A Rainbow Birth Story

A Rainbow Birth Story

By the time the big day finally rocked around, I was so done. Done with the anxieties of a pregnancy after two consecutive losses, with being huge and uncomfortable, with mounting pressure to induce. Done with well-meaning but really fucking annoying text messages ranging from thinly veiled “how are you”s to flat-out “any baby yet?”s. Done with agonizing about where GG would be when I finally went into labor, whether we’d have time to get to the hospital where I wanted to give birth, how to plan getting there in enough time to be safe but not too early. Done with the constant and irrational fears that kept arising that there was something wrong with the baby that hadn’t been spotted on the scans.

This is my “overdue” face

I was so done.

And after a day-and-a-half of mild but regular contractions at 10 minutes apart I was battling to keep my shit together. I was winning, don’t get me wrong, but it was a struggle. So at 41+1 weeks pregnant, when we went to the hospital for my third round of overdue monitoring, I was extra done. And when the attending doctor recommended I have a c-section because of the baby’s considerable weight and stomach circumference (according to ultrasound assessment), I was almost done enough to just say yes. Almost, but not quite.

My husband and I talked it through and consulted with a doctor friend who I trust, along with my doula, and decided we had more questions. We happened upon a more senior doctor at the hospital who told us that while her official recommendation – according to the numbers – was a c-section, she was pretty sure that this baby wasn’t bigger than 4kg, and that I could successfully birth her naturally. GG was born just under 3.8kg, after all. We left the hospital confident that this was the best choice for us but still nervous – as much as I trust my body and the process of birth, I also trust the staff at this hospital and medical research in general. And after recent experiences… I didn’t want to take any unnecessary risks.

In any case, through all of these phone calls and conversations, an energy was starting to build in my body. The best way I can describe it is by drawing on my memories of party drugs back in the day – it was like a pill slowly coming on, a kind of low buzz with the promise of peaks to come. The contractions were also starting to take on a different quality, and getting closer together. I guess the threat of major abdominal surgery was just the push I needed to finally let go and bring this baby into the world.

By this point lunchtime had been and gone and we’d hardly eaten, so we headed off for a nice brunch. But by the time we parked at the cafe I didn’t feel like I could sit still, so we hung out in the car and timed contractions – 5-6 minutes apart! We bought some sandwiches and fruit had a little picnic in nearby park instead. I consulted with my doula again and we decided to slowly start heading back to the hospital. If we were at home we probably would have hung out a little longer, but since we were in the area we figured why not get checked again, and avoid getting stuck in traffic driving home and back. A long drive and strong contractions didn’t sound fun at all.

At some point during all this I was struck with pure excitement, and stopped for a moment to breathe it in and give Uri a big hug. More flashbacks to partying back in the day. But this time the joy was real and unadulterated. The day had finally arrived – we were going to meet our little girl. I burst into tears and let that sink in a bit, and from then on I was calm – I knew she was coming. I didn’t feel rushed or stressed. My body was starting to do its thing and my baby knew what to do.

We ended up at the hospital earlier in the labor than I probably would have planned – I was 4cm dilated by the time I got through the 2 hour ordeal of getting monitored and seeing the doctor – but  in hindsight it was perfect. Instead of answering lists of questions and getting poked and prodded while in the throes of intense contractions, I was able to get that bureaucratic part out-of-the-way while still in the latent stage of labor. It felt like I was in some sort of very convenient labor holding pattern – definitely on the way to giving birth but clear-headed and comfortable for the time being. By a stroke of luck the natural birthing suite was available, and after another wait we were in there getting comfortable by about 5pm.

Around that time my midwife and doula both suggested we try a couple of tricks to get things moving. To be honest I was hesitant – I felt like I’d pushed hard to let my body lead the way and I didn’t want to start interfering, even by natural means. And yet on the other hand, I really wanted to meet our baby already. So I took deep breath along with both of their suggestions – my doula rubbed some clary sage oil on my lower back, and the midwife sent us off to walk up and down a nearby flight of stairs.

Something must have worked. I made it up about half a flight of stairs before I was hanging off the railings and moaning like, well, like a woman giving birth. From that moment on everything changed.

Emotionally I did a full 180 – I felt much more serious, totally lost the urge to chat or even to speak at all more than what was necessary. Even giving simple instructions like telling my husband where to massage my back seemed incredibly difficult. And physically – well, pain just messes with everything, right? The hippy hypnobirther in me wants to describe it all as pressure and surges and visuals of flowers opening and whatnot but no – every contraction just fucking hurt. Yes I was picturing each one bringing my baby closer to me, and it did  feel like productive pain, but still. Each contraction hurt more than the one before it, and they quickly got so close together that I felt like I was getting no rest in between at all.  I became obsessed with finding the perfect position and panicked if a contraction was starting and I wasn’t on all fours or leaning forward, preferably with Uri behind me squeezing my hips. I couldn’t get comfortable in the birthing pool. I was freezing when I got out. Sitting was impossible. I cried that I couldn’t do it, that it was too hard. I fantasized about being one of the ‘normal’ women in the rooms down the hall – hooked up to an epidural and resting through my dilation.

And then suddenly, finally, my waters broke. I was squatting on a stool in the shower at the time, and I felt that pop and everything gushed out. The midwife brought over the wireless monitor – one of the main advantages of the natural birthing room – and checked the baby’s heartbeat as I stood in the shower. She also checked my dilation – 8cm! For the first time in hours I felt encouraged, like I was actually progressing. And then a few minutes later I was already feeling the urge to push. I was so excited – in GG’s birth I never felt that urge, and I think that’s how I managed to do so much damage to my body, by pushing before I was ready.

We moved over to the bed – a nice, comfy double bed with an adjustable head – and I got on all fours. Again, my whole mood shifted – finally there was something I could do! I knew the end was near, and I also felt like I was getting some rest in between contractions. In reality it was only a minute or so but I honestly felt like 20. And with those few rejuvenating breaths my presence of mind returned. I was once again aware that I wanted to push gently to avoid more damage to my pelvic floor. To use the pressure of the contractions to move the baby down the birth canal. That our baby girl was almost here.

The midwife told me to use low humming sounds as I exhaled. On the first push I felt her head come all the way down, and then pull back up a bit. Uri got a glimpse of her full head of hair. On the next push her head was out. And the push after that, her whole body came sliding into the world – all 3.98kg of it. She cried a split second later, and my heart exhaled and I was flooded with relief.

Relief that the pain was over. That the pregnancy was over. That the birth was over. Relief that she was finally here. Our rainbow. Arya.

Arya Regina Goldberg, 3 minutes old
Arya Regina Goldberg, 3 minutes old

The minutes and hours that followed brought more of the same. Within a few minutes she latched on and nursed for well over an hour. After that I got up and had a shower. Of course no birth is the same but this was a difference of night and day from my previous birth, after which GG needed to have his stomach pumped and I lost a lot of blood.

This was a totally different experience for all three of us. Uri took the baby to get some routine tests while I cleaned up, joked around with the midwife and tidied up our stuff. I got a few stitches – but again, nothing like the first time round. And then we rested, with big smiles. Albeit in a packed room in a packed ward of a public hospital, but we had our baby and it was magic nonetheless.

This beautiful birth reminded me of the strength in flexibility – the flow that comes with being open to any outcome, any deviation from my plans and preferences. It reminded me that my man and I can support each other through anything. And it taught me that it’s okay to pick and choose tools from different schools of thought, that I don’t have to be any one thing. That my strength lies in being able to deal with whatever life throws at us – rather than being able to control or predict it in any way.

Our first morning back home as a family of four
Our first morning back home as a family of four
Advertisements
The Limbo Before Labor

The Limbo Before Labor

The last few weeks of pregnancy are such a weird time for me.

My hospital bag was packed weeks ago. Baby clothes are washed and folded. Supplies purchased and tucked away. We’ve met with our doula, planned a route to the hospital. My husband’s mother is on 24/7 alert to take care of GG when I go into labor. The house is clean and the pantry is stocked.

I’ve researched pushing techniques to prevent my pelvic prolapses getting worse, teas to strengthen my blood in case I lose a lot again. I take my prenatal vitamins every day like clockwork. I go to yoga classes and I feel relatively healthy. I’m resting as much as possible.

There’s literally nothing left to do but wait.

Now it’s all up to our little rainbow; whenever she’s ready.

The mindful mama in me knows exactly what to do now. It’s time to surrender. To ground myself, meditate, keep coming back to this moment. To practice patience and trust, reassured in the knowledge that every day snuggled up inside me is doing her good.

But I am not all mindful mama, not quite yet. I’m also a doer, a planner. A control freak. I like to research and organize. To know what’s going to happen when. And this limbo before labor is very tough for that side of me.

Every little twinge – whether it’s a Braxton Hicks contraction, a hunger pang or just that I need to pee – sparks off a spiral of “oo, maybe this is it!” thoughts in my mind. Who do I need to call? Should I start timing contractions? What’s traffic like on the freeway right now?

I’m so excited I can hardly sit still, and yet wrapped up in that excitement is also a whole stack of nerves that I’m only just starting to meet and name. The fear of feeling like crap like I did after GG was born. Of giving birth in  the car on the way to the hospital. Of something going wrong. It’s all wrapped in joy and anticipation, but it’s fucking intense and fucking exhausting at the same time. As if schlepping around this massive baby wedged under my rib cage wasn’t enough to tire me out right now.

But still, there’s nothing to do. Nothing but coming back to the present moment, over and over again. Acknowledging the fears as they come up and the excitement as it bubbles around in there, too. To rest and enjoy our last few moments as a family of three.

To breathe as much as my poor squished up lungs will let me.

In and out, all the way to the delivery room.

img_1611
Waiting for our rainbow baby
A Pelvic Floor Story

A Pelvic Floor Story

I graduated vagina training today. Yes, you read that correctly. And yes, I’m going to be using words like ‘vagina’ in this post, so if you don’t think you can handle it now is probably a good time to hit that little ‘x’ up there in the righthand corner.

Of course, the use of the word ‘vagina’ here isn’t entirely accurate. I graduated from pelvic floor physiotherapy. And when I say “graduated”… well, there were no caps and gowns. But I did finish a course of physiotherapy to rehabilitate my pelvic floor from an injury sustained in pregnancy and birth. Or a few injuries, I don’t know exactly how to classify it. Maybe my fantastic physiotherapist Zoe can write a guest post and explain what the hell happened down there. In the meantime, I’m going to share my story, what I’ve learned, and hopefully get a start on realizing my newest mission – to raise awareness for the pelvic floor, both literally and figuratively.

I’m now 13 months post partum. I had a natural, fairly uncomplicated birth which resulted in a beautiful, 3.8kg baby, enough blood loss to send my hemoglobin levels way down and my heart rate through the roof, and some second degree tears for good measure. How many stitches? I vaguely remember asking the doctor how many I would need and he basically laughed at me. It took him an hour to sew me up. So in a nutshell, after the birth I was – apart from being the happiest woman on earth and completely in love with my new little family and all of that – totally wiped out and experiencing a lot of pain, especially when sitting.

But the physical stuff is only part of the problem. A small part even, I would say. The real problem was in my head (surprise!). In my mind, I was meant to be back to my old self in a couple of weeks. A month, tops. I even planned a wedding for five weeks after my due date (yes, Gadi was five weeks old at our wedding. And yes, I’m insane). On the surface, it all turned out fine. I managed to walk down the aisle, stand up for a few hours to mingle at our chilled brunch wedding, but looking back – I want to scream “what was I thinking?!” Why didn’t anyone tell me to stop climbing up and down the four flights of stairs to our rooftop apartment twice a day, lugging a growing baby, groceries, accessories and whatever else. To sit the fuck down and go the fuck to sleep. Well, anyone apart from my dear husband of course. He told me to go to sleep all the time, but I don’t like being told to go to sleep so you can imagine how well that turned out.

Maybe I was an extreme case, but there is definitely an expectation in Western society that women are meant to be getting ‘back to it’ as soon as possible after giving birth. Back to socializing, keeping house and cooking. Back to their bodies. Back to sex. All I’ve got to go on is my own experience, but I don’t think it’s healthy. Women need to rest after birth – and their newborn babies need milk and cuddles and sleep, so snuggling on the couch or in bed is pretty much perfect. Next time around – I’m not leaving the house for a month. Bugger anyone who tries to convince me otherwise.

But back to my pelvic floor. So I overdid it, and probably made things worse – but who knows, maybe if I had rested up properly I still would have sustained these injuries. Anytime I was on my feet for more than about half an hour I would have this heavy, aching feeling in my pelvic floor. A dull, downward sensation, kind of like period pain. I never thought of it as painful, but I did often have to stop and sit when I was out and about – it was uncomfortable to say the least. And yet for some 10 months, I didn’t do anything about it – I think because I was embarrassed. Or because I thought that it was normal and it would just get better. I’d “passed” my six-week check up, after all – so surely that meant everything was okay and I didn’t really think that much of it. Especially since I’d been such an advocate of natural birth, such a believer that my body was made to grow and birth this baby. I felt like it would be conceding defeat to admit that actually, pregnancy and birth had left me injured.

It wasn’t until I was starting to experience some uncomfortable symptoms of pelvic organ prolapse that I finally decided to see my ob-gyn and ask her what was up. Naturally, between scheduling the appointment and going to it I also did a bit (ok, a lot) of googling, self-diagnosed the issue (rightly, as it turned out) and discovered that a whopping 50% of women experience some form of pelvic organ prolapse – either as a result of childbearing or later on during menopause. And yet I’d never heard about it. And neither had the majority of the women I’ve brought up the issue with in recent months.

The pelvic exam was straight-forward. I mean let’s face it – after giving birth, a trip to the ob-gyn is pretty routine. Squeeze, cough, bear down, and a few minutes later I was diagnosed with a super weak pelvic floor and some moderate pelvic organ prolapse. I was given a referral for pelvic floor physiotherapy, reassured that this was almost entirely repairable, would not affect future pregnancies or births, and was not a dangerous condition. And so off I went to vagina training.

It was amazing what a difference the first few sessions made. I learned proper awareness of this frankly fascinating muscle, and with daily practice was able to alleviate the symptoms in just two weeks. Two months on and I am feeling great, finally back to my ‘old self.’ Though the muscle is still weak, I know what to do to strengthen it and don’t need any further sessions.

I should mention – if the ob-gyn’s examination was par for the course, vagina therapy certainly was not. Which was probably why I had to make up a name like vagina therapy – to deal with the awkward reality of a full one-hour pelvic floor workout, with either a hand or an electrode inside me most of the time. “And contract, two, three, four, release, two, three, four.” Sometimes I even had the pleasure of electric shocks up my vagina – I didn’t like that one very much. But the biofeedback was fun – beating my high score each week totally gamified the process for me. (Yes, I may have a competitive streak.) My physiotherapist did everything she could to make it as comfortable as possible – we chatted most of the time – but there’s nothing to be done, there’s just something inherently awkward about the whole process.

Or is there? There’s nothing awkward about getting physio on your leg, right? If I had an accident and the muscles in my arm needed an hour’s worth of stitches, surely going to physiotherapy would be pretty standard. If only it was the same for the pelvic floor, maybe women wouldn’t be needlessly putting up with pain and discomfort after birth.

And this brings us to my mission to normalize and raise awareness for pelvic floor issues, and my PSA. To women of all ages, and all shapes and sizes: Ladies, at some point you might need vagina training. While it may be a bit awkward, it will be totally worth it. Feeling good physically – and sexually – is so important, and your body deserves to be rehabilitated. And if you do end up with injuries after birth – please, take the leap and talk about it. Or even just share this post. You’ll feel better for it, and you just might make things easier for other women down the line, too.

PS – for anyone who has experienced something similar – I recently found this amazing The Longest Shortest Time podcast episode, entitled Healing After Childbirth. Give it a listen, I’m guessing you’ll really enjoy it too.

Blogger’s note: As always, I have thought of a million things to add to this post since publishing (less than 12 hours ago!!). I’ll just pick one: I did kegel exercises all through the pregnancy. Religiously. So either I wasn’t doing them right – as I understand is often the case – or the weight of my uterus along with intense pushing and tearing during birth did their work on my pelvic floor regardless. My fantastic physiotherapist has already agreed to write a guest post, so hopefully she’ll go into more detail on that point.

When Natural Parenting Feels Anything But Natural

When Natural Parenting Feels Anything But Natural

Ostensibly, I’m all into doing things naturally. I read the books, follow the blogs, join the Facebook groups. I breastfeed and babywear. I’ve got the hippy pants. I tsk judgingly from time to time at people who do otherwise (oh come on, admit it – you do too). But sometimes I’ve gotta admit – it feels anything but natural. I feel like I’m stopping myself all the time, trying to find the “right” response, the healthy way to react, the RIE way. That I’m trying so hard to be chilled that my movements end up jerky, that I’m over-thinking and second-guessing every word I say to Gadi, every move. Every time I offer the breast as comfort, take the stroller instead of the carrier, let him taste a cookie out of my hand. Every time I let him fall asleep on me.

When he was younger it was easier. He stayed in one place, his needs were simpler. All my varied and conflicting sources agreed that there’s no such thing as spoiling a newborn. He just needed me to be there, to tend to his basic needs, to respect him, to love him. And all of that came naturally.

Now, he’s testing. Not in a behavioral, toddler sense – not yet, anyway – but rather he’s trying to understand sequences, cause and effect. If I do this, then this will happen. And that’s fine, it’s great – I just so badly want to do my bit right that it’s doing my head in. And all of my attempts to be natural and mindful and connected and tuned in are somehow colliding with each other. My mind and my heart and my maternal instincts, all pulling me in different ways.

There’s a problem with the word “natural,” or at least the concept. We mean so many different things when we say it – the way humans are “meant” to be, pre-industrial revolution, before medicine, without plastic and screens… But the truth is that natural doesn’t feel natural anymore, not in this day and age. What’s natural is what we’re used to, how we were brought up, what we see around us. Perhaps that’s why everything I do ends up feeling like it’s going against the grain.

I’ve felt it since the beginning of the pregnancy, in some way, shape or form – that I was doing something weird. I’d tell people I was planning a natural birth and they’d look at me like I said I’d decided to birth my (huge) baby out of my left nostril. Exclusively (“only?!”) breastfeeding is somehow seen as subversive behavior, especially past the age of six months, when babies should apparently be eating bucketloads of processed shit sold in tins. And don’t even get me started on Baby Led Weaning. And though these things do feel natural to me – certainly when I think about them and sometimes in practice, too – implementing them can be a bit of an uphill battle.

I was telling my boss a couple of months back about our efforts to get Gadi’s sleep on track, and our deliberations about whether or not to enlist the help of a sleep therapist. About painstaking lists of bed times and wake ups, books and articles, taking turns and careful routines. Her suggestion? “Maybe you just need to go with it.” I was so taken aback – that’s what I thought we were doing. How did I manage to turn laid back and relaxed parenting into something so anal?

I like to think – I hope – that these are just growing pains. That just like anything else, it feels a bit awkward at first and then eventually becomes second nature. And of course, it’s not always like this. When I’m really there, right in the moment connected with Gadi, there’s a perfect flow. When I’m responding rather than reacting – yes – but easily, quickly, naturally. Like Victor Frankl put it:

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.

Deep down, I know the fact that I’m thinking about all of this means I’m being exactly the type of parent I want to be – a mindful, intentional parent. That I’m trying things out, seeing what fits. I also know that it’s when I’m living in the past or the future – going over and over things that happened or trying to plan out the future move by move – that this conflict exists. In the moment, when I’m really present, everything is great.

But in the meantime, it’s hurting my poor tired brain.

9 Tips for Surviving the Postpartum Period

9 Tips for Surviving the Postpartum Period

A wise woman once told me: Nobody talks about the after party. Ironically, this mother of three told me this after seeing me basically every day of my first pregnancy, and yet uttering nary a word about what I could expect in the postpartum days and weeks. The impending labor and birth we talked about, naturally, along with pregnancy matters galore – from ultrasounds and iron supplements to headaches and contractions. Parenting plans came up, name ideas, baby furniture. Hospitals, midwives and nursing consultants. But postpartum recovery was just never mentioned. No one was game to raise the issue, it seems.

It’s understandable. You’d sound like a right downer if your first reaction upon finding out your friend was pregnant was to tell them, “Now love, you should know that sitting down may well hurt for quite some time after delivery.” I get it. But women need – and deserve – to be prepared for this intense period. This paradoxical moment in time when you need quiet and rest more than anything else – and instead you get basically no sleep, well-meaning family and friends bugging you round the clock, and varying degrees of aches and pains. And just to make things more confusing and ambiguous, all of this is sprinkled with heart-bursting love, super birth hormones and an amazing appetite.

And so I write this by way of preparation for those about to give birth, and vow to send it to my friends and my sisters when their time comes. Even if they don’t love me for it at the time.

  1. You’re gonna bleed, big time – and not just like the “heavy period” that I remember hearing about. The midwife is gonna stick three surfboard-size pads together for you, and you’re gonna thank her for it. Keep in mind that the more you rest, the quicker your postpartum bleeding will stop. Rest.
  2. Black is the new black. You don’t want to find out what happens when your grey sweatpants make it to your hospital bag. This goes for underwear for the first couple of weeks too (though I actually recommend buying the sexy disposable mesh ones for the first few days. So much easier).
  3. Going to the bathroom is going to hurt, one way or another. You got through the birth, you can get through this. Take it slow and if possible take the shower head with you (assuming you had a vaginal birth). Spraying water on the area while you’re doing your business is a godsend. I wish someone had told me this earlier.
  4. Cold is your friend. If you’re in a hospital they should provide frozen magnesium or witch hazel pads, and at home you can easily make your own. Trust me, you’ll almost enjoy it.
  5. Stay in the moment – don’t waste your precious energy worrying about what you could have done differently during the birth, or how long this discomfort is going to last. Try this nursing meditation, if it tickles your fancy, put your phone down and focus on your breath for a few minutes, or utilize whatever reminders you need to stay mindful of what you’re doing right now. I really believe this will keep you sane through at least some of the exhaustion and the emotional breakdowns.
  6. Give the nursing apps a miss – unless you (or your baby) are having real problems. I used one at first and started to feel like I couldn’t feed unless I had my phone, not to mention getting obsessed with how long, which boob, averages etc. Losing my phone 4 weeks in was a blessing in disguise, and I realized that a hairband on my wrist to tell me which boob was next worked (and continues to work) just as well.
  7. Let people help, but remember to tell them when you need space. I didn’t do this enough and I should have. The first few weeks are crucial for bonding with your new baby – and if you’re anything like me, resting properly with guests in your space is difficult. Leave the washing. Screw the dishes. Forget about other people’s feelings for now. Lay on the couch.
  8. Bring a snack bowl to bed (better yet, get someone else to make it for you). Waking up every hour or so to breastfeed feels a lot better when you have chocolate, dried fruit, nuts etc at arms reach. Ditto for a liter or two of water.
  9. Give yourself a break. There is an unrealistic expectation on women (I loved this blog post on the topic) to bounce back right after birth, and for most of us it’s just not that simple. Many cultures around the world expect new mothers to be completely out of action for the first 40 days. Don’t expect to feel “normal” for the first month, at least.

If you’re reading this before giving birth – or even before getting pregnant – I should add: it’s totally worth it. It would be even if you needed to wear the triple maxi pads for six months (you don’t). It can just be a bit of a shock, that’s all.

 

Gadi’s Birth Day (or, hospitals and Hypnobirthing)

Gadi’s Birth Day (or, hospitals and Hypnobirthing)

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
Weight: 3.7kg