There seems to be a push in the maternal world I find myself in to be some sort of super human mother. Mothers are expected to breastfeed their children, regardless of their careers or other obligations, until they are 6 months old (according to the World Health Organization) or 12 months old (highly recommended by the American Pediatric Association), They are expected to equip their squirming babies with stimulating and educational toys, which must be changed out every 2 months with entirely new challenging toys, so that they will grow to identify all the colors of the rainbow by 18 months and recite the Pledge of Allegiance perfectly by the age of 3. They are expected to discipline their children using both loving, tender words and firm and unmoving principles that make your child feel both safe and loved and comfortable with the expectations set before them. The list goes on.
And the expectations don’t just begin at birth. There are also tons of pressures during the pregnancy concerning diet, exercise, sleeping habits, medical choices, music choices, nursery decorating color schemes, frequency of salon trips, heel height, and herbal tea choices.
But where I have most definitely felt the most heat during my pregnancy is in regards to my birthing plan. Yes, my birthing plan. Women have to have a birthing plan now. A thousand years ago I’m pretty sure most women’s birthing plan was simply “don’t die” or something similar. Now we’re supposed to consider the location, your clothing, the temperature, the music playing in the background, who should be in the room during labor (as opposed to the delivery audience), how much/little you want to nursing staff to intervene, under what conditions you would like to use pain medication, how bright the lights should be, what positions you feel comfortable being asked to lie in, and how soon after the birth you’d like to be offered to eat. And what’s completely ridiculous about this is most of the women compiling these plans have never given birth before, thus making it difficult for them to really go about making these decisions in any sort of educated manner. For example, if someone would have asked me how I felt about allowing medical students or other people I’ve never met or are not immediately necessary to the birthing process to come into my hospital room and inspect my downtown business before the day of delivery, I would have scoffed at them appalled and written, “Absolutely not.” But when I was asked that day if a Dougie Howser look-alike could watch the birth I believe my answer was, “Yeah sure whatever.” I never could have anticipated the amount of hospital staff members that had waltzed in and out of my room to check this or that and how after an hour or two I would be so focused on other things I would not care in the least.
Those that endorse the birth plan option like to point out the various avenues one can take in birthing a child that don’t involve an open-backed hospital gown. You can give birth at home, in the bed your child was conceived in (and you’ll have to keep sleeping in later), in a blow up tub that is not unlike the pool already in my backyard for my two-year-old, or even the bathtub (which seems impossible. I’ve only taken the doctor-mandated post-birth baths in that tub and it’s so small I cannot imagine trying to successfully give birth in there without kicking someone in the eye).
When I was pregnant with Evalee, I was determined to be as educated as possible about the birth process. In truth, I was nothing short of terrified about the person I’d become in the moment. So I took to DVRing the Birth Day show on TLC and watching it regularly over dinner or before bed. (For the record, no, I didn’t have a lot going on at the time. Travis worked nights and my only other hobby was surviving the school year.) I watched so many women on the day they gave birth that the show became a game where I guessed at what point they were going to crack away from their natural birth plan (which 90% of the women on the show said they wanted) to get some pain relief.
Now, please understand that in my explanation for my decisions below I’m not hating on anyone. I know there are women every day that make different birthing decisions than I do for totally unselfish and logical reasons and it turns out to be a wonderful process for them. All I am simply saying is why I, too, feel like the decisions I’ve made are best for me.
1. Why I am “pro” epidural
When Travis and I went to our birth class during my first pregnancy, we were one couple in perhaps 12 or 15. When the instructor asked the room who was planning on getting an epidural, I was the only woman that raised her hand. Immediately I was attacked and forced to defend my decision. I responded in the best way I could at the time, having of course never given birth before. I told the class, “I’ve read about them and they have very low long-term risks and the short-term disadvantages don’t seem to outweigh the short-term advantages to me. I’m not trying to prove anything to anyone and I’m not interested in the special experience. I just want to have my baby in the most comfortable way possible.” The disgust in the room was palpable. I immediately felt like I could hear the other women’s thoughts, despite the fact that approximately 9 or 10 of the 15 women there would end up getting one as well, stastistics show. If she really loved her baby, she’d trust her body and endure the pain because it’s what is best. or It is all part of God’s plan for women to endure the pain of childbirth. or How selfish is she? Deciding she’s going to get one without even being in the situation first. Maybe it won’t be that bad. They were all arguments that had been throw at me before. But on game day, I didn’t regret my decision in the least.
I went into the hospital at 3 a.m. with no sleep. When I arrived, I was dilated to a 1. There are women at eating at McDonalds right now that are dialated to a 1. It took me a couple hours to the get to a 2 and several more before I got to the 4 I needed to get the epidural. By that time it was 8 a.m., I was totally exhausted and broken down after walking the hallways in pain and working to try and get Eva in a new position (they thought at the time she was breech). After my epidural was administered, I was able to take a 2 hour nap. I never drifted off to dream-land, but for those two hours I remember feeling like I could finally lay still and store some energy for what was ahead. I crawled through my labor progression and Travis and my mom (the two people approved to accompany me in the room, via my birth plan 🙂 ) watched in amazement as my contractions sky-rocketed off the screen with almost no time in between them while I lay comfortably. Had I not gotten that epidural, my spirits would have been broken as the nurses continued to check me and report my tiny bits of progress each hour. But as it was, my response to, “I’d say you have progressed maybe 1/2 or 1 more cm” was always, “Great. Thanks.”
I’ve heard people say that an epidural takes away from the bonding process between mother and baby because you are so immobile after the baby is born. Others say they choose not to get one because they are afraid they’ll be too “out of it” to really experience the joys and emotions in those final moments. To these arguments, I say “Nonsense!” My inability to move from the chest down had no baring on how special the moment was where I first laid eyes on her. That’s what the bed remote is for.
And nowhere in the rest of the medical world is going through a major, painful procedure without medication considered a good thing. No one is walking around telling stories of their root canal where they passed on the medication.
My other problem with the epidural haters out there is there seems to be a large number (again, not ALL, but a large number) of women that go au naturale for bragging rights. It’s pretty rare to come across a woman that has successfully avoided pain medication in giving birth that didn’t mention it in the same breath as her child’s name and birth weight. “Peggy Sue was born at 6:30 a.m. after 37 hours of labor with no pain medication and weighed 7 lbs.” Or if, regrettably, they did have to get some pain medication, it’s almost mentioned in a “but” statement, as if to hope that they don’t lose as points on small technicalities. “I did end up getting a small amount of medicine at the end, but just for a little while to give me a small rest. The nurses insisted on it. I didn’t want it, but they thought it was best. And it wore off pretty fast.” While I’m not saying completing that task without medical intervention isn’t something to be proud of, I am saying your purpose in forgoing medication shouldn’t be so that you can tell the pregnant girl in Target about how tough you are (it’s happened to me probably 6 or 7 times).
As one of my many nurses put it, there’s no medal for opting out of the epidural. Thank God. If there was I think there are some women that would wear it to their kids’ graduation ceremonies.
2. Why I’m “pro” hospital birth
The idea of giving birth in my house could not be less appealing to me for a variety of reasons. The first is quite simple: the birth process is disgusting. When I think about how exhausted I was when it was all said and done, the last thing I can imagine doing is snapping on some gloves to start cleaning up afterwards, nor could I imagine laying idly by while my husband and/or midwife or whoever else was there cleaned up for me.
I remember watching a show with a home birth where a mom said, “It was wonderful. My son was born at 3 p.m. and by 6 p.m. we were all eating the chicken I made for dinner and my son was telling me about his day.” Yeah that’s right — she gave birth at home and then made dinner for her husband and older son. I don’t know who her husband was, but he should definitely get a nod for Husband of the Year. “I’ll make her dinner on Valentine’s Day, but NOT on the day she gives birth. I’m no housewife.” But then again, maybe he was up to his elbows in the clean-up process.
I’ve also heard arguments where women liked the idea of giving birth at home so they could be near their other children. I don’t know about you, but my child doesn’t let me pee in privacy. I cannot imagine focusing on getting through the labor process while also trying to figure out what show Eva is asking for on our Netflix queue or getting the wrapper off her stick of cheese. I love her, but I am gladly handing her over to her Grandpa on birth day #2.
And don’t get me started on what my two idiot cats would do. They already have no regard for my belly and often walk right on it with their pointy little paws trying to find a good place to settle down at night. I can’t imagine how they’d be that day.
On the flip side, I can understand people’s apprehension to hospitals. They smell like rubbing alcohol, you have to wear a humiliating backwards cape, you are being cared for by strangers who talk about you as if you aren’t there at times, it’s loud almost always, and it seems full of people that want to poke you with needles or strap something to you somewhere. But I am so thankful that in the moments where it seemed as though the baby was in a bad position for birth, the cord was wrapped around my daughter’s head, and her heartbeat was hard to detect, their expert hands were the ones in charge. And when it was time for me to get my 60 stitches (yes, that’s right, 60 stitches. How’s that for a Target horror story?) I’m glad my doctor (with the help of Dougie Howser) was the one doing it.
My personal experience at the hospital was wonderful. Even though I passed through a few different shift changes and was handed off like a baton between nurses, every nurse I met was polite, competent, and more than willing to do anything I asked of her. A frosty can of Pepsi with a straw was offered to me exactly 12 seconds after I heard my baby cry for the first time. One morning, a thoughtful nurse brought me my breakfast on a platter with one of those dome lid things because I was sleeping and she was afraid I’d miss the meal before the buffet closed. Another nurse seemed to make it her own personal mission to make sure my stitches were iced thoroughly at all times, bringing me new ice before I could even request it. I was helped to the bathroom, I was helped to the shower, my baby was bathed and swaddled by women that could do those things with their arms tied behind their back and treading water. For two days, my baby and I were waited on hand and foot. Not the service I’d expect at the Kershaw Manor. I’d be lucky if I could get an hour nap in before I was being dragged into a Toy Story scenario where Buzz Lightyear was on the hunt for Swiper the Fox underneath my daughter’s bedsheets. This is something I do gladly on any other day, but not at this particular occasion. But how could I expect my daughter to make the distinction? To her there may be a new baby around suddenly, but that won’t change the fact that she needs a freeze pop. Now. A red one.
So, for these and a few other reasons when baby #2 decides to make her debut in October, I will be anxiously timing my contractions so that I get to the hospital on time. When a new nurse introduces herself to me as in charge of my care in some way, I will respond in the same way I did the first time, “Hi, nice to meet you. I’m Sara. And yes, I do want the epidural as soon as it’s physically possible.” And hopefully, unless everything is moving so fast I can’t get one, the epidural will be administered, the baby will arrive, I will sleep as much as can without looking like a narcoleptic they should be concerned about and shovel the delicious food they offer me in my bed down as fast I can, and then I will take my baby home like everyone else. And it will be a spectacular and awe-inspiring day, regardless.