When I was about halfway through my pregnancy, I began really thinking about labor and delivery and what I wanted mine to look like. I am well aware that every person and delivery have their own circumstances that could change at any time – but I wanted to be ready for the best case scenario. As I read all kinds of PubMed studies, blogs, birth stories, books and apps, I came to realize that for me the best case scenario was a natural labor and delivery. Given my family history of uncomplicated births, and my personal history of reproductive health, I knew it was likely that I could have an nonmedicated vaginal delivery. But, more than just that, I knew that I wanted my (and my baby’s) experience to be as stress free and calm as possible. And more than anything I wanted to avoid the cascade of interventions that often happen at hospital births.
I understand that this may not be what every woman desires for her labor- and that is totally okay! But, because I was inspired during my pregnancy and labor by women writing about their natural birth experiences online, I wanted to share mine and what worked the best for me during the last few weeks of pregnancy, labor, delivery, and after.
I started to really prepare for birth in the final 2 months before my daughter’s estimated arrival date. There were a few different things that I did every day to get my body ready for the big day. First, I ate dates every day. There is quite a bit of research that suggests that dates can help soften and “ripen” the cervix in preparation for delivery. In addition, it may help increase chances for spontaneous labor (as opposed to being induced). I actually only ever dilated to 9cm (instead of the usual 10cm) but, the Dr. remarked how soft my cervix was and was able to stretch it over the baby’s head and I only pushed for about 25 minutes. The next thing I did every day is a little graphic…but, we’re all ladies here, right? To prepare the perineum for a smooth delivery and to minimize the risk of tearing, episiotomies, incontinence and scarring, my husband or I massaged and stretched it nightly. I used coconut oil infused with geranium essential oil, but I have since learned that sweet almond oil or apricot oil would be more moisturizing. I did not have any perineum tearing at all. During the end of my pregnancy (perhaps a bit too late) I learned about red raspberry leaf tea and the benefits of drinking it throughout pregnancy to strengthen the uterus. The other thing I did for my body before labor was sitting on a yoga ball regularly. It helped to strengthen my pelvic floor and core, and helped me learn to stay balanced on it for use during labor and transition. In addition to training my body, I also began to train my mind.
An essential part of labor for me was my mindset. I knew I had to be sure about my intentions before the day came. I researched some birth plans, and came up with one that fit our family. I think this, along with the presence of our doula, was what made the hospital staff take our wishes seriously. Birth plans are extremely personal and there are countless variations, but I highly encourage all families to research everything from delayed cord clamping to epidurals so you can make informed decisions that are right for you. I gave mine to the hospital well before my due date so they were understanding and ready when I arrived. Next, perhaps the important piece of advice for laboring I was given during my pregnancy came from a mother of 9 children; she told me to relax my entire body. I struggle with anxiety, so I knew that I had to have a plan and mentally prepare with a strategy to be able to calmly get through a nonmedicated birth. I used an app on my phone called Gentle Birth. I know there are many versions of these meditations and I am sure that most of them have the same general ideas of the importance of relaxation of the body and mind, practicing visualizations, and using affirmations to achieve a calm and in control experience. I advise you to find one that works for you. Some that I have heard of but have not done much research on are The Bradley Method and Hypnobabies. The other way I got into a ” I can do this” mindset was to read successful stories of natural deliveries. This helped to me know that hundreds of thousands of women had successfully had non traumatic birth experiences. It also helped me to think about what was important to me during my own labor and gave me ideas for what to do and bring.
Laboring at Home
So, at 41weeks, 2 days, at 3am I woke up with contractions. We had tried everything from spicy food, to going on a run, to getting pressure point a massage to get labor started, but the thing that sparked it was using Evening Primrose oil capsules both orally and as a vaginal suppository at night. I knew that the longer I labored at home, the less time I would labor in the hospital, and the less likely they would be to want to give me something to speed labor along. So, I walked around the house, ate a bowl of rice, and took a long shower. I spent a lot of time on my yoga ball in all kinds of positions including on my hands and knees, and swaying on it while leaning on the back of the couch. My doula stopped by to help me and she did pressure points on my feet and ankles with clary sage and jasmine. She used Thieves on the bottoms of my feet and my contractions immediately got stronger. I labored at home until around 3, and when I could not easily talk or stand during a contraction we headed to the hospital.
Laboring at the Hospital
They admitted me and checked me, and I was only dilated to 3cm after over 12 hours of labor. They did a short fetal monitor and then I walked around laboring for a bit and ate a half of a turkey sandwich and a granola bar. Around 5:00 the OB suggested that we break my water to move things along. As much as I wanted a 0 intervention experience, I am glad that we decided to break my water.
There were a few things that really helped me feel comfortable while in the hospital. The lights were dimmed to create a calm atmosphere and encourage anyone who entered to talk and move quietly. I requested intermittent fetal monitoring in my birth plan so that I would have freedom of movement, as opposed to traditional monitoring where the monitoring bands are around the belly for hours at a time, leaving the woman restricted to the bed and immediate area. I moved around the room, sitting on the yoga ball, swaying in my husband’s arms, and getting on all 4s. I could have chosen to get in the shower but I did not want to at the time. Potentially the most helpful thing for pain management was my husband applying counter pressure to my hips during each contraction. He squeezed my hips and it relieved so much pain. I also had our doula, my MIL and my mom in the room, and they rubbed and massaged my legs, shoulders and hands which felt amazing and served as a great distraction and something to focus on. Additionally, my doula alternated cool and warm wash cloths soaked in water and lavender oil that she placed on my neck and forehead.
Along with the the physical aspect, there is a large mental component to laboring. I was grateful that I had practiced in the prior weeks, because I was able to stay focused the whole 21.5 hours. I had my eyes closed almost the whole time. I relaxed as much as I physically could, although I did find myself squeezing my hands. In my mind, I pictured the contractions as waves washing over me, carrying me to meet my baby. I also visualized a rose blooming and the rings from a stone being thrown into a still pond to aid in the opening of my cervix. I told myself repeatedly that my body was made for this, and that my baby and I made a great birth team. All of these things I learned from the Gentle Birth app, although I did not listen to it during labor. After about 20 hours, I finally found myself in transition.
Transition and Delivery
I had felt the urge to push a couple of times before my cervix was dilated enough, but my OB was extremely patient and when I was at 9cm and was very ready to push, we decided it was time. I read about birthing in different positions, and planned on squatting, but after 2 pushes I knew it didn’t feel right for me. I reclined back into the bed at around a 45 degree angle, controlled my breathing, and waited for the next good contraction to push. Many women find it helpful to pick a point in the room to concentrate on, but I mostly continued to keep my eyes closed. After about 10 minutes of that, I knew I had to lie all the way back so that her head could pass under my pelvic bone. I continued to use my breath and contractions to deliver her. At 12:25am after 21.5 hours of labor, first her head came, and then on the next push a let out a guttural scream (and experienced the “ring of fire”) and her shoulders and body came spiraling out. In solidarity (because I KNOW you’re wondering) both my daughter and I defecated during her delivery; her meconium shot right past the Dr.’s head and over his shoulder onto the floor as he caught her! She was 6lb 15oz 21in long.
They placed her on my belly for a few moments while the Dr gave us both a once over and we waited for the cord to stop pulsing. My husband cut the cord after about 8 minutes, and we moved her further up my chest to nurse. In our birth plan we requested delayed eye antibiotic ointment until she nursed for the first time. My mother in law (who has experience in OB) helped my daughter to latch, while I while I delivered the placenta. The Dr. was showing my husband the amazing temporary organ I created, when they noticed that I was losing quite a bit of blood. I had a small lateral tear on my vaginal wall that required a quick 2 stitches. I already am not a fan of needles (one of the first reasons I tried to go without meds!) and my drive and adrenaline were long gone, but focusing on my daughter nursing for the first time made it bearable. I was so proud of myself, my birth team and my baby!
During our 48 hour stay in the hospital and in the weeks following, there were a few things I used to make myself comfortable. I took everything from the hospital and used it including Dermoplast(topical numbing agent), witch hazel soaked Tucks Pads (for hemorrhoids and hygiene), the perineal irrigation bottle (forget wiping- give yourself a warm or cool rinse) and samples of Lanolin (nipple moisturizer). I wore Depends Discreet underwear instead of those huge pads and it was a great decision; I actually ended up needing 2 packs. I bought Sitz bath spray and found it to be soothing. After a couple of days I realized I had hemorrhoids and that the Tucks Pads were not enough relief. I ended up making a spray of Witch Hazel and Cypress Essential oil that helped to restrict the blood vessels and resolve the problem. Other things that were given to me and proved super helpful postpartum were a water cup with a straw, oatmeal cookies (for lactation and breakfast!) and frozen meals. My mom and I made ham and cheese sliders, white castle sliders, and a noodle bake, while my father in law made us a pan of scalloped potatoes and ham. It was invaluable to have food that was minimal mess and prep and we were also able to easily feed guests who were visiting the baby.
I have to say that I view my labor and delivery as one of my greatest accomplishments. I truly hope that most women feel this way afterword, even if it did not go as they planned. Giving birth is an extremely personal experience that will not only vary from person to person, but also with each pregnancy. I remember feeling the overwhelming solidarity of all the women who came hundreds of thousands of years before me and delivered their babies. I hope that I have inspired you to strive for the labor you hope for with my experience as many others before me inspired me. Please feel free to contact me with any questions!