It’s getting a little surreal that Gemma came out of my body. Before she was born I couldn’t really imagine what birth would be like, and now her personality is so big, not to mention her body and head, that it’s hard to believe she lived in my abdomen for 9 months. In other words birth and labour were hard to imagine and they are getting harder and harder to remember. Before IRL moments with Gemma completely erase my birth and labour memories I wanted to share / document 3 things I’d do differently.
Take meditation seriously
During our pregnancy I read parts of the book Mindful Birthing, and did some of the meditation exercises. In hind sight my commitment to meditation was a little weak. My labour was longer and more exhausting than I anticipated, but there was a point when I stopped working through the contractions because I was too tired to deal with the pain in a way that promoted progress. I wanted out of labour, and I think that’s when I started to work against myself.
I wish I had practiced meditation more so that I could retreat into myself and find the mental stamina I needed to dig deep. At the point when I pulled away from the contractions I think I had the physical strength to push through a little longer, but mentally I was spent.
I don’t know for sure if having a stronger meditation practice would have changed anything (I was tired, I was dehydrated, and on and on so maybe I’d already emptied the tank and meditation wouldn’t have helped). However, next time around I want to be able to say that I did everything I could to have a happy, medication free birth. Being able to get in the meditation zone will give me that feeling.
Find a doula or birth with a midwife in a non-hospital setting
I can seem my mom through the door frame – arms up on the wall, creating a diagonal line through my rectangular view. Her curly hair tied back in a half ponytail. Breathing deep, eyes squinted and closed. A midwife whispers in her ear and she braces for the next contraction. My dad supports her as she lets out a deep moan. I remember I was wearing a black shirt with zebras across the top and tasteful pink flowers with rhinestone centers. It was the 90s. I remember answering the phone and twirling my fingers through the bouncy coiled cord, with my little brother right behind me. I also remember the midwife asking me to find another bowl to catch blood after my little brother was born, and being given a try at cutting the umbilical cord. I was 5-years-old.
I didn’t really understand what a hospital birth with a mid-wife was going to look like. As a little girl I witnessed the home births of my three younger siblings. In my memories the midwife was like a coach through the difficult phases of active labor in addition to actually delivering the baby. My mom and her midwife were close friends. My mom trusted her midwife, relied on her, and even named her last baby in her honor. Somehow I just assumed that’s how all midwife attended births were. Turns out that’s not the case. In my experience in a hospital, a midwife attended birth means that a midwife comes to check your dilation/general progress periodically and then comes to deliver the baby. There isn’t much coaching through contractions, or partnership during the birth process. It was so different than the home births I’d seen.
I wanted a more personal experience, and in hindsight I think part of the reason it was hard for my body to go through the the final stage of birth was because I didn’t feel connected to my nurse or my midwife. In general it takes a while for me to feel comfortable with people and develop close relationships. Knowing that about myself I should have carefully considered the midwife relationship. In order to bring trust, ease and support in my next labour I think I’ll have to go to birthing center, or find a doula to help in a hospital setting.
Colin, my mom, and my sister did everything they could to make my labour easier, but the reality is that they aren’t experts and don’t see women go through birth on a regular basis. I think that if I’d had a doula, or birthed in a birthing center with a midwife then the doula/midwife might have recognized that my contractions were draining me rather than progressing labour and suggested we try something different.
Try nipple stimulation before pitocin
I told you that I read Ina May Gaskin’s Guide to Childbirth during my pregnancy. There is a section in her book that touches on the interconnectedness of sexuality and childbirth. I don’t remember exactly how that chapter went, but my takeaway was that sexual stimulation during labor could help move things along, especially nipple stimulation. Ina gives several example of women who stalled, tried nipple stimulation and then their labour progressed.
I didn’t work nipple stimulation into my birth plan because honestly I didn’t think I would get stuck. I also know I wouldn’t be comfortable trying it with anyone in the room except me and Colin. That being said, next time, if I get stuck I am going to ask everyone to leave and give it a try. I wish I had thought to do it with Gemma.
Speaking of nipples, I also wish I’d worn some kind of bra so I felt more comfortable sharing pictures.
While I reflect on what I would like to do differently when we have another baby, I am also reminded of this quote:
“We experience birth so differently from the intimate spaces of our bodies and minds, it feels disingenuous to strike comparisons and place value judgments. Any woman who experiences the vulnerability of carrying a child in her body (or heart) and bringing it earthside is heroic in my estimation. This idea that there is a special medal dangling on the tree for going without meds makes us undervalue ourselves and depreciate the ordeals we have endured. Loss moms, adoptive moms, cesarean birth mothers…We all open. We all tear, somewhere (body, heart, soul). We all both wildly embrace and struggle to embrace these experiences. It all takes courage and that courage is always worth celebrating.” — Rachel Lorena Brown
Reading this quote makes me want to take a breathe, let go, and celebrate Gemma’s birth story. Giving birth taught me so much about myself, and I hope that reading about the 3 things I want to do differently will help you identify truth within yourself as well.