If you had told me five years ago that at the age of 24 I would be married to Jonathan with an adorable baby boy, I would have said that sounded about right. If you had told me that I would birth that baby naturally, I would not have believed you.
For years, whenever the topic came up I offered a non-committal opinion — something along the lines of, “I might try to do it without an epidural, but I’ll get one if I need it.” After getting pregnant and beginning to research the topic, I of course developed a more vested stance, leading me to the conclusion that if you approach natural child birth with anything less than complete commitment, you will be far less likely to be able to go through with it. Not to mention, natural child birth is not something you can really take a stab at, or attempt half-heartedly. It requires dedication and lots of effort throughout pregnancy. I do not feel I would have been able to birth Edmond naturally had it not been for Bradley classes, as well as lots of time spent meditating on what lay ahead of me, through pre-natal yoga and independent thought and prayer.
In choosing to go the natural route, I also had to deal with some raised eye-brows, with various family members or friends urging me to take medicine or implying that as soon as birth began I would change my mind. Additionally, in choosing a midwife over an OB I had to field questions about the credentials of midwives and had to correct misinformation about what the midwifery model looks like in present day.
So, choosing natural child birth requires a lot of work during pregnancy.
But I was resolved. My reasons for wanting to birth naturally were two fold.
First, the history of modern obstetric care is such that I felt very reluctant to trust the conventional child birth model. Twilight sleep, the use of ether and chloroform for pain relief in labor, as well as thalidomide’s prescription during pregnancy, are all shameful and horrifying parts of the history of childbirth. Aside from pregnancy and labor, the recall of medicines, the ridiculous number of known side-effects for commonly used prescription drugs, and the way in which new studies and further research can cause complete 180’s in the medical community, all convinced me that for something as important as the birth of my child and my own physical well-being, I wanted to be as cautious and conservative as possible.
Second, birthing a baby is one of the most powerful and miraculous functions the human body can perform, and this of course is true whether the baby is born with no medical intervention or via planned c-section. It is a spiritual experience, endlessly profound. I wanted to be as present as possible for Edmond’s birth, and I also wanted to feel I was in control (as much as anyone can be in control during labor). I felt natural childbirth was my best hope on this front.
Having now gone through birth naturally, I am 100% positive I made the right decision for this birth. This doesn’t mean that I think everyone should feel they need to give birth naturally, or even that my future pregnancies might not require more medical intervention. I am so grateful that we have OBs for all of the complications that can arise during birth, and part of the reason I felt so comfortable birthing through the Vanderbilt midwives is that I knew if a problem arose there were MDs on hand who would be able to save our lives if need be.
But giving birth naturally was one of the best experiences of my life.
I mentioned this in my birth story, but I feel a real switch occurred for me when my doula Jeannie Casey reminded me just before active labor began that the pain I was feeling was the power of my own body. This is what makes the pain of child birth different than any experienced due to illness or injury. Labor pains are productive. They are life-yielding. They are your body functioning as it is supposed to. They are also temporary. Women often experience remarkable lucidity between contractions. Childbirth is certainly a marathon, but (for many) it isn’t without moments where you can feel relatively normal.
I loved giving birth. I really did. It was extremely painful, but it was also amazingly exciting. I felt full of hope and expectation, as each contraction brought me one step closer to meeting my son. I also delighted in being able to give birth without intervention, and felt blessed to be able to do so.
Now that Edmond is home and we’re settling into a “routine,” we’re getting to test out everything we researched while pregnant.
Breastfeeding is much more difficult than I had anticipated. Everyone tells you it takes time, but it still seems like it should be so easy since it’s so natural. For the life of me, I don’t understand how women got on with breastfeeding before the advent of lactation specialists, the internet, and other how-to resources. That said, Edmond is five days shy of a month old and we’ve both been persevering. He’s gaining weight like a champ, and even when it’s rough, I’ve been pushing through his growth-spurts, seemingly insatiable hunger, and often lengthy feedings. I tallied up the hours spent feeding the other day, and I’d breastfed 7 hours in a 24 hour period. That is a full time job! Fortunately, that’s how I’m viewing it. This is a full-time job for now, and because I’m off work, I’m trying to reconcile myself to the idea that I might do nothing but feed all day. That’s okay.
For the discomfort and the time it takes, I wouldn’t trade the experience of breastfeeding for the world. I think without breastfeeding I would have been heart broken as I ceded my role of being Edmond’s only provider while he was in the womb. As is, I am grateful to remain his source of sustenance. As his cheeks fill out with added baby fat, I delight in knowing it was my body that made that pudge possible. In the last few days, it’s coming a little easier, and I’m as resolved as ever to breastfeed until he is at least a year old. It helps that Jonathan is an amazing partner, and has been super willing to get me drinks or treats whenever I’m stuck on the couch in a 45 minute long feeding session.
Baby-wearing has been going really wonderfully. According to What to Expect, in societies where babies are carried or worn long periods of crying/fussing are almost unheard of. “Reasearch has shown that babies who are carried in the arms or in a baby carrier for at least three hours ever day cry less than babies who aren’t carried as often.” Whenever it seems like Edmond is about to get fussy, we put him in the Moby wrap or ring sling and within seconds he’s calm. It’s amazing. Not to mention, I’ve been able to get a lot of housework done with him asleep in the carrier. Hard to say if baby wearing is responsible for his temperament, but he has been a very easy baby so far, crying only 30ish minutes a day on average. The 5 S’s are probably responsible for this as well — Jonathan is a master shusher, swinger, and swaddler.
We’ve been asked what sort of schedule we’re keeping Edmond on, and the answer so far is “none.” Because human infants are more fragile than most other species’ young when born (Edmond did not pop out of my womb walking, for instance), they are essentially still in their 4th trimester of fetal development. They’re needy. They don’t know how to soothe themselves until about 4 months old. In the mean time, it seems most natural to me to “baby” him as much as possible. I feed whenever he seems hungry. Whenever he cries, we’re quick to try and comfort him in whatever way we know how. I recognize this is not always possible and may not work for all families, but so far it has worked well for us. Edmond has been waking up for one feeding at night, which means Jonathan and I have both been managing 7-8ish hours of sleep a night.
Parenthood has absolutely been the most challenging experience of our lives, and for every moment where we think, “Hey, we’re figuring this out,” there are at least five where we feel we have no idea what we’re doing. Fortunately, we are part of a very supportive community of family and friends who are helping us find our way.
And Edmond’s so cute he makes all the trouble worth it.