Alexis is the perfect picture of how education and experience can not only change our attitude toward birth, but also make it possible for us to have the birth we want. From a routine, medicated hospital birth with her first baby to a carefully planned, doula-supported natural home birth with her fourth, it’s incredible to read the journey that transformed her views on birth. Alexis is an experienced doula and has shared must-read advice for ALL expectant moms!
I was thrilled to be asked to be a guest writer for Wordy Gertie. I am no stranger to birth. I have had 250 hours of birth education/training and observation, I have participated in 20+ births of all varieties and I have had 4 births of my own. I have a background in fitness and health promotion, but these days I work as a health therapist and a doula.
When discussing birth I get excited because I feel I personally made many errors in this area, so for anyone who will hear me, I have good advice!
My biggest suggestions are to educate yourself, and if your gut says there is more to the story then continue to research, research, and research; there is almost always more to the story. Personal conviction and desire usually result in the experience one is looking for, and that’s what I lacked for my first two births.
Secondly, to find support beyond your partner; possibly a doula, a great friend (that has the same views), a mother or mother-in-law; the more support the better.
And third, because the average person is only going to give birth a few times and it is such an important and beautiful event, have a plan and know what you truly want.
When we found out we were pregnant we were a bit terrified and a lot thrilled, and knew we wanted to just go with the flow. I didn’t want to be a crazy, stressed out pregnant lady. I loved my doctor and trusted her. I wanted to try a natural birth, but if it didn’t work out I was okay with a healthy baby. My husband and I had grown up with lots of babies and diapers in our lives, so we decided against a parenting birth class. We believed whatever God meant for our birth would be fine.
My water broke at 10:00 a.m. but I had no contractions, so we went about the day working and wrapping up all the little things before a baby joined our family. By 4:00 p.m. I still had no contractions and I was advised to go in to get checked. I was dilated to 5cm, but still no contractions. I was given Pitocin to get things moving, and I could not believe the pain, so next came an epidural, and seven hours later we had the most perfect baby boy.
I had nothing to compare this experience with. Mom and baby were healthy; seemed like a victory to me!
Three and half years later I was getting ready to deliver a second baby boy. I knew I did not want the Pitocin that had previously rocked my world, but other than that we had taken the same mind set: we will let happen whatever is going to happen.
I didn’t really know that I could have an influential say in my birth. The medical model of birth was what I knew.
I thought I might be in labor as I was having contractions 8-9 minutes apart. Unsure, we decided to make a date night and venture to the hospital, and on the way my water broke.
Yes, all over the car…
We were not prepared for this at all!
I arrived at the hospital dilated to 5cm but I was definitely in labor, contractions were strong and consistent. Not long after arriving at the hospital I definitely wanted an epidural, and not long after the epidural (which only worked on one half of my body) our baby’s heart rate was struggling. An internal monitor was placed and the decision was made that this heart rate variation would not be allowed much longer; a C-section was imminent. But, before that situation came to pass, I was fully dilated and with only a few pushes our son was born.
After my second son was born we jumped into the natural health journey for various health issues we were facing with our oldest son. My mind was blown with by all the things I knew nothing about: herbs, homeopathics, cell salts, flower essences, essential oils, GMOs, gluten, essential fatty acids and so much more. In addition to 20 classes each 20 hours long, I also took a doula training course which required 100 hours of class room training, approximately 50 hours of book work study, and 100 hours of internship/hands-on learning.
So, by the time I became pregnant with my third child, a baby girl, my views had drastically changed. I had become a more uptight version of my self (in all the right areas), and I had some strong convictions.
I knew I had to have a doula, not because my husband was insufficient, but because she would be a dynamic and educated woman and because of the strength she would add to the process. The natural birth education classes that I took gave me insight into why hospital births look the way the way they do, and why they contain so many interventions.
I came to the realization that birth is not a medical event for a healthy women; it is a life event by which we invite another person into world.
I am for hospitals in every way. Women can have real health complications. I have witnessed life-saving interventions by hospitals when they were truly necessary.
Through my personal experience, however, interventions are often rushed. Instead of encouragement and empowerment, small seeds of doubt and fear were planted. One intervention like an epidural for pain leads to greater monitoring of the mom, and can lead to heartbeat dips in the baby and then more monitors and then the fear of another intervention. An experienced doula can anticipate the next step in the labor and can encourage and coach a laboring woman. She will provide word pictures, pressure points, and much more to help the mother achieve her “perfect birth.”
Pregnancy three was smooth. For the first time, when an ailment arrived I consulted my doula for her thoughts. I actually hired two doulas, both with a vast amount of knowledge on herbs, essential oils, and some basic tricks and experience that reduced the need for any medical intervention.
I had always eaten well; I had a strong background in health and nutrition, but because of the type of doula training I had I knew 80 grams of protein was essential to having a hardy baby.
Still, I doubted myself. I did not think I could have an unmedicated birth. I knew what it was like to have that nagging discomfort that you could not escape or have relieved.
My due date came and went. I was going to try to make the best of the days following my due date. My husband went to work and I decided to play outside in the hot summer sun with my two boys. We came in and showered up to go to a barbeque and then…my water broke.
I called everyone that needed to be called. In about an hour we arrived at the hospital, and our two doulas had beat us there. We had not even walked into triage and the contractions were non-stop; I could not get a break.
My doulas were right in the thick of the moment: helping me get dressed, offering encouraging words, reminding me at the right moments to stay in control, how to relax my body and my voice, rubbing my hips and my feet. This all sounds somewhat overwhelming, but it wasn’t, it was so perfect. It was all the things a professional with a vast knowledge in birth does. My main squeeze was there holding my hand and kissing my forehead. A man of few words, but he too was doing exactly what he needed to do.
I was not at the hospital 10 minutes and I was praying to God that I would have this baby quickly so I did not have to request the dreaded epidural, because now I knew too much about its possible side effects. Probably two minutes later, I requested an epidural and before the epidural arrived our daughter was born. She was born so quickly the doctor barely made it!
My first unmedicated birth, I was proud. And the experience set the stage for my fourth birth.
When I discovered I was pregnant for the fourth time, I knew I would do a homebirth. I knew I could do it. I had no doubt that birth was not scary. I had no fear of success.
The hustle and bustle of the hospital seemed so unnecessary once my daughter was born, I could not wait to be home. The homebirth journey was completely different. Each visit with my midwife was a minimum of an hour. We thoroughly talked about all the details, emotions, ailments, and experiences of the fourth pregnancy.
I was not interested in a water birth, it just seemed like a lot of set-up for the short births that I had. The preparation was mostly in my head, imagining how a homebirth would look and feel. On the night I went into labor, I had gone to bed for the night. I was awakened by the first hard contraction, and then 10 minutes later another hard contraction, and then 10 minutes later another hard contraction. I decided to get up and call my midwife as she said to keep her posted, even with “unimportant” changes. As I spoke with her the contractions cascaded upon me and in our brief conversation the contractions had significantly picked up.
Next I called my doula, who said she would be on her way immediately. My response was, “I think we have time, my water still hasn’t broken.”
She said “okay,” but 15 minutes later she arrived. My household stayed asleep. The doula and I walked around the kitchen and again the words of strength and encouragement were endless. She rubbed my back while I stood under a hot shower. My two year old had woken up and my husband was caring for her; I knew birth was close.
My body was waiting for the arrival of the midwife. The midwife arrived as I could feel my body pushing, and my husband walked into the bathroom holding my daughter, and only two hours later our third son and fourth baby had arrived Earthside.
It was peaceful and quiet, and was surprisingly uneventful. Exactly how I had hoped it would be.
Each of my births were an accumulation of more knowledge, more convictions, more planning and more support. Believe me I have more to learn, which in turn will mold and shape how I assist others and how I will proceed with possible future pregnancies.