After their first birth transferred from home to hospital and ended in a cesarean, Ana and Chris knew that they wanted to approach the next pregnancy with a new kind of preparation.
Ana: We wanted to give the baby the best that we could; something that he could feel that he was being birthed with love and not stress. I wanted to be totally aware, and for him to be aware. I wanted to not feel afraid… I just wanted the baby to be healthy, and just to give the best to my baby, the best slow and gentle and loving birth.
A family friend told Ana and Chris about Anna H., a doula who teaches Calm Birth (and also conducted this interview), and they started taking her classes at the end of the pregnancy.
Ana: Because I took Hypnobirthing before and it didn’t really work for me, I was open-minded to listen to something new, but I knew that in the end I would make the decision of what I wanted to do. In Hypnobirthing, I said “this is what I have to do,” and it was stressful for me. This time, I said that I would listen to what Calm Birth had to say, but at the end, I knew that I could do whatever I wanted, and if it didn’t work for me, I’d do what did work for me. It felt really comforting to know that it was my decision, and that I didn’t have any pressure to follow any method-it was just listening to different ideas, knowing that once I was in labor, I’d know what to do. The CD helped me to remember to breathe, and that I needed to take things slow and relax and keep focus so that labor could go smoothly.
Chris joined Ana in practicing the CD. “I understand the importance of meditation and calming and relaxing your body,” he says,“So it was enjoyable to set time aside to do it.”
Labor started on the 4th of July. Ana, Chris, and their 18-month-old son, Sebastian, went to the parade while Ana breathed through early labor contractions. She called Anna H., her doula, around 3 in the morning. For the next nineteen hours, Ana labored at home, attended by Chris and Anna H. They went for walks, ate, and listened to Practice of Opening and Womb Breathing from time to time, when Ana wanted to rest or center with her breathing. Around 7 pm, Ana was experiencing very regular contractions, and around 10 pm they called the hospital birth center.
Due to unforeseen and unusual circumstances, the only birth center in the valley that supported vaginal births after cesarean (VBACs) was closed, and Ana’s doctor was unreachable when Anna H. called.
Anna H.: This was one of the most intense experiences I’ve had as a doula. I found that I was really focusing on my breathing to keep me centered. The thought that we would have to go someplace where you might not feel supported by the staff to deliver and make your choices…. Something we talk about a lot in Calm Birth is being able to recognize and release fears as they came up, and I found myself doing a lot of that.
Ana: I thought, “If I’m not gonna be able to go where I’d planned, I’m obviously going to have a c-section. And then I thought, “Well, then I don’t wanna feel any more contractions if I’m just gonna have a cesarean,” so I got in the shower because I thought that would stop the contractions and it did, for a little bit, and I told Chris and Anna to figure it out. I was really focused on my contractions and what I was doing. If I lost control, I would feel pain, and I didn’t want to focus on it or fixate on it; if we were going to go have a c-section, I thought we should just do it… but I also felt like it was everything for nothing. I did everything, and we’d been there all day, and we’d been doing so great, and we were ready to go, and now I was just going to go have a c-section, like it was all for nothing? I felt kind of disappointed, but I believe in prayer, and I’d prayed about it before and asked Heavenly Father if I would have a natural birth and the answer was yes. So it reminded me that something was going to work out, because I believe in those answers, and that calmed me down. I just needed to wait to see what would happen, and everything got figured out.
Breathing has a lot to do with staying focused and losing stress, and not tensing up. Especially during labor, if I tense, I felt pain, and when I was focusing and breathing calmly, there was no pain! I mean, a little bit, but not really. And that’s why I wanted to keep focusing and do my thing and relax, and I knew something would work out.
Anna H.: And it did! You seemed to really keep your center in the face of all that intensity. We got ahold of your doctor and arranged to meet at the other hospital.
Ana: I was happy that I would still be able to have my natural birth, and I think that kept me happy and with my hopes up. We drove to the hospital, walked in, went straight to the room, and the nurse checked me and said I was at 8. Right after she checked, the water broke, and I was very happy about that-I didn’t want it to break artificially. Then I was at 9 ½. My body started pushing, and the nurses said, “Don’t push!” and I couldn’t help it, my body was doing it. Right after that, they checked again and I was at 10, and the doctor got there. Then we were able to continue with the birth, and it wasn’t long after that that he was born!
Anna H.: How did it compare to the post-partum meeting with Sebastian?
Ana: It was huge! When I had my first son, and they took him out with a c-section, I was so medicated that I wanted to hold him so much, but I couldn’t keep my eyes open, and that felt really sad. I didn’t like them taking him away from me so fast and not being able to hold him right away. It was so sad for me, and this time, him [Logan] being placed on my stomach right away, combined with the whole feeling of “I did it! I did it, and it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, and I could do it again, and I got to do everything I wanted-for the most part.” I gave my son a natural birth without meds, as gentle as we could, and he didn’t get stressed, and that made me feel really, really happy.
Anna H.: How’s the post-partum period been?
Ana: Amazing. After Sebastian was born, I was depressed for months and months. And I wasn’t sleeping well, obviously, but with the depression everything was worse. I didn’t want to go out, I didn’t want to shower or do my hair, I would just cry and talk to my son all day, and having a cesarean I felt like I couldn’t do anything-I couldn’t clean the house; it just made things worse.
This time, after a vaginal birth, I felt normal, like I could do whatever I wanted! I had to remind myself to take it easy. After a vaginal birth, you feel normal, not like you’re cut open, and you just feel so powerful and happy! The next day, when we were in the hospital, I had a huge smile! I was saying to all the nurses, “How are you? I’m great! I had a vaginal birth, I’m so happy!” and when we walked out of the hospital, I was smiling… it was a huge difference, I feel so so happy!
Anna H.: I know you prayed a lot about this and did massage and prenatal yoga, but how do you feel like Calm Birth specifically contributed to your overall experience?
Ana: I honestly thing that breathing has a lot with not feeling stress. It has to do with keeping your blood pressure down! These days, the way birth it’s like, “You have 42 weeks or we’re gonna induce or take the baby out,” it makes people stressed! It makes mamas stressed, and I’ve seen a lot of pregnant women whose blood pressure goes up, and they have to be induced because of it and they end up having epidural or cesarean, and it’s really sad! And I think that breathing can keep all those things away! When you’re feeling stressed, especially when you want to avoid a cesarean and you only have an amount of time to go into labor, and there are so many things that you just… you’re a little bit stressed! And breathing can really help keep you calm, and your blood pressure down. I learned that a lot. Also, during labor, if I didn’t do calm breathing the way I’d learned, I felt pain. And when I did it correctly: no pain!
Anna H: So, when you say no pain, I’m assuming you were still having sensation?
Ana: Yeah, absolutely. But it was like, “Okay, I know what it feels like, and I know it’s uncomfortable, but if I breathe like this I can handle it, and it will go away, three minutes later it’s gonna happen again,” but definitely I know that if I wasn’t breathing correctly I wouldn’t have been able to handle it, I would have ended up in the hospital asking for pain medication or something like that.
Anna: Chris, how did you deal with that stress?
Chris: More than anything, what I’ve always tried to do is remain as calm as possible because I think clearer, and stressing out doesn’t help anything. I’ve done lots of meditation and stuff before, so it was nice to be able to take a step back, ask what we could do, and how to keep as much as our birth plan as possible; to keep the big picture and stand our ground-but stay headstrong within reason, direct on our wishes.
Anna H.: Now, you two are pretty spiritual/religious people, of the Mormon faith. Did you feel like Calm Birth was harmonious with that?
Ana: Yes. With religion it always has to do with remaining calm so you can think clearly and make good decisions. And when you are calm-which Calm Birth’s breathing helps you remain calm-you can treat people nicely, have better relationships, live more clearly. If you’re stressed, not-good things happen. Calm breathing helps you stay relaxed.
Chris: What we were taught is that meditation and prayer are the same thing; you’re finding peace with yourself whether it’s you and the Universe or you and a God above; realizing that you can’t do everything yourself, that you’re so small in the scheme of things, but that through meditation and prayer, you’re able to get through hard things and remain calm because of it. Calm Birth helps us realize the importance of doing a daily meditation or prayer.
Anna H.: Do you feel like you’ll continue to use these methods you’ve used?
Ana: Yes! Parenting can be really stressful. Having little ones and trying to give them the best and to have patience, to talk to them nicely when they’re screaming at you, or when they all need something at the same time, breathing the way Calm Birth teaches really helps you have patience and be nice to your kids. Even when you’re tired and having a hard time, you can just stop and remember and breathe; you can talk to them in a different way. If you don’t, you can get stressed and yell at them, and then you feel bad because of that! I use calm breathing all the time. When I was pregnant I practiced it to a point that that was how I wanted to breathe all the time, not just during pregnancy and not just during birth, because I’m more calm, more relaxed, and healthier! I feel like I have more air coming into my body. I realized how different I was breathing before, how shallow and how I wasn’t getting enough air. Now I don’t think about breathing like this… when I stop and think about it, I always realize that I am breathing like this.
I think anyone could benefit from this. I mean, if you think about it, the littlest thing like breathing can change a lot! One of my cousins does a lot of meditation, and he said, “Have you noticed how babies breathe? And that we don’t breathe the same way, and that we should?” And I didn’t practice it, and I didn’t think about it, until this class! And if you think about it, we come to this planet knowing how to breathe, but then we grow older and we switch it… things happen, and we start breathing differently, and whether we see it or not, it has a huge impact in our bodies, in our selves! It’s wonderful to see how something so little can change so much.