It’s been three weeks since I’ve sat down to write anything. But I don’t think I’ll forget either of my birth experiences. This one, however, was pleasantly different, because I was able to approach it with more knowledge, intention and preparation. So I’ll get right into it, alright?
Some pre-story notes, so you can follow my story with an informed point of view:
Read the FULL STORY on Martine's website
Our littlest cub arrived last week. She entered this world via warm water and candlelight and was placed straight into our arms where Carl and I discovered that we now had a daughter to call our own. Her name is Nara.
Nara was allowed to enter at her own time — without any pushing, panic or fear. It was the type of gentle water birth I wanted and I am so grateful to everyone who helped make it possible.
Friends and family tell me that I must be made of tougher things because I’ve delivered both my children without any drugs, surgical intervention, or screaming. But instead of holding these up like badges of honour, I’d like to believe that many women have bodies that are capable of the same thing.
I believe that the chances of having your dream birth are only as big as the team you have supporting you and the preparations you do before your baby’s arrival. Here are some tips I can offer...
Read the FULL STORY on Cat's website
630pm, Sunday December 28th
A slight, pulsating flutter in my abdomen I've never felt before. Could this be the beginning of the end? Because it could be any day now, and yet Cédric and I look forward to stocking up on sleep.
Coming irregularly at around 20 seconds at a time, these sensations build so gradually I’m not sure how far there is to go. I pull out the contraction timer on the BabyCenter app and track. I let Doc Martin Manahan and our doula Irina Otmakhova know we are feeling something. They ask me to keep them posted.
4am, Monday December 29th
But I’m up again after a few hours so we get all the sleep we can, knowing this could mean something or nothing all at the same time. I get the urge to pee and groggily check the toilet before flushing, and am startled by a bit of blood. My heart jumps – baby is going to be here soon! I’m back on the app and a shot of adrenaline creeps into my system, and I manage to sleep despite it.
We have a regular day like any other, stocked up on movies and checking schedules to go to the cinema so we can complete the Hobbit trilogy in one day! No better way to await a baby than being entertained. There’s a 7pm IMAX showing nearby and we plow through the first one at breakfast. Pretending to be normal feels funny, like an elephant in the room.
I chug a green smoothie for lunch thinking of the possibilities, storing energy in my system for later and also wanting to have easy bowel movements to avoid any water accidents! My intuition was halfway between maybe and yes when I began heading to the bathroom at twice the rate and with lots to leave in the bowl! Another shot of adrenaline, because Irina mentioned this was one of the signs she had when her body pretty much vacated itself in a big way. Two clear signs!
I can’t even track on the app without fumbling the buttons now…and can only half-concentrate on the 2nd Hobbit installment. I squirm on the seat and close my eyes. At this rate we don’t look like we’re making it to the end of the trilogy, I say to my husband. He looks at me somewhat in doubt and says, “You think so? Isn’t it too early for the baby to come?” I check with my body intuitively and it says, “baby is DEFINITELY coming.” I don’t need a sign anymore. I shake my head and look in his eyes, excited and scared all at the same time, and we manage to stay home as long as we can while making plans and checking our bags packed from weeks ago. It’s very calm and nervous, this air.
We ask Irina to meet us at the hospital at 10pm, and we let Doc Manahan know we are on our way tonight. Part of us wants to make sure we get the water birth suite since it’s the only one and on first-come, first-served basis, haha. Cédric deilberately eats a big pasta dinner to load up on energy which makes the tension even more palpable.
I fiddle with a bunch of outfits and despite having packed everything pack yet another bag of stuff and end up with loads of extra stuff…my nerves letting strees out on the preparation. We get in the car and all I can think is “THIS IS REALLY IT!” – a familiar route and a ritual we practiced mentally over and over again, now it was really happening! I waltz through the scenario with Cédric as if it were a dream, I even spot the handicapped parking at St. Luke’s which I ask him to take, we have a slight mental buzz from excitement mixed with anticipation and bated breath. We walk in like we have a big secret that we want to tell, and it’s written all over my belly.
We are greeted by a smiling Irina who hugs us. She has already given our birth plan to the staff who have seen us on multiple occasions asking our nosy, detailed questions about their services, haha. So we act as normally as we can while we book the rooms and go through the motions, but in between it all I can’t even speak during contractions. They do an IE and the resident OB announces I’m 5cm, which is a great mental marker for me. I’m halfway there! I’m going to see my son soon!
The staff draw up a bath in this gorgeous suite of 3 rooms all together and I get the urge to crawl into the tub right away. The warm water is immediately my best friend, like a great big hand comforting me all over! Yet little do I know I will be there for another 7 hours. Cédric and Irina are on active duty, alternating between pouring water over my back and reciting Hypnobabies scripts to calm me. Doc comes in after midnight to the sounds of Reggae music and in between drifting in and out of consciousness I greet him, he’s in a cool mood and his voice is awesome in the huge tiled bathroom. They check the baby’s heartbeat through a handheld monitor and the rhythmic thumping is the most beautiful, comforting thing I have ever heard in my life.
1-3am Tuesday, December 30th
I go to the toilet beside the tub and Cédric helps me in and out. I feel a slithering mass come out of me and scoop up what I know now was my mucus plug, which I ask him to show our doula. It’s freaky and cool all at the same time, and after I get back in, at one point I feel a great gush of water between my legs in the tub, and I know my water has broken. Closer and closer to my baby in my arms, I recite mentally, to stay focused.
As we go through our tools (listening to scripts on Hypnobabies shared by my friend Aisa, shifting positions in water, Cédric in and out of the water with me), I gradually succumb to the exhaustion and begin to float in and out of consciousness. I knew this was going to be challenging, and I begin to feel like I’d been in an extremely long race. My body is suddenly soooo heavy and I can’t feel so many other parts of me anymore. All I know is there is this center of pulsating energy, taking all my strength to accept the pain and not resist. Somehow, I understood that the only way through is to embrace it fully, because the more my head said “Ouch! I don’t want this anymore!” the harder my body would buck from within in retaliation. I would moan, groan and shudder in the water to the peak of the pressure, really like a wave! Then open up and surrender to the calm after it, allowing my body to ease open. That was the only way to feel better. At the time I had no idea where and when this was happening, it just felt like a blur of sensations and took all my concentration just to process the feelings in my belly.
Irina offers me some aromatherapy which was great earlier that evening, and all of a sudden it’s disgusting to me! Cédric kisses me all over which was wonderful earlier, but in a matter of minutes I can’t have him touch me at all. Despite my huge appetite I can't stomach anything I brought to keep my strength up. I’m confused by all of this and wondering how much longer it’ll take, I worry I may not have enough energy to carry through. Everything blurs into everything.
My husband reassures me immensely while I alternate between loving and hating his kisses and touch, nearly cramping up from holding my head out of the water as the tub is so high and he has nowhere to sit. I suddenly look at Irina and say “Push!” out of nowhere, possessed! She looks at me, wide-eyed with understanding, and calls the doctor to have a look. Doc comes in and does another IE, saying we are at 8.5cm and some part of the cervical lip was swollen which is why it’s taking more time.
Fear creeps in, I am SO F*ING TIRED. What if something goes wrong? How can I push the baby out? What if I tear, or bleed, or pass out, or chicken out? What if he’s not ok inside me? Despair hits and my heart stops for a splitsecond until I catch myself mentally and say “We got this far. We can do this! Everyone is here for this and for me, and baby is going to be here now!” Besides, I think, I have no choice! I know the hardest part is yet to come while I feel that I have very little left to give. The reality of this is terrifying and challenging all at once. Oddly enough I am blowing bubbles in the water as it’s the only way to control my breathing, and I feel it calm me down through the contractions. I go to the toilet twice again and each time worse than the last, shivering from the cold air and unable to even stand, I lean completely on Cédric who just becomes my rock, his strength seeping into me as I collapse on him. Despite the pain, I remember being engulfed in an immense love for this amazing man who is watching me be a sorry mass of yucky and ouchy. Completely sexy not-sexy.
My moans begin to change and evolve into a deep, earthy groan coming from deep within me. All of a sudden I wake up from a contraction to the Doc in medical garb strapping on gloves, and my mind floods with relief – “It’s nearly over!” This gives me another huge adrenalin rush, and I hear them urging me on. “Anytime you’re ready, you can push. You’re at 10cm now, fully dilated, and imagine you are going to the bathroom for a really, really big poop.” I’m sitting with my legs spread and it feels so oddly difficult despite having seen this repeatedly in movies and videos, clamping my abs down from within feels like I’m going to implode. I try it again and I can feel the people in the room watching me expectantly, they are all tired and yet here is the hardest part. I know I’m only going to hurt myself or someone else and I mentally shake my head. All the sounds I make are horrible to me, like a dying animal as they resonate in the hollow bathroom with those excellent acoustics amplifying my noise. UGH.
I suddenly am very afraid. I know that if I push, the size of this thing is larger than the opening and it’s going to hurt. A lot. But I also know there’s no backing out and once he’s in my canal, pushing is only up to me, and no one else. Surrendering, I begin to pray and thank the universe, the water. I thank my body, my baby, and plead with it to please come on out and be alright. My husband laughs in recollection and says “I knew the baby was coming because you began to speak in Portuguese.”
I get into a squat, go on all fours, and suddenly say, “the baby is coming out this way”. Doc has never caught a baby like this in a tub yet while Irina assures him all the water births she’s witnessed have been in this position, which calms us all. I feel this massive pressure in my birth canal and have no idea how the heck to explain, until Doc exclaims “the baby is crowning already! Now take a deep breath, hold it, and push.” I push so hard I get acid reflux, scaring the crap out of my husband who thinks I might have bled. He wipes my mouth with some water and doc urges me on saying “I can see the head already, he has hair!” This is the best news I’ve heard so far, and I feel a rush of power as I give a supreme push which explodes from only God-knows-where, like I am jumping out of my own body. A bandmate once described music like your body splitting apart and your real self growing out of it, and this is that, TIMES ONE HUNDRED.
And the most glorious feeling after this incredible pain, the head pushes through and the body comes sliding out of me – it’s as if I could see his arms, trunk and legs slip past in a millisecond. Really, a blink of an eye, all that, for the blink of an eye, and triumphant cries from us all. The joy in the room erupts palpably from the tension, and the funniest part of all is Doc holding the baby behind me and saying “you’ll have to pass your leg over him” since the umbilical cord was still attached. Cédric and I met in Capoeira, and before I could hold my baby, I had to pass my leg over his cord, like giving him a Capoeira kick (a queixada) first. I laugh in my head while on the outside am just so exhausted I only manage to say “Meu amor!” (my love). Our son’s robust cry is reassuring to me, hearing his voice for the first time. I clutch him to my chest and he takes a bit to get his bearings, eventually nursing contentedly. He is gorgeous, red-faced, all scrunched up in crying, and gorgeous nevertheless to my motherly eyes.
We deliver the placenta about 15 minutes after with Doc helping. The pool is dark with blood which freaks me out so I wanna leave and get up right away. Little do I know this is completely normal, but I’m just so waterlogged I wanna get out. They wash us up, and baby is whisked away with his Papa, Doc even carries me to the bed, my legs don’t work at all. Cédric cuts the cord an hour later to allow baby Gabriel to get the most from his placenta, which we keep and eventually Irina makes into capsules for postpartum recovery.
We find out later that Gabriel is born 8.95 lbs (4kg) and Doc is wide-eyed, saying this is the 2nd largest water birth baby he’s delivered. He’s so happy he even says it’s the most serene birth he’s witnessed, despite how it felt and sounded in my head. Irina makes sure we are all ok, graciously congratulates us and squeezes me goodbye, as she whisks away Gabriel’s cord to make a dreamcatcher.
Cédric and I are in tears! The happiest crying I’ve ever experienced in my life, our hearts have exploded with love and gratitude for this magnificent moment. The relief, the joy, the exhaustion are all just too much to take. So many things could have gone wrong, yet everything went our way. The rest of the time is a blur, family and friends stream in and despite being so weak the giddy beauty of it all has us wired. Lolo and Lola are overjoyed and we Skype to share it with our family in France. We manage some exhausted sleep and are out one day later, I’m even walking out of the hospital like I walked in, with our baby in tow. On our way home, we can’t help but tear up in tandem again from thankfulness for this magical, gentle birth. We say a silent prayer for all the people, synchronicity, and divine help that were part of this incredible, empowering experience.
As we walk into our home, it is changed forever in the best way imaginable. A warm, delicious ecstasy wraps every movement, every gesture. This tiny blessing of a creature is our love wrapped in a blanket! The best holiday season, ever, in 34 years. And the most exciting, truly happy, new year coming up.
This is why the greatest birth keepers on Earth such as Ibu Robin Lim, Ina May Gaskin and Jeannine Parvati Baker have as their mantra these simple and profound words of wisdom “Peace on Earth begins with birth”.
How to ensure a gentle birth for the child?
The answer to this is also very straightforward – not to mess up with the natural physiological process of birth. No medical intervention passes without consequences, especially when they are done routinely without a true indication. Birthing gently means to choose a birth practice that aligns to the maximum with what nature intended for the mother and child to go through in the birthing process reserving medical interventions to the cases when they are truly needed.
What points to consider when planning a gentle birth?
1. Get inspired. Read real life accounts of gentle birth stories and professional reflections written by the champions of natural birth. Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth is a long time favorite and on the top of the list of natural birth books. Also check out the titles by Sarah Buckley, Michel Odent, Pam England, Sheila Kitzinger and Carl Jones.
2. Refrain from watching mainstream media birth shows. Their portrayal of birth is highly inaccurate and honestly quite distressing. Usually a birth is presented as an emergency waiting to happen and birthing women are to be immediately rescued from their own bodies. This is absurd. It is high time to start changing this erroneous perception of female bodies!
3. Instead equip yourself with knowledge! Open up to new sources of information. Get access and watch films such as Orgasmic Birth, Birth as We Know It, The Business of Being Born and Microbirth The whole new world of pleasurable, ecstatic, sensual and joyful birthing will open up for you!
4. Know well the physiology of labour and birth. Study a menu of multiple procedures done in the hospitals and learn their pros and cons. Be empowered with facts, particularly on the cons! Taking a natural birth preparation class will take you there. Check out the childbirth preparation classes run by Birth Times and Birthing is a Blessing.
5. Find a care-provider that will listen to you and support your wishes. This is very important! A supportive care-provider is 90% of your success to have a natural and gentle birth, your body will do the rest. Ask your care-provider critical questions. Listen carefully. If you see any red flags, switch ASAP. It is never too late! It is your birth and you do not owe it to anyone except to yourself.
6. Form a supportive birth team. Hire a doula! Doula is a trained birth professional who provides continuous physical, emotional and informational support to the mother before, during and just after birth. Multiple studies from around the world have concluded that a doula’s support is more effective than hospital staff, friends or family in achieving successful natural birth.
7. Have a birth plan and stick to it! A doula will help you to have your birth preferences respected.
8. Trust your body and refrain from medical interventions unless they are truly necessary. Go all way natural. No unnecessary ultrasounds, cervical exams, continuous fetal monitoring, epidural etc. One intervention leads to another once you start on that winding path. Having an epidural doubles the chance of having a C-section for labour dystocia.
9. If you are to have a surgical delivery via C-section for certain reasons or due to circumstances insist on the protocol that support a gentle Cesarean birth.
10. Have a firm plan for postnatal procedures. Ensure your baby is immediately placed on your chest skin to skin and stays there for an extended period of time. Exercise delayed cord clamping, ideally do not touch it for at least one hour. Consider doing a lotus or semi-lotus birth. By all means breastfeed your baby.
I hope this is helpful and will inspire you to envision and work towards a gentle birth that you deserve. To conclude I would like to once again go back to the word of wisdom, the most powerful birth mantra – “Peace begins at birth”. One peaceful gentle birth at a time creates a lifetime of peace.
Irina is a birth
keeper, mother and an advocate. As a certified Childbirth Doula and
Hypno-Doula she accompanies mothers through pregnancy, birth and postpartum to
ensure a joyful, balanced and pleasurable experience. It is her greatest joy to
see mothers to come out of birth feeling empowered, proud and honored.