A Tale of Two Births

by: mraynes

I just gave birth to my second child and it was an experience entirely different than the one I had previously or what I expected.  I suppose the mechanics were the same, I gave birth vaginally without the use of anesthetics and yet it seemed to me that I lost something indescribable in the second birth and I am mourning that loss.  You see, I am one of those women who believes that there is real power in the birth process; that there is something other worldly and divine in trying to give life to another being.  In my first meeting with the midwife who would deliver my son, she asked why I wanted to birth outside the mainstream medical model for my first pregnancy.  I had several good answers for this including a skepticism of male dominated, Western medicine and a fascination with the history and marginalization of midwifery.  But my desire for a “natural” birth went further than this to something I couldn’t quite articulate.  I wanted to connect with women throughout the past and present, to touch the divine within myself and to know the power of creation.  Something within me knew that I could best achieve this as I labored to give life to my child.

I have given birth twice in the past year and a half; both births were wonderful experiences where I was, at least briefly, able to obtain the above desire.  But the births were dramatically affected by my choice in medical providers.  I believe that labor and birth are inherently feminist issues because of the choice, or lack of choice, that the experience provides laboring women.  Indeed, the increase in knowledge and choices for pregnant women was one of the earliest successes of the women’s movement.  There was a huge paradigm shift during the 1970’s and 80’s that rejected the old model of restraining and knocking women out, effectively making them passive participants in the birth of their children.  Instead, women demanded a greater role in the birthing process and wanted some choice in what happened to their bodies.

As a woman in her childbearing years, I am grateful for the increased choice I have when it comes to my maternity care.  What I didn’t understand before giving birth though, was the impact these choices had on the experience I wanted for myself and my child.  So as a public service (I promise I’m not trying to navel gaze here, although I won’t stop you from commenting on how brave, strong and skinny I am), I thought I would share my birth experiences.  Please take them for what they are, my experience.  What worked best for me will not be best for all women.

I have never felt more powerful than when I gave birth to my son, Baby Monster.  I chose to deliver outside of a hospital at a free standing birth center in the Phoenix area.  I had a midwife and a nurse who gently guided me through my twenty-one hour labor with a variety of techniques used by midwives for centuries.  I felt a powerful connection with the women assisting me and to my foremothers who had birthed me and all humankind.  As I transitioned to the last stage of labor, I entered into a dream-like place somewhere between mortality and death.  At that moment I connected with the divine, a connection that supported me through the three hours of pushing it took to give life to my son.  When it was all over, I not only had a beautiful baby but the knowledge that I had converged with something greater than myself.

When I got pregnant again, I was devastated to learn that my birth center had closed due to the sky-rocketing insurance rates midwives are charged.  A homebirth was not something I felt comfortable with so I turned to the OB/Gyn that I had gone to for my annual pap smear.  I had picked him because he was the first OB in my HMO directory to have an open appointment.  I figured that since I already given birth, I could be assertive enough to stand up for the kind of birth I wanted.  Unfortunately, I felt that there was always a power struggle between me and my doctor as to who controlled my pregnancy, birth and body.  Due to gestational diabetes, early in my pregnancy the doctor informed me that he would induce my labor if he felt the baby was too big.  Baby Monster had been ten pounds so I was not afraid to have a large baby but I stuck to a low-carb diet so as to prevent a medical induction.  Despite my best efforts, when it came time for the ultrasound to determine the baby’s size, she was big and so the doctor scheduled my induction without my input or consent. 

In an effort to regain some control, I induced myself using my trusty breast pump the evening before the scheduled induction.  This labor was much more solitary than the first; I labored mostly alone with my husband and mother-in-law asleep nearby.  My labor was short and intense, almost primal.  I listened to Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring and Wagner’s Immolation of Brunhilde as I worked through each surge.  Once again I entered that dreamland and felt the power of creation.  I felt myself transition into the last stage of labor and knew I had to get to the hospital quickly.  At this point I lost my connection with the dreamland and was never fully able to regain it.  It seemed as I went through the process of registering and being checked, I stood at the doorway of that sacred place, looking in but not entering.  The triage nurse panicked when she realized I was dilated to a nine and was about to have a baby.  The doctor arrived just in time to demand I be given an IV, which of course didn’t take on either arm but effectively kept me from re-entering the dreamland of labor.  Ten minutes later, Baby Valkyrie was born.

I grateful to have had both experiences because of what I learnt from each one.  Most importantly, I am grateful for the healthy baby at the end.  Both the alternative and traditional experiences had their upside and downside.  For example, my midwife was so easy going that she forgot to give me the gestational diabetes test which probably led to the size of my son and made the labor harder both on me and the Baby Monster.  My OB/Gyn was very attentive to detail and I had an easier pregnancy and labor because of it.  Assuming there are no complications, there is not a right way or a wrong way to birth as long as the woman is comfortable with the choices she is making.  This is where I went wrong; I was never fully comfortable with the traditional medical model of birthing.  I lost so much power in trying to fight my doctor that I was unable to regain it when I most needed it.  So I guess my advice is, know what you want and then be true to that desire.

Ok, so I have indulged myself, now I would love to hear about your experiences.  What was labor like for you?  What worked best, what didn’t work at all?  Any home birthers out there…I’m willing to be convinced for my next birth.  Any thoughts on traditional versus alternative medicine? 


  1. This is so powerful!

    After an unsatisfying first experience with an OB, I went looking for a more respectful and empowering birth with my local midwives. What a change! It was incredible! My second pregnancy was healthier and far more, I don’t even have the words to describe it, transcendent? Respectful? Mindful of my choices?

    I agree, birth is a feminist issue. Far too many women don’t realize that they have the power to make the decisions for their bodies, to take charge of their experiences, to have a birth that they want.

  2. Childbirth is very much a feminist issue. I recommend watching the Business of Being Born for those who haven’t seen it but are interested in the history and politics of childbirth.

    My births were a whirlwind. My first baby came in an hour and a half. Not an hour and half of pushing, and hour and a half *total.* In that way it was very easy for me to avoid unnecessary interventions- there just wasn’t any time for them to try. On the other hand, during my second pregnancy I had a terrible time trying to convince the doctors I worked with that I wasn’t an idiot who had simply waited too long to go to the hospital, and that it really did only take an hour and half. My second was born at 4am after two hours of labor.
    When or if we have another I might plan on a homebirth. Given my history it might be a homebirth whether I plan on it or not.

  3. I appreciated reading your story, mraynes.
    I think above all it’s important that women feel comfortable
    with the birthing process. And this may
    mean that she’s not interested in writing up
    a detailed birth plan or experiencing a un-medicated,
    and painful labor – even after becoming educated about her choices. She may choose to deliver her baby
    in a hospital with an IV lying in bed. It’s intimidating for many women to think that she has to be “in charge” of her birth and labor. Not only that, I’ve seen too many women who choose unmedicated births boast about their choice to other women who chose differently. Not that you’re doing this mraynes, but I get a bit tired of the distrust of OBs and the anti-woman, male dominated medical profession.

  4. Hi Ladies- Thanks for this post. I haven’t had children yet, but I love to hear stories of childbirth, in order to help me prepare. I know it’s such a personal decision and agree that some might not want to share their experiences….

    So…last year, in school, I shot a short piece- a portrait of a woman and her family as they prepare for and go through a natural childbirth.
    Just wanted to share the link… for anyone interested. The actual birth isn’t shown…just the moments after. (so feel free to skip ahead to the end, this is a fairly slow piece).

  5. Ok, here goes…
    My son, E, I went into labor, and continues in labor for a total of 30 hrs. Hurray for 1st babies! I had an epidural with wore off, and wouldn’t work no matter what they did after that, a few hours before I actually delivered. The birth was totally anti-climactic (for me anyway) because I was so tired.

    My son, C, I was 11 days overdue and I was set to be induced at 5am. I went into labor at 1:30am (dilated to 2cm) and delivered him at 3:42am. There wasn’t time for any anesthesia, though the anesthesiologist wasn’t hurrying to get to me either. It was incredibly intense, but I was able to focus really well, and it was much easier than the first because it went so quickly. The pain was unreal though because I went from a 2cm to 10cm in about 2 hrs. I didn’t even have to push really because he sort of just came out on his own without much help from me.

    My son, J, I was induced 10 days before my due date. My doctor said since it was my 3rd baby, if I was sick of being pregnant he would go ahead and strip my membranes and we’d induce. Having your membranes stripped isn’t totally pleasant, but I was so sick of being pregnant. Things get a little more uncomfortable when you get to baby #3 if you know what I mean. It was wonderful. I got all dolled up beforehand at home, went to the hospital (no rushing), we filled out all our paper work (which is much easier to do NOT between contractions-there’s still a little paperwork even if you preregister), and I was given pitocin at 5pm, an epidural at 6pm, and had a baby at 9pm. I never felt any pain after the epidural, just some pressure when it was time to push (kind of like when you really need to make a bowel mov’t-sorry for TMI). I was really able to enjoy and feel like I was participating in the birth instead of wishing it were over already.
    My daughter, S, I tried to replicate the experience with #3 as well as I could. 10 days before the due date again, I went in for induction, and discovered I was already in labor (I’d suspected as much). They went ahead and gave me pitocin anyway, as well as an epidural. The epidural was in slightly the wrong place, so I still had pain in certain places. They added medication to it which took away the pain, but made it very difficult to push because I couldn’t feel what I was doing very well. The anesthesiologist had offered to re-place it, but I felt the baby was going to come soon, so I declined. I was only in labor for a total of about 5 hrs. so, while not as easy as baby#3, it was still pretty easy.

    As for traditional vs alternative, I do NOT feel comfortable without hospital/traditional OB/GYN. Just don’t. But that doesn’t mean I feel that others shouldn’t feel comfortable doing something different. I love hearing birth stories, no matter how they occur.

  6. My mom had a horrible experience with her first birth (my older brother) and so opted for home birth with me and my three younger siblings. My whole life she has talked positively about birth with me and how it is a transcendant and spiritual experience. She buys every pregnant person she knows a copy of Spiritual Midwifery (my husband calls it the “naked hippie book”, but I enjoyed it).

    So when I got pregnant I just assumed that I would do something similar. My husband was not comfortable doing a home birth (number one thing my mom says is you have to have a completely supportive partner), so we opted for midwives at the local hospital. My pregnancy was going well until an ultrasound revealed problems with my uterus. It’s misshapen and part of the right side is nearly blocked by excess tissue. My daughter was breach for most of my pregnancy. Thankfully my midwives still gave me good quality care, and didn’t rush into a c-section. Since she was still breach when I hit my due date at 40 weeks, they scheduled a c-section for a few days later. (They told me they had experience delivering breach babies, but that the insurance and hospital wouldn’t allow them to.) So I got up early in the morning, went to the hospital, and had a c-section.

    With my son I had assumed I could still get prenatal care from my midwives, but my insurance wouldn’t let me because my previous c-section and uterine issues made me “high risk”. This frustrated me because I actually got worse prenatal care at the OB–long waits, cursory checks by the doctor, and an ultrasound tech who berated me when I asked her to check on a certain part of my uterus (I had bleeding for almost 9 weeks after my first). Anyways, my second pregnancy ended in a placental abruption at 37 weeks and an emergency c-section. It took me several months to recover physically and emotionally from that delivery, although it really wasn’t anyone’s fault except my own body’s.

    So anyways, I feel torn because I think that for many women birth can be an empowering spiritual experience. And I do see all the problems with interventions, insurance issues, etc. But the medical establishment did allow me to have two healthy babies and saved my life in the process. Most births are normal and can be carried out easily with minimal intervention, but some aren’t. One of the problems with birth is that it’s a natural process and often out of our control.

  7. I have had 3 vaginal births – the first two in an amazing in-hospital birth center and the 3rd with a midwife in a much worse, urban conveyer-belt setting.

    In any case, the birth I was most prepared for, most idealistic about, most unmedicated for, and birthing in the water for, was a total disaster. Very scary, very painful, no sense of bonding or “being present” or happiness.

    So, I had my next to midwife attended births with epidurals, and that’s where it’s at for me – it was enjoyable. it was bonding, I felt strong and clear and suffered no complications at all – in fact, I left the hospital same-day with both those births, whereas in the “natural” birth I was delayed due to my massive blood loss.

    anyway, I totally support homebirth and making more options available to all women. It’s just that personally, epidurals got me the easy, happy birth I wanted and without the extra interventions some pro-natural people insist they come with. But I love the pro-natural birth folks because they’re advocating for more choices and better care for women, even if my births didn’t fit what I thought I’d get back when *I* was one of the hardcore natural birth people! 🙂

  8. This post couldn’t be more timely for me. I am due next Saturday with my first child, and I’ve agonized over the traditional vs alternative the entire nine months. I’m seeing an OB, but I’m very impressed by the history and record of midwivery. I’ve literally waffled back and forth the entire time between staying with my fully paid for OB care (my insurance literally covers everything with them) vs going to a midwife and having to come up with almost all the money. Which I don’t have. Basically economics has really dictated the choice for me, and I don’t know if I’ve made peace with it or not. I’ve seen the stats indicating how interventions, etc decrease with the presence of a midwife or doula. I’d like to try birthing naturally but I’m not entirely convinced of my ability to do so and am worried that my doubt will shortchange me and become self evident. I’m also not entirely convinced that medications are as evil as some portray. Also, my education is in the biological sciences and as a result I’m fairly sympathetic to traditional medicine. I get it. Of course, I get impassioned opinions on both sides whenever I discuss it with anyone. My best friend loved her epidural birth – she was calm and comfortable through the moment of delivery. On the other hand, the women I know who have delivered naturally universally speak of the awesome spiritual and emotional boost they receive from experiencing every minute.
    My sister-in-law, who homebirthed four children, asked me what I was going to do. She said, If you’re going to do natural, the first baby is the one to go for it, because you don’t know what’s coming.

    I can’t decide if she was trying to be reassuring or just matter-of-fact.

    I guess I’ll know in the next couple of weeks if the choices I’ve made ’til now (obstetrician – traditional care, supplemented by a six week hypnobirthing course) are enough to let me feel satisfied with my decisions afterwards.
    Several women in my ward tried very hard to talk me into switching to a local midwife practice that they all used. It’s been hard feeling a tug and pull in every direction, and also feeling subjected to the varying opinions of everyone I talk to. It’s only made me second guess everything.

  9. I have had a hospital-medicated-by-professional-recommendation birth, a hospital-natural birth, and a home birth. By a wide margin, my home birth experience was my favorite. I find myself in the midwife camp most simply because I believe a woman who has given birth is going to have more empathy towards my experience. A man can spout all the medical rhetoric he wants, but they are just statistics to him. A woman has experience on her side. I understand that each labor and delivery is unique and individual… but the experience of childbirth is a remarkably feminine power, and unifying power.

    I used midwives for each of my births, the first two with nurse-midwives at a hospital and the third with a certified midwife who came to my home. For each of my births, my husband was my coach, my support, my partner, my everything-a-laboring-woman-needs advocate. Each of my births increased my love and appreciation for my good husband. My home birth, though very long and difficult, was amazing spiritually and physically. My husband was able to catch my son as he entered the world… which was a profound experience for him. I also felt that being in my own home allowed my spiritual experience with birth, with an event that allows the mortal veil to become very thin, to be more intense. There weren’t medical personnel constantly interrupting my own focus and the atmosphere of relaxation my husband was trying to create for me.

    I agree that the medical profession serves a vital role in preserving the lives of many who would not survive their own difficult labors. I also acknowledge the choice for medication each woman is entitled to have. Based on my own experiences, there is a profound difference in my own physical reaction to each birth. When I was under the effects of an epidural, I couldn’t feel the pain, I couldn’t feel the pushing, I knew my daughter had arrived when the midwife announced the fact that she was out. When I delivered my second daughter and my son, I felt every press of labor, every urge to push, and the amazing stretch of pushing them into the world. My body was completely overwhelmed by a whole-body joy (there is no other way to describe the sensation) that flooded through every part of my body. I am convinced that just as in my first birth experience, if you are numb to the pain, you are numb to the joy. That is not to say there isn’t an emotional and spiritual flood that occurs simultaneously. I think most, if not all,births enjoy the emotional and spiritual outpouring of love and awe at the culmination of creation that has happened. I am saying, however, that a medicated body misses out on the full body joy that is possible… and is amazing… and is absolutely worth it.

  10. I’ve had 4 births. My last two were with an ob that really let me call the shots. I had a couple of minor health issues and knew exactly how I wanted to approach things and he followed my lead. I had confidence because I had already had two children. I also respect my doctor’s knowledge and the level of care that I receive.
    I had a midwife at the hospital for baby #2. She had other patients that evening so I didn’t see her any more than I saw my obs. I didn’t particularly care about my first ob for baby #1.
    It is important to feel comfortable with your doctor and feel like they are competent as well as they respect you. I changed endocrinologists a few years ago because I didn’t like certain things about the doctor patient relationship.
    I have had an epidural for all my births and I am very happy with my decisions. I was induced for medical reasons for the last three. I strongly prefer being induced over my 30 hour first labor that never went anywhere until I got pitocin.

  11. i agree that pregnancy and childbirth are HUGE feminist issues and it kills me that so many women are ignorant of it all. i wish people didn’t feel they HAD to see an ob… i don’t think most women realize that ob’s are surgeons who specialize in the female reproductive system. they’re not intended to just catch the regular ol’ routine baby, they’re specific training is the surgical side of it all. and the upstart of obstetrics just sickens me. aaaaaanyway…

    first baby, in a hospital, with an epidural, used an osteopathic family practitioner. the slippery slope of interventions forced me to promise my baby and my body that i would never, ever do that again. baby two was born in the same hospital and with the same doctor, but i was unmedicated. MUCH better experience, though still not ideal. baby three was born at home with a certified nurse midwife. BEST labor and delivery of all three. baby four is due to arrive soon enough and we are planning another homebirth with another cnm.

    the best experience of the first three was with the homebirth. i was better cared for, better supported, and the delivery was easiest. i adored my do-fp for the first two births, but the setting was just wrong. baby one resulted in fourth degree tearing, baby two was third degree tearing. baby three, courtesy of proper pregnancy and delivery management, was delivered wthout a single hitch. i have severe postpartum hemorrhaging after my deliveries and the baby born at home was also the best pph management i’ve had. it was a scary step to go outside of the norm and plan our first homebirth and my husband wasn’t entirely convinced, but the experience was well worth it and neither of us can imagine birthing anywhere else, unless we HAD to.

    more than any of that, it was EMPOWERING and intensely spiritual. i felt very “i am woman, hear me roar” after my second delivery, unmedicated. but the homebirth was even more fulfilling. some people don’t care about that, but it was amazing and wonderful to me and my second and third deliveries helped me to recover from my first… and helped to heal the guilt i feel about my first daughter’s permanent damage from her epidural downward spiral.

    i’m bird-walking all over the place here… i think pregnancy and childbirth are what led me to realize my feelings about feminism. i love that something so “retro” as being a boring ol’ sahm who’s seemingly perpetually pregnant and in the kitchen made me finally feel like a feminist.

  12. Hooray for Hypnobirthing!

    I’ve had three vaginal births, delivered in the same hospital by the same CNM. My first baby presented acynclitic, which of course we only found out later (after he finally turned and came out after three hours of pushing, with a big knobby protrusion on the side top of his head where I’d been trying to squeeze him through at the wrong angle). I had an epidural for that birth, and definitely saw some of the slippery slope come into play–pitocin, breaking my bag of waters. Fortunately he was never in any distress, and I had a patient, calm midwife, or I might have ended up with a surgical delivery. The one benefit of such a slow pushing stage was almost no tearing–might have been none had he not come out with one arm around his neck (as if he were patting himself on the back–knowing him now, he probably was!).

    For my second, I did a little hypnobirthing practice, but didn’t have time for a lot because my water broke a week early one evening after family night, and he was born before dawn less than 7 hours after the first contraction. This was by far my favorite birth. Labor progressed rapidly, hypnobirthing and the jetted tub kept me relaxed, and he basically delivered himself after 10 minutes of pushing, maybe less–I went from 6 cm to delivery in 17 minutes.

    My third baby was not nearly so cooperative as the second, but not as bad as the first. (So far, I’ve found the birthing experiences to be predictive of their personalities–anyone else think this?) It took a bit more encouragement form us to get labor going–without the catalyst event of water breaking, I was a little worried I’d end up with days of slow labor before anything really happened–including acupuncture and a very awkward round of sexual intercourse. Things still went pretty quickly and smoothly by most standards, though, and she was born about six hours after we got to the hospital, after 20 minutes of pushing, and about 12 hours after labor had really gotten underway. One thing I did appreciate was a more textbook pushing stage, where I had time to rest and converse between contractions. The second delivery had been so fast and frenzied that it took me a while to get my bearings (and turn around–I delivered on all fours, which works fine for delivery but is kind of hard to get comfortable afterward, since it takes a minute to clear away the mess).

    So, I make recommendations based on my own experience (hypnobirthing, yes; also, recovery is easier from an unmedicated delivery), but I recognize that even the best-laid plans can be shot to hell in the craziness that accompanies almost all births. And different stuff works for different people. We did Bradley for our first, but found out that it just didn’t mesh with our personalities in a moment of crisis. One of my girlfriends said, after delivering her first, that she wouldn’t mind having an epidural every day, but I didn’t like the way it made me feel (or the bloating from the extra fluids they pumped through the IV).

    So, that’s my experience, but YMMV.

  13. Congrats mraynes.

    I have two kids and and I chose to deliver at a hospital with a CNM, which is why I did not have a c-section with either one. She was willing to wait and put off the on-call OB more than once. I came very close to having a c-section with both of them for similar reasons baby in distress and mother exhaustion. My labors are on the long side (apparently my mom’s were like that). Both began with my bag of waters breaking. For my second birth I did hire a doula which helped a lot. She actually lives really close so I had her come over at 3:00 in the morning to help me through contractions.

    I wanted a natural birth with both, but ended up with an epidural for both. I don’t like the epidural other than it allowed me to rest. I don’t like the feeling out of touch with my body and fighting with the established medical routines to get what I want. I had high blood pressure, but didn’t want to be induced (I hate pitocin – my body doesn’t respond well to it as my contractions never get closer than 5 minutes apart and then the baby gets stressed when they try and increase the pitocin). I had been group B strep + with my first, but not my second, but they still wanted to treat me so I got an IV even though I really didn’t want it and it hurt like hell and took 4 tries and three different nurses to get it in.

    I did get to watch my second daughter’s birth with mirror and touch her head as she crowned. That was very spiritual and the highlight of her birth other than actually having her in my arms.

    I would also recommend watching the Business of Being Born. I think its an excellent documentary.

    I go back and forth on home birth versus hospital birth. I have done a lot research on home birth and I think homebirth can be safe and should be an option for woman. Since I am not pregant thank goodness (my baby is 6 months) I don’t need to decide for a while.

  14. Women love birth stories. I could go on and on but I will try to keep mine short. I have a fear of needles so when I saw what they would stick in my back in order to have an epidural I prepared to have a natural birth. I did have my first in the hospital. I was in control and he came quickly. It was painful but exhilarating at the same time. The rush I got after his birth was amazing. I recovered quickly. My second I was determined to do the same. only he was larger and turned slightly. He didn’t come out as planned so I wasnt in control. They had to turn him and I was in so much pain. It was nothing like my first. I will have to admit I was afraid to go through that again. So when I got pregnant with my third child I was a little unsure what I was going to do. Then one evening 8 weeks before I was do I went into labor and they couldnt stop it. She was determined to be born. the dr. suggested that I get and epidural in case things went wrong and they had to get her out quickly. the epidural was no fun and the man giving it was a jerk of the highest order. (that is another story) he poked me twice. She came out fine and did well for being early but not having any kind of plan made the whole thing out of my control. My fourth was extremely fast. I did have epidural but she came so fast that I was done but numb most of the morning after. Recovery was certainly more difficult.

    Even after years I am still afraid to go through the pain I experience with my 2nd child. When I had my 5th it went so wrong. They didn’t want to intervene at all which was great except this time it wasnt working my body just stopped as soon as they gave me the epidural. She stressed and scared us all. They had to pump me full of something to get me up and going. It was my longest labor. I was so tired. I threw up. It was not a good experience.

    It is sad that only after having 5 did I realize the choices I have. I wish I would have spoken up so many time. They dont let you know this so I kind of did what I was told. Well I am now pregnant with my 6th and last baby. I am going to refuse a few of the tests. I am going to try and avoid ivs and stuff like that and I am going to be the biggest pain in their rears if they don’t let me have control. My best birth was when I was in charge and in control. Maybe this time I can do it without pain meds.

  15. This was an amazing post. You articulated something for me that has been difficult to understand in the two years since I gave birth to my daughter.
    My first son was a very traditional hospital birth, complete with an unasked for epidural, lots of pain, and some medical complications that still plague me to this day. When I got pregnant the second time, I changed my pregnancy care to a wonderful midwife group in Utah. Even though there were complications with this birth, it was such a tremendous and positive experience, despite the epidural. I know that the midwife and nursing staff at the hospital made a world of difference for me.My third son was born in Sweden. The care was completely different and in some ways better, but in others, more frightening. I had an uncomplicated pregnancy and an uncomplicated labor and delivery. In fact, I felt so powerful after my 3rd son was born that I wanted to teach birthing classes. Ironically enough, the education for pregnant mothers in Sweden is incredibly minimal compared to the knowledge that American woman gain. While the system is run by midwives, the midwives are in complete control and most women I know in Sweden had negative experiences while giving birth due to being unable to make choices that were respected at the hospital. I find that interesting given that midwives in the U.S. are much more willing and able to listen to the needs of the laboring mother.My fourth labor with my one and only daughter was very traumatic for me because of the circumstances surrounding her birth and the subsequent hospital stay.
    I do know this: attentive nurses and doctors or midwives are essential to a happy and positive experience and once they involve you fully in the decision making, I think the experience really becomes a good one, regardless of how difficult the labor is. Laboring women are intensely vulnerable and it is very easy, unfortunately, for the attending staff to easily impose their wills upon the woman.

  16. Thank you all for sharing your stories! I’m sorry I’ve been so absent, I’m still trying to get the hang of this taking care of two babies thing and I’m finding I’m not so good at multi-tasking!

    I agree with what several commenters have shared, I love birth stories. It doesn’t matter what kind of birth it was, whether medicated or non, c-section or homebirth, they are beautiful because they are stories of women.

    Reading through each of your stories, the resounding theme is that when women are respected and given the right to choose what is best for them, the birthing experience is easier and much more powerful.

    I agree with what a couple commenters have said, that for some women, what is best is to be lying in a hospital bed with an iv and epidural. That may be the very best way for a woman to connect with the power of birth. On the other hand, as many of the women who have commented on this thread have said, they felt most powerful when they were fully in control of their labor process. I would never want to judge what is best for another woman; I have no desire to add birthing to the long list of things to be fought over in the Mommy Wars.

    What I think is most important is that women learn to trust their bodies. Birth is a feminist issue because women have been told that they are not capable of making the decisions that would give life to their children. This is where I have a problem with the mainstream medical establishment; although there are many wonderful, supportive doctors, there are just as many who don’t trust in women’s ability to birth their own children. When I expressed my desire to have a natural birth to my doctor, he told me that the most natural thing in childbirth is for the woman to die. I’m not exactly sure what his objective was in saying something like that but it was clear to me that he did not trust my natural ability as a woman and wanted to control the birth through modern medicine. Unfortunately, I think stories like this are all too common.

    Modern medicine is a blessing, it has saved thousands of lives, including the lives of several of the women who have commented on this thread. I just wish that both the medical establishment and women trusted their inherent ability and wisdom. I think if this were to happen, the outcomes for women and their babies would be even better than they are today.

  17. I really wish every woman had the comfort and ability to leave care they felt was not right for them and find a better birth servicer.

    Personally, I have loved the 2 practices I have used; both included an OB and a few midwives. It is a great combo for me–the doctors in these practices are obviously supportive of natural births and allowing women to control their own birth experience (as much as possible).

    Personally, I think I will always seek a female OB.

    If someone asked my advice and was desiring a non-surgical birth, I would advise them to run away from inductions.

  18. I had a good experience in the hospital with an OB and no epidural, which I blogged about here (after all the lovely pictures of my baby). My experience was so good, I’d almost like to be pregnant again now,even though my daughter is only two months old. My OB was respectful of my decisions (though he made a lot of decisions that I “should” have cared about according to a lot of books I read, but really didn’t) and I had one nurse in particular who was very supportive and suggested I use a birthing ball–which was perfect for me and made the labor pain manageable. The thing I found most interesting was that the medical people I interacted with (with the exception of the anesthesiologist) were all of the opinion that fewer interventions were better, laboring without medication was better; and yet most people plan on epidurals and inductions.

    The thing that most annoyed me about my experience is the whole expectation that pregnancy lasts 40 weeks. Turns out only about 40% of pregnancies end on or before the due date. Most babies (about 2/3) are born by the end of the 41st week of pregnancy, but still 1/3 of pregnancies continue past 41 weeks of gestation. There’s very much an ideal of the “average pregnancy” in terms of many variables, including length of pregnancy, size of the baby, and other variables where there is a larger spread of what is healthy and normal than is perhaps acknowledged by the medical community. Yes, outside one standard deviation there is a higher probability than for the average, but I’m still not sure extra interventions are warranted for everyone falling outside the norms based on those probabilities.

  19. ugh. One-handed typing leads to leaving out words. I meant higher probability of complications outside the norms. Also, I had an induction, and while I’m no fan of pitocin, it did work well for me and the contractions were manageable. I was very concerned about being induced because I wanted to avoid a c-section, and that did happen for me.

  20. My births were both great experiences, though the second was far better because I was able to control a lot more of the experience than with my first. Some details:
    For #1: Hospital birth–really high-end hospital with a respected OB/Gyn. Went in a bit late because my contractions were never ‘regular’ (probably because my water didn’t break). Was about a 6 when I went in and had already labored for 24 hours. Had the baby about 5 hours later after an epidural. Had a bad reaction to the epidural and couldn’t feel my lower body at all (to get off the gurney, I had to pick up my own leg and move it to the wheelchair, etc.) But not a _bad_ experience, per se. I should add that this hospital was fairly progressive in its views about birth–I sat up as I pushed, they used a mirror to ‘show’ me what was going on, etc.

    For #2: I went to whatever OB/Gyn was assigned by my insurance company–I don’t even remember his name and he was out of town when I gave birth. The hospital was not top-notch (as an example, the rooms weren’t very clean and when I went to use the bathroom there was blood spattered all over the floor, walls, toilet, etc). I walked the halls until the nurses told me I had to get in bed. I also snuck down to the cafeteria and ate anything that sounded tasty. All the while I was sipping red raspberry leaf tea and I’d also taken a dose of Native American herbs just after my labor started. The labor was easy (I was actually euphoric). When it came time to get into the bed and push the nurses acted as if I were crazy when I got into a sitting position rather then pushing laying fully reclined (whatever!) and then I had to beg for a mirror so I could see the baby’s head crowning. I think they thought I was a bit demanding, but I felt very empowered. Oh, and all during my pregnancy I’d been practicing yoga, so my body was far stronger to cope with the stresses of childbirth.

    All in all I’d say that my birthing experiences were quite wonderful. I didn’t find them horribly painful at all–if anything I felt that pregnancy was the painful part and the birthing was a piece of cake.

  21. I have always thought a homebirth would be great, but my biggest worry– What do you DO with all the GOO? Do you give birth in the bathtub? Or just use copious amounts of towels? (That was the biggest surprise for me– how much STUFF comes out with the baby!)

    I’ve given birth twice, both with a CNM in a hospital, and both with hypnosis. The first, my boy, I had been seeing a professional hypnotherapist. It was hard for me, and I had pretty severe back labor. Labor lasted about twelve hours, and I begged for an epidural. My midwife was awesome, and knew I really wanted to go without that, so she just gave me something to take the edge off and it helped. I gave birth laying on my side, if you can believe it. My recovery was super-quick, and I never had to take any of the motrin the nurses kept pushing at me afterwards. I felt very powerful for having done it; but at the same time I was floored by how intense the pain was. Beforehand I had asked my hypnotherapist to make me a hypnosis recording that I could practice with and take to the hospital; but she didn’t. She felt like if you just relaxed enough the pain wouldn’t be so bad. Afterwards I knew that wasn’t enough for me. I was scared to do it again.

    BUT, The Boy was 9 months old when I discovered I was pregnant again. This time I discovered Hypnobabies, which I highly, highly, highly recommend. The theory behind this is that you train your mind that you are not feeling pain, jut pressure. And gosh darn it, it worked! I started practicing in my 5th month. The day I delivered The Girl I cleaned my house, had visiting teachers over, got a pedicure, and went to my appointment with my CNM. I expected to just pee in the cup and go home like always, but she said I had to go across the street and check in at the hospital, because I was dialated to a 6 already. When I got registered and the monitors hooked up (which I hate, hate, hate, BTW) the nurses were amazed because I was having really strong contractions, and they just felt like those braxton-hicks to me. Apparently I was in active labor, and I didn’t even know it! The hypnosis worked AWESOME. (Although, it’s a good thing I had an appointment that day or I may have ended up w/ a homebirth whether I liked it or not!) Start to finish it was 3 hours. My second was so much easier, partly because of the Hypnobabies, partly because I didn’t have back labor that time, and partly because I kind of knew what to expect.

    Part of the hypnobabies training was to visualize a light that would enclose your body, and it would BE your anesthesia. I had a hard time visualizing the light, so I visualized my great-great grandmother, who I’ve done a lot of research on. I pictured her as an angel, glowing bright blue-white; and when she put her hand on my belly the light spread from her. For some reason that was easier for me. I have to share– when I was actualy in labor, I pictured Lillian as usual, but unlike when I would practice it, she was not alone! There were several women with her, including my father’s mother who died earlier that year. I don’t think I was the one who created the picture in my mind of all those women helping me– I feel very strongly that they were actually there. It was amazingly spiritual to bring my daughter into the world surrouded by the women who came before us. That is half the reason I wanted to give birth unmedicated– because my great-great grandmother Lillian, who I felt so attached to though we’ve never met, had 8 children all at home. I wanted to feel a closeness to her, and I knew she would help me. I can’t wait to meet her in person one day!

    I would not trade my CNM for the world’s greatest OB. I started out with an OB with the first, but I felt like I was in a factory when I went to appointments. She didn’t ask me any questions, she didn’t give me information– it was just assumed I either knew what was going on, or else I didn’t need to know and she would take care of everything. When I switched to the midwife I was amazed that she took the time to counsel me and educate me and talk about not just my physical feelings, but emotions too! The only thing I didn’t like was that she was required to use fetal monitoring, and I hated that. That big elastic band around my middle hurt more than the contractions did, and it made me so uncomfortable. When they finally cut it off right before The Girl crowned, I gasped and moaned with relief; and the nurses joked that I sounded as relieved as if the baby had already come out. Man, I hate the monitoring. I want to look into a birthing center next time, specifically because of that. That was my biggest complaint about both deliveries.

    The moral of this long story is CHECK OUT HYPNOBABIES!!! Best. Program. Ever.

  22. There are a million comments I could make, but here’s one thing to throw out there: I did 3 all natural births with midwives, big babies, posterior–pretty intense. I did 1 birth with an epidural and felt in some ways more in control–I wasn’t buffeted by pain, I could be more aware of what was going on. But I couldn’t move my legs for the rest of the night 😉

  23. I think I’m probably missing the feminist boat on this one, but I’m kind of happy with my experience with the epidural. I had to get induced and was in so much pain I thought I wouldn’t be able to endure it. The epidural rescued me and even allowed me to sleep. Wonderful.

    Not so wonderful, of course, was being so numb that I couldn’t even push. Didn’t even know how to. My doctor was annoyed and impatient that I couldn’t push the baby out quickly. And I was shaking pretty hard afterwards, which I think might have been epidural related. But I think I’d take all those things again for the blissful release from the pain…

  24. k, I just gotta say “I heart judy hicago!” beautiful.
    thank you mryanes, for a very powerful post.
    chilbirth for me was pretty emotionally charged because there was a ton of “this is the right way to do it” and I got really uptight. A lot of tension between my mom’s recommendations and my doctor’s. (my mom’s a major home-birther, but
    we were poor students with no insurance and few options.)

    mostly it just made me realize how controversial an issue child-birth is. almost every aspect from conception to breast-feeding and beyond a mine-field of ‘right ways’ and ‘wrong ways’.

  25. This is going to sound horribly un-feminist, but I am a bit skeptical of the idea that birth has to be a satisfying, transcendent experience. Can it be? Sure. (And it absolutely was for me, even with an amazing, wonderful epidural.) I wonder though if having such high expectations sets us up for major disappointment when things don’t go the way they’re planned – and with birth it seems that it’s never exactly what you expect, no matter how many times you’ve gone through it before. The idea that birth needs to be not only safe but also personally fulfilling seems to be a rather new phenomenon, and in my opinion is a result of the fact that most of us take it for granted that we will survive childbirth without any major complications.

  26. This is great stuff. It is tough to navigate the sea of choices. I do believe however, if you work at it you can get what YOU want. For some its easier than others.

    For me I took a great big gulp and wanted a homebirth, but was foiled with the first pregnancy due to gestational diabetes. I didn’t want to take insulin so with other births I have been extremely regimented. My doctors AND midwife have agreed that if the GD stays under control I could have my home birth.

    I use tons of exercise, cactus (yes cactus), cinnamon, mushrooms and more. They all help to keep the GD under control. I’m expecting another baby now and my numbers have never been better.

  27. I just wanted to add that for me birth is a feminist issue and not because I think to be a feminist you must birth a certain way, but because I think woman should be allowed to make choices about their birth as much as possible. There is something very empowering about knowledge and choice (granted pregnancy and delivery often throughs the unexpected even into the best made birth plan).

    If you want an epidural and feel that is the best way for you by all means get one. Some people back in the day thought that giving women pain medication in labor was somehow denying God his right to hear the cries of women during childbirth. Apparently some people thought that the “Curse of Eve” forbade women to receive pain relief during childbirth. Feminists in the early 20th century included pain relief during childbirth as part of their agenda in addition to getting the vote.

    I used a midwife and loved it. I was surprised at how many women did not know their options, which can vary according to state. I got asked all the time if I was planning on a home birth and if I could get an epidural. I delivered in a hospital with an epidural with my midwife their with me.

    What I really would like to see is women understand the many options available to them and then receive the support they need in their choice. Be it homebirth, birthing center or hospital with a midwife or doctor.

  28. I know I’m a little late to the game here, but I just want to comment on this issue. I’m due in a few weeks (New Year’s Day), and have tried getting a hold of a doula, but haven’t heard back yet. I don’t think a home birth is for me, nor one that is completely drug-free. However, I’m wondering how other have found ways to focus and have a good experience while in the hospital and with an epidural. I’m assuming it involves a detailed birth plan. I just hope I end up with a good nurse as well. I remember that made all the difference with my first pregnancy.

    How do people reconcile needing the hospital, but not liking the attitude of people there? I have a good Ob/gyn that respects me. But my baby has cleft lip and palate so I’ll be dealing with a lot of folks after the birth and I’m afraid they’ll whisk him away and I’ll have trouble bonding and feeling like it’s MY birth. Any pointers?

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