by Carissa Leventis-Cox
My grandmother texted my phone a few weeks before my baby was due: “YOU DELIVER IN HOSPITAL. I PAY!” I laughed. It was just like her demand for our first meal in Rome on a family trip, when she exclaimed: “WE EAT CHINESE. I PAY!” Really? In Rome? The Chinese-Filipino matriarch of my Asian family is also quite the hypochondriac. For the past few decades, not a week goes by without her visiting a doctor (or two or three) for some symptom or other. So, “YOU DELIVER IN HOSPITAL. I PAY!” was something Mama would very likely say.
I texted back: “HAHA! Mama, you are so funny. Thank you but I’M STILL GIVING BIRTH AT HOME… WITHOUT A DOCTOR!” Needless to say, I kept my family worried and nervous until the day my son was born. From across the globe, they talked about hiring a doctor to be there, an ambulance service and stressed about all the possible emergencies that could arise. I’m so lucky to have people in my life who love me, but in typical Carissa fashion, I stood my ground: no doctor, no ambulance service, no extra mid-wives, no yayas (a Filipina nanny). I had done my research and I knew in my heart it was the best choice for me, my husband and my baby.
Giving birth at home was a conscious and deliberate decision my husband and I have never regretted. Giving birth at home was everything we wanted and more. Natural. Quick. Easy. Peaceful. Calm. Non-invasive. Empowering. Painless. These are all the words that describe my son’s water birth at home.
WHY GIVE BIRTH AT HOME?
Because my husband and I wanted the most natural welcoming for our baby.
For Baby: We wanted a highly peaceful birth for our son: a birth that would be quiet, soothing, calm, without bright lights, loud voices, slapping of baby’s bottom, cold metal plates touching baby as it is weighed and examined, separation from mother and other traumatic procedures such as circumcision.
For Mama: We wanted the easiest and most natural childbirth experience for me: one without drugs, epidurals, episiotomy, a C-section and other typical hospital procedures that are really unnecessary: like feeling rushed and being without food during labor and delivery.
For our new Family: We wanted a birth that empowered us: mother to be fully aware during the birthing process, father to be there every step of the way to support, encourage and be part of the process like cut the umbilical chord, and baby to be truly welcomed HOME.
WHAT DID WE DO TO PREPARE?
Like anything, practice makes perfect. So, we decided to approach birthing as an athlete would prepare for a marathon. My preparation was physical, mental and in many ways spiritual. My husband was there for me and the baby every step of the way.
OUR PHYSICAL PREPARATION
I was in great shape physically before we conceived. I was at my optimal weight and health. This is important because homebirth midwives and birthing centers will prefer tending to pregnant women who are in good health as healthy mothers usually have the best chances for natural births.
Diet and Nutrition: As nutrition conscious as I am, it was easy for me to eat right. I was not a raw vegan then, but ate appropriately. I took food soluble prenatal pills, like Rainbow 6 a day, to insure all the essential vitamins for a healthy pregnancy. Food soluble pills do not cause constipation and/or stomach troubles. They also are more readily absorbed into the system than the other types of pills out there. Today, there may raw prenatal pills available.
Pre-Conception Exercise: Regular exercise helped me reach my optimum health and weight before conceiving and helped me get back into shape after delivery. Sit-ups were important in strengthening the muscles needed to ‘push’ baby out. I practiced this before getting pregnant, so I was able to continue (as long as I was comfortable) during pregnancy.
Exercise During Pregnancy: I continued with my regular routine so long as I felt comfortable. Daily yoga really helped my body deal with pregnancy aches and pains. The cat’s pose really helped with backaches. I could not live without Shiva Rea’s prenatal yoga video. Other important exercises I practiced were: Kegels and squats. Kegels help for control where it matters. Squats help stretch the sacrum. And don’t forget, body massages sooth mother-to-be!
Stretch Marks: I lathered on cocoa butter all over my tummy, thighs and hips. I did not get stretch marks. I would say coconut oil would be a great moisturizer too.
Chiropractic Work: 1 week before our due date, the chiropractor aligned my back. This helps prevent more aches and pains. First time mothers who receive chiropractic care average 24% shorter birth, 39% for those who have given birth before.
Perineal Massage: Starting week 32, I massaged my perineal area daily. This helps stretch the area and prevents tearing.
Beta- Strep Wash: Ask your midwife if it is mandatory to give your baby eye drops when he/she is born. If you can get out of it, prevent beta-strep by splashing (not douching, washing or rinsing, but splashing) a solution of chlorox and water (a capful of chlorox to 2 quarts water) down there (really the area where poop can be transferred to babies eyes) when you shower starting at week 35. This recommendation was from Shari Daniels (more on her below).
Sleep: Do this now when you can!!! I wish I had slept more!
OUR MENTAL PREPARATION
A Midwife: After researching and interviews with a few, we found Tavish, the midwife we felt most comfortable with. For my husband, this meant most importantly one with the most experience and the most success rate, and for me, this meant one I could talk to and trust with my body and my baby.
Hypnobirthing: We chose to take hypnobirthing classes because in our quest for our dream birth, I asked Shari Daniels, the head midwife at the Miami Maternity Center and the star of House of Babies on the Discovery Channel, what set apart the easiest, quickest and most successful births from the rest. Without a moment’s pause, “hypnobirthing” was her reply. With a practice spanning over 33 years and having overseen over 11,000 births, my husband and I were very quick to heed her advice. In just three one-hour hypnobirthing lessons, I learned to train my mind to give my body mental anesthesia and to instill in myself the belief that there is no pain in labor and delivery. In doing so, I allowed myself to be a part of my son’s birth while being fully aware in every moment.
At the first lesson, I learned how to ease any pain and how to place myself under self-hypnosis. At the second lesson, I learned how to give myself mental anesthesia and how to place myself under self-hypnosis with my eyes wide open. And, at the third lesson, I learned how to practice and apply self-hypnosis during labor and delivery. By the last trimester of my pregnancy, I was practicing 10 minutes of self-hypnosis everyday to prepare my mind and body for childbirth.
As a first time mother, the fear of childbirth pain was significant and it was difficult to imagine self-hypnosis would be so effective. And yet, it was. The pain I felt at the birth of my son was like stifling a cough. That was it.
THE BIRTH OF OUR SON
A day before my due date, our son arrived.
At midnight, my contractions started. By 3am, I felt they were pretty regular. I wanted to call the midwife but my husband timed them again himself and suggested we wait until they get really regular. I thought, “What? I have to try and go to sleep again while having contractions 5 minutes apart?” By 6am, my husband was finally convinced of the regularity of my contractions and called our midwife. At 7am, the mid-wife’s assistant arrived. I was on all fours trying to do Cat’s pose and I told her my body felt like pushing. As she and my husband got the bath ready for me, she said kindly, “Just let your body do what it wants to do.” So, I did. Well, to me, it felt like doing Kung Fu kicks, along with the “Ha-Ya!”. Unfortunately, it also came with a bowel movement while in the bath. I couldn’t help thinking “OMG! My son is going to come out in poop water?” Then,“OMG! She’s fishing it out with a fishing net.” Pause. “Thank goodness hubby is changing the bath water.”
By 9am, our baby was already crowning and the head mid-wife had just arrived. I don’t think she thought my delivery would be so quick. Less than 30 minutes after Tavish washed her hands, amidst all my Kung Fu kicks and “Ha-Ya!”, our son came out calm and still asleep. After doing a quick check, he was laid in my arms. He opened his eyes for a moment to seemingly look at me, and fell back to sleep.
The minute I looked at my son, I was aghast: “Are you sure that’s my baby?” Looking around my bathroom, I was reminded of being at home and there wasn’t another mother-to-be in the room. “But THAT’s an Asian Baby! What happened to his Greek, Scandinavian and English side?” But then I looked at my husband and for the first time since I met him, I saw tears slowly trickling down his silently happy face. He held me and baby tightly in his arms and I knew I was HOME. Baby was HOME. I looked at my husband, then at my baby and whispered, “Welcome Sweet Heart”.
We often hear about labor and delivery as extremely painful, invasive, stressful and tiring for both mother and baby. My husband and I wanted nothing of this typical birth experience and we set forth to accomplish our dream birth. Our homebirth was a success: natural, quick, easy, peaceful, calm, non-invasive, empowering and unbelievably painless.
My husband, my baby and I spent the first 24 hours holding each other and gazing at each other. Our bathtub will never be just a bathtub. Our house is much more than just a home. And my small family will always have a beautiful memory to cherish forever.
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