There are so many angles and ideas running through my head from which to come at this story – and of course the voice telling me to just take a nap, or pick up the gorgeous baby sleeping next to me and watch him for the next hour instead. Do I focus on expectations vs. reality? The indescribable joy that Uri and I are filled with every time we look at Gadi which overshadows anything that did or didn’t happen on his birthing day? How Hypnobirthing and a positive attitude in general made lemonades out of labor lemons? The bitchy list of “37 Ways in Which Hospitals are Anti-Health” which has been bubbling in my brain for three weeks now? Or some sort of babbling narrative combination of all of the above?
Gotta just start writing. Before it all disappears into a blur of laundry and feeding apps and enough baby photos to make all of my Facebook friends “hide” me in their news feeds.
I woke up around 6am on Saturday February 1, 2014 – Gadi’s due date – with the slow realization that these gas pains were getting pretty regular and might actually be contractions. After snoozing for as long as possible I got up and started timing the sensations, and doing some Hypnobirthing breathing and visualizations. I felt (and continued to feel for the entire labor) everything in my lower back, but at this point a bit of focus and relaxation got me through them pretty easily. They were coming about 5 minutes apart, for less than a minute. After about an hour I woke Uri up and told him that despite my months of trash talk about due dates, we may well be about to meet our baby on his. As we added final touches to our hospital bags, I lounged around the apartment finding positions which were most comfortable during contractions, had a shower, spoke to the midwives at the natural birthing clinic at Tel Hashomer Hospital, and agreed that we’d talk again once the contractions “got more intense.” Whatever that meant.
We decided to go for a walk, and at first it was great to be outside and moving around. We live in the middle of a city though and it didn’t take long for me to start feeling pretty self conscious about needing to lean over something, swing my hips and groan for a minute every few minutes. I was starting to understand what I’d read and heard about women in labor needing a private, intimate environment. More on that to come.
To prepare for labor and birth, Uri and I had taken a course in Hypnobirthing, and were planning for a calm, gentle, natural birth. I’d had a smooth, chilled pregnancy and despite some minor jitters towards the end, when the birthing day arrived I was calm and excited, and certainly not scared. The ease with which I was dealing with early labor led me to believe that the whole process would be a breeze just like I’d imagined, and that in a few hours I’d be floating in a birthing pool, looking beautiful and breathing my baby out into the world. Hmm, not quite.
Before long we were back home, spoke to the midwives again, and decided to head into the hospital. I put on my headphones, snuggled up to a pillow and practiced the Rainbow Relaxation in the back of the car, pulling myself forward to hang off the passenger seat every time a contraction started. It was uncomfortable but not that bad, and I was excited when we got to the hospital about 20 minutes later. I had expected the car ride to be far worse.
In actual fact, the next 4 hours or so were probably the worst part of the labor, and certainly the reason I’ll be planning things very differently the next time around. Without going into too many tedious details, I went from 2cm to about 7cm dilated, from contractions being manageable to taking up my entire focus and concentration, from feeling like I was in control and my body was just doing its thing to wanting to cry from frustration at the entire system. I understood first-hand how hospitals can funnel women straight from their dreams of natural birth and empowerment to screaming at their partners and begging for epidurals.
Despite having booked and paid for the natural birthing center I had to endure two 20-minute fetal monitors – supposedly laying flat on my back which felt completely impossible for me – and was ultimately told that I couldn’t be admitted because the baby’s heart rate wasn’t staying steady enough. While this almost threw me for a loop the truth is that by then – at least three hours after arriving at the hospital – all I wanted to do was get into a private room and I didn’t really care which one it was. Laboring in public is the pits, plain and simple. I still cannot believe that such a major hospital doesn’t at least have small areas for women and their birth partners – seriously a few meters curtained off with a beanbag and a physio ball would do it – while waiting for various checks and “measures” of progress.
In any case, we were taken into the delivery room around 4pm, having finally met up with the natural birth midwife who would accompany us for the rest of the journey. I was basically stripping as we walked down the hallway in anticipation of the jacuzzi, believing that it would finally get me back into the “zone” and out of this horrible hospital vibe. The room itself – while still a hospital room – was at least spacious, and I was able to move around easily as we had a cordless fetal monitor (which I had to wear continuously all of the time because of the earlier dodgy reading) from the natural birthing suite. The only real “intervention” that I had to suck up was having an open vein put in as soon as I got into the spa – apparently hospital policy.
The order of what happened next is all a bit of a blur. Around the same time I got into the pool I felt my waters break, the midwife checked and I was at about 7 1/2 cm, and I realized it was time to let go. To let go of my disappointment about things not going exactly the way I’d planned, my surprise at how much contractions hurt, and the fact that I was in a hospital room with no tie-dye and no flowers in sight – and that I probably looked like shit. While my husband has since assured me I dealt with everything calmly and gracefully, it all seemed kinda crazy then and I had to find the space to be okay with it.
And where was the Hypnobirthing in all of this? Maybe I left it in the car, I dunno. I’m pretty sure that there were positive effects from all my practice – the fact that I was never scared, for example, and my familiarity with the slow breaths I used through each contraction. But there was certainly no rainbow mist and no time for visualizations. I remember Uri trying to start reading a script at one point and I was like “seriously? The contractions are like 2 minutes apart and last for over a minute – there’s no time!” And that was that.
After a while I had enough of the jacuzzi – it was a corner spa rather than a proper birthing pool and not the most comfortable – and started trying to find a more comfortable position around the room. I walked and leaned on Uri a bit, draped myself over the end of the bed, squatted… and before long the midwife checked me again and said I was 9 1/2 cm dilated and could start pushing whenever I wanted. I remember feeling excited about actually being able to “do” something, but confused because that “urge” that everyone talks about to bear down – I never felt it. I was enthusiastic though and the pressure of the baby’s head was definitely getting lower, so I started moving into the “birth breathing” that we’d learned and practiced. I don’t know if maybe I wasn’t doing it right, or if it was too early, but it did nothing – and eventually the midwife told me “honey, maybe this hypno-breathing works for second and third babies, but you’re gonna need to take a deep breath, hold it and push your baby out.”
So what was I gonna do, you know? Tell her “listen lady, I’ve read a whole book – twice! – and been to five classes. What do you know?” At the time it felt like she was the only person who was gonna help me get the baby out, and I really wanted to meet him by now. I felt like it had been forever and I’d had enough. So I held my breath and I pushed and pushed. I got cheered on, I moved around, and slowly slowly our baby’s head moved down and finally emerged through that “ring of fire” that I’d read about. Definitely the most painful part – and yes, I made some noise – but it didn’t take too long. Another push and his whole body slid out, and suddenly our beautiful (and I mean beautiful!) baby was screaming and squirming on my stomach. We moved from the birthing stool on the floor up onto the (horrible hospital) bed and spent a surreal hour smiling, eating and exhaling, all the while with little Gadi trying to latch on to my nipple. I discovered then that it had actually only been a few hours – Gadi was born just before 7pm on his due date, 12 hours after I woke up and realized I was in labor. I also learned that Uri had not eaten or been to the bathroom all day – I really cannot explain what an amazing support he was (and continues to be).
During those next few hours I feel like I used more Hypnobirthing techniques than during the birth itself, but maybe it’s just that I was more conscious of it. In conversations about when to cut the cord and refusing Pitocin to help with the afterbirth, I felt I was able to stay calm and clearly voice our wishes, just like we’d practiced in class. And when my (multiple) tears were being stitched (while Uri had gone with Gadi to the doctor) I managed to stay very calm and relaxed with breathing exercises and visualizations.
That night and the next day or two weren’t the easiest for us – Gadi was hyperventilating and needed to have his stomach pumped and receive oxygen and fluids, and I got a bit post partum anemic, needed fluids and was very weak and dizzy – but I believe our Hypnobirthing preparation helped us stay as calm as possible. Here too, the challenge was to let go of our expectations and to be with the reality as it was. And it really wasn’t that bad. Happily, Gadi passed each test and check with flying colors, and I was able to feed him the following day, though we couldn’t bring him out of the nursery or take anyone else in with us to meet him. We dealt with our well-meaning family and friends calling and wanting to visit – some more understanding than others – as best we could, and tried to focus on bonding with our baby in the neon lights of the nursery.
So what are my takeaway points here? Birth is hard, and hospitals functioning in this way make it harder. I think that if you want a calm, natural birth either stay away from hospitals altogether, or if that’s not your thing get a doula. We’ll be doing one of the two next time for sure. I was very disappointed by the way things worked out with the natural birthing center, and don’t think that as first-time parents there was any way we could have kept me in the zone where I wanted to be in the face of the hospital bureaucracy and hoop-jumping. I should note that it’s the anti-birth and anti-recovery hospital policy with which I take issue, and not the conduct of individual staff members which was almost exclusively excellent.
At first I felt quite disillusioned with the way everything turned out, but I’m finding my peace with it now – especially as I start to feel more human and Gadi is just the most beautiful, chilled baby. Despite the “hospital” feel of the birth and all of my frustrations, everything did unfold completely naturally – by the book, really – and I still firmly believe that most women are able to birth their babies in this way. We just need to remember to breathe.
|Gadi Henry Goldberg
Born 6:55pm on 1/2/2014