Birth Stories

Published on September 12th, 2013 | by S. Lynn Alderman


S. LYNN ALDERMAN’S Ugliest, Beautiful Moment (Or, Fuck Ina May)

Six years ago, I set a goal for myself. And, technically, I achieved it. I had a baby and didn’t use any medicinal pain relief while she was born. And you know what I have to say about it? Fuck Ina May, that’s what.

I learned of Ina May Gaskin’s famous guide to natural childbirth while sharing homemade kale chips with a friend during a ConsciousMama moon retreat. Just kidding, that is completely untrue. I don’t know how I heard of it, but I bought a faded copy with dog-eared pages and told myself that lots of women had read it and had wonderful, peaceful birth experiences. I told myself that their good juju would magically pass to me as I gazed at the photos that they had also seen, of beautiful hairy women blissfully pushing out their babies, surrounded by other beautiful hairy women with half-smiles on their beatific faces. Picture those beautiful hairy women, having what Ina May calls something like orgasmic birth sensations. And picture me, sitting and nodding “Yes, yes, that’s what I want” in unison with all the Earthmother badasses before me, though a space-time breach created by cosmic female power and….hormones, probably.

Ina May-32 Weeks

I’m not going down into the basement to find that book to tell you in accurate detail what the deal is with the midwifery center Ina May founded in Tennessee forty years ago or about her practices, because the even the sight of the cover makes me sick. I think it explains how much better it is for the baby and for the mother for birthing to be a natural, supported experience. It definitely makes all sorts of great suggestions about preparing yourself mentally, emotionally and physically and basically leaves you feeling completely empowered. It is a Go-To guide for folks who want to birth at home and really makes it seem, well, right.

And I was all for that. All of it. I am suspicious of and tend to reject many aspects of Western medicine in general and specifically hate dealing with the lady-parts doctors. A home birth sounded great to me, but at the time we were living in a tiny apartment in San Francisco’s Mission District. Seriously tiny, as in 392 square feet. I’d try to imagine having the baby there, in our bedroom with the bed taking up almost the entire room. Or in the combination 12-foot by 12-foot living room/dining room/closet. The kitchen, the biggest room, felt out of the question. I know that people push babies out in even tinier dirt-floored huts all over the world, but it just seemed overwhelming and just too…messy. I kept imagining trying to clean up afterwards. Now that I think about it, I could have probably gotten someone else to scrub the placenta out of the indoor-outdoor carpet and make it into vitamins to enrich my breastmilk or whatever.

Anyhow, in between going to all kinds of educational classes, getting acupuncture, exercising and working as a mental health clinician in a residential program for teens, I started researching birthing centers. For some reason, even in such a high-density-alternative-practices area, I kept hearing that the birthing centers really weren’t so great. So, Luke, then my “registered domestic partner” – something I think is only available in San Francisco to hetero couples – and I decided to find a doula, a trained birth assistant, to be with me at the hospital.

We went to a great doula meet-and-greet at the natural baby store and education center down the street and we both knew as soon as we saw Della that she was the one. She was older, long graying hair, soft and smiling, but strong-looking, too. The idea of finding a wise, older woman was so appealing. To stand in for my mom or my grandmother, or whoever is supposed to guide you through life. Teach you how to handle all the hard things about being a woman, including childbirth.

Ina May-Baby shower

Part of me was relieved at the plan of being in a hospital, honestly. Luke would have gone along with whatever I wanted, but I know he was secretly glad, too. I was 36 when I became pregnant and, though I hadn’t had any complications, I was aware – since people love to tell you every second of the day – that potential problems increase with age. And my mom had a serious bleeding problem when I was born, so I thought it might be good to have some emergency services handy. I wrote a birth plan. Della had worked at the hospital many times and everything seemed to be in order. Until I went into labor.

I started having pains on a Wednesday. Early labor, but still stop-me-in-my-tracks labor. I went to see my acupuncturist, who looked at my tongue and said, “Yep.” But it was kind of stop-and-start and, when it hadn’t progressed much by Friday, she did some things to try to help get things going.

It was so exciting. We had declined being told whether the baby was a boy or girl and we couldn’t wait to find out. I felt strong and ready. Scared, sure, but mostly excited. I’d always been good with pain. Several bizarre-and-questionable broken bone incidents had proven that, I thought. So, I wasn’t too worried.

Saturday afternoon, it was on. It was time to use the methods the acupuncturist had shown us to help me manage. One was Luke grasping this point in the arch of my foot while I visualized sending the labor pains through my body and into the ground. She demonstrated on Friday while I was having a contraction and it really worked. But on Saturday afternoon, Luke kept stroking my calf while he was doing it. Now, look. I get it. It is really great that he was all ready and willing to help. Sweet. I loved him for it. I still do. But let me tell you something.  I hate soft stroking or light scratching or anything like that.  In my best moments, it makes me feel annoyed, like a mosquito in my ear or a long hair falling down the back of my shirt. In labor, it felt like an assault. I’d say after the contraction was over, “That foot part really helped, but please don’t tickle my leg.” “Okay! Yeah!” he’d say. Then he’d do it again. And I would ask him not to again. And he’d say okay again. “I don’t know why I keep doing that!” Then he’d do it again. It was weird. He was nervous. It is a joke between us now. But it wasn’t funny then. He was so nervous that he couldn’t help time the contractions. It started to erode my confidence. I started to feel panicky.

But then we called Della. Once she came to the apartment, things started moving a lot more quickly. I’ve read that labor can be delayed and even stop if the mother feels the situation is not safe. I didn’t exactly feel unsafe, but I felt a hell of a lot better when Della got there.

Then things get blurry. I remember rocking back and forth, moaning, eyes closed, leaning forward, holding the back of the couch. At 10pm or so, Della said it was time to go to the hospital.

Screen Shot 2013-09-12 at 7.46.02 AM

That ride to the hospital was awful. I was trying to sit on the C-shaped breastfeeding pillow with no pressure on my vagina because I swear, it felt like that baby was trying to shoot out of there inside of a burning comet, like Superman coming to Kansas. We had to go in through the emergency room because it was after hours. All those people with bandaged hands and faces and looking tired and crazy and me leaning on the security guard’s lectern, moaning. Loud. Really loud, I think. I declined a wheelchair. No one was going to get me to sit down again, ever.

They set us up in a room and said words and I nodded, the way you do when you don’t speak the language, but can tell people are being really helpful. There were lots of curtains that could be pulled to close off different areas. A couch. A bed. It was cold in there, which helped me figure out where my skin was. I checked my bag to make sure I still had with me the cross and dogtags my father wore during seven tours in Vietnam. I saw my iPod, and the idea of listening to the chant tracks I brought sounded utterly ridiculous. I stood by the bed, leaning on it, blinking, lowing like a farm animal. They put some kind of monitor on me to check the baby and left it on there, so I was tethered to something, which they said they would disconnect in just a minute, a request I remembered was specified in my birth plan. Della must have made sure they saw it. Or maybe I did.

The nurse attending the room when I first got there was in a really foul mood. They measured my progress and I was at 5 or 6 centimeters. “Halfway!” Della said, triumphant. I was exasperated. Only halfway? But that nurse seemed angry that I was so far along. Or maybe that I wouldn’t get into the bed. Whatever it was, she handled me roughly and spent most of the time sitting in a chair with stinkface. Luke left to move the car out of the emergency room spaces and while he was gone, I felt a balloon pop between my legs and suddenly I was standing in wet stuff. That nurse didn’t move a muscle. I was really afraid I was going to slip and asked for some towels. Della took care of it. And when Luke came back – so upset he had missed my water break – he and Della started talking about the nurse and it seemed like they were in a big, ugly argument, even though I could see that they were just quietly talking. Eventually Della had her replaced and a really nice nurse came in and I instantly forgot all about the old meanie.

I got so tired standing there by the bed, but didn’t want to move. Della and Nice Nurse suggested I get into the shower or tub to ease the pain. Getting wet was the most disgusting thing I could think of. I said no.

At one point, I heard my mom in the hall. “Keep. Her. Out.” I said, as her voice echoed into the room, in disbelief: “Is she in much pain?” Good grief. I looked at Luke, trying to use telepathy to tell him what to do. It worked! He directed her to the waiting room and made her stay there. My hero.

They tell me I didn’t say much. That I was polite. Quiet for the most part.

But inside my head, I could not believe what was happening. How painful it was. How terrifying. I felt helpless. And degraded and humiliated by there being witnesses. And at the same time, I felt so, so alone.  I remember at one point saying, completely out of my mind, “I don’t understand why no one is doing anything to help me! Please help me!” Della reminded me that what I was feeling was the baby coming. That I was doing just what I was supposed to, having the baby, right then.

After leaning over the bed until about 2am on Sunday, I got into a semi-squat-type pushing position on top of it. I was completely over the whole thing, exhausted. Like when you’ve asked all the drunks at the bar to leave nicely a bunch of times and they are totally ignoring you until you finally have to get salty. I called Nice Nurse over. “Are you going to deliver this baby?” “No, when it is time, we will call the doctor in.” “Well, I am telling you it is time.” Nice as she was, she didn’t take me seriously. But then I started pushing and Della’s eyes got big and she said “Good!” and they started frantically paging the doctor. About 15 seconds later, someone asked me if I wanted a mirror to see the baby crown. “GODDAMN YOU FUCKING PEOPLE!” I wanted to shout. Instead, I just said no. I could see Luke dancing around at my feet, his hands over his mouth “I can see the head! It’s bulging out! I can see it!” He wasn’t sure beforehand if he was going to hang out down at the “action end,” but there he was.

In not too many pushes, really, I finally got that baby out. And let me tell you what. I didn’t care if it was a human baby, a gorilla or a Cracker Jack prize. I just wanted that thing OUT of me. There was a hush. “Sunnyside up!” the doctor said. Instead of face down, like in 90-something percent of births, the baby was face up, with a bruised eye and forehead from pressing through my pelvis the wrong way. And then Luke said, “It’s a…girl!”

Screen Shot 2013-09-12 at 7.52.07 AM

Was I flooded with love and amazement and whatever, cue swell of music? Yes! Did I gaze at that darling girl’s face for the next 12 hours, unable to sleep? Yes. Is she still, joy of joys, my precious, funny, hilarious Phee? Yes, she is. Yes. Yes. Yes. Sunnyside up was a telling beginning for her.

I am grateful that she and I were well and healthy. It is no small thing to have a baby, however routine it seems, since some woman somewhere does it every five seconds. It is an amazing thing, truly.

But here is why I am mad. I also felt completely flimflammed. For all my preparing, I wasn’t prepared at all. And I felt ashamed about it. I felt that I let my daughter down by being scared. And afterward, I didn’t want to talk about the birth. I hid my books and avoided telling the story. I didn’t want to think about ever having a baby again. I didn’t forget the pain like they say. I felt like a failure as a mother and as a woman. It didn’t matter that I knew it didn’t make sense to feel that way, it wasn’t logical. In the months to follow, in the safety of our darkened bedroom, tiny girl on my chest, I’d whisper to Luke, “Can you tell me the story of what happened? What happened? Was it really crazy? It was so crazy.”

It isn’t really Ina May’s fault. I think she is inspiring, really, and important, in many ways. But that dream of a peaceful, powerful birth felt shattered by the bloody reality of it all and I need someone to blame. So I pick Ina May. I bet she’d understand.

The real solution, I guess, isn’t to denigrate what I decided Ina May stands for. Personally, I believe that peaceful labor means you have to be comfortable with vulnerability, with needing help, with uncertainty and, well, I’m working on those things. I also know that sexual trauma can often be re-experienced during labor and, well, I can check that box, too.

But I think something has been lost to women everywhere these days between the “Hook me up with the epidural before I feel a single thing!” camp and the “I shall silently channel my female ancestors and squat down over a pile of sacred leaves” team. I think we are lacking the active cultivation of support between women and a closeness with the reality of life’s ugliest beautiful moments. I now feel more kinship with my grandmother, whose voice lowers, then rises two octaves remembering birthing her five, four of them at home, when she says “Ohhhhh, that pain!” I wish I had held her experience closer instead of thinking that I was going to be above it, to chant it away. That would have been better for me, and more in keeping with how I want to be in life, really. I wish I’d invited my whole broken self into the room.

So I’d like to offer an invitation to any woman who wants to join a new team to take into birthing rooms or forest glens or wherever. A team called “That shit is totally crazy and you don’t have to ‘handle it’ because the baby is coming no matter what and I’ll be there to hold your hand quietly or to let you scream and that’s okay. However you get through it is a victory and I am so proud of you, sister.” Maybe something shorter.

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About the Author

S. Lynn Alderman lives in North Carolina with her husband and two daughters. She works as a mental health clinician, so must maintain a modicum of anonymity. She has a background in news reporting, publishing, design, fine art and surly bartending. MUTHA is the first place her personal writing has appeared.

43 Responses to S. LYNN ALDERMAN’S Ugliest, Beautiful Moment (Or, Fuck Ina May)

  1. EE says:

    I have been reading everything here so far and this article is my fave fave favorite. It’s really great.

  2. EHP says:

    I want to read everything this S. Lynn Ladymama writes. She speaks my language.

  3. Elena Kiri says:

    I’d like to join your team.

  4. Ashley says:

    I resonate completely with your blog. Ahhh such a blessing to know I’m not alone in my experience. After 3 days of labor at 42wks first baby I transferred myself from home to hospital and got pain relief. I was 9cm but holy fuck I needed sleep!! My son wasn’t born for 9 more hrs. I had soooo much guilt and felt I failed him…and I did the samething …stopped all birth work, reading, ect (I’m a student midwife).
    Anyway I’m in a new vibe with it. I’m totally bad ass!!! And rocked labor w/out pain relief for 3 days!!!!!
    I’m a warrior Priestess Momma!!! And I have a whole new respect for pain and how to be really present with it…however it unfolds for each woman! Xoxoo

    • Freiya says:

      I’m also a student midwife. I got forced into labor augmenting drugs which made me very sick and crazy. It was unnecessary and I wasn’t given info on risks. Like every other mom, I was strong and need to be treated as such.

  5. sv says:

    oh, I love this. It took me 2 babies and a lot of processing, even after 8 years of doula work and midwifery studies, to realize that the heavy, intenser-than-intense, PAINFUL experience of lanour and birth actually WAS the “spiritual” experience I was hoping for – like a pillar connected to the center of the earth, I felt like a mountain, when I had expected to feel like the air around it.

  6. em mccarty says:

    i fought really hard to have a natural birth after 2 c-sections & throughout my 3 pregnancies had read EVERYTHING about labor & birth, but as i labored & had a fast, thoroughly painful experience–i kept saying–outloud even–“what the fuck is this? this isn’t what the book said!” i didn’t go anywhere near my vaginal area for MONTHS afterwards until i eventually asked the dad to check it out for me. while comparing horror stories with another mom who had a painful time of it, i really wanted to punch the 3rd mom who chimed in to volunteer that her birth was orgasmic.

  7. ag says:

    Yes, yes, yes! Preach it, sister. I am on your team!

  8. sailingon says:

    Beautiful. Real. Thank you for writing this honest & very funny piece about the most extraordinary life experience. I was of the “no pain relief”, Lamaze school 35 years ago when my beautiful daughter was born. Not sure how I did it, but my sister (who was my Lamaze trainer) being there & lying to me the whole time (“it will be over soon”) helped hugely. I came to loathe the doll that was my focus point. I wanted to behead it & then burn it!

    I guess for first-time mothers it’s never what we imagine. The pain, messiness & vulnerability pale once baby is there & we completely fall in love as never before.

  9. PT says:

    Thank you for sharing your story! Are you a physically fit person? I have found that being fit and exercising throughout pregnancy significantly lessens the labor pains. I had an all natural birth. I never had unbearable pain with my labor, and the worst part only lasted for 15 minutes before the pushing phase at which I no longer felt any contractions.

    • Pomegranate says:

      this is exactly the kind of judgment this post is trying to get away from. that may have been your experience but it is not universal. No one ever tells you all the exercise and prenatal yoga in the world will not solve underlying pelvic floor issues.

      • cj says:

        She is not judging! It is her experience! Allow her to tell her story! We all have our own story. Myself … I had two hideously painful births at hospital followed by an amazingly exhilarating painful birth at home. It is not HOW we birth but how empowered we feel after. I was in charge, in control and yes … I did love every moment.

        • Michelle says:

          I dunno…I kind of agree with Pomegranate. The way her comment is worded makes it sound like she is saying just get off your butt and exercise and your labor will be easier. The thing is, yes, you may be a physically fit person and still have an unbearably painful labor. Mine was horrible and I was very fit. Correlation does not equal causation. The comment could have been worded better.

  10. Leigh says:

    Good stuff! I was in the “feel nothing, give me an epidural” for my first, the “beautiful, hairy Ina May” camp for my second, and with my third delivery just days away I’m going with Camp “Shit be cray- let’s do this!”

  11. Christina says:

    You, are a badass. For writing so honestly about your very real and true experience. I teared up several times and I now feel more prepared for the ugly and incredible reality of childbirth. Thank you for sharing. This was truly an insight.

  12. I am a doula, who has birthed 4 babies naturally- as in pain med free. After each one of my own births, I experienced the same shock and puzzlement. It never went like I had studied or even observed at other calmer, peaceful, sacred, nature worshipping, births I had attended. I had the best midwives, the same one for two of my babes and she was soooo amazing, her partner who is awesome attended my last. I was embarrassed at the ease of angry words that would fly out of my mouth as opposed to the quiet calm manner I knew I was supposed to have- hell I believed in the peaceful natural dancing birth so much, I shared my books and resources to encourage others of the same. I have participated in supporting some of the most beautiful births, and I had been thanked for my insight and help. But I couldn’t live it. I discovered through my births and further birth work as a doula, that birthing doesn’t have rules. Your birth team is important, I highly recommend midwives and doulas. At least make sure you have a very great female friend with you. And YES IT FUCKIN hurts, if humming or singing works- do it. If playing cards and rocking on a ball to Panic moves your birth experience, do it.. But for the rest of us who just enter another category of strong woman hear me roar- I too have learned that birth doesn’t have to be what the books say… Scream and roar like a lion if you have to, at the end of the day it doesn’t matter when your holding your baby. & Your right, the books and hype can really disappoint you when you realize your experience was special and sacred, but also shocking and unforgettable in a LOUDER or more quiet but INTENSE way..

    ROCK ON MAMA, & Congrats!

  13. Melissa says:

    I really appreciate this article and LOVE the title.

    After being completely committed to 2 unmedicated births, I felt so disappointed (like I had done something wrong) that my births weren’t like the ones Ina May described. After my 2nd, who took 3 days to come out, I was so traumatized that I almost didn’t get pregnant again, even though I wanted another baby. I was petrified of giving birth again.

    Then it occurred to me that getting an epidural is actually an option I could consider. I did lots of research and talked to lots of people, and I decided to get one. My baby is 3 months old now, and I think so nostalgically about his birth. It was such a beautiful, spiritual experience. I felt so connected to him in such a peaceful way. It was absolutely amazing. I am so grateful that I gave myself options, because if I tried to do this again w/o the epidural, I probably would have missed out on what was one of the most amazing experiences of my life.

    • Ashley says:

      Thank you for your comment. I too am in your situation (2 natural) and am not sure if having another baby is worth going through another crazy natural birth. I think I would do the epidural next time. SO glad to hear you loved your birth experience with one!

    • mary says:

      Amen to this. I had this whole idea that even with the pain, I’d somehow move through it gracefully, if only I stayed true to myself (or some such idea). After 22 hours (and only 5cm dilation) of what felt like the worst painful acid trip one could ever experience, I finally got over my guilt and said to (no, yelled at) the doctor who told me the second half of the labor would be faster that I wanted an epidural. And quite frankly, that epidural rescued my labor and delivery from being fully traumatic. During that second half, taking another 18 hours, I had such gratitude for the wonders of modern medicine, even though if you’d have asked me three days prior, I would have proclaimed the wonders of natural birth. Also, grateful for the hospital, seeing that I developed pre-eclampsia *after* the birth and they saved my life. And for a non-judgmental, fully supportive doula. And a team of nurses who didn’t freak out at my freak out. There is no one good way to do this, folks! Thank you so much for writing about your experience!

  14. Sarah says:

    So crazy I felt like you were writing my story with different details. With my first born I was sure that I would have a natural birth and was “good with pain”, which then turned into chorioamnionitis and a C section after essentially flat-lining on the table when they pushed too much anesthesia….
    He was so perfect, how could I “regret” anything? But for months, maybe longer, I literally felt like I couldn’t say “I had a baby”, because I hadn’t even gotten a chance to push.
    My second was a VBAC. The recovery was so much harder for me than a C section, my feelings all flip flopped again when I realized I wished I’d just had another C just so I could appreciate her new born perfectness without all that recovery pain!
    Every one of us has a different experience and what holds us together is that we are mothers. Such an amazing journey, cheers to all of you who have felt cheated by the experience that is proposed to you before it actually takes place.
    No matter what happens, however it goes, C-section, epidural, no pain meds, 4 hour labor, 48 hour labor. It will be the story only you get to tell, because you were the only one who lived it from your shoes. Which reminds me….I’m not sure if I ever washed mine after my water broke all over them after my second born. GROSS.

  15. Hannah says:

    I have birth at the farm last year and was prepared to hate this, haha. But i dont. I love it. Thank you for sharing your amazing story. (and youre right, ina may would totally understand.) 😉

  16. April says:

    I love this so much, and can really relate. My baby is almost 4 months old and I also envisioned a peaceful, beautiful Ina May-style birth, chatting with my husband in between contractions and smiling beatifically at my midwife. Instead I was a naked bear woman, roaring and moaning, focused entirely within and ignoring almost everyone else. I barely remember any of it, and still ask my husband about the details. It took me a long time to feel okay about my labor, even though on paper it went exactly how I wanted. I’m still processing it. I had no interventions and only a little pitocin to get the placenta out, like you. I knew labor would be hard, but I wasn’t prepared for how difficult it would be mentally and emotionally.

  17. You are speaking the truth that many many many women are experiencing (silently, shamefully). Betrayed by both the medicalization camp of birth and by the idealistic, fantasy birth activists. I just want you, and women like you, to know you are not alone. And also that Birthing From Within is absolutely completely, this “third way.” You might not get that impression from the book (especially the first part), but our trainings for professionals, our doulas, our childbirth educators absolutely subscribe to the “tell the truth” model of birth. That is can be one of a million ways. That most women have doubt, fear, terror, shame, anger, confusion both during their birth and later. That labor takes you to your edge, beyond your limits…. not just physical (pain, fatigue) but also emotional, relational, psychological. It can be a deep dark pit of terror, even when you have “done everything right” and “trust birth.” You may be interested in Pam England’s blog:
    I will be in Kansas City next month, doing a training for people who care about birth. Perhaps you would consider attending? Or at least telling all those natural birth activists to come? Feel free to message me.

  18. Yulia says:

    I love your last paragraph, its all about the present, there is no preparation, just dealing with it and being true to yourself – go girl!

  19. mamimami says:

    Love this. Reminded me so much of my experience.. well, the parts I remember. After “caving” and getting the epidural with the first one, I stuck to my guns (with the help of a doula) for the second, and I was unpleasantly surprised not to have that out-of-this-world experience everyone else described. I mean, I recognize that I am a badass, but I didn’t even really feel like a badass, or like the skies opened up or anything like that. The next day my doctor was all, “So, you got your natural birth. Did you like it?” Smartass. I love that woman. If I had to do it again… I don’t know what I’d do.

  20. Motherless says:

    I have been struggling with myself these past two years. Not sure if it was birth trauma, not having a mother around growing up, not having any family or friends to support me postpartum like I needed, postpartum depression, PTSD… I have searched myself to the depths of my soul and CANNOT figure out what the problem is.

    Not only was I blindsided by how fucking horrifying giving birth was, but I was completely unprepared for the work involved for the 3 months after. Lactation consultations, LLL books, other nursing moms: none of them were honest about breast feeding. I felt blindsided AGAIN! The level of self-care I needed was so far off my radar that I was quickly found to be anemic, suffered infections of my sutures, and mastitis.

    I was (and still am) very confused about what happened from the onset of contractions until my daughter was around 6 months old. She’s two now. She stopped nursing this past April. My hormones still haven’t recovered. My psyche definitely hasn’t recovered. I have no desire for intimacy anymore. My relationship with my fiancée is faltering. I love my daughter so much yet; her birth has been the single most devastating experience of my life with a semingly unending impact.

    This is the first published birth story I’ve read that I can honestly say touched me in a way that helped me truly feel like my horror was validated. It has given me hope that my story isn’t as unique as I thought. Reading the responses has further confirmed this for me. I need to thank you for your honesty. I want to be a part of this team! Before reading this, I vowed to never lie to my daughter about the FULL spectrum of birth experiences. I owe her that as a woman and her mother. We all deserve that much.

  21. i too believed Ina May. ate up all the books. believed in this natural birth ideal. went to all the classes studied all the notes. had a birth plan. a birth image. had candles. incense. music selected out so i could peacefully naturally birth my child into the world at a very home like birthing center. or so they promised.
    i went to week after week of tests to make sure everything was ok. then when it all came down to didnt turn out as lukcy as it did for you. my midwives failed me. i was so ready to endure the pain. i knew it would be painful and i sucked it up thinking the pain would get worse and worse, but id have people to guide me through it, and all my knowledge to back me up and keep me strong during labor.

    it just so happened to be thanksgiving weekend and the center was open only to women in labor. i was 42 weeks and two days. they were gonna let me go 43. they urged me to do whatver i could to get her out. they even stripped my membranes without telling me, the day before thanksgiving. i lost my plug on thanksgiving day November, 2011. then on Sunday i went into labor. i called the doula early on.. and then called the midwives. they tried to tell me i wasnt really in pain because they could hear me talking fine. they convinced me that i was counting my contractions wrong. they told me to call back in 4 hours. they were nasty. they made me feel like i had no clue what i was doing. from there so many other things went wrong and spiralled out of control. they made one mistake after an other and when they tried to cover it up it resulted in the permanent brain damage of my absolutely perfect daughter. all this because they wanted one more vacation day. my child was in a room all of her own hooked up to so many machines and drug drips. they left immediately after they did this to her. no contact what so ever. said it was all in the hospitals hands now (i was transferred to a hospital from the birthing center, they said it was 5 minutes away and it was more like 20) we had to decide to turn her machines off and set her free. she would be two years old November 28th.

    when you say Fuck Ina May i read you loud and clear. i have learned of many other midwife malpractice cases since mine and it absolutely disgusts and horrifies me how these midwives stick together and cover up their crimes. how many have death on their hands that we do not know about? i created this page for my daughter to spread the word and help warn others. you could read the fully detailed story that i wrote while in the hospital and immediately after. please take a look. there is also an album of images of her. she is absolutely beautiful and perfect in every way. they killed her.

  22. Neybug says:

    Yup! Three natural childbirths and all of them presented more than a few moments of pain and panic. You’re not alone! Fortunately, I expected some pain, having been regaled with semi-traumatic tales from my mother and sisters, who have all had a mix of c-sections and natural births.

  23. Leela says:

    I’ve given birth to two girls. The first was 9lbs 7oz, at 42 weeks, with a midwife, in a hospital, with no medication at all. The second was 7lbs 2oz, 39 weeks, with an OB, in a hospital, with an epidural. I hadn’t expected to choose an epidural, but I’m glad I did. And I’m also glad I gave birth to my first without one.

    My perspective may be a little strange. My first daughter died right before she turned two, of SUDC (this is essentially toddler SIDS). I think I may have wanted the pain meds in part because I didn’t want a somatic reminder of her birth. I had other, more prosaic reasons as well; I was exhausted and in pain already from very sore ligaments and an out-of-whack SI joint, and I felt like, Fuck it. I’ve suffered enough in the two years since my oldest died.

    My first labor was extremely painful from the start – there was no restful early labor. I was supposed to be at a birthing center, but ended up at a crowded Brooklyn hospital because my baby was larger. The midwife on call happened to be the only one I wasn’t too fond of, because she’d already proven to be a bad listener with a crappy bedside manner. During my labor, she didn’t believe me that I was progressing quickly, and left me unattended in a hospital I’d never been to and was not a patient of, with only the doula and my husband to help me. Of course they were both great, but they’re not midwives or doctors. I went into transition in the filthy public hallway of Maimonides Hospital, and finally demanded that we be given a birthing room. Once there I was surrounded by hostile hospital personnel, who threatened and screamed at me – the head OB on the floor was following me around, red-faced, yelling that if I died of a hemorrhage it wouldn’t be his fault, while the nurse told me my baby was going to die because I asked for intermittent monitoring (I couldn’t sit down). The resident refused to help me to my feet after she checked me, and there were three interns standing around staring at my crotch like it was a boring movie. I rallied my strength and threw them all out of the room. Finally the fucking midwife showed up, made tasteless jokes at my expense that weren’t really jokes, they were jabs at me. My daughter was born an hour later and was perfect, beautiful, and the light of my life. It took a while to bond with her, because I was so exhausted from the labor, although it wasn’t that long – 12 hours total, 1:20 of pushing.

    My second time, I wasn’t able to deliver with a midwife due to some medical issues that would have risked me out of their practice. But I had an amazing OB who has three kids of her own and a deep respect for birthing women. All of her colleagues in her practice were the same. My labor started slowly and the hospital staff (this time in another state) treated me with nothing but calm and gentleness. No one pushed me to get pain meds – it was entirely my decision. Once administered, my husband and I were able to sleep for a while, which we really needed, and then suddenly the OB on call (an equally awesome woman) came in and told me I was 10 cm. I pushed my little girl out in 15 minutes. The biggest surprise about the epidural was that I felt so much more present and connected than I had in my first, unmedicated labor. I never saw my first emerge, because I was too busy pushing and screaming. This time, I watched my daughter bounce out of me. It was astonishing. I will never forget it.

    I realize that this is not everyone’s experience. I was lucky both times – I had short labors and no complications.

    To the person who commented that physical fitness makes labor less painful: respectfully, you may be correct about yourself, but that is absolutely not true about other women. I am a professional bellydancer, and before and during my first pregnancy, I was doing Crossfit and yoga frequently. My pain was extreme. I know professional fitness instructors and dancers who had unproductive 24-hour labors, preeclampsia, emergency c-sections and more. It is pure luck. Fitness is important but it is not a magic pill.

    I think the main problem that this essay points out is that many women buy into a fantasy that natural labor is somehow a magical, painless experience. This is bunk. Natural labor is awesome, very empowering IF it is your choice, and can leave a woman feeling a deep sense of pride and accomplishment. But it fucking hurts, and that’s the way it is. I feel that there is too much emphasis on the mistaken notion that we can have birth without pain. That line of thinking is fear-based. It comes from fear of pain. Pain is part of life. You can’t think yourself into escaping it. You can get the pain medication, or you can embrace the pain. Having done both, I can say that both have value and neither is less than the other. You can’t have natural birth without pain, but you can have pain without fear, and that is where I wish people would focus their energy, not on some bullshit about having an orgasm while you’re pushing out a human being from a tiny canal full of nerves. That shit hurts! Don’t pretend it doesn’t!

    I think there is too much propaganda on both sides. Too much us and them thinking. I had been so scared into thinking that epidurals were the enemy, and would harm me and my baby. Nothing could have been further from the truth in my case. The truth is in the middle, here and always.

  24. nana says:

    I am on your team. I am a 62 year old woman who has birthed four children without painkillers. Thank you for writing this and keeping it real.

  25. S. Lynn Alderman says:

    Thank you so much, all of you, for taking the time to reach out. In solidarity, in pain, in understanding. I am so thankful, even in this Internet-style-quasi-reality-way, to have a connection with you and your stories. And I appreciate your generosity in caring about mine. I have so many thoughts about the things you’ve shared..I wish we were all having a cookout tomorrow and could talk all about it! Go Team!

  26. Koffeewitch says:

    Do you have any idea who difficult and painful it is to deliver a sunny-side-up baby?! Well,, YES, you do. But sweetie, you got a ROUGH DEAL from the Goddess of Childbirth. If you made it through a persistant OP baby then you are one TOUGH MAMA. Well done!!!

  27. Kim says:

    Holy cow. I have never read anything that spoke to my experience so perfectly. Makes me finally feel like less of an anomaly, and more like, “yes, this is my TEAM!” Thank you, thank you. Well done.

    And yes, to the poster above: physical fitness is an amazing gift, one I celebrate daily, but seriously, fit people feel pain, too. Like for real. I’m glad she had a good experience that she attributes to fitness but I know this is not true across the board.

  28. M. Louie says:

    I am so on your team. I did the readings and I did the workout and yes, I felt the pain. So much that I too doubted that I could do this birth thing naturally and felt guilty thinking about it. My sisters both had given birth ‘naturally’ at home and at a birthing center and I already felt I was sort of a failure because I was having mine at the hospital. I am older and was considered GDM. I was lucky too, labor was relatively timely, 17 hours and pushing a hair over an hour but those last 2 hours felt like eternity. I can now understand now why someone would chose a c-section and just deal with the recovery. The built up of pain was horrible towards the end. I wanted to push because my contractions were so strong at about 7-8 cm yet you’re not supposed to, I’m so lucky my husband counteracted the pain by shoving a tennis ball in my back. That distraction was the only thing that helped me make it through. Now, no doubt I felt accomplished but at the same time I asked myself, what for? Who and why am I bragging? I have nothing to prove. My sisters? Ina May? Isn’t my goal just to raise my child well? The very last hour, I was determined at that point, why was this taking ‘forever’ I thought? Every last push was counter intuitive. I was advised to push as if I was constipated, I would never do that and to push despite the pain and exhaustion, who does that?! LABORING women. I can only say if it wasn’t for my stubbornness and mental focus, I definitely would have gone epidural because physically I was exhausted and spiritually I was begging. And the worse part was yet to be lived. I pushed so hard, I had hemorrhages in both eyes, I was that determined, my hemorrhoids reminded me of a Cinnabon roll, in actual size, and the doctor on call didn’t read my birth plan, so I was arguing with him the last ‘joyful’ moments of my birth. Do I love my daughter absolutely, does breast feeding suck, yes and no. Would I do this again, I really doubt it. I feel like I’ve done it, cross this off my bucket list. I admire all the previous generations who did it naturally when there wasn’t any options AND for doing it multiple times in most cases. I have a choice, we all have choices now. And whatever you do, should you chose a natural, med free birth, like Leela said, the problem is pain and the fear of pain. Although I have a high pain threshold, I doubted myself. I’m just thankful I forced myself into auto-pilot and my husband was there to constantly encourage me. As my daughter turns 2 months, I feel sad yet determined knowing she may have to make some decisions in the future. It will be my job to inform her and to to prepare her and support her, no matter which way she decides.

  29. Moira says:

    “That shit is totally crazy and you don’t have to ‘handle it’ because the baby is coming no matter what and I’ll be there to hold your hand quietly or to let you scream and that’s okay. However you get through it is a victory and I am so proud of you, sister.”

    I hope to be this kind of labor nurse for my patients! I always tell my laboring women who are in awe of how hard it really is, that no one prepares you for this, it is hard, it’s terrible and it’s really freaking painful. But you can do this. I know you can!

  30. Susan says:

    I’ve been thinking about what you wrote a lot. A few things jumped out at me:
    “I think we are lacking the active cultivation of support between women and a closeness with the reality of life’s ugliest beautiful moments.” Yes we need this. And I believe that some fortunate women (like myself) experience this support. Actually I believe this is what Ina May and her midwifes do. From what I remember of most of the books I’ve read (including Ina May’s) there is a great mix of stories. Some births are easier and some more difficult. I don’t think anyone ever can dispute that point.

    “Personally, I believe that peaceful labor means you have to be comfortable with vulnerability,s with needing help, with uncertainty and, well, I’m working on those things. I also know that sexual trauma can often be re-experienced during labor and, well, I can check that box, too.” Yes to this too. Being ok with being vulnerable is probably a crucial factor in letting go so you can give birth most easily. I find it a bit disconcerting that you mention sexual trauma so late in your story – and almost as an afterthought. I feel your disappointment in your birth experience keenly and wish it were different for you. I hope you are able to get to a better place with all of it.

    ““That shit is totally crazy and you don’t have to ‘handle it’ because the baby is coming no matter what and I’ll be there to hold your hand quietly or to let you scream and that’s okay. However you get through it is a victory and I am so proud of you, sister.” And I love where you are going with this… it can get really crazy! I know it was intense for me both times. But it can also be crazy empowering. And “handling” it doesn’t have to mean “calm” or quiet… some mamas roar their babies out – and that’s awesome! I made noises that I never had heard come out of me (or anyone else!) when my son was born. And I did not feel “in control” even though my midwives told me I had great control at the end.

    I wrote about what I think will help women feel better about their births. Birth can be awesome – especially when we let go of all expectations and embrace what actually happens.

  31. Maika Clarke says:

    Your story seems so familiar, and I remember the pain too. I felt like blaming someone and I blamed the nasty mean nurses and the stupid hospital I labored in. I had my second at home and yeah it hurt like crazy but instead of being surrounded by strangers I had only people I knew and trusted present. More importantly I was surrounded by people who trusted me. It made all the difference. Yes I think we need a new vision of birth. One the honors that birth is messy and painful but also incredibly powerful. I worked though all that mess and pain and I did it like a f’ing rock star and so did you. You Mama are a Rock Star!

  32. Beautifully shared, bella. It is so reassuring to read a raw, open, honest account of childbirth that isn’t just about the pain, but also about the gap. The gap between what you envision and what you experience. And the gap between our current birthing practices and the love and empowerment we *could* feel with more heartfelt honesty, support and sisterhood between women. Definitely sharing on x

  33. ana says:

    39 1/2 weeks and this is exactly what I needed to read. thank you thank you thank you SO much for sharing your experience.

  34. Alison says:

    I had two baby’s Sunnyside up… The pain of that is alone never discussed in any book I’ve read. My first was born at the hospital with all the drugs available and a 2nd degree episiautomy. My second (I was sure would not be Sunnyside up… How could that sh*t happen twice right?) we had a planned home birth and happened so fast it was unreal… painful… And i screamed to go to the hospital and that I couldn’t do it… Yes but no one touched me… I was in a trans after that, that I don’t think would be possible in a hospital… But then my water broke and the baby crowned and then my midwife got there… That was the craziest experience of my life… But it was wonderful and beautiful. I’ll never have a baby in a hospital again… The car ride alone in murder… No thanks

  35. Lou says:

    Your experience makes complete sense to me. Here’s the crux of the matter: You can demedicalize birth, but you cannot make it dignified. It is inherently a messy, uncool, complicated, sometimes unpredictable process. At some point you will realize you are not in control; that, not the pain, was the scary part (to me). Also at some point you will feel like a complete fool. Just own it, deal with it and don’t worry about it. I did chant through the pain and it was not that bad, but I still had that feeling of being a fool and out of control. After the first time I knew about it and it was not such a shock and I could even laugh about it. But this is advice new moms need to hear – it’s not you, it’s the process itself.

  36. Aona says:

    As I read your article, I cried and laughed. It is really something to give birth. I’ll leave my blogpost about my story too. We, all mamas, are badass. Much love to you and your family

  37. MP says:

    I cried tears of relief and laughed out loud reading this. Finally, someone put into words what I have not been able to say 13 years and 2 kids later. Thank you.

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