I Loved Bradley Classes Even Though I Didn’t End Up With a Med-Free Birth

Image via Julia Pelly

When I was pregnant with my son I began to research birth classes before my belly had even a hint of bump. I was interested in a natural, med-free birth and was looking for a class that was as warm and welcoming as it was informative.  After researching Lamaze, Hypno-birthing and Bradley Method classes, my husband and I chose the Bradley method.

Every Thursday evening from week 24 to week 36 of my pregnancy, my husband and I spent two and half hours with six other couples, sitting on pillows in a church hall, learning about the miracle of childbirth. We learned about pregnancy nutrition and exercise, pushing and positions, breastfeeding and post birth care. We did stretches and meditation, massages and rehearsals. We watched videos and wrote our birth plan and got, each week, more and more excited for our sons impending arrival.

Though I was certainly nervous about birth, I was also eager to experience contractions and to let go while I let my body work during labor. By the end of my 12 week series, I was confident that I would be able to bring my son into the world without the assistance of pain medication. 

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And then labor hit, and it was much more intense than I’d imagined. I rolled out of bed with my first contraction at 4:16 am. Though I’d anticipating labor taking 16-24 hours, by 8:00 am, less than four hours later, my contractions were long and close together and I found myself clammy, shaky, and throwing up. By 10:00 am I could no longer walk or talk though my contractions and, though we’d been warned to wait as long as possible to head to the hospital, we decided it was time.

After an arduously long check in (even though we had pre-registered!) I was told, at 11:30 am that I was only four centimeters dilated. This news was crushing as I’d been sure I was nearing transition. When I heard the nurse say “4 cm” I heard “You’re going to be in labor for a lot longer” and, against my birth plan and Bradley wishes, called out for an epidural.  

At 12:15 the epidural was placed and an immediate calm flooded over me. My pain subsided and I felt suddenly both relaxed and excited. My husband and I held hands and watched my belly tighten with each contraction. We giggled with the realization that our child was, in those moments, saying his final goodbyes to my womb. Half an hour later the pain and pressure began to return and I called a nurse to check my progress. She reported that I was now at 10 cm and ready to push. I didn’t yet feel “an overwhelming urge” so I asked to wait but soon, very soon, the urge came. The epidural was shut off, the pains of labor came rushing back and, at 1:19 pm I reached down and pulled my son into my arms. 

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In the post-labor glow I forgot all about my plans to do it med-free and basked instead in the glow of having accomplished something mighty, of creating and growing and birthing a baby. I didn’t begin to feel sheepish until the Facebook notifications about my classmates began to pop up. Tt seems, by Facebook account anyway, that my little guy was the only one born with epidural assistance.

As happy as I was with my birth experience, I began to wonder if my husband and I had wasted our time by attending Bradley classes or if we were somehow Bradley failures. After much reflection (much of it taking places as I stared down at my beautiful boy) I’ve come to the conclusion that, even though I didn’t end up with a med-free birth, Bradley classes were very, very worth it

Each Thursday for those twelve weeks, we carved three hours out of our lives to plan for the baby growing inside of me. We stepped away from our roles as employees and friends and spouses and began our transformation into being parents. In the car we talked about baby names and planned the nursery, during class breaks we giggled with other couples about the pictures in the book and laughed about how much life would soon be changing for all of us.

As my husband held ice cubes onto the small of my back (a labor rehearsal exercise) he learned how my body reacted to pain and how best he could help to soothe it. I learned to trust him with my pain and to tell him what he needed to know to be my advocate. We also learned how absolutely in-it-together we were when it came to our baby’s health and safety. 

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When I get pregnant again I don’t know if I’ll try for a med-free birth. I do know though, that whatever I decide, I’ll get out my old Bradley book, dust off the cover, and begin to study again with my husband.

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I Loved Bradley Classes Even Though I Didn’t End Up With a Med-Free Birth

Julia Pelly has a master's degree in public health and works full time in the field of positive youth development. Julia loves hiking after work, swimming during the summer and taking long, cuddly afternoon naps with her two sons on the weekends. She is writing a memoir on pregnancy, motherhood, and sisterhood and lives in North Carolina, with her husband and two young boys. ... More

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