right to make an informed choice about how they are going to give birth and that’s why I really appreciated  Kathryn’s perspective.  Everywhere you look, there is pressure for women to have “natural” births and why it’s preferable, but it’s much harder to find stories about women who are thankful and grateful for the medical interventions that helped them give birth or saved their lives and their babies’ lives.  Let’s tell those stories.  I’m not asking for a big gold star because I had a c-section, but I also shouldn’t feel ashamed or like I have to justify why I had one.  Instead, let’s talk about how parenting, and life really, is always a balance of what research suggests is best right now and what works for you and your family.  Let’s recognize that we are all doing the best we can and support each other.  Kumbayah.

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The Real Deal: Helpful Labor and Recovery Tips from Moms Who’ve Been There

February 21, 2012

As my partner and I have been preparing for labor and recovery, I’ve been talking to a lot of friends with babies and have realized that most books and even childbirth classes don’t tell you about the gory details of what it’s really like. 

Since I want to know what to expect, I have surveyed my mommy friends and come up with the top unpleasant things no one told them about that they experienced during/as a result of childbirth, and on a more positive note, the most useful things for recovering from childbirth.  I think the most important disclaimer is that experiences varied widely and it is impossible to know exactly what your labor will be like, but I like knowing what the range of possibilities are, so here goes.

Things to Know About Labor

  1. Epidurals are not always 100% effective.   One friend could feel everything on one side.  Another could feel the area where she tore (ouch!) and had to stop the doctor while he was stitching because she could feel it!  The good news is that I think it’s more common to not feel anything, but you never know!  Also, a friend with an epidural said she actually liked having a catheter because having contractions in the bathroom was terrible, which is a good lesson in trying to be open-minded during labor even when it isn’t going according to you birth plan.
  2. You will probably bleed during labor and you will have a LOT of post-birth bleeding.  My friends’ responses on this ranged from “Expect to waddle around wearing enormous pads for weeks.” to “When I tried to use the restroom post-delivery I left the bathroom looking like a scene from a slasher movie. There is no pad big enough to control that mess.”  I guess the lesson here is just remember it’s temporary.
  3. You will probably poop when you’re pushing.
  4. Hemorrhoids suck.
  5. Many friends remarked about not realizing how long recovery would take.  Specifically regarding sex, one friend noted that sex was impossible for six months post baby and very painful for six months after that.

Recovery and Generally Helpful Survival Tips

  1. For faster recovery, do lots of kegels and perineum massage pre-birth to avoid tearing.
  2. Bring sweats, bathrobe to the hospital.  You are not going to want to wear nice clothes.  Another friend recommended a stretchy v-neck cotton dress for ease of nursing.
  3. Prearrange friends/family to be on call who can bring you food, fill prescriptions, give you hugs.  Basically, people who enable you to focus on your baby.
  4. Eat and sleep as much as you can even though you’re overwhelmed with everything because it will speed up your recovery (but don’t expect any miracles).  Keep healthy and protein packed snacks near your nursing stations.  A water bottle with a straw is great, especially during nursing (someone else can “feed” you water if your hands are occupied.)
  5. The disposable underwear and big frozen ice packs they give you at the hospital will be your best friends.  Ask for extras at the hospital to bring home with you.
  6. Make sure you have super soft toilet paper and multiple peri bottles (put one in each bathroom and one in your diaper bag).
  7. It helps to have an inflatable ring to sit on.
  8. A smartphone is great for lots of things (camera, videocamera, reading while you’re nursing, keeping track of feedings and diaper changes).
  9. Snuggling with your baby will help you forget the pain you’re feeling … or at least remind you why it’s worth it.

Good luck to all your mommies-to-be out there!