18 years old, brain injury patient, mother of 1: gave birth naturally..
Hey all. This is superrr long so I understand if no one reads it, but I just wanted to post somewhere the story of my natural birth. My name's Ashley, I'm 18 years old, I suffered a traumatic brain injury when I was 12. I gave birth to a baby boy on November 16th 2012. Noah was 6lbs 7oz and 17.52 inches long. I had a hospital birth, but did not use any form of medication. The rest of my births will be at home.
Here's the birth story, once again I'm sorry it's long.
For as long as I can remember (back to about age 12, 2006) I have wanted motherhood. I have watched my brothers and sisters raise children my entire life, often saying things in my head like “I’m going to do that when I become a Mom” and “I’m not going to do that when I become a Mom.” Somewhere inside I’ve known Motherhood is what I was meant for, designed for, intended for. While I was too young to have kids, I instead focused on trying to develop my parenting skills. Crocheting, some cooking, cleaning, sewing, and in general homemaking were much bigger concerns to me than anything else. The only thing holding me back from having children for a long time was my age. When I turned 18, it was time. We both wanted a baby, and had talked in the past about getting pregnant as soon as I turned 18. My eighteenth birthday was March 3rd this year, and my first positive pregnancy test was on March 17th. Doctors confirmed my pregnancy and set the due date for November 17th, 2012.
At the start of my pregnancy, I was listening to a friend talk about her labor. She explained that her water broke; she had a few contractions, got to the hospital and demanded the epidural because she couldn’t stand the pain any longer. She talked about how nice it was that she didn’t really feel a thing after that, and her daughter just came out a few hours later.
Wow. I thought. I want to feel my child enter the world. My logic was quite simple. I got pregnant on purpose. I wanted a baby. Why should I do that and not be willing to labor for him/her to enter the world? This is when the idea of working toward a natural birth began burning in me. Not just un-medicated, but at home as well. I had thought before about a home birth, but for my first baby, my doctors wanted me in a hospital because there was a potential for complications relating back to my brain injury. It was more a precautionary measure that I have him in the hospital, a just in case sort of thing if anything were to go wrong, because we didn’t know for sure if anything could or what it would be. So I decided I’d have this one in the hospital, but if it went even remotely well I’d have the rest at home.
As I started leaning more toward the idea of a natural birth, I realized who the perfect person to approach about it for advice would be. My entire life, the same family has lived behind my parents. The mother, Jennie, is a little younger than my mom. Jennie has 8 children; her oldest daughter is my age. She has had every single one of her children at home, and the last few, she wasn’t even assisted by a midwife. When I approached Jennie about her potentially helping me with a natural labor and delivery, she stepped up to the plate completely as an unofficial doula/midwife type person.
Through my pregnancy, she’d print off stories of positive natural births. She watched youtube videos of natural births and recommended them to me. She gave me recordings of people talking about the benefits of a natural birth versus a medicated birth. I watched a documentary called the Business of Being Born that opened my eyes a lot and convinced me more that a natural birth was the way to go. Jennie taught me some positive reaffirmations and visualizations for the big day. We read out of books like “Childbirth Without Fear” by Grantly Dick-Reed and “The Magical Child” by Joseph Chilton-Pierce.
Jennie, my Mom, and Noah's father, my boyfriend Eddie became the birth team for the big day. They believed in me that I could do it naturally and told me again and again that I could. Through their belief in me, I believed in myself. However, I would encounter also the un-believers, who, when I told them I was planning a natural birth would tell me things along the lines of…
a. you’re nuts
b. that’s what I thought I’d do too, until labor started
and one man, who’s girlfriend had planned a natural birth but ended up getting an epidural even said..
c. 100$ says you can’t do it without the epidural, believe me you’ll see when the pain starts.
However, through their unbelief in me, I believed in myself more: because I wanted to prove them wrong by doing it.
A month before I gave birth, I attended a breastfeeding class. At the end of the class, she showed us 2 videos that were from a study done on babies whose mother’s were medicated for their birth, and babies from un-medicated mothers. Two videos clearly showed results. The baby whose mother did not have an epidural was placed onto her stomach immediately after birth. The baby crawled up to the breast and began breastfeeding completely unassisted. In the other video, the baby whose mother did have the epidural was placed onto her stomach immediately after birth and only cried. Even with assistance, the child still had difficulty breastfeeding. There are plenty of studies out there showing results like this today. No, you probably won’t have a child with a severe problem throughout their life if you have an epidural. But the bottom line is that as much as doctors will say that the epidural does not affect the baby, ANYTHING you give the mother gets to the baby, and those drugs DO affect the child.
A few days before I went into labor, my Mom’s Chihuahua gave birth to 4 puppies and I watched. As silly as it sounds, it helped a lot. We didn’t give the dog an epidural. Or a c-section, for that matter. Ryleigh knew exactly what to do and she did it. Four times in a row, in fact. What I saw was nature, what Females of all species are intended to do. What we’re made for, designed for, what we’re capable of. And what we’ve been doing for a long, long time without drugs.
On November 15th, I woke up at 2am with a lower back ache. I had one that had been off and on for months, so I didn’t think anything of it at first. By morning, I could tell it was coming and going however. Eddie suggested we start timing it, writing down when it came and went. They were small little back cramps, coming very close together and only lasting a few short seconds throughout the entire day of the 15th. Jennie came over and we talked for a long while, both of us thinking the baby would come soon and that what I had been experiencing all day was back labor. By 5pm, I could tell the back cramps were turning into contractions. Eddie and I packed up and headed in to the hospital. On the drive in, the contractions came 7 minutes apart. We got in to the hospital and were put in “triage” where they decide if my labor is far along enough yet to admit me or if they are going to send me home. I was 3cm dilated having contractions 5 minutes apart when we got into triage. Turns out my OB’s shift had just ended and she was leaving to go catch a flight, which meant I had to have the male OB I had only met a few times. I was not very pleased with this but I didn’t have a say in the matter of who delivered my child or not. He was at home but on call. He told the labor nurses that if my contractions didn’t start coming closer together (five minutes apart isn’t good enough?) and that if I didn’t dilate more, he wasn’t going to admit me. If he did not admit me, this meant we would have had to drive half an hour back to Big Water and half an hour back in to Page when I did start getting closer.
When they checked again an hour later however, I was dilated to 5cm with contractions 2 minutes apart. This was around 7 or 8 in the evening on the 15th and they admitted me. The heavier labor began. My contractions were very powerful, happening pretty frequently. The main labor nurse asked me what kind of birth I was planning, and we made it VERY clear to her that I was going to have him naturally. She said she was all for that and congratulated me, which put me at ease. Then she asked if there was any chance I might change my mind about the epidural, and I said NO: Because there really wasn’t. In the last months of my pregnancy, I took on a mind set with the epidural that it wasn’t going to be even an option for me. I pretty well told myself I wasn’t allowed? I only did this because I began to believe so strongly that natural birth was the way for me, and knew that I might become a little weak during the labor, especially if being offered the epidural. I took on the “you’re not allowed” mindset because of all the research I had done and what I had learned. We also told the labor nurse I wanted as little fetal monitoring as possible. The monitors are large bands they wrap around your stomach to monitor your contractions, your heart rate, and the baby’s heart rate. I didn’t want them because they constrict your movement, hence your ability to work through each contraction.
I was working through most of the contractions on a labor ball (like a yoga ball). Jennie and Eddie were massaging my neck, back, shoulders and face to keep all of my muscles as relaxed as possible. Though the contractions were strong, I never screamed. I was moaning pretty loudly, and whimpering too occasionally. I would most often breathe in and then moan as I exhaled so that I still was breathing well. Eddie talked to me through each one, his voice really helped a lot too. If he wasn’t nearby when one would start, I remember I’d start asking for him.
As things progressed, the labor nurse who I thought at first was very cool kept coming in the room and talking to me through my contractions, about paperwork and vaccines and the like. Finally, my Mom and Jennie pulled her in the hallway and told her to knock it off. She did it again though and I remember me telling her myself to hush. She was insistent on having me off and on the monitors, which was making working through the contractions really difficult. She would also come in the room during the very peak of one of my contractions and offer me the epidural and narcotics again. I think she did this about 3 or 4 times, and each time, I told her No, and would say “I have to do this”.
At around 11 or midnight, just working through the contractions on the labor ball wasn’t working as well. Jennie suggested I try using the labor ball in the shower. We took the ball into the bathroom, and I worked through contractions on it while Jennie sprayed me with warm water. It was working wonderfully. While we were in there, my water at last broke. My mom told the labor nurse she needed to call the doctor and get him to the hospital; both mom and Jennie felt it would be soon. They told her my water broke. The nurse disagreed, and instead said I had to get out of the shower and BACK ON the fetal monitors.
While on the monitors she said my oxygen levels were dropping and the baby’s heart rate was too, which meant something was wrong with baby. I was complaining about being on the monitors and I sort of remember her blaming it on me not having the medications at one point. Like if I would have just had the meds, I wouldn’t have to be on the monitors right now, but because it was a natural birth, she was implying there was more danger. My mom and Jennie pulled her in the hallway and explained the reason baby’s heart rate was dropping was because he was dropping down my birth canal and was going to come soon. She disagreed. Instead, she put me on an oxygen mask. She kept saying my oxygen was low, but my mom looked at the screen one time and it said my oxygen was at 100%. So now, not only could I not work through my contractions physically, I couldn’t breathe through them well either. Eddie continued talking to me through each one, telling me how great I was doing. After the oxygen mask got put on, something about making eye contact with my mom was helping me breathe through them. I stared at her through each one. I don’t know if she was doing something to help me, like making breathing faces or something but staring at her was definitely helping. When Jennie saw me tensing up muscles, she would just touch them soft and tell me to relax.
I had heard lots of stories about women who pooped during labor and/or delivery. I felt that I needed to, but I wanted the nurses to be able to clean it up, to not make a mess. I shouted very loudly through one of the contractions that I needed to poop. It was at this moment the labor nurse finally realized my mom and Jennie were right and that the baby was coming. I didn’t need to poop. I needed to give birth. She called the doctor, who was asleep at home in bed.
My pushing contractions began. When you have a pushing contraction, if you just relax, your body will naturally push the baby out itself. I didn’t need to push; my body was doing the work for me. I could feel his head. However, the labor nurse had only just called the doctor. Through all of my contractions all night, don’t get me wrong, I was loud. I never screamed though, I just moaned. When the pushing contractions started, the nurse told me I had to wait until the doctor got there, and she told me to fight my body naturally pushing him out. A pushing contraction would come, and even though I wouldn’t push, she’d tell me to stop pushing. I would scream back at her that I wasn’t; it was him, coming. The pushing contractions would not have hurt had I been able to relax and let them happen. Fighting the pushing contractions, and what my body was naturally doing, is what was painful. That is when I started screaming, mostly at that nurse. Where is the doctor, why isn’t he here, etc. She kept telling me the doctor was coming and had her hand down there to stop the baby’s head coming out. I would ask her why she wouldn’t just deliver him. She just kept telling me not to push and I’d scream back that I wasn’t, it was my body. I remember screaming to her at one point “HE’S COMING!” For fifteen minutes I fought the pushing contractions. Bear in mind, the only reason they were painful at all was because I was fighting them. Jennie and my Mom were really wanting to tell the labor nurse to leave the room, and they were going to tell me to go ahead and push so that they could deliver him. Eddie also has told me he was just about to ask Jennie to go ahead and deliver him. Finally the doctor came at 1:30am.
Over the course of 8 minutes I had 3 more pushing contractions and because I didn’t fight them, they didn’t hurt anymore. My body pushed all three times and the last time I did too. Eddie told me my whole body turned red at one point while I pushed. It wasn’t painful though, at all. It was physically exhausting, just because I remember it felt like I was using every single muscle in my body. At 1:38am on the third push, Noah was born.
I’d have to say the most memorable moment of the entire experience was during my second push. I remember looking up at Eddie. He was sort of behind me standing on the right side of the bed, with his head really close to mine holding my hand and looking down toward the doctor and my legs. He saw me looking up at him though and looked back at me. I saw tears in his eyes and he told me he loved me.
I won’t lie. When the labor nurse kept offering me the epidural again and again, I had to fight a sort of mental battle to say no. I wanted the contractions to be over, and my son to be in my arms. The *skip to the end* sort of feeling. It was made more difficult that she kept offering when I was at the peak of a contraction. I never said to myself during the contractions “I can’t do this anymore.” I’d admit to myself that in a way I didn’t want to do it anymore, but then say in my head and out loud “I have to do this”. I would think of the fact that thousands of women have done it before me and fill myself with an emotion of willingness. I was willing to labor for my child, for my family to start. When that emotion came, I sort of would ask my body for the next contraction, thinking about how worth it that contraction was. Each contraction was bringing me closer to holding my firstborn son, bringing me closer to the beginning moment of my family with Eddie. I was thankful for the contractions. In a way, I’d make it so they emotionally felt good despite how strong they were physically. On a physical note, the labor ball helped immensely. Sitting on it, rotating my hips felt like my body was complimenting the pressure of the contraction. It was almost as though I was communicating back with the contractions.
Having a natural labor was not easy. His birth was easy, but the labor took strength. It took mental strength, not physical. If, at the start of my pregnancy when I first got the idea of having Noah naturally, had I not gone to Jennie at that time and began actively working toward and preparing for it: I would have caved and gotten the epidural when the nurse was offering it. I am no more physically capable of having a child naturally than anyone else is. What made the difference, enabling me to do it, was mental capability. Natural birth isn’t just an idea you can have and then… do. At least for me it wasn’t. It was something I had to work toward and prepare for.
Being mentally strong enough for natural childbirth was a strength I gained through having good support persons. Jennie, Eddie, and my Mom believing in me and helping me develop it. Jennie’s mentoring, and the support from Eddie and my Mom were key to building that strength.
The biggest struggles during the labor were when I wasn’t able to work with what my body was doing. When I was on the fetal monitors, and couldn’t work through the contractions on the labor ball. When I had the oxygen mask on, and couldn’t breathe steadily through the contractions. When the pushing contractions began, and I had to fight them back instead of allowing my body to do what it was trying to. Since having a natural hospital birth, I have gained even more conviction and belief in myself that I can someday have a home birth. Had I been at home, I could have stayed on the labor ball as long as I pleased. Had I been at home, I wouldn’t have had to have fetal monitors wrapped around my stomach or an oxygen mask on. Nothing was wrong with Noah. I knew, I believed deep down my birth would go smoothly and he would be healthy and he was. I understand the monitors are a precautionary measure, but in my case, they were unnecessary. Had I been at home, I could have delivered Noah as soon as the pushing contractions began. The nurses explained to my Mom that the reason they wouldn’t deliver the baby and they wanted to wait for the doctor was because I had chosen an un-medicated birth. Because of this, they actually considered me to be more high risk/in danger. Because I had chosen an un-medicated birth, they were more concerned about having me on the monitors. In today’s hospitals, natural birth has become unnatural. The truth is, I feel the experience would have gone even smoother and better than it did at the hospital if I was at home, in my environment, listening to my body and being able to communicate with it. I know now that I can do it at home.
But as soon as he was born, nothing else mattered. I got a natural high on the oxytocin my body was producing, the love hormone. I had wanted, with every fiber of my being, to have a natural birth. I developed that desire. Then I believed that I could have a natural birth, that I would have a natural birth, and that I had to have a natural birth. “I have to do this.” I would say both in my head and sometimes out loud through the labor. I always knew that motherhood was my calling, my path in life, what I wanted most. What I’ve been working toward and hoping for for years. God would not have set me on this path if I was not physically and mentally capable of giving birth, or if I couldn’t make it without an epidural. If I wanted so strongly to be a mother, I needed to be willing to do whatever it would take to become a Mom: give birth.
As they placed him on my chest, I felt like I deserved him. I deserved to be his Mom and have this moment because I did what it took to get there. I felt my son enter this world and I labored for that moment. Suddenly I was *love* for everyone in the room. I was telling the labor nurse thank you over and over (no idea why, the woman was a nightmare), thanking the doctor, thanking my Mom, thanking Eddie, and thanking Jennie. Everything was sort of slow motion. Looking back on it, I see now it was the happiest I had ever felt in my life. I could feel happiness on a mental, emotional and physical level; just washing through me. I began narrating to myself in my head what was going on. “Okay the baby was just born, okay, they’re placing him on your chest, okay this is your son, this is skin to skin contact, talk to the baby…okay, they’re taking him now to clean him up..” They didn’t take him out of the room though; Eddie and I had made our wishes very clear about that. They cleaned him up right there then gave him back to me to breastfeed.
The moment Noah was born; I was born as a Mother. It is the most rewarding, accomplished feeling I have ever felt or will ever feel in my life.
“I want to do this.”
“I can do this.”
“I have to do this.”
I did it.
* * * * * *
In the days that have passed since Noah was born, I've been audience to some pretty big changes in myself. In how I act, feel, and think. The *girl* Ashley, the *teenager* Ashley, has begun to fade, with Ashley the Mother, Ashley the Woman, taking over. I feel calmer. I feel more devoted to both the family I came from and the family I'm creating more than ever before. I'm not caring as much about little things I used to care about, they were part of the old me. I'm not even thinking the way I used to. I only want to devote time to hobbies/interests that will be beneficial to my little family, and my ability to be Noah's mother.
I don't feel as stubborn as I used to be. I feel more open to critique and advice from those that I love than I ever did in the past. In just the days since Noah was born, I've matured. Emotionally and spiritually.
I sincerely believe that it is because I did not get the epidural. Because I felt each contraction, and felt him coming into the world I have changed. Through feeling each one, through giving birth, I have gained a Right of Passage from maidenhood to motherhood. From girl, to woman.
Here is a photo of our little family, taken on Thanksgiving Day when Noah was 6 days old. Ignore the date on the photo, my mother in law's camera is wrong.