The Unexpected Trick That Helped Me Through Labor

When I was pregnant with my third child, I was incredibly hopeful that maybe, just maybe, I would finally get the birth experience I was looking for. I wanted, at some level, to feel like I was in control — and I really wanted to try for a drug-free birth. I knew, after having two babies, how silly this sounded. You go with the flow. You can’t make concrete plans. Birth goes how it goes. My first two births didn’t go according to plan, so why did I expect this one to be any different?

With my first I had wanted a drug-free birth and had instead been bullied into every intervention short of a c-section. I went to the hospital before I was in hard labor, and instead of allowing me the choice to go home, I was forced to have my water broke — even though my body was nowhere near ready to give birth. I was given Demerol then pitocin. I had an epidural which nearly killed me and whatever interventions it took to bring me back from the edge when I was unconscious. I was given an episiotomy without consent. My son was vacuumed out. I had no say and no control.

The experience was traumatic, and I’m sure partly to blame for my postpartum depression. It was so bad, in fact, it made me decide to be done after having only one child. Then I got unexpectedly pregnant with my daughter.

While her birth was not traumatic in any way, it still felt very much like I was simply part of a hospital line. I wasn’t progressing fast enough so they insisted on pitocin and since I couldn’t handle that pain, an epidural. Her birth was good, easy even, but again I felt like it didn’t belong to me. I hardly knew what real contractions felt like, because both times I had been given pitocin to cause “forced” contractions. I was still nowhere near the birth I had envisioned when I was first pregnant.

So when I became pregnant with my third child after suffering two miscarriages, I was determined to make it different. I wanted to feel labor, to be a part of the birthing process instead of having my voice relegated to the sidelines. I decided to switch to a midwife, and aim once more for an intervention free birth.

When my due date came, I downed a plate of jalapeño poppers as my last desperate attempt to get labor moving (it seemed an easier route than castor oil, but with, um, similar effects). Soon, I was in labor. Real labor. Hard labor. The kind I hadn’t yet experienced despite already birthing two children. It was more painful than I expected.

I labored at home for a while, unwilling to go to the hospital only to be nudged along with pitocin. However, when I finally decided it was time to go to the hospital, I had also decided that I needed an epidural as soon as I got there. I had spent hours fighting the pain of my contractions and I was exhausted. Everything my husband tried to do to help me, only seemed to make it worse. I didn’t want to fight it anymore. I wanted the drugs.

When my midwife met me at the hospital, she calmly persuaded me to give something else a try before the epidural. She directed my frantically helpful husband to the side and when another piercing contraction came, she didn’t tell me to go to my happy place or breathe a certain way. Instead she instructed me to lean into the pain. She told me to ride the wave as she watched the clock for me. She talked me through it gently, allowing me to pay attention to my body and my pain as it crescendoed and faded.

While this method didn’t make the pain go away, it did help me make it through contraction after contraction. Feel the pain instead of fighting it. Ride it out. Experience it. Not only did this help get me through labor, it helped me finally feel immersed in my birth experience in a way I had never known before. Though I ultimately opted for the epidural in the end for pushing, I walked away from my final birth wholly satisfied with the outcome. I had finally been present for birth — all thanks to my midwife’s mindful approach.

Gemma Hartley is a freelance writer with a BA in writing from The University of Nevada, Reno. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, Glamour, Women’s Health, Babble, Yahoo Parenting and more. She lives in Reno, NV with her husband, three young children, an awesome dog and a terrible cat.

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