Tag Archive | contractions

I recently welcomed my fourth child into the world

I am absolutely ecstatic to announce that I had my fourth kid, and 2nd daughter in January 2015. She was welcomed into the world by her older brothers and sister with so much love.

Of course as a doula and prenatal teacher, I was very interested in putting all the skills I teach in my classes to good use in my own labour.

First of all, right from the beginning of my pregnancy, I wanted to choose the best health care provider that would be a good fit with my birth preferences. This is one of the most important things I tell my clients that will affect the kind of birth you have. Don’t just choose any random maternity care provider. Find the ones who best fit with the kind of person you are, and the kind of birth you want.

Secondly, birth can be unpredictable, so when things don’t follow the textbook version of labour, you have to make informed decisions regarding what to do. There are ALWAYS options. When my water broke and my labour didn’t start for over 24 hours, it was stressful because, of course, as a mom, you naturally worry. But I kept reviewing my options and the potential risks of all the options available and kept discussing things with my midwives. Just to be clear, I felt totally fine with having any medical intervention that was clearly necessary and helpful, but I also know when interventions are not entirely necessary. There are always risks to both sides – having a medical intervention or declining it. In my situation I had the options of going to the hospital to start an induction, using non-medical ways of starting labour (herbs/ acupuncture etc which can be highly effective), or simply waiting it out. That’s another reason moms love having a doula with them in pregnancy and labour – if unexpected situations arrive, the doula can often talk moms through the decision making process, empowering them with a range of information on options so that moms can make an informed choice and feel good about it.

I knew the risks and possible outcomes of all scenarios and decided to take various herbs to get labour started. I also know that emotions and ’emotional blockages’ can have a huge impact on labour. So with the help of my doula friend, I worked through any deep seated emotions I was having that could have been blocking my labour from starting. That was EXTREMELY helpful because after I realized a huge emotional block I was holding, and then let it go, my labour started soon after.

Thirdly, of course, is all the pain coping strategies I teach. Once labour started, the first half was the easy part. The key for that is to keep focussing on staying completely relaxed. Holding on to any tension or resistance will cause pain. I was able to feel no pain at all for the first half of the labour by breathing out all the pressure waves and making a low toning sound. You can try it now, just let yourself sigh with a deep sound. You naturally let all your tension go and you feel more grounded. Remember fear in labour = adrenaline = pain = more fear = more pain. You have to keep the adrenaline out of the equation in labour and keep deep breathing away any tension or pressure you feel building up. Pay attention to your body.

homebirth labouring mom As contractions intensified, I moved around, feeling for whatever positions felt more comfortable. Sitting, squating, standing, lunging, leaning forward on furniture, sitting backwards on the couch, swaying my hips etc. I was chatting with my doula, friend, mom, and midwives in between contractions. Eventually, I felt like leaving the living room and going up to my bedroom. In labour, women naturally experience a going within. They feel like they are going deeper and deeper inside themselves as labour progresses. A woman starts using more of her primitive, instinctual brain and less of the cerebral cortex. It is the instinctual part of the brain which controls the natural process of labour. Labour flows more smoothly when a woman is undisturbed so she can smoothly go deep within herself. Any distractions that pull a woman out of this state of mind will slow down the labour and also create unnecessary pain sensations. Bright lights, too much talking, asking questions, talking about time (which is a cerebral concept), telling a woman what to do so she can’t listen to her own body’s instincts, disturbances like frequent blood pressure checks, vaginal exams etc. will all take a woman away from her “labour land” state of mind. And to the labouring woman, this feels quite irritating.

I told my midwives that I wanted a very hands off approach to my birth. I didn’t want any unnecessary disturbances such as internal dilation checks or them telling me what to do. But having them there in the background helped me feel safe in the rare situation where medical help might be needed. It is important for birthing moms to feel safe and supported. That will lead to a smooth labour process. Anything that makes them feel worry, fear or anxiety will cause a slowing down of the labour process, or even complications.

homebirth labouring momOnce I got to my bedroom, the lights were off with just a dim light on in the bathroom. My older daughter had woken up by this point and she lit some candles to add to the mood of the room. My mom made sure the music playlist I had put together for the birth was still playing. I had complied a series of songs that I found both inspiring and relaxing. I love music and I find it helps me set the tone for focusing on feeling good. In labour, you want to take your attention off the pain sensations and replace them with anything that makes you feel good. My doula was massaging my sacrum while holding a hot pack on my lower back. My husband rubbed my back and shoulders. That all felt really good. By this point, I was not feeling zero pain, like in the earlier part of the labour, but all these things helped take the edge off the intensity of contractions so they were completely manageable.

People often tell me that I’m brave to have a homebirth. Nothing could be further from the truth. The truth is, in terms of pain management, homebirth is often easier to manage because I feel more comfortable at home and there are so much fewer disturbances to my instinctual state of being. In terms of safety, solid evidence shows that homebirth is as safe, if not safer, than hospital birth, as long as it’s a healthy pregnancy, there are trained care providers in attendance, and a hospital is less than an hour’s drive away if there is a need to transfer. Here in the lower mainland, BC, Canada, we are so lucky to have a fantastic midwifery system that functions relatively smoothly at home or hospital. If you feel more comfortable having a homebirth, definitely go for it, or at least look into it. If you feel safer and more comfortable in a hospital, then hospital is the place for you. Birthing moms should be in the place that is more conducive to them feeling safe and supported. You have to know yourself, and know what you prefer. It doesn’t matter what anybody else does. It only matters what kind of experience you want and how you’re going to get it.

waterbirth home birthEventually, my contractions got pretty strong and I wondered if getting in the bathtub with warm water would help. I wasn’t particularly planning a waterbirth, but I always keep my options open. The warm water does take the edge of, but of course, labour is still a pretty intense and powerful process. At one point I joked with my midwife, “So you brought an epidural with you, didn’t you?”

“Yeah, it’s just in my back pocket,” she smiled.

“Oh good. I wouldn’t want to be crazy enough to have a natural birth.” 🙂

(Just in case you didn’t know, you can’t have an epidural or any other drugs at a homebirth because of the risk those things entail.)

I remember, through one contraction I just swore the whole way. Then for the next one I struggled to remember what the purpose of all the pain was. Oh yeah, to open the cervix and let the baby out. So I started chanting “Open, open…” through the whole contraction, while visualizing my cervix opening fully, quickly and easily. Soon after that I started to feel worried. I had the presence of mind to remind myself that this was a normal emotion during transition (the last bit of the dilation phase before the pushing phase). I was worried that this would go on forever and the baby would never come out. It’s common to have this rush of irrational feelings in transition, and a doula often reassures a labouring mom that this is a natural part of the process and it’s good sign that means things are progressing. It is important for the mom to go back to her state of feeling safe and relaxed instead of letting the worry and the adrenaline intensify. Again, smooth, fast and instinctual pushing phase vs. prolonged and worried pushing.

homebirth, waterbirthI soon began to feel “pushy”, meaning I felt like pushing a little at the peak of each contraction. I let the midwives know so they could get ready and everyone else too. My younger two kids were woken up so they could be present for the birth. I tried different positions in the tub – on my back, side, hands and knees, until I found the most comfortable position for myself, which just happened to be squatting facing the width of the tub instead of lengthwise so my feet could push against the side while my back rested on the other side.

Pushing contractions feel different than dilation contractions because you’re not just trying to relax through each one. You’re actually actively pushing with each one. And in a drug free birth, you can feel the powerful force of your body pushing instinctively. It’s not something you can stop. It’s like one mom said, it feels like you’re body is just vomiting the baby out. It’s so strong and so involuntary. In a drug free birth, no one has to tell the mom how to push. Her body just does it. Pushing feels way more fun than the dilation phase before it. I felt very powerful.

Once the baby’s head was low enough in my pelvis, I could feel it. It was definitely a strange sensation and I exclaimed to all the 10 people who, by now had piled into my bathroom, “It feels like a bowling ball.” I put my finger in and felt the top of the baby’s head less than an inch away. A couple more pushes later and I could feel her head crowning. This feels like a burning sensation as the perineum stretches around the baby’s head. I expected this part to take a while, as it can take several pushes to slowly push the head out. But my body just kept going and in one push she went from completely inside to completely out. I had planned to catch her myself if possible, but she came so fast. No one was quite ready for that. Luckily my husband was speedy quick in catching her and lifting her out of the water and onto my tummy. She was happy and content sitting on my tummy, looking around.

homebirth, waterbirthWe hadn’t found out the gender, so it was very exciting to look down and see it was a girl. My daughter finally got the sister she had been hoping for for so long. Here’s the picture that captures the sheer intensity of emotions of that moment right after birth – relief that it’s over, exuberance over the new person you are meeting, and for me the shock of how fast she came out and surprise that I got the girl I wanted.

It was a lovely family experience to have all my kids there, my mom, sister-in-law and friend. My husband caught the baby, my daughter took the photos, my older son cut the cord and my younger son helped the midwife weigh the baby. My kids will all grow up knowing that birth is just a normal, natural and safe part of life. Not something to fear. By the way, I wanted to wait till after the placenta was out to cut the cord, or at least until the blood in the placenta had finished pumping to the baby, instead of cutting the cord immediately. This is so that she can get her full blood volume and have a gentle transition to life on the outside.

Once I got out of the tub and walked back to my bed, I birthed the placenta and breastfed my baby before letting everyone else have her for some cuddles. My mom made me a nutritious, yummy smoothie with a tiny piece of placenta blended in. Having a bit of placenta reduces the risk of postpartum hemorrhage.

It was a lovely morning. I stayed in bed all day snuggling my new sweetheart. And the other kids were just over the moon excited with their tiny sister. Plus they got to take a day off school. 🙂

newborn baby holding mom's finger

 

 

 


 

How to know when Vaginal Exams in Pregnancy and Labour are useful and when they are harmful?

Vaginal Exams  are commonly done in labour by nurses, doctors and midwives to find out how dilated the labouring mom’s cervix is. Other terms that refer to the same procedure are VE’s, Internal Exams or Pelvic Exams. It is basically putting two fingers in the vagina all the way up to the cervix to feel :

1. How DILATED (open) the cervix is

2. How soft and short the cervix is (EFFACED)

3. Which direction the cervix is facing – POSTERIOR (to the back) or ANTERIOR (to the front, when labour progresses)

4. Where the baby’s head is in relation tot he pelvic bones (STATION)

5. And what position the baby’s head is facing.

While this can be a very useful procedure to find out very useful information, women also need to understand the full picture.

First of all, the damn thing hurts. It ranges from slightly uncomfortable to downright excruciating. Now remember, in nature female animals and humans don’t regularly go around sticking things up their cervix to cause even more pain and irritation when doing one of the most difficult and intense jobs in their lives – giving birth.

Secondly, it is not an exact science. It is not as if they are putting a ruler in down there. They’re just feeling around and making an estimate with their fingers and their experience.

Thirdly, having too many done can introduce germs and cause an infection, especially if several are done after the water has broken. In general, VE’s should be kept to a minimum and used wisely, but after the water has broken, this guideline should be followed even more strictly. I have seen some births where The rupture of membranes happened days before birth (called premature rupture of membranes), but there was no infection because they were extremely careful to avoid internal exams and instead assess progress by external signs. And I have seen births where the rupture of membranes happened normally at the start of labour * but an unnecessary number of pelvic exams were done, only to cause infections in the mom so that they had to have cesareans.

* Note : Most labours start with contractions and the water breaks towards the end of labour (around transition which is between 8 – 10cm dilation). Only 20% of labour start with the water breaking and then contractions follow soon after. If contractions don’t start within 12 hours of the water breaking, it is called Premature Rupture of Membranes (PROM). 

Be wary of having students nurses, doctors or midwives at your labour. They need to learn how to do VE’s effectively, so they do one, then the mentor does one to make sure they’re estimate is right. Then when there is a shift change, the new person might want to do another one. All of this is unnecessary and simply risky once the water has broken.

Some caregivers do internal exams towards the end of pregnancy because they want to guestimate how soon you’re labour will start. Some caregivers don’t do any internals before labour because they don’t see any point in it. They figure labour will start when it starts. There are some changes that take place before labour. The thing is, there is no way of knowing when labour will start because the changes can take place, but then no action may happen for weeks, or no changes may happen and then in a very short time, everything can happen and labour can be quick.

About.com provides a brilliant article in their Pregnancy and Childbirth called The Myth of Vaginal Exams

Labor is not simply about a cervix that has dilated, softened or anything else. A woman can be very dilated and not have her baby before herdue date or even near her due date. I’ve personally had women who were 6 centimeters dilated for weeks. Then there is the sad woman who calls me to say that her cervix is high and tight, she’s been told that this baby isn’t coming for awhile, only to be at her side as she gives birth within 24 hours. Vaginal exams are just not good predictors of when labor will start.

Some practitioners routinely do what is called stripping the membranes, which simply separates the bag of waters from the cervix. The thought behind this is that it will stimulate the production of prostaglandins to help labor begin and irritate the cervix causing it to contract. This has not been shown to be effective for everyone and does have the aforementioned risks.

So another reason some caregivers do weekly pelvic exams from about 37 weeks onwards is, if the cervix is slightly dilated enough to fit a finger in, they might try separating the amniotic sac from the uterus to try to hasten the start of labour. Some caregivers ask for permission before doing this, but some don’t even inform the women about what they are doing. So if you do not want his done, make sure you discuss it before allowing a pelvic exam in pregnancy. A lot of women get fed up with being pregnant and want this procedure done in hopes of speeding up the start of labour. But not all women want to do that. Know what you want and let your caregiver know what you want.

Fourthly, the results of a VE can be very discouraging if they aren’t what you expect. A woman who is in intense labour with contractions coming one on top of the other may be feeling that she’s in transition, yet have a VE say she’s only 6cm. This can be discouraging. The thing is, she may actually progress very quickly to 10. Where you are now has no relationship whatsoever with how fast you are going.

The fifth thing to consider will help you determine when a pelvic exam might be useful and when it might be useless or harmful – Will the information from the exam help us make a decision about the course of action ?

A lot of vaginal exams are done just for the heck of it to “assess progress”. Most of the time this is unnecessary and leads to unnecessary cesareans. Sometimes there may be no dilation for hours. There can be several reasons for this :

  • The baby might be rotating into a better position to fit through the pelvis. To understand how the baby’s rotation can help it fit, watch my video at Understanding Optimal Fetal Positioning.
  • The mom might be feeling anxious or stressed, which can inhibit labour from progressing. To understand how emotions can effect labour, Read my article.
  • Or there may be a genuine problem that cannot be solved except with medical intervention.
So the question to ask your caregiver if they are suggesting an exam that you are unsure about is, “What will you find out from the exam and what might you do based on what you find out?”

Usually two basic VE’s are done in labour, although sometimes even these are not necessary. One is when you get to the hospital, or if you are having a homebirth, when the midwife gets to your house. They usually do a VE to check if you are in active labour (4cm or more). Before active labour, the hospital will send you home, and the midwife will go home. Early labour can take hours and there is no point of being in the hospital before then unless there is some medical problem. If you are past 4cm, they will get you a room in the hospital, or the homebirth midwife might call the second midwife to get ready to come.

The second VE may be done when you feel an overwhelming urge to push. They may want to make sure there is no cervical lip left before you start pushing. In both these cases, action will be taken based on the results of the VE.

Other times that a VE may be useful are when a mom is really asking for medical pain relief. The amount of dilation will determine what kind of pain relief (epidural or morphine) may be appropriate or whether labour is close to the end and maybe no pain relief is necessary.

The thing is, some VE’s are done just for the sake of charting purposes. There is a ridiculous theory that dilation ought to be at least one cm every 2 hours. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that different people do things at different rates and that’s ok. It doesn’t mean anything is wrong.

The important thing is to limit the number of VE’s done by figuring out if the information they provide will help you and your caregiver make decisions about what to do next. Don’t take the results of VE’s to seriously. Don’t get discouraged if it’s not what you expect. (I know that’s easier said than done.) And try to have only one person do the VE’s in labour instead of different people and different opinions.

 

To find out more about prenatal education, natural birth information or doula support in labour in Surrey or Langley BC email kaurina @ prenataljourney.ca or call 604 809 3288.

 

Love In The Delivery Room – Memoirs of a Doula part 2

You wouldn’t expect labour and delivery rooms in hospitals to be places of great romance, but I’ve seen it with my own eyes. Much has been written about the love between mothers and their newborns. Sometimes it’s a quiet, gentle love, and sometimes it’s an overwhelming, life changing love. But the kind I’m talking about right now is the love between the mom and the dad in labour.

The media has solidified an image of the interaction between moms and dads in the delivery room revolving around the mom swearing profanities at the dad, and the dad being mostly clueless and bumbling. I honestly don’t know how representative that is of most labours because I don’t see most labours. I only see the ones I’m doulaing for. And what I see is the deeply moving culmination of the romance and bond of the two people who have worked so hard and put so much of themselves into bringing forth a new life.

I see men who love and care for their wives and newborn children with so much strength and intensity. I am profoundly touched every time I see a dad wrapping his arms around his wife’s shoulders, putting his forehead against hers, supporting her through contractions, loving her with every fibre of his being. Every time a dad goes hours, tirelessly massaging his wife’s back to take the edge of each contraction, or holds her under the shoulders to support her weight if she’s more comfortable in an upright position but is too tired to support her own weight.

I see the look in their eyes as they look at their wives with awe of her strength and beauty through the whole amazing process of birth. The worry and concern they have if their wife is having a hard time. I see women holding on to their partners for solace, or resting their heads against their partners chest to help them relax. I see dad watch mom’s every move, anticipating when she might need a sip of water or a cold cloth to wipe her brow. The sweet whisperings of encouragement and love. I see the tears of joy or beams of radiance when dads hold their newborns for the first time. It’s such a well deserved high for both the mom and dad who’ve worked so hard together.

I see men who will be forever changed by the experience of being so helpful and supportive of their wives through labour. It deeply strengthens their relationship and connection to their partners and their children.

I don’t know what dads are like at births I’ve not been at. I imagine some men are naturally great at supporting their partners in labour, and some are not because they are feeling unsure, overwhelmed or disconnected. I know some parents-to-be, when considering if they want to have a doula with them at their birth, are concerned that the doula will take over the dads role. I can understand that concern, but actually, it’s quite the opposite.

I don’t ever take over the dad’s role. That is the primary relationship that the doula can never replace. The dad is so helpful in the delivery room just by being there and loving his partner. I always recognize and support their relationship. I’m just there for a short period of their lives, but they are the ones who are going to be raising their child together for years, so I try to enhance their connection during this intense experience of labour and birth.

For the men who are unsure about what to do in the delivery room, they quickly gain more confidence by watching what I’m doing and figuring out how they can support their wives. Quite often dad and I tag team to provide massage, counter pressure or hip squeezes to mom for hours on end. If dad has any concerns, I am immediately there to answer all his questions as best I can. The dads never feel overwhelmed that too much responsibility is on their shoulders.

Occasionally I meet a dad at the prenatal visit who really does not want to be in the delivery room. If the mom doesn’t want him there, then it’s fine. But if she does, then I want to make sure I address his fears and make it clear that he can participate as much as he’s comfortable with since I will be there too. If he’s still not convinced, I talk to him about something extremely difficult he’s experienced or witnessed in his life. Then I get him to imagine the difference between having people to support him through it versus doing it totally alone. That’s always enough to flip the switch and motivate the dad to commit to being there no matter what.

Sometimes a dad will have a strong emotional reaction and it helps to have someone there to share it with instead of keeping it to themselves. One dad was really worried for his wife when she became sick with an infection in labour. He felt relieved after talking to me about his fears. Another dad took me aside after the birth to talk to me. The intensity of the experience brought up memories of their previous child who was stillborn. He recounted his last experience and said that him and his wife had no one to support them through that. They felt so alone. In contrast, this time, they felt so supported. He thanked me for, “caring for his wife better than her mother could have.” I was so moved by this man’s love for his wife, the strength of their bond through their shared experiences and the deep healing of the past hurt.

I am confident that these couples will go on with their lives with more love and connection than before their birth experience. I know the dads will continue to express their profound love beyond the delivery room in practical ways – caring for their newborn, waking up in the middle of the night to rock a crying baby or change a diaper, working extra hours to provide for their families.

 

Romance in the delivery room is such a special thing and I am so grateful to be able to witness it. What are your thoughts and experiences? Leave your comments below.