It’s incredible how much a woman has to fight to be in control of a child’s birth, to have a voice, to separate normal from abnormal, truth from standard medical practice, and most of all to diminish the fear that is the enemy of childbirth and trust her body. This is the story of how Olivia, my first child, was born:
I had a wonderful and enjoyable pregnancy. But the weeks leading up to her “due date” were considerably tense. I’d planned to relax at home and be in peace and enjoy some last days of just me and my husband. My doctors (I chose to maintain dual care though would be attended by a homebirth midwife with a separate practice)were alarmed, knowing they weren’t in control, and insisted that I come in up to 3 times per week for monitoring and testing (my blood pressure had been elevated my entire pregnancy, which can be a symptom of pre-eclampsia, which should be taken very seriously. However, this wasn’t the case for me, I had a higher baseline.) . The stress was unreal (probably doing much more damage to my blood pressure), as although both myself and the baby repeatedly proved to be doing excellently, the doctors pressured me to induce as a “precautionary measure”. I knew this would be a dangerous thing to do for her and for me, and the slippery slope that would follow.
I started feeling the pressure to get things in motion, knowing that the messages from the doctors would intensify as I went past my due date (May 29th).
On Friday, the day before her due date, we decided it was time to start coaxing her out and after going through some of the natural ways to get labor started(wink), when I went to bed that night my Braxton-hicks contractions (painless practice contractions) became very regular and were accompanied by an ache in my lower back. Needless to say, I didn’t sleep that night, as every 10-15 minutes the waves of pressure returned.
I’d listened to my Hypnobabies tracks but only fell asleep to them and never managed to stay on schedule. It was still incredibly effective for me, particularly the “peace” and “release” cues as well as the constant affirmations. I learned that fear and tightening and adrenaline are the actual causes of pain, that your mind can be in complete control of how everything plays out.
And it was true. Saturday morning came and the contractions (still felt nothing in my uterus only at times very uncomfortable– lower back pain) spaced out. I started panicking realizing that I wasn’t even in labor yet and worried that when it did really start that I would have the dreaded back labor and lose control. I knew my baby was left occiput posterior so the contractions in my lower back confused me. Every time I let my mind go there, my body would tighten and the pain would come alive and take over. But then I chose to release. To just shut down and let myself float on the waves with my breathing.
Saturday night came and again there was no sleep. The same thing, now only 8 minutes apart. “Release” I commanded myself, and let every muscle of my body shut down and ride the wave. It was no picnic, but it passed.
Sunday we walked to church, and I smiled and chatted in between contractions (which slowed during the day) as friends commented: “Hey, weren’t you due yesterday!” During the service, my husband Kevin hit the timer on his stop-watch each time I signaled a contraction.
Sunday night came, as much as I dreaded the evenings, and for a third night, no sleep. I couldn’t believe how long I’d had this “pre-labor” and how much I had to concentrate to stay deeply relaxed through contractions. Plus hello, I was tired. In the corners of my mind, I feared what real labor would be like and if I would really be able to handle it like I’d been telling myself all these months. I’d had some “bloody show” and so I knew I was at least effacing but my midwife told me it could still be days or a week away. In those moments of fear and anxiety, I actually felt intense pain through my body. At one point I was jerking on the bed through a contraction, wishing everything would stop. Kevin encouraged me to believe and utilize the tools that I had used to prepare. It took a hot shower with water spraying down my back and major mind coaching to bring me back to a controlled state and I calmly went to bed with my Hypnobabies tracks playing on my iPod, knowing I would only rest for 10 minutes at a time.
But by Monday morning I was worried and tense. I had a doctor’s appointment the following day with more testing and monitoring and I knew that it would mess with my head and with the process. I still hadn’t gone into labor and was confused as to what was happening to my body. I was having these contractions, which I assumed were “Braxton-Hicks”, since they were painless in my uterus, but was having back pressure (I’d learned to disassociate the word pain as much as possible from the process) that was requiring me to go limp and loose to relieve.
On Monday around mid-day Kevin and I went for a walk around the block, that took us about 45 minutes. The same contractions came closer together to about 6 minutes apart and several times we’d stop and I’d turn into a deadweight and hang on Kevin with my eyes closed as people walked by perplexed and scared (ha, I think I scared the little boys at the lemonade stand on the corner). It was the only way I could make them not hurt, but just feel the pressure intensify and escape, by shutting down and mentally saying “release”.
When we got home, I finally called my mom. Up until now, I hadn’t told anyone what was happening because frankly, I was fed up with everyone asking if I was in labor yet (there is something about being near the end that makes you want to hibernate). I’d also always planned to have a private birth with only Kevin and my midwives present. Suddenly I wanted my mom there and arranged for my aunt to come and give me acupuncture to accelerate the labor process.
Well, it did! When my aunt Gilda came several hours later, she found me in a chair with my body slumped on the table. I’d put a finger in the air whenever I felt a contraction coming, and that was everyone’s cue to pretty much shut-up J. Otherwise they wouldn’t have even known I was having one. After the acupuncture session, they started coming ever 3½ minutes. We figured we should call Joni, our midwife.
I still didn’t know that I had been in “labor” this whole time. Even when we called the midwife, I was worried that we were bringing her over for no reason and that I would be no more than 1 cm dilated. Kevin started filling the birth tub just in case since it would take quite a bit of time to fill (and later I found out that when we ran out of hot water, they were boiling pots of it at a time to get it in there!).
By the time my midwife came and listened to the baby, it had to be around 9 pm. I was doing what I’d been doing the whole time, shutting down with each contraction and staying calm by relinquishing control. What a mind game! Well, imagine my surprise, when she said to me, “Angie, you are nine centimeters dilated.” What?! I did all of that already (well, I mean technically it had been 3 days but I thought it was fake labor!!!)?! I think I remember croaking in response, “Holy crap that’s so awesome.” I really wanted to shout in elation and jump up and down but figured it probably wasn’t the best idea.
That moment gave me so much confidence. I was really doing it! I’d been doing it all along without really realizing it. Still, although I’d believed I’d been in pre-labor these past 3 days, I was constantly replaying these affirmations in my head:
My body knows exactly how to birth my baby.
I am safe and my baby is safe no matter how much power flows through me.
I deserve an easy and comfortable childbirth.”
Shortly after, I got into the tub and it felt amazing. Actually, my contraction slowed down, and I had quite a bit of a break, wondering if I’d reversed things. I was literally just chilling out in there waiting for something to happen. The apartment was quiet and dimly lit only with candles. My mom rubbed my shoulders with lavender essential oils and prayed over me, and in between listening to the baby on the Doppler, my midwife offered me vitamin water through a straw. I kind of felt like a queen. Kevin came into the tub with me and put counter pressure on my back and supported my body. Temple Passmore’s (hypno-mom) sung version of Psalm 23 was playing on repeat in the background. I felt so loved and supported, and knew I was bringing Olivia into the world in the most gentle and peaceful way.
Eventually, I recognized that squatting would bring on the involuntary pressure I needed to push and bring my baby out. We actually put a little stool for me to sit on in the tub. And so I just let it happen slowly and with time. Every so often a contraction would come and I just let my body do the work for me and stretch slowly. It was so interesting. I could feel everything happening and could work and stretch my muscles purposefully, and yet it felt so different than I imagined it would. I wasn’t in pain, but at the end apparently was roaring like a lion (ness) with the intensity flowing out through me (I later learned that my neighbors from the house next door could hear the whole thing. Awesome.). My water broke in the tub 10minutes before she was born. At one point I felt a tightness and dull burn and knew she was crowning. Joni, my midwife, asked me to reach down and feel and there was Olivia’s soft and very full head of hair starting to emerge. Oh my God, so much hair! I remember exclaiming, “Oh you beautiful girl!” I got to a point where I just pushed with all my might (and apparently, voice) and suddenly heard Joni say, “Kevin and Angie, reach down and meet your baby!” For some reason, I was shocked and confused that she was out! And all in the same push! She came flying out with her hand on her face. It was 11:19 pm.
There aren’t even words to describe the bliss and elation and wonder and miracle of picking up your newborn baby and meeting her for the first time. It will never, ever get old. She had her eyes wide open and stared for a split second before spitting up water and then belting out the screams that she is now famous for. It was out of this world.
We all moved me over to the couch, baby in arms and cord still attached so that I could deliver the placenta. The cord was kind of short so I couldn’t really bring Olivia up higher than my belly. Kevin cut the cord after it had stopped pulsing. It seemed like the most normal thing in the world that I would be on my couch delivering my placenta. Ha, I bet it will make visitors think twice before sitting down to watch TV.
Joni examined Olivia while she was on me, and eventually weighed her at 7 lbs 5ounces and 19.5 inches tall. She was healthy and perfect. I felt on top of the world. (I had only a tiny tear that didn’t even require stitches and healed on its own by two weeks). Kevin whipped up some pancakes and scrambled eggs and fed me while all this was going on (I’d worked up quite an appetite.) Afterward, I went to shower, the grandparents came inside to gush over the baby. Our midwives stayed until the wee hours of the morning and left the three of us tucked into bed.
I really believe had I not been so anxious about what was going to happen, and especially about the pressure from my doctors, the process would’ve been much shorter. In spite of it all, it turned out to be exactly the beautiful birth that I wanted. I can’t imagine doing it any other way. I’m so glad that I decided to go the Hypnobabies route, even if I didn’t follow it to a tee. You can call it hypnosis, or deep relaxation or whatever you want, but whatever it is IT WORKS. And I will for sure be doing this again!