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Healing Birth: The Second Time Around

By Heather Spergel

How do you heal from a traumatic birth experience? How do you put it behind you and find the inner strength not only to move on, but to decide to do it all again? Could I, and should I, risk another traumatic birth? I asked myself these questions so many times. After watching the moms at the mall with their new babies and toddlers running around, mommyhood the second time around seemed like the most wonderful next step to take in my life. I pushed my memories of my son’s difficult posterior birth to the back of my mind and decided it was time.

We became pregnant in November 2008, and happily began our second pregnancy. My husband, Drew, used chiropractic and craniosacral therapy to help balance my body and keep any pain to a minimum. I also saw a massage therapist and craniosacral therapist to assist with healing my tailbone injury from Nathan’s birth. Carrying a big belly on my barely 5-foot-tall frame was not easy. As the months went on, I became increasingly excited and anxious about the eventual birth of our second child, a daughter we would name Gabriella Faye. We prepared her room, prepped our son for the addition of another child in our lives, and happily bought up all the pink and lavender booties and onesies we wanted.

Months before the birth of Gabriella, I experienced Braxton Hicks contractions. They seemed to be telling me that the big day was nearing faster than we thought. I did not try a birth class this time, nor did I reread about the last birthing method I attempted. I’d lost faith in the methods I had originally tried, because my first birth was so full of back labor and excruciating pain that I forgot all those techniques. I put all my faith into the body work and hoped this birth would be different. I was sure that with the baby in the correct vertex position, I could manage any pain or discomfort. After what I went through with my son, I knew I could not only fight my way through anything, but also work through the process in peace, somehow.

I hired a doula to assist me in achieving the calm birth I longed for. Adding a doula to my birth team created such peace in the weeks leading up to my delivery, which surprised me. She held my hand through all my worries, laughed at my nesting behavior, and attended a midwife appointment with me when I was nervous. Renee proved available night and day for text messaging as the days neared. I also chose midwives recommended by other moms. Avalon Midwives had a comforting office, great midwives, and delivered at Morristown Memorial, using birthing tubs if desired. Avalon seemed like the wisest choice to create a water birth for our daughter.

The Big Day

I started out August 18, 2009, by going to the store for my nephew’s birthday balloons. I had almost made it to the door when a huge contraction rocked me and had me clutching the post. I made my purchases and then went to work at our family business in town. My sisters and mother kept careful track of my contractions. I let them know when a contraction started and ended, but did not feel worry or discomfort. However, an hour later, with contractions eight minutes apart, I began to take them seriously. I figured it would take me eight minutes to get across town if I hit the lights correctly, so I carefully drove home with Nathan after a contraction ended. Thank goodness I left when I did! I arrived home and noticed the contractions were now five minutes apart. I called my midwife, who requested I come in to get checked. We packed ourselves into the car, iPod in hand, and drove to see the midwife.

One of the most intense car rides followed, as my body tensed with each contraction. I focused on my relaxing music and HypnoBirthing meditation. As we drove, the contractions moved from five minutes apart to three minutes apart, and I felt myself dreading the next contraction. Was I going to deliver in the car? Panic started to spread through me at the thought of delivering on the side of the road. Minutes later, we pulled up to the midwives’ office and met our doula in the parking lot.

I almost made it out of my seat when another contraction came. Renee held my hand, encouraging me to breathe slowly as my body worked. After that contraction, we headed into the office. I made it as far as the toilet before I had another contraction and then onto the examining table as I had another. I was 4 cm dilated and fully effaced at this point. We decided to go to the hospital. My midwife, Joanne, recommended I walk around, but this seemed impossible with the intense contractions.

At the hospital, I sat in a chair until a nurse appeared to assist me to our birthing room. I felt so relieved that the birthing tub room was available! Weeks of worry and anxiety about getting my ideal room melted. I stayed in the wheelchair, unable to move, as the next contraction came. After dressing in my gown and settling in for monitoring, I watched Renee enter the room with her bathing suit and saw my husband bring in our bags. I closed my eyes to cope through the next contraction, franticly reaching for a hand to support me. The nurse reached out to hold one, and Renee found the other.

I did not labor in the positions or manner I thought I would. Who does? What comes to the forefront is coping. How well can you play the mind game of relaxation, knowing this will end with an amazing result? Forgotten were my essential oils, birthing ball and iPod. I was not allowed in the tub without the midwife’s permission, and Joanne was not there yet, so I opted for the toilet and shower. I gripped the wall bar and found a breathing method to help breathe out and down through the contractions. I lasted only a short while in the shower before the pounding of the water became too intense, coupled with my own inner intensity. Since our midwife was still not there, I returned to the bed, on all fours and on my side.

The Next Stage

Just as I had asked, nobody offered me pain medication. I did not want any or need any. Frankly, I wished I was birthing at home. I wanted to be left to labor as unimpeded at possible. Somehow, I settled into a place where I could breathe down and out calmly and quietly through each contraction. I gripped the hands of my husband and doula while focusing inward. At one point, I recall looking up at the clock, thinking, “How am I going to endure this any longer?” Renee asked me what I was looking at and I was afraid to admit this fear to anyone. I did admit that I was scared out of my pants (literally, since those were gone hours ago). What was I afraid of?

The next contraction was my response. I settled back down to breathing. As each came, I breathed down and out and imagined my body opening like a rosebud. This was a technique from HypnoBirthing I had previously lost faith in, but it was working this time around. All of a sudden, I felt my whole body grunt and push uncontrollably as my labor progressed to the next stage.

I remember looking around the room and hearing someone say, “She’s pushing!” My husband’s shocked responses followed. “She is pushing? Already?” Where was the midwife? Who was this doctor talking to me? She told me she could deliver my baby, but not in the tub; she did not do water births. My husband’s eyes met mine across the bed. We wanted more than anything to have the birth we envisioned. Another contraction came and I pushed without wanting to, but unable to stop it, just as I saw our midwife enter the room. Drew asked if we could go into the tub, and Joanne agreed. Between contractions, I hobbled to the tub with assistance. I still have no idea how I got myself over the lip and into the water.

With Drew behind me for support, I laid back in the tub. I looked around and saw the familiar faces of Joanne, Renee and my labor nurse. I remember looking at the nurse as she said to me, “Just push out your baby, honey.” Just push her out? Was I that close? I felt down with my hand and sure enough, she was coming. Thoughts raced through my head. If I push, this could be over! Was it really about to be done? How did I get this far so quickly when it took me 24 hours to push out my son?

I tucked my chin and gave a push and her head just slipped right out! I said, “Her head is out!” My husband said, “Her head is out?” in astonishment. With another gentle nudge, out she floated into the water and into the warm, welcoming hands of my midwife. Then she came into my arms as a rush of feelings and relief came over me. I felt like I had an amazing gift. My baby, Gabriella Faye, lay in my arms in the water, softly floating in our post-birth bliss.

Precious First Moments

We lay in the water for about 45 minutes before clamping her cord or considering exiting the tub. She latched on to my breast and nursed calmly and sweetly. I remember looking around the room at my husband, doula, midwife and nurse, thanking them repeatedly for such an amazing and healing experience. “Thank you! Thank you so much!” I kept repeating. The bliss I felt in that moment was unlike anything I had previously experienced. This was the most amazing experience of my life!

When I felt that we were done with our initial bonding, I asked that the nurse take Gabriella so I could exit the tub and deliver her placenta. With that final phase completed, I rested comfortably, baby in arms, and spoke to my son, Nathan, on the phone.

There was no doubt in my mind that all the attentive body work from my husband throughout my pregnancy helped my body to create the best space for Gabriella to grow. His gentle hands helped my body to keep her in the proper position for birth. My massage therapist and craniosacral therapist, Maureen, also worked for hours on my prior birth injury and helped free my body to deliver again. I processed my feelings with my doula, Renee, months before the birth and as the delivery date arrived. I believed in the power of my body to deliver without interventions or medications. This was what I was meant to do, and with this belief, and reaching out to others during my pregnancy, I made it happen! Many aspects of my being came together to create the most wonderful experience of my life. I feel incredibly grateful for my experience, and honored to now have Gabriella in our family. Am I healed from the first birth? You bet I am! Could I do it again? I know I could! My heart felt warm when I read in Pathways that people birth their own children the way they were birthed. I hope that I created such an amazing experience with Gabriella that she too will be blessed with the best birth and most powerful rite of passage.