We are made to do this work and it’s not easy...I would say that pain is part of the glory, or the tremendous mystery of life. And that if anything, it's a kind of privilege to stand so close to such an incredible miracle.
-Simone in Klasson
A letter to my newborn son:
Your birth was very special and the story of your birth began long before you were even conceived...
On August 12th 2004 I married my best friend (your dad). One year later I was blessed with an easy pregnancy with my first son (your big brother). My plan for a beautiful, natural birth with your brother ended in an emergency C-section after 19 hours of hard labor. Your brother weighed 11 lbs 3 oz and I was told afterward that I would not have been able to birth him vaginally. During my labor with him I had very little professional support. It was my first baby and I didn’t know what to expect. The hospital where I birthed him (in Corpus Christi, Texas) was completely unprepared to help a woman give birth naturally to a baby his size. They wanted to give me the c-section the minute I walked in the door. When all my coping techniques were failing, there was no one to suggest better techniques, different positions, or to tell me to trust my body. After I reached 10 centimeters my cervix began swelling. While I begged for more time the nurses watched me sitting upright, trying to use gravity to re-dilate my cervix (no one explained to me that my cervix was already dilated and I needed to be using gravity neutral positions to decrease the swelling!!). I swelled all the way back to 3 cm before agreeing to the surgery.
I now know that his birth could have been vastly different with the proper support. Had I had a doula, or better yet, given birth at home with a knowledgeable midwife, I am confident he would have been born without incident. However, I have come to accept and am even grateful for the varied birth experiences I have had. They have greatly informed my practice as a doula and my future as a midwife. Although I was so happy to have a (big) healthy baby, I grieved the loss of my ideal birth. Fourteen short months later I had a VBAC (Vaginal Birth After Cesarean) in a hospital with my (8 lb.) daughter (your big sister). Again, I did not have a doula and I allowed myself to be scared into many interventions that were really unneccessary (artifical rupture of membranes, scalp electrode monitoring, and eventually an epidural so that I wouldn't have to be "put under" if a repeat cesarean became necessary). I gave birth on my back with coached pushing (sometimes known as “purple pushing”), because of that I had second degree tears that required stitches, which made me believe that I may not have been able to have your brother vaginally or that I would have had 4th degree tearing at best (as my OB had suggested). Nonetheless, overall I was happy. I had achieved my VBAC! My birth experiences led me to become active in promoting and supporting VBAC and in 2009 I joined the International Cesarean Awareness Network, an international non-profit promoting cesarean awareness, education, support, and prevention. I continued to follow my passion for birth and in November of 2010 I completed the Birth Doula Certification Course through Aviva College of Midwifery and Maternal Child Health. I am now continuing my education and working towards a Bachelor of Science in Midwifery. So as you can see, it has been a long, interesting, and educational road leading to your birth.
Armed with my new knowledge I planned for a homebirth and looked forward to being pregnant again. Unfortunately, it would take a lot longer for you to begin growing inside me than I thought. After 3 consecutive miscarriages and no doctor or specialist finding anything 'wrong' with my health, I dove into my books on herbs and healing. Armed with wild yam, false unicorn root, cramp bark, vitex, green tea, probiotics, organic prenatal vitamins, and a healthy and varied diet, I began preparing myself again for your conception. I became pregnant again quickly and I continued parts of my herbal regimine throughout my first trimester. I also visualized you growing in my womb, healthy and whole and surrounded by warm, white light. I talked to you about how much I wanted you to stay with me.
I decided to have an early ultrasound and at 6 weeks we saw your beautiful heart beating on the screen. You were growing and healthy! At twelve weeks I met for the first time with the midwives who would be at your birth. I guess you really took those conversations about how much I wanted you to stay put to heart because my pregnancy continued without incident until 41 weeks and 2 days! Our midwife visited our home for my prenatal visits and talked with me each visit for over an hour. She got to know your brother, sister, and dad and involved your siblings in my care and yours. Compared to my 5-minute-long appointments in the hospital this was a completely different world!
They say in each subsequent pregnancy Braxton Hicks contractions will start earlier and be more frequent. This was certainly true in my case. My Braxton Hicks contractions started at 20 weeks and got more frequent and stronger as my pregnancy progressed. By 38 weeks they were strong enough to wake me up from my sleep and were sometimes in a regular pattern for hours. As you can imagine, this made it very hard for me to tell if you were on your way or not! My mom (your Nana) came out for 5 days before my due date and we were sure she would be with us for your birth, but you were quite comfortable where you were and decided to hang in there until 9 days after she left. Had I been birthing in the hospital, with my VBAC staus, I'm sure your birth story would have been much different. As it was, we had wonderful support leading up to your birth and we were content waiting for you to arrive in your own time.
On the 28th of November I started having my usual Braxton Hicks contractions, but I also felt a funny crampy sensation low in my abdomen. I hoped and prayed this was it! I started timing the contractions while I was cooking dinner. 5 minutes apart standing and 10 minutes apart sitting down. I didn't want to get too excited in case this was a false alarm and I was also tired, so I wanted to get some sleep before things really started happening. My midwife was coming over at 8am anyway so I didn't bother her with the news. I sent a text message to Marcia, one of my closest friends, who would be attending your birth as part of her doula training and I told your dad that I thought we might have a baby the next day! I went to bed early and at 2am I woke up with stronger contractions (still pretty mild though). I lay in bed feeling them for an hour before deciding to call my midwife. She arrived at 4am. By this time your dad and I were up. I couldn't sleep through the contractions, which were still very manageable, so we started tidying the house and your dad made coffee for himself and our midwife. At around 7:15 I decided to try to doze between contractions on the couch. I had a good nap and was woken with a strong contraction at 8:30. I felt like my 'active labor' was starting. Your brother and sister were just joining us and I called my doula. Your brother and sister were so excited when they heard that you were finally on your way!!
I tried to shower but the contractions were very strong and not as manageable when I was standing. I managed to get through the shower and back downstairs just as the birth tub was finished filling with hot water. Your brother and sister stripped down and got in the birthing tub with me. They were happily paddling around and having a grand time but eventually I felt like I really needed to focus and they got out and watched from the side of the tub with your dad. Your dad had an errand he had to run over on the base (darn the Marine Corps) so he asked how I was feeling and whether he could run out and also pick up lunch for our team of helpers who were now all assembled (my midwife, her assistant, and my doula (and her 1 year old!)). I said I was doing fine and he should go before things get more intense. By the time your dad returned (30 minutes later) he said it was like a different house when he walked in. I was moving into the transition phase of my labor (from 8 cm to full dilation) and honestly, despite all my doula work and birth-related education, nothing could have prepared me for how intense transition would be. Before transition I was breathing well during contractions, I was doing all the things my doula-brain told me were right as far as moving, vocalizing, visualizing, etc. When transition hit, my brain shut off, I was completely body, completely instinct, completely birth. For the next hour I held your dad's hands and screamed through the contractions. I said all the things I didn't think I would say! I said "No, no, no!!!" I said "I can't do this." I said "I want this to end." My helpers tried to coax me into more positive statements, but it just wasn't happening! Although I was saying "No" when I was contracting and I had a lot of tension in other parts of my body (hands, arms, etc.) I knew that I was still keeping my pelvic floor relaxed and open. I remember being able to (occasionally) be consciously aware of that. Pretty soon a different sound started coming out of my throat. A kind of grunt/growl/roar and I realized you were moving down. My body was pushing. Yes! Pushing contractions were so much LESS painful than transition! This was the most amazing part. I felt your body moving through me, I felt the burning, I touched your head, I remembered to call your brother and sister down from playing upstairs, and then everyone was around me in a circle and you were emerging from my body. I was supporting myself/you from the front, while my midwife provided counter-pressure in the back. I was upright, on my knees, as your head emerged. "The head is out!" I told everyone. I pushed for your shoulders next, but they didn't come all the way. I was a little nervous about your shoulders getting stuck because I knew you were going to be big. My midwife suggested I put one leg up to make more space in my pelvis and I did. With the next contraction you were born into my hands under the water. I pulled you from my body and up into my arms. It was the most natural, wonderful feeling in the world. I looked up at your dad and saw tears in his eyes. Your sister was reaching out over the tub to touch your head. I asked if your dad could see what you were and he nodded and said "It's a boy."
We did it! You were born naturally, in the water, at home, attended by a Certified Professional Midwife, with your dad and siblings looking on. It was the most intense and wonderful experience of my life. You weighed 9 lbs 12 oz and had the same head and chest measurements as your 11 lb brother. Not only did I birth you vaginally and naturally, but I did not need a single stitch! I believe when you were born, my upright position and spontaneous pushing allowed for you to emerge gently and safely without harm to either of us despite your size. More importantly-I believe that trusting my intuition and listening to my body led me to choose the best positions and coping mechanisms for me, and you, during your birth.
One of the most wonderful things about your birth is how proud your dad is of both you and me. He said I was like a "mother wolf" when I was birthing you-primal, protective, strong. I love that image. I felt very powerful when I was giving birth to you. It was a magical experience and a spiritual experience-I felt very connected to all mothers, both human and animal, and to the earth, and to the gods and the universe. It sounds crazy, but it is true! Looking back on your birth I felt like when I was 'out of my head' at the end, that I kind of became the universal birthing woman, that my body was this door between life and death, between earthly and spiritual realms, that everything was hanging in the balance, and then you came out, and you were life and love and...you.
Your birth opened up a whole new world within me.
When we were waiting for you to be born your brother and sister would rub my belly every night and say "Magic baby, come out." You are my magic baby. I love you.
***I know that homebirth is not an option for every woman and it is a very personal choice. I also know that there is a time when the use of medical technology and cesarean surgery can be life saving and essential. In my work as a doula I respect the informed choices of the family regarding place of birth and use of pain medication. I have a deep desire and commitment to helping women and families create joyous birth memories, no matter what kind of birth they are planning. Childbirth is sacred, it is a right of passage, and we have almost forgotten that in our society today.