A Birth Story: One Mom's Tale of Natural Childbirth
Anne-Marie Kavulla wanted to give birth naturally. This decision, she says, was couched in both a sense of history and fear.
"I was so afraid of the epidural that I didn't want to have it," reveals the stay-at-home mom from Manhattan. "Plus, everyone in my family had had natural childbirth. It was something my mom had done, so I knew it was something I could do, too."
On March 14, 2007, Kavulla's 32-year-old body granted her a trial run. "I had what is known as false labor—it’s like labor with training wheels. It's as if your body is telling you, 'Here's what labor is going to be like, and then I am going to let you rest.' "
In false labor, she experienced contractions spaced far apart—sometimes hours apart.
"I actually slept that whole night, and then in the morning I went to see a holistic chiropractor,” Kavulla says. “She did some work on me to make sure my body was in alignment, and then by one o'clock, I started having contractions again. They were getting as close as five minutes apart."
So, Kavulla called her doula.
Her what, you say?
According to the American Pregnancy Association, "A doula is a professional trained in childbirth who provides emotional, physical and informational support to the woman who is expecting, in labor or has recently given birth. The doula's role is to help women have a safe, memorable and empowering birthing experience."
Since the onset of her false labor, Kavulla had been in constant contact with her doula. "I called her a lot—all the time. She kept saying, 'It's not happening yet. Take a hot bath, rest as much as you can.' "
With the help of her husband, Brandon, Kavulla ran a warm bath, rested and then climbed into bed. An hour later, the contractions returned—this time at a greater intensity. "They were fifteen minutes apart now and so strong, they made me stop and pay attention," says Kavulla. "I woke my husband up, and we stayed up all night long. Eventually, it got to the point where the contractions were five minutes apart, and I called my doula again. She's like, 'It's not happening yet," and I was like, 'Are you kidding me?' But sure enough, by early morning, they slowed back down again and I was even able to sleep for half an hour."
The stop-and-go contractions continued throughout the morning of March 16.
"The rule with natural childbirth is you go to the hospital late; you wait until the contractions are so strong, you can't really carry on a conversation," Kavulla says, adding that this delay helps expectant moms remain active longer in the hours before giving birth.
But later that afternoon, with Kavulla's blood pressure on the rise and one conversation-stopping contraction underway, the couple decided it was time.
"My husband called the doula and told her to meet us at the hospital. When we got to the waiting room, it was filled with women who were not far along with their pregnancies. I waddled in, and I remember feeling like the freak show in the room. Nothing fit. I was just so huge."
And about five centimeters dilated, her doctor concluded. Kavulla and her husband wound up in the labor and delivery ward, where the expectant mom discovered she had a bit of explaining to do. "My doctor wasn't going on call for a few hours yet, so when I got to labor and delivery, I had to tell everybody that I wanted a natural childbirth, and that I didn't want any medication for the pain. The doctor on call there was really surprised.
“I think he thought I was a whack job. Everything I wanted to do, he was like, 'Well, did you talk to your doctor about that?'"
By 3:30 p.m., Kavulla had settled into their delivery room; her false labor had finally developed into full-blown labor. According to hospital policy, nurses gave Kavulla an IV and they began monitoring mom and baby-to-be's heartbeats. The patient had, in the months before this moment, worked out a "secret code" with her doula—the phrase "knitting and purling" uttered or screamed in the delivery room was Kavulla's call for an epidural, negating any previous plans for a natural birth.
"I love to knit," explains Kavulla. "And just knowing that you have that option—the epidural—can help you get through the pain."
In the ensuing hours, though, the pain crescendoed, and the avid knitter tried a variety of approaches to move the birth along. "At one point I wanted to labor in the shower and my doula rolled up her pant legs and I stripped off my gown and we were in the shower, doing that,” she says. “Later, when my water broke, I was flopped over the bed and kind of crouching. I didn't do anything the normal way, like put my feet in stirrups."
"Near the end, I looked at my doula and remember thinking, I'm not sure I can do it anymore. I can see why people get the epidural," recalls Kavulla.
But, the bouts of pain passed without any choice references to knitting. "I never even thought of saying those words—the good thing is, the pain lasts for just a minute, a minute and a half, and then the contractions end. But I was swearing like a sailor, and I would move and sway and that's how I got through it."
When Kavulla started to push, the pain eased. "It sounds so weird, but I actually fell asleep in between contractions," she recalls. "I'd sleep for five minutes and as I was wading in and out of consciousness, I could hear the baby's heartbeat. It was hooked up to the monitor, and I would know when a contraction was coming because her heartbeat would speed up."
Those moments reminded Kavulla how connected she was to her unborn child.
"We were working together—I would push and then rest and hear her heartbeat,” she recalls. “She was right there with me the entire time, and it was just so amazing."
Eventually, with Kavulla exhausted and fully dilated, her doctor decided it was time. "We wanted to get the baby out at this point, and my doula suggested that I lay on my side. I turned and whoops, she came out. Just like that."
Anastasia Kavulla entered this world, naturally, at exactly 7:31 p.m., tipping the scales at 7 pounds, 8 ounces. Of that moment, her mother says: "It was euphoric. Incredible. Indescribable. I was high for two days."
And would she do it again—just the same way—without a "knitting and purling" shout?
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