By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP
I am presently pregnant with my second baby. My first is 18 months, and I am expecting to give birth any day now. It has been an intense year and a half. I described motherhood to a friend as like being swept up in a tsunami and just having to let go while trying your best not to drown. It is a kind of chaos, with terrifying moments and wonderful ones, all shaken up together. Your life before you had a baby is a distant memory, as there is nothing that remains from it now as you become unrecognizable, even to yourself. Emotionally, the best way that I could describe it, is that having a child is like having a piece of your heart walking around on the outside of your body.
Pregnancy Number One
This picture of my pregnant belly taken by the lovely Michelle Donner, of Michelle Donner Photography <3
My two pregnancies have been very different. During my first, I was in my lovely healing community of Sarasota. I was having my friend – a ninja massage therapist, yoga instructor and reiki master – giving me massages every two weeks. I was going to her yoga class several times a week. I was meditating on my own and going to my awesome women’s meditation group every two weeks. I was walking around my neighbourhood every day and walking on the beach at least once a week. I was taking supplements every day and eating like a superhero. I was meeting friends for tea and doing everything I could to be a healthy, happy human in preparation to bring a life into the world. I felt awesome and didn’t suffer with any unpleasant symptoms that I had heard about from so many patients over the years. I was so lucky.
I was also very lucky to be in a place where I had a whole community of healers who I had relationships with, us all treating each other, to keep me healthy and balanced. There were many birth centre’s in Sarasota and a wide variety of midwives which was amazing. I went to a few places and decided on the one I liked the best. My appointments were uneventful as everything was going well and I was feeling great. I ended up giving birth almost a month early to a healthy baby boy. I had him in the tub (where my husband was with me) all natural with no medications and although I was not prepared for how intense it was going to be or how much pain was going to be involved (no words could possibly express this), it was an incredible experience and one in which my husband and I participated fully. There were two midwives present, but they just observed, occasionally checking vitals, but other than that, they were just there to make sure everything went smoothly and not to interfere. A friend who was there said it was incredible, and that my hubby and I totally gave birth to that baby all by ourselves. She cried throughout, and said it was a beautiful thing to have witnessed. I was under the impression that my labour would take a while (first time mamas usually have longer labours) and that we would get to chat and have tea, but I said not one word to her the entire time as my labour went insanely fast. It took 4 hours start to finish. I was busy concentrating and was completely unaware of my surroundings for most of it. I was trying not to pass out from the pain. I was concentrating on making it through each contraction. It also became immediately apparent that the process was almost completely out of my control and that I just had to let go and let it happen or I would make it a whole lot more uncomfortable for myself. So many lessons, oh my!
Baby Liam was born at just after 10pm and for those first couple of hours, he never left my arms. He was measured and checked and left to be with me. There was a brief moment when the midwives lifted him gently into a blanket and weighed him then handed him back to me so he could get maximum skin on skin time. I was given something to eat and escorted to the shower so I could rinse off and baby Liam got some daddy time. Then I was told everything was fine and we could go home and get some sleep. This was about 2am. The midwives asked us to bring in the car seat and helped us put our tiny baby into it safely. The midwives had washed and dried our clothes and had gathered up our things and walked us out to our car. They made sure the baby was put into the car properly and hugged us goodbye. They said they would come to the house in the next 48 hours to check on the baby and I to make sure we were doing well. I then drove us home and we all went to bed.
Pregnancy Number Two
I found out I was pregnant a couple of days before I was to get on a plane, leave my entire life behind and relocate my little family to Central America. This was not planned so it came as a bit of a surprise. I had so much on my mind with the enormity of what we were about to do that I had to tell myself that I would deal with it when I got there, and that the “getting there” part was what I had to focus on at the moment. Now, relocating your entire family to another country is no small thing, especially because we had never seen the house we would be renting and really had to hope that there was a van there to pick us up at the airport. There was a lot of just having faith that things would be ok which, at least in my experience, is what a lot of travel is about. This becomes slightly scarier when you have your entire family in tow including an 11 month old baby, but we did it and the next many months were a kind of chaos and emotional rollercoaster that I could not possibly describe in words. We were living in an extremely remote place on a beautiful but treacherous road learning to drive a standard car and just figuring out how life worked in our new home. It was intense. It was sort of like being thrown off a cliff and hoping that your parachute would open before you hit the ground. Those first many months were hard, and there were a lot of difficult times, but we all got through them, and things started to settle.
I of course realized soon after we arrived that I would need to see a doctor or midwife and began the task of figuring out how to go about such a thing. We were about an hour from anywhere, knew exactly 2 people and spoke only basic Spanish. I got to work.
Luckily, I happened to find a blog written by an American couple who had moved to Costa Rica and had a baby and thankfully, had written about the experience. Amazingly, they happened to live pretty close to where we were. I reached out to them to ask if they might share the name of the doctor they had used who they liked very much and said was very into natural births and would come to your house and bring a pool if that is what you desired. The woman wrote back and said she was happy to share the name of this doctor and said he was located in a city about an hour away. Amazing! I was, at that moment, in love with the internet and the doors it could open when you were in the middle of nowhere.
I called and made an appointment to see the doctor and loved him immediately. He spoke a tiny bit of English and with my tiny bit of Spanish, we could speak to each other. He had wonderful, kind energy and was very laid back and knowledgeable. I thanked my lucky stars to have found him and told myself to write a thank you note to the woman with the blog for connecting me with him.
Pregnancy & Childbirth in Costa Rica
As it turns out, this doctor is an anomaly in Costa Rica. He is an OBGYN and ten years ago he was asked by a patient from the Netherlands if he would deliver her baby at home. He said initially he thought this was crazy, but she was very insistent so he agreed. He explained that after speaking to her about how they handle pregnancy and childbirth in Holland, that he started reading about it. After that, with each foreign patient, he asked about how they viewed pregnancy and childbirth in their country, trying to find documentation so he could learn. For the past ten years he has done almost nothing but home births, with his mostly foreign patients. He says that in Costa Rica this is not a common practice and people still have their babies at the hospital. He shared that when he goes to his yearly gynecological conference in the capital city of San Jose that his colleagues affectionately refer to him as “the crazy” doctor that does home deliveries. I have met many expats here who call him “the baby whisperer” and sing his praises. When I had my first baby I received a binder full of information/articles about pregnancy and childbirth from the birth centre which I brought to one of my appointments and offered to share with him. He was very grateful and very much wanted a copy so he could learn about how one can have a baby in the US, as well as be able to share the information with his Costa Rican patients. I am so happy to have a doctor that is so open and curious. I feel that I am in very kind and capable hands.
I am about to have my second baby any day now. I am trying very hard to finish this article before I do so I can get it published, as after the baby is born, your life slips into a sort of chaos which makes doing anything but feeding and sleeping that baby difficult. My lovely doctor will come to the house when I call and let him know I am in labour or (probably in my case) my water breaks. He will bring a tub so that I can deliver in water if I wish (and I do wish it!). He says he doesn’t believe in interventions unless they are necessary, and he brings with him everything that might be needed. We are about 20 minutes from a hospital, and I was told to have at least 10 coconuts (known as pipa’s in Costa Rica) as drinking the water inside is one of the best things for hydration, nutrients and electrolytes. I am going to need them in labour. Thankfully, they grow on the property and there is a growing pile of them outside the front door in anticipation for my labour and delivery.
Pregnancy & Chinese Medicine
In Chinese medicine, pregnancy and childbirth are considered a very powerful time for women. They are also a time when mothers need to take especially good care of themselves as pregnancy, and particularly childbirth, are extremely depleting of the woman’s precious resources. Herbs and acupuncture are used both during and after the birth to build up the mother so that she can regain her strength. There is also something called “golden month” (I will write about this in a post later) in which the mother is supposed to do absolutely nothing for the month after the birth of her child. She is not even supposed to shower and is to be waited on hand and foot so that she can properly and completely rebuild her body and rebalance her psyche and emotions. This is to combat the depleting effects of her pregnancy and the subsequent birth of her child. In our modern world, mother’s often have to go right back to work after having their children which, in the Chinese medicine view at least, does not give them the time they really need to heal and recover from such a depleting experience. It also does not allow them to bond with their new babies in the same way, which is an important part of the babies’ development both cognitively, emotionally and physically. Pregnancy and childbirth are sacred, and must be treated with reverence and respect allowing the mother to fully heal and give her the time needed to bond with her new child.
this adorable image from wishviewkids.com. Look at those cheeks!!!
Women have an enormous amount of pressure on them to do it all. They have careers and often are taking care of their homes as well as raising children. Many women are choosing to have children later in life so that they can establish their careers first, and have their children later. Raising children has also become more difficult financially, and many families struggle as both parents have to work to be able to cope with the costs of doing so. It seems that gone are the days when one parent could support a family with children so that the other could stay home and raise them. Women often go back to work right away after having their babies when they are depleted and exhausted because they financially have to do so. And children are sent to daycares earlier and earlier as their parents must work to keep it all going. I completely sympathize, as I am now in the same situation. Or I was.
Part of my move to Costa Rica was to have the lifestyle that was important to me, and to give the best life to my children. In Sarasota, my husband and I both worked full time and managed to look after a tiny infant. I am still not sure how we did it. We lived in a tiny apartment and were just making it financially because of the high cost of living and debts that needed repaying. We were exhausted and never had a break or any time to recover. I was going to work every day treating patients and trying to help them to stay balanced and healthy and practically killing myself while working with a new baby. It felt wrong. What I really wanted more than anything and what I had always envisioned: to stay home with my babies, especially for the first 5 years (the formative ones) and enjoy them as much as possible. I wanted to be the one to teach them about the world and be able to see the magic of their world through their eyes. In Costa Rica, I am able to be home with my baby son, and soon with my newborn daughter. I still work, but less and mostly from home. My husband works remotely for a company in Canada, where we are from. We live on one salary which we can do here because we choose to live simply and have LESS. There are a lot of things we give up to be here, but to us anyways, it is worth it because we are trying to make a better life for our children, and, ourselves. I know it is worth it when I walk out the door and across to the horses with my son so he can feed them. The look on his face tells me we are doing the right thing. At least for us. We live in a beautiful, peaceful place. And we have a very happy and contented child. We are less stressed and are under less pressure to earn and spend. Living simply suits us, and so it works. It is important for each and every one of us to find the things that will make us happy and go after them. There is nothing more rewarding in this life than knowing what will make your heart happy, and then doing everything you can to make it happen. We all deserve it. <3