Birth Pause…

What was the moment like immediately following the birth of your baby?

Was the baby placed directly onto your chest by a caregiver? Was she pushed into your own waiting hands and gathered to your body? Was he put first into a warmer and then onto your chest? Did a midwife pass him to you after gently receiving him? Did you glimpse her body as she was held over a blue cloth in the operating room? Did you see her whole body, or just the top of her head as she rested upon you? Did she emerge onto a soft landing where you could gaze at her for a moment, integrating the transition from giving birth to mothering, and then scoop her up into your waiting arms? No matter how it unfolded, I’m sure it was unforgettable.

Waiting to inhale…

I greatly enjoyed reading a beautiful guest editorial in The Journal of Perinatal Education by Mary Esther Malloy, called “Waiting to Inhale: How to Unhurry the Moment of Birth,” in which she explores this precious post-birth moment. This moment when mother meets baby, earthside. Malloy notes that for many women, the moment of meeting is “hurried” by the immediate placement of the baby on mother’s chest. Many women are in a brief, transitional state almost like “birthshock” at this moment—it is the moment before the classic euphoria and “I did it!” hits. Mother often has her eyes closed and needs a second to breathe and re-focus on the world outside her deeply inner focus. Malloy began to observe at births that if baby was allowed to emerge gently onto the softness beneath the mother, the mother is able to take a brief pause to integrate the shift from birthing to mothering and then begins to gently explore baby’s body on her own time, her own terms, before gathering it into her arms and to her breast. This occurs in the space of only moments, but they are unhurried, timeless, liminal moments. She notes: “…just as we are now appreciating what occurs when we respect a baby’s ability to find its mother at birth, what I am seeing [with mothers] is heightening my respect for an understanding of our own abilities as women to find our babies at birth.” She suggests that this natural pause marks a center point of a sequence that transforms woman to mother; that finding our babies ourselves brings us forward into a new state of being physically, emotionally, psychologically, and mentally. Malloy refers to this transition point as a moment to inhale—to “exhale” the experience of giving birth and to “inhale” the sight of the new baby and the beginning of a new phase of life.

Malloy does make sure to mention that the moment of birth is “just fine” and “unforgettable” without this “birth pause” and that mother’s chest is most definitely baby’s intended destination, but that she is starting to acknowledge that having her own babies delivered straight to her chest, “feels a lot like an intervention to me. If intervention feels like too strong a word, at least, it now seems like an interruption to what I might have done if no one told me what to do.” She concludes with some thoughts regarding her own upcoming birth:

Exhale and then inhale. Exhale the magnitude of the experience of birth and then inhale the unfolding moments in which I am receiving this child. Life is not one big inhale, one big gulping in of experience. It is the symmetry of exhale and inhale. Just as we breathe this rhythm through our labors, present to one contraction at a time, we can also breathe through our transition to motherhood, finding that moment between states and passing through as slowly as we need…

Personal experiences with the birth pause

Since I recently wrote about two other  “stages” of the birth process that are not widely acknowledged, the rest and be thankful stage and the spontaneous birth reflex, I knew immediately upon reading this editorial that I wanted to explore the birth pause as well. I am curious to know of others’ experiences with it or reflections upon it. I think back to my own immediate post-birth moments with my babies. My first baby was born and immediately placed onto my chest. I remember feeling disoriented, unreal, and dazed almost. It was sort of surreal. He was crying, I touched his back, and then asked him if he wanted “nursies.” It was very spontaneous and gentle and natural feeling, though taking a step back I see that there was not much time for that inhale moment.

When my second son was born, I was on my hands and knees and the midwife passed him through my legs to me as I turned over. When my daughter was born, I pushed her out into my own hands in a kneeling position. What struck me upon reading the editorial was how after my second son’s birth and after the birth of my daughter, though I was holding them, I did not immediately put them up to my chest. I held them low, against my body, near the tops of my thighs. I think my eyes were closed both times, head tilted back and then tipped forward. Then, I looked down at them, explored them briefly, and then gathered them up in my arms and to my breast. Neither was born onto the surface in front of or behind me, but neither was placed immediately on my chest either. My daughter’s birth was the most undisturbed and instinctual, and I distinctly remember looking down at her as I held her low against my body, and then making the decision to lift her higher and into my arms against my breast. With my son, I felt like his umbilical cord was short and that I actually couldn’t lift him higher without tugging it uncomfortably (it wasn’t actually short though and I’m still unclear what this sensation was exactly).

I immediately thought of post-birth pictures of each baby, in this birth pause time:

Immediately after first baby's birth--straight to chest. Main view is of top of his head. Hands tentatively touch/explore.

Immediately after second son's birth. Notice how he's held low down and kind of only with one hand. My eyes are closed and I'm not looking at him yet. In pictures shortly after, I'm looking at him and smiling and I've moved him up to my breast.
(Didn't feel totally comfortable with full breasts shot on my blog, though feel bad to conform to social expectations of appropriateness!)

Immediately after last baby's birth. I know it is dark/hard to see, but note how I'm holding her kind of low down and actually kind of out/away from me (to look at) rather than against my chest.

I actually feel like I see in all of these pictures that birth pause to exhale the birth and then inhale the baby and the mothering of it.

What about you? What was the moment like following the birth of your baby? Did you take a brief pause, a moment to exhale and then inhale? I’d love to hear about it!

19 thoughts on “Birth Pause…

  1. Although my first set of midwives assured me I’d stop feeling this way in the moment, I wanted my baby de-gooed before being handed to me (just wiped off quickly and gently with a towel, near me, because I really don’t like blood and goo and stuff). They did. And in reading your post, I *just* realized that maybe that pause created a slice of space in which I could go from “I can’t believe I’m not in labor anymore! oh thank God,” which was my entire initial reaction, to “oh my baby” and taking care of HIS needs with love and delight after my extremely long labor. That’s really interesting.

    (This time my midwife actually believes me about the de-gooing. I’ll let you know how it feels once it’s happened!)

  2. In the hospital, my baby was placed immediately on my tummy/chest. I was so disoriented I barely touched her, just looked. Then very soon they took her to be wiped, weighed, wrapped, etc. I felt a loss after a moment and wanted her back. But it felt strange when they finally returned her all wrapped up.

  3. Hmm, I haven’t thought about this before. I know my first was shown to me over the curtain. The second two were placed on me. My second it was overwhelming, but with my third I was ready immediately, but that was my unmedicated one.

  4. I love this! I have experienced this “needing a moment” after every one of my births. And we talked a lot about it at my neonatal resuscitation training back in December. I posted about it here: I wish I had known this was normal before I had kids! Thanks for this great post. I shared it on my fb page. 🙂

    • Just read your post and really enjoyed it! Karen Strange was quoted/referenced a lot in the article I read also and I noticed that she was the person you had neonatal resuscitation with 🙂

      Thanks for commenting!

  5. My midwife told me to reach down and finish delivering my baby. So I pulled him up to where I wanted him. It was such a neat moment. I felt I was ready, although it did take me a few minutes for the emotions to really hit. Our next one will hopefully be a water birth!

  6. I was so relieved when my first child was born, I don’t recall taking a birth pause, I was so glad he was here and eager to meet this little person. He was born posterior, so it was 2 hours of pushing and 1 hour after he crowned that he was finally born. He was placed on my chest immediately. I remember my birth pause with my second very clearly. She was born really quickly (my midwife only had time to get one glove on!), and since I was on my hands and knees in the tub, I was able to catch my breath and refocus while she was being handed to me between my legs underwater. I lifted her up out of the water, examined her, discovered she was a girl (I was sure I would have another boy!), and then brought her up to my chest.

  7. Reading this is putting words to my own observations that have not quite become thoughts yet. “Birth Pause” sounds very poignant and relevant to what happens when it all goes smooth and linear.

    As a midwife I try always to check with mums-to-be if they want baby delivered onto their lower abdomen, most do and some want them wiped beforehand. Additionally I always wait at least a minute if active management has been chosen for birthing the placenta, which allows for the birth pause. But maybe to leave baby there in future, even once cord is cut, would allow the mum to further inhale and exhale until she is ready? This happens quite naturally when physiological management is chosen, I have also seen babies (only two) and read theoretically that babies crawl by reflex to the breast, quite amazing!

    May I refer to your blog, as you have inspired thoughts to my observations?

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  10. I took a birth pause. I definitly needed a moment to realize that birth is over and baby is here – especially as the delivery was faster than I expected – I had to catch up with reality. I am told to have said “whats now” or “whats that?” the moment my lovely baby popped out 🙂 I really needed a few breaths and a moment to return from laborland and step into my new motherhood.

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