I taught myself to birth online
A year ago today – almost to the day - I was sitting on the tarmac at Melbourne airport, nervously clutching my phone. My partner Phil and I were headed to Brazil for Carnivale. My heart was in my throat, and it wasn’t just because I’m a terrible flyer (though for someone who has taken maybe 40 flights in the last two years, that’s also true). I was waiting for my doctor to start work. He was due in at 1pm, we were taking off at 1:20. It was 1:05 when I called, and he confirmed what my heart (and the three at-home tests) already knew was true: we were pregnant.
A CHANGE OF PLANS
Finding out I was pregnant was like one of those sweet not-quite-awake morning dreams you have, and for the entire 22 hour flight I kept feeling like I was going to wake up. The universe had stepped in to steer me on a new path, one I didn’t think would happen so soon because of all the things that weren’t “ready”. This little spirit didn’t care his parents were digital nomads with no fixed address, and no full-time work - he just wanted in. And as we flew those long hours into what was about to be the craziest adventure we’d had yet, we just kept looking at each other and smiling. 2018 was going to look a little different after all.
Before finding out, our plan was to stay away for at least another year, to keep travelling, and continue to live life wherever our computers landed. But then, there was also no doubt in our minds that we wanted to have the baby in Oz. So, we decided to do both: we’d travel for as long as we could (which Google told us was around the 28-30 mark on most international airlines) and we’d come home when the airlines stopped letting me board.
I was incredibly lucky. Even though I was a “geriatric mother” I was low risk, and complication free. We had our first (dating) scan in Belo Horizonte, Brazil with two friends in tow as translators. We had the second scan, the Harmony test, and the 20 week scan all in San Francisco and in between we went to New York, the Cinque Terre, Puglia, Sicily and Malta. He was definitely made of 99 per cent cannoli and gelato. We were not being careless - I knew the important dates I had to keep but I just kept reminding myself that I wasn’t the first person to have ever gone through this… and that the best thing I could do for my baby was to not be stressed (and, eat more cannoli, obviously).
THE PLAN IS… THERE IS NO PLAN
And so we landed back in Australia at 29 weeks with a growing bump, a manila folder bursting with pregnancy notes from around the world and no idea about how to actually have a baby. I called the hospital with the idea that I’d have a birthing class there, but they were all booked out - most women had reserved their spot months ago.
I started looking into independent HypnoBirth and Calm Birth classes, but I just didn’t gel with any of the teachers, so I procrastinated for just enough time for all of them to book out too. I had no plan.
I was now past seven months, and absolutely terrified about what was happening in less than eight weeks’ time. With my anxiety rising, I travelled to Sydney and while staying with Emma she suggested I ask doula and naturopath Anna Maria Boelskov (who had been my naturopath for years) for advice, who recommended She Births®, a course created by a yoga teacher , birth educator and doula, Nadine Richardson. It wasn’t calm birth or hypnobirth per se, but rather something that merged elements of both hypnobirthing and active birth as well a number of other techniques and scientific resources. The idea was to empower women, to help them release the fear of birth, and to allow women to pick and choose the elements that spoke to - and suited - them. Because, after all, each birth is unique.
But, the best thing about this course for me was that I could do it all at my own pace online.
TEACH YOURSELF TO BIRTH
We started doing the course at 36 weeks. Each night we’d fall asleep to visualisations, and as my due date got closer, Phil would massage my acupressure points to help soften my cervix and calm my mind. Sometimes we’d revisit videos to re-learn a breathing technique, acupressure point, or what we were supposed to be eating. Often, we’d pause it excitedly to discuss an idea or our thoughts on what was just said. If we’d done one of the weekend courses, I can safely say we would’ve forgotten 70 per cent of it. Instead, it became a bonding experience.
I won’t do the entire course justice but I will say this: it came at a time when I needed it, and it gave me a new perspective on labour, one that made me say almost immediately after giving birth that I wanted to do it again (and no I wasn’t high on drugs). Seriously.
Here are the most powerful things She Births® taught me:
Birth isn’t something to fear
This was perhaps my biggest lesson from doing the course. I knew I was growing a baby, but I just couldn’t wrap my head around actually getting him from my belly to the outside world. And also, it was scary… as all the movies and the mama-shared stories had taught me that. But in the two weeks doing the course I went from being absolutely terrified to actually excited about the birth - both of us did. We were so impatient those last few weeks because we just wanted to do it already!
Part of that was talking about our fears and how we deal with stressful situations (for me it was knowing that it was only one day in my life, and that that was a drop in the ocean). But also there was the change in perspective. One of the things She Births® teaches is that labour is not pathological pain. It isn’t about the body reacting to being hurt like when you have a broken bone, or have the flu. It is literally your body doing exactly what it needed to do to get the baby out. Somehow, in that I found comfort. And through my own labour I kept coming back to that idea, almost as a mantra: “this is not pain, this is natural, this is my body working.” That thought helped me put my fear aside and instead work on all the ways to keep my mind (and body) calm. Which brings me to the next point.
Oxytoxcin is everything
I’m not much for science, but man did I geek on the program. Again, I can’t cover all of its goodness in one post, but one of the things I loved is that it’s scientifically verified – and they’ve had some impressive results (like a 65% reduction in epidural rates, and a 44% reduction in caesarean sections).
So, here’s the most important physiological thing I learnt from it: In order to keep labour going and hopefully have a smooth (and relatively fast) journey, you need to be calm. Specifically, you need oxytocin - what is commonly referred to as the “love drug” because it’s released when you bond with someone. But, it has an even more important function, it causes the uterus to contract during labor, and of course contractions are what push the baby down the birth canal. This is why they use a synthetic form of oxytocin (Syntocinon) when you’re induced.
On the flip side of that, adrenalin (the “fight or flight” hormone which often spikes when we’re scared) has the opposite effect and can slow down, or even stop the contractions. So my takeaway from this was simple: I had to do everything possible to remain calm. Easier said than done when you’re in the throes of labour, I know, but that reminder combined with knowing my body was just doing its thing made me think almost logically about it, rather than purely emotionally. Our only plan going into the day was to keep calm and just keep breathing.
It's not just happening to you
Phil was NOT into doing the course at the beginning. When I asked him about it, he said it was because he thought it was just something cool I’d heard about and wanted to do because everyone else was. But actually I wanted to do it because of him. Phil likes to know all the information and is frustratingly pedantic about the details. He not only likes a plan, he likes to be prepared. What the course did for him - and for us - was to put us on the same level. He understood what was going on, and what needed to happen to get a “successful result” (his words, not mine).
Knowing the psychology and the physiology meant that he also didn’t panic. As he said “it enlightened me to another way of thinking. That birth didn’t need to be a traumatic thing, and I didn’t have to just watch you in pain. I knew what my role was as your support and what we had to do to get this baby out safely and calmly. Knowing the facts helped me not panic so I could be a part of the experience too.” And he did.
From the guy who had once boldly told the doctors we’d “take all the drugs” he suddenly became the calm, strong support I needed during labor. But the other unexpected upside was this: we became closer as a couple. As we sat there each night, doing an hour of the course here and there, we would pause and discuss what we’d just heard. It became a bonding experience, and I went into my birth feeling like we were doing this as a team. I was definitely not alone (and the oxytocin was definitely flowing!)
None of this is in your control.
Sometimes, even the best-laid birth plans go awry (FYI I didn’t have a birth plan). Labour is the ultimate introduction for motherhood, to letting go and to surrender. Even if you’ve done everything in the book (or course, or app), sometimes the universe has other plans for you. Phil and I had talked about the possibilities and I discussed when I would have drugs (again, I trusted Phil to know when I was “too far gone” to help me make the decision), and also the possibility of a C-section. We’d made our peace with all the outcomes. And, although in the end I was lucky to have a beautiful, calm birthing experience, I know some of that is luck and some is genetics. All I wanted to do is give myself the best chance - and Yuki too - of having a calm entry into the world. And if a few hours of my time, some medjool dates, and coconut water could help me get there (you’ll get this if you do the course), well I’m all for it.
Want to know how the story ends? Stay tuned for Part 2: the birth story coming soon.