I remember my life before Adrian – huddled in corners of small hospital rooms, scribbling notes down on a coffee-stained scrap of paper I found in the garbage. Ask, listen, palpate, percuss. Repeat. The attending physician would glide into these rooms, dripping with confidence, and I would attempt to absorb it all as I scurried behind in my short coat.
It was during these first timid weeks of my third year of medical school that Adrian would become a part of me.
He reminded me of his presence with regular bouts of vomiting during morning rounds for the first trimester. He felt my body shiver in the bowels of the Interim LSU hospital where the air conditioning cooled our lounge to 58 degrees. He felt my heart race as I gave presentation after presentation.
He was there too, when I learned how birth is handled in a hospital.
I was 7 months pregnant when I started my obstetrics rotation, what I had looked forward to since I had begun medical school 3 years prior. There has always been something so magical about birth – a magic that doesn’t exist in the rest of medicine. Every time a baby is born, an actual miracle happens as they take their first breath. I wanted to be a part of these miracles and to be there to support and celebrate the women that brought them into the world. And here I was, knocked up like my patients. The timing was perfect…minus the fact that I kept falling asleep during night call.
My experience on OB was not what I had pictured.
Sure, I was awe-struck at the incredible care given to high-risk women that saved the lives of many babies; however, I had hoped to see the low risk woman looking powerful and mighty and as gorgeous as a woman can be as she gave birth. I expected to see triumph and elation on her face, whether she needed pain medication or not. Instead, I realized she did not know or did not believe that her body was made perfectly for this job. I wanted and expected more for her. I wondered if there was another way. By the time I had finished my obstetrics rotation, I was weeks away from delivering, and my time to face the music of labor was drawing close and I, too, was feeling scared of what would lie ahead.
The new Alternative Birthing Center at Ochsner Baptist had just opened and late in my pregnancy, I switched over to the care of midwives. My husband and I hadn’t had time for a birth class, so we spent many romantic evenings watching unmedicated birth videos on YouTube. We got some essential oils and white twinkly lights for the birthing room. We inflated our yoga ball took turns falling off of it in our living room. We prepared as best we could. Would I go completely native? I imagined myself stripping my clothing off in the busy L&D lobby and screaming profanities at people I respected.
At 41 weeks and 4 days, my midwife swept my cervix and told me to go home and sleep until labor started. I wish I had listened. My contractions suddenly became regular and hard that evening, and I labored at home for 12 hours. My husband made me Dutch Babies for dinner, and I promptly vomited them into our bathtub. I told my husband I hated him. It was the most challenging night in my memory.
At 7 AM the next morning, my water broke and things became more “intense” (read: horrible).
As I ran to the car in my pajamas screaming expletives at my husband, a massive contraction brought me to my knees in the middle of Walmsley Avenue. It was 7:30 AM, and parents were dropping their girls off at Dominican High School. It was probably the best birth control in the world. You’re welcome.
When we got to the hospital I was 3-4 centimeters, and they admitted me to the Alternative Birthing Center for delivery. As most women are, I was super disappointed with my weak progress and was plotting ways to convince everyone that I needed an epidural. I swayed in the shower, held by my sweet husband who I decided I did not hate anymore. I hung from some contraption on the ceiling and howled at the moon. Finally, I was allowed in the tub and felt some sweet relief. I fell asleep in between my contractions, face hitting the water to wake me up again. In the tub, I finally surrendered to the process and unbeknownst to me, things moved along at rapidly once I stopped fighting.
Three hours after I arrived at the hospital, I felt my abdominal muscles contracting down around the baby. I looked up at the midwife, who was sitting patiently next to me in a rocking chair and let her know what I was feeling. She looked down into the water, and her face lit up as she informed me that my son had a lot of dark hair. I sobbed hysterically for 10 minutes. I was going to birth my child. I was able to do it without fear and under my own power. Forty-five minutes later, my own small miracle, Adrian swam into the tub water. My husband and I pulled all 8 pounds 8 ounces and 22 inches of him out of the water and watched him take that first breath as I held him to my chest and experienced the most surreal natural high as my hormones surged, and I fell deeply in love with my baby. A nurse from upstairs watched, mouth agape, as she declared she had never seen a first time mother birth her baby so quickly after arriving to the hospital. She had also never seen an unmedicated birth.
No accomplishment in my life holds a candle to the pride and elation I felt when I gave birth.
I want that feeling for all women, regardless of the way they choose to get it done. Birth is messy. It is ecstatic and wild and intense and beautiful and, at times, out of control. I’m so thankful for the doctors and midwives that support and guide women gently toward safe and healthy births that leave mom feeling whole and loved, and I look forward to the day when I may join them in my own practice. Before I gave birth, I had so many questions and so many doubts. Now I know for sure there’s another way.
About Ashley Morgan
Ashley is a 3rd year medical student currently on a year-long hiatus raising her sweet son Adrian with her husband Spencer. Ashley and Spencer met in Cape Town, fell in love, and decided to make New Orleans their temporary-but-maybe-forever home. Her passions include babies, thinking about exercising, and improving birth for all women.