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This week we are thrilled to feature licensed midwife Maria Iorillo as she discusses the transformative power of birth. 

When I became a professional midwife 23 years ago I had an idealized version of transformation and how wonderful birth is. I just thought that birth was groovy and becoming a midwife was a wonderful way to change people’s lives. I didn’t have much experience with midwifery and hadn’t had a child then, either. 23 years later, I think I can finally answer that question based on what I’ve seen – it’s no longer just a philosophy.

I’ve seen it over and over again, women and their partners are telling me the same words after they have a really good, satisfying and empowering birth experience.  They say, “that was the most incredible moment of my life”, “that was the most powerful moment of my life”, “I feel so different”, “I feel so changed”, “I never knew that I was so strong, I never knew that I could do that”.

Pregnancy and birth are a process of growth and self-awareness, that’s where the transformation comes. Especially the first time; this woman who has never been through birth before comes out the other end as a mother.  Birth prepares us for everything that comes after. Suddenly, a mother is thinking, “I can do this – I can change a diaper. I can deal with a crying baby, I can work through the challenges that lay ahead of me because I went through pregnancy and labor and now I know how strong I am.”

I will also say that someone asked me recently to describe my birth philosophy. It was a great question. My birth philosophy is simply that women deserve to birth with respect and kindness and honoring.  The baby has the right to be born gently.  I believe that this kind of birth support is what allows transformation to take place. If you encourage each women to honor her own unique experience of birthing – then birthing is the teacher. We don’t have to add anything to that.

Just honor birth for what it is.  That’s where we learn about ourselves, that’s where we learn about our partners, that’s where we learn about our community, we learn about our babies.  You learn so much just being in the process.  Just being present in it.

Women are smart and they can make their own decisions. It’s important that a mother can honestly say, “I was never manipulated along the way”, “I was never pressured into doing anything that I didn’t want to do”, “This was my experience, I own this, I own the way that I went through this experience.”

Maria Iorillo, Licensed Midwife Catching babies at home and assisting hospital births in the San Francisco Bay Area since 1986.

This is an excerpt from an interview conducted by Mindful Mama and is re-printed with permission from Mindful Mama.

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This week we are delighted to introduce Cole Deelah, who shares an insightful story of birth from her point of view as a Doula.  Cole has over 10 years of birthing experience and has created her own independent childbirth curriculum.

Lynnette and Doug, you are a wonderfully delightful couple! Your beautiful daughter is so lucky to have such amazing parents. Your journey began long before your daughter’s birth day and, on that journey, you made so many amazing choices.

You chose to take an independent childbirth class, to hire a doula, to attend the play “Birth”, to interview midwives, and to change your care from a hospital-based midwife to a birth center midwife.

Saturday, January 29, 2011: Doug and I went to Laura’s house on the eve that my labor began.  Laura and some of her friends were planning on running the Houston half-marathon the next day, so we “carbo-loaded” for dinner by having spaghetti and meat sauce, bread, salad, Girl Scout cookies, and ice cream.

Little did I know that this would be the last full meal I ate before my baby was born. Good thing it was full of carbohydrates for the long, hard work ahead.

When we lay down to sleep around 10:30, I felt my baby moving inside me rather wildly.  The movements were huge and you could see their impression from the outside.  Doug fell asleep with his hands on my belly, feeling our little girl dance.  He was in awe of the miracle inside me, and so was I.

I feel asleep with a smile on my face.

Sunday, January 30, 2011: I woke suddenly at 3:00 in the morning and waddled as quickly as possible to the restroom, but my underwear was completely soaked by the time I got there. Then I sat on the toilet and felt a gush of fluid. Is this my water breaking?  The fluid was clear and odorless and my heart started racing as I contemplated the possibility that my water had broken, but I still wasn’t sure.

I had read that only 1 in 10 women start labor with their water breaking and was not expecting my labor to start this way. I changed clothes and went back to bed. 30-minutes later, the same exact thing happened.  Now, I was 99% sure that my water truly had broken. I lay in bed after this, feeling surprised.

I tried to go back to sleep. I knew this was important because labor could last a long time.  But then I started feeling very mild contractions.  I remember that they were only about 20 seconds long, but would happen every 5 to 10 minutes.

I read through some material from the childbirth class we had taken with Cole Deelah (my doula), just to try to figure out what was going on.  I then realized I really needed to rest, even if I just lay there and couldn’t sleep. At 6:00am I called my midwife and told her what was happening.  She advised me to let her know when my contractions lasted longer (at least 1 min) and were 5 min apart consistently.

Early on, you called to let me know that your water had broken in the early hours of the morning. You were patiently waiting for your contractions to begin and, in the mean time, you went for a walk and carried on as normal.

Doug and I went to the Stevenson park at 8:00 am to go for a walk.  It was a drizzly, dreary looking day.  I contemplated how appropriate it was that the marathon was going on that day and I considered how I had run a marathon 7 years ago and how if I could do that, then surely I could handle whatever lay ahead of me for labor and birth.

Sometime after 10:00am, I went to the birth center to check my vitals. My blood pressure and the baby’s heartbeat were fine.  My midwife gave me an herbal tincture of Cottonwood bark extract to take every hour with a little orange juice to try to speed up labor since my contractions still had not gotten any longer or intense.

In the afternoon, you went to visit your midwife, who prescribed Cotton Root Bark to hopefully establish some contractions. Around 3 in the afternoon, you called to find out my thoughts on it. I reminded you to let your body start labor when it was ready, to not worry, and to take the cotton root if you felt comfortable with it.

I began taking the herbs immediately, knowing that there is some random “time limit” in which doctors and nurses want the baby to be born in after the water breaks.  Jackie told me she was comfortable with a long amount of time as long as mom and baby are doing fine, but that her referring physician has a real issue if a woman goes past 24 hours after the water breaking and the baby is still not born.

Into the evening, my contractions still had not changed and I notified my midwife.  She suggested I take some Castor oil. I was starting to become emotionally drained and I doubted that I should take the Castor oil.  This conversation with Cole was pivotal in the progression of my labor.

Around 6:30pm, you called discouraged and worried. You were still not feeling much in the way of labor and talked about the use of castor oil. We also talked about the fact that, though your midwife was comfortable waiting on labor, her back-up OB wasn’t. I knew, in my heart, that your body was in protection mode. I encouraged you to go on a date with Doug, forget about what your body ‘should be doing’, and allow it to start in it’s own time.

She assured me that many women have given birth to completely healthy babies even DAYS after their water had broken.  She explained to me the risks, but also reassured me: I was not Group B strep positive, so infection from that was not an issue, I was healthy, I was staying very sanitary, and I was not running a fever.  All good things were on my side.

So, we completely cut off communication with our family and friends for awhile. We took a walk, held hands and played cards. And you know what?  By the end of our card game, my contractions were actually requiring my attention.  I began sitting on the birthing ball and holding onto Doug during contractions. After a few “big” ones, I was certain I wanted to make the car ride before it became more intense, so we headed to the birth center.

At 10pm that evening, I received the call that you were heading to the birthing center, your labor pattern was well established and you were in good spirits, but really working at labor.I arrived at the birth center within 40 minutes and found you in the bathroom, nauseous, and working through a strong labor pattern about 4-5 minutes apart.

You came from the bathroom and sat on the ball, rocking through contractions, moving your hips in a figure 8, and grasping the hands of whoever was nearest to you. Doug held your hands most often, praying with you, brushing the hair back from your eyes, and whispering strength and encouragement to you.

I had a ton of nausea at the beginning of active labor, making frequent trips to the bathroom with diarrhea and vomiting (really, really glad I had not taken castor oil…these issues would have probably been worse).  I also had a lot of uncontrollable shaking in my legs and sometimes arms throughout the remainder of labor.

It was more annoying than anything, especially between contractions when I was trying to rest.  I was able to drink water and Gatorade but did not have an appetite.

It was not long before you were active again, moving through your contractions and beginning to vocalize in deep hums and open ‘aaah’s. You asked for Doug to play for you and he brought out his guitar, weaving beautiful melodies throughout the room. You both sand a duet – Lynnette in the melody of birth, and Doug, in the melody of praise.

The first day ended with Doug playing his guitar and singing to me while I labored.

Monday, January 31, 2011: I labored in all sorts of positions: side lying, sitting on a birthing ball with my arms draped over the footboard of the bed, a modified sort of hands and knees position on the bed with my arms resting on a stack of pillows, standing, squatting, birth stool (which was uncomfortable to me so that didn’t last long), and in the water mainly on my hands and knees.

I remember thinking how important it was to me to be able to constantly change positions.  I would get in a position during a contraction and then rest in sidelying or stand and sway between contractions.  My body knew what it needed and I was constantly reassured by my midwife and doula that I was helping the baby get in the optimal position.

When the contractions truly began to come on you with insistence, you walked for a short bit, tried sitting on bed, but ultimately moved back to the ball after a short trip to the bathroom. You asked for a bath, which we drew for you, and soon you were lowering your beautifully ripe belly into the warm waters of the birthing pool.

You stayed in frog squat/kneel mostly, although sometimes you moved to all fours. Blissfully, you and Doug were both able to rest for short periods, and your body continued working toward the moment of birth. 

Cole Deelah is the mother of 5 beautiful, home schooled children and the wife of one feisty entrepreneur. She resides and works in the Houston area as a birth doula, childbirth educator, and midwife apprentice. She has over 10 years experience in the birth field and has written an independent childbirth curriculum and head’s up a local cooperative of doulas. Cole has authored articles in such publications as Midwifery Today, the International Doula magazine, and others. She has plans to become a practicing midwife and travel the world with her husband and children, supplying basic life skills and maternal and neonatal healthcare to underdeveloped and developing countries.

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