Steph's Hypno-Waterbith of her first baby
I’m sharing my story for other parents-to-be who want a gentle birthing experience for themselves and their baby. I hope this empowers them to be well-informed every step of the way and to trust their instincts and most importantly for moms, their body.
Deciding for natural birth
My journey for natural birth actually began even before I got pregnant. My mother had delivered all four of her kids naturally, and so did my older sister with her two kids and neither of them had epidurals. Plus, my sister and I are generally fit women so, without question, I was going to continue that birth tradition. However, I only really got into it when I became pregnant during my second trimester. My husband and I had travelled to Thailand for our baby moon. Someone had left a birthing book in our Airbnb room and it was quite serendipitous. It was called, “Reclaiming Childbirth as a Rite of Passage: Weaving ancient wisdom with modern knowledge” by Rachel Reed. That was the first time I had picked up a book since I was 12 and finished it within a week. After reading that I felt so empowered and prepared for natural birth and started training like an athlete. I can’t recall when exactly I wanted to do a water birth but a friend had raved about it with her two children and that steered me more in that direction. It also made sense that a natural birth with the element of water would go hand in hand for the ultimate gentle birthing experience.
Choosing a doula
My husband is an information junkie and is very inquisitive so he wanted to make sure we were well informed about every step of the delivery process, and any other possibilities that would hinder a natural birth. He went online to find a doula and he came across Nadine’s services. What stood out to us was the fact that she had delivered one of her babies herself! In actuality, the doula was more for my husband so that he could give me the right guidance during delivery and make decisions since we were aware I would not be ‘present’. He wanted to be armed with enough information and understand what would truly be an emergency situation if it ever came down to it. We were confident in our choice after our first virtual meeting with Nadine. Her nurturing but firm nature was reassuring and she definitely knew what she was talking about.
My husband and I were in New York throughout my second and third trimesters and only spent the last 8 weeks in Kuala Lumpur. I did not have a conventional pregnancy in the sense that I did not do all the routine prenatal checkups or take prenatal classes. So once we landed in KL, we hit the ground running with one-on-one sessions in hypnobirthing with Nadine. In 5 classes, all the information and experience Nadine imparted us with was more than what any healthcare provider or Google could share with you. Knowing what a woman’s body is capable of, what is natural, what isn’t, when is intervention required, when it isn’t, we got it pat down thanks to Nadine!
Delivery journey: Part 1
On a Friday morning, I did my usual workout for 15mins and right after that, I had started period-like bleeding. The process commonly referred to as the ‘bloody show’ had begun. Mild contractions followed after around 11am so I still managed to make it to my maternity shoot. Towards the evening the contractions were getting stronger but still tolerable enough for me to indulge in ice cream - I knew I would possibly not thoroughly enjoy such a treat for what’s to come soon. By night time, contractions had intensified even more and had transitioned from 10 minutes apart to 5 minutes apart. I had little sleep but the breathing helped me manage to sneak in rest in between contractions.
Saturday morning came and the contractions were still going strong. I wanted to hold off as long as possible from going to the hospital to avoid intervention situations, but our families were concerned and advised us to start heading there. So at 2pm I started getting ready to head to the hospital and at this point I had endured 15hrs of contractions and could feel heaviness in my pelvic region which made it difficult to stand and had the urge to bear down.
Before heading to the hospital, like true family, my older sister and sis-in-law fussed over my hair that looked like a dead raccoon and made sure I looked presentable. They braided my hair which was hard to sit through, but still tolerable and continued breathing through while I was getting lovingly annoyed by my excited niece and nephew.
Delivery journey: Part 2
We checked in at the hospital at 3pm and I was 6cm dilated but my water hadn't broken yet. I was feeling every second of my contraction but I was in a trance and in a different world. I was allowed to enter the water birth tub immediately (you need to be at least 4cm dilated in order to enter the water). However, my dilation took time to progress and I was constantly in and out of the water. It was hard to go in and out of the tub because of the way it was set up - I had to use a step ladder to go down and it was already hard for me to even stand up so I believe that contributed to the dilation delay. The constant monitoring of baby was also disruptive because if I was out of the water, I had to be monitored in only one position and that was uncomfortable. Being in the water did feel luxurious because the midwives would gently pour water over my back and that sensation helped divert the contraction intensity away.
After 8 hours of being in the hospital, my contractions became most powerful. They felt like the gods sent lightning through my body and exploded downwards. However, since I had only dilated to 8cm at this point, I was advised to resist to push to prevent a cervix rupture. I think the doctor had popped in once or twice throughout to check on my progression with just the advice of “just let your body do what it wants”. Eventually, the contractions were way too strong to avoid pushing so I told the midwife I had to give in the surges and she advised to go back into the water.
Delivery journey: Part 3
We were told beforehand nobody was allowed in the room except for my husband, not even a doula, and we weren't allowed to record the birth of our baby (which is so ridiculous btw). It was kind of lonely without family in there, especially for my husband who had to be a fortress for me and our baby whilst updating our families who were waiting outside the room. They eventually headed home since it was late and still no baby yet.
It was already a Sunday morning and at around 6am I was only 9cm dilated. My husband suggested I get out of the tub and get more rest on the bed. Just as I was about to get up, the doctor came in again. This time she seemed a bit impatient. She stood in front of the tub where I was laying, ignored my husband, looked at me and proceeded to tell me that my dilation was taking “too long". She suggested we proceed to a C-section. She had motioned me to get out of the tub and onto the hospital bed to prep for surgery. My husband and I were silent for a moment.
Our doctor completely ignored our birth plan. She failed to offer other options and without a strong reason, resorted to a C-section because the 'baby could be distressed’. She added that ‘usually the progression to dilate from 7cm to 10cm should be fast’ and reiterated that I was ‘taking too long’. I mean, there was constant monitoring going on so we didn’t understand why a sign of distress would suddenly be recognized. Plus, every woman’s body works differently and to put a time frame for normal dilation is just inaccurate.
I was very vulnerable and tired at this stage, so it is no surprise that a Snapchat thought of the C-section became a consideration when the doctor mentioned it. Thankfully, our crash course with Nadine reminded us to second guess the doctor. I remembered Nadine’s words resonating, “If mummy is fine, then baby is fine.” My husband knew this too. He knew a surgery is a last resort, and that I was strong enough to still do a water birth. Thank goodness he was so present and clear and remained that fortress for us.
My husband asked if the doctor to give us 30mins but she seemed so condescending and responded, “You could try.” I remember she even laughed at us at some point. In retrospect, the fact that he even asked for more time for OUR OWN BIRTH is ludicrous. We give too much power to the medical system. My husband took back some control and told me to change position and just follow my instincts while he and the doctor left the room to 'discuss further'. Within a minute of changing position and following just one surge, I broke my water bag in the water!
Delivery journey: Part 4
After my water bag broke, I felt relief and I no longer had those god-like contractions. I believe it was a sign for my body to rest in order to prepare for active labour. But the doctor was back in the room and I could feel her impatience again. Even though my water had already broke, I felt her eagerness for a C-section lingered on. I asked her how much time do I have to deliver. Again, looking back, how absurd it was for me to even have to ask that of my own birth! She responded, “It’s hard to say.” Infuriated, my husband asked how could she have statistics and constant time-keeping on my dilation but a delivery time is suddenly hard for her to measure?
Fearing the surgery talk might arise again, I was hoping to feel more contractions for the second stage of labour, but they weren’t coming. Again, Nadine’s words came to me with ‘your muscles need oxygen to work so deep breaths help’. Don’t take my word for it, but I theorised that with that breath work, I could try to trigger the contractions again. Eventually they came but not as strong as before so I thought that it might be a while till I deliver. But it wasn’t so.
I shifted to a few different positions: I alternated between standing up then squatting down and getting on all fours and repeated this a few more times, feeling the baby moving lower down each time. Towards the end, I instinctively laid inclined on my back against the tub, legs opened and within a couple of pushes I could feel heat building up by my vagina - I knew she was near. With perfect guidance from my husband, he told me he could see the head and was updating me on my progress. It all happened so fast but I remember the heat quickly turned into a ‘sharp stretch’ which I believe was a tear but without hesitation I gave a warrior grunt and pushed her completely out. I had delivered our baby at 7.37am on a Sunday morning. From the time the doctor suggested for a C-section to the time I delivered, it was 1.5 hours.
I had been in the hospital for 16.5hrs which to many might seem like a ‘reasonable’ duration, but not to my doctor, apparently. If you're wondering, the birthing was much easier than managing the contractions.
So what did the doctor do throughout active labour? She stood behind me silently but constantly instructed the midwife to monitor my baby's heart rate. That was very disruptive during my birthing process. But I knew it, my husband knew it - BABY AND I WERE GOOD. There was a point earlier when baby’s heart rate had gone up a bit while I was managing the intense surges, so my husband advised me to relax and calm my breathing. I took note and baby’s heart rate went back to normal. A husband’s role is so imperative in this phase. I’m so proud that my husband was 1000% involved with my pregnancy and delivery every step of the way to help us champion this day.
The most the doctor did was rub and shook my lower hips from behind me, but even that felt like it was being rushed. I honestly would've taken my time to push but I felt pressured to deliver fast for fear the doctor would go for episiotomy since she was already pushing for a C sec, so l ended up with slight tearing near the perineum. I guess she did a good job with the stitches (she didn’t even want to tell me how much I tore or how many stitches she gave, just a vague “Oh not much.”)
After this experience, I would opt for a home water birth if I am blessed with another low risk pregnancy. Although I felt I did everything myself with the guidance of my husband, I admittedly was well taken care of by the lovely midwives. They even encouragingly said I would be delivering naturally by Sunday morning!
At the end of the day, I'm grateful and blessed for my safe birth journey. I encourage parents-to-be to question your doctor A LOT if you are in doubt of something. My husband and I have had some disappointing experiences with medical systems so PERSIST for answers.
About water births in Malaysia, there's only ONE hospital and only ONE room that accommodates this and only TWO docs in practicion in the whole nation! Privileged and grateful I had this experience but hoping this limitation changes.