Reprinted with permission from A Living Family.
My experience of birth was what some might consider ideal but most would say is far from typical. Although I had a two day warm up, my water broke (what people see on TV, but many don’t experience). I labored for over three hours by candlelight (sipping fresh coconut water) and pushed for less than an hour in the birth tub, giving birth to my six pound (small-headed!) baby girl surrounded by my husband and three loving, skilled midwives. After she floated up to the surface and I delivered the placenta, I walked the five steps to my warm bed in my warm “bedwomb” (where I stayed for a week) and was served eggs, toast and yogurt with fruit. She breastfed easily in the first hour. My midwives came almost every day for the first ten days and gave me round the clock phone access while we dealt with weight loss, constipation and jaundice. Such a warm, safe, welcoming and supportive world from the beginning for my precious little one and myself!
Though it seems elementary, one of the things I think some people fail to recognize is that the mother is at the center of birth, right there with her baby. Unfortunately, sometimes a mother is ignored or discredited during what could be the most empowering moments of her life and some of the most connected moments she will have with her child. Although I had some tough moments in the first months, overall I was respected from the first prenatal appointment I had with my midwife and that gave me the confidence to face them.
Indeed, the most amazing part of the whole thing for me was my (meta)physical experience of labor and birth. My midwives and husband, 100% confident and trusting in my ability to instinctively know what to do, followed my lead and left me alone. I moaned and swayed, squatted and roared in the safest of spaces. I firmly believe it was these feelings of safety and trust that led to me experience a truly painless birth.
Now, I had prepared myself for this as best I knew how. I had read Ina May’s books Spiritual Midwifery and Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth. I read Birthing from Within and did drawings with pastels and wrote little journal entries on the back describing my reflections. (I shared these with my midwives in prenatals.) I read Janet Balaska’s Active Birth and more. I had seen The Business of Being Born and read articles from my midwives about homebirth and natural childbirth research. Reading an excerpt from Michael Odent’s The Scientification of Love made me truly believe that men can be 100% supportive and trusting, too. I found a doctor that supported both homebirth and natural childbirth to be my non-emergency, back up doctor. I talked to my midwives about everything, including nutrition, stress, exercise and even my mother, and I felt heard. My husband and I searched, somewhat unsuccessfully, for books for to help understand what his role should be in homebirth. We read Bradley’s Husband-Coached Childbirth and Penny Simkin’s The Birth Partner. I felt if women could labor and birth naturally in the sometimes hostile territory of a hospital, then I could certainly do so in the warmth and coziness of my home. With all this belief in my physical ability to labor and birth naturally, I trusted myself 100%.
However, I did mean it when I said that the most amazing part of my experience was my metaphysical experience. All the preparation above helped a great deal. If I had to choose only two books though, I would say Birthing from Within and Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth were most influential. The first I was reading for the second time; I first read it during my first pregnancy, before the loss of a baby conceived literally one year earlier down to the menstrual cycle. The book inspired me to do the drawings which told me to get my mind out of the way during labor and let nature and the baby take over. In the second, Ina May’s no nonsense demand that women birth confidently struck me, but kept me positive. The one line and story out of all I read that of hers that stayed in my head was, “You’re gonna get huge!” from when she talks about her experience of watching a mama dilate rapidly before her very eyes. I believed if I could focus my mind on the task of relaxing and releasing I could find a way to flow with, rather than fight, whatever I was to face.
After breathing through two days of intensifying warm up, and moaning through the earliest parts of active labor, I hit a wall. Terrified, I thought to myself “I don’t know if I can do this.” Then, some other part of me literally said clearly and firmly in my mind, “You stop this pity party right now. You can do this. Why aren’t you visualizing?” Relieved, I instinctively visualized lying down in shallow water with a soothing flow coming and going over me. Soon after, labor ramped up a level or two, and I began to see clearly in my mind a wave; all my focus on the very tip of the crest, I rode the waves of intensity, allowing my moans to rise and fall along with the flow.
I had no sense of time, but it didn’t seem like it had been near as long as I had heard about labor lasting. A panicked thought filled my mind, “I don’t know if I can do twelve more hours of this.” I let the thought go as another wave overcame me. What line came up in my mind at that very moment, eclipsing any fear I might have felt? “You’re gonna get huge!” came Ina May’s voice in my imagination. I shifted my focus on the mantra “Release,” willing a vision into my mind of opening as labor peaked.
Abruptly, my loud moans changed into long grunts as my baby girl got into position and the pushing phase came. This was the first time I really came out of myself and asked if it was ok that I was pushing so early. I had just resigned myself to be in it for the long haul! My midwifes response to this questioning? Listen to your body. You are doing wonderfully!
Tearing during pushing had been my “tiger” from Birthing from Within, the most menacing fear lingering deep within waiting to rear its ugly head. As I neared the time to face my one biggest fear, some lovely soul floated the question “Would you like to get in the birth tub?” I climbed on in, grateful for the release of some pressure. I instinctively got on all fours, and then, when pushing amped up as well, squatted with my arms over the side.
There I stayed for near to an hour, pushing and backing off while my husband poured a warm, relaxing stream of water on my back in between pushes. I felt fully empowered to do what I could to give myself the chance to stretch rather than tear. My midwives gave me faith that I could let go and focus on this work because they were there for me and for my baby.
Full on roaring, as my baby crowned the glow of the sunrise on one horizon and the shimmering of the full moon on the other streamed in through the windows onto this new family. I pushed my baby out and held her as my husband held me, beholding for the first time this creature that would change my life. “I did it! I did it!” I exclaimed before being overwhelmed with joy.
This was my birth experience.
If you would like to read more from Sheila or learn more about her site, please visit A Living Family.