Mom in charge of her empowering birth
I approached my birth with excitement but also a mix of apprehension and fear. I really wanted a natural, positive and empowering birth experience, but I was nervous about giving birth in a foreign place where I don’t speak the local language (we live in the French part of Switzerland). I was also hoping to find a birthing house inside a hospital (as with A, my first daughter) but there wasn’t one nearby, so I had to choose between the big student hospital, private clinics or a separate birthing house. In the wake of COVID I chose a private clinic, despite its reputation for high c-section, epidural and intervention rates. I also had some fears to work through from my first birth where I was fully induced and I remember a point (after many hours of labor) where it all became too much and I couldn’t cope anymore. I ended up having an epidural and then a really great birth without tearing, so a great outcome, but that feeling of not coping was scary. I found out from my doula afterwards that the doctors had suddenly significantly increased the oxytocin without telling me, and this was when I went from being in flow and control to feeling things completely out of my control.
In the lead up to the due date I prepared a lot. Well, that was after I finished up at work just over a month before and had some time to myself. I practiced hypnobirthing listening to tracks daily, repeating positive affirmations and visioning and also did the fear release a few times. I used an epi-no towards the end every second or third day and did perineal massage daily (using the Weleda perineum massage oil). I saw an acupuncturist and chiropractor, as well as practiced the ‘daily essentials’ exercises from Spinning Babies and drank raspberry leaf tea daily. I also read Ina May Gaskin’s natural childbirth book.
My due date of Friday 3 July came and went. I went from feeling confident that the baby would come early (as I was told with all second babies) to feeling disappointed and then resigned. The control monitoring with my doctor on the due date was all fine, but she was surprised my cervix was so tight and closed, barely fitting a finger in. We scheduled an appointment the following Thursday 6 days later at which I knew we’d need to start talking induction if things weren’t progressing. In the meantime I tried all the usual tricks to encourage labor (spicy food, long walks, clary sage diluted with a base oil and castor oil massaged on my tummy, doing things that bring joy, reflexology as well as acupuncture and chiro sessions, raspberry leaf tea) but to no avail. Thursday’s appointment went fine and we scheduled an appointment for the Monday with the intention that we would look at starting the induction Monday night. My cervix was a bit softer and she managed to do a cervical sweep.
Friday I did the Spinning Babies Daily essentials and went for a nice long walk. Around lunchtime I lay down for a nap and felt a trickle - I was sure my waters had broken. Still small quantities, but it was obvious that there was liquid coming out. Knowing I was strep B positive, I also knew that this meant I would need to be monitored and ultimately induced if labor didn’t start naturally. I called the clinic and they suggested I come in for a check up. So John and I finished packing the last of our things and made our way to the clinic, ready to stay over. The midwife started the monitoring (all was fine) and was about to test if my waters had broken when a pool of fluid started building up in my pants/on the bed - no need for the test! She inserted a IV catheter and after some time I moved into our room at the clinic where they started the intravenous antibiotic drip which they administered every 4 hours, as well as regular monitoring of the baby’s heartbeat, my contractions and blood pressure. They also took a blood test and picked up a slightly elevated inflammatory marker which made them more cautious. Unfortunately labor still did not start naturally. I was having light, irregular cramps at best.
That night, 12 hours after my waters broke they inserted a prostaglandin. It’s like a strip of gauze inserted into your vagina that releases hormones and helps to prepare the cervix and encourage labor. After this I was still having irregular cramps (I wouldn’t call them contractions just yet). The next day Saturday at midday they inserted another prostaglandin. After this I started having light contractions on average 30 seconds every 5 minutes. They were still very manageable. I used this time to get into the right space - both mentally and physically. I set up my Himalayan salt lamp in the room, started playing my Hypnobirthing and relaxing tracks. I brought a few others things from home like little colourful stones my daughter had made for us, as well as essential oils. I swayed on the Swiss ball for these contractions.
Around 5pm there was another round of monitoring, and despite being reasonably regular before, my contractions almost ceased during the monitoring. I could feel the pressure! I knew it was only a matter of time before they would move to the intravenous oxytocin (which I really wanted to avoid) if things didn’t start progressing. The midwife together with my doctor decided to give me a third prostaglandin at 6pm. This is when things really changed.
Shortly after the third prostaglandin my contractions started getting really intense. Each one felt like I was climbing Kilimanjaro. I was trying all the things I’d learnt - staying relaxed and calm listening to my tracks, using upright positions to facilitate the baby moving down, John helped put on the TENS machine and this helped - it provided a welcome distraction. At this point I was finding each contraction really difficult to get through. I told John I needed all his support and to tell our doula to come (she was a 45min-1hr drive away, and after things taking a while to get started we weren’t sure when the right time was to ask her to come). John started also putting pressure on the acupressure point (between the thumb and index finger) during my contractions that my acupuncturist had shown me. He also gave me a massage on my lower back. But at this point I was struggling. It was so intense and painful I had no idea how I was going to do this - I started dreaming of pain relief.
Around 8:30pm my doctor and the midwife came to monitor and check me. Thankfully all was fine with the baby and my blood pressure. Disappointingly, my cervix was only 2cm’s dilated and still thick. At this point my doctor told me that I wasn’t actually in labor yet. I glared at her and said that I absolutely felt like I was in labor. They left and it was just John and I in the room again.
In between contractions I was sitting on the Swiss ball and leaning over onto the bed with my head rested on the pillow (which I’d put lavender oil drops on) and teddy I’d brought from home. During contractions I’d put the TENS on boost, stand up and sway. John would usually be putting pressure on my acupressure point also. I kept looking at him telling him how intense and tough it was. I considered getting into the shower, but couldn’t face disconnecting from the TENS and disrupting the flow, so it never happened.
At 9pm our doula, Elena arrived. I recall her saying what a lovely atmosphere we had created and that she felt like she was intruding. She and John together provided such great, loving support. She could see that my contractions were serious. She encouraged me to not think ahead, but to just take each one as it comes. At one point she suggested that I could try lunges during my contractions with one leg raised onto the bed and me leaning into the lunge. Something so simple, but this was honestly a big turning point for me. I started doing alternating lunges with every contraction. And it was amazing - towards the end of each contraction it was as though I could feel my baby’s head moving through the cervix. Making progress. This gave me such big encouragement and for the first time I felt I could do this. I also started to experience a rush of endorphins between contractions - to the point that I started to say ‘this is amazing’ and felt waves of bliss pass over me. This fuelled me for the next contraction. This experience also helped me to really tune in to my body - to explore what it needed to encourage things along. I started also doing deep squatting positions during contractions by holding onto the end of the bed. I was making deep ‘aaah’ sounds during contractions, releasing between them by doing what I felt my body needed, including shaking/jiggling my body, blowing raspberries, stretching upwards, making circles with my head and generally releasing tension in my body.
It wasn’t long until I could feel pressure. In retrospect this must’ve been my transition. It was nothing like what I read about transitioning (crisis of confidence, etc). It was really rewarding for me. I could tell my baby’s head was out of the cervix at this point. I kept wanting to feel down ‘there’ to see if there was any sign of her head, but of course it was too early. My doula asked me to tell her if I have the urge to poo or push. The pressure slowly started to shift to a sensation that I almost wanted to start pushing and needing a poo. But I wasn’t too sure yet, so didn’t say anything.
At this point the midwife came into the room, rolling the monitoring machine, while also carrying a tray with the antibiotic, as well as another tray to take my blood. She hadn’t been in since 8:30pm when the doctor was here, and I couldn’t help but roll my eyes and wish to be left alone. The last thing I wanted at this point was to have to stay still for the monitoring and intravenous antibiotic. And I couldn’t wrap my head around being able to stay still enough during the contractions to have my blood taken. So she began the monitoring and thankfully let me stay standing. She tried the intravenous antibiotic but it seemed there was something wrong with the catheter which required a lot of fiddling. At this point she moved to set up to take my blood but the urge to poo and push got stronger. I told her twice I don’t think we need the blood test. Thankfully she agreed.
Sure enough the urge to poo and push got stronger. My doula said she could hear my noises change to deeper grunting noises. Then things moved fast, and I could almost feel the head coming right down. At this point the midwives were running around, grabbing a chair for me to sit in so they could take me to the delivery room. I remember shaking and really not wanting to sit down - I felt like my baby was coming out and it felt like I was sitting on her head! So I perched myself on the chair, my doula threw a wrap over me, and they wheeled me quickly to the delivery room while being careful I didn’t fall off the chair.
When we got to the delivery room I climbed on the bed and went straight to my all fours. This was a position my doctor said she wasn’t sure she would be comfortable with (preferring lying down or side lying) but I just did it. By the time I was on the bed apparently you could just see the baby’s head. One contraction and I could feel her head coming out a bit but then slip back in. Next contraction she partly crowned, the next one her nose came through, the next one her shoulder and she was born! I remember the midwife telling me to push, but my body had no urge, so I tuned into my body and let it do the pushing when it was ready. It was involuntary - my body was pushing on its own. The power was amazing. When she was crowning I felt such an intense burning sensation - the ‘ring of fire’. The burning kept building more and more beyond what I thought possible. I kept focusing on relaxing my perineum by relaxing my jaw and mouth, making deep grunting noises, digging my nails into my Doula’s arm (sorry Elena!) and kissing my husband passionately. I had read that this would help relax my perineum.
Our beautiful little baby M was born at 10:50pm in July - only 4 hours and 50 minutes after that third prostaglandin! It was a whirlwind, it was intense, but it was the most rewarding and empowering experience of my life. I realised my innate strength and our female wisdom - something so magical and strong to draw on.
The doctor rushed in after baby M had been born having missed the birth. Our little girl was a bit startled when she was born after it being so quick, but she was alert and full of colour in no time and latching nicely. I felt immediate euphoria and wave of deep intense love for her. The placenta came out easily and the doctor confirmed no tearing. After two hours of skin-skin time I managed to walk slowly back to our room. I was so proud and grateful for the experience and healthy little girl we had been blessed with and the quick healing I have experienced after. And I was so grateful for the amazing support provided by John and our doula Elena - without them it wouldn’t have been possible. Thank you from the bottom of my heart! And John hasn’t stopped saying how proud he is of me, and that he is so amazed at my inner strength - that I must never forget it and always draw on it. He is so right. And that applies to all of us ladies.