03 Encounters with Life

“If you only get one thing from prenatal yoga and it’s the skill to listen to your own body, this is a priceless tool for birth”. As a prenatal yoga teach and a doula I’ve been telling my student this for years, and I’ve always felt it to be true. I’ve attended numerous births and I’ve seen that those moments where women have instinctively paused and listened to their bodies, whether to move into a tub or request an epidural, have always resulted in positive birth stories. Throughout my own pregnancy it was important to me to cultivate this skill. As my body and energy level changed I did my best to allow my practice to slow with it, feeling ill and exhausted for the first three months I transitioned to practicing Yoga Nidra and sitting meditations, not wanting to give up on yoga but hearing that a physical practice was not what my body needed.

I felt extremely lucky when I heard Kristen would be holding Mindfulness Based Childbirth and Parenting course at Radiant Light Yoga Brussels during my third trimester. “Mindful Birthing: Training the Mind, Body, and Heart for Childbirth and Beyond” by Nancy Bardacke has been one of my favorite books about childbirth for years. I’ve seen numerous times the benefits my mindfulness practice has had on my own well-being and my interpersonal relationships, especially in times of high stress. Tailoring these skills to childbirth just made sense to me. Having the opportunity to sit down and learn how mindfulness skills and practice could be applied to birth, and talk to other expectant parents, was an invaluable experience, and the wisdom Kristen shared greatly influenced my birth.

I went into labor on the evening of the winter solstice, a week before my due date. I had thought my birth would be late, as most first births are, and was caught a bit off guard, not at first believing my water had broke at 11 PM. This ended up being just the first of many lessons in letting go of expectations I’ve had since becoming a mother. Planning a homebirth, our midwives had told us that if my water broke in the evening, as long as it was clear, to go to sleep till the contractions began or it was morning. My husband and I attempted to sleep but very quickly conceded that it was only making us anxious, and chose to snuggle watching comfort TV and doze together. By 5 AM the contractions were becoming regular and intense and I found myself moving into a child’s pose for relief. We decided it was time to call our midwives and the on call midwife came right over.

Our midwife sat with me for a while, talking with me between contractions and just holding my hand during them. She asked me if I wanted her to measure my cervix and I said yes, surely things were intense enough that I must be fully far along.

“Fully effaced and 2 CM” she told me. All I could hear was 2 CM. “That’s it?” I thought. Try not to focus on the number she reminded me, your body has made amazing progress already. I reminded myself of this through the next few contractions.

One of the things we had been joking about since we moved into our home was how the bathtub was just made for a homebirth. Jacuzzi-sized, I had told my husband I was giving birth in that tub the moment I saw it. I decided it was time to get in the tub. I’ve always loved being in water and had a feeling laboring in water would be good for me, and I was right. As soon as I got in the tub I felt like I could better connect with my body. My contractions started getting closer together, each time one came on I immediately flipped to my hands and knees, which felt more comfortable.

Needing something to focus on I remembered my mindfulness practice. I found exhaling into the water to blow bubbles provided sensations that allowed me to focus and stay in the present moment. Though the contractions were almost on top of each other, the whole time I tried to be mindful of the space I did have between each one. My doula gave me a foot rub and I allowed myself to enjoy it, as I did for the cold washcloth the midwife placed on my head and the Popsicle my husband brought me. I have a tendency towards anxiety but I was mindful of my thoughts drifting towards fear of what was coming and brought them back to my breath.

The tub was great till it was not. Suddenly I felt I had to get out. I made my way to the bed. “I feel like I need to push,” I told the midwife. “Then push,” she told me. I did the next few times I felt the sensation but it was tiring, I tried lying down but that made it worse. I paused, realized I needed to be semi-vertical to allow my body and baby to work with gravity but also needed the support of something to hold up my tiring body. I called for the ball and someone placed it on the bed for me to lie on.

From there things moved pretty fast. My body told me to push and I used my breath to breathe deep into that sensation, moving back and down with my baby each time. The midwife and then my husband told me they could see the baby’s head. “One more push and the head will be out “ the midwife told me. I felt as though I couldn’t breath, every muscle was engaged, let alone push. “One more push”, I told myself, “That is all you need to do right now”. Amazingly that push brought not just my baby’s head, but also his whole body out into the world.

With support I made my way onto a pile of pillows and got to meet me new little one for the first time. Pressed up against me I took all of him in. I enjoyed letting the cord continue to pulse, knowing it would be the briefest moment that I would be able to hold him in my arms while we were still physically attached.

I know I am very lucky to have had almost exactly the birth I wanted. In part that really was just dumb luck. In part, I also believe it was due to the fact that I did not get too attached to any one idea of how my birth “should” be. I knew births almost never go exactly as planned and that we are blessed to have modern medicine when we need it. My yoga and mindfulness practice really did have a huge role in my birth story. I’ve never felt as tuned in and present to the wisdom of my body as I did on that darkest of nights, bringing new light into the world.

-Emily Gold

Join Emily each week for classes at Radiant Light Yoga Brussels