NOTE: Read more about Unassisted Birth in my new book, Brave New Birth available now.
Also, the post below has some graphic images. Please use discretion. Thx!
It's the morning of July 22nd.
I woke up at 7am and my husband got my son ready for Jumpstart Kindergarten. My daughter Isadora and I were going to have a low key morning together. The sitter would come at 9am to help out...except for one thing. I woke up to those low abdomen sensations that feel like menstrual cramps. I laid in bed and timed their rhythm with my iPhone timer using the lap feature, like I did with Isa last time around. About 5 minutes apart, 1 minute in length. Every time one came I just relaxed, as Childbirth Without Fear author Grantly Dick-Read suggests, and let my uterus do its work of opening the cervix. "Pulling up the skirts" around the baby's head, as I like to imagine it.
This is how it begins. Maybe.
I was two weeks pre-due-date, and had imagined I'd give birth on this day, just like I was two weeks "early" with Isadora. On Saturday, just 4 days ago, I lost a huge hunk of mucus plug. This can be called the "bloody show" that is one of the 4 predictors of labor (and the most reliable one). I texted this photo to my friends J and E (who are both lay midwives and trained in undisturbed birth, serving women as doulas, confidantes, or active assistants, per the woman's desire) and one said there isn't blood in it, so it's probably not a sign. However, with Isa I had the same large plug come out and had her about 3 days later. No blood or brown tinge. And I had a feeling, so I took her comment with a grain of salt, as I've learned to do even with my most trusted advisors.
I stopped prenatal care about 3 or 4 weeks ago.
E came to my appt with me and helped me get to a place where I didn't feel so "wronged" in that doctor's office. We spoke of gestational diabetes and the misdiagnosis of that and the (flawed) science behind it. They had flagged my files from my last pregnancy where they said I had GD, but I knew it was nutritionally-based, and a quick change to my diet deleted my symptoms (but the flag remained). So, it was nice to have a woman with me who could buffer me from that fear-mongering that the hospital and doctors so unconsciously imbued. As a very pregnant woman, I was very much under the influence of their vibe. So I stopped going. My other friend, J, came by once a week the last few weeks of my pregnancy because I wanted company, and to be measured and the baby's hearttones listened to. And so I didn't feel quite so "irresponsible" - or rather so my inner critic and internal mother's voice didn't call me irresponsible!
So, back to the morning of Wednesday July 22.
I timed for about a half hour as I rested and did my job of relaxing. Enjoyed the rest and relaxation. Timed "laps." Told my husband he may need to come back after dropping off our son. But first I wanted to see if this was really labor. So I took Isa on a walk, pushing her in the stroller, continuing to time laps because I just was so foggy I couldn't tell time very well. But I was alert and I am very Type A, so timing it was. During the walk I was at 3-4 minute intervals, about 1 minute in length each. So, switching to the opposite activity (resting to walking), I found that the contractions continued and that verified that labor was "on." I paused every couple of minutes to relax into those skirts being pulled up, and I decided to go home and call my dad. He came and picked up our daughter at about 8am. I didn't want her there, after all, but she'd be about 5 minutes away so that was good. I also asked my husband to come back. He complained about work just a tad...and I told him he could work from home later that evening.
We prepared the house for about the next hour or so. I also gave J a heads-up that labor had begun and I didn't invite her over. But she was sort of "on call." E was out of town, which we'd expected. I didn't know who else should be there just yet, so J would come if I wanted, and I knew that she wouldn't disturb me. She would be there for whatever I ended up needing, if I had her over at all.
Preparing the house including me making a little "nest" in the corner of our darkened bedroom.
I laid down oilcloth with some towels I'd gathered - things I could be messy over on top of our carpet. I had bleach cleaned the bathroom just the day before (in fact, 4 times over the past 2 weeks, and I am an all-natural kind of gal), so that was all set. I had my husband move my Tiny Undies shipping area into the closet (it was on our bedroom floor) and we just tidied up a bit. I had some water and some food. Kept on relaxing during those skirts a-raising.
Around 9 I asked the husband to text J to come over. Things started to get intense. I asked him to run a bath (our bathtub is quite sad and small, but I wanted some hot water to help me out) and he did. I laid in it between contractions, which were getting more intense. I got up intermittently and went to my nest, or the kitchen, or the hall which was a very nice place to be for some reason! Probably because I could feel "small" in there, and it was pretty dark, too.
I was in the tub when J arrived. I all of a sudden shifted from being in my body to being a hostess! What should I have her do? What did I need to do for her? Oh my, it was a bit of an awkward thing. Inviting someone over and then doing a total mind trip about how to host them. Then I remember that J is trained in undisturbed childbirth (and assists in teaching it!), and she is one of two people in the world who I personally know who can honor the kind of experience I wanted to have with this birth. So I chilled out my brain and trusted that she would figure out what to do. No hosting necessary.
I didn't get on my bed at all.
There is no use for it in birth, in my opinion. In my first birth, I was told to get out of the tub and get into the cockroach position on my bed, knees held to my chest, yoni open. For four fucking hours. Pushing. It was terrible! This time, I really listened to what my body needed, and it was sporadic and vocal about where it wanted to be and when...with no apparent rhyme or reason that I could look back and decipher. But the wild thing was how sporadic I was at moving positions, and when. And it was great. To be in control and fully responsible. So great. Finding my own way with my own baby, and my husband right there with me. So good.
In my bedroom nook I was leaning on the armchair over my towels and David was kind of watching me.
I said, "Please sit there quietly but do not look at me."
So, he turned his gaze toward the wall and stayed with me. It was great. It was the privacy that Michel Odent writes about in The Nature of Birth and Breastfeeding. I didn't want to be "alone"...but I did want the kind of privacy that means "don't observe me, don't look at me, but be here with me." It all made sense in that moment. And David didn't feel put-off. He is a strong and courageous man.
I did get a little more vocal and questioning when J arrived. She's had 4 children of her own and I knew I could be vulnerable with her, and lose it a little, but I also knew that when I lose it, I really have a hard time coming back. So, I only lost it by way of asking her an occasional question. Maybe 3 total questions.
Things were really intense when she arrived, and I know that I was already pushing a little because it felt so much better than doing nothing. I think she showed up around 9:45 or so. She was super quiet. I looked over and saw her kneeling and praying in our hallway. I remember feeling scared, like, oh my am I okay?! Is there some emergency she is praying for the resolution of?! My husband, David, said he felt the same in that moment. In retrospect, it was pretty funny.
So, I was in the hallway and told David, "towels, under me, now!" and he brought them.
David really served to provide for whatever need I was having, and he purposefully stuck closeby for every contraction. J had just arrived really and I wanted to know if she could check me (my dilation) - because that is the one piece of information I did not have with my last birth (and is why I went to the hospital...I had no idea I was totally dilated and it was okay to help my baby out by pushing here and there). She was behind me and asked, "Do you know about the line?" and I replied, "No and I don't want to learn about it right now!!" in broken labor speak. I didn't want to be in verbal world. I was in the 60th dimension or something, but fully conscious and alert. I was in an altered state but one in which I felt very much in control, or at least powerful and not overwhelmed or overcome with something else's power (such as the power of Fear himself). So she said, "I can tell from looking at your skin and your line that, yes, you are fully dilated." So, I continued to do the pushing here and there that felt so good, knowing it was going to happen soon.
The 2nd question I remember asking J was, "Is he coming?"
In other words, will this be over soon? Because I just couldn't take it...or rather I was on that edge, that precipice, of wanting to escape. I said it out loud, "I am definitely feeling like escaping so I know it's soon! Right?" Just wanting that reassurance of a woman who's been there before. Who knows the physiology, too, of birth and being a woman in labor. She confirmed that all is well.
I think the 3rd question was repeated a few times here and there: "Am I okay?" And she would reply "yes," and so would my husband, and he would add, "you're doing it. You're doing great honey." And that kept me going and kept me from slipping completely out of control into a place where no one would be able to pull me out.
So, there was a 4th question and I'll get to that.
I felt inside my yoni after J said I was fully dilated, back in the hallway. I couldn't feel anything but a really squishy thing that I assumed was my bag of waters.
Later the contractions were getting really intense and I wanted back in the tub all of the sudden. So I went in and laid down and must have passed out for a quick second or a few minutes. My second wind arrived as if delivered by the angels themselves. I got up sideways in the tub (did I mention how tiny it is? And it's pink. At least it was clean.) and my husband was there on the floor next to me, facing me, with his arms out so I could get support. Earlier in the hallway I remember I pushed one of his arms away while pulling the other one toward me, our hands holding one other's hands. Now I was just fully leaning on him and squeezing his hands with every contraction.
So, I'm in the tub.
I'm squatting and I want to feel inside again. I yell out "Am I close? Am I going to be done soon?" And J answers from somewhere (I can't even see her) "Yes!" So, I reach inside my yoni and I feel that squishy thing. I get the whim to push during this contraction and I push into my fingers and then POP!! the water bag broke and part of it ended up in my hand. I was so surprised, as was David, and I, for an insane moment, thought I'd pushed so hard that my son's head popped! It was a terrible but luckily fleeting bit of misinformation.
I set the water bag membrane aside on the edge of the tub and reached back in. And there he was. I could feel my son's fuzzy little head.
It was much harder than that bag was (thank goodness) and I thought to myself, "I wonder how many pushes will it really take to get this guy out?" I was tired of being pregnant (I had morning sickness for 8 months, and was a miserable human being for most of that time) and I said aloud "I want you to come out!! Come on now! Get out of me! I want to meet you!" and I kept my finger or fingers in there, I can't remember exactly, and felt his head as I pushed. I felt like pooping (I had pooped 4 times during this labor, by the way, and I also felt like puking earlier on (at the start of the harder contractions) so I helped that along by sticking a finger in my throat...it pushed the labor along which is just what my body wanted)...and I knew this was that "urge to push" thing that has so often eluded me in my past 2 labors! That's it! Voila!
So, I pushed with all my might. I felt Cooper moving down my birth canal.
From the doula class I took last year, I knew without a doubt that my body would stretch for him (the rugae folds are like an accordion, and stretchy, and the perineum practically disappears at a certain point, giving way as it should). And I also knew that it didn't have to be this 4 hour epic stream of pushing, or a perfect 1-10 countdown, as if in a wrestling match, like it was at the hospital last time for a whole 30 minutes (though in the moment that was fine - I loved that British nurse's voice coaching me home). I pushed and felt my son's head, moving toward me, and time eluded me. I didn't push for a set amount of time or pushes or anything. I just did it, gung-ho, and challenged myself with how little time it could take, just to see...like an experiment.
And here he came to the air itself, crowning I suppose you'd call it, and I felt the "ring of fire" and I was cautious not to tear myself, so I didn't tense up or anything. I relaxed as much as I could, felt the sensation and did not tense up against it (which I knew would produce pain. Fear makes tension makes pain, per Dick-Read.). It was like a pause and I gave the next push my all. I might have pushed 2 or 3 times, for an epic, timeless amount of non-time. And then his head popped out after that big heave, me saying "Come out! I want you out!" to my little baby. I was kneeling on my left knee, right knee off the ground of the tub, as Whapio said most women are when they birth spontaneously, holding onto the tub edge with the other hand on my son's head.
So, now I had his head in my hand and I felt him turn. That's normal.
I knew that bit of physiological fact. I was alert, but altered. I was present, but somewhere else. My husband was there, I just couldn't see him. J was there I thought, as well, but it was just me and Coop at that point. So then my body decided it wanted to stand up to make more room. Like a 2nd position in ballet kind of stance, semi-pleied. Still with baby in my right hand, I stood up and, not seeing a single being, just white light I think, I yelled out (to counter any fear that crossed my mind in that moment and rule out any barrier to my success), "Is he stuck?!" and I heard J reply, "No!"
I then said to my husband, "honey, catch him!"
...and without waiting for him to reply, but only feeling his hands move toward me and below me, I let go of Cooper's head and pushed his whole body out with a big heave, standing up in my bathtub, hands up like Wonder Woman, fully in my power and standing triumphant. David caught our baby with a little slippery fumbling but did not dare drop him.
I stood there as J grabbed a towel to put the baby in, still attached to me, not seeing anyone or anything, and I said, "I did it, I did it!" sort of in relief and also with much pleasure about my own success. Then I noticed the baby, my baby, our baby, and I held him to me. I welcomed him and saw that he was making noise and gurgling and trying to breath. We all 4 moved into the bedroom, on our bed, which J placed the oilcloth and towels on so I could sit with my baby, still attached to me, and we could check him out.
He was gurgling and working on breathing and I knew in my heart and body he was okay.
But J was concerned about his gurlging so we did a little suction with the bulb and found that the liquid was in his lungs, so I turned him on his belly and rubbed his back. I knew he was breathing. My first son came out not breathing and blue. This one was very pink except for his feet and hands (which were a normal purple and turning red slowly). He latched and I knew that was a great sign, too. But J was concerned moreso that Cooper's face was purple around his nose and mouth, and she thought he might not be getting enough air. I felt different. Grain of salt moment, but I also was fully responsible for this little guy, so we three adults discussed it.
Meanwhile, I birthed my placenta.
I stood up when the urge to push it out came, after it arrived in my birth canal, and J handed David a pot from our kitchen and I pushed it out with one little push into that pot underneath me, also standing. When the cord stopped pulsing with blood, I tied and cut it myself. It was a short little cord, very plump and full of nourishment. Last time we didn't get to do that. I was pleased about it, and knew that so long as that cord was attached, little Cooper was going to be fully oxygenated and just fine. Once we cut it, we talked about his color again.
We three decided to be safe, not sorry...
...and I even got dressed and we were going to load into the car and go to the hospital, David and J were so concerned. I hadn't hemorrhaged at all and I felt great, but I was dizzy and wanted to lay down. I decided I didn't want to go, and then I remembered that one of my "on call" baby expert people lives across the street. Bruce is a retired NICU nurse - I asked David to go get him so he could check Cooper's vitals. He came right over and checked Cooper's pulse and heart and lungs with our fetoscope and all was just perfect. He said he thought the purple was that same thing that caused the feet and hands to be purple, and that it'd go away.
So that was good. We were staying home! All was well. Until....
Bruce came back 15 minutes later. He, in his well-meaning efforts, had gone home and called another couple of nurses and a NICU doctor, of all people, to double-check his diagnosis of the discoloration. At this point Cooper was nursing like a champ. I knew he was great. His vitals were perfect. But Bruce came back saying that prolonged delayed cord clamping can cause a blood transfusion type of situation in which the blood can get overloaded with red blood cells and cause a major issue with the baby, ending up with a purple face.
I processed this information quickly and it contradicted everything I'd ever read, known, or intuited about the placenta and delayed clamping.
J whispered to David and I, after Bruce left (because I said "thanks, now please go"), that over the last 50 years or more the norm has been early clamping, and that many doctors, especially older and more experienced ones, believed that delayed clamping was harmful and bad. Only recently have doctors been educated about the benefits of delayed clamping and families have been returning to the lotus birth, in some situations, marking the extreme opposite of where we've been.
In any case, I rejected the idea that Mother Nature would EVER cause an organ like the placenta, who takes care of the baby for 9 or 10 months until it "knows" baby is safe and has received its full store of blood back after birth, to cause harm to its baby.
No way would that ever biologically or spiritually even make sense.
But David was still not convinced, and J said it was our decision, so I decided to call the pediatrician. Our new ped, Dr. Williams, an OD, got on the line and after I explained some things and he asked some questions, he said, "It sounds like bruising. You had a very quick birth, and that usually happens with quick births. He otherwise sounds fine and you can bring him in tomorrow so I can check him out. If you or your husband is concerned in any way, however, I recommend you bring him in today for your own peace of mind. But I am pretty confident he is fine."
So, since David was on the fence about this and wanting to rule out any big issues (the one Bruce named would have severe health implications for our baby), I agreed that we should go. So, J stayed at the house and cleaned up, made sure that I peed alright, and David, Cooper, and I traveled 15 minutes to the pediatrician.
We even stopped for Starbucks on the way.
A new parent's special treat! We were seen quite immediately and they did the blood oxygenation test and Cooper tested *perfectly*...possible terrible diagnosis was immediately ruled out...and we had them weigh him and measure him for our birth certificate records. 8 perfect pounds and 18 3/4" were the numbers.
On our way home we talked about things and David and I agreed that we did the responsible thing in coming to the pediatrician, and we understood where Bruce came from in trying to be helpful. We had protected our birth space fully during the birth. After the birth, I felt like Bruce had intruded upon a fearless space. A sacred space full of trust and rightness.
But I also see where he was just trying to help.
So, having ruled out that terrible (and nonsensical) possibility with our baby, we drove home feeling good about having done the right thing. J came over the next day to check on us, and me, and we were both fine. We talked about what happened and how we all get the opportunity to weigh people's opinions (even doctors'!) and to make our own informed decisions. To not go to any extreme (fear and full belief of someone's opinion, or rejection of it without any consideration, just to push them away) and make our own informed decision.
I like that. I am usually very opinionated and impulsive and very ideological. But, with this way of birthing, undisturbed, - or as E said in answer to someone's question of what is an undisturbed birth:
"When a mother births under her own authority. She isn't disturbed, she is given the space to birth in an autonomous, instinctive way."
- comes with the obligation for the parents to make decisions based on ALL information coming into the field. Yes, to filter it and protect the space, but also to utilize modern medicine if or when there is a doubt or fuzzy area or funny feeling, from mother, father, friend, or foe.
I must say that my body feels incredibly different this time around in the postpartum recovery period...as do my emotions. I had Post-Partum Depression (PPD) since my first was born 5 years ago and through my second (when it was diagnosed), and recently resolved my PPD treatment. It is amazing how balanced and healthy I feel. Postpartum sex used to feel like an interior space of broken glass...um, very uncomfortable. This time around, we didn't even wait the recommended amount of time and my insides feel FANTASTIC!
I am certain it's because I did it my own way.
My husband and I recently told our birth story to someone and I said, "I did it my own way," but David corrected me and said, "her body did it its own way" - which couldn't be more true. I assisted my body, midwifed it, minimally. I mostly just stepped my ego and brain aside and supported this very natural function by letting it be.
And the results were, and are, amazing.
And that is all. Thank you for listening.
(My new book, Brave New Birth, is out now. If you know me, you know that I just can't help myself from spreading good information.)
Please share your comments below, being very respectful about your and my birth stories, including your thoughts on undisturbed or unassisted birth, especially if you've had one of those yourself.
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