Birth CAN be amazing
28.01.10 | Posted in Parenting
I’m sharing this story here because when I fell pregnant I’d never heard a positive birth experience. Not one. I’d heard all about forceps, and pain, and emergencies, and pain, and stitches, and pain, and lots of interventions and generally a lot of drama. I hope you get something from reading it, and that afterwards you’ll be inspired to see how beautiful and empowering childbirth can be.
The birth of our bub eight months ago was the greatest experience of my life.
Definitely my biggest achievement. Hands down the most exhilarating and spiritual thing I’ve ever gone through and the closest I’ve ever felt to my husband Rowan.
Row and I always knew we wanted to be parents. Even before getting engaged we’d talked about how many kids we wanted (the magic number still remains at five – even numbers are boring and three is not enough).
It’d been somewhat of a journey to get to our birth. After experiencing a miscarriage for our first pregnancy we were even more grateful for the gift of new life, and were looking forward to the due date with responsibility-laden expectancy. Our baby would be the first grandchild on both sides and you can imagine how much our families were bursting with excitement.
When we’d found out we were pregnant, we knew very little about childbirth. I thought you just went to the hospital and had to have a big needle in your back and someone kind of helped pull the baby out. My husband’s knowledge was even worse. At one point he said to me “Babe, there’s no way I’m touching the baby until someone cleans it up, and I’m going to be north of the blue sheet the whole time so I don’t have to see a thing!”
This naivety and ignorance got me thinking…..there must be a better way.
A lot of women in developing countries don’t have access to hospitals, drugs, technologies and interventions, and they are finding ways to cope with the pain associated with childbirth. You only have to think of an African woman who is walking along a road throughout her labour, only to squat, push the baby out, cut the cord, tie the baby to her back, and then keep on walking.
We hear of Cambodian women out in the fields or rice paddies who do much the same, and then there are the Ju/’huan women who, upon entering labour, simply get up and walk to a place they’ve prepared earlier. They birth their babies on to a mound of grass to soften the fall. Once born, the women saw the cord with a stick, clean the baby with grass and cover the placenta with sand, keeping a mound so that no man will destroy that place or walk directly over it. It all sounds very ‘un-Hollywood’ like and it led me to believe that perhaps we overcomplicate things.
I’m not suggesting that hospitals, drugs, technology and interventions aren’t required at times. Of course they have saved the lives of many women and many babies. But I do believe that as technology has increased, our confidence to birth has decreased – we are teaching women that they don’t know how to birth and to rely on the medical system, which is one reason why we’re so caesarean happy. The World Health Organisation says that the caesarean rate should be at 15% – in some western hospitals the rate is up at 70%.
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I started on a journey of intense research, delving into historical accounts of childbirth, and learning how the medical model has evolved. I watched every birth DVD I could get my hands on, attended many courses, and read over 30 books on the subject.
During my study I found out about a course called Calmbirth. At only 16 weeks (and with no belly in sight) Row and I found ourselves among a room full of heavily pregnant ladies and their partners. I remember the first thing the facilitator asked at the start of the course was “Why are you here?” When it got to my turn I was sure of my answer. “I want to be surrounded by positive people who view birth in a positive way. I don’t want to hear any more horror stories and I don’t want to be frightened any more”.
Driving back from the course, filled with a new level of confidence and knowledge about the birthing process I turned to Row and said “Hey, I think we can have a natural birth. I think we can do it”. He agreed so our thinking turned toward having our baby in a birth centre at a hospital as opposed to a delivery suite. We wanted to be away from the temptation of drugs and be able to have as beautiful a birth as possible.
We went and did a tour of the hospital and I’ll be honest. I was disappointed. Although the midwife who ran the tour was lovely and patient, when we got to the birthing centre, I still knew I was in a hospital. It had fluorescent lights and it was cold and you can tell they had done their best to simulate a home environment with a double bed and bath but it still had that hospital smell and feel. Don’t get me wrong – the midwife was very accommodating and told all the expecting couples that they were welcome to bring in their own music and anything else they may need, but it just didn’t feel right to me.
So, without letting Row in on my thinking (I wanted to really to research my idea first) I started learning about homebirths. I loved what I found! It made so much sense to me. Birth is a private, intimate experience and it made sense to me that I could birth in a place that I felt safe and comfortable. I could choose whom I wanted at the birth and I could control the environment. I’d have no strangers walking in to the room, I’d have no unnecessary interventions, and I’d be able to call the shots.
Another caveat here. Homebirth is not for everyone and I’d never suggest that it is.
Women must birth where they feel most safe and most comfortable. For a lot of people that’ll be in hospital. But for me, I felt most safe and most comfortable at home. I just want to see women doing their research and not just doing what everyone else is doing because that’s what everyone else does.
On the Saturday night we were seven days overdue, and although I wasn’t at all frustrated (I never got to that ‘get it out of me’ stage – I loved the privilege of being pregnant) I was ready to get the birth on. So Row and I lit a candle and talked to the baby, letting it know that we were ready. Saturday night and all of Sunday passed with no action and I went to bed on the Sunday evening at midnight, now eight days past our due date. Two hours later I woke with a sensation in my lower back. I thought ‘this could be it, but try and get some sleep’ and about ten minutes later I felt the same feeling.
It was 2am and Row was still sleeping. I decided not to wake him but I couldn’t sleep so every time a contraction came on I’d just get up and walk about. I had to move with the energy in my body. By about 5am I couldn’t keep my excitement in, and Row (finally sensing that I wasn’t in bed) sat up and I told him ‘we’re on!’ He got up and we just set about our day very normally. We ate breakfast (although I could only stomach two mouthfuls of muesli) and had a shower together. All the while I was experiencing contractions, but they surprised me as the sensation was only ever in my lower back. Nowhere else. I felt nothing at all in the front of my body. Row was amazing. Each time a rush came he’d put his hands on my back and I’d say to him “Lower! Higher! Push harder! Push softer!” and he obliged every time.
We watched our wedding DVD and I got on the computer and googled lower back pain in labour. I made banana muffins, sent flowers to a girlfriend for her birthday, and put a load of washing on. By early afternoon we’d called our doula (a birth support person) and then our midwife arrived soon after.
Then we just let in unfold.
I surrendered to my body and guess what? It knew what to do. After 23 hours of labour, I birthed a nine-pound, one ounce baby girl in the water. Row caught her and passed her through to me. She was nine days past her due date but no one forced me to have an induction. I required no drugs during the whole labour and I had no interventions (apart from the midwife checking dilation at one point).
The whole experience defies words, and the emotions were overwhelming. What was more overwhelming was the instant bond we shared with Milla. She didn’t cry – she just cleared her throat gently and looked straight into my eyes. She knew exactly who I was and exactly who Row was. We didn’t have to share those precious moments with anyone wanting to clean her up (she was perfectly clean anyway with thanks to the water) and no one was hurrying us to weigh and measure her (babies don’t put on weight or grow in a couple of hours!!!!). That time (that you can never get back) was, for us, perfect.
Her entry into the world was gentle, loving and beautiful.
It was intimate and caring. We had our music playing gently and candles flickering by the birthing pool. We slept in our own bed as a family that night and did all we could to make Milla’s first couple of days as quiet and gentle as we could. No fluorescent lights. No other crying babies. No cranky nurses (and please, I’m not for one second saying all nurses/midwives are cranky – most are absolutely incredible, but you’ll always get one or two around you which is the last thing you want to deal with days after giving birth). No one telling us what to do.
Birthing this way, for me, was how I try and live in all of my life. My rules. My intuition. My power.
Please feel free to share our experience with anyone who may be fearful about childbirth – I’d love to encourage all women (and men) to expect their birth to be incredible, no matter how it unfolds.