By Kabri Lehrman-Schmid
My pregnancy was a strange but wonderful mix of having both a second and a first child. My wife carried our first son and the challenging pregnancy was concluded with 4 months of hospital bed rest, many scary days, and, finally, a successful, scheduled C-section. Both my wife and son made it safely through the ordeal and we were thankful for the conservative medical attention. I was thrilled with our family, and my role taking care of them both. We learned a lot from our colicky, particular, and tiny boy those first months.
When it was my turn to carry our second child (an arrangement we had decided early on in our relationship), I knew that I wanted a different pregnancy and birth experience, if possible. For me, that difference would include a lot of research on my options, a strong focus on my experience and the desire to have a vaginal birth in a less medicalized environment. For the pregnancy, that meant I wanted to indulge in the many ways I could remember and cherish the time I was pregnant. After suffering a miscarriage when we started trying to get me pregnant, and then spending an additional year trying again, I really wanted to appreciate and remember the experience I’d have growing our second child. I did this through yoga, meditation, reading a library of books about babies, birth, bodies, etc. For the birth itself, a homebirth was out of the cards since my wife was understandably unwilling to be away from traditional medical care after her experience. We agreed on a birth center which was located across the street from a hospital.
I found incredible midwives who added to this special time and helped me to savor it.
My wife and I had never taken a birth class for our first son since we knew early on that a c-section would be required to deliver him. I researched many acclaimed classroom programs, but the time and cost commitment didn’t outweigh the information sharing. Also, I have a tendency to jump into “facilitate” or “entertain” mode in social situations, so I didn’t think the in-person community would add to my experience. I really liked the idea of learning about birth through my own reading and being able to choose how I would spend my time and attention. In that library of books, I found Orgasmic Birth and it led me to Debra’s wonderful online childbirth course, Pain to Power. The program was an extension of the book (and documentary), giving me my pick of technical information in which I was interested, as well as the ability to reflect on the content that I felt was most helpful to my own birth preparations. My favorite content included mindfulness practices and reflection on the role of your partner.
In addition to my books, and the Pain to Power course, my wife and I attended a brief “yoga for labor” class. The recommendations we learned for pain management, partner contributions and birthing positions was invaluable for our communication during labor.
All that said, I was able to have the vaginal birth I had hoped for. The day I gave birth to our second son was a beautiful early fall day in Seattle. I stayed home from work for the first time because I felt a little under the weather and decided to meet my wife downtown at her office for lunch. That morning I had lost some of my mucus plug and texted my doula at 10am to fill her in. On the bus downtown, I felt contractions starting to come and go. My wife’s coworkers joked “is today the day?!?” since I was comically bullet-shaped for my 5′-1″ frame. Little did they know that I wasn’t letting my wife stay at the office that afternoon – baby #2 was on his way! We had lunch, but I kept very little down – nausea had plagued me the entire pregnancy, flaring again in the final weeks. The contractions were getting stronger on our bus ride home.
That afternoon we watched some TV while I gently bounced on my yoga ball. At some point I decided to head to our upstairs bedroom to focus on relaxing my body and feeling the strengthening contractions. I spent the early evening kneeling with my head on my arms on my birth ball while rocking back and forth, and turning inward. At 5pm my wife called my doula to tell her my contractions were 5 minutes apart. She arrived sometime before 7pm, and noted the attention and care my wife was providing me. I had been nervous without cause that we hadn’t experienced labor together for baby #1.
By 9pm it was time to go to the birth center. Our drive was like one you’d see in the movies. I hadn’t planned well, and we had both the infant seat and the toddler seat in the back seat of the car – so I needed to sit in the front, which could have been fine, but I was so bullet-shaped that I didn’t fit. I was kneeling on the floor of the front seat, holding myself up with my arms on the passenger seat (because I didn’t fit and certainly wasn’t sitting on my rear for this ride!), and moaning (bellowing?) loudly every 1-2 minutes. My wife said it was terrible, hah, but we made it.
It turns out I was 9cm, 80% effaced when my midwife checked me. I decided to get into the warm water of the room’s big tub. It was nice to relax.
I must have been in transition, and I felt very calm and reflected on my contractions in the candlelight, listening from afar to the people in the room talk.
The contractions had been strong, and very strong but manageable. Really, they were what I expected – wavelike like I’d read – and I was responding to them just how I imagined. I was pleased, content and in a heightened state of awareness.
My waters hadn’t broken and I could feel that baby was still very high. I knew that if he was going to come out that I needed to get him to drop. With a series of very deep lunges recommended by my doula, I was able to break my waters in the bath. It was like a rubber band snap, and I’m pretty sure I would have flooded the place if I were on dry ground with the whoosh I felt come out of me. It startled me back into reality – I knew it was time for gravity to take over and made the decision to get out of the bath.
I started pushing sometime around 11pm, perched on a birthing stool, with my wife sitting on the bed behind me, holding me up in her arms. Here is where I lost my ground. For all the preparations I had taken for labor – visualizing contractions, practicing positions, relaxing my whole body in between the rushes – I had assumed my play-hard, sport-successful, determined self would easily relate to the stories I’d read of women feeling empowered by pushing. Pushing shook me to my core. The pain overcame me and I lost control. Losing control really scared me. I didn’t know how to let go, I didn’t know what was going to happen next, or how I’d get through it and it made it hurt more.
Finally, after pushing him down from his high perch inside, I got to see him crowning in a mirror. It was not a moment of solace or achievement because I was scared of what would come next, but with two more big pushes he flew out – barely caught below me. He was perfect and pink and yelling. At 11:51pm he came out like an 8lb 12oz superman with his hand above his very large head. I clutched him to me while they cut the cord, telling him it was ok, that I was there. He calmed immediately and my wife held him while they attended to me. I needed pitocin to stop bleeding and received fluids for the amount of blood I lost. I was helped to the bed, where I got to hold that sweet boy on my chest for a few minutes.
I had torn (for me, there was never a moment where “pushing gently to stretch” was going to happen). I felt it immediately as I lay on the bed and was shaking from the pushing ordeal, or the pitocin, or the pain I was now feeling. I was given the choice to wait or proceed with repairing my tear. I didn’t want the pain to draw out, so opted for “now”. Someone had to hold the baby. My wife got her hands crushed in mine as it took two midwives to hold me together and sew me up. It brought back pain from previous abuses and pain from post miscarriage procedures. I felt panicked and, ultimately, defeated. But my midwives were amazing. They took such great care of me, and slept on the couches when I passed out and had to stay the night. Our son was calm and observant through all of it.
It felt a devastating way to end the well planned birth of this beautiful boy – I was left in such a challenging place of my mind.
I saw a wonderful practitioner to help me heal physically – I had a lot of very tight scar tissue that we worked together to release. I’m not sure how I would have gotten over the physical ties to my past without addressing the pain caused by that scar tissue. And she helped me heal psychologically with her holistic and nourishing approach. I highly recommend others to find such an individual and treatment following traumatic birth events. So many people don’t know about pelvic floor therapies.
If appropriate, have your care provider give you feedback. My midwives told me wonderful things from their points of view at my birth and it made me feel successful about a lot of it and temper the embarrassment I felt.
It took me months to process, but I look back proud of myself for the creation of such an incredible child and I cherish the experience of bringing him earth-side.
He’s a mommy’s boy through and through, and a goofball, and he loves his older brother, and both his moms. His Momma, my wife, gets to see him from another side, just as I see our first son. I’ve found that the experiences are different and both are wonderful.
Kabri added that following birth to “Be gentle with yourself. Take the path of least resistance, drop all expectations of yourself that isn’t focused on self and baby care (someone else can deal with the house or get you coffee) – your body is digesting itself to feed the baby and it takes longer to heal. Maybe be willing to talk to others about your experience, others have been there but don’t talk about it themselves. Find a physical therapist, and other therapists, as needed.”