Wednesday, May 7, 2014

My Natural (i.e. epidural-free) Birth Process

In grad school I had a classmate who, during our graduate Creative Process art studio course (for which this blog was initially created for), documented her pregnancy as a project and pointed out the issue of how so many birth stories are similar to skipping stones over a pond. Often told simply: "Well, I went into labor, we went to the hospital, I was in labor for x# of hours and then baby arrived!" There is so much that is not shared. Taboo? Possibly. That doesn't seem very fair, however, to all the women (and partners!) who are wondering what to expect.

As the time came near for my own baby to be born, I pushed aside all the natural birth stories I had read and focused on my own pregnancy, as I realized that no matter how many stories I heard or read about (and there were several), every single pregnancy and birth experience is different. Please consider this as you read on. I am sharing our story here both for my own processing as well as a possible support for others.

Disclaimer: My decision to try to have a natural birth is not a judgment on how you or any other woman has given or plans to give birth. Please do what you feel is best for your baby and body. As they say in my OB's practice: Healthy mom, healthy baby. I reminded myself late in pregnancy that my goal in getting pregnant was to have a healthy baby, not a natural childbirth.

So here it is... my natural (i.e. epidural-free) birth story.

First things first. I had no complications during my pregnancy until 37 weeks, when I developed gestational hypertension, with no (personal) history of hypertension of my own pre-pregnancy. My OB placed me on modified bed rest, with a blood pressure check and fetal monitoring every three days. At 39 weeks or so I was 1 cm and 50% effaced. At 40 weeks, it was the same story. Pretty normal. And of course, on my due date so many well intended loving friends and family asked "ARE YOU IN LABOR YET??" because that's how labor works. Hah! Two days after my due date had passed, my blood pressure was especially high, and unlike previous visits it did not go down after resting in her office. Awesome.

My OB said to me, "I want you to go home and get your bag, and come back to Labor and Delivery. We will start you on a pitocin drip to begin consistent contractions. Often women's bodies will begin labor on their own as the dilating progresses."

Not going to lie, I was a bit scared. Of course this was "not how things were supposed to go", as I had always imagined what it would be like to go into labor naturally. However, it was what it was, and the goal--always--was to keep baby and myself healthy.

This quote came to mind and significantly helped during this time:
Slow down
Calm down
Don't worry
Don't hurry
Trust the process
-Alexandra Stoddard

I called my husband--let's call him Hubs--who left work and met me at home. Grabbed our bags. Headed back down to the hospital. I was checked in and we expressed to the nurses, as we had to my OB, that if medically possible, I preferred a natural birth and did not want to be provided any pain medication unless I requested it specifically. An IV was placed and I was started on a pitocin drip around 1:30pm to begin consistent contractions.

 Here we go!

24 hours later, nothing had really happened "down there". I was still 1cm/50% effaced, despite attempting to assist with sitting on a birthing ball and laying relaxed on my side on the hospital bed. I was not in pain--they felt like the Braxton Hicks contractions, just consistent tightening and loosening of my abdomen. Since my body was not "picking up" into hard labor and my water breaking as they had hoped, with my approval the house OB who gave no comment or emotional support of my efforts to have a natural/epidural-free childbirth came in and broke my water, as this would lead to active labor and definite hard working contractions.

And immediately, it did.
Now... this is where both Hubs and I were so thankful that we had read Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way. We were educated about not only the stages of labor, but the emotional signposts, how to relax focus best through hard contractions (and why), and how my husband could best support me emotionally and physically. It also helped to know myself and how (well) I tolerate pain.

I knew that screaming through labor would not relax me, regardless of what has worked for others. That's just not how I roll. The Bradley Method does, however, recommend visualization and focus. From what I remember, I sometimes visualized myself floating on a wave to help not only my muscles relax fully during a contraction, but to see going over the crest of a wave as the "turning point" in the contraction as the pain decreased. My focus was on my steady, deep breathing. No Lamaze stuff. Over time I realized that it took 10 deep breaths, both in and out, during the course of a contraction, which helped me gauge how far through the contraction I was. Sometimes I saw colors behind my eyelids as a result of the pain. Purple. Black. Grey. That was involuntary.

What stuck with me most during the labor process that the Bradley book mentioned was this:

Nature is kind.

After each contraction you are given a break to rest without pain. Knowing this, knowing that the pain was purposeful, and minding my breathing, all pulled me through. Hubs kept telling me that each contraction was getting us somewhere. No steps back!

In the thick of it, approx. 2 hours into active labor. Focus!

A few details I can recall from hard labor:
-Hubs kept encouraging me to eat to help with energy. Slushie. Jell-O. Popsicle. Couldn't focus on the popsicle to finish more than ~3 licks of it.
-The nurse that came on shift during active labor asked my husband what my profession was. She reported she speculated I was a counselor of some kind, and that I was doing really, really well with pain management. It meant a lot to me to hear her feedback.
-As I was laying relaxed with my eyes closed, my husband and the nurse both had some difficulty being able to tell whether or not I was having a contraction. I started saying "in one!" or would raise my finger for them to wait a moment, so they would know not to ask questions or touch me during that time. Hubs had to translate my answers to the nurse when I spoke during contractions, and I remember telling the nurse to please stop when she tried to move me or do something involving touching me during a contraction. Some women talk, etc. in-between contractions, but I just saved the energy and laid there like a slug. No regrets.
- Nurses would occasionally tell us they could give me an oral painkiller to "take the edge off the pain". Thanks but no thanks.
-Hubs encouraged me as well and reminded me of the progress I was making over time. He used the marathon analogy as he and I both run marathons: "Those centimeters are miles behind you, just a few more miles to go!" He pressed hard on my lower back during several contractions. I eventually asked him to stop, as I found I was tensing my muscles when he did so despite my efforts to relax them.

I had no clue what time it was, so I guesstimate that around 5pm I was dilated to about 9cm. During these last few contractions before "push" time, the muscles in my lower back began to contract as well, causing an involuntary "push". I remember saying to my husband during a contraction that I couldn't help it. I couldn't! I wiggled my toes during the next contraction in attempt to distract from the pain. Hubs reminded me to relax.

Finally it was time to push. Hubs was on my left side, holding my leg, while a nurse was on my right. It felt like I was taking the largest crap of my life and it felt so good. Somehow I did not actually push out any crap. I couldn't believe it (and still can't). Maybe I was constipated? Apparently when a woman pushes, the heart rate of the fetus goes down momentarily. Our baby's heart rate went down and then did not rebound as quickly as she would have liked, so attached a vacuum to the head [psh I'm not going to tell you the gender yet! You have to wait like we did!]
Side note: Does anyone else become mildly frustrated when people ask if you know what you are having? "We are hoping for a human baby but it could be a velociraptor." Truly.
But I digress.
I was also given oxygen in attempt to transfer extra oxygen to the baby. She also gave two shots to numb me, as I learned later she anticipated I would tear and would need sutures. She was right. My OB didn't tell me what she was doing--possibly to keep me relaxed and focused--but at that point I didn't really care what happened as long as baby was ok.

Hubs says I pushed for maybe 15 minutes. I didn't feel the tears, as the pressure of our baby's head cut off the circulation. The nurse told me to open my eyes, I was still pushing so hard. I looked up and saw the OB holding our baby. Hubs said, "It's a Liesel!"

We have a girl.

Hubs was overwhelmed with joy and gratitude for our baby and our birth experience. So was I, however I remember just staring and smiling at her and Hubs. I had planned on immediate skin-to-skin, but it was as if I was paralyzed, in a daze. The nurse held her out to me and laid her on my belly. To this day I don't know if I felt I was outside myself and at that moment couldn't consciously make my brain and arms connect, if I was unsure of holding her...? Dunno. There's a photo of my hand holding one side of her and the nurse holding the other, but I don't even remember it. The nurse took her to the weigh table to take her vitals, weight, height, etc. while she screamed. Hubs followed and tried to have her little angry fist grasp his pinkie finger. My OB stayed behind to sew up where I had torn.

One of my high school teachers that I have kept in touch with told me a few years ago that he heard that giving birth epidural-free was comparable to the pain felt running a marathon. He is a marathoner, and I have also trained for and completed marathons. After experiencing a natural childbirth sans epidural, I can safely say from my experience that the pain is not [quite] comparable--it is more painful in a concentrated area that one cannot physically train for in the same way as one can for running a marathon-- however the mental and emotional endurance is. For me, at least.

Just like my history with training for and running marathons, I would definitely do it again--just not immediately :)

Hospital photo! 
At time of this writing, she is now just shy of 4 months old. We couldn't be more joyous of her.

Thanks for reading. If you are preparing for your own birth experience, I hope that our story was somewhat helpful to you!

**Special THANK YOU to our nurses and OB for your care**

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Naturally becoming...

Two years since my last post? Eesh.

In the last post I showed a collection of the postcards I created for the Art Therapy Without Borders art swap. That process has stuck with me, and I am now wanting to create larger works from the same process.

Last year (2012) I created this:
Watercolor, ink, copper metal and paper/embroidery detail.

Embroidery + watercolor + drawing = TEXTURE *drool*

 ...and the year before (2011), this:

I recently came upon a local print shop that has a large scanner that can copy my paintings for prints. So stoked! I don't trust my camera for fine art prints, not one bit. Not even in a light box.

With this development, I expect a necessary name change for my Etsy shop to more fully describe my current items and to accommodate my painting/mixed media prints. When I created the shop, I was selling jewelry. Not my forte any longer, as I have found much more fulfillment (and success) in my artwork. Now... to decide on a name...!

My first quilt is also in process, made from my husband's signature hoodie. My first quilt! The details and photos will be in another post for another day.

I never formally left, but it's good to be back.

xx chels

Monday, April 18, 2011

Art Therapy Without Borders: International Postcard Art Exchange

For the past six months I have been participating in a postcard art exchange hosted by Art Therapy Without Borders (ATWB Postcard Art Exchange).  Art therapists and art therapy students from around the world have been exchanging postcards telling about their role as an art therapist and what art therapy means to them.
Here are the cards I have had the pleasure of receiving!

A lovely collection, yes! :)

*SPOILER ALERT* my postcards that probably have yet to be received by many...

Thesis has taken over my life for the most part, so I just now sent out all my postcards on the mail-by deadline date of April 15th.  International recipients may not get their cards for 2-3 weeks... but as today is 'reflection day' for the project, here are my cards to contribute:

Lately I have been entertaining my current theme/symbol of containment and boundaries in my artwork. 

I had several 4x11" strips of watercolor paper and painted each one. Each strip allowed for two postcards to be cut from it, resulting in pairs. No two are alike, but one can see where two may have matched up!

It has been a wonderful experience creating for everyone, as well as opening a small window to art therapists and students around the world and hearing your stories!

Thanks, all!

Monday, March 21, 2011


Hello, all or none.  Two months have gone by since my last 365 entry of contour drawings.  I have still been drawing them, but have not uploaded yet.  I would say there are only so many times and ways one can draw things around the house when time is running short, but that would be a straight up misconception.

ANYWAY. I have noticed a shift in my brain lately, for the most part.  I have somewhat tucked in and become increasingly introspective.  I am still incredibly socially awkward and talk poorly as well as too much when wading through nervous social situations, but besides that I am a still pond.

When I began attending the art therapy program it was often said that the program changes you.  I just said "OK" and let it be. Well. It just might have changed me a lot.

Phil says he has noticed some difference in me over the last year. Maybe it's the program. Maybe it's moving to a new area with little social interaction. Let's just say... I think my social skills have gone the way of the awkward turtle. Regardless, it's another process among many that have taken place and have yet to come.

Back to thesis.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Project 365, Day 10-13

After being out of town for a few days (this will be a trend--a loving thanks to school), here are the contour drawings up to today:

Monday Jan 10 2011
Outside one of my practicum sites (not showing the building--they're the houses nearby)

Tuesday Jan 11 2011
One of my classmates during a break at supervision

Wednesday Jan 12 2011
My ear. I was impatient and rushed through it. I was also irritated.

Thursday Jan 13 2011
Our chinchilla, Alvin. Again, I was irritated and impatient when I drew this. 

Until next time,

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