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Happy Birth-Day: Tanner’s Home Water Birth Video

_DSC0461fToday, my sweet, energetic, fiery, powerhouse of a baby boy turned one! In honor of his birthday, Mark finished putting together Tanner’s birth video. This is the first time I’ve ever had any video of any of my children’s births and it feels tender to share (which is why it took a year to put it out there). Birth is a very private, inner experience for me. I like to give birth virtually alone. So, having video feels like having another observer there, and birth for me is about not being observed. The music that plays in the video is the song Standing at the Edge from Sacred Pregnancy that I listened to throughout my pregnancy and then hummed to myself during labor. When I shared about my sealing ceremony after his birth, I mentioned how meaningful it was to me that this song started to play both as I was entering my ceremonial bath and again as I was getting back out. Well, guess what happened when I went to take a shower this morning on his birthday? This song was also the first to begin as I stepped into the shower!

The written version of his birth story is here: Welcoming Tanner Matthias! | Talk Birth

I’ll do a separate Happy Birthday blog post in a couple of days. I just wanted to make sure to get this video up today! I spent some time at Tanner’s naptime today going through the cards from my mother blessing ceremony and enjoying that energy and affirmation, rather than rushing to my to-do list.

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Talk Books: Touching Bellies, Touching Lives

touchingbelliesEvery so often I end up reading a book that is nothing like I was expecting and yet is totally amazing. Touching Bellies, Touching Lives is one of those books. Subtitled “Midwives of Southern Mexico Tell Their Stories,” I was expecting a collection of birth stories from Mexican midwives. While there are birth stories, and everyone knows that I love birth stories, this book is so much more than a birth story collection. It is a personal pilgrimage, a preservation of the legacy of midwives, an examination of cultural birth practices, and a sobering first-hand account of the declining culture of traditional midwifery in Mexico. Many people may have the misconception that in Mexico or other South American cultures, midwifery is commonplace and maybe even flourishing. In Touching Bellies, we come to understand that Western medical practices are encroaching at a steady pace and that many midwives are elderly, retiring, and not being replaced. A steady theme runs throughout of women going to midwives for “belly massage,” but going to “modern” facilities to have their babies (unfortunately, they’ve imported some U.S. 1950’s-style practices in terms of birth position, birthing alone with no husbands allowed, and being treated dismissively in labor. This is along with a cesarean rate over 40% and up to 70% much in some cities).

The author, Judy Gabriel, takes multiple trips to Mexico on her quest to document the lives and stories of Mexican midwives (most of whom are age 65 and many of whom do not live to see the end of the book). She photographs the midwives and, with some hurdles with language barriers, listens to their stories–asking about the first birth they attended as well as any births that were problematic for them. She returns to them bearing hearing aids, dresses, and photos of family members from the United States. She travels through rough terrain and to distant villages on her quest to listen and learn from these midwives. I was completely absorbed by Judy’s dedication to her mission and her personal insights and life lessons as she travels and learns.

The “belly massage” practice for which Touching Bellies gains its title was endlessly fascinating to me (and to Judy, the author) with midwives regularly helping position the baby, release tight muscles, and ease aches and pains through a gentle process of abdominal massage and fetal manipulation. This aspect of midwifery care was so pervasive that when Judy would ask in a village where the midwives are, many people would not understand and say that they don’t know what she is talking about. When she asks for the woman who massages the bellies of pregnant women, everyone knows where to tell her to go.

In this quote, a 75-year-old midwife tells the story of helping a woman who is in premature labor. The doctors have tried to stop her contractions without avail and now say she must have a cesarean and the baby will most likely die:

“…The mother-in-law said, ‘This woman knows more than you doctors. You may have gone to the university, but, excuse me, for you doctors it is always puro cuchillo, puro cuchillo [just knives, just knives]. Leave the midwife to work in peace, and you’ll see what can be done without knives.’

So I did my work. I rocked the girl in a rebozo and massaged her belly, moving the baby up. The contractions stopped.

The doctors asked, ‘How did you do that?’

I said, ‘You were standing right there watching. I did it in front of you. I’m not hiding anything. You saw me rock her; you saw me massage her.’

‘Is that all you had to do?” they asked.

I said, ‘Yes, that’s all I had to do. What else would I have to do?’

(The baby survived and was born at full-term six weeks later.)

The dedicated care for women, in touching their bellies, touches their lives. Almost all of the midwives in the book have access to nurturing touch and almost no other resources available and yet almost all of them report never losing a baby or a mother in childbirth.

I absolutely loved reading Touching Bellies, Touching Lives. It is an extremely interesting, thought-provoking, and thoroughly fascinating journey. The information about the gradual decline and near-extinction of midwifery in Mexico is sobering, but the book does end on a hopeful note.

You can read more about the book here as well as see some of the interesting documentary-style photographs of the midwives from the book (one of the points of Judy’s travels was to photograph the midwives and share pictures of their families in the U.S. with them and vice versa). The book itself is available via Amazon.

Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book for review purposes.

Talk Books: The Secrets of Midwives

“By the time the baby boy spilled into my arms, I knew. Women were warriors. And I wanted to be part of it.” –Neva Bradley

(character in The Secrets of Midwives by Sally Hepworth)

While feeling somewhat pre-laborish in the last days of pregnancy, I stayed up way too late devouring a review copy of the new novel The Secrets of Midwives Secrets of Midwives, theby Sally Hepworth. I  got it in the mail in the afternoon and by 1:30 a.m. that night, I’d finished the whole thing! In the past, I’ve been heard to remark that I can think of few things better than a novel about a midwife. Well…how about a novel about three midwives? That’s right, The Secrets of Midwives interlaces the three stories and pivotal life journeys of three midwives, who happen to be grandmother, mother, and pregnant daughter. Each midwife has a different personality and style of practice. In an intriguing style that kept me turning pages, the chapters are split between the viewpoints of each, allowing for multiple perspectives on the same relationship and personal issues.

Floss, the grandmother/mother, is retired from midwifery, but her chapters alternate between her early experiences as a midwife in the UK and her current life as a natural childbirth instructor. Neva, the daughter/granddaughter, is a hospital birth-center based CNM who is hiding her unexpected pregnancy with her own first child. Grace, the mother/daughter, is a CNM who attends homebirths.

The Secrets of Midwives contains elements of a romance story and elements of a mystery story. It blends the three women’s midwifery journeys in a creative, engaging way, including exploring the complex quality of mother-daughter relationships and communication vs. secret-keeping therein. It is serious enough to keep the pages turning, but not so “heavy” as to be depressing. There is a subplot in which the homebirth midwife is investigated by the state nursing board for possible malpractice and it felt relevant and contemporary to the fears and risks faced by midwives around the country. And, while reading as a pregnant woman myself, I appreciated that in this novel, with one pivotal exception, there are no scary births with bad outcomes—I find that high drama births resulting in maternal or infant death are a common feature of midwifery novels that often makes them somewhat iffy reads for pregnant women!

“That superhuman feeling people describe? It has nothing to do with the way the baby comes out. It’s about what happens to the mother. You become superhuman. You’ll grow extra hands and legs to look after your baby. You’ll definitely grow an extra heart for all the love you’ll feel.” –Neva Bradley

(in The Secrets of Midwives)

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 THE SECRETS OF MIDWIVES by Sally Hepworth

Find the author on Facebook here and her website here.

Published by St. Martin’s Press

On sale February 10, 2015

ISBN-13: 978-1-250-05189-9 | $25.99

Disclosure: I was provided with a complimentary copy of the book for review purposes.

 

 

Welcoming Tanner Matthias!

“There really was a baby!” –Me, in birth video

IMG_8557As was my pregnancy custom, on October 30th I woke up around 3:00 a.m. with definite contractions. They were spaced about 30 minutes apart, however, and I kept myself awake unnecessarily waiting for them to get bigger or closer together. I finally got up at 4:30 or 5:00 and Mark got up too. As I as I got up, contractions picked up to about three minutes apart. I couldn’t believe I’d “wasted time” by lying down, non-sleeping AND non-laboring! I felt very adrenaline filled and excited. The sense of urgency and “coming soon” was very familiar to Zander’s exceedingly fast labor, whereas my sense of need to call Mom during a contraction and then changing my mind afterward was similar to Lann’s. And, leaning on the kitchen half-wall as an ideal labor position was similar to Alaina’s. There was no slow lead-in here, these were sharp, strong, intense contractions that I already couldn’t talk through. Though they felt big and serious, they were also short in duration. I lit my birth altar candle and since I wanted to have clean, freshly washed hair, I decided to take a shower.

043 044After showering and even blowdrying my hair for cuteness in future pictures, the intensity of the contractions increased again. Mark got to work on filling the pool and heating more water as soon as I got out of the shower and he kept messing with the pool even though I was starting to feel like I needed him (also needed pool, so he wasn’t doing the wrong thing!). I felt sure that this was picking up FAST. We texted Mom and she contacted Robin and Summer (midwife and doula). I felt a weird sensation of time pressure then, looking out window, waiting and not wanting to be observed, waited for, or watched. The pool continued to take a lot of time and attention and was annoying. Plus, the hose popped out when Mark was in the laundry room and flooded the floor. I was saying things like, “this had better be the best thing ever, because right now I hate it!” I couldn’t decide if I should keep standing up or try something else like sit on the birth ball or try the water. It seemed early for water (except during contractions!), so I sat on the ball at which point contractions became HUGE, but, also only 8-10 minutes apart. I was confused and kept trying to figure out what made more sense—smaller, more frequent contractions while standing up, or bigger but far apart on the ball. I was laughing about my indecisiveness and kept saying, “so, tell me what to doooooooo!” (which is actually my most despised thing in labor). I opted to stay on the ball because I felt open there and when standing I felt like I was closing my legs together and tensing up. On the ball, I started humming the Sacred Pregnancy Standing at the Edge song I listened to so often during my pregnancy: standing at the edge…clinging to my innocence…one more tiny step…time is here and now…diving into the unknown. I believe in me, I believe in meee-eeee. I believe in me, I do, I do…

Later, in the pool, I turned on the rest of my Sacred Pregnancy playlist from the CD, which I both liked and didn’t like because I could no longer anchor myself then with the “I believe in me, I do” hum.  I talked and joked and laughed about stuff a lot. And, I would sing little things like: let’s find something else to say and not owie-zooooowie… I do not know how else to say that these were intense, big, powerful contractions. To my memory, they feel like they were the biggest, most painful contractions I’ve ever had—but slooooooowly far apart. The sensation of downward pressure was powerful already during each, but the distance between them very confusing. After back and forthing verbally for some time, I decided to get in the pool: this had BETTER be WORTH IT.

I loved the pool, but I also, intensely, felt like I was on “display” or being watched. I also felt a little isolated or separated and observed, even by my own mom (who, mindfully, went to sit on the couch to give me space). I kept feeling worried and pressured about my midwife and doula getting there any minute, even though we talked in advance about how I mainly needed them for immediate postpartum care and only wanted them to come in at the very end. I had never talked to my mom about specifically when to tell them to actually come though, so I kept thinking they were sitting in the driveway waiting for me (they weren’t, because they were being respectful of what they knew I wanted and needed). As with my other babies, I knew in my heart I wanted to birth alone, but then with immediate postpartum/follow-up care. This is hard to balance and gauge. And, I acknowledge that it isn’t really fair to the midwife either! My birth brain really needs to be alone and unwatched and I knew in the pool that I wanted to push my baby out before anyone else was there.

I took my favorite birth goddess sculpture into the pool with me where she kept me company and floated with me and reassured me until I was pushing and set her outside the tub (ever practical, I didn’t want her to get lost in what I knew would end up as bloody water!).

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If you look close, you can spy the little goddess in my hand.

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Here, I was laughing about feeling like a little toad in a pool.

My mom kept me supplied with food and drinks and occasional encouragement and Mark stayed close, touching me and being present. There was lots of waiting in the pool (I feel like) for those slow but BIG contractions. I got out to pee and finally saw some BLOOD. I always wait and wait for this sign because for me it is the herald of nearly full dilation. I have no blood or any leaking or discharge until I’m only a short distance from pushing out a baby! I shook and shook in the bathroom at this point too, which I think was related to the temperature change from getting out of the warm pool and not transition per se, but it could have been both.

Back to the pool and out one more time to pee (more blood! Yay! Blood is so fun! Really. It is super encouraging for me to see during labor at this point.) I started to weirdly fret about my bladder at this point getting in the way of baby’s head (potentially): this can happen, you know, I told my mom and Mark (even though I was totally peeing and had no signs of bladder being in the way). I could tell baby was moving down and getting close to pushing, but I felt impeded with the amniotic sac intact. I moved to hands and knees in the tub and talked to myself: it’s okay. You’re okay. We’re okay. I can do it. We can do it. You can come out baby. We want you. We want you. (I cried I tiny bit saying this.)

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I like how you can see my friendly little birth altar glowing in the background.

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I turned back over then and kept on smiling…

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One hour before birth.

IMG_8543Some time after this, I started feeling inside after each contraction and could feel a hard lump getting closer and closer every time I had a (now close together) contraction. I didn’t feel sure it was a head though, but that maybe I was somehow feeling my own pubic bone or some other mysterious part of my anatomy never before felt. It felt squishy kind of, though hard underneath. (Duh, because it was an amniotic sac around a baby head, Molly!), so then I imagined I wasn’t fully dilated and was somehow prolapsing my cervix instead of feeling a baby’s head. I think these types of thoughts are one of the hazards of being a birth professional. They are also proof, to me, that no matter what odd or frightening things you think, babies’ heads still move down and come out anyway! At this point, the baby began to have hiccups. He was so low that it basically felt like my anus was hiccupping. I had Mark feel them very low on my belly—just above my pubic bone—and then I laughed and saidthis counts as a fetal heart tones check!

Finally, my water broke at last and I knew he was almost out. Pushing was intense and big and felt huge and hard and long. I became convinced baby weighed ten pounds and was probably not going to come out. I felt like it was taking a long time and a lot of work, but according to Mom and Mark it was about four pushes and date stamps on pictures reveal about 5-6 minutes total of this hard work. I also kept thinking someone else was going to come in. I felt the familiar burning on my front right side and knew I would tear again (labial/clitoral). It felt scary and I looked at my mom and said I was scared (she said, “I know”). I almost pushed through the burn, but then I stopped myself and waited for the next push and then his head was out, along with a bloom of blood in the water which does indicate tearing, but I didn’t get checked for tears (by my specific decision and request) so I don’t know for sure. A minimal follow-up push and his body came out into my hands. He bobbed to the top of the pool and I lifted him out of the water. He cried a little and was already reasonably pink. He was looking around and was a little bit gurgly. I talked to him and kissed his head and told him I loved him: oh my little one, oh my little one. Oh my goodness! Oh my goodness! There really was a baby! Oh, he’s CUTE! I noticed his cord was around his neck and arm and somewhat awkwardly moved it off. It was 10:20, a little over five hours after I got up.

We called my dad to bring the kids back over to see the baby and cut the cord and they arrived a few minutes before Summer and Robin got there.

053 054After Robin and Summer arrived, they helped me out the pool which I was eager to get out of, but had a lot of trouble actually doing, and onto my futon nest on the floor between the pool and bathroom. This is the part I didn’t like. So familiar and so not fun. The weak and wounded transition. But, Summer (doula) reminded me that the warrior moments are in feeling the vulnerability too. Sometimes the warrior is found in showing the vulnerability and needing the help.

After some lying on the futon and waiting for the placenta, I went to the bathroom (still holding baby attached with cord) and the placenta finally came out there (after it was washed, I swallowed a small piece of it). Zander and Alaina cut the cord as they had been waiting to do and then left for playgroup with my friend who was waiting patiently outside to take them. When the placenta was examined, they saw he had a velamentous cord, which is fairly rare and can actually be dangerous and possibly explains my widely spaced contractions (giving baby time he needed).

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The baby’s temperature was low and it took us some time and effort to get him warmed up and that was probably because I was in the water a little long after birth and that is my only regret about this birth. When his temperature was normal, we weighed him and he only came up as 6lbs4oz. He then weighed 7lbs4oz at two days, which means he was really bigger than that at birth. He weighs eight pounds now at a week. So, he weighed something at birth, but the exact amount is unknown! He was 20 inches and had a 14 inch head.

As I laid on my futon and latched baby on for the first time, I realized that in all my planning and fretting and preparing and deadlining, I’d forgotten how very, very much love was possible.

Edited one year later to add that Tanner’s birth video is now available online: Welcoming Tanner Matthias (Home Water Birth Video) – Brigid’s Grove

Sacred Postpartum, Week 1: Birth Stories and Vow

Backtracking a little into week one of my current Sacred Postpartum class, for the first week’s assignments in reviewing our own birth and postpartum experiences, I set up a mini sacred space and put on some of my birth power bracelets (Mark and I started making these recently and I love them! It is like carrying a mini-mantra, birth power reminder with me every day).

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I did my vow page and then a collage of reminders to myself. I made a birth stories page and then printed out copies of each of my kids’ birth stories and stapled them to the back of one journal page per story, including one for my third baby who was born in a second trimester miscarriage (the stories are all available on my blog here. I didn’t include pictures of the actual print outs! ). Then, I did a page on the front of each birth story with pictures of each kid and significant words/lessons from their stories. I ended with a collage of myself as I prepare for my upcoming birth at the end of this month (39 weeks now, 37 when I did the assignment) and took a picture of a blank page as well as a symbol of the story yet to be written…

(click for bigger pix)

I also just have to pat myself on the back again about having enrolled in these trainings at this point in my own pregnancy. It was a stroke of genius! And, while I knew I would benefit from them, I had no idea how very deeply I would do so.

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Talk Books: Cut, Stapled, and Mended

To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect from Roanna Rosewood’s memoir, Cut, Stapled, and Mended. After it arrived I actually wondered if I should have agreed to review it, because I have so many things to read, things to think about, and interests that are calling me—do I really need to read a memoir about someone’s cesareans? I’ve already read so many books about birth, do I really want to read another one? Well…the answer was YES, I did need to read it. After I finished the book, I felt almost speechless at how deeply it had touched me. This book was a surprise all the way through, from the opening Orgasmic Amazon Queen sex scene, to a session with a psychic healer who tapped in to Roanna’s past life abdominal wound, to her dogged quest to open herself to her own feminine wisdom, to her birth experiences—all soul-shattering in their own way—this book touched me profoundly. I was shocked to find myself with tears in my eyes at many different points and eventually truly unable to put it down.

Orgasmic Amazon Queen notwithstanding, Roanna comes across as a practical and down-to-earth narrator, who in her quest to understand herself, her body, her inner wisdom, and her birth experiences, makes a decidedly not down-to-earth personal journey through a variety of healing modalities and nontraditional experiences and perspectives. I really loved the balance she struck between the spiritual and metaphysical experiences she describes and the nitty-gritty reality of doing this thing, giving birth. In a perfect example of what I mean, she writes:

You think I would run out of poop but I don’t. It’s endless poop.

My ego, having (literally) had enough of this shit, quits. It gets up and walks right out the door. What is left of me poops in the tub. Looking down, I say, ‘ewwwww.’ I say it as if it wasn’t me who just shat in the tub. I say it as if I just happened to come across poop in my bath one day. ‘Ewwww’ or not, I’m never getting out of the tub ever again. If this tub were full of nothing but shit mud, I would still stay right here (p. 144).

And, just a few pages later, the experience I already quoted in my earlier post:

Only then does the Divine come, taking my body as her own. I am no longer alone. There is no fear…I experience completeness. I find religion. Infinity is tangible. Generations of children, their dreams, passions, defeats and glories—they all pass through me, converging here, between my thighs… (p. 146-147).

via Thesis Tidbits: Cut, Stapled, and Mended | Talk Birth

Despite planning homebirths, Roanna experiences two cesareans and her journey towards VBAC is an arduous one:

Deep inside, I feel the screams of birth echoing off the sides of my skull. Softer and softer they fade, becoming a faint whisper, then disappearing completely.

I open my mouth. ‘Please,’ I whisper-scream-beg-cry, ‘please come back.’

She does not.

I am, once again, mortal. (p. 155)

While I would likely proceed with some degree of caution if reading this memoir as a pregnant first-time mom, there is much to be learned from Roanna’s experiences. Her narrative is rich, deep, compelling, scary, dramatic, poignant, and powerful. I highly recommend it!

Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book for review purposes.

Crossposted at Citizens for Midwifery.

Guest Post: Squatter’s Rights

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Squatter’s Rights

A couple of posts ago, I mentioned I’d made a new sculpture that I titled after a friend of mine and an article she wrote several years ago. She originally sent me the article to review, because she was thinking of sending it to a magazine. Several years passed, several more babies were born, her computer got fried, and the article was lost. However, it stayed with me anyway. It stayed with me when I prepared for the birth of my rainbow baby girl, it stayed with me as I created birth art to prepare for her birth, and it stayed with me as I reached down to catch my baby’s whole pink wonderful self in my hands as she was born in one smooth reflex almost three years ago. So, I created my figure and I emailed Shauna about it and then I went digging. Deep in the ancient, archived messages in my Outlook Express folder on my old laptop that now belongs to Zander (age 7), I found it. I found Shauna’s squatter’s rights article that had so touched my birth consciousness in such a way that I never forgot—even though babies, computers, friendships, and time have all marched on. I was already a childbirth educator when I read it, had already given birth myself, and was deeply immersed in birth work and childbearing. However, that doesn’t mean that certain descriptions cannot reach us and grab our attention in new ways. I’m delighted that Shauna gave me permission to publish her article here and to share her insights and experiences in this way!

Squatter’s Rights

by Shauna Marie

Would the new child coming from me be slippery like soap? I rubbed my fat belly. I loved each pound I gained, each craving I had, and every trip to the bathroom. Okay, maybe not every trip to the bathroom. But, I loved this growing baby. Tucked away like a pearl in the sea just waiting to be discovered. I was in a constant state of marvel.

Would I be able to physically do this? No, I don’t mean the labor, nor do I mean the birth. I knew I could do that. I got lost in thought as I planned in my head every moment that would come after my body did the work of labor. The moment would come once my body was ready and the crown of a child’s head pushed itself from me, the moment the child would emerge. That’s what I was planning for; I planned to catch my own baby.

I imagined opening my legs and squatting, I even practiced. I wondered where I’d put my hands, how I would have my legs, and if this little wet creature would be so slippery that I’d drop him or her. In December of 1999 this would be my second birth, but my first time catching a baby.

Like many people from a young age I was led to believe that women didn’t and couldn’t birth outside hospitals. The ones who did were radical or even dangerous. I was led to believe that the birth doesn’t matter, the baby matters. For my own personal sanity, due to cultural birth fear, I had to just come to the conclusion that as long as my baby was okay I could endure anything and that it would all be over soon.

Now rewind a little bit here, because there is something to be said about being at the right place at the right time; or knowing the right person. As a person who now tries to make a difference by being a strong home birth and natural family living advocate, I know who you know can sometimes make all the difference. For some people they just need that connection with real birth; they need to know someone who will talk about what birth really is about from a natural and physiological point of view. Above all people need to be exposed to home birth because it normalizes birth.

I was almost connected at one small point during my first pregnancy, just weeks before my first birth a friend of a friend was having a baby. I asked where she was having the baby at and when. My friend said she was in labor now, and having the baby at home. A jolt of sudden uncomfortableness and worry struck me, “At home! Why?” (Thinking oh my gosh there is no epidural at home!) My friend responded with a rather obvious sounding answer, “Well her mom is a midwife.” “Oh,” I said in an understanding tone. Somehow this made total sense now. If her mom is a midwife then it’s okay for her.

Quickly all home birth thoughts were intercepted with other conversations of non-birth related content. To this day I feel that should have been my contact with home birth. Instead I missed my first calling and just two months later I was induced two weeks before my due date against my own wishes (along with two other women from my OB’s office) to fit into the OB’s schedule.

I learned an awful lot that night. I learned I would never give birth to a healthy baby in a hospital again. I learned that in a hospital it is okay for others to look at your body, touch you, reach into you, and deliver your baby; but it’s not okay for you to do so.

I also learned that birth does matter, not just a healthy baby. Healthy empowered moms matter and instincts are stripped away by technology and birth colliding. This often even includes the instinct to breastfeed.

I was shocked at how disconnected I felt from the waist down. These strangers were in charge of me. There is something about being tied to IV’s and monitors, naked from the waist down in a hospital bed, legs in stirrups, that takes your power away. Even though some one at some point said, “Here comes your baby, look at your baby come” I felt like I wanted to reach over my belly and feel, or catch. I’d seen that in a birth video once –a nurse said something like ‘you can touch your baby’s head and feel’ to a mom giving birth flat on her back. I waited for someone to say that to me, but no one did.  Be it because of hospital policy, or be it because of shame, it was a no-no to touch or even catch what was mine. I felt so disconnected as I tried eagerly to see over my belly, knees being held up to my ears by three sets of hands to the chants of, “Push, push, pushhh…. good girl.”

I wondered so much about just staying home. I had what I thought was an unexplainable and unfounded desire to hibernate in a dark corner like an animal.

Around the same time that I got pregnant with baby number two I heard a doctor on television actually say that women are physiologically unable to catch their own babies. Already committed to having a home birth that comment further sealed the deal. I was catching my own baby this time. Not only do I dislike someone telling me that I can’t do something, I didn’t believe a woman would let her baby just fall to the floor (many mammals are born that
way though). Surely even if a woman didn’t squat with intent to catch her baby the child would be born slipping onto bed or floor without assistance or harm. My research lead me to discover that women have given birth effortlessly while in comas, unassisted and unmedicated. We’ve all heard the stories of scared teens giving birth suddenly, alone in a bathroom. The body just gives birth when it’s time. Not to mention National Geographic taught me from a young age more than just that women in tribes go topless; they also sometimes give birth to babies unassisted and catch them.

Shauna’s eighth baby, born into her hands this summer.

I was also somehow sure a woman could give birth in total control; in control of her thoughts, feelings, and use of good judgment. I was no longer buying into the stereotypical out of control agony portrayed in movies. I didn’t know, but I deeply believed a woman giving birth, if allowed, could totally be in control and instinctively know how to give birth.

I figured that squatting would give me the best angle to catch my baby. Being in a squat, on bent knees, or even on all fours is clearly the most natural and easiest way to birth a baby. Squatting has roots in ancient history as far as birth goes back. It is only within the last 100 to 150 years, since physicians took control of birth, that women have been required to have babies laying their backs in the lithotomy position. Lying on the back (or semi lying) has obvious benefits from the doctor’s perspective as it provides a good view and way to manually remove a baby, as well as use a scalpel to cut a wider opening to the vagina. The use of gigantic tongs (forceps), vacuum suction extraction on the baby’s head, and even manually pulling on the baby’s head have all been routinely practiced by physicians.

Elizabeth Noble, author of Childbirth with Insight, states, “Women who squat for birth can generally deliver their babies without any manual assistance at all. Gravity and the free space around the perineum allow the baby’s rotation maneuvers to be accomplished spontaneously.”

There are vast differences in giving birth in a squatting position rather than lying down. Well over half of all the births in this country currently involve some type of surgical or operative procedure such as; cesarean section, episiotomy, vacuum extraction, or the use of forceps. These interventions and their accompanying risks could be avoided if women would just adopt a squatting position for birth. Aside from working with rather than against the body and gravity the birth canal depth is shortened during a squat, and the pelvic diameter is increased. In fact just the simple act of squatting can open a women’s pelvic outlet by up to 28 percent. All of these benefits can shorten the second stage of labor and the need for interventions. Squatting also reduces the risk of tearing. Dr. Michel Odent writes in Birth Reborn that, “This position assures maximum pelvic pressure, optimal muscle relaxation, extensive perineal stretching, and minimal muscular effort. It also provides the best safeguard against serious perineal tears.”

Routinely birthing moms are put on their backs or reclined in beds which center the mother’s weight on her tail bone, narrowing the pelvic outlet and compressing major blood vessels which reduce proper circulatory function. This in turn reduces oxygen to the baby and to the uterus making contractions less productive and more painful. Less oxygen to the baby signals distress in the infant, which if in a hospital could cause a whole round of interventions. Combine an oxygen deprived baby with a mother trying to push uphill with a baby that cannot move into a good birthing position because of restricted pelvic room, and ultimately you have mothers who are very good candidates for a birth that must be forcefully assisted by forceps, vacuum extraction or the ever so common routine C-section. The Centers for Disease control states on their website that cesarean sections are now at 32.8% in North America (2011).

Delivery of the after birth in an upright position also has clear advantages. When the placenta isn’t compressed there is less chance of blood pooling up and creating large clots, and gravity aids in placental expulsion.

When the day finally came for me to catch my baby I talked myself through the contractions. I told myself I could do this. I said over and over I can do this, because as a pregnant mammal it’s what I was put here to do. When I felt it was time I squatted over a mirror and saw the crown. I told myself to enjoy this moment, not everyone gets to catch their own baby, and I didn’t want to miss one second of this experience. I swirled the thick wet black hair that was presenting around in a circle with my fingertips. Any and all pain was gone, it was amazing. I focused on this new life that was unfolding from my body. I waited for contractions and I let my body do the work without forceful pushing or feeling agony. When the baby slid into freedom and the room was engulfed with newborn smells and newborn cries I cried out, “It’s a boy, it’s a baby boy!”

The impact of that birth was powerful and amazing; so much so that I have caught five more children from my body since then. There is a saying about the “thrill of the catch,” and midwives and doctors know this. It’s intoxicating and it’s very powerful to catch a baby.

So much harm has been done to cloud the process of childbirth. Birth isn’t just about babies, it’s about mothers too. It’s about how they work together. Catching your own baby puts you focused on your birth, and without trying you take the control and suddenly you feel and know what you need to do. Focusing on the important task of birth made an impact on me a very positive way as a mother. True freedom over my body gave me independence, confidence, and self-control.

Not every woman may want to catch her own baby, but every woman should be encouraged to do so, or at the very, very least know they can if they do wish to. Most women I have spoken with actually say they have never even thought of it.

The state of birth in this country lies squarely in the hands of birthing women. Until we start demanding more respect and more variation in our birthing options we have no one to blame but ourselves. We must first credit ourselves with being able to birth safely the way nature intended before anyone else will give us that credit. The seeking out of safe and natural birth options will slowly continue to influence and change how birth is perceived.

There are specialized hospital beds that can be converted in a way that women are more upright. If you will be giving birth in a hospital request them, demand them. Hill-Rom makes such a bed; the Affinity Three Birthing Bed aids a woman to side lie, squat, kneel, sit, and lean in various positions. It has a labor bar and position controls that are quite impressive. The bed can be lowered or raised up, down, back, and forth

There are birth balls, birth bars, and birthing stools that can aid in more natural upright positions in whatever birth setting you choose. There are showers and tubs to soothe a mother.

I share my experiences with catching my own babies, and have even shared very private birth photos and even one video with others in the past; because I have been told by so many women it has empowered them. I also hear from lots of women who say how strong both me and my legs must be to squat down like that. I assure that it’s not my legs that are strong; it’s my heart and my passion, and the willingness to open up and catch what is mine.

Shauna Marie is happily married to the man of her dreams. They live in the Midwest where they juggle eight energetic children while homeschooling and developing upon a one acre hobby farm of veggies, fruits, chickens, geese, and the dream of a dairy goat. She blogs about her life at Life with Eight Kids. Shauna is very passionate about family with an emphasis on childbirth and healthy, happy moms and babies.

Postscript: Shauna’s most recent birth story, excerpted below, is an excellent description of a squatting birth!

I was standing there in the still of the labor lull a rush of hormones hit me and the baby’s head slipped fully into the birth canal. I squatted down instinctively. I was then super indecisive: I flip-flopped between on my hands and knees to squatting, then squatting with one leg up and one leg down, then a leg up on the side of the tub, then standing upright, then a squat-stand and finally then back to the other positions all over again. This baby was going to start to seriously crown in a big way and I had no idea where I wanted to be! Having done this so many times I had way too many choices in my head and I knew what they all felt like. Later Ricky told me he got nervous that I was moving around so much in the tub; he was worried I’d slip and fall. I however felt firmly planted like a rock. I told him later I felt like I had sticky gecko pads on my limbs and slipping never crossed my mind.

Our baby was starting to crown as I finally squatted down low with one leg higher than the other (I was out of time to change things up. I’ll just squat and do it the same ‘boring’ highly effective way I always do it I thought lol.) I used some counter pressure on her velvety head to help ease her head out but it wasn’t really needed and a painless contraction inched her head fully out.

via Life With Eight Kids: Beatrice’s Unassisted Birth Story (half hour labor and birth -with extra info on my favorite topics of vernix, cord cutting, and not pushing).

Related Talk Birth resources:

Active Birth in the Hospital

Spontaneous Birth Reflex

How to Use a Hospital Bed without Lying Down

What to Expect When You Go to the Hospital for a Natural Childbirth

References:

(Elizabeth Noble, Childbirth with Insight, 78). See also Golay, J., et al., “The squatting position for the second stage of labor: effects on labor and maternal ad fetal well-being,” Birth 20(2) (June 1993):73-78.

Postpartum outcomes in supine delivery by physicians vs nonsupine delivery by midwives.Terry RR, Westcott J, O’Shea L, Kelly F. J Am Osteopath Assoc. 2006 Apr;106(4):199-202. Conclusion: Nonsupline positions during labor and delivery were found to have clinical advantages without risk to mother or infant. Enhanced maternal outcomes included improved perineal integrity, less vulvar edema, and less blood loss.

Dr. Martha Collins D.C., Pregnancy and Chiropractic Planetciropractic.com

Russell JGB. Moulding of the pelvic outlet. J Obstet Gynaec Brit Cwlth 1969;76:817-20

Squatting can enlarge the pelvic outlet up to 28 percent (Russell, J.G., “The rationale of primitive delivery positions,” Br J Obstet Gynaecol 89 (September 1982):712-715

Paciornik M; Commentary: arguments against episiotomy and in favor of squatting for birth. Birth 1990; 17(2): 104-5.

The total U.S. cesarean delivery rate reached a high of 32.9% of all births in 2009, rising 60% from the most recent low of 20.7 in 1996 Martin JA, Hamilton BE, Ventura SJ, et al. Births: Final data for 2009. National vital statistics reports; vol 60 no 1. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2011.

Marion Sousa writes: “[Squatting shortens and widens the pelvic outlet.” (Childbirth at Home. New York: Bantam, 1976 in Judith Goldsmith, Childbirth Wisdom from the World’s Oldest Societies, 153)

Several studies have reported that in the majority of women delivering in the lithotomy position, there was a 91% decrease in fetal transcutaneous oxygen saturation (Humphrey et al. 1973, 1974)

Robertson, Empowering Women: Teaching Active Birth in the 90s, (105)

Dr. M. Odent Birth Reborn, (101)

Hill-Rom Affinity Three Birthing Bed educational video and website. Online user manual http://www.hill-rom.com/PDFs/manuals/UserManuals/u025_iet.pdf