Beautiful Births: A Birthing Center Experience

Note from Jesse: Birth stories are written by parents, in their own words.  The only edits I make are to preserve their privacy and keep their identities anonymous, if they wish to. These stories may include very real moments of emotion, trauma and emergency situations.  All births are variable and unique, I hope to show that by sharing these stories. If you wish to share your story, please email jessempournaras@gmail.com

My mother had all four of us at home, with only my father and a midwife by her side. She never spoke about giving birth as this terribly difficult and challenging experience, and always made it sound quite natural and special. Of course I was hoping I could have a similar experience to hers, the only problem being that I would be giving birth to my first child in the USA instead of the Netherlands, my home country. The medicalisation of birth, the scare mongering and the sheer C-section rate in the US scared me. Hence, my husband and I poured some effort into finding a midwife, birthcentre and doula to help us have the most natural and empowered experience as possible. Medical assistance would be only seconds away if we needed it (the birthcentre was part of a hospital) but it shouldn't dominate the experience if it wasn't necessary. In hindsight these were some of the best decisions we could have ever made, because I look back with marvel and awe at the birth of my daughter. It was difficult, painful and hard, but I wouldn't have missed it for the world. It was a great start to her life.

I lost my mucus plug (never knew this was a thing btw) early in the morning on a Saturday, my due date actually, but went on with my day as normal. Sure, I felt a bit more cramping and 'off' but we had a nice brunch scheduled with friends who were in town, and I was supposed to meet another friend for coffee. It was a cold day, and it was pretty tiring to walk around Brooklyn for these appointments, so in the afternoon I decided to take it easy and hang out at home. Around dinner time the contractions started to come, and my husband and I basically tried to do what we'd been told by the midwife and doula: eat, rest, keep your cool. We cooked dinner even though I regularly had to grab the kitchen table to catch the contractions, but managed to go on like this for a while. Only later in the evening it became so difficult that I couldn't be comfortable in any other position than being on my hands and knees. That's when our doula came to our home, and I will always remember how comforting it was for both of us when she came in. My husband had someone to tell him what to do, and I was grateful for the support. She helped me labor in the bath and helped us decide when to go to the hospital. We didn't give our midwife as much of a heads up as we should have, so we hoped to arrive at the birthcentre around the same time as her. The cab ride was also memorable, our doula wedged herself between the front and back seats so she could stabilize me while I rode the cab on hands and knees (!). 

Once we arrived in the hospital I went through the most unpleasant part of the whole night. I had to pass 'triage' in order to be allowed to give birth in the birthcentre. It basically required a bunch of tests, including monitoring the baby's heart rate for a continuum of 20 minutes. I was in pain, and at 19 minutes the heart monitor fell off because the baby moved around so much. They made me repeat it, and I was practically in tears. However, once I got into the birthcentre (hurray!) the scene returned to be calm and reassuring. The room was dark, I again spent a lot of time in the bath, and when it was time to push, my husband and I both have a memory of being surrounded by the nurse, midwife and doula, all sitting on the hospital floor around us (I was sitting on a birthstool). They constantly provided positive reinforcement and encouragement and gently advised me when to change positions or try something else. And then at some point the moment was there, our daughter was born and she crawled to my chest. Breastfeeding was painful at first, but again, there were several women around me to help me figure it out. We spent the next day just staring at her and holding her. The birthcentre was incredible. Fortunately we didn't have to leave the room, so we had a lot of privacy in those first hours of being a family of three. 

I'm extremely grateful that the women who supported me in birth where there for me. It's something I wish for every woman, and it saddens me that this isn't the case. Of course it's not always possible, medical issues are real, and need adequate interventions, but we can't forget that birth is not a disease. I remember being overtaken by my own body, it knew what to do, so when I had people around me that recognised these signs, knew how to respond and guide me through it, the birthing process basically unfolded. This story is very personal of course, not one I would normally share with anyone, but if it can help change the system than this is the least I can do. 

January Workshop: Partnered Positions for Labor & Delivery

January 9th, 2015 3:30-7PM at Area Yoga in Brooklyn Heights $125

In this 3.5 hour workshop, pregnant persons and their birth partners (whether it is a life partner, parent, sibling, friend or otherwise) will gain the necessary tools to get through labor and delivery.  We will practice breathing techniques, positions to help labor progress and facilitate pushing, hands on comfort techniques for birth partners, and meditations to calm the mind and body during your most challenging moments.  A third of the workshop will a discussion about the anatomy and stages of labor. Snacks and props will be provided.

Register here: http://www.areayogabrooklyn.com/workshops.html

The Village

Parenthood is a lot of things: amazing, exhausting, hilarious, smelly, challenging, moist (yes--it's nothing if not damp), beautiful.  But what many new parents, especially moms, find most about parenthood is that it can be so lonely and isolating. Here's a scenario: 

The change starts when you are pregnant.  The first few weeks of pregnancy you begin to avoid going out--you are exhausted, nauseous, unable to drink alcohol, and you haven't made your pregnancy public, so being out and keeping the secret is agonizing.  Eventually, friends stop inviting you out, assuming you'll say no. As you get into the second and third trimesters, when you do go out, the conversation always turns to your belly, to your baby.  You begin to feel your individuality, your identity slipping away. But you are still working, you have your baby shower to look forward to, you are independent and able to be selfish when you really want.  

Then baby comes! Yay! A herd of visitors tramples through the hospital and into your home in the first few weeks after baby's arrival.  Everyone wants to meet her. You don't care about how you look, how your apartment looks: you've got the ultimate trump card. But slowly, the flood turns to a trickle, and then it's been 8 days since you saw anyone other than your baby, your partner and maybe your mailman.  You are so distracted with baby and being a new parent that you forget to return texts and calls. You are up at random hours and while you could text at 4am, you worry about waking friends up: they have work tomorrow. You settle into your little cocoon of parenthood, snuggle down, smell baby's head, meanwhile the rest of the world keeps spinning on without you. 

When you are finally ready to emerge, friends that are still around may offer to babysit, but you rather spend time with them than have them watch baby.  So you bring baby out, but baby has a blowout and you forgot extra clothes and have to pack it in before dinner even arrives.  Or baby gets sick and you decide to stay home.  Or you are just too damn tired to muster the energy to get out of your house.  You feel like when you do go out, you have changed so much and everyone else has stayed the same. How has it been two years and your friends are exactly where they were (literally, the same barstools) before you got pregnant?  

You lose touch with your partner. Your conversations center wholly around baby, her needs, what she did today, your goals for her. The most intimate time of your day is snuggling and nursing. But the constant physical contact means you just need a break come bedtime--not a chance you'd let your partner spoon you let alone make sexual advances.  You long for some sort of intimacy, but it seems hopeless.  Your partner becomes distant, you withdraw, the cycle perpetuates itself. 

We all know parenthood changes everything--especially the way we see ourselves and others. We spend so much of our time devoted to one (or two or....) teeny tiny person, that we cannot give what we used to to other relationships.  We lose ourselves in the process too, all of a sudden our identity is completely wrapped up in their personhood.  You are rarely physically alone--especially if you choose to not go back to work--yet, you feel totally, wholly and absolutely alone.  

This loneliness of parenthood, and motherhood especially, is unique to the United States.  The Enlightenment ideals that this country was founded upon cherish the individual over the village, champion the "every-man-for-himself" over the "all-for-one-and-one-for-all", and put the nuclear family over the community.  We are supposed to act as our own autonomous, self-sufficient systems--fully functioning and excelling at life every step of the way.  This is the American Dream.   

Not to mention what many refer to as the "mommy-wars", whereby we judge and fear being judged for our every choice and action in how we got pregnant, gave birth, and raise our children.  In this culture climate, how can we possibly find a village?

It's not impossible, though it certainly isn't easy.  Prenatally, join all the parents listservs in your neighborhood, go to prenatal yoga, take childbirth classes.  You may have to become an extrovert, but introduce yourself to everyone you meet there, get numbers, set dates. No one will understand you better than someone who is in the exact same situation as you. (Not even your best friend who already has three kids--they are too old, her amnesia has set in!)  Commiseration in infancy is the bedrock of friendship.  

Once baby arrives, GET OUT OF THE HOUSE.  This is challenging, yes.  It may even seem like an insurmountable obstacle, especially if you have a winter baby (too cold), a summer baby (too hot) or live in a somewhat isolated area.  Go to Mommy & Me yoga, go to breastfeeding circles and support groups (even if you don't need help), go to sing-a-longs, baby movement classes, storytime, new parent meet ups and happy hours. Again introduce yourself to everyone. Pro-tip: introduce yourself before you introduce your child--the person you are meeting will likely do the same--and don't be shy when you forget it nearly immediately, they probably did too, just ask again.  Set coffee dates, mani/pedi dates (wear your baby! No one minds if you nurse while you get your toes painted). Say yes to everything you can, even if staying home seems more tempting.  

Oftentimes the relationships we forge in the early days of parenthood seem so shallow and based on the singular fact of your child's existence.  But these relationships can truly develop into a deeper camaraderie, friendship and community than any you've had before.  If you find yourself only talking about the kids every time you get together, make a mental list of possible discussion topics and casually drop them in, even if they too, are shallow at first: "did you see the new Game of Thrones?" Eventually, you will get into the deeper stuff.  

Most importantly, be open, gentle, kind but honest with these new friends. Value yourself and your time and surround yourself with people who also value you and your circumstance.  Avoid mommy-wars, be respectful.  Introduce your friends to each other, especially if one seems to be battling the loneliness--this is a kindness that cannot be overstated.  

Time will ease the loneliness and someday you will feel like you again--maybe a different version of you, but still you.  But if you can build your village before baby even arrives, maybe you will never know the deep sorrow that parenthood can bring, and even if you do feel this, you will have people to hold you up, to carry you, to shine light down the cavernous halls of parenthood.