Monday, October 24, 2011

Q&A - Making Peace With Birth

Through teaching pre-natal yoga I have met countless mothers who struggle with the memories of their first birth. The emotions that stem from their experiences are deeply embedded. I wasn't surprised when so many of you commented or emailed me with the same question: "How do I journey towards my second birth if my first was such a traumatic/painful/scary experience?"

You have to make peace.

Bee has come to my yoga classes during both her pregnancies. When she turned up to class for her second pregnancy we greeted each other with open arms - delighted to be growing our babies at the same time. She was eight weeks ahead of me in her pregnancy and she was struggling.

Bee suffers from Hyperemesis - severe nausea and vomiting during pregnancy. It's not just morning sickness - she vomits from five weeks pregnant right up until she births. She constantly feels sick. Sometimes she vomits eight times a day.

I knew that her pregnancy was a challenge and so I comforted her and attempted to nurture her in the best way that I could - encouraging her physical, emotional and spiritual journey through the practice of yoga. Bee was also unhappy about her first birth and needed to process the experience before she could move on to 'preparing' for her second birth.

This is what I knew. Which, it turns out, was only a snippet of the story.

I contacted Bee a few weeks ago and asked if she would be interested in being interviewed. She had told me that during the birth workshop she attended that she had made peace with her first birth so I knew that she would be the perfect candidate for this post.

When she sent me her story I sat in awe. Without doubt she is the most courageous and equally gracious woman I have ever met. But since reading her story I have a new-found respect for her unending strength, love and determination.

Bee wholeheartedly knows what it means to surrender and let go. She knows how to make peace. I'll let her tell the story...

Bee, how did you feel after the birth of your first-born?

Initially, I was elated to be holding my beautiful baby girl, Lacy, and very proud of myself for pushing her out despite difficult circumstances. However, in the days that followed I felt embarrassed, disappointed and traumatised. I was firstly embarrassed as my Husband and other nursing staff had told me how “loud” I was during the labour. This mortified me, as all I could think about was how horrible and scary it must have been for other birthing mothers and the nursing staff to listen to me screaming. Secondly, I was disappointed - I so desperately wanted to have a natural birth – “drug free” - and ended up having an epidural and suction due to Lacy’s posterior position. These first two feelings were easy enough to process however it was the trauma that remained until half way through my second pregnancy. I believe that the trauma arose from loosing the sound of Lacy’s heart beat during active labour. When I couldn’t hear her heart beat I became terrified which resulted in very high pitch screaming (little did I know that we lost the sound of her heart beat because she had turned to a posterior position). Nobody reassured me that my baby was ok and I was too engrossed in my fear to be able to articulate what was bothering me. In that moment, I felt that I had fought so valiantly through Hyperemesis to have my Lacy, that I couldn’t loose her now. I was also desperately missing my mum, who had passed away 10 months earlier. I had often pictured her as a grandmother and being there at the moment of my birth - my grief in that moment was indescribable. Then there was the pain!! So large had my ball of fear become that I could not focus on beautifully riding each contracting and the pain shot through me like a samurai’s sword.

Two days after Lacy was born I was still having flashbacks of the labour as well as nightmares. While still in hospital, I awoke during the night believing I was still in the stirrups pushing. When coming out of the dream state I cried and cried. Also, upon my 6 week visit to the obstetrician, I had to go into the stirrups again. My legs started to shake and I felt sick.

However, there were moments of the birth that I did remember as beautiful. During the initial stages of labour I used visualisation and breathing techniques learned through Yoga and Calm Birthing. I remembered joyfully riding each contracting as it ebbed and flowed like a rhythmic wave and believing that I was dancing and floating in this lovely state of fertility, motherhood and beauty. Unfortunately, these memories were often pushed away when they arose, as in the end all that remained was guilt and shame and fear about my first labour experience.

How did the experience differ to your expectations?

I had expected a quiet, controlled and very calm birth with Lacy so the reality of my labour with her was disappointing. During the “Calm Birthing” training that I did prior to Lacy’s birth, we watched a video of a lady in labour. She was quiet, strong and beautiful, and during my visualisation practise, I had pictured my labour just like that. I knew that it would be hard work and had pictured myself being confident and strong whilst working hard. I was assured that my body would know what it was doing. All I had to do was remain present and focused and my baby would come out.

When you fell pregnant with Paxton, were you fearful of birth?

I was very fearful of the birth however I knew I had nine months to deal with my emotions and I was confident that I could do so. I also held onto the memories of my initial stages of labour with Lacy and thought that if I didn’t let fear take over I would be ok. However, there was no time for dwelling on thoughts of labour. At five weeks Hyperemesis set in again! This time it was much more virulent than before and all I could focus on was surviving the next hour through waves of nausea, until I could finally vomit, and get beautiful relief for five minutes before it started again. This cycle continued relentlessly. The medication I took in my first pregnancy had no effect. At eight weeks I ended up in hospital with dehydration and dwindling mental stability. I started to question if I could continue with the pregnancy. These thoughts brought much heartache to my family and friends who encouraged me to “just keep going”. Little did well-meaning friends and family realise that to “just keep going” meant donning a suit of armour and charging into battle. The thought of which exhausted me. Hyperemesis slowly broke me down on every level – physically, spiritually and emotionally. At 10 weeks I was back in hospital dehydrated again and this time I really wanted to end the pregnancy. I had forgotten what it felt like to be well and simple things like brushing my teeth and combing my hair were luxuries that had been stolen. I was also desperately missing the company of my two-year-old who was very distressed that mummy was unwell and I was devastated that I was not able to console and reassure her.

Twelve weeks came and I had had enough. It was at the point where I said to God “you either need to take my life or allow my body to spontaneously abort – I’m done”. After saying this, I gave up. Through choked tears I booked a pregnancy termination. Minutes after booking the termination the phone rang and it was a very dear friend. He told me that he felt impressed to take some time off work and camp outside my bedroom door and pray and fast for the survival of my baby. I told him to do whatever he though was necessary as I had given up and didn’t care any more. My friend’s act of sacrifice – giving up food and work, prompted my husband and another friend to pray and fast also. I thought this act was beautiful. Three husbands and fathers giving up food and work to petition God for the survival of an unborn child they didn’t even know. On the second day of the “Fasting Fathers” I was able to get an appointment with the obstetrician who had nursed me through Lacy’s pregnancy. Upon arrival at his surgery he welcomed me with unbridled compassion and support. With confidence he said if this was a life or death situation, he was prepared to hit me with “the kitchen sink” of medications – steroids, sedatives and vitamins - and pray for the best. With no hope, I downed the medication and within 24 hours I was only vomiting four times a day. I was then able to say “I can do this now.” I cancelled the termination the evening before we were due for our appointment. The “Fasting Fathers” then ate a victory meal.

How did you come to realise that in order to prepare for Paxton's birth you had to make peace with your first birth experience?

Making peace with birth was a long process. Not only was there a fear of labour, there was an emotional block between my baby and myself and intense anger that once again, Hyperemesis had robbed me of a beautiful pregnancy. For me, anger is an emotion that disconnects me from my body and spirit so I had no idea what I needed at first. I resented being pregnant and thought that this baby was an inconvenience that had robbed me of wellness. I didn’t even know why I decided to have another baby after my horrible first pregnancy and birth experience. Of course, this thinking resulted in me seeking professional help and I commenced treatment through the peri-natal mental health team.

At 20 weeks, a very broken mum-to-be commenced yoga. Yoga was my mainstay through my first pregnancy and was the only thing that seemed to connect me to my body, spirit and emotions. During the first class we were asked to develop a sankalpa - a positive affirmation for me and my baby. When I attempted to develop a sankalpa no words or pictures came to me. I searched and searched my spirit and it was empty. All I could do was cry. This was when I knew I needed to change my thinking but I still didn’t know I needed peace. For the entirety of the first block of yoga (six weeks) when asked to repeat my sankalpa I forced myself to tell my baby I loved him. I then began to do this practise several times a day and finally by the second block of yoga I bean to feel more positive about my baby.

One of my yoga teacher’s themes during the first block of yoga was “surrender”. This was sooooo difficult at first. My yoga teacher had us all sit against the wall in a squat position and “surrender”– which involved a fair amount of discomfort. As I practised “surrendering” and “letting go” of negative thoughts, my strength improved. Both physically and mentally I was stronger. I then applied “surrendering” to my vomiting and suddenly, each vomit became bearable and just part of my normal day. By “surrendering” I was able to ignore my vomiting, interact with Lacy, get out and see my girlfriends and start participating in everyday life. However, I still was not happy with my sankalpa – something was not right about it. I decided to ask friends and family what theme I could have or hold onto for this pregnancy. My Aunty said “peace”. I had a total body and emotional reaction to this word and was angry that she would think that with all I was going through, I needed something as stupid as “peace”. After calming down, I realised that if I had reacted so violently to this word – peace was what I needed. At this point peace felt so unattainable - once again I grieved.

Can you describe how you found peace?

Prayer, relaxation and yoga were my main comforts during this time. I pressed into my spiritual self and petitioned God for answers. A beautiful song that I had sung in church as a child came back to me - “I’ve got peace like a river, I’ve got peace like a river, I’ve got peace like a river in my soul”. I then realised that the most powerful weapon I had against difficult circumstances was being “at peace”. I began to imagine myself dressed in armour each day being a “peaceful warrior” - while the fight was raging around, was able to be centred and clear to determine the battle strategy. Then the strategy came. I firstly compartmentalised my situation. I separated the pregnancy, from my baby and from my labour and knew I had three parts to deal with – pregnancy, baby and labour. With excitement, I realised that I had already made peace with the pregnancy, through the practise of surrendering and letting go. Letting go of expectation of how things “should” have been and letting go of my desire to control what was happening to me gave me such freedom. Upon this realisation a fresh infusion of hope and enthusiasm flooded me.

I then had to make peace with my baby. Making peace with the baby was so entangled with emotion. I put this off for many, many days. I felt guilty and ashamed that I had come to that point of booking a termination – how could I ever make peace with that? Intertwined with making peace with the baby was making peace with myself. Firstly I had to forgive myself. This involved more yoga, more prayer until I was able to once again “surrender” or let go of my emotions and decide - I am a mother, beautifully flawed, who loves and has selflessly endured to get this far in my pregnancy. Through an outpouring of tears I was able to then speak through the walls of my uterus to my baby and tell him how sorry I was. I welcomed him to this world and told how much he was wanted. I told him he was conceived in love and that even though that love was threatened, love had conquered and I would see him soon. He did a flip inside me and turned from a breach to anterior position.

I was so overjoyed to have made peace with my bub that I wanted a party and an opportunity to tell those close to me about the peace that I had found. One rainy afternoon, I invited all of those close to me who had endured the pregnancy with me. The “Fasting Fathers”, had the seat of honour in my heart but I knew that they wanted their act to remain private so I could not publicly honour them as I would have liked. Through more tears I told my testimony of finding peace and how each one in attendance had played their part to result in the survival of this unborn baby. Other’s who could not attend the afternoon were given a card detailing how they, as a community, had supported the survival of my baby. It was all very beautiful, raw and emotional.

Finally, I had to make peace with the birth or labour process. I had enrolled in a yogic birth preparation class through my yoga school. During that class I changed my sankalpa to reflect what I had learned about peace and began welcoming peace into my body and spirit. My husband was also in attendance at this class and made a commitment to stand with me in my desire for peace. My husband and I made declarations to each other about what we wanted for the birth and collectively called in peace, surrender, love and calm to what we already felt about birthing and labour.
During this class a family who had recently birthed told their birth story. The mother talked about being loud and “roaring like a bear” and how much release she felt from doing this during her labour. I instantly knew that this was the tool I needed for my birth. I had already been practising making noise during yoga and had built up a tolerance for making noise and not feeling embarrassed. After hearing this story I no longer felt embarrassed about making noise and practised making noise through each yogic position with gusto. My husband also apologised for asking me to be quiet during my first labour and willingly made noise with me as we practised yoga together. It was then that I joyfully told my yoga teacher that I had made peace with birth during the birth preparation class and that I felt confident and empowered to birth my baby without fear. Fear no longer had control over me and I felt as if my whole body, spirit and emotions had been wash clean of the previous labour - I was free, in love with my baby and happy.

How were you feeling as you journeyed towards the end of your pregnancy?

Released - is the only word to describe how I felt in the latter weeks of my pregnancy. I admired my bulging body and embraced the imminent labour with excitement. Fearful thoughts still popped up but I was able to replace them with peace instantly. I was so strong and powerful during those last weeks. I felt as though I was floating in every task I was doing and that I was radiating beauty as I once again prepared for birthing. I intensified my yoga practise and visualised a peaceful birth. I visualised riding each contraction as it built to a peak and sliding down the other side. I practised a number of different breaths to support each stage in my labour and felt as though I had several tools to help me through anything I might encounter. I then knew that my baby’s name needed to have something to do with peace.

How was Paxton's birth different to Lacy's?

Due to my history of Hyperemesis my Obstetrician and I decided to have an indication at 39 weeks. This was done to prevent dehydration due to vomiting and also to combat fatigue as the Hyperemesis had already taken so much of my energy stores. On the day of the induction I became very inwardly drawn and began to practise my breathing from the moment I was in the car on the way to the hospital.

At the hospital, everything was done very slowly to allow my body as much time as possible to naturally go into labour. Upon breaking my waters contractions became more regular and I quickly progressed to three centimetres dilated. My husband I were laughing and watching movies as I breathed through each contraction – totally at peace. An epidural was then booked, due to the history of my previous labour and the posterior position of my baby. I asked for the epidural to be on the lowest setting so that I could still feel some of the contractions. Surprisingly, I had great movement and was able to get into different positions, breath easily and most importantly focus on visualising my cervix opening. My obstetrician then popped in to deliver the news that I was ten centimetres dilated and that I was ready to push. I knew this before he told me as I was so “in touch” with my body – despite the epidural. I felt a very strong pressure in my bowel and being my second time in labour knew that pushing was not far away. My husband in a bit of a panic said “ right what do you want me to do now that the baby is posterior again”. I said, a bit angrily “You can pray that the baby turns anterior!”

I had done so much practice surrendering and letting in peace that as I began to push I did it with such power, control and calmness. Everyone in my birthing suit was relaxed and having a good time. The energy in the room was alert but calm. As my baby’s head hit the perineum I knew that I was going to call him Paxton, which means “from a peaceful place”. Upon this realisation and through my husband’s prayer Paxton turned to the anterior position and slipped out into this world with loud exclamations. As soon as he was in my arms we regarded each other and I told him he was home. We were both at peace. He hungrily fed.

What is your advice for women who want to make peace with their birth experience?

My love and support go out to all mothers yet to birth that need to make peace with their first birth experience. You are warrior women who will succeed in this task as you successfully brought your first child into the world.
Firstly, I would encourage you to acknowledge what you went through the first time. Look at the experience objectively and process any emotions attached to that experience. In order to process emotions I would encourage you to become in-tuned to your spiritual self. I had a belief in God so this was a source of strength for me however I also used yoga, visualisation, relaxation, journaling and long beach walks. Talk. Talk openly and honestly with girlfriends or a counsellor if need be. Some women are blessed with beautiful birth experiences first time round. Other women for whatever reason are not. Honestly admitting that you were not pleased with your first birth experience is ok. Accept that the experience was not great as this brings a platform to begin welcoming in change. There are excellent peri-natal counsellors who can help with this if you need help.

Develop a “sankalpa” - a positive affirmation for you and your baby. In my experience, this meant finding the thing that was the most negative – fear, from my first birth experience, and declaring the opposite – peace, in a warrior like fashion every day. Yogi’s believe that repeating your sankalpa to yourself everyday and not revealing it to anyone else will result in it being realised – this was very true for me. Not only was I in love with my baby but I was also at peace.
Surrender – my yoga teacher said “don’t push the river, it flows by itself”. Surrender to what is going to happen, allow it to wash over you. Visualise yourself being at peace within your labour and choose to believe that the old birth experience has no precedent on the new. It is a new labour and it will be different from your first - it can also be joyful and peaceful.

Practise yoga or another very spiritual exercise suitable to you. Our society in the western world is so caught up in instant gratification, noise and business. All of these distractions can separate us from our body, emotions and spirit. For me, Yoga and prayer allowed me to grieve my first labour and positively process emotions so that by the time I was ready to birth I had been washed clean of any baggage that may have stood in the way of birthing my second baby with peace.

Finally, from the bottom of my heart, peace and blessings to any mother yet to birth. You are beautiful and strong in your vulnerability. Peace can be yours once you choose it.


  1. so beautiful & honest, thank you for sharing :)
    I'm 23 weeks pregnant with my 2nd baby & starting to think about labour. My first one was good, but its not something I'm looking forward to. You've encouraged me to start preparing!

  2. wow, this was beautiful, thank you so much for sharing.
    i'm on the downhill to my 5th birth and i have to admit i'm kinda addicted to childbirth!! i have been so blessed to have 4 natural waterbirths (3 at home) so far and labour is so familiar now. it is wonderful to birth without fear!!


  3. oh wow! Bee is an amazing woman. thanks for interviewing her and sharing this with us.

  4. I so wish I had read this 7 years ago. I read this crying and every time I think of my first child's birth(natural) I cry. I chose caesarian 2nd and 3rd time.I just couldn't risk a repeat.
    thanks so much for sharing.

  5. Thank you Jodi and Bree for opening your hearts to us. I have been looking forward to reading these stories.

    Although I probably could not conceive again, I would dread the constant sickness that never left me. I remember thinking that I was going to die and was not coping, although I never showed it on the outside. I had to keep going to work and push through each day.

    I remember struggling to find my own positive affirmation for me and by baby. I felt everything caving in on me. Not until the last few weeks of pregnancy did some words come.

    I did have a positive birth experience despite having a posterior birth, and so thankful to you Jodi for helping me to get there.

    But even so , I still think there would be some making of peace to go through the intensity again.

    I am loving watching the show "one born every mintue" on SBS. I love the comment made by one of the midwife that the passage of giving birth is like a doorway to the letting go, for motherhood.

    Much love and peace

  6. Woah. I'm a little stuck for words. Thank you Bee for your courage in sharing your story and Jodi for doing these posts. I think a lot of women will find strength and inspiration and peace too from these words. Myself included as I struggle with the memories of a first birth that didn't quite go to plan.
    I am learning how important it is as women to share our stories and build communities (even virtual ones) so thanks again... xx

  7. Wow, what an extraordinary story from an extraordinary woman. It's a wonderful read, Jodi, I'm so looking forward to all the instalments in this series. Kellie xx

  8. Amazing. Women are amazing and every pregnancy, baby and birth are valid and special. I am so looking forward to ready more of these Q&A's. I want a third child and have a lot of fear when it comes to labouring again. I feel empowered and inspired reading the stories of others. x

  9. Wow, what a powerful and honest story of pregnancy and birth.
    My first birth went well but...there were elements that left me disappointed. Having said that, in the scheme of things birth is a means to an end. That 'end' is now nearly seven months old and is the light of my life!
    Thanks for the great series,

  10. amazing words...thank you Bee for being so honest. You really never know what a pregnancy is like from the inside, so thanks for your insight.

  11. My baby is three months old and already I've been asked if I'm going to have another. My answer usually is that first I need to forget what it was like to be pregnant and what it was like to give birth to my daughter almost six weeks early before even considering it. But then it struck me while reading Bee's extraordinary story that instead of forgetting I need to acknowledge every little bit that happened and then let go. Thank you so much I wept when I read about Bee and her journey. This is exactly why I love the internet. The connectedness and the strength that comes from sharing stories. Even the painful ones. Thank you Bee for sharing and thank you Jodi for interviewing.

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  13. This is amazing. I feel compelled to share my own story, now!

  14. This woman is completely amazing and inspiring. As inspiring a story as all the positive birthing stories i've read, where it's all gone perfectly and is a calm, serene affair. As a Mama to be these stories are just as important and I can't wait to read more in this little series you're doing Jodi. This is such a beautiful space to be part of, it makes me very grateful I found you and your blog. xx

  15. Thank you so much Jodi and Bee! I have been thinking about this very topic a lot lately and Bee's choices in her second labour sound a lot like where I might go this next time round. So great to get these stories out there Jodi -- real, complex, positive and empowering. Thank you!!!

  16. That's a very powerful story.
    I think making peace and learning acceptance are such powerful tools for us - hard to learn though

  17. My tears are flowing....
    THank you for sharing this amazing journey. More than words.

    Peace to you, Warrior Bee.

  18. Beautiful. Thank you for sharing that honesty.

  19. Such a beautiful personal journey.

    I think for me, it's just about un-learning everything I had 'learned' about childbirth.

    I almost feel like I need to block out all the books and birth stories and just listen to my own body. I think sometimes our instincts can get drowned in external information and influence. x

  20. One Claire Day said, "I almost feel like I need to block out all the books and birth stories and just listen to my own body. I think sometimes our instincts can get drowned in external information and influence."

    YES. That's the biggest thing I've taken from the healing & processing about this last birth experience... I can read some birth stories now, but if/when we're expecting again someday, I'm tuning everything out and focusing inward and upward - the only places *my* answers will be.

  21. ...also, I need to send heartfelt thanks to you, and especially to Bee, for sharing her thoughts and feelings. Her willingness to share has helped me in an amazing way.

  22. It's so lovely to have the chance to read this again, and for you to share it again. I too had Hyperemesis from 3 weeks pregnant until giving birth for both pregnancies. It is very under-diagnosed and so many women power on through being told it's just a part of pregnancy ( i was undiagnosed when i was pregnant with Oliver, and was 20kgs lighter the day before I gave birth). Many women including me are told it's all in your "head" but sadly it's taken the deaths of many many women for the medical institutions to realise it's very real so are now offering dedicated area's in some of the major hospitals for women to go in and get re-hydrated/nourished as a day stay.
    Thank you for sharing your story Bee, It's a powerful one!

  23. What a powerful interview. Thank you Bee for being so open and explaining how you went about making peace with your first birth experience.
    Jodi, I'm really looking forward to you sharing some of your knowledge on the birth process in future posts :)