The Home Water Birth of Tala Sunshine

Here it is. The time has finally come for me to put my 3rd birth story on paper. It has been 5 days shy of 4 months since the Earthside arrival of my sweet Tala Sunshine, and I feel I have processed her birth enough to tell her story. The experience was absolute magic and exactly what I had planned. No, things did not look exactly the way I imagined them. You never know what birth will throw at you. However, I controlled this birth. I was in charge of my care and my environment. I was the authority in my own sacred space. In that way, it was exactly what I had planned. This was supported, Mother-led birth.

After the birth of my 2nd son, Xannon, I made the decision to never return to the hospital to birth future babies. I knew birth didn’t belong there for me. I knew I didn’t want to see one single, solitary face of someone I didn’t personally invite to my birth. I didn’t want to hear one single, solitary comment about my decisions from someone who thought I was a being a martyr, or craving attention. (BTW, who the f*** would choose to labor naturally in a foreign environment for attention?!?? Come on, people.) I knew that should another soul join our family, I would be having that baby at home with a midwife who supported Mother-led, physiological birth; and if I couldn’t find one who shared my values, I was having a free birth. I contacted multiple home birth midwives in my area, and met with what would be my dream team. I found a small group of midwives who were open to hearing my birth philosophy, my concerns, my wishes, and my questions who lovingly assured me that they would be as involved as I wanted them to be. THIS is modern maternity care. This is RESPECT. I should not feel like I have to have a free birth (which is absolutely an option) to feel respected during the most intimate and sacred time of my life. Personally, I desired a midwife to join my wise woman circle to support me in my choices.

The morning of July 16, 2018 (40w4d) started off with a weird energy. There is no other way to describe it. The kids were bonkers, I was tired and slow and large and unmotivated to do anything that day… but…. toddlers. Thomas suggested we go for a boat ride to get the kids outside and completely change the scene. Well, it was weird on the water, too! Boats cutting people off left and right, massive green fly swarms, and tricky winds made for aggravating anchoring. The universe was telling us to be home. We decided to head back and had a restful movie day inside (on a sunny, July day on Long Island.)

The boys fell asleep that evening, we did what lovers do, and my contractions started at 10:30PM. They were mild but regular, and assuming this was actually early labor, I was so thankful that it was night time and I could get some sleep before anything picked up. Then, Xannon woke up. Waking at this time was completely out of character for him. He insisted on laying on the couch with me as I timed my waves; leaning/pushing/rubbing on my belly, saying, “ok Mommy?” Children are so incredibly intuitive. He knew something was happening without me saying anything at all. With each wave I had to push him off of me to breathe. I decided to hit the bedroom to sleep, leaving Xannon with Thomas on the couch. IMG_7359

 l laid in bed for about an hour, each wave getting stronger than the last, and requiring serious concentration and deep breathing. No sleep. So I got up to join Tom and Xannon, who were still awake. I went to the bathroom, right on schedule. Then Zephyr woke up! It was like we were in the twilight zone… We made the call that it was time to alert my team at 1:30AM. I needed my mother-in-law to come pick up the kids, my mom to come to start setting up my space, and my midwife, Colleen, to be ready when things got serious. I told Colleen that I’d been having steady contractions since 10:30, and they were now about 4-5 minutes apart. She said she was coming right over. I felt that was premature. It wasn’t. 

Once the kids were taken care of, I was able to focus. My mom and Tom started filling up the birth tub, getting food ready and setting the lighting, oils, music and candles. I was laying on the couch, breathing through my pressure waves that had increased in intensity. Colleen quietly arrived at around 2:00AM, asked how I was doing, assessed the atmosphere, and disappeared from my consciousness to rest herself. We only got about 30 minutes of rest before I couldn’t stay horizontal any longer. The waves picked up to 2-3 minutes very quickly and I used my voice to vibrate through each one. The most comfortable position for me was standing and leaning forward on Tom, slowly rocking through each one. My baby girl was active throughout my entire labor time. I haven’t experienced this with either of my boys. She just wouldn’t stop moving! After every wave, she’d roll, push and kick. Colleen felt my belly at one point to “feel her energy,” and confirmed what I already knew to be true. This was a strong girl with big energy, ready to meet her family. I was talking with Thomas, my mom and Colleen between contractions, sharing laughs and predictions about this little one. At some point the birth assistant arrived, and said something to the effect of, “We’re still smiling! That’s a good sign!” Colleen assured her, “I think she’s going to be smiling this baby out very soon!” IMG_7365

Each wave was more intense than the last, and I moved from standing, to leaning on furniture, to leaning on people, to hands and knees (which was intense, but great. It was here that I peed on a towel on the floor, because anything goes in birth.) 

Then came that feeling… There comes a point in labor when you start to tremble between waves. You feel your bones moving inside of you, and your hormones do a dance that brings your baby down and out. All I could do was keep my vocalizations going, slow and steady, breathing deeply and intentionally, visualizing oxygen filling up my baby, circulating through her, nourishing her entire being. I knew she was being squished and was working just as hard as I was.

It was time to get into the tub, and ohhhhh myyyyyy word, it felt amazing. I laid my head on the side of the tub, on all fours and closed my eyes. The water enveloped me in warmth and safety, and my waves spaced out to give my body a rest. I was complete; there was no need to check my cervix and no one asked to (let alone TOLD me they were going to.) I was trusted and respected. I welcomed the resting period that comes when you’re about to start the pushing stage, and waited for the involuntary urges to start.

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They started. With each strong wave, I felt my bones spacing apart. I felt my baby moving through me and it was intense. I think I said aloud, “oh my God, please just come out.” It felt like there was no way she could come out. It seemed I couldn’t get my legs to spread wide enough for the passage of this baby. I was on all fours, then stretched my right leg up and out to the side, my mom supporting it. Thomas was in the tub behind me, getting quiet direction from Colleen on how to receive the baby I was delivering, with my full blessing. I remember hearing someone excitedly say, “Just like that! Keep going!” and Colleen just calmly saying, “She doesn’t have to do anything, she’s doing exactly what she needs to.” You have no idea what that meant to me. It is what I have been trying to convey to anyone that will listen about physiological birth. You don’t have to DO anything. Birth happens. I was talking out loud to my baby, telling her to please come out, “Come on, Baby.” I was supported, and in my full power when her head was born. Then came her body. Thomas slid/floated her through my legs in front of me so I could bring her to my chest. She was wrapped in umbilical cord like a little tamale. She did it. I did it. Tala Sunshine was here at 5:38AM after 7 hours of labor.IMG_7360IMG_7363IMG_7364

The birth of the placenta was 20-30 minutes later. I think. My concept of time is totally skewed, so we’ll just say 30 minutes. We stayed in the tub for that time just relishing in our baby girl, high on oxytocin, overflowing with love and admiration. The water of the tub was tinged with blood, but wasn’t a concern to me at all. This is normal and I had nothing to fear. I checked in with myself and I felt great and strong. With a bit of herbal tincture and a cough, the placenta came out 95% of the way. I wasn’t expecting that. I patiently waited for the rest to just fall out and it didn’t. It seemed like there was still a thin string of membrane attached or something. I climbed out of the tub, Tala latched on easily and nursed for the first time. Having my placenta hanging out of me was annoying to say the least, so I agreed to allow Colleen to gently free it from my body with careful, skillful expertise. So that was a thing. A small thing, but a thing worth mentioning. The atmosphere stayed calm, and relaxed the entire time, and no one sounded any alarms that weren’t warranted. No one brought their own fears into my space. It was truly the birth I knew I could have and deserved.

This birth was healing and validating. I drove the ship. I chose a respectful team for their clinical observation, my mother in law as loving caretaker for my older children and my mom for her nurturing heart and unparalleled skills for ambiance. My life partner, Thomas, supported my every move, from the midwife interview to passing Tala into my arms. He trusted in my ability to birth freely with authority and autonomy. I am forever grateful for this man.

This is my dream birth story. Your perfect birth might be in a hospital, or birth center or home. You might feel your power with a huge team, or a small team. Just know that you have options. Don’t allow the phrases, “they wont let me,” or “am I allowed to,” or “I want to try to,” leave your lips. You’ve got this. Prepare your inner voice with confidence and encouraging mantras. I’ve learned to lose the term “empower.” I can’t give you power, or make you feel like you are acquiring power. It is in you already, oppressed and suppressed. We need to show birthing people to draw from their power within. Birth in your power. Watch the videos, look at the pictures, choose a supportive team and I promise you will birth consciously.

With Love,

Malarie

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The Birth of Nora Katherine

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This is a very special guest post provided by my dear friend, Amy. She has a unique perspective to share, as she chose a hospital water birth with midwives to welcome her sweet girl into the world. I know you will be inspired by her story and strength as much as I was. I might have cried.

Amy writes,

“I found my OBGYN office like I think most women do- convenient location and hours.  When I found out I was pregnant with my baby girl, I initially had no reservations about continuing with my current providers.  They had always been kind and gentle with my uneventful yearly check ups.  For the early few months of my pregnancy I continued there with routine check ups and ultrasounds.  I loved the nurse practitioner caring for me but it soon clicked that this would not be the person in the delivery room with me.  It wasn’t until the 2nd trimester that I met the two doctors working for the practice, only after I pushed to be scheduled with them at the front office.  

I was very fortunate to have a community of strong moms around me who had non-medicated births with no interventions.  They opened my eyes to books written by Ina May Gaskin, and to the Business of Being Born documentary. I soon began to question why things were being done at my OBGYN office.  Appointments always seemed so rushed and I wasn’t really given the opportunity to ask questions until the exam was finished.  I remember telling my OB that I was preparing myself for an un-medicated birth. I asked if she had experience with this type of delivery and for any advice she could give me.  Rather than helping me toward my goal, she told me that I was silly for making a plan and that we’d have to “just see how things go”.   I knew that without a plan my personality would feel lost and out of control.  I had asked for hip opening exercises because I had a hip injury that worried me for labor and she told me that she strongly recommended I get an epidural so “I wouldn’t be flailing all over the table” during delivery (startling for many reasons, one of which was that I had planned to deliver in any position other than laying down on a hospital bed).   Another woman in my prenatal yoga class had the same provider and talked about how they scheduled her induction because the hospital was really busy during the time of year she was due and they didn’t want to run the risk of there not being a bed for her.  I asked if I could be allowed to go past my due date as long as everything was healthy with the baby and placenta, and was told 10 days was their policy and beyond that I would have to get an induction.  At this point there were so many red flags that I told my husband I needed to switch providers at 34 weeks pregnant.  It didn’t make sense to me why decisions were being made about a hypothetical future problem when my pregnancy had been so healthy and uneventful.  Worse yet, I was not being given options with risks and benefits to make my own decisions, but was being told what I “had” to do.   I consider this my first “mom-gut” decision.  Looking back on this whole experience I’m not quite sure why making this switch was so emotional for me.  Healthcare providers are there to work for YOU.  I continue to feel this way about my daughter’s pediatric care.  I am the parent and it is my job to make parenting decisions.  It is my pediatrician’s job to help me make sure these decisions are done in the safest way possible.   

I was treated so differently at the Midwives office.  I wasn’t made to feel like a patient with a problem but as a perfectly healthy pregnant woman.  All procedures were run by me first and I felt fully in control of my care.  The majority of each appointment was dedicated to answering any questions I had, talking about my goals during the birth and discussing ways to make my goals a reality.  I took a birth course with a local doula and it was the first time having a water birth was ever discussed with me.  I had swam during my whole pregnancy to stay active and the thought of having Nora in the water just seemed right.  My midwives were very excited to help me and I made the next best decision of my pregnancy at 36 weeks pregnant- I hired my doula.  My OBGYN practice had actually encouraged me not to work with a doula because they saw it as an insult to the labor and delivery nurses who were perfectly capable of caring for me.  My midwife felt just the opposite.  In her experience, your doula is not there to be in the way but to be your advocate when you’re in transition and can’t talk or when your husband needs to run to use the bathroom!  Doulas work with your nurses to make sure you are not only medically taken care of but emotionally supported.    

Okay so now to the actual birth story!  One week before Nora arrived I began having strong Braxton-Hicks contractions that felt like electric shocks down my inner thighs and a general feeling of exhaustion.  I no longer wanted to attend my yoga classes or lap swim.  Friday, August 25, I woke up at 5am to mild burning menstrual-like cramps deep in my pelvis.  I soon realized that these were contractions!  I wanted to labor at home as long as possible and worked to keep my mind off early labor, so I went off to work.  By the time I went home at 1pm I found that while I could still talk through the surges, it brought my mind inward and I could no longer multitask.  I had to start using the tools I had learned to relax through contractions.  I spent time on an exercise ball or kneeling next to the couch.  My husband and I went for a walk but only made it half way around our neighborhood before we realized it was making my contractions more intense and I was having difficulty continuing.  Back home I tried taking a shower, but again, the pressure of the water on my back made the surges far too intense.  I tried laboring on the toilet (a position a friend of mine swore by) and I ended up breaking the toilet! (Such a fun surprise to come home from the hospital 2 days later to!)  We settled on a bath and I was able to breathe through contractions.  Around 8pm I had run out of ideas for tools to use to relax through the labor and we called our doula, Rose, and our midwives. Everyone agreed it was time to go to the hospital.  Matt and I wanted to wait as long as absolutely possible because we knew it would give us the best chance at an uninterrupted labor and birth.  I was slightly nervous we were arriving too soon since my contractions were shorter in length (only 30-45 seconds) but were at this point happening every 5 minutes for about 2 hours.  

We got everything into the car and I sat in the backseat in child’s pose.  At this point we realized that any movement caused the contractions to speed up!  Matt was worried while driving to the hospital that this baby may just be coming in the car because contractions had sped up to only 2 minutes apart.  We pulled up to the hospital and met our doula.  I just remember feeling intensely excited.  Matt and I had developed a birth plan that the hospital very respectfully followed.  I refused an IV and vaginal exams after the initial triage exam.  I asked to be interrupted as infrequently as possible and to avoid questions like rating my pain during labor.  What I believe was most helpful for my experience was asking that no one tell me how dilated I was.  I worried that the number would disappoint me and I would focus on progressing at a certain rate rather than just leaning into the experience.  The nurse hadn’t even started the exam but watched me have a contraction and said “well it looks like you’ll be staying here with us tonight!”  

We settled into our delivery room and the nurses immediately started filling our birth pool (which took a LONG time to fill!).  While I read a lot of birth books, in the moment I couldn’t remember any of the positions that were supposed to help me relax during labor!  Our doula, Rose, stepped in and helped guide Matt and I through different suggestions.  I found leaning into Matt and swaying during contractions very helpful and also leaned over the raised hospital bed while Rose put pressure on my hips.  Once the pool was filled I got in and loved the relief the weightless feeling gave me.  Swaying in the water during the surges was definitely what felt most comfortable to me and I could then rest my head on the side of the pool in between.  I had absolutely no concept of time passing.  At one point Rose suggested we try getting out of the pool, and very quickly after, my water broke with an audible pop on the exercise ball.  After this event, I could feel Nora in my bones.  I got back into the water.  I remember looking up at Rose during what I now can recognize as transition and telling her I didn’t know if I could do this. I vividly remember telling her “this sucks” to which she replied “It’s going to get worse before it gets better”.  This was weirdly exactly what I needed to hear- no sugar coating the situation.  She continued putting pressure on my hips while Matt held my hands and continued to tell me our mantra: Relax and Open.  I focused on the idea that each contraction was one less until we met our baby and that I was working toward a medication free birth for her health and safety.  A few times throughout the night a nurse would come and monitor the baby’s heart beat while I stayed in the pool.  Her heartbeat was always strong and steady so I never questioned that she could do this.  The room was dark and for most of the night the only people near me were my husband and doula.  It allowed me to feel relaxed and safe.

Transition was intense and seemed to last longer than the entire labor experience. There were less breaks between contractions, but the amazing thing about contractions is that you can feel them grow and subside, like a wave, so you know they will end and can prepare yourself for the next one.  Toward the end of transition I looked up at Rose and asked her if I was close.  She said I was (at this point the room was filled with nurses and our midwife but I really had no idea).  I worried that I was barely dilated, which turned out to be pretty irrational since I had checked into the hospital at 6cm, -2 and fully effaced.  During labor you are in your own world.  What I didn’t know was that our midwife had another delivery at a different hospital and was not sure if she would make it for our delivery.  The hospital paged an OBGYN on call.  Rose, knowing our wishes for minimal interventions and a water birth, immediately pulled a nurse aside and told them to find me a midwife because I had no plans of leaving the water to push on a hospital bed.  If she had not been there to advocate for me, this news would have sent me into a panic!  Luckily our midwife made it with time to spare.

All of a sudden my contractions stopped.  I found myself grunt at the end of a contraction which hadn’t happened before.  I asked our midwife, Pam, if it was time to push and started worrying about how to best push to avoid tearing or be most efficient.  Pam told me to get out of my own head and push if it felt right.  I could no longer feel the wave of my contractions and found it hard to figure out when to push.  In most birth stories I had read women talk about their sudden intense need to push or intense pressure.  My experience was more like a sudden lack of intensity and contractions.  Matt got into the birth tub with me and I sat between his legs.  He helped hold my knees so I would have something to push against.  I found this stage of labor both scary and extremely satisfying.  It was great to have an active role in labor after trying to passively relax during contractions and let my body do the work.  It felt powerful to yell as I pushed and try to focus my energy.  After just a few pushes I could feel Nora’s head emerging and reached down and felt her.  30 minutes or so of pushing later, Nora slid out into the water and I was able to pick her up and place her on my chest.  Picking her up was the most exhilarating and surreal moment of my life.  I was in utter disbelief that my body had worked so well and that my baby had been so strong and powerful during the entire labor.

We left the pool and I had to have a few very minor stitches.  I was oblivious to what was going on as I held Nora and watched her rub her face with her hands and look directly at me, so alert.  We refused the hepatitis vaccine while at the hospital and did not let the nurses bathe Nora, allowing us to have uninterrupted skin to skin cuddles with our baby.  Matt and I soaked her in.  Looking back, I’m so thankful for the team we chose to surround ourselves with.  The entire experience left me feeling so strong and I truly feel that I delivered Nora.  Without their support and confidence we would not have had the opportunity to have the birth we wanted.”

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Death of the Maiden, Birth of the Mother

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I’ve been reflecting on “stuff” during these last few weeks of pregnancy with my third baby in 4 years. In my 31 years of life, I can’t think of a more life altering, ground shaking experience than becoming a mother. 

I look back on pictures from 8..7..6..5… years ago and am honestly shocked at how different I am. I look different. If I thought I was “fat” then, then where the hell does that put me now? I’m wearing make up, my hair is blonde and is blow dried in beachy waves. I’m probably on the train headed to the city with my (then) boyfriend for a $500 night of food, drink, friends and music. How can so much change in such a short time?

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When we decided to have a baby, my husband and I were actually standing in a crowd of young, drunk, loud, and annoying people in NYC waiting for a show to start. We kind of just looked at each other and said, “wanna go home?” We were just over it. It was like a new chapter was screaming to be written and it was time for us to make a big change. Along came Zephyr’s pregnancy. 

I remember crying pretty hysterically during the drive to Christmas Eve at my in-laws, passing all of the lights and decorations. I didn’t know exactly what triggered the tears, but I thought it must be my crazy hormones at 2 months pregnant and there was nothing to worry about. Tom insisted there was something more than hormones at play (he’s so smart) and we had a long talk in the car in the driveway. I was mourning. The idea of this year being the last Christmas we spend as a couple rattled my heart and soul. We weren’t going to be a couple anymore. Our life is literally perfect; what on Earth am I doing changing that? Why did we think change would be a good thing when I’m so happy now? I like casually waking up when we feel like it and spending days off together, day drinking, shopping, boating, beaching, eating out, going on random winery trips and whatever the hell else we felt like doing on a whim. The thought of changing “us” was really sad to me all of a sudden.

Of course, those feelings faded back, and those of excitement, joy, and wonder of this new life came to the forefront for the rest of my pregnancy. We became parents to an Earthside baby months later, and life certainly was “different.” My birth itself disempowered me and made me doubt myself. I wasn’t in charge of anything, and I looked everywhere but inside myself for validation that I was “doing it right,” or “is this normal?” Someone else was the authority of this experience I was having, and the only reason I was there at all was because I was the machine to crank out this little human that would soon be separated from me for hours to be “cared for” by more qualified staff. Read Zephyr’s full birth story here. I went on to endure a less than ecstatic post partum time with my first son. I was overwhelmed, in shock of how drastically my life had changed, exhausted, emotionally scarred by the torturous genital mutilation I consented to for my perfect baby and the care and pain it required for weeks after, anxiety over having anyone else touch him, fear of him being saddened and confused by my absence should I steal an hour to myself doing God knows what (probably shower or something.) 

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Oh, Malarie from 4 years ago, you are not alone. So many moms feel this way, and there is a good reason for it. (Partners have their own unique experience during this time, and again, I will definitely delve into that further in the future!) The intensity, overwhelm, strength-testing, reach-to-the- bottom-of-your-soul-to-get-to-the-next-minute roller coaster that is CHILD BIRTH is meant to prepare you for your next phase of life. It is not supposed to be easy, or painless because motherhood is not easy nor painless. No one can make decisions for you in the middle of the night when your judgement is the only one that matters. No one loves your baby or has better intentions than you do. Your carefree days of Maidenhood, consumed with self centered play, work and rest have morphed into this insane world of Motherhood that feels so heavy with responsibility, fear, doubt and love. When you give birth, you are also born. You have birthed the mother within you, and you will never be the same. 

No wonder I look different in those old pictures. I am different. There is no such thing as “bouncing back,” or “getting my old body back,” or “pre-pregnancy shape,” and all of that other bullsh*t that you see on social media. You can be healthy and still have reverence for your body, the vessel that crafted your children and birthed them. You don’t have to transform into this super human who never had an 8 lb person inside of them. There is no such thing as, “you should be happy because all that matters is a healthy baby and mom!” or “don’t worry about not being able to breastfeed, there is always formula,” or enjoy this time, it goes by so fast!” or “these are best days of your life.” People mean well, but these comments are so dismissive. Sometimes all a newly postpartum mom needs to hear is, “how are you feeling/adjusting?” and “I know how hard this is,” and “you are doing an amazing job,” and “let me bring you dinner tonight.”

I’ve learned that my fears of life change were warranted because it surely did change. I sacrificed my work, my independence, my time, and my body for my babies… but life didn’t end. It just changed. Malarie, the Maiden, had gone, and the Mother emerged. With Motherhood came a practice of mindfulness and awakening that I can only credit to my first child. My life has changed for the better in every way. I learned what real difficult decision making looks like. I learned what real research looks like (it isn’t google or our stellar governmental recommendations.) I learned how important the communication skills my husband and I fostered way back at the start of our relationship would be once we had a baby.

I suppose I could continue rambling on about this, but I want to leave you with encouragement and support. You are not alone in this, your feelings are valid, there is nothing wrong with you, and your real friends will understand and be there for you even after you fall into the black hole that is new motherhood without shaming you for it. After all, this change also teaches you about the greatest joys and love that you will ever know. Its a trip.

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Belly Birth

At a time when we are taking back agency over our births and demanding more physiological practices, those who have experienced alternative birth scenarios are reflecting on their own experiences. It is so important that we ALL share our birth stories. Every birth is sacred. Some may be scarier, more traumatic, or more blissful. Some may result in loss, or an extended NICU stay. All of it is spiritual, and in that respect, every birthing person should be revered as the incredible portal that they are.

Sharing experiences of undisturbed, physiological birth is not shaming those who have had surgical birth. Some people who have had cesareans may feel as if they failed in some way, or their body did not perform, or they just could not do it (see previous post on undisturbed birth). While all of these feeling are valid and are to be respected, I want you to know that these experiences do not define your inherent ability to birth. Sometimes, the best decision for everyone involved is to swerve from your “birth plan” and go another route. Perhaps a c-section is preferable to someone who has experienced sexual trauma. Maybe baby or mom is showing true signs of distress and there is no other option for safe delivery. My wish is that birthing people understand that THEY are the ones in charge of their care. That they are fully informed of all concerns, options and choices. That, at the end of the day, they were the ones who decided with full confidence that a c-section was the right choice for them. We need to demand the end of coercion and bullying, and start to see surgical births used only when necessary. 

People who undergo surgical birth are absolute heroes. Warriors. Badass. They endure so much emotionally, physically and spiritually. What I still can not believe is that people think having a c-section is no big deal. They say it is routine, it is done all the time, it is safe. In reality, the recovery is unlike anything a brand new parent should have to go through. Breastfeeding is often painful and basic movement can be impossible. Sometimes handling baby is too much to bear. Bonding with your baby can become overwhelming, and your post partum hormones are no help with this. None of this should be taken lightly when confronted with the decision to go ahead with surgical birth, because it is not routine. It is a big deal, and these parents should be praised for the sacrifices they made for the entrance of their babies into the world. 

Fighting for increased rates of vaginal birth does not undermine these other birth experiences. We need informed consent to be celebrated. We need truthful explanation of all interventions from our trusted care providers. We need education on the outcomes of using labor “enhancers” (pitocin). We need doctors to think about the post partum time for their expectant parents, and not their weekend plans being ruined by a spontaneous vaginal birth. We need people to take charge of their own experiences and not be afraid to present current research to their care providers. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and be truthful about your wishes. Look up the cesarean rate of the hospital you are considering and compare it to other areas. Know that a birth with more interventions, and more medical management does not mean a safer birth. Don’t be afraid to change your provider. They may be a wonderful gynecologist that you love, but may not be right for your birth team. This is OK! We need practitioners to be trained in BREECH birth once again, and restore this variation of normal. (FYI, there is nothing wrong with a baby with breech presentation, and there is nothing you did wrong if you had a breech baby! We simply don’t have trained providers who are comfortable with this type of delivery, resulting in parents contemplating few options they are comfortable with, ultimately deciding on surgery. This needs to change.)

If a cesarean birth is in your future, know that you are still the one delivering your baby. You are a powerful force. You are playing an active role in your birth, and should be shown the same respect as any other person welcoming their baby into the world. 

 

Here are some things you can advocate for to ensure your sacred surgical birth is honored:

Exclaim with enthusiasm your desire for a gentle/family centered cesarean. You can insist on your doula’s presence for decreasing anxiety and to photograph the moment. This is a birth where no one is strapped down to a table. A clear drape can be requested (or asked to lower drape) so you can see the birth of your child. The medical staff has been asked to save their personal side conversations for after the birth and immediate post partum, and honor the silence for the new family to bond and experience the emergence of life. (Listening to Dr. Larry plan his golf weekend while you lay on a cold table awaiting the arrival of your life changing human being is NOT respect.) Your music that you carefully selected can be played in the OR, easing your mind and setting the tone. You’ve reminded everyone in the room that you and your partner wish to discover the sex of your baby, and don’t want anyone cheering about a boy or a girl. You can save your placenta (this is your property, and is NOT medical waste- more to come in a future post!) You can request a vaginal swab to inoculate your baby delivered via c-section, with your flora to develop babies healthy microbiome and immune system. Your baby can be cleaned and weighed as per your request, and not taken immediately from you. Immediate skin to skin. Delayed cord clamping. Not hatting baby. Breastfeeding in OR if baby shows willingness. The possibilities are endless if we start demanding them. Parents who own their births are fierce. They know how to take charge and make change. Explain how important it is to you, and if your requests are scoffed at, or denied, then FIRE that practitioner. There are more out there. There are compassionate doctors and midwives who want their clients to have the birth they desire. 

You are amazing, you are powerful, you are a force to be reckoned with, and you are worthy of basking in the glory of your beautiful belly birth.

The “Humongous Baby” Phenomenon

Oh, if ever there was a lie I wish care providers would stop telling women, it would be that “your baby is just too big for your body.” This is the most degrading, and inaccurate thing you can instill in a woman who is about to embark on motherhood. It immediately crushes her confidence, erases the faith she had in her body, makes her question what she did wrong, and insinuates that she is, in fact, defective and inadequate.

I have heard this explanation from countless women, who are bullied into inductions and cesarians. They truly believe that if they choose to refuse surgery or a premature induction, they are putting their baby at risk for catastrophe. THIS IS NOT TRUE. It is just not true. Anecdotally, all of these women I spoke with proceeded to give birth to 7lb-8.5 lb babies. Your care provider saying things such as, “your baby is too big,” or “wow, baby is getting big!” or “this should be fun, baby is already measuring 8 lbs!” are warning signs for you. They are giant red flags that are simply not based in evidence, and should make you question their intentions. If the comments are followed by suggestions for scheduling an induction at 38, 39 weeks (well before baby is of mature gestation) or jumping straight to a c-section date, then please know your rights, your baby’s rights to be born when they are ready, and the EVIDENCE.

When a “big baby” is suspected, care providers fear shoulder dystocia. This is an event where baby’s head is born, and passing of the shoulders becomes difficult, and may require outside assistance for fear that baby isn’t getting enough oxygen. This is a huge cause of litigation for care providers if there is nerve damage, or other issues at birth. Here is the actual evidence based information you need to know regarding shoulder dystocia:

“One high-quality study showed that in in non-diabetic women, shoulder dystocia happened to 0.65% of babies who weighed less than 8 lbs., 13 oz. (6.5 cases out of 1,000 births), 6.7% of babies who weighed between 8 lbs., 13 oz. and 9 lbs., 15 oz. (60 out of 1,000), and 14.5% of babies who weighed 9 lbs., 15 oz. or greater (145 out of 1,000) (Rouse et al. 1996).”

Most care providers aren’t aware of how to naturally assist the woman in dealing with a shoulder dystocia. Typically, in the US, a woman is forced to lie on her back with her legs spread to push her baby out against gravity, through a birth canal blocked by the compressed coccyx, while being yelled at to hold her breath and count to ten, and try not to pass out. When a birthing person can move freely (only possible if she hasn’t been coerced into an epidural) she will naturally assume a position that allows the passing of her baby through an open birth canal. Yes, even 11 lb. babies are born this way.

Ina May Gaskin learned a commonly used Guatemalan technique to reducing shoulder dystocia. The technique is encouraging an “all fours” position, and the baby can efficiently be born without intervention. In a study, Gaskin et al. discovered: “the incidence of shoulder dystocia was 1.8%, and half of the newborns weighed > or = 4,000 g. Sixty-eight women (83%) delivered without the need for any additional maneuvers. The mean diagnosis-to-delivery interval was 2.3 +/- 1.0 (SD) minutes (range, 1-6). No maternal or perinatal mortality occurred. Morbidity was noted in only four deliveries: a single case of postpartum hemorrhage that did not require transfusion (maternal morbidity, 1.2%), one infant with a fractured humerus and three with low Apgar scores (neonatal morbidity, 4.9%). All morbidity occurred in cases with a birth weight > 4,500 g (P = .0009).”

The problem is that women are simply not encouraged to move during labor. They are not encouraged to assume a hand and knees position. They are not encouraged to labor on the toilet, or in water, or in any other position that a birthing person would naturally take in her own time if left undisturbed. They certainly are not encouraged by their providers, or their society that they can handle the intensity of child birth, and that they were perfectly designed to deliver the babies their bodies crafted. The hips loosen throughout pregnancy, and even more so during actual labor time. The body softens, and unless mother is told she is inadequately built and doesn’t try natural birth, the body releases a baby without complication.

Another huge component in this fear factory, is the use of faulty technology to come to the conclusion that you are carrying baby Sasquatch! Ultrasound has a ~+/-2 lb margin of error! 4 lbs! When your provider “measures” your baby at 38 weeks and says, “yikes, already an 8 pounder in there!” your sweet baby could be growing comfortably at 6 lbs, on track to be born when she decides at 41 weeks 3 days at a perfectly AVERAGE weight, with fully formed lungs and capacity to efficiently suckle, that you are more than capable of birthing.

The evidence just does not support evicting a premature baby (because anyone born before they released hormones saying, “I’m ready to come out!” is premature for their own development) simply because they are suspected to be large. Do your own research, never live by the confines of fear, follow your instincts, trust your baby, trust your body and its ability to birth.

I’ll leave you with this little gem 🙂

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/kelly-corsetti-gives-birth-to-one-of-largest-newborns-ever-in-northern-california/

The Importance of Undisturbed Birth

*trigger warning* birth trauma

I’m sure, by now, you have heard me use the term “undisturbed birth.” It has been scientifically proven time and time again that when women are left alone to birth their babies, there are less negative outcomes. In most cases, the very scary and traumatic events that happen during birth (the ones you see in movies, and the ones you’ve heard from your mom and sister) are actually caused by some other outside force, energy, or intervention. Most times, those scary births are simply caused because they took place in a hospital.. the very place that is supposed to make you feel safe and cared for.

Before you jump up and down yelling at me about how birth is inherently dangerous and women have been dying in childbirth left and right before modern medicine, understand that these are myths that have been disproven. Scare tactics have to be swept away now that we know better. When you know better, you DO better. Another disclaimer: I am not demonizing medical professionals or hospitals! Western medicine is a miracle for when things go WRONG. When there is trauma, disease, or you see red flags, hospitals are there for you. My husband, mother, close friends and myself are medical professionals. These workers want nothing but the best for you, but are constrained by a broken system. It is a system designed to minimize liability, produce “good patients,” make $$$$ and crank people in and out at a rapid pace.

OK, now that we’re on the same page (or in the same book)…

Imagine how every single mammal on this planet gives birth. Cats, dogs, giraffes, pigs, and horses all birth their babies without doubting their ability to do so. They don’t choose the sunny bay window, the open plain, or the middle of the crowded sidewalk to birth their young. Across the board, you will see mammals escape to dim, cavelike, cozy, warm, solitary places to labor and deliver their little ones. Why? The promise of safety. All of the hormones required to birth safely, bearably and efficiently are flowing when mother feels safe. She is not being watched, timed, pressured, confronted, pinched, penetrated, or tethered. When these stifling things happen, the hormones HALT. Hormones are birth. As a matter of fact, birth can not happen without them. Humans are the only species that routinely and willingly birth in captivity. We are the ONLY ones who feel outside validation and assistance are required to do this “terrifying” thing. Our ability to birth effectively relies on our ability to come into our own power and demand to be undisturbed unless a true emergency arrises.

The “cascade of interventions” has been studied extensively. It is not my opinion, it is fact. The cascade looks something like this:

Mom has been laboring at home, pacing the floor, packing last minute items, and is nervous, but so excited to be in labor. Her partner is running around the house, also packing, calling family, and calling the doctor to let him know that “we’re in labor.” Although the contractions are manageable at home, they decide to get to the hospital, because they don’t know what they are doing, and should be surrounded by people who can deliver this baby. So they drive to the hospital, with mom getting increasingly nervous because her pain worsens with every passing minute and, damn, we still have 20 minutes to go, and if I have my baby in the car it will die. Thanking God above, they reach the hospital and check in with a cold clerk who offers no comfort or empathy for laboring mom. Mom is told to sit in a wheelchair, because she is a patient now and shouldn’t be walking (despite the extreme discomfort of pressure on her rectum, and squishing the baby in her birth canal.) They reach the labor space, and the lights are bright, the nurses are understaffed and hustling ass all over the place, the beeps are loud and concerning, and the smells are sterile and rancid at the same time. Mom has an IV placed, and a continuous fetal monitor strapped to her swollen abdomen. She can’t eat to fuel the marathon she is currently running, or drink to hydrate without swelling up. Mom can’t move around freely anymore, and she is told to stay in the bed so they can keep an eye on the baby’s heart rate. This is all getting a bit scary and stressful, but it must be for a good reason. Ah, THIS, is safety.

“False.” -Dwight Schrute

This is not safety. The second mom was sentenced to her wheelchair, and treated as a sick and helpless patient, her hormones halted. Something in her primitive brain said, I don’t feel right, and this isn’t safe. The bright lights told her brain that “predators can see you, and you can not birth here right now. Find a dark corner, and find it fast.” As a society we have forgotten these biological laws.

Laboring mom gets a cervical exam to determine how far along she is. Yikes, only 4 cm. “Thats ok, we’ll check back in an hour or 2, and we’ll see how you’re doing!” After an hour of laboring in this bright, noisy environment, with multiple interruptions from staff for questioning and chatting, mom is checked again. “You’re still at 4 cm, and you’re just not progressing. We can give you a little Pit (pitocin is synthetic oxytocin) to get things moving along. Everyone agrees, and now her contractions are HARD. They are abruptly longer, stronger, sharper and more intense than before, and the pain becomes too much to bear. She needs an epidural. She feels defeated, and weak, but is looking forward to relief. With the pain meds, she feels relief and can rest. Now her blood pressure starts to drop because of the epidural, and oxygenation of the baby is now compromised. Baby shows decelerations on the monitor and is in distress. Its time for an emergency C-section. Mom and Dad are thanking their lucky stars that they were in the hospital for this birth. The doctor saved their baby’s life.

This scenario is so common that its scary. One intervention causes the next, which causes the next complication, and at the end of it all, the medical team gets the credit for a job well done. Epidurals make it much more probable that there will be a prolonged 3rd stage of labor (pushing stage), instrumental delivery (vacuum or forceps) and C-section. Mom is more likely to have perineal tearing, or an episiotomy, low blood pressure, nausea and dizziness. The pitocin has interrupted mom’s natural release of oxytocin (the love hormone) that bonds the pair and acts as instant pain relief and euphoria immediately post partum. Again, don’t get offended here. I was born via C-section and my mom loves me. This isn’t a judgement, or an opinion, it is science. In a routine hospital birth today, babies are immediately taken away from their mothers to be assessed, weighed, stripped of their hormone saturated amniotic fluid and blood, hatted so parents can not breathe in the sweet scent of their newborns, and have goop dropped into their eyes so they can no longer see and imprint with mom or dad. Guess what gets really hard when post partum hormones are interrupted. You guessed it. Breastfeeding.

Do you see how many topics have to be covered to fully explain uninterrupted birth? We’ll go deeper into all of these topics, but for now I just want you to know that you have CHOICES! The decision is always yours! You can choose birth in a hospital and have a beautiful birth, as long as you feel safe, respected and in control. You can choose a provider who will respect your wishes to remain undisturbed. You can choose a birth center that is connected to a hospital with midwives. You can choose to birth at home with a midwife who is trained to spot red flags from a mile away. You can choose to birth freely, surrounded by loved ones and the moon. Whatever you choose, know that no provider can tell you what you MUST do, or that they will or will not LET you do certain things.

We are meant to surrender to the process of bringing our babies into our arms, to believe in our innate power to do so, to not fear “pain.” We have been conditioned to believe that we, as women, are frail and delicate creatures to be protected and cared for. There is a more powerful truth that lies within us all. We just have to collectively recognize it, and have no fear. YOU’VE GOT THIS.

Evidence Based Birth

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The Midwifery Model of Care

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Birth is not a medical event. Pregnancy is not a disaster waiting to happen. You are not a walking pathology. Once I came to understand that many of the difficulties I faced during my first labor and delivery were caused by the very environment I was in, I knew something had to change with my second baby. I discovered midwifery (*angels singing, rays of sunshine, chimes*). It is a more holistic model of care that includes addressing your mental state, fears, and hopes. You have more time during each appointment to address any concerns, and (in the practice I attended) you are respected when you question natural birthing rituals. Their rates of successful VBAC are higher and their C-sections are low.

Today I will share Xannon’s birth with you. I will share moments of disempowerment, but far more moments of control and calm.

The Pregnancy and Birth of Xannon Gene

When Zephyr was just a year old, I became pregnant with my second boy. We were excited, and slightly nervous at the thought of having TWO babies. How do people even do that. We felt slightly crazy.

Our prenatal appointments went well. I always felt good after and I felt respected and taken seriously by *most* of the midwives. There was one that I wasn’t crazy about, but it was just one. What are the odds of getting her during my birthing time?

I started using more positive language to talk about my upcoming experience. Contractions are surges, or waves. Labor is my birthing time. Pain is intensity. I wanted to shift my consciousness to reflect what was actually happening inside of my body. Sure, my uterus will be contracting or tightening to push my baby down, but on the contrary, my cervix will be softening, and expanding, allowing my baby to pass the veil. I wanted to focus on the softening, ripening, and opening of my body and mind.

At 40+1 weeks, my waves started at 2PM, right before a scheduled appointment. At the office, I was asked if it would be ok if a student midwife checked my cervix so she could feel dilation. I felt weird saying no. After all, students need to start somewhere. I am a medical professional, and I know what being a student feels like. I said “sure.” So she fished around in there for a few minutes, apparently having difficulty finding whatever she needed to find. It was a bit painful, and when I flinched, my midwife told her to stop and she would take over. “I’m sorry if that was uncomfortable.” It was all very innocent, so I wasn’t really upset about it. On the car ride home, Tom asked if I wanted to go out to lunch, but I was feeling very crampy, especially after my rough cervical exam, so we decided to go to Tom’s parents house to pick up Zephyr.

For some miraculous reason, Zephyr fell asleep by 6:30PM when my waves started to really pick up. I had to go to the bathroom, because when your birthing time starts, your amazing body knows to empty itself out. Amazing.

When I came out of the bathroom, Thomas had moved the coffee table to the side of the room, dimmed the lights, lit incense, set up my favorite meditation on YouTube (Zephyr calls it Chakra Man). He set up my birth altar on the living room floor, consisting of my crystals, our Buddha, LED candles, and my birth affirmation drawing that read, “OPEN.” Beside it sat my birth ball and a cozy blanket laid out on the floor. It was heaven. A safe space. Serene. Just perfection. By this time, my surges were 6-7 minutes apart. I tried floating through the waves kneeling, rocking on the birth ball, laying on the couch, and the only comfortable position I could tolerate was standing, which I hated because I was already feeling exhausted from the whole day. I decided to take a bath. *Ohhhh the water was everything.* I have a nice deep tub, and the warm water just made everything so much more comfortable. I was able to rest my upper body over the side of the tub, and breathe through each wave with Thomas holding me. I was handling each one so well. At this time our moms both showed up so we could get ready to head to the hospital. I called my midwife and she said to come in, since we have an hour drive.

Begrudgingly I got out of the tub, and the second I stood up, I had a huge pressure wave. 3 minutes later, I had another one. 2 minutes later I had another one. I think everyone but me started to panic a little bit. Our moms definitely did, and Tom was just packing up the truck at lightening speed. At one point I think he asked if we were still going to our hospital, and not the one only 15 minutes away. I wanted my hospital with my midwife, so we headed out at 10:30PM.

We played the Hypno Birthing track in the car, which saved me. I was so uncomfortable laying on my back during that whole ride that I had to close my eyes and go deep within to get through it. The woman’s voice (which made me giggle when I listened to it while pregnant) was so soothing and instructive, which was exactly what I needed. My waves were about 3-4 minutes apart the whole ride.

Check in was terrible. Again. I had to answer more questions to a nurse who was having side conversations, joking about her tooth or something while I coped with intense surges at her desk. She wouldn’t let my mom into triage with us.

In triage, I was met by THAT midwife. The one I didn’t love. Oh well. My cervix was checked and I was 8cm. This was such a relief, because I knew it was nearing the end. I went to the bathroom, attended by Thomas. While I was washing my hands I, of course, had to lean on the sink to have another surge when some RANDOM aid or nurse or whoever the hell she was, poked her head in to tell me that I should pull my pants up higher so they weren’t dragging on the floor. I told her to shut the f*** up and get out of my bathroom. I think Tom said something a little more polite and ensured her that he would keep me safe.

I was hooked up to an IV of antibiotics (because I tested GBS positive, which is a whole other blog post) and my water broke. My surges felt never ending. There was no clear beginning and end anymore, and they were very intense. My midwife said, looking at the monitor, “you aren’t having a contraction right now.” Though, it definitely felt like I was having a long, drawn out one. The intensity wouldn’t let up. They said we could move to the delivery room, and I started walking down the hallway, and someone told me I should put my shoes on. I ignored this, at the time, absurd suggestion and walked barefoot down the gross hospital hallway. In “Laborland,” nothing matters.

About 30 seconds later I stopped in the hall, leaning on the wall and Thomas, and started to push. I should say MY BODY started to push. I wasn’t doing anything, and there was certainly nothing I could do to stop it. It was just my husband and I in the hallway, as my midwife and nurse were already ahead of us in the delivery room. My midwife poked her head out and said, “come on now, we don’t want to have this baby in the hallway!” Yes, you’re right. I don’t want to have my baby in the hallway. Perhaps it would be helpful for you to come assess the situation and assist us.

When that surge was over, I crawled onto the bed, on hands and knees with my arms and head draped over the headboard. She checked me and said, “get everything ready, we’re crowning! You can go ahead and push!” I waited for the familiar sensation of my body pushing. I wasn’t feeling moved to push on my own without that reflexive feeling like I had in the hallway. So I was breathing, moaning, and resting. I allowed my body to stretch when it needed to, forcing nothing. She said, “I can’t do it for you, come on, you’re going to have to push.” I ignored her again, and then it came… the pushy feeling I couldn’t deny. I slowly pushed him out, and he was born in 1-2 pushes, 45 minutes after check in at 1:15AM. (I think a fun post would be Thomas’ account of these births, because I know he has his own commentary and details that I am unaware of.)

They didn’t get my mom from the waiting room in time.

My beautiful boy latched on right away, and nursed for 45 minutes in the delivery room. I delivered my placenta, (which I kept and encapsulated), and had my uterus vigorously massaged to seize it back to original size. I was told it was “boggy.” I needed to empty my full bladder, and when I did, my uterus was perfect. Despite this, I was put on a Pitocin drip to contract my uterus. I didn’t know this was happening, and I did not want it. I also didn’t NEED it.

After my unmedicated birth, my recovery was 100% better than my epidural birth. I was able to move freely, had minimal soreness on my perineum, and mildly sore abs. It was night and day, and exactly what I wanted.

Our postpartum stay was a typical hospital postpartum stay. We had people in and out checking on us, testing my baby for this and that, taking him from the room for hearing screenings, poking him for routine tests, and a pediatric check up that brought fury like the gusts of 1000 winds (think Dennis from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia status). I was watching the check up from my bed, with the bassinet right next to me. We made the decision to keep our perfect boy whole and intact, the way he was born. He was peeing regularly, so everything was great and in working order. In a split second, the “doctor” went from checking his hip joints to forcibly retracting his foreskin (even a little bit, is a forced retraction that causes great pain and trauma to the area.) I heard the high pitched scream from my new baby, and immediately, knew I should have been standing right next to him. How dare I rest, and trust that this medical professional would have common sense and training on the intact human anatomy of boys. I was so stupid. We made the conscious decision to keep him from any pain and harm and I failed again.

We insisted on an early check out, and they did not give us much of a fight because I mentioned that I would be reporting the pediatrician who forcibly retracted my son against my wishes. I was so furious. Can’t birth just be drama/trauma free?

Yes, it can.

I have learned so much from these two experiences. Since then, I have become a birth and postpartum doula to educate and inspire families to take charge of their own births. I have learned what could have been different at both of my births. A doula could have retrieved my mom from the waiting room when we were preoccupied. I know now that there were more questions that should have been asked.

Overall, we were almost there. Midwifery met us halfway to blissful birth. I still had the hospital protocol to contend with. I know that my birthing time at home was pure magic, and that my husband and I could have birthed at home in peace. Never stop asking questions, watch videos, read books, and follow your intuition. The provider that is right for me may not be right for you. However, if you find yourself signing over all of your agency to someone in perceived “authority” to take care of everything, then think twice. It is so important to take back birth, and be in control. The doctor doesn’t deliver your baby. No one delivers your baby but YOU. Your doctor, surgeon or midwife may attend your birth, but you are delivering your child into this world if you are the one who made all of the decisions in good conscience for birth day.

This was just another small part of my journey. I think I know what my next step is, should my future include a third baby. I am forever growing and evolving. Thank you for taking the time to hear my story! Your support has been overwhelming!

Peace and Love,

Malarie