Yes…all my best stories are long stories. As you know, today is The Dude’s birthday and it has me looking back on one of the most amazing experiences of my life. I hope parents and future parents (whether you are from the PANDAS community or not) will take something from The Dude’s birth story.
I’m one of those strange birds who loved childbirth. Pregnancy was, unfortunately, a miserable experience for me but, if being pregnant wasn’t a necessary precursor, I would do childbirth again and again! I suffered nausea in the first trimester and serious UTIs and kidney infections in the second (Thanks Dude! Your head on my bladder was just what I needed!) By the third trimester (32 weeks) I was laboring and didn’t know it. I ended up on bedrest for the last 6 weeks of my pregnancy. I like to think that an incredible birthing experience was my reward for surviving all of that!
But, back to the beginning: When I first found out I was pregnant, I was firmly in the ‘hook me up to the epidural before I get to the hospital’ camp. Sometime, however, around the end of my first trimester, I encountered three things that changed my perspective:
- A friend mentioned to me that she had had an epidural with her first child and felt like ‘the doctors had just pulled a baby out from under the table and she had had nothing to do with it.’
- I read an article that explained that the body of a pregnant woman in a coma will deliver her baby without intervention. I know, a strange fact for me to hone in on, but a very interesting one to me.
- I landed on a book called Adventures in Natural Childbirth by Janet Schwegel. I’m not sure how I came across the book but it’s a collection of personal stories that illustrate different women’s experiences with natural childbirth. It runs the gamut from women who chose to have natural childbirth in a regular hospital to those who birthed their babies alone in a bathtub. It definitely also has a ‘natural childbirth is best for your baby’ bent that I couldn’t escape.
While I certainly wasn’t convinced that I was ready for the ‘solo bathtub’ birth, these three experiences got me thinking. My husband and I knew we were only going to have one child together. He had two boys from a previous marriage and we had agreed, while dating, that we wanted to be parents together but that my husband wasn’t ready for more than 3 kids. So, during my pregnancy, I knew pretty clearly that this was my only opportunity to do childbirth the way I wanted to.
A few thoughts drove me to change my attitude:
- I wanted to be present and involved in my child’s birth. If my friend regretted that she felt that her baby had been ‘pulled out from under the table,’ I wanted to take that into consideration.
- If my body could deliver this baby on it’s own, surely I could do it while conscious. I was afraid of the pain and that I wouldn’t be able to successfully birth the baby but that (somewhat ridiculous but reassuring) piece of information gave me some level of confidence.
- Adventures in Natural Childbirth showed me that there were lots of ways to have a natural childbirth. I didn’t have to squat in a field and go back to planting crops for my birth to be ‘natural.’ And, if I was only going to have one baby, didn’t I owe it to him or her to try to do the best I could?
That being said, I had no idea where to start with learning more about natural childbirth. So, I did what anyone of my generation would do: I turned to the Internet. I researched ‘natural childbirth’ and read about Lamaze and The Bradley Method. Each had it’s own pros and cons but I wasn’t convinced that either one was for me. Finally, I landed on something called HypnoBirthing and found myself very intrigued.
For those who don’t know, HypnoBirthing is founded on the ideas that:
- Fear causes tension.
- Tension causes pain.
- If you can train your body to release the fear, you can reduce your body’s tension and minimize or alleviate the pain associated with childbirth.
- Hypnosis is a way to train your body to relax and release fear.
Something about those ideas rang true for me. Moreover, I had done some work in therapy in the past that used the mind-body connection to alleviate trauma and had been told that I was very intuitive and suggestible. Something told me that HypnoBirthing might just work for me.
While I was looking around Columbus to see if I could find a HypnoBirthing class, I was also exposed to the idea (I can’t remember how) of having a doula present at my child’s birth. At first I didn’t understand why anyone would want a stranger in the room with them while they were birthing…I only wanted my husband present. Even the idea of my mom or a good friend attending the birth was too much for me.
As I read more about what a doula is and does, however, I became enamored with the idea of having someone present to support me while I was birthing. Those who promote the idea of using a doula point to the fact that hospital staff are focussed on the health and well-being of your baby and that dads often don’t know what to do to help their wives through the birthing experience. I knew my husband would be there to love and support me but the idea of having a knowledgeable, caring professional available to meet my needs while I was birthing felt more comforting than I had expected.
Luckily, I had an acquaintance in an organization that I belonged to at the time who was training to be a doula. Her name was Kylene and she was the sweet, loving, mother of two adorable girls. Her manner was reassuring to me and I knew that she would be a tremendous doula regardless of the fact that she had not yet completed her training. Hubs and I interviewed her and talked about cost (sadly, though doulas can improve birth outcomes significantly, they are usually not covered by insurance) and immediately hired her. We inquired about whether or not she would be willing to attend birthing classes with us and, as she was still training and very interested in the HypnoBirthing method, she agreed.
The local hospital was offering a HypnoBirthing class but the timing was wrong and they didn’t seem to be using the Mongan method that I had read about. Luck was on my side though as I was able to find a private HypnoBirthing teacher in Bexley who was starting a class. Her name was Nikki and she already had already had 2 (or 3?) natural childbirth experiences. She wasn’t just a HypnoBirthing teacher, she had tried it! We signed up right away and began going to her home with 3-4 other couples every other week.
We learned a lot more than I had anticipated in that class. I went in thinking that I would learn how to hypnotize myself or allow my husband or doula to hypnotize me to ease the process of childbirth. While that certainly was part of what we learned, we were also exposed to a great deal more:
- We learned about the power of the mind and how telling ourselves that we would ‘try’ to birth naturally was giving ourselves an out.
- We learned not to pressure ourselves or beat ourselves up if natural childbirth wasn’t in the cards but that, in advance, we needed to assert that we were going to have this baby naturally. Apparently, the connection between the mind and the body is so strong that affirming something can greatly increase the odds of it happening.
- We learned about interventions that happen in a hospital setting and how they could interfere with our desire to have a natural childbirth.
- We learned ways to ensure that we were supported in having a natural childbirth by our doctors and the hospital staff.
- We learned about birth plans, how to write them and what to include.
- We learned how to leverage our doula to support us and what doulas were allowed and not allowed to do in a hospital setting.
- We learned how to decline suggestions from the hospital staff that were not in line with what we wanted for our birth experience and/or our child. (Key words: ‘I hear you, I understand you, and I decline.’)
We practiced HypnoBirthing techniques and learned how best to help me relax. It was trial and error. Some exercises worked quite well…others, not so much. I distinctly remember insisting to my husband that I was releasing the weight of my arm entirely so that he could support it. Apparently, my Type A self had a different idea of releasing than the one we were going for.
We were given a book to read prior to each class and a CD that I listened to for hypnosis every night before bed. ‘I relax and let birth happen.’ ‘I love and trust my body and my baby.’ I think I fell asleep to those words every night for at least 4 months. Of course, I had no real idea whether or not HypnoBirthing was going to help with our birthing experience but we learned a lot about the human body and our developing baby too.
I think Hubs was initially a little hesitant to be super involved in the pregnancy. He had his own battle scars from the births of his first two sons and felt, I think, a little unsure what he was supposed to do. I remember clearly, however, that we saw a video during one of our HypnoBirthing classes that showed how early a developing baby can recognize the voices of its parents and those that are regularly around ‘the belly’ during pregnancy. That video had a tremendous effect on my husband and he started to connect more with the process and talk more to my burgeoning stomach. Never mind that he always seemed to say, “This is your Dad-dy” with an Indian accent. (We are not even remotely Indian) It was sweet and endearing and I think it allowed him to grow attached to our son even before he came into the world.
Unfortunately, about halfway through our HypnoBirthing training, things started to come off the rails a bit. I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes after my first glucose challenge test. To that point, we had been seeing the nurse midwives at Professionals for Women’s Health in Westerville, Ohio. (Yes, I’m calling them out here. I’m still pretty mad about the situation.) They were the ones who had told me I was pregnant, they were the ones who did our first ultrasound and arranged my prenatal care. They treated my UTIs and admitted me to the hospital for Cipro when the infection got worse than expected. When I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes, however, they ceased to listen to the concerns that my husband and I raised with them.
I was 33 at the time so I wasn’t of ‘Advanced Maternal Age’ but the gestational diabetes had them worried and they wanted to send me to see a Maternal Fetal Medicine doctor at Riverside and consider the possibility of scheduling a C-section. Now, we had learned about gestational diabetes in our birthing classes and had done some research on the topic on our own and proposed two things:
- I was willing to try to control my blood sugars with diet.
- If that didn’t work, I was willing to inject insulin for the rest of my pregnancy to control those sugars.
My goal was to have my baby naturally and we knew that once we were on board with a MFM doc and moving toward a C-section, that was going to be harder. The docs and midwives at Professionals for Women’s Health were having none of it. They barely listened to our thoughts and advised us rather quickly and strongly that, if I refused to see the MFM doctor and insisted on trying to control my sugars with diet or insulin, I would no longer be considered a patient in their practice.
After conferring briefly (during which conversation my husband reminded me that ‘if they aren’t going to listen to us now when there is no emergency, they likely aren’t going to hear us out during childbirth’) we not-so-politely informed them that we would go elsewhere for our prenatal care and delivery. Before leaving the room that day, the doctor in charge advised us that she would ‘go ahead and set up our next appointment because we would be back when no other doctor agreed to see us at 28 weeks pregnant.’ As you can imagine, we left hell-bent on the idea that we would never return.
Since you know this story has a happy ending, I’m going to leave it here and hope to finish it tomorrow! Thanks for reading.
Happy Birthday, Dude! See how hard we worked to bring you into this world?