A funny thing happened on my way to motherhood. I started my pregnancy under the ultra-micromanaged care of a reproductive endocrinologist (RE), and ended with a (literally!) hands-off delivery witnessed by a laissez-faire midwife. At the end of it all, I knelt in a birthing tub looking incredulously at the laid-back team of women (midwife, doula, and nurse) around me calmly instructing "Catch your baby" as my newborn surfaced from the water. It was one wild ride, but I wouldn't change a thing about it.
Because my reproductive history is populated with multiple failed IUIs/IVFs and multiple early miscarriages, the specialists I'd been seeing kept me as a patient for the first 10 weeks of my successful pregnancy. I was more than okay with this arrangement. I'd had several "missed miscarriages," meaning a lack of symptoms or signs of a failed pregnancy. In fact, thanks to lengthy gaps between doctors' visits, I once went a full four weeks without realizing I'd lost my pregnancy. So, a closely monitored first trimester? Yes, please!
I must admit, once you're viably pregnant and past the anguished and sorrowful infertility patient care, the reproductive endocrinology office is sort of like the spa of gynecology. There's frequent monitoring, customized care, early ultrasounds, updated lab screenings, a nurse on speed dial—the list goes on. And lucky for me, IVF patients get the VIP treatment for all of this.
During each RE visit, my concerns were promptly addressed. Fetal heart rate a bit slow? Have a back-up consult in a few days. Experience some spotting? There's a quickly scheduled appointment and confirmation of the worry-free reason behind it. I coasted through my visits, yukking it up with nurses and sonographers along the way. By the time I was ready to graduate to the general population halls of the ob-gyn, I was supplied a list of reputable practitioners in the area. But when my specialist inquired about my choice of gyno, I replied that I was instead transferring to—record scratch—a midwifery practice.
Why the switch to low-tech care? My decision was more than a decade in the making, stemming from witnessing the birth of my nephew. My sister is a gyno, and yet a midwife delivered her baby. This midwife left a lasting impression on me—she was knowledgeable, personable, professional, with an approach that both calmed and reassured. This is what I wanted for me. But still, a drug-free birth?
When you're on the fence with a big decision and your inner scaredy-cat wants to climb up a tree, motivators like my Aunt Fifie will introduce you to your backbone. Fifie has a way of framing things in spiritual meaning, prompting awareness of life's bigger picture. Whenever the doubt of taking on a natural birth crept in, she reminded me what a powerful closure to my infertility struggle this could be. She also reminded me that I come from a long line of strong women who are elephant-and-mouse terrified of anesthetics, thanks to passed-down stories about epidural mishaps. So, another valid point for a drug-free birth.
It helped that my midwife group assured me that they would be ready with the drugs, should I want them. Cool. I appreciated that I didn't feel pressured into going natural. And to stay in that pressure-free zone, I didn't share my decision with anyone (beyond hubs, my sisters, and Fifie).
Next, I took a birthing class and learned about staying active during labor. Because I don't have my mom, I looked to a doula for that motherly presence in the delivery room. With all my preparations done, I was ready for the unpredictable ride of labor and delivery. And with a quick labor—I was 8 to 10 cm dilated upon arrival at the hospital, thereby precluding me from the anesthesia option—"unpredictable" just about summed things up.
Thankfully, dropping into a tub full of water felt like a warm hug and was an awesome substitute for an epidural. There's a picture of me with both thumbs up a moment after I'd first settled into the tub.
I knew my midwives believed in the power of a woman's body-wisdom, but I didn't realize to what extent they practiced what they preached. I found out firsthand when my baby was crowning. "Should I push?" I asked my midwife, who was noticeably a lot quieter than fictional doctors in those birthing scenes we all grew up watching in movies and on TV. "What does your body tell you to do?" she replied thoughtfully.
Huh? My body told me to ask y'all what to do, is what I felt like responding. I wondered if my Aunt Fifie was somewhere sipping Mai Tais.
But at the end of it all, their commitment to not interfering made my husband and me active participants in my labor. I was doing things I'd never volunteer to do, like "catching my baby" and massaging her little back to coax out her first cry. We were also able to spend immediate bonding time with our new baby girl, skin to skin. And in some way, I felt like my labor's take-charge sweat equity shaped the closing on this powerless time in my life. It was the exuberant exclamation point to the happy ending I'd desperately prayed for.