Our baby's birth is an answered prayer.
I was at home, surrounded by my family - the people who love me most, by competent midwives dedicated to support me with seasoned, caring hands, and a sweet lady who documented everything in these beautiful photos.
Our healthy baby boy was born in the water weighing more than 8 lbs at 41 weeks. It was a successful VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean).
I believe every birthing family deserves the same.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. Psalm 139:14 NIV
We've been eagerly anticipating the signs of labor and finally had the bloody show on Wednesday of week 40.
That day, I started feeling mildly painful but irregular contractions. I used a mobile app to time them as I report to my midwife, Deborah. It was important to keep her updated with my progress so she could assess and decide when to come over.
Deb had to remind me a couple of times to get more sleep (it's hard to snooze when you're both excited and anxious!). She also said I should eat and drink, and go about my day as usual.
The plan was for me to give birth in the kubo beside our house. Itay (my husband) brought the inflatable pool there and setup curtains around it giving the feel of an outdoor spa.
Over the next three days, contractions went from menstrual cramp-like to toe-curling intensity but they're not as regular and frequent as we needed them to be.
I've been doing the Spinning Babies exercises a few weeks previously but because our little boy is still in posterior position, Deb suggested we do the Miles Circuit as well. Posterior position is when the back of baby’s head is against mommy's back. Spinning Babies discusses this fetal position and its possible effects on labor and birth. The exercises aim to move my baby into a better position and thus help speed up labor.
My Birth Care Team
When Saturday evening came, the contractions became very intense and kept me up all night. The midwives decided to come over on Sunday morning.
Deb arrived together with Ate Lornie (another trusted midwife at Shiphrah), Isabell, Darren (Deb's husband) and their kids. Darren, drove them all the way from Rizal to Laguna then left before lunch time to bring the kids to their friends' house. Supportive husbands are the best!
Our family and birthing team had lunch enjoying my Dad's signature sinigang and adobo. I was still able to eat, talk, and laugh with everyone between contractions. It's actually good for the laboring mother because oxytocin is released when we're happy.
In the afternoon, we did another round of Spinning Babies exercises: the rebozo, forward-leaning inversion, and side-lying release. Contractions became even stronger.
I didn't get a wink of sleep that night. The next morning though, I was still very much pregnant.
Itay helped me eat breakfast before doing another round of exercises. I was in so much pain that I cannot eat a full meal anymore. I was grateful that my birthing team - Itay and the midwives - took turns massaging my lower back for pain relief. Deb gave me small, frequent servings of power foods including boiled kamote and saba, and buko juice.
Ate Mayumi, our four-year old, was also a great help. She understood that her Nanay was giving birth. She tried to help by kissing me, stroking my hair, and giving me massages (I could practically feel the oozing oxytocin! Hihi). Deb also asked her to latch on my breasts to help stimulate stronger contractions. She has weaned herself a few months ago but she obliged. And it worked! In a matter of minutes, I felt the contractions getting even stronger and more frequent.
I went into the water soon after that. Little Ate wanted to swim too so she put on her swim suit and we let her swim in the pool with me.
After three hours of laboring in the water, Deb suggested we do the exercises again. I think the warm water may have calmed the contractions. I went back to the bedroom and fell asleep while doing the first part of the Miles Circuit. It was already dark when I woke up.
After a quick dinner, I had to continue the exercises. Truth be told, I was dreading doing them this time. Enduring the contractions while trying to resist the overwhelming urge to push is already painful. Doing the exercises while having painful contractions is agonizing. (Sorry, this is supposed to be an encouraging story, but, well, you also need to know the truth. Hihi!)
"Kaya mo. Kaya mo." Deb chanted again and again.
Deb then remembered a technique her mom, who's also a seasoned midwife, used before. She used my baby wrap as support to lift the underside of my belly and then tied the fabric ends around my neck to keep my belly 'tucked'.
It must have worked. A few minutes later, as I was on my knees leaning against the sofa, I gave a strong push and heard a pop. My water broke and gushed all over the floor!
Itay and Ate Lornie had to work on the double refilling the pool with clean warm water.
Our Little Ray of Light
The full moon in the cloudless sky greeted me as I went back to the kubo and into the water again. It was a reassuring sight! I believe it's a sign that God was blessing and welcoming the birth of our little ray of light, our baby Sinag.
The warm water was soothing against my tired and aching body. It helped me through another two and a half hours of pushing.
Itay stayed beside the pool, massaging my back during contractions. Little Ate was there too, stroking and kissing my head while patiently waiting to see her baby brother.
Ate Lornie was behind me, pouring warm water onto my back.
Deb was on my other side, coaching me to breathe and push properly. I was so relieved when she checked and confirmed that she can feel baby's head crowning. When she asked me to touch it, I said I didn't want to. I didn't know why but I felt a bit scared to do it at first.
A few pushes later, I mustered the courage to reach down and touch my baby's head. I'm glad I did because it gave me renewed strength to continue.
Itay, the midwives, and Isabell cheered me on as I pushed as hard as I could. I felt like I was going to explode! I didn't care anymore even if I tear.
Finally, my baby's head was out. Another few pushes and Deb pulled my baby to the surface of the water straight into my arms.
It was surreal.
I hugged him, closed my eyes, and said a silent prayer.
Baby was alert, his eyes open taking in this strange new world. He was intently looking at the camera. We wrapped him in a towel and kept his body submerged in the warm water as we waited for the placenta. I asked Itay to remove some water from the pool so I could hold the baby down to my breast and latch.
The little Ate was ecstatic. She went beside the pool to admire and touch her baby brother. "He's cuuute!", she said.
My Dad and brother went in to see baby too.
After the placenta came out, we transferred to the bamboo bench and baby continued to breastfeed. Deb cut a chunk off the placenta, washed and cut it in small pieces. Itay made a mug of placenta and ice cream smoothie for me and then froze the rest for the following days. It's supposed to help me recover better.
It was past midnight, almost two hours after the birth, when we went to the house. Ate Lornie clamped the umbilical cord and then Itay got to cut it himself.
I finally had a good night's sleep (albeit not without interruptions) with my newborn tucked by my side, my firstborn at the other, and my husband in the far corner of the bed.
Deborah Gustafson and Lornie Bagro are midwives at Shiphrah Birthing Home, part of HELP International Ministries in the Philippines. Visit the following pages to find out more about their work and contribute to their cause:
Planning the best birth possible starts with having access to correct and up-to-date information and support from a caring community of parents and gentle birth practitioners. Join the Gentle Birth in the Philippines group to find out more.