At a recent birth I attended, one of the strongest, most incredible women I have ever known asked if she was cheating.
Let me set the scene. It's her second baby. Rough first pregnancy, rough birth. This time, Mama wants to try for a lower intervention, active, un-medicated birth. Mama had been in prodromal labour for four days. The first time we went to the hospital it was after hours and hours of steady contractions. We walked, did the stairs, squatted, etc. etc. etc. only to be sent home after cervical checks not showing progress. So disappointing. After this point, Mama never stops contracting. Can she sleep? Barely. Does she have energy? Nope, cause she's both excited and exhausted from the contractions keeping her up. Four days, three trips from home to the maternity floor of the hospital, several uncomfortable cervical checks, many baths and showers, over 15km of walking, and countless stairs (cause her doula was ruthless). She also had to get through Christmas with her family. As awesome as a family can be, that weight sitting on you is not easy when you're 38 weeks pregnant. Oh, and she has a three year old. So, you know. Life. She had a lot of hats to wear while her body was preparing to birth.
So let's talk about how her birth-day went down. She calls in the morning saying that contractions had picked back up, but was being cautious due to being sent home with early labour four days earlier. Contractions are every four to five minutes, lasting 45 seconds to a minute. Good pattern, lasting in intensity. We walk. And Walk. We do stairs. We bounce on the ball. Surges are gradually getting longer, stronger, and closer together. We think this is it. We call the family who is out of town to come back (they had just left that morning, obvs.) They come back to watch the pre-schooler. We head to hospital. Mama is feeling it. Low back pain, needing to move, make noise etc. Nurse checks her cervix. Still 3cm. She has been for five days. No change. Mama is so discouraged. We all are. We thought we were staying.
We head back home. She tells me to go home to see my family. I tell her I'll just stick around for a little til she's settled. She's discouraged and I can't bail just like that. Also, she's still contracting and it's a 40 minute drive for me. She eats a giant plate of turkey leftovers and gets into the bath. Things pick up. A lot. She said it's no worse than it was when we went to the hospital the first time, four days before, and that I should head home. This doula is silently laughing, but tells her again, she will just stick around for the movie the Mama and her sister suggested watching. Mama is feeling it. It's different. She needs to move through each contraction; she's gripping the couch. The legs are writhing a bit. Good signs. Contractions are 3-1-1. Then, we hear it. "Guys..... my water just broke!" YESSSSS! With towels set up we gather our things to head to hospital. Mama can no longer keep moving during contractions. We arrive and she is checked at 4cm. We bounce on the ball, again. We get Mama in the tub, and she starts to get some relief. Her body is coping beautifully. She's breathing with horse lips, she's swaying her hips in the water. She's rocking birth like a superstar. She's the Beyoncé of birth. She may as well name that kid Blu Ivy.
The vomiting. Shaking. Pressures change. She's 8cm, and gets out of the tub. Breathing becomes key. She's been at this for days, really, with early labour, but only at the hospital for just over an hour. She's worn out, but brave as a mama can be. Warrior brave. She says she doesn't want an epidural but asks if there's anything else she can use to take the edge off. Her nurse suggests nitrous oxide (laughing gas). She looks at me and says it:
"Is that cheating?"
I laugh and say "No way, there's no such thing as cheating in birth." I tell her this birth is hers, and she's doing what's best for her. This is all between contractions, by the way.
She thought she was cheating because she was in transition and needed some pain relief to take the peak off the contractions. I'm attaching a story but when Moms ask these kind of questions of themselves, maybe they think they needed to go without medications to gain closure after a first, challenging birth. To "Take Back Birth," so to say. Or, to have a "doula approved birth," or that if you go med-free you're officially "Mom enough." She was bloody tired. She's been sleepless for days. Of course she's feeling it. Never mind that her pain tolerance was probably decreased from exhaustion. Even if she HADN'T been in labour for days, it's still 100% perfectly absolutely beyond all shadow of doubt OK and NOT CHEATING to ask for what you need during birth. It doesn't mean you aren't Mom enough. It doesn't mean you'll have your Crunchy Card revoked. Just cause you didn't have an orgasmic* water birth, while enjoying essential oils, drinking organic Hawaiian coconut water, listening to the sweet sounds of Orcas frolicking, you ARE Mom enough.
You don't need to compare your birth experience to anyone else's.
Birth comes up, naturally, among circles of women. We talk. They ask "did you have an epidural?" I tell them I didn't. That's what I thought was best for me. They say "Wow! Good for you!" and to that I say the same thing: "Wow, you birthed a human." Good for all of us. Birthin' ain't easy. People make congratulations sometimes when they hear you "went natural." We all deserve congratulations. Our bodies pushed out a human. Or if you had a C-Section, you had serious major surgery to bring your tiny human into this world. You're hard core. We also need to let up on Moms who choose not to have epidurals. That is her choice, too. She's not "being a hero" if this choice is what she has decided to be best for her. We can save the eye rolls.
Some wise doulas I know have said that there's "Nothing better than a well placed epidural." When you're exhausted, and not coping well, your body can tense up and fight progress. It can close up. How's that for insult to injury? Sometimes you NEED the pain relief to get through and progress. Anyway, this post is not about the pros and cons of birth medication options. It's about being OK with whatever you educated and informed choice you see as right for you. It's about being OK and not comparing yourself to others, regardless of how they see their birth priorities. Theirs are not yours. If you're satisfied with your birth experience, that is what counts. Don't let anyone take that away from you. This blog post is nothing new in the birth world, but just an experience as I saw it that I feel attached to. What does this mean if you're choosing a doula? Maybe just consider what your goals are for birth, and in your interviews, ask the doula what their take is on pain management. There may be personal biases that don't align with your birth plan. Does it mean that you should only get a doula if you want a natural birth? Nope. Get a doula if you want to do everything you can to work towards the birth you want.
You're a goddam warrior, mama. A human came out of your body. You're fierce and a force to be reckoned with.
*Yes, Orgasmic Births are a thing. Google it.
Jackie Anger is a London, Ontario doula, a mama to an amazing toddler, a community advocate, and a lover of coffee.