Hypnobirthing: The main event

Please forgive me: I’ve been procrastinating on this blog post. Call it a classic case of momnesia if you’d like, but truth is I haven’t really forgotten about it; I just haven’t had any idea how to talk about my birthing experience. Going through childbirth is one of the most beautifully bizarre experiences I think a human will ever go through, and it’s deeply personal for each individual. Not to mention, you’re always walking a fine line of getting charged with a TMI.

But if my experience can help someone else feel better about giving birth, then I don’t mind dishing the deets. I’m giving you fair warning now: If you’re a dude (although I’m pretty sure the only man that reads my blog is my husband), then you might want to skip over this post.

Women tend to go into labor when they are in a relaxed state, from what I hear. That’s why, for a lot of women, it happens in the middle of the night. For me, it was only fitting that I go into labor on a very relaxing Labor Day, in the evening immediately after taking a nap, about 6 p.m. I went to the restroom, and for whatever reason it occurred to me that my husband hadn’t packed for the hospital yet. I was packed, Liam was packed, but Kelley had been putting it off. So I walked into the living room and said, “You know, you really need to have your suitcase packed. Technically I could go into labor any time now.” He shrugged, said, “Ok, sure,” and went upstairs to pack. I’m not kidding you—less than a minute later, my water broke. (Or in Hypnobirthing terms, my ‘membranes released.’ I think that sounds kind of silly, to be honest, and water breaking doesn’t freak me out, so I’ll just say that.) I yelled up the stairs to Kelley that my water broke, and I was pretty sure I was in labor, and I heard Kelley’s footsteps get more hurried. “Are you sure???” He yelled back. Oh yeah, I was sure.

I didn’t start having contractions (Hypnobirthing: surges) right away, and actually, my amniotic fluid was still running down my legs, so I just soaked in a warm bath for a little while and called my nurse. She said to go ahead and head to the hospital. “For an exam or something? Are you just wanting to check me? I’d rather wait here and come in later when I know I’m going to stay. And I’m taking a bath right now.” “Um, no,” my nurse replied. “To have a baby. You’re in labor. If you’re water broke, the baby’s coming, so don’t wait too long.”

I stayed in the tub a little while longer, and then Kelley and I learned that the roads en route to our hospital had flooded. We decided it’d be best to make our way to the hospital before my contractions started 1) so I could stay relaxed, and 2) because we didn’t know what we were getting into with traffic. By the time we had everything packed and loaded, the contractions started. They were barely anything; occasional mild PMS-like cramps. We headed to the hospital. On the way, I listened to the birthing affirmations that were included with my Hypnobirthing book, and we prayed for a healthy labor and delivery. And please, God, make it quick!

At 9 p.m., I got checked in to my room. The nurse performed an internal exam; I was 2 cm dilated and 80 percent effaced. My birthing preferences were distributed to and read over by the nursing staff, all of whom were very supportive and understanding. We dimmed the lights, I climbed in bed, and turned on  some relaxing music, laying there with my eyes closed. My goal was to be as relaxed as possible.

Each time I had a contraction, I practiced my long, slow, drawn out deep breath (as opposed to the shorter, forceful breaths) that lasted for the duration of the contraction. I closed my eyes. I blocked out everything around me. And to my surprise, the relaxation techniques worked. My entire body was working together. I switched from laying in the bed to rocking back and forth on the exercise ball, leaning backward on my husband, who was sitting behind me in a chair, for support. Each time a contraction started, I just leaned back with my eyes closed and breathed. Occasionally, I went and sat on the toilet (yes, I just said toilet…sorry for the mental picture), which eased the pressure I felt. The nurse came in every hour to monitor my contractions and Liam’s heartbeat for about 15 minutes, but other than that we were left by ourselves. I did not get hooked up to an IV, which tends to overhydrate and can lead to swelling, so I sipped water frequently and even ate a pack of snack crackers for energy. This lasted from 9 p.m. until about 2 a.m.

That may sound like a long time, but in reality it flew by. I remained relaxed and focused, the light stayed dim and the contractions were really not painful. I would only describe them as medium pressure.

At about 2:30, I asked the nurse to check me again. At this point the contractions were about a minute apart, and they were getting a little more intense. I wanted to know if I needed to brace myself for them to last like this for a while, or if we were getting close. She said I wasn’t even in active labor yet; 4 cm dilated and 90 percent effaced. She suggested I take a walk, or I could rock back and forth on the exercise ball. My husband and I attempted a walk, but I only got a few feet down the hall before another contraction started. I could not walk during the contractions, and they were too close together, so we headed back to the room to try the exercise ball.

The next two hours felt like 30 minutes. Sitting on the ball really moved things along. The contractions were on top of each other; I felt some intense pressure and continued to breathe long, slow, deep breaths. One primary theme of Hypnobirthing is the power of controlled thoughts. I taught myself to interpret the sensation I felt not as pain, but recognize it as pressure; not allowing it to cause me to tense up, but to welcome the pressure as my baby getting closer to emerging. I get it; it sounds a little cheesy. That’s okay; I can definitely say it made labor easier.

I suddenly felt an overwhelming urge to push. Now, I know this may be a crude comparison, but it was not some foreign, scary event. I honestly felt like you do when you need to have a bowel movement. You know that urge to push? That’s what it’s like. I started pushing (while still on the birthing ball). The nurse came in to hook me up to the monitor again, but I told her I couldn’t do that anymore; no distractions—it was time to push.

She, of course, didn’t believe me. I kept insisting, and kept pushing. She said that she and Kelley needed to help me up to the bed, that I couldn’t have the baby if I was sitting on the birthing ball. I got on the bed, but on all fours, and kept pushing, roaring a deep roar through my breaths. That continued for what seemed like five minutes. The nurses still didn’t believe I was quite there, but then they saw Liam’s head crowning. The next events that took place happened very fast. The nurses (with Kelley’s help) turned me over onto my back (my legs had sort of locked up and I couldn’t move myself), in a semi-upright position. With just a few more pushes, Liam came right on out. The doctor didn’t even make it in time; he got to my room just as the nurses were cutting the umbilical cord (we waited until the cord stopped pulsing to have it clamped). They laid Liam on my chest, all 5 pounds, 9 ounces, 19 ¼ inches of him, and he looked at my face with the biggest blue eyes I’d ever seen. It was magical; at that moment the commotion in the room blurred. Our son was born!

Our son, Liam, at one week old. Photography by Sarah Holland.

Hypnobirthing encourages “breathing the baby down,” rather than forceful pushing. If I hadn’t abandoned that technique when the urge to push took over, I probably wouldn’t have even needed the two small stitches I had. There are times where I regret being impulsive, only because of the annoyance that tearing evokes. But I can’t complain; my experience was amazing. I can’t describe what that took place as my husband and I worked together to bring our son into this world. Our last few moments just the two of us, and the first few moments as a new family, were ones that created an unshakeable bond between us.

We’re still living the benefits of a gentler birth. I had an easy recovery, not feeling exhausted or sleep deprived but somehow energized.

I know that every woman is different, and every birthing experience is different. However, I feel confident that my future births will be positive experiences because I will make the preparations necessary to have a gentle birth. Even if special circumstances arise, and they don’t go exactly like I planned, Hypnobirthing instilled in me the confidence I’ll need to make informed decisions and to stay calm.

Let me reiterate that birth does not have to be the dramatic, scary, dreadful experience that the media and other women make it out to be. It doesn’t. Period. We women tend to flock to the dramatic, and we love a good story; the juicier, the better. But childbirth is a natural process that our bodies were created for, and letting nature do its thing can make for an easier birth. I’m living proof.

If you have any questions about Hypnobirthing, or about my personal birthing experience, feel free to contact me or leave comments below!