Rewriting Your Birth Story

This is Part 1 of a three-part series on Natural Birth. Click here for Part 2 and Part 3.

Like a lot of first-time moms, I hoped for a natural childbirth. And I did everything I could think of to give myself the best chances of having one: I got a midwife, read Ina May Gaskin, took prenatal yoga. In the end, things went pretty awry. So awry that I came out of childbirth with PTSD, horrific flashbacks, and pain that persisted for the next three years. And I wound up wondering obsessively: Could I have done anything differently to make things less traumatic?

Me meeting Sasha for the first time after 25 hours of labor, including an IV drip, Pitocin, an epidural & an episiotomy

Me meeting Sasha for the first time, after 25 hours of labor, including an IV drip, Pitocin, an epidural, an oxygen mask, a catheter & an episiotomy

I had questions for my midwife. Lots of questions. And I wanted to ask them face to face. So we drove down to see her at Pennsylvania Hospital, where we were met with an out-of-the-blue snowstorm. Which was so weird, because is was snowing like that the last time we drove to that hospital—the day Sasha was born.

Philly when Sasha was born

Philly when Sasha was born

Philly 4 years later

Philly 4 years later

In this episode, I get my questions answered—both by my midwife and by maternal care researcher Saraswathi Vedam, who tells me something that will forever change the way I tell myself my birth story.

Resources for Choices in Childbirth

If you’re pregnant and hoping for a birth with as few medical interventions as possible, I encourage you to check out the resources below. If you’re like me and you wanted a normal birth and didn’t get one, these resources may answer some of your lingering questions.

Survey. Listening to Mothers is a periodically conducted survey, which collects data on women’s experiences and attitudes toward pregnancy, childbirth, and maternal care. If you’re interested in learning more about the rate of different types of interventions, how they’ve changed over time, and how women feel about those interventions, these surveys are a fascinating read. You can see a summary of the most recent survey’s major findings here.

Studies on intervention. In this story, I mention a study by the American Congress of Obstetricians & Gynocologists stating that cesarean is overused on first-time, low-risk moms. You can read that report in Safe Prevention of the Primary Cesarean Delivery. This review from Cochrane Libraries and this study from the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology examine the adverse effects of epidural on mom and baby. If you’re looking for research on Pitocin, this study from BMJ finds a significantly higher risk of severe postpartum hemorrhage with the use of Pitocin in labor, and this one from Obstetrics & Gynecology finds that elective induction significantly increases the risk of C-section in low-risk women.

Studies on place of birth. If you’ve ever tried to get a straight answer on where it’s safer to have a baby, hospital or home, you will find that the existing studies are confusing and conflicting. Saraswathi Vedam, who I interview in the piece, has evaluated the research for quality and veracity, and she has compiled a list of the best available data in her paper Home Birth: An annotated guide to the literature. Several of the studies she cites—this one from Cochrane Database of Systematic Review, this one from BMJ, this one fromBJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, this one from the Canadian Medical Association Journal, and this one from the journal Birth—suggest that planned home birth with a qualified attendant and planned hospital birth are equally safe, when it comes to low-risk pregnancies in high resource countries. The caveat is, hospital births come with more frequent medical interventions.

Book. And if you’re looking for a book with a straightforward explanation of normal, physiologic birth, check out Immaculate Deception II by Suzanne Arms. It’s a classic that has held up.

Have you managed to revise YOUR birth story? Tell us how in the comments.

109 thoughts on “EPISODE #27: Rewriting Your Birth Story

  1. Hi, thank you for this excellent podcast. I appreciate your honesty and willingness to go back to your traumatic experience to search for answers and help others know how to inform themselves. I’m flummoxed as to why the topic of doula support isn’t part of this conversation. Studies show that interventions tend to decrease when a doula is present, because a doula is trained to help women with physical and emotional coping tools, and because a doula’s job is to remind a woman about her options. I wonder if this topic has come up in your research. Full disclosure, I’m a labor doula who hears stories like this often, and who is hired by women often because they want to have a more empowering and informed experience. Thank you.

    1. Colleen, thanks for this thoughtful comment. I’ve definitely heard a lot about the benefits that many women have received from doulas. Unfortunately, at the time that I had a child, the cost of a doula where I was living was beyond my reach, so it was not a service that was available to me. I think there are probably a lot of new moms in the same position. For the purposes of this particular story, I was telling my own experience. And for what it’s worth, I have heard both positive and negative experiences with doulas, so it is a whole topic in and of itself. Perhaps one we should look into!

  2. My son was born just about 5 months ago, and there was very little about my birth story with him that I would change. I’d had consistently high blood pressure readings for the week leading up to his birth. I went in to be checked by a nurse every few days. Everyone was worried about pre-eclampsia. I got blood and urine tests which kept coming back normal, so they decided to do a 24 hour urine test, to be absolutely sure. I went in for another check with the nurse on Monday, December 12 and was told to take it easy, that they might put me on bedrest. The results of my 24 hour test came back in the middle of the night, and my doctor called me first thing the next morning: there was protein in my urine and, since I was already 37 weeks and 2 days, they were going to induce me. I stopped my husband from leaving for work and told him we were going to the hospital to have a baby. He assumed that we would be holding the baby in our arms the same day. I had to break it to him that that would not be the case. I’d done my research and was planning on having a hospital birth and an epidural anyway. I was prepared (mostly) for what was coming. When we got to the hospital, we were shown to our room. I was lucky enough to deliver at a hospital that offered private rooms for triage, delivery, and recovery. I was checked by a whole team of doctors and midwives. They work together in the hospital I was at. An IV was placed and then I was given a series of pills to ripen my cervix. I was already one centimeter dilated when I came in. When I was around 80% effaced, they started me on a pitocin drip to induce my labor. I was first given a shot of morphine to help me sleep and then IV analgesics to get me through the beginning labor. I was able to sleep, eat, read, watch TV, talk to my mother on the phone (she was supposed to be at the birth, but lives on the other side of the country from me and couldn’t make it in time). On Wednesday morning, as I was eating breakfast, my water broke on its own. I was planning on getting a third round of analgesics, but it turned out that I just needed my epidural! After about 15 minutes of active labor, my epidural was placed and started working right away. At around 9 pm, the doctor and midwives told me that I was 10 cm dilated and I could start pushing. After around 20 mins, they said I wasn’t making enough progress and we were going to “labor down,” essentially wait for the baby to move further down the birth canal on his own before I started pushing. An hour later and they said I was ready. I pushed for a little under 2 hours and out came my son. He was “sunny side up” too and had the cord wrapped around him a few times. That meant that, unfortunately, my husband wasn’t able to cut the cord and we weren’t able to delay cord clamping like I’d wanted to. But my son was there and healthy, so I didn’t care. I loved my midwife, and she apologized profusely for not being able to give me my ideal birth. She gave me my son safely, so that’s all I can really ask for. I had a second degree tear, which she stitched up quickly. It healed well and with very minor discomfort to me. The real disappointments for me came after birth. I ended up in the ER the same day I was released from the hospital because I was experiencing tremors. I wasn’t told that I could experience withdrawal symptoms from that amount of drugs and hormones being pumped into me. I also didn’t produce enough breastmilk to feed my son because of my induction and thyroid problems. The only things I really wish were that my mother could have been present at the birth and that I could have been able to breastfeed. Mostly I’m just happy to have my son. I think it’s important to do your research before you give birth and to go in knowing that things will not always go according to plan or according to your ideals. I think that if I’d had more expectations for my birth, that I would feel more sad or angered by my birth story.

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