Our first child was born at almost 42 weeks, after a three day labor. We were living in Korea at the time, and I had the most amazing team in my husband, doulas, and doctor, but it was not an easy labor. At one point I was stuck at seven centimeters for 13 hours, and had excruciating back labor. The last night before he was born is a bit of a blur - I hadn’t slept in three days, and the pain was enough to make my body shake like a leaf, but I slept the two minutes between the contractions. I remember being in the tiny bathroom in our labor room - my husband and doula bracing their legs against the walls, and pushing on either side of my hips with everything they had - trying to open my pelvis to relieve some of the pressure to my back, and help our son come down. It was the only thing that helped, but after two hours, I knew they were about to collapse, so I told them to stop. Our hospital did not have the option of epidurals at night, and with our natural birth plan, we did not want an epidural. I just repeated two words over and over in my head - “God’s epidural” asking for some kind of relief after the hours of transition. After repeated checks and no progression, and with the pain increasing at an alarming rate, I said I needed something. My doula and husband were scared about the path that medicine could bring - it could slow the birth down, and bring a higher chance of C-section. I knew that I wasn’t breathing in a way that would allow my body to relax enough to dilate the last three centimeters. They tried to convince me to wait, but I knew what I needed. We had trained in hypnobirthing - a method of birthing that accepts that birth is a natural process, where one chooses to accept that labor will be work, but that with deep breathing and concentration, one allows the body to do what it is made to do. Because of the fear of pain, bodies tighten up - when you relax, you oxygenate your muscles, and the work is much easier. The demerol was a very light dose, and did not take the pain away. I probably still felt about 95% of what I felt before. But I think it gave me the tiniest edge so that I started breathing regularly again. My body stopped shaking, and I could concentrate. As night turned to day, I relaxed in the birthing tub for a few hours, and our son was born at 10AM.
Our second child was born weighing 11.5lb, on the day of her dad’s LSAT. We had gone to sleep at midnight, but I woke up 2AM knowing that our daughter was coming. I wanted my husband to have at least five hours of sleep so that he could take his test, so I went to our shower and labored there until it was time. At 5AM I woke him up and said, “you need to take me to the hospital.” Our doula met us at the hospital, and after an hour my husband had to leave for his test. After he left, I didn’t open my eyes again till our daughter was born. Maybe because I knew I had to do it on my own, maybe because I had more experience, maybe because there was no back labor this time, the birth was quick and painless. I said later that if birth was always like that, I could do that every month. She was the biggest baby born in the hospital, but she came out with no pushing. She birthed into water like our son, and the doctor scooped her out of the tub. I know that so much credit goes to my doula, Lisa. She somehow knew every time I tensed any muscle - I would not be surprised if she has x-ray vision. She couldn’t even see certain parts of my body since she was outside of the tub, but she would somehow know if I started tensing anything. With her help I was able to stay completely relaxed - to allow my body to birth my baby as it was meant to.
Our third was born in Washington D.C. I didn’t have our amazing doula, doctor, or water birthing suite, and the doctors were unsupportive of a natural birth. Even though I had already birthed a 11.5lb baby, they thought it was irresponsible for us to not have a C-section. They recommended a C-section three weeks before the due date, and told us that us waiting for a natural birth was dangerous. I suggested that we would wait till labor started, and that we could have a C-section if we needed it. The doctor said that we could do that, but that it would be the equivalent of us giving dynamite to a child to take to school. Both were, in her opinion, unnecessary and irresponsible. Defying medical advice, I did not get a C-section at 37 weeks, and at 41 weeks, labored at home until I was very far along. I knew that if I went into the hospital at the first sign of labor, they would pressure for another C-section. The first thing that they said to me when I came into the hospital, before they checked me or did anything, was to again offer me a C-section. I was amazed at the impersonal nature of their practice of medicine, and the all out bullying of a woman at a vulnerable time. Again, against medical advice, we labored for just a few hours, and our beautiful baby was born weighing 11lb 9oz. There was no tearing, no complications, and no medical intervention. Doctors save lives every day, and there are many lives saved through C-sections and medical interventions. I am very thankful for medical care being available to me in this country. However, I think that there is a danger in the over medicalization of birth in America, and in many other countries.
My experience of birthing naturally in Korea was a very rare one. Almost all doctors there perform episiotomies as part of the birthing process. It was through a lot of work and through my connection with our doula that we found a doctor who was willing to allow us to birth naturally. Studies have shown that having a doula at labor lowers a woman’s chance of C-section from 40% to 4%. Labor and birth is a most amazing process. It is a privilege and hard work. It is also an incredibly personal and vulnerable moment in a woman’s life. As I experienced my third pregnancy and birth, I thought a lot about the birthing process. As a woman with education, family support, dedicated training in birthing, with previous birthing experience, I was made to feel irresponsible for trying to make decisions about my own experience. It made me wonder about what other women are going through, in all the hospitals and birthing rooms around the world. I hope that more women can be treated with dignity and compassion in this and all parts of their lives.