I wrote about this subject before (see the posts here and here), but I haven’t addressed it after Sam’s birth. I think it’s important to address since many natural birth lovin’ ladies are of the impression that one cannot have a successful birth at a hospital — or that a hospital will push you to interventions or ignore your wishes. In fact, one of those ladies inspired this post — read her story here.
I’ve actually fielded a lot of questions around my hospital birth from a similar school of thought:
- Did they start pushing you to get an epidural? No. No one mentioned it except when I was screaming for one during transition. And the nurse said, “You can make it! You are doing such an amazing job. You don’t need an epidural!”
- Did your doctor push you to get induced? No. But he told me I could if I liked!
- Did they give you an episotomy? Nope. I tore, the good old fashioned way (and I’m glad I did. I can’t imagine having stitches in that … region.)
- Did they take your baby away? No. Most hospitals room in nowadays. Sam was with me from birth until we left the hospital. They only took him away to bathe him — and they let me pick exactly when that would happen.
- Did they push the vaccinations and tests? Why YES, but I refused the Hep-B vaccine until his immune system was a little more mature to handle it (got it at two weeks — Dr. Sears recommends two months). They just asked me if I wanted it over and over, and I just said no each time. Not a big hassle. The other tests — get em. You want to know ahead of time if something is wrong with your little one.
- Did they wake you up every two hours? No. They left me alone for the most part. They brought me my sweet, sweet Percocet and Motrin every six hours, and oh, I got smoothies and cookies.
- Did they let you breastfeed? Threaten to give your baby formula? Yes, I breastfed — and with help! No one ever mentioned giving Sam formula or glucose or water, and I had lactation consultants and nurses to help me.
On top of all that? I heard from just about every nurse, and the resident, how amazing and incredible it was that I had a natural birth. I mean, that’s the best feeling ever — getting told you are awesome after you’ve done something totally awesome and life-changing for the first time ever. You can’t beat that with a stick. Not only did I get to hear that from my parents and husband, I got to hear it from everyone who walked through my room.
SO … How can you have a satisfying natural birth at a hospital? LOTS of women don’t! Here are my tips for a successful birthing journey:
1. This is the biggest, best advice anyone can have for having a natural birth at a hospital: Find an awesome, natural friendly, experienced, trustworthy OB or midwife who is linked with a hospital in the area. If you have a care provider who doesn’t support your desires, you might as well schedule your induction. Overall, I’d say to look for someone without the “I’m right” attitude. You need someone with the “Mama knows best” and “Baby will come when baby is ready” attitude (frequent sayings from my OB). Ask the following questions of your practitioner:
- How long will you let me go? (41 weeks is pretty standard, but some docs start scheduling at 38!)
- What is your c-section rate? Episotomy rate? Pitocin use rate? (If a doc is cagey about this stuff, that’s not cool.)
- Do you support having a birth plan? (My doc required one!)
- What do you think of Hynobirthing/The Bradley Method/Birthing from Within/natural childbirth classes? (Again, my doc required a class. I’m glad he did.)
- Any other questions that will make you comfortable — Can I wear my own clothes? Can I have food and water? Whatever you like!
2. Pick a hospital with a good reputation around natural birth. I did my research, asked around, and switched from the giant, Baby Factory type hospital in the area (they do 11,000 births a year as opposed to the 3000 at Virginia Hospital Center. In general, small hospitals have smaller staff, smaller patient load, and more time for you!) It just so happened that my doc was associated with that hospital. I also talked to my coworker who had a successful birth at VHC. Great idea! I also talked to several different doulas who all recommended the same hospital and NOT the other one. (Interviewing doulas is FREE, btw, and gets you a lot of great info. You don’t have to choose the first one you interview.)
3. Take a tour of the hospital so you know what to expect. It’s great to know the process ahead of time so you don’t feel overwhelmed when you get there!
4. Take a natural childbirth class, and read your books on natural childbirth. I do know of people who have gone into natural childbirth blind, but having done it myself — it’s absolutely not something I would recommend. I am so glad I knew exactly what to expect through each stage of labor. Knowing about labor is ESSENTIAL. I mean, knowing about it to the level that someone can quiz you about it and you know what happens during early first stage as opposed to late first stage … that’s the level I’m talking about. This helped me a ton. Example: Around 4AM, when the pain started getting REALLY EFFING BAD, I asked yelled to be checked because I thought from my physical symptoms that I was making strong progress. And it turned out I was right. I had gone from three centimeters to six in about three hours. And I knew from that that it wouldn’t be long! That was so encouraging. And I’m so glad I knew about my stages so I didn’t get scared!
5. Hire a doula, or make sure that your husband knows his stuff. I did both! It was awesome to have our doula there with us — she explained the heart rate monitor when the nurse did not. She also explained why certain things were happening, and how to handle the situations as they arose. Eric was excellent because he would remind me of every stage as it happened and offered suggestions on how to manage the pain.
6. On the note of the husband (or partner), make sure that person is about 1000% on board with your decision to labor naturally, and tell them beforehand to encourage you and tell you not to give up. This is SO incredibly important. When you are at the height of your pain, it is likely you will scream for relief, even if you intellectually know that you don’t want it. You need the person who loves you most to tell you that you are STRONG, and you can get through it. When you say you can’t, they need to tell you you can. Pain relief is so readily available at a hospital, you need someone you trust to tell you that you don’t need it.
7. Make a plan for pain relief. This plan should be tiered. First tier: What will you do to manage pain in the first stage of labor? (Walking, showering, laboring at home, using different positions … do your research and figure out what might work for you!) Second tier: What will you do when the pain is really intense? (My suggestions include: walking, showering [my hair got washed a lot], yelling, singing, shouting, and stomping … what will work for you? How much can you manage?) Third tier: At what point will you be okay with getting an epidural? Other pain relief? (Sample plan: I will get an epidural after 24 hours in the hospital, after 36 hours of no sleep. This will help me get to pushing, and I’ll be okay with it. This will help you have a goal, get to it, and not feel guilty if you decide to go for pain relief.)
8. Bring food and water. Labor burns a lot of calories. It’s pretty much bunk that hospitals won’t let you eat during labor. It’s total bunk. They tell you not to eat because you are in a pre-surgical (pre-c-section) state. Well, I’m in a pre-surgical state right now. If a brick fell on my head, and they had to operate, they would do so without a thought to the pumpkin bread on my stomach. I labored for 12 hours at the hospital. 12 hours with no food? Not me. I didn’t WANT to eat anything, but I’m really glad we brought a couple of PB&J sandwiches. Eric made me eat, and I needed to. When you don’t eat, you get exhausted. When you get exhausted, you can’t keep on. Low blood sugar can lead to low heart rate for baby. Bring food, tell the nurse it’s for daddy, and eat when nurse isn’t around. Eat like it’s medicine you must take. If you are too nauseated to eat, drink water as much as you can.
9. Don’t take it lying down. On “A Baby Story,” you mostly see ladies lying down in labor. They are either already hooked up to an epidural or they’re waiting for one. Lying down is a pretty terrible way to labor naturally. You progress a lot more slowly, you can’t try a whole lot of positions, and the pain is more intense. Bleh. It was THE worst position for me. The problem is, at the hospital, they have you hooked up to monitors for twenty minutes out of every hour to get a fetal heart rate! (If you can find a hospital with telemetry, go for it! Read about different types of monitoring here.)
10. Stay at home as long as possible! It can be really exciting to start labor, and it can also make anxiety rise within you so strongly that you want to take off for the hospital ASAP. Don’t do it! I wish I’d stayed at home much longer. Remember the 3-2-1 rule. Your contractions should be about 3 minutes apart, lasting for one minute a piece, and this should be happening for about two hours. Then it’s time to go to the hospital. I went before that, and gosh, I wish that I’d stayed at home way longer. (Of course, if anything is wrong or weird, go to the hospital right away.) For a simple guide on the stages, check this out.
So there end my tips. I really hope they help you have the kind of birth you want! For all of the pregnant ladies who read this, I wish you a safe and healthy birth, whatever type you choose. Always make sure you do your research … remain as calm as possible … and be prepared.
Would I do another hospital birth? Probably. Am I considering a home birth next time? You bet. I want to be able to walk around and get in a big jacuzzi tub … right on.
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I’m a liberal feminist that believes that liberal, feminist ideals should gel with embracing your gender and motherhood (if that’s what you feel like doing). I support all kinds of moms and dads and parents. Oh and, although I totally love that natural vibe and not harming the environment, I supplement my organic milk and fresh fruits and veggies with the occasional Twix, the frequent Oreo, and the daily Coke Zero. I’m opinionated, not easily offended, and a loudmouth in person and on the internet. I am what I am. Welcome.