(Yes, this is a reference to the 1973 Bruce Lee film. Baby Dragon Abigail entered the world with the same action-packed intensity as a martial arts film!)
I did it.
I birthed my child naturally. Without drugs. In a birth center. Without a doctor. And in a bathtub no less. Take that!
I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to do it, but I was determined to try.
And I was mentally and physically “preparing” myself for it for months – well, as much as you can prepare for as big an unknown as childbirth especially when it’s your first time.
So how did it go?
When people ask me how labor was, all I really have to say is I gave birth to an almost 9 lb baby without drugs… and in a mere 5.5 hours of labor start to finish. How do you think it was?!
Based on how I looked towards the end of pregnancy, no one suspected that I’d deliver such a big baby. Big baby coupled with short delivery, and you can imagine that while I was in pain for a relatively short time compared to many other women, it was fast, furious and powerful. Just how you’d expect a baby dragon to enter the world!
Turns out that anticipation of labor was scarier than the labor itself.
Don’t get me wrong. It was tough. Tougher than anything I’ve ever done before and it definitely took some serious metal grit and fortitude as I anticipated it would. But as a result, I have a newfound sense of my own personal strength that I’m not sure I could have gotten from anything else. After this, I feel like pretty much anything else will be a walk in the park (…except maybe parenting itself! I’ve got lots to say about that one after these first few weeks so stay tuned).
What about the pain?
It’s not that I dreaded the contractions. In a strange way, I wanted the next one to come. I definitely didn’t want any more to come after that. But I wished with all my might that the next contraction would be the last one and that Abigail would finally arrive. I just kept thinking, “Make this next push good cuz if it is, we can wrap this baby up and call it a day.” My determination was all about trying to minimize the number of subsequent contractions I’d have to endure – I figured that the more productive I made each contraction with my pushing, the fewer I’d have to live through.
I spent much of my contractions with my eyes closed trying to breath deeply and focus on anything other than the pain. I’ve heard some women need something to look at – a focal point to keep their mind off the pain. Not me. I ended up turning inward and didn’t really want to talk or acknowledge anyone or anything else going on in between contractions. I couldn’t really have answered any questions if asked.
“Do you want a mirror to see your baby crowning and see the progress you’re making?”
Uh. Ok, fine.
“Do you want Andy to get in the tub behind you to help brace you?”
I don’t know. Sure. Whatever.
At one point I remember Andy saying, “I need to get out of the tub.” Turns out that Andy was quite literally sick to his stomach.
I had no idea that Andy had a stomach bug until I heard him throwing up into a trash can just outside the bathroom. But a strong contraction came on just as he was retching. We were only about 10 contractions away from delivering our baby, so admittedly his throwing up hardly even registered on my radar.
In between contractions, one of the midwives commented that it was going to be “a nice sunny day.” I did open my eyes long enough to notice that I could see the sunrise through the window next to the tub. I vaguely remember hearing some birds chirping too. But as the next contraction started I thought, “Mental note. This will be nice to remember after the fact. Right now, I could care less.” Not exactly a scene out of a Disney fairy princess movie to recount!
Did it ever cross my mind to tap out and ask for drugs?
Sure. There was a moment there when I doubted my ability to endure the pain. At one point, I remember thinking of my grandmother who birthed 4 kids, one of whom she delivered on her own. I pictured my grandmother in a small village in China in the early 1940’s laboring and catching her baby all by herself and drew strength from her. Talk about being tough. Plenty of other women have done it the way nature intended it. I mean really – who am I to complain as I lie in a tub with three people surrounding me telling me what an amazing job I’m doing while pouring warm water over me to comfort me?? The thought of pain meds only lasted a split second. Thoughts of my grandmother were more comforting.
Well, I can honestly say after the fact that can’t imagine delivering my kid any other way than in water. Just think about it. When you’re 9 months pregnant, it’s hard enough as it is staying in any one position for more than a few minutes. Now add the pain of contractions on top of that, and trying to lie in bed on your back or side is torturous. I had to do this for about an hour while I was having an IV put in for some antibiotics and I couldn’t wait to get into the bathtub where I could be a bit more weightless and avoid putting pressure on any one part of my body.
After Abigail entered the world, she was immediately placed on my chest where Andy and I talked to her and had time to strike an instant connection between baby and parents. It was amazing to watch Abigail, being the alert and strong baby she is, responding to our touch and voices and turning her head to stare at each of us as we spoke.
As soon as I made my way out of the tub back to the bed to have some repair work done (FYI: big baby + fast labor = lots of repair work that was almost worse than the labor itself since I thought the pain would be over and done by then), Abigail was placed back on my chest, skin-to-skin. Thank goodness she never left my side (or quite literally my chest) – Being able to hold and look at her was the only thing that could have gotten me through the pain and uncontrollable shaking that ensued while I got patched up. Since the bed was queen size, Andy was able to crawl into bed with us as we hugged our baby in awe of the fact that this little human, with all her little parts intact, was now here to complete our family.
There’s no way I could have predicted what my labor was going to be like other than knowing that it’s called “labor” for a reason. But, all in all, my birth experience turned out to be better than I ever could have planned for it to be. I know that not everyone has the fortune that I did of having the birth experience they want. Believe me – the one thing I’ve already learned about parenting is that you need to be good at managing your expectations because most everything is out of your control. My pregnancy was low risk, and all the factors that impact delivery cooperated with me and Abigail. But I know for a fact that choosing to deliver at a birth center rather than a hospital where I was supported in every way possible to have a natural delivery was a big reason why my birth experience was what I wanted it to be. And while the pain was/is bad, it was worth it to let all those natural hormones and endorphins take over to make the moments after Abigail’s birth the most joyous I’ve ever experienced.