By Penny, Grant
“It was like he just floated out! Just after Jude arrived, our doctor and midwife looked at each other and said, that was a Calmbirth birth.”
Dear Peter and the whole Calmbirth team,
I have been planning to write to you for months now to thank you for your incredible contribution to our, and our son Jude’s, lives.
I think part of the reason it’s taken so long is that we have some postcard sized thank you cards we have been sending our friends and family and I know there is more I would like to tell you than would fit on one of those.
We attended your Calmbirth class in November 2017, and our baby was due in mid-March 2018. The class gave us such a solid foundation for the rest of the pregnancy – from hearing others’ positive birth stories, to learning the Calm Breath technique which we practiced together before going to sleep in the evenings, to the visualisations around the peaceful water scenes, and being mindful about the fact that comments about pregnant women’s physical appearance and what that can do to their anticipation about the birth (I put on 20kg so was told the baby must be huge about a million times).
In the lead-up to the birth I was working hard and focused on writing my PhD but a few interesting and beautiful things started happening in few weeks before Jude’s birth day, which the course helped derive deeper meaning and value from.
A few weeks before Jude was born we went on a family holiday to Bellingen in a peaceful valley and I read parts of Ina May Gaskin’s guide to childbirth, which you recommended. Reading the different ways women’s births unfolded, along with Ina’s analysis about why some things might have worked out in certain ways, was really helpful for me.
I’d had a relatively physically inactive pregnancy which is unusual for me – I usually do a lot of jogging and other exercise but felt quite fatigued and nauseous until well into the third trimester. In the last month or two before the birth I started swimming slow laps of a beautiful ocean pool and I am sure this helped my overall wellbeing, as well as helping reducing swelling and making my body stronger and more supple to prepare for the birth. I remembered you reading a story from one Calmbirth mum about how she did a lot of swimming during her pregnancy and this inspired me. It also helped me with my visualisation during the labour.
We had a very relaxed pre-baby gathering of friends a few weeks before our baby was born and a lot of our friends wrote us really loving and supportive cards which were so nice to have in our home once I was in labour.
During the fortnight before the birth, my doctor began to tell me about some potential complications and potential interventions she thought might be needed because my baby was quote large and was posterior facing. I emailed and had a few phone calls with Peter during this last fortnight to discuss these options and thanks to Peter’s wisdom, insight, and generosity with his time I felt confident and empowered to negotiate these options with my doctor – and also to let the birth unfold.
Two days before Jude was born I attended a meeting with my PhD supervisor and was texting an old friend while I was walking back to my car. We used to race rowboats together – and we were texting about how I could think about the labour like a rowing race, where we focused really hard to think about one rowing stroke at a time, and to lean in and stay calm and focused, with controlled deep breathing. I was able to draw from this experience in my life to when I was breathing through the waves during my labour and I believe the “creative reorganisation” skills you taught us during the course allowed my subconscious to bring these skills I hadn’t really tapped into for over a decade to mind when I needed them.
The day before I went into labour, Grant took the day off work so that we could organise some things around our home which we’d wanting to do before the baby arrived, and I felt really at peace once they were done. I’m convinced that at a subconscious level once I let go of these tasks weighing on my mind my body knew I was ready and it was safe for the baby to arrive.
So – to our birth story.
On the last day of last summer at 2.40pm I went into labour spontaneously at 38 weeks, a few hours after a discussion with my doctor about a list of potential things that might go wrong during the birth of our baby, ending in her saying she was sure the baby wasn’t going to arrive yet so she’d see me in a week. After the doctor’s appointment I came home but felt distracted from my PhD writing – I spent a few hours doing some “life admin” and nesting type jobs, booked myself in for an acupuncture appointment, and I also spoke to Peter and did some exercises from the Spinning Babies website, and I just felt a gentle shift in my tummy then my waters broke like in the movies! Grant came home from work and we ducked up to the hospital, which we are fortunate to live a 10-minute drive from, for a scan. Everything looked okay with the baby and our doctor and midwife said it would be totally fine to go home to keep working through the early and middle stages of the labour.
Even though being at home for as long as possible was how we wanted the birth to unfold I did a double take on my way out the door and asked the midwife, who, earlier, had shown me photos of her daughter looking very serene while she was in labour (in transition no less – she had done a Calmbirth course with her daughter), how we could know that the baby was okay without monitoring equipment at home. She gave me a wink and smiled warmly, and said to feel the baby moving and trust my intuition. This was a real turning point for me – I’d spent the whole pregnancy absorbing as much information as I could about pregnancy and childbirth, which I believe did really help, but now it was time to switch to a different way, and to lead with my instinct (or the mammalian brain you taught us about in the course) instead of my analytical, thinking mind. After spending the better part of the last decade and a half studying and practicing as a vet, and studying and doing research in public health, my thinking and analysing brain has become my default go-to. Which is useful for my work but also all the thinking about health and disease plus a sometimes pretty creative imagination, plus just the way my brain is wired I guess, means my mind is often set to imagining worst case scenario stories that can be pretty awful and all encompassing. Yoga helps with this for me and my yoga teacher says everything you really need in life is already in you. Kids already have it and sometimes we lose our way. So I resolved at that point, walking out of the hospital, to really believe what the midwife said, and to draw on my own instincts I already had deep within to give me the information I needed for the next few hours. No more counting, no more statistics, no more medical facts. Sometimes those things can make you jump to fear.
We drove home from the hospital calmly and I spoke to my mum while we were in the car, and it was really exciting to tell her our baby was on his way. By the time we got inside it was around 6.30pm and I was having regular waves, or contractions, which became stronger gradually but I was able to work through these with the breathing techniques we learned in the Calmbirth course. It was a Wednesday evening which is our favourite night to watch shows on ABC TV so we sat and watched TV together and ordered pizza! I ate a whole large pizza and really enjoyed it.
Our obstetrician organises for all of her patients to see a midwife before they have their babies, and this midwife gave me some good tips about labouring at home – with setting up different ‘stations’ around our apartment – the shower, sitting on the couch or an exercise ball, and lying on my left side in bed – and moving to a different station in any order, once I tired of one station.
By around 9.30pm I was tired of sitting on the couch so wandered into the bathroom and had a shower, and for the next couple of hours alternated between the shower, sitting on the toilet, sitting on the couch, and lying on my left side on our bed.
I was able to communicate with Grant in our own way that worked for us about what I needed at the time – something that Peter and also Ina May Gaskin talked about in her book that was important, for there to be connection and real trust between a couple going through a labour together. I was so focused on my body and my breathing and visualisation that I did not want him to touch me at all. Despite this I felt very close to, and supported by, Grant and he was by my side the entire time.
Grant called the hospital around 11.30pm and spoke to a midwife who advised us to come back in when I “couldn’t stand it” any more, and also that it was fine to take 2 Panadol tablets, which I did.
At around 1am, Grant and I were lying on our bed half dozing between my waves, which had become strong. I decided at a certain point that we should go to the hospital because I was feeling quite physically tired and was worried I wouldn’t have the energy to walk to the car if we left it much longer. I also started at that point to have some doubts in my mind about my capability to get through the unknown amount of time ahead and decided I would quite like to have an epidural. Our plan was to have a natural as possible birth but also to be sensible and open to whatever was most appropriate as the birth unfolded.
During the drive to the hospital I asked Grant to drive very slowly and actually to stop when each wave came. I guess they were quite close together by that point – Grant timed them for most of the labour with an app on his phone but we’d stopped timing them by then. I can’t remember a lot of the drive but by the time we were at the hospital it was somehow 2am.
It was quite surreal arriving at the hospital in the middle of the night. We had a bit of a feeling of what I might call calm urgency by that point and weren’t exactly thinking straight! We didn’t get around to calling the hospital to tell them we were on our way and after parking the car found ourselves outside the fully locked hospital in semi darkness! I suddenly noticed a security door had been left ajar so we slipped through it and jumped in the elevator. By the time we arrived at the hallway in the delivery suite I was walking literally doubled over, was clutching my yellow card and wasn’t able to talk – Grant talked to the midwife in our behalf and she directed us to a room and I got myself onto the bed and lay on my left side. The midwife examined me and told me I was 5cm dilated.
I was feeling very strong contractions by then and asked the midwife for an epidural as soon as I saw her. I stayed lying on my left side on the bed and after 20 minutes or so my body started going into very strong waves and started pushing – it was totally automatic. The anaesthesetist arrived at the door with the epidural, and at the same time the midwife checked me again and I was 10cm dilated! I now know I was in transition and experiencing the “crisis of confidence” Peter described in the course. There was no need for the epidural. Once my body moved to the pushing phase, I felt much better and was able to focus on each wave and stay relatively in the moment. I did do some visualising of riding ocean waves too and really felt like I could ride the waves as they came and went. The midwife and my obstetrician were amazing and instructed me when to push and when to simply breathe through the waves. My obstetrician also instructed me to relax my jaw, and I knew from the Calmbirth course that this would help my cervix relax so this gave me extra confidence. It all felt very focused and calm and our beautiful little boy arrived smoothly at 3.40am – it was like he just floated out! Just after Jude arrived, our doctor and midwife looked at each other and said, that was a Calmbirth birth.
After Jude was born I had had around an hour of skin-to-skin contact and he had his first feed. Then I had a shower and a sleep while Grant took off his T-shirt and lay with Jude on his chest for a couple of hours. We both believe this was a really important time for the three of us as a family and it’s thanks to your instruction that we learned about the importance of skin-to-skin time and had the opportunity to start Jude’s life in this way.
Peter, the skills and knowledge taught to us in the Calmbirth course and support in the lead-up to Jude’s birth have continued to be so valuable to us as our new life as Jude’s parents continues to unfold. Jude was an amazing feeder from the start and is absolutely thriving. He is a really calm and content baby and people are always commenting to us about how calm he is. We are loving life with our new little family.
We would also like to take this opportunity to wish you and your family a peaceful and happy holiday season.
A wholehearted thank you again.