Saturday, August 2, 2014

Choices: A Drug-free Natural Hospital Birth

When I first became pregnant, I had a big problem. You see, I despise needles and everything I knew about pregnancy and birth told me that I would be stuck full of them throughout this experience: blood tests, glucose screening, IVs, an epidural, etc.

At some point early on, I thought, Screw that! I'm tough. I'll go drug-free in labor. Women have been giving birth for a lot longer than those things have been around, right? God created and designed me to give birth and there was nothing in the bible about Eve needing an epidural!

And so with that, I laughingly told my family my crazy plan, adding that I needed to research some other pain management methods (probably envisioning in my head that stupid labor breathing always portrayed in movies). My nurse sister suggested considering homebirth. WHAT?! I didn't even know that was an option anymore. Women give birth at home?! Sweet!

And so began my research journey into everything "natural birth." I was so uninformed. I began reading books and more books and online articles and forums on things like gestational diabetes, epidurals, episiotomies, the Bradley Method, doulas, the typical cascade of interventions (aka snowball effect), and more. I read lots of birth stories, both good and bad, but mostly good to encourage myself that it was possible!

I prayed a lot as well. In the beginning of my pregnancy, one thing I prayed for was strength and courage for the "required" blood draws. I did one early in the pregnancy which was traumatizing! I totally cried and made the lab tech wait like 10 minutes before I gave him my arm. As the time for the next blood draw came, I was really distressed over having to do that again. Then a day or two before that doctor appointment, I was lamenting in prayer over the dreaded blood draw that I "had to do" for my baby and I felt like God asked me, why hadn't I asked Him whether I had to do it or not? I immediately felt like He had given me permission to skip it and I had so much peace! From that point on, I was a peace-filled, needle-declining rebel! God had my back and that was good enough for me!

The more I prayed and the more I learned, my passion for this topic grew. I became more confident in God's design and amazed by the wonder and beauty of it. I became very skeptical of routine interventions. Do we think God needs a little help here? Did He mess up a little with this whole birth thing? No! I grew confident in my ability to birth my baby without drugs and without intervention. I was created and designed to birth babies! And God was with us! (Though there are situations when medical intervention is needed and welcome, they are few.)

Did you know that in unmedicated birth, when the baby is crowning, the mama's body releases such a surge of hormones (such as oxytocin, the love hormone) that it rewires the mama's brain to prepare her to love and nurture her baby?! When pain medications are given, that hormone surge is stunted because it is released in response to the pain. Things like this just blow my mind! The more I read, the more things like this I learned about pregnancy, birth, and babies. I am in awe at the God-given ability of women to bring forth life and nurture it! We are so privileged to be life-bearers.

Now I received plenty of comments and heard a lot of horror stories during my pregnancy. Many smiled at my plans for a drug free birth and told me something like, "well, we'll see what happens when you go into labor." More than one assured me that I would reach a point where I would break down and demand drugs. Our culture teaches us to fear birth and it teaches us to distrust our bodies. I want to assure you that God knew what He was doing when He designed us, and you don't need to be afraid! (Perfect Love casts out fear! ~ 1 John 4:18 and the Truth sets you free! ~ John 8:32) Trust in the Creator's design! You can do this! And for those of you who want to quote the curse from Genesis at me about increased pain in childbirth -- JESUS BROKE THE CURSE ON THE CROSS. He died to free us from the curse, why do we insist on keeping it?! Just sayin'.

And you know one thing makes birth more painful? Fear. The more you tense up in fear, the greater the pain. Then pain medications cut off the hormone cycle of increasing levels of oxytocin which reduces our perception of the pain. And so we medicate and spiral into intervention on top of intervention, that leads to poor outcomes for mamas and babies. The US ranks 60th in the world for maternal mortality rate and 69th in the world for infant mortality rate. In fact, our numbers are trending upward instead of downward! Our routine interventions that have led to our ridiculous c-section rates (No, one in three babies do not need to be cut out of their mother!) are not doing us any favors.

When I started this learning journey, it was all about me and avoiding needles. The more I learned though, I found that it was no longer simply about avoiding those needles, and it was definitely never about some idealized experience, it was about the health and safety of both me and my child.

So, yes, my labor was painful in a sense, but it was more like hard work that required a lot of focus and concentration. It was never too much. I trusted my body and did what I needed to. I swayed my hips. I got on my hands and knees. I vocalized through my contractions. I rested in between. I focused on relaxing my body and working with my contractions instead of fighting them. I repeated thoughts like these in my head: "Jesus help me!" "Every contraction brings me closer to meeting him" and the lyrics to a song "I will lift my eyes to the Maker of the mountains I can't climb..." Every. single. contraction.

My spontaneous routine got me through each contraction. I was not afraid. I did not scream for drugs. I did not want them. When I reached transition, I felt like I was ready to be done, but I knew I could do it. And I did! It was tough, but I was tougher.

The doctor and nurses were concerned with Will's heart rate toward the end once I was pushing. I asked what I should do. Would some upright position be better? I wanted to change positions to help his heart rate and push him out faster. They told me to stay where I was, laying on my back at that moment, and instead cut me (an episiotomy) and used a vacuum to deliver Will.

I shake my head now. At another birth, I witnessed a similar situation, but with a midwife. The midwife asked the mama to move from her back to her hands and knees, baby's heart rate improved, and baby was born soon after, perfect. No episiotomy or vacuum needed. My instincts were right, but instead of allowing me to move into a better and more natural position for birth, they did it the routine medical way. Did you know they tell you not to lay on your back your entire pregnancy, because it cuts off blood flow to the baby? But during labor in a hospital, it's the default position. Does that seem illogical to you? Could that maybe have caused Will's distressed heart tones? Um, yeah.

I knew better, but in the moment I doubted myself and allowed the interventions. For awhile after, I justified it and felt they were probably necessary. No, they really weren't, but it was easier for the doctor and nurses to use man-made interventions rather than try natural methods. So I had some disappointment about that aspect but I still accomplished a drug-free hospital birth! It is possible!

Because of my passion for all things birth, and my love of mamas and their precious babies, I became a doula after the birth of my first son and I dream of being a midwife in God's timing. My heart and desire is for women to be educated about birth. I want them to know their strength and capability! I want women to know their options, follow their instincts, be empowered, and birth without fear. I want them to know that birth can be beautiful, gentle, joyful, and empowering! Birth is something you do, not something that is done to you. If you have any questions about birth, I'd love to help you educate yourself. Two great resources on natural birth are Ina May's Guide to Childbirth and The Birth Partner.

I am truly a praying mama, and I am especially passionate about praying for mamas and babies. Last summer while visiting Bethel Church in Redding, I received a promise over my life that I will see stillborn babies come back to life as a supernatural midwife, so I pray for mamas and babies expecting the miraculous! Our God is the God who heals ALL our diseases (Psalm 103:3) and brings the dead back to life (John 11, Romans 4:17)! I would be honored to pray for you and your baby, too, so please leave a comment or send me a message. God has great plans for the both of you, to give you a hope and a future! (Jeremiah 29:11)

God, awaken women to their strength and the beauty of Your design for birth! Release gentle, beautiful, and empowering births. Release healing of scars and trauma from less than ideal or traumatic births. May women know that it is okay to grieve what was stolen from them by unneeded interventions or care providers that didn't listen or just plain bad circumstances. May all women know that a beautiful, natural birth is possible for them, too, by God's grace! Release Your truth and love that will free us from all fear. Cover us with Your peace. AMEN!

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