#10 | Cynthia Overgard's Birth Story

February 12, 2020

The story of Cynthia's first birth has been published internationally in various print media between 2007 and 2020, under the the original title Off Her Back and, later, Taking Charge of Giving Birth. Some of those publications include Mothering magazine, Pathways to Family Wellness, and a textbook called Opposing Viewpoints: Childbirth. It's the story of a once-uninformed, overwhelmed woman who channeled her anxiety into educating herself, advocating for herself, and later firing her obstetrician, hiring midwives, and facing her fear of natural childbirth using HypnoBirthing. In the end, she birthed her 8 lb. 14 oz son in exactly three hours from start to finish, and four years later, her 9 lb. 7 oz. daughter during a planned home birth with midwives Amy Romano and Cynthia's co-host Trisha Ludwig. This is the story that prompted Cynthia to leave her corporate career and become a childbirth educator and advocate.

In this episode, Cynthia tells you the remarkable story of the pregnancy and birth of her son in her own words. 

Other Related Articles by Cynthia Overgard

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You can sign up for online and in-person HypnoBirthing childbirth classes for pregnant couples taught by Cynthia Overgard, as well as online breastfeeding classes and weekly postpartum support groups run by Cynthia & Trisha at HypnoBirthing of Connecticut

Please remember we don’t provide medical advice, and to speak with your licensed medical provider related to all your healthcare matters. Thanks so much for joining in the conversation, and see you next week!

View Episode Transcript

I'm Cynthia Overgard, owner of HypnoBirthing of Connecticut, childbirth advocate and postpartum support specialist. And I'm Trisha Ludwig, certified nurse midwife and international board certified lactation consultant. And this is the Down To Birth Podcast.
Childbirth is something we're made to do. But how do we have our safest and most satisfying experience in today's medical culture? Let's dispel the myths and get down to birth.

So today I'm going to tell you  my birth story. My son's birth story is what brought me into the field that I'm in. And I'll just tell you now that I wrote his story after he was born, it took me about a year to get around to writing it. And at the time, I submitted it to my favorite magazine in the world, Mothering magazine, which was published by Peggy O'Mara, and they had a staff of writers and they rejected 99% of article submissions. They accepted my story, and they made it the feature story of their annual pregnancy special. And then, other magazines picked up the article asked me permission to republish it. And over the next few years, the story ended up published in more than 70 countries.

So why is this story so remarkable?

Is it that it was such a happy story, maybe. I think the reason, however, is that I was so terribly uninformed in the beginning. I was so terribly unempowered at the start of my pregnancy, and within the course of nine months, and I've always said Thank God, Pregnancy lasts that long because it gives us time, I changed, I changed myself, I changed my provider, and I took matters into my own hands. So I think that's why this story became widespread. And I'm just going to tell it to you, in my own words today. It was originally titled off her back, you'll find out why. And the most recent publications, I named it taking charge of giving birth, and in fact, pathways magazine just republished it in early 2020, because they did a commemorative specials and they chose it. And so it's just gotten republished, again, which is, which is fun. So I want to get into my story now. I came out of undergrad and went right into business school, to get my MBA in finance, and I got hired by GE, which brought me to Connecticut. I was busy with this corporate career, and I I became a finance Professor as well at University of Connecticut. So I would work all day and then I would teach to juniors and seniors at the undergraduate level. You know, before we ever get pregnant, we can spend our time dedicating ourselves to our career. And suddenly, when we become pregnant, we can feel like we don't know the first thing about any of this. And everyone else is an expert. Everyone else knows more than we do. And it's intimidating. It comes with a lot of mixed emotions. I met my husband, Eric, and we got married. And a couple years later, when we even started trying, we conceived right away, so I was grateful and excited and really, really scared. As soon as I discovered I was pregnant.

I remember thinking, Oh, that doctor that I see once a year for my annual exam. Wow, okay, I guess I'm having my baby with her. Isn't it interesting that I didn't even stop to consider that. Maybe I I would want to birth my baby with someone else. I kind of scanned my mind for everything I knew about her. Because I had only lived in Connecticut at that point for six years maybe. And I had seen her once a year for my checkup. And I thought, What do I know about her? Well, she seems nice, whatever that means. Every single year, I make an 8am appointment. I always ask what her earliest appointment is, and they always say 8am. So I always make an 8am appointment.

And I don't think she ever once saw me before 9:30am. And it was always really hard for me because I had my own busy career to deal with and I had to drive to work afterwards and worry about whatever meeting was on my calendar next. And that one day per year when I had that annual it was it was stressful for me.

And I've sometimes really felt resentful that there was this understanding between her and me that she was more important that her schedule was more important. I was not a victim of that circumstance, because I could have left. And I'm really surprised I didn't. But it took me that experience to change and help me evolve into who I am now. I would never stay with a doctor now who took me an hour and a half late without an apology. Year after year, time and time again, there was this feeling like, Well, she's important. Doctors take people late. We don't have choices here. This is how it is.' And I disagree with that completely, now. it's not how it is. I don't see any doctors who take me late. If they do by some happenstance. They're apologetic and I'm forgiving. But that wasn't how it was with this doctor. Little subtleties in our relationships with people can speak volumes. And that did speak volumes to me. I just really wasn't listening.

So I was seeing this doctor and I'd like to say I'm a pretty regular Metropolitan. New York, American woman, but on the inside, I'm very naturally inclined. I really trust my body. I've always trusted my body, a credit my father with that my mom has contributed to who I am in vast ways, and I'm a lot like my mom, but my father contributed to making me this way. And I recently told him this because when I was a little girl, maybe about once a year, I would be home with the flu or home with some kind of sickness. And my mother worked as a speech pathologist in the school so she could never leave work as easily as he could leave his corporate job. So my dad would come home and sit with me when I was sick. And I remember you would say, just trust the fever. Cynthia, your body knows what it's doing. It's heating up because it's going to kill whatever virus you have. Everything is working perfectly just stay comfortable and hydrate. He always gave me this message that my body was working for me. I think there was a time is funny, I think I was a young teen or a teenager once and I said, I said something like, I think I have a headache. And my dad said, yeah, that's all in your head, kind of a Yogi Berra type sense of humor there.

But he was just always giving me this message that my body was working for me and everything was functioning as it should. And as I say, all the time to my clients, beliefs aren't good or bad. beliefs aren't right or wrong. beliefs either serve us or they don't. And it's my opinion that the beliefs my father instilled in me to trust my body just when all else fails to trust my body. I really believe that belief has served me really well in my life. And as I was saying, I was seeing this doctor and I would say the only thing that set me apart probably from the majority of the, the clients she was seeing, I could never understand why so many women I was meeting or Having cenarion sections, I just couldn't make sense of it. My mom is really small framed. And my brothers were like nine and nine and a half pounds. And then I came along and I was, I was 10. Three. So I always grew up knowing I was really big at birth, and my mom had these big babies, no one questioned it, no one asked her if she had a C section. It was not uncommon ever before for women of any size to have babies of any weight.

So the fact that I grew up knowing that story that I was such a big baby, and my brothers were so big at birth, it just was just something that was normal to us.

So suddenly, I'm with this doctor, and I'm just really thinking, why how come like every woman I work with is telling me why she had to have a Syrian section, because surely some of the time that's needed, but how can it be like how can it be that more than half of the women I know are ending up in stores. Surgery just how is that even possible? There was just a common sense. Questioning in my mind. I had no information. I had no facts. I just had my intuition. And I started to follow it. I was really scared of giving birth. But I definitely wanted to know what it would be like if I could if it was in the cards for me to have a vaginal birth. It's really what I wanted. And despite that I'm so naturally inclined. I definitely thought I'm going for the epidural. Why did I think that having never had a baby before?

Because society convinced me that that's what I would want and there's nothing wrong with that. But I hadn't been in that situation before. How was I so sure, I would want to be basically senseless through it numb through it. dental work. Yeah, I get it like chewed me up. I don't want to feel good dental work because I don't have a belief in my mind that we're supposed to be drilling America. I know. It's good for us. When we need dental work, but with childbirth,  we would have to make the argument that nature somehow messed up if we have to intervene in a way where we aren't meant to experience it. So all options are good. I just look back and think it's funny how I was so quick to think, Oh, I definitely want an epidural. I know now that was my fear talking. So it's a very legitimate choice. One of my best friends had an epidural. In her labor, she labored on her own for like 20 hours, and then got an epidural just to get a break. So that's all like, that's wonderful because she did it on her terms. But I wasn't coming from that place at all. I was just coming from like, you know, oh, dear God, like, let me not feel this. So that's where I was in the very beginning. I was at work one day in my office. At that point, I was working at MasterCard, not working on the internet, reading about pregnancy and the most serendipitous thing happened. In retrospect, I didn't end up on one of those pregnancy websites where there's so much misinformation. And I say that now I know that now. There is so much misinformation on all of those websites. Usually there's no data whatsoever. At best, they might quote a doctor saying something and half the time, it's just some random belief that is widespread that isn't backed up by data at all. Some of the topics that our podcast covers all the time around evidence based birthing, but anyway, I didn't I didn't land on one of those websites. I landed on who knows how, but this blog post, this was it. This was 2004. My son was born in early in March of 2005. So this was 2004. And I landed on some woman's basically, blog post depicting her home birth to her third child.

And this just blew my mind.

I thought, you know, my first thought was like, Oh my God. Did she survive? Well, yeah, obviously she survived. But I was thinking What happened? Lay it on me. Show me how bad this is because I know you didn't have an epidural. I know you did this naturally. I'm really scared. I'm really nervous. And Come on, like, be honest, be straight with me. What does it feel like? These were the thoughts in my mind as I just started to read her story. And I remember thinking that I had heard about home birth, and I always thought it was this life or death situation. So it just completely intrigued me, as I'm sure many of you can understand. I started reading her story getting really absorbed, scrolling down slowly. And as I was reading each stage of her labor, she was accompanying each portion of her story with these photos. Photos that made it irrefutable that she was comfortable the whole time. How is this possible as thinking?

I always knew our ancestors gave birth naturally.

But how is it possible?

She looks relaxed and happy.

I never knew that was possible.

And finally, there's the photo of her baby emerging. And her two older children were there witnessing and you'd never have your kids in the room if something traumatic is going on. And she was nuzzling with her husband, she was smiling and dazzling kind of nose to nose with her husband, while their third baby was coming out. And it just blew my mind. I'm not kidding at all. When I say I asked myself if she just concocted the whole thing if she photoshopped the whole thing, because I knew natural birth was possible. I just never thought it could be happy. I knew it could be happy after the fact. You know, you hear all the women say, Oh, the good news is you forget about it later. She thinks like that's no consolation to a woman who's pregnant and it's all ahead of her. But she was in the middle of it. And she was so happy and comfortable. It blew my mind.

And at that point, I had one hand on the mouse. I closed my eyes briefly, I placed my, my left hand on my chest. And I said to myself, what's going on here? What are you feeling here?

Because I was feeling this, this ache in my chest. It was, it was palpable. And I just closed my eyes and said, What's going on? There's like an emotion getting trapped there. I could feel it. I was having a physical reaction to what I was reading. And the answer bubbled up right away. And the answer was longing. That was the first moment where I admitted to myself that on some level, on some crazy deep down unreachable level, I longed to have a natural birth, or I longed to have a good birth, a Happy Birth story to tell my child and as soon as I admitted to myself That I felt longing I immediately talked over that voice. And this is what that voice said. 'Cynthia, women like you don't birth like this Your, your we don't birth like this. People in your family don't birth like this. Women who you went to business school don't prep like this. She's lucky. She's special. Who knows how she was raised to give her this confidence to birth this way. But Wow. I'd love to be her for a day and know what it's like to be that kind of "special woman" '--  and I really thought that it took a special kind of person. I don't think so now, but to some extent, I think that because she was coming from place of trust, and there is so little of that in our culture.

So I just thought, Wow, good for her like, Oh my gosh, she's so lucky. She gets to be her through that experience. So I just dismissed it and thought well Wow, good for her. That's awesome. And that was it. And then at the bottom of her story, she said, Listen, if you're pregnant, whoever you are, if you're out there, whatever kind of birth, you're planning, hospital home birth, it's all fine. It's all great. But read this book. And it was haensi goers book the thinking Woman's Guide to a better birth. And to this day after having read, certainly hundreds of books on childbirth and thousands of articles on childbirth, if not 10s of thousands.

I still say Henci Goer's book is is my favorite. So I thought, Ah, that's why I was meant to find this website. That's why I was meant to find this woman's birth story. Looking back on my life, I think it was twofold. It was so that I would discover that longing and find out about this book, but at the time I dismissed the first one and I thought okay, the book. So I ordered it. I got it in the mail very shortly after and I started reading. It was one of the hardest things I ever started reading in my life. It wasn't intellectually difficult. It was a it's a very well written book, loaded with data and honesty and frankness. But it was difficult to read because it's really hard to go from completely ignorant in one field to really well informed in a short period of time. Normally, that sort of thing happens in our lives in stages. We slowly become informed when we grow up on some of the realities in the world. But when we're really uninformed as an adult, and we quickly become an informed, it's really it takes a lot of emotional courage. And that was what was being asked of me by reading that book and I kid you not there was a day I was reading that book I was outdoors. reading it I remember is a beautiful day in the summertime early in my my first trimester. And I remember I spontaneous To shut the book closed because I read something that just I don't even remember what it was right now I'm so used to all of the information at this point. But I just closed the book right away, it was too much for me to keep reading it was too much. And then I slowly peel that book back open again and kept reading. It's kind of like when you're about to watch a movie on, like the meat industry or the food industry. There are people who just say, No, thank you. I do not ever want to see that movie. I'm happy eating the way I eat, and I don't need to feel guilty about it. Or I don't want to know, there are those people. And then there are people who say, Oh, god, this is going to be hard. But yes, show it to me, please. And then they know by the end of that movie, they're going to have the discomfort of making a decision as to whether they're going to keep eating the same way, right? I mean, being at peace with what they learned saying I'm okay, I'm fine with this. I'm going to keep eating the same way or feeling the discomfort and guilt of continuing to eat the same way or making a change saying God, I hate to give up, let's say meat. But I can't bring myself to do this anymore.

So it's it's kind of the same thing. It's not for everybody. But we've all been there. We've all been there in learning these things, whether it's about the environment or whatever. So here are some of the uncomfortable things that I learned. In 1970, it was a pretty startling year, childbirth wise, according to the World Health Organization, from their perspective, this global perspective, because the United States for the first time ever the Cesarean rate rate reached 5%, after decades of tracking the number. So by 1970, they were like, wow, one in 20 women are now having major surgery, in order to give birth, that was a big deal. Well, there's always a critical mass for these things. So Once that became a little more culturally comfortable, a little more comfortable for the providers who were doing surgery, getting more comfortable learning how to perform surgery, naturally, it started to increase. Evolution hasn't changed. childbirth hasn't changed in millennia, right? So why would anything around childbirth change culturally?

By the mid 80s the Cesarean rate rate shot up to 10% in the United States, and the World Health Organization, took a megaphone and said United States, 'What are you guys doing over there? You've got to be careful about this. This is high, it's increasing rapidly. Other countries are going to start following what you're doing. But you of all countries should have some of the best outcomes in the world. This isn't making sense.' And they began this worldwide study to try to ascertain the optimal scissoring rate if they could, the tipping point if you will. Because we don't ever want  the Cesarean rate rate to be zero. These are without question and everyone agrees with this life saving procedure. We all want a Cesarean option available to us at every birth.

But how much is too much?

And we have to ask that question because the statistics are poor for women who give birth by cesarean compared to a vaginal birth. So we need to be paying attention to this. But in the 80s really nobody was it doesn't help too much that there isn't some kind of national body national health care body whose addressing the situation, it's pretty segmented. The midwives have their organization they obstetricians have theirs. So the World Health Organization did this study and determined that the tipping point is maybe around 10 ish percent, maybe 15% n the most severe cases, the countries with the greatest rates of disease and malnutrition. Sure enough, 1987 became the safest year we peaked right in the 80s became the safest year to give birth in this country. By the early 90s, one in five women were giving birth by surgery by the late 90s, one in four women. And now we're at around one in three women.

This matters.

So this is an example of the information I was reading in the book that was very uncomfortable for me to read, as you can imagine, but she did suggest finding out from your doctor, what his or her Cesarean rate is. So I went to my next prenatal visit a couple of weeks later. As usual, my doctor took me in way later than the appointment was scheduled for and she finally entered the room. I was sitting there in that little papery gown that you were at the appointments. And when she came in, I said I have a really important question. I've been wanting to ask you and she was like, Yeah, what is it?

So I said, 'What is this is the Cesarean rate rate of this practice? I know you have about eight doctors here. But what's the Cesarean rate rate?' And she said, 'Cynthia, why are you asking that? I have no idea. We haven't done those numbers in years.' And I was crestfallen because I couldn't wait to hear her response. I was praying, it would be around 10%. So that my life would be easy, because I had no idea what I was going to do if it wasn't. And I waited so long to go to that appointment and ask that question and just have reassurance or be facing that uncomfortable truth to figure out what I would have to do next. I didn't expect her to say, Why are you asking? So I pressed her. I said, 'Well, what do you think it is? I mean, do you know? I mean, the World Health Organization says it shouldn't be greater than maybe 10 or maybe 15%. Is it maybe around there?' And she said, 'No, no, it's a lot higher than that. Okay?'

And I said, 'Well, okay, how much higher? What would you say? What do you think it is?' She said, 'I told you I don't know.' And I said, 'but what do you think it is? The national average is 28%.'

It was in 2004. It no longer is. But I said, 'the national average is about 20%. Do you think you're higher or lower than that?' No idea why I asked that, because what's the difference? But she said, 'Look, I'm not gonna lie to you. It's higher than that.'

And I said, 'Okay, so what do you think it is? Do you think it's maybe 35%? Do you think it's maybe 45%? I think it's maybe 50%. And she said, I don't know. It's somewhere around there.'

And I said, 'it's somewhere around 50%. Why? Why is it so high?  I don't understand why everyone seems to be having a Cesarean section. I don't understand. Why are there so many of them now?'

And she said this to me. 'Look, I don't like if the mother is too young. I don't like if she's too old. I don't like if she's too thin. I don't like if she's too heavy. I don't like if the baby measures small or if the baby was just large or if the baby race early or if they baby arrives late, or if the mother is carrying multiples has gestational diabetes, placenta previa or failure to progress. '

Let's just pause for a second. What are you thinking when you hear this? "I don't like this, and I don't like that." Let me just tell you now, that is called rhetoric.

She wasn't speaking to me like the perfectly intelligent person. I am capable of hearing whatever facts or data she might have had. She provided me with rhetoric. This is not really how we speak to people when we respect them, who's asking her what she likes to see. I thought I was asking her what the data would show would result in a safer and more satisfying birth. I thought that was the conversation we were having, but she didn't seem to think that was the conversation we were having. The second thing I'll just add is I can tell you this now, I couldn't tell you this then. But virtually everything she mentioned is not evidence based. Virtually everything she mentioned. is not a medical indication for a Cesarean section. I didn't know that at the time, of course.

And finally, what I said, after she listed all of those, she covered all her bases...I then said to her, 'wait a minute, what's the last thing you just said? What's failure to progress? What's that?'

Well, I'll tell you what it is. First. It's our country's number one reason for Cesarean section. But this is what she said to me. Tapping her hand, one hand into an into the palm of the other. She said, 'I'm going to need to see dilate a centimeter an hour.'

I'm gonna need to see. Think about that.

How would you feel?

I can't control how fast I dilate. But even so, I said, 'Wait a second. I don't understand. Wait a minute. Wait a minute. I've been reading about this, I said, and it's my understanding labor is two stage There's early labor, which I thought can last hours, even days. And then there's active labor, which I thought is on average around 14 hours. What part of my labor has to be 10 hours or less? The whole thing? How is that even statistically likely, I don't even understand how that's possible.'

And then she threw up her hands, innocently and said, 'that's what I like to see.'

Well, how do you argue with someone who says, that's what I like to see? Right? More rhetoric? I didn't even know what to say to that. Of course, it implies. She likes to see that because that would be a safer birth, because obviously she doesn't want an adverse outcome. That's not good for anybody including her. So you're thinking, well, she must know what she's doing. She obviously wants a good outcome here. So trust her, right. She's the expert. What do you know you haven't done any of this in your life, right? This is these are the voices going through our heads. This is why we doubt ourselves.

And I said, 'Wait a second', I wasn't satisfied yet at all. 'What if I labor at home for eight hours and then I come to the hospital? How much time do I get?'

Now, as you listen to my story, your common sense is telling you she should have said two hours, but she said, 'You get ten. '

Oh, okay. 'What if I labor at home for 24 hours and come to the hospital?'

She said, 'You get ten.'

'What if I'm out to dinner with my husband and I go into labor and we come straight from the restaurant to the hospital?'

She said you get 10.

And now I was thinking, 'Oh, I see. You really don't care how long this labor lasts at all. But you care intensely about how long I'm going to be in the hospital room. So as I sat there and clear discussion I'm just perplexed and skeptical. She scooted her stool up to me on wheels, you know, and she without a word to me without permission without anything. She scooted up closer to me. She lifted the little papery thing I was wearing. She just lifted it right up and she touched me with her pinkie and she drew on me where she would be placing the scar with an imaginary line and said, 'Cynthia, a bikini covers the scar.' Okay. And I looked down, and I swear I could see that scar there. I felt like it was foreshadowing. And the voice in my head was saying, 'Cynthia, why do you make such a big deal about everything? Why do you care? Why don't you trust her like anybody else would she obviously wants a good outcome. She obviously knows what she's doing. Just please please please let this be a healthy baby please. Just a healthy baby. That's all I really want please, a healthy baby.'

And I went right into that fearful, desperate mode because what else could I do? So as I said, we're lucky that pregnancy lasts as long as it does because it gives us time to process these dramatic emotional moments when we go through them.

So, look, this isn't about her being wrong, and me being right. This isn't about her being bad and me being good. All that I was supposed to recognize was, she might be right for somebody, but she wasn't right for me. Because if she were right for me, I wouldn't have felt so much anxiety and doubt whenever I was in her presence. I used to show up at my prenatal so excited to check on my baby to hear the heartbeat to be reassured everything was looking perfect and good.

And I just always walked out praying, please let my baby be okay.

And then I had to go off to work feeling that way. And I just had to sit with that until the next prenatal when it all happened again. And I went and checked with her about a episiotomy at a later appointment. And she said she did them routinely, and it was just one thing after another. Finally my husband and I did some research on hiring a doula. And that really seemed like a pretty no-brainer decision because I knew I was birthing in a very medical facility. And I knew I wanted to increase my likelihood of a low intervention, certainly a vaginal birth if I could. And that hiring a doula would really increase the likelihood of all of those things. So we hired a doula. And my doula said to me, 'Just just run it by your doctor because I've never been to that hospital yet. And I just want to make sure that that it's okay to have a doula there.' Fortunately, it is, I don't know of a I don't know of a hospital in New York or Connecticut that doesn't allow doulas and shame on any hospital that doesn't. It's literally just emotional support for the mom. I can't imagine any hospital would dare to ban doulas, but I know in parts of our country that that's happening and that's happened. So anyway, I didn't know that at the time. So I went to the doctor, and I saw a nice associate of my doctor you know, they say go meet, make sure you meet them all like that some kind of comfort level before you give birth.

So I was meeting with another doctor.

Again, she was nice. It doesn't mean she was right for me, but she was nice.

And I said, 'Oh, I hired a doula for the birth and just want to make sure it's okay to have a doula come to the hospital at the birth.' And the doctor looked at me and said, 'Oh, you sure you want to spend all that money on a doula?' And I thought, 'You're one to talk; the doula is making hundreds of dollars and you're gonna be making. God knows how many thousands of dollars off of my birth. And she's spending so many more hours with me, then you will,' be but I just said 'yeah, no, I'm fine with that. I just want to make sure it's it's no problem.' And she said, 'okay, no, that's no problem. Just make sure your doula remembers who's in charge.'

And, incredibly, I said, 'Okay.'

I can't believe I was ever that woman. But I was. I said, Okay.

I wasn't that woman for long though.

I went home, called my doula and said, 'Yeah, yeah, it's fine. You can come to that hospital. There's no issue. They don't. They don't ban doulas. You know, my doctor just said for you to remember who's in charge.' And my doula changed my life with her response. She said, 'Of course I remember who's in charge. You are.'

I, almost blushed when she said it. Like it was some kind of feel good comment. Like it was some kind of pep talk. But it only took me a few seconds for my eyes to open.

Of course, I'm the one in charge.

I'm the doulas client, and I'm the doctor's client.

I'm the one who has zero liability in that room.

How is it that we go in, they're so convinced we need to please and satisfy the provider. When it really should be the other way around. That doesn't mean we're capable of making all of the medical decisions ourselves. But we absolutely should be in partnership with them, and should be in a trusting relationship where we, we trust their response, and we're not hearing rhetoric. We're hearing things that make sense and help us to make a rational decision and accept intervention. The moment we need it, because we trust that provider and their assessment and their explanation. And in fact, voluntary informed consent laws support everything I'm saying right now.

We do have the right to do anything we want in that room to refuse anything we have to we have to agree and sign off on everything because they can't do it if we don't.

So, yes, the birthing mother is the one in charge. Yes, that's the one that doula is working for, and the doctors working for My relationship with my doctor didn't last too much longer than that. I went to a prenatal visit at 16 weeks. And I saw another colleague of my doctor making those I was making those rounds through all the doctors. And this one was a man who I really, really didn't feel safe with. He had a pretty awful bedside manner. And he didn't make eye contact. He was irritable. I mean, really irritable. And I just sat there like praying, I wouldn't get him for the birth.

Why did I ever think that? I should sit there and hope and pray I don't get a doctor. Do you find yourself feeling that way? Because if so, you deserve better than that. And I hope you live in a part of the world or part of the country where you have choice, because here in the New York metropolitan area, we do have choice. And I hope that you also have choice because I know there are some places where women don't and that's much more difficult. But at that visit, they did an ultrasound an unnecessary ultrasound I now know, but I wasn't aware of any controversy back then. And the doctor said, I'm going to need you back here in two weeks. And I got really scared like anyone would I wasn't due back until my 20 week checkup.

And I said, 'Oh my god, did you see something?' Why, you know, this is a pre-anatomy scan. I didn't know if he was seeing something. 'Nope, I'm gonna need you back here at 18 weeks and at 20 weeks to keep coming in for ultrasounds every two weeks.' And he walked out of the room leaving me in absolute fear and distress. He just walked away writing on a clipboard. And the nurse was there and saw what was going on. 'Oh, don't you worry. He's just afraid that baby of yours is getting a little too big.'

What? I'm 16 weeks pregnant.

She said he just wants to keep an eye on it. What does that even mean? Keep an eye on what?

What if it's measuring big. What are we going to do about it anyway? This was just so ridiculous. So I walked out in such distress. I bypassed the receptionist and I didn't make another appointment to come in. And then I was home that night. And I remember saying to my husband, everything I'm learning everything I'm reading. I feel like my doctor is a poster child for all the red flags. Everything I'm asking her she's answering in the way that I'm hoping she won't. So I'm lucky because she was honest. And I mean that I'm very lucky. Because she was honest. She could have lied about her Cesarean rate, she could have lied about giving routine episiotomies. She didn't. She told me the truth. So I am thankful for that, because it allowed me to take responsibility for what I was going to do with the information now that I had it.

My husband said, and his timing couldn't have been better, 'Why don't we just see if there's a birthing center in the area?' And still coming from fear I said, 'No way, because I at least have to know there's an epidural there. I don't know what I'm doing', you know, all the usual things women say.

And he said, 'Let's just check.'

And we did.

We found the Connecticut birthing center in Danbury. It was almost an hour away from our home. It felt crazy to be driving so far away. And we went there, and the midwife director walked us through. I was a pretty informed client. At that point. I was asking good questions at that point. I was asking about induction, I was asking about their transfer rate. I was asking about their scissoring rate. I was asking you about positions for birthing, and she answered everything very much to my satisfaction. When I asked their Cesarean rate rate, she pulled out a file and said, 'Okay, last year..." and she read me these statistics and they were outstanding statistics. I won't quote them because they change over time. So I don't want to give incorrect or even imply incorrect information at this point. But those were statistics I felt very much at peace with. And I had the overwhelming realization that if I ended up with a Cesarean section with this group, I would be very happy with it. Because I would know I needed it. And boy, you can feel grateful for a Cesarean section when you know you need one. And that was a very good way to feel. So but it wasn't a Cesarean section. I was afraid of all this while I realized it was an unnecessary Cesarean section.

And that was very eye opening for me.

As the midwife walked me and my husband through the birthing suite, she said, 'You can give birth on the bed, on your hands and knees, leaning over that on the birthing stool, you can birth in the jacuzzi, you can birth over there, you can be in the tub, you can be in the shower, Cynthia, we're just going to make sure you don't give birth on your back.'

And I already knew why. But I was still in interview mode. And I said, 'Why do you say that?' And she said, 'Well, first of all, it's, it's very uncomfortable for you and it's the least optimal position for the baby.' Yes, it is.

Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding ding! I found the right place.

And it was so easy to switch. I called the receptionist at my doctor's office, I asked them to prepare a copy of my records. By law, they must, yes, they sent me a bill for the photocopy fee. But they can do that too. By law, that's fine. But I picked it up. And you know, it's funny for all their worries about my big baby and this and that, and the doctor acting so charming and everything when she saw me, they never followed up. They never missed me. They never came looking for me. That was it. After years of seeing her, we never had our goodbyes, which was really fine by me because you don't have to explain your decision to anyone. I'd like to think that I could have just said I found a group that I think I'm better suited for, for having this baby. Or a group that's more aligned with my vision of what I want for my family.

Or even I know the kind of births you usually attend. And I wouldn't want to go through my labor asking you to do things so very differently from how you do them all day long. Anyway, I didn't have to have that conversation. At that point I called my doula and said, 'Oh, my gosh, I'm going for a natural birth and I'm so scared.' My doula said, 'you know, you've got to look into HypnoBirthing. I was with a woman over the weekend, and I never saw anything like it. She was smiling. She was relaxed.' She said, 'It was like the most peaceful birth I've ever seen. And she swore by HypnoBirthing. So it's becoming really popular now. Maybe you should check it out.'

So I thought, 'this is it. This is the next step in this story.'

So my husband and I hired a HypnoBirthing instructor and on the first day that she met with us, no joke, I said to her, 'Have you ever heard of a woman hyperventilating when labor began? 'And she was like, 'No, why would you hyperventilate?' And I said, 'I don't know I just I just think I'm gonna freak out, that's happened to me once before I was once climbing this waterfall and then I got to the top and like I just started having a panic attack and I've always envisioned that that was going to happen to me when when labor began.'

So you can start to see why a positive story here was life changing for me because I had no expectation of, of a smooth, easy birth at all. I really was a piece of work. And I have compassion for women who feel that way. It wasn't my fault that I was just a product of my society. When did I ever see childbirth in the media that wasn't comedic or traumatic?

Right. I remember as a teen seeing a some kind of comedy where a woman was in labor and said she hated her husband. And I remember being so disturbed by that and thinking 'oh my gosh, how do you hate the person you love? We get these notions in our head and it really shapes us. It happens subconsciously.

So, anyway, we took HypnoBirthing. HypnoBirthing has been around since around 1989. And statistics are done every year. And yes, it shows all of the benefits of, for example, hiring a doula or seeing midwives like with HypnoBirthing. Women have far fewer Cesarean rates, lower induction rates, fewer breech babies, fewer episiotomies, etc, etc. The one that stands out in HypnoBirthing, that's unique is that women who practice in HypnoBirthing tend to have much shorter births on average. And when you take the class you learn why in session two, you learn the techniques for staying really relaxed and calm, which allows you to dilate much more quickly because you're getting more oxytocin and not going into that fight or flight mode, which tightens the cervix. I never cared about whether my labor was like or short. My instructor talked about it all the time. I don't talk about it much as an instructor because of course, I'm going to have clients who have long births for whatever reason, and I don't want them to ever feel it's something that they did or failed to do that resulted in a long labor. So I don't really pay much attention to how long labor lasts, but my HypnoBirthing started talking about it a lot. And I thought, 'Well, I'm so much like my mom, I'm probably gonna have big babies and long labor's like she did.'

Well, March 3, 2005, I woke up at 430 in the morning, feeling funny, feeling a little bit of aching in my hips. It was a couple days past my guest date. I didn't know what to make of it. I was really thirsty. So I kept drinking and drinking water. And I realized at 5am I just wasn't gonna go back to sleep. So at exactly 5am when the clock said 5am I looked at my husband sleeping. So I gently woke him up and said, 'I'm not sure you should go in the city today.' And he said, 'Are you in labor?' And I said, 'No. But I'm feeling like a churning going on and feeling an activity going on. I can't really explain it, but like, there's something going on.'

Within minutes of waking him up, I was in full on active labor like an on-switch. This is very rare. And it didn't even happen with my second birth. But boy, it was an on-switch. I had a surge, we say surge and HypnoBirthing. We don't say contraction, so you get used to it. But I had a surge. And I went right down on my hands and knees because that was where I found comfort. It was in my sacrum. I had back labor. And I went my down on my hands and knees, and then I'm telling you, boom, I had it again. And then again. And immediately, I said to my husband, 'Let's go to the birthing center right now.'

No one plans on going right away to their birthing facility, but there was something in me saying, 'I need to be there now.' So we called the birthing center and the midwife on call answered the phone and she said, 'Look, labor just began. I really don't think you should come too soon. If you come, I'll be there. But if you're not far along, I'm going to have to send you back home.'

And while we were on the phone with her, I had another surge and I said to my husband, 'Tell her we're coming right now.' So he walked the dog. He knocked on the neighbor's door and handed over the keys to the to our place and said, 'Can you walk the dog? And if we're not home by 4pm, can you feed the dog?' Turns out, we were home by 4pm.

We left and got to the birthing center at exactly 6am. I had been in labor exactly one hour. It was a pretty intense car ride. I was quiet in the car. But I was very, very focused, very focused with my visualization, my calm breathing. It was relief to get there. They checked me and I was six centimeters dilated. I had been in labor for one hour, I was six centimeters. They had filled the jacuzzi bathtub for me. I didn't plan on coming in. And as I've said on this podcast before I sort of got in just to be polite. I don't know why, but they encouraged me to get in. So I was like, Okay, fine. You know, I just said, Yeah, okay, fine. And I got in the tub and I said, 'Oh my gosh, you're never getting me out of here. This feels amazing.' It was March 3. It was like this cool, beautiful morning, my doula arrived, and the room was silent. Really, nobody spoke during my labor.

The only words I remember were my doula saying one thing to me: 'Look outside, Cynthia, the sun is rising.'

I was in this internal place. And she just brought me from moment to be external.

And I had the thought, What a beautiful day to be born.

I was fully dilated very shortly after arriving and At 8:01am after a three hour labor, my son weighing, eight pounds, 14 ounces, came through me and into my arms. That was it. All my emotions, all my anxieties, all my journaling, all my appointments, all my reading all my work,
just like that it was behind me it was done.

And it changed my life.

I always envisioned that I would feel really proud and excited if I actually had that natural birth. But to my surprise, that isn't what I felt. I just felt overcome with the deepest contentedness I had ever known.

And a deep longing to talk about birth with anyone who would listen because whether I'm right or wrong, I believe, to my core that my birth wasn't predestined. I don't believe it was predestined that I should have a comfortable three hour labor. I could feel myself on the edge sometimes of wanting to tense and choosing to relax. I remember looking up when I was close to that pushing stage and there was a student midwife who was attending me with the midwife who was on call. And I remember this 25 year old student midwife immediately meeting my eyes and looking at me with the most beautiful smile.

May all women be smiled at, and be loved and supported.

When my son was three and a half, we decided to have another baby. And we conceived her right when my son started preschool in September. And for that pregnancy, I was concerned about traveling far because I had history of such a short birth, a three hour first birth to an almost nine pound baby.

I was I thought, 'Oh my gosh, the second baby can come much faster. So how what if I don't get up there in time to the birthing center?'

So about halfway through that pregnancy, I switched to a home birth. And 39 weeks to the day -- it was the last day of preschool before a summer vacation, it was a Friday, and I was planning this home water birth...And I remember picking up my son and one of my friends at the preschool said, 'How are you feeling?' And I said, 'Good!' And she said, 'How far along are you?' And I said, 'I'm 39 weeks today.' And she said, 'Are you feeling anything yet?' And I said, 'I kind of feel like maybe I'm in labor right now. I'm really not sure.' And it's scary thought because I had to drive home from preschool, but it was really early and I was again just feeling like something's going on. But I can't put my finger on it. We got home. And a few hours later, I thought, 'I actually think I'm in labor. I can't believe this. I'm only 39 weeks.'

You know, when you have big babies, you might have that baby a little early because it's time the baby, the baby is the right size, it's time to come out.

So when women are told, Oh, I can't let you go to 42 weeks, your baby will get too big. Well, most babies at 42 weeks don't weigh what my baby weighed at 39 weeks. We're all on a different trajectory. My body and my baby knew what they were doing. It was time for her to arrive.

I called my midwife Amy and said, 'I'm not sure if I'm in labor. I hate to have you come out of your way.' She said, 'Don't worry. That's what we midwives do. I'll take a shower. I'll get ready. I'll start heading down.' She lived about an hour away. And yeah, sure enough, she arrived shortly after Trisha arrived. She was wearing a T shirt that said "Yale Midwifery at your cervix." I just loved her immediately. My husband filled the tub that we bought, this inflatable tub. My son was there for the birth. I'll share photos of myself in labor on our Instagram page and my daughter weighed 9 lbs 7 oz, again, just about a five hour birth, a little longer than my first. No tearing again. And just another lovely birth. There's no right or wrong way to give birth. That's not for everyone. You know, having a home birth was absolutely out of the question for me the first time around and It's out of the question for women all the time.

And the majority of the couples that I've worked with a hospital is the right place for them.

And I've learned and seen enough, there is no right or wrong way to do any of this. But we have to feel at peace with our birth, and we can feel at peace with any birth, any intervention. When we know we needed it when we know it was in our best interest in our baby's best interest.

There's some portion of this, that's luck. There's some portion that's out of our hands entirely. But there's so much that's within our control.

And it's always my hope that a woman discovers for herself what she wants for her birth. And that she gets supported in whatever she wants from her family members from her community. We have to support women in planning the birth that they want. They're the ones who are giving birth. They're the ones who are going to be raising this baby. And if a woman is processing her birth, and feeling difficult emotions, that makes postpartum harder, it's all linked. So whatever a woman wants, whatever she does, she needs her support there her decisions to make. It's her baby, it's her body. So there's no right or wrong. But what we would never want is for her to be told she doesn't have choice is for her to be told. The decision isn't hers.

Or for her to not be given all the support, freedom and respect that she deserves.

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It's hard to believe that knowing you this long that that's actually the first time that I've really heard your birth story from start to finish. But it's so beautiful the way you tell your story. I mean, I think you really cover every aspect of why a woman should have choice in her birth and why she should empower herself with the knowledge to make those choices so that she can create that safe space. And that safe space is different for different people.

That's exactly right. And feeling how she feels is what matters. You know, it's funny because through all of my worries, and planning and anxiety in pregnancy, I felt so much that the experience was about me. And there's a line from the written version of my birth story where I said, "As much as I felt supported by my husband and our birthing team, I realized I could now look into the eyes of my true birth partner."

Your baby.

My baby. And that's that was another overwhelming experience and emotion I wasn't expecting. I looked at him and thought we did this. We didn't even need the rest of them.

They were just icing on the cake.

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About Cynthia Overgard

Cynthia is a published writer, advocate, childbirth educator and postpartum support specialist in prenatal/postpartum healthcare and has served thousands of clients since 2007. 

About Trisha Ludwig

Trisha is a Yale-educated Certified Nurse Midwife and International Board Certified Lactation Counselor. She has worked in women's health for more than 15 years.

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