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Journey to the Birth Center

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Monday, July 2, 2012

Journey to the Birth Center

I'll never forget the night I watched an episode of King of the Hill in which they (I have no idea who "they" are because I never watch that show, I just happened to see this one particular episode) toured a birthing center.  I was with my mom and I remember saying, "I know that some people are into that sort of thing, but for me...I just could not imagine delivering a baby anywhere other than a hospital.  What if something went wrong?"

So, fast-forward two years and there I am, pushing a baby out with no pain medicine and thinking OMG-this-is-for-sure-the-end-and-I-am-going-to-die-and-WTF-was-I-thinking-trying-this-without-an-epidural-and-I'm-dying-and-OMG-I-should-be-at-a-hospital!

Yeah.  I was delivering my baby in a birthing center.

And yeah.  I actually thought I was dying.  It hurt that bad.

But then?  Right after I delivered my baby girl?  The pain was gone (ok, mostly gone).  And in its place was the most intense and powerful love I could ever imagine, and I was riding high on a surge of natural endorphins that I had not experienced after delivering Jack.  And I felt like a champion, I tell you.

And just hours after her birth, Charles and I were talking about what a wonderful experience this was and how we knew we had made the right choice when we decided to have our baby at the birth center instead of the hospital (because I had done that once, too, and although it certainly had its perks - waffles in the middle of the night, HOLLA! - it wasn't an experience I wanted to recreate).

I want to share that journey here, because many people just assume that they need to have their baby in a hospital and aren't aware of the options.  Or maybe, like me, they are aware that birth centers exist...but think they're for weirdos (I guess it's up for debate whether or not I'm a weirdo, but for the sake of this blog post let's just assume I'm mostly normal...ha!).

I had a very "typical" hospital birth with Jack (and let me just say here that I know every hospital birth is not the same, for better or worse...and I am not comparing my birth experiences to anyone else's nor judging anyone else's choices - this is just my story).  My water broke when I was 37 weeks pregnant (just barely a trickle) and labor was induced.  By the time I was dilated to 6 cm my contractions were so painful I was begging for an epidural (thanks, Pitocin!).  Shortly after the epidural kicked in, I pushed for an hour and forty-five minutes.  Jack finally arrived, sunny side up with his little hand against his cheek, amidst third-degree tears (and for the record, a giant rip in the crotch is no fun, guys).

The first two months were rough.  Not only was I very, very sore and healing much slower than I had expected, but breastfeeding was also a nightmare.  Jack was eight weeks old the first time I experienced a pain-free latch - and this is also around when I first heard myself think I was starting to feel a bit more "normal."

It turned out Charles and I were quite different parents than we had imagined we'd be.  Before Jack was born, I was ambivalent towards breastfeeding - once he was born, it became very important to me.  Before he was born, I had a collection of expensive baby beds waiting for him to grace (because I was *so* not going to be "that" parent who sleeps with their kid, right??) - after he was born, we became expert co-sleepers.  We went from assuming all babies just sleep quietly in their strollers when you're running errands around town to researching baby carriers so I could keep my fussy baby close and still be a somewhat-functioning member of society.

As I started finding my way I realized I was charting my course for the next baby...and setting myself up for a much more laid-back experience (it's hard when you think parenting is going to be exactly like you see it in magazines, and then realize that's not really the case at all).

My endless hours of online research (I thought I'd just automatically know what to do when I became a parent...but it's really, really hard when your instincts tell you to do one thing and the entire society you live in is telling you to do something else) led me to baby-friendly websites and parenting forums.  And in these forums, and on these websites, I started noticing that many moms were unhappy with their hospital/medicated/c-section births and had chosen a different route the second (or third, fourth, etc.) time around.  Some had chosen to birth at home.  Others at birthing centers.  Still others chose to birth in a hospital, but opted for a VBAC rather than another c-section, or chose doctors who supported their desire to have a med-free birth, or made changes to their c-section birth plan to have a birth that was more baby-friendly.

What I was realizing, slowly, was that there were options out there when it came to birthing a baby (shocking, right?  That a woman would get to have some sort of say in how and where she delivers her baby...?).  I was also paying attention to what these women were saying about these births - these births that they and their babies orchestrated.  I saw words like "love," "empowering," "amazing," "strong," "life-changing," - to name a few.

Up to this point, most of the natural birth stories I had heard were unpleasant.  They focused on pain, and misery - how awful labor was/how much tearing there had been/how horrendous recovery was...that sort of thing.  Only one person had ever told me anything positive about her natural delivery - but as I was learning more and more online about birth in general (because I knew I wanted another baby at some point), that one positive story resonated with me.

I felt fine with the way Jack's birth had gone.  In fact, I hadn't realized, until after the fact, that there were even options.  I assumed it was routine to rip to high hell, and that breastfeeding issues and a sore rear for months were part and parcel of the whole "delivering a baby" package.

So imagine how fast my brain started to spin when I learned that it didn't have to be like that.  Sure, it would hurt to deliver a baby naturally...but billions of women before me had done it, so I certainly was capable (I am, after all, built to have a baby).  And wasn't a bit of pain worth it if the results were (hopefully) a quicker recovery, fewer breastfeeding issues, and that insane after-delivery high I had been reading about?

In my opinion, yes.  It was worth it to try.  So, we looked up a local birth center that was conveniently located next to a hospital.  I wasn't really worried - I had realized, by this point, that birth is a normal thing and not something to fear - but it sure was nice to tell everyone else out there worrying about me that it was next to a hospital (seriously, people)!  We took a tour, we loved the midwife, and the next thing we knew...we were having our baby at a birthing center.

And in the end, the experience turned out to be amazing, empowering, and life-changing.

Yeah, it hurt...but it hurt in a good way, if that makes any sense.  I hope that when I share my birth experience with other women, they don't walk away thinking, "Wow, sounds painful!"  Rather, I hope they are inspired and can think about birth in a positive light - a beautiful and natural event rather than an unpleasant experience that can be largely bypassed with medical interventions (and I think medical interventions are important and certainly have a place - I just wanted to deliver my baby at a place where I would only be subject to an intervention if I really needed one, rather than have them used as "preventive" medicine).

And so, my friends, I hope you are able to take this for what it is: my story, and my story only.  I don't expect everyone out there to have the same experiences, the same circumstances, or the same desires.  I had a positive experience and I want to share it with others who may be in a similar spot and looking for encouragement (you can do it!).  And also - I want moms-to-be everywhere to know that there are options, and that this is THEIR labor and delivery.  You call the shots, ladies...whether you choose to birth at home, in a birthing center, or at a hospital - surround yourselves with love and support and compassion.  It's a beautiful thing for your baby to be born into.

Claire's about six hours old and we are headed home from the  Birth Center (I don't know if I'd even been able to pee by myself when Jack was six hours old!).

Oh!  And yes, my recovery time was faster (ridiculously so, actually), there were no breastfeeding issues (Claire latched on immediately and painlessly) and I *did* experience that after-birth high I had heard about.

I delivered Claire at the Birth & Women's Center in Dallas, TX.

Birth story junkie?  Here's Claire's! Please pardon the typos, run-on sentences, and general lack of direction in that blog post - I am pretty sure I was running on empty when I wrote it.

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