Though I haven’t had an operating-room birth or an unassisted road-side birth, I have given birth in just about every other location with just about every type of birth attendant. For those who may want to know how my births compared, I thought I’d give my pros and cons for each scenario. Before I do, however, I’d like to emphasize that I don’t think birth location is as important as who you choose for birth attendants. I believe most women can have a positive birth experience in any location as long as the people they are surrounded by are kind, supportive, and capable. See my post on this topic here. Keep in mind that these were my personal experiences, and I do not intend to imply that my experiences would be expected to occur in every hospital, birth center, or home birth.
For home school, I try to have my kids write something in their journals several times each week. I let them pick what they want to write about, and they usually come up cool stuff. In the week after my baby was born, we mostly took a break from “school,” but we did have the kids write in their journals a few times. It was my 10-year-old’s idea to write about Hope’s birth. As soon as I found out what she was doing, I was eager to share her account on my blog. At first she didn’t want me to post it, feeling a little self-conscious. But I’m so glad she decided to let me go ahead. With her permission, I will transcribe her journal entry here:
On the early morning of Christmas day my parents woke me up and told me that my mom was in labor and said if I wanted to come I had better get up and find something to bring. So I changed, got my water bottle, some snacks, and a magazine my parents gave me.
That’s when I dropped my pants.
Funny how few circumstances there are when going bottom-less in front of other human beings is totally appropriate, but childbirth is one of them. I was ready to get in the tub. So I settled into the warm water, my husband held my hand, and Cherise knelt beside us and started pouring water over my belly. A few moments later, Mary came and stood at the foot of the tub. She must have known somehow that I was still feeling guilty about giving birth on Christmas, and she knew I needed a way to let that guilt go. The words she said to me… oh those words… those beautiful, beautiful words. Perhaps I’m not quoting her exactly right, but she looked straight into my eyes and said words very similar to this:
There is no greater gift to God’s service than what we’re doing right here right now.
As soon as her message penetrated my heart, it was as though the guilt instantly released its grip on me, and I began to cry. It was a massive, monumental, beautiful release. I sobbed, “Thank you…” and Mary didn’t skip a beat before responding, “Thank YOU.” Cherise and Mary both encouraged me to cry and let it out. This was the first time I had ever cried in labor, and it felt good. Releasing those trapped negative emotions allowed my body to move forward, and the contractions became even stronger.
My midwife partners and I at the The Farm learned by observation and experience that the presence of even one person who is not exquisitely attuned to the mother’s feelings can stop some women’s labors. All women are sensitive. Some women are extraordinarily so. -Ina May Gaskin
Apparently, reading Ina May Gaskin is a great way to boost oxytocin levels. My contractions had fizzled out when I curled up in bed to read, but within twenty minutes or so they were back. I kept reading for a while, but eventually I turned off my lamp and slept through the waves. As I slept, I noticed the contractions, but they were never strong enough to wake me completely.
Sometime around 4:00 a.m. my husband got up with an earache. I decided to get up too and start timing my contractions again. It was not the ideal time for him to be sick (ha, is it ever?), but I did my best to make him more comfortable with all the various natural remedies up my sleeve. It was looking highly likely that we would be having a Christmas baby, so he promised he would focus on supporting me despite his aching ear.
I really didn’t want to call my midwives. It was Christmas morning! And I especially didn’t want to bother them if it was just a false alarm. I waited until contractions were coming between 5 and 10 minutes apart and lasting a minute. And finally I bit the bullet and paged them. Amy was the one who called back (she was on-call until 7:00 a.m.). I told her I felt like maybe I was holding my labor back because I wasn’t yet at my birth location, so I felt like I should probably come in. She said that was fine and that she would meet us at the birth center.
[The first part of Hope’s birth story is HERE.]
As I wrote in the first installment of this story, giving birth is such a multi-layered experience. And what a woman is feeling has such a deep impact on how the birth unfolds. With that in mind, I can’t really give the full scope of what I went through with Hope’s birth without sharing some deep emotional upheaval I experienced a week before. In my last post I shared one layer of my pre-birth emotional state: fear about letting my baby come out. Today I’ll make Brené Brown proud with some hard-core vulnerability and share another layer.
He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust. -Psalms 91:4
With each of my births it has gotten harder and harder to write about the experience. A birth carries with it so much depth, so many layers of emotion. I feel like human language doesn’t have the capacity to truly encompass or articulate the profundity of it all. At the same time, I think that writing is an important way to process intense experiences, and I value having a record of important events. So, despite the weakness of the written word, I am sitting here with my baby strapped to my chest and my birthing music playing in the background with the intent of documenting my fifth venture into giving life.
I was afraid to let her come out. Having this baby inside of me had been such a peaceful journey. As my belly grew, my mental health steadily improved. I felt so stable. I felt so safe. But giving birth was going to create a lot of inevitable upheaval. And I was afraid of what was going to happen to me. Would I plunge into darkness again? Would my stable, happy world crumble to pieces as it had more than once before? Would I be able to give my baby the love she deserved?
In the weeks leading up to the birth, I spent a lot of time processing those fears. And I knew that those fears could potentially interfere with labor progress if I didn’t figure out how to let them go. When I woke up early in the morning on Christmas Eve with contractions, I felt a bit of panic. And when I used the bathroom and noticed the blood, I knew I had to finally come to peace with letting this baby come out of my body. My husband comforted me for a bit, and then I told him to get some sleep. I texted several friends and family members about the bloody show and mild early labor contractions. Then I sat in the early-morning glow of the Christmas tree and meditated.
Science has suggested that it is the fetus itself who signals the start of labor. This is related to certain proteins in the baby’s lungs, but proteins aside, it does seem fitting for a baby called Hope to choose Christmas morning for her birthday.
I really didn’t want to give birth on Christmas, but give birth I did anyway. :-) The experience was so many unexpected things, just as this pregnancy and all of the past year has been. I have never been so emotional during a birth, never before cried, never before vomited, and never felt so supported. I have never been filled with so much gratitude even amid the hardest pains. Most of my tears were just that… thankfulness… to my birthing team, to my baby, and to the Divine forces at work. I will post the full birth story later. Still processing.
Last week was crazy busy. That was probably true for most of us. Now that all the Christmas preparations are finished, all the holiday events have been attended, homeschool is on break, and my school-employed husband is home for at least two weeks, I feel like I can finally mentally, physically, and spiritually prepare myself for my baby’s birth (I’ll be 38 weeks tomorrow). On Thursday afternoon I told my husband, “All I want to do for the rest of the year is take baths and showers and sleep and meditate.” He said, “I can support you in that.” I said, “Good answer.”
The other day I was looking for ideas of how to nurture myself during the last few weeks of pregnancy. Google brought up a few things, but nothing was quite what I was looking for. So I bagged trying to get ideas from other people and decided to just do what my soul wanted me to do. Here’s a list of the things I’ve been doing to prepare mentally, physically, and spiritually for my upcoming birth.
I feel like life is both speeding up and slowing down at the same time. This week I will be 36 weeks pregnant, and I can feel myself moving into a sort of dream-like liminal space as my baby’s birth approaches. At the same time, life is so busy that the days fly by, and I don’t feel ready to walk through the doorway into the life where I’m a mom of five and waking up every few hours to feed a baby. But walking through that doorway isn’t really optional, so here I go. In other news… here are six things that have been on my mind these days…
Today I am sixteen weeks pregnant with my fifth baby.
Just a few more weeks before I reach my 120th day of pregnancy.
“On the 120th day, we give our women a blessing and tell them to meditate more, and look toward God, so that they may have very calm, quiet, intelligent, self-creative children.” -Yogi Bhajan
Each pregnancy has come with its unique set of concerns. During my first, I was focused on the upcoming birth and how I would manage the pain. The second pregnancy brought concerns about having a precipitous labor since my first had been less than six hours from start to finish. During my third pregnancy, I had fears about my baby dying in the birth process (it was our first home birth). As I prepared for my fourth birth, my primary fear was that I would need a cesarean, that I had somehow used up my “smooth birth” allotment and was due for a complicated delivery.
In the end, none of my fears panned out. Giving birth to my first baby was smooth and “easier” than I had feared it would be. My second baby came after a long, drawn-out on-again-off-again 24+ hours of (posterior presentation) labor, not the 3-hour birth I had feared. Our third baby arrived alive and kicking (or rather, peeing and pooping on me right away). My fourth birth experience was nearly-painless, and I pushed her out in less than five minutes despite the nuchal hand up over the top of her head. My fears, while very much real, all proved to be unwarranted.
Back in 2010 I wrote a post with some of my hopes for the upcoming birth of my 4th baby. It turned out that many of the things I wanted to experience with her birth didn’t work out. I did get to experience a near-painless birth, but it wasn’t anything like what I had envisioned. So here’s what I’m hoping for with birth #5…
1) Mother Blessing Celebration
With my last births, my co-authors gave me a “virtual mother blessing” and sent me a bonsai tree and beads for a birthing necklace along with lovely messages and prayers for me. It was wonderful. But this time I want a real-life mother blessing celebration with all my hippy/birthy friends (who can make it) physically present. I want henna on my belly, and flowers in my hair, and candles and the whole nine yards. Getting this child here has been a long and agonizing process, and I know I will need a lot of love and support to complete this journey and bring this child earth-side.
I should be working on my Yoga Teacher Training exam and certification packet, but instead I’ve been looking at homes online. And now here I am blogging. We found out that we’ll have to move this summer. 2015 just keeps getting more and more interesting. I feel like everything about my world right now is “in transition.”
I’m finishing up teacher training. Hallelujah. I’m adjusting to a surprise pregnancy. I’m transitioning through some unwelcome anxiety flare-ups and medication dosage adaptations. I’m remembering to take my own advice about minimizing morning sickness (thank you, cucumbers and magnesium). We’re getting geared-up to move. And I’m transitioning to a new prenatal care provider.
Yeah… switching to a new midwife. With my anxiety struggles and the minor chance of difficulties for the baby because of my medication, I had a strong feeling that I couldn’t do another home birth. If only for my anxiety’s sake, I felt it was best to know I would be much closer to a hospital. Instead, I have chosen to give birth at Blossom Birth Center, located across the street from Phoenix Children’s Hospital and five minutes down the street from St. Joseph’s Hospital. In addition, one of the care providers on staff is an OB, and hospital transfers are smooth and seamless because of their strong relationships with doctors and hospital staff. Also, I’ve done hospital births and home births, but I’ve never done a birth center… might as well give it a try.
About a week ago, I saw a TED Talk video that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about. In this 20-minute video, Amy Cuddy shares a “free, no-tech life hack.” Her research on body language demonstrates that we can infuse ourselves with greater confidence and serenity in the face of a challenging situation simply by changing body positions. She calls them “power poses.” Here’s the video, if you’re interested. Totally worth your time.
I wish every laboring woman could have a doula’s support. Here are four great reasons why…
1) Doulas are nothing new.
A lot of people, when they first hear about doulas, think… oh, that’s new. But it’s not at all. For thousands and thousands of years women have been supported by other women during childbirth. We watched an awesome film at our doula training called “The Timeless Way” which showed the history of childbirth starting with ancient artifacts and moving to more modern depictions. I was struck how the very same image was represented through sculpture, wall carvings, pottery, and art over and over and over again. It is the “classic birth triad”—an upright laboring woman supported from behind by another woman, with a midwife in front ready to catch the baby. It has only been in the last century that this “classic birth triad” has all but disappeared. Doulas are not new. Modern obstetric practice is what has strayed (very far, I might add) from the time-tested norm.