One of the main reasons I chose to have a natural home birth was to maximize a solid start to a successful breastfeeding relationship with my baby. Everything I read about the multitude of interventions that are common in hospital births seemed to point to the beginning of the end of breastfeeding for mothers and babies who were “drugged” during birth. And since I didn’t trust myself to turn down interventions in a time as vulnerable as labor, I opted for a homebirth instead.
Mine is not a story seen through rose-colored glasses, though. While the convenience and psychological comfort of giving birth to my daughter at home cannot be surpassed, I will not sugar-coat the physical pain of active labor contractions, transition, and pushing. Having “been there, done that”, as I read over descriptions of natural childbirth now, I’m able to see the descriptions in a new light and realize that I made a decision based purely on objective intellect. My higher education background would have me believe that this is the mark of authentic truth-seeking; only objectivity leads to facts. However, my recent experiences fly directly in the face of this assumption. As Albert Einstein once said, “information is not knowledge.”
Only now do I notice key words and phrases like “chances”, “more/less likely”, “tend to”, “may/might/can”. These are vague descriptors at best. Did I seriously stake my entire birth and early postpartum experience on mere potentiality? There is a chance of an unnecessary cesarean section at a hospital birth. Hospital births are more likely to result in prolonged or even stalled labor. Mothers and babies who experience unmedicated birth tend to go on to have strong, successful breastfeeding relationships. The epidural may lead to other, unwanted interventions. Note how none of these are actual facts. None of these are universals or guarantees. Perhaps I’m the only one who got caught up in the ideals of a natural birth and exclusive breastfeeding. Now I see that that’s the problem – I allowed an idea (an ideology, actually) to make my decisions.
Gentle birth sounded so enticing, precisely because I assumed that it would be gentle for me, too. And what can be more natural and empowering at the same time as providing your baby’s nourishment all by yourself? I assumed that in order to fit in with a group I identify with, I had to ascribe to every single one of that group’s principles, whether they be spoken or presumed.
My drug-free, natural home birth, which lasted just under 19 hours total (including 13 hours of early labor) seemed to go by in a flash. Time seemed to stand still when I was in the midst of it all. The truly difficult part lasted roughly 6 hours. My contractions did not fit the pattern I had read about and learned about in childbirth class, and even the midwife on call, whom I consulted several times, did not think there was any hurry. But everything changed rather quickly.
Since our little one was coming nearly 2 weeks earlier than expected, Alex hadn’t yet finalized everything at work before taking family leave. We agreed that since birth was most likely another day away, he should go into work right away rather than in the early days after baby’s arrival. And so I labored alone for about 6 hours, during which time I moved into active labor and my water broke two hours before Alex returned.
Perhaps it was this confusion and time of solitary labor that prevented my birth experience from being as gentle and empowering as I had imagined, or perhaps I just set my expectations too high. Either way, in the throes of these quite literal labor pains, I was not thinking about breastfeeding my baby. I wasn’t motivated by the fact we had waited to find out the sex of our baby until after birth. It made no difference to me that transition and pushing were the shortest parts of labor. (These were all nuggets of insight I had read that were supposed to ease childbirth for me but didn’t.) In fact, I wasn’t thinking about the future or the past, nothing other than getting through the current contraction. I don’t think I’ve ever been more focused in my life. I am constantly pondering what might have been or what could happen. But during labor, I was no more and no less than a laboring woman.
To be fair, my plan against interventions did work. I never thought of requesting a transfer to the hospital, where I could ask for an epidural; I simply worked through each contraction and waited for the ordeal to be over. I knew there was no way around it. But is this really the gentle birth I had imagined and hoped for? Perhaps it was gentler for my baby. Though I wonder just how gentle life needs to be for a little person who screams at the top of her lungs during a diaper change, leading anyone within ear shot but to assume that the child is in dire need of immediate assistance.
When I finally held my daughter in my arms for the first time (not yet knowing that she was a girl!), I did not think any of the crunchy poetics I had read about from other natural birth moms. I did not think for one second that it was worth it, or that I’d do it all again if I had to. It was over; that’s all that mattered. Now my daughter was here, and I just remember thinking how tiny she was. There was a definite disconnect between her presence and the manner of her arrival. Other than giving me bragging rights, I did not feel particularly empowered by the natural birth. And as I’d learn over the following days and weeks, the experience did not naturally (pun intended) lead to establishing a smooth breastfeeding relationship, either.