I love remembering how I gave birth to my daughter—now almost four years ago.
For most of my life, I had been terrified of the idea that a child would pass through the narrow space between my hips. My poor little vagina! Even as a little girl, when left to play close enough to hear the stories my mom shared with her girlfriends over coffee, I heard about the terrible pains of labor. "I thought I was gonna die," I heard my mom exclaim. "I was squealing for help, calling 'God', but nobody would come. The nurses were calling me hysterical." Sadly, I don't doubt that communist maternity wards, with their old ceramic tile and cynical staff, resembled torture chambers.
Even though I knew things had changed in the forty years since my mom gave birth to me, I still had a deeply ingrained fear of labor. And here I was, pregnant with my first child. Being on the thin side, with narrow hips and no abdominal muscles to speak of, I was quite sure I could not push strongly enough. I asked my gynecologist about Cesarean. "Hmm, Tereza, we could use your advanced maternal age to justify it (Thanks for pointing that out!), but I am quite sure you can push."
I didn't think so. But I knew of the benefits to the baby of passing through the vaginal canal. That's how my little love would get started with healthy probiotics from my body. In preparation for labor, the vaginal canal's bacterial inhabitants, such as Lactobacillus, experience a population explosion during the last three months of pregnancy. These precious bacteria would be crucial for my baby's digestive and immune systems, and as it turns out, even for her metabolism and neurological development.
I am not, as Jeff Leach says, "too posh to push." I attended pregnancy yoga classes to stretch what needed to be stretched and worked a few times each day on strengthening my quads. By squatting rather than laying down during labor, I intended to allow gravity to help me along for as long as possible. I sat through a Lamaze breathing class with my husband—who would proudly become my birth couch—and visualized it all going super easily.
Sadly, one out of every three babies in the U.S. are born by C-section—often not for a medically necessary reason—but rather on demand. Shockingly, in Brazil, one out of every two deliveries is by C-section.
One evening, after an at home dinner and movie, my water broke. It was a month before my due date, so I was not quite sure if I hadn't just peed on myself (any woman who ever bore a baby will understand)—something that had happened to me around month six. Crawling around our bed on all fours, my husband and I sniffed the fluid, trying to determine it's origin. We even Googled it, but still were unsure.
Hesitantly, by around 11 pm, I called my obstetrician. "Oh Tereza! You probably just peed on yourself," she exclaimed. "But if you want to be sure, go to the ER." We hopped in the car.
On our way to the hospital I started having my first contractions, though I was still in denial. When we arrived in the ER, I tried to persuade the triage nurse that I must be suffering from a urinary tract infection. She gave me a stern, but gently knowing look, "I can tell when a woman is in labor."
I was admitted to the maternity ward by midnight, with my cervix dilated barely to one centimeter. The nurse notified my obstetrician, but as a woman giving birth to her first child, I wasn't expected to deliver for at least another twelve hours. My obstetrician could stay in her pajamas. I laid back visualizing my cervix dilating nicely, and imagining my baby sliding down the birth canal like a water slide.
Two hours later, my cervix was at nine cm, and harsh contractions made me holler profanities. "Don't push, the doctor isn't here yet," cried the nurse as she hurried to the phone. I imagined, as instructed by my hypnotherapist friend, that each contraction was a wave on the ocean, peaking then lessening in strength. Knowing that I would always have at least a few seconds of rest before the next contraction was tremendously helpful. The obstetrician flew through a few red lights, and half an hour later I was finally allowed to push. By 4 am, my beautiful girl was born, healthy as can be.
"Let's have another one," I told my husband a few hours later, holding my sweet little girl in my arms. She was so beautiful, and the entire experience so empowering, I knew that if I could do that, I could do anything. And so can you!
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