Birthing Serena

“Whenever and however you give birth, your experience will impact your emotions, your mind, your body, and your spirit for the rest of your life.”  ~ Ina May Gaskin

Introduction

With this essay, you will share in my experience of the labour of love that brought my second child, Serena, into the world. It was without question the most empowering and transformative event of my life. By improving on my first, it proved to me that giving birth can be achieved, both physically and mentally, in a calm and peaceful state. It is my hope that after reading my story, you choose to let go of any fear you may hold and trust your body’s amazing ability to give birth.

Medicalised Society

In mainstream media, giving birth is very often portrayed with images of women lying on hospital beds under the harsh light while screaming for their suffering to end. I believe this is one of the main reasons why people automatically associate birth as dramatic, painful and something to be frightened of.

As a result, we have developed a culture wherein expectant mothers are urged to rely on medical intervention, painkillers and anesthetics as the go-to option, anticipating the fear they must certainly possess.

Of course, we must choose whatever it takes to ensure a baby is born healthy. There is no question about that. However, without first and foremost understanding what our bodies are capable of and the work they are perfectly designed to do, many mothers to be are not exposed to the trade-offs they make as a result of choosing the medical, pain-free option.

Making a Conscious Choice

After the initial shock and joy of confirming our first pregnancy, I started to notice just how pervasive the negative emotions surrounding giving birth. Something deep down in me knew it wasn’t real. I felt a huge sense of clarity when I recognised this and begun to let go of my fear around birth. It was then that I realised I could choose to develop a positive attitude towards birth.

The first step is to acknowledge the power of the mind-body connection. This includes being aware of the language we use and the images we visualise. For example, using words like “waves”, “surges” and “sensations” to describe the contractions during labour are not only powerful but also hold enormous influence when adopted in conversations leading up to the last trimester.

So too enrolling the baby herself. I visualised her actively “working with me” rather than thinking of her as a passive being. I affirmed that the whole labour was a collaborative effort, a beautiful dance between the baby and me. This might all sound too good to be true, yet it was incredibly effective and helpful for me not only to endure but also to enjoy the process.

Preparation During Pregnancy

Preparation coupled with a positive attitude ultimately lead to a very successful first birth. I practiced yoga, meditation, visualisation and breathing exercises (i.e., feel-good activities), not to mention regular walks and swims. I also read some amazing books on childbirth including Ina May Gaskin’s Guide to Childbirth (quoted above) and wrote daily about how I felt. These activities helped me stay tune with my mind/body/soul, as well as the growing baby inside.

I saw a small group of knowledgeable and supportive midwives that gave me unbiased, practical advice when I had any question or concern. They helped me deal with the challenges that arose during pregnancy, and most importantly, to stay positive. After all, it was going to be a life-changing (and life-giving) event, and I knew optimism was, as always, the way to go.

Birthing Serena – Full Story

Wednesday 13 September 2017 (2 days before the due date)

Around 6:30 AM, I woke up with period-cramp-like sensations around my lower back area. Then there came mild, rather regular waves (i.e., contractions). They were about 15-20 minutes apart which persisted even when I got out of bed, quite different from Braxton Hicks which would come in the middle of the night and go away by the morning.

By mid-morning, the mild waves were about 8 to 10 minutes apart. The gap didn’t last more than 15 minutes. That’s when I knew it was all happening. Michael, my partner, called work to take the day off (which would be the first day of his Paternity Leave) to concentrate on his role as my primary birth partner. He set up our lounge with props including a gym ball, a yoga mat, a bean bag and lots of pillows on the couch that would help me relax and ease the intensity of the waves.

Having felt my uterus warming up almost every night over the last two weeks, I found the sensations more or less endurable. In fact, I welcomed each one of them, knowing that it was “bringing me closer to meeting my baby”. With my eyes closed, I imagined my baby making her way down through the birth canal. It allowed me to focus on “breathing through” each wave.

Michael put some groovy, down-tempo and soulful music to which I naturally started dancing and swaying through the waves. I started doing my signature “tribal dance” – letting the arms hang loose, legs relax and just allowing my limbs to flop and flow spontaneously. That felt really good, especially it reminded me of the good times dancing and laughing with my friends.

Other movements that helped ease the intensity of the waves were: leaning over the gym ball, doing the cat-cows/all-fours/child’s pose on the yoga mat, swaying from side to side while holding onto whatever I could. Working with gravity, I found these “upright” postures to come most naturally to me and helped alleviate the discomfort from pelvic pressure as the baby’s head was fully engaged.

I remembered to keep drinking water, not to mention Raspberry Leaf tea to stay hydrated as well as help uterus contract and progress labour (as recommended by the midwives). Although I didn’t have much appetite for a big meal, I enjoyed small pieces of fruits and my favourite dark chocolate (a.k.a. my remedy for everything) just enough to provide my body with energy much needed for the established stage.

From 3:00 PM the waves were becoming more intense and regular, between 4-5 minutes apart. By this point, I was so “in the zone” that my mind had to switch off from “thinking mode” to “being mode”. All that mattered was to bring our baby to life, which required being fully present and working with the baby through each and every wave.

As the labour started to progress quickly, Michael put on nice and slow music to which we started dancing together. I felt the feelings of love rushed through my body, intensifying the sensation of the waves. (As oxytocin, also known as the “love hormone” is designed to trigger and regulate the waves). They were now about 2-3 minutes apart. It was about time to call Kelsea, our wonderful midwife, to let her know what was happening. She suggested we come to the hospital whenever I felt ready. And there I was, never felt readier than before, to meet our baby.

During the 15-minute drive to the hospital, we listened to Stevie Wonder whose songs always uplift my soul (including “Golden Lady and “Isn’t She Lovely”). Singing along with the songs pumped me with positive energy and excitement. Of course, it was challenging sitting in the car, all buckled up and not being able to move freely. But knowing that it was the ride that took us closer to meeting our baby, literally and metaphorically, I let my anticipation override the challenge.

We arrived at the birthing unit just after 4:00 PM. I was aware of the likelihood the labour might slow down a little due to change of the environment (which is why women in labour are often encouraged to stay at home as long as possible). Thankfully it didn’t. Being warmly welcomed by Kelsea, such a personable, calm and genuine midwife with whom I felt comfortable being myself, helped.

Kelsea had already set up the birthing room, exactly according to my preference – nice and quiet, dimly lit by little electric candles (as real candles weren’t allowed in the hospital for fire safety). It had such a peaceful atmosphere. She had put the bed aside, so it felt less like a hospital, more like a home environment. As I requested, she also set up an area with a firm mattress and a gym ball, so I could continue being on all-fours, leaning on the ball, etc. (very similar to the setup I had at home). Michael put on the “birthing playlist” I created on Spotify via a Bluetooth speaker we brought to add extra homeliness to the room.

Being in such a comforting environment, not to mention being in the company of the two people I felt absolutely safe and comfortable for being myself with, I was able to get straight back into the “birthing zone”, a trance-like state. I concentered 100% on breathing through each surge and relaxed completely in between. Listening to my body, I moved from holding onto the bar swaying side to side, to getting on my knees, on all-fours on the mattress – I stayed upright not only because it came most naturally, but also to keep working with gravity.

As the waves were becoming more intense and closer apart (by this point we didn’t even need to time it anymore), Kelsea suggested an internal examination to see how dilated my cervix was. Having only arrived at the hospital less than half an hour ago, Michael and I guessed it would about 5cm if not less. To our surprise (and much to my delight), I was already 6cm dilated! Knowing I was more than halfway through, I happily continued doing what I was doing.

For the rest of my labour, I wanted to get in the bath remembering how soothing being in the water was from my first experience. Kelsea immediately filled up the welcoming and spacious bathtub located in the corner of the room. As soon as I got in the bath, I could feel all my tight, tired muscles relax and become lighter – especially my legs which were under a lot of pressure during pregnancy. I also felt extra safe and supported. I slightly bent over so my belly was facing the bottom of the bath, so it felt extra weightless. Kelsea asked me whether I would like to have a water birth (which wasn’t planned earlier) given how well things were progressing, and I said yes without hesitation.

Being on my knees in the bath, I leaned forward to hold Michael’s hands. Then I closed my eyes and started moaning like a cow, letting it all out. It was unstoppable. It came from a very deep, primitive place within me. When the next big wave kicked in, I couldn’t help myself but moan even louder. It was like a giant tsunami that washed ALL OVER me. Suddenly I felt the strong urge to push. I couldn’t believe how quickly it progressed (from being 6cm dilated to the “pushing stage” within minutes, I’d only just got in the bath!). Part of the mental preparation was to switch off my “monkey mind” and get back in tune with my body. Accepting what was happening, I took a slow, deep breath, focusing on the word “surrender” – to surrender to whatever was happening in the moment.

The next wave came in with so much energy. It felt like a volcano just about to erupt. I felt a burning sensation down there as the “birthing gate” was opening up. It was the baby’s head. I kept saying the mantra “surrender, surrender, surrender.” And it worked. I surrendered to this powerful energy to push the baby down the birth canal. I closed my eyes and visualised her actively pushing herself out, as eager to meet mummy and daddy too. Out of excitement watching me in the very last stage, Kelsea shouted: “Listen to your body, let your body do the work!” And so, did Michael, saying “We’re so close to meeting our girl! You’re doing so well!”. Their supportive words reassured me to keep going what I was doing.

Two more big pushes later, out came our baby girl, gracefully into the water (like a little mermaid!). It was such a vivid, euphoric moment. I put my hands down to pick her up out of the water. I gently lifted her warm, soft body and placed her on my chest, being skin-to-skin. She was incredibly calm and relaxed with very little sound, movement or tension.

Inspired by sereneness of the baby as well as the birth itself, we decided to name her Serena. She was born at 5:15 PM, weighed 3.125kg, 48cm long. Flooded with bliss, Michael and I took turns to hold her in our arms just marveling at her beauty. Nothing else, other than “being with” each other, seemed to matter.

Post Birth

Within an hour, I had had a shower and felt ready to go home despite a minor tear and normal bleeding. But we were required to stay in the hospital for monitoring for 24 hours though as Serena had passed meconium (a.k.a. poo) in the uterus.

Serena was asleep most of the time during the hospital stay. When awake, she made a few noises here and there but didn’t cry. A reflection of such a peaceful birth perhaps. I had lots of energy too which I channelled into writing, listening to music and bonding with the baby.

Leaving the hospital with the healthy baby the next day, we were overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude for the public system we have in Australia that provided the support, facilities and staff.

My stitches dissolved within a week and the tear and bleeding healed just as rapidly. Overall, I felt great and was able to go for walks in a matter of days.

The first six weeks was challenging with constant breastfeeding and settling Serena. However, there were countless (and priceless) moments of just “being with” the baby who reminded me of how empowering the labour of love was and would continue to be for the rest of my motherhood.

If I can do it, you can do it.

When people ask me how the birth was, especially female friends who wish to have children soon, I tell them my story. Most express surprise at first, but they certainly feel more encouraged and reassured they can do it too. Most importantly, they learn that it is possible to have a positive birth experience.

So, I have decided to be the light in darkness and share my story with more women out there in the world – because what the world needs more is stories of love, not fear.