This is a very long story, not because a lot happened, but because I experienced a lot while it was happening.
I want to note that I do not mention God in the course of this telling, not because He was absent from the event, but because His presence permeated the event. Conception is a prayer. Birth is a prayer. The closeness of my relationship with my husband is a prayer. I tend to pray physically and emotionally rather than verbally, so when I speak of calming, of embracing the power within myself, it is all rooted in my connection with God. I believe that God was and is present in all, and so I chose not to be redundant in the telling of this story.
First, I have outlined some of the events that took place before labor started:
Starting after week 20 when I’ve had an ultrasound to confirm a happy, healthy resident within my womb, I begin the Hypnobabies Home Study course. I am a firm believer in the power of a positive attitude, and that our state of mind has more to do with our physical well-being than we tend to give it credit for. While practicing the Hypnobabies course, almost without fail I slip into deep hypnosis and experience what is termed “hypnotic amnesia.” This means that I remember starting the session, going into the relaxed state, then can’t remember anything else until I spring awake to the sound of the instructor counting upwards from one to three. I have listened to each track while making myself stay conscious, so I know I wasn’t receiving any hypnotic suggestions that were out of line – to the contrary, it all made a great deal of logical sense to me.
Oct 11th: I arrive at my 36 week appointment. I have scheduled this appointment with an OB rather than my midwife because hospital policy requires two prenatal visits with an OB for mothers seeking a VBAC. The OB discovers that my baby has flipped to a breech presentation, which is the reason I had a C-Section with my first child. I leave the office feeling very upset but trying hard to remain positive about the baby flipping back head-down. I schedule a version (where the OB manipulates the baby from the outside to flip back head-down) for the next day.
Oct 12th: I’ve downloaded the Hypnobabies track for flipping a breech baby and listened to it once at home. I go in for my version and bring my iPod with the track loaded on it. As they are doing the non-stress-test for the baby before the version, I listen to the track a second time and slip into deep hypnosis. I wake up as the instructor counts from one to three, and within five minutes the OB arrives to begin the version. The entire process takes maybe a minute and, quite honestly, tickles. Women often speak of how painful a version is, but it was not in the -least- bit painful. The OB and nurse comment about how great my relaxation technique is.
Nov. 10th: I see my midwife, who informs me that I’ll need to make an appointment with the OB to discuss induction options in case I am still pregnant by the following monday. I’d like to note here that I had an amazing midwife for my prenatal care – very hands-off, very relaxed about the fact that I was a VBAC patient, and very encouraging that I could have the delivery I was hoping for. I chose the practice and the hospital based on their fabulous VBAC success rate and their low-intervention approach. However, I was going to be 41 weeks pregnant and they do have policy tied up in liability that would require they suggest induction after a certain point. I knew I had the right as a patient to refuse, but I also knew as a mother that I had to weigh risk and reward and make some tough decisions if my labor didn’t begin naturally.
And so begins the story…
I left the midwife’s office feeling frustrated. I knew that in order for labor to begin and succeed naturally, I needed to have some alone time with my baby to come to peace with a great many fears I was experiencing. My dear friends who were going to watch Morgan for us at the time of actual labor agreed to watch her for me that day, since they’d had a premonition that things would begin for me that day – I called them as they were walking to the phone to call me. Right before going to see my friends I spoke to the mother of another friend – the mother is a hypnotherapist and had guided her own daughter through a hypnobirth. She gave me a beautiful pep talk that really set the tone for my attitude the rest of that day.
I dropped Morgan off with our friends, then went straight to my chiropractor for an adjustment and another very good pep-talk. She had me speak out loud to my baby and ask him if he was ready to be born. I could feel that he was, and that it was definitely my fears that were keeping him inside. I knew that I needed to release those fears before anything productive could happen, so after leaving the chiropractor I called my husband and asked him to come home and spend the evening with me so we could both center and ready ourselves for the arrival of our new family member.
Over the course of the evening we discussed quite a bit about fear, and how it can impede success. As absolutely geeky as this sounds, I asked Chris if he had the Litany Against Fear from Dune memorized, because I might want – or need – him to recite it to me to help put me in the right frame of mind while laboring. Of course, he rattled it off without a moment’s hesitation – I love my husband :).
I personally find this litany to be very powerful:
“I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing……Only I will remain.”
I firmly believe that fear stops progress in many ways. We build mental and emotional blocks, which can in turn become physical blocks. Fear can and does stop labor. It isn’t anything mystical – it is a natural safeguard against danger. When women were birthing in caves with wolves howling at the door, they needed a way to protect their offspring. If labor had begun and the wolves crept too close, a women had to be able to flee to safer ground to complete the delivery of her child out of harm’s way. It just makes sense. It happens to other species in the animal kingdom. It is how we survive. This, along with the anatomical structures within the muscles of the uterus, is something I learned about through the Hypnobabies Home Study Course. That is another reason I really loved the course – it wasn’t just about state of mind, it was very educational and taught me a lot about my body that I didn’t know before.
The difference for women today is that the wolves at the door are mostly of our own making and in our own heads. Escaping a fear that is born from within takes a little more mental control and faith. I needed to spiritually ground myself that night with my husband by my side in order to believe that I was truly safe and could deliver our baby into the world.
Our friends were kind enough to keep Morgan over night, and Chris and I had a close and beautiful evening together. The next morning I was awakened at 3 a.m. by a rather strong contraction. I got up and went to sit by the computer with my timer. I had a couple at 12-15 minutes apart, but nothing exciting. Eventually I found myself wandering to YouTube. There I searched for Hypnobabies Birth and found this beautiful video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JlG1j2lNm6A). It apparently inspired me, because minutes after I finished watching it my contractions began to get closer together, until they were between 5-7 minutes apart. I timed them for about an hour, then decided to go back to bed to see if they persisted. They did, and I continued timing as long as I could. I dozed off between a couple, but would be wakened by the intensity, which I saw as a good sign.
After three hours of this, I decided to wake up Chris and let him know. I called the hospital to see if they wanted me to come in yet (yes, 5-7 isn’t very close, but I’d been sternly reminded time and again that for a VBAC they wanted me in sooner than with a “normal” labor, so anything strong and persistent under 10 minutes apart I was advised to call). The nurse on the phone’s response was, “Oh, we don’t like having VBAC moms laboring like that at home! You need to come in now!” So, we did.
On the drive to the hospital I kept worrying that I would get to the hospital and everything would stop. I didn’t want to be one of those that they “sent home.” After all, I’d been having contractions off and on since 36 weeks – I’d waited until they were intense enough to wake me from a deep sleep and close enough that the nurse on the phone wanted me at the hospital.
Well, to keep this portion of the story short: I was sent home. As soon as I walked into the triage room they went from 5-7 minutes to a half hour apart. I was only slightly more dilated than I’d been the day before. Nothing worth staying for.
Upon leaving the hospital, it dawned on me that the triage room was my last point of fear. That is where I’d been when they informed me that Morgan was breech and where the OB had so callously delivered the verdict of “You just bought yourself a C-Section.” (Yes, those were her exact words.) I needed to ball up that memory of triage and throw it away. It had nothing to do with the present.
Which brings me to another relevant movie quote. This is the exchange between Simba and Rafiki from The Lion King. Rafiki has just hit Simba on the head with his walking stick:
Simba: What was that for?
Rafiki: It doesn’t matter, it’s in the past.
Simba: Yeah, but it still hurts.
Rafiki: Yes, the past can hurt, but the way I see it, you either run from it, or learn from it.
My body was still running from the past. I needed to let that part of it go, and hold on to the lessons learned. I’d already acted on everything I’d learned from that experience – that I needed to be my own advocate, that I needed to listen closely to my body, and that I needed to be prepared to accept whatever may happen that was outside of my control. I hadn’t made my first child flip breech. I hadn’t made my water break before discovering this. I hadn’t chosen to go into labor on the night that the one OB in town who I didn’t trust was on-call. I had done the best I could in the situation at that time, and my beautiful baby girl was born to the world. That was then. This was now. I needed to separate the two events once and for all.
We went to see our friends who were caring for our daughter. When I exited the car at their house my contractions began again (right in the driveway!). They returned to the 7-10 minute range while we were there, because my body knew it was safe. Eventually we decided to go home so we could rest. We brought my daughter home with us because we missed her and wanted to have the evening with her, knowing that within the next 48 hours the baby would be here for sure.
We had a nice evening together. Chris did his best to keep Morgan from bothering me as I was having more and more intense contractions, so I could be left to center and calm myself, but quite honestly one of the most beautiful moments of the entire night happened while Morgan was with me. One of the physical and verbal cues taught in the Hypnobabies course to put the mother into a relaxed state is to have the birthing partner say the word “Peace” and place their hand on the mother’s shoulder. In my case, I chose the physical cue of having Chris put his hand on top of my head – it’s a gesture he’s done from the beginning of our relationship to help put me into a calmer state of mind. Since Morgan wanted to cuddle with me in bed while I was trying to relax myself, I decided that she could help. I explained that when I asked her to, I needed her to put her hand on my head and say “Peace” because it made Mommy feel good. And she did, gently and proudly. It was really special to have with me and helping in her own small way to bring her baby brother into the world.
At around 7pm, we got Morgan into her jammies and put her to bed. We both read to her and tucked her in for the night. She was exhausted from all the fun she’d had with our friends and fell right to sleep.
Soon after putting Morgan to bed, I had two things happen that lead me to believe the show was very much on the road. Yuck warning: I lost my mucous plug and had quite a bit of bloody show, and my intestines decided to empty themselves. At that time my contractions had gotten close enough that they were erring on the side of 5 minutes, though with breaks as long as 7 minutes. I called the hospital again to check in, and this time the person who answered the phone was very nonchalant about it, even though I was a VBAC patient. She advised me to just labor at home as long as I was comfortable. I didn’t particularly want to go hang out at the hospital again, so I gladly followed her advice.
By about 8 my contractions were still floating between 5-7 minutes apart, but were intensified. I was having “back labor” (I guess – my lower back was hurting with each contraction), but I discovered that if I applied pressure to the two points above my hip bones in my lower back, it was like an “off” switch for the pain. At this point I didn’t feel the “pain” was really all that bad, and found it easy to manage using the pressure points and hot baths/showers.
At this time I also stumbled upon a really, really funny website – damnyouautocorrect.com. I could not keep from laughing out loud – really, really out loud – and kept reading through all the contractions because a friend of mine had advised that laughter, especially mouth-wide-open laughter, is good for dilating the cervix (that whole mind/body connection). I probably read the site off and on from 8 to 9. At one point Chris even came running into the bedroom to check on me because I was laughing so hard he thought I was sobbing.
Around 8:30 my friend who is a doula stopped by to check on us. She wasn’t able to be my doula for the birth due to some prior obligations but was nice enough to check in. Apparently the Hypnobabies calming and relaxing techniques were working because she took one look at me and said, “Oh, you’re nowhere near having this baby! You probably won’t need to go anywhere until tomorrow morning.” And after a visit of about ten minutes she left, with the promise to come check by again the next morning.
At around 9 I crawled into bed to rest for a bit and asked Chris to come be with me. I put on the Hypnobabies “Easy First Stages” track and we listened to that as the contractions got more and more intense. After listening to the track, we got back up and seriously discussed getting a hotel room in Waconia so we’d be closer to the hospital when the “real” deal started. It was about 9:30 when Chris began looking for a hotel room.
It was while Chris was in the living room on the phone with the hotel that I, alone in the bedroom, started having what seemed to be a never-ending contraction. It started, got very strong, then abated for maybe half a minute before intensifying again. I waited for it to end, then realized that it wasn’t one long contraction after all – my contractions had just suddenly jumped from 5-7 minutes apart to 30 seconds – 1 minute apart. I walked out to the living room just as Chris hung up with the hotel and informed him that we weren’t staying at the hotel after all, and we needed go NOW. (Note: the hotel was kind enough to refund our stay – it helped that we called them at 3am with a squawking newborn in the background!)
I called the downstairs neighbor who was kind enough to agree to stay at our place for the night so our friends (who only had one car, and that car was out for the evening) could come pick Morgan up in the morning. Chris ran to pull the carseat from the car and bring it inside, and I did my best to keep my wits about me as the contractions came rolling one on top of the other. In a flash of inspiration I grabbed the baby’s ring sling, wrapped it around my back and under my belly, and used it to apply pressure to my back whenever a contraction hit. That made things more tolerable. Chris calmly escorted me to the car and we got underway.
Now, between when the contractions made their magical jump and when we got to the car, I was not using any “calming” techniques. I was in, “Get the hell out of the house and to the hospital quickly!” mode. I was scared, anxious, and hurting. I was so oblivious to anything but “get to the car” that I was even groaning loudly through contractions in the elevator, not caring who might be there when the door opened (and generally I try to behave with some decorum in public areas!). When we got to the car, I called the hospital one more time, let them know what was going on and got instructions on what to do when we arrived (it was some time between 10 and 10:15 when we hit the road, so we had to enter the hospital through the Emergency Room). With that last “must-do” task out of the way, I figured it was time to start focusing on calming myself.
I found my iPod and put on my soothing music and just… relaxed. I don’t recall doing anything consciously, it just happened. I attribute that to the self-hypnosis training – all the tools I needed were in place, and I didn’t have to work for any of it. The music I selected was from a CD I’d owned since college (which, for some perspective, was over ten years ago). It’s the CD I listened to whenever I needed to zen myself into a state of peace for writing (which was my profession prior to motherhood). It was also the album that I added to my HypnoBabies playlists on my iPod – I’d listen to whatever track was relevant for the day, then the music would play. That way the music was closely tied to the hypnosis training.
It was truly amazing how quickly I found peace and centering on the drive to the hospital. When a contraction came along, I would apply pressure to my back, then let it roll through me. I found myself chanting “open, open, open…” – again, not a conscious decision, it just felt like the right thing to do, and it helped bring me to a more relaxed state.
After a good long drive through deer-infested wilderness (it’s about 30-45 minutes to the hospital from our apartment, depending on traffic and lights, through some beautiful countryside. A little part of my brain was actually set aside for looking out for deer – I have better night vision than my husband and the last thing I wanted to do was hit a deer on the way to the hospital! Funny how our minds work sometimes…), we arrived. I was wheeled up to the labor and delivery floor and put straight into triage. They hooked me up to the monitors and went to get the midwife. Chris supported me again through the wave of contractions. When the midwife checked me, I was dilated between a four and five. This was just after 11p.m.
Another side note here: the midwife on call that night was the other midwife (there are two at this practice) and, strangely enough, the very first time I saw her, I had a premonition that she would be the one to deliver my baby. I even told a friend about it at the time. I loved my prenatal midwife, and I loved the midwife who delivered my baby – both women are outstanding at what they do and I would recommend them to anyone!
Back to the story…
We were moved to our birthing suite. This whole time I’d kept my iPod going with an ear bud in one ear so I could hear my music but still interact with the hospital staff. The nurse was fabulous (I want to keep her forever!) and would acknowledge when I was having a contraction and sit quietly until it passed. Chris was also incredibly amazing through all of those contractions – without fail he was on the spot to apply pressure with one hand and place his other hand on top of my head, saying the “peace” cue along with other soothing words. There were many times when I would be so overwhelmed with love for him by the end of the contraction that I’d curl up against him or lean over for a kiss. The bond between us at those times was indescribably strong.
We hooked my iPod up to the docking station (our room had a built-in docking station with surround sound, so very nice!) and turned the lights down way low. It was incredibly relaxing and very calming to have the music play throughout the room – I think it really set the tone for everyone. The nurse and midwife both noted several times throughout the evening that we were doing an amazing job working together, and that my relaxation technique was really good. Again, I know that half the credit goes to my husband and how in-tune he is with my needs. I am a very, very lucky woman!
One of the first things the midwife did was to break my water and hook me up with internal monitors. Because I was a VBAC patient, this was required, and quite honestly I’d take internal monitors over external any day. I hate the feeling of anything strapped on my belly – I could hardly even stand pants or skirts with maternity panels because the pressure on my belly was annoying.
I’m not sure what time it was when she broke my water. For the next hour or so, the only way I marked time was by the music that was playing. I believe we listened through the playlist at least once and had started it over again before things once again changed up. There were times during this phase when – quite honestly – I had contractions that made me giggle. I’m not sure what it was, but they really did kind of tickle.
By the time it was nearing 1 a.m., the contractions I’d been having that compelled me to chant, “Open, open, open…” had changed to a chant of “Down, down, down…” I could feel the urge to push down and out, but until the midwife gave me the green light, I didn’t want to give in to the urges. This was the one time when things got really intense again – not painful, just intense. This is one of the least flattering descriptions, but one that will likely be universally understood: when I was fighting against the “push out” contractions, it felt very much like that body-wracking shakes you get from violent diarrhea. I had just gotten onto the birthing ball to try leaning forward against the bed and rocking my hips when these began. The midwife came back in and asked me what the contractions felt like. I described it to her, and she said it was time to do another check. This time when she checked, I was fully dilated and ready to push. It was just after 1 a.m.
Some of you may notice that something is missing in this narrative: transition. Having just read up on transition, I believe that the few minutes (really, it didn’t seem like a very long time) where I was having those body-wracking shakes might have been transition, but it wasn’t horrible at all. Like I said, it just made me shake more. It didn’t hurt. I can say that with absolute honesty. And once I was given the go-ahead to give into those urges and push, the shaking stopped.
In 99% of life you will NOT hear me use this phrase, but when it comes to laboring, I just have to say: ignorance is bliss. My contractions were not timed. I was not on the clock. I wasn’t told what “stage” I was going through. My midwife and my nurse simply said “let your body do what it knows to do” and that was it. THAT helped so much! Had I been told, “Those contractions are 90 seconds apart..” I would have been feeling every moment that passed. I was not placed under a microscope – rather, it felt very much like the tide washing in, rolling over me and through me, a completely natural occurrence that was nudging me toward the horizon of my child’s birth. Though I glanced at the clock a handful of times, no one ever called out the hour. It was a timeless transformation from mother to mother and child.
As I started pushing, I tried leaning backward against the back of the bed. It worked alright for a while, but it wasn’t quite right. I tried a couple different positions before we decided that – based on my pelvic shape and what felt good – I should lay completely flat on my back with my knees by my ears (well, not literally – I’m not that bendy!). The midwife agreed that it was a very counter-intuitive position, but that with how things we working for me, it might be our best option. And, quite honestly, it was by far the most comfortable position for me.
The pushing portion of labor went very smoothly. I don’t know how else to describe it. When I felt the urge to push, I’d push. Neither the nurse nor the midwife ever told me to hold my breath or started counting to ten for me. They encouraged me to breathe through the pushing but to keep my muscles engaged. At this point the little voice in my head kept repeating, “I’m a belly dancer! I can totally do this!” The big, masculine voice outside of my head was also saying beautiful, encouraging things to me the whole time. They had turned on the “spot light” (like the light at the dentist’s office, but shining elsewhere) and had told me to imagine pushing the baby in that direction.
I did request the mirror while pushing knowing that I’m the kind of person who performs better when I can see results taking place. I will admit that I didn’t have any starry, “Wow, that’s really my baby!” euphoria. I did have a, “Wow, that’s him” moment, but after that I went back into the mindset of, “I have a task to finish.” Well, watching the progress did help quite a bit. When I reached the point where I was crowning, I recall thinking, “Is this it? That’s not really so bad…” Again – I attribute that mainly to the fact that I wasn’t afraid. I had also been coaching myself that I wasn’t going to experience the “ring of fire” sensation because I’m a fire performer and I know how to deal with fire. Totally a mind-game, but it appears to have worked! Oh, and I was completely lax about “preparing” my perineum for birth, but the midwife did apply oil while I was pushing. I kept cracking up the nurse because I am very, very ticklish, and every time the midwife would put more oil on, I’d giggle. I’m assuming they don’t get many people giggling during labor.
Once he crowned I believe it took one more good push and he came all the way out. His left hand was tucked up by his face – I remember that. And I remember thinking, “Damn.. that’s a lot of baby!” (He was 9 pounds, 4 ounces and 20 inches long.) They placed him right up on my chest, just like I had wanted. I just remember feeling how warm and close he was. I looked at Chris and saw the joy beaming from his eyes. There was one itsy bitsy tear at the corner of his eye, and for Chris, that’s a lot. This is quite honestly the part of the delivery that is the most blurry – I remember everything in a haze, but mostly just remember how incredible it felt to be holding my baby. He was born at 1:41 a.m. – a mere four hours after the “OMG it’s time!” contractions started at home.
The midwife let the cord finish pulsing before she clamped it and let Chris cut it. The placenta delivered very soon after and everything was fine. Upon inspection it was found that I had one tiny nick on the inside, so she put in a single suture and that’s all I needed.
And that, more or less, is how Jameson came into the world. I was allowed to get up out of the bed after an hour and had no trouble at all walking. It felt good to have control of my body through the whole process, to feel and move my limbs as my body directed. Was it entirely pain-free? Not entirely – not until I got centered and was able to relax was I able to roll with the punches, so to speak. Was it painful? When taking that word to mean “full of pain,” then: No. I can say that for sure. Uncomfortable, odd, different – but certainly not agonizing! It was totally doable, incredibly empowering, and a truly beautiful experience.
There is no reason why a healthy mother giving birth to a healthy baby shouldn’t be able to have a successful VBAC, and even a beautiful natural VBAC should she so choose. Preparing to give birth helped me finish healing the emotional scars of the C-Section. Giving birth opened me to a whole new side of myself and helped me access wisdom, insight, and power that I never knew I had.
I would like to thank the staff of Ridgeview Medical Center in Waconia, MN, for the amazing experience, the grace and the respect shown toward my body and its natural abilities.
Please feel free to share this story far and wide.
Theresa M., Plymouth, MN
C-Section performed 01 Jan 08, girl, 7 lbs 4 oz, 18″, 9/9 APGAR
VBAC delivery 12 Nov 10, boy, 9 lbs, 4 oz, 20″, 9/9 APGAR