Blogbox | Health

My Path to Natural Childbirth

By - 30.11.2019

A profound, empowering and spiritual event.

My doctor’s voice pierced through the speakerphone sounding concerned. 

“Your water broke at two in the morning and you’re calling me now?”

“Yes.” 

“Come immediately!” she said and hung up. 

It was seven thirty in the morning and my contractions were becoming frequent and intense. I wanted to phone her sooner, but having only met her recently, I was uncertain of how she’d feel about being woken up so early. 

My hospital bag had already been packed for a due date on a warm and lovely day at the end of May. It was only the ninth of May, however. The recent showers had left behind wet roads, heavy clouds, and low temperatures. 

Given my normal pregnancy and overall good health I decided on a natural birth plan, free of medication and with the least amount of interventions.

Aside from the baby’s clothes, I neatly folded a few pairs of thin lace pajamas and nightgowns. Nightgowns! I had never worn one in my life, but that’s what happens when you mix and match lists from different sources on “what to pack in your hospital bag.” At the last minute, my husband helped me collect my most comfortable, warm sweatpants and T-shirts, and shoved them inside the bag. 

I walked to the car holding on to him, breathing through the pain, wrapped up in my grandmother’s robe. Driving up the hill towards the clinic he hummed the melody of a Portuguese song we had been incessantly playing all week. It was a lovely soundtrack   for a birth, we thought.  

Dr. Mirvete Aliu-Shabani was waiting for us in the lobby of her clinic. She had alerted her entire staff all of whom stood behind her ready to get to work. A nurse showed us to our room, and another hooked up the baby monitor as soon as I laid down. Reading the monitor, Dr. Shabani’s expression thawed. The baby’s heart rate was normal. 

“You should have called me, no matter the time,” she said while checking me. My cervix was seven centimeters dilated. She was impressed. 

Given my normal pregnancy and overall good health I decided on a natural birth plan, free of medication and with the least amount of interventions. 

During my second and third trimesters I prepared the best I could for my upcoming delivery. There were no prenatal classes in town that I knew of, so I watched a series of them online. They helped me understand the physiological aspect of birth and the four stages of labor. I continued with my regular yoga practice focusing on breathing exercises and strengthening my pelvic floor muscles. I also attended a silent ten-day Vipassana meditation course and practiced observing the breath, and the impermanent nature of all bodily sensations. 

Although I was aware that each birth experience is unique, I enjoyed listening to the birth stories of my friends, and was grateful for their advice and encouragement. Among the pregnancy books I found very helpful were: “The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding” by La Leche League International (I referred to this one many times after birth), “Natural Hospital Birth: The Best of Both Worlds” by Cynthia Gabriel, and Ina May Gaskin’s, “Guide to Childbirth”. The latter became my bible: Ina May Gaskin’s spiritual approach and gentle methods to natural childbirth made me wish I were giving birth in the comfort of my own home.

I started off with the question that concerned me the most: Was she an advocate of natural birth?

But since home births were not possible to have in Prishtina, we decided to have a natural birth at a private hospital. We visited a few places before settling on The Deutsche Frauenklinik (DFK).

The facility was small, quiet and pleasant. The corridors lacked the buzz and chaos of a big hospital. The head nurse showed us the maternity ward: the private bedrooms (with two single beds in each) used during labor and post labor, an examination room with state-of-the-art equipment, the surgery rooms, and the delivery room: big and full of natural light with its chief piece of furniture, the bed, in the center.

Dr. Shabani met us by the waiting area once we finished our tour. Elegant and confident, with slick blonde hair and piercing green eyes, she might as well have popped out of a new season of “Grey’s Anatomy.” Her smile was big and warm, and her handshake firm. She led us to the cafeteria where we could sit and talk. I took out my notebook and opened it to the page with a carefully drafted list of questions. 

Dr. Shabani relaxed in her chair and my husband ordered our drinks. I immediately liked her choice of place for this meeting. She had not chosen to put herself behind her desk creating the usual doctor-patient distance. The three of us were on equal ground sharing the same coffee table, getting to know each other. She was interested in my pregnancy record and birth plan. I started off with the question that concerned me the most: Was she an advocate of natural birth? 

“Yes, yes, yes, given that the baby is in the right position, and mom and baby are healthy, and neither one is at risk during delivery.” My heart raced with excitement. 

It was common knowledge that doctors in private hospitals or clinics prefer C-section deliveries. It takes less time and earns them more money. During our hospital hunt we had met with such doctors. When I told one I wished to have a natural birth, he replied: “Why bother? I even operated on my own wife. Baby out in 20 minutes, no pain.” 

Though I had never given birth before, I came to understand — theoretically of course — that pain was the facilitator: With each painful contraction the pelvis opened and labor progressed. Besides, ‘the least amount of interventions, the better chances of breastfeeding,’ was the motto by La Leche League, and I wanted to breastfeed.

Dr. Shabani shared my view wholeheartedly. She went on to tell us about her successful experiences with natural births at her clinic. It was precisely the natural process she loved, the rushes and the resting periods, the pushing stage, the exhilarating feeling of watching the baby emerge, the marvelous work that a woman’s body was capable of accomplishing. 

She was radiant as she spoke. To my pleasant surprise, Dr. Shabani embraced natural birth not only as a physiological process, but also as a profound, empowering, and spiritual event that deserved the utmost patience and support. I went on with the rest of my questions:

“Can my husband be with me during labor?”

“Can I eat instead of having an IV attached to my arm?”

“How often do they give the mother drugs to speed up birth, and what were they?”

“How often does she perform an episiotomy?” 

“Would she consult me prior to giving me any drugs during labor?”

“How often does she induce labor, and how?”

“Can I choose the position I find most suitable for birth?”

“Would they place the baby on my chest after delivery?” 

“Would they wait until the umbilical cord stops pulsating before cutting it?”

This is what birth is! This is what you wanted.

Our interview went on for over an hour, and she answered all of my questions thoroughly and satisfactorily. For the first time during my entire pregnancy I felt truly confident about birth. 

This is what you wanted

I was ready.  

“I’m not ready!” I muttered just before a new contraction was building up to leave me breathless. 

“You are ready. You are doing it!” Dr. Shabani said softly, as she removed the sweaty hair away from my forehead and eyes. 

“This is what birth is! This is what you wanted.” 

“Yes,” I said, then I made a howling sound as the contraction reached its peak and ebbed away, “but what did I know!” I smiled at this fresh streak of knowledge that the books had failed to provide.

I was both, the child who wished to crawl into my mother’s lap and the woman in labor.

When they checked me in the morning, both she and the midwife gave me the impression that if I could continue making the same progress I had at home, I would be ready to push the baby out in no time. 

But, it was almost noon and there was little progress. I had tried walking around the clinic’s hallways accompanied by my husband and letting gravity do its part, but walking  soon became impossible due to the pressure on my lower back. Back in the room, I placed my yoga mat on the floor and accepted the contractions on my hands and knees, focusing on the exhaling sound I made at the back of my throat. I reminded myself of all the positive birth experiences I had read in “Guide to Childbirth,” and it kept me going for a while. 

“You are doing great Renata. You’re almost there Yolanda.” The midwife kept saying a different version of my name when she addressed me. I could sense she wanted to encourage me, but I could not connect with her. While I labored, she was interested in my husband’s family history, where his uncles came from, what they did for a living and other meaningless chit chat I found very disrupting given the circumstances. 

Dr. Shabani suggested I move to the bathroom and sit on the toilet seat for a while. I complied, although it was very uncomfortable and the pain grew more intense in my lower back. She and my husband took turns to support me to sit upright. I would grip his hand or knee during a contraction then rest my head on his belly when it was over. Though brief, the resting periods between contractions were sometimes dream-like, able to stretch from present to distant memories. I was both, the child who wished to crawl into my mother’s lap and the woman in labor. 

Dr. Shabani kept my rhythm and we breathed together, for what seemed like an eternity. I felt safe around her and my husband. It helped me stay focused and within. She thought I was having “beautiful contractions”, and I did try my best to imagine them as such, but for the life of me, I could not yet see the beauty in the midst of all that excruciating pain. 

During meditation, I had practiced for hours breathing through any bodily sensations that would arise and pass, without judging or interfering. And here I was, breathing all right, but unable to ignore the pain the way I could a tingling sensation in my elbow. It really disappointed me. 

And then my negative mind took wing: “Maybe you aren’t strong enough to do this. You are too thin and too narrow to get this baby out,” it said, repeating the words I heard so often and ignored while pregnant. My spirit sank.The contractions that followed were stronger and harder to bear. If these were big ocean waves, I withstood them the way a sandcastle would, in ruins. And just then, I heard her voice again.

I pushed my feet against his hands, he held his breath and used all of his strength to resist me, he later confessed.

“You are not the only one laboring. The baby is working hard too. Let him take the time he needs. It’s going the way it’s supposed to, and you’re doing an amazing job.” It made all the difference in the world hearing my doctor say those words. Surprisingly, ever since my labor started I never once thought about what the baby might be doing during that time. I thought I was alone in my struggle. Picturing him, I welcomed another contraction knowing he would descend a little further down, closer to birth. At last, with a few more growling sounds, I was fully dilated and ready to deliver.

Dr. Shabani reminded me that I was free to find the position that best suited me, whether it was to sit, stand, squat, use my yoga mat or the bed, in whatever way I liked.  

The urge to push was suddenly coming on strong. At first I tried withholding it but its natural force was stronger than my resistance. At last, my body was taking charge. 

I pushed with each new contraction and became less and less aware of everyone’s presence in the room, except for my husband’s who was partaking in the pushing. He held my feet up firmly while I held my hands under my knees and pulled them towards me in a semi-seated position. I pushed my feet against his hands, he held his breath and used all of his strength to resist me, he later confessed. 

I finally surrendered to the pain. My entire being was focused on one thing only: I had to get this baby out. I was exhausted, and Dr. Shabani said that an IV would help me gather a little strength. It did. The neo-natal doctor paced the room nervously and made concerned remarks, loud enough for me to hear, regarding the baby’s heart rate while in the birth canal. I wasn’t aware of how long I had been pushing, close to two hours perhaps, without being able to get him out of his tight situation. I am not sure whose idea it was first, but suddenly the words “C-section” and “surgery room” were mentioned. 

“You’re so close, you can do this,” my husband said reassuringly, but he seemed pale and tired. Unwilling to give up, yet wanting it to be over as soon as possible, I couldn’t form a reply, and went on pushing.  

Eyes shut, I focused like never before, moment to moment, redirecting the entire energy of my whole being towards pushing the baby out. The midwife cheered me on and I continued as if in a trance, oblivious of pain and time. Then to my surprise, while Dr. Shabani supported the baby’s head, I pushed the final push, and all of him, cone-shaped head, red, purplish, warm, eyes wide open was placed on my chest. It took twelve hours.

If ever there was a feeling of relief so immediate, whole and perfect, this was it. 

“Oh God!” was all I could utter. They waited for the umbilical cord to stop pulsating before handing my husband the scissors to cut it. 

I tore my perineal muscles in the process. Dr. Shabani worked carefully to stitch me up as I held my son. 

That same night, the three of us, snug in our hospital bed tuned into the Eurovision Song Contest just before our favorite Portuguese song “Amar Pelos Dois” was pronounced the winner. Somewhat in a haze and in utter enchantment we sang with Salvador Sobral. “Though I’m in wonder of what tomorrow will be. My heart, oh my dear, will love for both you and me.” 

Feature Image: Arrita Katona / K2.0.

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