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 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