Birth as I know it – the second time

It has been a little while, but it feels good to brush the dust off again and return to writing. I want to tell you a story that happened in the meantime. It’s a story about how our second baby daughter was born. You see, I believe – strongly – that birth stories are meant to be shared. After all, they are epic beginnings of how babies and mothers are born. The point of my sharing is not to say that the way I gave birth is the best way, because each woman has her own version of her ideal birth vision. I am sharing simply to confirm that whatever it is that you consider an ideal birth for you is possible, because I had mine.

Women who have not given birth yet perhaps will find some encouragement in my story that even if their vision work and preparation are not guarantees, they matter. A lot. I found such encouragement in the stories shared by other women.

For women who have given birth – I want to encourage you to embody and to share your stories whatever they may be in whatever way sharing feels appropriate to you. Having lived something as monumental as giving birth, too many women keep their stories tucked in. Some fall silent because of their feelings of pain, shame or disappointment because the birth didn’t go as planned. Others who have more positive stories to share are silenced with “you were just lucky” and keep their stories to themselves for the fear of bragging or making other women uncomfortable.

All birth stories are equally important because they heal. Stories of challenges and difficulties resonate with those who went through something similar, and perhaps can even lead to systemic changes in how we welcome babies into this world. Stories of easy and even blissful births inspire and reveal what is possible. I always love that story about how before 1954 it was believed to be impossible for humans to run a mile in under 4 minutes. It took Roger Bannister’s breaking of the record with minimal training to break that belief for everyone. Only days later his record was beaten by another runner, and it’s been happening ever since. So I share my story with the trust and knowing that when it comes to our collective beliefs about how women give birth, it is time to let go of at least some of them.

I was determined. It was November of 2014 and I had just discovered the film that would completely change my world – “Orgasmic Birth: The Best-Kept Secret”. The documentary left me in complete awe of how it presented birth, as it was unlike anything I had ever seen or heard of before. When the film finished, I sat there certain and determined that I wanted what “they were having”. I wasn’t even pregnant yet but all I knew was that when my time came, I wanted to experience birth in the most empowering way. And so it was – the birth of my first daughter the following year was a very intense and powerful experience that culminated with me catching her in the pitch black darkness of our shower cubicle at home. It left me convinced that each mother had her own uniquely sacred journey through motherhood, and that I was ready and empowered to continue on mine.

In early 2019 I found out that I was pregnant again, expecting our second baby. The plan was to go for what worked the first time around – preparing for a home birth with the assistance of the same private group of midwives. It felt so lovely and familiar to continue our conversations with the women who became part of our family as they witnessed my first birth. Among many other things, we talked about what would happen if they didn’t make it in time, as second births tend to be faster, and we live about 40km away from the city centre. I shared that I felt very much at peace about that as my ideal birth vision was to be in the comfort of our home, completely free and unobserved. I had no need nor desire to be in touch with any other medical professionals, and absolutely adored how good and free I felt during the pregnancy.

The main shift within me this time was that the key words for the birth I envisioned were ease and pleasure. I knew I wanted the same wild and free experience but simpler, quicker and with more moments of being in the flow. I kept visualising birthing in darkness, with no distractions, and imagined the ecstatic moment of lifting up my baby to my chest. “Ease and flow, smooth and gentle, quick and simple” became my pregnancy mantra for all the moments when I felt my mind wander or doubt.

I had done a huge deal of reading, research and courses during the preparation for the first birth, so that was no longer my focus during the second pregnancy. Instead, I knew that if the day of birth is an extension of how we live our lives in general, in order to have the birth I wanted, I had to cultivate ease and pleasure in all the days building up to it.

My first Braxton-Hicks contractions started during the seventh month of the pregnancy, and I liked to imagine these gentle waves as a very extended start of the birth itself. Each time I felt one, I would really focus on feeling the pleasure of it and guide it with my breath. Self-pleasure and making love with my partner became an important part of the preparation. I also had a few extended sessions of self-massage with a mirror to deeply connect and release any tension that was present in my vagina since the first birth. Cold showers and swimming in a little mountain river became my training for how to keep the mind focused and breathe into discomfort. I was committed to a daily meditation and journaling practice and as many moments of mindful slowing down and resting as I could fit into looking after our energetic 3-year-old. During the last month I slowly prepared the space for birth, including a beautiful birth altar that my daughter helped to create. It became my little sanctuary where I liked to spend time connecting with the baby. It wasn’t that all these practices were a guarantee for the ideal birth that I wanted, but I felt it was all helping me focus on my vision and surrender more to the process, regardless of the outcome.

Just a few days before my due date, I had another one of those awe-inspiring moments when I listened to a podcast with Amber Hartnell (who also famously starred in “Orgasmic Birth” as she experienced multiple orgasms during her ecstatic birth). In the podcast she talked about how pain is just energy trapped in our bodies with nowhere to go and can be released through aware breath and conscious diving towards the very centre of it rather than resisting it. I found that immensely inspiring.

A week after my due date, I woke up knowing I was hours away from welcoming our baby. Contractions – or waves as I preferred to call them – were coming every 10-15 minutes, and although I had already had days when it would happen for a while and then stop, this time it seemed different. I contacted the midwives to let them know how I felt and that we would keep them informed throughout the day. I felt more sensitive to light and noise, so we lowered the blinds in the whole house and went about our day at a slower pace than usual.

At one point my husband felt inspired to play his djembe drum, and I joined him dancing and singing while feeling the rhythm of the waves in my belly. We had a nice big lunch, and I felt the pattern slow down again. I retreated to my little birth sanctuary and enjoyed a slow and sensual self-massage, connecting with my body and the baby, releasing any tension through an orgasm. After this wonderful self-pleasure session, I fell asleep. When I woke up, I could feel my belly tighten every so often but not as frequently as it had in the morning. We continued with our day.

At around 9.30 pm I was reading goodnight stories to my daughter when I realised that the waves were beginning to require my full focus as they were building up again in frequency and intensity. Since it was evening time, I considered the possibility of going to sleep because I knew that these initial stages of birth can take a long time. I decided to have a bath instead. I find EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) to be an effective way to manage fears or discomfort, so I began with a few minutes of tapping on the meridian points. Then I immersed myself into the warm water and into the rhythm of the sensations within my body. During each contraction, I would focus on the very centre of where the sensations felt the strongest and breathe deeply, imagining my body as a spacious channel and guiding the sensations through it with each exhale. Between the contractions, there were moments of incredible stillness, and I would shift focus onto soaking up this body’s natural cocktail of hormones – ease, pleasure and sense of relief, repeating words of my mantra and instead of letting the mind wonder of what was coming next, staying very present within the body. I remembered reading the observation by Ina May Gaskin – one of the world’s most renowned midwives – that clitoral stimulation as a relaxation method during birth seemed to increase the vaginal engorgement and reduce the possibility of tearing. Throughout the entire birth I found that it was extremely helpful as a way to stay very present within the body between the contractions, switch from discomfort to pleasure and relax even more. The whole experience was like feeling the waves of an ocean, I would begin to feel a contraction build up and “lean into it”, breathing and imagining it move through me until the peak of it, like a wave breaking, and then focus on the sensations of ease and pleasure of the moments in between. Building up – the joy of release. One wave at a time. Here and now.

After about an hour, I came downstairs and told my husband it was time to ask the midwives to come. Then I went into the birthing room that was prepared with very soft red light, some candles and low soothing music. The sensations were becoming more intense and more frequent but I continued with the same pattern of shifting and resetting my focus as I had in the bathtub. I felt like I was in a massive ocean with immense waves so much bigger than me, and yet as long as I stayed present with my breath, I was being carried along. Such surrender! Just like during my first birth, I found that I didn’t want to be touched, so I told my husband that I didn’t really need him to do anything. He stayed in the room, holding the space, quiet, calm and present.
I didn’t feel that I needed anyone else to be there. I opened up to it – invoked in my mind – and experienced a strong sense of being guided and supported, feeling as if the room was full of the energy of all the women who had given birth before me. I had never in my life before felt such intense clarity, focus and trust.

With each wave I moved as the body needed – walking, kneeling, on all-fours, swaying on a yoga ball, sitting on the toilet, going to the bathroom to pee or poop, and having sips of water. The sensations were getting more intense and at one point I felt the need to lie down for a couple of contractions. And then – there it was – the sudden urge, knowing, ORDER from the body to get back up on my feet. I recognised this phase from my first birth, this intense rush of adrenaline, the shakiness, the restless sensation of being on a carousel that cannot be stopped. Together with that I felt my mind begin the panic of “how much more intense is this going to get?”, “someone has to stop this!”, at the same time realising that nobody can live this experience for me. I asked my husband to bring me some peppermint essential oil, which I rubbed on my temples – the smell and the cooling sensation of it gave my mind something new to focus on. I returned back to listening to my own voice, repeating over and over again my mantra, calming words and phrases, guiding, coaching myself – “Ease and pleasure. I’m calm. I can do this. I’m so close. I’m here. I’m in this body. All is well.”

I felt the pressure like having to poop and sat down on the toilet for one contraction, and then moved onto our bidet. During the pregnancy, sometimes in the shower I had explored my cervix, so I could now feel the difference of the dilation and the baby’s head being very close. I could also feel the amniotic sack bulging – my waters still hadn’t broken, and exactly the same way as it happened during my first birth, I had an instinctive urge to pinch the membrane with my fingers and felt the waters release. I stepped into the same warm shower cubicle where my first daughter was born – the body was pushing the baby out!

My slow focused breathing and whispers to myself suddenly turned to a powerful growl during the next wave and after it was finished, to firm voice, clear guidance, precise instructions to myself to focus, stay calm, be here. I was so close! I could feel the baby’s head descending quickly. After three massive roars that felt so intense but SO GOOD (when do I ever in life allow myself to take up so much space with my voice?!), my husband quietly came in to tell me that the midwives had arrived and asked if I needed anyone with me. I replied that J. could come in (she was the one who had sat on the floor of the pitch black bathroom the first time I gave birth and witnessed me catch my first baby).

As my husband left, the next wave brought on the familiar intensity of the baby crowning – I reminded myself to slow down and not rush through it, the wave seemed to pause for just a moment and then powerfully continue until – here she was!!! – the baby’s head emerged right into my hands. The next wave brought out the rest of the slippery sweetness – my baby daughter was born! And just as I was getting up on my feet overwhelmed with joy (I had been kneeling on all fours during the final stage – I had even put a little foam mattress into the shower in case that would happen again like it did during the first birth!) and proudly shouting “I did it, I did it! She’s here!”, the midwife came in (she had stepped into our other bathroom to wash her hands first).  It was perfect. I had replayed this precise moment so many times in my mind – perfect, smooth, easy, gentle birth full of pleasure, all on my own, catching the baby by myself, unobserved, undisturbed, without any distractions, and with nothing to track or check. The time was 25 minutes after midnight. From the moment I had immersed myself into that warm bath the whole birth took about 2.5 hours – including less than 15 minutes of final contractions that pushed the baby out.

We lied down on the mattress with pillows in the middle of our living room to soak up these first golden moments together. We kept the room very dim to make the baby’s transition to her new world even gentler. She took some time to find the nipple and slowly settled into her first breastfeeding. I glowed recounting and retelling snippets from birth while we waited for the placenta to be born. Breastfeeding brought on a few more waves and the midwives received it after about half an hour. We had talked about how some women use the warm, still pulsing placenta the moment it comes out as a compress on the vulva, and I had really wanted to try it. The sensation was absolutely divine! Such healing, soothing pleasure. We left the umbilical cord intact for close to 2 hours until the placenta was completely cold. During this time we also made a couple of placenta “tree of life” imprints by placing it on paper. Just like after my first birth, the midwives used a small piece of the placenta to make a big fruit smoothie (I continued with such smoothies for about 10 days after birth).

Even though I felt so good after the birth with hardly any discomfort even a couple days later, I really took my time to rest and soak it all up. I spent nearly 3 weeks mostly in bed because I believe it is so important before the long journey of motherhood with a newborn to have this pause.

The whole birth experience was so smooth and simple, so full of moments of ease, pleasure, complete clarity and surrender, so perfectly orchestrated to the very last synchronicity to match what I had envisioned. I felt guided in every moment, and it all seemed too precise and familiar for me to disregard it as simply “being lucky”. It left me convinced more than ever before that we each have our unique journey to make, and that we can powerfully influence it with our mindfulness and focus.


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