Inspiring Birth Stories: January
Last Wednesday, we gathered at the 14th street Y for our inspiring birth stories meeting. For those of you weren’t there, our inspiring birth stories evenings offer expectant parents a night out in which to draw strength and inspiration from women and men who have recent experiences of birth in New York. We hope you can join us for an upcoming night of inspiring birth stories; in February we will be uptown at Gentle Spirit Midwifery Services in Harlem. Check the website for details.
Wednesday night’s birth story line up included four amazing birth stories that ranged from tales of long labors to short ones, last minute changes, facing the unexpected, overbearing mothers, hilarious coping methods, and ultimately, of course, beautiful birth experiences. We were also joined by birth professional Tioma Allison, RN, CNM, MS, a certified nurse-midwife with over 26 years of experience in home birth and well-woman gynecological care. With over 1,500 healthy home deliveries under her belt, and a specialty in natural remedies, Tioma provided both insightful and interesting expert advice to our expectant mothers throughout the evening. Read on for a recap of the evening’s stories and, at the bottom of the blog you will find further questions for discussion raised throughout the evening. Enjoy…
Our first storyteller, Sarah, took an active role in determining what kind of birth experience she would have after taking a birthing class that “gave me a voice,” she commented. Prior to her birthing class, Sarah knew that she was very opposed to a c-section, but after the class she gained an actual vision for her birth and was able to articulate what she wanted. Of the current OB practice she was with before her class Sarah said, “I wanted, like, my mom delivering my baby…I wanted a more homey birth.” At seven months, Sarah switched from what she described as a very competent group of young female obstetricians to Dr. Worth, of Village Obstetrics, a practice that prides itself on minimally invasive obstetrics. Sarah felt really comfortable with her new OB, who, unlike other doctors she had been working with, spent hours with Sarah just discussing her ideas, fears, and needs. Sarah felt that her new doctor was patient and the confidence she felt in knowing that Worth truly understood her desire to have a vaginal birth allowed her to be at ease.
At Dr. Worth’s advice, Sarah and her husband also hired a doula. She said the interview process was enjoyable, and while further immersing herself in New York’s healthy birth community, she maintained an active pregnancy, swimming and walking daily, and doing acupuncture. “I loved being pregnant,” Sarah said. While her husband encouraged her to think of the end of her pregnancy as a new beginning, Sarah also felt that it was the end of this first unique and intimate relationship with her new baby. In fact, Sarah’s labor story begins with her sitting down on the couch one evening after a big dinner and rubbing her rounded stomach. “I was really sad to end my pregnancy. I had this really sad moment on the couch where I was rubbing my belly and I said ‘Okay you can come,” and then, I peed my pants!” After excitedly calling her doula, who said that what seemed like water breaking was actually her mucus plug, Sarah and her husband did not have to go right to the hospital but instead enjoyed another 24 hours or so of sleep and continuous Cash Cab episodes. The next day, when Sarah’s doula showed up at their house and found her in the shower, Sarah said she took one look at her and exclaimed, “You are 8.5 cm! This baby is coming now!” Once arriving at the hospital, her doula proved she was worth her weight in golden pacifiers as she hushed young nurses who were inexperienced with natural birth and were determined to order an epidural for Sarah. “Thank God she was there,” Sarah said. Even though the trip to hospital was a little chaotic, including Sarah and her husband searching for labor and delivery on four different floors and Sarah eventually giving birth in triage—the birth team she had on hand to support her made the experience a success.
Initially planning on birthing at a birthing center, Aya and her husband switched to planning a homebirth, after sensing that politics at their selected hospital might make natural birth more of an obstacle than they wanted on birth day. For Aya and her husband, the greatest challenge came with weighing their own intuition and fears regarding their son’s past due date, with instructions coming from what seemed like every corner of the outside world on what they should do. Aya’s son was two weeks late. Around the time he was expected to arrive, her mother came into town to stay with them, but after she “started freaking out” when the labor did not begin on schedule, her visit ended early. At seven months, Aya describes having contractions for an entire weekend that just came and went. Once the due date had passed she tried various things to coax her son out, including acupuncture, but nothing seemed to be working. Concerned, Aya and her husband did at one point go to the hospital where a doctor recommended she be induced right away. Aya’s husband commented that the doctor was incredulous that they had waited so long to come to the hospital and said that Aya was risking fetal demise. “He said fetal demise three times!” Aya’s husband exclaimed, Aya adding, “The whole thing was…crazy…it was the world telling us that there was something terribly wrong that I hadn’t had the baby.” Aya describes that moment as one of the scariest in her life. After calling her Sakina, her midwife, they decided to leave the hospital and were made to sign a form releasing the hospital of any responsibility for harm to the baby since they were leaving against medical advice.
The horrors of that day behind them, Kai, Aya’s son, did eventually make his way into the world, but not without a second scare followed by a miraculous moment of peace. Aya said she pushed for three hours at home with nothing happening—the second scariest moment of her life. She felt defeated at that time, and when Sakina offered the hospital as an option she said she screamed aloud in her head: “Yes! Anything! Cut me open, drugs, whatever—get me out of this!” On the outside of her internal cries of desperation, her husband commented that Aya only groaned, deeply fatigued, at the hospital suggestion. At that moment Aya said, “I felt like I was facing the greatest failure of my entire life…my brain fell apart.” And then, in that very moment, call it her mind finally allowing her body to take over and do what it knew how to do, when people were standing around her making phone calls to arrange a hospital transfer, Aya started to give birth. A mere thirty minutes after Aya’s brain allegedly fell apart, Kai was born.
Ashley’s 38-hour labor story has left her full of great advice for prospective moms. Among those kernels of wisdom? “Never give birth without a doula.” Ashley also looks back on her birth experience and admits that she while her mother was a catalyst for her determination to have a natural birth (mainly because Ashley sensed Mom didn’t think she could do it) she might not have her mom there the second time around (the bond between mother and daughter always beautiful, always complex). We know how sacred the birthing environment is, and Ashley’s thoughtful testament speaks to how being deliberate about your surroundings can influence your birth experience.
Ashley also had the experience of switching to a different practice after a childbirth education class made her a more informed pregnant person, armed with questions to ask her providers that she hadn’t necessarily thought of before. After bringing those questions to the current provider and being unsatisfied with their lack of responsiveness and tendency to answer her half heartedly while typing notes during her exams, Ashley switched to a midwife practice where she felt her concerns were heard and respected. Although Ashley labored for thirty-eight hours, she says she was never in an unbearable amount of pain. Among the coping strategies used in her labor were: nipple stimulation, first from husband, then from mom (see notes on beautiful/complex above), and chanting. Ashley also slept at times, never feeling the urge to push or bear down. Thankfully, with a team consisting of doula, husband, and mother, everyone got a chance to rest for the thirty eight hour session before Ashley’s baby born.
Having had her first child in a hospital, where she felt the birth was taken out of her hands, Laura decided on the Brooklyn Birthing Center for her second birth. “This time, she said, “I wanted to go all hippy dippy.” Her son was born on his due date and to prepare, Laura immersed herself in positive birth stories. She also thought of her brother, a professional surfer, and the enormous waves he tackled out at sea. “It’s a little strange to think of your brother I guess,” she smiled, “[but] I kept thinking about him paddling, paddling…thinking about him coming up on these huge waves. It gave me so much power!”
Laura describes her experience at the birthing center as positive, with an amazing birthing assistant at her side and a no-nonsense midwife who guided her and her husband along with firmness, compassion, and humor. From at one point, taking walks around the residential neighborhood with her husband periodically stopping to help her bend over and then pushing her bottom up into the air (a preparation strategy recommended by the midwife), to relaxing over a big bottle of tea and then making love with her husband, Laura’s labor proceeded exactly how she needed it to, and with the perfect type and amount of support. Incredibly, she had her baby at 10 and was home by 4! Laura was so moved by her birth experience that she says she considering a career change: from working in fashion to becoming a doula.
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As you can tell, it was quite an evening! Some of the questions we were left with wanting more time to discuss were:
- How can I tell when the “birth contractions” come…instead of the false alarms?
- What are the type of childbirth classes that can best help me prepare?
- What are the differences between hospital and free standing birth centers?
- What kind of questions should I ask to find out about birthing center/hospital protocol?
- How do I remain open and positive when things veer off my prospective birth plan (which they sometimes will!)?
- How do I avoid a c-section?
- How do I negotiate insurance coverage for a homebirth midwife?
We invite you to address the answers to these questions, post thoughts on the evening and more! Thanks for another educational and inspiring night.