The Impact of Body Balancing During Her Labor
“I have worked as a doula for a couple of years, and I have seen Spinning Babies® work miracles, but it feels even more important for me to spread the word now that I have experienced the powerful impact of the three sisters* during my own labor (which dislodged baby from where he was perched on my pubic bone and sent him barreling down the birth canal).”
I had been feeling pressure in my cervix throughout the day, and the new sensations were getting stronger by suppertime. Since it was my first pregnancy, I didn’t know what the onset of labor would truly feel like. Everything about this experience was new, so I didn’t set the expectation of going into labor that night. I laid down and elevated my feet, just like I had done at night for weeks, while my husband socialized with our neighbor friends outside.
By about 10 PM, I encouraged my husband to come to bed with me to get some rest. It was getting clearer to me that our baby would be joining us soon. I have worked as a doula for a couple years, and I have seen labor begin differently for so many people. The sensations could have dissipated completely and left me pregnant for another week, or the contractions could have been 20 minutes apart and lasted a short 20 to 30 seconds for hours or days. Any number of patterns could have emerged, but by 11 pm, I was contracting an average of nine minutes apart for about 45-60 seconds.
My husband kept track of my contractions using an app, sleepily pressing the button every time I notified him. I told him that we should reach out to our midwives after about an hour to let them know what my early patterns looked like. A while later, I checked in with him. He was very reluctant to reach out, mostly because he wanted to continue sleeping, but the intervals in between contractions were getting shorter. It was time the midwives knew that I was in labor.
By 2:30 AM, I knew that I needed to reach out to my mother and sister, as planned, before labor progressed further. I was entering “labor land,” and I could tell that I would soon need 100% of my focus to cope with contractions. I urged my husband to contact the midwives again to let them know that active labor was imminent. I found solace in my dark and quiet bedroom, leaning over my bed and rhythmically wagging my tailbone back and forth. When I attend births as a doula, I am frequently recommending new positions to a birthing person, but I could not be swayed from this position. When my husband called the midwife around 4 am, she told him to encourage me to try getting in the shower or taking a walk around the yard, but I did not want to leave the peaceful bubble of my bedside.
The midwives arrived at 6:15 am in the midst of active labor. I had a good rhythm of getting through contractions: five deep breaths followed by deep, long, and low moans. Once I got through the third breath, I knew that the intensity of the contraction would begin to wane. The strength of the contractions intensified drastically soon after the midwives arrived. I vomited, which actually felt so relieving, and I heard the midwife say, “It probably won’t be that much longer.” I hoped she was right. I was entering transition.
The midwives and my husband finished setting up the birth tub in the other bedroom upstairs and encouraged me to get into it. I, somewhat reluctantly, left the comfort of my bedside to get in the water, knowing that a change in position would be good. The moment I submerged my body, I understood why birth tubs are often referred to as “liquid anesthesia.” Despite the humid heat on the morning of the summer solstice, the warmth and gentle pressure of the water felt so soothing. I draped my arms over the side of the soft, inflated tub in between contractions and found moments of rest.
In the following hours, I would move between the tub, the bedroom, and the bathroom many times, seeking new coping mechanisms as the intensity of labor steadily increased. I had been waiting with such eager anticipation for so long to finally experience labor, especially after attending so many births as a support person. I knew it would not be easy, but I couldn’t have fathomed just how fierce and demanding labor would be.
My husband and I have had many conversations over the years about pain, a word that I don’t even like to use with my birth clients. I prefer to use the word “sensation.” “Pain” tends to induce fear, which is not your friend in labor. I had done quite a bit of research and reading about orgasmic birth during my pregnancy, wondering if I could cultivate that experience for myself. I know that it can happen spontaneously, but what if I could make it happen? Maybe I could have, and maybe other people can, but it certainly didn’t happen for me. My experience was intensely uncomfortable, but however painful it was, I did not fear it.
There are many types of pain in the human experience. Some types are normal: growing pains; heartbreak; growing, losing, and growing more teeth. There are also types of pain that are not normal: spraining an ankle, bee stings, and tearing an ACL. These sensations are the body’s response to a trauma; our nervous system’s way of telling the brain that something is wrong. And from my experience tearing an ACL (twice!), severely spraining ankles, and smashing heads with another sprinter during a soccer game, this type of pain is just plain bad. You cannot prepare for it, you cannot rationalize it, and you cannot bounce back quickly from it. Childbirth does not fall into this category.
The sensations of birth are perfectly normal. This is how humans experience birth, and it is how humans have experienced birth for thousands of years. However, it is perceived as such a torturous experience because our society teaches us to fear it from childhood. In my doula training, I learned about the fear/tension/pain cycle that looks like this: fear leads to tension, tension leads to pain, pain leads to more fear, and so on. We are set up to experience the pain with more intensity than we have to because of fear. We are stronger than the pain, and that is something we should be taught and never forget.
Having started to transition around 6:45 am, and continuing to have powerful contractions, I was hopeful that it wouldn’t be long before I was fully dilated and my baby would start to descend through my pelvis. Soon I would be able to push and labor would be over. However, my baby had different plans, and I would continue to labor for six more hours. This is where my labor sensations would teeter on abnormal. Instead of lasting their typical 60 seconds, for which I had my five-breath coping technique, they would last a full two minutes. I did not have coping mechanisms for back-to-back contractions. It took all of my effort to remain in my physical body to endure these new sensations to avoid the fear/tension/pain cycle from taking over. That would only make things worse. My husband could hear me struggling with this as my groans became more high-pitched. Constriction of the throat, which causes the pitch of the voice to heighten, indicates a constriction of the lower sphincters as well. When you’re trying to get a baby out, the last thing you want is to be holding tension below the baby.
With the sliver of cognitive awareness that I had, I knew we needed to gather some information, so I asked my midwife to conduct a cervical exam. It was 10:45 am, four hours since starting to transition, and my baby was still up so high (minus two station) and stuck on my pubic bone. The good news was that I was 9½ centimeters dilated and baby was facing my tailbone. The midwife explained that my amniotic sac, which had not broken yet, was bulging in front of the baby’s head and that the baby may descend quickly if it broke. She recommended that I rest on the bed in hopes that the water would break and the baby would start to move down.
Exhausted from losing a night’s sleep and taking on the most challenging physical feat of my life, I agreed to rest for a bit. I was low on energy and feeling a bit defeated by baby’s high position. My water did break about fifteen minutes later, but there was no big gush that you see in the movies, nor was there a baby. Little bits of fluid would continue to come out over the next hour, but there were still no feelings of descent. At 11:45 am, I expressed that I could no longer rest. Remaining relaxed was too difficult with such low energy.
I wanted to take action, so my midwife suggested that it was time to do Spinning Babies®.
My husband and I had been practicing Spinning Babies® Three Sisters of Balance (now called Three Ways of Body Balancing) throughout my second and third trimesters, so he rose to the challenge of getting this stubborn baby to drop. First we used the rebozo to sift my belly while I was on my hands and knees [The first Sister is now The Jiggle, another form of vibration to add comfort and function.] Then he massaged my glutes and lower back to soften the connective tissues around my belly and hips.
Next comes the inversion. I teach all of my birth clients the [Three Ways of Body Balancing], and I tell everyone that there may be a scenario where it may be most effective to do the inversion during a contraction. Though I already knew the answer, I asked my midwife if I should start the inversion at the beginning of the next contraction. I think that I was looking for an out, as if she would say, “Don’t worry about it. Why don’t you just go take a nap?” But instead she said, “Some people do. It’s more effective that way, but it’s hard.” I knew what I had to do. Challenge accepted. So I knelt on the cedar chest in my bedroom, took a breath, and slowly inverted my body until my elbows were on the floor. A contraction began, and my husband applied counter pressure on my sacrum to create space and support me from toppling over. I thought that it would be much harder than it was, but the contraction felt the same—I was just upside-down.
After one contraction in the inversion, it was time for the [Side-lying Release], so I laid on my left side on the bed for the side-lying release. My husband pressed on my hipbone while dropping my right leg off the side of the bed. He slowly massaged my hip and glute to encourage the muscles and sacral ligaments to relax. We switched to the other side, and just as I felt a jolt in my pelvis, my husband said, “The baby is fighting back!” My midwife suggested that I stand up and try the [abdominal] lift and tuck, but there was no need; the baby had dropped and was now descending through my pelvis.
The new sensation brought a new intensity and excitement to labor. At 12:15 in the afternoon, I left my bedroom to sit on the toilet for a couple contractions to find my pushing muscles. The urge to push was extraordinary and my body was doing it involuntarily. I examined myself and told my midwife that I thought I felt the baby’s head in the birth canal. She said, “If it’s not you, it’s the baby.”
It was definitely the baby. After two or three contractions, I said that the baby was descending quickly. My midwife told me to show her on my finger where I feel the baby’s head. When I pointed just below the first knuckle on my middle finger, she said, “Let’s get you into the tub and have a baby.”
It was 12:25 pm when I got into the tub. Two petals still floated in the water from the rose that the midwives gifted my labor—the flower for the month of June. I found my way to my hands and knees, spreading my heels out to maximize the space in my pelvic outlet (another Spinning Babies technique). My midwife placed a mirror on the bottom of the tub so they could see the baby’s head, and she coached me through pushing. Although the desire to push with all my might was overwhelming, I breathed through each contraction and actively focused on relaxing my pelvic floor. Although it is in my nature to push myself to the limits and work vigorously until my goal is accomplished, I had talked with my midwife about taking it slow during this stage to avoid tearing. She instructed me so beautifully and somehow knew just what to say at every moment, as if she were in my body.
Sitting next to the midwife behind me, my husband listened and watched eagerly. His emotions were high as he caught his first glimpse of our baby’s head. He came around to the side of the tub where my head was and said, “I just saw the baby’s head, in your vagina, and it’s so amazing.” I remember thinking, “Trust me, I can tell it’s in my vagina!” but I couldn’t say anything out loud.
I continued following my midwife’s cues as my baby’s head descended lower and lower, and eventually emerging from my body. The pressure was so intense, and I found it comforting to softly massage my perineum and labia. I remember thinking intently about not pushing too hard. I wanted to find the edge of my body’s ability to stretch, and then pull back just a bit. But I had never been to this place before, so I didn’t know my edge. With what force would I tear? All I knew is that the baby’s heart rate was strong and happy, so there was no need to rush. I breathed, focused, and felt relief as my skin softened around his neck.
I heard my midwife say that his head was out. She gently told me to relax around him and continued to explain to my husband how his body would come out during the next contraction. I felt the next surge coming on gradually. As I breathed deeply and listened to my midwife’s soft voice narrating the emergence of my baby, I felt the most extraordinary relief I have ever experienced in my 33 years of life. I did it. And I didn’t tear.
The midwife passed the baby through my legs and into my hands. I placed one hand on my baby’s back and the other under the bottom and lifted this sweet, tiny human out of the water. It was hard to imagine that I was experiencing the greatest discomfort of my life just 60 seconds earlier, because all I felt now were the greatest feelings of pride, accomplishment, and love that I never knew were possible before. In my bottom hand, I felt tiny testicles and exclaimed that I thought it was a boy. My midwife confirmed that we had a son, and he has been my favorite creation ever since.
For the past several weeks, I have wondered if he would have been born earlier if we had done Spinning Babies® sooner [in labor]. It is tempting to think about shortening my labor, especially through the most challenging time of back-to-back contractions. But we will never know, and that’s okay.
I have witnessed the miracle of Spinning Babies® in many labor and delivery rooms, but I am even more of a believer now. Our bodies know what to do during childbirth, but having tools can make a huge difference. How amazing that a series of simple, non-invasive position changes can create more space for a baby? Although I would have loved to be in labor for nine hours rather than 13, I got to experience the miracle of Spinning Babies® for myself. This testimony will forever affect my conviction to continue supporting people through birth work, and that is worth far more than having those hours back. And I would do it all over again for this sweet baby of mine.