Alhamdulillah, last new moon as we entered Rabi’ al-Thani 1444 a new moon was born. We had a baby girl half past noon and we named her Zahra. Commonly translated as ‘flower’, it also means the exquisite and illuminated one. It was my first home birth and it reminded me of my second birth experience in many ways, from the fact that they were both born on a new moon, the general feelings around the pregnancy especially towards the end, length of pregnancy and how my labor started, how long labor lasted and the very intense, overpowering fetal ejection reflex (which was not as overwhelming with my other two daughters). Of course, this birth was a lot more hands-off having taken place at home (I recognize that’s not always the case even at home births), with no routine protocols set in place. I very much liked and enjoyed my midwife’s company during my pregnancy and while that did not guarantee that I would feel the same way at birth, I really appreciated her demeanor and support at birth too. After birth, everything went as smoothly as I could have wished for. The kids were ecstatic and they’ve been in love since.
As this pregnancy was the most I’ve been away from my family, with only one visit from my sister who had to leave before the birth, I really craved being cared for, something as simple as my mom or my grandmother making me a warming stew. I felt a void and yearned for a somewhat motherly nurturing. This might have been why I didn’t even want to meet a much younger midwife in my area after having met my much older midwife initially. It is also why I so appreciated the compassion I felt from a much older Ayurvedic postpartum doula and massage therapist whom I saw several times for prenatal massage. I almost felt bad getting that care from her and asked her once who cares for her. She said that she feels cared for by caring for others, and that when she gives a massage she has to remain as calm and grounded in her body as possible because tension in her body would translate to more tension in her client’s body.
While it’s been stressful in some ways, realistically speaking, it has also been a smooth transition overall and I have also gained a new appreciation for my husband. While this is not our first child and he’s always been there for each immediate postpartum period (with varying lengths), this is a new experience for him in that he’s had to take on a lot more responsibilities with no one else present to take them on. We also hired a traditional postpartum doula, a wonderful Mexican woman, for 4 days in the first week following birth. That was an invaluable investment and I would have hired her for even more days if it were feasible.
In the meantime I haven’t left the house in 2 weeks and I don’t plan to leave for as many days as possible in the first 40 days, especially not to go grocery shopping. While I miss taking the older kids out myself and getting on with my life as normal, I know that once this sensitive period is over I will be back at it inshaa Allah, so there’s no rush…
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.
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 🙂