10 things I learned from planning an unmedicated birth (and not having one)

Updated: Mar 15, 2019

Disclaimer: Below is part three of my three-part series where I recount my experience with HELLP Syndrome, including reflections on my pregnancy, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and delivery. I am in no way endorsing or discounting any specific lifestyle choices, activities, or methods. All ideas expressed should be perceived as reflections based on my experiences and nothing more.

If you haven’t already done so, I suggest reading the first two parts of this series linked below.

Behind the Scenes of my HELLP Experience
I Followed The Bradley Method and Had a High Intervention Birth

It took me a looooooong time to find the courage to write about this, the details of my experience reserved only for my closest family and friends. If I’m being completely honest, I’m not even sure why. I’m introverted, but I also seek deep and meaningful connections and understandings. When navigating this season in my life, I wanted so desperately to understand what was happening to me and to connect with others that knew how I felt, physically and emotionally. But, I’m an introvert. Maybe that’s why. At any rate, I’m happy to be in a place where I feel safe and vulnerable enough to open up now. Hopefully someone, somewhere will find deeper understandings and connection through my words in a way I was never able to.

I learned more than my written words can express, but I’ll try. (Please keep in mind that these were simply lessons learned from my experiences and I in no way assume these strategies would have the same affects on other women.)

Unmedicated Birth, HELLP SYNDROME, Bradley Method
10 Things I Learned from Planning and Unmedicated Birth )and not having one)

1. My birth plan was beneficial, even through I didn’t really use it.

My original birth plan was one full page of bulleted, color-coded goodness (I’m surprised I didn’t laminate it…). While in the hospital, I had my family bring me my plan, and my notebook. I poured over that thing, making adjustments for a potential induction and c-section. While none of the nurses or doctors knew my birth plan, I did. My husband did. At the very least, organizing my thoughts and desires prepared me for the variables. I knew the interventions, their conditions and processes. I knew timelines. I knew what to expect with a newly classified “high risk” pregnancy. On the evening after our Bradley Coach attempted to cloud our judgement and discernment on matters relating to hospitals, I set out to make a shift in my approach to my birth plan – at the very top, in bold, I wrote “ASSUMING LOW-RISK”. I’m so grateful for my growing mama-bear heart that instinctually knew the importance of maintaining flexibility through comprehensive preparation.

2. An intentionally planned diet that was balanced and high in protein was a powerful tool.

Don’t get me wrong, I had my fair share of gummy bears and salsa. Cinnamon sugar pretzels and lemonade were my jam and the hospital’s chocolate cake had me at “choc…”. If it weren’t for The Bradley Method kicking my growing butt into gear, it’s likely I would have lived off of these scandalous delights (along with cheddar cheese and clementines). I was eating a balanced, high protein, organic/non-GMO diet and I had never felt healthier. I had energy and strength that carried me into my labor and delivery. I knew a solid diet was important, but making it a priority through planning to labor unmediated just gave it an entirely new perspective. Reflecting back, I cannot express how grateful I am for the push to eat high protein, for it is exactly what my daughter needed as my placenta, unbeknownst to me, had begun failing around the same time I began the diet. You simply never know.

3. Strategic exercise still helped prepare my body for the process – labor, delivery, and recovery.

No secret here, right? I think I should clarify, though. While traditional exercises have merit during pregnancy, I’m referring to the stretches and movements that strengthen the specific muscles used during labor and delivery. Kegel exercises, squats, and various yoga poses can alleviate pressures and pains, strengthen these muscles, increase range of motion, and help improve center of gravity, all of which are helpful regardless of the form of pain management used, the movement allowed or desired during labor, or the actual delivery method. I had prepared my body physically to manage the pain and discomfort naturally, and while I was in the opposite situation of what I had hoped, confined to the bed with an epidural in my spine for the last 30 minutes before I met my daughter, I know that these preparations were what helped allow me to labor on three forms of induction unmediated for 17 hours. The breathing and visualizing techniques I practiced also got me through those intensely terrifying liver dissension pains. Clearly, no regrets.

4. Researching pain management, as well as all the interventions and variables, helped me enter my birth week with knowledge that eased anxiety and helped me manage various outcomes.

From the moment I stepped into the ER, panicked and fearful, I knew what the first steps would be. I knew I’d receive an IV, blood work, urine analysis, ultrasound, fetal monitoring, and cervical check. Once induced, I knew I’d likely have the foley bulb and Pitocin, constant fetal monitoring, oxygen, compression wraps, and a catheter. Aside from the diagnosis itself, there weren’t too many surprises. I can’t imagine facing these invasive, yet mandatory, interventions if I was unaware or fearful of them from the start. The uncertainty of a high-risk pregnancy on top of a life-threatening complication is debilitating. The knowledge I gained from previous research helped me manage. It was scary imagining what-if scenarios during pregnancy, but it’s just how my brain works. For some, the “I can’t think about that right now – I’ll deal with it when the time comes” mentality is what works best for them. They’re able to process and navigate unexpected or frightening experiences easier if they are in the moment. For others, their brains tend to over-think and worry, so they naturally choose optimism. For me, I needed to be prepared for all outcomes in order to rest easy at night. I tried to be optimistic and hopeful, but also flexible and prepared.

5. Having a predetermined plan for my husband was crucial to the overall emotion and success of the experience.

The Bradley Method embraces the husband/father/partner as the ideal birthing coach. Throughout our classes and readings, my husband supported me both physically and emotionally. He learned the importance of being my advocate and my affirmer during labor and delivery. He knew going in that I liked gentle strokes on my hand and forehead. He knew to offer me chapstick and ice chips in-between contractions. He knew to always have a cold washcloth on hand. He needed no reminders and no demands. He knew because we had practiced. This not only gave me the coaching and support I needed, it also alleviated (as much as can be expected) his stress, for he too knew what to do and what to expect. We were in it together, neither of us alone, and I can’t even begin to tell you how much I cherish that.

6. Role playing and visualizing not only helped prepare my body and mind for pain management, but also for unexpected outcomes.

As mentioned earlier, these techniques helped prepare me for a relatively smooth high risk labor, delivery, and recovery. It freed my mind to listen to my instincts, maintain focus, and kept adrenaline at bay which, in turn, allowed me to welcome my baby with a calm, appreciative heart. The power of the mind in moments like these is fascinating, isn’t it?

7. Preparing my mind and practicing relaxation techniques to labor lying down was a very, very good choice.

I don’t think there’s much I need to say about this other than…it worked for me. Yes, I chose to have an epidural when I thought my transition at 5 cm was only the Pitocin intensifying my active labor. I made the request, clear-headed, 30 minutes before she arrived and 10 minutes later, they were placing it. 20 minutes after that, she was in my arms. They had a hard time reading her heart rate shortly before she came, so I had to move my body into multiple positions to find it (thank you, yoga!). The epidural hadn’t kicked in at this point, and didn’t until I was in the OR, surrounded by 15+ doctors, ready to push. That said, I labored for 17 hours unmediated, lying on my side. I’m so glad I was ready for this.

8. My nurses were there to support me, and they did.

One thing we were “prepared” for in Bradley classes and our independent reading was the possibility of an occasional pushy or inexperienced (with unmedicated labors) nurse. We had two nurses throughout my actual labor/delivery, and both were delightful. They were more of an emotional support than physical, but they were encouraging, respectful, and patient. We communicated basic desires, such as lighting and to forgo medicinal pain management for as long as possible. If we needed something, we asked. I imagine, based on my experiences and conversations with friends and other nurses, that uncooperative or challenging nurses are the exception, not the norm. Don’t doubt them, embrace them.

9. My doctors cared about two things (among many others, I’m sure): my health, and the health of my baby. In my case, it was also about survival.

Theres a lot going on behind the scenes that I, initially, was unaware of. Doctors are routinely conferencing, within their team and with others in relating fields (neonatologist, pediatricians, surgeons, anesthesiologists, pathologists, etc.), analyzing your lab results as they become available and brainstorming best practices. Every doctor I encountered, both for me and my daughter, was patient, kind, and comprehensive. They listened and they cared. Don’t fear them, appreciate them.

10. My baby’s birth story belongs to me, my husband, and my baby. I refuse to let anyone taint it with their judgement or projected shame.

Embrace your experiences for what they are – a beautiful story of faith, love, and strength. I won’t lie, I’ve had moments of regret for giving in to the temptation of an epidural. However, it isn’t long before I come back at myself with the reminder that I didn’t give in or give up, I gave my body what I thought it needed in the moment. My mind made the decision with the permission of my heart, and that I cannot regret. My daughter’s cord was hypercoiled and wrapped around her neck, so my ability to intensely focus on her delivery was crucial. Yes, I planned and advocated for a natural, unmedicated labor and delivery. I had an unmedicated labor and a medicated delivery. The moment I allow myself to feel regret and shame, however, I diminish my own strength and that of my baby to endure life-threatening conditions to meet face to face. No one, especially not myself, can twist this strength into defeat. Your pregnancy, labor, delivery, and recovery is yours to embrace in whichever way you choose. Period.

Thank you for reading. If you know someone who may be interested in reading this series, please pass it along or pin the image above to Pinterest to help spread the word. I'd love to connect with anyone who has or is navigating similar circumstances.