January 6-7, 2017: Birth Story
“ Giving birth can be the most empowering experience of a lifetime ~ an initiation into a new dimension of mind-body awareness.”
Ina May Gaskin
I’d like to share the story of my son’s birth. When I was pregnant, reading birth stories was one of my favorite things to do and helped me prepare for the fact that each birth is different & birth rarely goes the way you “plan” it. Each woman in the stories I read had a different way to deal with the pain of contractions and labor, each had a different go-to position for birthing, each had different fears and strengths. So I share mine in order to add to the stories out there, for another person to possibly find encouraging or interesting, and to have it written down to look back on. I think it’s important to share positive stories of natural births to allow the view of birthing to be more empowering, beautiful, and do-able. I wish for every woman to have the opportunity to trust birth and be surrounded by people that do as well.
To give you some background, I’ll first share what I envisioned for my birth and my overall attitude about it.
When asked by my midwife, Lucie, what I wanted for my birth, my response was quick and easy because I had been waiting a long time to answer that question (it took us a while to get pregnant and I had been dreaming of it for years before even trying). I was not scared, but rather super excited to go through it. I couldn’t wait to experience it and go through that initiation into motherhood. I had full confidence in myself. I had taken a couple classes about midwifery while at Bastyr University, did a doula training, and always have felt that birth is one of the most magical, sacred, and amazing things on this Earth. Still to this day, I think and daydream about becoming a midwife. I highly recommend Ina May Gaskin’s books if you want to learn lots and be inspired.
These were the things I wanted for my birth:
~ To Labor, and possibly deliver, in a birthing tub. I wasn’t attached to delivering in the tub, but definitely wanted to go in that tub a bit since I love water (especially when pregnant!) and it made sense to me that it would help things relax and soften.
~ Be surrounded by only my husband and midwife.
~ Get into a zone of concentration and connection to my breath. I called it my bubble. I didn’t want people talking to me much, wanted to be able to focus on my breath to manage pain, and wanted limited intervention from the midwife.
~ I had much more fear of an epidural than fear of pain of labor, so definitely didn’t see myself choosing that. I felt confident about an unmedicated, natural birth.
~ Ultimately, I wanted to stay calm, positive, and focused, NO MATTER WHERE I ended up delivering. This was a big one for me. Of course we never know whats going to happen, and sometimes it’s totally necessary to go to deliver in a hospital. I knew that if there were ever any complications or reason to be transferred to the hospital, I didn’t want my attitude to change. Yes, natural birth was super important to me and I wanted to deliver in the birth center, but I didn’t want it to derail me if I ended up getting transferred. I wanted to be in control of my mind and create the most stress-free experience for myself. All in all, the most important thing is that mom and baby are safe.
~ I didn’t want anything to keep me from feeling like I couldn’t completely let go and surrender to the primal act of giving birth. During one of our 2 hypnobirthing sessions, I brought this up to my husband & midwife. The only real worry I had about birth was my husband’s ability to handle seeing blood or poop. He assured me he wasn’t worried about that, but still I insisted we had a plan that if he ever felt queasy or grossed out, he could leave the room to regroup. Once we had that conversation, I felt good to go:)
Overall, I wanted to go with the flow, feel powerful, & stay calm!
For those of you who might not want to read every detail, here’s a summary of my birthing experience:
Empowering. INTENSE. Exhausting. Painful. Natural. Beautiful. Rewarding.
19 hours from the moment I started having regular, painful contractions, to the moment my son, Jay, was born. He was born at sunrise. 8:18am on January 7, 2017. He was a healthy 3.6kg & 51cm long:)
Natural, vaginal birth at La Maison De Naissance, La Roseraie, in Geneva. No medication. No complications (thankfully).
For a good week afterwards I felt like I had ran 5 marathons, back to back, while lifting weights at each water stop ;) I was exhausted and sore everywhere.
Extremely grateful for the amazing support from my husband and midwives, and to birth a healthy boy!
And now for the in-depth, play by play :)
On the evening of January 5, 2017, I started having regular, but painless, contractions every 5 minutes. After a few hours of this, we called the midwife on call just to check if we should come in (I thought to myself, maybe I’m one of those lucky women who has minimal pain during labor haha). She said to take a bath and try to get some sleep, since it could be a sign that things are moving in the right direction. I took a bath, my husband, Jon, and I tried the good ol’ natural induction method (sex…after days of trying spicy foods, climbing stairs, etc), and then went to bed. When I woke up the next morning, I was still having the same contractions, still 5 mins apart. We were scheduled to have an ultrasound that day (since it was 41 weeks and when you’re overdue, they check every week to make sure there’s enough fluid etc). Since I felt things were probably going to get real soon, I didn’t want to have that last ultrasound (I personally don’t like to look in on the baby so often. Even though I know it’s considered safe, how do ultrasound waves not affect a baby in some way? It also was always really anxiety producing for me since we had a stressful couple ultrasounds during the pregnancy. anyways, i digress.). My midwife agreed that we could try to reschedule it after our scheduled meeting with her at 1pm. That’s what we did.
At 12:15 Jon and I got on to the bus to go to the birth center for my check up. The moment we stepped off the bus, my contractions became 2 mins apart and much more intense. What timing, right!? We rang the doorbell and Lucie answered the door while I was in the middle of a contraction. I looked up at her, laughed and said “Pretty sure it’s happening!” We went upstairs to one of the two birthing rooms, the Laguna room, and before she’d set me up on the monitor to check contractions and then check my cervix, I had to do the standard procedure of peeing in a cup. Well, I happened to lose my mucous plug in the urine sample! I found it hilarious, but also more gross/interesting than I had imagined it’d be...it was huge! Anyways, I came back in the room and laughed telling her what had just happened. When she checked my cervix I was only at 1cm, and my contractions were consistently 2.5 minutes apart. Lucie gave us the option to stay put at the birth center, or go home and do more of the work there. I felt cozy at the birth center, so I decided I wanted to stay put. Jon went home to get our bag and sort out someone to watch our dog (our firstborn;)), Jac.
While he was gone, I moved around on the birthing ball and started really working with building my “bubble” to get in the zone and stay focused on my breath. When he got back we went for a walk outside, stopping every couple minutes to breathe through the contractions while holding onto fences/walls. We walked into a boulangerie and I had a pretty intense contraction. The woman said to me (in French), “Please don’t have the baby in here!” Or maybe she asked me if I wanted a pain-au-chocolat? ;)
We came back to La Roseraie and I decided to get in the shower. The water helped me manage the pain SO much! I was kneeling, standing, getting down on all fours so the water could hit my sacrum. It was so helpful and I passed a lot of time in there. I went back to the birthing room and put on the playlist I had prepared for the birth. I found the most helpful position to be on all fours or child’s pose with my hips higher up. Sweet Lucie offered to make Jon some pasta, since we hadn’t eaten since lunch time. All I could manage to take in was water with elderberry syrup. I drank a lot of that throughout the labor!
Lucie checked my cervix at probably 9 pm and I was at 5cm! Before she checked me I made sure to make it a point to not panic if I hadn’t progressed much. A lot of the birth stories I had read had talked about how discouraging it was finding out they’d only progressed a couple cm over x amount of hours. I chose to see it as a good thing, but sure, I did have a sense of surprise that I had only progressed 4 cm in 8 hours. At 10pm, the midwives changed shift. Elise was next on shift. She was great- continued giving us so much space/independence and encouraged me when I needed it. I got in the tub around 10:30pm probably and labored in there for awhile. With every contraction I would frantically say to Jon “back! back!” bc I had lots of back/sacral pain during each contraction and he helped so much by pressing hard on my sacrum- the harder he pushed, the more it helped. I imagined each contraction like a wave, and using the breath to ride it out and stay in my bubble of concentration.
One moment I won’t forget is singing First Aid Kit’s “Emmylou” with Jon- that was a beautiful moment. I tried to sing and keep my jaw relaxed, which I had read in one of Ina May Gaskin’s books, was a helpful tip to allow the cervix & vagina to relax more. I was pretty darn exhausted at that point. 10 hours of handling painful contractions is INTENSE and exhausting! After a bit longer I had the urge to push. So I started trying to push, but it felt like I was going to deliver him out my butt so I literally held my butt-cheeks to try to encourage him forward haha! Elise checked me and said there was still a small lip of the cervix that hadn’t effaced (I think that’s what she said…everything was a bit of a blur and we were speaking french). I got out of the tub and labored more on the bed. I’d go in and out of sleep between contractions, getting rest as much as I could. I got back in the tub and she broke my water to try and help the progression. I labored more. I got out of the tub again. Rested between contractions. At I don’t know what time, Amandine came to join in as the second midwife. She did acupuncture to help get me to the finish line. I walked the stairs of the birth center, with the acupuncture needles in, trying to get my son to drop even more in my pelvis and get ready to come out.
I started pushing once we were back in the room. Side lying was what felt best at that moment. Pushing was SO hard for me. By that time I was just so exhausted, I felt confused where and how to push, and I started feeling like he’d never come and like I didn’t know how I’d do it. I was yelling and groaning SO loudly during the pushing stage! As if mustering up all my energy, all my primal life-force, and using it to help push out a new life. I will never listen to the song “Ring of Fire” the same;) Each time I’d push, I’d feel him going lower, but then he’d come back up once the contraction and push was done. That happened for awhile! At this point I went from side-lying to being on my back, which I never thought I would be ok with since I had always learned that that position decreases the birthing canal by making it difficult for the sacrum to move at all. I remember thinking about this but feeling like I didn’t have the strength to do it another way and found it helpful to kick my feet into the midwive’s hand and have my husband holding one of my legs! Elise finally told me that the birth center had a time limit that they were allowed to allow me to push for and if Jay wasn’t out in 15 minutes, they’d have to transfer me to the hospital. I was like ‘oh hell no!’. I was absolutely NOT going to get up and transfer to the hospital at that point! I had worked so hard and was so close. I refocused (blurrily) and got up all my determination and inner strength to start doing the most warrior like pushes ever! Then maybe 5 pushes later, after having the encouragement of seeing him crowning in a mirror, screaming like I’ve never screamed before, and the whole team (Jon, Elise, & Amandine) cheering me on as loud as a football match, he finally came out! I remember being surprised that once his head was out I needed to wait for another contraction to push the rest of him out. I just assumed it’d be one push and he’d completely slide right out. I also remember thinking, oh my gosh, I hope he doesn’t have nightmares from all my screaming as he entered the world!
8:18am on January 7, 2017. Sunrise. I can’t even explain that relief at that moment- but a relief mixed with deep exhaustion. Jay came straight to my chest and we looked at each other: A look I can still picture by closing my eyes. PURE MAGIC & LOVE. He went straight to my breast and latched well. Those moments were SO surreal. To suddently be a mother, to step into that role, to look down at my son!, to look at the pride in my husband’s eyes. All the pain stopped immediately. We let the cord stop pulsing to allow Jay to get that extra ~30% blood/iron from the placenta, and then Jon cut the cord.
Funny side note- there are two birthing rooms at La Roseraie. During my labor, maybe around 3am, another woman came in in labor. I could hear her yelling during the pushing phase, which I think was when I was having the urge to push in the bath, and we did a bit of taking turns. BUT, the difference was that after like 4 big yells/moans, I heard her baby start crying! Little did I know, it was her 4th child, so that helped her go quick, but I remember being like oh my gosh! I want to push like that! It was still a couple hours before Jay was actually born- so they must have heard my loud noises for awhile! Fast forward to the next day, we saw them at lunch or dinner, and the husband said ‘Oh we felt so bad for you and were cheering you along!"‘ I felt so bad I was so noisy during their first hours with their new baby! We all had a good laugh about it.
When the placenta was ready to be birthed, Jay went to be measured/weighed, and then straight to Jon’s bare chest for some good ol’ skin to skin. The placenta birth was more intense than I thought it’d be. I had always been a bit apprehensive about that moment, as I had a couple friends that had had hemorrhaging after it came out incompletely. My belly hurt a lot and Elise had to really press on my belly while I pushed to encourage it out. I had a big gush of blood right before it came out, which made me feel a bit queasy and nervous. It came out in one push and didn’t hurt. She asked if we wanted to see it after examining it to make sure it was intact. I knew Jon had zero interest in seeing it, and although I did want to see it, I didn’t really care anymore at that point and was more focused on Jay. Then there were the stitches… I tore quite a lot and my legs were shaking from the anticipation of the stitches. I was SO over having to do work, having my legs open, and wasn’t wanting to be touched. It wasn’t painful at all thankfully, but I just remember feeling fragile down there. I was SO thankful when it was over.
After about an hour in the birthing room, and the staff saving the day with a warmer little outfit for Jay (the one we brought ended up a bit too big and not warm enough), we went up to the postpartum room. We got to cuddle Jay and rest in this room for the next two days. We were brought an amazing breakfast in bed, and Sophie, the next midwife on the schedule, checked in on us and gave me some pointers for breastfeeding. We loved our postpartum stay so much and are so grateful we were able to have those cocoon-like first days as a new family. The midwives gave us so much independence, but also checked in always at the right time. All the meals were delicious and nutritious. My husband and I couldn’t believe how fantastic the whole experience and stay was. We both highly recommend it:)
“I think that women can be just completely surprised by the change in them from giving birth -you have something powerful in you -that fierce thing comes up-and I think babies need moms to have that fierceness -you feel like you can do anything and that’s the feeling we want moms to have.”
Ina May Gaskin
What a beautiful way to start a new life- as baby, mother, and father. This birth experience seriously helped give me so much more confidence in myself (my inner strength and bad-assness, my love and appreciation for my body, trusting myself, etc) and has shaped most aspects to our transition into our new roles. I am eternally grateful for my husband who was my rock during labor, who was an active member of the birth story, who’s belief in me was tangible, who pressed on my back everytime I asked him to (so every 1-2 mins!), who worked awesomely with the midwives to cheer me on in the end, who beautifully welcomed our son and looked into my eyes in amazement, and who supported me soooo well during the forth trimester. He is also responsible for most of these pictures that I share. He put his camera on long-exposure and managed to capture the beauty, the movement, the exhaustion, the love, etc, while still being so present for me. Thank you love!
The story wouldn’t be complete without also applauding my SON, Jay! He was a champion during labor, maintaining a healthy heartbeat, enduring the pressure coming through the birth canal while your mama was LOUD, and latching so peacefully for those first sips of colostrum! Thank you for making me a mother, Jay. I will NEVER forget the first time we looked at each other and your beautiful demeanor from the start. I’ll also never forget your incredible smell and the way your forehead was so plump and when I’d kiss it it’d seem to sink in for minutes. You’ve already helped me bloom into someone I’m very proud to be, you will forever keep helping me explore and push boundaries of myself I wouldn’t face without you and that make me a better person, and I will be here for you unconditionally with all of my heart and soul. I am SO proud of you and love watching you grow into YOU!