Jennifer and Greg with baby Sam, Kelowna, BC
Our Hypnobirthing story feels special and amazing for myriad reasons. After a challenging and exhausting delivery of our daughter in September 2010 I knew that I wanted to do things differently for our second baby. I saw Christy at an information booth in September 2011 and, upon speaking with her, knew that I wanted to take her Hypnobirthing class when we next became pregnant. I kept her contact info and got in touch with her not long after we got our happy news.
The classes were great, we enjoyed our classmates and were thrilled that our fabulous Doula was able to join us. Throughout the last four months of my pregnancy I listened to the affirmations & rainbow relaxation daily, sometimes playing them on loop all night. I practiced filling my balloons, my favourite relaxation techniques with the calm breathing, and also my j-breaths all summer. Especially as I was tired during these last months, I actually really enjoyed my daily practice and looked forward to it.
Our little guy was taking his sweet time in picking his birth day, and we had several days (and nights) when we thought we were ready to roll. As it happens, on the day he was born we were already in the hospital, scheduled for an induction. I was devastated about this (not in my "birth plan"!) and actually used the relaxation techniques to stay calm and grounded. When we got the miraculous news that we could have our longed-for unmedicated birthing experience it felt like a miracle. My body was so ready and my headspace was calm, happy, and eager. We walked around the long block just one time as it was quickly clear that Sam was on his way! During our walk we would stop with each surge, fill a couple balloons, and then keep going. I didn't feel scared or anxious at all. Happy and excited, but calm.
Our walking pace slowed significantly as we made our way back to the labour and delivery ward and as we approached our room I was already taking off my clothes, ready to get in the shower and get down to business. I felt hot and tingly and so excited. This was really happening! And without the induction, this was my chance for the birth experience I was longing for. The shower was wonderful with Greg speaking softly into my ears, repeating the affirmations that I had told him were my favourites. And our fabulous doula, Terra, used the hand-held shower to simulate the light touch massage techniques on my back - it was so effective!
In the weeks leading up to the Big Day, I had felt a bit nervous about 'transition', as I'd had a tough go of it during our daughter's birth. But this time - What a difference! Yes, I could feel the intensity rising but my calmness remained and instead of anxiety, it was excitement that built! And within a few minutes we all knew it was time, Sam was coming down. Out of the shower now, I moved between filling my balloon and j-breaths and I was so surprised and elated to see how well this worked. I was even able to breath through some surges without any downward pressure at all, just allowing my body lots of time to prepare and stretch. We overheard our doctor tell the nurse that she couldn't tell when I was having "contractions". I just kept breathing with the surges, with my breath helping to bring Sam down. It really worked, my body knew what to do. My job was to stay calm and grounded and the breathing techniques really helped me do that. My body and Sam did the rest. Terra's comforting words and light touch massage on my back helped me accept and let go with every surge. Greg's loving support felt so calm and reassuring; we were both so present this time, drinking in the experience rather than gutting it out. When our doctor suggested that with a just a few strong pushes we could birth Sam and it would all be over, I replied, more or less, that this was not my intention and we continued with j-breaths which allowed both Sam and I to be completely ready for his arrival.
Our first birth experience had felt like a herculean effort - it was a bit stressful with some concerns due to meconium, less-than-ideal positioning of baby, and then her decelerating heart rate. I pushed (and pushed and pushed) for well over two hours and in the end had an episiotomy as our daughter's heart rate was dropping. I toughed it out and it was an unmedicated birth but it was just so incredibly hard. And for days after her arrival I felt utterly depleted, full of an exhaustion previously unknown to my body. And the physical strain was really surprising, I felt like I'd been hit by a truck, kind of traumatized. Thinking back, I realize I had approached our first birth as if it were an athletic endurance event to psych myself up for. That seemed like a natural analogy for me as I have completed a few gnarly endurance events and arrogantly figured that, if I could handle them, surely I could manage to push out a baby. During our hypnobirthing class I learned that this approach is so utterly counter-productive.
This time, we approached our birth experience with a calm acceptance and happy anticipation. Because of the hypnobirthing techniques, this birth wasn't the animal experience of forcefully straining and pushing, fighting the contractions and feeling scared and out of control, terrified about how much more I could handle. We felt full of love and light, radiant with anticipation. I had no sense of time during Sam's birth but later learned that it was about 2.5 hours from the time we were told the induction wasn't necessary to holding him in our arms. Afterwards we felt jubilant and energized. Our doctor suggested that we hold Sam as he was being born so the four loving hands of his parents supported him as he entered this life, it was beautiful and extraordinary. And we were back home with him less than 6 hours later. I felt fantastic and elated, not sore (no tearing!), not exhausted, just so richly happy.
The hypnobirthing techniques played a crucial role in creating the opportunity for such a beautiful birthing experience and we have been recommending Christy's class to our friends and, on several occasions, to complete strangers, because sometimes I just can't help myself.
Thanks again, Jennifer and Greg
... from the Doula's perspective
It looks like today is the day. One way or another. In the past days, Jennifer has had two applications of prostaglandin gel, her waters released early yesterday morning, she’s had days (and nights) of on and off surges. Nothing has resulted in a baby in arms. So today they’re ready for the biggie…a pitocin induction and Jennifer let me know last night that the plan was to be in hospital by 7:45 this morning. She said she would phone me when things get rolling.
Being an “experienced doula” is supposed to be an asset to my clients. I wish I could erase from my mind my past experiences of pitocin births. Then I could arrive at Jennifer’s bedside with a fresh, eager attitude. I’m not looking forward to how this day might unfold with so many pitocin inductions ending in fetal distress, either from the pitocin itself or from the epidural that’s almost always needed to deal with the surges, leading to cesarean. I was so looking forward to helping Jennifer and Greg put into practice the HypnoBirth skills we’ve learned together through the Spring and Summer.
When, at 9:15am. I still haven’t heard from them, I decide to place a phone call to their home. Maybe, just maybe, things really got rolling last night and they’re back to Plan A: labouring, normally, at home. But Ella’s caregiver answers the phone and tells me Greg and Jennifer are at the hospital. I think about phoning them there then decide to just go. Since finding parking can be an issue, and its daytime hours, I have Hermann drive me, dropping me off at the new front entrance.
Upstairs I find them in Birthing Room #1 at 9:30am. Their doctor, Dr. S. C., is just leaving so I’m glad I arrived in time to cross paths with her (just because I really like her and haven’t worked with her in ages). The IV has been inserted and the pitocin has started to drip into Jennifer’s vein. Nurse C. is just at the start of her shift so I’m happy she’ll be with us for awhile. Nurse C. says to Jennifer, “You’ve got some good news to pass on to Terra”. I learn that the waters that released overnight Friday to Saturday must have been a hind leak, a pin prick of a hole high up on the bag within the uterus. That might explain why there wasn’t a sudden urge for the body to go into spontaneous labour. When Dr. S. checked Jennifer this morning, there was a bulging sac of forewaters in front baby’s head, which she helped release. Jennifer’s cervix was thin, opened to 5 cm and baby was low. See, all those days of surges DID accomplish something!
Nurse C. had left the room and now when she returns, she has even more good news. She’s been talking to Dr. S. C. at the nursing station and an alternative plan has been suggested: What would Jennifer think about being disconnected from the belts and IV and seeing if the AROM will bring about some natural progress?
Jennifer’s answer: “I’m all over that!!!”
For this to be given an optimal chance of working, I tell Jennifer she needs to be upright so gravity can create good contact between baby’s head and the cervix. By 9:50am we’re on our way, to walk this labour into being, this baby into our world. We let the folk at the nursing station know that we’re heading out and I run back to grab my stopwatch from my birth kit, just so I can note any markable difference in the surges that we hope will soon come with regularity. Jennifer opts for the stairs as we head down three stories with the great outdoors in mind. I’d made Jennifer a chamomile tea that she’s sipping as she walks and our next stop is the hospital coffee shop where Greg treats to coffees for two. Already the surges are feeling different to Jennifer from the ones she’s had these last days. Jennifer says baby’s moving alot, confusing her sometimes over whether she’s feeling a true surge or a tightening caused by baby’s movements. I remind her that she and baby are working together today. And, with the bulging waters out of the picture, she’s actually feeling less downwards pressure than before. (A very temporary impression!)
We come out the front doors that open onto Pandosy then head down Royal Avenue towards the lake. It’s a beautiful blue sky day. There’s even one brave soul out swimming in the glassy stillness of Okanagan Lake. We walk and when a surge comes, we follow Jennifer’s lead as her footsteps slow to a stop. I gently take the tea cup from her hand, she leans into Greg and cradles under her belly with one hand. The surges are soon coming with such regularity, exactly 2:48 from the start of one to the start of the next, that I can predict when it’s time for me to “take the cup”. I remind her to keep her knees soft so she can sway her pelvis through the surges. We pass by Strathcona Park and make for the back entrances of the hospital. 10:30am, “Oh, my ass is killing me!” The increased intensity that Jennifer now describes has us veer away from our planned back entrance and head for another that will mean less steps back to 3-West. “I just want to take my clothes off. I just want to get naked and do this” Jennifer says as we climb a short staircase to one of the rear doors. It’s locked but Greg waves his magic wallet over the keypad and we’re in.
Can we make it all the way down the hall to the elevator? “Oh fuck. Almost made it”, Jennifer says as she heads into another strong surge.
A couple of people hold the elevator open so that our group of three doesn’t have to wait for the next one going up. And then more and more people join in, and it feels very full. However, that’s because we’re all crammed into the front half! Jennifer’s surges are taking priority and when the next one comes, dictating that she stop only half way to the back of the elevator, leaning into Greg, the rest of the riders have to make due with the space in the front half. An older lady in the group smiles knowingly and offers sweet snippets of encouragement to Jennifer.
(Days later, I’m alone in that same elevator, when it comes to a lurching halt and I’m stuck between the third and fourth floors for half an hour. When the repairmen eventually pry open the doors a few feet, what I see is mostly elevator shaft wall, but up there at the top are the repairmen on their hands and knees looking down at me. They pass down a ladder and I climb up then crawl out onto the fourth floor. Kind of glad this happened to me alone on Oct 3rd and not to an elevator full, including labouring Jennifer, on September 30th!)
I’ve promised Jennifer the comfort of the shower as soon as we’re back in her room so now she’s quick to strip off her clothes and climb in. It’s 10:45am. I grab a bunch of kneeling pads from my birth kit for under her knees. Nurse C. brings in a few flannel sheets, one that we end up using as a big sponge for the floor, and a stack of towels. I change from my regular shoes to something more waterproof as I know holding the handheld shower head always results in wet feet for me. Greg, the smart one, is down to barefeet. I direct the handheld water spray onto Jennifer’s lower back and she immediately describes relief. I move the spray in patterns similar to effleurage. But also alternate that with passing the wand back and forth over her lower belly, having her imagine the heat of the water melting away the little bit of cervix that remains. Between surges I let the water run down from her shoulders to warm her all over. My hand on her jaw or shoulder brings about a quick and total release. With the surge I softly speak of filling that balloon. She’s perfectly limp. She couldn’t be working better with her body and baby.
The fixed shower head coming out of the wall is spraying in an unpredictable, annoying way. Greg adjusts the many knobs in an attempt to redirect the water so its only flowing through the hand held unit. When that fails, he wraps a towel around the wall faucet so at least the water gathers in the towel and runs down the fabric rather than spraying all over Jennifer and us! I didn’t bring a change of clothes!...so thank you Greg!
Jennifer is totally surrendering to what her body finally is doing, and doing with great efficiency now! She changes from kneeling to side-sitting on the shower floor then back to kneeling. I keep half an eye on the floor drain as her position sometimes blocks it and the water grows deep in the floor of the shower. Greg senses that being closer would be even better for Jennifer and without hesitation, strips down to his underwear and climbs into the shower, sitting on the formed bench of the shower cubicle, Jennifer leaning into him. “Talk to me”, Jennifer whispers and with heads bent together, Greg’s gentle voice leads her into deeper and deeper release. The lights are low, the water’s doing its magic…. and baby is coming!
“Oh, I almost feel like I could have pushed with that one”. I remind Jennifer to let that feeling grow, to just breathe through this new sensation. Without any tiring pushing efforts at all, she can breathe her baby down.
At 11:20 Jennifer feels a great need to get horizontal. As she steps out of the shower, I wrap her in a flannel sheet and use a towel to dry her legs as she leans into Greg. Jennifer climbs into the bed, resting on her left side and I bring along the cardboard dish that I’d placed in the shower earlier when she was feeling nauseous. Jennifer continues to breathe deeply and evenly through the surges, letting go and releasing completely.
A few times there are noticeable grunts at the height of her surges. I step out to the nursing station and let Nurse C. know that we’ve moved on to the next stage. “Can I do it like this?” Jennifer asks, meaning can I push while side-lying? I assure her that it’s totally fine and I’ll hold her upper leg higher if she feels she wants more space.
Soon, though, she moves to semi-sitting. It’s 11:50am. Dr. S. C. has returned to the scene. The doctor and Nurse C. set up the squatting bar and Jennifer goes through a few surges squatting at the bar then returns to semi-sitting. Her doctor suggests she could put her feet up on the bar and that ends up being the position of choice for Jennifer. Mostly, Jennifer breathes baby down. Now and then there are quivering, audible grunts. In one moment of intensity, as baby makes his presence in the vagina known to his mama, Jennifer calls out “Sam”!
Nurse C. has whispered to me that she and Dr. S. C. are really going to try to keep the number of people in the room down to the bare minimum (as opposed to Ella’s birth where different circumstances meant a crowded room of medical staff). At the moment of birth, she’ll need me to make room beside Jennifer so that she can move in and administer the intra-muscular shot of oxytocin into Jennifer’s thigh. I very much appreciate the atmosphere they’ve created today in Birth Room #1 and of course will do whatever I can to allow it to continue.
Since she moved from the shower to the bed, whether side-lying, squatting or semi-sitting, one of Jennifer’s touchstones throughout each surge are the two light touch massage patterns we learned in the HypnoBirth series. If I haven’t picked up that a surge is starting, Jennifer will say “go” to indicate it’s time for me to move my hands either in the Figure 8 or the Butterfly pattern. Normally in birth, a mother’s breathing sounds will change when she’s in surge, but Jennifer is doing so well, there’s hardly any discernible change to tell us when she’s working! Even the doctor and nurse are amazed and have commented on this, that they can’t tell when she’s in surge and when she’s in between. Her other one word request is “water” and Greg has that covered from the other side of the bed, just touching the straw to her lips so that even with eyes closed, Jennifer can take a sip but stay in that internal place of peace.
There is one moment though, where I’d have to check back in my HypnoBirth text to see if I can find this phrase there. The baby’s head is now very visible at the vagina. Sometimes second babies really “plow down” but with Jennifer able to mostly breathe through these surges, this phase is going just slowly enough that her tissues are having a “nice” chance to stretch. It’s at this point, with progress probably slower than the doctor usually sees with a second baby, that she very sweetly tells Jennifer that breathing the baby down is working just fine, but at least one good push with gusto might be necessary to make some major progress. Jennifer’s breaths are coming short and fast as she tries to cope with the stretching sensations she’s experiencing, but in between breaths she manages to eek out two words: Fuck you, Nurse C's eyes widen. I squeeze my lips together so that I don’t laugh out loud. Jennifer…you are so …..Jennifer. Can this day get any better?
Earlier the doctor had suggested that Jennifer could touch inside and feel baby’s head. It must have withdrawn again, just as Jennifer tried. Two steps forward, one step back. But now Jennifer’s fingers easily find the top of baby’s head. And soon, her entire palm is filled. Baby’s got a good head of hair. Dr. C. S. and I share a giggle as one curl pops free from Jennifer’s perineum and springs about in the air. Now Dr. C. S. applies a compress to the perineal tissue to support it in stretching.
Once we’d left the shower, Greg started the music playing that they’d selected for this day. I think it’s the strings of a cello that accompany Jennifer on this last leg of her journey towards baby. The eclectic assortment of pop music that played during Elli’s birth was perfect for that day. What they’ve chosen this time ‘round sounds serious and powerful and focused. But now the cello music has ended and it’s the voice of the “Rainbow Relaxation” lady that suddenly fills the room. The familiar trill of chimes is followed by her slow words, “It is time….to relax”. Probably THE most UN-relaxing moment in birth. Nurse C. giggles. Is the timing perfect…or hilarious?! Most mothers would not say that when their vaginas were experiencing maximum stretch, that they could convince themselves into a lovely feeling of relaxation. It’s funny but also a fitting end to Jennifer’s devotion to her HypnoBirth preparations. The Rainbow Relaxation has served its purpose well, but the moment when it will no longer be relevant (at least as it applies to birth) is just seconds away.
Baby’s head emerges, slowly, slowly, with Jennifer perfectly following her doctor's verbal directions on when to nudge and when to stop. And finally, this head that seems to just keep on coming, is fully out! A huge sigh from Jennifer….. and then onwards. There’s one loop of cord around baby’s neck but it’s loose enough for her doctor to loop over. With the next surge, baby’s body starts to come. Like the head, it’s not going to “just squirt out” as sometimes happens with second babies. When baby is out up to his armpits Dr. S. C. tells Jennifer, “reach down and get your baby”. Jennifer’ hands flutter aimlessly. I take her hands in mine and place one under each of baby’s armpits. Jennifer says, “Greg! Help me!” Greg places his hands on baby, too. Slowly, with some effort, and four loving hands assisting his arrival, baby is pulled from his other world and into ours’. It’s 12:28pm.
Sam and Jennifer and Greg…what a day you’ve given me! When I left the house this morning, I wasn’t expecting this scenario at all. A baby? Yes. But a beautiful, powerful, peaceful journey towards baby? No, that was all bonus. And it does feel like today was a gift…it being my birthday, too. When I phone Hermann to come pick me up from the hospital, he’s surprised that baby Sam has already arrived! His plans for my birthday celebrations won’t need rearranging after all. As he drives up in front of the hospital, I pull out my camera for one last picture. This one’s for you Sam, so you can see the place where you took your first breath but mostly so you can see how beautiful the world looked today, on the day when we welcomed you with love.
Terra Reindl, Certified Doula & Second Attendant