Cherishing Every Sensation
By Susan McClutchey
From the moment David and I discovered our pregnancy, we were awash in blissful excitement… tainted only by my fear of childbirth. After a lifetime of hearing birth horror stories, I was worried about how I would handle it. But at the same time, I didn’t understand why it should hurt. After all, pain is usually a way for our bodies to tell us something is wrong, yet pregnancy is a natural and healthy process. If Mother Nature provided us with only one way to (naturally) complete a pregnancy, why would She make that one method painful?
With that question in mind, I began earnestly researching childbirth… and I soon found answers. The more I read, the more I realized that childbirth is not inherently painful. It is, however, extremely intense and can be overwhelming without proper preparation and support through labor. When a woman is unprepared for that intensity, she is likely to tense up and resist the process, which leads to pain.
Armed with a new understanding of childbirth, I found a course called HypnoBirthing that taught relaxation through self-hypnosis. My husband and I enjoyed the classes, but when they were over we still felt unprepared. Fortunately, we found supplemental resources on http://www.hypnobabies.com. Armed with these wonderful techniques, we settled confidently into a routine of practicing our relaxation, and waited for the big day with eager anticipation instead of fear.
We didn’t have long to wait! Four days before our due date, our sweet little man came into the world and completely stole
I first began to suspect that labor was close when I noticed a little bloody show late one Friday night. The show was still present the next morning, and I was having easy little surges (that’s hypno-speak for contractions) every seven to ten minutes for the first several hours after I awoke. I was so excited to know labor was starting, but I tried to remain calm, knowing it could take awhile.
I wandered downstairs, had some breakfast and made brownies for the labor-and-delivery staff. By 9:30 a.m. the surges were four to five minutes apart, but still gentle. I knew I wasn’t making dramatic progress, so I just napped and relaxed, enjoying time with my husband.
When the surges intensified, David called our doula and she joined us by noon. We were all happy and a little giggly with excitement. In the midst of our mirth, David pulled out the video camera to get some funny footage of me struggling to put socks on feet I hadn’t seen in months. He turned the camera on our doula and asked her to tell the audience who she was and why she was there. Her dazed response: “Dude, I don’t know anything about babies… I just brought the pizza!” The jovial atmosphere helped to keep me relaxed, despite my excitement, and for the next few hours we just hung out, chatting and laughing, while I used the birthing ball and listened to my relaxation tapes.
To this point, I had been concentrating on staying relaxed and visualizing my cervix opening easily. In the beginning, I worked on using deep, relaxing breathing, but soon it just became second nature. I spent quite a lot of time on my birth ball (which was really a large exercise ball). When I felt a surge beginning, I would place my hands palm-up on my knees and try to release all tension from them. I found that if I kept my hands loose and free of tension, I would automatically relax my shoulders, and the rest of my body followed the trend. After doing this a few times I could feel a tingling sensation in my fingers, and would picture all the tension in my body flowing out of my fingertips. It wasn’t something that I practiced prior to labor, I just found myself doing it.
We continued to relax and joke and have a wonderful time while we waited for me to feel that I was making progress. My surges grew more frequent, about two to three minutes apart, and lasted well over a minute, sometimes peaking twice. The double peaks concerned my doula, making her wonder if the baby might be posterior. But thanks to my relaxation, the surges were still comfortable, despite the fact I was experiencing back labor. I knew I wasn’t very dilated, but with my strange pattern of surges and the fact that they were well under five minutes apart, I decided to go to the hospital and make sure that the baby was well. When I felt ready, I had a light snack and we headed to the hospital, elated with the prospect of finally meeting our first-born child and finding out if we would have a son or a daughter!
When we arrived at the hospital, we found that we had a full moon working against us. With occupants in every Labor-and-Delivery room, we found ourselves sequestered in a tiny triage cubicle. Monitoring confirmed the healthy, happy state of the baby, but despite strong and frequent surges, I had only dilated three centimeters. My bag of waters was protruding down the birth canal and was so taut that the baby couldn’t make any downward progress. This was the reason my dilation stalled at three centimeters, and it was causing the back labor. The bag of waters had the baby pressed against my spine, unable to descend. This awkward situation caused a lot of pressure on my urethra, which inhibited urination, but the relaxation techniques kept me from agony. Using self-hypnosis, I was able to relax and stay comfortable.
We tried walking around to see if we could encourage my membranes to rupture. Occasionally we would have to stop so I could lean on the wall while the doula and David pushed on my hips during surges (what relief!), but the nurses kept coming over and trying to have conversations with me while I was concentrating. This was so distracting that we decided to forgo the benefits of walking and head back to triage.
It sounds weird, but while I didn’t actually feel any pain, I was well aware of its existence. It seemed like my relaxation acted as a wall between me and the painful sensations that some women
experience during childbirth. If anything started to shake my concentration, I would feel a dark shadow looming over me, and I worried that it was the pain about to come crashing over me like a huge wave. Luckily, that thought always made me come up with another way to relax, and the shadow never reached me.
While in the triage area, we heard three women deliver in cubicles around us, but I was determined to hold out for a room! So we just continued the relaxation, concentrated on visualizations of my cervix softening and expanding, and endured the holding pattern. David rubbed my back and shoulders when I needed it and I continued listening to relaxation tapes. By this time my surges were continuous, with no down time in between, and I knew I wasn’t progressing. But David and our doula kept me calm and comfortable, and took turns pestering the staff for a room.
I continued using the birthing ball and taking walks to the bathroom. I guess I was being overly optimistic by going to the restroom all the time—I still couldn’t urinate. Eventually I reached the point where I needed to remain on my side with my eyes closed to stay relaxed. I hadn’t had a break between surges in a few hours, and it took all my concentration to stay calm. At some level I knew that I had every right to be frustrated by not having a room, but I just kept telling myself that I would be holding my baby very soon, so a few hours didn’t really matter. I found myself thinking about getting angry, then realizing the harm it would do, and consciously deciding to be patient.
Finally, around 10 p.m. we got a birthing room! Once we were settled in and had the lights turned down to a comfortable level, I knew my body needed my water to break in order to progress.
I discussed the situation with my doctor and we decided to intervene. It was the right thing to do, according to what my body was telling me. She broke my water just after 11:00 p.m. I remember being surprised by how warm the liquid felt when it came out, and somehow that warmth helped me relax even further. I was dilated to five centimeters, but after my water was broken I actually regressed to four centimeters. Again, I had the fleeting thought that I should be frustrated by my lack of progress, but decided such thoughts were not helpful and remained patient.
Having my water broken was a huge relief to my body, and I was lucky to experience a rest period when my surges were only occurring every five to seven minutes. I took that time to go into deeper relaxation, and I napped. With the membranes having released, the baby could finally move down. The pressure on my cervix really got things moving. When I awoke, I was in transition and things became more intense. I was having trouble staying calm, but David and the doula were miracle workers. They helped me regain control by telling me how well I was handling the surges, and reminding me that I was not going to experience anything more difficult than what I had already handled. (They also kicked out the rude anesthesiologist, who laughed at us when we declined an epidural and said to let him know when we needed him.)
By 12:30 a.m. I was dilated eight or nine centimeters. Only a few minutes later, I began feeling my body push with the surges and asked for the doctor. When she arrived, she confirmed that I was completely dilated and told me to push when I was ready. I was relieved to hear that—my body had already begun pushing without my consent!
When I shifted from my side into a sitting/reclined position, the surges stopped almost completely. I was in absolutely no discomfort and felt no surges, but since so many people were standing there watching me expectantly, I still put on a show of pushing from time to time. I felt like a stage actress who made a grand entrance in front of a full house and promptly forgot all her lines! Everyone was so fixated on me, and absolutely nothing was happening! It sounds silly now, but I was so embarrassed about not having any surges after asking for the doctor. I tried to discreetly use the technique of breathing the baby down when I
wasn’t actively pushing. Despite my being ridiculous and trying to do it without anyone noticing, it worked! The baby was nearly crowning, but I wasn’t working with my body anymore. I was annoyed that I had to do all the work, since I wasn’t having surges to help things along. I finally asked to roll onto my side again, and instantly relaxed into a wonderful surge that brought the baby to crowning without any work on my part.
I rolled right back and started pushing with gusto. I loved this stage! Prior to the birth, I had done perineal massage while using relaxation techniques, and visualized crushed ice coming down before the baby’s head, cooling and soothing everything before it stretched around him. As a result, the pushing felt
wonderful and the smooth warmth of my son’s face and body emerging from me felt like a massaging caress. I could feel every magical little detail of him as he moved through and out of me. I marveled at the sweet warmth of his skin against my birth canal and cherished every sensation. It seemed as though the entire world came to an expectant halt and nothing existed except those of us in the room. Everyone responded to the sacred but joyful feel of those moments by using hushed tones to give me quiet encouragement and exclaim over the beauty of the event.
Our beautiful son Luke emerged peacefully into the dimly lit room and was passed immediately into my hands, where he lay while my husband checked to see his gender. The cord was very short, so he stayed on my stomach for several minutes until it stopped pulsating and we cut it. His brow was furrowed as he peered back and forth from my face to David’s with a look of both concern and interest. He had no interest in anyone else in the room, and the three of us just gazed at each other in awe as David and I told him how happy we were to meet him. From that moment we were so utterly in love with him that we could barely breathe as the weight of that devotion settled into our hearts. I will never forget the feeling of his warm little body in my hands and my surprise at how clean and soft he felt. I had braced myself for him to be slimy and bloody, but he was soft and clean and perfect.
Despite 19 hours of labor, I felt ready to run a marathon. Before I even delivered the placenta, I told David that I was looking forward to giving birth again—our doctor nearly fell over with shock! Both my doctor and doula said they had never seen a more serene and beautiful birth. Nurses from throughout the ward came by to discuss the hypnosis techniques we used. Apparently we were the talk of Labor & Delivery all weekend, and I like to think that hypnosis for birthing will be taken more seriously there in the future.
I had no soreness or aching whatsoever after the birth, never needing so much as an aspirin. I loved my pregnancy, but the joy of those 40 weeks pales in comparison to the exhilaration of Luke’s birth!
A Mother’s Guidance: We worked hard to create a wonderful birth experience. The HypnoBirthing classes, supplemented by tapes from the Hypnobabies website, were invaluable tools for us. Since our first pregnancy, we have made it our mission to let the pregnant women we meet know that they have options—that birth doesn’t have to be a painful, drugged and medically-controlled experience. We are currently expecting our second child and are using the Hypnobabies course exclusively this time.
Additional Thoughts: It really is possible—a pain-free labor with an orgasmic pushing stage. Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin can provide additional information on releasing the fear of pushing.
Susan McClutchey is a chemical engineer and her husband is currently a stay-at-home father. He also acts and does development work for local theaters and charity organizations.
Excerpted from Journey into Motherhood: Inspirational Stories of Natural Birth by Sheri Menelli