Choosing Waterbirth: Reclaiming the Sacred Power of Birthby Lakshmi Bertram, Sandra Amrita McClanahan (Foreword by)
Waterbirth is an all-natural, gentle, pain-reducing, fulfilling, and empowering birthing method, in which mother and infant start their new life together in a relaxing and deeply familiar environment: warm water. But is it safe? How does water reduce the pain? And is it really more beneficial to your baby? In this complete guide to waterbirth, a yoga instructor
Waterbirth is an all-natural, gentle, pain-reducing, fulfilling, and empowering birthing method, in which mother and infant start their new life together in a relaxing and deeply familiar environment: warm water. But is it safe? How does water reduce the pain? And is it really more beneficial to your baby? In this complete guide to waterbirth, a yoga instructor and mother of five "water babies" relates her own experiences in the tub while providing the important information that every parent needs to understand, prepare for, and undertake waterbirthing: The basics of natural birth How water immersion promotes the feeling of well-being while reducing pain How to locate birthing facilities, practitioners, and tubs Exercises designed to relax and strengthen the mother How to create the ideal birthing environment Practical advise for breast-feeding, baby massage, and more In addition, Choosing Waterbirth contains a complete prenatal yoga program with exercises and breathing and relaxation techniques designed to prepare the mother for an easier labor and delivery. More than 80 photos, including some of the author giving birth in water, bring the experience vividly to life. If you are interested in creating a loving, positive, empowering, and fulfilling birth experience, Choosing Waterbirth will provide you with all the information, practical guidance, and insight you'll ever need.
- Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Inc.
- Publication date:
- Sales rank:
- Product dimensions:
- 7.20(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.60(d)
Read an Excerpt
Reclaiming the Sacred Power of Birth
By Lakshmi Bertram
Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Inc.Copyright © 2000 Lakshmi Bertram
All rights reserved.
* * *
Every woman, when she finds out she is carrying a new life, asks herself a number of difficult and soul-searching questions. "Am I ready for this? Will I be a good mother? Will I be able to do all that will be demanded of me in the years to come?" We all face the same fears and doubts about our ability to create a new life, bring it safely into the world, and raise it successfully.
Probably the most difficult of these questions, and the one most agonized over, concerns the actual birth. "Will I be able to do it? Will I be able to make it through the labor and delivery?" Fears about the intensity of the contractions and of being unable to push the baby out are utmost in the mother's mind, causing anxiety in some and a crippling fear in others.
In today's society, it is no wonder so many women fear birth. Who hasn't seen a birth on film or television where a wailing baby is pulled from a mother who is writhing and screaming in pain and swearing she will never have a baby again? Who hasn't heard the birth horror stories told by women who have gone through the process? Today, birth is commonly viewed as overwhelming and frightening and, because of this, many women no longer see it as a natural occurrence that they have the ability to get through.
For thousands of years, women have been giving birth. As women, our bodies and minds are uniquely adapted to it. When we were created inside the wombs of our mothers, our bodies were already at work giving us this unique ability. Birth is a natural, healthy process that if left up to nature can be one of the greatest and most joyful experiences of our lives.
We trust in nature for so many things: respiration, assimilation, digestion, the beating of our hearts. Without nature, we would immediately die, no oxygen would enter our lungs, no blood would carry this oxygen to the necessary places and all cells would cease to function. Our very ability to exist depends on nature. Yet, somehow we have come to believe that in this one particular area of childbearing, nature has failed and we women no longer have the ability to give birth!
In fact, as many dismayed husbands, taxi drivers, and rescue personnel will tell you, no matter where they are or what is going on around them, when a baby is ready to be born, it is usually born. It may be in the hospital, the taxi, a shopping mall, an elevator, in a tree, as I recently heard on the news of a woman who did this, or it may be at home. When the moment of birth arrives, nature waits for no one. Most births do not actually require doctors or hospitals or fetal monitors or forceps or episiotomies or drugs. Once babies are ready, they arrive and the only other person needed is the mother.
And every mother can give birth naturally. If allowed to follow your natural inclinations, you can labor and birth your baby in your own unique way, relying on your own strength, tuning into an inner knowledge that only you possess.
We all have this ability; it's built into our systems. With the onset of labor, your consciousness will shift and you will become more subconscious in your thinking patterns, dropping back from reason into instinct, from thinking into feeling. In this highly intuitive state, you will know exactly what you want and need to be able to birth your baby. If respected, and given what you instinctually desire, you will very likely be able to give birth without interference, just as you were designed to do. If your instinctual preferences are ignored, however, as they often are in the typical hospital setting, that is when you could need "help" from outside.
Hospitals, while well-intentioned, typically do not allow for this natural process. It was for this reason that I chose to give birth at home. Hospitals, in their narrow, clinical view, tend to expect babies to be born on time, following the averages, and according to a predetermined schedule. They appear to overlook that birth is unpredictable, changing, and flowing like everything else in nature. And that, while there are certain processes that must occur for the baby to be born, there are many variations on how these processes come about and that most of these variations are normal. Because of this view, labor and birth are "managed" and often chemically altered with drugs to ensure that they meet the hospital criteria.
In contrast to the gentleness and consideration I believe childbirth deserves is the typical hospital birth where a laboring woman entering the hospital to deliver her baby is faced with a situation so inconsiderate of her needs, that it can inspire fear and embarrassment in even the most stout-hearted.
My first awareness of this inspired an absolute certainty in me that I did not want to have a hospital birth. I wanted freedom of movement and choice. I wanted to be able to do whatever I needed to feel the most comfortable while birthing my baby. I had heard other women's stories of their hospital births, I knew what they had gone through, and the experiences they had had were not the ones I wanted for myself while I birthed my babies.
If I birthed in the hospital, most likely during labor, I would be strapped immobile to a bed, an IV line in my arm, a monitor around my abdomen. My freedom to move taken from me, I would not be able to walk around to enlist the help of gravity, not be able to squat to shorten the birth canal, not be allowed to stretch, bend, or do any movement at all that would help ease or shorten my labor. I would not be allowed to eat or drink after the onset of labor. Which made me wonder: where would I get energy for the labor and pushing the baby out? During this time when in a natural labor a woman feels a powerful urge to bear down, in the hospital scenario, I was likely to feel exhausted and disheartened.
If I had pain-reducing drugs administered during labor, my pushing ability could be diminished even further, which meant I could also expect to spend hours trying to get my baby out. I would almost certainly be given an episiotomy, which is a surgical cut in the wall of the perineum to make the birth canal bigger. There was a good chance if I went beyond a set time limit, a vacuum or forceps would be used to try to pull the baby out. And I would have a twenty-five percent chance of having a C-section in which my baby would be "born" by being pulled out of me through a surgical incision in my abdomen.
In addition to this, by having to cater to the hospital set-up and the birthing personnel—doctors, nurses, anesthesiologists—this most natural, private, and intimate of moments would become a public affair. Like many women, with so many people around, watching and scrutinizing me, I knew I would feel an incredible pressure to perform, to be "good" at this birthing thing, as if there were a wrong way for me to birth my baby.
The twenty-hour, extremely painful labor brings about just as real a baby as the very quick, two-hour labor does. Both births are equal in the fact that the final result is the same, yet it is often the two-hour birthing woman who is considered the "good birthing" mother and the twenty-hour mother who is deemed deficient. This seemed to be an unfair misconception to me. Obviously the woman who labors longer and harder deserves at least a little more commendation for all her effort. What she usually gets is condemnation.
I did not want this commonly accepted belief that birth should be a certain way to tarnish my experiences of giving birth. Whether I labored for two hours or twenty, I wanted total acceptance and support from all the people around me.
Once my baby was born, there would be a whole new set of concerns. After nine months of waiting and counting the days, once the baby was finally here, I did not want it immediately whisked away. I wanted a chance to get to know the baby I had carried, time to lovingly welcome it to the world, while I held against my breast this whole, new person that I had created. I knew it was common practice in the hospital for the baby to be taken soon after the birth to be checked over, cleaned up, and weighed. To me, all this seemed secondary to taking the time to get to know my baby.
When viewed as a whole, a hospital birth seemed to offer so little. In exchange for "safety," I would be sacrificing consideration and respect. In exchange for a doctor's knowledge, I would be giving up my own inner guidance. In exchange for pain-reduction, I would be giving up freedom and power.
I knew birth was natural and did not need to be feared. I knew as a woman I was capable of giving birth.
I was right.
Into this careful consideration, water labor and delivery were introduced. Keeping with the empowerment and freedom of a natural birth, it brought the added benefit of making labor shorter and less painful. Being safe for the mother because there are no drugs in her system and safe for the baby because a baby will not breathe until its face hits the air, water-birth was also effective and had no negative side effects. Through waterbirth, I could have pain-reduction while retaining intuitive freedom. Nothing had to be exchanged for the benefits; none of my ideals had to be sacrificed.
Five births later, I can honestly say that all of my experiences were wonderful and fulfilling. Five births later, I can tell you that your birth experiences can be, too.CHAPTER 2
* * *
My first awareness of birth as a natural experience came to me at a very young age. Not, as might be expected, from the stories told by well-meaning aunts and grandmothers, nor from the obvious example of my own mother who had six children. My awareness came from first-hand experience, powerful and more far-reaching than any story. It came from the four-legged friends of mine, the horses, whom I valued at the age of five more than any of my human friends.
Living on my grandparents' horse ranch with my mother and father and my three sisters, I was third down the list of four girls and I was quiet, a dreamer. By the time I was three, I was spending more time in the pasture than in the house. I don't know how old I was when I first began to climb through the gate to mingle with the great beasts on the other side. But I feel quite certain the event nearly gave my mother a heart attack and I feel equally certain she and my father did their best to keep me from venturing in with the horses again. After all, these animals weren't puppies; they were thousand-pound thoroughbred mares. One wrong move, accidental or otherwise, and I would have been sent very quickly to the "great beyond." However, two things soon became apparent, and these allowed me to have a childhood I can never forget.
First, there was no way to keep me out of there; any time I was left on my own, I headed straight for the pasture. Second, the mares took a liking to me, treating me with gentleness and care as if I was one of their own, only considerably smaller. I spent untold hours with the mares, following them through the pasture, wandering in and out of their legs, sleeping in their feed bins. I grew to love them with a passion that is still with me today.
I had one particular favorite. Her name was Rosy May. She was a wide-girthed, gentle quarter horse mare with a beautiful strawberry roan coat and a black mane and tail. I loved her more than any of the others and was rewarded in turn by her total acceptance of me. She would stand perfectly still while I sat leaning against her front legs, singing to her in my off-key voice. Rosy May would allow me to climb on her back when she was resting on her side. When she stood up, I clung to her like a burr and thus spent many hours of my early childhood on horseback.
My mother tells a story about me (much to my adult embarrassment) of how she found me on Rosy May's back one evening, sitting unconcerned, as something wet streamed down the mare's sides. With some amusement she realized the wet streaks were pee. Apparently I was not even willing to get off the horse's back in order to use the bathroom. My mother also tells of looking out her kitchen window and seeing me asleep on the horse's broad back, the gentle giant unmoving while I slept the afternoon away.
These powerful and beautiful creatures were my life and, for a time, I half believed myself to be one of them. Many were brood mares, and each spring would bring the promise of a dozen new foals on the ranch. Next to Rosy May, the foals were the closest to my heart, and I would wait with suppressed excitement for the birthing season....
It is 4:00 A.M. on a cold spring morning. A gentle shake awakens me.
"Lakshmi, come on. It's time."
I open my eyes and look into my mother's face leaning over me.
"Hurry!" she whispers. "Or you'll miss it."
Shaking the sleep from my head, I spring from the bed feeling a burst of excitement. Still in my pajamas, I follow her through the quiet house. We pause at the back door to pull on our coats. Then, stepping out into the brisk predawn air, we hurry across the patio towards our destination.
Maybe at that time my sisters are there too, I don't know, I can't remember, because all my attention centers on the dim light coming from the cracks in the side of the barn.
Thwump! A collapsing sound comes from the barn as the mare lies down.
"She's dropped!" Mom smiles at me excitedly. "Quickly, now. Come quietly. We don't want to frighten her."
I scramble up the side of the barn to the window opening, trying to be quiet, even in my haste. Peering into the eerie semi-darkness made red by a heat lamp suspended from the ceiling, I see the mare. She lies dark against the straw, her sides heaving, her gaze turned inwards. She breathes long slow breaths, deeply relaxing. She doesn't appear concerned or frightened by what she is doing, even when the muscles of her abdomen tighten with the next contraction. I watch wide-eyed and silent as she begins to breathe quicker, almost panting through the peak of the contraction; then as it slides away, forgotten, she takes deep, soothing breaths, releasing her tension, allowing her strength to return for the next one.
The mare labors naturally in the rhythm of birth. Breathing, allowing each contraction to do its job, relaxing completely in between to keep up her strength. Soon a subtle shift begins. Now, during the height of each contraction, the mare holds her breath and engages her abdominal muscles to begin the job of pushing her little passenger out into the world. The contractions become more intense and before long, the forelegs appear, covered in the pink amniotic sac. On the next push, a head appears, followed soon after by the foal. It wriggles, tearing the sac, and I get my first glimpse of the new arrival.
Soaking wet, its hair plastered to its head, making its already large ears appear even bigger, the foal is not much to look at. But as the wide black eyes turn my way, I know that I've never seen anything as beautiful.
The new mother sits up straight and cranes her head around to examine the foal. Her eyes are bright and curious as she nuzzles her baby; all the pain of labor is forgotten in the magic moment of birth. I sigh, resting my chin on my arms, filled with awe by the miracle I have witnessed.
To me, all this seems normal, business as usual. There were no doctors, no bright lamps, no fetal monitors or forceps, and the mother felt safe and comfortable in her familiar surroundings with no need for painkillers. Long before I had ever heard of "natural birth," I had witnessed it many times in the dimly lit interior of a foaling shed and from these experiences came the absolute belief that this is the way birth was meant to be.
Many years later, when I received the news, via a home pregnancy test, that I was to have a baby, I knew that I wanted to do it at home without interference or drugs. I wanted to do it naturally, in a dimly lit room with warmth and silence surrounding me, just as I had seen it done so often by the "playmates" of my childhood, the mares.CHAPTER 3
A Challenging Reality
* * *
Deciding to give birth naturally was one thing; having to seriously consider going through all that labor without painkillers was another thing entirely.
Birth may be beautiful, but it is also challenging. It is to women what a coming of age ceremony might be to men. It is a time when we must reach deep inside ourselves to find a strength we didn't know we possessed until the moment comes and it is needed. During this time, nothing outside of us can help; no person and no thing can birth our babies for us. It is our bodies that must open up to allow these babies to be born, and our minds that must accept the pain caused by their births. Midwives and doctors, husbands and friends may offer us support and guidance, but it is we who must actually go through the process.
Knowing this it was with some trepidation and a lot of determination that I decided to birth my baby, naturally, at home.
I began reading everything I could about the process of labor and birth, educating myself in the hope of relieving some of the anxiety I was feeling. But there were few books on the subject that could tell me what I wanted to know. Many of them addressed the physical process of labor and delivery in great detail, but tell short of providing me with any practical advice, or even information, about having my baby naturally, at home. Living in a rural community, forty-five miles from the nearest big town, neither did I have access to Lamaze, or any other birth organization or childbirth education class that could offer support and encouragement.
Excerpted from Choosing Waterbirth by Lakshmi Bertram. Copyright © 2000 Lakshmi Bertram. Excerpted by permission of Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews