While researching the web I found the Lotus Birth book by Shivam Rachana, and after reading it early in my pregnancy Paul and I decided to have a Lotus Birth as it felt honouring of the child and a good start to our relationship with the baby. We then specifically chose a hospital and obstetrician, Dr B, who would allow us to do this.
In all honesty, even though I was incredibly excited about the baby growing inside me, I didn’t enjoy my pregnancy at all. I felt queasy 24/7 for the first four months and then suffered from a lot of fatigue and frequent nausea, not to mention the swollen feet, frequent peeing and constant feeling of being too hot. Towards the end, because I was waking up often to go to the loo in the middle of the night, Paul’s snoring was not allowing me to fall back to sleep easily so after a few restless nights I moved into the guest room with the cat.
We attended prenatal classes at the hospital and while it was useful in that it showed footage of natural births, there was too much focus on using drugs for pain relief with little information on the effects of these on mother and child, or alternative methods such as hypnobirthing.
I finished working on August 17, about four weeks before our baby was due. Building of the new bedroom had just completed and over the next 2 weeks I slowly managed to clean up the house. On the afternoon of September 2, I told the baby in my tummy that I needed one more week to organise the garage and study, so if she wanted to come a week or two early that would be ok. I think she misheard me – or just had her own timetable to keep – because the next morning I felt a little wetness, like I had peed in my pants. This continued for a while and I called Paul – he Googled it and we realised my ‘waters had broken’, or in my case ‘leaked’. I called Dr B who told me to go to his office, and when I saw him around 5pm he checked me and said that my water had indeed broken so I should go home, pack and go to the hospital that night. For fear of infection I had to stay in hospital until the baby was born, which he would try to delay a few days to get closer to the due date, but if the baby hadn’t come by the weekend he would have to induce me. Paul finished work, came home and we had dinner together before going to the hospital around 9pm. It felt surreal… we were finally having a baby! The nurses checked us, all was well, and sent us to the room where I was to stay.
The following day ND, my midwife friend who taught natural and drug-free birthing and was our support person, visited and we had a chat about the drug-free labour I was hoping for. Due to circumstances, our planned ‘several weeks of training’ for natural pain relief became one hour’s conversation about visualising an opening lotus flower (how apt). She also used pressure points to help bring on labour so we wouldn’t have to use drugs to induce.
Thank god for Tuesday when I got to have some long needed sleep, as about 4am Wednesday I felt three tightenings across my abdomen, about 20 mins apart, and thought “oh my god, it’s starting”. As it was not too bad, I started thinking, “yeah, I can handle this”, but at 5am the pain really started and totally caught me off guard. Contractions were 2 to 5 minutes apart, and I had to keep standing and rocking to alleviate the intense pressure in my groin and lower back. Around 6am they delivered breakfast and I managed to eat some which I then threw up from the pain. The nurse came in and said what I was feeling weren’t contractions – probably just spasms and to take it easy – as if! Dr B visited around 7am, felt my belly and said I would not be delivering too soon – maybe that night or the next day. By 8am I called Paul and ND and told them that although I was not having the baby yet I was in a lot of pain and needed their help.
By the time Paul arrived at 9am, the ongoing spasms were wearing at me and I could not get on top of them – but more than anything I felt so panicked, unprepared and unknowing about how to respond and deal with the pain. When the midwife came to see how I was, something in my reply of “lots of pain” must have appeared real as she organised for us to go to the delivery room straight away.
The waves of pain kept coming and every time Paul tried to help me I got more flustered – he couldn’t massage or comfort me the right way as I was so on edge. Luckily when ND arrived around 10am she started assisting me when the pain hit, and within this rhythm I found a connection with Paul; so each time a contraction came I would stand and rock, holding on to him, while ND rubbed my ankle pressure points. We continued this way for a while then tried standing in the shower with warm water on me, and I even had some pethidine. But by around 2pm I just couldn’t cope anymore – the degree and frequency of the pain was more than I could take, and I asked for an epidural. I felt like such a failure, I remember telling Paul and ND that I was so sorry to let them down but I just couldn’t take it anymore. At one stage, when I was lying in the bathtub, facing away from Paul, I could hear the tears in his voice – him trying to be strong but being affected by seeing me in such pain. I think this is when I was most in the ‘transition’ period, when I had my eyes closed, sinking into the depths of my mind whenever the pain hit. I think it was around 2.30pm when the doc came and gave me the needle, and I slept about an hour while Paul and ND had a rest as well.
About an hour after this the contractions got strong enough for me to feel through the epidural, but they were still low so I just rocked myself as I lay on the bed. Calculating now, I think it was around 4.30ish when the pain started getting stronger. At this time we also reviewed our plans for a Lotus Birth with the attending midwife, DE. We discussed the circumstances under which it may not go as planned, eg cord wrapped around baby’s neck or baby in distress while placenta was still inside etc. ND took our instructions to the nurses’ desk and it became the talk of the place for the next few days.
Around 6pm, DE said we were ready to push. The epidural was on a low dose so although I didn’t feel the pain fully, much of it was still very intense – especially the urge to push. I thought I had a high threshold for pain, but even with an epidural, the pain took everything I had and more. Unfortunately, because I had had an epidural, even though I could move my legs easily, the nurses would not let me get on my knees or all fours and I was stuck on my back. Having my backrest right up and pulling my knees towards my chest was as close to squatting as I could get and I pushed and pushed. Around 7pm Dr B came in, had a look and told us Bub was stuck and also turned so its back was towards my back, so pushing wasn’t going to do it after all.
Dr B said he would need to use clamps and that the more I pushed the less he would have to pull. So we coordinated our efforts and while I pushed, he cut me (DP heard the snip), stuck the salad tongs in and grabbed Bub’s head. I pushed, screamed and hollered, and he pulled (turning Bub at the same time) and shortly thereafter Bub’s head emerged. With another push Bub’s shoulders were out and Dr B told me to reach down and hold the baby’s hand – which I did and it was amazing! Then he got Paul to put his hands under the baby’s arms and pull Bub out the rest of the way. We had a baby girl, named Phoenix! She was put on my chest, where I just stared into her gorgeous and aware eyes looking back at me. Dr B proceeded to pull on the cord (even though I had asked him not to) and soon thereafter the placenta was born with a big slosh of blood which splattered on his pants and shoes (I remember watching him clean it off). We placed the placenta in a bowl next to Phoenix, and fortunately her cord was long and made handling her and the placenta easy.
Paul and my Mom washed and cleaned the placenta and put it into the colander to drain. We looked at the placenta and found it amazing – on the side attached to the inside of the womb it had a rough texture, with small bumps throughout. On the other side, where the cord was connected, it looked like the roots of a huge old tree – with the main trunk (cord) at the centre and finger-like veins around it. The actual flesh was very smooth and a deep burgundy. Attached to one side was the filmy thin membrane that had been the embryonic sac. We were totally in awe of the organ that had developed alongside our baby, and kept her alive as a connection to me.
By 10pm we moved downstairs to our normal room and set-up for the night. I can’t remember too much of the next 5 days at the hospital – an additional day because I had milk flow and breastfeeding issues. Because of my flat nipples, because Phoenix wasn’t attaching properly, because each midwife told me something different, and because it was all just too much – my milk had not established in the first few days and Phoenix was dehydrated. So we were put on a 3 hour feeding schedule where I would wake her to feed at each breast, top her up with expressed milk (or formula if required) and then put her back to sleep before I expressed again. Then I had about an hour before the next cycle. I really felt like the walking dead from lack of sleep, my intense emotions (which over the following weeks became post-natal depression) and stress from the breastfeeding issues.
Our Lotus Birth was the talk of the maternity ward for a while… a few times when visitors came they said they overheard the nurses at the front talking about us. I know that because of our experience, ND was asked to write a protocol for anyone wishing to have a Lotus Birth in the future, plus Dr B asked for further to share with his colleagues. Most of the nurses and midwives were supportive, or at least accepting, except one or two who said we should bathe Phoenix in our own room so other mothers were not upset by the site of the placenta – how silly is that? Anyway, I am sure we managed to do ok and not horrify anyone while we were there, as Paul did all of the washing and salting on a daily basis, so there was never any smell or mess, or extra work for the midwives. Phoenix released her cord the night we took her home – I believe she felt safe and happy and let go of it on her own terms.
In hindsight, having a Lotus Birth for Phoenix was not only wonderful for all the physical, metaphysical, and spiritual reasons that we initially did it for, but having a cord and bag attached to that darling little baby – in those 5 hectic crazy days of hospital routines and well-meaning-but-misleading nurses, and my own immense insecurity – kept me centred and aware of the blessing taking place in front of my eyes every time I looked at my little girl and her yellow placenta bag.
Even though I know Dr B and all those at the hospital did the very best they could, and it was all I knew to ask for (and expect) at the time anyway, the mother I am now and how I feel about empowered and informed birthing will not allow me to go through that again. As Paul and I are working on creating Bub#2 now, we have already decided that we will definitely do a Lotus Birth, as a water birth in a birthing centre. I am also working on improving my health and strengthening my body. We will do hypnobirthing classes and really honour the pregnancy as a time to prepare for the birth which we believe is a significant process in itself, and not just an incidental step to be rushed through. I will stay at home for as long as I can before the birth itself, and return home as soon as possible after with Bub#2, to be in my own safe and nurturing space with family and friends looking after us. Bub#2 will sleep in the family bed and be breastfed for two years, just like Phoenix.
A few weeks after the birth, ND told me that a natural pain management course she had just completed said that the current prenatal (and other general information) which ‘educates’ women about the pain they will experience in child birth, only sets them up to expect that as their only possible reality. And once the birthing process starts, they translate all that they are feeling to be the pain they were expecting and assume they will need help (drugs and intervention) to get through it. So instead of a woman trusting her body and inner wisdom to lead the way, she surrenders to the powers-that-be and turns birthing into a medical situation that needs to be ‘fixed’. I now understand why many women use their second (and subsequent) births to ‘heal’ the emotional, mental and spiritual trauma of their first births which did not ‘go to plan’.
Written by Artemiss Keyhani in October 2009 about the events of September 2007.