I finally have the words to describe exactly how I feel about my child birthing experiences, cheated.
When I had my first daughter, Berkeley, in 2019, I went through a mix of emotions, happy, excited, terrified, and anxious. My anxiety was through the roof when it came to the actual thought of giving birth. I constantly read articles that described in detail the mortality rates of Black women and their newborns within hospitals spaces and I was afraid of dying. I switched OBGYNs based on where I would give birth because I didn’t want to give birth at a teaching hospital. At teaching hospitals, you will deliver with whoever is on call and although there will be doctor on call, albeit with oversight, a student could possibly deliver your baby. In addition, I made it my business to find a practice with several Black doctors in the rotation, so if I wasn’t with my primary doctor I had the chance of delivering with someone else that looked like me. Black doctors simply ease my anxiety and luckily in a metropolitan city like Washington, DC it is not hard to find.
I hired a doula with the intention of having a natural birth with no epidural. I wanted to “feel” the full birthing experience and trust my body to do its job. Women have been having babies since the beginning of time and I know deep down that the fears I had around childbirth were pushed from the experiences of others. You rarely hear positive birthing experiences and with the rise of doulas and the objection of interference with modern medicine, I felt like I could do it. I went through weeks of breathing exercises, stretching with my husband and different labor massages and moves to remember. We felt ready.
I arrived at the hospital around 9:00pm. At 10:30pm I was 4cm and by 3:30am I was 8cm. The contractions were hitting in 10 minute waves. I truly cannot describe the discomfort of labor contractions but I will say the ones that take place in your lower back are a pain I have never felt in my life. My doula was really late and that raised my anxiety and discomfort. Contraction pains can't quite compare to other pains. The closest comparison I can say is like a charley horse in your vagina. Fortunately, a friend was my labor and delivery nurse and she said I could probably go another hour or two before hitting 10cm. I gave in and got the epidural. It slowed things down and I didn’t have my baby until 10:08 am the next morning. The epidural gave me a chance to catch my breath. I napped, prayed and listened to music. I saw the discomfort of watching me getting the epidural on my mother and husbands face. The anesthesiologist missed the first time and I bleed quite a bit. It hurt like hell, and eventually the epidural wore off and they couldn’t give me anymore. So, I felt a lot more than I was prepared for.
I had a safe vaginal birth but I experienced 3 tears and extreme back pains for weeks to come. I was later informed that the anesthesiologist was let go from the hospital for various complaints from patients. I feel like the doula could’ve been extremely helpful in helping me stay confident and pushing through with no medicine. My mom tried, but you know how it is with a mother, the story goes, “back in my day, we didn’t use epidurals, I had all four of my kids with no medicine, just breathe, you’ll be alright”. If you know my mom personally then you can probably hear her saying this.
I was so happy that Berkeley came and was beautiful and healthy that I forgot that my doula was late which led to me changing my actual plans. Overtime I thought more about it and realized she didn’t even do the postpartum visit that was essential to my recovery as well. This wasn’t a good doula experience for me, but my baby was healthy so I let it go. It took me the full 6 weeks to actually feel myself again but I will say, your body is changed forever, not good or bad, just different.
Being pregnant for the second time came at a point when a lot was going on in my personal life. A lot of stress from my job, my family life and simply trying to balance it all, but every time I touched my stomach my baby calmed me. The first trimester was so hard. Maybe it was my age or just the stress of it all, but many days I just wanted to lay in bed. It seems like the pregnancy went fast and I felt my body change quickly. As I prepared my birthing plan, I had the same thing in mind. Have a vaginal birth with no epidural. There is an episode of “The Chi” when the character, Keisha, has a water birth at home. It was beautifully shot. Her doula, mother and close family friends are surrounding her, supporting her, giving her all the tools she needs to bring her baby safely into the world. It really warmed my heart.
This crossed my mind several times, and I even found birthing centers in the city that offered this, but the doctors warned me that I had a bacteria in my body, called, Group B Strep, and I needed to be at the hospital in a timely manner to receive an IV of antibiotic so that it wouldn’t pass to my baby at birth. I experienced this with Berkeley as well and honestly, this scared me. I couldn’t find any information on birthing centers offering an IV antibiotic and I thought I would put my baby at risk for not being in a setting were this was offered.
In order to prevent me not making it on time for the antibiotic (it had to be administered before active labor) a doctor in my practice suggested I get induced. Although this is a physician giving a recommendation, sometimes things can be stated in a way that makes you feel like, you HAVE do it, so I obliged. Induction date was set for exactly 39 weeks, October 1, 2021 at 8:00 am. I could not eat that morning because I was so nervous. We didn’t make it to the hospital until 9:00 am and they got things started right away. One IV of antibiotic to prevent the Group B Strep and an IV of Pitocin (used to kickstart labor and contractions) were all streaming through my body. Between 10:00 am and 4:00 pm I dilated 1 cm. I sat at 5cm for hours. The doctor came in and said, "I am going to have to break your water to speed this process up." I ask her to let me think about it and I immediately start to freak out. My husband, Charles, is googling stuff and so am I. The only thing I could think about was how painful that would be! The discomfort of doctors doing a cervical check play back in my mind as I see them prepare the utencils. Ughhhh. I called up my friend who was my labor and delivery nurse the first time and asked a million questions on breaking my water, is it painful? Is it necessary? Is it normal? She calmed my worries but now I’m flooded with the fear of pain. Charles was my only support partner and he stood there staring me down with fear too. “You can do this!” he would say, but man when those contractions hit, nothing seems possible. What scared me the most was the pain I thought would come from getting my water broke, so we began to discuss epidurals. The back and forth questions with the doctors and nurses went on for about 30 minutes and the last thing the doctor said was, “well if you don’t want me to break your water, we can unhook everything and you can go home and wait for it for to happen.”
I had been in the hospital since 9:00 am, this was a planned induction. The thoughts running through my head were now, how much would that cost me? Look how much time I’ve wasted, these nurses and doctors are probably annoyed with me, I really didn’t want to be pregnant anymore. But most of all it was the fear. The recommendation that they manually break my water was again something that was simply brought up when I didn’t begin to dilate so I never even knew that was something they would’ve had to do. Because of that fear of pain, I received the epidural and surprisingly the anesthesiologist missed the first time and had to stick me again, I could feel the warm blood drain down my back but that’s a risk you take for a little comfort. Within a few hours I was ready to push. Nori was born at 8:06 pm healthy and beautiful.
My recovery has been much easier the second time around, but I was able to pinpoint exactly how I felt after both births. Cheated. One thing that dawned on me is that hospitals (at least in my experience) are not meant to help you in your delivery plan. If you want a natural birth with support you have to go to a birthing center, give birth at home, or have a midwife or doula by your side walking you through the process, helping you manage the pain in the most natural way. The hospitals job is to simply keep you alive, relatively comfortable and to make money.
I am so happy that I was blessed with two healthy children but I can say that that the first time around was nerve wrecking and being in the middle of a pandemic the second time around changed a lot of what I wanted to experience. I assure you that if you want a natural birth with no epidural plan accordingly. Do as much research as possible, ask a million questions to your providers and build your support team. Most of all, have unwavering faith and confidence that YOU CAN DO IT!