Birth Knot: Birth Abroad [Dublin]

Here at cord, we love sharing birth stories both near and far from Colorado. Today's birth story takes place in Ireland...and what a beautiful story it is! If you'd like to share your Birth Abroad story, send Kelsey an email (kelsey@cordmama.com). Enjoy! 

Birth Abroad

My husband and I live in Dublin, Ireland and have spent the past year raising the most beautiful, lively, curious little girl. Our story started a long time ago, with a teenage girl falling head over heels for the foreign guy. Little did we know our journey would bring us to here-- to raising a family in my husband’s hometown.

I wanted a natural birth and had dreamt of having my baby in a beautiful, comfortable, American, birthing center with tubs, balls and all manner of helpful tools. As my pregnancy progressed I was able to accept the reality of my location and the limitation of my hospital. What I didn’t know at the time was how helpful people could be and that a room, even without all the comforts of home, is just a room, that if I had my incredibly supportive partner, my faith in a Comforter, and the blessing of helpful midwives, I could have the perfect labor and delivery for me.

After a whirlwind of Christmas, relatives, scattered contractions and false starts, labor began on the morning of December 28th, 5 days past my due date. I had been to the hospital earlier in the week for my weekly exam and had declined a membrane sweep and hoped to allow my body to start labor naturally. With the help of a little evening primrose, squats and quality time with the husband, it did. I woke in the early morning of the 28th with another set of contractions that, as the ones the day before had, ‘felt different.’ These were stronger, located in my hips and lower back and accompanied with the thrill of excitement. I walked the halls, got into a warm bath to help relax my mind and my body and eventually woke my husband. As the contractions continued and the pacing the hallway got slower I suddenly got sick and continued to get sick throughout the next few sets of contractions. My husband and I had planned to labor at home for as long as possible. However, we were not prepared for the getting sick and our steady, calm demeanor changed. I began to worry and my husband could sense my urgency. Fear was something that I was very aware of - I didn’t want it to hold any place in my labor or our experience. I tried to push aside the encroaching fear with every episode, but around 11am we decided it would be best to go to the hospital. I breathed deeply while my husband ran through the house collecting the items we needed.  With an intense focus and puke bowl in hand, we headed out the door. I remember my neighbor stopping us on the way to the car buzzing with excitement that we were going to the hospital, I on the other hand was giving my best fake smile as I secretly wished for less noisy neighbors.

We drove the 20 minutes to our hospital in silence, with the sound of my worship mix and rhythmic breathing keeping me focused. As tends to happen, the contractions slowed and almost stopped in the car ride and thankfully so did the vomiting.  I closed my eyes and tried to tell myself to find a way to enjoy the enormity of the situation - we were driving to the hospital - to have our baby!

As my husband parked the car, I checked in to the hospital and waited in the assigned area. I remember being utterly shocked at the realization that there were at that very moment three other women in the waiting room in similar conditions. I was in fact, not the only person in the world experiencing this ‘out of body’ sensation. I waited anxiously, paced through contractions and made frequent trips to the bathroom for the sheer comfort of sitting on the toilet.  When it was our turn to be checked the vomiting came back and the nurse reassured us that this was in fact a good thing.  A quick check revealed that I was 5 cm dilated and in active labor. She stated this with such positivity. I on the other hand, was disappointed that the reminder of the labor would have to be in the hospital, on their schedule and my hopes of lengthy home labor were shattered.  Thankfully, the hospital and the midwives attending me were surprisingly comforting, accommodating and helpful. Once brought up to the delivery floor and shown our room I was given the freedom to labor in a way that suited me.  Our first midwife was perfect for this moment. She was soft spoken and quiet and did everything she could to give me the labor I wanted. I was still getting sick but less frequently. My contractions were continuing at a steady pace and my body was beginning to react.  My legs wouldn’t stop shaking.  It was the strangest feeling that I later learned was the adrenaline coursing through me. I didn’t feel cold but I couldn’t shake the shivering legs. After assessing my progress our sweet midwife offered the use of the floor mats or to my surprise - the use of the one hidden bathtub on the nearby pre-labor floor! I was delighted to have this opportunity and my husband and I sat in steamy peace, rejuvenated by warm water for me, rest, and a sandwich for him.

Hours passed, laps were made around the floor, contractions came and went and my accommodating midwife had to address the reality of my steady labor and the hospitals guidelines for progressing. This was something I was very afraid of. I had been warned about hospitals’ timeline and the body’s timeline. I knew I wanted to avoid any interventions if possible and allow my body to respond. However, I was only 7 cm dilated and had been laboring for a few hours. The midwife feared I would become too exhausted to continue if I didn’t try something different.  At this point, I squatted and walked and lunged as much as I could. Finally, it was recommended that we break my waters to help the baby move downward.  Warm rushes followed and before I knew it things were moving quickly. Upon the midwife’s advice I tried to lay down and rest before it was time to push. The contractions were coming stronger and my resolve was growing weaker - within the hour I had made it to the transition phase. It was during this time that I relied heavily on my husband, his steady hand holding mine and his warming touch on my aching back.  The moment  I thought it was altogether too much to handle was the exact moment my husband grabbed my hand, looked me in the eyes and told me  ‘nothing was impossible’, ‘I could do all things.’  As he spoke I grasped onto the bits of the verses we had memorized and clung to them for strength. They became my mantra, repeating them and focusing on their promise.

During this phase our midwife informed us that it was time for a shift change and she would be leaving.  Another situation I had been warned of and worried about.  However the new midwife came at the perfect moment, she was full of energy, loud and a little brash - a true Dub. I needed her vociferous encouragement in this phase of labor and am so thankful for the change.

The new midwife heard my doubting words and asked to check my progress. She looked me straight in the eye and said, “I wanted to stop you and check so that I could tell you that you can do this, you are doing this, you are at 10 cm, you don’t need to doubt.“ It was the encouragement I needed to get through to the pushing.

At 9pm we moved into the second stage of labor. I chose to push kneeling on the bed holding the headboard and my husband’s hand for support.  I pushed and pushed and to my dismay, nothing happened. As I was pushing I felt disconnected from my body’s rhythm. I could tell that my energy was not being used properly but I didn’t know what I was supposed to do. Eventually the midwife explained that I was being counter productive - I was exhaling when I needed to push. I wasn’t allowing my body to do the work. I had been so focused on using my breath to keep centered and steady that I had stopped paying attention to what needed to happen. I felt unprepared for the pushing and wished there was some way I could have practiced. Once I understood what I needed to do I began making a little progress. It was not enough though, after checking the baby’s heart rate and my level of energy multiple times I was asked to try some coached pushing. Despite my original doubts about this method, I knew for the sake of baby I needed to try. The midwife graciously gave me another chance to which I was greatly rewarded with a briefing sighting of her head. Which, quickly after, made its way back down. So began the lengthy and discouraging game of hide and seek. I could not get over the ledge, each push seemed like the final one, before her head slid back down. I will never forget the excitement in my husband’s voice each time, “ You’re doing great, I see it!” Somehow those few words allowed me to push through the discouragement and exhaustion for two and half hours. More pushing ensued and more worried monitoring of baby’s heart rate. Baby was beginning to show signs of distress and there was little time left to keep pushing. The midwife was determined to help us do this and called in the head midwife for one final try.  The stern, militant woman entered and without show or warning got intimately involved. With her guiding hands pulling, a burning sensation and a supernatural blessing our sweet girl emerged. She was quickly cleared of the meconium and placed on my chest- cord pumping, body covered and utterly beautiful.

I was so in awe of her tiny fingers, her button nose and the perfect way she fit on my chest. She had arrived.

I was surprised when my body kept contracting and shocked that the feeling wasn’t over. I remember looking to my husband confused that I still felt such immense pressure. Without announcement or instructions and much to the midwives surprise I quickly decided I had enough and gave my final push, releasing the afterbirth and with it any heaviness or tension I still felt. I rested back against my bed in awe of the tiny beauty on my chest. As I was stitched and my husband cut the cord, I relaxed in weightless peace full of adoration for this tiny being.

Out of curiosity and a desire to ‘just be finished’ I tried the ‘gas and air’ machine during the stitches. It is similar to laughing gas and offered a brief ‘high’ before leaving the system completely. Between the gas and the adrenaline I was utterly floating. There are not words to describe the euphoria I felt at doing what I set out to do, experiencing my body in its peak and the incredible reality of the tiny life I held in my arms. Up until recently women were given Guinness post delivery to replenish their iron supply- I however settled for tea while we ‘oooed’ and ‘aahed’ at the perfect nose, tiny toes and wispy hair.

We weren’t in America, I wasn’t relaxing in a private room with family and friends surrounding me but I had all I needed. After 13 hours of labor, constant support and supernatural blessings I had done it; she was safe and healthy and eating peacefully.

Our Éabha, true to her name was, and continues to be, our precious ‘gift of life.’

1.      How did the difficulty level meet your expectation? 

The surprising elements to me was not the difficulty, I think in some way you are prepared for ‘difficult.’  For me, I was surprised at how differently it felt than I imagined. The contractions were not like a tight stomach as I pictured. They were in my legs and hips and backs. The part that stands out to me as hard was not the contractions but the pushing.

2.       What was the best thing you did to prepare?

The best thing I did to prepare was get educated and surround myself with a positive, knowledgeable community. I took an active birthing workshop and read up on different aspects of labor as well as the rights and options I had as a mother. It was important to me that I knew what I had a choice in, what situations might occur and that I was prepared to ask questions. Once I understood what my body was actually doing, what role hormones played in the process, what methods and techniques were used, I was able to feel confident and ‘in control’ of my labor and delivery. I did not want it to be something that just happened to me, but something that I was actively part of.

3.      What was your most effective form of pain control?

My most effective form of pain control was movement and meditation. Throughout the early phases of labor it was helpful for me to lunge, squat, walk, rotate- anything to keep the blood flowing and my mind going. As the labor progressed I focused intently on a collection of verses my husband and I had memorized. Repeating and focusing on the words kept me steady.

4.      Would you change anything?

I would have liked to spend a little more time at home before going to the hospital. I was worried that I was getting sick and rushed in before I really needed to. It would have been nice to stay home a little longer and eat something. For some reason I was craving soup the entire time!

5.      What advice would you provide to pregnant moms?

I think the biggest advice I could give anyone would be to surround yourself with positivity. There are so many articles and stories, and even friends that want to tell you their tragic birth story. I would sincerely say to guard yourself from those stories and situations that bring negativity or fear into your mind. You can do this, you do not need to be afraid. Find positive stories, websites like these and people that can share the hope, beauty and joy of this experience with you. The greatest difficulty in the whole process is not ‘pain’ but fear. Find people or words to cast out the fear and fill you with perfect peace and love.