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Best Lessons Learned About Giving Birth from the Navajo Reservation

I rarely share a blog post in a personal diary style. The reason why is because I started this blog/website to provide useful information to others and I think that a diary format does not lend itself to being as useful as other formats. But there are exceptions to almost every rule and today is one of them. I wanted to share the birth story of our son with you. I feel that it is somewhat unique and since I discovered many unknowns throughout its process I felt that it could perhaps be useful for expecting mothers as well.

I had my first baby (I’m currently pregnant with our second) on the Navajo reservation. I’m a researcher when it comes to things that are important to me. After I did a TON of research I was very impressed with the Navajo Nation hospital in Tuba City. I read up on different ways to give birth, researched side effects of certain procedures, watched documentaries, read books, and visited different hospitals.

Ultimately, after my visits I was most impressed by the way the midwifes and nurses treated me in Tuba City. I was also very impressed at the low rate of c-sections the hospital has. At that time it had less than half of the rate of c-sections than the normal hospital percentage in the nation… and I think it still does. See charts below and this New York Times article on the Tuba City Hospital for details.

Best Lessons Learned About Giving Birth from the Navajo Reservation

Further, it would save us money because my then-husband-but-now-ex-husband is 100% Navajo. Having the baby at the hospital would save us about $5,000. We weren’t sacrificing quality or safety either. At Tuba City they offered many options. I had midwives and nurses who helped me labor (there were about 2 per women in labor in the unit), there was a tub for a natural water birth if I chose it, and I also had access to a wonderful anesthesiologist, lactation consultants, and emergency staff if needed.

After much study, planning out the logistics, and prayer, we felt it would be best to have our son there.

The only problem was that the hospital is over 8 hours away from my home. There were a few people who were worried as well. Some people thought that we were crazy and others thought it was cool. Luckily, I have awesome friends and family so the majority trusted our decision. The few that openly told us not to do this ‘crazy thing’ did make me question our decision, but since we both had done so much research and soul searching we decided to do what we felt was the best thing for us.

I had most of my prenatal care in my hometown but as the time drew nearer I started having my check ups in Tuba City. I would drive down the night before the appointment, stay at a friend or family member’s home, go to my appointment the next morning, and drive back up after the appointment.

Once I was about 2 1/2 weeks away from my due date (December 24th) I started having some signs that my time could be nearing. Besides having a few very vivid dreams that my son would be born on December 17th I started getting very nauseous, throwing up, having diarrhea, and I believe I lost my mucus plug (sorry tmi).

So we booked a hotel room 45 minutes from the hospital and decided to go down to Arizona about week sooner than expected. December 8th we drove down to the hotel room.

I was working from home at that time so I just took everything I needed and kept working from the hotel. It was a very relaxing week before I went into labor. I slept and worked, walked on the treadmill in the workout room, visited our family, and slept some more. I was at the hotel for about 5 days before I went into labor.

On Thursday December 13th I started getting regular contractions. I timed them and they went from 8 minutes to 7 minutes to 6 minutes apart. I called the hospital and they told me to get into a warm bath and if they stopped not to come in. I got into the bath and they gradually slowed until they pretty much stopped.

Friday the 14th I began contracting regularly again and my contractions progressed all day and then they got really sporadic in the evening. My ex arrived Friday night and since my contractions were so sporadic we decided we wouldn’t be going to the hospital that night.

He went on a hike the next morning out to a point to photograph the sunrise (he is a landscape photographer). I contracted during the night sporadically. The next morning Saturday the 15th I went down to the hotel’s work out room and started walking on the treadmill. My contractions got stronger and stronger and closer together. Until they were 3 minutes apart.

At this point (especially because my ex was out in the wilderness) I started freaking out. I called down to Tuba City and they told me to go to a closer hospital if I didn’t think I’d make it. When he finally showed up the contractions had slowed to 4 minutes apart so we decided to go to Tuba.

On the way to Tuba my contractions slowed even further and when I arrived they were 5 to 6 minutes apart. We went into the hospital and they checked me. I was 40% effaced and was at a 3 in dilatation. They put me on the monitor and sure enough my contractions were strong and steady at 6 minutes apart. After a few hours they checked me and despite regular strong contractions, I hadn’t progressed very much.

The nurse explained that what I was experiencing was prodromal labor. Prodromal labor is when you keep contracting at regular to irregular intervals but your body doesn’t necessarily progress or really kick into full blown labor. Prodromal labor can be in effect for a few hours up to many weeks before going into full blown progressive labor.

Normally at this time a regular hospital would send us away. But they were so nice and gave me the option to stay or to leave and check into a closer hotel. We were nervous as this was our first so we opted to stay.

The next day Sunday the 16th I contracted all day long without very much progression. I walked the halls, had my membranes stripped, sat on the birth ball, visualized etc. I hadn’t stopped contracting since Friday morning and had had regular contractions since Thursday but I still wasn’t getting anywhere. It was exhausting and frustrating.

They did an ultrasound and saw that the amniotic fluid was getting a bit low so they were about to insert something to thin my cervix to induce labor. About an hour before they were going to insert the cervix thinning pill, my water broke. I rejoiced, the staff rejoiced, and we all thought that I’d go into progressive labor… because that is typically what happens when the water breaks.

Well I didn’t.

Monday December 17th the fourth day since I began regularly contracting I still hadn’t made very much progress. At around 10 am my mom called (she was a bit concerned at this point) and she asked me why they hadn’t started me on pitocin. I told her that we were waiting for me to launch into labor and/or to give them the word to start induction. What she said kind of shocked me. She said that she never went into progressive labor with my brother, sister, and I and that the doctor had to use pitocin to get three of her five babies here. Mandi my little sister actually got an infection because they waited too long to start my mom after her water broke. She told me that I needed to have them start me.

After I hung up I told the nurses and midwives what my mom said and they immediately got the pitocin and got me started.

Once the pitocin kicked in I was in sheer pain. I have back labor apparently and each contraction felt like my back was cracking. I was on a birthing ball and had my now ex applying counter pressure during the contractions. I am also a very experienced mediator and was doing my best to breath and meditate through it all but it was intensely painful. I tried different positions but nothing would relive the pain.

Just when I thought I couldn’t bear more they would come in and crank the pitocin even higher up to keep me progressing. I almost fainted from back pain during those contractions. I had asked for an epidural but they wanted me to labor with the pitocin a while before the epidural because the epidural can slow the labor process down.

Finally, after what seemed like 30 hours but really was only about 5 hours with pitocin and no epidural the anesthesiologist gave me an epidural. I felt instant relief. He did a wonderful job and as soon as it started working the pain was gone. I was so grateful for him and the epidural.

At this point I was also about 90% and an 8 at this point. What was wonderful is that the nurses and midwives allowed me to labor for over 2 days in the hospital. Here it was almost 72 hours later and I finally was at a point where technically I could start pushing but they told me to save my energy and let the body labor the baby down.

One of my most favorite midwives even stayed after hours because she wanted to deliver the baby. She never pressured me to push or to hurry the process. She took a nap in one of the rooms there and after 3 hours of waiting she kindly excused herself to go home. I was sad that she couldn’t deliver my baby but very relieved that I was allowed to rest while my body worked the baby down to where he needed to be before trying to force him out.

Finally, after 4 hours of laboring down I was 100% and a 10. Still they told me not to push until the urge to push was so strong I couldn’t fight it.

An hour later I knew what they meant. I felt like I was having a bowel movement I asked the nurse, “Does this feel like you are about to poo and can’t help but push?” She said yes that is what it feels like. As soon as my son’s head started crowning and I couldn’t resist the urge to push I began pushing. I pushed for about 10 minutes and although it was painful the pushing didn’t last long. Our son Denali was born December 17th at 8:42 PM. He was 8 pounds 1.5 oz and 21 inches long.

Best Lessons Learned About Giving Birth from the Navajo Reservation

As soon as my son was born they placed him on my chest while the umbilical cord pulsed all the Vitamin D, Iron, and other nutrients into his body. Then cut it.

We were on an absolute spiritual high. It was one of the most spiritual moments of my life to see my son for the first time. He was healthy and gorgeous. We both were moved to tears.

After they cleaned him up and stitched me up I nursed him for about 45 minutes and then they took him away. I had something to eat and went to sleep.

I was awakened and moved to a different room. The next day and a half I worked with lactation consultants trying to learn how to breastfeed, watched new parenting educational movies on postpartum life and depression, talked with the nurses and midwives, and had tons of questions answered.

I had no idea about the physical ramifications of giving labor until I experienced it. I talk  in detail about all the yucky stuff… hemorrhoids, tears, constipation, etc. in this very popular post 11 Secrets to have in your labor bag that you’ve never heard of. If you are pregnant for the first time or want to be reminded of some of the stark realities of labor and what to have for post partum recovery I highly recommend checking it out.

I was so happy with my experience at the Tuba City hospital. We felt well looked after, respected, treated almost like royalty, and were never forced to do anything we didn’t feel comfortable with. The most impressive thing to me is that they allowed me to labor for 3 days while under their supervision and did not send me away or hurry me along.

Although some people thought we were crazy planning to have our baby at a hospital 8 hours away on the Navajo reservation we felt like it was the right and best thing to do and did it anyway. We were very happy we did.

So a few best tips for labor that I learned through this experience are:

Pitocin, if used at the right time, can save you from having to have a c-section. Throughout my research I read a lot of negative things about pitocin but without it I would have most likely had to have had a c section. My mom would’ve had to have c-sections as well. It does work. Both of us and other women who experience prodromal labor or other complications can testify to that.

Natural births are not always a possibility. I know of a girl who wanted nothing more than to have a natural birth! Unfortunately she had major complications and was life flighted to the hospital about 6 weeks before the baby was due. She was saved and her baby was saved through a c section and NICU medical care. Other women’s babies are breach, other women are like me and the baby isn’t going to come without some assistance. It’s important to realize that the very popular notion that natural births are the best is sometimes not possible and can even be dangerous by forbidding proven medical practices.

Go into labor educated but have an open mind about your birth experience. I wrote a blog post about mother’s preferences in giving birth and I just want to say that having an open mind about what could happen is a good thing. If you are so disappointed that you got an epidural you may not be able to enjoy the very special moment of your baby’s birth. If you are hellbent on not being hooked to a monitor and they have to because there are irregularities  you may be so distracted and angry that you don’t see the good and the beauty in the moment. I think you should be educated and not pressured to do things that you don’t want to do but also somewhat open to things not working out the way you planned them to. Stressing doesn’t help in labor.

Make sure your hospital has a birthing ball. If not I’d highly recommend taking one like this.

Other things to make sure your hospital will supply you with and/or to take with you that are lesser known ‘secrets’ can be found on my post about what to pack in your labor bag here.

Sometimes the old saying is true, “like mother like daughter”. It may be useful to ask your mom what her birth stories are. You may be able to get some insight into something that may happen to you.

It is very important to choose your doctor and medical facility well (if you have options). Not all doctors or hospitals are alike. There are often reviews you can find online and people you can ask questions to. If possible choose a person who fits the ideals of what you are looking for.

Allow your body to labor down if you are progressing and don’t push until you have to. Labor is exhausting and the midwives really encouraged new mothers to be patient and allow the body to ‘labor down’ and get the baby where he/she needs to be before excreting the amount of strength and energy required to push them out.

If you have never heard of the reason to leave the umbilical cord until it has stopped pulsing and are interested, you can read a few articles found here and here or just Google it.

Finally, it’s all worth it. Although I’m not sure if prodromal labor contractions are as painful as regular contractions I can tell you that pitocin with no epidural and back contractions are mind numblingly painful. I can also say that the all of the pain up to labor, during, and after are totally worth a precious baby. Motherhood/parenthood is one of the toughest, yet most rewarding things a person can do. If this is your first, trust other experienced mothers when we say we would go through it again for our loved one.

So although this was a personal post I hope it may be useful to someone out there. And congratulations to all expecting parents to be!

Questions about my birth story? Or did you experience something similar? I’d love to hear, please comment below.

Best Lessons Learned About Giving Birth from the Navajo Reservation

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Sunday 12th of August 2018

Late to the party, but thanks for sharing your experience. :) I'm 37 weeks pregnant with my 3rd LO, and it's so refreshing to read a birth story from a Momma who encourages doing what's best for yourself and baby, without pressure to feel like natural birth is superior to all other birth experiences. With both my pregnancies, I stalled at 8cm and stayed put until I received Pitocin. With my 2nd, we tried a homebirth. I stalled at 8cm for 24 hours with contractions every 2-3 minutes the WHOLE time. When we finally transferred to the hospital and I got a hit of Pitocin, our son was born 2 hours later. Pitocin saved both our lives and prevented a C-section. This time I'm going straight to the hospital for an epidural and Pitocin.

By the way, you're right. Pitocin makes contractions 100x more painful. Especially after your water's broke.


Thursday 27th of September 2018

Thanks for sharing your experience. I love hearing different people's labors and perspectives. There is a lot to learn. Pitocin does make them more painful, but like you said it saved your it did both of mine (that or C sections).

Melissa Clark

Wednesday 23rd of September 2015

Thank you for your post! I was blessed to be able to have all my babies at home in the water with a midwife. The birthing center we had as our provider has an amazing Birth Education program that told us about most of what is in this post. But more importantly, the understanding of having an open mind about how the birth might actually occur verses the desire of what is wanted--pure gold. This was a huge concept that was discussed at almost every class.

Congratulations on your amazing birth story!

Anita Fowler

Thursday 24th of September 2015

Thanks so much. Yes it just doesn't always go the way we plan does it? Congrats on your babies births as well. Sounds like quite a cool thing to have them at home!


Tuesday 21st of October 2014

Thank you for sharing your experience! I'm currently pregnant with my second (20weeks) and have been reading up on everything to refresh my memory. I really appreciate your advice on keeping an open mind. I was very lucky with my first that things went pretty smooth. However, if I can't repeat that with my 2nd, I know I will be grateful to have read your birth story and be encouraged to be more informed of other options that are helpful.

Anita Fowler

Tuesday 21st of October 2014

Thanks Holly, I appreciate it! Congratulations on your 2nd! I'm having my second in about a month. Good luck with your labor, I hope it goes as great as your first!


Monday 29th of September 2014

When you compare healthcare in different countries, you learn that not all countries prefer C-section above natural birth. In Holland, where I live, many women still have their baby at home, or if they feel it is safer, in the hospital, and without drugs or surgery. But of course hospitals are not that far away (small country ;-)) if it would be necessary to still go to a hospital. Pregnancy normally here is not considered a disease and operating on a healthy person is always bringing risks too.

Anita Fowler

Tuesday 30th of September 2014

Marike- Thanks for the input on how Holland views pregnancy. I didn't mean to make it sound like Americans consider pregnancy a disease! I was just comparing the c-section rate of the nation with that of the Navajo hospital. We have great Dr.'s, nurses, midwifes, etc. and lots of women are now choosing to have their babies at home. That said a few of my closest friends have had their life literally saved by a c-section so I'm not opposed to them. I do agree that they are overdone though. Thanks again!


Monday 29th of September 2014

Love your birth story and your advice! I had both my babies at a Natural Birth Center about half an hour from my house and got a LOT of pushback from family and a few friends but I knew it was the right choice for me. I had back labor with my first and just before I went into transition I thought I was being ripped in half and was about to ask to be transferred to the hospital across the street so I could get an epidural when my midwife suggested a "sterile water injection" - not sure if this is the technical term but it is what she called it. I had never heard of it but she discussed it with us and it was just sterile water injected into the small of your back. They warned it would be the WORST pain I had ever felt for 2 minutes but then I would feel relief - I laughed at them because clearly I was in labor and already in "the worst pain of my life" but holy hell - it was AGONIZING for 2 minutes but lo and behold - SO MUCH RELIEF! I hadn't wanted any interventions but this was a really good option that I hadn't learned anything about! I did not have back labor with my second so there is hope! Finally, I wanted to add that I love your comments and advice about flexibility in your birth plan. I feel very lucky to have had 2 drug free births because that is what I wanted. I feel like my friends and family almost feel like I am judging them for their choices and I would never! Every birth is a blessing and every woman should feel empowered for growing and birthing a baby regardless of how that baby comes out!

Anita Fowler

Monday 29th of September 2014

Thank you so much for this comment! I have also never heard of a sterile water injection but that is a wonderful suggestion. Thank you for sharing your story and the fact you had back labor with your first and not your second does give me hope. Thank you!! I am due in about two months with my second so I will be looking into these options. Thanks again!