Busting birth Myths: the physiological birth that defied the 'rules'
This Saturday morning at 7am I received the much anticipated call from Renata: "Ludmilla is coming!" Renata's contractions had started at 4.30am but she had waited to call me: "I thought it was better to let you sleep properly; I need you to be rested and with plenty of energy when you arrive!"
My film-maker friend Bea had been staying at my place the week before, ready to film Renata's birth; I jumped out of bed super excited and shouted downstairs, "Wake up Bea! Baby Ludmilla is on her way!" We grabbed our coffee and our pain au chocolat from the bakery and we were en route to the metro station!
Riding the metro on the way to the birth I put my headphones in my ears and listened to one of my meditation MP3's; as Renata's Doula I was conscious of how my energy would affect her labour: I wanted to be grounded, calm, and present when I arrived at her birth.
When I arrived at 8am, her partner Freddie was busy filling up the birth pool. Renata's contractions were still infrequent and irregular but she was keen to get in the pool. Once she was in the pool, we spent some time grounding and preparing the mind: practicing breathing techniques, reading some birthing affirmations and hypnobirthing scripts; massaging her hands while she rested comfortably in the pool, as she found her rhythm.
Birth Myth number one: you can't get into the pool until you are XXX cms dilated, or your contractions are every XXX minutes. Firstly, Renata didn't have any vaginal examinations during her birth, so there was no way of knowing how dilated her cervix was anyway. Labour progressed as it needed to…Renata felt she wanted to get in the water now and so she did, and she didn't leave the pool until 8 hours later (1 hour after her baby was born)….There are no rules about when the woman can get in the water, the woman knows her body best, she follows her instincts...
Allowing things to unfold; releasing and 'letting go.'
Since there were no vaginal examinations at any time during the labour, there was no way of 'measuring' 'progress.' Renata's labour was left to take it's own, natural course, at the speed it needed to.
Throughout the next 5 hours we each took turns to support Renata in different ways:
Midwife Jean-Claud listened to the baby's heart rate and observed astutely how the birth was unfolding; he watched and listened to Renata's behaviour and movements, sitting quietly in the corner for much of the labour. He told us "I see myself more as a helping hand, I don't do very much, unless I need to…"
Freddie first took care of lots of the logistic stuff, like filling the birth pool and going out to buy snacks and flowers for Renata. Then he had some beautiful moments of closeness and intimacy with Renata; cuddling and kissing, gentle touch and whispering words of love and encouragement..
Doula. As Renata's Doula I was present throughout the labour and birth providing reassurance and encouragement. Renata and I had taken time to build a wonderful relationship of trust and mutual understanding during the months building up to her birth, which allowed me to be beautifully in sync with her on the day. She was so wonderfully prepared. I simply used the breathing, meditation and deep relaxation techniques - that we had already practiced before the birth - to help her to stay focussed, calm, relaxed and positive during the labour and birth. I told her she was amazing (she really was amazing)...
Bea was filming the birth, being very conscious not to disturb the natural rhythm of things, not shining too much light and discretely moving around the tiny flat...beautifully capturing Renata's peaceful and serene expressions and movements throughout her labour.
Natasha Renata's little girl, born a few years earlier in Holland - also a waterbirth at home - was present for much of the labour and watched her little Sister Ludmilla glide into the world with delight! Natasha was in and out of the room throughout the labour. She encouraged her mum by giving her kisses and telling her that she loved her - at one point passing me a tissue so that I could wipe her mum's perspiring face! (definitely a doula in the making!)
Birth Myth Number two: Your children shouldn't be present at the birth; they will be frightened/disturb things/get in the way. Freddie and Renata had talked to Natasha about the immanent birth of her little sister beforehand, and on the day she took it all in her stride. Natasha slept through much of the morning and when she awoke we each of us took it in turns to play with Natasha and keep her entertained! She never seemed frightened or overwhelmed, if anything she was curious and happy to have all these new people around to play with!
Turning in: Ah Noises, Ooh noises,
By early afternoon Renata started to become much more dreamy and less communicative/interactive. I was guiding her through some gentle swirling yoga movement on all 4's in the pool and she looked up and told me "Im losing my mind now." I could see things were moving on nicely and I reassured her that everything was perfect. "Everything is soft and opening." I repeated...
We started to make some gentle Ahhhh noises together when she exhaled and with each out-breath I encouraged her to 'release,' and 'let go.' Renata buried her head and went completely inside herself; no more talking or looking outward now - she was perfectly in tune with her body.
After lots of oohing and aaahing together there came a point where Renata stopped making those 'release' noises and she arched her back like a cat and began to bear downwards... I nodded to her midwife and made a gesture to let him know that she was 'pushing.' Jean-Claude, the Midwife called Fred and Natasha to come back into the room (they had been playing in the bedroom) and they all watched Ludmilla's head emerge slowly into the water. I held Renatas hands at the other side of the pool and encouraged her to follow the natural movements of her body.
Birth Myth number three: you need to be told when to push. Many women - even many midwives - still think that women need to be 'coached' or told when or how to push. However - in a normal physiological birth it is rare that women NEED to be told to do anything. If she follows the rhythm and intuition of her body, the flow of labour will naturally and gently transition from breathing through contractions to an unstoppable urge to release her baby into the world...
As Ludmilla slowly emerged into the Pool, Renata turned around (from being on all 4's) and picked up her Baby from the water. She looked overjoyed and magical. The placenta followed a little while later and she placed the placenta into a metal pot that she had prepared with crystals; the placenta floated still attached to Ludmilla as Renata let her baby serenely swim around in the water and enjoy her first bath. There was no need for anyone to touch her baby; there was nothing to be done except to absorb this beautiful moment.
Birth Myth number four: A doctor or a Midwife has to 'deliver' your baby. Nobody ‘delivered’ Renata’s baby; she reached down and took her baby in her own arms herself. She felt when her placenta was coming and instinctively reached down to grab it with her free hand...
Birth Myth number five: there is a particular way that labour or birth 'should' be; there are rules. What was so beautiful and powerful about Renata's experience was that she insisted upon the birth that she dreamed of, right from the beginning. At times it was not easy - especially in France where many of these choices are not at all usual- but she never gave up on that dream. She refused to be told what she 'should' do and she kindly and tactfully dismissed those who told her how she 'should' give birth. Again and again she insisted upon her right to choices and autonomy; it was her body, her birth, her baby...
I am so grateful and privileged to be able to work with and support such incredible, determined and brave women, who insist on holding the power in their birth. Renata fought for her right to choose the conditions of her birth and for this I am utterly, and eternally, in awe of her. It fills me with confidence that if she can do it, then any woman can...
image credits @beamoyes