Eleven years ago, I had a memorable phone conversation with my friend Maureen. I was eight months pregnant, and I had called her for advice. For my third, and last baby, I was determined to purposely go the no medication route, but I was really scared.
My previous birthing experiences went like this: I had an epidural with my first baby, and then no medication with my second. Forceps pulled out my eldest boy because I couldn’t feel to push properly and I’ve never gotten over the guilt for that. That image of those bruises from the forceps on his little face is forever etched in my memory. My second labour was medication free only because I had a super fast labour with my girl and there was no time for intervention (not because I had necessarily intended it to be that way). I remember feeling very afraid. My labour was induced, so the contractions were terrifying and felt like a bulldozer coming at me, knocking me down over and over again.
I shared my intention to forgo meds if I possibly could to Maureen, who had experienced four natural childbirths. I looked up to her as my birthing mama guru. She was strong as hell. She said one thing to me that I will never forget: You Can Do This. Those words snapped me to attention, and to this day, I still murmur them to myself whenever I feel fear lurking inside my chest.
I carefully wrote You Can Do This on an index card, and during my long labour with Aaron I yelled at my husband to show me the words. He dutifully held up the card while I breathed my way through my contractions.
You Can Do This turned my labour upside down. Instead of fighting each contraction, and thinking no, no, no, I welcomed the pain because it was evidence that my body was working hard. Each contraction brought me closer to meeting my baby. When I was near the end, close to transition, I distinctly remember that Mike and I were giggling together and shouting: The baby is coming! The baby is coming! It was the strangest thing. Instead of fear, I felt joy embedded in those waves of pain.
Aaron popped out after a few minutes of pushing, and the best feeling in the world is having that fresh baby placed on your chest right after birth. Just thinking of that now, 11 years later, makes me tingle.
Afterwards, the nurse told me, with tears in her eyes, that she had never seen a couple so happy and excited to have a baby. You can do this. And I did.
I want to acknowledge that everybody does not have a positive birth experience, and that not having medication is merely a choice – and certainly not the only way to have a baby. I know that my experience was not only due to determination – luck and good fortune came into play too.
Because I had survived and even thrived through the pain, I suddenly acquired this electric feeling like I could do anything. It was a glimpse into a thrilling world that meek shy me had never seen before.
This place of strength came in very handy two weeks later when we found out that our baby had Down syndrome. My resiliency from that labour spilled over into my life with my son, especially during those early dark days of grief. I am so very grateful that his birth was uneventful (if yours was not, I can promise you that you will make your way). My own experience helped put me on a positive path in our new journey, and along with the love of a good man and supportive mom-friends, it is one of the things that still helps sustain me today.
Maureen’s brilliant philosophy does not only apply to birthing a baby. If you take one thing away from my writing, please know this: You can do this. No matter what it is, you can. And I believe that you will, too.