I was snuggling my three year old son, Miles, when contractions started at 6:30am.
It was still dark and at first I wasn’t even sure these were more than Braxton-Hicks contractions. Could this be it? As they intensified I realized this was in fact the beginning of labor so I snuggled closer to Miles and enjoyed what would be his last hours as my only child. I was both sad for this and thrilled to finally not be pregnant anymore– since I threw up for most of the nine months, this was less than the ideal pregnancy and I was ready for it to be over!
It was Sunday, March 1st, 2009– the day before my due date and the day after my midwife arrived in Malaysia– so the timing was excellent. My midwife had traveled from California so I knew she needed as much rest as possible– I let her sleep. She woke at 8:30am to find me in early labor. I was folding laundry to keep from focusing too much on the labor– my last labor was 25 hours, so I knew it could be many hours still.
We were planning a homebirth– and quite possibly a waterbirth if I wanted to stay in the pool– so my labor team (my husband and my midwife) started to get eveything ready as I had requested. Candles were lit, clocks were covered or turned off, birth affirmation cards were stuck to the walls where I could see them, and the red raspberry leaf tea was brewing. The waterbirth pool we had was really just an extra deep inflatable kiddie-pool. The kind you would put in the back yard on a hot day. It wouldn’t take long to fill, so we decided it was too early to start. As much as I wanted the relief that being in warm water would bring, I knew that if I got in too early it could slow down my labor.
I needed to remain as mobile as possible until a good pattern of strong contractions was established.
Much to my surprise this didn’t take long. My midwife had brought her 2 year old son with her from the US and the boys were playing loudly, as boys do– so I knew it was time to send them to my downstairs neighbor’s condo where they could play.
I was at the point in my labor where things were starting to get more intense– this was probably “active labor”– the point where the noise was beginning to upset me and my labor. So, we sent them down to play and I got down to business.
Awhile later (who knows how long– remember the clocks were hidden!) they got the pool set up (it was inflated about a week before) and the hot water started coming– from the bathroom, from the other bedroom, from the tea kettle, from the stove.
My contractions were getting to the point where breathing through them was very difficult– standing and curling the toes on my right foot seemed to be my favorite way to cope with the pain. I had had back labor with my first son, and this labor had brought the same– with my first labor it was so excruciating that I didn’t even feel the contractions in my lower abdomen. Luckily though it wasn’t as intense this time and I felt the contractions more in front than in my back– or perhaps I knew what to expect and was able to cope better, able to relax more.
During my whole labor I had been drinking tea and peeing regularly– but soon it started to get difficult and painful to pee and I asked my midwife to catheterize my bladder as I thought maybe it was getting too full– but in retrospect I think the baby’s head was blocking my urethra so that didn’t help at all. Since I was getting impatient waiting for the tub to fill up, I finally just hopped in when it was half full.
Oh the relief!
When you are at the end of pregnancy and feel as heavy as an elephant, even rolling onto your side or trying to sit up takes great energy– so when I hit the water I realized very quickly that I was able to move around as if I weighed nothing, since the water is so supportive. I think I was in transition at this point and weathered the contractions pretty well considering we were nearing the end.
I, of course, had no idea where I was in my labor (I hadn’t had any vaginal exams), but I know I was well into Labor-Land by that point and was focused inward. In between contractions I rested, took sips of water and tea, and then when I felt a contraction starting I would open my eyes, read whichever birth affirmation was in my line of sight, and focus on the words as I breathed and wiggled through the intensity of the contraction.
At some point during a contraction my water broke with an audible pop and a gush of amniotic fluid. There was light meconium in the fluid, but not enough for any of us to worry. I definetly didn’t like the intense feeling of the bag breaking as it felt like it pushed really hard on my cervix. It probably helped me to dilate some more, but it did not feel good, did not feel like a relief of pressure, as some women say.
I decided it was time to call my friend and downstairs neighbor, Dionne, to come take photos.
This was extremely important to me as I didn’t want her to miss out on taking photos of the baby crowning and the birth itself. I think that being a midwife myself created this intense desire to be able to SEE it happening later when it was all over. (I watched through a mirror when my first son crowned, but didn’t retain the image as well as I would have if I hadn’t had the photos to look at later). She ended up being with us for the last hour and took amazing photos that I will always cherish. (If you are unsure you want photos taken, take them anyway– you can always burn or delete them later!)
All of a sudden I felt my body pushing. My baby wanted to come out, and I couldn’t wait to meet him. My midwife asked if I wanted her to check me to make sure I was completely dilated. I agreed (as this would be my first and only) and she quickly checked me as I lay in the water. She found that there was no cervix left, meaning I was 10 cms dilated and ready to push when my body told me to.
The first couple pushes seemed to be completely out of my control, as if my baby and my uterus were working together, without my permission!
They took my breath away, quite literally, as I yelled to my midwife, “I can’t breathe!!!” She reminded me that of course I could breathe just fine, and so I went back to work. Being a midwife, I had an urge to know how things were progressing, so I kept two fingers in my vagina from the moment I started to push. I wanted to feel his head and know that he was in fact moving down with each push. By doing this I was able to hold his head as he crowned and try my best to support my labia, which was being stretched beyond imagination– the burning was unbelievable (this was the hardest part for me– good thing it only lasted seconds!).
Meanwhile my midwife was providing rectal pressure and my husband’s hands were also down there ready to catch his son.
I felt that someone was poking me, and I yelled at both of them to “stop poking me!” They both said that they weren’t doing anything of the sort, and it turns out it was probably my baby’s hand, as we believe he was presenting not just head first, but head & hand first! Soon his head slid out into my hand and all I could think about was that it was almost over. As we waited for another contraction, Pascual’s head hung out in the water and his body rotated to face my husband. On the next contraction his body slid out into his papa’s waiting hands. Gilbert remembered to bring him up face down so Pascual wouldn’t get a mouthful of water on his way up.
He was placed on my belly where I immediately saw that he had a very tight cord around his little neck. Poor guy’s head was pretty blue! I told Gilbert to push him back down a bit so I had enough slack to unloop the cord from his neck (it only went around once) and once I did, my midwife and I gently went to work rubbing his back and suctioning his nose and mouth to get him going. Little Dude was so full of mucus he needed a minute or so to cough it all up. We had oxygen at the ready, but my midwife did such an efficient job of suctioning him that he came around quickly and we didn’t use it. His color returned to normal and his tone improved and we were left to snuggle and get a good look at eachother.
Most people feel the need to hear a good cry to know everything is alright, but babies can in fact be happy & healthy without having to scream their heads off.
Pascual didn’t make a peep– this isn’t uncommon with waterbirths– he was so calm, quiet and alert, just looking at mama and his surroundings. In fact we didn’t even hear a cry until sometime in the night when I didn’t get the nipple into his mouth fast enough! He was gorgeous! I couldn’t believe he was in my arms already. I kept saying, “I can’t believe I just did that. I can’t believe what we just accomplished. I am completely amazed at my abilities and feel like I could do anything.”
Studies have shown that planned home births are as safe, if not safer, than hospital births for low-risk women, but we have built such a culture of fearsurrounding childbirth that it doesn’t shock me one bit that so few women plan homebirths. When you are pregnant, people feel the need to share mainly the horror stories with you. I invite you to look outside the box and talk with people who have had unmedicated births (in hospitals, homes and free standing birth centers) with little to no intervention and you will quickly figure out that birth can be a peaceful and extremely gratifying experience.
Many cultures treat birth as a pathological, medical event– but it shouldn’t be approached this way every time, for every woman.
I will be the first to admit that homebirth isn’t for everyone. There are women who need to be in the hospital for various reasons– women who are not candidates for home birth.
Although cesarean sections are performed much more often than the World Health Organization recommends, they are still necessary to save moms and babies when a true emergency occurs. KL is not the ideal place to have a home birth (traffic being the main problem, and a lack of midwives willing to attend births being another) and it took a LOT of planning and faith on my part to make this all come together for my son’s birth. I had faith in the process of birth, my body, my baby, and in my birth team. Through the work of ibu’s Gentle Birthing Support Group as well as many other individuals, perhaps the climate around birth in KL will continue to change for the better in the years to come. Know that your body knows what it’s doing. Know that you and millions of women do this every year. Know that we have been doing this for centuries.
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Happy birthing everyone!
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