Editor’s note: We believe that all birth stories and all birth experiences matter. This post is part of our ongoing series of birth stories featuring a diverse range of women and their birth experiences. As an aerialist, Kalie was inspired by the idea of labour as “beauty pain” to deliver her baby without medication. Today she’s sharing the story of her unmedicated birth and her baby’s NICU stay due to meconium aspiration.
If you would like to share your own birth story, visit this post to learn how.
Before I became pregnant with my daughter, I never thought that I would attempt to labor without an epidural. Having a baby just sounded like an unbearable thing to put yourself through without the assistance of some kind of mind-altering drug. I mean, what woman in her right mind is really excited about having her vagina stretched wide open and pushing a watermelon sized human being out?
I was also fearful that pregnancy would mean that I would not be able to continue training as an aerialist. While reading first-hand accounts of other pregnant aerialists, I discovered this blog that described the experience of unmedicated labor as “beauty pain”, and something just clicked for me. Aerialists regularly do things that are quite painful for the sake of creating a beautiful work of art. If I thought about childbirth as the ultimate expression for creating art, I realized that I was actually very equipped to have an unmedicated labor. This was the turning point in my decision to attempt childbirth without medication or intervention. I hope you enjoy my story and that it inspires you to learn everything you can about what your own birth will entail.
I was 37 ½ weeks pregnant when I went into labor with my daughter. I went to bed that night and woke up a few hours later feeling something that was a lot like period cramps. I thought it was a little odd that the sensation had awoken me from sleep, so I laid there for about an hour feeling the cramps come and go before I woke my husband up. I don’t think he believed me at first. I definitely didn’t seem like I was in labor. I dozed in and out of sleep for the rest of the night. The next morning, they were still there, coming about every fifteen minutes. Excited, I got up and decided to go for a walk. My husband came with me, and sure enough, my contractions became stronger and more regular, so much that I had to pause with him on the road and breathe deeply. When we got back to the house, I realized that we had a hospital tour scheduled for that very same day.
We debated whether or not we should go on the tour, and finally decided that if my labor were to progress, the hospital would be the best place for us to be anyways! During the tour, my contractions continued and became more regular again. I had my first strong contraction that took my breath away at the end of the tour.
I went home and baked cookies. Yes, you read that right, I baked cookies during labor. My contractions were very mild at this point and I wanted to have cookies to offer the nurses in the hospital (plus, chocolate chip cookies were my weakness when I was pregnant). My contractions grew further apart and less intense, and I worried that my labor might be stalling. I contacted my doula again, wondering if I should go for another walk. Her advice surprised me. She told me to eat a good meal and take a nap because I was probably in for a long night and would need the strength and energy. I was too anxious to sleep much, but looking back, I wish I would have gotten a little more rest! When I got up, my contractions had spread out to every 30-45 minutes. I told my husband we should get some dinner because the baby probably wasn’t coming anytime soon, so he went and got some of our favorite comfort food.
I was sitting in my living room eating my second or third bite of pho, watching Netflix, and bouncing on my birthing ball when my water broke. It felt like a water balloon had popped in my stomach. We called my doula right away and she said that she was across town meeting with another client. She told me to get into the shower or bath and try to relax. I went into the bathroom to clean up. This was when I had my first, real, no nonsense, active labor contraction. It felt VERY different from the rest of them!
My husband helped me upstairs and I tried to get into the shower. I had another strong contraction. They were coming MUCH closer together now, every 3-4 minutes apart! It was getting difficult to stand up, so I sat down in the bathtub. This is the point where everything gets a little hazy. I blocked out everything else and felt myself focusing on nothing but the waves of pain and my breathing. I lost all sense of time. My husband stayed by my side, coaching me through the contractions like we had practiced. He remained so calm and collected throughout my entire labor and it really helped me keep my head. At this point, he called my doula back and told her she needed to get here quickly.
When my doula arrived, I was lying in bed. She told me later that I seemed so peaceful at first that she almost turned around and went home, thinking my labor was going to be much longer. I certainly didn’t feel peaceful, but the practice and training exercises I had done with my husband had given me the tools I needed to remain calm during the contractions.
My contractions were only 2 or 3 minutes apart by the time we finally drove to the hospital. I remember thinking that I was absolutely going to have the baby on the 15-minute car ride there. It was the longest drive of my life (and probably my husband’s life too).
Everything moved quickly after that. When I arrived at the hospital, I was 6 cm dilated. An hour later, I was 10 cm and pushing. When my doula told me earlier that day that I would need my energy and strength, I had no idea that she meant I would need THIS much energy and strength. The contractions that you have while your body is dilating and your baby is descending are indescribably painful, but the real work began for me when I started pushing. I pushed as hard as I could for an hour and a half that felt like days. I began to worry that it was taking too long.
My doctor and the doula kept assuring me that I was making progress, but it didn’t feel that way. My husband stood by my side, reassuring me and feeding me ice chips between contractions. It took every ounce of strength and willpower to get that baby out. Fortunately, the pain of the contractions actually lessens when you begin pushing with them.
She was stuck on my tailbone for a while and I feared that we would need an emergency C-section. I firmly believe that if I would have gotten the epidural, I wouldn’t have been able to feel how hard I needed to push. I am confident that the decision to birth my baby naturally was what saved us both from a major surgery. I can proudly say that despite the pain, I never once asked for the epidural. A natural birth is something that you need to be sure of, committed to, and fully prepared for before it begins. If you go to the hospital with a “wait and see” mentality, you will end up with the epidural. Your body can handle so much more than your mind believes it can.
Rylen was born at 1:28 am on October 24th, 2017. I cannot describe the feeling of having her placed on my chest in the moments after she was born. It is not something that can or should be put into words. I would have done it all over again just for that precious moment of meeting her for the first time.
When Rylen was born, she inhaled some amniotic fluid. She wasn’t breathing well and her color wasn’t good, so they quickly took her from me. An entire team of pediatric doctors swarmed into the room and began working on her. A few minutes later, I heard her gasp and cry out, followed by a collective sigh of relief from the doctors and my husband.
For the next 18 hours, Rylen was in the NICU on a breathing machine to dry out her lungs. We had previously considered having our baby at a natural birthing center. After our scary experience, we were so relieved that we had chosen to have her in the hospital where there was life-saving medical equipment and pediatric specialists standing by to save her precious life. Our decision to have a hospital birth may have been the only reason that our little girl survived that night.
One of the nurses asked me, after I had been transferred to the recovery room, if I would still have an unmedicated birth if I could do it all over again. I wasn’t ready to answer at that time, but I can say with complete conviction now that I definitely would! The memory of the pain fades quickly and all you are left with is the most precious gift imaginable. No matter how your birth happens, that fact alone makes everything worth it.
Kalie is a first time mom in Phoenix, Arizona. When her daughter was born, she realized that there is a LOT to know about babies and went on a quest for knowledge that eventually resulted in her own blog, Unicorn Mama, and a desire to help other moms in her shoes. She is also a fitness enthusiast and practices aerial arts in her spare time.