My friend Abby had a great birth experience back in February that I wanted to share here. To me, the most powerful part of Abby’s story are the visualizations she uses during her birth. I love how she reframes contractions as waves. The word contraction can sometimes bring us into a state of tension –after all, that’s what you do when you contract a muscle, right? Instead, many women choose to reframe the sensation and call it something else: surge, rush, wave, etc.
Read on to hear her story in her own words (emphasis is mine).
I had practiced yoga during my pregnancy, tried to walk every day, and had hired a doula to help me labor at home as long as possible to try to have a natural childbirth. I knew that in labor, things often do not often go according to the plan, but I didn’t know how I might have a birth where nothing went according to plan, but where everything turned out to be perfect in the end.
Two weeks before my due date my doctor recommended that my labor be induced because of high-blood pressure and mild preeclampsia. I knew this was a possibility, because I have chronic high blood pressure, and though my blood pressure dropped during the pregnancy, it started to climb in the very last weeks. However, I was very upset because I thought that if I was medically induced, I would end up with a highly medicalized birth. I worried that I would be placed on a Pitocin drip and given an epidural, or worse, end up with a C-section.
In a bizarre twist, our doula got very sick the same day I was supposed to be induced, and was herself admitted to the hospital! So with no doula, and not yet labor we headed to the labor and delivery ward. It was 8 pm on Valentine’s Day.
The staff settled us into a delivery room, placed a pill in my cervix to “ripen” it, and gave me Ambien to help me sleep. I fell asleep immediately, and have no memory of receiving the second induction pill four hours later. At 5 am I awoke to the gush of my water breaking. I woke my husband Jason, and when the nurse checked me, she said that I was now 1 cm dilated and that my doctor would come in a few hours to check on me and start a Pitocin drip to begin labor.
Fortunately my body had other plans. Within the hour I began to have steady and strong contractions every 2-3 minutes. I was so happy that my body had begun to labor, and I hoped that I would be able to continue on this path, now that things had begun, without additional medicine. My husband and I kissed each other with joy during a break, and then I got to work. He helped me into the bath, and I labored in the bath for a while, pouring water over my belly during the waves of the contractions. The clock seemed to be crawling forward in time as I tried to relax through the contractions. I began to chant to myself during the waves, saying: “Relax the baby down.” I also tried to focus on breathing through the sensations, and relaxing as each wave passed through me. It felt like I had been laboring for days when really it had only been a few hours.
At 8:30 am, as I was laboring on my hands and knees on the bed, my doctor came to check me. She found that I was 4-5 centimeters dilated. I should have been elated with my progress, but instead I was disappointed. I felt as if I had been working so hard for so long, I should have been at least 8 cm dilated! Being a bit more experienced with labor, she was very reassuring, and let me know that I had made very good progress.
During the labor, I moved through a number of different positions, back to the bath, sitting on the toilet, on my knees on the bed, resting the top half of my body over the back of the raised hospital bed, and finally, found my most comfortable position in bed, in a side-lying position. Once I found the side-lying position, I spent most of the rest of the labor on my side. In this position, I was able to go deep into myself, and began use visualizations during the contractions.
As the contractions continued, the main image I focused on was an image of myself swimming up the surface of a tsunami-sized wave. The contraction was the wave, and when I felt it coming I struck out swimming backstroke or freestyle up the surface. The swimming helped my breathing become regular and even as I ascended, then at the peak of the wave, I would relax, and slide down the back of the wave. Between the large contractions, there were also smaller less intense contractions, and I found that by watching a dial in my mind’s eye, I could easily judge the small contractions from the large ones. As I felt the intensity mount, I watched the dial, and if the hand passed 3, I would begin swimming up the wave. If it didn’t pass three, I would relax, and fall asleep. Using these two visualizations, I progressed through transition and was 9 cm dilated by 2 pm. However, during this period, when I was in this trance-like state, I had no notion of time passing, and was only very vaguely aware of my surroundings. I occasionally noticed my doctor come in and out of the room, and I was sometimes aware of my husband beside the bed. During this time, my contractions also slowed down – the large contractions came every 7-10 minutes which gave me time to rest and sleep between waves.
Finally at around 3 pm I was 10 cm dilated and I started pushing… the baby was low, and my cervix was open, but unfortunately, there was an unanticipated wrinkle in what was a very normal labor. Somehow the baby had gone from being in a anterior position – face down- the appropriate way to exit, to being in a face-up position, which is much more difficult to push out. I struggled to push him out in this position, and somehow, neither the nurse nor the doctor recognized that he had flipped into the wrong position. His poor little nose got hung up first on a lip of my cervix for an hour, and then under my pelvis for an extended period. The nurse unhelpfully told us that his head was really lumpy, and that somehow he had a point on the back of his head! I was in no state to worry about having an oddly formed child, but poor Jason got pretty worried about this “point” on the back of his head.
Another issue is that I was struggling to know how to push, my pushes seemed not to be making the progress that everyone thought I should. At some point the attending nurse left the room, and another nurse came in to cover for her… this nurse, saw that I was struggling, and crouched down next to the bed bringing her face close to mine. She whispered to me, and stroked my hand, explaining how to push, how to breathe, how to move my body into a position to help the baby out, and then, as quietly as she had come in, she was gone. Later we called her the labor fairy. She had flitted in at exactly the right time to help me focus my strength on pushing, because I would need it to continue pushing for the next few hours.
In the end it took 4 hours to push our baby into the world. I had no idea that it was such a long time… my contractions were 10 minutes apart, so I was resting on my side between efforts. But apparently everyone else in the room was getting worried as more and more time passed.
Finally, Stephanie – my doctor – scrubbed up. The pediatric team came in, and in a large last push, the babe flew out – face up! For a moment, my husband feared that the baby was deformed, because he was expecting to see the back of a head, and not a face, but in a few minutes it was clear that our child was healthy, and normal, if a bit stressed from the hours of pushing. The “point” on the back of the head, which has caused so much trouble, was just a poor bruised little nose.
Jason cut the cord, and then the baby was weighed and warmed for a few minutes. Everyone went to the other side of the room to see the baby, and I was waiting to hear if we had had a son or a daughter… finally I called out, “ What did we have?” The doctor showed Jason the baby, and he said “ We have a son!” I was so surprised! But I was also so glad that our little son was healthy and well.
He was brought to my chest, and after a few nuzzles at my breast, he fell asleep. He was small and perfect, and we called him Caleb Henry Mitchell. He is our beloved son.