Everyone always talks about the benefits of giving birth in the water, how wonderful it is. They rave about it, and women go to great lengths to have the perfect water birth. Of course, from the moment I heard about it, I wanted one too.
Personally, I have had the incredible experience of giving birth four times, all without medication of any kind. (You can read about my fourth birth experience HERE.)
My second birth was my first, and only, water birth at home. There were things I liked, and it was an all around good experience, but my third and fourth babies were born on land. Here are a few reasons why water birth wasn't for me:
1. Water isn't my "safe place"
I grew up in a desert. Here in Northern Utah it may not seem like a desert, but it is. The summer (and winter) air is dry. My first exposure to humidity was my first time in Oklahoma, where I got out of the car and promptly decided the people there must have gills to breathe. Despite having swim lessons and enjoying leisure time in the water at the city pool or water park, it's just not a place I feel comfortable or safe, which are two of THE most important components to giving birth. While I enjoyed the warmth the water provided, it didn't help me get into the right head space to give birth.
2. The tub was uncomfortable
Easily fixed, perhaps, by using a different tub. The one my midwife provided was a tall, hard-sided container typically used as an animal water trough (bought new, no worries!), with a plastic liner. It was neither physically comfortable (even with the blanket we used to pad the bottom), nor conducive to free movement. My husband could fit in it with me, which I was extremely grateful for, but I felt like I couldn't get on hands and knees without my face in the water, and I really didn't like being inhibited that way.
3. It was cold!
The water was warm and absolutely wonderful. Getting out was FREEZING. And since I didn't want to pee in the water, I had to get out several times to go to the bathroom. I was dripping and shivering and having contractions - not a combination to produce relaxation. I also had to eventually leave the water after my baby was born to birth my placenta - again, not exactly how I want to feel right after giving birth, weak and wet and shivering and cold.
4. Procedures get awkward
Vaginal exams and checking baby's heart rate become very inconvenient when the essential body parts are submerged under water. Sometimes you have to adjust your position so the midwife can get a good reading. Other times you have to get out of the water completely so they can make sure baby is okay. The inconvenience level depends on many factors: how much your midwife insists on you getting checked (and whether you agree to it), whether your baby seems to be in distress or handling contractions great, and how fast your labor goes. I don't remember being super inconvenienced at the time, but every disturbance, even a gentle request to move your leg or shift to one side while someone monitors you, is a reminder that you're in labor, and an opportunity for your mind to come out of the "zone" of labor that you really want to be in, especially in active labor leading up to transition.
5. It required Extra equipment
When I'm pregnant and giving birth, I want things to be simple. I don't want to have to check how hot my water heater can get for how long, or whether I have the right valve to fit my faucet, or whether the new, lead-free hose we bought will stretch from the kitchen sink to where I've kept the birth tub. We had to lay down several layers on the carpeted floor of the apartment we were renting at the time - waterproof shower curtains and sheets - all the way from the living room to the bathroom.
6. It required Perfect Timing
As for the timing thing, birth is unpredictable. So many intended water births end with "we didn't get the tub filled up in time" or, "we filled it up early and the water got cold" and then they're rushing to boil pots and add more water, or missing out on the experience entirely. In my experience, I labored long enough the water started to cool and we had to boil more. It worked out all right and I still gave birth in the water, but it was something that took up more mental space in my head that I would rather not deal with.
7. I tore - badly
One of the most highly admonished reasons for having a water birth is that it is less likely you'll receive a perineal or vaginal tear as baby comes through your vaginal opening. My first birth (on my back in the hospital) I only had a small tear that barely needed any stitching. I wasn't too concerned for my second, but thought the water might prevent a tear. Spoiler alert: having a water birth doesn't guarantee you'll walk away without stitches down there. I ended up pushing (rather hard, to be honest) a 9 lb 2 oz little girl with a rather large head circumference out in TWO solid pushes. The result was a 2nd degree tear and a really horrible experience being stitched up, even worse than actually giving birth!
Now I know some things that could have made that easier ("birthday candle breathing", being on land (for me), and listening to my body better), but being told that water birth would prevent tearing and then having the worst tear I've ever received (even including my third baby, who was a half pound larger, and I didn't tear at all), was rather off-putting. All that effort to get my water birth, and it didn't turn out the way I hoped.
I don't want anyone to think that I hate water birth, nor am I suggesting that it's not right for anyone. I'm completely, 100% supportive of water birth, and if you want to try one, go for it! I'll even support you as your birth doula through it. I personally wouldn't go out of my way to have one again. For babies number 3 and 4 I was on land and greatly preferred the control, comfort, and freedom I felt. I will, most likely, always plan to give birth out of the water - using the shower or my own bath tub if I really feel the urge to use water as a relaxation tool again. Experience is the best teacher, but hopefully you can learn from mine and better decide if a water birth would be worth it for you.
Have you given birth in the water? Did you love it? Hate it? Do you still want to try it? Comment below with your experiences!