childbirth, Dan

An Ode to the Other Half, Part Two: Birth Partner

In this series, I’m giving my partner, Dan, his due as a fantastic partner at all stages of our journey to parenthood. Today, I’m going to talk a little about how he prepared for and participated in the birth of our child. I can honestly say that Elliot’s birth would not have been the largely positive experience that it was without Dan’s help.

I’ve already told the story of Elliot’s birth and how I used my Hypnobabies techniques to keep calm and mostly comfortable during labor, especially before getting an epidural. I’ve also talked about how my first epidural started failing on one side because it was improperly placed and I had to have it redone while experiencing the height of pitocin contractions. But that’s the middle. Let’s start at the beginning.

First of all, though he was dubious about its effectiveness, Dan was always willing to participate in the Hypnobabies training. He took to the scripts and the cues right away, and I felt confident that he would be able to help, which made the anticipation of labor less scary. We checked into the hospital at 4pm the day of my induction and he stayed with me for the entirety of my hospital stay, which was almost 36 hours of labor, a c-section, and four additional days, sleeping on couches and staying up all night to soothe the baby so I could rest and recuperate as much as possible.

When we first got into the perinatal room, he helped figure out the TV options while I chatted with the nurse, and later on, he made sure that I could comfortably eat while mostly stuck in bed because of the monitors. Other than the time he spent sleeping the first night (I was pretty oblivious to my increasing contractions while on Cytotec, so I let him sleep as much as he could), he was engaged in the process and made sure to touch base with the nurses to know what was going on. He also was in charge of bringing my cold snacks to the nurses’ station to get them refrigerated, and then fetching gelatin and broth for me later on. I ate a lot of gelatin after we moved to labor and delivery.

But Dan truly started to shine when my contractions became more intense on pitocin. I had a private conversation with him that I was thinking I should get an epidural before I mentioned it to anyone else, and he supported me, while also encouraging me to wait until I talked to the doctor and the doula again, so that I didn’t regret getting it too early. When I did finally decide it was time for the epidural, he was right there with me, helping me relax through the contractions while I had to sit up for the anesthesiologist.

And when that epidural failed and I didn’t think I could keep going on, he was right there with me. I’m so glad our doula was able to snap the picture above of him comforting me through what would turn out to be the worst part of my labor experience. When I had to sit up for the second epidural placement, he was right there with me, helping me with relaxation cues to help me through the contractions while staying still for the epidural. I honestly don’t know if I would have been able to do it without him.

Eventually, we decided that it was time to move to the c-section, and I was so glad they allowed him in with me. I had to go in first, to get prepped, and then they showed him in. I was having really bad shakes from the spinal and it was making me anxious, which made me shake even worse. As soon as Dan came in and sat next to me, he started using Hypnobabies cues and some tricks the doula showed him to help me relax. Even though he claims it didn’t look like it made a difference, I felt much more relaxed and felt like I was shaking less.

Once Elliot came out (greeting the world with a fountain of urine!), Dan was the one to cut the cord and held him the rest of the time the doctors were finishing up. And once I was back in recovery, doing skin-to-skin time, Dan and my nurse made sure to watch us so that I didn’t have to worry about feeling drowsy from the effects of the anesthetic (and over 36 hours of labor and surgery with very little sleep!).

Throughout our hospital stay and the weeks after, he was the one who made my recovery possible. When I had trouble picking up Elliot because of my incision, he reminded me that most people who have abdominal surgery are told not to lift anything, rather than “nothing heavier than the baby,” so that as long as I had him to help, he would do the lifting. Every night when Elliot woke up to nurse, Dan was right there to pick him up out of the bassinet and hand him to me. Sometimes, Dan is better at soothing him to sleep than I am!

His quiet resilience and willingness to help with everything that was possible for him to do made it possible for me to rest and recover from my surgery, while his emotional support has helped me through some of the mentally toughest moments I’ve had. I feel lucky to have such good support and know Elliot feels lucky to have such a good dad.

[photo by Jenny Corbett]

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childbirth, Hypnobabies

Elliot’s Birth Story

So it’s been over two weeks since Elliot was born (and actually three weeks since this birth story begins!), but I think it’s time for me to share my story. As I’ve written about in the past, I prepared for my birthing time by doing the Hypnobabies home study course, so I wanted to make a note here that I don’t use Hypnobabies language throughout this story. If you’re currently taking a Hypnobabies class and are looking for stories, I’d highly recommend having a strong Bubble of Peace before diving into this one. It’s definitely a “change of plans” story. If you don’t know what any of that means, don’t worry about it.

Anyway, I supposed my birth story starts at 9:15 a.m. on Wednesday, December 26th, when I had an appointment with an OB at my practice for a cervical check. Because I was still only at about 1 cm dilated, I was all set to keep my appointment at the hospital that evening to start “ripening,” where they would give me Cytotec to help my cervix ripen and hopefully start the labor process.

We went home, double-checked that we’d taken care of everything we needed to for the next few days, and I made myself a nice, big lunch. Then, we packed our hospital bags into the car and headed to the hospital around 3pm. We got there around 3:40 and were in a room shortly after 4. I changed into a gown and got settled into the room. We were in the High-Risk Perinatal Center for the evening, not a Labor & Delivery room, so the room was different than the ones we’d seen on our tour.

Then, we met our first nurse, who got me set up with a saline IV lock and the monitors for the baby’s heart rate and my contractions. Around 6 p.m. I got my first dose of Cytotec. Now, I know there’s some controversy around Cytotec, and I don’t want to get into that. Suffice to say, I had a good experience and trust that my doctors chose it for good reasons. I was initially a bit concerned because I had used Cytotec for my missed miscarriage the year before and it had had some unpleasant side effects, but the dose used for ripening was much, much smaller. Rather than 4 pills all at once, I got 1/4 of a pill every 2 hours, so that even after 8 doses and 14 hours, I’d still taken half what I’d taken all at once for the miscarriage. And I had no adverse side effects.

Unfortunately, because I had doses every 2 hours, it was difficult to get much sleep. But I was allowed to eat dinner (and breakfast and lunch the next day!), so I ordered some food, checked out the movies they had, and settled in for the night. After my second dose, the nurse pointed out that I was having some “good contractions” according to the monitors. At this point, I didn’t really feel anything. I did a Hypnobabies Fear-Clearing track and tried to relax, as I was still having a bit of anxiety about pitocin and labor the next day.

A little after midnight, and my fourth dose, I had a bit of excitement when the baby’s heart rate dipped during one of those contractions. I had been turned away from the computer screen (laying on my left side, which will become relevant later on), so I didn’t realize I was having a contraction and was completely shocked when three nurses came in to stabilize me. My main night nurse decided she wanted to put me on IV fluids at that point, so she hooked up to my saline lock. After that, I put an episode of Great British Bakeoff on my iPad and then dozed off until my next dose of Cytotec.

From about 2-6 a.m., I attempted to sleep in between doses, which was made more difficult by the fact that the baby was really good at running away from the monitors, or just kicking them off my belly, so I was constantly interrupted by the nurse coming to put them back into place and get the signal back. It was particularly frustrating because I could feel the kid moving the entire time, so I knew things were fine. Around 7 a.m., I ordered breakfast and had Dan (who had been sleeping for most of the night on the couch in the room with me) make me a cup of tea. Around 9 I got my last dose of Cytotec, and at 11 a.m., the doctor checked me and declared that I was at 2-3 cm dilated and ready to move to L&D for pitocin.

At this point, I was sort of feeling the contractions, though they definitely felt more like “pressure waves,” as the Hypnobabies language suggested. The doctor said that I could get off the monitors until I was moved, so we took the opportunity to walk up and down the hallway a little. I also ordered some lunch, which came 15 minutes before we moved to the L&D room. Not knowing how soon they would want to start pitocin, I opted to scarf my cheeseburger and mashed potatoes before moving down the hall to the L&D room.

The L&D room was huge compared to the perinatal room. I joked that it looked like a yoga studio. I was a little disappointed that being induced with pitocin meant that I had to be tied to monitors and I could take advantage of all that room. The nurse tried to get me a wireless monitor, but the one available was already in use. While we were waiting in the room, I did my “Your Birthing Time Begins” track. At 1:30 p.m., they started pitocin, starting at 2 units and increasing it every so often. I did another fear-clearing session after starting pitocin. I felt the pressure waves becoming more intense, increasing particularly after they increased the pitocin (although I didn’t alway notice when they increased me). I listened to my Birthing Day Affirmations and let the doula know that she should probably come to the hospital.

Around 3, I felt a little trickle and assumed I peed a little, but at 4-ish, I went to the toilet and felt a gush, which had some blood in it. When I mentioned the previous trickle, the doctor checked the pad on my bed and said it looked like my water had broken. The doula arrived, the doctor came in to check on me, and my water broke at the same time, so it felt a bit hectic for a minute. My pitocin was around 10 at that point, so I had already talked to Dan about probably being ready for an epidural soon.

When Jenny, our doula, got there, we discussed the epidural and when the doctor checked me and said I’d progressed to 4 cm, I decided it would be good to get the epidural now so I could get some rest, rather than waiting until I was exhausted. Of course, the whole time, Dan was helping me with my Hypnobabies cues, and when Jenny got there, she helped, too. I’m pretty sure Dan picked up on some of the specific ways she helped me stay relaxed through contractions, which were actually starting to feel pretty painful at this point.

A little less than an hour later, the anesthesiologist came in and did the epidural and I had to lie flat for 20-30 minutes to let it start working. I think I actually got a little sleep at this point. Then, I moved to my side with my leg up on a peanut ball to try to encourage the baby to descend (I was dilating and softening, but he was still at -2 station). After a bit, I noticed I was starting to feel pain from each contraction localized in my left hip. We thought maybe it was the epidural pooling because I was on my right side, so I switched sides. Well, at this point, we started realizing that laying on my left side was something the baby didn’t like because he had a few heart rate decelerations. I also noticed that the pain in my hip was getting worse, not better, and starting to spread across my body.

I mentioned that I thought my epidural might not be working, and the nurses tried pushing the button to give me a little surge of medicine. That didn’t help. At this point, my contractions are coming back in full force. They’d also been increasing the pitocin, so by the time it became clear my epidural was failing after only a couple hours, I was at the maximum dose. They called in an anesthesiologist, who tried some of the same things as the nurses in terms of giving me a boost of medicine, including injecting a dose directly into the epidural line. This sent an icy wave down the right side of my body, but I felt no relief on the left. I was probably pretty close to the pitocin equivalent of transition because I was shaking and crying. This couple of hours was the worst of the entire experience, and I was honestly very close to begging them to just take the baby out however they could, but Dan kept me calm and helped me through the experience. Eventually, the anesthesiologist came in with an ice cube and tested my feeling. When I jumped at the coldness when he put the ice cube on my right hip, he said it was time to redo the epidural, at about 9:30 p.m.

I didn’t think I was going to be able to sit up and hold the position necessary for the epidural a second time, while going through these worse contractions, but the combination of Dan being awesome and the anesthesiologist being extremely quick made it happen. And it was ah-maaaaa-zing. It did take a few minutes to really take effect, but I swear I instantly felt the edge taken off. And then I was able to rest.

Unfortunately, between 2 and 3 a.m., the doctor checked me again, and apparently I had been stalled at 7-8 cm with the baby still at -2 station for several hours. Also, the baby kept having increasing distress when I lay on my left side to try to encourage the baby to drop. Apparently, this was particularly scary for Dan because he just saw the monitors and, like the nurses, worried something was seriously wrong. I didn’t realize how worried everyone was because 1.) drugs and 2.) I could feel the baby moving the whole time so I just assumed he was fine.

At about 3 in the morning on Friday, the doctor sat down to discuss “options,” given that the baby wasn’t descending. I asked her “Just to be clear, is this a c-section conversation?” and she said yes. We discussed it with Dan and Jenny and Jenny suggested that, while there were exercises that she thought could help the baby engage better (he was slightly off-kilter and his skull was crammed up against a bone in my pelvis), they all involved lying on my side, which seemed to be a no-go for the baby. So I decided that it would be best to proceed with the c-section now, rather than waiting until it was actually an emergency.

I had to wait for an operating room for a little over an hour, but by 4:20 a.m., I was in the operating room. Dan joined me soon after and helped me stay calm. I didn’t realize how much the anesthesia would make my arms shake, and having Dan there helped me feel calmer, even though he says he didn’t notice me shaking any less. The c-section experience was a little surreal. I definitely felt pressure and pulling, but nothing even remotely resembling pain. It probably helped that I have a lot of trust in my OB practice, so I was confident this was the right decision and that they would take care of me, so I didn’t have any regrets or disappointment about having a c-section.

At 4:43 a.m., on Friday, December 28th, Elliot was born, via c-section. He came out crying and peeing on everything. And when they lowered the opaque part of the drape to show him to me, I cried like I had when I first saw him on the ultrasound screen. My little boy was here and was doing great. He definitely got delayed cord clamping because there was a minute of laughing while he peed on the OB, the pediatrician, and a couple nurses. And then they called Dan over to cut the cord and hold him. I was exhausted and actually dozed off for a minute before jerking awake at some point.

A little after 5 a.m., I was wheeled back to the L&D room to recover and do skin-to-skin with Elliot. We got about 20 minutes of skin-to-skin and nursing before I allowed the nurse to take him for a few tests, and then he was brought back for at least an hour. I was so exhausted, but the nurse offered to sit with me and watch us so that I could keep him on my chest without worrying that he would roll off if I fell asleep. After a couple hours in recovery, we were taken up to the maternity room, where our postpartum journey began for real.

Well, this has already become quite long, so I’m going to stop there. I’ll talk about my c-section recovery, and how Dan was so key in helping me through the birth in later posts. But for now, that’s the story of my exciting, 30+-hour induction and c-section and the arrival of baby Elliot.

Exercise, pregnancy, Third Trimester

Exercise and Pregnancy: The Final Months

I’ve spoken earlier in my pregnancy about my exercise routine and how I’m incorporating that into my pregnancy. I managed to continue going to barre class about twice a week until the end of October, when I was about 34 weeks pregnant. Since then, I’ve continued to walk most days, and have tried to make time to do some yoga every week. I will admit, I did find it a bit more difficult to motivate myself to exercise since I stopped having the accountability and scheduling of the barre class. I mentioned in my weekly update that my doula has lent us a copy of the Spinning Babies Daily Essentials DVD to use for the last few weeks of my pregnancy and it’s definitely helped re-invigorate my workout routine.

So the first few weeks of November, when I officially cancelled my gym membership, I gave myself permission to be a little lazy. I mean, I still had to walk a fair amount, since I walk about 50 minutes, round trip, to get to and from work four days a week. And I tried to make sure I got in at least one more day per week of walking, usually our weekly trip to Vigilante Coffee. So I was still averaging over two miles per day of walking, though it was more like 3.5 miles five days a week, rather than a couple miles every day.

But after I got the Spinning Babies DVD, I made more of an effort to work on stretching and strengthening exercises from that DVD. The difference between that and my workouts before is that now I definitely see my goals as explicitly preparing for childbirth, rather than for general fitness. My doctor has even reminded me to walk for a half an hour every day, so I’m trying to make sure to fit in some walking time every day, even when I don’t walk to work. It helps that we have some lovely walking trails nearby.

And then, I do yoga and Spinning Babies exercises. I can do the full 35-minute Daily Exercises routine or the 28-minute yoga flow from the DVD when I have the time and energy, but I try to do a little every day, even if it’s just my favorite 3-4 exercises. And my Hypnobabies course actually recommends doing a small set of exercises everyday. So I do my pelvic tilts, squats, and butterfly stretch every day to keep my body supple and ready for childbirth, while windmills help release the lower back pain that has crept up as I’ve gotten bigger. Unfortunately, I had to stop doing forward-leaning inversions when my acid reflux got bad. But I notice that my body feels better when I do these exercises more consistently. Plus, I can still do my weekly lunchtime yoga class at work, since the instructor is a coworkers of mine and the class is small enough that she can tailor it to our needs.

In this way, I’m helping keep my body flexible and supple, and my mind quiet and prepared for the rigors of childbirth. I’m not going to be running any marathons soon, but I am preparing for the next endurance event on my schedule.

Hypnobabies, pregnancy

Hypnobabies Self-Study Course: Week One Recap

Well, I’ve finished my first week of the Hypnobabies self-study course at home, and I thought I’d share some of my thoughts thusfar. I’m finding the program really interesting, and I think it will be helpful for my childbirth experience, regardless of whether it’s the only comfort measure I use. Specifically, I’m finding that I really appreciate the daily relaxation and meditation break that the practice involves because a fair amount of my pregnancy has involved worry about both the pregnancy and the birth at the end. Week one is really more of an extended introduction to the Hypnobabies program, and to the idea of self-hypnosis in general. It’s interesting because the week one slides hint at things to come, but don’t really delve into the specific self-hypnosis techniques that you’ll learn later on.

The main takeaways from week one, for me, were the importance of focusing on positive birth experiences, retraining your mind to think of childbirth as a positive, empowering thing, and using the special Hypnobabies language around pregnancy and birth. It definitely seems hokey at first to call “labor” “birthing time” and “contractions” “birthing/pressure waves,” but as someone who has used meditation in the past, I understand the necessity to challenge and rewire your brain on a deeper level. And it’s nice for me, as someone who has anxiety, to take concrete steps towards reducing my anxiety around the idea of having to actually birth the baby at the end of this. I will say that I think the two hypnosis tracks from week one, plus the pregnancy affirmations track, would all be appropriate to use earlier on in your pregnancy. I think if I ever have another baby, I’d probably start listening to the three tracks from week one earlier on, and start the official course with week two later on in my pregnancy.

Joyful Pregnancy Affirmation:

Now, affirmations are seriously not my thing. But I was able to find a meditative space where they were helpful. Oddly enough, I’ve used mantra meditation in the past, but it was always in Sanskrit, so there was less involvement from my conscious/analytical mind when I repeated a mantra. It was merely a way to focus my mind and keep it from wandering. So by treating the pregnancy affirmations the same way, I found a kind of meditative benefit from them, except that rather than listening to them only while sitting in meditation, I would listen to them whenever I had 40 minutes to do so. I listened to them at work while eating lunch, while commuting, while falling asleep at night, and any other time I could snag a chunk of time. I definitely feel more calm and positive about the idea of giving birth after listening to them, even if I don’t always pay attention to every word. Similar to my comments about the positive affirmations in some of the Circle + Bloom meditations, there is a sense with these that you have to accept the positivity and not try to argue with it, which is easier if you’re not fully paying attention and analyzing them the whole time.

Your Special Safe Place: 

This was the first self-hypnosis track that I listened to during the program, and it’s really more of a guided meditation and visualization, although I imagine the visualization is going to come into play later on in the program when you get into the deeper hypnosis tracks. I enjoyed this track more than I thought I would, probably because I realized that my “special safe place” is actually a real place that I go semi-regularly and just makes me feel happy and relaxed. The photo above is from it: the deck of my in-laws’ lakehouse early in the morning when most everyone is still asleep and it’s very cool and quiet. So having a guided visualization to take me there was a profoundly relaxing experience during my pregnancy, especially since later pregnancy has made the 5-hour-plus drive to get there sound less appealing.

Easy, Comfortable Childbirth:

This hypnosis track is more of a guided deep relaxation, followed by an explanation of the benefits of the Hypnobabies course, in my opinion. I enjoyed the deep relaxation, and I could see how hearing the course material while in deep relaxation could help, but I’m pretty sure the main point of this track is to get you used to entering and being in deep relaxation to prepare you for the physical sensation of hypnosis later on. But it’s a nice way to relax, at least.

So that’s my recap of the first week of Hypnobabies home-study. I’ve already moved on to week two, as I realized that reading all the slides and course handouts on Sunday helps prepare me to more fully focus on the hypnosis recordings the rest of the week. I’ll check back in next week to let you know how it’s going.

Previous Hypnobabies Posts:

Starting the Program

Hypnobabies, pregnancy

Hypnobabies Self-Study: Starting the Program

So first of all, I wanted to start this by saying that I am not a die-hard “natural” (i.e., unmedicated) birth advocate. In fact, I went into my pregnancy fully accepting that I would probably end up getting medical pain relief. Now, as I learn some more stuff about options for pain relief, I’m starting to realize that I actually want to make more of an effort to avoid an epidural, but that’s neither here nor there. The main reason I started looking into unmedicated birth techniques was because, if everything goes as planned, I will certainly not have the option of having pain relief at the beginning of labor (I have heard that you can get an epidural before starting pitocin if you get induced, but for the most part, everyone starts labor unmedicated) and I don’t really want to be floundering because I just assumed that “epidural, please” was sufficient thought to give to pain in labor.

Second, if you’re familiar with Hypnobabies, you’ll notice I’m using “unapproved” language to refer to labor. That’s mostly because it’s the words that my general audience will be most familiar with. But more on that later.

I was given the suggestion of Hypnobabies from my doulas. They suggest it over other self-hypnosis techniques because they consider it a more complete course on childbirth. I found the technique of self-hypnosis intriguing because of my past experience with meditation and deep relaxation. I’m already familiar with a lot of the breathing and relaxation techniques used in hypnosis, so I figured it would be a pretty natural progression, plus I know I’m personally willing to accept that I can effect changes in my body through a mind-body connection. I chose to purchase the Hypnobabies self-study course because my doulas’ recommended class is pretty far away from me, and I know my husband tends to giggle when he hears the term “hypnobabies,” so I can’t really take him anywhere.

I purchased the class around 26 weeks pregnant, and recently started downloading parts of the course. I went ahead and went through the Introduction last week, and spent the weekend downloading the first week’s audio files, and started going through the course material this week. Starting at 28 weeks means that I will finish the six-week course around 34 weeks, giving me 3-6 weeks to maintain my progress. This week, I’m going to give my general impressions, mostly from the outside, after having read the introductory material and listened to a few audio tracks. Then, each week, I’ll do a recap of how I found the previous week’s work.

So the introduction is mostly an introduction to the structure of the course and the concepts behind self-hypnosis. Self-hypnosis involves putting yourself into a deeply relaxed state, where your subconscious mind is more suggestible to changes in your thinking about a specific topic, in this case childbirth. So Hypnobabies training ultimately aims to reset how your brain thinks labor will go. The idea is that you can change your thinking from assuming childbirth is a scary, painful thing, to thinking that it will be more manageable. From there, you also learn specific techniques to put yourself into a self-hypnotized state to help you cope with any parts of childbirth that are less than completely pleasant (i.e., painful). So when you go into labor, you can use self-hypnosis to get through specific contractions, while still being present mentally and able to interact with others between contractions.

The structure of the class is a bit more intensive than I expected. By way of comparison, if Circle + Bloom was a “get fit in 30 minutes a day” kind of program, Hypnobabies is a little more like meditative P90X. You will spend an hour or so each day listening to specific audio tracks, one that trains you in a specific self-hypnosis technique, and one track of birth affirmations. At least the birth affirmations don’t involve deep relaxation, so you can kind of listen to them any time (I like to listen to them at lunchtime at work). You also get a slideshow of each week’s lesson, which probably takes at least an hour to get through, if you do it all in one sitting. Personally, I’m going through one or two chapters per day of the weekly course slides right now. There is also a downloadable booklet that has an overview of the Hypnobabies techniques, plus a supplement specifically for the birth partner, which you can print out and take with you to the hospital (or wherever you give birth). It’s a lot of material, but you take at least six weeks to get through it.

One final note: Those of you who remember my post from last week about complaining about pregnancy might wonder how the positive thinking message of Hypnobabies meshes with my personal belief that you shouldn’t be afraid to complain about your pregnancy. Well, even the Hypnobabies material says that you should never consider that self-hypnosis requires you to ignore or overcome what you are currently experiencing. Yes, they want you to focus on positive feelings and thinking, but first you should accept where you are. Then, the self-hypnosis techniques can help you train your brain to help you move past fears and complaints, similarly to how cognitive behavioral therapy helps you move beyond anxiety. I actually find the techniques and affirmations pretty compatible with how I feel, given that they’re up front about the fact that you’re not actually expected to completely believe all the affirmations from the get-go. That’s the point of training for six week!

So that’s my first impression of starting Hypnobabies. Join me next week to see how my first week of the course went!