Saturday, November 15, 2014

Delayed Cord Clamping: An all of human history practice (20th century exempted)

By Mary Esther Malloy, MA

      There are many things that help our children to be as healthy as possible during their first minutes, hours, days, months and years. If the findings of some new research are correct, then ensuring that our babies get their full volume of blood as they are born might be one of the more important steps we can take for the well-being of our children. 

Here is the problem: while studies are showing us that there appears to be no good justification for the routine clamping and cutting of a baby’s umbilical cord seconds after the baby is born, survey after survey shows most obstetricians and many midwives still clamping and cutting cords very soon after delivery as a matter or course, with some rates as high as 95% (Downey and Bewley 2012; van Rheenen 2011).  Dr. Jose Tolosa and colleagues write, “Although without clear benefit and no rationale to support it, early cord clamping remains the most common practice among obstetricians and midwives in the western hemisphere” (Tolosa et al. 2010).

What can we do about the disparity between evidence that strongly supports so-call “delayed” cord clamping and widespread habits of practice that we know are not benefiting our children? We can educate ourselves. We can share research with our doctors and midwives.  We can advocate for a change in business as usual.  I put this piece together to share an emerging perspective (that many have long held, I should add) and to make some of the research easily available.

 Don’t leave your child behind in the 20th century

 “Another thing very injurious to the child, is the tying and cutting [of] the navel-string too soon; which should always be left till the child has not only repeatedly breathed, but till all pulsation in the cord ceases. As otherwise the child is much weaker than it ought to be; a part of the blood being left in the placenta, which ought to have been in the child.”

            -Erasmus Darwin, 1796, a respected physician, philosopher, botanist, and the grandfather of Charles Darwin (Chaparro, C. M. 2011)

As Grandfather Darwin’s comments illustrate, we have a record of debate over the timing of when to clamp and cut the “navel string” that dates back centuries. For the most part, however, the cross-cultural norm appears to have been to wait until the placenta is delivered, and frequently hours after the placenta emerges, to “tie off” the cord (Downey and Bewley 2012). In the early-to-mid-nineteen hundreds, however, a new norm began to appear. Physicians argued for and widely disseminated the practice of cutting the cord soon after a baby was born.  Over the 20th century, immediate cord clamping joined the triumvirate of practices making up what we now refer to as the active management of third stage labor: early cord clamping, a uterotonic drug such as pitocin, and controlled cord traction (for a research-based critique of the active management of third stage labor, see Goer and Romano 2011, pages 377-410). Decades later and following a near-universal adoption of immediate cord clamping, we are left with an absence of solid evidence that this intervention confers a benefit to our babies and more and more evidence of harm (van Rheenen 2011).  It is time to move beyond this practice. 


Very simply, when a baby is still inside her mother, fetal circulation demands a continual flow of blood between the baby and the placenta. It is at the site of the placenta where de-oxygenated blood is re-oxygenated and where nutrients are picked up for the baby, as waste is offloaded.  At the time of birth, approximately two-thirds of the baby’s blood is in the baby’s body and about one-third of the baby’s blood is circulating in the cord and placenta.  If the cord is clamped and cut immediately following the birth, the blood still circulating in the cord and placenta is lost to the baby. The result is a newborn starting life on the outside down a significant percentage of her blood volume (see both Simkin and Gibson below for illustrations of this process).

If the cord is left alone in the minutes following birth, this rich blood is pumped by way of the cord into the baby, a process referred to as the placental transfusion.  A 2011 study by Farrar et al. measures the quantity and duration of the placental transfusion. The study concludes that for most babies the blood flow from placenta to baby was completed between 2 and 5 minutes with the blood volume averaging 30% (24-40%) of the baby’s total blood volume (Farrar et al. 2011).  We would consider any adult down 30% of his or her normal blood volume to be in a state of extreme distress. Somehow, we have normalized this situation for our newest babies.

Why does it matter when we cut the cord?

Allowing the placental transfusion has immediate, as well as longer term, benefits for your child. One of the most time-sensitive and critical jobs a newborn must accomplish is to make the switch from gas/cord oxygenation to lung breathing. An understanding of newborn transitional physiology is emerging that stresses the importance of the blood volume and increased red cell supply provided by the placental transfusion to the start of lung breathing (Mercer 2002; see also Goer and Romano 2012, page 403). Furthermore, while this transition to lung breathing is underway, the oxygen-rich blood flowing to the baby provides a potentially helpful secondary source of oxygen for the baby during the delicate process of switchover (van Rheenen 2011).

           “Anaemia is now a recognized complication of early cord clamping” 
(Downey and Blewly 2012).

Researchers are now connecting the dots between the global public health problem of anemia in young children worldwide and the practice of early cord clamping.  The authors of a recent, well-designed study found that delayed cord clamping significantly improves iron status and reduces anemia and iron deficiency to 4 months of age (Andersson, et al, 2011).  Others have followed the benefits of improved iron stores to 6 and 7 months (Chapparro 2006; Mercer 2010).

Interestingly, this time frame tracks with the general period recommended for exclusive breastfeeding. And, curiously, as perfect a food as breast milk is, it does not supply iron to our babies. Could it be that nature has designed it such that a few minutes of blood transfusing at the time of birth ensures the necessary iron for the baby’s development for the first half-year? It would appear so. Unfortunately, this means that if cords are clamped according to current practices, our breastfed babies are at the highest risk for iron deficiency.

Iron deficiency, the primary cause of anemia, is of concern because it can negatively impact a child’s cognitive and motor development (Andersson 2011).   With a quarter of the world’s population experiencing anemia, a simple shift in practices at the time of birth may potentially help our next generation, especially those who are exclusively breasted for their first months, to start life on the outside with iron levels that support optimal brain development (see Dr. Greene’s Tedx talk below). 

Stem cells

This is no ordinary blood we are discussing. It is chock full of stem cells, those immature, self-renewing cells that can turn into a variety of tissues. The authors of a recent study published in the Journal of Cellular and Molecular Medicine suggest delaying cord clamping in order to realize “mankind’s first stem cell transfer”:

“Nature’s first stem cell transplant occurs at birth when the placenta and umbilical cord start contracting and pumping blood toward the newborn... This phenomenon occurs in most placental mammals and this transfusion of blood is allowed to end physiologically in most species except in human beings. Human beings manipulate the transition from foetal to neonatal life by early clamping of the umbilical cord, meaning that nature’s first stem cell transplant is curtailed, thus depriving infants of additional stem cells” (Tolosa et al. 2010).

They describe the essential roll stem cells play in the development and maturity of many organ systems including the central nervous, respiratory, cardiovascular, haematologic, immunologic and endocrine systems. They write:

“…the artificial loss of stem cells at birth could potentially impact later development and predispose infants to diseases such as chronic lung disease, asthma, diabetes, epilepsy, cerebral palsy, Parkinson’s disease, infection and neoplasm” (Tolosa et al. 2010).

Thus, a simple delay in cord clamping may permit an inborn stem cell therapy that can “promote acute benefits in the case of neonatal disease, as well as long-term benefits against age-related diseases” (Tolosa et al. 2010). It is possible that the greatest health benefit to a newborn when we delay clamping the cord may come from the increased volume of stem cells whose value we are only starting to understand.

Aside from a healthier baby, there are benefits for the mother as well. Allowing the placental blood to drain has been shown to help the placenta detach in a timely and uncomplicated manner (Soltani et al. 2005; Jongkolsiri, P, Manotaya, S. 2009). 

It makes no sense that this valuable secondary source of oxygen for your baby’s first minutes, important iron for your child’s first months and miraculous stem cells whose impact may last a lifetime, end up in the medical waste bin. This good blood belongs to your baby.  Make sure your child receives it.

What is Optimal Cord Clamping?

Optimal Cord Clamping simply means waiting to clamp and cut the cord until it has finished its job.  After the cord has pumped the appropriate quantity of blood from the engorged placenta into the baby, it will no longer pulse.  If you touch and feel the cord soon after your baby is born and then touch it again once it has finished, you will notice a significant difference. The cord will go from full and curly-cue-ish with a noticeable pulse and purple-blue tones to flaccid and white, absent a pulse once it has finished. (As an aside, I would encourage you to touch the cord. It is something you will long remember).

Left: a still-working cord. Right: a cord that is ready to be cut.
Ask your midwife or obstetrician to offer your baby the best start

The easiest approach here is to ask your provider to wait until you birth the placenta before the cord is cut. This way, you know for certain that the placenta and cord have completed their work.  If this is beyond the imagination or belief system of your provider, ask your provider to wait a mere 90 seconds following your child’s birth to clamp the cord. Even 90 seconds will make a difference (See TICC TOCC, Dr Greene’s campaign below).  Or, how about just 30 seconds? There is evidence that the job can be completed in just 30 seconds if the child is placed below the mother in the range of 40cm following the birth (Yao and Lind 1969).

Just don’t do something, sit there!

For providers used to clamping cords immediately, you are asking them to do nothing when they are used to doing something.  Standing by and doing less can be quite challenging for many.  As a doula, I have found that meaningful conversations (prior to the start of labor of course) and sharing resources can help care providers put aside familiar habits and offer a willingness to try something new.  During labor, as the moment of birth nears, birth partners might want to clearly remind care providers to delay clamping.  Again, you may be asking a medical professional to do something outside her training and rituals of practice.  A reminder will help.

Part of the challenge here is structural. If a baby is born in a hospital and requires suctioning or help with start up, the furniture is arranged such that the cord needs to be cut just so that the baby can be taken to a table for attention.  And yet, the benefits of receiving oxygen via the cord blood, especially for that small percentage of babies who require resuscitation, may be critical (van Rheenen 2011). Can a table be placed next to the mother’s bed? Can the work happen on the same bed in which the baby is born? This is what happens at a home birth. We have to ask our hospital-based care providers to do things differently to keep our babies close by, even when extra attention is needed… especially when extra attention is needed! Talk about what is possible in your hospital. Invite your provider to think outside the box.  Given all that we humans have accomplished, this cannot be beyond our capabilities.

Cesarean Birth

A "natural" cesarean birth
In trials investigating the impact of delayed cord clamping, cesarean births are very much included. In most cases, the protocol they follow is simply to place the baby on the mother’s lap for a determined period of time while the placenta transfuses (Andersson et al. 2011; Yao and Lind 1969; Farrar et al. 2011).  The “natural cesarean” being pioneered in parts of the UK emphasizes family bonding and babies are placed directly on their mothers’ chests for immediate skin-to-skin contact (Smith et al. 2008).   While the doctors describe immediate cord cutting as part of their protocol, their pioneering work offers a model where it would be a simple adjustment to leave the cord in tact should they be so inclined. If a cesarean birth is the best and safest way for your baby to be born, ask your doctor what the team can do to help your child have some amount of time following the birth for the placental transfusion to occur.

Claim the Golden Minutes of your Child’s Birth: Pause

 “Desire to place infant immediately on mother skin to skin (is) given as reason to clamp cord” (Chapparro 2011).

Meeting my daughter
One more idea to include here, and this may ask you to think outside your set of expectations.  While it is lovely to receive your baby directly to your chest at the moment of birth, this is not the only way to meet a child. Two of my babies were delivered to my chest while my third was guided down where she was born.  For me, the key difference with my third was that I was able to really see her in the moments she arrived.  As she rested below me, she and I paused, unhurried through this moment, and I had the space to touch, explore, and welcome her with every fiber of my being.  It was an extraordinary gift to meet my daughter in this way (see and Malloy 2011 for my daughter’s birth story).  
Feeling my daughter's cord pulse
I mention my experience meeting my third child for the following reason.  As my just-born daughter lay below me, getting started on lung breathing and extra-uterine life in all its complexity, she was simultaneously receiving her placental transfusion in what would appear to be a particularly efficient way.  There is evidence that gravity can help (or hinder) the placental transfusion. Yao and Lind found that the rate and volume of placental blood transfer is indeed affected by gravity. They state that the transfusion was largely unaffected when babies were held approximately 10 cm above or below the mother’s introitus. However, hydrostatic pressure either hastened or impeded the transfusion when a baby was placed in the range of 20 cm or more above or below the mother, with the most obvious impact in the 50cm + range (Yao and Lind 1969).  

This is a question that deserves more research, for sure.  However, from an evolutionary point of view, this just might make sense.  If the pre-historical record of birth is anything to go by, and we can assume that upright birth played a significant role in the evolution of human birth, then there is a high probability that many a woman (and primate ancestor) throughout human (and pre-human) time has birthed a baby down onto a surface below, taken a much- needed moment to recover, and then inspected and gathered up her child. In the seconds or minutes during which the newborn rested below the mother, the placental transfusion would have been aided by gravity as the placenta worked quickly to return the baby’s full blood volume to the baby. This landing and resting below the mother, cord and placenta hard a work, is certainly what happens with most, if not all, mammals (Hirata et al. 2011; Tolosa et al. 2010)

Why not ask your provider to simply guide your baby down where he is born and give you a minute or two to touch, talk to and welcome your child as he lies below or before you?  Gravity will be working to aid the placental transfusion, helping your child to a healthy start.   Consider claiming those minutes of “delaying” the cord clamping as some of the fullest of your life.  These are the sacred moments in which you are first meeting your child on the outside.

Pause.  Breathe.  Study.  Discover.  Listen.  Welcome.

Put down the phones and cameras along with the clamps and scissors. Take this time to begin absorbing what you have just done and welcome this new person, all the while ensuring your child receives his full blood volume at birth.

Health Care by Participation

No matter where babies are placed as they are born, there is little question that US obstetricians and midwives will change current practices from immediate cord clamping to optimal cord clamping; it is just a question of when. I fully anticipate that within a decade, immediate cord clamping will no longer be a routine component of the management of third stage labor regardless of whether the baby is premature, full term, born vaginally or by cesarean. The evidence against this practice is too strong.  Dr. Alan Greene is more optimistic and wants an end to immediate cord clamping as a routine by the close of 2013.  He is calling for public health by participation (see hisTEDx talk below).  Please participate by asking your midwife or doctor to practice optimal cord clamping for your child and by sharing some of this information with your healthcare provider and your social network.

Mindful Birth NY

Happy and healthy birthing!
Mary Esther Malloy, MA


Dr. Alan Greene

Transitioning from Immediate Cord Clamping to Optimal Cord Clamping (Ticc Tocc)

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Birthing Violet

My mother had died six months earlier as I lay on my bed in Brooklyn and began to time my contractions.
I had never needed her more than during my labor. I wanted living proof that this was possible. I didn’t believe I held enough power or knowledge, enough female strength to do this alone. But she had gone, so I had hired a mother, a doula, to be my guide.
My doula, Mary-Esther Malloy, arrived at three in the morning while I was in the shower. I had taken natural birth classes with her, determined to recreate my late mother’s labor.
“I don’t know what all the fuss is about,” my mother said, whenever someone on television gave birth, screaming and grunting towards motherhood. I did not want to be one of those women my mother scoffed at. With her gone her words were all I had, and so I opted for a natural birth.
I imagined I would give birth exactly as my mother had: silently, gracefully, powerfully; with wide hips and long hair stuck to my forehead. But I had neither wide hips nor long hair, and my gait tended more towards function than grace as I carved a path through my house at three-thirty in the morning with my doula at my side. 
A lithe woman, Mary-Esther had the presence of a ghost, beautiful with a face that appeared to glow. She walked next to me, quiet, a sandy haired shadow. Just as I had held my mother’s hand through her illness acting as an anchor while her body performed unimaginable feats of destruction, Mary-Esther held my hand while my body performed unimaginable feats of creation.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Story of Your Birth

For Silas Wendell  

Born at home on November 18th, 2012 at 3:37 a.m. 9 lbs, 10 oz

The four days following your due date were long days.  I wanted you to come, to be birthed into my arms.  I was anxious to see you and hold you.  I wondered, as the days wore on, if there was something holding me back from your birth.  Kristen, our midwife, asked directly if I was afraid of labor or if there was something that was inhibiting me from going into labor.  We talked through what might be in the way. 
On Saturday, the day before you were born, I was anxious to clear a space for you.  I decided that I wasn’t going to work the following week. Your dad, brother and I went to Central Park to try to “walk you out.”  We walked fast and hard and nothing happened.  I was discouraged. 
That night Oliver, your two-year-old brother, asked if we could have a bonfire and apple cider.  We built a fire and enjoyed the night together. It was a sweet time with the family of three before we became four.  Later, your dad and I watched a movie to try to take my mind off things.  After watching the film, we had some  moments of tenderness between the two of us, which were a gift and served to bring us together for what would be the night of your birth.
We went to sleep at 11:30 pm and I slept for about an hour.  I woke freezing cold and my whole body was shivering.  I thought this was strange; Soren wasn’t cold.  But then I fell back to sleep and woke with a strong contraction, although I didn’t think much of it, in and of itself.  I had woken so many times with contractions during my pregnancy.   I started waking around every ten minutes with a contraction; they became increasingly painful.  And I continued to have the chills.  The chills made me realize that this might be labor.  I woke your dad again around 1:00 a.m. and told him I thought it was true labor.  He waited for about 15 minutes before calling the midwife and doula.  The midwife, Kristen, said to call her when the contractions were around 6-8 minutes apart.  I got up and turned the white noise machine on in Oliver’s room and Soren started getting things ready in the living room.  Within minutes the contractions jumped to 4 minutes apart.  Soren called the midwife right away.  She was on her way as was Mary Esther, our doula. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Laura and Neil's Story

I first observed this pause at a home birth in the Bronx, where I helped Laura and Neil work through a rather zippy labor. Neil’s eight brothers and sisters had all been born at home in Ireland, and home birth had made immediate sense to Laura when I raised it as a possibility months earlier as she mapped out elaborate plans to arrive at the hospital as late as humanly possible.
            But now, after 5 or so hours of strong, active labor on a cold, January morning, Laura’s contractions changed and it was clear that she was pushing. She climbed out of the birth pool and soon she was pushing, hanging off the edge of a table and even walking up and down stairs. Finally, Laura birthed her baby on her living room floor. She was on all fours, kneeling in the warmth of a brilliant, winter sunlight. Valeriana Pasqua-Masback, her midwife, and Neil crouched behind her to catch the baby. I knelt in front of her, her arms wrapped around my thighs, her camera in my hands.
            As I photographed the moment Riley was born, I realized I was capturing something I’d never seen before. What I witnessed would forever change the way I view birth. After Neil and Valeriana caught the baby, Valeriana did not hand the baby directly to Laura. Instead, she passed the baby through Laura’s legs and lay the baby on soft pads covering the floor below her. As Valeriana guided the baby onto the pads, Laura’s eyes were still closed and her head lowered as her whole body seemed to sigh from the effort she’d just made to birth her baby. For an impossibly long breath, she paused, and hung her head even lower in a gesture that spoke to a deep exhaustion.

 Neil came up close behind her. She opened her eyes and quietly sat back on her heels. Together they knelt above their baby, studying their child below. Time passed slowly. They stared down at their daughter, mesmerized, taking in this new being. Laura turned toward Neil and kissed him. She then reached out to touch her newly born child. She felt her baby’s hands and then slowly touched her baby’s legs and arms. She stroked her baby’s sides and then wrapped her hands around her child’s body. Carefully, but with a clear confidence and readiness, she brought her daughter up to her chest, embracing her for the first time. 

 As I watched Laura, I thought that each move seemed to have its own kind of integrity: she took a moment to pause and catch her breath after the momentous effort she had just made to her birth her baby; she then studied her daughter visually and reached out for that exquisite first touch. Finally, she gathered her daughter in.


Within the space of these impossibly slow, sweet moments that added up to barely a minute or two, Laura and Neil arrived on the other side of birth in what appeared to me to be a very special way; they arrived, in their own time, as parents. They claimed their child.- Mary Esther Malloy

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Amy and Paul's Story: The moment I met my son he and I were the only two people in the universe

Lark Alexander Villinski was born at home on his great grandfather’s (92nd) birthday, November 14, 2011.
It is almost impossible to describe the moment Lark was born and the three of us became a family. The moment I met my son, my sense of time and place disappeared and he and I were the only two people in the universe. Little Lark was finally here in the loft -- he had been placed on the floor beneath me by Valeriana, our midwife. The intensity of the pushing and the calm, but determined, laboring I had done for ten hours was wiped from my memory and I spent what felt like a very long time looking at him.   After holding him while he lay on the floor and visually absorbing him I was finally ready to bring him to my chest.  Paul and I held him tight. The feeling of love I had for this little being and our new family was something I had never felt before.
The journey Paul and I took to having a homebirth was the easiest, most natural experience I have ever had. Until the 29th week of my pregnancy, I was planning on having a hospital birth. Even as we planned the hospital delivery with my obstetrician, I was reading pro-homebirth books and watching videos where women birthed at home -- I basically gave myself a great education on having Lark at home, not in the hospital. Paul and I had frequent fantasized about driving to Ina May’s Farm in Tennessee, instead of Greenwich Hospital.
For months Paul and I had been receiving the best education from two amazing women.  Our dear friend, Jennifer Samet, a certified Hypno-Birthing instructor, was teaching us how to use hypnosis to aid in having a pain-free birth. Jennifer introduced us to Gabriela Ammann, who had served as her doula. Gabriella quickly became our doula /childbirth educator, and came to our loft for weeks, teaching us the things first-time parents need to know. Both Gabriela and Jennifer have two children; both delivered the first in a hospital and the second at home. The most valuable thing they gave us was the confidence that we could have Lark at home – we didn’t need to have a “practice” birth in the hospital. One evening, sitting at the kitchen table with Gabriela, I decided to change the birth plan and pursue a midwife to help us have Lark at home. Paul and I had realized that if I birthed Lark in the hospital, his role was going to be that of “enforcer,” fending off a slew of unwanted interventions, so that I could have a natural, drug-free birth. I was more afraid of what an epidural would do to me and my son, than having a truly natural birth. The decision was made to have Lark at home -- we just needed to find a midwife to take us so late in the pregnancy. Our first choice was Valeriana Pasqua-Masback, who had been Jennifer’s midwife for her homebirth. Amazingly, she was available, and after meeting her we knew that this was meant to be.  It was all falling into place effortlessly. After deciding to have a homebirth, we found out that my obstetrician had been one of Valeriana’s back-up doctors for over 20 years. It was another sign that we had made the best decision. My doctor was very supportive of my wanting to have this experience.
With the team in place, Paul and I spent the weeks up to the birth preparing for the big event. I had also been finishing paintings for an exhibition I was going to have in the beginning of 2011. The night before my water broke, I finished the last painting and was ready for my show.  Little Lark had waited for me.
At eight o’clock Saturday morning I woke up to my water breaking. I was excited and a little nervous about how the day was going to go. Paul and I had a very fun day; it was sunny and warm for November and we calmly took care of the last details. We went to the grocery store while I was laboring. I stopped and leaned against the cart every so often to concentrate. Later, Paul made soup while I continued to labor…it all seemed so normal.
The surges began to intensify around four in the afternoon, and we felt it was time to have everyone come to the loft. By seven that evening, Jennifer, Gabriela, Valeriana and her assistant were with us. It was the most amazing birth team anyone could ask for! As I labored in the loft, moving from one standing position to the next, everyone took turns assisting me with the surges. After spending some time in the tub during the transition, it was time for me to get out and help move Lark into the world.  I never felt the urge to “push,” so Valeriana had to help me with each surge. After three hours of guided pushing in all positions, I was in a supported squat with Paul on one side, Jen on another and Gabriela holding me from behind. Valeriana guided Lark from me to the floor. I was able to see him the entire time, from above. Looking down at my red, wriggling son, I took the time we both needed before I scooped him up in my arms. It seemed like many minutes of staring into him, my hands touching his tiny arms and legs, until I was ready to pick him up from his landing spot. It was all perfect.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Katie's Story: She was received into the world in a sacred and respectful way

Katie laboring with her doula, using a rebozo
Intuition and Initiation- the arrival of Milena Grace Ketchum-Evans, August 7th 2010, 9 lbs 4 oz

I have always had the intuition that giving birth was an initiatory experience, and as such, needed to be held in a sacred way. Long before getting pregnant, I knew that I could only do this at home. Luckily, my husband Jonah was on board and when we discovered that I was pregnant, all that remained was to find a midwife. We did our research, found Valeriana and were soon into the routine of our monthly visit.

It was wonderful to get to know her so well; to build a level of trust that I now know is essential to the type of birth I was looking for. I never once doubted our ability as a team to go through with our plan.

August 7th arrived with a bang- contractions woke me at 6.30am. They were already pretty hard and fast… a moment of panic- could I do this for potentially more than 24 hours? My husband made us a big hearty breakfast of eggs while I labored.

We called our Doula, Gayla, an hour later. She talked me through a few contractions. The excitement in me was building- soon I would get to meet this stranger who had grown inside me. Would they be as I intuited? A girl? A boy? A laid back baby? big and healthy?

The contractions were coming one on top of the other, and weren’t slowing so we called Gayla and asked if she could come and help out. She seemed to know exactly what I needed, pulling me through each wave, suggesting a change of position, bullying me to keep walking, reminding me to breathe! We stamped around the living room- it was a relief to move after all- part of me just wanted to curl up in a little ball, but thank goodness for Gayla!

Time is a little blurry, but it was about 1pm when I felt the urge to push, it was unstoppable. I felt every muscle inside me go with it, it was almost as if I had no control. My water broke after a few pushes- it was stained and Gayla decided to call Valeriana. The situation was assessed; I was still only about 5cm and the possibility of a transfer  was discussed. Somehow I didn’t worry. I knew that we could do it- I trusted myself, my baby, my husband and these two strong wonderful women beside me.

The order came to try not to push- what torture that was! Here, for me, began the true initiation. To go against everything that your physicality is telling you to do, to overcome this very base urge. Was I successful? Sometimes! It took every inch of my strength to hold still and yet I could only stop about one out of every 3 urges to push.

The hours flew by- one melting onto another- I had been laboring like this since more or less the beginning – a contraction every 2 minutes or so. Valeriana and Gayla guessed that the baby must be posterior, again, the question of a transfer. The baby’s heartbeat was strong and my husband made a comment about how he had always known I could do this. Valeriana later remarked that his comment had helped her decide to carry on- he had such unshakable faith in my ability to do this!

Gayla got me on my hands and knees and started rocking me, willing the baby to turn. She pummeled, shook, and rocked while Valeriana admistered some homeopathy. This went on for an hour (all the while trying not to push!). Throughout labor, I was incredibly thirsty, and now I couldn’t drink much- just the solution the homeopathy was in. How I longed for each 15-minute interval, another mouthful. It came as such a relief!

After the hour was up, Valeriana asked me if I ever prayed, then she and Gayla left the room. I looked at Jonah- he said, “You need to let go and ask for help.”  This comment was such a turning point- I had been trying to control the process. I gave it up and let go, surrendering to each contraction, relaxing into it. I felt much clearer, much calmer. Looking back, this was my eye of the needle moment- I had overcome one of my greatest challenges in my life, my anxious and controlling side was put away for a while!

We went for a walk around the garden- what a sight it must have been for the neighbors- me in my Depends Diaper with an oversized shirt (not covering much!) leaning on my husband, groaning away! We came in and ate a few scoops of ice cream- I have never had to be coaxed to eat ice cream before, but the thought of eating was the furthest thing from my mind at that moment.

Valeriana examined me and it was time to push- it was more or less 12 hours after labor begun. Pushing is a blur to me- we tried a few different positions and Milena arrived two hours later- big, beautiful and healthy.

Katie touching her daughter for the first time
I remember wanting to pick her up immediately, but Valeriana motioned me to stop; I had a moment of panic- was she OK? Then it dawned on me- she needed to just be for a moment, to unfold into the world. She stretched, unfurled almost and let out a cry. Arms and legs pumping, I took her in.

Instinctively, I reached for her stomach, her chest. She was so perfect, so new. Her arrival was into complete calm- no fuss. She was received into the world in exactly the way I imagined- in a sacred and respectful way. She was allowed to just be.

And me?  My birth process was also held and respected. Valeriana and Gayla were so intuitive of what it was I needed. They were there for every step of my journey. And yes, I felt different afterwards. Apart from my daughter, I received the gift of calm that August day. I truly feel that I am a different person- more grounded, more confident, more knowledgeable of my abilities and weaknesses and more accepting of them. I could not have done any of this without a great many people, and I am so deeply appreciative of their support and commitment- I got what I had always hoped was possible- an honoring of a sacred event, in the safety and comfort of my own home.

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