My Second Childbirth & Postpartum

I was 10 days past my estimated due date, frustrated and tired that I was still pregnant, having expected to give birth a very long time ago, when I felt the first contractions around 2 a.m. in the morning. I had gone to bed around 11 p.m. At first I didn’t realize it was a real contraction and I went back to sleep after using the restroom. I woke up again about 15 minutes later and that’s when I realized I was in labor. I texted my husband who was at the time in Istanbul telling him to start looking for tickets. I didn’t want to make the same mistake as I did the first time, not taking the time to rest before the long labor ahead. I texted my mom a few minutes later too informing her I was in early labor and that I didn’t need anything at that moment and that I was going to try to go back to sleep. She joined me in bed not much later. I was able to doze off and on between the contractions, breathing mindfully through them. I used my small Sweet Marjoram sample to help me relax and go with the flow. A couple of hours later, I got up to pray Fajr  and felt like this might be the last prayer for a while. After texting my grandmother to ask for her prayers, she decided to walk up to our house to join us. Soon later, everyone was awake except for my 19-month-old daughter.

A day earlier, I had had it with the built up emotions. I needed to cry for a long time, and I did. Unable to put my agitated daughter to nap, I came downstairs furiously, left her with my mother, grandmother and sister who were cleaning some dried Moringa seeds, walked out the door and found a spot near the Myrtle bush heavy with her berries, behind our large walnut and olive trees, and let it all out. (I managed to eat a couple of berries as I sobbed too). I tried to reason in my head what I was exactly crying about, and I didn’t have a clear reason. I was simply frustrated, physically and emotionally tired, and scared. I didn’t know what to expect, both in regards to how my birth was going to take place and the postpartum experience. It wasn’t going to be my first time but I knew every time is a different experience. Every time a child is welcomed in to the family, the family gets permanently re-configured. I had, on multiple occasions during my second pregnancy, felt that I was not ready for a second child. I was dreading the unknown. After some minutes of letting my tears flow freely, my grandmother approached me. Long story short, after some discussion, she told me I needed to have stronger faith in that God knew exactly what I wanted and needed as an outcome of this upcoming birth and postpartum and that He would not leave me alone. She told me I should pray that His hands would be above theirs and that I’d be protected by His angels. It was a comforting conversation to say the least. For the longest time during this pregnancy, I entertained the idea of having an undisturbed birth, dreading the idea of going to the hospital. I imagined that I would have to argue and fight during labor and thought of all the unnecessary routine interventions that are done during and after labor. I did not want any of them.

After having a small breakfast around 6.30 a.m., we decided to call the obgyn and tell her that I was in labor. She said she would call the hospital and notify them that I was coming and when I’d arrive, she’d join soon after. We decided I’d be leaving with my mother and grandmother, and everyone else would remain home. We left the house around 7-7.30 a.m., my contractions now much nearer. The roads were open, there was no traffic, and the ride was a lot more comfortable than I was fearing it to be. I sat at the back seat with towels covering the seats just in case my water broke during the ride, (or even better in case I gave birth) facing the back of the car on my knees, holding onto the headrest. I was almost falling asleep between the contractions, and during the contractions I was very careful to let my facial muscles including my jaw to relax. Instinctually low moans were what I found to help me through as well. I was very much in the moment. On the contrary, I was a lot more quiet during my first birth but I was also a lot more tense. During the other half of the ride, I had to change positions because my legs were numb so I leaned against the couch sitting somewhat sideways and held onto the handle above the window. When we got to the hospital I told the nurses and the midwife that I was Dr. so-and-so’s patient. One of the midwives asked if I was even having contractions and I told her yes. I think we got there around 8.30 a.m. A nurse led us into my room, the room I thought I’d be giving birth in. It had a bed, a couch, a wardrobe and a bathroom with a shower. After leaving my stuff inside the room she led me to another room where I thought she’d just have me change into a hospital gown. Instead I was tied onto a fetal monitor and for a short while panicked that I would have to remain that way until I gave birth. The nurse didn’t do much explaining. I was clearly not happy though and after some clarification, I understood that she needed a few pages of a graph reading of my contractions and baby’s heartbeat. Obviously I didn’t think that was necessary and it was not a comfortable position at all, but I was glad it was temporary. After she was done and I got into the hospital gown, I labored in the room I was initially taken to. Soon after the obgyn walked in. I tried to say hello but I was in the middle of a contraction. When she heard the accompanying moans I heard her encouraging me to continue that way. She checked how far I was dilated, and I was surprised to hear her say ‘nearly there’. They did another but much shorter fetal monitoring. I was then told that my membranes would be artificially ruptured once dilation was complete. I was moved into another room, the labor room, a very small room with a laboring couch/bed of some sort that I was not familiar with, two midwives and the nurse in addition to the obgyn. At that point I was fully dilated and the obgyn proceeded to break my water. Then she  told me she’d like me to walk around holding onto the IV stand to allow gravity to do its thing and encourage the baby to descend into the birthing canal. They would later transfer me onto the birthing bed last minute when the baby was close to crowning. I started laboring in that way. Soon transition hit me and it was so intense, so much more intense than my first labor – I did not fight it, instead I allowed myself to deal with it however way felt best instinctually. I found myself being very vocal with each contraction and I found that standing with knees slightly bent felt best. I could barely breathe between the contractions because of how fast they came and went. I was so looking forward to the fetal ejection reflex (FER) because during my first labor, that was the most relaxed phase for me. I could talk between the pushing contractions, I was no longer in pain, it was coming to an end. But this time, I wouldn’t be getting a break. When the FER kicked in, I found that I was still overwhelmed with how powerful each contraction was. My body was pushing with full force and I couldn’t help but push along. I couldn’t breathe mindfully through them, I couldn’t breathe my baby out the way I hoped I would. I was overtaken by this incredible force of bringing a soul into the worldly realm.

They transferred me onto the birthing bed, legs up in stirrups, and the obgyn accurately predicted a nuchal cord because she felt the baby was taking a while. (Well, he was actually MUCH faster than my first who didn’t show any signs of difficult positioning or nuchal cord or whatnot). My mother was allowed into the laboring room last minute. She stood behind me and rubbed fresh sage near my nose during every push while she called onto Mary the Mother of Jesus, whose birth story is mentioned in the Qur’an like no other. At around 11.20 a.m. my baby was finally born and placed onto my skin. His purplish face began to change into his pale skin color almost immediately and he let out some small cries. I felt exhausted. I was trembling from exhaustion. I didn’t feel the euphoria I felt with my firstborn. I remembered how my mom would tell us that by the time she was done with laboring, she wouldn’t want to hold us from the amount of exhaustion she felt. I always thought that was so strange because when I saw my firstborn, I forgot everything. The 30-hour labor that left me sleepless, the 5 hour pushing, the transfer to the hospital from my dream home birth. I could barely hold him. I gently rubbed his back before they took him from me to carry out the routine procedures on newborns. I can’t remember if they clamped his cord before or after placing him on me. I do remember my mom attempting to ask them to delay it but everything happened so fast, and I just remember his precious cord blood splashing onto his body.

Fast forward, everything developed fine after that. I managed to avoid an episiotomy and had a second degree tear. The obgyn also allowed me to birth the placenta without manually removing it like they had done in my previous birth. We haven’t had any issues related to hemorrhaging, nursing, milk supply and so on. I left the hospital later in the evening. They had already prescribed me a bunch of medication that I was to get from the pharmacy including antibiotics, pain killers and uterotonics – none of which I wanted to use. I was given antibiotics during labor. Before I could leave the hospital, they injected me with a dose of pain killers and some uterotonic medication. I wanted to avoid getting any more of that. I took Shepherd’s Purse tincture in my water after labor to decrease the likelihood of hemorrhaging. I also took Arnica homeopathy to reduce swelling. I had prepared a combination of Calendula and St. John’s Wort oils with Helichrysum essential oil prior to giving birth and I began using that on the laceration. After a couple of days, I began belly binding using the bengkung method. I started drinking nettle tea and enjoying the broths that my grandmother kept sending over to nourish and restore my depleted reserves. I felt less sore in comparison to how I felt after my first labor but my afterpains which lasted for 2-3 days were definitely more prominent. Albeit not as careful as I needed to be and not as easy as it seems with a demanding toddler, I tried to remain laying down for most of the time and avoided strenuous work.

St. John’s Wort oil – the picture quality doesn’t do the crimson color of the infused oil justice

This time I favored postpartum help over choosing the birth that I prefer and feel safest with. Yes, it’s possible that just like last time, I would have arranged for the birth that I want and ended up not experiencing it. Some things in life are not in our hands and I had to accept that. I was forced to accept that twice in regards to childbirth and to let go of hard feelings. That’s not to say that I don’t advocate for women to demand what they want and feel safe with most in regards to their birthing experience – I do whole-heartedly – or that I find it acceptable for professional care providers to violate women’s bodies, that of their newborn’s, and their wishes. I didn’t want to be on IV fluids that left my hands swollen and pierced at three different locations,  I didn’t want the antibiotics, I didn’t want to be deprived of water and food during labor, I didn’t want my water to be broken, I didn’t want the fundal pressure they applied while pushing, I didn’t want to have to change positions in the middle of pushing, I didn’t want to be coached to push, I didn’t want my baby’s cord to be clamped prematurely, I didn’t want any of the drugs I was given following birth. But it is what it is, and I also had to get over this idea that our birthing experience – both as the mother and the child – is what shapes who we are primarily. It is an important experience that plays part in who we are, but it’s one out of many. I also want to mention a few notable positives, other than the obvious such as the fact that I had a healthy, beautiful baby that I’m increasingly falling in love with every day and can’t wait to watch grow up and become friends with his older sister and that I also am in ‘one piece’. The doctor, midwives and nurse were all cheerful during the labor. For the most part, they let me be as vocal as I want and get in whatever position I wanted without making me feel like I was being watched. They didn’t say anything hurtful to me during labor, which should not even be a matter of concern for a laboring woman but unfortunately happens often. I also heard the doctor and one of the midwives ask the nurse if this was her first time witnessing a natural birth i.e. one that didn’t involve an epidural or one that was not a C-section. She said it was her second time and that the first time she actually left the laboring room before the birth ended. Later when I called her into the room to tell her that we were preparing to leave the hospital, she told me she thought my labor had went by very well. I laughed and asked if she wasn’t traumatized, because it might have appeared too intense for her liking. She told me, not at all. It made me happy to hear that, especially since it was pretty much the only natural birth she had experienced (as natural as could be in a Turkish Cypriot hospital with the craziest C-section rates of all time).

Having said that, I still hope to experience a home birth some day… They say third time’s the charm 🙂

Till then.



Labor: What I’d Do Differently

A few months ago I wrote a blog post on what I’d do differently during my first pregnancy. This second pregnancy, I have been learning even more about my body and I find myself re-analyzing my experience with childbirth. In my post about pregnancy, I talked about how I believe lack of movement negatively impacted my ability to birth my baby easily. I still believe that’s true, in my case. It definitely had an impact. Also when I listed what I had been doing to prepare for labor, or thought I was doing, I included tawakkul which is reliance upon God. I have come to realize that in reality, I was relying on God to do what I wanted and not what could come to be. And as I said, it didn’t turn out the way I wanted. At all. But I am nevertheless very thankful as in the end everything was OK, and I learned and am still learning a lot from my experience. This time around, I am a lot more prepared for a wide range of possible outcomes and the matter of fact is… I actually have no idea how my birth will turn out to be. Sure, I found a doctor in Cyprus who respected my wish of not having any ultrasound scans done. I got good feedback from several friends and acquaintances who birthed with her. She is one of the very few ob-gyns in Cyprus who is pro-natural birth, and the private hospital she mostly serves at is at a nice part of the island. But I’m not attached to the idea that I am going to absolutely birth with her, at the hospital etc. I could end up having a very quick labor before I reach the hospital, I could end up with her, or I could end up having a C section. Whatever. And frankly, I am not bothered by any of those possibilities. As long as my baby and I are not hurt in the process, emotionally or physically, and it happens in the best possible manner depending on the circumstances. And that’s what I am relying on God for this time. So I am going to make sure I do my best to prepare my mind and body for the hard work ahead, I will talk to the doctor next time I see her about some wishes that I would like to be respected for during and after labor (what they call birth plan), and that’s pretty much it in terms of tying my camel and trusting in God. At least for now. Before I wrap up this part of my post and get to the part that it was meant to be on (sorry for the initial ramble), I’m going to share with you this article that I read recently. It really resonated with me. I don’t know if it’s expecting too much of caregivers and especially midwives who in my experience are usually more open minded than your modern medical obgyn, but I didn’t feel like I was prepared for the vast possibilities that come with childbirth. Other than caregivers, I think some women and authors on natural birth also forget to at least put a footnote saying that it’s OK if your labor turns out harder or different than you expected for a reason that isn’t very self-evident and you’re not a failure even though birth is a natural physiological process. We don’t live like our ancestors anymore. Unfortunately much of modern living has took a toll on our bodies and what we are naturally meant to be capable of doing from the way we move physically to our emotional and mental state to our eating habits, and things just aren’t as simple anymore. And even then, birth just like any other major event in life can have different outcomes. Birth is not black and white.

So I was told about hypnobirthing way before I got pregnant from people who had firsthand experience with it but I never dwelled into it because I had the notion, from all that I had been reading from natural birth advocates, that birth was just going to happen and I didn’t need anything extra – I had it all ‘figured out’. Looking back at my first labor, I think I had an incredible amount of tension. I didn’t do any controlled breathing, I had a very tense jaw the whole time (a relaxed jaw equals a relaxed pelvis). My midwife reminded me only once to relax my jaw and that was it. And after dilation was over, I pushed non-stop with every pushing surge which was exhausting and in my case, useless. It makes so much more sense that trying to relax as much as possible during labor and at least during the pushing phase helps labor progress more efficiently. Deep and controlled breathing slows down the heart rate, increases oxygen flow into muscles, and counteracts the adrenaline rush that can occur during labor and even lessen the amount of pain that is experienced. Instead of running away from the inevitable process, you embrace it. I am already incorporating some practice breathing into my day which is essential if you plan on trying to relax through breathing during labor.

Another thing that I wish I had done during labor, which is not really major but just a small thing that I think would have helped, is at least having had a couple of warm showers. I am generally physically tense let alone during labor, and I know a relaxing shower wouldn’t have hurt at all.

Finally, tying back to what I mentioned initially about tawakkul and acceptance, I think that’s not unrelated to the labor process. I think even during labor, I had to be more accepting and embracing and hopefully I’ll remember to do that and all the rest this time around. And include some essential oils. Yes.

Also if you appreciate art, check out this page for some gorgeous mixed media birth art that I just came across and found pleasing to look at. This is not an affiliate link, I just happened to stumble upon it.