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How Yoga Helped Me to Have Two Beautiful, Virtually-Pain Free Births

This article first appeared in MyChild magazine on February 1, 2017.

My name is Caroline. I’m Mum to three beautiful girls – Samaira age 5, Alysha age 2.5 and Indira age 5 months. I’m also a yoga teacher specialising in Pregnancy Yoga, and I’m passionate about helping women to have a healthy, active pregnancy and an empowered birth experience. I am honoured to be able to share my story here in the hope that it may inspire, educate and empower other women.

While all three of my pregnancies have been kind to me, with no complications, my first labour and birth was less than ideal and left me feeling disappointed and disempowered. I educated myself a lot after the first birth and I believe it is thanks to that, and my yoga practice, that led me to go on to experience two beautiful, virtually pain-free births.

I’ll start by tell you about the first birth…

During my first pregnancy I was working long hours in a demanding office job. I didn’t stay particularly active and put on 20kg, which was quite a bit considering I was only 50kg to begin with! I spent the last 5 weeks of my pregnancy relaxing at home and catching up on movies. While it seemed like a good idea at the time I’ll tell you later why this worked against me.

I was really hoping for a natural birth. I felt ready for the challenge and prepared. In hindsight, my preparation and understanding at the time of birth and the hospital system was not deep enough.  My due date came and went and the hospital started talking to me about induction. They agreed to let me go 10 days over but when nothing happened I reluctantly went in for an induction. I felt uncomfortable in the hospital environment and didn’t want to be there. The hospital made me stay overnight and I didn’t sleep, so I started the labour feeling exhausted already. The contractions were strong but I was labouring in my back. Remember all that sitting back watching movies? Well afterwards I realised that that had contributed to a posterior-positioned baby ie. her spine was against my spine so I felt all the contractions in my back and I couldn’t relax my body in between contractions. Anyway, long story short, the labour went on for 19 hours and after taking more pain relief than I’ve ever had in my life, including 3 failed attempts at an epidural, I agreed to an emergency caesarean.

The whole experience scarred me in more ways than one and I swore that the next time things would be very different. I trusted my body and knew that I was capable of birthing my baby, but felt that the hospital system had let me down.

Fast forward 2.5 years and the birth of my second daughter, Alysha, was exactly as I had hoped it would be, helping to heal the wounds left from the first time. The birth was blissful, beautiful, calm, free of drugs and interference, and yes, virtually pain-free!

Before even thinking about getting pregnant for the second time, I researched my birth options extensively. I found that private hospitals had a very low Vaginal Birth After Caesarean (VBAC) success rate, while many public hospital birth centres would only accept the lowest of low-risk women. Having had a caesarean, I didn’t fall into that category anymore.  So after more research, talking to midwives and persuading my husband we settled on having a home birth. For me, the benefits far outweighed any risks – the level and continuity of care from my midwife, being in my own environment where I felt comfortable and safe, away from any pressure to intervene with the labour or delivery meant that the hormones would flow and my body would be able to do its job.

I engaged Jane, an Independent Midwife, who works with a team of five other homebirth midwives around Sydney. Through Jane I was lucky enough to be introduced to an Obstetrician who supported my home birth choice and would be my OB should I need to transfer to hospital. This was important to me because obviously I didn’t want to take any risks with my own or my baby’s life, but if that scenario happened, I knew that I wasn’t going to have to go and fight for my wishes in the hospital as he was completely supportive of my wishes.

I also researched health insurance policies – at the time there are were two providers that I found that offered rebates for home birth so I signed up with one of them in time to serve my 12 month waiting period.

During the pregnancy, I stayed active by practicing daily pregnancy yoga and meditation to prepare my mind and body. This helped to alleviate the back pain and sciatica I had encountered with my first pregnancy and also meant I put on less weight. Importantly, the yoga also helped with Optimal Fetal Positioning – getting my baby into the right position ie. head down with her spine facing outwards. I was very keen to avoid another posterior labour.

My yoga practice helped me to become more confident in listening to my body and trusting my intuition. I understood how the hormones worked during birth and so using yogic techniques I was able to stay calm and relaxed to allow the oxytocin and endorphins to flow (the body’s natural painkillers). I learnt how to breathe properly during labour and to move in ways that helped my baby enter the birth canal in the way she needed to.

During my meditations I worked on releasing my fears and negativity from my previous birth experience so I didn’t carry them into this birth. I found a wonderful acupuncturist and osteopath who I visited regularly in the last trimester. I also engaged a doula – which is a Greek word meaning ‘mother to the mother’ or ‘woman’s servant’ – basically a non-medical birth support person who would be there to provide encouragement and support.

Closer to the end of the pregnancy I wrote my birth affirmations, created a beautiful birth space with an eco birth pool, candles, crystals, aromatherapy oils and flowers, and hung a birth mandala that I painted. This might all sound quite hippy and alternative to you, but it just helped to get me into the right headspace for giving birth. Everyone prepares in their own way. With my first birth I had put more effort into being prepared in a practical way – things like having the nursery set up and the birth announcement ready to go. What I realised is that you need to be prepared both physically and emotionally – and a lot of that preparation happens at a deeper level.

My due date came and went but I remained positive that I would go into labour spontaneously. I kept practicing yoga and meditated using images of flowers opening and visualised my baby being born. At 1am on Monday 26 October – 5 days after my due date – I woke with contractions. I lay in bed timing them for some time and found they were coming approximately every seven minutes and lasting for 40 seconds. I got up to see if they still continued and they did. For some reason it seemed really important to me to clean the house (which was already spotless!) so I did that for two hours before going back to bed. At this point the contractions were still mild but I needed to move with them so I set up a bed in the lounge room so I didn’t disturb the rest of the family who were still sleeping.

At 6:30am my daughter Samaira woke up and came and lay with me and stroked my back and head while I was having contractions. At 7.30am I texted Bernadette, my doula (birth support person) and Jane, my midwife to let them know that the contractions had started. The plan was for Bernadette to come for the whole of the labour and Jane to come once the contractions got stronger. However, by 9am the contractions started to slow and became more spaced apart. I called Bernadette again and said not to come just yet. It was really interesting to see how just anticipating that small change to the situation impacted my labour.

I rested in bed for another hour then went for a walk to get things moving again.  The contractions picked up and I spent a lot of time on my hands and knees circling my hips and breathing through each surge. By 2pm the contractions were intense and lasting for one minute so I called Jane who arrived at the same time as Bernadette. Again – the contractions slowed down and after doing some monitoring we decided that Jane should go home and get some rest. She said that as soon as the sun goes down the labour would hot up again and she was exactly right! While Samaira and my husband had an afternoon nap, Bernadette gave me a massage and worked on the labour trigger points. By 5pm the contractions were coming strong and fast and by the time Samaira woke up I was vocalising loudly during each contraction.

At 5:45pm my waters broke with a pop and big gush, followed by a show. We called Jane to come back. I wanted to get in the birth pool so we started filling it but it took a while and wasn’t ready until just before 7pm, by which time I was in transition and the contractions were coming one on top of the other. It was such a relief to finally get in and be soothed by the warmth of the water.

Samaira had had moments of brilliance – bringing me a drink, cuddling me, stroking my face and saying “you can do it Mummy”, but by this time, she was quite distressed by all the noise so we made the decision to send her to her grandparents. I started to feel the urge to push and Jane said to go with it, and quickly called Robyn, her support midwife who was coming in case she was needed for the delivery. It had all happened so quickly and I couldn’t quite believe I was ready to push but after some coaching from Jane and Bernadette I let go and surrendered to the urge. Robyn stepped in and breathed with me during the contractions, helping me to vocalise deep into each push while Jane monitored baby’s head coming out and guided the shoulders through. We had realised just in time that the baby was coming soon and got Samaira back to witness her little sister, Alysha Grace, come into the world wide eyed and smiling.

Throughout the birth Jane closely monitored the baby’s heartbeat, but otherwise let me labour in peace without a single drug, internal examination or other instruction. She quietly worked around me while I was free to move and be in whatever position felt right.

I spent some time in the pool cuddling Alysha but because the cord was short it was pulling on the placenta so I needed to get so we could monitor the bleeding. We also wanted to see if the baby was a boy or a girl which we couldn’t do because the cord was so tight. It was hard to know exactly how much blood I had lost but we guessed around 900ml so we decided I needed a syntocinon injection to stop the bleeding and get the placenta out. The placenta was a beautiful heart shape with the cord attached in the middle, like a tree. I had some tearing which required stitches and was feeling dizzy from the blood loss but otherwise completely elated – I had done it! I lay on the sofa bed cuddling my girls while Alysha had her first feed. Jane, Bernadette and Robyn cleaned everything up and looked after me, feeding me soup and toast.

Robyn took the placenta home to make it into capsules which are rich in nutrients especially iron to help with post-birth recovery and milk supply.

I felt so very blessed to have such a beautiful, healthy and happy little girl and extremely grateful for my amazing birth team whose level of support before, during and after the birth went above and beyond.

The experience was amazing, and so very different from the first time. The pain was very manageable, it never even occurred to me to ask for pain relief. While I chose to give birth at home, I do believe that a beautiful, blissful, calm birth is also possible in a birth centre or hospital environment – given the right preparation and support from your care providers.

Fast forward another 2 years when I gave birth to my third daughter, Indira. Once again, the pregnancy had gone smoothly although I’d really felt the tiredness this time with two children already to look after and running my own business full time. There had been a lot to get ready with the business in order to find ‘the clearing’ that I craved ready for the birth. A couple of days before I went into labour, things had started to fall into place and I felt ‘ready’.

Indira’s birth was another planned home birth. Everything had gone so well last time that I felt confident and excited about the birth. Once again, we felt well supported by our wonderful private midwives, Robyn Dempsey and Jane Palmer, and I trusted my body implicitly. This time I had decided that I didn’t need a doula or back-up Obstetrician.

The onset of labour was again heralded by a cleaning frenzy, after which I decided to do some yoga nidra (deep relaxation, also known as yogic sleep!), meditation and visualisation. I’d been saving my special “Meditation for Induction” until I felt ‘ready’ and it felt like the right time to do it. I had used it in my previous pregnancy to start labour, as well as with some of my clients, so I knew it was a powerful meditation. It involves going into a state of deep relaxation, releasing any fears and visualising the cervix opening, the baby descending and the birth unfolding. After doing this I fell into a very deep sleep and woke up at 3pm exactly, jumping out of bed quickly as I felt my waters break! So exciting – I knew that we were going to meet Indira very soon!

I felt a slight period-like sensation but no contractions. I was so glad I’d had that rest after my manic cleaning earlier in the day. There was a definite air of excitement in the house. We topped up the birth pool with air and started preparing dinner so we could get the girls fed and into bed. The plan was to have the girls at home to witness the birth. We had been talking about the birth, reading children’s story books about birth, watching birth videos on You Tube and practising making birth noises so they would be familiar with what was happening. But I had also packed a bag for them in case it became too much (or in case the birth didn’t go as planned) so they could go to their grandparents’ house. As it was late afternoon and contractions hadn’t started, we just kept going with the usual evening dinner routine.

By 4:15pm contractions started very gently and I knew it was going to happen that night. While Kapil fed the girls dinner I spent some time alone in the bedroom, listening to relaxing music, timing the contractions and working through each contraction by circling my hips kneeling on all fours. I also used the ‘humming bee breath’ – a yogic breathing technique which is great for relaxing the mind and calming the nervous system. Contractions were 5-7 minutes apart. This was a really special time for me as I was able to enjoy the sensations and be very present in the labour. It all felt very manageable and dare I say it, enjoyable! The girls came into the room after dinner and we made a little video for Indira, with them saying how much they were looking forward to meeting her and practising their ‘birth noises’ with me!

At 6pm I helped Kapil to get the girls changed and into bed. By this time, I had to pause to circle my hips during contractions and although it was still quite manageable I was looking forward to having some alone time again to focus on the labour. By 6:30pm the girls were in bed and I ate some dinner then went into my birth space and lit the candles. Contractions were now 3 minutes apart and lasting 40 – 50 seconds. I texted Tara, our birth photographer, asking her to come over and we started to fill the birth pool. She arrived half an hour later and helped us to fill the birth pool – the hot water had run out so Kapil was busy boiling the kettle and pots of water on the stove. I also texted Robyn, our midwife, telling her that I’d like her to come as the contractions were getting stronger.

At 7:30pm Samaira got out of bed. She said she was too excited to sleep so she came and gave me lots of beautiful cuddles, did some colouring in on her pregnant goddess pictures and chatted with Tara. She was my little doula – stroking my head, bringing me water and giving me lots of encouragement!

I got into the birth pool and enjoyed a nice break from contractions for 5 – 10 minutes. I relaxed and focused on my birth affirmations on the wall. I started wondering if I’d got in too soon and perhaps it had made the labour slow down. Then I saw the headlights of Robyn’s car arrive and as she came to the front door I had two enormous contractions, one on top of the other. My back felt uncomfortable now and I became agitated that there was not enough water in the pool as I wanted the warm water on my back, so Tara and Kapil topped it up with more water. Robyn started asking me some questions about how I was feeling and what had happened so far. She later told me that she didn’t think I was very far along because I was chatting away and laughing with her in between contractions.

Although I was fine in between contractions, the contractions were intense and long now and I began to feel a bit overwhelmed. My back was quite uncomfortable at this point too. I knew I had gone through transition and it would be time to push soon. I felt like it was all happening too fast and I hadn’t had the chance to really focus and enjoy being in the zone as much as I had wanted to. I kept telling myself to calm down, surrender and relax my body with every breath out. That, combined with Robyn’s soothing words telling me I was ok and stroking my back really helped me. This feeling didn’t last for long though and just 20 minutes after Robyn arrived I started feeling a strong urge to push. I remember feeling a rush of adrenaline hit my body and I kneeled up high on my knees, roaring loudly during contractions. I knew I was fully open and she was coming! Robyn called Jane, our second midwife so there would be two of them there for the actual birth.

I was pushing for less than 20 minutes, moving through contractions, leaning forward over the side of the birth pool. I had planned to catch her myself so I came into a modified half squat with my right leg out to the side. The top of Indira’s head felt like velvet and came out easily in one push. Samaira came closer so she could see her sister clearly. Kapil hadn’t quite realised that the baby was half out and while we were waiting for the next contraction we all had a laugh when he caught up, realising that she was nearly here and seemed so surprised! Indira was born into my hands with the next contraction at 8:28pm. It was an amazing moment. I felt so empowered to have birthed her and catching her myself was a big highlight.

Indira had her first feed in the birth pool and was already sucking strongly! After 20 minutes we moved onto the sofa bed next to the pool and continued feeding while we waited for the placenta to arrive, which came naturally at 9:15pm. The previous two births I had had a haemorrhage and lost a lot of blood but this time there was very limited bleeding which I was really happy about. There were strong after pains though so I was given a hot water bottle and took some arnica and Panadol.

Alysha was now awake so she came out to meet her little sister and we all had some snuggles on the sofa bed.

Kapil clamped the cord at 9:30pm and Samaira was given the honour of cutting the cord which she was delighted about. Indie was weighed, measured and dressed. She was a teeny tiny 2.86kg! The room was warm and dimly lit and Indie was very calm and relaxed the whole time.

I had a second degree tear so Robyn put in some stitches then I had a quick wash before going to bed, with Indie snuggled up close. It was so relaxing and lovely to be in bed in my own home.

I was grateful that the birth went so well again and I felt on such a high. Indira was born 5 ½ hours after my waters broke, and just 1 ½ hours of full labour. Again, I would honestly say that the labour and birth was virtually pain-free and I would do it again in a heartbeat.

I feel blessed to have all three of my beautiful babies and grateful to have received such amazing support. I am especially grateful for my yoga practice which I wholeheartedly believe was the reason I was able to have two beautiful birth experiences.

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