Monday, 1 May 2017

Theo's Birth: The Untold Story

That title is definitely going to suck you in, but the truth is, the birth of my first child, Theo, was smooth and uncomplicated.

It wasn't a horrible, anxiety and fear-filled experience, as so many Western birth stories tend to be.

My entire life, the birth stories I was subjected to made labour seem terrifying, painful and more or less unsurmountable. The fact that most women go into labour filled with fears and anxieties about their birthing experience does little to encourage a more holistic approach. All of this fearful chatter leads to an increase in unnecessarily medicated births, obstetric interference and longer recovery times for both the woman giving birth and her newborn child.

Before I proceed, I would like to add a disclaimer that I am not a doctor or midwife. I have absolutely no professional training in the department of bearing children. My opinions on childbirth are the result of my own research, discussions with friends, family and other moms, and of course, my own experience birthing my son.

Also worth noting: I am absolutely not opposed to medicated or assisted births, when medically necessary. I would also never suggest that a woman should birth in any way other than how she wants to (or in some cases, how she has to).

In fact, before going into labour, I always had the mindset that I would hope for a natural delivery, but accept that if I needed to medicate for whatever reason, that would be perfectly fine as well. We don't know what to expect as first-time birthers, so it's totally OK to entertain different options...I just got so comfortable with the idea that I COULD do natural, and that made it easier for me to follow through.

I consider myself extremely lucky to live in a country that has a powerful midwife presence; I give almost full credit to the practice of midwifery for my wonderful experience. (and a little pat on the back to myself and my hubs for our work, too!)

When I found out I was pregnant (that's a good story too, but for another day), I set out to inform myself as much as possible on the prospect of natural labour.
My step-mother is a midwife, so I had a really great go-to for any questions or concerns.
I read Ina May Gaskin's book Ina May's Guide To Childbirth (recommended!!!) and got comfortable with the idea of experiencing temporary pain.
Labour pain is not permanent.
Women have been birthing babies with no medication (or holistic meds) for ages.
We are made for this.

So, now, the story begins:

SATURDAY, APRIL 22, 1:47 AM, Switzerland

I wake up to strong contractions. Our babe is going on 8 days late, and we are getting impatient to meet him.
Our midwife had told us in our preparation classes that we shouldn't rush off to the hospital as soon as contractions set in. Instead, stay home and ride them out for awhile in a comfortable and familiar setting. Although I agree with this, I instinctively knew that I didn't have hours and hours ahead of me. This baby was coming and he meant business!
So, I woke up sleeping hubbers, ran a bath, and tried to focus on my breathing.
After an hour or so, with contractions hitting less than 5 minutes apart and with higher intensity, we called a cab and got our hospital bags. Time to go!
The hospital is only about 10 minutes away, but one particularly intense contraction during the drive up the hill made for a pretty epic "is this real life? Am I in a movie?" moment.
When we pulled up to the Emergency entrance, a kind ambulance driver escorted us to the Maternity ward.

HOSPITAL PART ONE: THE NOT-SO-GREAT-MIDWIFE-CHAPTER

Once checked into the Maternity ward, we were told that there were no vacant birthing rooms, due to a higher than normal amount of admittances. For some reason, this news didn't really make me panic (I knew that they wouldn't let me give birth on the floor or anything ridiculous like that!)
I just really wanted my BIRTHING TUB!
We were brought into a standard checkup room (where I had had almost all of my prenatal check-ups with the midwives).
The midwife on duty was *okay* but not my favorite.
I didn't get a warm vibe from her (something that is kind of important when you're about to have a baby!) and she just...didn't spark joy.
So, despite this, we settled into the not-so-comfy room to ride the wave of contractions and wait for dilation and effacement to complete.
At this point I was dilated about 3cm, so the midwife gave me a pill to help dilate my cervix. In the first 15 minutes, I was still feeling pretty good (ie: the contractions were not all-consuming yet) so I drank an orange soda while hubs had coffee.
We played a few games of Uno. (Really? Yes. We had had this on our "birth plan" as a bit of a joke, but we actually did play-proof below)

Welcome to the most uncomfortable bed to have contractions on! Also a really bad hand. I quit before we finished this round.


As soon as Uno was no longer an option, shit started to get real. I was having contractions that were so strong I didn't know what to do with my body. The bed was so uncomfortable, and I couldn't find a position that eased the pain effectively. I had no choice but to focus all of my attention on the present (great practice in mindfulness!)
I was starting to get to a point where I could barely even respond to husband's questions (mostly, "can I get you anything? Can I do anything?")
Any woman who's been in labour-and every man who's been by her side- knows the answer to these questions. It's usually "no".
A few times it was "water".
Looking back, it's probably one of the rare moments in history where my husband was more chatty that me! Ha!
I might not have answered him, but his presence WAS important and necessary for me.
Whenever the midwife came in to the room to check in with us, I became irritated.
Not in a wild-animal-ready-to-attack way, but in a you-are-not-helping-me-much-so-please-leave-me-alone-and-I'll-get-through-this.
Her biggest offenses were being apathetic and not super gentle, coupled with annoying clich├ęd advice.
At my lowest point, I gave in a little to the pain and asked if I could have an epidural.
I didn't really want one, I was just exhausted of feeling intense pains and started to worry that it could go on forever (spoiler alert: it didn't).
I had had the vision of doing ALL of my contraction work in the water, and since this was not available to me, I felt discouraged and slightly defeated.
The ONE good thing this midwife did for me? She got me grounded again. She simply said "It's going to hurt, it's labour. But the best medicine are your hormones and endorphins."
She was right.
Labour is not a walk in the park, but it IS doable. The pain is surmountable. The empowerment and pride you feel after experiencing a natural birth is something I can't compare to any other life event.

HOSPITAL PART TWO: THE TUB

Approximately 2-3 hours of contraction fun in the check-up room, the midwife appeared and said one of the most beautiful sentences I've ever heard, "your bath is running and will be ready soon." All I wanted was water. At one point I think I even asked them if I could take a shower in a room. Any room! Just pour water on my body.
So, the bath was ready and it was time to walk down the hall to the birthing room.
3 seconds into said-walk, I fell to the ground amidst a super-charged contraction. Hubby got really nervous here, because I was wailing and not able to get up. The second midwife (who I will refer to as "Angel" from here on out) appeared in front of me like a vision from another dimension. She was blonde, beautiful, soft-spoken and kind.
She crouched down and told me that everything would be OK.
She reassured my worried husband.
All part of her job, but in this moment I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude for her presence. She was here, and it was going to be OK.
She would get me through.
I got into the birthing room and stripped down with the help of hubs. I remember having a hard time taking my shorts off. And when I did, they were covered in blood.
Once in the tub, I felt an instant relief.
No, the pain wasn't gone, nor would it go (until after Theo was out!) but I was just so much more comfortable.
I was able to stretch my body into positions that opened my hips.
I could sit back or push forward, depending on the intensity of the contraction.
At this stage, the sun was starting to come up outside.
I could see a little bit of Swiss scenery through the window.
I remember talking to myself in reassuring affirmations.

"This isn't real. Pain is all an illusion."

"This will pass."

"My baby is coming and soon this part will be over."

Suddenly, I felt an intense urge to push, so I told husband to help me out of the tub. Despite planning to birth the babe in the water, I really just wanted something secure to sit on in that moment.
That's OK, birth plans are not written in stone!

Angel got me onto the bed, where I lay on my side with a nursing pillow between my legs. Pretty comfortable, actually! I didn't follow any of the "rules" when it came to pushing. I just listened to my body.
My eyes were closed during this entire part.
In a distant place, I could hear Angel cooing, "Bravo. Good. Good. Baby is coming!" in a beautiful Swiss German accent.
She was so gentle in her tone that I knew I would be OK (we would be OK) even though it felt like my body might explode in flames from the belly button down.
I would call this the "animal phase" because I really felt like I was a primal, birthing mammal. (In fact, that IS exactly what I was!)
I grunted, I moaned, I screamed, I cried.
I pushed, I sweat, I bruised myself from pinching myself so tightly (no recollection of this, only the bruises to prove it).
But, oddly enough, I can't say I hated the pushing.
It was a relief to push into, or against, the pain.
I could feel my baby's head hitting my cervix.
The desire to see him, to hold him, to birth him, was so strong that I pushed him out in less than 20 minutes.
Angel even told me to slow down and take my breath (I didn't wanna!)
I felt far away, but also more present and alive than I had ever been before.
I felt like my body was doing something miraculous (it was!)


THE FINAL PART:THEO JAMES ARRIVES


At 8:19AM, our beautiful, healthy baby boy, Theo James, arrived into the world. Holding him in my arms for the first time was an incredible feeling. As soon as he was born, the pain was gone. The sun was up, it was a new day, and I was a mother.
The nurses brought us breakfast (toast with marmalade and butter, champagne and coffee). I don't even like marmalade under normal circumstances but this was the best damn toast I ever ate in my life.
We looked at our little baby and suddenly understood what all the hype was about.
Becoming a parent is really the most beautiful thing in the world.

Beautiful baby boy Theo James


THE FOURTH TRIMESTER

Adjusting to parenthood while also recovering from labour can provide a plethora of mixed emotions. As your body's hormones regulate to their pre-preggo state, you are apt to feel a little bit disoriented.
Throw in a bunch of sleepless nights and the most basic tasks (feeding yourself, showering) can seem daunting.

Luckily, my postnatal rough patch lasted 5 days. (Yes, I know, parenting will come with lots of ups and downs but I am Ariane-the-glass-is-always-half-full so bear with me.)

We have managed to get into a really nice routine over the last 4 days.
Hubby and I are enjoying every moment with our little guy.
We are having fun with parenting.
Laughing at our shared paranoid moments.
Doing extra nice things for each other (this was always the case in our relationship, but even more welcome now!)
Adding a baby to our already happy and healthy life together has just filled my heart with a joy that I can't even describe.
I am so lucky to have my three boys (yes, the dog counts!!!)
This stage of life is exactly where I want to be.
Loving my little family. Enjoying every moment and glowing in the newfound confidence that motherhood has provided me with.


<3

P.S. Sorry this was so long.

P.P.S. In case you are wondering, no body parts required stitches after labour. It's totally possible to get through birth unscathed!!!