In the 1930s and 40s a London obstetrician, Grantly Dick-Read, observed many women as they experienced natural childbirth. He noticed that some women experienced minimal to no perceived pain while laboring and birthing. During a time when it was believed that pain in childbirth was a woman's lot in life, his observations and resulting methods led to his ridicule and the need for him to set up private practice. In 1942, he published the book Childbirth Without Fear. It became a bestseller. ~ condensed from Wikipedia
One of the enduring pieces from his book, which is still in print, was the introduction of the Fear~Tension~Pain cycle. Dick-Read noticed that pain did not always precede tension and fear, but in fact fear and tension was often the cause of pain being experienced intensely by the birthing mother. In our modern culture we are raised to believe that birth pain is excruciating. That pain in childbearing is deserved (though this belief seems to be lessening). It is also taught that any sensation you may experience in birth is threatening to whether or not you will experience birth as an endurance race that, when FINALLY over, ended in the birth of your beautiful baby or a day of pure misery that, when FINALLY over, ended in the birth of your beautiful baby. What is true however, is that we should expect birth to be much more than this and pain should not be the qualifier of how we experience and remember our births.
If there is one thing that gets my goat, it is when I hear someone say, "At least you got a healthy baby out of it. That is all that matters." As a mother who has personally experienced birth trauma, I have to tell you now that, no
, it isn't all that matters. A mother who is made to feel like she is not part of the equation, or even selfish for having feelings of anger or sadness in relation to how she experienced birth will often have to process her feelings silently alone, in unhealthy ways, or not at all. This, in turn, results in an increase in postpartum depression and mood disorders
. How well we process our experience will factor into how our babies' first experiences the world. It is an issue to be acknowledged and one to be taken seriously. We must today stop negating mothers' birth experiences as significant.
So, how do we prepare ourselves for an amazing birth experience? Create an environment where the Fear~Tension~Pain cycle can be broken. It is not a process that without hard work in today's birthing culture. Many of our birthing environments and practices are set up to give rise to the F~T~P cycle. Take the following steps:
~Release~Relax~Laugh~Love~Celebrate~Nurture~Be Vibrant~... Enjoy your pregnancy! Expect and welcome transformation in all forms - from the most intense feeling that takes you to places you've never thought you were capable of to the highest form of ecstasy! This is a journey into a whole new phase of being - motherhood. It isn't simple. It isn't easy. It is glorious. It is important. It is beautiful. Do not be afraid.
- Learn what to expect from a maternity care provider, interview, and decide on who will serve you in your pregnancy and birth. This is the single most important component in how you will experience your birth. It is a decision not to be taken lightly. Decide too on your birth location - home, hospital, birthing center. Who you are choosing to share this sacred space with you is someone who will either take the position of asserting "power over" you, or someone with whom you are comfortable sharing "power with". Many mothers who have experienced birth trauma would not have experienced the scenario in the same way had her care provider approached her differently.
- Prepare your body. Eat well. Exercise. Celebrate your pregnant body. Love intensely.
- Prepare your emotional mind. Develop a spiritual or meditative practice surrounding your pregnancy and the emotions you feel. Learn techniques that allow you to process your emotions in such a way that brings for positive change. Get professional birth coaching/counseling if you are unfamiliar with approaching emotion in this way.
- Prepare your intellectual mind. Take an independent childbirth education class of your choosing. There are so many to choose from both in person and online. If you are birthing in the hospital, also take their childbirth course in order to prepare yourself with what is the norm at the facility where you will give birth. Ask the educator for recommendations of books to read and movies to see related to pregnancy and birth. Email me at email@example.com for a reading/movie list.
- Hire a doula. Doulas are a tremendous asset to any birth and a great advocate for the birthing mother. Do interview doulas before deciding on who you want by your side. Not all doulas are the same, just as all care providers are different.
Peggy a former client of Rowan Bailey.
As many of you who have visited the Birth True Blog in recent weeks know, a dear friend of mine, community midwife Rowan Bailey, is under house arrest and charged, among other things, with the murder of an unborn baby. You may read more about the situation here
Rowan's supporters and former clients are continuing to raise awareness around the issue of human rights in childbirth and birth choices as well as fundraising for Rowan's legal defense. In the coming weeks, I will be publishing interviews with a former client or supporter of Rowan that will highlight thoughts, feelings, implications, and calls to action surrounding Rowan's arrest and current charges. Check back regularly for more interviews. Thank you for your interest, and do feel free to respond with your legitimate comments and questions. Constructive conversations are welcomed. Why have you chosen to speak about Rowan Bailey's case and your experience with homebirth?
Rowan helped bring our son into the world safely, and continues to be a woman who holds integrity for defending what she knows should be every woman's birth right, to bring another baby into the world in the way they feel is best for their whole family. It is different for each person, and can not be standardized to suit each person's needs. I am choosing to talk about Rowan's case, because I recognize it as a much larger issue, the elephant in the room if you will, than just a case between the state and a skilled, dedicated midwife who serves the People... this is an issue between The People and Our State (really.. Our Whole Country).
I remember fifteen years ago when I lived in Austin, TX, and heard Ina May Gaskin speak at a protest, while we had our picket signs waving at the capital steps, speaking out about the importance of midwives being allowed to accompany their birthing mothers into the hospitals. At that time, it had just been made illegal for families to bring their midwives in to the hospital if they chose to give birth there. That is when I woke up and realized that something was not right! I didn't know much about those kinds of things then, but continued to hone in to what was going on with human rights around us and learn about the wisdom behind traditional practices in many respects, and how valuable they are.
It was seven years ago that I met an inspirational teacher/midwife and became interested in learning more about the miracle of birthing and how to support a woman before, during and after the baby comes. I wanted to know why the birth stories have changed so drastically from the stories my grandmother told about how they did it before her time, to the stories that women my age tell... it is scary what measures have been taken to steal the rights away from innocent babies from the time of their conceptions even, that every person deserves to have the ability to come into the world with as little disruption or intervention as possible. I could go into that, but it would take pages to describe my passion clearly on that topic.Why do you feel access to all types of care providers is an important thing?
The limitations set by the law that are upon us in this current period of time, specifically around child birth, are the reasons for huge unrest and danger with any person who wants to start or grow their family. That may seem like a bold statement, but to avoid the same answer that many have heard to this question of why all types of care providers should be accessible, I'll just say that no one can be by the book in every situation, and mostly, the way that someone can be safest, is to do things the way they are most comfortable. Sometimes, that means, being in their own home, where the experience of giving birth is not treated from the very get-go, as an emergency, but instead, is inviting a beautiful person into the world, where they are able to be undisturbed. There are often mothers who really want to birth at the hospital or a birthing center, but don't want a medical type setting, they feel more comfortable knowing they are close to that type of support that can be offered, but often only want their midwife and partner present, and maybe family or close friends there. It is essential that these desires and necessities be honored by the facilities that provide for these mothers, and thus, need to be honored by the law.
If Rowan were convicted, how do you think it would affect your community and the U.S. birthing culture?
If Rowan were convicted for the things that are being held over her by the state, it would create exactly what the government seems to want: even more limitations with childbirth, and therefore, taking away the rights of The People, from before the time that they are even born. I'm sad to believe that this beautiful state/this nation/the human race would head down this path toward numbing our true wisdom, and create a burden on and distrust of our own senses. It seems like "risk-taking" would become more and more common, because the number of people waking up to the crime that is happening against them is increasing. It is interesting that this is called "risk-taking" because these "risks" are really people taking action to do what they know is best, in the most intimate, private experience they have in their lives. To go "underground" with this birth right may become the next big movement if the government were to really push this type of conviction on our traditional community midwife. We all know that this is not about her, this is about US.
What made you choose Rowan as your care provider?
I remember when I found out I was pregnant, I called my old classmates from doula training, and asked, "Who was the awesome woman that came in and taught us about placentas?" I thought of her to assist me during birth because I felt she was someone I could trust, because she is very upfront, honest, caring and wise, and that is the type of person I wanted to be with me. One of the first things she told me was that she is not a licensed midwife, and told me the reasons why not. She emphasized how important it is to make sure your midwife is a good fit, and someone you feel comfortable with. She supported me in changing my mind if I ever felt uncomfortable about keeping her as my provider, but that never happened because she and I spoke the same language, and I wouldn't have felt better with anyone else but her to attend my son's birth.
She always dotted her "i's" and crossed her "t's," and was also very compassionate, present, and encouraged me to call her at any time of day or night, throughout the entire prenatal period. She also let me know that I could ask anything of her throughout the birth, and postpartum. She answered every question I had, and I couldn't believe how much energy she gave our family during postpartum... I started to wonder how long postpartum periods lasted, because she went over the top to provide care for me, my son, and my partner. I felt supported from the time I hired her throughout the whole process. Her knowledge and experience has helped me make great choices for my son who is thriving, and also helped me continue my learning, and pass the wisdom on to others.
What else would you like to say in regards to this topic?
Throughout this year, it has been interesting to see how people have behaved locally in response to Rowan's arrest and charges that are being held against her. I have been disillusioned at how people will look at the Asheville Citizen Times and believe what is written in there about the case! I have always known that the media is not to be depended on for accurate information, but this is the first time it has been so blatantly demonstrated, and so poorly at that. Yet people who I trust and love, even professionals who I think would know better, are still convinced and believe what they read! It seems like the psychology behind conditioning by repetition is REAL, and is viral! If it's not one person who believes "the news", they will believe it from the next person who they talk to, who has read it and been duped.
I am realizing that the reason it was fairly easy to raise money initially, to get Rowan out of jail, was because people felt comfortable putting their money toward a sure thing: "$15,000 will get Rowan's bail!" But now, because there is wonder around the outcome of any investment being put toward her legal funds, people are seeming more reluctant. All I know is that every little bit counts, and that if people really care about their future around the issue of birthing, and being able to choose who is present for the birth of their babies, it would help to have faith that the money will go toward the security of that future, no matter what.
"The gift of creating new life needs to be, once again, welcomed and honored as one of the most mysterious of human powers. And women need to be confirmed in their decisions to use this power however and whenever they see fit.” –Patricia Monaghan (via Talk Birth)
My husband and I have been watching the BBC crime drama, Accused
. Each episode reiterates something that I have always personally believed. Every crime no matter how atrocious was committed in an area of grey. Guilt and innocence is not a cut and dry ordeal. There is always a history behind a crime. However, there are things in our country and countries around the world that are in no way criminal which are being criminalized by those who feel they are in a place of higher authority.
The practice of midwifery is one of those things. The rights of women to use their powers of birth however and whenever they see fit is being blatantly attacked all over the United States. In March of this year, I was horrified to wake and discover that my dear friend and birth colleague had been arrested and charged with several things, the most shocking of which was - murder of an unborn child
. I couldn't believe what I was reading, and I couldn't help but feel the urgent need to do something. My mind raced as I wept. What could I possibly do to help her, to show that this charge was a grave mistake at best and at worst a disgusting farce? I longed to wrap my arms around her and to tell her it would all be OK.
Rowan Bailey, a traditional community midwife, was charged with murder having been in service as a midwife. Money was raised to release her from jail, and she is currently under home arrest. In August, 2013 she was indicted on all charges including that of murder. In a blog post written a few days ago by Shannon Mitchell
, the truth of this entire tragedy is stated so clearly. Anyone who feels they are an advocate for the rights of childbearing women, or are working as a birth professional would be hard pressed not to act. "Because one day it will be you and you had better hope that as you are looking into that mourning woman's grieving and confused eyes and try to help her comprehend her loss that there isn't some DA behind her that is willing to call you a murderer
." Thinking beyond the deep ramifications for the wide range of birth professionals who identify as a midwife, we can also see the tragedy that a guilty verdict in Rowan's case would be for pregnant and birthing mothers.
While Rowan, my birth sister, and those of us supporting her await what is to come of this, I have discovered just how real the persecution of midwifery is in this country. In the persecution/prosecution of midwives we in turn are seeing an attack on human rights in childbirth. We are seeing an attack on our rights to use our power to birth however and whenever we see fit, and wherever and with whomever we deem worthy to be in our presence as we bring forth our blessed child. For, in lieu of going after mothers personally, those who seek to limit our choices to be the executive over our own body and the authority over what is best for the coming in of life we have co-created with the Divine, are attacking those who give so much of their lives in service to us. What is very clear here is that a midwife acting in service to a family is not in the business of willfully causing harm. In taking our access to a variety of care providers, persecutors in turn will be inadvertently placing mothers in a position of desperation. The decision where and with whom I or any other woman gives birth is no other person's responsibility but that of the birthing woman. It is in the same realm of many of our most protected rights including conscientious objection, right to assembly, freedom of religion, and the right to live within or outside of mainstream community. For what is right and good for me, may not be right and good for you.
If we continue in a world where midwives are accused, indicted, and potentially convicted of murder for being asked to be present and accepting the duty of being with woman in birth through all the potentialities for beauty and tragedy that it holds, then what will be next. When will this persecution of midwives turn to the persecution of women? When will we see the transformational rite of passage that birth is being reduced uniformly to a series of medical procedures overseen not by the birthing mother, but by those who have claimed authority over her body and her knowing therefore in a sense calling it inept. How long before it be a mother who in her most sacred and Divine space made informed choices for her family, who stands accused of willful neglect and harm?
I, as a birthing mother who has had my maternity care needs met by midwifery, will not sit back and just wait. Thus, I am writing this blog post. Twice, it has been a midwife who has come to sit by my side in my home and protect my space to stand in my self-worth as a birthing woman. While I very much believe and know there are great care providers in all settings, home was the right place for me and my family. Because twice midwives have said yes to me in my "special" need, I am saying yes to the midwives. I stand with all midwives because as you will see at the end of this post it is not about unlicensed or licensed midwives. It is not about traditional, DEM, CPM, or CNM midwifery. There isn't an exemption to the persecution. Our midwives must
stand together with the women they serve to flesh out a world where they can work with one another and our doctors - a world where they are free to serve the women who choose them without persecution or prosecution under trumped up charges. Only then will women be protected in childbirth. The ancient practice of midwifery and the variety of new incarnations of it must be allowed to thrive for the sake of womankind. I STAND WITH ROWAN BAILEY. I stand with her Sisters/Brothers in Chains, for she is not the only one currently fundraising for legal fees and she is not the first. I stand with them until this stops.
For that world where a woman who makes choices for her family based on her own self-respect as the guardian of her family's safety can be persecuted cannot come to pass. This current world where our midwives are being persecuted as murders cannot be allowed to remain thus. It is us who will usher in a New Paradigm of Birth where "with woman" takes on the meaning as ancient as time and as fresh as new life. Where mothers are respected as the primary decision makers in birth and the information and support they require to make those decisions are clear and accessible. It will be a day where mothers are deemed worthy of respect in pregnancy, birth, and postpartum - in life and in death. It will be a world based in love.
If we do not act today on Rowan's behalf, we are saying YES to a herd mentality and the forcible shushing of women. As Shannon stated in her post, "If you don’t send money to Rowan’s defense, if you don’t travel to show a tour de force that midwifery attendance at a birth is not willful murder, if you don’t react in some way to this case that goes beyond sitting on a couch and speculating, then don’t be surprised when it’s you and you are alone and ostracized, no matter your intentions on legal, no matter your intentions or vocation or grace."
Rowan is a person. A wife. A friend. A colleague.http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/families-rally-for-rowan-bailey-midwife
“Remember this, for it is as true and true gets: Your body is not a lemon. You are not a machine. The Creator is not a careless mechanic. Human female bodies have the same potential to give birth well as aardvarks, lions, rhinoceri, elephants, moose, and water buffalo. Even if it has not been your habit throughout your life so far, I recommend that you learn to think positively about your body.”
― Ina May Gaskin, Ina May's Guide to Childbirth: Updated With New Material
Womanhood for at least as long as mass media has been King has been fighting a battle from the moment they come to the knowing that their body is something to be looked upon as a thing of beauty or even a thing to be desired by another person. This battle is one with a fear that somehow we aren't beautiful enough. Somehow our body doesn't fit the bill. Somehow our body will let us down. It is a fear many of us are taught to have by our parents or conditioned to have by the representations of the female form in the media we consume on a daily basis. At some point in our development we are taught to distrust our body. It is something that few of us manage to avoid, and yet we all expect ourselves to exude confidence. Isn't that an appealing quality - confidence?
This fear permeates so many areas of our life. From a worry that a "bad" hair day will cause someone to think ill of us to a woman so worried about her size that she cannot be intimate with her husband. It comes in so many forms that some of us may not even realize we are affected by it.
How this fear takes form in our pregnancies and mothering can greatly affect the way we experience both birth and motherhood. By far, my most popular post at the old blog site is titled - My Body Wouldn't/Won't Dilate.
If you look at the comments section, you can see the huge concern, and even total belief that for some reason for some of the women who commented, they are dealing with a broken body. Their body is somehow a lemon. The blame of "failure to progress" goes to their body's inability to perform rather than a series of interventions, a situation that was less than optimal, or even a valid medical reason that was true for the pregnancy in question, but likely will not be a concern in a subsequent pregnancy. My heart feels heavy when I read each comment with my incapability of addressing them all or even to offer any sort of reassurance.
I have also experienced this in mothering when I speak with my mother's and grandmother's generations about why they did not breastfeed. I have been told that breastfeeding was what poor people did and they did not want to seem poor. The feeling that somehow the milk coming from our breasts is inferior or embarrassing. I have been told that some of these women were told their breasts were too small and inadequate to supply their large baby with enough to "fill them up". Again, their body just didn't measure up to the demands on it. Or so it seemed.
Mothers get so hung up on how much weight they are gaining during pregnancy and whether or not they look huge without instead focusing on the quality of food they are eating, or paying attention to the cues their bodies are giving them about their food intake. I'll never forget Shiva Rea's Prenatal Yoga DVD and her explaining how she gained 60 pounds during her pregnancy, not because she ate everything in sight, but because she listened to her body and knew that it was best for her and her baby. This svelte yoga goddess, gained a beautiful 60 pounds during pregnancy.
Beautiful Mama Tiffany!
It is of no wonder that when faced with one of the greatest challenges of a woman's life - labor and birth - that this distrust would greatly affect how we experience it. Reclaiming our acceptance and love for our bodies must be part of our preparation for childbirth. Recognizing our body as a Divine Vessel for the emergence of new life is the first step toward this new love of our body and an affinity toward self care that is an essential component of giving birth.
How do we overcome our experiences and the inundation of mistrust? Where can we look for reassurance? How do we come to love and celebrate our bodies?
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. Psalm 139:14 (NIV)
This is a verse that I looked to throughout my last pregnancy. You can choose a verse, poem, or affirmation that speaks personally to you. This one particularly made my heart sing because I was very much in awe of what my body was doing in pregnancy. I was amazed at how much I could do at 9 months pregnant, and how as I treated my body properly - feeding it well, moving and exploring its abilities, and resting it - I would shine with a radiance that I had at no other time in my life.
We are made fearfully because look at the incredible power pregnancy holds. It's a miracle of science and spirit that we still have yet to understand fully. Without us having to understand the how, our body performs. We are wonderfully made because of the excellence in both inner and outer beauty we can carry during our pregnancies and births. Look at the mothers pictured throughout this post. Each uniquely formed. Each of them carrying their precious babies differently and perfectly for their body and that pregnancy. Are they not each beautiful? Amazingly beautiful!
It is time for us all to think of ourselves as worthy of being the vessel in which a miracle is formed. Worthy of carrying a baby. Worthy of being treated with respect during pregnancy, labor, birth, and postpartum. Worthy of being supported to give birth how we see fit while listening to the inherent wisdom in our bodies. We are worthy. We are divinely beautiful!
Beautiful Mama Shaina!
"Alice laughed: "There's no use trying," she said; "one can't believe impossible things."
"I daresay you haven't had much practice," said the Queen. "When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast." Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland.
Beautiful Mama Shantana!
Believing you are deserving of a healthy pregnancy and birth is not an impossible feat. We can be self sacrificing and say we don't care how it happens as long as the baby is healthy. But, we have to remember that the journey matters. The journey matters and those who accompany us. Would we want to see our child dragged through the muck by an old mean, mangy dog as one of the many ways to get across the yard as long as they weren't permanently hurt by it? No, we'd rather see them skipping and singing. A positive mother who celebrates her body and the wonderful things it is doing for her and her forming baby will play an important role in how safe and secure a baby feels during pregnancy, labor, and birth. Balance is the word.
Research backs up this thinking. The World Health Organization has stated before that 85-95% of pregnancies can be expected to go normally. Current studies confirm this previous recommendation in that it seems a c-section rate higher than 15% does more harm than good.We can be thankful that we live in a time where our bodies can be supported in birth through intervention if it becomes medically necessary. However, we are harming ourselves by thinking that we should expect interventions or that we need to accept them without clear medical reason because our body hasn't met some mostly arbitrary deadline or is growing a big baby. If we are healthy, and have treated our bodies as well as was possible for us, then we should expect our births to be just the same in the vast majority of cases. Look again at these beautiful mothers! All of us reading these words are capable women. Our bodies are beautiful works of art. They are full of life before, during, and after pregnancy. We are worthy. Celebrate your body as you prepare for birth. Wallow in its strength. Stand in awe of its function. Enjoy your body. Call it beautiful!
At the end of November, I was honored to play a small role in the amazing homebirth of Hazel May. Her mother was fully empowered, prepared, and supported. It was a beautiful birth. I was so happy to hold vigil at my first homebirth as a doula. It was a great experience. What I am overjoyed about is that homebirth is once again an option in the mountains of southeastern Kentucky - the birthplace of nurse midwifery. For almost 2 generations now, homebirth has been rare in these hills that hold such a strong tradition of midwifery. I feel so very hopeful that the women of this region now have access to a fuller range of birthing options. I am so very thankful to Hazel's family for asking me to be a part of her birth story. It is truly an honor every time I have a client. I will be writing more on accessing birthing options soon. In the meantime, I invite you to visit my client's blog and read the story of the birth of Hazel May and share in her family's joy - Life Through the Looking Glass.
I am proud to say that homebirth is a safe option for so many birthing women as this story illustrates.
I also invite you, if you are local to the region, to come out this Saturday to learn more about the efforts of the Kentucky Homebirth Coalition
to license homebirth midwifery in the state of Kentucky. This effort will affect the women of the state profoundly and it is very important that the women of our region give a voice to this effort and express our needs and concerns. Learn more at this Facebook Event page
. Please, if you are not from our region, feel free to share your experiences with this process in the comments section of this post. We can all benefit from learning from the efforts of those who have gone before u
For anyone curious about what midwifery looked like in the recent past of the Kentucky hills, visit EKRHP and watch this twin birth attended by Lena Stephens in the home of the mother. It is absolutely awe-inspiring. Click the picture of Lena below to be taken to the EKRHP website featuring the Vimeo video of the birth.
Yesterday, I read a brilliant article in Pathways for Family Wellness magazine
by Charles Eisenstein called "Don't Should on Us". Eisenstein writes on the reasons he feels the environmentalist movement is falling short and why, if they don't change their approach, will continue to do so. His writing made me think of all the work so many of us are doing to promote evidence based childbirth
, and some of the things that I hear again and again are frustrating birth professionals of all types.
It is very often on Facebook groups, mothering circles, and in private conversations with those who share information with women and those who call themselves birth advocates/activists that I read or hear that they just do not understand why a particular woman isn't open to receiving information or why is she going ahead with that choice when she knows what a risk that is to her birth plan. I read and hear how they wish that women would accept responsibility for their births and understand that they can take direct action to affect the health and safety of their birth despite what their care provider or others might be suggesting they do. The question on so many lips is - "Why would she just blindly accept that?"
I personally know how sad it can make you feel when someone experiences the direct negative impact of non-evidence based practices, and especially so when you are their friend, family member, or a hired birth professional. Particularly when you have talked with them about what they want in birth and what the evidence about birth actually tells us. It is frustrating and can make some advocates feel like they work so hard and yet seem to fall short too often. I know since experiencing unnecessary c-section I feel so very protective of mothers in regards to avoiding the interventions that could lead to surgical birth.
As Stephanie Dawn
, the Sacred Birth Founder/Mentor, has described it, we are ushering in a New Paradigm of birth and driving out a deeply patriarchal and established Old Paradigm. That process is not going to be easy and it will be long. But, what we can find comfort in is that what we are espousing is the true nature of birth and in modern times combined with our greater understanding of birth and modern medical possibilities is safer for more women than ever before. We can find comfort that this is the Truth despite ridiculously high cesarean, induction, and preterm birth rates that we are experiencing in our external reality. Why? Because as Eisenstein shares in his article, it is our human nature (our spiritual nature) to gravitate toward what can be accomplished with simplicity in ways that utilize our true inner abundance of resources.
When we approach people with the energy of wanting what is truly in their best and highest interest, they will instinctively trust us. Sometimes, to be sure, a person must experience something in order to realize that isn't what they actually wanted. But the message will stay with them until the time comes for it to sprout. When we act from the knowledge that a person's "selfish" interest is actually toward simplicity, closeness to nature, and closeness to community, then our urgings lose any judgementality and assume the force of a trusted friend's support. - Charles Eisenstein, "Don't Should on Us", Pathways to Family Wellness, Issue 35/Fall 2012
This must become our approach. Let's look at this from the inner want of most every mentally healthy mother and many of those with compromised mental health - a healthy baby and a healthy birth, in that order. Our instinctive nature as mothers is to protect both our child and ourselves. Whatever gets us to a healthy baby will ultimately be okay. That is why a healthy birth will come secondly. Very few women would say that they would sacrifice that baby's life to experience a natural childbirth if it came down to it. The choices women make are instinctive whether one chooses to birth in the hospital via elective surgery or whether one chooses to freebirth
. I truly do believe that both of those choices at the opposite ends of the birthing spectrum come from the same root instinctive source - protection of the birthing environment and the assurance of a healthy baby. It is the pressures that they feel from society that directs how and where they feel giving birth is appropriate.
Eisenstein directs us that our "selfish" interest (or our instinct to self preserve and thrive - K.B.H)
lends itself to choices that are simple, close to nature, and close to community. In thinking of these three tendencies in the face of our current situation with mainstream birthing practices, it reveals how our scope of work as evidence-based birthing advocates much be much broader to amend and appeal to the women we encounter through our work.Toward Simplicity
This one is simple. As the female of the species our instinctive nature is going to ask us to prepare for the simplest means to getting our babes earthside. In terms of what is simple, preparing for a nonintervention vaginal birth in a location that is comfortable and safe would be optimal. Evidence tells us that avoiding intervention unless medically necessary is the safest way to give birth. So, as we should expect evidence supports our best and highest interest. However, from childhood humans presenting as females are taught by mainstream culture to not trust their body. We might get too fat. Our hair might be too frizzy. We need cosmetics. We must be ashamed of our menstruation. We must be careful how we express our sexuality and with whom. You need multiple diagnostic tests to confirm you are healthy enough to sustain a pregnancy without intervention and the baby has no anomalies. What if labor doesn't happen by your due date? What if you don't dilate? What if your baby gets stuck? Are your breasts too small to breastfeed? It is easy to see how this mistrust could turn into the thought that it might be easier to have a medically managed birth.Closeness to Nature
Again evidence supports our self preservation toward a closeness to nature or what is natural. In mainstream American culture, it can appear that we have lost this desire. It is, however, basic to who we are as a living being. What we can accomplish with the greatest simplicity is that which can be done with our natural ability. Evidence supports less intervention in birth. Pain medication as a routine is intervention that can be a source of complication in an otherwise healthy birth. We must see that as truth. However, I personally have accepted pain medication in labor and I as a doula have seen it help along a complicated labor. I know it has its place. What I also know personally and as a doula, is that when we are experiencing a variation of normal birth, unmedicated (which we are all capable of doing), and are supported fully by those around us - never suffering (this is the key), we will heal faster and our children will initiate their first instinctual functions and bonding sooner and with greater ease. My HBA2C was my easiest birth yet, despite it being a 34 hour active labor + pushing with a week of prodromal labor prior. It is what is normal, natural, and physiological. However, in our mainstream culture the vast majority of images of women giving birth in film and on television show a woman not coping and unsupported. Pregnant women are bombarded with horror stories complicated deliveries that when examined were often high intervention or a woman being neglected rather than supported. The meds are there, why wouldn't you take them? So, it is easy to see how our mainstream system sets women up for dis-empowerment.
.Closeness to Community
We are built to live in community. We are a social being. Our instinct is also to protect our place in whatever social group we belong to. The pictures and sculptures are many of the births of old. Women surrounded by women, in birthing ritual ( See Wisdom of the Elders - On Becoming a Mother by Liz Cheney).
Birth was a sacred dance. Experienced women counseled expecting mothers on what to expect of birth. What has changed in our culture is that birth is expected to be manipulated. It is no less so that experienced women counsel expecting mothers. However, beginning with our grandmothers fewer women have experienced birth as a rite of passage. In fact, many of our grandmothers do not remember giving birth at all because they did so in twilight sleep
. At some point in time, we (women) thought that in order to gain equality in our society women should be less aware of what they experience in childbirth. What resulted was actually the severe abuse of birthing women. As twilight sleep fell out of vogue, medicine sought to replace it with more palatable alternatives. Birth was looked at more like an injury to be avoided despite the physical capability of women to give birth without permanent injury when support in the right environment. Our back story has changed, and to dare to step back in time to retrieve some of the positive past related to birth is a scary venture. Not only are you stepping outside of societal norms, but you may have to disagree with medical professionals who in our culture are held in regard as those with authority over our decisions. Who are we to question how it has been done for our sisters, mothers, grandmothers, and for some of us great grandmothers? Those of us thinking of unmedicated birth are warned against it repeatedly. If the result of us stepping outside of these norms is anything less than perfect who is going to be blamed? Even when the results are normal, there is risk. We hear of mothers having their children taken from them for refusing c-sections.
It is not only the birthing women, but those who help them by giving them options who suffer in our society. The most recent one to hit the natural birth community hard was the undercover investigation and arrest of Brenda Capps in California.
A "lay" midwife who offered to support women in making their own choices as described here
. Even within the movement itself, communities are turning against their midwives and mothers who go beyond what the community is or have been told to be comfortable with to make their own choices. No, it is very easy to see how the risk of fighting through what should be a glorious life event - the birth of your child - could seem unappealing. It is easy to see how the risk to our place among our community places too much fear behind the choices that actually help us birth in evidence based ways.Our charge as advocates is bigger than sharing information, and being midwives, OBs, and doulas.
What we are doing is changing a paradigm. Releasing old ways that do not serve us anymore. We must work in a larger realm than sharing evidence based practices and then supporting those who find the capacity to choose those options.
The shortcomings of many childbirth education programs and well meaning information sharing is that we give information, offer support, but then we leave out how to go against our instinctual nature to protect ourselves in the world that is presenting itself to us to actually make the choice to act of this new information. We teach coping strategies, but we neglect to share how to actually release fears. We tell women that homebirth is safe, but we do not offer tools to help them protect their choice from their well-meaning community who have yet to understand it. We tell women that their "body is not a lemon", yet we don't share with them ways to learn to once again love and trust their female body.
To simply share evidence based options is not enough. Sharing facts is not enough. For some all they hear is as Eisenstein writes - "You should
do better... On the most obvious level, this approach backfires simply because people can always sense judgementality, and they naturally respond to it with hostility... Alternatively, some people are temperamentally inclined to buy into guilt and shame. The message works on such people, but it cannot spread beyond them." How are we going to actually change this old paradigm into one that gives the space for us to act on the Truth of who we are as women? How will our efforts help to bring balance to our society? Going back to Eisenstein's comment on how it is sometimes necessary for us to experience something to know that it isn't what we want, we can see that this is going to take time. Some women, such as myself, will have to have one birthing experience in this old paradigm to even realize it is wrong and cannot serve them in their goals. As advocates we need to fill our bags with tools to help mothers heal and find the empowered position they need to make the choices that protect birth and regain our society's reverence for it. But, most of all in this work we must find our patience.If you haven't already, and would like to know more about tools you can share with women to do just this, I highly suggest you check into the work of Stephanie Dawn. You may also find her on Facebook. Her work has totally changed my perspective on how best to support women as we usher in the paradigm of Birth Heaven.
"I refuse to live in a paradigm of fear." - Rixa Ann Spencer Freeze (author of the blog Stand and Deliver: Reflections on Pregnancy, Birth, and Mothering
When I read this quote in the essay of Rixa Ann Spencer Freeze's husband in the current issue of The Journal of Perinatal Education,
I wanted to cheer for her and him. I wanted to stand up and dance. The essay Eric Freeze, PhD. wrote about his experience of the poetry of his wife's body during their unassisted childbirth and the aftermath of interviews touched me beyond words. I had just seen the picture on the left-hand side of the screen of my Great Aunt Carol Ann (Johnson) Baker after the birth of my cousin Pamela. It is the first birthing picture that I have seen of any of my family matriarchs and as far as I am aware the only one that exists.
I haven't heard anyone talk about the births of the babies of our family much at all, even when prodded for more information. I have heard the most from my mother who gave birth to all three of her children via cesarean surgery. Of my birth, she said she couldn't dilate passed seven and I went into distress and had to be delivered in an emergency. Sometimes when she tells the story it sounds like her labor had been augmented. She doesn't know though and seems confused when I ask her about the possibility of pitocin being used. My maternal grandmother doesn't talk about giving birth and doesn't really seem up to it. My paternal grandmother talks very little about it. I know she was alone when she birthed my dad in a navy hospital. I know he was a vaginal birth and was 9 pounds. I know her doctor had her walking in the sand of the beaches of Coronado, California before his birth to prepare her body for labor. It is as if our lives didn't start until we came home from the hospital and the way we came into the world is a mystery.
Seeing this picture of my Aunt Carol filled me with unbounded joy. The look on her face, a combination of sass and happiness, is absolutely gorgeous to me. We've all heard the proverbial sayings - we fear what we cannot understand
, or we fear the unknown
. Nothing on her face speaks of birth being hardship or something to be withstood as the "lot" of womanhood. Her face projects only - look what I did
! There is no fear in this picture. How is it that every story I have heard about our birthdays contained either fear, loneliness, or both? Was Carol the exception? Despite my having both of my grandmothers and my mother earthside still, I'll probably never know the whole story of birth in our family. What I have known before is the fear that those births left with my mothers. I know when I was planning to VBAC both in my second and third births my mother and maternal grandmother held their breath, not believing it was possible for me to birth vaginally, like with my mother we'd somehow lost that ability. If it wasn't for my having been a part of natural, vaginal birth as a doula, I don't know if I wouldn't have believed that too.
When did we lose the belief that we were made to give birth? When did womanhood begin to birth in fear? Is fear in birth only prevalent in certain cultures and relatively absent in others? I can't answer any of these questions at this point in my work though I know further study will answer them for me. I can only speculate as to what womanhood lost in order for their to be an optimal environment created for fear to manifest and flourish. It was the moment we began to see birth as something apart from our body. Something that was being done to our body. Something for us to endure instead of experience. It was the moment when those attending our births began to have a perceived "authority" over us, instead of being simply "with woman."
In a time when we know so much more about the medical and anatomical sides of birth, it would seem like there would be less fear. It seems to me like there is much more. Many of us are happy to turn our births over to doctors or midwives and allow them to make the important decisions about how our babies make their entrance totally on their own. Others of us fear the pain we may experience in birth or that we will never go into labor on our own. There are some who fear the process so entirely that they want to know nothing about it. Pregnant women are often bombarded with horror stories when they should be lifted and supported by the stories they are told when preparing to birth. What is this paradigm of fear we have created? It is a dis-empowerment of women.
It could be a daily thing that those of us as birth professionals encourage women to refuse this paradigm of fear, to step into their own knowingness, and take up the strength that being a vessel for life gives them. We must at some point ask what are we doing for our daughters and young women to help them to never doubt that though it feels untamed, new, and expansive, that birth is another function of their beautiful and amazing female bodies long before pregnancy. How do we raise empowered women, so that birth isn't something we feel we must reclaim for ourselves or be paralyzed with fear? It does require a new paradigm of birth which so many of us are working to manifest.
Birth is a story we must tell. We must know the details of how we came into the world long before we become mothers ourselves. Options in birth must not be hidden from us. We have to learn how to have self-love as much as we mothers feel we must be self-sacrificing. Tell our daughters about their stories. Share with them the empowering stories of other women alongside those that ended in tears. Birth should not be a secret we keep from our daughter or our sons. Allow them to be unashamed about the capability of their body. We must refuse to live in a paradigm of fear by giving those attending us in birth the "power over" us.It isn't a woman's selflessness or over modesty mistaken for humbleness that allows her to give of herself in strength as a mother during birth. It is a deep reverence for her capability. It is the joy she has in her hard working body. It is the respect for herself as a vessel for bringing forth life. It is her self-love and the love for her sweet babe. Birth isn't about allowing your body to be torn, manipulated, and exhausted for the sake of your "healthy" baby. It is connecting with the inner knowing that only you know what is best and allowing your body in freedom to move, stretch, work, and growl for the gorgeous song that is healthy birth for both you and your baby. ~Kelli B. Haywood (from www.facebook.com/birthtrue)
We MUST refuse to live in a paradigm of fear... for our daughters.
I have been so happy with the responses to my birth story with Gweneth
and inspired by them to continue head on into my work with VBAC support and advocacy. I want to blog here more regularly and would like to begin by addressing this awesome comment to my birth story."I have so much respect for the women, families and birth attendants who take responsibility for being fully informed, managing risk using non-clinical methods and excellent preparation and accepting the consequences - the divine & sublime as well as the occasional less than perfect outcome." from L
What does it mean to be prepared for labor and birth? What does it mean to be prepared to accept the consequences of our choices?
I'm not sure if it is ever possible to be prepared for a bad outcome. It is fact that the reason we prepare at all is to hopefully avoid a bad outcome. The fact also is that no matter how much we prepare for birth, some of us will experience a "less than perfect" outcome.
When I was preparing for the birth of my second daughter, I spent all the time I could steeped in information on natural birth and homebirth after cesarean. We took Bradley Method classes. I chose for my birth team women who had also experienced VBAC. But, what I was lacking was the deep inner work that was needed to prepare me emotionally and mentally to actually do the work. It was one thing to have the book knowledge and another to apply it.
Looking back on my second pregnancy, while I felt like I did do so much that was great toward creating a situation conducive to a beautiful HBAC experience (it ultimately ended in another c-section), there was so much else I could have done. Not that I can do anything about that now, and not that I have regrets. I have learned that being well prepared for birth is a marriage between facts and connecting with the feelings of our innermost selves. How do we reach the point of empowerment? Because giving birth is not about bravery. In giving birth, it should not feel like we are going to war or fighting for our rights. A reliance on bravery in labor can fail us. It isn't only about physical strength. A woman who has a low pain threshold is just as equipped physically to give birth as a woman with a high threshold. It most certainly isn't knowing a lot about birth. You can know a lot but not have the wherewithal to do anything about it. How many times do we say 'I can't' or doubt that something is possible for us?
Let's look into the couple that create this marriage which allows us to become empowered pregnant and birthing women. It is a melding of masculine and feminine energies that when one is let to affect the other empowerment is born.
Many times for women knowing what you want out of pregnancy, labor, and birth comes intuitively, if you are in touch with that inner voice and not guided by fear. I truly believe that if more women were able to acknowledge their inner knowing, feel supported, and we weren't living in a fear based culture, that we would see more women asking for natural options in birth. I remember knowing from the moment I decided to try to become a mother that I wanted to give birth naturally. What wasn't in place for me during my first pregnancy and birth was the book knowledge and unfortunately the network connections to make my dreams happen. I simply knew I wanted to birth naturally. I wasn't afraid of pain, and I felt I could do it. So, when we were told at 38 weeks by our OB group (I unsuccessfully tried to find a midwife in our city despite the fact that they were there.) that it was too risky to birth my baby vaginally because of her size. I agreed to a c-section having not felt the first pang of labor. Ignorance was not bliss for me in this situation. It was heartache. I didn't know enough. I didn't even know that I didn't know. I signed the consent form in tears.
I could write a whole other post about the importance of making evidence based birth information transparent in our communities for all women, so I'm going to focus here on how the individual obtains the information they need to make informed choices. It isn't complicated if you are already looking for the information and can determine if what you are reading is a reliable source. There are countless books and internet sites out there about birth, and of course not all of them are trustworthy despite their appearance to be so. To obtain solid information take the following steps (click on the highlighted words for links to help you further):
- Choose a care provider and birth setting (birth team) that is comfortable with helping women access their options in childbirth.
- Explore your options and the risks and benefits of those choices.
- When talking about options/decisions with your care provider always use your BRAIN - Benefits, Risk, Alternatives, Intuition, Nothing/Not Now
- Take a childbirth education class of your choosing independent from the hospital classes you may find.
- Gather enough information that you can be solidly comfortable with the birthing options you choose both acknowledging the benefits of them and being prepared to handle the risks as well.
The key piece missing out of so many birth dreams is the acceptance of the feminine part of birth. Yes, it is so
common for women today to give birth totally out of touch with the feminine energy that they need to maintain their safety, their dignity, and the appropriate emotional responses in their experience. The breadth of our society so often seems to negate this feminine presence as a bunch of "hooey" or "softness" to the point that in important life situations both women and men can be stripped of just what they need to be truly powerful.
How do we regain this connection with the feminine? By acknowledging our need for self care and self love. My Sacred Birth Mentor, Stephanie Dawn
, reconnected me with this missing piece of my self when she said, "How can we expect to effectively serve others when our own well is dry?" Learning to love ourselves or relearning this can take some time and gentle patience, but having this in place will give you the strength to go wherever birth may take you. It will also give you the peace you need as a mother. Take the following steps:
- Connect with yourself deeply. Journal, pray, meditate, contemplate... whatever is appropriate for you. Do it daily or as often as you can. Don't be afraid to go there and love yourself through whatever may come up. It may become necessary to process with another person be it a close and wise friend or a spiritual counselor or therapist. Afford yourself that.
- Take care of your body. Eat good, quality food as much as possible. Move your body through natural forms of exercise (yoga, walking, hiking, swimming) and learn how amazing it is. While pregnant, explore just how much your pelvis can open and move.
- Be in your beauty. Have maternity pictures taken. Dress in colors that inspire you. Acknowledge your gorgeous parts. Acknowledge how amazing your body is. Don't allow shame in. Watch videos of beautiful birthing mothers.
- Be in your sexuality. Sexual expression created your baby. Embrace the healthy and positive nature of sexuality and express it confidently. Discard the shame and perversions placed on it by a fearful society and one that has forgotten how to revere and respect their sexual partners and objects of desire. Birth will ask you to let go and allow your body to be used in a mutual benefit of yourself and another.
- Build a fortress. Listen to your intuition. You are developing a mother's knowing. Create a space around you that is positive and nurturing. Anything that is not can be dealt with more fully after your birth if you so choose to take it up again.
By doing this work, you ensure that all parts of your birth plans are in place. You give yourself the freedom to birth without restraint so that regardless of what comes up during the process, you can approach it with a solid framework that is true to all parts of you. A framework that respect you the birthing mother and your desires for your birth and your baby.
Thursday morning came and my contractions once again spaced back out. I was beyond frustrated at that and way too tired to be home alone. My husband stayed home and we waited on my midwife to arrive. I napped a bit, but found I wasn’t able to eat much. Pudding and ice cream were about the only thing I could stand to put in my stomach.
My midwife arrived in the afternoon. She noticed right away that the baby was lower in my pelvis, so we checked on her head first. Her head was fully engaged in the pelvis! This was awesome news to me because my second c-section was due to malpositioning and a prolonged rupture of membranes and my baby never engaged the pelvis. We listened to her heartbeat. She sounded wonderful! With this news, I felt a renewed sense of strength. My body was doing this! I told my midwife that as long as the news was this good, I’d go on for however long it takes. She stayed with us almost four hours before she headed back home.
That evening contractions began again a little earlier this time than the previous evenings. They were again fifteen minutes apart, but were even more intense. My mind told me this was active labor, but I didn’t want to get my hopes up. As the night progressed, it was undeniable that I was in active labor. Contractions became closer together at ten minutes apart and some as close as five. My husband felt we should call our midwife to come back, but I worried that I would be calling her all the way back to our home for nothing. I didn’t want to bother her. My husband reminded me that it was her job and not a bother, and that he was pretty sure the baby was coming soon. He told my midwife that he wasn’t sure if I would make it until morning. She had only been home one hour from travelling back from our house when we called her to return. This was around 11pm. She asked to take a short rest before hitting the road again, and John agreed that we’d be fine and would call her if anything hastened or slowed down. We called Heather as well, and she returned to our home again right away. She had been with us earlier for the prenatal visit.
Nothing slowed down. Again, I was vocalizing through all my contractions and doing deep breathing. The vocalizing helped me to keep my breathing deep and my jaw loose. John helped me some with counter pressure, but mostly I just needed him to hold my hand. As we became even surer that this was it, my husband called my sister to make her trip. She was four hours away. I stayed in our room most of the night trying to rest, but it was pretty much impossible to sleep. I also started to vomit.
I heard our midwife come in at about 4am. I couldn’t go out to greet her, but I listened as she carried in all of her supplies and Heather helped her get settled in. The next morning when I emerged from my bedroom at daybreak, my midwife was asleep on the couch. Heather had taken over the care giving for our girls as I needed John’s full attention. They weren’t awake yet either, but I was in search of food. More pudding for me. Everyone began to stir and I continued to contract. This continued on all day and into the night. We checked in on Gwen periodically and she was always fine. We were finding her heartbeat lower and lower. I was so encouraged that labor was really happening. The day kinds of runs together, but I continued with more of the same – walking as I could, mostly laying on my side, using the restroom, and trying my best to stay hydrated as now my food was coming up always. It became too hard for me to eat, but my midwife encouraged me to try some protein. I ate most of a spoon of peanut butter. Also, my vocalizing had turned into a prayer – “Lord, help me please.” Sometime in the afternoon my sister arrived. Both she and Heather kept my girls occupied while I labored. That was a Godsend because the girls were becoming pretty impatient with the wait. They had been waiting too long already.
Toward late Friday evening I began to feel very weak. I was afraid that everything was going to be for naught. The contractions were changing once again and were feeling even more intense in my lower abdomen. Our midwife reminded me that these were normal sensations as there were times when I felt that I would explode. I didn’t expect for the fear of uterine rupture to come up during my labor as I knew the statistics well and trusted that everything was good with my body, but it did. Encouragement helped me so much in regards to this and I resolved to push through as long as everyone around me felt things were normal. My heart also knew things were normal. They say that women often go into a trance like state during the last parts of labor, but my thinking mind never left me. It was something I had to be present for in order to work through to the end. This was the part that I could not have prepared myself for - the emotional journey. It was the work I had done prior through prayer, meditation, affirmation, and healthy living that helped me prepare for the emotional journey during labor. I had decided early on that self care would be my key piece of making this pregnancy and birth my healthiest yet. Regardless of how things ended up, I’d be prepared emotionally, spiritually, and physically, knowing my body was just the vessel through which the Creator would do the work of bringing forth my Gweneth.
It was around this time that I decided to rest and let the contractions take over completely. I had used the analogy of riding a wave with women before as their doula, and this is what I decided to do. I decided to embrace the pain and to release myself into the process wherever it would take me – into a different plain of life or even death – as long as it brought my baby forth healthy and strong. I let go, and told my birth team that I was doing so. I can’t remember my exact words, but they knew I inherently knew it was time. I could tell the energy in the room changed.
After resolving to give in, I began to try other positions. I tried the birth ball a little while as I also tried to down the rest of my spoon of peanut butter. The birth ball made me more uncomfortable and awkward feeling. I then sat on the birth stool, which worked out really well. I would lean back with the contractions and they would become more tolerable at the same time they were super productive. It was strange how I could tell the difference as all the contractions in the labor of my second daughter seemed the same. During this time, my birth team gave us space. My midwife had noticed that labor seemed to progress more easily when I was left alone with John. So, my birth team took our girls outside to hang out.
Throughout this stage, I changed position about every thirty minutes. We stood outside awhile and sometime after that, my midwife convinced me that I should take some broth. I was feeling so tired and weak that I worried pushing would be difficult. I felt like I couldn’t stomach drinking broth, but I did it, and immediately started to feel better. Sometime around 10pm Friday night after getting the girls in bed, my midwife and doula decided to go to our landlord’s guest cabin to get a shower and some rest. John and I lay down on the couch to try and do the same, my sister taking our bed.
Not long after everyone left, I felt another shift in the contractions. They were much more forceful and my prayer became louder. John fell in and out of sleep and I was alone still holding his hands through every contraction. I didn’t know how I would go on, or what this shift meant. At this moment I became confused as to what was happening within. It suddenly felt like if anything were to go wrong at all that it would happen now. If my body were to give up, give out, or experience catastrophe, this would be the moment. I waited, contracted, and prayed there in the dark, knowing this was my journey alone. With each contraction a sweat broke across my body, and in between I was cold. I knew I’d go on and I didn’t need anyone in that moment, just my husband’s hand, but I also waited for the end of it all – the bad part where gravity hit me like a ton of bricks and I’d no longer be in control and I would either pass on or require emergency help. That time never came.
It occurred to me then that what I was feeling with such force were pushing contractions. I asked John to wake up Ariana, who came to look. She encouraged me to push down as my perineum was bulging with each contraction. I was still laying on my left side. I pushed like I had been told in classes, like you were going to have a giant bowel movement, but that didn’t feel appropriate. I had waited for the urge to push to be uncontrollable like blinking. That was how it was described to me in books and classes, but it never became that. I was afraid to push with any kind of might. Again, afraid my uterus would explode. My sister called my midwife to come back, telling her it was time to push. I could hardly believe we'd gotten this far!
My midwife and doula came shortly and watched as I pushed through a few contractions. My waters released completely as I did this. My midwife noticed that I was not connecting with my body and the contractions in the way that I should to effectively push. I cried out, “I’m going to rip in half!” Both she and my doula assured me that that is exactly what it should feel like. I couldn't help but think they didn’t understand what I meant. I felt like it was literally the end for me, but no one was seeing it. Then, my midwife said something to me that brought back all the prayer, meditation, visioning, and affirmation that I did prenatally. She told me to allow the power to overtake me and do its work. She asked me to let go of the control. To give it away and trust. She was the voice of God. For a VBAC mother, I think that might be the biggest obstacle. How do you give up control and come out on the other end intact and ok? How do you not stay vigilant and protect yourself and your baby? But, I remembered that I assembled a birth team that trusted the process and my body’s ability to birth. I remembered that they were my protectors. I remembered the work I did around my body being a vessel for the Creative Power. It was exactly what needed to be whether it meant I live or die. I willingly gave up my control in that moment and pushed with all my strength in a way that moved in the same direction as the contraction. It was perfect.
I pushed for awhile hearing the excitement in everyone’s voice. I went to the bathroom and pushed for a long while on the toilet. Soon, I realized that if I didn’t get up off the toilet, I’d push my baby out in it. I waddled to the living room and we checked in on the baby with the Doppler. She was coming through like a champ. I tried going to a hands and knees pushing position, but that felt very strange and painful so I stood again. I thought for a moment I’d lie down, but couldn’t. So, I pushed in a supported standing squat with my arms around John’s neck. He held my weight. My legs were so weak I didn’t know how I could possibly be doing this standing, but I was.
I felt Gweneth’s head start to emerge and someone went to wake up my girls. Everyone was so excited. I felt the “ring of fire” everyone had told me about, but it wasn’t at all as bad as I had imagined it to be. The sensation was more toward the front of my pubic area than in my perineum. I was able to support this area myself as I pushed. I reached down and felt my baby’s head! I was actually doing this and everything was normal! It was so surreal despite the fact that I always knew I was capable.
In the next few pushes, the wildest thing happened. As my sister and midwife prepared to catch the baby, her head came out completely and without the normal pause her body slid right out and she fell to the floor! I had been concerned that if anything were to go wrong for my baby, it would be shoulder dystocia. Everyone said afterwards that it was like her shoulders disappeared. The cord snapped, and my first words were, “Is she hurt?” My sister had grabbed her up and she and my midwife began an assessment. She was perfect! Her Apgar at one minute was 10!.
I settled in on the couch and they handed me my baby. She hardly cried at all. There wasn't a mark anywhere on her and no molding of the head. As she began to cough out fluids I held her face down over my arm and patted her back to help her out. My midwife worked to assess the bleeding where the baby was released with such force. She kept telling me to stay with her. I told them I would, but really felt like it didn’t matter if I did or not. It was in those moments that I went into the other world. Living and dying didn't matter. My baby was earthside, healthy, and everything was perfect. The Creator had done the work through me. It was awesome!
Quickly the bleeding was under control and no one was in danger in any way. Heather grabbed me some nuts and I ate while I nursed Gwen for the first time. My strength and my head returned as I downed the food. I was so elated. My husband and daughters were so full of joy. Everyone in the room was riding the high of birth. It was electric. All I could talk about was how that beat surgery any day and I was ready to do it all again.
After eating some steak and eggs that Heather made, we weighed Gwen. She weighed 9lbs. 1oz., 4 ounces more than the baby the OB told me would never fit through my pelvis. I had said I’d be happy if I could keep her around 9 pounds. I’d feel safe with that. I manifested that for us. It was just as it should be in every way.
Gweneth Lenore - Born 4:17am - 9lbs. 1oz. - 20 1/4in.
I could have never completely prepared for the experience that was birthing my Gweneth Lenore. The force that brought her into this world was a force like nothing I have experienced before or ever will experience again. I could not have possibly understood what I’d go through during her labor – the journey I would take – without having been right in the middle of it.
All through my pregnancy I focused on learning my body – its cues, subtle clues, how it is fearfully and wonderfully made. I knew that if I was going to vaginally/naturally birth after having two cesareans, I’d have to trust my body above all else. My body, I knew, was created to do the work of pregnancy, labor, and birth, and if I trusted in my body’s Creator, I had to trust the body and respect its capabilities. I knew that if at any point during the experience I allowed fear to replace that trust, then I could very likely sabotage myself out of the vaginal birth I and my baby deserved. This was the most important work I did toward preparing for giving birth.
The next most important thing was choosing where to give birth and who would be with me throughout the process. I realized right away that being at home for the birth was the only best way for me and my baby. I thoroughly investigated all other options within my range before settling down with an experienced midwife whom I trusted and respected, who wasn’t afraid of my choices or my scarred uterus. I had actually chosen her long before I became pregnant with Gweneth (at a time when the plan was for me not to have any more babies – Gweneth was a surprise), but it was important for me to filter through all the possibilities and make the final decision with clarity so I could rest confidently in that decision. Even though she lived three hours away, she agreed to attend me. I chose my dear friend and business partner (Heather) and my sister (Ariana), who is also a nurse, to be my doulas. We decided to remain as a family unit during the labor and birth, so I prepared my two daughters ages six and four for what they would witness. Then, toward the end of my pregnancy, I sealed my fortress deciding not to call anyone outside of the birth team until we could tell them that Gwen was earthside. The majority of my family was not confident in my ability to give birth vaginally (though all of our parents and grandparents knew we were birthing at home) and we chose not to share our detailed plans with most friends. I wanted to keep my pregnancy as peaceful as possible and did not feel like long conversations about why I was choosing homebirth was appropriate during my pregnancy (our families were used to the thought of my birthing at home as this was the choice I also made for my second pregnancy though it ended in a transfer to the hospital). Nor did I want to hear any negative comments that might be thrown my way.
I maintained my healthiest pregnancy yet by staying active through yoga and walking. I ate well and avoided sugar and most processed foods. We checked in on Gwen and the integrity of my scar one time through an ultrasound at 20 weeks. We learned she was a girl (our third girl!) and that everything looked perfect. I was measuring behind my original “due date” and another possible date was noted. So, when my first anxiety – going past my first “due date” came true, I knew I was healthy and Gwen was healthy. If I hadn’t felt we were, I could not have been as patient as I was.
My Sacred Birth mentor/teacher, Stephanie Dawn, helped me through guiding me through Sacred Birth Counseling. She helped me release fears through prayer and digging down to the root of the fear. She gave me space to cry, be angry, and to laugh. She encouraged me to embrace the life of Jesus the Christ and the example he gave of surrendering to your purpose – your Divine Purpose. I thought often about the Garden of Gethsemane and Christ’s prayer there. The resolve even in the midst of the unknowable.
My midwife helped me by reminding me that I am healthy. My baby is healthy. All is well. The Braxton Hicks contractions are doing work. I am ready when my baby is ready. I am beautiful. It was her stalwart faith in the process of birth that truly made me relax in my own knowing of the reliability of the process and the statistics on VBAC and other possible complications. She was the angel sitting with me through my pregnancy and birth.
On Sunday July 15th (4 days passed my original “due date”), I felt an overpowering need for space and fellowship with nature. So, on Monday my husband (John) and my girls took me on a hike to Bad Branch Falls a local nature preserve. The hike was a moderate mile to the falls and another mile to come back. During our hike to the falls there was a lot of crying from my oldest daughter about various things, which in turn made me cry. John was ready to turn around and go home, but I knew we were releasing pent up emotions and we needed to tread onward. We did. Sweaty, we reach the falls. John took the girls down in the water and I sat on a rock beside the falls as I couldn’t safely reach the water hole. It began to storm with a light rain. I was sitting under a crevice, so I could still take pictures. I took a final picture of my pregnant belly and pictures of my little family who would soon number five instead of four. The sound of the falls and the feeling of creation around me relaxed me deeply. I felt at ease.
Upon returning home, we were all exhausted, but I felt the need to make a big pot of vegetable beef soup. After making and eating the soup, I decided to take a shower before settling into the night. At the end of my shower, I felt fluid coming from my vagina that I knew was not shower water. I checked on the outside with my fingers and there was also some of what looked like a mucus plug. I thought that I might be leaking amniotic fluid, so I called for my husband. As I exited the shower, my husband noticed more leaking and it was tinged pink with blood. I dried off and went to the phone to call my midwife. I was so relieved and excited that labor would begin soon, and I faced my first test. My water had broken long before labor began with my second and was part of why I had to have a repeat c-section. I breathed into what I was feeling and maintained my positive state of mind. I had agreed to keep my midwife informed if even the smallest change occurred, so she would have plenty of time to get to me, and she welcomed my call. She instructed me to eat and rest and call her with any changes.
About 11pm, I went to bed. Sometime in the night I started having contractions that were stronger than the Braxton Hicks contractions that I had been having for the last three months. They stayed fifteen to thirty minutes apart all throughout the night and then spaced further apart when I woke in the morning. That morning I noticed that I was still spotting blood, but no longer seemed to be leaking fluids. I passed more of the mucus plug as well. Because I wasn’t in active labor or really needing any kind of hands on support, my husband decided to go on to work, so the day was spent just me and my girls. Tuesday evening I called to check in with my midwife and we agreed that I should continue to eat and rest – taking walks as I felt up to it. She also reassured me that the amount of bleeding I was seeing was normal.
Tuesday night the contractions began again and were now consistently fifteen minutes apart. It was becoming much more intense and it was very hard to sleep through the contractions. I managed to sleep in between them and work with them as they came up by breathing deeply and saying some affirmations. My body was made to give birth. My body and my baby are healthy and strong. I deserve a fast, easy, and comfortable VBAC birth (from a Hypnobabies CD I listened to a bit).
Wednesday morning I was upset that my contractions spaced back out. I was nervous that by the time active labor began I’d be too exhausted to deal with it well. But, we agreed that John should go on to work and I’d hang out with our girls again. I slept as I could and we spent the day on the couch watching movies. I’d breathe through contractions as they came very inconsistently. A strong storm came and caused flash flooding which damaged the road leading to our house. After the rain stopped, I took a walk with my girls and noticed that things inside felt a little different. The baby felt much lower and I had to walk very slowly. I had expected to be very active in labor by walking as much as possible outside and doing yoga. Surprisingly, my body directed me differently. Other than stretching my legs, I felt like the most appropriate laboring position for me was laying on the couch or bed on my left side. Contractions were stronger when I would take this position and it seemed like they were more effective.
Wednesday evening the contractions began to pick back up again before my husband made it home from work. I really wanted to not be alone with my other children and was so relieved when he walked in the door. Once again, all through the night the contractions were coming fifteen to ten minutes apart. I tried to listen to my Hypnobabies CD, but it was bothersome to me, so instead I listened to Elton John and James Taylor. I would now have to vocalize during contractions and hold on to the side of the bed. I began noticing a little more blood, so we decided to call my midwife at about 4am. Because of my tiredness and anxiousness for things to get started, the blood began to worry me a bit. After talking to me for quite awhile, hearing my sounds during a contraction, she reassured me again that everything was ok. We decided that the blood I was seeing was cervical scar tissue breaking apart from my last c-section and not of an amount that should worry me. It was determined that the scar tissue was likely what was taking labor so long to get consistent. We also agreed that if I hadn’t gone into active labor by Thursday that she would come and do a prenatal appointment with me to check on my baby.
Check back in tomorrow 8-29-12 for Part 2. :)