When I was pregnant, I had an idea of what the perfect birth looked like. We took the classes. We read the books. We practiced the meditation.
Actually giving birth is so very different from hearing about it in class, reading about it in a book, and visualizing it in your mind. As parents, we learn to make the best with the gifts given to us. Looking back on each of my three, very different births, I feel fortunate to have experienced a vaginal delivery with an epidural, a C-section and an unmediated VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean).
I am often asked, "Which was the easiest?" The honest truth is that each labor and delivery was challenging emotionally and physically. Each birth resulted in the birth of a beautiful, healthy baby for me to love and cherish for the rest of my life, so each birth was perfect.
The vaginal delivery with an epidural
With my first, I was induced at exactly 40 weeks. My doctor was leaving on vacation and encouraged me to be induced. Call it naive thinking or being done with a swollen belly, but I agreed. My body, however, did not do well with the labor inducing medicine, and I was confined to a bed. The labor was intense, and after hours of laboring, throwing up and crying, we decided to try an epidural. Even with an epidural, I could feel the contractions, but my body relaxed almost immediately. I was soon dilated to 10. As the medication started to lesson, the doctor and my husband held my knees bent and told me when to push. The quick dilation caused tearing, which needed stitches immediately following delivery.
I felt a bit let down that I needed an epidural to help with the pain, but I knew that I made the best choices with the information I had. My daughter was born at 6 pounds, 10 ounces with the cord wrapped around her neck. She was blueish in color and received an Apgar of 2. The cord was cut, and she was examined and quickly climbed to a second Apgar score of 9. My doctor told me that if she had been bigger or her birth was later, there may have been more complications. Maybe being induced was the right choice. I was able to nurse right away and was home the next day. I remember sitting outside near the pool that night with my brand new baby in my arms and the stars shining thinking how lucky I was to have her in my life.
The process of giving birth left me exhausted and physically tired but also invigorated. Giving birth with an epidural is tough on your mind and body, but oh so rewarding.
My second child entered the world with an emergency cesarean. I was at the park and just knew something wasn't right. The trip to the hospital, the beeping of monitors, the failed induced labor, the meetings with the doctors—they all seemed to happen in a blur, and I was heartbroken. He was only 37 weeks and showed signs of distress, so I needed a C-section. They wheeled me into the room and put a curtain up at my midsection. My husband sat by my side as I listened to the doctors banter about their kids' baseball games as they cut through my muscles. It wasn't exactly what I imagined as a "dream birth."
He emerged at a healthy 8 1/2 lbs, but he was having trouble breathing and the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) worked with him. As he was whisked away, I asked my husband to stay with our baby. Knowing that he was there made me feel a little better. I didn't even get to see his face until 4 hours after delivery. As I lay in bed alone, tears rolled down my cheeks. A nurse popped in the room to check on me and handed me a picture of his chubby screaming face. More tears came.
The stigma of a cesarean birth is so very real, and I felt a huge burden of failure as a mom to have not delivered my child in the "right way." Not being able to nurse or hold him right away made me feel so alone. Then, I looked at the beautiful baby in my arms and knew that having a C-section was the right way.
As parents, we make important decisions for our family. Making sure to give birth in the best way possible for both mom and baby is important. A cesarean is tough on your mind and body. The recuperation time was a bit longer than my previous delivery, but manageable. I couldn't pick up my 3 year old due to the lifting restrictions, but I made up for it by having her climb up next to me for snuggles. It did take me a good year to regain enough core strength to do a sit-up, but I could nurse my baby, go for walks and generally be a good mom from the moment we were reunited in the recovery room.
The unmediated VBAC
Throughout my third pregnancy, my OB-GYN kept asking if I wanted to schedule a cesarean. I declined because she had already run my probability for success of a VBAC through her statistical algorithm. I had high odds and was given the go-ahead to try.
My "goal" for this birth was to have an unmedicated, natural VBAC. I read and read and read and lined up a support team of friends and family. I wanted to feel him kick off my ribs during delivery because I hadn't had that experience I so desired.
My contractions began at home, and my labor coach came over when they became consistent. I walked around the neighborhood, took a shower and painted my nails pink. When I couldn't talk through the contractions, we headed to the hospital. I remember being asked not once, but twice, if I wanted an epidural when I arrived, but mustered my strength to say, "NEVER!" My water broke soon after, and I gave birth to my son 30 minutes after arriving in the hospital. He was healthy, and I was happy to have been able to birth him naturally.
The best way to give birth
People often comment that you feel so good after a natural birth. Overall, I felt great (and hungry and tired) after each birth. In fact, the only real difference was my own attitudes about how I envisioned giving birth versus the realities. An unmedicated VBAC wasn't any easier or harder than an induced birth with an epidural or a cesarean. They were all equally challenging and equally rewarding. In fact, every birth is magical.
After three very different deliveries, I have come to realize that there is absolutely no one perfect way to deliver a baby. All types of deliveries involve planning, decision making, exhaustion, pain, hunger and recuperation. All types of deliveries require strength and a belief that we can do difficult things. Most importantly, all of them result in the miraculous birth of a child.