[Birth Story] How Flexibility Helped Her Flow through Relentless Contractions

Sarah Winward’s story starts with some lovely swing dancing in the living room, and stomping through deep snow with her dog, then gets really intense, having Sarah ask herself over and over “Where is the break?! There’s supposed to be a break. Where is the break?!” She shares with Adriana how being open to all her options let her be grounded in the experience.

 

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What we talked about:

  • After three years a doula, now it’s her turn to birth
  • Approaching birth with curiosity instead of fear
  • Her long baby kicking her in the ribs
  • Swing dancing into early labor
  • Stomping through the snow and trying to have a normal day
  • “I hope it’s active labor!”
  • Arriving at the birth center, and stripping, right into the tub
  • “Where is the break?!”
  • Hypnobirthing vs. loud vocalization vs. nitrous oxide
  • Contractions doubling and tripling on each other
  • “WHERE IS THE BREAK?!”
  • Pushing in all the positions… and liking being on her back
  • Husband catches slippery baby, who comes out all at once!
  • Taking a moment to breathe, surrounded by calm
  • Processing with the birth records
  • Over-preparing for postpartum, and when it’s not as bad as you thought
  • Do the things that make you feel normal
  • Getting past the initial lactation difficulties
  • Get a doula!

 

Sarah Winward, her husband, and their two young children are all wearing matching white tops with dark bottoms, clustered together in a joyful family photo

Image description: Sarah Winward, her husband, and their two young children are all wearing matching white tops with dark bottoms, clustered together in a joyful family photo.

 

Related resources*:

  • HypnoBirthing website
  • Nuchal hand diagram (this is when baby’s hand is by their face or head during labor, and stays by their face when baby is born)
  • More on “matrescence” on Dr. Alexandra Sacks’ website, and her TED Talk

 

Sarah half-smiles, half-grimaces, like she's in the midst of laughing, while nursing her son in a bright, well-lit room during a professional photo shoot

Image description: Sarah half-smiles, half-grimaces, like she’s in the midst of laughing, while nursing her son in a bright, well-lit room during a professional photo shoot.

 

Related Birthful episodes:

 

Sarah is smiling while crouching down, with her infant on her front in a baby carrier, next to a table and her toddler, who has reddish-brown hair and is wearing a red t-shirt, also grinning

Image description: Sarah is smiling while crouching down, with her infant on her front in a baby carrier, next to a table where her grinning toddler, who has tousled reddish-brown hair and is wearing a red t-shirt, is sitting.


 

Transcript

[Birth Story] How Flexibility Helped Her Flow through Relentless Contractions

Adriana: Welcome to Birthful, Mighty Parents and Parents-to-Be! I’m Adriana Lozada, and you’re listening to an episode in our series on Models and Places of Birth. 

So for today, I thought we’d bring you Sarah Winward’s wonderful birth story that does two things— well, it really does a lot more than that— but in the context of our Models and Places of Birth series, it shows some of the differences of giving birth at a birth center, as opposed to at a hospital or at home.

It also highlights how each birth is going to do its own thing and that it will likely happen in a way that won’t necessarily match your expectations. And that’s totally okay!

Now, if I put this story in the context of our last episode with Britta Bushnell, I’ve got to say, I so appreciate how much curiosity, whimsy and flexibility Sarah brings to the process.

I mean, her labor starts out with some lovely swing dancing in her living room, and then she goes stomping through deep snow with her dog. And then, even when things are intense and Sarah’s asking herself, “Where’s the break? There’s supposed to be a break. Where is the break?!” she figures out how to work with the experience and leans into that Artemisian wildness of birth.

And before we start, I wanted to clarify that a “nuchal hand” refers to when a baby is born with their hand next to their face. 

Okay, let’s jump right into Sarah’s story… and also figure out why Harry Potter was helpful to her. Here we go! 

You’re listening to Birthful. Here to inform your intuition.

Adriana: Welcome, Sarah! I am so thrilled to hear about your story— also, to have an international story, ’cause you’re from Canada. 

Sarah: Thank you! I’m really excited to be here. 

Adriana: Tell us a little bit about yourself. 

Sarah: I am a naturopathic doctor. I practice in Toronto, Ontario. And I’m also a birth doula and a lactation counselor. Adriana: And we were talking a little bit when we were off air… you became a doula before you had your son? 

Sarah: I did! I’ve been a doula for about three years. And yeah, so I kind of went into pregnancy with like very firm ideas about how I was going to give birth, I had already seen a few births at that point.

Adriana: Yeah. And it— one of my first questions is… Think back to when you were pregnant: What were your wishes and thoughts about birth? So from that doula perspective, what was it that you wanted? 

Sarah: So, I had seen a few completely unmedicated births using Hypnobirthing at— there’s a birth center locally, which is basically the first of its kind in Ontario (we don’t have a ton of freestanding birth centers)— and it’s just down the street from me.

And it’s beautiful, like beautiful. And so I knew that I really wanted to give birth, either a homebirth or at the birth center. And I really liked the idea of using Hypnobirthing— I’d seen it be really effective for people. And then I also knew that I didn’t— I like really didn’t— want the “epidural-Pitocin-sitting in a bed” birth. 

Adriana: Right. 

Sarah: Yeah.

Adriana: The more “hospital-based,” traditional… 

Sarah: Yeah! Yeah, like almost more passively birthing, with other people managing it. And then the other thing too is I was just kind of curious! Like, I had seen a lot of people giving birth and I was really curious about what it would be like to be on the inside of birthing.

Adriana: Right. Yeah, yeah. And usually the path is the other way around like— well, I think older generations of doulas, myself included, like, we had babies and were like, “Oh my God, this changed my life. I need to become a doula.” 

And I am seeing more and more now the other way around, where people are getting are becoming doulas younger and younger, which is so exciting. 

Sarah: It is exciting and it’s nice too— I wasn’t scared at all, because I had seen everything at that point, from like, the unmedicated Hypnobirth to like, a planned cesarean, before I even got pregnant. So, I wasn’t scared.

Adriana: Mhm, so important. Was there any eventful situation during pregnancy or was it just smooth and flowing? 

Sarah: It was generally pretty smooth. I had my licensing exams for my naturopathic license in the… I think I was like 20 weeks pregnant. So I like, didn’t pay attention to the fact that I was pregnant until after those exams. And then I was halfway done and went, “Oh my God, I’m going to have a baby in like four months!” So it kind of crept up on me a little bit, and then he was really long, like, really long and kicked me in the ribs from about— I want to say maybe like five months? He was head down really early, and I mean between five and six months, he started kicking me in the ribs and people kept saying, “Don’t worry, he’ll drop and it’ll stop. Don’t worry, he’ll drop and it’ll stop.” And he was still kicking me in the ribs while I was in labor! So that was… my rib is still kind of bruised 14 months later.

Adriana: So I just was talking to another person for a birth story, and when baby was kicking on the ribs like that— she would use an ice pack. 

Sarah: Oh! 

Adriana: Right? Placed on the ribs—

Sarah: Right where it is! Yeah. 

Adriana: Like, jammed her foot right under my ribs. 

Sarah: Yeah. 

Adriana: Right? THE worst. And so, she would put ice packs there and the baby would shy away from it. And then it also… the ice would help relieve any swelling. Yes. 

Sarah: That’s a great idea. I like that, yeah. 

Adriana: But I’m sorry about your bruised ribs! 

Sarah: It’s okay.

Adriana: Yeah, so then you finally were focusing on pregnancy, and he was growing and going deep. How did it all start? How did you know— or did you know— that you were in labor?

Sarah: Yeah, so, my due date was December 27th, so we didn’t do anything at all for Christmas because all my family is at least an hour away, and there was no way that I was driving that. So on December 25th, after having a really uneventful Christmas, my husband and I put on some music and like, rolled back our carpet and just danced in our living room. We both do swing dancing, so we did some swing dancing in the living room and that was like our little Christmas. And that was it, basically! 

And then, I was sleeping on the couch at that point, because our couch folds out into a bed, and he was sleeping in the bed, because I was getting up all the time because lying down, the baby would creep up and then be in my ribs even more. So I’d have to get up periodically in the night and just like, let gravity bring him back down. So, he wasn’t getting any sleep if I was in the bed, so I was sleeping on the couch and around two o’clock in the morning, I woke up and I was having contractions and they were probably like 10 minutes apart, but I didn’t really have any Braxton Hicks contractions prior to that.

And between 2:00 and probably 5:00, I was only just like, dozing in between and then I would wake up for them. And so by five o’clock I was like, “Ooh, yep. This is probably labor!” So I went into the bed and told my husband, and say, “Hey, just, just so you know, pretty sure I’m in labor, but go back to sleep. I’m not… I’m going to try and go back to sleep, too.” And I don’t know if he did or not, but I tried a little bit to doze and then… and then eventually it was like, “No, I think I’m just awake.” Like, I can’t… I can’t fall back to sleep in between them anymore. And that was around probably 7:00 in the morning.

Yeah, so that’s how it started. And I tried to— we tried to— just like, have as much of a normal day as possible. Like we had breakfast and we walked the dog and it had been… there had been a snowstorm. So, we actually took the dog to the park and I like, was stomping through the snow with the dog, and then stopping for the contractions, and then stomping through the snow again, just to like help get things moving a little bit. 

Adriana: And I’m getting all these wonderful visuals like, I have now in my mind, your imaginary living room, where you moved the rug and you’re swing dancing. And then now I have you stomping through tons of snow with your dog. 

Sarah: Yeah, it was probably like, between six and ten inches of snow. So it was like stomping! And the dog was bounding around in the park and she was having fun. So yeah, it was… early labor was pretty fun, actually. 

Adriana: Yeah, it sounds like yeah, you guys are doing a good job of ignoring it and just actually delighting in it. 

Sarah: Yeah! Yeah, and we don’t have a bathtub in our apartment, so that was like one of the reasons why I was really excited about the birth center, because the centerpiece of the rooms in the birth center are bathtubs. Like it’s really nice being in bathtubs, and we don’t have a bathtub. So I, later on in the afternoon, I ended up in the shower for a little bit, with some water on my back and that was really nice.

I have a birth ball, so I was on that for a little bit, just kind of hanging out in the apartment, and that went on until about four o’clock in the afternoon, of just kind of hanging around and walking and showering and eating and just hanging out.

And then around four o’clock, we called our midwives and I remember… I remember thinking, “Oh, I hope this is actually active labor!” ‘Cause it was… we had the 4-1-1 where it was like four minutes in between, contractions were lasting a minute. But I remember thinking like, “Gee, wouldn’t it be really embarrassing if as a doula, I didn’t know that I wasn’t in active labor.”

So I was like—

Adriana: It’s different you’re in it, yeah.

Sarah: Yeah, so we called, and she got to our house at around 5:45, and I was four or five centimeters dilated, 90% effaced, and the baby was like, -1. And at that point, the contractions were then two to three minutes apart and lasting about 60 seconds. So I was like, “Yes! I’m in active labor! It’s true!”

Adriana: You were hitting all the marks. Fantastic!

Sarah: Yeah, that’s…. I remember being really excited that I could figure it out myself, and she at that point was like, “Well, if you want to transfer to the birth center, that would be, you know, would be a great time to transfer to the birth center.” And I was like, “Yes, I would like to get into that bathtub.”

So, this is now the 26th of December. And the birth center is… we’re on one side of like, the downtown core, and the birth center is on the other side of the downtown core. So, we had to drive through the major urban shopping center to get there and I… there wasn’t a lot of traffic, but there was a ton of people on the streets.

So every light, there was like a bunch of people crossing. And I remember thinking like, “Thank God, these contractions slowed down,” because as soon as I got in the car, they slowed— I probably only had two or three in the car, and I think that was like my brain kicked in, and was like, “Don’t have contractions in the car. It’s going to be the worst.” So I didn’t.

Adriana: Yeah, and those contractions in the car, we kind of forget that and it doesn’t get talked enough, of trying to factor that into your labor progression, because you want to labor at home as much as possible (or a lot of people do), but then the longer you’re at home, the more uncomfortable that car ride gets!

Sarah: Yeah, and I was so afraid of my water breaking in the car and being stuck in traffic and not being able to cope with the contractions in the car. 

Adriana: There is another trick for that, or another like, “doula trick” here— I’m tossing out tricks left and right! 

Sarah: Yeah?

Adriana: Have a Chux pad, always in your bag, and if water hasn’t broken, put it down on the seat. 

Sarah: On the seat! And I do that for my clients, but I didn’t think to do it for myself!

Adriana: Of course, of course. 

Sarah: So I actually, I didn’t tell any of my family members that I was in labor because I just didn’t want anybody like, waiting for me. I didn’t want to feel like people were— there was like, a sense of anticipation— but we have a dog, so I had to call my sister because I wasn’t sure! This was like six o’clock in the evening at this point. And so we needed someone to come and let the dog out and stay with the dog overnight. 

So I called my sister and she was actually out on a date and I just really casually, “Hey, just whenever you’re done… do you mind just going to our house and letting the dog out? ‘Cause I’m just on my way to the birth center.” She was like, “Oh my God, I’m dying right now!” So then I think she told my parents and then my parents told my in-laws, so people knew at that point, which is fine. But she was pretty excited!

Adriana: Jeez. Well, the date must have not been that interesting then! 

Sarah: Yeah, I think she shortened it a little bit.

Adriana: Poor, poor person. 

Sarah: Yeah, so we get to the birth center around 7:00, and by that point I was just like, get me in the bathtub. And it was like— my midwife had gotten there a little bit before me— so it was like half filled-up, but she was like, “Would you want to wait until it’s full?” And I was like, “No!!” So I like, basically walked into the room and was like, stripping off my clothes as I was walking in— threw the bag, stripping off the clothes, into the bathtub. and it was so nice. It was so nice to get into the bathtub, after basically being like, moving around as much as possible for all of early labor… that was like, magical, just less pressure! And it took maybe half an hour for my contractions to hit back, pick back up, once I got to the birth center. But then they were like two to three minutes apart and 60 seconds, for another couple of hours. And then they got very intense. 

So around 8:30, I’m going to say, they started to be two minutes apart and lasting 90 seconds. And that went on and on and on and on and on! And I remember being in the tub and then getting out of the tub and then being… there’s like this really lovely, big king-size bed, and I was in that for awhile. 

And I just remember thinking like, “Where’s the break? Why is there not a break? Doesn’t.. isn’t there usually a break somewhere?!”

And so around 11:00 at night, my midwife suggested using nitrous oxide. So that was another one of the nice things about the birth center, is that the only intervention that they have in terms of pain is nitrous oxide.

And I— when we were planning— I was like, no interventions. I’m going to just have a natural birth with nothing. And at that point, now this is like four or five hours of these two minutes apart, 90-second contractions. And I was like, “Yes, let’s try the nitrous oxide,” and that was super helpful, once I could get the hang of it!

It was really hard the first time I inhaled it; it tasted kind of weird. And I was like, “I don’t know if I like this,” and I put it down, and then maybe like 15 or 20 minutes later, the midwife was like, “You want to try this again?” And I was like, “Okay. Yeah, maybe I do,” and then once I got the hang of it and the ritual of it (where you like are forced to inhale the gas in), it was really helpful.

Adriana: And I think that’s a great point, especially if you’re doing, ’cause I was going to ask you if the hypno, you know, you mentioned at the beginning that you— 

Sarah: Oh, yeah, 

Adriana: —you were doing Hypnobirthing, if that was helpful at all. But I find that people that are really in the zone and going deep into their labor process and then get to a point like this, where it’s so intense and they go for the nitrous, getting the hang of it, like you said, because it’s labor-intensive. Like you have to time it, you got to think, right? You’ve got to go like —

Sarah: Yeah. You have to think! You have to like, put the mask on and then take the mask off and—

Adriana: Yeah, so it helps, but it requires you to go somewhere different. 

Sarah: Yes, and it’s actually… it’s interesting, I forgot to mention, I did do the Hypnobirthing, but then once I was actually in labor, a lot of the Hypnobirthing was like, “Just breathe,” and, you know, meditations and whatnot. And I like— once I was in labor, and I knew this before I was in labor— but I’m a really loud person. I was like, “I don’t think I’m going to be able to do that” Like, and I vocalized a lot. That was… my husband said, “It was really nice when you started the nitrous oxide because, you were vocalizing into the mask, so it was less loud.”

Adriana: Oh, but the thing is, I was very loud as well— it’s a coping mechanism. Like, it helps!

Sarah: It does help. It does help. And that was one of the, one of the things that I remember thinking— which I think being a doula helped me with this— was that like, no, you have to keep the sounds low, like get low with the sounds. And if I was low with the sounds, then I was low in my body and that actually really helped.

Adriana: Yeah, and not low of, you know, intensity, but low pitch, like, “Ooouh!” 

Sarah: Pitch, yeah— like, down in, yeah, as opposed to up, high-pitched. Yeah, that’s… yeah, not helpful.

Adriana: One contracts, and the way the other one creates vibration and relaxation. 

Sarah: Yeah, so that was really helpful. And that was like one of my mental— I think probably that was my meditation— was like, keep it low, and then I just made a ton of noise. 

Adriana: And I think it’s important to know that sounds during labor can be really good too. So like, you know, don’t limit yourself and let it be what it’s going to be. 

Sarah: Yeah, it was definitely really helpful for me. I think a little bit annoying for my husband, but really.

Adriana: And, well, we wouldn’t want to annoy him a little bit. I’m sorry! That was snappy. Sorry! 

Sarah: That’s okay. My husband would love that— he’s a snappy kind of person. So the contractions went on like that for a really, really long time, and I used the nitrous oxide and I remember my midwives saying like, “You have to take breaks with the nitrous,” and I would say like, “I don’t know when the contraction is done.”

And because there was only like 30 seconds of break in between the contractions, she literally at points was palpating my uterus and saying like, “Okay, now it’s done.” And I would take the break and then immediately be like, “Oh no, here’s another one,” and put the mask back on. So that was… and that went on until like 4:00 a.m. So the whole night, I was on— I read my… I was reading my labor notes from the midwives— that from 8:30 a.m. until 3:00 p.m., until 4:00 a.m., that was literally the contraction pattern, 90 seconds long and two minutes apart. 

Adriana: That is a long time for that intensity! 

Sarah: Yes, it is! Someone joked with me after that I was in transition for like eight hours.

Yeah, so thankfully the nitrous was super, super helpful. And at that point, like I do remember thinking like, “I can’t! I need a break,” and it wasn’t… it wasn’t that it was painful, it was that it didn’t stop. Like, I was just like, like “Where’s the break?!” I swear at all the other births that I’ve been at, there have been breaks.

And so at that… at some point in the night, I remember like, looking at my husband and saying, “I don’t know if I can do this!” And I— we didn’t hire a doula and I kind of gave him a few tips, of like things that I would need him to do because we didn’t hire a doula.

And one of them was like, I know I’m— at some point— I’m going to say, “I can’t do this,” and I need you to tell me that I’m already doing it. And so when I said, “I don’t think I can do this anymore.” He looked at me and said, “You are already doing this!” I was like, “You are right! I am already doing it.” And at that point, the idea of transferring somewhere else with that contraction pattern like, there was no way. So, I stuck it in! 

Adriana: What helped you aside from him saying, “Yes, I am doing it.” What helped you stick it out? 

Sarah: To be honest, I don’t really remember. I think it was just the idea of like, I would love an epidural right now. And if an epidural was around, I would get it, but to get an epidural, I would have had to get in the car and drive to the hospital, or we would have had to call an ambulance and transfer in an ambulance to the hospital. and that was just like, “Not, not going to happen.” 

I will say that at some point during that sort of period, I actually— it was before I started the nitrous— I had a vaginal check, and I was only about seven centimeters dilated, and that was after like these two minutes apart, 90-second contractions that started at 8:30 and this was at like 11:00. And so that was really discouraging for me at that point, and I think that was one of the reasons why I was like, “Okay, let’s try the nitrous”— and then that ended up being really, really helpful.

So that was like a little bit of a backtrack, yeah. I remember being like, “Oh, I hope this was transition!” …and then it wasn’t transition. 

Adriana: Hmm, but it gave you information of where to go next. 

Sarah: Yeah, it did. It did. And it definitely— if, I think if I had been like nine or ten centimeters, I would’ve been like, “Yeah. Okay, great. We’re good to go.” But then, like always, seven centimeters. I was like, “Okay, I need some help here,” and so the nitrous was really, really helpful. 

And then around four o’clock in the morning, I— my midwife said, “Okay, I’ve called the backup midwife.” And I said, “Why?” She said, “Because you’re pushing!” I was like, “What?!” I guess I had started doing it spontaneously, where I wasn’t really paying attention at the peaks of those contractions. I had started pushing, and I guess she noticed it before I noticed. ‘Cause I was like— it was so intense, where I was just like, riding the wave of every contraction, and that was basically all I could do. And at that point, they were like tripling up, to like doubling and tripling where there would be a peak-a peak-a peak, and then like, 15 or 20 seconds’ break, and then another one would come! So I didn’t even really know, and I don’t really have a lot of memory of that. So I guess that was transition, where I don’t really have a lot of memory other than being like, “Where is the break?” 

And I was listening to one of your podcasts recently, where someone was talking about the Quietude, in between like, transition and pushing. And I knew that that was a possibility that I was like, “Yes, I’m going to get fully dilated” and then I’m going to have a break, and that didn’t happen, either…

Adriana: You didn’t get the Quietude! It was— 

Sarah: I did not.

So she was like, “I’m going to do… What do you want me to do, do you want me to like, check you? ‘Cause it sounds like you’re pushing and I’ve called the backup midwife. ‘Cause you’re like, you’re pushing.” And I was like, “Oh, okay, sure.” That went, my water still hadn’t broken, and so she checked me and as she was checking, my water broke, so that was exciting. 

And then she checked me, she said, “Yes, you are fully dilated.” So that was really exciting! And I think I did have like, a little bit of a cervical lip and she just said like, “I’m just going to hold my fingers here for one contraction. Is that okay?” “Yeah. That’s, that’s fine.” And then that was kind of it. 

And then, she kind of asked me if I wanted some coaching with pushing, ’cause I’d already been kind of doing it. And I said, “No,” like, I guess I’m already doing it, so why don’t I just keep doing what I’m doing? I feel like I have a good rhythm with things. 

And so I kept doing that, like physiologic pushing— where I would push when my body told me to push basically and not any other time. And that went on for a while, and in a lot of different positions: like I pushed in the tub, I pushed on a birth stool, I pushed on my side, on my other side, standing up. 

And then… and my son’s heart rate kept dropping at this point. We didn’t know he was a boy, but my son’s heart rate kept dropping in every position that I was in, so I would have to move. So I didn’t really get into a good groove of it until I was on my back.

And I really… like, that was one of the things where I was like, “I don’t really want to give birth on my back. I would like to be up or in the water or somewhere else,” but the only place where his heart rate stayed stable was on my back. so that’s where I ended up pushing. 

Adriana: And how, how did it feel for you though? Pushing there? ‘Cause some people do feel that’s what feels good to them. 

Sarah: It was nice, because I could get like, tiny little breaks in my contractions, ’cause the pushing didn’t slow down, either. The contraction pattern for the pushing was still really like two minutes apart there, that didn’t slow down. So as the… any break that I could get was fantastic and I was already like, lying down, so that was probably necessary at that point. 

Adriana: And I’m sure you are super tired by this point! 

Sarah: I was exhausted. Yes, I was beyond exhausted and I didn’t really eat anything overnight. My husband— there’s a kitchen in the birth center there, like a sort of shared kitchen between all the suites, so my husband had gone and made turkey soup in the middle of the night and my midwife had some and he had some, and I just… I wasn’t really into it. And the backup doula, or sorry, of the backup midwife came probably around 5:00 a.m. and she got me a glass of orange juice and it was the best thing that I have ever eaten in my entire life. It was so good! 

Adriana: Yeah, to perk you up and give you some energy and just that so, and you know, she came in with fresh mind and fresh eyes and fresh everything, with fresh orange juice. 

Sarah: Fresh orange juice!

Adriana: And you’re about to, well, you’re pushing now… 

Sarah: I’m pushing.

Adriana: …and had delicious orange juice. What happened next? 

Sarah: Yeah, so I’m pushing and my husband is wanting to catch our baby. So he, when he was crowning, my midwife asked him again, “Are you sure you’d like to catch the baby?” And he was like, “Yeah, sure!” 

And he is not a super emotional person. So when I had asked in our prenatal visits, “Do you want to catch the baby? Because you could, if you wanted to.” And he was like, “Yeah, I guess,” and then he watched a couple videos where, you know, the head is born and then there’s a pause and then the body is born, and he was like, “Yeah, I can probably do that.” So he went around with the midwife and got ready to catch the baby.

And then when he was born, he had a nuchal hand. In hindsight, I think it’s probably why my labor was the way it was, because I was reading somewhere that like, a lot of OBs would recommend a C-section for that. His hand was like upright, up by his neck. 

And so when he was born, he just came out all at once, so there wasn’t like the head and then a pause and then the shoulders— he just like, came right out. So my husband was like, “I wasn’t ready for that!” But he caught him and put him on my chest. and that was really lovely. And I think it’s much more meaningful to him now that he knows who our son is as a little person. So I think he enjoyed the experience, even though it wasn’t quite what he expected. 

And then he was on my chest and he actually wasn’t breathing right away, so the midwife went to cut the cord— because he didn’t cry right away, wasn’t breathing, and I said, “Wait,” because I wanted delayed cord clamping and I didn’t quite… I couldn’t quite see what was going on. Like, I didn’t really realize that he wasn’t breathing. And I said, “Wait,” and she did so, and then we both kind of rubbed his back, tried to get him to cry, and then about a minute after that he still wasn’t crying, still wasn’t quite breathing, and I was like, “Okay, now,” and so I really feel like it was so amazing that the midwife didn’t just rush into it, because obviously he’s safe, he’s still attached to the umbilical cord. He’s… it’s not like he’s not getting oxygen for that period of time. And I said, “Wait,” and she listened, and I feel like that is like truly, truly informed consent. And I was like, so grateful to her at that point, for that. 

Adriana: I can see a lot of other situations where you wouldn’t have been told what was happening, and baby would have been just picked up.

Sarah: Yeah. Yeah, and it was like, she didn’t wait long— like it was 60 seconds! And then, but then I said like, “Okay, now, like, you have to do it now,” and she did. So that was like, it was really nice. Even though he wasn’t breathing, I still felt like I was… it was my decision. 

So she cut the cord and they took him over to the warmer and he ended up needing suctioning, and some oxygen, but he was still in the same room, right beside me. I couldn’t quite see him, which was… I wanna say it was scary, but I don’t think I was even scared. I think I was just like, “Oh, okay. He’s getting suctioning. And that’s fine.” I wasn’t even really worried at that point. And I don’t know if that was just like the birth hormones, but I was just like, “It’s fine. He’ll be fine.” 

And then he was brought back to me within like, maybe two minutes. And then he was skin-to-skin with me. He was skin-to-skin right away, and then was gone for two minutes, and then was skin-to-skin again. 

So I think that could have been a really scary situation where he wasn’t breathing right away and he was separated from me for a few minutes, but I think because of the way my midwives handled it, like, it wasn’t scary.

Adriana: Well, and it’s, you know, the energy of the room is really important in terms of… emotions are contagious. So if nobody was scared, then that wasn’t coming up— like nobody was bringing that into the space. 

Sarah: Yeah. Yeah.

Adriana: They were just dealing with… you were all just dealing with the situation. And sometimes baby— I’ll link in our show notes to Karen Strange’s episode on, you know, she goes around the world teaching about neonatal resuscitation, but she… the way she approaches it is definitely from the baby’s perspective. And her work is so fantastic in the sense that she’s like, yes, you have to do these things, but let’s understand how complex the transition from womb and from water to air is, and all the processes that have to kick in. And sometimes that needs a minute, sometimes that needs some help, but important to not bring fear into it. 

Sarah: Yes. Yeah. And I think just because he was born so fast, his lungs didn’t get the squeeze that most babies get. 

Adriana: Yeah, and it’s with that… like that makes sense. Like once… it’s always a relief or, I don’t know, it feels good to get clarification, like when you said nuchal hand, I was like, “Ah, there you have it. That makes sense!” 

Sarah: Yeah, yeah. A lot of things make sense. Once I figured that out, it was like, “Oh, that’s why.” And I’m sure that like, my body was trying to, like, it’s probably why he was so high, kicking me in the ribs for so long. And then probably my body was like, this is bigger than it should be, is that trying to dilate around, ’cause his hand was up in the way. So yeah, it makes a lot of sense.

Adriana: Yeah, there was more surface so it required more force, you know, your contractions were so intense for so long and your pushing was long. When was… we didn’t get to that. When, what time was he born?

Sarah: He was born at 6:50, so my pushing was just about three hours?

Adriana: So in the scheme of things—

Sarah: Not super long!

Adriana: Yeah, on the long side, but not the longest ever. Right?

Sarah: No, no.

Adriana: Which I know, like probably to listeners who haven’t had a baby, go like, “Whaaat?!”

Sarah: No, but it’s just on the, like, the long side of normal range. Yeah. Yeah, but the notes are really funny. If you look at my midwife’s notes, it says “Head born: 6:50. Body born: 6:50.”

Adriana: All together now: 6:50! Yeah, he didn’t get that squeeze. 

Sarah: No, he didn’t get that squeeze. 

Adriana: So then how are you feeling about this experience? 

Sarah: That’s a great question. So, I initially actually had a lot of guilt around it— or I guess maybe more like shame— where, like I wanted a natural birth and I ended up using the nitrous oxide and like, does that mean that I— you know, especially ’cause I’m like, a naturopathic doctor, so I should be able to do things “naturally.”

And so I actually, like, that was a hard thing for me to process, which it sounds so silly because nitrous oxide isn’t even— in terms of interventions it’s like, very low. And one of the things that helped me the most was actually I asked for a copy of my birth records and I read through them, and could see that like the contraction pattern was what I thought it was in my head, that it was so fast and like no breaks, for so long.

And, yeah, I could see that like, nope, that’s true. What you thought happened was true. And, and that helped me realize that, yeah, it’s okay that I used the nitrous oxide.

Adriana: No, and I think that’s a great point for anybody— no matter what type of birth you have, but even especially helpful if you have cesarean— to ask for the birth records and read through them. And not immediately— give it time.

Sarah: No, I did this like, probably six or eight weeks postpartum.

Adriana: Yeah, and even then, like, it depends… depending on the level of trauma that people are feeling, I wouldn’t recommend doing it right away, but just to have it at like, ask for them, to have it.

And the reason I say, especially for a cesarean is because, regardless of if you’re going with a different practice for your following birth, they’re gonna need those records anyway, so to know about operative stuff.

Sarah: Yeah. And it’s your story, right? So it’s nice to… it’s nice to read your story, ’cause you don’t… you don’t keep track of it in your head the same way that the midwives or the doctors are keeping track of it. So it’s nice to just like, have that objective, very objective—

Adriana: —skeleton. 

Sarah: Yeah. “Skeleton” of what happened.

Adriana: Yeah. Was there anything else that you did that helped you process the experience? 

Sarah: To be honest, I think I had like, a fairly smooth transition. I know you talk— and, is it Dr. Alex Sacks?— talks about matrescence. 

Adriana: Right, yes. 

Sarah: Yes, I think it went like, really smoothly. My husband actually went back to work sooner than he anticipated because I hadn’t started working at… I had graduated and got my license, but I hadn’t… I wasn’t really working. And my husband took four weeks off, and then at around I think, around three weeks, he was like, “I’m bored! Can I go back to work?”

But I think it was because we expected… my expectation of postpartum was that it was going to be like, totally insane. It was going to be crazy. There was gonna be sleepless nights and not being able to get anything done. So I just, I had the entire Harry Potter series and I laid on my couch with my son on my chest and read Harry Potter. 

Adriana: Was that like, your first week?

Sarah: No, that lasted about… I think it took me about 12 weeks to get through all of them.

Adriana: Okay. Yeah. No, my thinking, two weeks is ridiculous, because that’s… I couldn’t get through one of those books in a week. But so you said 12 weeks?

Sarah: Yeah. I think to get through all of them, yeah.

Adriana: So you did spend a really good chunk— like, you had that sort of lying-in period. You had the cuarentena. You had a good… more than 40 days! Yeah?

Sarah: Yeah, I did. But I think I did it like… it was… I did do a lot of lying around, but I also like, went out for walks pretty quickly, because I was doing so much lying around! My husband would be like, “Okay, I’m going to do the dishes.” And I’d be like, “Can you hold the baby? And I do the dishes? So I was still doing like, little bits of things where I would like, walk to the drugstore and pick something up, by about a week postpartum— just getting out, little bits outside and… or like, going to the local coffee shop while you know, wearing my wearing my son and then, just like buying the coffee and walking back, and that interspersed with the lying-in. 

Plus… plus like doing things that make you feel normal, right? Like showering in the morning and doing the dishes once a day, because that was one of my household chores prior to, and so it made me feel like I was still an adult kind of? I think it made for like, a really easy transition. I didn’t really have a hard time juggling things until I went back to my first birth, which was about six months postpartum.

Adriana: And was it because you were, were you exclusively breastfeeding then? 

Sarah: Yes. Yeah. 

Adriana: I didn’t even ask you about breastfeeding! 

Sarah: Yeah, so he… I tried to latch him right after the suctioning, because I figured, you know… I wanted to do the breast crawl, but I figured, you know, if that sectioning was probably uncomfortable, so maybe, you know, the comfort of nursing afterwards? And he like, was having none of it. He was like, “No.” So I tried to latch him a couple of times, and I was just like, alright, fine, we won’t breastfeed, right now. 

And actually the bed in the birthing suite was a king-size bed, so after I tried to latch him and it didn’t really work, he was on my chest, my husband was beside me, and the three of us had a nap for like 20 minutes! And it was… that was like, actually the highlight of my birth experience, was this nap that we had while the midwives were cleaning up, and then I woke up because he was rooting around and then he latched beautifully. 

And he did… we did have like, a bit of a hiccup the first two weeks: he had a tongue tie. And my letdowns were really, really forceful in the beginning, like super forceful. And so, he would just get so overwhelmed where like I was… he would pop off and it would be like spraying him up the nose and he’d get so gassy because he like, couldn’t maintain the latch. And then at two weeks postpartum, we ended up getting the tongue tie clipped, and then— since then, it’s basically been smooth sailing with the breastfeeding.

Adriana: That’s fantastic. Is there anything else you want to make sure the listeners, all those Mighty Parents out there, know about?

Sarah: Honestly, I think the biggest thing— first of all, I didn’t, I didn’t hire a doula and I regret not hiring a doula. I think my, you know, my husband was really great and I gave him like, a mini doula training. I was like, “These are the things that I will want you to do.” And he did all those things and he was really fantastic, but I really noticed the difference when my midwife walked in, having a female presence who knew what was going on. 

And thankfully— because, you know, she’s the midwife— she stayed with us through the whole, the whole birth, but your OBs and your nurses are in and out of the room. And having that specifically female presence for me, that knew what was going on, and just like, her touch was so different than my husband’s. And I think that really like, I think I would have benefited from that earlier on. 

And I think so next time I will definitely have a doula. 

Adriana: Yay! I was surprised! I was surprised. 

Sarah: Yeah, but it was… it was really interesting because I thought he— you know, and he was, he did like, a really amazing job and was doing all the things and was very supportive— but the difference between his presence and my midwife’s presence was so stark to me while I was in labor. Like, it was just like, “Ohh! There you are!” 

Adriana: And that’s where I’m like… I go back to Britta Bushnell’s work and how birth will transform you, and also like, thinking about archetypes and roles for as much as we focus on our modern world, which is true, but you know, there’s still these ideas and concepts of archetypes and it’s to distill it to the fact that like, in simple words, people have different jobs.

Sarah: Yes, yeah.

Adriana: Like his role is to be the loving, protective partner, not to be the more of a servant role, which, you know, that’s what the word “doula” means in Greek. 

Sarah: Yes, “to serve.” And I think probably if I had had a doula, like someone would have brought me orange juice maybe in the middle of the night, as opposed to like the next morning, you know? So just like those little things and yeah, I think I’ll definitely have a doula next time.

Adriana: Cool. Anything else you would do differently? 

Sarah: I think I would like to catch our next baby? My husband got a chance to catch this, the first one. So I think I would like to catch the next one!

Adriana: Yay! Sarah, thank you so very much for being on the show today and wanting to share your story. It’s been a roller coaster, a delightful roller coaster! 

Sarah: Thank you so much for having me. I really enjoyed it! 

Adriana: That was naturopathic doctor and board-certified lactation consultant Sarah Winward, who is also now mom of two active boys and lives in Toronto, Canada. You can find more about Sarah at thelactationnd.com and on Instagram @the_lactation_nd.

You can also connect with us @birthfulpodcast.

Now, you know what would be lovely if you’re not driving? I would just really love it if you took a screenshot of this episode right now, and post that to Instagram sharing your biggest a-ha moment from this story. Make sure to tag @birthfulpodcast so we can amplify it! Also keep an eye out for the next episode on our Models and Places of Birth, where we talk with the amazing Robbie Davis-Floyd about birth models and how they affect your birth. 

You can find the in-depth show notes and transcript of this episode at birthful.com, where you can also learn more about my small birth preparation classes and download your free postpartum preparation plan.

Birthful is created and produced by me. Adriana Lozada, with production assistance from Aysia Platte.

Thank you for listening and sharing Birthful. Be sure to follow us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Amazon Music, and everywhere you liste. And come back for more ways to inform your intuition.

Lozada, Adriana, host. “Birthful: How Flexibility Helped Her Flow through Relentless Contractions” Birthful, Birthful., March 30, 2022. Birthful.com.


 


 

Sarah Winward, a white-presenting woman with light brown hair, wearing glasses and a black top, stands posing confidently with her right hand on her hip, smiling at the camera

Image description: Sarah Winward, a white-presenting woman with light brown hair, wearing glasses and a black top, stands posing confidently with her right hand on her hip, smiling at the camera.

About Sarah Winward

Sarah is a Naturopathic Doctor (ND) and International Board-Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC)  living in Toronto, Canada. She has two active boys who love spending time outside and at local museums. Sarah is passionate about everything birth- and baby-related, and has been working with pregnant families for over five years. When she isn’t at work or with her own kiddos, she enjoys yoga and walks in the urban wild. 

You can find out more about her on her website at www.thelactationnd.com or at @the_lactation_nd on Instagram!

 

 

 

 

 

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