GUEST POST: Chasing the Storm

Childbirth is a story. Women are able to share one of the most intense experiences of their entire lives through telling these stories. Birth stories help women find a renewed sense of empowerment, a voice of encouragement, and a chance to heal.

Women in my family produce big babies.  I was the smallest of three at a whopping nine pounds, three ounces and one of my brothers was nearly eleven pounds.  My mother gave birth to all of us naturally and drug-free.  Eleven pounds.  They say that women birth like their mothers.  During my pregnancy, this thought scared me senseless, but now on the other side of my own natural childbirth experience, it makes me proud.  My pregnancy, labor and delivery were like chasing a thunderstorm: scary, thrilling and downright awe-inspiring.

When I told my doctor I wanted a natural birth, he pretty much told me I was foolish.  He said that he doesn’t understand not avoiding pain when you have the option.  Well… he wouldn’t understand that, would he?  My doctor gave my unborn baby and me the best medical care available, but he looked at me with a face that said, “She doesn’t know what she’s getting herself into.”  I couldn’t help but feel underestimated and defensive.  Every step of the way, during each progressing trimester, the people in my life doubted my ability to birth my own son.  “Why would you do that?” and  “It’s okay if you can’t do it,” they said. Other than the resolution I felt in my heart and the encouragement I heard from the father of my child, I felt alone and isolated. 

I hope by sharing my story I can inspire mommas-to-be to consider natural childbirth and embrace the inherent magic of the female body.

Among mothers, it is no secret that pregnancy is difficult.  I was sick for most of my pregnancy.  The first trimester was utterly debilitating because I was getting sick all throughout the day.  There were a few golden moments somewhere around my 18th week where I didn’t feel as sick anymore and I wasn’t yet so large that I was tremendously uncomfortable.  When I did get large, it seemed to last forever.  My son came twelve days late–twelve days of agony.  At that point, I was willing to do anything to not be pregnant anymore, but  I thought of this time as God’s way of preparing me for childbirth.

As difficult as pregnancy is, it is still a beautiful miracle.  I felt sick and tired at times, but I also felt wonderful and full of life.  As much as I felt fat, I also felt beautiful and powerful.  The first little flutters of my baby kicking, cradling my womb as I fell asleep at night, carrying my baby until he was ready to come into the world – it was a privilege to experience.  My pregnancy fostered a closeness to my baby that is indescribable and irreplaceable.  It is the foundation of our mother-child relationship that continues for life.

In an almost subconscious way, I knew that natural childbirth was the best choice for my baby and me. 

I personally did not want my son to enter this world sedated, and I wanted to feel the process in order to retain control over my mind and my body.  I knew that I wanted to breastfeed my son, and a drug-free birth makes establishing this bond easier.  I’m also kind of a thrill junky, and what greater adventure is there than feeling the birth of your own child? 

People run marathons and climb impossible mountains, which are physically strenuous and mentally tough.  It takes preparation, struggle and grit to complete these seemingly impossible tasks, and these people are applauded for doing so.  Yet, when a woman chooses natural childbirth and accomplishes that feat, people react with comments like “Why would you put yourself through that?”

I’ve never run a marathon and I haven’t climbed anything more significant than a glorified hill, but I believe I could now that I’ve given birth; knowing precisely what I can handle in terms of personal struggle, has given me a great understanding of what I can and cannot do.

Things worked out for me, but I know this is not the case for many, many mothers.  Birth does not always go according to plan.  The important thing is to trust your body, trust the process, and trust your people.  Birth, in all its permutations, brings us back to nature; it is a right of passage that defines motherhood, no matter how it unfolds.

* * * *

At 5:00 a.m. on Thursday, July 31st 2014, I woke up feeling a tightening in my abdomen.  I had been experiencing these feelings for weeks, but there was something more significant about these small contractions.  Although painless, they seemed to be coming in a pattern.  I didn’t want to get my hopes up, though.  I was three days shy of being 42 weeks pregnant, and 4 days shy of an impending induction.  I was discouraged and depressed, thinking that my baby would never arrive on his own.

When I was willing to admit that I was actually in labor, it was somewhere around three o’clock in the afternoon.  I was nervous, excited, and incredibly relieved.  My sense of relief was in large part due to the looming induction I had scheduled for that coming Monday.  Induced birth is one of my greatest fears, because it precludes the possibility of a natural birth and increases the likelihood of cesarean section.

Around two in the morning, James and I left for the hospital 30 minutes away.  For the first few hours I walked the halls of the maternity ward, stopping and swaying through my contractions allowing my body to build up its own defenses against the pain.  Lying down was not an option.  It intensified the pain of my contractions ten fold.  I spent most of my time laboring on a birthing ball with my head on the hospital bed, James sitting behind me transitioning between pressing his head into my lower back and soaking my hairline with ice water.  The hot flashes were extreme.

When my contractions were the most powerful, coming as quick as every 30 seconds, the storm was raging, and I could hear the sound of thunder coursing through my body and soul.  I entered a state of utter euphoria; I felt that I was in a state of holiness.  This experience was unlike any other; I have never felt that close to God, that connected with nature, nor that womanly.

My son’s delivery was easy from that point forward.  Pushing felt good.  My childbirth experience brought me an overwhelming feeling of empowerment and strength that has carried on through my transition into motherhood.  My personal identity is split in two: who I was before I gave birth to my son, and who I am now as a mother.  Natural birth shook my being and brought me to the other side a more secure and confident person.

* * * *

Whenever I broach the topic of birth with another mother, I am careful to be sensitive and gentle.  Many women have painful stories and unhealed wounds. 

One day in the summer when my son was around 10 months old, I began chatting with a seasoned mother of three who had a daughter about my son’s age.  She shared with me that her doctor instructed her to have a c-section because her daughter was just too big as an over 8lb baby.  I smiled and politely told her that my son was 9lbs at birth and I had him completely naturally.  There are of course exceptions to this rule, not one woman is built like another, and some of us have bodies that are generally better suited to birthing babies.  

The female body is miraculous by nature. I used to think that natural childbirth was not for everyone, but I have somewhat changed my mind.  A woman in good health and physical condition can birth her baby drug-free–no matter how high her pain tolerance or extensive her stamina.

This is not to say that there are no instances requiring caesarean sections or the use of an epidural; of course there are.  Babies don’t get into position, placentas move in front of cervixes, women can’t help but fight the process and preeclampsia happens.  C-sections have saved many lives and are a necessary practice at times, but they shouldn’t be the preferred method.  This is a major abdominal surgery. I think natural childbirth is a walk in the park compared to that kind of recovery — not only physical but mental. 

Many women experience great trauma from the births of their children.  Whether it be natural, epidural or c-section birth, we are all tender and we all need to heal. 

I hope any pregnant mothers reading this can all find the balance between the tiger fierceness of natural birth, and the beautiful gentleness that comes afterward, as I was able to.

I also hope my readers take away two pieces of advice when considering natural childbirth:

  1. During labor and delivery – trust and believe in the body.

     2. Before pregnancy – nourish and strengthen the body.

Built to make and birth babies, the female body is resilient and tremendous in its craft. The best preparation for pregnancy and a natural birth is a diet of whole, natural foods and an active lifestyle. When we first become pregnant our bodies literally build an organ – the placenta, which is then used to nourish our babies for the next 9-months.  This makes nourishing ourselves before pregnancy especially important.  Our bodies build the placenta with the nutrients we feed ourselves; the healthier our diet, the healthier our placenta and thus, the healthier our babies.  

* * * *

The birth of my son brought me to my breaking point, but it also gave me an intimate understanding of my inner strength and power as both a woman and a mother.  I found the storm that I was chasing and it was breathtaking, humbling and empowering… and it made a woman out of me.

In an over medicated world full of drug use and addiction, it’s difficult for people to trust the female body to accomplish what it was designed to do.  I challenge my readers to trust in the face of the adversities, and to at least try a natural childbirth.  We are capable of much more than we let ourselves believe. 

Wouldn’t it be interesting to find out just how powerful we are as women?

You can find more from Danielle Breen here.

Photo by: Michela Griffin

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