Your Estimated Due Date is getting closer, and you want to make sure you are 100% prepared for whatever your body and your baby throws your way. Here are some suggestions to help you birth your baby. All of these suggestions are interconnected, and work beautifully together to allow your body to do what it knows how to do – birth your baby!
Let your labor start naturally (and help it along if need be!)
In the world of labor and birth, this is key. Anxiety surrounding when your little babe will make his/her appearance is normal. Easing this anxiety will assist in making labor happen sooner and with less effort. The mind-body connection is powerful – especially when it comes to pregnancy, labour, and birth – so maybe baby is holding back for that one last date with your partner, for the nursery to be completed, or for you to mentally and emotionally be ready to welcome your beautiful bundle. And remember: there is no calendar hanging on the wall of your uterus. Baby has no idea when the ultrasound said she “should” arrive. Trust that your body and your baby will know when the time is right.
Once all of these things fall into place, baby should arrive shortly! Well, maybe. Sometimes body and baby need a little push in the right direction. There are PLENTY of natural ways that are said to bring about labor. Acupressure, acupuncture, and massage therapy can trigger your labour to begin naturally, as can several herbal and homeopathic options, but please seek the assistance of a professional for all of these options. Sexual intercourse and light activities may also jump-start your birthing experience, but be sure to get the go-ahead from your Midwife/OBGYN/Physician. If you have made too comfy of a home for your wee one and they just don’t want to come out, a pharmaceutical induction may be required. This can take many forms (Artificial Rupture of Membranes, prostaglandin gel, Pitocin drip…), but your body will most likely get the hint shortly and can take things from there.
Once labor has begun: move, move, move! As much as possible and for as long as possible! Your baby is working hard, wiggling her way out of that tight womb, so help her out if you can. Your movements can be drastic and grand, like walking or swaying, or small and minute, like shifting a leg, gently rocking with your partner, or rolling to lie on the other side. Changes in movement are suggested every 30 minutes up until the Transition stage, at which time you do what you need to do, Mama!
Eat and Drink
How long do you normally go without eating or drinking anything? 3 hours? 5 hours? What about if you were going to the gym, or, say, running a marathon...wouldn’t you fuel your body properly for these activities? If you are going to labor for upwards of ten hours and then birth your baby, you need energy! Yet eating and drinking during labor is often discouraged. Your uterus is a muscle, and if it gets fatigued because of lack of fuel (food), it will not work as it should. I am not saying go and eat a turkey dinner, but eating and drinking as you see fit will do more good for your body than harm, and a zero tolerance policy for food and drink intake will set you on a fast path for fatigue. Be sure to throw some healthy snacks to nibble on into that hospital bag, or stock your pantry and fridge with easy-to-grab items for the most rewarding workout of your life!
It has been proven that certain environments are more conducive to successful birthing than others. An animal, if feeling threatened, will physiologically stop laboring and will continue only once they are no longer in danger. Your body--more specifically, the cervix--will not function as well as it could if you are feeling any one of a myriad of things: uneasy, stressed, anxious, worried, pressured, overwhelmed, uninformed, scared, upset. A calm, relaxed, non-intrusive environment, on the other hand, will allow your body to relax, open up, and welcome the experience of birth. Your physical birthing environment is as important as your mental birthing environment, so be sure to surround yourself with people you love and trust who also love and trust you, your body, and your preferences. You could also set up a playlist, bring a familiar blanket or pillow, or light some candles (or use the battery powered ones) to have full sensory control of your surroundings.
Listen to your body
Finally, listen to your body. This is true for your entire labor experience, but most importantly as your labor is nearing its end. As your near the birth of your baby,an amazing physiological component called the push reflex will naturally kick in. I remember hearing about this reflex during my prenatal class and feeling so rewarded when I experienced it in my labor. My birthing body was taking over--all I had to do was surrender to the natural process, let it happen, and I would be holding my baby shortly. Breathing your baby down as opposed to pushing your baby out allows for a gentler and more comfortable birth (for both Mama and Baby!).
Having faith and trust in your body when faced with something it has never experienced before can be scary. But please have that faith and trust. Your body is beautiful, and it knows exactly what it is doing.
Shame and guilt appear to be accepted aspects of motherhood. There is very little a mother can do that doesn’t make her susceptible to being shamed into feeling like a ‘bad mother’. If you formula-feed, you are denying your child a healthy start. If you breastfeed past the first year, you are a hippie attachment parent who can’t let their baby grow up. If you go back to work early, you are abandoning your child. If you stay home, you have no ambition (I have done ALL these things by the way). The list goes on…
Shaming also extends into the birthing world, and birth shame is personally something that I have carried with me for some time now. When I was pregnant with my first son I had planned the birth that many doulas dream of. I had the midwifery team, the doula, my home birth supply list, and even a spot in my backyard picked out for planting my placenta. It was going to be a peaceful, primitive and undisturbed birth experience, complete with rainbows and unicorns. Well, it turns out (in case you didn’t know) that things don’t always go as planned, and I ended up in the hospital at 36.5 weeks facing an induction.
Induction is a bad word in the birthing community. It should be avoided like the plague! And I was a doula, so shouldn’t I know better? Shouldn’t I be ‘informed’ enough to know the risks? Against what I was taught I went ahead with the induction. After 12 hours of labor my son was born, and was immediately whisked away to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). Instead of making memories of our first gazes, or taking pictures of his tiny feet, I was left in the birthing room without a baby. Were my choices the reason that my baby was in a cold incubator all alone? Was I the reason that we missed out on those first precious moments together? My shame convinced me that our mother-child bond was compromised by my failures. All I could see was that I hadn’t been good enough, that I hadn’t tried enough, and that I hadn’t been smart enough. Maybe if I had refused Pitocin, the birthing process wouldn’t have been so hard for my son. All the things that I could have done differently swirled around in my head.
As a doula, I felt somewhat like an imposter for not having the intervention-free birth that I had envisioned. I would share my birth story with other moms and doulas, but I felt the need to justify all of my actions and to explain all the medical reasons that led to an induction so that I wouldn’t be judged. Luckily, with time, the shame simply morphed into disappointment. I was soon pregnant with my second and I had convinced myself that I would do things entirely different this time around. But unfortunately many of the same problems that plagued my first pregnancy started creeping up again, and it looked like my rainbow-coloured home birth was just a fantasy.
After 37 weeks of a very emotional second pregnancy, I made the decision to be induced before my medically necessary 'deadline date' (cue audible gasps). I was exhausted and worn down by a difficult pregnancy. And I was sick of being treated like a ticking time bomb. I was done with the blood tests, the ultrasounds and the non-stress tests. I was just done. I knew it was the ‘wrong’ choice to make, and I carried a lot of shame over it. I didn't tell anyone about my choice (until now!) because I was afraid that I would be judged by other moms, and by other birth professionals. But after some self-reflection I have realized that it wasn’t the wrong choice to make, because it was the right choice for my family in that moment and it involved so much more than simply weighing the medical benefits and risks of an induction. My fears, my hopes, my past experiences, my knowledge, my insecurities, and the information I was given were all factors in my choice to be induced. And people can judge my birth choices all they want, but I am no longer going to let their judgments cause me shame. I am proud of myself, and I am proud of my births.
Being a mom can be the source of so much guilt and feelings of failure. Let’s not make birth one more thing that we fail at as moms. Let’s support each other and the decisions that we make, even if they were ‘uninformed’, or based on fear or pain. Let’s watch our words and our thoughts, because they can have a big effect on how a woman remembers her birth experience. Let’s not project what we feel is an ideal birth onto someone else…it may not be what they consider ideal at all. And let’s focus all of our 'judgey' energy on making the maternity care system better, and not on shaming the women within the system.
Aztec elders taught that women who died in childbirth go to the same level of paradise as men who died in battle. After attending over forty births, I fully understood why. Men die in battle from intense wounds. They bleed as they sacrifice for a greater cause. The same holds true for women who die in childbirth. They bleed as they open to life. The juxtaposition of beauty and pain in each birth astounds me. Each story lives in me.
Amy Wright Glenn in “Birth, Breath, and Death—Meditations on Motherhood, Chaplaincy, and Life as a Doula”
At 9:35pm, my first doula client called me in active labor.
“I’ll see you soon,” I told her. “You can do this Amanda. Just one breath at a time.”
Thirty minutes later, I had everything I needed to begin my doula career. I kissed my husband good-bye. “I’m not sure how long I’ll be gone,” I said holding him close. “Wish me luck.”
It was December and the New Jersey winter air filled my lungs. I drove to Amanda’s address. After parking the car, I looked up at the stars and prayed. I vividly remember walking to her apartment door.
I had successfully completed my doula-training workshop, read many birth books, and seen a multitude of videos and images of birth. Yet, nothing compared to the honor of being asked to support a woman through labor and delivery.
Over the course of the next 17 hours, I held Amanda’s hands, massaged her back, shared encouraging words, kept silent vigil, and even at points laughed with her as she rested between the waves of contractions transforming her being. Then, the time came. Amanda stood up, fiercely held onto her loving husband, and pushed her daughter into this world. The midwife joyfully caught the infant from below. I marveled at the wonder of birth.
My first birth as a doula transformed me as did the dozens more that followed – each unique and beautiful, each a testament to a mother’s courage.
I’m deeply drawn to the doula path. I love offering my time to women as they open their hearts, souls, and bodies in childbirth. As a doula, I stay up for hours on end holding, nurturing, and making space for a laboring woman to find her strength. As a doula, I hold the hands of women as the next generation enters our world.
The word “doula” comes from a Greek term meaning “woman servant.” Historically, doulas were servants skilled at attending women in labor. Today, doulas continue to serve birthing women.
Doulas are not midwives, OBs, or nurses. But together with these professionals, doulas work to support a woman through birth. While the focus of the medical team involves analyzing data and safeguarding the physical health of both mother and child, a doula focuses on the holistic wellbeing of the mother. Doulas teach comfort measures, offer loving touch, speak encouraging words, and serve as a spiritual support at a most transformative time in life. In today’s hospitals, doulas work from a place of softness in an obstetrical world of hard edges.
Most modern women have never personally witnessed a birth. So often, the first birth they experience is their own. When contractions begin, the majority of pregnant women embark upon one of the most transformative experiences of their lives without first hand knowledge of what awaits them. This fact stands in stark contrast to the birthing practices of our ancestors. For the vast majority of human history, women have always surrounded each other in labor and delivery. This aids birthing women and emboldens future mothers with the first-hand knowledge of female strength. Today, doulas reconnect birthing women to the powerful legacy of female support in birth. A doula’s presence also impacts the quality of the birth itself.
According to Christine Morton, a Stanford-based research sociologist and co-author of “Birth Ambassadors: Doulas and the Re-Emergence of Women-Supported Birth in America,” more and more American couples are hiring doulas. Morton argues that this is because midwifery care isn’t widely available and a doula’s presence at birth can lead to many of the same benefits found in a midwifery-based model. Morton writes, “Doulas are the birth ambassadors for the midwifery model of care in the US.” Such a model empowers women to be fully involved in the birth experience. Many studies confirm that the presence of trained labor support shortens the length of labor, minimizes the use of interventions, and reduces the use of pain relieving medicine. As Dr. John H. Kennell famously stated, "If a doula were a drug it would be unethical not to use it."
But, what about the husband or partner? Does a doula replace the birthing mother’s most intimate labor companion? No. While a doula “mothers the mother” through the birth process, the husband or partner also deeply benefits from her presence. Often husbands or partners become more involved in supporting a birthing woman as they learn and adopt many of the doula’s comforting techniques. A doula’s presence frees the husband or partner from feeling like s/he must be an expert support in an entirely new and challenging situation. If the labor is particularly trying, difficult, or emotionally charged, a doula’s presence soothes scared nerves and buoys a birthing couple’s confidence.
The Practical Level
There are two kinds of doulas: birth and postpartum doulas. A birth doula meets with a pregnant woman, is present throughout the birth, and helps the couple process the experience in a postpartum visit. A mother doesn’t need to be planning for a natural birth to hire a doula. Indeed, the majority of woman delivering in a modern day hospital setting would benefit greatly from the continuous labor support that a doula provides. For women birthing at home, a doula’s presence offers added support and loving energy to the wisdom that skilled homebirth midwives bring to the table. Birth doulas usually charge a flat rate and often ask for a portion of their fee to be paid prior to the birth.
In contrast, postpartum doulas help new mothers with breastfeeding and responding empathetically to a newborn’s needs. They understand a mother’s need for rest and support in the postpartum period. In a world where families are often separated by days of travel, the presence of a postpartum doula can provide a new mother with essential loving kindness and insight. Postpartum doulas charge per diem.
When seeking out a doula, I suggest interviewing at least two women. An expectant couple needs to find the right fit. Some doulas are closer to the mother’s age and bring a sister-like energy to the birth experience. Other doulas are older and bring a matronly energy to the birth or postpartum care. Most importantly, an expectant couple should feel very comfortable with the doula’s presence. After all, birth is one of the most intimate experiences one can share with another human being. Deep emotions and a great deal of physical touch are involved in most births – and much of this carries over into the postpartum period. A couple needs to feel confident that the doula will be a trusted, nonjudgmental and compassionate presence as they undergo the crucible experience of birth and welcome their little one to this world.
A doula holds the memory of each birth as precious. While she protects the confidentiality of her clients, her very presence also helps protect the mother’s own memories of birth. This matters.
Protecting a Mother’s Memory
“I am a protector of birth memories,” I often tell my clients. “I want you to look back on this experience and remember being supported, heard, and loved. I want you to feel proud of yourself.”
When women feel silenced, helpless, and dismissed in the birthing experience, their trust in both their own body’s wisdom and in their baby’s instinctive energy is eroded. This is true even if the birth experience fits the classic, textbook rendition of “normal.” If the emotional tone and energy surrounding the birth is negative, an unnecessary harm has been done. The impact of a negative birth experience -- sometimes called birth trauma -- can disrupt the secure attachment bonds linking generations and deeply impact a woman’s sense of self.
When women feel emboldened and supported through the birth experience, their abilities to trust their maternal instincts and bond with their newborn are deeply enhanced. This is true even when birthing preferences or plans unfold in ways unexpected. If the energy surrounding a birthing woman is positive, inspiring, and kind the mother internalizes these qualities as she nurtures her child.
The way we approach birth as a society can either empower or disempower women. According to Aviva Romm, a Yale trained medical doctor and former homebirth midwife, “Women can be partners in their care, not subjects of it.” Doulas support women to be fully informed and empowered in their birth experience. Doulas are the ambassadors of change in a culture bereft of the birth’s wisdom present in ages past. Doulas help protect a birthing woman’s memory of her strength, struggle, and accomplishment.
I’ll always remember my first birth as a doula. When the time comes for me to leave this world, I take with me many treasured memories. Some of the most precious involve being present for the wonder, pain, love, and beauty of birth.
In celebration of doulas, I bow.
Originally published in Holistic Parenting Magazine, Issue #3 May-June 2014
Last month, Jill Reiter from the Childbirth and Postpartum Professional Association (CAPPA) interviewed author, doula, chaplain, and mother Amy Wright Glenn.
In this 35 minute reflection, Amy reads from her book, "Birth, Breath, and Death" and reflects upon the role of a doula in supporting a mother's "hero journey" through birth. Amy also shares her insights regarding the significance of breastfeeding through the toddler years and how mothers can find "harmony" with the many demands on their time.
Treat yourself to a wonderful, inspiring, and heart-warming interview with Amy Wright Glenn.
I didn’t count her toes.
One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten.
I didn’t count her toes, or run my finger against each perfectly smooth miniature nail. I was about to. I was about to breathe her in, to smile down at her and envelope those tiny feet in my trembling new-mama hands.
But then it all went white.
My baby girl, just a few minutes old, was taken from my arms. Faces hovered above me and needles pierced through skin, into my veins. I remember pain. Hot, pulsing pain, as the man who would save my life worked to stop the bleed.
I remember turning my head, only slightly, as my oxygen mask tugged against my cheek. I remember gloved hands repositioning it so that my view became only ceiling once more. But I sneaked a peak. I caught a glimpse of my little girl, held tightly in her daddy’s arms as his ashen-white face stared at the scene before him. But nobody was looking at her.
Nobody was counting her toes.
In those moments, color left my world and only white remained...detail and shading were redundant and sounds were muffled as time slowed down. Sleep invited me, but I clung to the white, to the brightness, because subconsciously I knew that I had some counting to do.
In my head, I must admit that I was thinking about myself. This is a hard sentence to write. My baby was minutes old and I was thinking about myself. About my pain, my dizziness, my confusion, my life. But I understand now, all of these months on, that my heart was bound to my daughter; I realize now that it was my heart holding on...holding onto the hope that I would live to count those perfect toes.
You see, I lost more than blood at half past six on that summer’s evening. I lost what I assumed was my right to claim those first hours of my daughter’s life outside of the womb. I lost what I assumed was my right to enjoy her 10-minute old self, her 11-minute old self, her 12-minute old self and so on. What if she had rooted for milk at minute 14, as the doctors set up yet another IV drip for me across the room? What if she had looked up in search of her mama’s face at minute 16, as the nurses told me to stay with them? What if she was counting on me to count her toes?
It’s taken a while, but I am at peace with the questions above. I have a steady ache that those moments were lost for us, that I didn’t get to live out my fairytale birth, but I am at peace.
Because, in truth, the moments that I am talking about are just that: they are moments. And as life thunders on and as my daughter grows bigger and bigger, those initial moments become surrounded by other moments in our vast fabric of existence. Never superseded or overlaid, because a woman’s birth experience cannot be brushed aside or forgotten, no matter how uplifting or crushing it may have been. No, these ‘lost’ moments are threaded between others, interwoven between first words and knitted against happy gurglings.
You see, these ‘lost’ moments are paid homage to every time that I crouch down and take off her shoes, every time that I catch a wiggle of a big toe beneath grubby socks. These ‘lost’ moments are saluted every time a little foot smacks me square in the nose during a gymnurstics session...or square in the ribs during our sleep dance.
In truth, these moments are with me at every new turn, at every junction of motherhood. They remind me of the gift that I was given: I am still here.
I get to be mama to my wonderful little girl, and for that, I am ever thankful. I don’t know how long it took me to actually count baby bean’s toes; in honesty, I cannot remember much through the overwhelming fog of love and fear and awe that engulfed me in those early weeks. But it simply doesn’t matter, as there was more for us; more time, more life, more chances. And there will be more again tomorrow.
Because it’s never too late to count toes.
This post originally appeared on Mama Bean Parenting.
As humans, there are many things that set us apart and make us relatively unique from other primates. Besides our capacity for abstract thought, our mastery of fire, and our obsession with reality television, the simple fact of being bipedal has had drastic effects in our ongoing biological and social evolution. Women in particular bear the brunt of these evolutionary consequences as they go through pregnancy and birth.
The pelvis supports the upper part of the human body and distributes weight onto our legs. While this can give us mobility advantages, it also means that the female pelvis had to evolve to accommodate bipedalism, large brained neonates, and secondary altriciality. Because we are the only mammals to walk exclusively upright, we have unique birthing challenges.
In order to basically keep the fetus from "falling out" from between a woman's legs when she is standing, the pelvis developed into a unique shape. Unfortunately, this shape forces the neonate to navigate the pelvis as it is being born, basically having to complete two partial lateral rotations to accommodate first its large head, and then broad shoulders. An article entitled Birth, Obstetrics and Human Evolution by Karen Rosenberg and Wenda Trevathan says,
“The series of rotations that the human neonate most commonly undergoes during birth is related to the locomotor pattern of bipedalism as well as to...a relatively large brain.” (1)
It used to be thought that birth was relatively easy and uncomplicated for animals and that humans were unique in their difficult births. We now know that this is not the case.
“One important characteristic of primates as a group is a large head and brain relative to body size...For most primates, this means that their neonates at birth have heads that are close to the size of the maternal birth canal through which they must pass. This is especially true of monkeys, lesser apes and humans.” (2)
Traditionally it was thought that apes and monkeys had easy births because humans were the only primates whose young had to undergo rotations to navigate the birth canal. Today we know this is not always true. While not enough animal births have been observed to draw a decisive conclusion, some studies have noted neonates rotating through the birth canal, though in different ways from humans. Non-human primates still have a distinct advantage over women because their young are generally born facing toward the mother so that she can help guide them out and up to her.
What does all this mean for birthing women? Well, it’s not as bad as it sounds. Our pelvis may be perilously close to being too small and babies heads a hair's breadth from being too large, but our amazing bodies help compensate for that with the hormone Relaxin.
Relaxin helps to relax the muscles, ligaments and bones in a pregnant woman’s body, concentrating its effects on the pelvis and lower back area. While these effects cause the unpleasant “pregnancy waddle” and balance woes associated with late pregnancy, they also allow the pelvis to expand as the baby moves through the birth canal.
And if a woman's expandable pelvis wasn't amazing enough, babies are also well equipped to deal with the tight fit. Neonate skulls are soft and flexible with gaps between plates in their head. This means that the head can mold and shape itself to fit through the pelvis as needed. If it’s a tight enough fit, the bones can even overlap, causing the infamous cone head. If the baby does come out looking cone headed, its head will gradually go back to normal. So while being the only primate to walk exclusively upright has serious evolutionary drawbacks when it comes to pregnancy and birth, it also means that the human birth process is particularly amazing. Women's bodies are made to birth and babies are designed to be birthed. From an expandable pelvis to a shrinkable head, mother and child work together in an intricate, exquisite process.
In Westernized cultures, a healthy baby and healthy mom are generally accepted as a good outcome of pregnancy and birth. Frequently, the actual birth experience is not given much consideration. More often now, however, it is being realized and accepted that the birth experience may affect a mother's ability to breastfeed and bond with her baby as well as her overall confidence in being both a parent and a woman.
The raw emotions that a new mother feels are often put on the back burner because she has much more to worry about now that her baby has arrived. These emotions may also shaded by well-intentioned people who remind the mother that she should be proud that both she and her baby are doing well. The mother may be numb due to the utter shock, disbelief, and denial of what occurred during the birth. Whether there was actual physical or psychological trauma during the birth or the mother is just severely disappointed that she did not achieve the birth she desired, these women tend to be ashamed of their feelings and afraid to tell anyone. Sometimes the effects of a traumatic birth don't display until well into the second half of the baby's first year. In some instances, the effects are not apparent until after the child's first birthday or, if the mother is breastfeeding, until after the child is weaned.
There is a name for these feelings: Postpartum Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. About one-third of mothers will develop PPTSD1. Symptoms include flashbacks and nightmares of what happened, distress when reminded of the situation, and avoidance of anything that may be a reminder of the event. All of these symptoms may or may not be accompanied by symptoms of Postpartum Depression. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it is important to keep in mind that you are not alone. There is support.
The following are resources to keep handy in case you or someone you know needs somewhere to reach out for support:
1 American Friends of Tel Aviv University. "One in three post-partum women suffers PTSD symptoms after giving birth: Natural births a major cause of post-traumatic stress, study suggests." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 8 August 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/08/120808121949.htm>.
I suppose, that in a mother’s life there is a time where she feels the need to write down the story that accompanied her child into the world. The moments before, during, and after the life that grew inside her comes to us earth side, into a world that is full of infinite promise - much like the child itself.
I will take a moment to be frank. This is our story. These are the events that I recall and all opinions expressed are my own. They reflect nothing on the other people involved in the process, so please while OUR story may not be what you expect, I will not judge or bare grudge against anyone involved.
If you are easily upset or grieving, please read no further as OUR birth journey may upset some people. And with this in mind I will begin.
Baby Boo’s birth story begins much like any other birth story.
My pregnancy was difficult. I was confined to complete bed rest for 12 weeks after my body went into what was called pre-term labour. When 37.5 weeks came the obstetric physician I was under the care of let the bed rest rule lapse. The baby was safe to come.
I joyously waddled through baby isles of shops and had lunch with family, friends and myself while I could. Eleven days later I went into early labour on a Friday while out shopping with my mum and my sister. Ironically we were joking around saying I needed an ambulance because I was in labour. Turns out I actually was. I went to bed early that night with a sore back but figured it was because I was huge. I had gained a large 20kg by this point. About 1:30am Saturday morning I awoke with the urge to pee, as so often happens in the last stages of pregnancy. I ungainly waddled off to the loo at which point I must have lost my plug - it made a very loud kerplunk noise and I actually had to get up off the loo to look and see what it was. I didn’t get too excited, as I had been informed that it could still be a few days or weeks after the loss of mucus plug that true labour begins, so I went back to bed. After a few hours of irregular contractions 5am rolled around and the contractions became a whole lot stronger and were spaces about 10 minutes apart. Unperturbed I got up so I didn’t disturb my husband. I had breakfast and sat in the lounge on a tarp bouncing on the yoga ball. 8 am comes and the contractions were 5 minutes apart and pretty strong - which I thought was awesome! I was finally convinced that our baby was going to be joining us sooner rather than later. I woke my sleeping husband and told him that he was going be a daddy today. Adorably sleepy, he was flustered and told me we had to go to the hospital right away. Laughing I told him not yet. I would let him know when it was time and he should just go back to sleep cause it was going to be a long day. 11 am passed and the contractions were 2 minutes apart and closing. My husband who had made the most of a last sleep-in, got up out of bed to find me on hands and knees rolling across the yoga ball. He made me a second breakfast and put my hospital bag in the car. He had a shower while I wandered around the house singing and tidying up. I mean what else do you do while in labour? At 2pm the contractions were back-to-back for an hour and I was in tears. I swung wildly between saying “I can’t do this” and “stop being stupid you have no choice at this point just get on with it”. I honestly think that my husband thought I was going mad. I finally told him that we had to go, the baby was most definitely coming today. After a very painful walk across a car park in the grey light and drizzle, across a LONG foyer and sitting/standing/crouching in the labour waiting room, I was checked by the midwife who informed me that I was only 3cm dilated but 40% effaced! She said to go home and that they “will see you tonight.” While I was annoyed because I was in labour and cranky - pain tends to do that to me - we went home for about 20 minutes. At 3pm I said to my darling that we had to go back, upon our return we got shuffled over to the public maternity ward. And again I was checked by a midwife and thanks to all things good in the world I was 6cm and 80% effaced. I was admitted in active labour.
At this point I don’t actually remember much but I will tell you what I actually remember. I was in a mind numbing amount of pain. I asked for an epidural and after hours of waiting I consented to a shot of pethadine and maxalon. Apparently I had a bad reaction to the maxalon and am no longer allowed to take it. The epidural went in fine. I remember DH being told to check if I was still conscious because I was so still. I had gone to my happy place and was concentrating on my yoga breathing - and the nitrous gas that was my lifeline. The midwife who was attending to me had pulled my bra down so it was stuck in my belly and they had to cut it off. I don’t know why I remember that, but it annoyed me very much. Unfortunately the epidural wasn’t working but they kept telling me to push the button so I did. I ran out of the drug in the end. My husband even alerted the anesthesia specialist to the fact one of my legs was red hot and the other completely cold. The epidural was adjusted and still failed to give me any relief. I vaguely remember my charming husband asking if I wanted to have sex to get my mind off the pain. Apparently I told him to "eff off" - which was amusing to the staff in the room. I remember the doctor checking my progress, and me asking what the warm was. Turns out my waters had broken (unaided) as he finished his internal examination.
Next thing I remember is pushing for AGES…I was kept immobile once they administered the epidural and they called it a "failed second stage labour" meaning the baby had disengaged and prepped me for an emergency c-section. I don’t remember much except the strange feeling of a nurse shaving my pubic hair and the thought that it was odd trying to hold a pen and sign papers when everyone was so concerned. I was exhausted and my baby’s heart rate was dropping.
Now according to DH on the way to theatre in the lift I sat up and grunted really loud, by the time we got to theatre they could see my baby. So they attached the vacuum and with one more push he was out. A side note - they had removed my failed epidural in preparation of putting me under a general anesthetic for surgery. My baby was born and apparently they put him on me - soon after he was taken for the normal things they do to babies.
What I remember is, a clunk feeling when being loaded into the elevator and a overwhelming desire to push. I remember the shot in the bum cheek to ‘encourage the placenta to come away’. I remember feeling them stitching up my second degree tearing. I remember telling whomever was standing by my head that I was very cold. They got me warm blankets. I remember them pushing on my tummy and commenting on the blood loss - "that is about 600ml……1.5 litres" - someone called out "code blue - get the universal bloods STAT”. The last thing I remember was the sting of the transfusion needle in my arm. I remember thinking how awful for the family of the code called. I woke up in intensive care 18 hours later where my mum was sitting beside my bed holding my hand. My wonderful husband had only just left - to shower and get fresh clothes. He had been able to give our baby his first bottle feed as I was in critical condition. Apparently at 4am Sunday morning they told my husband to ring whomever he needed to say goodbye as they didn’t think I was going to pull through. In total I lost 4.6 litres of blood and had 3 separate blood transfusions. When I woke I was confused and sore as hell.
Staff then brought him over for me to see and I got my first cuddles. I don’t remember anything until the second day in ICU where apparently I refused any pain relief stronger than panadol.
Day three they took me for a shower in a wheelchair connected to a million IV drips and things.
Day four I was moved to high needs maternity, where I demanded that the baby stay with me 24/7 because they had only been bringing him to be for short bursts of time.
On day 8 we were finally allowed to go home.
Three weeks post birth I started to bleed heavily. In the next 5 weeks I went to emergency three times and was told three different things - it’s normal breastfeeding bleeding, it’s a mild uterine infection, and at 8 weeks post, it’s a super heavy period.
During this time, I went through many, many traumatic events that resulted in panic attacks, hallucinations and nightmares for months and years after. I passed clots the size of my baby’s head, I spent hours on the toilet waiting for the blood to stop flowing enough for me to reach the cupboard that held my maternity napkins. I fell asleep and faded in and out of consciousness while waiting for the blood to stop. The worst of all was loosing so much blood in one gush that my bathroom looked like something out of a horror movie, the stench of blood will never leave my mind. In the end I went to my GP and he took my heart rate and blood pressure. He rang the specialist maternity hospital and we were told to go straight up, no stopping or nothing. Drive yourself with the baby or an ambulance will be called. There was no discussion of why or what was going on, but by this stage I was too weak and tired to do much more than follow orders barked at me by this very small man.
I was there in less time than it took to feed baby Boo in the waiting room, and they had me in an emergency ultrasound booth where it was found I had a large amount of retained placenta and lots of very large clots. The blood tests they took showed septicimia and some other nasty things that I don’t pretend to understand. I was given another transfusion while waiting for a bed to be prepared. Later that night I was on the toilet and had such a big bleed that if I hadn’t have had that transfusion I wouldn’t have lived through it. I remember being cold and ever so grateful that I was so close to the call button, so that as I fell I could push it. I was so embarrassed by the blood everywhere, and all over me, I cried while the lovely nurse held me.
I was so beyond frightened waiting for the theatre the next day. I was sure I was not going to wake up if they put me under general anesthesia. Despite both my fears and tears, I had a curette done, during which apparently I had another bleed where I lost another 2 litres and again woke up in ICU. My uterus had gone septic and my kidneys and liver were on their way to failing.
Thankfully I have an amazing husband who took another 3 weeks off work to nurse me back to health once we were allowed to return home.
I was on alot of antibiotics for a good month or more after the surgery.
What I discovered was that during delivery CTT was used to “encourage the placenta to detach”. What was suspected to have happened was that this had ruptured the placenta and the placenta had sheared part of one of the main arteries in my uterus. The notes I have are vague and post dated, so I am not sure I will ever really know what happened. All I do know is that most people wouldn’t have lived through what happened and apparently most new mums wouldn’t have been able to breastfeed through a minor post-partum hemorrhage. So me being able to exclusively breast feed for 6 months and breastfeed for two years after that point is an achievement in itself. Yes I fought through supply issues and latch issues, with the help of my husband, mother and midwives who all held baby boo to my chest so that he could nurse when I was too weak to hold him myself.
Mr Boo turns three in June 2014 and is totally worth every second of pain. I have to think that what happened to me is unusual. The only part that makes me sad still is not being able to remember his birth. The redeeming thing is that his father and my husband does, and he was the first person to feed Boo and welcome him to the world - one of us has those memories so I can find peace in that.
Recently, we have been told I am infertile after two years of trying for another baby. I hope that the universe will gift us with another baby, I am not done yet. We will continue to try and wait for more specialist appointments until the very last hope fades into the dusk of day, and we will be joyous in the knowledge that we have created one miracle who is changing the world just by being present.
Thank you for getting through a very long post. That was not easy for me to write and share. I don’t write it to frighten pregnant women, I do not believe that fear mongering is the way forward into motherhood. I share because my story deserves to be heard and recognized, and maybe - just maybe - someone will read this and recognize that something is not right, and will not have to go through the trauma I did.
I do know that if we are granted with another successful pregnancy, I will be approaching birth in a whole new light. Not only am I older and wiser - I am more informed and have better support for the journey we choose.
Be a strong supporter of mothers, new and old. We fight for our own lives as well as the lives of others. We are all children, we are all equal. Build a community where you hold each other up instead of belittling and pulling one another down. Be strong enough to know when you need help. Be strong enough to ask for it.
I had been having Braxton-hick for weeks. I never had them with my first so this was a whole new experience for me. I could feel her powerful kicks, and I knew she was strong. I talked to her often, telling her how excited I was for her to join our family. I started eating dates every day, and drinking Third-Trimester Tea. I was anxious about having yet another hospital birth, and even debated a last minute “unplanned” unassisted. But after much prayer, conversation, and thought, I decided it would be best for us to go ahead and go to the hospital. Michael promised me with the next baby, he would do everything in his power to make a homebirth happen. I knew I had to trust God to be my protector in the labor room, to be my Great Physician and Shepherd who would help, guide and protect me through the birthing process.
Friday morning, just over a week before her guess-date, I woke up around 3 am with fairly consistent contractions. I waited until Michael got up for work at 6 to tell him. He went on to work, and I made some tea and started getting things ready. I called my neighbor and friend who would be watching John, my oldest. After a while, the contractions tapered off. Disappointed, I walked the mile into town, hoping to kick-start labor again. While at my favorite thrift store, I ran into an acquaintance who’s wife was also pregnant. He shared with me that their baby girl had been born a few days earlier, in a beautiful unplanned unassisted birth. I was so encouraged and inspired by his story I almost didn’t mind that my labor seemed to have stopped.
The contractions didn’t pick up that day, or the next. I tried not to be too disappointed and to make sure I really did have everything together and ready to go. I had been checking my cervix through my third trimester, and I was dilated to maybe a three and losing lots of clear mucous. I continued snacking on dates and red raspberry leaf tea. I knew it would soon.
Sunday morning around 1am I woke up to contractions about 7 min apart. I had to get on my knees in bed and quietly moan through them. I woke up Michael to let him know. We started to get everything together. I texted my doula and let her know what was happening. Around 5am the three of us decided it was time to make the drive. The contractions were about 5 minutes apart, and the hospital was a good hour and twenty minutes away, so we didn’t want to wait till the last minute. We woke up our neighbors and dropped off John. I was excited, but anxious as well.
Once in the car, the contractions stopped. I would have the odd one here or there, but nothing consistent like before. We stopped at a coffee shop so I could have some breakfast before we got the hospital, knowing we’d have to fight ridiculous “no solid food” rules once we got there. I had a couple strong rushes while we were there, but once again they stalled in the car. When we finally got to the hospital, we decided not to go into the labor ward right away. Instead, we walked the hospital grounds in the early morning light. We hung out in the hospital lobby. My doula had decided to wait before meeting us at the hospital, in case the contractions didn’t pick up again.
Finally I told Michael we should leave. Maybe I was just anxious about being at the hospital, and thought leaving would help. We went to a drugstore for some eye drops, a restaurant for some more food, and then tried to get a hotel room. Since it was still so early in the morning, they wanted to charge us for two nights. We decided against it. It was now about 7am and I had been awake for 6 hours with almost no sleep before that. We pulled into a park so I could lie in the back of the car and rest. After about ten minutes I decided this was stupid, labor had obviously stalled, and we just needed to go home. As we headed back up the hill, my contractions started again. I laughed at the irony. This baby just wanted to be born at home!
I picked up John from my friend’s house and walked home. Michael went to work to finish up a few things. I felt silly and stupid for having a “false alarm” like that. As John had been awake since we dropped him off that morning, we both laid down for a nap. I had a few more contractions but nothing I couldn’t sleep through.
Then around 11am they started to pick up again. I was annoyed. Couldn’t my body just make up its mind?! The contractions were very inconsistent. After consulting with my doula friends online, I decided not to encourage labor at this point. I took a warm shower and just tried to relax. No pressure points, no walking, just lots of water and rest, a Tylenol and a hot shower. The contractions remained consistently inconsistent. 12 minutes apart. 7 minutes apart. 10 minutes apart. 5 minutes apart. Michael came home, and he sat on the couch while I knelt over the birthing ball, just trying to relax. He would rub my back during contractions, and encourage John to help him.
Around 3pm I decided to go lay down again. I had to moan through contractions, and they were almost unbearable without Michael rubbing my lower back. But they were still so inconsistent. They definitely weren’t following a pattern of getting stronger and closer together. I had my parents on standby, as they had a six-hour drive ahead of them, I doubted they would make it in time for the birth. Then, at one point, I looked up to see John throwing up all over the floor. What?! He suddenly had diarrhea too! I called my mom and asked if they could come down. It could still be a few days before the baby came, but I didn’t want to have to send a sick kid to the neighbor’s house! Nor take care of one by myself in prodromal labor. So they packed up and started the journey down, not a moment too soon.
I texted my doula and asked her to come over so she could work on my back and give Michael a break. I decided to take another shower in the mean time to calm the contractions. I checked my cervix again, and it was still very high. So high I couldn’t tell how far dilated I was. But, I could touch her head! I had been having bloody show all day, so I knew my plug was gone, but thankfully my water was still intact. As I undressed in the bathroom, I happened to glance in the mirror and see a purple line on my lower back. “No way!” I thought. A purple line running up the butt crack is a sign of dilation. Once the line reaches the top of the butt, it signals that the cervix is at 10 cm. But I couldn’t be at 10cm already, could I? The contractions had been so inconsistent, and I didn’t feel like I was in transition, mentally or physically.
I stepped in the shower and tried to just relax. As another wave came over me, I heard myself pray, “Oh God, please let Michael forgive me for what I’m about to do!” That made me pause. What was I about to do? Suddenly I realized, “I’m going to have this baby right now!” I could feel her moving lower and lower into my pelvis. I stayed in the shower till all the hot water ran out, filled with doubt about going to the hospital still, half hoping that she would suddenly come and I would get my accidental freebirth.
I got out of the shower, and realized I couldn’t stand by myself during contractions. I had to lean on Michael and sway. My knees gave out with each surge, and they left me feeling weak and nauseous. They had all of a sudden jumped to three minutes apart, consistently. Michael asked if I wanted to go back to the hospital again. I was scared. I didn’t want another false alarm. It was such a waste of gas and everybody’s time! After Michael reassured me it was ok, we would make the drive 20 times if we had to, I agreed to go.
Getting in the car was the last thing I wanted to do at this point, and I was genuinely concerned we might have a roadside baby. But we called our neighbor to come get John again, and texted our doula and my parents to let them know what was going on. I found out later our doula was almost to our house, so she just turned around and followed us down. Thankfully the contractions slowed down in the car again, but stayed regular. I felt like there was a baseball between my legs the whole time. And of course, we hit every red light along the way.
At one point, as I felt another surge building, I said out loud “I don’t want to do another one!” Michael rubbed my hand, which helped distract from the sensations in my belly. But that contraction was definitely harder. I knew I had to keep a positive attitude. “Just one more,” I kept thinking. “I can do anything for 1 minute.”
We finally arrived at the hospital. Since it was after 6pm we had to go in through the ER. I had to fill out some forms, even though I was preregistered. They called for a wheelchair. I explained I didn’t need one, I didn’t want to sit down anyways, but the aide insisted she would get in trouble if she didn’t bring me up with a wheelchair. I told her she was welcome to bring the wheelchair with us, but I was not sitting down. We used it to bring up the luggage.
Once in triage, I changed into the hospital gown. I was too tired to protest or care at that point. I sighed and resigned myself to lie down on the monitors. It was awful lying down like that. When the nurse left, I turned to Michael and whimpered, “I hate this. I wouldn’t have to do this if we were at home.” He had already promised me our next baby would be a home birth, but that didn’t make this hospital birth any easier.
The on-call midwife finally came in to check me. I was only 6cm. I was so disappointed. I realize now that I had likely closed up from being in the car and at the hospital, and I probably was 10cm at home. But at the time I was only 6cm, and felt so discouraged. I didn’t even have an idea of how much longer we’d be there before she was born. The midwife informed me of my GBS positive status, which I knew about already, and mention the routine antibiotics. I told her I was familiar with the risks and had decided to forgo treatment. After a brief lecture, I was finally shown to a labor/birth room.
Once we were alone in the room, Michael asked me if I would reconsider the antibiotics. He had known my plans before hand, but hearing the midwife’s lecture had made him nervous. I agreed to go ahead and get treatment. I had been on the fence about denying the antibiotics anyways, so his request was all I needed to hear. We told my nurse we had changed our minds, and she went to tell the midwife, and also let my doula in. My doula instantly set up shop, setting up a diffuser with lavender essential oil and getting out her labor balls to massage my back. She also had some peppermint essential oil on a cotton ball, which really helped with the nausea I was feeling after each surge.
The nurse had asked me to lie back down on the monitors for a few minutes. I asked if we could wait till after the next contractions. She agreed and went about her business, setting up equipment and preparing the IV. Since she was so busy, I decided to stay standing up until she asked me to lie down again. She put the IV in my hand while I was leaning against Michael and my doula was rubbing my back. I stayed like that for a while, with Michael and my doula taking turns rubbing my back and being my support. As it turned out, I never did end up going back on the monitors.
Finally my mom showed up. My dad had dropped her off and gone on up to our house to pick up John. It was very special for me to have my mom there. She had offered to be there when John was born, but since I was laboring all night I felt bad and told her to go home. Now I realized how much it meant to both of us to have her there. My mom has always been a huge advocate of natural childbirth, having herself used the Bradley method. I have learned so much from her about birth while growing up. I loved having her by my side for this experience.
After a while I felt my legs getting tired. When my doula mentioned getting on the bed, I quickly agreed. I climbed up and knelt on the bed, leaning against the raised headboard. It felt so good to be able to relax my whole body against the sheets. I munched on ice, spoon-fed to me between surges, and I also asked to hold the cotton ball of peppermint oil myself, so I didn’t have to ask for it every time. I still had no idea how much longer things would be. I only knew I could do one more.
Suddenly I felt her head low in the birth canal, and I HAD to push. “UUUGGHH I’m pushing!” I moaned loudly. The nurse calmly asked me to roll over so she could check me. “Um, no!” I thought. When she asked again, my doula leaned down and repeated the question to me. I shook my head violently. No freaking way could I move right then. One contraction rolled into another as I groaned and pushed. I felt the nurse’s hand (I don’t know why she couldn’t have just checked me like that to begin with), reach in and touch the baby’s head. Obviously my back was turned so I didn’t see what happened next, but I was told later that the nurse turned and ran out of the room, ripping her gloves off and yelling for the midwife as soon as she hit the hallway. My mom turned to my doula and did a fist pump. The baby was coming!
With my first, I had a pushing urge, but it definitely wasn’t quite so intense. This time, it was like taking a giant poop. She HAD to come out NOW! “I want her out of me!” I yelled. I let out a growl/scream and pushed as hard as I could. I knew I was probably going to tear; I didn’t even care, I just wanted her out! I tried to breathe her down, to pace myself, but the urge to push was overwhelming. I don’t even remember a ring of fire, just an intense urge to get her out.
The midwife came in, and when she saw how I was positioned over the bed exclaimed, “Well, that’s one way to do it!” She asked if I wanted to deliver in that position. I nodded. Even if I wanted something else, no way could I move. I found out later she had never helped deliver a baby in that position before. I felt proud to have given her that experience.
When the baby started to crown, in my mind I could see her dark head of hair coming out. I wanted to ask what color her hair was. My son was blonde with blue eyes, but all pregnancy I had been dreaming of my brown haired, brown eyed baby girl. I just couldn’t get the words out. I was screaming as I pushed, gasping in air loudly. Any thought of keeping my voice deep and low was gone from my mind. Finally, I felt her slip out of me.
I instantly sat upright and ripped open the snaps of the hospital gown so it fell off of me, ready to reach down and grab my baby girl. “Don’t sit on her!” everyone said. “How silly,” I thought. I wasn’t going to sit on the baby I had just pushed out! I was much too aware of her for that! “Give her to me!” I kept saying over and over. But they didn’t give her to me, they were too busy suctioning and drying her off. Finally the midwife asked, “So, how do you want to do this?” “Just, pass her between my legs!” I said, while thinking “duh!” And finally they handed my sweet little girl to me. She had brown hair! I held her tightly and they helped me turn over and lay down. Baby Joelle had arrived at 10:05 pm, barely two hours after we arrived at the hospital.
We delayed cord clamping for a while, but the midwife was concerned about the amount of blood. She asked if I wanted a shot of Pitocin, which I declined, and then told me she needed to cut the cord and get the placenta out. I asked what the concern was, why the rush? She simply said she needed to make sure I wasn’t bleeding behind my placenta. (What? Whatever, I had just had a baby, I didn’t care). She put traction on the cord and pushed HARD on my stomach till the placenta gave way. I tried putting baby on my breast to help, but she wasn’t quite interested yet.
After the placenta was born, she assessed me for tears and informed me I would need one stitch for a minor tear. I asked her if it could be skipped. She left it alone for a while to see if it would stop bleeding, but after a few minutes told me that it had started bleeding again when she opened it back up (um, no duh! If you open up a cut again it’s going to bleed!). I begged her to not give me any stitches, that I would just keep my legs together. But she didn’t think much of that idea. I finally caved. She did one stitch, and then said I needed another. The second one hurt so bad. I could feel every tug and pull of the needle. “This is exactly why I didn’t want stitches!” I thought.
The stitches were the only real problem I had with my hospital birth; that, and the fact that my baby wasn’t passed to me right away. But overall, it was about as good of an experience as you can get in a hospital setting. It certainly wasn’t the home birth I had wanted, but it was still a wonderful, empowering experience. Even though the midwife hadn’t even had time to read my birth plan, she still respected me enough to ask for informed consent and respect my wishes. I really appreciated that. Thanks to her, my wonderful husband, my doula, and my mom, our family had grown to four with little drama. And for that, I praise God.
March 30, 2014, 10:05 pm
5lbs, 15.7 oz, 17 in.
I recently came across an article about “control” that I think is really relevant to the way that we approach birth in the present highly-medicalized system. We are accustomed to handing over control to our doctors and to the hospital with the (often misguided) notion that they will make the best decision for us.
Anyone who has met me knows that my mantra is: “Women need to take responsibility for their birth.” What does that actually mean, and what does it have to do with control? If you are pregnant and reading this then I suggest that you take some time to think about a few questions related to the way that you view your pregnancy, your choice of care provider, and the way you are preparing for your birth.
Who (if anyone) is in control throughout the birth process?
Birth is personal. You are the only one who can give birth to your baby. Sure, you will be in the hospital, under the care of your chosen provider(doctor or midwife) and nurses, but you will be the one who is experiencing labor and you have ultimate control over what is happening.
Any decisions that need to be made at any time should be done as a team. Have a discussion between yourself, your husband and your doctor – with the best outcome for all as the best possible solution.
How much control can we maintain?
You control your mind. Your mind controls your body. You control your fear (or your ability to confront or move beyond fear). You control how you experience the intensity of the birth experience.
Is letting go a necessary part of the process?
Yes, absolutely. There are certain things that are out of our control. Things like the position of the baby, how long labor may take and certain situations that may arise necessitating a change of plan. Let go of what you cannot control. Hold on to what you can. You can control your attitude, your ability to be flexible in the face of unexpected circumstances. You control how you stay connected to your baby, your body and the process of giving birth. You can control your mind, your thoughts, your beliefs and your expectations.
How is the birth experience affected by our attitudes toward authority and autonomy?
Do you blindly agree to everything your care provider suggests? Do you question decisions and routine procedures and how (or if) they relate to you and your pregnancy? Do you feel comfortable discussing your fears and expectations with your care provider? Would you consider changing providers or even hospitals if you felt that after having several discussions, your wishes are not being respected?
Here is a little acronym that I use in my birth preparation classes to help parents form a framework for opening discussions with their care providers. Think BRAT - Benefits, Risks, Alternatives, Timing
Benefits: What is the problem we are trying to prevent or to fix? Will this procedure fix the problem? If not, what would we do next?
Risks: What are possible risks or side effects?
Alternatives: What are the possible alternatives? What would happen if we did nothing?
Timing: Is the situation urgent, or is it possible to wait?
This is a great way to discuss things with your provider so that you can prepare for and have a no fault, no blame birth. If you confidently participate in all the decisions made during your labor and delivery–even those that were not in your birth plan--you are likely to look upon your birth with no blame and no regrets.
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