I started having regular contractions the night before Angelica was born. They were coming five minutes apart for half an hour, so around midnight I called my mom and my girlfriend Bridgette, to let them know that the big event might be soon. I was thirteen days past due, so I was really ready. When labor stopped immediately after I hung up the phone, I decided to go to bed. I wasn’t having contractions when my husband John got up in the morning, so I let him go to work. Late in the morning, my 22-month-old daughter Christiana and I started the day as usual, getting breakfast and watching a little TV. Contractions started again, and although they weren’t painful, they were definitely strong, so I called John to wrap things up at work and get home as soon as possible. I looked forward to having his loving attention.While waiting, Christiana and I showered and got dressed. That really helped me to loosen up, because I remembered how yucky I had felt after my first child was born, not having had the chance to wash up beforehand. When John got home around 12:30, we relaxed together on the couch. Johnny breathed with me through contractions and gave encouragement. We prayed together and called family for more prayer and emotional support. I ate lunch, brushed my teeth and generally made myself comfortable. I also began getting supplies ready, like plastic sheeting and linens. I even set up the video camera, which in the excitement we ended up forgetting to use.When contractions got really strong, I made myself a little nest of pillows to lean on at the end of our spare bed, and told John that it was time to call Bridgette to come. When she arrived about an hour later, I was in the living room, concentrating on opening up and relaxing my pelvic muscles. I had an overwhelming feeling that if I relaxed enough, the baby would come out too fast. My feeling was confirmed every time I stood up, because gravity would cause the downward pressure to increase unbearably.While Bridgette set to preparing homemade chicken soup in the kitchen, I went to my bedroom to spend some time alone. Christiana entertained herself and visited off and on throughout this stage of labor, tenderly lavishing hugs and kisses on me. When transition started, I began to have painful contractions, so I had Bridgette rub my lower back while John occupied Christiana’s attention. After a few minutes, I became fearful that I wouldn’t be able to handle the intensity of the contractions if this labor continued for as many hours as my first had. What I didn’t realize was that the baby was about to be born, and that the painless contractions I had been experiencing earlier were those hours of labor. Bridgette expressed her confidence in me, however, helping me to remember that I could regain control of the pain once I started the “pushing phase”. After she suggested a few times that it would take the edge off the contractions, I gratefully crawled into the warm bath she prepared. As she vigorously swished water over my belly, labor immediately became bearable and I refocused on my goal–a gentle and painless birth.A few contractions later, I told Bridgette that I wanted a break in the intensity of labor, and miraculously, it came. My prayers were answered with a long, contraction-free moment in which I was able to regroup and rest. Soon my body spoke again, now clearly telling me that it was time to push the baby out. Bridgette wondered aloud how far along I was, so I checked inside and was able to feel the head. A few seconds later, there was a gush as my water broke. While pushing with an irresistible urge, I instinctively turned onto my hands and knees in the tub. An instant later, Bridgette could see the baby’s head, so she called John and Christiana to come into the bathroom, and I savored the feel of the emerging new person’s head pressing on my fingers.
John came and cupped the baby’s head in his hands, so I relaxed knowing she was safe. With one more contraction and three pushes, Angelica Marie Morgan was born into her father’s hands! She was a bit purple, having birthed through the cord that had been around her neck, but after I turned over and she was resting on my tummy, she quickly developed a healthy color. We all felt euphoric. After wrapping mom and baby in a towel, John suddenly remembered the video camera and began taping. When we announced that the baby was a girl, Christiana, who had been standing by quietly, now exclaimed, “Baby sister! Baby sister!” I was triumphant! “Pop a cork,” I said, “I feel like having a party!”, as Christiana reached into the tub to gently touch her sister for the first time. Then Bridgette went to stir the chicken soup, leaving us to have some family time.
We had begun making plans to get us out of the tub when Angelica began to root around for her first meal, so I settled back in to nurse my four-minute-old daughter. When she was done, John and Bridgette helped us out of the tub and dried us off. Still connected to my daughter by her umbilical cord, I walked over and settled us into our family bed. Once there, Angelica and Christiana nursed together.
A few minutes later, I felt another irresistible urge to push, and out came Angelica’s placenta into the disposable underpad I had been sitting on. Bridgette wrapped it and gently set it alongside us. Later, I cut the cord when the babies were contented, having finished nursing. John started making phone calls soon after, while I snuggled with my two little girls. By that time the delicious smell of chicken soup had spread throughout the house, so we all happily devoured our dinners while recalling and celebrating the day’s fantastic events. Christiana and I ended the day by sharing an herbal bath while Angelica acquainted herself with her father. I laughed with Bridgette over the irony, that she had so carefully prepared the herbs to aid in healing my perineum, and I hadn’t even torn. We chose not to disturb Angelica until she was well settled, so it was not until that night that we found out that she weighed 8lbs. 14oz. and a few days later that she measured 23 inches.
You may note that there are a few things missing from this birth story. No one told me when I was in labor. No one checked or recorded my dilation, effacement or station. No one told me when or where to sit up, lie down, eat, drink, or pee. No one screwed wires into my baby’s scalp. No one ruptured her membranes. Angelica was not touched by anyone outside of her family as she entered the world. No one shoved a bulb syringe into her tiny newborn nose. She began to breathe in her own time, while still receiving oxygen from her placenta. She was not taken from me to be swaddled and isolated in a plastic warmer with a pacifier in her mouth. She was warmed under a towel by her skin touching mine, and comforted by a warm breast and her mother’s milk. Angelica was not exposed to the germ-filled atmosphere of a hospital. In fact, the first other place she rested outside of my arms was on her Father’s chest, instead of in an isolette or carseat.
The absence of intervention in my daughter’s birth was fully intentional. I believe in birth, and I trust life. Healthy babies come out when they are ready. I know that babies are meant to be born without anyone putting their hands inside their mothers. Cervixes dilate (or not) even when no one knows how dilated they are. Monitoring heart-rates, obsessing over dates, poking with needles, etc. do not make babies healthy or happy. Good genes, adequate maternal nutrition, high quality prenatal care, and education do that. In truth, most interventions cause stress, inhibit nature, and dangerously increase the need for more interventions. Even the relatively interference-free care given by most midwives often crosses nature’s boundaries. I was quite blessed to have the help of a friend who is truly trusting and aware of these things despite having been trained in midwifery.
It is shameful when technology meant for life-saving is used when it is completely unnecessary. The subtle, unkind interventions that go unnoticed because they are accepted as necessary are just as inexcusable. The violent suctioning of newborns serves as one good example. It is well documented that mucous is expelled from the lungs during birth, and that the rest will drain gently when the newborn is placed on its mother’s tummy. Even when suctioning is necessary, there is still no excuse for treating the newborn roughly.
The impact birth has on the rest of our children’s life requires that we as parents take full responsibility for our caregivers’ actions. Many people go about choosing their caregiver with the very intention of relinquishing their parental responsibility of ensuring their child a safe birth. Instead, parents should take time to gain the education needed to make their own decisions, and insist that birth attendants honor their wishes. Even if that necessitates questioning caregiver’s actions, refusing to allow certain procedures, or actually firing attendants.
You might also think, as a lot of people have, that I was lucky to have only thirty minutes of painful labor. But I know that it wasn’t luck. I planned to birth this way from the start. Before I was even pregnant, I prepared myself by reading about, praying for, and believing in the kind of birth I wanted. I learned about the fear/pain cycle, and through prayer, allowed myself to be freed of anxiety about labor pain. Without involuntary muscular opposition brought on by fear, my body was able to work as it should–quickly and painlessly. I also attribute the speed and ease of my labor to the lack of outside influences. I didn’t have internal exams because I believe that this unnatural act causes the pelvic muscles to reflexively tense up, lengthening labor and increasing discomfort. I also know that the signs of labor’s stages (dilation for instance) can change radically in a short amount of time. Therefore I believe that when an “expert” assesses where a woman is in labor, and that assessment conflicts with what her body tells her, the news becomes a self fulfilling prophecy, and the woman becomes disheartened and exhausted unnecessarily. This helps explain why women in hospitals often give up on having a “naturall” birth. They are having longer, harder labors because of their environment. Anyone who could refuse drugs in that situation deserves a medal!
Women’s bodies were made to be able to birth without assistance of any kind. I shudder when I hear glowing accounts of birth that include statements like, “the doctor had to…”, or, “my midwife needed to…”, because I know that a lot more of those labors were labeled and treated as high risk than truly were. So many women are convinced that their baby’s birth would have been a tragedy without intervention that, were women being told the truth, it’s statistically impossible for the human race to have survived before the invention of these procedures. The odds that the majority of American women really aren’t physically able to birth the way I did are slim. Of the many reasons why so few actually do, acceptance of status quo, lack of education, and lack of desire are all within our power to change. Therefore it is our duty to do so.
I have been incredibly empowered and spiritually moved by my birth experience. Too many families are missing the same opportunity because of the over-acceptance and over-application of intervention in labor and delivery. I hope that the story of my daughter’s birth is encouraging to other families, and influences them to seek out the information necessary for them to have the births they want. Don’t settle for less!
© 1997 Laurie Annis Morgan All rights reserved