By JP Morgan
“I’ve worked at the hospital for over 10 years, and I’ve never seen anything like this before. She is incredible.”
That was what the nurse said to me after she walked out of the delivery room at Cedars Sinai in March 2016. She was talking about my wife, the gorgeous small framed woman crouched on the floor, her eyes closed and breathing deeply with a soft face and giant round belly between her legs.
At around 5 am that morning, I woke up, found the bed next to me empty and saw that the light in the bathroom was on. My wife didn’t usually put the light on at night.
“Are you OK?”
She didn’t answer. I knew we were close, and so I jumped out of the bed and went into the bathroom. I found her relaxing in a warm bath. She looked over at me with a smile on her face.
“What are you doing?” I asked, assuming it was a false alarm and wondering why she was in the bathtub.
“I’m in labor,” she said softly.
“What? You are?! Wait, how do you know?”
“Because I’m having contractions.”
“Wait, are you sure?”
“Yes! That’s why I’m in the tub. It’s helping me relax.”
“Well, you look pretty relaxed!” I said, noticing that I had done a few absent-minded 360’s and was practically standing on my toes.
I grabbed my phone and called the doctor’s after-hours number. He called back in minutes, half-asleep.
“How far apart are the contractions?” he asked.
“About 3 minutes,” I said. “When should we go to the hospital?”
“A couple of hours ago,” he said. “Go now!”
Less than an hour later we were walking into the delivery ward at the hospital. We carried two bags, one for delivery and the other for the stay at the hospital after the birth. In my hands, I also carried printed copies of our Natural Birth Plan, as well as a sign for the door to my wife’s room, notifying everyone that “Hypnobirthing in Progress” and asking them to remain quiet.
We read through the documentation carefully, ticking off one box after another, denying all of the standard, but optional, processes for birth. No medications or painkillers, no vaccinations at birth, no this, no that. It was a long list, and I was glad to have toured the hospital in advance to know what was coming. We had done our research, and despite there being A LOT of information and decisions to make, there were no surprises. We came in knowing exactly what we wanted.
People have asked us why we didn’t just do a home birth, since we essentially did a home birth, but at the hospital. Our reasons were that it was the first time for both of us, we didn’t have any family or even close friends nearby yet, and we found a doctor that shared all the same values as we did. We do not disparage western medicine, but like taking the natural approach as much as possible. When it comes to the birthing process, from what we learned, most of what is natural has been removed from the process of birth in the West, especially in the USA.
For me, this was best evidenced by the nurse, who with over a decade of experience in the birthing ward at a major hospital in LA, said she had “never seen anything like this before”.
My wife’s contractions began to grow further apart once the doctor told us we should have left sooner. Jumping through all the administrative hoops during check-in at the hospital slowed the contractions even more. The sense of urgency and stress, my wife told me, were slowing the labor process. From what we’d learned at the natural birthing classes and through our doula, who was also my wife’s hypnobirthing coach, I knew that the more relaxed she was, the more comfortable she would be and the quicker the labor would unfold.
There wasn’t much I could do about the check-in process, but now that we were in the room, I put my focus on creating the space for her that she had envisioned. I dimmed the lights, moved furniture around to clear floor space, laid out yoga mats and put battery powered candles all around the room. I plugged in the aromatherapy machine, added lavender oils and played her birthing playlist through our Bluetooth speaker. While I did this, I watched my wife lying on the bed.
With her earbuds in, listening to her hypnobirthing recording and a small relaxed smile on her face, she just looked like she was meditating. Every few minutes she would extend slightly and purse her lips as her breath became more intentional, and then she would relax again. My role in the hypnobirthing was simply to encourage her with certain hypnotic commands that we had practiced together, leading up to the birth. She, on the other hand, had been practicing her breathing every day for over three months. I’d never seen her so committed to anything before (except maybe studying for her wine exams). Every evening she sat on the sofa with her eyes closed and her hands on her belly, just breathing.
That’s what it looked like on the outside. And this is what the nurse was referring to when she said she had “never seen anything like that before”. All the way through the labor, my wife turned away all offers for pain relief. No injections. No IV. No pills. Nothing. As far as it looked from the outside, all she needed was her breath. Once in awhile, she would moan, and her doula or I would encourage her with the words we had practiced. Sometimes, I’d also stroke her in a way we had practiced while saying a hypnotic word.
The approach she was practicing was to use language and relaxing sounds to create a reality inside her mind that birthing is a gentle and enjoyable process. The entire premise of this rests on the idea that birthing not only can be, but naturally is, a gentle and enjoyable process. We watched countless videos of women around the world in pure bliss while birthing babies, and so we knew that it was possible. The hypnosis was a way of undoing the ideas that our modern western culture had inculcated into all of us – that birthing is painful and unbearable.
One thing about my wife is that if she desires something in her heart, she always magically creates it. Watching her birth our son was pure magic.
When I tell this story, she always makes sure I don’t forget to mention that it did hurt the last few minutes, or so, and that she did scream when his head was coming out.
“It hurts! It hurts! I don’t want to finish! Push him back in!”, she said while I was staring wide eye-eyed at the mess of wet black hair on the purple head that was sticking out from between her legs.
True. It wasn’t fun for her right at the end, but from my perspective, the entire 12+ hours process had been so beautiful, that a moment of desperation hardly overshadowed her magnificence. She is British and very humble.
From watching my wife learn, grow and birth our son so peacefully and naturally, I honestly believe so many more women are capable of this.
Of course, being open to having support and relief, if absolutely necessary, is important, too. We weren’t against medical intervention if something had gone wrong. Hence why we were at the hospital! In a way, we were lucky, too. My wife had no complications. I do believe that many birth complications can be avoided with healthy and conscious preparation, but ultimately we can not control what happens. From what I saw, birth is all about surrender.
My wife surrendered to her body, she didn’t fight it. And the result was beautiful.