July 6, 2010

Birth Stories: Isabel's Irish Birth

Ever since I can remember thinking about birth, the idea of having a natural birth always seemed like a given to me. My own mother delivered me naturally, free from intervention and medication, and I grew up hearing her talk about birth as a beautiful and fulfilling experience. I also remember her describing how important it was for her to feel every moment of labor and birth—she said she didn’t want to miss a thing, no matter how uncomfortable or even painful part of it was.

When I got pregnant in the winter of 2008, my husband and I were living in Ireland, where he is originally from. Despite my strong beliefs about natural birth, I still had a vision in my mind, from my U.S. upbringing, that birth was something that happened in hospitals with doctors. So, we went about interviewing obstetricians and decided on one who supported our wishes for a non-medicated birth. Ultimately, the obstetrician’s role in Ireland is to provide pre-natal checkups (including an ultrasound at every single appointment); however, it is generally a team of midwives who provide maternal care during labor and deliver babies in the hospital.

On the morning of the 13 October, 2008 (four days past the estimated due date), I woke up with some minor cramping, which felt a lot like menstrual cramps. I told my husband to go to work, as it didn’t seem like anything major, and my parents had flown over from the States to be with me, so I had support. As the day wore on, my mother finally convinced me that, yes, these were actual contractions, and something must be happening! I had a scheduled appointment with my doctor that day, and when I went in, he examined me and told me that I was 1.5 centimeters dilated. I called my husband to tell him to start making his way home.

That evening, my parents retreated to another part of the house, while my husband and I labored together at home, in dim lighting, with quiet music. When I look back, I wish we had just stayed there and welcomed our daughter into that warm, cozy, and peaceful setting. But, we had come to the idea of homebirth ‘too late’ and, because we didn’t know anyone who provided homebirth services, we really didn’t feel we had the resources we needed to make that decision. Finally, when my contractions were about 2 minutes apart, we decided to head into the hospital on the very bumpy back roads of rural Ireland.

In the hospital, which my parents jokingly describe as looking like a relic from the 1950s, we had a litany of both positive and negative experiences. For the first part of my labor, we were in the care of a disgraceful midwife who disparaged my husband, criticized my parents for wanting to wait all night in the waiting room, and chastised me for getting sick on the floor during a contraction (you’ll be glad to know that I wrote an extensive letter of complaint to the hospital administrator and the midwife was called out and later required to go for counseling). Thankfully, a second midwife took over during the latter part of my labor, and she was wonderful. She had given birth at home to all of her children, and showed total respect for our birth plan, which we had laminated and brought with us.

Part of my birth plan, of course, was to labor naturally, with no interventions. My husband supported me with a massage machine during each contraction, and I bounced on the labor ball and moved around. But, as things got closer, and without having prepared properly, my resolve began to wane and my mind let the pain begin to take over. The midwife offered me the use of a thing called Entonox, or gas/air (which I don’t believe is used in the States, but you can read about it here). I had read that the Entonox (50% air and 50% nitrous oxide) was the least invasive form of pain relief and that it didn’t affect the baby’s alertness or ability to breastfeed. Basically, you take a mouthpiece and breathe into it as you feel each contraction coming on.

Finally, with two hours before my daughter was born, I guiltily agreed to take it. The Entonox only barely took the edge off the pain I was experiencing, but soon I was feeling the need to bear down, and stopped taking it. Rather quickly, and with a huge rush of relief and joy, my beautiful daughter was born. My birth plan had stated that I wanted her delivered directly onto my bare chest so that we could begin our bonding immediately. Instead, they said they had found some meconium in my waters and that necessitated cutting the cord immediately (something else I didn’t want), and whisking her across the room for a check-up with the pediatrician. Those five minutes were excruciating and finally, I had my amazing child in my arms and at my breast.

Although Isabel’s birth did not happen exactly how we had planned, it was overall a very positive and beautiful experience. I don’t know what I would have done without the incredible support of my thoughtful, caring, and informed husband, and without the gentle wisdom of our wonderful midwife. After returning to the States and finding supportive community resources, such as Crunchy Granola Baby, and getting to know other parents who are aligned with attachment parenting and natural living, we will go into the birth of a second child much more prepared and with greater knowledge and a stronger sense of empowerment about our own capabilities.

Ed. Note: Thanks to Isabel's Mom for her thoughtful story! If you're a globe-trotting Mama like her, be sure to check out this helpful article from escapefromamerica.com.