Submitted by: Irina Otmakhova
Even before getting pregnant I knew I wanted the birth of my child to be highly conscious and on my terms. Back then I did not know much about the rising rates of Cesarian sections, and terms like epidural, pitocin injection, feotal monitoring, IV were still beyond the spectrum of my vocabulary. Soon after my pregnancy became an established fact of life I started researching my options and educating myself in general on childbirth.
I should say that my pregnancy was inspired by the idea of birthing in a company of dolphins. These intelligent and gentle mammals seem to have a natural affinity with pregnant women and babies. Women who gave birth assisted by dolphins report diminished levels of pain and anxiety. The birth occurs with ease and harmony. Knowing that such a different birth was possible compared to a usual picture of a woman in pain surrounded by bright lights and doctors in white gowns, I first conceived the desire to give birth and soon after actually conceived a child. It should not come as a surprise that conception happened after a wonderful occasion of swimming and interacting with the dolphins.
Later on in my pregnancy I had to tame my dream of physically birthing with dolphins as at this point in time there is no such a facility in the entire world that offers such a service. And birthing in a place where we interacted with dolphins during my pregnancy on a monthly basis seemed to be logistically challenging and plain risky. So, I had to consider other, less exotic options.
Gearing towards birthing outside of the hospital setting I came to read “Ina May’s guide to child birth” by Ina May Gaskin, “Orgasmic Birth Guide” by Elizabeth Davies and Debra Pascali-Bonaro and watch the films “Birth as We Know It” and ” and “Organic Birth“. This exposure opened my eyes on the world of birth and put me in the position to start seriously asking questions as to what kind of birth experience I envision for myself, my child and my partner. The clear answer for me was – an organic, harmonious, empowering birth for all participants. In a word I decided on a home birth attended by a midwife. A choice that provoked some jaw dropping in my surroundings. Home birth in Manila! A city congested with traffic jams! What if anything goes wrong, how sure are you to make it on time to the hospital? …Not sure indeed, it is a choice with some considerable risks, but it felt like the right choice.
Home birthing is usually for those who cannot afford to go to the hospital in the Philippines, often not attended by skillful personnel, hence a high rate of maternal and infant mortality. It is a prerogative in the Filipino society that woman of certain financial standard would go to a hospital, therefore giving birth at home out of choice and preference for comfort and intimacy is almost unheard of.
Being new to the land of pregnancy, birth and motherhood, I felt like I needed more guidance from the experienced people, who would preferably be on the same page with me regarding the preference for natural unmedicated birth. And this is where the information about the series of workshops “Birthing is a Blessing” came across my path. Just upon reading the flyer I knew this seminar is meant for me and will play in essential role in ensuring that the birth of my first baby would happen exactly the way I was envisioning it.
The workshops are conducted by the qualified birth educators – a husband and wife, parents of five children all born naturally. They offer a great curriculum that focuses on unraveling through creative means the inner most feelings, thoughts, reservations and hopes about the act of birthing and the processes surrounding birth. Of course it makes the most sense to participate in these seminars as a couple, although even for expecting moms alone taking part in the course will be a great confidence booster. My partner and me participated in the seminars as a couple, which allowed us to arrive to the actual delivery day as a strong birthing team equipped with knowledge, tools and most importantly with inner confidence that we can handle it.
One of the most magic moments in the days and weeks leading up to the birthing day was the baby shower/birthing blessing event. We decided that it would not be a regular baby shower format with so much focus on the baby and mother in their post-delivery state. Along with the jokes about diapers and baby bottles, we actually wanted an intentional focus on the birthing process itself by invocating a collective blessing for this unique rite of passage in the life of a woman as well as in the life of a couple. Yet again thanks to our coaches passionate facilitation we were blessed with the most wonderful birthing blessing ritual that touched the hearts of all friends present and sealed our hearts even stronger in the commitment towards natural, organic and harmonious home birth.
The actual birth did not happen up until almost the whole month after the birthing ritual. As it often happens in the first pregnancies I was going past my official “due date”. When I was seriously way into my forty first week I started getting quite serious remarks from my ob-gyne about the dangers of over-carrying the child. My midwife, instead, was relaxed all the time and encouraged me to carry on and wait for the labour to start naturally. I was given a deadline by my ob-gyne that if the birth did not happen by Saturday, I should be checking in the hospital by Sunday morning. I clearly understood what this implied – I would check in the hospital to be induced…and then who knows what would follow, I might end up experiencing the entire cascade of interventions with a C-section as the biggest reward for being a good patient. So, I ignored my Sunday deadline. Instead I showed up on Monday for a checkup to an utter dismay of my ob-gyne and demanded a referral to all the necessary tests to prove most importantly to myself that my body and my baby inside were doing just fine in the expectation of the nature’s call to kick off the birthing.
The tests indeed showed that by all parameters the baby was still thriving in the womb and my body was managing excellently. The only worrying sign in the eyes of my ob-gyne was the fact that the baby’s estimate weight was already reaching 4 kilos (9 pounds), meaning it was getting too big by the Filipino standards to pass through the birth canal, for which I was given a new deadline – Wednesday.
The evening of the same day a good friend came along declaring that he knew what was stalling the start of the labour – I had to release my own birthing trauma! According to him even though I was not aware of any in this life time, I might be lingering on the energy of some birth trauma from any of my past lives. He also pointed that the bedroom space was energetically congested and needed quite some cleansing. While he was doing the latter, I honestly dedicated an hour of my life to clearing of the birthing trauma using the theta brain waves method. Whatever the trigger might have been – another acupuncture session, energy clearing in our bedroom, processing of some hidden birth traumas or a simple stress in the face of the new deadline, the next morning upon waking up to a strong contraction I went straight into labour!!!
My midwife and her companions arrived around 11 am fully equipped with an oxygen tank, water warmers, birthing stool and so many other things that were there on standby during the entire happening. The labour lasted full twelve hours. Most of the active stage I spent in the bedroom in different positions managing my contractions with either my mom or my partner by my side, massaging my back or simply holding my hand. Near the pushing stage we moved to the pool positioned in the center of our living room, where my partner and me spent other two hours trying to push the baby out. It was a nice feeling to get in the water and have this soothing touch all over my body. However, after what seemed to be an endless amount of pushing contractions in the water and the rupture of membranes, the baby was still not out. I recall at some point my mom realizing that things were actually not going easy grabbed an icon of the Russian saints and stood in front of the pull with us in it passionately reciting a prayer. Thank you, mom, your prayers were answered sooner or later!
I remember some sort of cut off feeling regarding our stay in the pool – enough, it was getting to be exhausting to stay in the water and I requested my midwife to transfer back in the bedroom. There she asked me if I prepared the plastic sheets to which I only shrugged my shoulders. Next thing I remember she commanded to cover the floor with piles of newspapers. Soon she identified the problem, the baby flipped back to the posterior position after being anterior for the greater part of the active labour, and this made it more difficult to progress. In the meantime I was losing energy to keep pushing and was playing in my mind other not so desirable scenarios. Fortunately, all through the labour I was spoon fed pieces of fruit, honey, soaked chia seeds and had lots of water to drink. At the final stage I was pushing squatting on the floor, supported by my partner, who in his turn was supported by our household helper with midwives assuming their positions somewhere between my legs one with her hands in my vagina facilitating the exit, another monitoring baby’s heartbeat every minute and the third taking notes, while my mom was standing by in a state somewhere between fainting and praying.
It was an indescribable relief to feel baby’s head getting born, the rest of her body followed immediately. My baby girl was in my arms with her eyes open greeting the world. Never mind the pool of blood on the newspapers, never mind the twelve hours of labour, never mind the tears in my vagina – she was with us now, a new human being in this world for whom I am entirely responsible now. To name that feeling abliss is to say nothing. To have your newborn child in your arms is an exhilarating feeling for every new mother, but having a child in your arms followed a blissful birth feels double like heaven.
In retrospect I realize that my birth was not one of the easiest. Given that I was in the most comfortable possible surroundings with the respect and full collaborations from my midwives and my partner, I wonder how far I would have progressed be it a very different hospital environment. My inner guide prompts me – unfortunately not too far, the chain of interventions had a good chance to become a reality I was trying so hard to avoid. At the end I am very thankful to my midwife for keeping my courage upbeat, to my ob-gyne for being flexible and not coercing me to induction by all means, to my inner guide for helping me to keep my faith in my body and the forces of nature that will do the greatest share of the birthing work; to our birthing coaches for their introduction to and guidance in the world of birth, to my partner and to my mom for being amazing birthing team partners…and to the dolphins for their wonderful inspiration and presence with us in spirit. The baby-girl’s first name is Delphina, in honour of the dolphins.