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.
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.
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 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.
Nearly every day for the past few weeks I have had a meltdown. This is when I weep, usually to a supportive family member, for an hour (or two or three). This morning was a doozy. It almost sounded like I was in labor. My husband was my doula. For I don’t know how long, I sat on my parents’ bed (my husband stood in front of me), and I rested my head on his stomach, letting myself sob and sniffle and make sounds, so many tears gushing from my eyes.
But I’ve started noticing something about these meltdowns: I usually feel better afterward. This shouldn’t be a surprise, I suppose. I learned at some point in the past few years that tears really can actually create a measurable shift in a person’s mood and physiology.
In a Psychology Today article, Judith Orloff, MD explains:
After studying the composition of tears, Dr. Frey found that emotional tears shed [stress] hormones and other toxins which accumulate during stress. Additional studies also suggest that crying stimulates the production of endorphins, our body’s natural pain killer and “feel-good” hormones” (Source).
It is healthy to cry. Crying is good for us.
A few winters ago, I grew kale in my garden. In AZ, certain crops can be grown during the winter, and kale is one of them. Anyway, as the kale grew, it soon attracted aphids. By the time spring came around, there wasn’t a kale leaf without hundreds of aphids on its underside. If there’s one thing aphids know how to do well, it’s reproduce.
Last Sunday, I learned something new about aphids. A man I know had been in a class with a bug-expert. And this bug expert explained that aphids give birth to live young, but sometimes the babies get stuck on their way out, and when this happens, a group of other aphids will gather around and help the mother get the baby aphid out. I’m not terribly fond of aphids, but this little bit of information made me smile (which is rare these days).
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.
This morning, a friend posted on my facebook page wall:
“Do you have a full list of things you recommend to bring for people who choose to have a hospital birth? I would love to pass a list on to my sister and friends who are pregnant, if you have one.”
I told her I didn’t have one, but she had given me an idea for a great blogpost. I should preface this by saying that I didn’t bring any of these things to my hospital births. But if I could go back in time, I would! Ten years of studying childbirth have taught me a lot!
Aside from the usual change of clothes, toiletries, and baby gear, here’s what I’d recommend you pack in your bag to ease your hospital birth and postpartum experience.
My youngest woke me up at around 4:00 a.m. this morning. As I lay there after getting her back to sleep, unable to drift back to sleep myself, there was a near-constant nudging telling me to get out of bed and write. I kept asking, “What should I write about?” I got out of bed, still not really sure what it was I was going to write.
A couple of weekends ago, I attended a yoga/meditation retreat taught by my soul sister, Felice Austin. It was a life-changing weekend. It’s hard for me to even describe or comprehend everything that happened inside of me over the course of those three days. But I feel nudged to share a bit about three of the powerful experiences I had that weekend.
On Saturday, Felice guided us in a rebirthing meditation. Knowing that I was conceived as the sixth child in an unhappy, stressful marriage and baked for nine months in that negative environment, I went into this meditation with some trepidation. I wasn’t sure what to expect from it, but I knew I didn’t want to relive my original gestation experience or find out just how painful it might have been. As it turns out, this rebirthing meditation had very little to do with how we were actually born and everything to do with transformation.
This experience really was transformational for me. I was reborn. I was healed. It was perhaps the closest I’ve ever come to pure ecstasy. It’s hard for me to describe what happened in a way that truly conveys its power. What happened was within the realm of my subconscious, but it was also more real than many of the physical experiences I’ve participated in. I experienced a new gestation. I was birthed and attended by women who love me, embraced in tenderness, re-took my first breath in euphoria.
Afterward, Felice told us that part of the meditation was to get up and talk to each other. I turned to Wendy who was the closest person to where I was and said, “Can I hug you?” We didn’t talk. We just held each other, and I sobbed. Then Sheridan came over to us and wrapped her arms around us. She doula-ed me in her gentle, perfect way… coaxing the wailing out of me in a massive release. And I sobbed and sobbed with these two beautiful women holding space for me and filling me with their love and light. I will never forget it.
On April Fool’s Day of 2009, I gave birth to my third child (my only son) at home (10:55 pm, 7 lbs 8 oz, 19 3/4″ long). After two smooth and low-risk pregnancies and births, losing our maternity insurance, and lots of prayer, we knew home birth was the right path for our third (and fourth) pregnancies.
It was a near-perfect birth from start to finish. My water broke in the afternoon, I relaxed at home, contractions started a couple of hours after membranes ruptured, I ate dinner, my birth support team arrived, labor picked-up, I hung out in the birth pool during the most intense contractions, I pushed for five minutes, baby boy was born on my bed. You can read all the details HERE.
It was magical. And I’m so glad I had my friend Cassie and my sister-in-law Brooke there as my doulas/photographers. I created a slideshow with my birth photos that you can view HERE. But I realized yesterday that I’ve never shared the photos themselves in a blogpost. Here are some of my favorites, taken by Cassie (and Brooke) at the end of my pregnancy, during labor, and afterward:
When I was a young girl, I went with my grandmother to visit a woman who lived in a tiny white house behind our family fruit orchard. She had added another newborn to her growing flock of little ones. We peeked at the baby, sleeping calmly amid the hubbub of the other children. This experience would likely have receded into the annals of forgotten experiences if it were not for one detail that blazed it into my memory. This woman had delivered her baby at home, on purpose. I don’t remember how old I was at the time, but I was old enough to know that babies were supposed to be born at the hospital. And, besides, why would anyone want to experience that pain?
Not long after I got married, I had a brief conversation with a young woman we knew. She was pregnant with her first child and carrying a stack of birth-related books from the library. The books prompted our conversation, and she mentioned that she was planning to give birth without drugs. I responded, in shock, “I didn’t know people still did that?!” She answered me with two sentences that changed my life forever: “My mom had all her babies that way. There are actually a lot of benefits.” In sincere curiosity and ignorance, I spent a few minutes drilling her about the benefits of natural childbirth. I’m pretty sure she mentioned the Bradley method and midwives in there somewhere. And then the conversation ended. I have since forgotten her name, but I will be forever grateful to this young woman for opening my mind to a path I never would have found or chosen on my own.
I wrote this poem for my husband for Valentine’s Day. Don’t worry… nothing sugary or uncomfortable. I wanted to do something special for him for staying steady by my side all through this pass year of upheaval and darkness. It is largely because of him that I’m still here. He was my doula through the darkness. And a pretty good-looking one at that. :-)
P.S. He really does have a bizarre dent in the back of his head. That will make more sense after you read the poem. :-)