[Birth Stories] Birth Is As Mental And Emotional As It Is Physical

Megan Othling explains how birth can happen as much in your head as in your body and how facing the unexpected feelings she was having during the birth of her third child was just what was needed for them to be born. She shares with Adriana the profound growth and transformation she experienced through her four births and postpartum experiences, and how she stepped into the vulnerability of accepting all her feelings – even the unpopular ones.

 

 

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Transcript

Birth Is As Mental And Emotional As It Is Physical

Adriana Lozada: Welcome to Birthful, Mighty Parent or Parent-To-Be. I’m Adriana Lozada and today we’ve got not one, not two or three, but four! Four birth stories courtesy of Megan Othling, and this episode is part of our Birth Beyond the Clinical Experience series. 

Megan is a fabulous birth professional who works as a birth doula, an Ayurvedic postpartum doula, a childbirth educator, and prenatal and postpartum exercise specialist. Megan is also a writer, and she lives in Albuquerque, NM, with her husband, four children, two dogs, a rabbit, a snake, and a gecko. Now, during our conversation it was just so profound to hear Megan explain how birth can happen as much in your head as in your body, and how facing the unexpected feelings she was having for her child was exactly what was needed in order for them to be born. Now, the feelings that were coming up for Megan were not easy and really not the most popular ones, but her willingness to not only voice them but work on not judging herself for having them. And really just stepping into the vulnerability of accepting that in herself while also sharing what she was feeling with her team— I mean that is some intense work toward exploring the intimate nature of birth that Nekole Shapiro talked about during her episode that is also a part of our Birth Beyond The Clinical Experience series. 

There is so much growth and transformation through these four stories and so many, so many good takeaways, not just for birth but also for the postpartum period, that you might just want to listen to this episode more than once! 

Now, a couple of things before we jump in. The first is that during our conversation there is a mention of miscarriage. We don’t go into the details, but it is mentioned. And the second is that, since we’re doing four birth stories, this episode is a little bit longer than usual, but so worth it. Alright! You’re listening to Birthful. Here to inform your intuition. 

Adriana: Megan, welcome to the show. 

Megan Othling: Thank you. 

Adriana: So let’s think back to, you know, when you were pregnant with your first, what were your feelings and thoughts about birth then? What did you know and what were your wishes for that prep for that labor and birth?

Megan: I feel like I knew maybe more than the average person with their first child. My sister had had, well she was pregnant with her fourth, also my older sister. And she had had all of them naturally or unmedicated. And my mom had had all four of us unmedicated. Well, actually, three— because the first was born in 1979 and they just didn’t ask you what you wanted, at that time. So I knew that I could do it. I… There was no… There wasn’t as much fear as I think a lot of people have going into it. There was a lot of confidence in a woman’s body and the design of it and how you were made to birth babies. And there’s not really a lot to be afraid of. 

Adriana: You had great role models and people around you to look up to that framework! 

Megan: Yeah. So that’s a really big gift, I think, to not have a lot of baggage to come in with. So, yeah, and also when I was a kid, I wanted to be a midwife for… since I was probably like ten, and then I realized all the schooling that would go into it and thought maybe I’m not that scientifically-minded. So doula is kind of the next best thing, I guess, for me. 

Adriana: How cool that you always knew that you wanted to do something like this? 

Megan: Yeah. So, I’ve always been interested in birth and fascinated by it, and the development of babies and all of that. So it wasn’t like I was just jumping into it when I got pregnant. 

Adriana: So then you had that in mind of having, you know, a natural vaginal birth or a non-medicated vaginal birth at the hospital. And did you do anything during pregnancy, specifically, to prepare? 

Megan: I’m a little embarrassed. I didn’t really do a lot to prepare because besides, you know, talking to my sister and my mom, and I was one of the first of my group of friends to have a baby, so that was my pool, was my mom and my sister. So just a lot of talking about it, yeah. I’m a dancer. So I’ve danced since I was little and I kept dancing, to about halfway through my pregnancy. So that probably helped— I was staying active physically. And the rest of it, I just kind of, I don’t know. I just figured I would know what to do. My body would know what to do, so I didn’t take any classes or anything. 

Adriana: Well, and like you said, you didn’t have those internal fears and that baggage to try to sort of balance out. You were already in a happy birth place, of, you know, yeah, cool. So then how did you know you were in labor? 

Megan: My water broke.

Adriana: Ahh! 

Megan: It was a nice, nice, good sign. A solid sign. Yeah, I had zero contractions and then my water broke in the middle of the night. I just rolled over and, you know, he felt that pop and then water. So I said to my husband, “I think that my water broke,” and we got up and changed the sheets, and contractions started pretty much right away after that.

And I called the midwife call line, and they said, “You know, it’s your first baby and it can take a while, go back to bed and call us in the morning.” And so I tried to do that and contractions just kept going, and kind of intensifying. So I think it was… I’m just guessing that was around 2:00 in the morning. And then, they were probably about five minutes apart by 4:00. And so we headed to the hospital at about four in the morning.

Adriana: So that did move rather quickly.

Megan: Yeah, it did. So I did the whole triage thing where they hook you up. They say it’s for 20 minutes and it’s always, always longer than that. 

Adriana: Oh, my goodness. I always say that, you know, a “short” triage is 45 minutes. 

Megan: So I was probably an hour, an hour and a half. We called my mom and she came. She’s been there for all of my kids, just my mom and my husband and I, that’s our plan. They were monitoring my contractions. In hindsight, I know they never stay right on schedule. Sometimes they’ll go three to five to seven minutes apart, but I still know that it’s happening. 

Adriana: Did they check you at that point? How far along were you?

Megan: Yeah. They checked me. I think I was just at four. So yeah, we were in triage. I remember my mom had bought me a necklace for labor. And she was trying to put it on me in the middle of the contraction. And I was just like, “No! No.” So that was the first, like, laboring woman, intense thing that I did, which is, like, hit her away. 

So, once we were out of triage, I just… I got in the birth tub right away. At the hospital where I delivered my first three, they have birth tubs in every labor room, which is pretty awesome. You’re not allowed to give birth in the tub, but you’re allowed to labor in there. So I just got in there right away and I’m pretty sure that that’s where I was for the whole time, except for, you know, when they had to get me out to do the intermittent monitoring. 

Adriana: Interesting. You had to get out of the tub for the intermittent monitoring?

Megan: At that point, I did. With later births, they did have, like, a mobile thing that, and a waterproof that they strapped on, but I guess they didn’t have it at that time. So, you see, when you have a bunch of babies in a short period of time, how things progress kind of quickly. 

Adriana: Right. Changes in technology and policies. Yeah. Yeah, no kidding. Yeah. 

Megan: So, yeah, it was basically just me and my husband in the bathroom where the tub was for most of the time. A midwife would come in and check on me every once in a while. A nurse would come in and, you know, they do the vitals and the checking every once in a while, but pretty much no one bothered us, which is pretty nice.

I didn’t have a written-out birth plan or anything, but I knew what I wanted. I had it in my head. And so they asked in triage what my plan was for medication. And I said, “Don’t offer me anything.” And they didn’t, not once. So that’s a pretty great thing.

Adriana: Yeah. They respected your wishes. 

Megan: Yeah. yeah, I think that it was, it’s pretty much a blur for my first one— and it was eight hours, start to finish, so it was pretty quick for a first birth. So we hung out in the birth tub for most of the time, and I would sleep between contractions and just drift off and then wake up in it. I was sitting there with my husband. 

I did hear my mom say, from the other room, she was telling— I don’t know if it was a nurse or a midwife— but she said, “I have bled with each of my four births.” She hemorrhaged after each one. My sister had hemorrhaged after each of her four births. And so she was just letting them know, you know, it seems to be a thing that we do in our family and whoever she was talking to said, “Oh, well, you know, that’s usually not a genetic thing, so we don’t have to worry about it.” It turns out it is. I have had that problem with all four! 

Adriana: With all four? 

Megan: Yeah. Or I would have with my second, but they were very active in the third stage. 

Adriana: Okay.

Megan: So that was just a little foreshadowing that I heard her talk about that and then I heard them basically dismiss it. Because it usually isn’t… it usually doesn’t have anything to do with genetics, but that’s just how we are in my family. We don’t bleed in other situations. So we’re not like hemophilia X. We just only bleed a lot when we have babies, yeah. 

So I got out of the tub so they could check my cervix a couple of times. And when I was complete, they said that I could push. 

Adriana: Did you feel like pushing?

Megan: I didn’t, no. Which now in hindsight, I know, like, I should have waited until I felt like pushing, but I didn’t take a class. So that’s something I could have learned! 

So I got up on the bed and I tried to push in on hands and knees, but every time I would have a contraction, my thighs would just ache and get really super weak. So I felt like I couldn’t hold myself up that way. So I ended up on my back holding my legs, neck up next to my ears. And I do remember asking “How long would this take?” Oh, and before that, they had said, “Oh, his heart rate is going down a little bit in contractions.” And I do remember having the thought, I didn’t vocalize this to anybody, but I thought, “Oh, maybe they’ll give me a c-section.” ‘Cause I was like, “Oh, this is really… This is worse than I thought I wouldn’t be. So maybe I’ll get out of it.” Obviously, I didn’t really want a c-section. I was just in the moment thinking, “I don’t know if I can do it.”

Adriana: Right. Which sounds very much like a transition thought. 

Megan: Right. 

Adriana: Yeah. And you kind of hear yourself doing it and go like, “Wait a second…” Yeah.

Megan: “I don’t want that!” And I asked, “How long does this stage usually take?” And they said “Anywhere from 30 minutes to three hours.” So I remember thinking, “Oh, heck no! This is not going to take three hours.” So I pushed so hard that I broke tons of blood vessels in my face.

By the time it was over, it was just completely splotchy and like in my… the whites of my eyes. And so I was not pushing the way I should have been. I was pushing with my face, not with my uterus, which is what needed to happen. So, but it did end up only being about 40 minutes of pushing, which still also is quick for a first baby.

Adriana: It is— it is fast, yeah. 

Megan: At one point, the midwife did say “Try not to push so much with your face.” 

Adriana: That’s really hard to do, though!

Megan: Yeah. 

Adriana: Right. Yeah, because it’s like you said before, it’s your uterus that needs to do the pushing, and that’s involuntary. You can’t control your uterus. So, you know, a more coached pushing— which is super common as you know, this is what happened to you— is when you work with your abdominal muscles and the rest of your muscles, trying to kind of squeeze that uterus from the outside, and that’s requires a lot more strength and emphasis and effort, because it’s coming from a different place.

Megan: Yeah. So, and especially never having done it before, you know, it’s you got to figure out how to work with your body. And I did remember every contraction, even when I was in the tub, I would just… And I know a lot of women do visualizations, like maybe a flower blooming, or something like that. For me, it helps to try as hard as I can to envision the actual physical what is happening, so I would visualize my cervix opening and the baby coming down every time. And so I tried to do that when I was pushing, also just thinking about everything, opening up and moving down, so that probably actually helped. 

Adriana: Absolutely! I mean, 40 minutes is quick. 

Megan: Especially since I hadn’t felt the urge to push, so I probably wasn’t actually ready to.

Adriana: Right!

Megan: So yeah. The whole labor and birth was really smooth and great and, you know, they were pretty hands-off and just let me do my thing. The hard part for me comes afterwards. So I had my son and I had him on my chest and we were trying to get him to nurse and stuff, so I got skin-to-skin right away. 

But then I didn’t have any more contractions and they were worried about it for the placenta coming. So I think she did some cord traction, and then had me pushing to get the placenta out. And then it came, but it wasn’t complete. So I had some retained placenta, so she called in an OB and had him just massage my abdomen, which is so painful. 

Adriana: The word “massage” for that needs to be changed, ‘cause there’s nothing— 

Megan: Digging from the outside with his hands, yeah! So I remember, really, this is probably the hardest part for me because I… you know, you think “I did it! I had my baby. Stop messing with me,” kind of like “Leave me alone. I did the thing that I came here to do.” And you don’t really hear about the third stage very much from people you don’t think about it, especially a traumatic one. 

So I just remember holding him and being in such pain and thinking “I’m not supposed to care about this pain.” Like, you hear all the stories about, “Oh, and all of it went away once I had my baby,” and “I just was so in love right away,” and I thought, “I am not in love with this baby. I don’t know him,” and “I do care about this pain,” like this is all that I can think of right now! And I remember feeling so guilty already about that, about not feeling what I was supposed to be feeling at the time. And I did have to have someone hold him. I had my husband hold him and then they went and did like his weight and everything. Because I just couldn’t hang on to him with all that was going on with me. 

I ended up bleeding quite a bit and they didn’t have to manually remove the placenta this time. But my mom had just gone out to tell my in-laws that the baby was born and she came in and I could see on her face that, like, something was shocking to her, because of all of the blood.

But I couldn’t see the blood. I didn’t realize how much it was. And then she just came up by my face and was talking to me and being really calm. Like she got herself under control. So that it didn’t scare me too much. But at the end I could see, after it was all over, and they gave me a shot of Pitocin in my thigh, they gave me Misoprostol, they gave me methergine, and then they gave me an IV of Pitocin to get it to stop. And so once everything was under control and I saw how much blood there was, I was like, “Oh, that… that is scary.” I guess… I didn’t have to have a transfusion, but I did have IV iron afterwards. And I was very anemic.

I think that for me, that was the biggest thing about that birth. I felt I was strong. I felt strong the whole time. I felt confident except for that one little minute in transition where I thought “Maybe I don’t have to do the rest of it.” But just the emotions and me judging my own emotions at that point, right when he was born, I think it really colored the next months of new parenthood for me, because I didn’t express what I was feeling. And so there was no one to tell me, you know, “That’s normal— of course you couldn’t separate from the pain.” It was a lot of pain. It was a scary thing that was happening.

So I kept it all inside, and I did have a struggle with depression afterwards, just because I think physically I was very anemic and that really makes it harder. And then emotionally, I was just thinking, “I’m not doing it right. I don’t love him enough.” I’m supposed to… I’m supposed to be in love with him and I don’t even know him. And like, I didn’t have that rush of joy that people talk about. And I know I’m not the only one who’s felt that way, but it’s not expressed. 

Adriana: Right, right. And did you have… What did… Was that a feeling that lasted through the first few weeks or is it just that first immediate moment?

Megan: It was… It probably lasted about eight weeks, yeah. And I also did too much afterwards. Yeah, I was… I had a hard time. I went a week postpartum, I came up to my parents’ house for Mother’s Day and it was like a big family thing. And looking back, I’m like, “I should have not been going anywhere or doing anything.” I was exhausted just from having a baby. And I was anemic, which makes it worse. And then I was doing way too much and, and making it much harder for myself physically, so. 

Adriana: On top of the emotional turmoil that you were feeling inside!

Megan: Right?! And not telling anybody about… So I remember, after that Mother’s Day, we came home and I just, well, the whole day I had just been dreading because I was like, “I’m so tired.” And my day is not going to end, my day never ends because he’s going to be up—

Adriana: Right?

Megan: —all night. And so I came home and I just remember just weeping in bed with him on my chest and just crying so hard because I knew that I wasn’t going to sleep. And yeah. So… Tell people how you’re feeling! 

Adriana: So tough, Megan! I wanna give you a hug, a retroactive hug!  

Megan: Thanks. But, so, yeah, I think it had a lot to do with not knowing what to expect in the third stage and then having it be kind of a traumatic experience, and then judging my own emotions. So that was the biggest thing I learned from that birth is just, you know, feel what you’re feeling and not… Don’t try to compare yourself with how you think other people are feeling, ‘cause you never actually know. And don’t judge your own emotions.

Adriana: Yeah, and it’s okay to feel all those emotions. 

Megan: Right?!

Adriana: We don’t love everybody all the time. We don’t love our parents all the time. We don’t love ourselves all the time. Like, there’s just… There’s nothing we love all the time. And so the same is okay for kids. You know, we love them, but they’re also sometimes little assholes that are keeping you up all night.

Megan: Right. And they’re new. I mean, a newborn is just… it’s a new person you’ve had in your womb for nine months, but it’s still… you still are just meeting them and now it’s different.

Adriana: And with a full-on personality that you can’t quite decipher because you’re figuring out what those cries mean and what those facial expressions mean. And what’s normal for a newborn, which is very different from what a child does or an adult does. 

Megan: Right. Yeah, that’s number one. 

Adriana: So that’s number one. Whew! 

Alright, so do you want to move on to number two?

Megan: Sure. So my oldest was seven months old when I found out I was pregnant with number two. So it was pretty, pretty quick afterwards, and it was on purpose, so— I always wanted all my kids to be close together. 

So he was 16 months old when she was born. I remember taking him to get a smoothie and taking him to the park that day, because I had just had an appointment and my midwife checked me.

I don’t remember how many centimeters I was, but I know that she stripped my membranes at that point. I was about four days before 40 weeks. So I was just kind of uncomfortable all day. So I thought “I’ll just make this a good day with my oldest and just have a good last day,” ‘cause I kind of had a feeling.

Adriana: You had that sense that that was going to be it.

Megan: Yeah. So I remember it was hot. It was August 29th in New Mexico, so it was very hot, and we went to the park and I was very pregnant and remember being very uncomfortable, but trying to make it a good day for him. So I think around midnight, I started feeling real contractions— not just kind of this crampy, off feeling that I had been feeling all day— and, again, they picked up pretty quickly. 

We went in probably around 4:00 in the morning, again, and again, triaged longer than I wanted it to be. But they checked me in, I think I was about five centimeters. So it was progressing pretty quickly at home. And, I remember one thing when they were walking us back to the labor room, I noticed that I was assigned a male nurse. And so I was a little bit like, “Am I going to be okay?” Because I pretty much labor naked— like, I just don’t care. I’m not going to be bothered by a hospital gown when I’m in that state. So it took about the walk to the room and then I said, “Nope, I don’t care.” I took off the hospital gown, and I was like, “He’s a labor and delivery nurse. He knows what’s going on.” 

So I got in the tub right away again, and we had talked about my hemorrhaging possibility. So we had a plan in place. They put a Hep-Lock in right away. They didn’t make me have an IV, but just a Hep-Lock, so they could put it in if I needed Pitocin at the end. And pretty much the same thing, I just stayed in the tub with my husband until I did start feeling an urge to push. 

And so I had my husband call the midwife in to check me and she said I was at six and I got pretty discouraged, ‘cause I was like, “Oh my gosh, I’m only six! And I really feel like I’m ready to have this baby.”

Adriana: Was the baby lower in your pelvis too, do you know?

Megan: She was, yeah. And ever since my first, I have carried them, you know, between my knees for the last couple of weeks! So that’s another reason, I think, that they are pretty fast, ‘cause they’re just there, ready! 

But you know, my mom reminded me, she said, “Six is really close. Six could be in half an hour. You know, you could move really fast from here.” And she said, “If you feel like pushing a little bit in the water,” she said, “You don’t have to tell the midwife, but you can give a little bit of a push at each contraction if that’s what your body’s doing.” So I did, just not like big trying-to-bring-the-baby-out pushes, but I just kind of let my body do what it was going to do for each contraction.

And then it probably was about half an hour, 45 minutes later, I asked to check me again, because it was… I was really feeling a lot of pressure and then I was complete. So they let me quote, “push.”

Adriana: I could hear it.

Megan: Yeah. So I got up on the bed again, just because that felt right for me. So I did, and I think it was probably about two official pushes and she was out. And she was actually born en caul, so she had not completely… but she had it a little bit on her head. So my water broke as she was coming out. 

Adriana: Ah, cool!

Megan: So that was cool! And I got her right on my chest again, and they, right away, they gave me all of the drugs to prevent hemorrhaging, but I did retain part of the placenta again with her, and they did actually have to manually remove it so that without any pain medication was not the most fun thing, to have an arm up there.

Adriana: Saying that is “not the most fun thing,” is, like, understating the situation, Megan. 

Megan: Yes. Yeah, to have someone’s arm up to their forearm up inside you, after you just had a baby is pretty terrible. 

Adriana: There you go!

Megan: But I did get to have her skin-to-skin right away. And I think knowing what to expect kind of made it a lot easier for me, and just having more grace for myself helped a lot. And the fact that they got it under control so quickly, really helped.

I wasn’t anemic with her. I remember feeling like… you know, with my first I stood up and I felt like my whole butt was gonna fall off, like, when I was standing up. But with her, I was up and kind of walking around a little bit. So yeah, after her, it was a lot easier. And I think the thing that I learned with her was just have grace for yourself. And you know, I had prepared myself for 45 minutes of pushing with her, and then there she was right away. So that was nice. Her birth was probably… hers and my fourth were probably the easiest ones. Hers was about eight hours start-to-finish too. So not bad. 

Adriana: And that is such a great lesson or thing to keep in mind, of having more grace with yourself, because we do put rather high levels of expectation on ourselves of what should be. And that… unfortunately, that just makes it harder. Like, we’re making it harder for ourselves. 

Megan: Right? 

Adriana: So that’s a great lesson.

Megan: Yeah.

Adriana: Yeah. 

Megan: So three? 

Adriana: Yeah, yeah. 

Megan: Number three?

Adriana: Go for three!

Megan: So my second and third are 18 months apart. So I gave myself a little more time. And the third… The whole pregnancy was just hard. We were in the process of transitioning from my husband working at an engineering lab here in Albuquerque— which he hated— to moving to be a full-time musician. At the time it was a huge financial loss, and it was a huge gamble for our family. And I was pregnant with our third child. And so…

Adriana: And you were caring for two other ones who were— 

Megan: —very young.

Adriana: Very young. 

Megan: Yes. So we had three under three for two months. So it was a lot.

Adriana: Yeah!

Megan: But so when we moved while I was pregnant, my husband was on… went on two months-long tours as a musician when I was pregnant. So it was just a lot.

I remember telling my sister… A few months before I just said, “I’m just not excited about this baby.” I said, “I know that when he comes, I will love him and he will be great, but I don’t want him right now.” Which was a hard thing to say out loud, but, you know, so I think that the only reason I talked about that is because I think it had a big impact on my labor. 

I was… So I’ve been later with each child. My first was a month, a week early. My second was about four days early. And then my third was 40 weeks, four days. I don’t want to say “late,” because it wasn’t late. 

Adriana: I like that.

Megan: So I had been checked about two weeks before he was born and I was at four centimeters. So, I was like, “Okay, we’re ready to go.” And every night I would start having contractions, and they felt they were enough to wake me up. And then I would get up and take a bath and everything would stop for about two weeks. We ended up selling our house, officially signing the papers the day after his due date. So I think that my body was just kind of like, “We are not ready to bring this baby yet because there’s too much stress going on.” And another night I started having contractions and then I got up and took a bath like I usually did, and it didn’t slow down, and it intensified. 

So we decided… We had moved out into the mountains right outside of Albuquerque, so we were about 30-40 minutes away from the hospital. So we left a little bit earlier than we thought maybe we should. But also I was like “Okay, I’m at four centimeters already and this is my third baby. So I should just go.” He ended up being the longest labor of all of my kids! And I think it really had a lot to do with my emotional state. 

I went… We went to the hospital, I was there and triaged forever. And then, I tried to get right in the tub— like I had with my first two, because that’s what worked— and every time I got in the tub, things would slow way down. I’d go back to, like, seven to ten minutes apart for my contractions. So I had to be walking the halls the whole time in order to keep things going. And I did… you know, I tried some nipple stimulation and stuff, and it got like it made a contraction happen, but nothing stuck. And I really wanted to have him that day because my midwife who had taken care of me for my prenatals for all three of them was on call that day. So I was… I wanted her. So I felt the time crunch, even though, you know, there wasn’t really one. 

And I remember once I was hanging on my husband’s neck out, right outside of the labor room, and my midwife came out to check on me and I was just crying, just sobbing. And she asked what was wrong. And I had… So many people had commented the midwives, nurses, even my mom had commented about my first two labors about how quiet and calm and peaceful I was, and so, I took that as “Okay, that’s what way… That’s my ideal. That’s how I’m supposed to be.” And I was not being quiet with my third, and I was crying and I was beside myself, so my midwife asked me what was wrong. And I just said, “I’m just not living up to my reputation. I’m embarrassed.” And she just stifled a chuckle at that and then she said, “The only thing you have to do is birth a baby. You don’t have to meet anybody’s expectations. You are not doing anything wrong. This is how this labor is for you.” 

So that gave me a little bit of encouragement and freedom, but then I still had in the back of my mind, “I’m not excited for this baby. I don’t want another baby right now.” So that was a hard thing to have in my mind while I was… while my body was trying to birth the baby. It was not compatible. 

So eventually I got to probably about six or seven. And I remember being in the labor room and just breaking down. I was sitting on a birthing ball and I just said, I just said it out loud for the first time to, even to my husband, I hadn’t expressed that to him. I had only said it to my sister. So to the whole room, the nurses and the midwife, and my mom and my husband, I just said, “I don’t want this baby. I am not excited to have this baby. And I can’t handle the two that I have.” It was… I mean, my oldest was two, so he was acting like a two-year-old, and I was feeling overwhelmed and underwater with all of that.

And I just cried really, really hard. And then I felt like, “Okay. I can do this now. I told everyone how I feel and I got a lot of tears out and I can do it.” And then, I think right after that, I threw up. So I was like, “Okay, we’re getting towards the end,” ‘cause I knew that that’s what happened with me.

And then my midwife checked me and she said, “You’re eight, and I can break your waters if you want now,” and I was just, you know, I had learned more about birth since then. I had decided that I wanted to eventually become a doula. So I’d been doing some reading and stuff and I… like, I had in my head, “Well, we should just let it happen when it happens,” but I also was done.

So I said, “Okay, you can break my waters.” And she did. Then it was about 10 minutes that I got to nine and a half and then I just started pushing, I didn’t wait for that last half centimeter, ‘cause I was… I just decided, I didn’t tell anyone.

Adriana: It was going to get out of the way.

Megan: Yeah. So, and it (the pushing stage)… I don’t remember how long it took. It wasn’t long enough to remember. He was out pretty quickly. He was big! He was 8 lbs 9 oz, which is bigger than my others were right in the seven pound range. 

Adriana: Go through the three of them, on how big they were.

Megan: My first was 7 lbs 8 oz. My second was 7 lbs 4 oz. And he was 8 lbs 9 oz. So a one pound jump was a pretty big jump. So yeah, he was born and then my placenta came. And it was complete and I didn’t retain any. So my midwife, I think she thought, “Okay. That’s the problem. That’s why she bleeds, because she retains placenta.” So she actually didn’t do any of the medications that we had done before. 

And I had him on my chest for about an hour. He nursed for about an hour, latched right away. And it was really great. And, you know, and I did have that feeling, that, “Oh, I love him so much,” which was such a blessing after having such a difficult pregnancy emotionally. So it was really this rush of joy and “He’s here!” and “I love him.” And thank you that, I love him. 

So it was really great. And then I thought, “You know, I’m good. I had… My whole placenta was delivered, and we’re good” so I got up to use the bathroom, so that I could be moved to the recovery room and the nurse was like, “Okay, she’s fine,” and didn’t come in with me. 

But my mom was not confident that I was okay. Which I’m glad about, because I went in, I got on the bathroom on the toilet and I passed a huge clot. And then I passed out and my mom caught me, ‘cause I would have fallen right on my face if she hadn’t come in with me. So… And then I bled a lot more than I had with my first. So then they did the Pitocin and all of that stuff. And then even a few hours later when we were in recovery, I passed another, like, probably mouse-sized clot. And so I called them and then they checked and they were like, “Yeah, you’re still bleeding a lot.” And she did have to go in manually and grab a bunch of clots out at that point too. And they did give me morphine for that, but it still was really, really painful. 

Adriana: No, I can’t imagine, yeah.

Megan: So that was the third one. So I think that… I mean, I just learned a lot about how much your mind and your emotions can affect your body. And if they’re not in the same place, it’s just not going to work the way it’s supposed to. So I wanted to be done with the labor, but I wasn’t ready to have the baby— and that wasn’t gonna happen. I couldn’t not have the baby and be done with the labor at the same time, so I had to figure that out before my body was gonna let me.

Adriana: And I find that, you know, look at, like, the first ones. It’s about all the hurdle of, usually— and I’m going to make generalizations here, so keep that in mind— but you know, the first ones, you’re dealing a lot more with the physical aspect of never having felt a baby try to come out from you and what contractions feel like and all of that stuff, right? So the focus tends to be more on that. And then second ones— because you have an idea of what needs to happen, right— then you’re like, it’s less exciting, of “Oh, what if…?” “There’s a contraction,” and “We got to time it,” and “Should we go now?” And it’s going to take a lot longer.

So then you’re like, “Oh yeah. Oh, this is still not bad. This is not.” And I think it kind of sneaks around you. And so I find second babies tend to come quicker, because we’re just not paying attention to them as much, you know.

Megan: Yeah, not taking it seriously. 

Adriana: You’re kind of ignoring it, because you think, “Well, this is not that bad yet.” And so your mind’s… you are out of the way, so that primal brain can do its thing. And then all the… her hormones flow and it flushes and you have a baby quicker. And then third babies, you’ve gone through all that with the physical. So it’s like, you’ve graduated from the physical, but then I find the third babies are mind game. The pregnancies tend to be different. Each one asks a different level of, I don’t know, transition or change in yourself, or— it’s not necessarily asking for something physical of you, but asking some… When I say “you,” it’s more of that as a person, as a soul, as an entity, as a, you know, those big questions of “Why am I here?” And “What does this all mean?” It asks you to face bigger stuff. 

Megan: Yeah.   

Adriana: And then, yeah, I find that often that the third babies become a mind game, and you’re describing it so interestingly, of it’s not about birthing with your body at that point. It’s about birthing at a different level. 

Megan: Yeah, it was almost like my body was saying, “Yes, I can do this… but you’ve got to get your head figured out first, before I’m going to let this baby go.” Because I knew that my body could do it. I knew that I knew that I could just let it birth my baby, that I could be confident in my body, but it was my mind and my emotions that needed to get on board before my body would let it happen.

Adriana: And also a different question, but you did experience some postpartum depression after your first? 

Megan: Yes. 

Adriana: There is a general higher incidence of having postpartum depression again, after you’ve had it. Do you think that came into play during this pregnancy and with the feelings that you were having? 

I mean, because you had quite a bit of triggers going on for postpartum depression that… You seem to be having, you know, sleep deprivation. You had two little kids aside from being pregnant and uncomfortable and all that. So I’m sure you weren’t getting that much sleep. Then you had financial stress, which is a trigger. Then you were moving, which is another trigger. Like, you were stacking them up. 

Megan: Yeah. Yeah, and I was worried about that. I was afraid that that was going to happen because of all of that. And because of my experience with my first, but I… you know, I’m a spiritual person, so I really think it was the grace of God that protected me from that at the end. I think I probably was experiencing some prenatal depression. I mean, that would be how I would describe how I was feeling before. 

But just my general default emotion is guilt, so the fact that I didn’t feel— after he was born, I didn’t feel a bunch of guilt, of about how I had been feeling when I was pregnant. I just felt grateful. I just felt gratitude for him and him and the fact that I was able to feel all the things that I had missed out on feeling with my first, and throughout my pregnancy, I just felt grateful. I didn’t let myself feel guilty about the past. I let myself feel grateful for what was happening right then, which was pretty huge. 

Adriana: Yeah. Yeah. And that you had those feelings of that skin-to-skin first hour, that you were able to have that surge of, “I love you” when, and that’s beautiful. I’m glad you had that. 

Megan: Me too. 

Adriana: Yeah. So then did you have to have a transfusion because of this more bleeding or were you anemic as well?

Megan: They gave me IV iron again. and then I had, you know, I had to take iron when I went home. So no, I haven’t ever had to have a transfusion thankfully, but I think I’m just, like, right on the edge of that line. I was definitely anemic after him, but it wasn’t as bad as my first. Either it wasn’t as bad, or I knew what was going on. So I don’t know if it was just like, “Okay, this is how I feel after I bleed a lot.” Instead of, “What is happening? Why can’t I do what I want to do?” 

Adriana: Were you more gentle to yourself during that postpartum period? 

Megan: I think I was, but at the same time I had two other kids. So I was as gentle as I was able to be. Yeah. So that was number three. 

Adriana: So the number four?

Megan: Number four. I gave myself a nice long break with number four, ‘cause these two are 26 months apart, so. 

Adriana: Look at you!

Megan: A whole two years— more than two years. I did experience a miscarriage in between my third and fourth, so. 

Adriana: I’m so sorry. 

Megan: Oh, thank you. It’s never okay. But it’s okay. 

Adriana: Right. But I am sorry.

Megan: Thank you. So we got pregnant with our fourth live baby very soon after the miscarriage, the midwives told me to wait and I said, “If my body can get pregnant again, it will.” So I didn’t listen to them. Which I’m not advising… I’m just saying that’s what I did. 

And the pregnancy was great with him. They did scare me a little bit because they said on the ultrasound that he had a two-vessel umbilical cord instead of a three. And they said sometimes that can be nothing, sometimes it can mean a small baby, sometimes it can mean all of the worst things you’ve ever imagined. Of course… which, sometimes I wish they would just not give me that information, if they’re not going to be able to give me a concrete thing of what it means, then just don’t make me worried.

Adriana: Right?!

Megan: But it ended up fine and ended up not meaning anything. So I was at a freestanding birth center with my fourth. 

Adriana: What made you switch from hospital to birth center?

Megan: It was insurance, mostly, because of the career change we had a change of insurance, and my former midwife wasn’t covered anymore. And then this birth center was actually super cheap.

So, I really didn’t have a negative feeling about hospital birth— besides really the triage is what I wanted to skip, because it’s just not any fun. But you know, they were very respectful with my first three blur births of what I wanted and I am very hands-off and I was able to do what I wanted to do.

So, like I said, each child has been later and later. So I was 40 weeks, six days and I knew… so that was a Saturday, I knew that I was going to have an appointment on Monday and they were going to have to start talking about induction methods because in our state you’re not allowed to have a birth center birth past 42 weeks. So I wasn’t worried about going to 42 weeks. I knew that he would come when he was going to come, but I didn’t want to have to be induced and I didn’t want to have a hospital birth when I had been planning on not having a hospital birth. 

So I did go to an acupuncturist that morning of 40 weeks, six days, and I had a couple of contractions sitting there with needles, so I thought, “Okay, maybe this is working.” And then after that, I was just, like, feeling more and more pressure— not necessarily contractions, but just pressure, and uncomfortable. And then I was making dinner for my kids at about six o’clock and really started feeling like, “Okay, these are real contractions.”

So, while I was putting them to bed, I talked to them and I said, “I might not be here in the morning. You know, your grandpa’s going to be here and he’ll take care of you ‘cause I might be gone and have the baby.” So I just made sure to explain to them and have as dedicated and peaceful a bedtime I could while I was having contractions. And then I went upstairs and cleaned up the playroom.

Adriana: Of course you did.

Megan: Because people were going to be at my house! Even though it was my family. So I’m crawling around putting toys away and pausing every once in a while and my husband’s asking me, “Do you really need to be doing that right now?” I said, “Yes, I do!” And then I took a bath and things didn’t slow down, and I gave my husband instructions and I leaned on the counter and he made me, like, a coconut water/honey/lemon juice/sea salt drink, to have electrolytes during labor. 

And then I called the midwife and I said, “You know, this is what’s happening.” And she said, “Okay, well, there’s someone else here laboring right now. You come when you’re ready,” ‘cause they knew. They just said, “You know when you need to come, because this is number four and you know what you’re doing.”

So I said, “Okay!” And I got in bed and we were in the middle of watching Friends, the whole series, on Netflix. I just remember we were watching Friends. My contractions were slowing down when I was in bed, but they were still very intense so they were probably getting more intense, but further apart. And then I got up to go to the bathroom, and there was pink, so I had a little show, and so I said, “Okay, we should go,” because we were still 40 minutes away from the birth center. So I thought it would be a good idea to go. So we actually live on my parents’ property, so I just called my dad and he just came over. So it wasn’t like we had to wait 30 minutes for him to get there and then go. So we left and my water broke about maybe 20 minutes into the drive, which is also not fun. 

Adriana: Did you have anything down on the seats? Random doula question!

Megan: No, I didn’t, ‘cause I just… I didn’t. So they did give us one, when we were leaving the birth center, they gave us some chux pads, so I didn’t have to sit on a wet seat. 

But so yeah, we got there, they checked me and I was at four centimeters, but my waters had broken and I got… And then I immediately felt nauseous and I got in the tub when it filled up.

And my midwife, I think she just didn’t realize how quickly things were happening, because I was only at four when I got there, and so she was just kind of chatting and talking a lot and I was just getting so annoyed. And she had… the mother who was there before me had been transferred, and so she was texting the other midwife to kind of touch base on what was going on. And she had all her sounds on her phone, and so it’s just, like, while she’s texting and I’m… my contractions are getting closer and closer and closer, and I was just like, “Please, turn off your phone!” I was pretty grouchy with this birth, but I didn’t care, ‘cause I just knew what I needed.

Adriana: Yeah!

Megan: And I needed her to be quiet! And I just… I had decided before, I just said to myself, “I’m going to be as loud as I need to be. I’m going to keep my jaw open, à la Ina May Gaskin sphincter law, just going to keep everything open and make whatever sounds I need to make and people can deal with it.” 

So she kept talking to me, and she was like, “Okay, I want to make sure that you have something to drink. Do you want some chocolate milk? Do you want some apple juice? Do you want something?” And I’m like, “No, I have something to drink.” And she said, “Well, I just want to make sure you have something with calories.” And then she and my mom are talking. She’s like (my mom’s like), “I don’t think that I brought anything with calories.” And my husband is just kind of trying to focus on me. And in between contractions, I just said, “I have calories!” because I had made my electrolyte drink. And so then everyone kind of laughed and shut up. 

So she had just finished telling me, you know, “Make sure you drink something every hour.” And then she went out of the room and I said, “I’m pushing.” And this was 40 minutes after we arrived and I was at four centimeters and I wasn’t trying to push. It was just, I was just pushing and then my husband caught him. He stuck his hands in the water and caught him, because she didn’t get in there yet. She didn’t realize that “I’m pushing” meant “I’m crowning.”

Adriana: Means “Baby’s here and out in a minute,” right?

Megan: “Here he is!” So my husband actually stuck his hands in the water and caught him, which he’s a little bit of a squeamish guy, so he just did what he had to do. But yeah, so 40 minutes from arrival, there was my baby!

Adriana: Yeah!

Megan: And I really… I could physically feel him getting lower. I could physically feel my cervix dilating. I could feel him getting lower and lower each contraction. So I knew probably once I hit the water, I was probably already close to transition, ‘cause I just was letting myself open up and I was relaxed. And there he was! So that was very fast.

Adriana: You had to focus on the right thing, yeah. 

Megan: Yeah, so. 

Adriana: I’m sitting here listening to you, smiling. I’m like, “Yeah!” 

Megan: Yeah. So yeah, and I did… They gave me the shot right away. They did all of the active management. I still bled more than my midwife wanted me to. She… I remember her, she did have to reach in and get clots out again. She said, “Well, I just don’t understand why this is happening.”

And I said, “I do. This is just what happens. This is what happens with me.” And so I was able to not be freaked out about it by number four, because I was like, “It’ll be okay. The drugs will work. I will be okay.” And I was, and I got to have him skin-to-skin for most of the time. And we stayed at the birth center for probably three hours.

And then, you know, you go home, but we didn’t go home. We actually went to a hotel for a few days, just the three of us, because I knew that having a five-, three-, and two-year-old, I was not going to get a lot of rest. So I was making sure that I had some. So we went, stayed in a hotel for just a few days and just, you know, got to know my new one and have some time with just him.

Adriana: That sounds lovely!

Megan: So, yeah. It was really good.

Adriana: That’s a fantastic journey. What was it that you learned with the fourth?

Megan: I think this, it carries over from the third, of, you know, being kind of really worried about “living up to my reputation,” whatever that means, and being quiet and being calm. And then with the fourth I was just like, “No, if I need to yell and scream I’ll yell and scream. If I need to tell people to be quiet, I’ll tell them to be quiet. I’m just going to do… I’m going to make it what I need it to be. I’m going to make the environment be the way that I need it to be in order for me to have this baby.” So I think just a lot of freedom in that fourth birth. I was giving myself the freedom to vocalize and be/do what I needed to do in the moment, and I was not judging myself and not letting my perceived judgments of other people bother me. Which, I’m sure people never were judging me in the first place, but you know, it’s just projected.

Adriana: Yeah. And I think you always think you’re louder than you are.

Megan: Yeah. I did have a birth photographer for my fourth because I knew that it was going to be my last baby. So I wanted to really, you know, have all the things I wanted. So she was also a doula and she said— right after he came out— she said, “I knew you were pushing.” She’s like, “I knew you were in transition from the sounds you were making before,” but she’s like, “I didn’t have my doula hat on right then, so I didn’t say anything,” ‘cause she had her photographer hat on. 

Adriana: Well, and you, clearly, by this point had no problem advocating for yourself and just letting things go. 

Megan: Yeah. 

Adriana: Is there anything that you want to add? 

Megan: What I’ve been really kind of passionate about lately is letting moms know to have grace for themselves— in pregnancy and labor and birth and postpartum— especially in our silly bounce [back] culture that we have. And we’re not made to be bouncy after having a human being. So just… it was really great to give myself kind of a guilt-free couple of days knowing that my other kids were fine. They were having fun with their grandparents and they were fine. And I could just get to know my baby. 

And I… Probably the very best parenting advice that I ever got was from my sister with my fourth baby. She just said, “Look at your baby while he’s nursing. Just look at him,” you know, “Don’t look at your phone. Don’t look at your computer. Just look at his face and get to know him, and really soak it in.” And I still think about that when I’m tempted to try to get something done he’s nursing. I just remember looking at your baby, just be in this moment with him right now. And it helps me with all of my children. 

Adriana: Do you find that this fourth one did any of your depression symptoms show up or come back, or was that not an issue this time?

Megan: It was not an issue. I did have my placenta encapsulated this time. I feel like I’m getting more and more crunchy every baby— 

Adriana: Well, you know…

Megan: —as I’m learning more too. And I really feel like that helped. I know it’s not, you know, for everybody. Everyone’s placenta is different too. So who knows what’s actually in it. But I feel like that helped for me. I did feel a lot better afterwards, and so I might have, once I got home, started doing a little too much. And so, like, the first two weeks, I felt awesome and I was just happy and really on a high. And then after that I was like, “Okay, wait a second.” I remember feeling, at six weeks, I felt like, “Oh no, now I don’t have an excuse.” 

So, like, I started doing things too soon, and now if I feel tired or if I feel overwhelmed, I’m not gonna have that “just had a baby card” to play because people are going to see, you know, “She’s fine! She’s doing this. She’s been doing laundry for weeks. Why should she have an out now?” So I remember feeling, like, kind of a panic, like, “Oh, no! I’ve tricked them and now I don’t… now I can’t go back and rest,” but that’s also not true. You can do whatever you need to do at any stage. 

Adriana: Absolutely! Plus you’ve got four little ones to make you tired, seriously.

Thank you so, so much for sharing all your stories. I truly appreciate it. 

Megan: Thank you!

That was the wonderful Megan Othling who is a doula and writer from Albuquerque, NM, where she lives with her husband, four children, two dogs, a rabbit, a snake, and a gecko. 

Megan is passionate about supporting and advocating for birthing and postpartum people. And you can learn more about Megan at womanofvalorbirth.com or connect on Instagram at @womanofvalorbirth. 

And you can connect with us @birthfulpodcast.

In fact, if you are not driving, it would be just lovely if you would take a screenshot of this episode right now and post it to your stories sharing your biggest takeaway from the episode. Make sure to tag @birthfulpodcast so we can see it and amplify it.

You can find the in-depth show notes and transcript of this episode at birthful.com, where you can also learn more about my birth and postpartum preparation classes and download your free postpartum preparation plan. 

Also, if you are finding that this podcast is your go-to resource for birth and postpartum preparation then, the best way to support us is by taking any one of my perinatal classes, doing one of my doula workshops, or trying out some of the fantastic products made by our sponsors. This is what allows us to continue doing this work. 

Birthful is created and produced by me, Adriana Lozada, with production assistance from Aysia Platte.

Thank you so much for listening to and sharing Birthful. Be sure to follow us on Goodpods, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music, and everywhere you listen, and then come back for more ways to inform your intuition. 

 

CITATION

Lozada, Adriana, host. “Birth Is As Mental And Emotional As It Is Physical.” Birthful, Birthful, April 05, 2023. Birthful.com.

 


 

Megan Othling, who is white presenting with light hair in a long pixie cut, is wearing big glasses and looking directly at the camera with a sage expression.

Image description: Megan Othling, who is white presenting with light hair in a long pixie cut, is wearing big glasses and looking directly at the camera with a sage expression

About Megan Othling

Megan Othling is a birth and postpartum doula, childbirth educator, and prenatal and postpartum exercise specialist (as well as an Ayurvedic postpartum doula!) serving Albuquerque, New Mexico and the surrounding areas. 

Megan has always been awed by pregnancy and birth, but really fell in love with it after having her own four children.  She believes in birthing people and their ability to nurture and birth their babies in the best way for them and loves seeing people meet the challenges and triumphs unique to each journey. Megan is passionate about supporting birthing people and their partners as they find their strength and nurture the wisdom they will need to face the challenges of pregnancy, birth, and new parenthood. She provides physical and emotional support for birthing people and their partners throughout pregnancy, labor, and birth, and her desire is to foster a deeper connection between partners when a partner is involved. She will also passionately support single parents!

Find Megan on Substack, or on Instagram @meganothlingdoula

 

 

All photos are used with permission, courtesy of Megan Othling and Olivia Jean of Olive Bee Photography. (©Olive Bee Photography)

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