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Mom Talk: My Beautiful (Medicated) Birth Story

Written by Eirinie Carson

Photography by Photographed by Ashley Kelemen

We’re so thrilled to have the eloquent—and entertaining—words of writer, model, and mother (of two) Eirinie Carson back on MOTHER today. A favorite after her first “Mom Talk” essay on being pregnant during a pandemic, Eirinie also shared her honest, relatable take on motherhood and pregnancy in our short-film project Mother Each Other (directed by Vanessa Mona Hellmann). Today, Eirinie is back again, sharing her blissful medicated birth story—a tale not told often enough. Enjoy! 

I had a really beautiful birth. Not the kind of birth I would ordinarily associate with the word “beautiful”—not a water birth, a home birth, a birth in the backyard amongst the wisteria and jasmine, not a “natural” birth. No deep breathing exercises carried me through this one. Drugs carried me through. Cold, hard drugs. And perhaps it sounds ignorant to say out loud but I never thought the word “beautiful” could or should be associated with a birth like the one I just had.

I did the drugs, all of them. I was electively induced at 39 weeks + 3 days. I did not labour at home for the recommended time, a home birth was never really considered (thin windows, loud voice, all of my family’s shit everywhere, my husband’s various DIY projects left abandoned, no thanks).

I dunno, maybe it’s all the Ina May Gaskin propaganda that I accidentally absorbed (cheers mum) but I had always considered the choices I made today to be the wrong ones, the ones that wouldn’t effectively bond me to my new baby, the ones that my body would reject, the ones that would slow my progress down instead of aiding it. But nope, here I am, my freshly born baby girl in my arms, and I am still smiling at the thought of her birth. I genuinely, honestly felt a pang of sadness when it was over, that’s how great it was.

With our firstborn baby back in 2017, I had made the decision that I would labour as long as I could without drugs or aid, a decision I am not quite sure how I came to, thinking that this was how it should be. I struggled through monumental contractions aided by Pitocin (our firstborn was low on amniotic fluid so this was a necessary medical intervention). And when I, finally, after maybe 12 hours of pain and no further dilation, decided I would allow myself some relief, I asked my doula if I could have help. ASKED! As if it were anyone’s choice but my own. As soon as I got the epidural, I dilated fully and my waters broke on their own. It was as if my body had been clamped up tight with the pain and hadn’t been able to progress without a little push along the way. After that experience, I made up my mind that during my next labour I would be a bigger advocate for what I wanted, stigma be damned.

With my second child I had a difficult pregnancy. Not that the baby and I weren’t both technically healthy, but between depression and some pretty intense chronic back and pubic pain, I was just so over it. I had a wonderful and attentive doula, Brigette Barnato, and I think I was embarrassed to tell her just how done with it I was. When I finally mustered the courage, Brigette got it. She had watched me in pain, fielded numerous questions about my back pain and vomiting and sadness, she accepted when I told her I was at the end of what I could stand. We made a game plan for some natural interventions, stuff like evening primrose oil massaged internally, regular chiropractor and acupuncture appointments, sex (lol this absolutely did not happen, so sorry Adam), and several homeopathic remedies.

Some of this may have helped, as I had several evenings of very light contractions, lots of cramping, and my baby girl moved low into my pelvis as she got ready, but labour itself did not start. I broached the subject of medical inductions and we decided we would try castor oil before moving to that next step. However, the night before I was meant to take it, I chickened out—I wasn’t sure just how it would affect my body, I wasn’t sure if I’d be severely dehydrating myself before I had to do the work of pushing a baby out, I wasn’t sure if we’d make it to my preferred hospital, UCSF, in time.

Instead, I decided to roll with my induction, and shared this information with both my husband and Brigette. My husband Adam breathed a sigh of relief. He had been a first-hand witness to just how rough the pregnancy had been on my body, he knew that I cried in pain every night and could barely move after 4pm. Brigette was equally supportive, which should have been a given in my mind considering the kind of person she is, but hiring a doula is something that often comes with the assumption of a “natural” (a.k.a. unmedicated) birth.

In the end, for our second child, the induction couldn’t have been a better plan. After 2020, a year of complete uncertainty and fear, having a concrete plan of action was such a treat. We were able to send Luka, our firstborn, off with her beloved grandparents along with the dog. We were able to clean the house and feel vaguely prepared. Adam washed our sheets and made the bed while I ensured we had enough snacks for the hospital bag (we did not—note to future parents, pack way more snacks than you think you will need). The night before the induction we had dinner together at a favourite restaurant of ours that had opened for outdoor dining. The element of control was, for me, truly a gift. I felt calm, I felt like I was coming to the end of my suffering and I was ready.

The question is—if, for me, the choice of induction was actually what I wanted, actually such a life and brain saver, why on earth did I resist it so hard, even after committing to the idea of being my own advocate? What is it about birthing culture that makes us feel any choice that leads us away from an unmedicated birth is wrong?

My doula, Brigette, had a simple and succinct answer that felt something like an immediate epiphany to me: “The majority of birthing people are women and as women, we aren’t socialized to ask for what we need, ever. So how do we expect ourselves to do so in the time in our lives when we are MOST vulnerable. In fact, we are socialized to trust other people’s authority about our bodies over our own.” Between the fight for pro-choice and our bodily autonomy in the courts, and the constant victim blaming of a society rife with sexual assault, it’s no wonder we often find ourselves second guessing.

I also spoke to my dear lifelong friend and current midwife in a U.K. hospital, Beatrice Fisher, about this several times before I actually committed to the choice of induction. Beatrice is staunchly anti-unnecessary medical intervention for birth, mostly for the stress and pressure it can put on a birthing body that is not ready to labour yet and the trauma it can inflict on people who are not fully educated on the various processes. But she did give me one caveat I clung to for my final months of pregnancy: if it is something I feel will be beneficial to my mental and physical health, do it. “Do what makes you feel safest,” Beatrice said. Because as long as you feel safe and centered, you will be fine whatever happens, knowing you are grounded in a decision you can stand by.

A common misconception is the belief that an induction is a quick-fire way to have a baby when in reality it can take up to 3 days. This is one example of the danger of misinformation—the possibility that one would be ill equipped and underinformed when one does go into labour. “Whether it’s a drug-free vaginal delivery at home or a controlled epidural or elective c-section, one can only make decisions if one is properly informed,” Beatrice explains. “Therein lies our super power as birthing beings. It’s about women empowering themselves to make decisions based on their own assessment of what is best for them.”

Properly informed, for me, was pumping both my doula and my OB-GYN for details on how exactly I would be induced. The misoprostol, the foley balloon, the breaking of the waters, the Pitocin—I wanted to know about all of it. And the more I knew, the more Beatrice’s words became true—the choice became more and more obvious to me, a door, a way out of my pain and a way to safely meet my baby on my own terms.

Do what makes you feel safest.

As Brigette points out, “a lot happened when the idea of ‘natural birth’ started re-emerging. And, it was born out of good and beautiful things, like taking back our knowledge and our autonomy as birthing people, but it also created a new status quo—something to strive for, and thus a hierarchy.”

The pressure I was feeling to make the “right” choice was actually the pressure of that unseen hierarchy. Don’t get me wrong, some people do better on the “natural” path. Some people’s bodies respond differently to that shit, but for the rest of us, the drugs and the medical staff and the emergency pull cords next to the loo are incredibly comforting. I loved being somewhere I knew was filled with people who would make the right choices for my baby’s health and mine, I loved knowing it wasn’t just down to me.

The morning of my scheduled induction, we drove the 45 minutes to the city, traffic was heavy due to a collision, and both Adam and I marveled at how much more stressful it would be if we were in labour that very second and trying to make it to a probably impractical hospital choice. But we made it to UCSF in time and made our way to the very familiar labour and delivery ward, where almost exactly 4 years ago I had given birth to Luka.

We settled in for a long day of trying various things to get me past my initial dilation of 2cms. Several rounds of misoprostol to soften the cervix, a foley balloon, a splash of Pitocin, and finally, my waters being manually broken.

During the first stage of my admittance, the midwife gave me a membrane sweep and it was agonising. I’d had them before, but something about that day made it so painful, so when they suggested the foley balloon I blanched. The nurse suggested fentanyl for the pain and I leapt at it, eager to lessen the pain in my back, too. The drug, the nurse warned me, would feel like I was two drinks in but instead made me feel like I was overstaying my welcome in a bar and it was time for Adam to take me home. I was fuckin’ trashed, but I also felt nothing of the foley balloon but some light discomfort. Once it was done, my contractions kicked up again but to a place I hadn’t been before. The decision came to break my waters, call my doula, and get the anesthesiologist in for my good-time epidural.

After the epidural I was relaxed enough to sleep, maybe the most comfortable sleep I have had in months. And soon, in the hazy hours of the morning, the urge to push made itself known through the smooshy numb feeling meandering up and down my spine. My team of nurses somehow multiplied, and a group of women I had never met before suddenly became pivotal, iconic characters in the story of my birth—Sheila, Lluvia, Sherri, Jamie—these women along with Brigette braced my legs and cheerleaded my beautiful girl into this world. The vibe in the room was calm but buoyant, I felt carried along by their certainty and enthusiasm that I could do it. My husband Adam was at my back, lifting me up into crunch position whenever I felt that unrelenting urge to push and I felt as if I were a boat headed home, pulling into harbour.

Do what makes you feel safest.

After about 25 minutes of pushing, our girl Selah Marigold entered this world and ours. The focus I had been maintaining finally lifted, I sobbed uncontrollably as she was placed onto my chest, the love was overwhelming and that feeling of homecoming felt complete. The women in the room quietly tended to my body as it did the rest of the work to get the placenta out, they cleaned me up and orbited my little family with love and care. The connection I felt to those people in that room is unmatched, and I will treasure that connection forever even if I never see them ever again. Despite my choices, or rather because of them, I felt in control, I felt comforted and loved, and, most of all, I felt safe.

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  1. Kristin Hagar Southall says...

    We need more of this. The pendulum has swung way way waaaaaaay too far to the other direction over the past decade or two. Medication during labor, requesting what what you personally want, is no cause for shame—in fact the opposite— cause for pride over the way you directed your experience in line with your desires. Dogma from doula culture and natural-birth culture is absolutely no different than dogma from medical culture. It’s someone else’s dogma. I had the most magical experience of my life undergoing medicated, vaginal birth, present for every transcendental second of it, augmented by the beautiful music I’d chosen, because I wasn’t shot into outer space lunacy by unbearable pain. I felt plenty. But I could really feel and enjoy those sensations because they weren’t too much. I could go on. That day, the memories of it, will beat my heart forever.

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