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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%.

Something is wrong with this picture.

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.

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19 Comments

  1. Mardi

    Emma I love how you have written your account, I cannot say I had a great experience. Our Doula was amazing every step of the way. But we went to the birthing centre and was watched like a hawk, I didn’t feel I had the space I needed or wanted, my daughters dad was hopeless and I was induced so hung around the hospital until contractions started. I was shocked the pain was so intense in my back I wasn’t ready for it. I am so amazed you baked muffins and sent flowers to your friend.
    I looked into homebirths and decided it wasn’t right for us at the time. I wish I had! I would seriously consider it if I ever have another one.

  2. Emma

    Thanks Mardi – sorry to hear that your birth wasn’t a great experience overall. I suppose that’s the beauty and irony of childbirth – you never know what you’re going to get, and I’m very much aware that our next experience could be completely different. It sounds like you had some good learnings from it though – and if another little soul does happen to choose you in the future, then you’ll be all prepared for it! Thanks again for your insights Mardi!

  3. Kate

    hi Em
    Love the story – its totally you and so positive!
    For those of you reading, I had a breech birth (no caesar) in a hospital delivery suite with an incredibly supportive team around me and it was wonderful. So whatever your choice of location, remember the experience is for you and your partner to own…be strong about what YOU want not what others want for you,
    Kate x

  4. Lisa

    A gorgeous account of an amazing experience. I also did calmbirth and although things did not go to plan first time round, it was still very worthwhile and empowering. Just had my second bub and it was a truly tranquil experience. Congrat on baby Milla, she looks adorable.

    I agree that it is imperative to share positive stories about labour, as there is so much fear when you are pregnant further enhanced by random strangers approaching you with their stories! Although having experienced both a peaceful and traumatic birth, I can understand why women can be so scarred by it.

  5. Emma

    Thanks Lisa and congrats on the recent birth of your second bub. So happy to hear that this experience was ‘tranquil’ – what a great word to describe it!

    I sometimes think that people with positive birth outcomes shy away from telling their stories because they don’t want to make others feel bad because they haven’t had the same experience.

    Thanks for sharing your story here!

  6. Kerrin Booth

    Thanks Emma for your wonderful and encouragaging story. It seems I’m following a similar path to you. I’m 16 weeks pregnant now, and (as a Naturopath and having read about home birthing for a long time) did what everyone else I know did, and booked in with an obstetrician at a private hospital. I was fine with that decision until we visited the hospital for the first time and knew I couldn’t be comfortable giving birth there. I cried all the way home and when my husband suggested a home birth, I knew that was the right decision for me. I’m thoroughly enjoying the process, the one hour consultations with the midwife (instead of 10 minutes with the obstetrician) and discovering all the great courses such as Calm Birth and Active Birth, as well as the great Natural therapies out there to bring the body into alignment and allow for an easier labour. I’m looking forward to my birth experience with no fear and the confidence that my body has the ability to do this naturally and easily.

  7. Rochelle

    Congratulations on becoming a mother.

    I think it’s wonderful that you were able to have the type of birth you had hoped for. It’s a lovely story, and I completely relate to your feelings of concern regarding the excessive rate of c-sections in the Western world. However, I wish that you had relayed some of the strategies you undertook to assist you in managing your pain, as I think simply stating that your body “knew what to do” offers an inaccurate picture of what birth is like for most women. It is not something that most of us can simply endure. I speak from experience, having now given birth twice. The first time I was induced due to a non-reassuring CTG, and I used gas to help with the pain. It was a posterior labour and I endured a prolonged second stage. The second time was completely drug-free in a birth centre. This time I used the strategies suggested by Juju Sundin in “Birth Skills”, and found them very helpful.

  8. Emma

    Thanks Rochelle. I, like you, used a number of strategies, education being the most helpful. I read a lot, watched tens of birthing videos, went to courses (Calmbirth and Birthing Rites at Bondi Junction, which is similar to Juju Sundin’s. I tried to get into her course too but couldn’t so I read her book instead).

    I had a doula with me which was a huge support, and she helped massage me and talk me through what was happening. She’d birthed four times before so it was great to have someone next to me who knew what I was experiencing.

    My husband held me in every contraction and breathed with me, providing reassurance and love. My baby was also posterior and second stage was long too.

    The biggest strategy I employed was getting my head right. I never used language such as “endure” – I didn’t have to endure anything. I decided to fall pregnant, I decided to have the baby, I decided to enjoy (and not endure) the labour. That was singlehandedly the biggest strategy I employed.

    Other strategies were setting up the environment so it was comfortable; moving with every single contraction (I was standing for all of them); having showers; getting in the birthing pool; making noises; getting someone to press on pressure points; having people telling me I was doing so well; laughing and making light of the situation; and welcoming in every contraction, telling myself that it was bringing our baby closer.

    Hope something in the above helps answer your question.

  9. Sally

    Emma what a beautiful account of life’s most amazing journey. You brought tears to my eyes and goosebumps to my body.

    You are right in so much that you say. We are led to believe as women that we need all of this medical intervention to give birth, but what we need is empowerment and encouragment that we as women were given this gift to experience, relish and enjoy.

    Of course as you say, medical intervention when critical is a gift in itself, that can save a life (or even 2 lives when Mum is also sick). But here in Dubai where I live, intervention is the norm.

    My husband and i are just starting on the path to having children, we are trying at the moment and with a little blessing from all the good spirits in the world and beyond it will happen soon. But I, like you, have done so much research about birthing (the business tends to make that a priority over the years!), that giving birth in a country like Dubai scares the living *%&$%($ out of me!

    Every girlfriend i know here in the last year that has had a baby, has been induced. They book in, they get told you are overdue, and all of them bar 1 (out of 9) ended up with a c-section because of course baby was not ready to come out, so they forced baby out.

    It is such a shame that here they don’t even have the birthing suite option, where you might be one step closer to ‘natural’ birth, they don’t even allow midwives to be involved in the birth, they are not licenced for that purpose here, only to assist the Obstetrician.

    So… I venture into this journey, wishing I could even come close to the experience you had. Knowing that here, it is not only unlikely but impossible. However, I am determined to still have our first child the way I want to birth, even in a hospital, against all the odds and I am sure with a few “if I want to walk through a contraction I will!!!” screaming from the corridors :-)

    All my best wishes for the next 4 to be as cherished as your first moment of motherhood was.

    Much Love

    Sal x

  10. Abbie

    Hi Emma,

    I am currently 6 months pregnant with my first child, and running my own business with two staff. I would love to hear from you about your preparations going into your ‘maternity leave’ and how you would describe your experiences becoming a mum whilst also running your own business. At the moment, things feel a little overwhelming, and as I have given myself a deadline of 2 months to be ready to go on ‘maternity leave’ (whatever that actually means as a business owner), I would love to hear your experiences and insight.

  11. Emma

    Hi Abbie,

    Thanks for your comment. I know it can be overwhelming. The lead up to becoming a mum is overwhelming (business or no business!). Try be kind to yourself and realise that there’s power in doing your best. Try not to judge yourself and really try to enjoy this time. I was lucky to be able to take it easy in the lead up to the birth (I tried not to be in the office as much, and tried to be on the couch, peppermint tea and book in hand.) I wanted time to prepare for the actual delivery, but also to think about the huge changes that were going to occur. It felt like a bit of a holiday, and I was happy that I took that time out before the birth, because it’s all pretty full on for a while afterwards.

    In the months leading up to my maternity leave, I asked my team to pretend like I wasn’t there (even when I was in the office.) It just helped lay the foundations for them to think on their own and to go to others to find solutions. This wasn’t monumental for my team as I’ve always encouraged them to be self-sufficient, but it was just good to iron out any process issues we had.

    I’m fortunate to have an incredible GM in my business and she was the one who was encouraging me to leave the office early and kept telling everyone else “please don’t go to Em for anything now, come to me.”

    As for my experiences of being a mother and business owner, it’s been a journey as it is for every mother. It’s been more of a journey of staying true to who I am (again, without judgment or guilt.) I love business, and feel good when I’m working, and I believe this makes me a better mother.

    That’s the ideological part. The practical part is different. That’s all just about a few things for me – being organised; not being afraid to ask for help (which I find the hardest); getting clear on expectations with your partner as to what you’ll both contribute to parenting (again, this was hard and remains hard for me) and setting up systems and communication. And, looking after yourself – actually scheduling time in to go have a massage; take your laptop to a cafe; wander around the shops aimlessly; read a book; go to the movies …

    The juggle is about being open and honest with my team too. There have been a few times when I’ve been late for a meeting because a babysitter hasn’t arrived on time; there have been times when I’ve not been 100% present because I’ve only had a couple of hours sleep; and there have been times when I’ve had to leave the office early because Milla was sick and needed to be picked up from daycare. In every of these situations, I’ve been open and honest with my team and they’ve reciprocated with support. I think a lot of it is about the quality of your team and how much control you’re willing to give up (which is essential for business growth and you’ll soon find – your sanity!)

    I hope something in the above is of help to you. Babies don’t work to deadlines or plans and soon you won’t too – try enjoy this time and remember that there’s no way you can ever really finish your work. Trust in your team that they’ll do a great job while you’re getting to know your baby – I’m sure they will step up and really enjoy the experience of the increased responsibility.

    All the best with it and hope you have a beautiful birth,
    Emma

  12. Abbie

    Thanks Emma! I think getting systems and clear communication better established is my key focus at the moment. I also need to ensure I take the time to enjoy the pregnancy and trust the people who work for me.

    I greatly appreciate your insights. With only 12 weeks to go (!) I am realising that being focused, organised and also relaxed is the key.

    And clearly my idea that telling the baby to be born on Jan 5th is bound to work!!

  13. Sacha

    Emma,
    I have just been sent a link to your blog today and saw your self description. As another that talks and thinks to fast, I thought maybe I had found a fast-friend. Then I clicked on this blog and I was thrilled. I also attended Birth Rites – 7yrs ago and Marie is really an angel. Although I was booked in the birth centre for my first, Seth took 3 days of labour and the hospital moved me to the delivery ward where is was born with an epi but no other intervention.
    The hospital was fine but I still needed to be home and left the next morning.
    Since then I have moved to Victoria and I have had my last 2 sons in our home with the help of wonderful midwifes. The last one being 8 months ago.
    Although that is all beautiful, I must end this message on a sad note. My midwife as well as 8+ other midwifes across Australia, all got suspended in a 3 day mass suspension. only a day or 2 before AHPRA took ownership. That has been almost a year ago. My midwife is still suspended pending investigation. AHPRA has not interviewed her or anyone else. They have not moved the case forward and therefore she has not worked in over a year.
    I am sadden beyond belief with the idea that many people will not get the opportunity to choose homebirths. Since Sally’s suspension I have heard of at least 4 other homebirth midwifes stopping. It is just too hard and too financially dangerous.
    I am glad you wrote this. Good experiences need to be shared because like you, I did not enjoy the horror stories and also needed more information and a birth experience that felt right for me. Lets hope the AHPRA does not destroy this opportunity for others.
    I have always been a reader not a poster but I wanted to say that I was impressed !!

  14. Emma

    Lovely to ‘meet’ you Sacha and thanks for your comment. The state of homebirth is so sad in this country – don’t get me started! I’m six months pregnant with my second now and have been blessed to hire the same midwife but now she tells me she may be moving to New Zealand, so will have to find a plan B when (if) number three baby eventually decides to join our family.
    Sending lots of love and energy to your midwife to have her suspension lifted (and congrats to you on your newest addition!)

  15. Victoria

    a home birth that you describe Emma sounds very beautiful..in a way I wish that I wasnt so paronoid and opened up my mind to this concept for my next birth if I had one…My son was born at a public hospital, my reasoning behind it was that if anything went wrong, we were right next to one of Victoria’s best Intensve Care Units..same with his multiple operations, when I had the chance to go to a small private hospital I panicked at the end and changed to public again…

  16. Alan

    Emma,

    Thankyou, for sharing your story. It’s so good you wrote it, and tremendous that you shared it.

    Here’s mine, written shortly after the birth of my son.

    “Cut them off.” She growled from deep inside: a voice unknown to me, emanating from deep within, or without, or around… Who knows, but on that day it was from wherever the realms of the spirits and gods reside and the observant all knowing primal clarity of her soul took over, time stood still, contractions retreated and labour expanded as it advanced towards childbirth and childbirth morphed into budding motherhood.

    Squatting before me, her head bent in deliberate but unconscious concentration … or perhaps silent hopeful prayer; I sat on the end of the bed, her hands in mine, the midwife on the floor behind her, with mirrors and swaths and other birthing things. My wife was right in the middle of the birthing process… was the birthing process.

    Not observing it, not critiquing it, not commenting on it, not planning it or remembering it, she was giving birth – her every thought and action, her only thoughts and actions was to giving this birth.

    The midwife had said, “We need to take your knickers off.”
    “CUT THEM OFF”, she growled from deep inside.

    “STOP PUSHING” came the anxious, warning cry of the midwife – or you’ll break his collar bone.”

    Panting and sweating and giving not a damn about anything else she remained bent over my knees as she straightened her legs and as I looked down over her back as it rose parallel with the floor I saw my son’s face for the first time – a little Budda.

    I took a photo, which as time would tell did not work out, but I will never forget that moment, that image of my boy.

    They jiggled one shoulder, and arm out and asked her to push again, and three minutes after his head popped out the rest of him followed: all nine pound one ounces of him. It was 2:32pm on a Thursday afternoon. If I have my way I’ll never forget that moment.

    Not a peep, not a cry, not a tear, no fuss. The first upset, his first gasp, came hours later during his first bath when I accidentally splashed water into his mouth.

  17. Cass

    Hi Emma,

    Thank you for sharing this beautiful story. I am 3 months pregnant now and looking at our options…

    I was wondering how your second birth went? Were you about to carry out a peaceful home birth the second time around? Was it a different experience to your first? Did you ever feel you missed out on any help you would have received in a hospital?

    I love the idea of a home birth… having read all of the research about how interference in hospitals leads to caesarians and not having as much close contact with your baby when they are born, and also because the idea of being monitored and strapped down makes me feel anxious already, let alone during the birth. I would love to hear how your second experience of birth went… and if you have altered your opinion in any way?

  18. Emma

    Hi Cass,
    Congratulations on your pregnancy – what a beautiful blessing.
    Here’s the story of my second birth: http://www.emmaisaacs.com/general/life-lessons-learned-from-childbirth/
    You asked if I felt I missed out on any help that I may have received at a hospital and the answer is a definitive no. I received the best care from my private midwife who visited regularly after the birth – it’s the ultimate in post-natal care – it’s one on one, intimate and I had someone on the end of the phone every moment of the day should I have needed it.
    All the best with a smooth sailing, healthy pregnancy and before you know it, you’ll also be able to write your own wonderful experience too!