Finding Comfort In Homebirth
By Victoria Gearity, Ossining, NY
My second son was born at home. During each contraction of early into active labor, I silently performed a breathing practice I’d learned during my birth hypnotherapy sessions. I released tension from specific parts of my body with every exhalation. Early in labor I was usually standing and would lean onto whatever piece of furniture was closest. Later I sat for hours on my birth ball, which was the only place I found comfortable for sitting. Often my doula or husband would run a back massager along my spine. This coping strategy wasn’t a plan, but I had been using that breathing practice every night for weeks to help myself fall asleep, so it came easily to mind. The back massaging was my doula’s idea. She always had great ideas of things I didn’t even know I wanted during labor.
I took a couple of baths followed by naps. Sometimes women find a bath or shower can kick labor into high gear. For me, each bath slowed my contractions from about 4-5 minutes apart to about 7 minutes apart. The longer pauses allowed me to rest for the long night ahead. When I was preparing to enter my bathtub the first time, I was just a few hours into early labor. I remember being overwhelmed by fear of the pain that might be ahead. Suddenly, contractions that had been totally manageable, even mild, were excruciating. The terror only lasted a few moments. Thankfully, I was able to let go of those debilitating fears and continue down the path of the gentle, calm, even sensual birth, I’d prepared for. But in that instant I understood how women in our culture who are unprepared for the intensity of labor often experience birth and why they choose medications to remove the pain.
After 16.5 hours, my midwife performed my first (and I think only) internal exam. She found I was 7+cm. My doula and I were both surprised I was already in transition labor because the sensations had not appeared to increase in intensity and they were still 4-5 minutes apart as they had been most of the day. My midwife then suggested I focus my mind during each contraction on opening my birth canal and encouraging my baby to move down. I trusted my midwife, so followed her advice. This wasn’t something I’d practiced before, so it took a lot of mental focus during a stage of labor when it is often better to surrender to your body and instinct rather than activate your mind. In hindsight, I wish I’d ignored her, or that I’d practiced that visualization during pregnancy so it was something I could do easily. I never did reach that Gate of Great Doubt that most women pass through on their journey. Perhaps it was the hypnosis where I learned the mantra, My body and my baby know how to birth, and I am safe.
About 20 hours into my labor there was a long pause between contractions. By this point I’d been in the birth tub for a few hours, napping between contractions. My husband and doula made sure my head didn’t slip below water, but that I still got much needed rest. Following that long pause, was a giant burst. My water broke. Eight minutes later, while I sat on a birthing stool in the tub, my baby boy swam into my arms.
My little fella had passed through the birth canal so quickly, he remained blue for a day. I experienced a couple of tiny tears. My midwife recommended not sewing them up due to their location, as long as I agreed not to leave the second floor of my home at least until she visited me two days later. That sequestering was a gift. Even now, my heart sings at the memories of those first days snuggling, feeding, and loving my newborn.