By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP
I thought I might write about what my birth experience was like and how motherhood has changed me, both as a person and as a practitioner. Because this could easily be a 50-page article, I will be succinct. At least I will try. My baby is 10 months old now! He is talking, walking, laughing and growing like a weed. That sweet baby is the light and love of my life.
It has been a fascinating/joyful/frightening/blissful experience to have a baby. Nothing could have prepared me for what it was and is like. And that is the thing about it, I don’t think there is anything you can do to prepare for how it is going to make you feel, and how it will, in every way, change your life.
My very pregnant belly! About a month before I had Liam.
I was at work, treating a patient when my water broke almost a month early. I knew, and my midwives told me, that what we see in movies – the pregnant woman in the grocery store whose water breaks – is not usually the way you go into labour (this only happens in about 10% of cases). I also knew that most first time mamas go beyond nine months, often by a couple of weeks. So, let’s just say that I was a bit unprepared when I was writing out notes with a patient on the table when my water broke. I wasn’t sure at first what had happened, probably because I wasn’t expecting it. It only took a second to figure it out, and then my mind took me all the way to the end of the thought… I was going to have a baby. Today! I politely waited for my patient to have her time on the table and then went in and whispered to her (thankfully, she was also my friend), that I thought my water had just broken and that I should probably call my midwife. Her eyes got as big as saucers and she said “just calmly take out my needles, and I am going to help you. My gods, we’re having a baby today!”
My midwife said that I should come in and make sure that my water did in fact break. I asked if I could go home and get my hunny first and she said of course. I texted him and told him my water had broken and his response was shock, disbelief and surprise. My friend piled up some towels on my car seat (when your water breaks, the amniotic fluid keeps producing so it is like a continuous flow) and I drove, as calmly as I could, home. When I arrived, everything I needed was in a bag and on the bed. My hunny had been busy and looked like he was having a small heart attack when I walked in the door. We looked at each other and smiled, knowing our baby was on its way. We got into the car and drove to the midwives where they checked and confirmed that my water had indeed broken. If your water breaks before you are in labour, you have 24 hours to begin labour (at least this is the rule in Florida where I live) or you put the baby and yourself in danger because the “water” or amniotic sack is there to protect the baby and keep everything sterile, so there is some pressure to get things going once your water has broken. The midwives checked me over and said everything seemed fine, but that I needed to get things moving. They told me to go get a couple of homeopathic remedies to help speed up labour and said to go home and make out with my hunny, which was a sure fire way to kick start the process. They told us to call them as soon as my contractions were about 5 minutes apart, or in 4 hours, whichever came first.
A Note on Pain
Now, I want to be really honest with you about what came next. And by that, I mean the pain. I don’t think there is anything I could have done to prepare myself for what contractions and ultimately birth felt like. I know that everyone has a different experience, and I certainly watched a thousand videos of women giving birth in the months before I was due. But none of them accurately conveyed what it *felt* like. It is a difficult thing to accurately describe, so let me say this. I think, because of various things and experiences that I have had in my life, that I have, or had a pretty high tolerance to pain. Previous to having a baby, my pain scale went from one to ten. I was blissfully unaware of any pain, capable of breaching the ten ceiling. My pain scale now goes to 37, and that is not an exaggeration or an inflated number used to be dramatic – that is a relative increase, a mathematical equation used taking my maximum experience of pain before birth and multiplying it appropriately.
Yup, that was the pain. Woo, it hurt.
The things I have heard over and over again from women about birth are the fears they have of how much it is going to hurt. This is why there is a delectable assortment of drugs used to dull the pain of childbirth and I would never judge any woman for using any of them. Especially not now. Of course, the intensity and quality of pain varies from person to person, but I have to say, the pain I experienced during childbirth was something that I could not possibly express in words. It was a pain I never knew existed, and the most painful experience I have ever had in my life.
But I don’t want to scare you about the pain. Do I regret it? No. Would I do it again? Yes. Do I wish I had been a little more aware of how intense it was going to be beforehand so that I could have been more psychologically prepared? Honestly, I’m not sure. Maybe. Was it worth it and one of the best, most incredible experiences of my life? Yes. The pain, much like the giving birth, were literally cutting new experiences into both my body and my psyche. They were experiences so intense that they literally take you to another place that anything less would never be able to take you. Words, again, cannot possibly express the depth and breadth of the experience, but alas, they are all I have at this moment.
My labour, once it started, went so quickly that my contractions were almost immediately on top of each other. I was unaware of anyone or anything else in the room, except my love, who was clutching me through each contraction. I would lean into him, gritting my teeth, crying out, focussing all my energy on making it through each one. I didn’t have time to think. I didn’t have time to fear. I only had enough energy to focus on making it through each contraction. I didn’t even have time to think about something that might help the pain. Not once did this thought enter my head, which was swimming in a pain I scarce thought existed. The only time I came out of my pain was when I looked up and said “girls?” There were two midwives in the room, apparently watching closely, but sitting back, not wanting to crowd the experience. I saw them then and Christina asked, “yes?” I remember asking – “Can you die from pain?” She smiled and assured me that I could not. I remember then deciding that if I couldn’t die from it, then I could endure it, and that was what I was going to do. That was the only time I remember being aware of the room or the people in it. My friend Michelle was there, sitting in a rocking chair in the corner, photographing the whole thing, but I was completely unaware of her presence. I had ridiculously told her that we would have a wonderful chance to catch up and perhaps have a tea while I was in labour and it would be so great that she would be there. Unfortunately, I didn’t say one word to her the entire time, I was engrossed in my work.
After what seemed like an eternity (but was in fact only a couple of hours from the start of my intense contractions), I was checked and told that I had dilated to 6 centimeters and asked if I would like to get into the tub. It had been my plan to have a water birth, but I knew that I had to be flexible and decided I would see how I felt when the time came. I eagerly said yes and thought that the warm water might dull the sharp nature of the pain. It did. The tub was a large jacuzzi style in the pretty bedroom we were in at the birth centre. My hunny and I both got into the tub and the contractions continued with me changing positions every few seconds as nothing felt comfortable. I kept trying to find a way to position myself that made the pain tolerable. Very quickly I got the urge to push. I remember looking up and there was one of my midwives smiling at me. I asked her if I could push, and she said if I felt like I wanted to, then I should. Things are a bit of a blur after that, but I remember only pushing a couple of times, and when I finally did push out my baby I didn’t realize it right away. I remember hearing Christina, my midwife, calling my name, telling me to catch my baby. I then have a vague memory of Mathieu diving across me and scooping up the baby and putting it into my arms. It was a feeling of disbelief. The baby was here!! I looked at this tiny creature in my arms with wonder and disbelief. I remember coming out of it and asking if it was a boy or a girl… it was a boy. A boy!! We had both thought from the beginning that our baby had been a girl, even after an ultrasound had said it was a boy. He was so tiny! Tiny feet and tiny hands and he lay still curled up into my chest as I held him close. He did not cry. Mathieu and I looked at each other and then at this tiny being that had been so active in my belly for months. He was beautiful. And a darkish purple. And covered with a waxy substance all babies are born with called vernix. He had a full head of dark hair. I sat, in the tub with my new little family in a sort of daze, with love pouring out of every pore of my body and being. It was done. He was born. :)
Sweet baby Liam was born in the tub and all natural after 4 hours of labour. He arrived more than three weeks early but was born a healthy baby to very happy parents.
After a few minutes in the tub together, the midwives said I should get out and come over to the bed so that they could listen to the baby’s heart and prepare for the arrival of the placenta. As I held him, I was helped to stand up and get out of the tub making my way over to the bed where the midwives listened to his heart and measured him. All the while, he never left my arms. I laid on the bed, marveling at this tiny creature who seemed so calm. His eyes were closed and he snuggled into me as I stared in wonder at his tiny body.
The midwives checked him over and made sure he was healthy. My husband got to cut the umbilical cord after some time so that the baby could benefit from the blood coming from the placenta. I was then told that I would have to deliver the placenta. My midwife said that I shouldn’t be concerned, as although it was about the same size as the baby, it had no bones and would be easy to deliver. One of the midwives held on to the umbilical cord and pulled slightly at the same time that she told me to push. The placenta came out in one push and was taken by the midwives to be processed, as I had requested for it to be encapsulated.
After that, I was sewn up. I had torn quite badly – probably because everything had happened so fast (one of my midwives remarked that my labour had been the fastest first-time mama labour she had ever seen). The sewing up was intense and there was no anesthetic. It felt like it took forever, and my midwife kept telling me to focus on my beautiful baby and stop focussing on the pain. I remember wondering how much more trauma my poor lady parts could endure…
I was then asked to sit up and eat a little something and was handed a plate of cottage cheese and fruit which I ate, not realizing how hungry I was. While I was eating, the baby was taken out of my arms and weighed beside me, then given back to me. I was told that I needed to have a shower and that a couple of the midwives would help me to the bathroom and stay in the room in case I felt a bit faint. I remember getting up and feeling a bit woozy. I had a shower (which felt great) but soon did feel a bit dizzy so was told by the midwives to sit and just soak in the hot water for a bit. After that, I was lead back to my room where I was shown how to nurse and then told to relax until we were ready to go. It was so nice to just all sit in the bed together, my new little family and bask in our love for a little while. It was surreal and wonderful. I remember thinking that it was the reason we were here and that I couldn’t have felt any more love at that moment. Once we had sat for a bit, we dressed the baby in his tiny shirt and pants and a hat and the midwives helped us to put him into the car seat, showing us how to strap him in safely. The midwives gave me the clothes I had worn when I arrived, nice and clean from the wash (they had washed and dried them, bless them!) and we dreamily got into the car. I hugged my midwives and drove my little family home. I remember being so grateful for having such a wonderful birth experience. I felt safe and like the midwives were there if I needed them, but that they were hanging back and letting us have our baby ourselves. My friend Michelle said to me the next day – “my gods, you guys had that baby yourselves, it was incredible!!” She took amazing (and emotional) pictures of the birth. They really convey the intense emotions of the experience.
Now, I wasn’t sure that I would talk about the placenta, as it is a subject that many people find strange. For me, ever since I could remember I knew that I wanted to ingest my placenta, as many animals in the wild do. The placenta offers many vitamins, nutrients and health benefits to the mother after the hardship of pregnancy and birth. I am not sure they would give you this option at the hospital, but most midwives and birthing centre’s have the option to keep your placenta. Something that was new to me, was that they can now do something called “encapsulation” which means that the placenta is taken after delivery and refrigerated, then dried and made into capsules to make it easier to ingest. This is pretty cool as you used to get the placenta in its entirety and would have to cut it up into bits and be creative about what you did to it, either juicing it, adding it to a stir-fry or whathaveyou.
Because the encapsulation process takes between 24-48 hours, my midwife kindly cut a piece off to give to us so that I could have it for the next day or two until she could get the capsules to us. My husband and I ate it the next evening fried up with some oyster mushrooms. It was a bit spongy but surprisingly good (oyster mushrooms make everything delicious, don’t they??). And let me just say that if you are lucky enough to find someone who believes the same things you do, will be in the tub with you while you have a baby and also eat the placenta with you, you are very lucky indeed. <3
I honestly feel that in those weeks after giving birth I felt better, stronger and more even keeled emotionally because of the fact that I was taking my placenta capsules. In Chinese medicine, pregnancy, and especially childbirth are very depleting to blood and qi, so resting (the Chinese concept of “golden month’ is something I will write about later) and doing everything you can to build blood and qi are important for the mother’s recovery.
Calling this section “the aftermath” may seem a bit negative, like the phase experienced after a war, but that is literally what it felt like. Physically and emotionally, I felt like I had been through a sort of war. I was very lucky to have had an easy pregnancy with very few symptoms or discomfort. My appointments at the midwives usually consisted of a conversation like this:
Midwives – “How are you feeling?”
Me – “Great! I am feeling really good.”
Midwives – “Ok, excellent, we will see you next month.”
Near the end, things got a little uncomfortable – and that is just because you are so enormous. Things like sleeping, lifting things, and getting around get a little harder too. All in all, I had a very easy pregnancy. I remember thinking during all those midwife appointments that I barely needed them. Little did I know, I would need them later. A lot. :)
The first couple of weeks after the birth were the hardest. The worst part was that I couldn’t sit. Everything was so, um, sore that sitting was impossible. I had to get very creative about nursing. My body was exhausted, and all of my focus was on this tiny person, who, for many days didn’t even have a name. My husband and I were so absolutely sure that we were having a girl that we didn’t have a name for a boy and it took us some time to choose the right one. ;) The baby was nursing every few hours and he was so tiny that I was terrified that he would get crushed or that we would roll over on him or that the cat would try to eat him… and you are so tired that everything becomes very surreal and your ability to cope becomes eroded because of a serious lack of sleep. I also had terrible digestive problems after Liam was born that went on for about 6 months. We had a lot of company in those few months after he was born too, which was difficult. Of course, your friends and family are so happy and want to see the baby, but you are not at your best and still figuring out your new life with your babe and having people there all the time was stressful and made me more exhausted than I already was. I think if I were to do it again I would take some time, at least a month or two before I would have family come and stay just to get some time to bond with my new family.
I also had a hard time nursing and the baby was underweight at my first postnatal appointment which was hard and very emotional. He was put on a rigorous feeding schedule and I had to keep track of every feeding for weeks as well as have him weighed constantly to make sure that he was gaining enough weight.
All in all, those first few months after Liam was born were the most difficult. You have this new life to worry about that is completely dependent on you and your good judgment. Everything is new and you are trying your best to do everything right while only sleeping a few hours at a time (if you’re lucky). You are feeling like an emotional train wreck because your hormones are readjusting and everyone around you is giving you advice and telling you what to do. Your body feels ruined and like it will never be the same. You want to cry because you are so happy. You want to cry because you are so tired. We got through it, and things got better once I set up a bit of a schedule and returned to listening to my instincts, which have never failed me.
The Choice is Yours
With all the books, blogs, doctors and mothers out there, having a baby can be a daunting experience. Everyone has advice they want to give you. Often when you have not asked for it. There are a billion theories on how to have a baby and raise a child and it is hard to know what to do. If you are strong willed and stubborn like I am, then you have some pretty clear ideas about how you want to do those things and you may spend a lot of time justifying and explaining to friends and family who don’t agree with the way you are doing things. This uses up precious energy that you should be spending on your sweet baby!
I think that we live in a world of magnificent diversity, and there are many ways to do all of the things we do. Each person needs to find the way that resonates with them. This is sometimes easier said than done, but having a baby and raising children is an intensely personal experience and I believe everyone needs to do it in a way that makes sense to them. I decided to have a baby at a birth centre, in the tub, with midwives because that was important to me. I wanted to bring my child into the world in the most natural and gentle way possible. I wanted to be in control (well, as much control as possible) of my birth experience, and I knew that my midwives would respect my wishes. They absolutely did and I ended up having a wonderful birth, exactly the way I wanted it. I feel very lucky that I could choose to have that experience because I know that many women do not have the luxury of choosing how they give birth.
A New Life
Sweet Liam is now 10 months old, and a very sweet, good-natured, happy baby. I learn so much from him, and I love watching him discover and explore the world. He is a pure Buddha in that he is absolutely in the moment and the embodiment of joy and love. I realize that all of the experiences that I have had and all the things I have done in my life were to make me a better mother for him, so that I could share the things I learned and give him the wisdom of those experiences. I also feel so blessed that I get to be his mother in this life. I believe that children choose us, and I am honoured that he chose us to be his parents. I love him more than I knew was possible.
Something else that I have noticed, is a razor sharp focus on my child and my new family. I want to fully experience every moment and look forward to every day I have with my new family. I have had a crazy life. I could write several books on the insane experiences, wild travel and other crazy things I have done. Let’s just say that I have lived my life FULLY. I am so grateful now, that I did all those things before I had Liam. I can’t wait for the next chapter when I get to live this new adventure with him and my sweet little family. <3
** to my wonderful friend and excellent photographer Michelle Donner who was there throughout (although I didn’t say a word to her as I was really concentrating) who beautifully photographed the entire event. She took all the photographs in this post. Please see her site here for more of her beautiful photographs. **
Thank you my friend. I love you.