So! We had a baby. Let me tell you about that.
Mia didn't make her way into the world until Sunday morning, October 25. But the story actually began the Friday before, two days beyond my due date. While Sal and I were on a morning walk to Japantown - a walk during which we joked about what we'd do if my water broke - my water broke. And even though we were 45 minutes from home, on foot, with the dog, we didn't panic. We began to laugh.
I ducked into a coffee shop restroom to check out the situation, and I was surprised to see that there wasn't nearly as much fluid as I expected. It was more like I had mildly peed my pants, and it hadn't even touched my clothing. We decided to make our way home, where I picked up the phone to call my doula.
Now's probably a good time to mention that I was pretty determined to have a natural childbirth - no epidural or other pain medication, no pitocin to induce labor, none of the so-called "medical interventions" that are quite common in today's labor and delivery rooms. Lots of people think going natural is insane, especially for a first-time mom. In fact, it wasn't long before I stopped talking about it because I was tired of the chuckles or pats on the head from women who were like, "Mm-hmm, you give that a try, honey. We'll see how that goes." An epidural has just become part of the process, something most women don't even stop to think about, because why WOULDN'T you want one?
But the thing is, the epidural scared the shit out of me WAY, WAY more than contractions. Let's recall for a moment the last time someone jammed a needle into my spine. (If you don't feel like reading all that, a recap: I went to the ER with food poisoning, and the crackpot doctor decided he had to rule out spinal meningitis. Even though I KNEW it was food poisoning, I let him bully me into having a spinal tap. The consequence of not trusting my own judgment: I was knocked flat by a crippling weeklong headache, because the needle hole didn't heal properly and I didn't have enough spinal fluid to keep my brain from banging around in my skull. No joke. Oh, and it SO WAS NOT meningitis. Asshole.)
My point is, I could fly into a hyperventilating panic at the thought of dealing with such a side effect while having my newborn in my arms. Relatively speaking, contractions did not seem like that big a deal. And furthermore, do you know all the shit you have to be hooked up to if you have an epidural? Fetal monitors for the baby, who may or may not be distressed by the drugs; an IV for fluids; and a catheter since you can't go to the bathroom by yourself. Being tethered to a hospital bed like that sounds like pure torture to me.
I knew, though, that having a natural childbirth would require some additional effort on my part. So here's what I did to prepare:
- I hired a doula. If you don't know what a doula is - a lot of people don't - she is a birth coach, a woman who has a great big bag o' tricks to help you bring your baby into the world. She is there at the hospital just for you and your husband, as opposed to labor nurses who are tending to several patients at a time. Now that I have been through this experience, I think it's wrong that so many labor prep classes try to paint a picture where the husband is a qualified coach. I'm sorry, but I just don't believe a husband should be saddled with that kind of title. He should be there for support and love and ice chips and anything else his wife needs, but I don't think he should be expected to think clearly when his spouse is doubled over in writhing pain. Especially if he's never done this before, either. A doula is the clear head in the room who has done this hundreds of times before and is equipped with knowledge and experience and techniques that make the birthing process smoother for everyone.
- I did my homework. After reading this post by Heather Armstrong of Dooce, I picked up a copy of a book she read called "Your Best Birth," by Ricki Lake and Abby Epstein. Reading it made me even more set on having a natural childbirth. The statistics regarding the "medicalization" of childbirth were stunning, and the scenario that particularly got to me was this: A woman is past her due date and the doctor wants to induce. Mom gets pitocin, which gets contractions rolling. But the drugs make the contractions far more powerful than they would be if they came on their own, so she is more likely to opt for the epidural. Only the epidural can slow the labor process, counteracting the pitocin. And too often this tug of war between the drugs leads to an unnecessary (but quite common) C-section. The book describes these things as a "cascade of interventions." I describe it as my worst nightmare.
- I took a six-week prenatal yoga class, where we spent a lot of time discussing a woman's options regarding childbirth. It amazed me that most of the women in my class didn't even know you COULD have a baby without medicine. So we spent a lot of time talking about options. About the fear of pain, and mental and physical coping techniques. Our instructor had given birth naturally to several babies, which gave me a lot of hope that I could do it, too. I could find so few real-life examples like this.
One more thing on this topic, just for the record: I don't feel judgmental of people who DO opt for the epidural. I know lots of women who had very rewarding, happy birthing experiences using pain medication. I just knew I wanted something different.
So anyway, I called my doula, Kathy, and told her I think my water broke but that it seemed like only a small amount. I said I was afraid to go to the hospital because I knew they would want to induce since I wasn't having contractions. She agreed. She said it sounded like I just had a leak, but that I needed to get myself into labor as quickly as possible. And as long as I could feel the baby move, this was something I could do at home.
Kathy suggested two things: acupuncture and an herbal labor tincture. I was skeptical but desperate, so I made an appointment for labor-inducing acupuncture on Saturday. Then we went and bought the labor tincture, a tiny bottle of rotten-smelling liquid that tastes like a cocktail of Jagermeister and motor oil. Awful, awful stuff. But every 30 minutes, as we spent Saturday walking around, seeing a movie, walking around some more, I dutifully closed my eyes and squeezed an eyedropperful into my mouth. We ended this long day by picking up a giant spicy, meaty pizza from Pizz'a Chicago. Spicy food - the granddaddy of labor-inducing old wives' tales.
And now I must tell you that it took me four and a half freaking days to write this post. I guess that's what happens when you only have five-minute bursts of time between this diaper and that diaper, this boob and that boob. Repeat, repeat, repeat.
So for now I'll pause the story, because my husband and daughter are all snuggled up on the couch and I'm missing out!
COMING SOON: Amy is a moron who devotes an entire day to witchy labor-inducing home remedies, but later that evening firmly believes she just has a bad case of gas.