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Reflections on Breathing and Birthing; Part One

If you’ve been following on Instagram or Facebook, you’ll have heard by now that Grace made her way into the world merely three weeks ago. And I’d like to say that it has been a breeze to get this post out, but honestly; I’m living in a sleepless time warp. That said, I have spent many moments reflecting and recounting the experience, and I really wanted to share our story with you here.

In particular, I wanted to share how yoga and meditation helped and what I have now assembled as my pregnancy yoga toolbox. With so much to recount, I decided to split this into two posts. In part one, you’ll get to know our story and how Grace made her way into the world. In part two, I’ll share with you the yoga practices that ultimately guided me through every preparation, every contraction, every push to the very end.

Grace

Our Birth Story

At the end of 2018, I wrapped up work, spent Christmas with family and intended to spend at least a few weeks preparing for the arrival of our first child. Things were progressing at a nice pace for me and I had another four weeks before our ‘due date’ was upon us. Plenty of time!

At 36 weeks, I was asked to come in for another growth scan, as there was a small concern in the previous one. At the scan we went through all the same motions, measure head circumference, abdomen, amniotic fluid, cord function. Everything looked really healthy. With one exception. They were concerned that Grace’s abdomen was not growing at the same rate as the rest of her. I was referred to the day assessment area and they discussed with me that they would like to induce us at 37 weeks.

There’s no emoji for it, but I’m sure my face was one of “You what now?”. I had to walk away and digest the little bit of information they had given me before I returned to the clinic with my questions.

I arrived at the antenatal clinic as usual and weighed in – making a mental note that I hadn’t put on more that 6kgs throughout the whole pregnancy. As far as I understood, the growth scans showed Grace was measuring small for her gestational age (3rd Percentile). But, I’m quite small – maybe this was just a genetic thing?

The doctor I spoke to this time went into a lot more detail about the indicators that caused them concern. Grace’s small measurements – which may or may not have been completely accurate – was one indicator that the placenta may not have been functioning properly. Another indicator was the small amount of amniotic fluid around Grace. But, given that she’s a small baby – I couldn’t imagine she would have a lot of fluid around her anyway. It is, after all, her ‘waste’ fluid. And of course, there was my GDM – which I was told I had on the strictest of scales (and never had a problem with any of my subsequent BG readings). But, because I fell into the gestational diabetes diagnosis, they treat pregnancy somewhat differently. You have all these extra precautions to take with the pregnancy.

Side note: I was so ashamed of my GDM diagnosis and I hid this fact from friends and family. Doctors and educators had a way of making you feel like you had done something wrong and were intentionally putting your pregnancy at risk. But I realised how incorrect this thinking was and that I have an exceptionally healthy relationship with my diet and exercise – and that this was something that hormones were effecting.

So there we were, just before 37 weeks, being told that they recommended the induction to minimise any risk to the wellbeing of our little Grace. Whether we waited a week and monitored closely or not, their advice would be the same.

To induce or not to induce?

As a first time mum, I was terrified. I hadn’t anticipated any of this. This wasn’t the blissful natural birth I had written out in my birth plan. I felt dizzy with anxiety while I researched and consulted everywhere I could. While I made myself as informed as possible in the face of this decision. Because it was still a decision we could make. We didn’t have to follow medical advice. But after speaking to my partner, David, and looking at the risks on both sides, we agreed to have the induction.

With the support of my midwife and after some positive conversations with friends, I was starting to surrender my expectations of birth and put my complete trust in the medical profession.

Let’s Have This Baby, Baby

After admitting ourselves into the maternity ward, we went into the birth suite and started the balloon catheter procedure. The idea of this procedure is that two water-filled balloons help to manually open the cervix. Each balloon was filled with 80mLs of water and then left overnight. I had a comfortable night’s sleep helped by a dose of paracetamol and codeine. But but the morning, the catheter hadn’t produced a favourable result. The cervix had only dilated 1cm.

With the catheter removed, I waited for hours in the birth suite for the conversation about what would happen next. The doctors and midwives were in disagreement. One side wanted to try another method of dilating the cervix, the other side wanted to get straight into the induction with the drip.

They gave me the two options. I didn’t know what to do. The whole situation felt out of touch with my intuition. It was foreign and I just wanted to take a deep breath and let things happen as slowly as possible. I was alone in the birth suite, filled with indecision and sadness. I had to keep calm.

David arrived at the hospital and we discussed the options. Eventually, my midwife Sabine also arrived and she spoke to us about using Cervadil. It would mean another night in the maternity ward waiting for the cervix to dilate, but it would also let things happen at a pace I was more comfortable with. Minimal stress to me and to our angel, Grace. I felt an enormous sense of relief. This felt much more in alignment with me and as close to natural as I could get.

Let’s Try That Again

With the Cervadil, I didn’t really know what to expect. There was around the clock monitoring of my contractions and vitals, as well as Grace’s heart rate. Needless to say, I didn’t get much sleep. The pain wasn’t any more intense than when they fit the balloon catheter. By 4am, the contractions had become frequent and intense enough that they removed the Cervadil tape – although the gel would continue working for several hours.

At 7am, my midwife Amanda arrived to take us through to the birth suite. She checked to see how much the cervix had dilated. It was an improvement, but not great. We still had a long way to go. But this was it. The next step was to break my water and attach the drip.

The Day We Met Grace

We first arrived at the hospital on Wednesday evening. It was now Friday morning and we were about to connect the drip with the oxytocin that would bring on the contractions and labour to deliver our baby girl.

I looked at David. This was it. This was nothing like we thought it would be but we were calm, excited, prepared. We were ready. In part two of this post I’ll go through the labour in more detail as I share how my yoga practice helped me through every moment.

It didn’t take long for the oxytocin to get to work. But it did take some time for my cervix to thin out and fully dilate. By 5pm, we were deep into the contractions. My midwife, Amanda, who had been with us since 7am, left us with Sabine at around 8pm. And within a couple of hours I was taking those final deep inhalations to push Grace through to delivery.

Breathe in through your mouth and out from your vagina.

Sabine, Amity Midwife

First, her head, then her shoulders and one final push before she was with us. The cord was short. With me on my knees from my delivery position, Sabine passed Grace up to me from between my legs and I held her for the first time. I’ll never forget those eyes, looking up at me like I was the whole world – and me looking at her, knowing that she is the whole universe.

Next in part two of this blog post, I’ll go into more detail about the internal experience and how my yoga practice helped me through the pregnancy and labour.

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