Saturday, October 8, 2011

Been There, Done That!

I've been asked many times about comparing all the birth experiences I've had.  And since I've had everything from tranquilizers during one labor to a water birth in another and a Cesarean section for another, I've pretty much run the gamut. Here's a rundown of my experiences and the comparisons:

My first labor was almost 20 years ago with my oldest daughter.  Because I was so young and there was no internet back then, I didn't know much and didn't have the chance to do much research to even know what my options were.  My mother chose my OB, and my OB chose the rest of my course of action throughout my pregnancy.  Thankfully, most of the decisions were made wisely and stayed fairly true to as natural a pregnancy and delivery as possible back in 1992.  Not having even a faint clue as to what labor and delivery was like, all the choices were made for me by the nurses and doctors.  Labor from start to finish lasted 18 hours.  I had severe back labor as the baby was "sunny side up" and only with my mother's constant back massage and with time did the baby turn and descend.  Because of the pain, I was offered Demerol which I took gladly.  It may have taken a bit of the edge off the pain, but it made me feel groggy which I did not like.  I was automatically given an episiotomy (completely unnecessary especially given the size of Lauryn's tiny head) which was traditionally performed back then without question.  After only a couple of pushes, Lauryn slipped out. Being young was definitely an advantage, but it would have also been nice to have been informed of different choices and been a little more educated.  However I was back up on my feet and recovering nicely 24 hours later.

Not Jayce...
Ten years later, armed with much more information and a bit more chutzpah, I knew going into it that Jayce's labor was going to be very different and controlled by me as much as possible.  The memory of my first experience with labor had lessened the perception of pain, but not enough to take away the anxiety of it.  Essentially, I knew better now just how hard labor really is.  This time, labor lasted half the time of the first one (pretty typical) and 8 hours later, Jayce was born. The pain was the same (with the exception of the back labor), but I moved around more and used the water as a calming agent to relax more.  I do think the water was a Godsend and even though Jayce was 10 pounds with a huge head and mild shoulder dystocia (shoulder gets stuck in the birth canal making it harder to push them out), he came out with a couple of good pushes and barely a tear afterward (w/o an episiotomy!).  A great birth experience!

Almost exactly two years later, I found myself back in the same exact delivery room expecting Reagan's arrival.  I had the kiddy pool all ready to get in and was expecting the same type of birth experience as I had with Jayce.  However after laboring in the water for a good couple hours, when I got out to take a break from it, I just didn't want to get back in.  So I ended up delivering Reagan in bed in your typical fashion.  I clearly remember the pain being more intense than in the water and when Reagan came out after a couple of pushes (I'm a good pusher and have never had to push for more than 10-15 minutes.), I did tear more with him.  Indeed, the water has some clear benefits for the art of laboring and birthing.

Three years later*, I was enjoying what I thought was a perfect pregnancy until I got hit with the diagnosis of HELLP syndrome at 38 weeks along.  My liver enzymes were so dangerously high, I was told to come into the hospital immediately to deliver the baby which was the only solution to HELLP.  The diagnosis came as such a shock as I felt perfectly healthy and in good spirits.  Typically HELLP makes one feel much pain and like one is on death's door (because one is).  It has a fairly high rate of death for both mother and baby - not something to mess around with.  Rattled and nervous, I got to the hospital and suited up for the emergency Cesarean.  The needle for the epidural was a bit painful, and the feeling of the liquid going into my spine was a strange, cold sensation.  Not long after, I was completely numb from the chest down.  They cautioned me that the sensation can make one think one can't breathe because of the numbness, but not to worry as one's body will continue to breathe whether it feels like it or not.  The idea of not feeling my breathing was more anxious to me than the rest of the procedure as it was not one with which I was familiar.  However I did continue to feel my breathing which in turn let me breathe a sigh of relief.  They opened me up and were surprised by the ocean of amniotic fluid that splashed out of me (thanks to my other diagnosis of mild polyhydramnios).  They immediately pulled Landon out of me and proclaimed him healthy.  He was also the smallest of my children (7 lbs. at 2 weeks early).  I have to admit when I found out I was having a C-section that along with the anxiety over having major surgery, I was a bit elated to think I was going to miss the worst parts of labor.  I rethought this after waking up from the drugs (I was put on some muscle relaxants due to risk of seizure and didn't wake up for @24 hours) and felt the pain of the incision though.  It was the only time I was on a regular dosage of narcotics to handle the pain.  I could barely get up and walk and made sure I had my drugs before I tried such a thing.  Even a week after surgery, getting up independently was impossible and moving from one room to another required shuffling along with my husband in front holding me up and guiding me.  I finally weaned myself off my regular dosing of narcotics one week later but still had to take them occasionally due to pain for up to 2-3 weeks post-surgery.  Not a fun way to start the postpartum stage!

I definitely learned the pains of a normal, natural labor and delivery were far better and quicker than the pains of a C-section.  Going through natural labor before, I knew what to expect after having a baby and knew my body was not going through the same natural healing process I usually go through afterward.  I did not feel "normal" again until I took some aggressive steps one year later.  By going through a cleansing diet along with some major supplementation, I started to lose the weight (I had not lost one pound since walking out of the hospital!) and feel whole again.  I knew if I ever got pregnant again, I would do whatever was necessary to plan on having a natural labor and delivery again. 

Fast forward two years and I find myself pregnant with my fourth boy (!) and searching for a midwife who will give me the home birth I desire.  After many weeks of going back and forth in talks between a midwife and a doctor in a very popular practice local to me, the news comes in that leaves me without any local options.  Midwives won't touch me because of my previous HELLP diagnosis and doctors won't accept me without agreeing to an automatic repeat C-section.  In desperation, I call a doctor associated with Concord Hospital who agrees to take me and assures me they will try to the best of their ability to give me the kind of birth experience I desire. To learn more about my journey in finding my unbelievable OB, read my post here.  After many ups and downs during this pregnancy, it was found that my blood levels were showing the potential for HELLP again, and it was decided I would be induced.  After another 8 hour labor, I was able to deliver Damien naturally. To read more details about his labor and delivery, please go here.  The pain was there but manageable, and his labor and delivery was my best experience thus far.  It's been four months now and I've lost most of my baby weight (breastfeeding helps with this as well) and am back into my regular clothes (not my "skinny clothes" but not in my maternity clothes).  I already feel close to my normal self which helps enormously when taking care of a demanding infant. 

My conclusion?  A c-section results in much more pain of the long-lasting variety. It's a more defined "sharp" pain, being major surgery and getting cut into and all.  It also interrupts the natural biological process that takes place after delivering naturally.  Laboring naturally is certainly painful, but it's more of an extremely uncomfortable band of cramping pain around your entire middle.  Going through labor and delivery is painful, but it's temporary and can be made better by different techniques, lots of moving around and even drugs, if need be.  I would take hours of hard labor over an easy c-section any day!  To those of you looking into this, that's all I can offer is my own humble opinion from my own personal experiences.  Some advice: research your options!  Also do not go in for an induction unless absolutely medically necessary - a big percentage of medically-induced labors result in c-sections simply because the baby was not ready to be born and had to be forced out (this coming from someone who's pregnancies are typically 42 weeks long). Let mother nature do its work - nature tends to be very smart.  God bless and good luck!

* You can read the post Introducing Landon for more of his birth story...

Some resources I highly recommend:

The Business of Being Born documentary
Ina May Gaskin's Guide to Childbirth book
The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding book by the La Leche League
The Baby Book by Dr. Sears
Mothering magazine - a bit "crunchy" but very good