Last year on February 19th, I wrote a few sentences on how I was preparing for labor. I wrote, “I’ve been watching a lot of home birth videos, drinking nettle, raspberry leaf, oatstraw, bone broth, pelvic rocks, exercise, trying to get a feel of the baby’s position with my hand to familiarize with where is what, completing birth kit and list of supplies, trying to keep consistent with daily awrad especially at fajr (dawn) time, connection with baby, positivity and tawakkul (reliance upon God)…” What was missing was movement, walking… lots of walking. Even the exercise I was referring to was not enough. I could count the number of times I ‘exercised’ during pregnancy. A few weeks before I gave birth, a lady who is dear to my heart advised me to walk everyday. She said that her first labor was very smooth because she walked frequently, whereas her second birth was nowhere near as easy because by then she had started working at a desk job which meant that she couldn’t walk as much. I had planned to walk once or twice a week, which didn’t really happen. I was in Michigan at the time. I was alone most of the time and so the chance to go for walks was very rare.
Funny enough, the day my labor began (two days before the estimated due date), I went for a long hike with my mom, sister, and a friend. Up until that day my baby hadn’t even lowered herself into my pelvis. My midwives were predicting I wouldn’t give birth until much later from the EDD. I don’t think one of my midwives even took me very seriously the evening I felt something different and thought that the sensations would subside by the morning light. But there I was, in labor.
I felt early labor kick in around 8.30pm on April 12th. I couldn’t sleep that night for more than a couple of hours because I was already feeling some back labor that would wake me up every time I dozed off. She visited in the morning, shortly after sunrise and joined us for breakfast. I was still having mild but regular contractions. I wanted her to check if there was any dilation and she estimated 2 cm. That was the first and last time she checked the rate of dilation throughout the entire labor that was about to follow. Fast forward, I think my pushing phase started around 9pm, April 13th. I wasn’t really aware of the time. I didn’t give birth until 2.15am, April 14th, exactly on my baby’s estimated due date. I had a long, tiring pushing phase. I was so excited when the painful dilation contractions were finally over and I could feel the pushing sensations overwhelm me. I thought this is it, the end is so near. I wasn’t patient, I pushed very hard along with each contraction, until I hit exhaustion. My midwives kept feeding me date molasses by the spoonful. They had me try different positions. I drank herbal tea sweetened with a lot of honey. About three hours in, they decided it was best for me to transfer to the hospital where they could make sure everything was ok and maybe put me on some IV fluids to increase my energy. When I was told that there was a chance I could still have a natural labor, I didn’t object or try to fight it. There was still some hope. This was something I didn’t prepare myself for at all throughout my entire pregnancy. I thought there’s no way I’d accept a transfer. That was too embarrassing and disappointing, being such a strong supporter of natural childbirth, someone who believed that birth was supposed to be easy. But I managed… I did it, and I feel stronger, not weaker. That’s one more thing I know I could get through in life. Of course I’m thankful to God first and foremost for a positive outcome, for a healthy child, for the strength He granted me through that humbling experience, and for such loving and supportive family members and caregivers who were with me throughout my labor. When we got to the hospital, they couldn’t find anything wrong with my daughter’s position. She was in the perfect position, and everyone was so supportive as I pushed and pushed. One of the obgyn’s was eager to see if she could use forceps or vacuum suction despite telling me that I was very close to meeting my baby and I was doing just fine. Thankfully the only thing they did was carry out an episiotomy. My daughter came out screaming right away and she was placed right into my arms. A few minutes after, I was already telling my midwife who was there with us that I’d be glad to work with them again for my next pregnancy. My family who was there with me still find that funny. I was laughing and happy.
A few days in, and I started to question what happened. What went wrong? Why couldn’t I push out my small baby? Wasn’t childbirth supposed to be a normal physiological process of bringing into being and coming into being? What did I do wrong? I was told that maybe I was just small and that my next birth would be easier.
No one told me that I wasn’t active enough during my pregnancy, that I did repetitive tasks for too long, and that I had a terrible posture with my pelvis tucked in most of the time (because a misinformed yoga instructor that I followed for a while had said that tucking in the pelvis strengthened the core). Heck, I didn’t even know what a neutral pelvis is. What started this hours of research and reading through different blogs and articles was when I began questioning my midwife’s instructions to ‘kegel’. I don’t believe kegels are even useful in general but for the sake of the argument… weren’t kegels supposed to be helpful for peeing your pants? Well, I wasn’t peeing my pants and actually, I was having trouble urinating altogether. I developed a self-diagnosed urethral prolapse postpartum (the symptoms appeared just as I began kegeling), and I was also experiencing hypertonicity of the pelvic floor muscles. Contrary to popular belief, kegels don’t help prolapse but worsen it. I don’t want to get too deep into this because I’m not intending on writing about my postpartum healing. I will write about that in a different post, but right now I want to just focus on what I believe I was missing during pregnancy that impacted my labor.
I should mention that I didn’t have a problem with my diet during pregnancy. I think I am generally a healthy eater. I didn’t gain a lot of weight. I was still at 110 lbs by the end of my first trimester, and I gained about 30 lbs by the end of my pregnancy. I had a relatively easy pregnancy with no nausea. I did experience fatigue during the first trimester and slept a lot. And as I said, I was not the active person that I normally was prior to moving to Michigan pregnant or not. I stood a lot and sat a lot, and that was about it. I remember experiencing this pain in my back on the right when I was about 5.5 months pregnant that would prevent me from sleeping restfully. At about 6-7 months of pregnancy, I was visiting family in Cyprus and I also spent the last week of the 4-week visit in Istanbul where my husband and I walked quite a bit. The pain was gone within a few days and it never came back again. I attributed it to the walking.
What I believe I needed for an easier labor may not apply to everyone. There might be people who don’t move an inch and experience smooth pushing stages, I don’t know. But I know lack of movement didn’t help me. It didn’t help me emotionally either. I’m so happy being able to walk here in Istanbul and not need a car. I try to walk as much as possible every time I visit Cyprus too and benefit from the clean air. I learned a lot about myself and my body from my first pregnancy, labor & postpartum, and I hope that next time will be different.
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