Posts Tagged childbirth

Epidurals in Labor

8 February 2012

Today I read this article at The Feminist Breeder about epidural use in labor, and it was excellent. The author devoted the short piece to the scientific aspect of some risks associated with the routine use of this popular labor drug. Because she was being scientific and evidence-based, she stopped short of giving any personal opinion, anecdote, or bias toward why an individual woman might do well to avoid the epidural, if possible.

Well, since this is my personal blog, and if you pinky-swear to read the article, I will go one step further and give you my personal opinion as to why I chose (successfully) to avoid the epidural. Twice.

But first, shout-out to the Haters! They’re right. You don’t get a trophy. Or a medal. (although in my case it did involve a certain amount of jewelry, but that’s another story) Nonetheless, there are tangible benefits to doing without this drug, if possible.

Here’s the bottom line: epidural use robs you of your mobility. Mobility and gravity are your best friends during labor.

When I gave birth to my second baby, I was on my knees. In fact, I was in that position for the entire 2nd stage. No one told me to get in that position except my body and my baby. I was able to listen because I could still feel what my body was doing. I could not have been on my knees if I was limp from the waist down. Being in this position utilized gravity to pull my baby down. Mimicking a squatting position on my knees also opened up my pelvis 30% more than if I had been on my back, as one is with an epi.

During the first part of both my labors, I also enjoyed the freedom of movement that going drug-free afforded me. I took walks, ate, drank, sat cross-legged on the floor, did yoga, used a birth ball, leaned upright against a tall dresser, and best of all MOVED AROUND in between all my different coping strategies.

Did any of these things take the pain of birthing away? Of course not! If anything, they made it “worse,” and by worse I mean better. Better because all these things I did helped my body dilate, move the baby into position, and push that baby out. To which end I had a completely intervention-free vaginal birth. The Perfect Birth.

Sometimes people will tell horror stories about birthing drug-free. As a willful natural birther, I would say that if you prepare mentally, physically, and spiritually for a natural birth, it is not torturous. It is euphoric. But don’t think that you can just white-knuckle the pain. You must surrender. You will do better if you prepare with a class specifically designed for it, like HypnoBabies or Bradley.

I would also add that sometimes one must be flexible to very real complications in childbirth. If a woman has been in labor for 24, 30 hours and her body is totally fatigued, an epi may do her some good, giving her the rest she needs to push her baby out. Or if she is induced, the labor is already not natural, and few women can endure the pain of pitocin contractions without medication.

But if you are healthy, low-risk, and open-minded, and if you are serious about wanting to reduce your risk of surgical birth, vacuum extraction, forceps, episiotomy, pitocin, etc., you might be surprised at your ability to birth without an epidural. You’d be surprised at the strength that comes from within, and from above. And at the peace that passeth understanding.

Try it, you might like it! 😉

Theatre, Childbirth, and Existence… and tea.

20 September 2011

I once heard childbirth compared to brewing tea with a teabag.  When the heat of the water affects the tea, what’s inside comes out.

This is comparable to why I love performance.  Probably my very favorite thing about watching a performance by someone I know personally is getting to see that unmatchable effect it has on them when they step up on to that stage in front of an audience.  The effect is astounding.  The powerful become weak, the shy become witty, the mysterious become funny, and the outcast become glamorous.  I was even enraptured by viewing a video of my own son when he performed at an open-mic night here in Downey. He is incredibly outgoing, but sometimes chickens out when the pressure is put on him to “perform” in social situations.  But he went on anyway, and the excitement he had for the songs he shared was nothing less than charming.  The giddy delight he had every time he made a mistake and his repeated insistence that he sing just one more, and then another, and another, was heart-warming.  This is even true of my friends from my former life, professional chameleons like I once was.  Even though they are good at it– the vulnerability, the control of emotions, the focus on action–there never ceases to be something truly amazing and beautiful about seeing another facet of that diamond that is that particular human being.

So it’s not such a stretch that my passion for theatre extends to my passion for childbirth.  Women do the same thing in labor.  What is inside often comes out, for all to see.  This is why it is such a vulnerable and personal thing for us.  This is why it can be difficult to give birth in an unfamiliar environment or in the presence of unfamiliar or unwelcome individuals.  But what is inside will eventually come out– and I’m not just talking physiologically here.  The weak do indeed become incredibly strong, the loud and obnoxious might become silent and introverted, the flirty girl might not want to be touched, the angry might cry, the gentle become self-determined and powerful.

This is one reason I want to become a doula someday.  To be able to experience humanity in such a powerful and rich way seems to be so thrilling– even more than doing theatre.  This all happens in the theatre, and after the show we go for a drink, then go our separate ways, then come together the next night to do it all again.  It’s beautiful really, but also very mundane.  But birth… ah… birth is monumental.  Life is never the same after a new being enters this world.  It’s sacred.

And theatre was once a sacred, religious act.  But the passage of time has turned it secular.  I suppose the same could be said of childbirth.  Yet with all the changes that women have experienced in regards to the ways in which we give birth, the passage of time has not been able to rob humanity of the sacredness of birth.  No matter how many c-sections an OB performs during his/her day at work, each of those mothers still goes home a new being.

It’s the change that delivers permanence.  That’s something that the temporal existence of theatre cannot imitate.  All it can do is express it.

So at intermission, I will have a cup of tea.  And since I’m a mother, I’ll take it sweetened, with plenty of milk.

Four Years Old

6 August 2011

Four years ago tonight, I was doing a lot of nesting…

Little did I know that that night I would experience the most profound, empowering, and life-changing event of my whole life.  Or that I was about to meet someone that I would love more than life itself, who would teach me the true meaning of total, self-sacrificing, unconditional love.  I thought I knew all these things before he came along, I really did.  Boy, did I not know what I was missing!

Peer and Mommy

A new woman was also born that day.  I will never be the same.  Life is so sweet with PJ in the world and I marvel at the mystery of what’s to come.  He is such a free-thinker, a smart boy, and a loving, caring, well-meaning individual.  He is better than me in so, so many ways.  I know that God has big plans for him.  I believe he will be a great leader some day.  But no matter where you go in life, no matter what you do, you will always be my firstborn, my son.  And every year I will remember how you rocked my world when you entered it.

all boy

In Gratitude for Four Incredible Years,


When I Was in My Childbearing Years…

1 August 2011

The national c-section rate was 34% in the US. Childhood diseases and unexplainable neurological conditions were widespread, as was maternal and infant death. Though few people would talk about that. Post- Traumatic Stress Disorder was also common with new mothers, as well as Post-Partum Depression. Breastfeeding rates were extremely low, and there was much social stigma attached to breastfeeding.

I was one of the lucky ones. I had two vaginal births. In fact, I was one of the rare ones, since both my babies were born completely natural and one of them even was born at home.

I would consider myself very lucky and indeed very blessed simply to be mother to these two boys, but the fact that I have had the amazing birth and breastfeeding experiences that I have had sometimes blows my mind. It could have so easily gone another way. Many– if not most– of my friends have not been so lucky.

I really hope my future daughters-in-law will have birth experiences like mine, and will be as thankful for their blessings as I am. But I do not wish for them to say, “I am lucky.”

I hope they will say, “I am normal.”

Ashley’s Birth of Hannah, or, A Memorial Weekend to Remember

10 July 2011

I got Ashley’s permission to post my version of her birth story which occurred over Memorial Day weekend, which I wanted to post because it is just about the most amazing birth story ever.  And I consider myself blessed to actually have played a little role in it.  I’m just going to say it: childbirth is a religious experience for me.  I really think God wants to teach us something about Himself with our births and I think this one really demonstrates this.


Sometime during the day I read on facebook that my friend Ashley was in labor.  So excited.  I knew she was planning for a natural birth, so I’ve tried to support her in this throughout her pregnancy.  I texted her that I was praying and that she should contact me if there was anything I could do for her.  I think I threw in a couple of pain management tips as well.

At 8:45 pm I get a text from her.  “They want to break my water.  it’s either that or pitocin.  What should I do?”  Now I don’t know her medical situation so I definitely don’t know what to do.  I do know that even a minor intervention like the artificial rupture of membranes (aka the doc breaking the water instead of waiting for it to happen naturally) can often lead to other bigger interventions.  And pitocin sucks.  She’s already been in labor for 8 or 9 hours.  I pick up the phone and call her.  While on the phone I listen to her go through about 4 contractions.  They were coming about 5-7 min apart and she could not talk through them.  She was breathing and relaxing and just sounding like she was managing them really well.  Turns out it was the nurse, not the doctor who was putting pressure on her.  I offered words of encouragement and told her it sounded like she was heading into late first-stage labor.  She was concerned that she wasn’t dilating fast enough.  I told her about the natural alignment plateau and that she may dilate quickly later even though she has plateaued right now.  Mostly I just tried to encourage her.  She was doing a really great job and her hubby was supporting her and they made a great team.  But the hospital environment wasn’t doing all they could to support her.  Although, she had heard that one of the doctors on call (a female one) had recently given birth naturally, in water.  That was hopeful news. (from now on I think I’ll call this doc Dr Natural)


2:12 am.  I get a call.  They want to put her on pitocin.  Doc says she should be dilating 1cm per hour.  It’s now been 15 hours and she’s only dilated 1cm past when she was admitted.  (She’s now at 5cm btw).  Again, I don’t know her whole medical situation so I can’t advise.  But she definitely doesn’t want the pitocin.  First I prayed for her.  Then, together we talked through the pros and cons of all her options.  The good news is that baby’s heartrate is good and Ashley seems to be doing well also.  Labor seems to have stalled completely.  She did not contract while I was on the phone with her this time.  When I hung up she still hadn’t decided whether or not to do the pitocin or go home and wait it out.  She was planning to discuss with Dr. Natural the idea of going home and get her opinion on that.  I told her to pray for wisdom and then just do what she thinks is best.

5:52 am.  Ashley posts this on facebook (which I read at a more godly hour when I woke up):

So…I am all ripe and ready, contracting along my merry way, when I am told I have only dilated 1 cm in 15 hours!!! They wanted me to take pitocin but I declined…my body knows when it’s ready and baby Hannah will come out when she is ready, and not because of some protocol. Even the doc said I made a good choice to go home and wait it out! 🙂

I was glad.  That was a bold move.  It required a lot of courage and faith. And I was so glad that she did it with the approval of Dr. Natural.  BTW, I’d like to take a moment to discuss momentous occurances in childbirth.  Because I felt that I also had a pivotal moment in my first birth where a big decision had to be made.  One that would have ultimately determined the course of the rest of my labor and birth.  This was it for Ashley.  I’m so impressed with her ability to listen to God’s guidance and listen to her body.  Well done.

7:30 pm.  I called to see how she was doing and spoke with her husband.  Still in labor.  Over 32 hours now.  She is now at the hospital around the corner from her house.  (the previous hospital, the one she had planned to birth at, was about an hour from home)  They seem to be much more comfortable in this hospital than the last one.  Ashley has now started to have very painful back labor, and decided to manage her pain with an epidural.  Mind you, this is the first intervention of this entire labor.  This woman has gone over 30 hours completely natural.  And she’s only dilated to 7 cm.  Not done yet.  Not even ready to push yet.  I told her husband to please tell her that I thought the epidural was a good idea and that she should try to get some rest.  And that’s not lip service.  I’m all for natural birth, but getting an epi after 30 hours of hard labor sounds like a good way to stave off maternal fatigue, and hopefully prevent a c-section.  I don’t blame her one bit.

I start to wonder a few things.  Because this is a super long labor.  And now back labor.  I wonder if her baby was posterior.  I make a mental list of questions to ask her after this is all over.  Posterior labors are known to be long and hard because mom’s body has to turn the baby all the way around.  They often end in c-section because it’s very hard to get through the birth canal when the baby is faced the wrong direction.  Or sometimes the birth attendants are simply impatient and won’t allow a mom to labor as long as Ashley did!


I’m checking my phone constantly for texts or pictures of the baby.  I’m checking facebook all the time to see if she has posted anything.  There are a couple of posts from her and hubby that make it look like she’s still in labor.  Crazy.  We go to church.  She’s still on my heart.  Thinking, praying, wondering if she had her baby yet.  I started to think that maybe she hasn’t announced the birth yet because it was c-sec and she is in recovery.  After all, something must be going wrong to have a labor this long, right?  Oh Me of Little Faith!

3:20 pm  I finally get a call from her.  Little Hannah Rose was born at 11:20 (ish) am.  I am so happy.  And guess what?  It was completely vaginal!  Ashley’s daughter was born just about 48 hours after labor began and she still had a vaginal birth.  And almost a completely natural one at that.  The long and short of the rest of the birth story is that after a few refills of the epidural she finally started pushing.  Pushed for about 45 minutes when baby’s heart rate dipped a little too low.  Doc told her she need to push her baby out now and well, she did.  Ashley told me that she got really scared and just pushed with all her might.  One more push and it was done.  Wow.

After talking to her, it’s my educated (albeit un-professional) guess that this baby was posterior.  All signs just point to it.  She had the soft front to her belly, the long labor, the eventual back pain.  Just all makes sense.  Her body took 2 days to do it, but turned that baby allllll the way around so it could be born normally.  Wow.  Good thing she didn’t let them break her water at the first hospital.  Good thing she refused pitocin.  Her body wasn’t dilating NOT because it was broken.  Oh no.  Just the opposite– her body was turning a baby around 180 degrees, preparing it for a normal and safe birth.  God knows what He’s doing.

This is why I see birth as a spiritual, religious event.  I see God working in a marvelous, mighty way in childbirth.  Ashley wanted a natural birth and in so doing, opened the door for God to do something really amazing in her life.  She put her trust in God instead of men, and seized the opportunity to witness how great God is.  If she had bowed to the pressure of the interventions early on, she would have never got to see her body do this incredible work.  God really showed up this weekend.  And I am so amazed at the work of His hand!

Doctors who say it doesn’t matter how a baby is born, just that it is born healthy– well, those people are wrong.  This baby and mom were saved from a surgery, from massive amounts of drugs and other unnecessary interventions all because mom had faith, patience, and courage.  Baby and mom are way healthier because of it and the spiritual benefit of birthing in this way is even greater.

Thank you Ashley and Kevin for letting me in on your birth experience.  I was so blessed by it.  Baby Hannah is one lucky kid to have you two for her parents.

Planting a Placenta Tree

6 June 2011

Well, it’s better late than never, right?

After having L’s placenta in our freezer for almost seven months, we finally got around to this important ritual of childbirth.  When you have a homebirth, you get to keep the placenta.  Or rather, you are responsible for disposing of it yourself.  The placenta is the organ that nourishes the baby inside the womb and once both are birthed, the placenta is still rich with nutrients.  It makes for a wonderful source of nourishment for plant life.  In fact, it is so nutritious that some people encapsulate it and take it as vitamins.  But we opted for the tree.  We picked out a lovely looking dwarf peach tree and a spot where it should thrive and not interfere with anything else in the yard (i.e., lawn, fence, etc.).

Here’s why we are choosing to perform this ritual instead of dumping L’s placenta in the garbage:

  1. Planting this tree marks his birth in this place.  We rent our home, so we will not always live here.  But L was born here, and nothing will ever change that.  This tree commemorates his birth on this property.  It will be here long after we are gone. (…sniff)
  2. Planting a fruit tree symbolizes our children as the fruit of our marriage.  As we were planting it, I said a prayer thanking God for our beautiful boys, and our wonderful marriage of 10 years.
  3. It represents the circle of life.  Just as his placenta nourished L while he was in my womb, now it will nourish this tree, which will produce fruit of its own and in turn, nourish us.  (hopefully in a peach cobbler.)
  4. Dust to Dust.  As I tell my oldest, everything that lives eventually stops living and is put back into the ground, and becomes food for the next thing that lives.  The time for this placenta to do its job is over.  It must return from whence it came.

So we let the thing thaw in the sun while Andy dug a big hole.  PJ played in said hole.

The umbilical cord started to glow a bright white as it thawed, which made me feel kind of emotional.  It was a sight I hadn’t seen for seven months, and the last time I saw it I was in a highly emotional state.  Finally the hole was ready.  Andy dropped it in, and I said a prayer and started to cry.

PJ and Andy threw compost on top of it and it was gone.  More dirt, more compost, then finally the peach tree.

planting the tree

There you are, little tree.  You are the same age as my baby.  May you grow and flourish in God’s grace just as my children will.  Amen.


P.S.  The funds for this tree are also special.  Years ago when my great-grandmother, my Oma, was living she used to send us $30 always for our birthdays.  She was an amazing woman, a refugee of WWII, lived to age 90, and all-around very remarkable.  She died when I was about 20 and for some reason I never had the heart to spend the last $30 cash she had sent me in the mail.  I was wanting to save it for something special.  Well, this was finally it.  I pulled it out of my jewelry box after all these years and spent it on a tree.  A tree that celebrates life.

Sentimental Realization in the Midst of Academic Research

18 February 2011

Andy has been going in late to work once a week these days so that I can work on my Masters thesis (entitled Birthing Conflict: Childbirth and the Battle of the Sexes in Elizabethan and Jacobean Drama) and I have been seriously loving every waking minute I spend working on it!  I go to a coffee shop to work for a couple hours while he has DFD (Daddy Fun Day) at home with the kids.  This week while I was reading some 500-year-old birth stories told by historian David Cressy, I was struck by a sentimental epiphany.  I realized that these women–who lived so very long ago and who lived so differently than I–had labors that sounded just like mine.  And like other birth stories of contemporary women, that I am so fond of reading.  They gave birth just like I did.  It really struck me how cultures and customs change, our attitudes and behaviors toward childbirth change, our birth attendants and medical procedures change, but birth itself does not.  Pure,  natural childbirth is unchanging.  It is a human constant.

This, I find to be very inspiring.  To think that I shared something with women that came before me so very, very long ago.  To think that what I experienced was also experienced by some of the most phenomenal women in history– Catherine Aragon, Anne Boleyn, queens, princesses, wise women, and peasant girls alike.  This is why I get soooooo sentimental at Christmastime.  And why every Christmas play I’ve ever directed has strong moments that linger on the beauty of the bond between Mary and the baby Jesus.  I relish the thought of the mother of Christ sharing in the same emotions and feelings that I did when I birthed my babies.

So that was my epiphany of the week.  Tune in next week for more heart-melting stories from the land of theatre research.

Quick: Why Birth at Home?

13 February 2011

I have noticed lately that some people who might not know me all that well, in the course of a casual conversation about my baby might quickly ask why I would choose to birth at home rather than in a hospital.  I find this to be a difficult question to answer.  There are so many, sooooo many reasons, but in these contexts I find that the individual really just wants a quick, nutshell answer.  So I have to consider what is really my top reason, or the defining reason for birthing at home rather than in a hospital.  Hmmm.  Perhaps I should list them.

1.)  Well, we could start with what my midwife said: “Births like yours don’t need to be in the hospital.”  By that she meant normal, very healthy, short, and straightforward.  It’s true.  Say what you will about my body (God knows that former managers and casting directors have), but when it comes to birth, my body really works.  I am a good birther.  As was my mother, and the women before her.

2.)  I have also said to people that hospitals have a tendency to intervene unnecessarily.  What I really wanted to avoid with both my births was the cascade of interventions.  You know, one intervention leading to another.  So you don’t avoid an epidural just to protect your mobility and keep your baby drug-free, but also to avoid labor slowing down, necessitating pitocin, etc.  Not sure that answer is quite right for the person to whom home birth is totally foreign.  Could do better.

3.) I want to avoid a(nother) C-section.  I personally never had a c-sec, but I know a lot of homebirthers go that route when VBAC in the hospital is either not allowed or they don’t think their provider will support them in it.  But it’s obviously not my reason, because I never had one.

4.)  Hospitals are for sick people.  I like this answer, because pregnant women aren’t sick.  And they don’t have a medical condition.  When a home birthing mother or baby develops a condition, then they transport to the hospital, which is what hospitals are there for.  But this response a little snarky.  And it could be offensive to those who consciously choose a hospital birth, as I did for my first.

5.)  A strong reason for my choosing homebirth was that environment matters.  It matters so much.  That’s why I chose to stay home until the last minute with my first and to stay home the whole time with my second.  When a laboring mother is at home, she can do whatever her body tells her it needs.  She feels comfortable and cozy and secure.  Birthing a baby is similar–hormonally speaking– to having an orgasm, so a woman needs to feel private, safe, and loved in order for things to go smoothly.  Home is the ideal place.  But this is far too lengthy of a response to give people in a hurry.  And the orgasm part is probably TMI.

6.)  Laboring in a car.  Sucks.  And leaving for the hospital also adds unnecessary stress to a time when you most need to be relaxed and still, and definitely not moving at 45 mph.  Oh, and if you rush to the hospital the way they do on TV, you are likely to stir up adrenaline, the hormone that works against labor.  So your labor could stall.

7.)  Risk of infection.  This is ironic, because if your water breaks, the doc will usually tell you to go straight to the hospital to avoid infection.  But actually hospitals are full of bacteria, and bacteria that your body isn’t used to.  Sure, your home has bacteria.  But your body is already immune to all the germs in your home.  Women get infections from the hospital all the time, and they can become a serious complication of childbirth or in the postpartum period.  This is turn could effect breastfeeding, etc.  So in a normal situation, the risk of infection is actually decreased at home.

8.)  A peaceful birth.  This means peaceful in every way– physiologically, emotionally, spiritually, etc.  This was very important to me this time around.  Birth is dramatic enough on its own– let’s not add to it!  But giving this as my nutshell answer might make me sound like a little too much of a hippy.  And people who think it isn’t safe might think I’m putting my own personal experience above the safety of my child.  Couldn’t be further from the truth.  I’m actually willing to go to great lengths to protect my child from harm.

9.) Newborn Procedures.  Believe it or not, this is actually the issue that after my first birth made me realize I wanted a homebirth for my second.  I was extremely dissatisfied with the way we were treated during 3rd-stage labor (the part after the baby was born but before the placenta is delivered) and beyond.  Our wishes were not respected AT ALL and things were done without our consent and directly against our birth plan.  And not because we had any special medical considerations– all routine.  I finally decided that a hospital is a place of business.  When you choose to give birth there, you go on to their turf and have your baby by their rules.  You can fight and manipulate and get a few things you want (hopefully the big things), but they are always going to try to stick to their policies, because that’s what makes their job easier.  It’s just a job to them.  When I finally let go of my anger and came to that realization, I knew what road I was on.

10.) I want a natural birth.  This is the bottom line.  Can it be done in the hospital?  Yes, of course.  I did it.  But it’s not easy (or even likely).  In fact, it was an uphill battle all the way.  Birth is hard enough.  No family should have to fight their provider or hospital to allow them to have a healthy, natural birth.  But this is what happens all too frequently.  Now that I’ve had both experiences, I truly understand what a natural birth is.  And it’s worth everything– every cent I spent on the midwife,  every moment of pain in labor, every judgmental thought or comment from friends and family, and well worth every worrisome and agonizing emotional moment as I came to this decision and carried it out.

I ran across this quote from The Unnecesarean the other day about a practice that some seemingly malicious OBs are adopting.  It’s referred to as “Pit to Distress.”  The doc uses the maximum dose of pitocin in order to intentionally distress the baby (nevermind what it does to the mom), necessitating a c-section.  This is way scary.  Here are the final thoughts on this topic:

Jill asks the questions, “OBs, do you still think women are choosing not to birth at your hospitals because Ricki Lake said homebirths are cool? Do you still think we are only out for a “good experience?”

I imagine that all of us who have openly questioned the practices of obstetricians in the U.S. have been hit with the same backlash. We must be selfish, irrational and motivated by our own personal satisfaction. We’ve been indoctrinated into a subculture of natural birth zealots and want to force pain on other women or just feel mighty and superior. We fetishize vaginal birth and attach magical powers to a so-called natural entrance to the world.

Nah. It’s stuff like “pit to distress” that made me run for the nearest freestanding birth center. If I had to do it all over again, I’d stay home.

Not knowing if your doc is one of these is another great reason to distrust the system.  There’s also some practical reasons: wanting to birth in water, wanting to utilize different labor positions that hospitals don’t allow, wanting other family members present (like your other children), wanting to eat and drink during labor, not wanting to be pestered about pain management.  But for me, I think I’ll stick with reason #10:  a natural birth is easiest achieved at home.  This is my bottom line.  What’s yours?  Do any of my homebirthing buddies read my blog?  Let me know your reasons!