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When you pass through the waters

I’m reading Michel Odent’s book, Water and Sexuality.  If you aren’t familiar with Odent, he is a French surgeon who began to explore birth as a midwife.  He noticed women were drawn to and influenced by water during birth.  You don’t need to be around birth long before you notice that phenomenon.

He is also incredibly provocative.

He tosses about Japanese tradition, Greek mythology, sexual theory, and futuristic aquatic adaptation.  In the same chapter.

Like I said, provocative.

IMG_2686In terms of waterbirth, he describes how women are drawn to the water and will sometimes enter the tub before it is barely filled.  In Odent’s observations, the presence of water “releases the brakes” on birth; inhibitions melt and the neo-cortex turns off.

I started thinking about a question I ask all my clients:  If you could birth your baby anywhere in the world, without worrying about logistics or safety, where would your fantasy birth take place?

I knew many women included water in their answer but I decided to find out how many.  I pulled my last 50 client files and went through each one of them.

38 out of 50 said they wanted to birth either in water or near water.

Some of the answers were creative and specific.  Here are a few:

  • A cottage by the ocean in a rain storm
  • Floating on a bamboo raft in Hawaii
  • In a tree house over the ocean in Fiji
  • By Bull Sluice on the Chattooga River in the daytime
  • On a blanket at the ocean in Italy
  • In a Swiss Alps cottage with the sound of water

Three women mentioned dolphins and four mentioned mangoes.  Is there some symbolism in those images?

My favorite was a woman who would birth at a coral reef at night.  Probably the scariest place I could imagine but for her it was a peaceful, safe haven.

Only 12 did not involve water.  So what did those 12 answer?

  1. At home in bed near a fire.  Dim lights.
  2. At home with candles
  3. At home in the living room.
  4. Home
  5. At home in bed.
  6. At home beside the fireplace.
  7. Somewhere comfortable and private
  8. Hospital (interesting, at her birth she spent much of her time in the hospital shower)
  9. Mountain top
  10. Outside
  11. and 12.  No answer

I don’t have a big revelation in these numbers.  I’m not surprised by them.  Personally, it’s difficult for me to imagine having a “land birth.”  At my first birth, when the midwife said the tub was ready, I stripped my clothes off in a room full of people and almost dove headfirst into the aquadoula.  The tub created a boundary around me, it gave a physical space that was mine.

Not everyone wants to immerse in water, certainly.  Still, ocean sounds, waterfalls, and thunderstorms resonate in many of these fantasy births.  We grow our babies in water, we dream vividly of it in pregnancy, and it may release the brakes in our births.


To be astonished

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Let me keep my mind on what matters,

which is my work,

which is mostly standing still

and learning to be astonished.

–Mary Oliver

Birth Story Part Two: Places Everybody

Where was I?  Oh yes, utterly deflated.  Late Saturday night, we went to Publix to buy groceries.  I had clipped all the coupons already so I had to go.  Right, coupon moms?   Then I stayed up too late.  And went to sleep listening to a Hypnobabies script.  During the night, I felt pressure waves come and go but ignored them.  At 6am, I thought I might time a couple–10 minutes apart.  No big deal then.  I listened to another script.  Around 7:45, Scott brought a warm rice sock and turned on some Fleet Foxes.  What a nice way to wake.

PhotobucketScott singing to meActive Labor

At 9am, it was like someone flipped a switch.  I was making breakfast when the pressure waves went from 10 minutes apart to a very serious 3 minutes apart.  The energy changed and I told Scott I was having a baby today.  I managed to eat my eggs and toast while standing and rocking.  Again, I noticed how much I was thinking like a doula.  What position should I take?  Should Scott sift me?  What about belly-lifting?  Do I need to do the rotisserie?  Argh, the voice in my head!

Then, without thinking, with the next pressure wave, I began reciting T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.”  Yes, a poem about a balding man’s mid-life crisis.  Yes, that is the focal point I chose folks.  Not a nice Psalm.  Not a beautiful song.  Not even a poet like Neruda or Rilke.  I could recite to line 22 (“curled once about the house, and fell asleep”) before the wave ended.  I did not feel pain just an intense squeezing sensation.

IMG_8648At 10:35am, Scott wrote in the birth log that I said a horrible curse word.  Friends–brace yourself.  At the end of a pressure wave during which I forgot the words to my poem, I said “Dad-gum.”  Time to get into the birth tub.  Ah, the birth tub.  Bliss.  I could drape over the sides and flip my Hypnobabies light switch to “off.”

Using hypnosis, I totally kicked transition’s butt.  Oh yeah.  Smiling and relaxing, this birth was a piece of cake.  Until at 1pm, I swore again.  Scott notes that I said “Yowzers.”  (Ahem, Kelley are you reading?  I will never pick on you again).

I should interject that Cedar was sounding beautiful.  She was actively involved and had a great heart rate the whole time.  Never gave us a worry.

I began feeling a little pushy.  I was really looking forward to pushing.  My firstborn, Norah, was so easy-breezy to push (although her 32 hour labor was challenging).  I pushed Norah out in 20-something minutes with barely a sound.  Ah, but Cedar.  My first tentative push with Cedar told me something was different.  And I began to fear.  Fear+birth=pain.  What was I afraid of?   Well the doula brain was happy to rush back into high gear and tell me.  I was afraid of a posterior baby.  A nuchal hand.  Tearing.  Having to transport for suturing.  Shut up, thinking brain!

Scott got into the tub at 1:20 and I tried pushing a few times while standing up.  Then squatting.  Both were overwhelming in sensation.  I birthed Norah while squatting and I was barely aware of her descent.  In fact, she took all of us by surprise when she tumbled out in between contractions.  Cedar.  Oh Cedar.  First to present was the bag of waters–yep, still intact.  I felt it with my hand and it was so hard.  Until it broke–nice gush of clear fluid.  Then, I felt Cedar descending like a freight train.  I was on my knees but moved to a knee-crouch kind of position.  Really, I think I was crouched because I was contemplating jumping out of the tub and just running away.  Scott applied counterpressure to my perineum.  I put pressure on my front and around the head.  Wow, the sensations were incredible.  And not incredible like orgasmic birth incredible.  Nope, none of that.  Scott said something later about feeling the energy and power of my uterus.  He said birth should be an olympic sport because of that powerful muscle.



Cedar was born at 2:18.  Scott caught her and brought her to the surface.  She was not posterior.  No nuchal hand.  And I did not tear.  On my chest, I rubbed her and snuggled her.  She looked so healthy.  And she was.  I didn’t want to look to see if she was a girl or boy.  That took some time.


After the placenta came, Scott clamped and cut the cord.  No one noted the time but I know Cedar was already nursing by then.  We got out of the tub.  I drank some OJ.  We examined Cedar (heart rate, respiration, temp, etc).  Unfortunately, my bleeding was a bit heavy and my uterus was not clamping down as well as it could have.  So I got a shot of pitocin, took some herbs, and had lots of “fun” fundal massage to get my uterus to contract.

Cedar weighed in at 8lbs 10oz and was 21 inches long.

Then we all went to bed.  And I pretty much stayed there for 5 days.  Snuggling and nursing and being visited by lovely family and friends.  The great Cassandra even came the next day to give me an acupuncture treatment!  And sweet midwives-to-be Carey and Crystal picked up my placenta the next day and encapsulated it for me.  I also discovered how wonderful coconut water is for restoring electrolytes.  More about amazing placentas and postpartum time later.


Introducing Cedar Olivia

IMG_8756I promise to post a full birth story in a few days with strange details like how “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” played into my labor and how my stomach kept growling while I birthed.  And how I kept trying to doula myself–not a good thing.

In the meantime, the important stuff:

We have a girl!  8lbs 10oz.  She was born Sunday afternoon after a comfortable 5 hour labor.  Scott caught her in the water.  Everyone is doing well.  Cedar is such a healthy, strong dumpling.  And a GREAT nurser!

Pregnancy Podcasts

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I found some great podcasts at PregTASTIC.  I listened to Barbara Harper, founder of Waterbirth International, discuss the chemical effects of buoyancy and Dr. Jack Newman  talk about breastfeeding.  I loved the two-series podcasts with Maria Mongan who developed hypnobirthing.  I have several more loaded in my ipod and hope to listen to them when Norah is sleeping in the car.