One of the things that makes Martha so inspiring is that she weathered her pregnancy and birth with TWO heart diseases (aortic valve stenosis and hypertrophic cardiomyopathy). This put her in a higher risk category than the average pregnant woman, but she was still determined to pursue a natural birth, despite the skepticism/concern of her cardiologist and OB. She said:
I left their offices many times over the next couple months sobbing all the way back to work. I felt trapped because I was in my final months of pregnancy and didn’t want to go to the trouble of changing doctors. I trusted them both to take care of the heart issues because they had worked together in the past on pregnant women with heart disease and that was very important to me. . . . [They] had no stats or studies to back it up, but their main concern was the risk natural childbirth would pose to my heart. I could never really get to the bottom of it, but I was CERTAIN natural childbirth would pose no extra risk to my heart. I felt just the opposite, actually.2) Avoid being induced, if possible!
I remember the week or two before Martha gave birth. Our mutual friend mentioned that Martha's doctors were really pressuring her to be induced. I was so hopeful she would be able to avoid an induction! Pitocin would put an unmedicated birth virtually beyond reach (not to mention the stress it could put her body and her baby under). Here's what Martha had to say about that harrowing time:
The final month was the worst because they made me have extra fetal monitoring twice a week which made me anxious and worried because each visit threatened induction because my amniotic fluid levels were all over the map. I knew being induced would put all hopes of a natural childbirth out of my grasp so I prayed more fervently than ever to be spared from induction. . . . I also had many pep talks with Sienna. “Now, listen little lady. We can’t be induced. It’s not an option. So, I need you to just stay inside as long as possible and keep showing the doctors what you can do.” She was so obedient, I wanted to lean over and kiss her after every appointment but couldn’t reach my belly with my lips. Adam had to take care of that for me. The last couple weeks I was put on bed rest which nearly drove me to drink. I would not wish bed rest on my worst enemy. . . . The due date came and went. Due dates are a stupid, cruel thing. They mess with your mind and make everyone under the sun badger you about why your baby’s not here yet. Poop on due dates. I’m not telling anyone mine next time.3) Faith!
I really believe one of the reasons Martha succeeded was because of her enormous faith. You really cannot tackle natural childbirth without faith... whether it be faith in God, faith in the birth process, faith in your body, or faith in yourself. Martha's deep faith is so inspiring to me:
I found great comfort in Ether chapter 12. The more I learned about faith, the more I knew it was my answer. Faith precedes miracles and I needed a major miracle. Faith brought about the impossible, like moving mountains, and I needed a mountain MOVED. Each time after fetal testing, I was sent home. Each time I KNEW it was a miracle. I still didn’t know what the end would bring, but I just kept my faith fine-tuned and told God what I wanted and left it up to Him.4) Hang out at home as long as you (safely) can!
I really think the birth outcomes in our country would vastly improve if women would spend most of their labors at home. Rushing to the hospital too early is a mistake many women make. The artificial lighting, restrictive policies, and strange faces and environment lead many women's labors to stall or slow down, which leads hospital staff to either send her back home anyway or start intervening in the birth with Pitocin, etc. At home, a woman is on her own turf, can be upright and mobile, and can eat or drink as she wishes--all things that will facilitate her labor process. Martha was fortunately able to spend all but the very end of her labor at home. Here are some excerpts of her birth story. I hope you don't mind that I nearly pasted all of it, Martha! It was just so great, I couldn't help putting so much of it here:
Wednesday at 2 a.m. I got up to pee for the umpteen bajillionth time and also ate a plum and read my scriptures (Ether 12, I love you!). At 2:30 a.m. I peed again and heard a little PLOP. Water breakage, folks! This was the sign I was looking for. I woke up Adam and called Dr. Marralle’s operator. I told the operator my water had just broken and that I was ready to come in. The operator told me Dr. Marralle’s instructions were to come in when my water was broken AND when I was in active labor (contractions 5 minutes apart, lasting 60 seconds, for one complete hour). I thought this was odd because Dr. Marralle had told me several times that I’d need to come in if my water broke OR if I was in active labor. Huh. The operator seemed pretty confident so I agreed to call back when I was in active labor. Adam went back to sleep and I tried to lie down and wait for active labor.Are you feeling warm and fuzzy now? Me too. :-)
Contractions did keep coming but they were quite irregular. I couldn’t get comfortable in bed and just walked around the house and leaned over the table or desk or wall, or knelt down over my ottoman when a contraction would hit. I timed and wrote down each contraction and from 5 – 6 a.m. they were in the ACTIVE zone. By this time I’d thrown up my plum – twice – and had much more water gushing out of me from below. Isn’t labor PRETTY? Adam awoke when he heard me groaning in the front room around 6 a.m. and came out to help. I hadn’t wanted to wake him up because I thought at least one of us should be well rested for the big day ahead. I also didn’t know how he could help me, since he couldn’t exactly BE me and that’s about all I wanted at that point. However, when he came in and started rubbing my back and encouraging me, it helped immensely.
I told him to call back the operator and she gave him the go-ahead to come in. We gathered our things, he ate breakfast and emptied the dishwasher (of course he did!) and we both showered. By this time my contractions were just a couple minutes apart, and I knew we needed to get this show on the road. I remember getting into the car and telling Adam, “I can do this,” signaling that I was ready to do this natural childbirth thing because I still felt in control of my contractions. However, in my head I thought, “But if this lasts all day, I CAN’T do this.”
I was making quite a bit of noise through my contractions and I liked it. Well, I wouldn’t say I liked it, I guess I just felt sort of cave-womanish, which freed the inner natural childbirth hippie in me, which I liked. Sitting in the car was totally uncomfortable. I did have a pillow behind my back which helped and a pillow in the front that I was squeezing to death. I closed my eyes and just wished away every bump on the road. Hoag Hospital is in Newport Beach, about 20 – 30 minutes from our house. We had two freeways to conquer but it was 7 a.m. and the traffic was moving great. I think I opened my eyes three times and knew we were making good time. We got there a bit before 7:30 a.m. Adam valet parked and I leaned against poles, walls, Adam, whatever I could to get me up to the 5th floor: Labor and Delivery! The nurses stared at me as I leaned against the wall and did this thing with my feet like a bull does when he’s getting ready to charge. I thought about that later and thought it was quite symbolic. Ha!
Adam was very calm in getting us checked in at the front desk and meanwhile the nurses could see they needed to get me to a room fast and acted accordingly. They tried to put me in the wheelchair but I declined. I didn’t want to have my grand entrance be as an invalid and, more than that, I did NOT want to sit. That is the LAST thing that felt good on my back. I got to the room and they made me strip down and throw on a gown. . . . They had me climb on the bed for fetal monitoring and a cervix check. I wanted to decline that up front as well and let them know from the start that I wanted to MOVE a lot and not be confined to the bed. But I figured we’d have a look to see how far I was dilated and then I’d voice up.
The nurse stuck her fingers up there and announced, “You’re dilated to a 9.5!” I looked at Adam and said, “That is the BEST news I’ve EVER heard.” We were both shocked. So were the nurses. The head nurse, Kim, tried to get to the bottom of why I had waited to come in so late. I told her my conversation with the operator. She wanted the name of the operator. I didn’t have it. In my mind I wanted to give that operator my first born, yes even the first born I was about to birth. I am convinced she was an angel sent from heaven and was the reason this natural childbirth was happening... and happening NOW! For some reason Kim asked if I wanted medication or an epidural. I answered no to both and thought it odd that she’d even ask since it was obviously too late. . . .
The nurse asked if I’d had an urge to push. I hadn’t put it together until she asked, but YES, in the car, I DID feel like I had to take a giant crap. I didn’t understand the urge, though, because I had thrown up all the food that would be necessary for a bowel movement. So THAT, my friends, is the urge to PUSH. Kim said, “Well, within the next half hour, you can push.”
Meanwhile, Dr. Marralle came in, the nurses (about five or six of them), were bustling around the room, hooking me up to all sorts of things, or just staring for general amusement. A sweet middle-aged nurse came to my bedside and introduced herself as Cindy, a student nurse that was on her first day here. I loved her immediately and grabbed her hand. I made her hold it the whole time while Adam was on the other side, holding my other one. When she let go at one point I grabbed it again. There was no way she was leaving my side. I needed her cold, thin, strong fingers as much as I needed Adam’s warm, bigger, strong fingers. . . .
I had about eight pushing sessions and it all lasted about 25 minutes. Adam was tremendously helpful throughout it all. Long ago we had established that he would be my “focal point” during labor and delivery and several times when it seemed like I was losing it, he would say, “Martha! Look at me! You’re doing great.” He was very reassuring and my #1 cheerleader. He just kept telling me how wonderful I was doing and I was believing it!
Something that was making me lose a bit of focus was every time I put my head up to push, I could see three nurses in the back of the room just watching me. I think two were the baby nurses and one was a student nurse. I wanted to say, “Are you enjoying watching this? My crotch? My pooping and peeing all over the doctor while I try to push this impossible baby out? My head turning all sorts of shades as I nearly explode? Oh, good.” . . . I was annoyed, but tried to stay focused on the people that were helping me: Cindy, Kim, Adam and Dr. Marralle. I chalked it up to either it being protocol for baby nurses to wait in the room until the baby comes out or maybe, since Hoag has a 98% epidural rate and a 30% cesarean section rate, they had never seen the spectacle that is natural childbirth. I forgave them later as they helped me breastfeed and told me how amazingly I had done. One of their great compliments was, “I didn’t even hear one F-word!”
I didn’t feel the baby’s head pop out, I think because of the local anesthetic on my perineum. I was waiting for that infamous “ring of fire” feeling, but it didn’t come. Anyway, the head DID finally pop out, wouldn’t you know it. Adam said, “Martha, the head’s out!” I think I gave a little squeal of disbelief with a, “REALLY?” Just one more push and out came the slithery little body! It was incredible. Dr. Marralle held her up and I said possibly the dumbest thing ever, “It’s a baby!” Wow. Way to state the obvious, Marth. But there she was, seriously, a baby, a big baby, one that was just moments before making me totally miserable and ugly and grunty and fat and purple and crampy! She was out and it was allllll over. I immediately felt SO much relief. They put her on my chest and the first thing I noticed were her long scraggly nails. Baby nails are tiny miracles unto themselves. I just looked down at her head of black hair while the nurses wiped her off. Dr. Marralle asked me to give one more push and out came the placenta. I looked at Adam and said, “That felt gross.” He said, “That looked gross.” Dr. Marralle had Adam cut the umbilical cord, then she got busy sewing me up. Dr. Marralle’s comment after it all was, “Well, don’t plan on it being that simple next time, young lady.” Classic Dr. Marralle. I didn’t care, though. Nothing anyone could have said would have ruined that moment.