An unfiltered fire hose of flaming condemnation

The labor story, part one

I have sat down to write this post so many times and abandoned the effort because I didn’t know if I was going to be able to summon the words to describe what a sacred and spiritual experience labor was for me this time around. Yes. Sacred and spiritual. Words you never thought you’d hear from someone who can talk about breakfast cereal and hemorrhoids in the same sentence with the hemorrhoids being the part that didn’t make you throw up.

Up until about the 30th week of my pregnancy I hadn’t given labor much thought, only that I was going to ask for the epidural two days before contractions started. I’m not kidding, that was the extent of my birth plan. There was no need to experience any of the pain, I thought, especially since I had been through this before and I remember thinking that the pain was so awful that it was going to kill me. Give me the epidural and any other pain relief, maybe throw in a couple dozen shots of bourbon, oh and how about you just put me under general anesthesia and wake me up two days later. I’m not good with pain. I tend to complain and holler and call people regrettable things. It’s like the Hulk, only he’s on his period.

I was also under the impression, having never really researched the subject whatsoever, that any woman who would opt for a homebirth was not only COMPLETELY OUT OF HER MIND but also not interested in the safety of her unborn child. I mean, there’s a reason that infant and maternal mortality rates are so much better than a hundred years ago, right? HOSPITALS. And MEDICINE. And smart people we call DOCTORS. Yes, women routinely used to go out into the field by themselves and give birth without any assistance, and many of them routinely did not return BECAUSE THEY DIED.

But then out of no where the publishers of Ricki Lake and Abby Epstein’s book Your Best Birth sent me a copy, just like the publishers of many books send me copies of other books all the time. Internet, I have rooms full of books that publishers have sent me. ROOMS FULL. And I was just about to toss this onto the mountainous pile of ones I’d eventually drop off at Goodwill when, I don’t know, I flipped through a few pages and gave a full minute to one or two paragraphs. And those two paragraphs happened to be ones that really pissed me off. So much so that I read them aloud to Jon and said something like GOD, THOSE HIPPIES! or I BET THEY SMELL LIKE PATCHOULI!

You know, something totally open-minded.

Those paragraphs pissed me off so badly, in fact, that the one part of me that resembles my father the most — no, not the pointy chin or the metabolism or the absolute inability to watch a movie where everything goes wrong and the protagonist just keeps getting pummeled by life and I’m all MAKE IT STOP and then I have get up and actually leave the theater, no, none of those things — my righteous indignation, it flared up so magnificently that I sat down to read the whole book, just so that I could be angry at it. WHO DOES SHIT LIKE THIS? Me and Michael Hamilton, that’s who. Both he and I will go to our graves filled with an inordinate amount of unproductive anger, but a smile will mark our faces because we will feel so justified. So RIGHT.

And then, oh God, the worst thing happened. And I didn’t even see it coming, but I’m sitting there reading that book, gritting my teeth, shaking my head when all of a sudden it started to make sense. I started to see just how medicalized labor and birth have become in America AND THERE GOES MY WORLD VIEW.

I’m not going to get into the specifics and the really convincing and at times jaw-dropping statistics of it here, there are so many other places and people who can write about it better than I can, but I will say this: if you are pregnant or are planning to become pregnant, GO READ THAT BOOK. From now on when someone asks me what is the one piece of advice I would give to a pregnant woman, it will be: GO BUY A COPY OF THAT BOOK. Listen, I am not affiliated with that book in any way, I do not know Ricki Lake, she and I do not vacation in St. Tropez together (although if she’d like to come ride four-wheelers at my Mom’s cabin in Duchesne, Utah, THE OFFER STANDS), I do not owe that publisher any favors. But IT CHANGED MY LIFE. I’m not even kidding, I’ll say it again: IT CHANGED MY LIFE.

So then I watched the documentary Ricki Lake made, The Business of Being Born and that sealed it for me, I got my hands on everything I could read about natural childbirth. I read websites, forums, several other books including the excellent Birthing from Within, and then I talked to everyone I could find who had experienced birth without drugs. It just made a lot of sense to me, and after working through the specifics of what I went through when I was in labor with Leta — what I would call a classic example of a medicalized American labor and delivery minus the c-section — I decided that I wanted to have a natural childbirth this time. A very personal decision that made Jon go, HUH?????

And then he choked on those questions marks and fell over.

First, there were several obstacles to overcome. One, I had to convince Jon that I wasn’t crazy. I had done so much reading and research that I had gone from thinking homebirthing was NUTSO to wanting to push the baby out in the tiny tub we have in the bathroom next to the garage with no one in the room but Jon and a midwife. Oooh, and lots of candles!

But I knew Jon would never be okay with a homebirth, and since I was going to need his help getting through the pain of a drug-free labor even in a hospital setting, having him on board was critical. Two, what was my OBGYN going to do when suddenly the woman who was all EPIDURAL ON THE ROCKS, PLEASE! suddenly starting asking about the c-section rate at the hospital, and what was her policy on episiotomies? And this? And that? And, what do you know, she started fidgeting nervously, biting her lower lip, subtly shaking her head, and that was the quickest check-up I’d had the whole pregnancy!

Now, I really like my OBGYN. She’s the complete opposite of me, very cheery and all smiles, and I bet she was popular in high school, as in, when she thinks back on those four years she doesn’t SHIT HER PANTS like I do. And instead of writing her off as someone who would purposefully stand in the way of a natural childbirth and seeking out another doctor or midwife at such a late date, I decided to give her the benefit of the doubt.

And I’m glad I did, because she did nothing but encourage my plans throughout the subsequent check-ups.

And hoo-boy, there was planning. Because if I was remembering correctly there was a point in my labor with Leta when the pain had become so unbearable that I think I may have actually died, gone to Hell, and when Satan saw that it was me he was all, no, no, no, not that woman, I am not about to spend eternity with someone so crass that they would casually talk about duck farts while I’m eating small children for breakfast. Send her back!

I was going to need to prepare myself for the pain, mentally, physically, and emotionally, and surround myself with a team of people who could help me through it. So I hired a doula, and then I gathered the people who were going to be with me during labor and we worked through what I wanted and how to make that happen. Mind you, I went into this knowing fully that what I wanted to happen could be completely derailed by any sort of crisis concerning me or the baby. Making it out alive with a healthy baby was my top priority, of course, but if there was no need for pitocin or an epidural or intravenous drugs or a vacuum or forceps or an oxygen mask or an emergency c-section, then that’s what I wanted.

And really, that’s not a lot to ask.


Jon just walked in with Marlo and my milk came in so hard that it exploded all over the keyboard. Imagery! And I just realized how long this post is already, and I haven’t even gotten to the part where I asked our server at Outback Steakhouse if she’d be willing to cut the umbilical cord. Part two coming soon!

  • Allison

    Edge. Of. My. Seat.

  • Your enthusiasm should be for sale. I’d buy it. I mean, if I could apply it to something awesomer than natural childbirth, like, to learning how to tango or something.

    Natural childbirth sounds like it sucks.

  • Melissa

    I also had a medicalized first birth that inspired me to research natural alternatives for my second birth. We were so nervous about going to the hospital that I ended up having the baby at home by mistake. Afterwards, I wished we’d planned for a homebirth, because I didn’t want to give birth without an attendant, but it was SO MUCH BETTER at home. The worst part was when the paramedics showed up. Looking forward to hearing the rest of the story!

  • As someone who has never had the option of natural childbirth, I am in awe. I fought long and hard with my second baby to have it naturally (as I have a reasonable pain tolerance I thought I could do it without drugs too… but what do I know?) but in the end, I bowed to the wishes of pretty much everyone else in my life (they like me alive apparently!) and went c-section again.

    Cannot wait to read how it all panned out for you. Brava!!!

  • Esther

    I am one of those NUTSOs who had two homebirths. No drugs, stitches done under the light of my own bedside lamp. I am also the least hemp wearing, whale music listening woman in the world. I did it because I, like you, had read so much about the over-medicalised nature of modern childbirth. Like you, my experiences were amazing. Snuggled up in my own warm house with my happy, alert, non drug affected moments old infants. Priceless!

  • Amanda

    P.S. My hospital birth baby was 7lbs 8oz (was induced because he was going to be HUGE. *eye roll*) and I had a nasty little tear after it was all said and done.

    My home birth baby was 10lbs 40z, 22inches long, 16inch shoulders. No tearing. Whatsoever.

    I sparkly heart homebirth.

  • Michelle

    and “Misconceptions” by Naomi Wolf! I will now add Ricki Lake’s book to the list of books/movies I tell pregnant women (or thinking of being pregnant women, or men who may impregnate a woman, etc.) to read/watch. That was the starting point for me – congrats and can’t wait to hear the rest of the story!

  • Jenn

    I’ve been thinking about a natural birth and can’t wait to hear the rest. I’m hoping it’ll mention how you dealt with the actual labor pain…

  • AWESOME. I am so glad you are posting about this!!! Before I was pregnant, I was all, “Epidural? You betcha!”, but then I started to research like you did, and I was able to go throughout a 32 hour labor without pitocin, a C-section, episiotomy, or any intervention whatsoever (at the hospital too). It was the most empowering experience of my life, and I am so glad I had the birth experience I wanted. Congrats!!! 🙂

  • I’m glad that you had such a strong spiritual experience with childbirth. If I remember my child’s birth correctly, well, I wouldn’t wish that kind of spiritual experience on my worst enemy!

    If I didn’t have my daughter in a hospital, she would’ve died. If I didn’t have my epidural, someone else would have.

  • amanda

    uh…10lbs 4oz…not 40oz

  • My first two children were born naturally, albeit in a hospital environment. Not an experience I’d have missed for the world, but my last two children were born with epidurals and smiles… I’m just sayin’.

  • My first birth was a vile experience with no pain relief and the baby stuck in the birth canal for 40 minutes (in a hospital) and ended in forceps and a spinal tap. I was badly traumatised.

    I had an epidural for the second and I found that experience incredibly empowering, fulfilling and (the best part) not stressful or painful.

    So I don’t think its the pain relief that “dis-empowers” women giving birth. I think the feeling of disempowerment comes more when you find yourself in a situation where you are in pain and feel helpless about it.

    Thanks for the great blog – we saw you on tv in Australia a few weeks ago (on Oprah) 🙂


  • Kris

    What’s the thing with duck farts? Obviously I’m not in on the joke.

  • Darcy

    Oh, and to add another book recommendation to the list that seems to be compiling in the comments, “The Thinking Woman’s Guide to a Better Birth” by Henci Goer. Facts, straight up, unbiased.

  • Meltron

    THANK YOU!!! For sharing, for being open-minded (even if it was motivated by anger and stubborness) and for sharing this documentary and book with your readers. I’m 7 months pregnant, planning a birth center birth with a team of midwives and no drugs and I try to tell everyone I meet that the MOST important thing to do when deciding on a birth plan is just to read. Do the research….there are options out there. I’m fortunate enough to live in Seattle where midwives are having to turn patients away (crazy birkenstock wearing, flannel loving, eco-friendly, city…that I LOVE!!). Not all woman will be fortunate enough to have a choice of midwives, doulas, birth centers, etc…that I did, but if you do, just check it out.

    Can’t wait to hear how the story ends. Marlo is lucky to be a part of your beautiful family.

  • Kickypants

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. I have just done more for the the case against medicalized birth than you will ever understand. You have just opened thousands of womens’ minds to the possibility of a different kind of birth. Thank you. I’m so glad you had a great experience and I can’t wait to read the rest of the story!

  • God, you DO NOT KNOW how timely this post is for me. My friend just had a 36 hour labor followed by a c-section, and she’s like, DO THE EPIDURAL. And weirdly enough, I’m thinking to myself…No, I want a natural childbirth. I’m as non-hippy as they come, and as much as I hate pain, I can’t believe that there’s not better things happening with midwives and water births and all that good stuff. AND, my friend’s new bebe is having a hard time suckling. And apparently there’s a connection with epidurals and breast feeding being hard. ACK! You can’t make us wait for the rest of the story! I must have the rest of the story so I can be morally smug!

  • Mona

    Kudos. If I ever decide to have another child, I think I will end up going this route because I’ve done (semi) natural and c-section. I’m so cool on the dr. cutting and stitching up my vajayjay, the extra long needle to the spine and the obtrusiveness of some of the hospital staff. And the drugs didn’t really help anyway.

    Btw, your post flashed me to the time I was in the car with my son’s godfather and my milk sprayed everywhere..dashboard, windshield and both side windows. He was so traumatized….he still brings it up to this day and my son is 16.

  • Daena

    Yay, Heather!

    You go girl!

    I can’t wait to hear the rest of the story.

    Much Love,
    Daena in Queens, NY!

  • Alexis

    Yay! I had planned to have child #1 naturally, but a mid-preg kidney operation and a 30hr labor kind of derailed that idea. I did however, successfully have a natural childbirth with child#2. I was in labor for 5hrs, that’s it. It was kind of funny really. I ended up in the back seat of my dh’s subaru, draped over my birthing ball, trying to survive the monday morning rush hour traffic ride to the hospital. I must have been going through transition at that point, loads of fun, I tell ya. We get there, they check me, I’m at a 10. Wohoooo!! Nothing like showing up to the hospital ready to push. 40 minutes later, my son was born. It was worth every minute. Can’t wait to hear the rest of the story!!

  • It’s so great to hear you say this . . . I went through almost the exact same epiphany early in my pregnancy, and while I’m only 30 weeks along now, so have not as yet experienced the labor part, I have done so much reading (all the books you mentioned and so many more) that I’m almost eager for the natural birth experience. Not that I’m not expecting it to be tremendously hard work and lots of pain, but I’m hoping that it’s also an amazing, empowering experience. And hearing your story gives me hope.

  • seriously.. I love reading everything you write… you tell the truth like no other person. You have me so pulled in that I can’t wait to hear about the rest of your birth story!

  • Oh goodness! Business of Being Born is amazing. Also, changed my life. Hoping for a birthing center birth next go-round…feeling incredibly guilty about my epidural and c-section!

  • Golden

    This post is useless without a photo of Marlo. 🙂

    Seriously though, way to go! I’m proud of you.

  • Jessica

    I am the lame 40 week pregnant woman in Seattle who emailed you this morning begging for the birth story. I’m sure the timing was coincidental, but thank you so much for posting this today, you made my month. I am DYING for part 2 (and 3, 4, whatever)- cannot wait to hear the rest of your story.
    I had my 1st daughter in a birth center with a midwife and sacred and spiritual are exactly the right words. I am so totally not a hippy, and 99% of my friends still think I’m crazy for that choice, but it was truly the most incredible day of my life (and my husband’s), and we were both on a high for a week after. Our second daughter was born in a hospital after pitocin but with no epidural (although I was screaming for one-just not enough time), and although the end result was perfection (my sweet girl #2), the birth experience cannot compare. The second, induced hospital birth was so…blah. I agree with everything you say about birth in the US and am so, so happy to see you writing about it here, where you can truly open the minds of so many. I know the rest of your birth story will be equally inspirational and exhilirating – can’t wait to hear it!!

  • My husband and I watched The Business of Being Born when I was about 7 months pregnant with my second. It (along with some other reading) influenced me so much that I ended up ditching my OB who wasn’t very natural-birthing friendly and switched to a certified nurse midwife who had hospital privileges, hired a doula, and wound up with an awesome experience. And then I started writing completely in run-on sentences. Can’t wait to read the rest of your story!!

  • Deborah

    Thanks for the post – I’ve been anxious to hear this story. I had two c-sections so can only have the experience vicariously.

  • malin

    Just gave birth 2 months ago, was all ready for the drugs when the epidural failed completely. I had to do it all natural and honestly it was the best gift that crappy anesthesiologist ever gave anyone. It was a beautiful and empowering moment, I felt like I could climb Everest afterward.

  • Deborah

    Oh, and you were great on GMA!

  • Acher

    I do things all the time just so I can be pissed off, be “right,” etc. Drives my husband nuts. He’s been known to call me a martyr a time or 400.

    Oh, and though I have no babies (yet), I am totally on board with natural birth and am very interested in homebirth, though I have a feeling my neighbors in my condo building might not be so thrilled with that. A midwife came and talked to one of my classes in college, and it was totally eye opening! My friends all have had epidurals and thing that I am certifiably crazy.

  • Jordan

    I love that documentary and that book! I totally have a girl crush on Ricki and have since that documentary came out. I went alone when I was 7 months pregnant and I wish my husband had gone with me. It made me truly believe in my ability to have a completely natural birth.

    Alas, I failed miserably, and there were a lot of things at work in the universe that contributed to my c-section, and it wasn’t just being in a hospital. However, because of all of the things I would do differently, and the icky experience I had, I am so proud of you for having a good one. Jealous, but proud nontheless. Yay! 🙂

  • Becca

    I am SO glad you saw that documentary. I saw it in nursing school and I think it’s one of the most intelligent, convincing arguments for natural childbirth.

    Can’t wait to hear the rest!!

  • Ali

    Yes! Brava, Heather, it makes me so happy to hear this. I had a hospital birth but my philosophy during the pregnancy was, ‘The less the doctors do, the better.’

  • Amanda

    Hmmm, I have mixed feelings on this. I love reading your site, but as I started to read your post, I was all “oh crap, here goes someone else on this topic…..” I am so happy you got the birth you wanted. Really, truly, happy. I am happy for ANY woman that achieves the birth that she wants and is important to her. And I do not mean to undermine the importance of the actual birth in any way. But HOLY CRAP I want to run and hide from all this emphasis on the EXACT means in which our children enter this world. Sometimes women get the birth of their dreams and that’s totally awesome. But sometimes our children with enter the world in varied ways that are not of our time and choosing. I have had a couple of those births and perhaps this makes me jaded. Perhaps it is just because I have lived “on the other side” so to speak.

    Women should feel empowered to have the birth they want and they should be supported. I just feel very strongly that should include all kinds of births, natural, epidural and yes, even c-sections. And this rant is not toward you specifically at all, but Ricky Lake kinda irritates me. Success is measured in many ways. Sometimes I feel she is more, natural birth equals success and awesome and everything else is……meh. Of course there is much more to it than that. And I have watched her documentary. That’s all I am saying. I get too riled up about it and could say so much more. So I’ll just stop:) Looking forward to part 2.

  • Love reading your blog! So glad I just found you…

  • That’s so great Heather! I agree completely with you, although most of my medical colleagues scoff and make jokes. Congratulations on having such a great, empowering experience, and having things go beautifully just the way you wanted them too. Another great book, besides the one you mentioned is Henci Goer’s “The Thinking Womans Guide to a Better Birth.” I can’t wait to hear the rest of your story!

  • Halala Mama

    I am looking forward to reading the second part – I went without pain med for the first 10 hours of induced labor. I finally had an epidural before an emergency c-section and it was so absolutely hellish that I would do anything to avoid that in the future. It couldn’t be avoided in my situation that time, but I’m glad you were able to avoid it.

  • Christian

    Awesome! You rock! I am so glad that you are sharing this story, and I know that because the best way to inspire is by example, that you will positively impact lots of pregos out there. This may sound cheesy, but I am so proud of you!

  • Nikki

    WOW, that is awesome … My girlfriends and I just saw the same documentary and we can’t wait to go buy our kiddie pools and set them up in our living rooms for our own home births!!! Ok, just kidding, but I am totally on the midwife/natural birth bandwagon, it really is LIFE CHANGING information. Can’t wait to hear the rest of your adventure!!

  • Love your stuff, even if it makes me flinch at times.

    Can’t wait for Part II!!

    Both my births were natural, the first was terrible, and the second joyous. I had a doula and more support (and knowledge and confidence) the second time around. Not sure if that made the difference, but I’m sure glad it happened the way it did.

  • areader

    thanks for sharing, but I’m hoping the rest of the story isn’t pervaded by smugness and self-righteousness as so many natural birth stories are. Childbirth is an accomplishment and awe-inspiring moment, no matter how it runs its course. Remember too that second births are typically much easier, faster and more predictable than first births, which makes an attempt at a natural birth much more feasible.

    That said, kudos to you for your decision and congratulations that things worked out as you had hoped.

  • Stupendousness

    I do not ever want to be pregnant or give birth, but if I did, I would do some variation of homebirth. I’ve read about natural birthing centers, and I would probably prefer that to being at home. I definitely would not want to be in a hospital, which is the most hated place for me.

    But mostly what scared me about birth in a hospital is birth “rape.” I know that’s a controversial term, but however you choose to label it, I don’t think anyone can deny that a large group of medical staff performing procedures and giving you drugs without your consent is completely unacceptable.

    Also in a hospital, I fear I would be treated more like an object. To the nurses and even doctor, I would just be something to clean up after, to poke and prod to write down vitals. And that’s understandable to an extent because they’re understaffed and overworked. I just know that for me, being treated with respect is very important.

    I do get angry when people say that those who are pro-home birth or pro-midwife-assisted birth are just crunchy liberal people, as if we go along with whatever is “natural,” as if we haven’t researched the issue and decided we know what is best for ourselves, not tradition.

  • Peg

    I’m old enough to be your mother (but I’m not!) and my children were born au natural (in hospitals) over 30 years ago, the first using hypnoanesthesia. Thank goodness someone with an audience is bringing the over-medicalization of childbirth back for discussion! We thought childbirth was over-medicalized in our day and it’s much worse now. I’ve witnessed this incredible change in intervention and in fear on the part of mothers-to-be over the course of my career as an RN as well as through the births of my grandchildren. Congrats on your wonderful experience and the birth of another beautiful daughter! They are very fortunate to have such a smart, funny, and best of all, honest Mom! Love your blog!

  • Anonymous

    I saw the movie based on that book this weekend and thought of you the whole time. I’m not having children of my own, and I’m no fan of the whole pain thing, but after watching the documentary, I’d have a natural birth for sure. Congratulations!

  • I had 4 kiddos all in the hospital….the idea of home birthing always scared the shit out of me. So did the idea of nursing, yeah I didn’t do that either.

  • In all honesty (and how embarrassing it is) I am cheering partly because yay for you! but also because I’m just so glad to get to hear your unique voice and take on this subject. I will come up with a list of other subjects for you to write on, I’m sure you’re happy to hear it. 😉 Can’t wait for the next part.

  • Heather, I’m *SOOOO* glad that this birth went so well! I can’t wait for Parts 2, 3, 4, and 5!!! 🙂

  • newbuffalomom

    Had two normal, medical births at hospitals. Then I had two all natural homebirths. NO contest. I will not willingly give birth in a hospital again. 🙂

  • There is nothing more empowering, amazing, spiritual – you name it – than natural childbirth. I had two home births, one unplanned (oops!), the next one planned, and this was after having the traditional GIVE ME THE EPIDURAL NOW! delivery with my first. Now, I’m the least granola person on the planet. But I am now a HUGE advocate of drug-free birth, especially at home. The Business of Being Born only helped fuel my fire when people (re: my mother) gave me a hard time about my choice to have a home birth.

    The best part is, as a mother to a daughter, I showed my 3 1/2 year-old exactly how strong women can be in the biggest miracle there is: childbirth. (She came in immediately after her brother was born and asked “Mommy? Why are you crying? Because pushing a baby out of your bagina is hard work?”)

    Congratulations and thank you for using your forum to bring this information to all your readers.

Heather B. Armstrong

Hi. I’m Heather B. Armstrong, and this used to be called mommy blogging. But then they started calling it Influencer Marketing: hashtag ad, hashtag sponsored, hashtag you know you want me to slap your product on my kid and exploit her for millions and millions of dollars. That’s how this shit works. Now? Well… sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the ride.

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