Birth Matters: A Midwife's Manifesta
BIRTH STORY: Chloe at the Farm
Upbeat and informative, Gaskin asserts that the way in which women become mothers is a women's rights issue, and it is perhaps the act that most powerfully exhibits what it is to be instinctually human. Birth Matters is a spirited manifesta showing us how to trust women, value birth, and reconcile modern life with a process as old as our species. Renowned for her practice's exemplary results and low intervention rates, Ina May Gaskin has gained international notoriety for promoting natural birth. She is a much-beloved leader of a movement that seeks to stop the hyper-medicalization of birth-which has lead to nearly a third of hospital births in America to be cesarean sections-and renew confidence in a woman's natural ability to birth.
Chloe at The Farm
I woke-up suddenly early one morning with a very sharp and brief contraction. Having never felt one before, it startled me so much that I literally jumped out of bed! But it only lasted a few seconds, and I quickly forgot about it. The rest of the morning went as usual: I went for an hour-long walk with Charles, my husband, and then practiced yoga.
At 1:00PM we went to the clinic for my weekly check-up with Carol. She said that my cervix was almost completely thinned out and that I was dilated to cm—the baby would certainly come in the next couple of days! Charles and I sat with Carol for a few minutes and asked her all sorts of questions (When will the baby come? What do people do with the placenta?). She had a slight grin on her face, as though she knew something was going to happen but didn’t want to give us false hopes! When we left I was very uncomfortable: I had a lot of cramping but thought nothing of it.
We got into the car to head home, but we didn’t get very far before I had to get out and walk. It was just impossible for me to sit down because my back ached so much with each bump of the road.
As I stepped out of the car, a female dog appeared out of nowhere and started following me, a few steps behind, until I reached the cottage where we were staying. She had such a gentle attitude. Looking back, I think she knew that something was about to happen ...
My mother, who was staying with us in the cottage, and had driven with us from New York, had prepared lunch. I was very hungry. I kept getting up from the table every few minutes to go outside where I could walk around and stretch my body, and then I would go back inside, sit down, and try to resume eating. The sensation wouldn’t let me eat in peace! It was not really painful per say, just uncomfortable, and I couldn’t stop the urge to move around. I kept sitting down again and trying to finish my lunch because I thought it would pass. I absolutely did not think for one second that I was going into labor.
My mother and Charles wanted to call Carol, but I didn’t think it was happening and did not want to give false alarm. After maybe half an hour of this going back and forth, I started to feel real contractions. I went to the bedroom and focused on deep breathing. I tried lying down because I was a bit tired, but it definitely felt better to stand up or squat.
Eventually, Charles came into the room, sat next to me, and started timing me. The contractions were all about three minutes apart and lasted for forty-five seconds. They were getting progressively stronger. Really strong.
There is no way I will be able to stand this for twenty hours, I thought.
I got scared, and Charles ran out to fetch Carol.
Maybe twenty minutes passed, which seemed like eternity because the contractions were so strong. Where is Carol? Why is this going so fast? How can I go on like this?
I felt awful. I started gagging when Charles came back and he ran to get a bucket. I threw-up and immediately felt better. My stomach wasn’t weighing on the baby anymore, so I felt lighter.
Carol arrived and set up some things in the room. Then, she pulled up a chair and sat. Charles and my mother took chairs as well and watched me. It was strange because I felt like a circus animal or a science experiment with three people just watching me. It wasn’t a very pleasant feeling at that particular moment, so I tried to shut them out in order to focus on breathing deeply.
Inhale and open—exhale and open more. Don’t resist. Don’t frown.
I kept saying those words over and over again in my mind like a mantra. The contractions were quite strong and close together. I was getting used to the feeling, and felt like I was “managing” them. I would squat each time, which I found helped a lot.
Suddenly, the feeling shifted. I felt a very small urge to push during the contractions, while I was squatting. I was not sure how to manage it all, and started to feel overwhelmed . . . I needed to be more focused to keep up!
I wanted to be alone with Carol, so I could look deep into her face and let her eyes guide me. I asked Charles and my mother to leave the room, which they did, reluctantly, but without any argument.
Once alone with Carol I could not speak much, but I told her that things were “changing.” When she checked me I was eight centimeters dilated—what a relief! It felt great to know that I had made so much progress.
She asked if I wanted to try the birthing chair and I immediately agreed. I sat on the chair and ripped off my dress. I was completely drenched in sweat by that time. I was pushing a little during each contraction and suddenly something came flying out like a balloon.
Wow that was easy, and it did not even hurt?
But it was only my water breaking! Carol reassured me that this was all fine. She was so reassuring every step of the way. I think if you trust in birth the way she does, it just emanates from you and gives women confidence.
With each new contraction, when I pushed, I could feel the baby’s weight shifting down. My back ached a lot, so Carol gently massaged it with some oil. It really helped. But the contractions were short and I did not have time to push hard enough. Each time I released the pressure, the baby would go back up. Carol reassured me that this was normal, and told me not to be discouraged.
I tried getting on the floor on my hands and knees. The first time I let out a sound that really startled me. It was a very deep and very loud roar like an animal. Where did that come from? The famous primal scream!
This went on for maybe ten contractions. No progress. And then a strange thing happened: the contractions stopped.
I felt no pain at all, but was so very tired. And scared. Scared that I would have no energy left and that I would end up in the hospital with a C-section because I was too weak to push anymore. How could they just stop? This is not supposed to happen! I could maybe take a nap and we could start again later?
I wanted to sleep so badly! I told Carol that the contractions stopped, but she did not seem too concerned. However, she must have sensed that I was distressed because she gave me homeopathy to restart labor.
To my surprise, the contractions started again but they were not very strong and I was getting tired and desperate. Carol suggested I try getting on the bed. I did and it felt great to be able to lean back into the pillows to rest in between the rushes. Still, I was not making any progress, and I went from being scared and tired to being angry. I decided I would push with every bit of strength I had left and get it over with! I grabbed my knees and pushed as much as I could, and the baby started crowning. But then the contractions stopped and she went back in again. But the next time, I pushed just a little bit in between, just to keep her where she was and not lose all the work I had done. It took about another three sets of contractions before I was able to push hard enough to get the head halfway through.
At that point Carol, placed a mirror under me so I could see the baby’s head, which was very encouraging. Then she warned me that it would burn and probably be painful, but that all the stinging did not necessarily mean that there was a tear. She said that I shouldn’t worry about that. I just needed to push right through that sensation. She was right. I felt a sharp sting. I was pushing as hard as I possibly could. I don’t remember how long that lasted—just pushing with each contraction, with my eyes shut tight. I was very tired and in another space I think. Just drifting away.
I was startled when Carol suddenly gave me the order: “REACH DOWN AND HELP PULL HER OUT, CHLOE!” What? How? But I’m too weak ...
I snapped out of my strange journey and somehow I leaned forward and grabbed my baby and pulled her out. Carol helped to pull her onto my chest. I asked her to please call Charles and my mother and they came rushing over, along with another midwife named Sharon who was waiting with them on the porch.
We stayed like this for a very long time. It was wonderful. She cried very softly and moved her adorable little arms.
A few minutes later the placenta came out very easily, and Carol checked me: I had no tear. Sharon helped me place the baby at my breast and she immediately latched on. What a relief ! I had been quite nervous about it. I thought I might have trouble breastfeeding.
Annabelle was born at 7:00 PM. I had labored for only five hours. It took a little over a half an hour to push her out. It was the perfect birth I was looking for.
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