When you embrace birth - Interview with Pablo and Bec
I’ve spoken in previous blogs about the lack of education on childbirth and early parenting, this lack of education leads to a sense of fear around birth and parenting.
With younger generations generally having less exposure to childbirth and parenting than their older counterparts, this means that younger birthing couples are often fearful and misinformed about birth.
Younger couples are less likely to know what their options are, what giving birth is like and how to make the experience work for them. Birth is ‘uncool’ for younger people…
So when my good friends Pabs and Bec recently fell pregnant I was so thrilled to hear that they were excited about the birth and looking forward to embarking on the journey; they were down for the full experience! Amazing!
I am always fascinated by what makes a person’s birth a positive experience for them, birth is so unique and each person’s approach to birth is equally as unique. I decided to have a chat to Pabz and Bec to see how they approached their birth and what they believe helped them achieve a positive birth experience.
Can you both remember what your very first experience with and thoughts toward birth were? How did this impact your decisions in deciding how you wanted to birth?
Pabs: Other than my own?
I guess I never had any previous experience and I had never given it much of a thought. The only thing I knew is what you see on TV. Blood and screaming. Which isn’t the nicest thought going in.
I had these little flashes of me gagging involuntarily at the smells as little bits of vomit sprayed out the corners of my mouth all over Bec and a crowning baby then everyone looking at me as I slowly excuse myself from the room. I couldn’t really think about how we wanted to do the whole thing. All I knew is that I didn't want the TV experience...
Bec: I thought of pain only...the lady on her back with her feet up in the air screaming. It feels like everything painful is measured against childbirth.
Sarah: Childbirth really is set as the benchmark for pain, I like to say that it’s different pain though because it is productive pain….it’s not like breaking a bone type pain which has no purpose – contractions are effective and they hurt for a reason!
Bec: Yes totally. When I went to my GP to explain I was pregnant, she planted a seed around pain and childbirth that I hadn't considered. She said when she had her babies she didn't buy into the whole pain thing...I thought WTF weirdo! She suggested I go to the birth centre at RPA because they are a lot more chill and natural than the delivery wards. I started to research and go down the path of natural because it just made a lot more sense to me. I'm into yoga and using your breath to flow through hard sensations felt familiar to me.
Bec, you’re a pretty relaxed person in general, but did you find you had to mentally prepare in the lead up to your birth? Were there any resources that you gravitated towards that you found really helped get you in the right headspace?
Bec: Yes I needed to prepare! First step for me was to pick solid birth support partners - I had Pabs and my mum and both of them knew my plan and knew they had to be 100% on my side no matter what.
I found shifting my reaction to pain really helped me. During my pregnancy if I stubbed my toe or had a head ache I would use those scenarios to train my brain to think of pain as a strong sensation and breathe into it, if I didn't clam up and screw my face up it felt like the pain could move freely through me and on quicker.
Sarah: It’s so interesting you mention your approach to pain; so many women focus on trying to make their births pain free and certainly our medical system pushes that agenda too but childbirth is meant to be painful, how could it not be? Physiologically it can’t not be painful, but it is how you deal with that pain and process that pain that determines the experience you have.
When we interfere with the process of the body feeling pain in childbirth our birthing hormones are affected too which make the process of actually giving birth much more difficult and then women get led into interventions to “remedy” that and it really is a slippery slope down into a negative birth experience.
Many women are able to tune into their pain and really surrender to the whole birthing experience; the hormones and adrenalin that are released in a birthing woman’s body can lead them to have out of body and psychedelic experiences – some women can even experience orgasmic births; this is such a testament to the ‘mind over body’ message when it comes to childbirth.
Bec: Yep I agree. If you can find a way to lean into the sensation or pain, it ends up flowing through and out a lot easier. If you tense up then you end up working against the pain. It’s a tricky one to get your head around, because we are programmed to think pain equals something is wrong or broken so the natural response is to be scared or alarmed. I learnt the best thing for my baby was to be feeling good vibes, I did everything I could to make that my mantra!
My neighbour gave me Ina May's guide to childbirth by Ina May Gaskin to read and I devoured it. I realised I really didn't have many positive birth stories to reference - all I knew was it was going to fucking hurt because every image I have ever been shown was of a woman screaming...and the whole squeezing a watermelon out thing sounded excruciating. This book was amazing, to find so many positive birth stories gave me heaps of confidence to trust in my intuition. I started to practice visualisation, I imagined an ocean coming into a cave swelling around then as it goes out it opens into the vast ocean. I had this as a bit of a mantra in my mind during the birth and it really helped me to have something to focus on.
Sarah: This is a topic close to my heart, positive birth stories are so important.
Women are often guilted into not talking about their positive birth experiences because so many women in todays’ system are coming out of births with significant trauma and bad experiences. Women with positive stories are then made to feel like they are throwing their experiences in the faces of everyone who’s ever had a negative experience.
Today, whether you had a positive birth experienced is often measured by whether you ended up with a c-section or an episiotomy…how sad that the bar is set so low!
Can’t we aim for a little more than that? Can’t we aim to have HAPPY and GENTLE and BEAUTIFUL births instead of aiming to “just not be cut open”?
Bec: Yeah it's weird isn’t it. I think our society kind of gets off on drama, only the really hectic “holy shit” stories cut through…so maybe that’s all we know how to tune into? Like maybe if I only focused on the negative in my story it would be more interesting to listen to? It feels a bit sad. What I do know though, was I was craving positive stories and actively blocked the negative.
As I got closer to my due date I started to freak a little because I had planned for a water birth in the birth centre and if you go 12 days over your due date the hospital policy is to induce you...I started to get really angry that my plan and choices were being stripped away. I found it really difficult to process and to be at peace with being induced - I planned to be active, to trust in myself not to have needle in my arm and be surrounded by monitors.
Sarah: It’s so hard when this happens but unfortunately it happens all the time in the medical system and even when birthing with licenced midwives in homebirths as I did. If I had of gone 10 days past my due date I would have been transferred to the hospital and my dream of birthing at home would have been demolished.
Bec: I figured all I had control over at this point was how I was going to react to the process. A friend suggested I visit Village Remedies in Balmain to try acupuncture to help release some oxytocin and bring me back into a chill space which was exactly where I needed to be for the labour no matter where/what/how that was going to take place. Oh man the acupuncture was so good. I went in edgy/wide eyed/stressed and came out floating and happy!
I highly recommend acupuncture, I hadn't had it before but it instantly took me from fight or flight to a chill happy whale floating along with out a care in the world. Also took away my lower back pain so I could sleep...which isn't an easy feat when you are 40+ weeks.
Tell me a bit about your birth story!
Bec: I went as far overdue as I could but ended up being induced. The induction was a two part process with day one spent softening the cervix and day two dilating and labour. Day one was a bit of a mess as I had a bad reaction to the tape wrapped around my cervix and spent most of the day hyper contracting. Finally the midwives managed to get this under control and they then inserted a cook’s catheter to physically soften the cervix.
By the time Tuesday morning came we had slept max an hour and I had to muster the emotional and physical strength for what was coming, it was a whirlwind of breaking my waters and getting hooked up to the drip, meeting my midwife who lucky for me was an absolute legend that we all vibed with right away. The next four hours was really fun, it was super exciting. It felt like some kind of spiritual initiation or something, not to sound too wanky.
The closer I got to delivering the baby the further inward I was going. I relied heavily on my mentalality - the visualisation and breathing, I truly adored this space! This is what all prego ladies should be told about, it was bliss! I was really happy to hang out in that moment.
After four hours of being deemed 'in labour' I was given the green light to push. I was given a mirror to watch - sounds hectic and gross but was actually amazing. I have that image burnt into my brain, in a good way. The midwife urged me to focus and get this done because she was going to finish her shift soon and wanted to be there for the birth.
The pushing was the most challenging part because my body was tired, and being on my back felt like I was pushing uphill. I saw the tip of the head pulsing in and out til finally she broke through and was in seconds on my chest. Her cry was loud and clear and she clambered to feed instantly. These moments were really out of body, I felt like I was watching everything happen, everything in my space was crystal clear and calm...but I could see around us everyone was zooming, crying, exclaiming. I don't think I spoke. I remember thinking I'm glad she seems to know what she is doing because I have no fucking idea ha!
Pabz, how did you find the whole birth experience from the birth support perspective? I find this perspective isn’t often given much light and it’s such an important part of the journey.
Pabs: I had fun!
Going into it all I could think was “don’t faint or freak out about the blood. If you faint then the nurse has to take care of you too’. But once we were in the thick of it you begin to really realise this moment is actually happening. Some things didn’t go to plan. But I guess that’s how it is with birth. The best thing to think about is to just go with it.
Is there anything you would do differently if you had your time again?
Bec: I think I would like to find an alternative to being induced. I felt backed into a corner, like I didn't have any options left. I'm still not sure what the options are for really overdue births?
Sarah: Unfortunately, unless you’re willing to birth outside of the medical system the options are limited if it is your wish to stay within the scope of hospital policy.
I mean, you can refuse to be induced – the hospital can’t refuse you care even if you are 12 days over your due date – you need to consent to everything that happens to you in hospital and most women sadly don’t know that is their right.
It is all about researching your options, deciding what you are comfortable with, surrounding yourself with people who support your decisions and backing yourself.
What do you remember most about your birth? Was there anything that surprised you from your labour?
Pabs: The only thing that surprised me was how much fun it can actually be.
The birth is a just blip in time that will stick with you and it really is a moment to savour.
Bec: The picture in the mirror...the top of her head crowning. Her cry. Pabs' face. My mum pushing Pabs and screaming when she was born.
I think I was surprised to see her, I had thought a lot about the labour and being prepped for that, but I actually hadn't thought much about the baby at the end.
Sarah: This is amazing! It’s quite common for women to do things the other way around, they let the hospital take care of their labour and they stress about the baby afterwards but if more women put more effort into taking control of their labours, we would have way more positive birth outcomes.
What would you say to other young couples about to embark on their birth journey?
Pabs: Don’t surround yourself with too many negative images and portrayals of births. Just go with the flow. Not everything will go to plan but who cares. At the end of it you will have an experience no one can prepare you for.
Bec: After you have researched everything, try to put it all out of your mind and tune into your intuition. Learn to be cool with letting go and not being in control.