Breathing into birth by Jessica Blanchard

In preparation for delivery, my husband and I attended a birthing class with nine other expecting couples. The time came to watch a birthing video. Our eyes widened and mouths dropped. This was a video for a “Positive and Prepared” Childbirth experience. What we saw was far from positive. Women were screaming out in agony and pain. In the end the women did give birth, but I did not feel calm or very reassured by the presentation of birthing experience in the video. Anil and I reflected on the video after the class, wondering why women should even be shown images of painful, terrible childbirth experiences. I was fully aware that the experience would involve pain, but the process was also bringing a new being into this world. Put into this context, the pain is worth the magical outcome.

Shortly thereafter I learned about hypnobirthing from another expectant friend. The approach in hypnobirthing seemed very close to what I had started to build in my mind. Hypnobirthing questions the view that childbirth is an awful, painful experience, and tries to paint a rosier picture of birth. My husband found a video from Rosy birthing experience (insert link). This was the polar opposite of what we had seen in birthing class. The mother was calm, beautiful and serene through the whole experience. Was this for real? The hypnobirthing approach is to use the breath in different ways throughout labor to keep the body calm. I began to research the hypnobirthing approach, and discovered many similarities to yogic breathing.

I have studied yogic breathing, called pranayama, in Sanskrit for more than ten years. While not always successful, I try to establish a daily practice of sitting with my breath. During pregnancy this was especially challenging, because I was also in a full time internship and teaching yoga three mornings a week. Pranayama gives us many techniques using the breath to change the physical and emotional states of the body and mind. Intuitively I could feel that this was crucial to a positive birhting experience.

How did I use the breath in my own birth?

When trying to induce calm and relaxation in pranayama we exhale for longer. I used this very simple method of exhaling for as long as I could during the contractions. It wasn’t THAT easy. Keeping my focus on the breath became challenging as things got more intense.

My introduction to my birth came around 6:45pm when my water broke after dinner at Domenica’s restaurant. I had no contractions, although for around three days I did experience very bad hip pain. For the first time in 9+ months I didn’t feel like yoga was helping me very much. When my water broke, I was instructed by my midwife to return home, be calm and wait for contractions. Indeed, when I was able to focus on my body and get rid of external distractions, this happened. I needed to clear out my mind of its clutter first – sending emails to the teachers and feeling like things at the studio were covered. When I dimmed the lights, put on nice music, and focused on my breathing, contractions started to come. Anil and I tried to relax deeply to prepare for the hours to come.

I checked into the hospital around 11:30, and when checked by the nurses I was 2cm dialated. The nurse predicted that it would take one hour per cm to reach the full dialation at 10 cm. This meant at least 8 hours of labor. The midwife planned to come to the hospital later, as did my doula.

I kept up a pattern of breathing through the contractions. I would not talk too much, just enough to let my husband or mom know that i was having one. I would continue to breathe and try to relax my body each time. There was definitely a type of climbing and ascent when the contraction would get stronger and then slowly go away. We changed positions – I would walk with support from Anil, sit on a birthing ball, lay in bed. I was planning on having a water birth, however, we were instructed that I couldn’t get into the water until 5 cm dialation.

Around 3:30pm things intensified. The contractions were more painful. The nurse said that I should walk to try to speed up the process. I could not imagine this, but Anil supported me and we tried to walk in the room. I went to the bathroom and started to feel this intense downward pressure. It was like a big ball was pressing down on my pelvic floor.

I kept using the breath and tried to remain calm even though it was quite painful. The contractions had spaced out in frequency. I felt like my body was being taken over – as if this supernatural force was rocking my body each time. The feeling was I could not do anything against these forces greater than myself. The feeling was that I had to let things happen, and I succumed to this force.

At 3:30am I asked the nurses to check me, and surprise – I was 10 cm dialated! The nurses frantically started to prepare for birth and fill the tub. I got into the water. At this point the midwife had not arrived. My mom and Anil were nervous, even in my foggy state I could see my mom pacing the floor watching the door.

When the midwife arrived I was in the birthing tub and ready. She asked me “Jessica do you want to feel the baby’s head? This isn’t something that happens often in life.” I did, I was in a complete daze as I felt this slimy, hard surface at my pelvic floor. The midwife told me to go ahead and push if I strongly felt the urge.

When the next contraction came I pushed, and his head came out. I felt weak, but his body came out easily. And then this loud roar filled the room – he was crying! Esther put a wet, vernix-covered baby onto my chest. Here he was after months of waiting! I couldn’t believe it. I was worried about having to push more to deliver the placenta. When the umbulical cord stopped pulsating Esther helped my husband to cut it. Then baby was passed to mom and dad to hold. He was still screaming. Although the lights were dimmed, he had come into this world from the warm safe dark wet world he had known for nine months. I hadn’t yet delivered the placenta, but this came out easily.

I was spent physically and started to shake uncontrollably. It was over and Dylan was here. It was an amazing experience. Not without pain, but still amazing. Would I do it again? YES!

No question – I attribute my quick labor to my ability to relax and stay with my breath. Being able to stay in the moment and not contract from the pain was crucial.

What are your birthing experiences?  Have you used breathing for other positive means?

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