The Cult of the Natural Birth

I did the things I was supposed to do. I was dead set against induction, but I was only two days late so I didn’t have to fight that fight with the medical establishment. I declined the epidural. I declined the drugs. Actually, my birth plan – and the presence of my, not one but two, doulas – made it abundantly clear that I was going to be one of those, so neither was ever offered me. As I lay on my side, legs clamped shut (not the optimal birthing position), paralyzed by the pain, certain I would be ripped in half by this child, I thought I cannot do this, I am going to die right here, but I didn’t say so out loud and I didn’t ask for the drugs. I birthed my son in a squatting position, drug-free, in the midst of screams and moans and tears. The thing about really intense pain though is that once it ends the absence of the pain is the most glorious pleasure. Sure, I hurt, but this was a passive soreness not the active, writhing pain. I was sore and pretty badly torn, as I pushed him out in a fury out of fear of being told I was taking too long and we’d need any number of interventions – forceps, episiotomy, vacuum, or worst of the worst, c-section. The pushing felt like an eternity, but it was only about 30 minutes, so there really had been no need to rush. So, yes, I was sore, but it was nothing next to the immediate rush of endorphins from the relief and from the instantaneous head-over-heels love for my son.

I avoided the majority of interventions I had been taught to fear with the exception of antibiotics for a positive strep B test. Don’t get me started on the strep B testing and how idiotic it is to do it several weeks before birth. My son was born squalling and red, no docile drugged baby here. We delayed cord clamping. We had immediate skin-to-skin contact. I brought him to my breast within seconds of his entry into the world. He sniffed and grunted and nuzzled, but he didn’t latch. I had done everything I was supposed to do, but I was exhausted, and annoyed by my audience, and thought we’ll latch later. We never really did though. I have friends who had planned c-sections for medical reasons or even for convenience, or who happily accepted that epidural, friends whose babies were whisked to the NICU and didn’t get to have that immediate skin-to-skin contact, and who all managed to successfully breastfeed their babies. Yet, I put myself through what I thought a necessary hell in order to do everything right yet the best I could do was pump milk 6-8 hours a day for seven months and give it to him in a bottle. It wasn’t even enough milk for every bottle. He received one or two bottles of formula a day. I did everything that was supposedly right and yet this went wrong. I still feel cheated and angry that I put so much stock in what the patchouli-scented hippies had to say, that I was so easily bullied by them while working to not be bullied by the nurses and scalpel-wielding obstetricians. I still distrust those nurses and obstetricians, but I roll my eyes at the doulas and home-birthers too. None of you have the magic formula for my perfect birth scenario. And after postpartum depression threatened to destroy my relationship with my son, it was one of the obstetricians with Zoloft who saved me, not a doula with a special fucking tea.

When I have my next baby, I will still be in a hospital. I will attempt a natural birth, but if I decide in the moment that I want an epidural I’ll have the epidural. There will be no piece of paper on file saying otherwise. I haven’t decided on a doula, but I have opted for a midwife over a doctor. I desperately want to breastfeed this baby, but I won’t procrastinate on antidepressants because of it. I won’t allow every lactation consultation in the maternity ward to spew their contradictory nonsense at me. I will tell them to get out. I will sit calmly with my own baby and keep trying. And if it doesn’t work, I will pump for this one too. I will do whatever I have to do but I no longer have any value judgments on which is the right or wrong way to do it.

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