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:
- For this birth, I practiced hypnobirthing, had doula assistance and daily pre-natal yoga. These practices helped me to change my mindset about birth, to approach it with an empowered womanhood and intention. Combined with a lot of prayer, meditation, “fear-clearing” and relaxation, I believe these sacred pregnancy and gentle birth practices prepared me well for a natural birth in the hospital, with no medical interventions.
- In hypnobirthing, we (I say “we” because I am now a hypnobirthing convert!) believe that a woman’s body and mind are fully enabled to give birth in a relaxed state. This ultimately relaxed state helps a birthing mother eliminate the fears that cause our bodies to react a certain way towards birth. Marie Mongan (whose book Hypnobirthing: The Mongan Method served as my guidebook along with my doula’s advice) said, “Your birthing will unfold exactly as you see it now… your birthing will happen as you have defined it.”
- As I prepared (only during the last few weeks of the 3rd trimester!) for a gentle birth, I knew what I wanted and defined it: A natural birth, doula- and spouse-assisted hospital birth, using hypnosis for the elimination of fear and management of labor ‘surges’ (not “pain”, as we normally call them), with no or minimal medical intervention. All of my preferences were listed to the detail on my customized birth plan, which I worked on with my doula and my OB-Gyn.
Early labor: Listening to my body (9 hours before birth)
“When the baby is ‘ripe’ and ready, true labor will begin.”
~ Grantly Dick-Read, M.D., Childbirth Without Fear
Around 3AM on January 31 (which was week 40 on the dot, according to my pregnancy calendar), I started to feel surges (the hypnobirthing term for a ‘contraction’) in 7 to 5 minute intervals, and began to see a bloody show. Ton and I called his folks to come over and watch Vito, who was fast asleep, so that he wouldn’t be alone as Ton and I made our way to the hospital. It was an emotional time for Vito, too, who somehow couldn’t get into his usual deep sleep that night. He started to cry and hug me tight when his grandparents arrived, and I felt so bad for him in that moment! I hugged him tight, promised that I’d see him later on that day… with his new baby sister.
With Vito taken care of, we made our way to St. Luke’s Medical Center (which is a short drive from our house) and proceeded to the reception area in the delivery/labor facility while we waited for my doula, Irina Otmakhova, to arrive. We were fully equipped with our hypnobirthing aids: yoga mat, birth ball, extra towels, my stash of chilled coconut water and green juice, and my hypnobirthing tracks playing constantly on my iPhone.
We had to “camp out” in one of the labor area triages, as the hospital was fully booked, including the birthing suite which I had intended to use for this birth. Irina took complete charge, dimming the lights in the cubicle, setting up candles and playing some relaxing birthing music. We were creating my “goddess cave,” a place of safety and complete protection, she said. I believed it wholly and fully; it felt wonderful to think I was “escaping” the world outside and entering a place where I could be alone with my body and my baby. Irina proceeded to give me gentle massage each time a surge came — about 5-3 minutes apart now — and whispered soothing affirmations as I deep-breathed through each one. The surges were still manageable, though getting more intense each time.
By 8 AM— after 4 or so hours waiting in the triage — my husband, Irina and I proceeded to a room in the maternity ward, where I could continue laboring until it was almost time for delivery.
Onset of labor: 4-2 hours before birth
At around 9AM, my surges were consistently 3 minutes apart, and getting more and more intense. My husband and Irina continued to administer gentle massage, back and arm rubs, as we waited in the room. Every now and then, orderlies and residents would come in and out to examine me, and it was during these moments that my hypnobirthing and empowerment practices came into play. In my birth plan, I’d specifically requested minimal interventions: no constant fetal monitoring (so that I could move around during labor, not simply lie flat); no IV (so I could drink my coconut water and juices, and keep naturally hydrated and filled); minimal vaginal exams (because they stressed me out, distracting me from labor). These were honored by the hospital staff, much to their confusion (which amused me).
By 10AM, my OB-Gyn said it was time to transfer to t he labor room, for monitoring of the baby. As I was already at 7 cm, labor could progress rather quickly. Unfortunately, the St. Luke’s Medical Center – Quezon City branch is still rather behind in its practice of doula & partner-assisted labor, so my husband and doula had to remain outside the labor room while the labor staff and my OB-Gyn hooked me up to the fetal monitor for what would be the final hour of monitoring my baby’s activity. (Being away from my partner and doula was the only thing that disappointed me about this process, but it was really due to hospital protocol. Let me just say that we have to work on this and let hospitals be more open to letting partners and doulas assist during labor.)
Thinning and opening phase: Around 1 hour before birth
By 11AM, my surges were really close (2 to 1 minute apart). I still had my hypnobirthing affirmations and music playing on my iPhone, which I was permitted to bring with me in the labor room, so I would just keep them playing on loop. Through hypnosis, I was able to put myself into a state of relaxation as each surge pulsed through me. I’ll be honest, they were really strong, and if I wasn’t completely relaxed, they would have been extremely painful. I could feel Krista coming, as if she was inching closer and closer to the opening. I would talk to her, telling her that she was doing a splendid job and coaxing her to cooperate with my body as she eased down.
From time to time, I would open my eyes and sense that the nursing and labor staff were observing me. (I later on learned that none of them had ever heard about hypnobirthing nor had seen a mom progress this way without an IV, without an oxygen mask or any requests for pain relievers.)
When I was at 9cm dilated, my water broke naturally, and things just progressed really, really quickly. From the labor room, I was wheeled into a triage where my doula and husband would be waiting for me and we would all be ushered into the delivery room. The sight of Irina (after not seeing her for over an hour) — now in scrubs, ready for the delivery room — was a huge relief to me, and she proceeded to stroke my head, whisper the birth affirmations close to my ear, and stroke my hand. My husband, Ton, was also there (also in scrubs), and was all smiles as I reached for him for a hug — one last, long one before I would have to bear down and birth Krista.
Birth! (Hello, Krista!)
In my hypnobirthing exercises, I learned to use a “cue word” so that I could go into a totally hypnotic state of relaxation. My cue word to go into this kind of ultimate relaxation was, well, “Krista”, my daughter’s name. Only Irina and Ton knew that this was her name, after confiding to them during our pre-birth sessions. As I felt Krista quickly coming down (which at this point felt like, literally, the biggest cr*p I’d ever pass!), I kept chanting her name, with my eyes closed, listening to my birth affirmations and the music from my iPhone.
“She’s coming! Crowning!” I heard my OB-Gyn say calmly but firmly, as I was bring lifted into the birthing stirrups. The delivery staff were about to lay me down flat, but I said loudly, “Seat me! I want to sit, I want to sit up for my baby!”
And so they did. No straps, no stirrups; I was propped up with pillows to a semi-seated position and fitted with extra oxygen so that I had more breath to work with.
“Ma’m, your baby’s coming! She’s coming!” said some of the labor staff frantically, as they bustled around here and there, pans banging around and equipment being prepped. My OB-Gyn Jane was probably the only calm one aside from Irina, who was side-hugging me from the left, stroking my head and arms and keeping me relaxed and focused. As for the rest of the DR staff, I started to sense they were all stressing out because I was crowning, so I — literally — shouted at the top of my lungs —
“Everybody, be quiet! I want to hear my music! I want to hear my birth tracks! Shut up, everyone!!”
And you know, they did. They were probably all shocked, and had probably never seen a mother yell at them that way! Haha!
Then, suddenly, I felt the BIGGEST surge ever… heard my OB-Gyn’s voice, saying, “OK, you can now push,“…
… but I didn’t push.
Krista literally came out of me after the biggest surge ever… as if my body “spat” her out, for lack of a better description! (I later on learned that this reflex of my body is called “natural expulsive reflex of the fetus,” where a mother’s body will naturally just open up and “release” her baby without any pushing, much like other mammals — horses, cows, whales, etc. — seemingly birth their young effortlessly.)
And that was it. Krista had arrived.
My body had naturally released my baby at 12:19 PM, January the 31st, 2015. To me and to many of the delivery staff, it was a first. Usually a mother is prepared with an episiotomy before pushing, but I didn’t need one. Some minimal tearing occurred, but nothing serious or damaging, according to my OB-Gyn, Jane, who fixed up the minimal tear quickly. (This procedure was my only medical intervention at this point, as I was given local anaesthesia for the area.)
There were smiles all around, and declarations of amazement at what had occurred. I later learned that Krista was cord-coiled when she came out of me, but because my body was working on its own (and I didn’t force or push her down), the cord did not harm her in any way.
After the birth, I didn’t feel sleepy at all. I knew I was tired from all those hours of labor (from 3AM to 12 NN), but I felt alive and sociable after all that! When I was wheeled into the recovery room, I asked Ton to go down to the french bakery and buy me a bagload of croissants and a baguette! Irina was there, too, and as I rested in recovery, the three of us recalled the last few weeks of birth preparation and the day’s events. By 3PM, we were back in our room in the maternity ward, ready for some sleep.
In the early evening, Vito visited with his grandparents, and met his baby sister for the first time:
I birthed Vito naturally, too, five years ago. I had more medical interventions that time, though, most of them part of hospital protocol. It was a good birth, but not exactly the kind I’d envisioned. Don’t get me wrong: I was glad to have delivered Vito the way I did and in the way I knew how to back then. He, too, was a healthy, good-looking baby. But with this second birth, I was able to take matters into my own hands. I was able to have a say in everything about my birth experience, and I took my birth plan very seriously so that I would have a truly “gentle birth”, the kind of birth I wanted. The daily meditations, prayers and birth affirmations helped to shift my beliefs, to believe that I was a confident, strong woman, to believe that my body was made perfectly to birth children. The daily yoga practice and birth position exercises made me feel in-command over my body, and even made me feel beautiful inside and out. Of course, the loving support of my husband and my doula gave me the assurance that birth needn’t be something I would have to go through alone.
This is my gentle birth story. I hope that it blessed you.
For more information on how you can prepare for a gentle, intentional birth whether at home or in a hospital, visit Conscious Birth Manila