Why I’m Thankful That My First Birth Experience Sucked Royally
Originally posted November 2010 on my blog (PeachykeenBirthServices.com/blog):
With Thanksgiving being one of my absolute favorite times of the year, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about all that I have to be thankful for. I have the most amazing husband on the planet – so kind, so supportive, and damned good lookin’! I have three healthy, beautiful children who never cease to amaze me with their wit and intelligence (even when said intelligence is enabling them to find new and creative ways to irk me). I have a close-knit extended family, most of whom I am lucky enough to see daily or weekly, rather than just at holidays. I have a place to live. My husband’s job is secure even in this economy. I’m able to work in a field that I’m passionate about, and which also allows me to be home with my kids. The list of things which I am thankful for could go on to fill a book.
But there’s one more thing that I’m eternally grateful for, and it’s not what most people would expect:
I’m thankful that my first birth experience sucked… and sucked royally at that.
When I was pregnant with my first baby, I wanted a natural birth. My grandma had quick and easy natural labors, my mom had the same, and so I figured that it was a given that I would experience an easy natural labor. The problem, however, was that while I had the genetic potential for an easy birth, I lacked the resources. I’m ashamed to admit this, but it was 2004-2005 during my first pregnancy and I really wasn’t that into the Internet yet. I knew how to check my email, but I honestly didn’t even know what Google was at that point. So to say that my resource base was limited to only mainstream thinking… well that would be a major understatement.
So, I read What to Expect, and I took a hospital “prepared childbirth” class (lots of focus on policies and procedures, a little “hee hee hooooo” breathing, and that was about it)… and that, my friends, was the extent of my preparation for what I was certain would be a natural birth. The sad part is, I really and truly thought that was the way you prepared for a birth. It literally had never crossed my mind that there might be an alternative, so I thought I was kickin’ some ass.
At six days past my due date (which had actually been arbitrarily moved up an entire week sooner during the third trimester), my OB told me “It’s very dangerous to be this far past your due date.” In retrospect, I have to assume he said this to all of his patients, as there was no indication that there was any problem with me or my baby. But this guy was the head of obstetrics at the hospital where I planned to deliver, so I thought that meant he was the best obstetrician, and therefore knew what he was talking about. I was more than happy to induce since my uterus didn’t get the EDD memo and apparently I was putting my baby at increased risk every extra minute he gestated. To start the induction, I was given an enema and then an unholy amount of Pitocin. How do I know it was an unholy amount? Because even though I was clueless, I remember the nurse shaking her head in pity and muttering “I can’t believe he’s starting you out on this much Pit” as she began the drip. Shortly thereafter Dr. Douchebag (that’s what I call him now) came in and broke my water to “speed things up” and I was told to stay in bed. I endured the horrific Pitocin contractions while laying in bed for about six hours. Dr. D then checked me and announced that I was only a 3. I caved and begged for the epidural at that point.
After 22 hours of labor, I was complete and began to push. I was totally numb from the epidural, to the point where I couldn’t even move my legs. The nurse had to let me know when I was having a contraction, because I had no clue. I couldn’t tell if I was even pushing or not, but after about two hours my husband said that he could just see the baby’s head. In strolled Dr. Douchebag and told me “It’s very dangerous for the baby if you push any longer than 2 hours. We need to do a cesarean.” I obliged because, again, even though there were no signs of distress from the baby, this guy was the head OB, so he must have known what’s what. I certainly didn’t want to risk my baby’s life with what would have probably been another 30 whopping minutes of pushing. During the cesarean, the OB mentioned that it was a good thing we did a cesarean, because the baby would have never fit through my pelvis. A couple of months later, when I finally did discover Google, I realized that he was talking about CPD. The baby was 7 lb. 5 oz. at the time of delivery, and was doing great. I was lucky enough that he nursed well, even though I didn’t get to see him for the first few hours while I was in recovery.
Right after the birth, I still had no clue. I was so thankful that my doctor had “saved” my baby. I figured our second baby would be a scheduled cesarean, because the hospital “prepared childbirth” class had taught us that there was a 5% chance your baby could die during a VBAC attempt, and I certainly didn’t want to take that risk.
It was only after I began to embrace the Internet that I realized that I got screwed. That I had been lied to. That I had been led right into a cesarean, oblivious to the reality of the situation the entire way. I stumbled upon a natural childbirth message board, and that’s where I discovered that there were truths to be learned that weren’t in What to Expect, and certainly weren’t taught in that hospital class. I learned the truth about using interventions without a medical indication. I learned the accurate statistics about VBAC, not the completely imaginary number given in the hospital class. I learned that if there are no complications, the natural process of labor can usually be left alone, and will usually progress just fine. I learned that it is not, in fact, inherently dangerous to be six days past your EDD… especially when your due date has been moved up a week for no reason at all. And I learned that it’s a-okay to push longer than 2 hours as long as mom and baby are fine… especially when you’re starting to see the freakin’ head!
I learned all of this and I was PISSED. Absolutely livid.
So if this birth experience sucked royally, and if learning the truth enraged me, why is this something that I’m thankful for?
Because it lit a fire under me. I now had a mission in life. A purpose. To make sure that I would be an informed decision maker for my next birth – and for any type of future medical care I might receive, for that matter. And someday I would help even one woman learn these truths before she had this same crappy experience.
So although my first birth sucked, it was the catalyst for everything that I have come to believe, and everything that I have come to be…
- a Mom – even though it sucked, it still was the way my first son came into the world, and I am perpetually thankful for him.
- a VBAC Mom – after discovering the world beyond What to Expect, I became pregnant with our second son. I read every book I could get my hands on. I took independent childbirth classes. I hired a doula. I switched to a VBAC-friendly hospital where I was able to see a midwife. At 10 days past my EDD, I gave birth to my second son via all-natural VBAC. My labor was only 4 hours from start to finish. It was so easy compared to the horrors of Pitocin. Oh, and he was 8 lbs. 14 oz, a full pound and half bigger than my first… so there goes the CPD theory.
- a Childbirth Educator – I am now a certified childbirth educator. I thoroughly enjoy teaching independently (as in not receiving payment from a hospital) so that I can feel free to give evidence-based, rather than policy-based, information. Watching my students’ horizons expand as they educate themselves about their different options has been such a fulfilling reward!
- a Birth Doula – I feel immensely grateful, and humbled beyond belief, every time a family invites me to be a participant in what is most certainly one of the most important days in their lives. It’s the most amazing job ever.
Until I had that moment of awakening, I had never known what I wanted to do with my life (other than being a mom, which is a calling in itself, am I right?). As soon as I became royally pissed about my first birth, I instantly knew what I wanted to do… how I wanted to make a small difference in the world.
So, my first birth experience sucked. But if it had not happened exactly the way it did – if I had been induced and had the epidural, but still birthed vaginally – I would have probably felt like that was a “good enough” experience. I can pretty much guarantee that I would have had the same exact experience the second time around. I doubt that I would have ever known there was anything beyond that experience. I never would have known the satisfaction that comes with making informed decisions, rather than obliviously following the directions of someone giving you flat-out false information.
Yes, I am thankful that my first birth sucked. I am grateful that it was the exact opposite of everything I had envisioned. And now I smile when I think of how pissed off I was when I realized that I had been duped.
Because that birth sucked, I am exactly who I am supposed to be now: a childbirth educator… a birth doula… a mom who made smarter choices the second time around.