When I became pregnant with my first child at the age of 19, I knew I wanted to have a natural birth. Nothing else made sense to me. Birth is such a sacred, holy event, with the coming in of a new soul, I couldn't imagine exposing myself or my baby to the medical, very public birth experience found in the hospitals at the time. Because of this, our choice to have a waterbirth was easy to make and came solely from the determination to create a birth experience that was as gentle and easy as possible.
When we first heard about water labor and delivery, one week before our first baby was due, we were enchanted by the prospect of such a gentle birth for the baby, and I was entranced by the idea of a natural birth with less pain. Home birth always made sense; waterbirth just became a positive extension of that ideal and after that first birth, I knew I would never do it any other way. Now, eleven years later, all five of our children have been born in water. Whenever I say that, I always have to pause for a moment to recognize how very, very fortunate we have been. It is amazing in itself to have five children, but to have been able to give birth to them all in a way that was empowering, peaceful, and infinitely kind, makes the miracle greater, still. All five of their births are memories I treasure as some of the most joyous, wonderful, and fulfilling experiences of my life.
The reduction of pain I felt during the contractions while in water cannot be stressed enough. There is no comparison between a contraction felt out of the water and one felt in it. Relaxation, which is a wonderful ideal when you are lying on a bed, trying not to hurt, becomes a natural reaction when you are floating weightlessly in a warm tub of water. I believe that's a big part of the reason why the length of labor can be reduced. A relaxed body functions better in all situations. With the pushing stage, and the consequent stretching of the perineum, the warmth and moisture of the water allows the tissues to expand much more easily. With babies weighing 8 lbs 14 oz, 9 lbs, 8 lbs 4 oz, 8l bs 11 oz, and another 8 lbs 11 oz, I had two small tears. One with the first baby from pushing both his shoulders out at once and one with the fifth baby, due to one shoulder getting briefly stuck on her way out. The tears were small enough not to require stitching and have healed nicely without residual discomfort.
And, of course, there's the benefit felt by the babies, all five of whom were born into warmth and familiarity, gentleness and kindness, surrounded by love and welcomed sweetly into the world. What greater beginning to life could be imagined than this? In 1998 the midwife who attended my first four births moved away. When I became pregnant again with baby #5, I was faced with the task of finding someone new. I soon discovered no one in my area would attend a home birth. But, even in this, I was fortunate. There was a birth center in a town 45 miles away, run by midwives, who had birthing tubs and fully supported water labor and waterbirth. It seemed I was to have a new experience of waterbirth - a birth center waterbirth rather than a home waterbirth.
There's a difference between birthing at home and birthing in a center. After giving birth four times at home, I found it really difficult to relax in a place that was not my own home. I spent an entire night there, just settling in before my labor began to really do anything. Once it did get going, though, and the tub was filled, I felt the familiarity of it. I relaxed completely and our atest little one arrived only a few hours later, after only five minutes of pushing. Once I relaxed, this birth was exactly the same as if we had been home. The midwives were wonderful and supportive during labor and, after the baby was born, they allowed us as much time as we liked, both in the tub and out, to rest, relax, and to get to know our baby. We came home a couple of hours later and our baby has been happy and peaceful ever since.
I'm not sure every woman would choose to have a waterbirth, given the option, but many would, knowing that choice is there; and it is a beautiful choice.
Best to you all,
Author of CHOOSING WATERBIRTH: RECLAIMING THE SACRED POWER OF BIRTH
from Hampton Roads Publishing Co., Inc.