Michelle Onaka shares the ups and downs along the way toward having her child, including her fertility journey, then completely gutting their house during pregnancy, and following that up with a fabulous waterbirth. She shares with Adriana how immediate postpartum became a bit of a rude awakening, and how helpful it was to connect with a lactation consultant, a cloth diaper service, to start co-sleeping, and actually learn about how to navigate life with a newborn from a place of confidence (even if you can’t always know what’s going on).
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- The Business of Being Born website
- Taking Charge of Your Fertility, by Toni Weschler
- Expecting Better: Why the Conventional Pregnancy Wisdom Is Wrong–and What You Really Need to Know, by Emily Oster
- Get Me Out: A History of Childbirth from the Garden of Eden to the Sperm Bank, by Randi Hutter Epstein, MD
- The Thinking Woman’s Guide to a Better Birth, by Henci Goer
- The Happy Sleeper, by Heather Turgeon MFT and Julie Wright MFT
- “4 hypnotic tricks to get your baby to sleep” YouTube video
- Evidence Based Birth website
- Kelly Mom website
- Informed Pregnancy podcast
- The Birth Hour podcast
- Longest Shortest Time podcast
- Thrive With Your Newborn, Birthful’s signature postpartum preparation class
Related Birthful episodes:
- The Fertility Rollercoaster
- Let’s Talk About Fertility and Age
- Fertility Before & After Pregnancy
- Do You Really Need to Stop Eating Sushi?
- Have an Easier Pregnancy (and Birth!) with Chiropractic Care
- Rethinking the Pushing Stage
- Why You Want to Do Lots of Skin-to-Skin With Your Baby
- How Nipple Shapes Can Impact Breastfeeding
- Infant Sleep Basics
- Safer Bedsharing
- Cloth Diaper Basics
[Birth Stories] Wonderful Waterbirth with Strong Fetal Ejection Reflex
Adriana Lozada: Hello, hello, Mighty One! Today is the last day of our summer break where we’ve been sharing with you all kinds of amazing birth stories from our Birthful archives, and next week we’re back to our topical series. Although it’s not like we do away with the stories altogether, no, no, no. But we do alternate between stories and topical interviews, and so we’re back to that rhythm starting next week.
For this last story of our summer break, we’ve got a waterbirth with a strong ejection reflex, courtesy of Michelle Onaka. Michelle’s story really starts with a connection to self through her fertility journey, and in the intro, you’ll hear that when we originally published it, it coincided with National Infertility Awareness Week in the U.S. This is not the case at the moment, since National Infertility Awareness Week happens every year at the end of April, and for 2024 it’s going to be between April 21 and April 27, in case you wanted to know. You’re welcome!
Currently, Michelle lives in Oregon with her partner, her two children, and her dog, and social justice and evidence-based everything are big parts of her life. Professionally, Michelle supports educators in reaching their financial goals, including investing to make work optional, and if you’d like, you can learn more on her website, IntentionalMoneyLife.com.
Ok, here’s the episode– I hope you enjoy it.
Adriana: Welcome to The Birthful Podcast. I’m Adriana Lozada and in today’s Birthful story, I’ll be talking with Michelle Onaka about the many twists and turns of her path towards becoming a mom– including her fertility journey, then them completely gutting their house during pregnancy, and following that up with a fabulous waterbirth.
After all those obstacles, she’d figured life with a newborn would be par for the course. However, that was not quite so. Stay tuned to find out more. The Birthful Podcast: Talking to new parents to inform your intuition.
Hello, Mighty Parents and Parents-to-Be. Today’s story appropriately coincides with National Infertility Awareness Week in the U.S. Michelle’s process towards becoming a mom started with an intense focus on fertility, and then, once pregnant, things went by fairly smoothly– until after the baby was born, when taking care of a newborn was more challenging than she expected, and, yeah, a little bit of a surprise! So this is sort of a fertility, pregnancy, birth, and postpartum story all rolled up into one.
Adriana: Michelle, welcome! It is great to have you here on the show today.
Michelle Onaka: Thank you!
Adriana: Yeah! So happy that you did, because I feel like we’ve connected over e-mail quite a bit and back and forth. So I feel like it’s been a long time coming to have you on the show. How old is your baby now?
Michelle: She’s four months old.
Adriana: Wow. Very cool! And so why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself first?
Michelle: So I work in higher education, and I live in Oregon with my husband and our dog and now my baby.
Yeah, my husband and I met in 2009 when we were working seasonally in Alaska, and we did a lot of traveling before we came to Oregon, where I did my master’s degree. And we kind of settled down here and decided to buy a house and have a baby. It’s kind of weird!
Adriana: Especially when you travel a lot, I find that when you have a baby it’s harder to travel, so you kind of, like, start thinking about other things like daycare and, you know, having a house, yeah.
Michelle: Yeah, we’re putting off travel until our baby is old enough to remember. So it’ll be a while before we get to do much extensive international travel again, but it’ll be cool when we get to.
Adriana: For sure! And show her the world. It’s exciting!
Adriana: So, before we get to even the point of when you were pregnant and what you were doing to prepare for labor and birth, you wanted to make sure I asked you about your fertility journey. So, yeah, tell me about that.
Michelle: So I wanted to talk a little bit about Taking Charge Of Your Fertility, the book, or kind of discovering the Fertility Awareness Method. And that’s because I feel like, growing up, we never really learn very much about women’s cycles. I actually asked a friend the other day how long her cycle is, and she thought I meant how long her period is, right?
Because that’s what we talk about. We talk about periods. We don’t talk about fertility and cycles and what they mean. So I was talking to a pregnant woman in a water aerobics class and she told me how she had been using natural family planning to not get pregnant before, and then she got pregnant right away.
And this was… you know, I was getting close to starting thinking about getting pregnant and so I started looking into that and realized that the Fertility Awareness Method is a way to not get pregnant or to get pregnant. You know, you can learn all about your body! So, I dove into that. I read Taking Charge of Your Fertility and I learned all the things. I started tracking my cervical fluid and my temperature, and there’s so much cool stuff that you can learn by doing that. So, I ended up using the Fertility Awareness Method to not get pregnant for a year. And then, once I was ready, I actually got pregnant the very first month– which was very surprising to me! I didn’t think that that would happen.
Adriana: Yeah! So awesome. And I am a big fan of connecting with your body that way and figuring out. So, in the show notes, I’ll put links to an episode I did with the… about The [Fifth] Vital Sign, which is your cycle as the fourth vital sign of health. Because if your cycle is healthy, you are healthy… and if it’s off, something’s off in you. So it’s really, like, getting to know yourself and your mood changes according to what your hormones are doing.
We know this, but take it one step further and can you plan, kind of, your life knowing that, you know, “In two weeks, I’m just going to hate everybody. So. I’m not going to plan any podcast recordings that week.”
Adriana: For example!
Michelle: I think… And I think about, you know, ’cause I was on birth control for a long time– or I had an IUD for a long time– and for a while there, I was always, “Oh no, my period hasn’t come yet. I’m maybe… Maybe I’m going to be pregnant by accident,” or something like that. And I feel like, If I had just had the awareness of my body, I would have been like, “Oh, no, it’s because I ovulated a little later this month. That’s all.” Like, that would have been so much better, even if I wasn’t using it as a method of not getting pregnant, just to have that awareness of what was going on would have been really helpful for me my whole life, I feel like.
Adriana: Absolutely! No, I completely agree. And the fact is, every part of our body changes. In the fertility awareness, did you ever do… saliva slides?
Michelle: I didn’t. I read about it, but I didn’t do them.
Adriana: So everybody listening is going to be like, “Yeah, what are they talking about? Saliva slides? What did she just say?” So, can you explain it? Do you want to explain it? You want me to explain it?
Michelle: I don’t know that much about it. All I know is that… something about the hormones, right, is that you could, if you put your saliva on a slide, it’ll form… Is it crystals, or…?
Adriana: Yeah, it does, like this ferning pattern– sort of like frost on the window, that kind of thing. Like, it has a very beautiful shape! And when you’re not fertile, it doesn’t do that, so you can put.. just like […] your cervical mucus changes, while your saliva changes, like, everything in your body changes.
Michelle: And your temperature! That’s just mind-boggling, that you can know these things without… I don’t know, it’s so cool to me.
Adriana: Taking your temperature, yeah, and knowing exactly when things are happening. Yeah, it is so cool. So, it seems a bit complicated at the beginning, but it’s just a matter of tuning in. And then, once you do, you’re just like, “Oh, confirming. Yep. I know.” Right? And you can plan around stuff. So, anyway, I’m so happy you did that and you had that connection with your body and that it worked to get you pregnant right away.
Michelle: Yeah! Yeah, that was very lucky.
Adriana: So, you’re pregnant. Now it’s the next step: Preparing for having a baby. What were your wishes/your thoughts about labor at the time? And how did you want this experience to go?
Michelle: Yeah, so I am an over-preparer and an over-planner, so I had been thinking about all of these things for years and years and years. So I had, you know, of course, watched The Business of Being Born a long time ago.
And then probably maybe two or three years before I was even ready to have a baby, I had started listening to podcasts, and started reading books and things like that. So I had read Get Me Out, which is a really cool book that kind of goes through… I think it goes through kind of the history of how babies are born, but also kind of gynecology and midwifery and all sorts of things. So I felt like I went in knowing kind of a lot.
And I had already gone to a local birth center– that had just opened within less than a year before I got pregnant– and I had already gone in to meet with them once. So I knew that I was planning on, if I had a low risk pregnancy, giving birth with midwives at a birth center in my town.
Adriana: So all of these things were before you got pregnant, it sounds like. Yeah? Yes. Yeah, so you had a wealth of knowledge– which, I love that you were so prepared. So once you were actually pregnant, what did you add to that? Or did you change anything? Like, what did you do nutrition-wise and exercise, and any classes that you took?
Michelle: So while I was pregnant, nutrition-wise… Well, at the beginning, I didn’t want to eat vegetables for a long time, as many women do, so that was a struggle. I’ve always tried to focus a lot on protein, because I think it can be really hard to get enough protein. But otherwise, I don’t think I did a whole lot nutrition-wise.
Exercise-wise, I bike commute to my job. And I continued… I actually bike commuted two days before my daughter was born! So I was getting that exercise kind of without having to try. And I was also in a water aerobics class, and walked my dog regularly. So that’s what I did for exercise. I continued to see the midwives… And… I’m trying to think of what else.
Adriana: Did you do any body work?
Michelle: I didn’t.
Adriana: Which is fine! I’m just curious.
Michelle: I did really have some… What’s it called? Sciatic nerve pain. And so I did end up going to a physical therapist for a little bit, and I did end up going to a chiropractor once or twice for that.
Adriana: And was that helpful?
Michelle: I honestly don’t know if either of them helped or not. My sciatic nerve pain ended up being… like, it would get really painful. It would bother me for a few days and it would get really painful. And then it would just kind of go away, and it didn’t really seem to matter what I did necessarily.
I also probably didn’t do a great job of keeping up with the exercises that the physical therapist told me to do. I guess now’s a good time to mention too: While I was pregnant, we did some extensive renovations on my house. We tore out drywall in probably three-four, four big rooms in our house and replaced it, and we moved a bathroom completely, and we did all sorts of things. And the vast majority of it was stuff that my husband and I did.
And so I was very busy and I was kind of doing challenging things– you know, spending a lot of time painting and stuff like that. So, sometimes, I was just going to be in pain, and sometimes I just didn’t have the time to do things that I intended to do.
Adriana: And if anybody looks at the show notes, they can see your– you had, like, those pictures as the pregnancy progresses. People post pictures of their belly– it’s like “one month, two months, three,” or however many weeks, “two weeks, three weeks”– and you have them next to the wall and how the renovation is progressing. So the wall, like, comes down and goes back up as your belly gets bigger!
Michelle: That was our bedroom! So, our bedroom, and then the laundry room, closet, and bathroom are all off of that, and we redid a bunch of stuff in that section. So, yeah, I think we tore down… I think we moved out of our bedroom when I was, like, in Week 25 or so, and we moved back into our bedroom when I was 39+3 weeks.
Michelle: And I had her the very next day. [Laughs.]
Adriana: Alright! So let’s fast-forward here. So, and your birth team: You had midwives. Did you have anybody? Did you have a doula?
Michelle: I did have a doula, yes. So, the birth center has four midwives, and so I got to see them all, you know, all throughout my pregnancy. And then I had a doula who I got to meet with… I think we met with her maybe two or three times before we had our baby. And then we also had a birth photographer.
Adriana: Cool! So let’s take… before you jump right into it, let’s take a quick break, so that then we can focus on this story properly. We’ll be right back!
And we’re back talking with Michelle Onaka about her birth story.
So you had your midwives, you had your doula, birth photographer, everything’s kind of ready, you’re back in your bedroom from the renovations. And then: How did labor start?
Michelle: So we moved back into our bedroom on Saturday night. On Sunday morning at 5 a.m., I woke up to pee, as you do when you’re pregnant. And I couldn’t fall back asleep, and I noticed that I was kind of crampy. And then I started realizing that the cramping sensation was going away, and then it was coming back. And so then I, of course, couldn’t fall back asleep, and I spent the morning, like, Googling “What does it feel like at the beginning of labor?” trying to figure those things out.
So I just was having what I called “cramps,” cramps off and on for a long time. And so I started charting that. I started using an app to see how long they were and everything, around 6:30 in the morning. And at that point, they were, I think eight minutes to 16 minutes apart.
You know, it wasn’t particularly regular, so I just kind of went about my day. And when my husband woke up at 9:00 or so I told him, and he was not excited because we had a lot left that we wanted to get done. So we were really hoping that the baby would hold off for another week or two! So, we spent the entire day working on things, so I was moving our closet in. He was hanging up the shower curtains in the new bathroom. Were working all day and we ended up–
Adriana: That’s a good plan for ignoring early labor, though!
Michelle: Yeah, exactly! Yeah, I asked him even later, like, “Did you think about the fact that we were about to have a baby?” And he’s like “No! I didn’t have time. I was trying to finish the bathroom.” So I was just in kind of early labor for a long time!
And at some point, we realized that if he would push on my back, that helped a lot. From pretty early on, the only way that I found that worked, that felt good while I was having a contraction was to kind of, like, lean over something. So, getting on all fours wasn’t, wouldn’t work, sitting on the toilet wouldn’t work, I just had to kind of stand up and lean over something, and so I would have him come and push on my back. And we had some curtains that we really needed to return, so we went to Bed, Bath, and Beyond at 4:00 p.m. after I had started contractions at 5:00 a.m.
Adriana: Field trip!
Michelle: So that was a lot of fun, for sure. And at that point it was still early labor, but it was enough that I didn’t really want to be interacting with people when I was having a contraction. I just wanted to lean over something and I wanted my husband to push on my back.
Adriana: Were you… So you had to stop for these contractions?
Michelle: Yeah, I was definitely stopping, yes. And I always was confused by the, like, “Can you talk through your contractions?” I have no idea if I could talk through my contractions ever. But I do remember, at one point, one of the employees wanting to use the ladder that I was leaning over while I was in the middle of a contraction, and I was not happy about that.
Adriana: Can’t you tell…? A minute? Like, wait a second! Wait one minute. That’s all. One minute.
Michelle: Yeah. Yep, so we went on that little field trip, and we went to the grocery store as well. And so we got home from that, it was probably 5:00 p.m., I think, and I was really tired. And so I laid down, and when I laid down I ended up sleeping off and on for about an hour, and my contractions kind of spaced out.
So I remember I had three contractions during that time, and I would wake up and I would keep trying different positions– like, I tried all fours and it just was not comfortable at all. And so around 6:00 is when I got up and I feel like that’s when things were getting a lot more challenging. Although I still had dinner; we ate dinner at 6:30 p.m. or 7:00 p.m. and I ate two bowls of food, so I don’t know how far I really was.
Adriana: I love it! Yeah. It feels like you’re like, “I’m in labor, but I’m really trying to ignore this whole thing and just do my life. It’s… I don’t want you now. It’s 39 weeks. You’re too early.”
Michelle: And it was like… I knew so many people and I heard so many stories of people that had, off-and-on labor, prodromal labor, that I really wasn’t fully convinced that I was really going to have a baby. I was still like, “Well, you know, who knows? Maybe this will stop.”
Adriana: That’s a healthy attitude, frankly.
Michelle: Finally, around 7:00 p.m., I texted the doula and told her to come over. So she got over around 8:00 p.m. or so. And I think contractions were getting pretty challenging at that point. I definitely really, really wanted someone to be pushing on my back, and, you know, after 6:00 p.m. or 7:00 p.m. probably. So she got here at 8:15 p.m.
And I remember my husband asked me what he wanted me to do. And I was like, “Go work on the bedroom.” So it’s now, you know, 8:30 p.m. I’ve been in labor for 15 hours or so. And it’s getting pretty challenging, but I’m like, “That’s alright.” I have the doula go work on the bedroom. So then I went and I got him. At one point, the doula said, “You should try to rest in between contractions.” And so I went and I got him, because I wanted him to lay down with me. I was like, “Maybe if he pushes on my back while we’re laying down, I’ll be able to manage it laying down.”
And so I went and I got him and we cuddled in bed and the doula went outside the room. And I got to relax for maybe five minutes or something– and then a contraction hit and it hit hard. And I remember laying there in my bed and being like, “Oh my God, I’m going to poop. I’m going to throw up. Something’s going to happen. I have to get to the toilet.” And then also being like, “I cannot move right now.” So that one was intense, and after that we moved to the bathroom.
And, as I said, I didn’t actually like sitting on the toilet during contractions, but so I would sit on the toilet in between contractions and I kept wanting to be able to pee all the time. I didn’t want to have to move or anything. So I just sat on the toilet, and then I would stand up over the toilet, and my husband was standing kind of beside me, and he would push on my back. And we… I guess my contractions were really picking up at this point, so I think they were coming every one to four minutes, maybe… but I, being in my confused state and being still in denial that I was actually in labor, I wasn’t really noticing.
So we hadn’t even told the midwives at this point that I was in labor at all. So finally, I think we said something and the doula said, “What was that?” And we said, you know, “Should we call the midwives?” And she’s like, “Yeah, I think this is a good time to do it.” So it was around, I think, 9:30 p.m. or so that we called them and let them know that I was in labor.
And she heard me go through a contraction or two, but she asked, you know, “Do you want to come in?” And I– because she didn’t say, like, “Hey, it sounds like you should come in”– I was like, “Oh, I must be far away still.” So, I didn’t decide to go in at that time, and I’m sure she probably knew that I was going to be calling back pretty soon.
So then it ended up at 9:54 p.m., we called back and said “We’re coming in,” and we called the birth photographer and told her to meet us there. And then we got in the car and it was… And I live very close to the birth center, but with the final preparations and everything, we ended up getting to the birth center at 10:18 p.m.
And they knew which room I wanted to labor in. They had the water running already. I got there and they started doing all the things that they needed to do: checking my heart rate, checking blood pressure, all of that, checking on the baby. And around 10:25 p.m., they were done checking everything, and so that’s about when the water stopped running, and I got straight into the tub– and that was amazing.
I got to just kind of float there for– I think it spaced out a little bit, so I got to float there for five minutes or something– and then the contraction started back up. And at one point, I think, maybe the first one or two when I was in the tub, my husband tried to push on my back again. And then all of a sudden I felt like I was going to throw up, and so I kind of went to the edge of the tub and I gagged, but I never threw up. The position that I ended up in, that was kind of the position I stayed in the rest of the time. I was kind of in a frog position, with one arm in the water supporting me and one arm out of the water. It’s a corner tub, so basically my head is kind of in the middle coming out towards where everyone’s sitting, and so my butt is facing exactly in that corner. Basically the… probably one of the harder positions I could have possibly been in for the midwives!
Adriana: And so it goes, right? Because it’s not so quite about her, unfortunately. Right? Right. She knows. She figures it out.
Michelle: Yeah, I think absolutely the beauty of working with midwives was that no one ever said “Hey, you should do this?” or “Why don’t you try this?” or anything.
I mean, if I had needed them to say “Why don’t you try this?” that would have been fine. But literally they were just like, “Great! Yes, you can go in the water.” And they were really supportive of everything that I wanted to do. So then, when I felt like I was going to throw up, I actually felt my body instead start to push the baby down.
So I didn’t end up throwing up, because I think my body– like, after I gagged once or twice– my body was like, “Oh, no, we’re pushing the baby down. This works.” So it kind of just stopped trying to throw up and instead just kind of really focused. I think I have a very strong fetal ejection reflex, or at least that’s what I felt!
So I just kind of, in-between contractions, I just kind of sat there and readied myself knowing that when it hit, my body was going to keep forcing the baby down. And one thing that I think is really interesting is when you’re listening to hundreds of birth stories ahead of time, you still don’t really know how you are going to be. So, I was quiet. I was not Making a lot of noises. I actually… it never even occurred to me to make any sort of noises.
And that’s my baby in the background– sorry about that!
Adriana: I love how you’re saying that you were quiet and you didn’t need to make noises… and she starts doing noises. Like, it’s perfect. Well done, baby!
Michelle: [Laughs.] Honestly, I think it was probably a few contractions. And I remember I did reach down and kind of feel, and I didn’t know what I felt, but I knew that it wasn’t what normally I would feel. I felt like the baby was getting pretty close or something. And at that point […] I had never had… like, my water hadn’t broken, I had never seen my mucus plug, nothing like that. So I assume anyone–
Adriana: Did you have, like, a little bit of bloody show at all, though?
Michelle: I didn’t have anything, nothing.
Adriana: So, which is, I mean, so important to say, because we expect that to be there, and it doesn’t… like, again, variations are normal. You don’t have to!
Michelle: Right! And when you’re hoping that birth doesn’t happen for a while, and you’ve heard so many times that people say that they were in labor for four days, when you don’t have some of those things, you’re like, “Well, maybe it’s not really labor.” And then, when it is, you’re like, “Oh, oh, okay.”
So at some point, I assume my water must have broken, and… I remember at one point, the midwife did reach down and felt, and I think that she said that the baby was almost in a full crown at that point. Oh, I should also mention: They never checked me. So, not in any of my appointments or when I got to the birth center at any time was I checked.
So I had no idea, you know. Was I dilated? I didn’t know any of that information.
Adriana: And again, variations– ’cause we hang on to these things, like, “Oh, you need to be checked.” Well, actually you don’t! Your body, it’s physiological– your body’s gonna do it anyway. But if you want that information, it’s there. It’s just one part of the picture.
Michelle: Right. Well, and from hearing all the birth stories that I heard, I didn’t plan to know the number, had they checked me. I didn’t want to know, because I was afraid that it would be all about… I think birth is all about your head, right?
So if you think, “Oh my gosh, this is terrible. This is so hard. I can’t do this.” And you’re only four centimeters, that’s going to mess with your mind. So it’s kind of nice that they didn’t know either. So when she finally reached down, she said that baby was almost at a full crown. And I remember her saying, “The baby’s going to be out in one or two contractions.” And I think I did start pushing towards the very end, maybe the last two contractions or something– which, if I could go back, I would probably not push. But I was like, “Oh, cool, let’s get this baby out.” And so I did join my body in pushing the baby out.
The midwife did tell me like, “Hey, you know, this is a great position that you’re in. Just know that this is what we’re going to do.” And so she kind of told me, she prepared me for when the baby comes out, “I’ll reach in and I’ll do this. And then I’ll pass the baby between your legs.” And so that’s what she did!
So, the baby’s head came out– and I think it was another maybe ten seconds later or something– I actually felt the baby twist, and then come out the rest of the way. And so I leaned back and she handed me the baby. And she was screaming and she was pink and she didn’t have any vernix or anything like that on her– like, she almost just looked like a baby coming out of a bathtub, honestly, like, literally, it was bath time, that’s all. She was still connected, of course. So that was really cool. And I remember she handed me the baby. Sometimes you’ll hear people say “When I saw the baby, I was like, ‘Oh, of course, this is my baby,’ and felt a lot of love and all of this,” And I was just kind of like, “Whoa, that’s a baby!” I’m like, “I don’t have to push anymore! That’s great.”
Adriana: And it can take a while, right? There’s no normal. Some people fall in love immediately. Some people, yeah, you need even months to go like, “Oh!”– more than, you know, “This is my baby, I am this baby’s mom” kind of thing.
Michelle: Right! And I remember just kind of looking at the baby and looking at my husband and being like, “No, there really was a baby inside me?” like, “We have a real baby!”
Michelle: Yes. I think being pregnant for the very first time, it’s just so surreal. The whole thing was just so surreal. I was like, “Yeah, my belly is getting big,” but I’m still not convinced that there’s going to be a baby at the end. So, yeah, when I finally was holding this little baby that was screaming, I was like, “Wow! There’s a baby.”
And, yeah, she was really healthy. So I found out later that her Apgar scores were nine and ten, which is pretty cool for a waterbirth, I think. Also, she was born at 10:56 p.m. So, I got to the birth center at 10:18 p.m.– it was not a very long thing after we got to the birth center.
But, I think, in thinking about my story, obviously, maybe we could have gone to the birth center a little bit earlier. Not too much earlier, but maybe a little bit wouldn’t have been a bad idea.
Adriana: Next time, keep that in mind, yeah! Like, there’s next time. Yeah, and, I mean, it worked out, it seems, wonderfully.
Michelle: Yeah, it did. I was very lucky. And we had a birth photographer, who didn’t get very many pictures before the baby came, but that ended up being perfectly fine too, because what I found that I really appreciated were the pictures of the first hour of her life. Not really, you know, the laboring.
Laboring is fine. But being able to go back, I think… What was really cool to me is to later go back and be like, “Oh, I recognize my baby in these pictures!” When it happened, I didn’t recognize them, because I didn’t know her at that point. But I recognize her now, and I… like, that was a really cool thing for me.
Also I… We didn’t know if it was going to be a boy or a girl. And I really wanted a girl. And so it was really exciting that she was a girl!
Adriana: So how did you guys find out? Did you announce it? Did your husband, midwife, who?
Michelle: So, actually, they just gave her straight to me. And so she was just kind of in my arms and neither of us… no one, as far as I know, no one looked, or anything.
And then maybe five minutes later, we finally– I think at the same time– maybe I kind of moved her or something, and my husband and I looked at the same time. And we knew that we were going to name a daughter Kaya. And we did not have a name for a boy! And so he goes, “We got a Kaya!”
Adriana: Oh, I love that!
Adriana: When she was crowning and her head came out, how did that feel?
Michelle: It’s really interesting trying to remember what were my thoughts during the whole thing! So I know in the contractions right before she came out and like as… like, I remember feeling the stretch and being like, “The ring of fire lasts for more than one contraction!” I remember thinking that I felt that, that stretching sensation, and that it was lasting for a little while.
I don’t know that I really know what it felt like when her head came out, but I remember feeling like, “Whoa, that was cool!” when I felt her body twist and then come the rest of the way out. Like, that was cool that I could actually feel that part of it.
Adriana: Yeah, her rotating to get those shoulders out, so awesome! And then how was the birth of the placenta?
Michelle: It was good! So we were in the pool still, hanging out. And I think they were a little worried that she was getting cold, probably because I think I had her kind of more out of the water than I should have. I remember thinking that I was afraid that she was gonna drown or something– like, it was weird, you know? I just had a baby, so.
I think I had her out of the water quite a bit more than I needed to at this point, and so they were a little worried that she was gonna get cold. And so we started talking about getting out. Let’s see… so, we’re waiting for the umbilical cord to stop pulsing. So about 15 minutes after we had her, it did. And so they went ahead and cut the cord.
And they started draining the tub so I could get out, so we could put some warm blankets and stuff on her. And right before I got out, the midwife was like, “Oh, let me just check to see if the placenta is ready to come out.” And she said it was, and so she’s like, “Okay, it’s… You’re gonna feel cramping. It’s gonna hurt.” But remember it doesn’t have any bones in it! And I don’t know if she pulled on it or what, but then I felt, like, a cramping sensation, and then I felt like a big ball of JellO fell out. It’s kind of how it felt to me.
Adriana: Yeah, and I think it’s a good distinction to make– like, the placenta is attached to the uterus, which is inside, like, high up in your vagina, right? So when it detaches, the placenta kind of comes out from the uterus and can sit in the vagina without coming out, and that’s kind of, like, when they know, they can see, they can feel the difference in terms of it’s still inside you, but it’s not still in the uterus. It’s like right there, ready to come out. Yeah.
Michelle: And then once that came out, they asked if I wanted… you know, if I felt comfortable holding the baby and getting out, and I decided to instead give her off to my husband. And so he took off his shirt and he took her and I’m so happy I did that because the birth photographer got two great photos of them together. And I love those pictures.
Adriana: Which we’ll show on the show notes too. I love that you sent me the pictures, and I looked at it and I was like, “Yay! Daddy doing skin-to-skin too!”
Michelle: Yes, and that was the first picture I have of him as a father, which is really cool. When I first saw that picture, I started crying.
So I walked over to the bed, and they put her on me, and we kind of just laid in bed for a long time. And I really… I felt really good. Like, I didn’t feel like I was having a hard time moving or anything. I remember being like, “Oh, I have to pee. I should just get up to pee.” But I remember the midwives had told me, “When you’re ready, you know, we want to walk with you.”
So, I didn’t just get up whenever I wanted to, but I felt really good. They helped her to latch on and everything. Eventually they did weigh her and measure her, so she was 6 lbs– no, I’m forgetting! 6 lbs 10 oz? 6 lbs 9 oz? Oh man, I think it was 10 oz. And she was 19 ¼ inches, so she was quite a bit smaller than I expected her to be– although there’s really no rational reason why I thought she would be bigger than that. For some reason, I just thought she would be bigger!
Adriana: And so she latched on right away, was it…?
Adriana: Okay, wait. I sense there’s a story there… before we go there, because the next question is really quick: Did you tear at all?
Michelle: I didn’t. There was one, what did she call it? She called it, like, “road rash” or something. There was one little, little thing that they didn’t need to stitch or anything, but that’s it.
Adriana: Perfect. Yes. Okay. See? That was a quick question! So then: The latch.
Michelle: So, being a first time mom and not having done a breastfeeding class, I had absolutely no idea what to do. I think they did get her to latch, but it was pretty much me sitting there, keeping my arms back. And, you know, a bunch of people’s hands trying to do what was needed to get her to latch. So it took a while. I have no idea how they did it. You know? I didn’t really get to see it and know, like, “What do I need to do to get her to latch?”
And I think that I do have kind of relatively flat nipples and she had a pretty small mouth. So I think that those were two things that were challenging for that. But yeah, so they got her to latch. But then I could not get her to latch by myself afterwards, so we ended up… you know, they made us some breakfast tacos, and we finally went to bed around 2 a.m., and I remember in the nighttime, I would hear her making noises, and I would be like, “Hey, maybe she wants to eat…?” and so I probably tried to get her to nurse like three times, but I only tried by myself, I never went and got the midwives, I never did anything else, I just kind of tried and then she would pretty much just go back to sleep.
And so then I’d be like, “Okay, maybe she wasn’t hungry …?” So that was really interesting. And then in the morning they asked if she had nursed and I said “No.” And so they helped me to nurse one more time in the morning before they discharged us. But still, you know, at that point it was very much like all hands on board to try to figure out how to get her to latch. At least that’s how I felt about it.
Adriana: Mhm. So then you went home?
Michelle: So, yeah we went home at 10:15 in the morning. So, we were at the birth center for 12 hours total. So we came home in the morning, and I think I didn’t really talk about this earlier, but I didn’t do a whole lot of… I didn’t have time to do a whole lot of preparation, classes and things.
So I did a birth class, a local birth class, and that’s all I did. And so, as I said, I didn’t do breastfeeding. I didn’t do any sort of, like, understanding what newborns are like. My preparation was pretty much listening to a bunch of podcasts while I was working on a house. And so, when we brought her home, I think we didn’t have a lot of the knowledge that we needed.
And I think… I’m pretty sure in the 24 hours after we brought her home, we tried to latch her several times, but we really only got her to successfully latch twice. So, that was a really, really big struggle for us. And I was really worried. And so the midwife came over to check on us and helped us get her latch.
And really we talked about… We needed to, at that point, we needed to get her naked pretty much to get her to latch, because she would just be so sleepy that she would not do it. So that first week, I would say, was a really, really big focus on trying to get her to eat enough. And I was really happy when the midwife came back a day or two later and she had actually gained a tiny, tiny bit of weight.
So when the midwife had come maybe two days after she was born, she weighed 6 lbs 1 oz. Yeah, so she was 6 lbs 10 oz at birth and then she was 6 lbs 1 oz. And then when they weighed her the next day, she was 6 lbs 2 oz. And so that was good, that was really encouraging, I think.
And then I also ended up going to a meeting with a lactation consultant. So, I had her on Sunday, and then on Friday we went to meet with a lactation consultant. Because, at that point, everything was just so… was so emotional, it was so difficult. My husband had to help me. He was, like, holding everything.
It was just really challenging at the beginning. And so it was really good, because we went and met with a lactation consultant and they did a weighed feeding and they actually found that she was getting plenty of milk, very quickly. And so after that, I feel like things got a lot better, because there wasn’t the stress of trying to get her naked to get her to feed, because we realized that at that point she was getting enough milk. And my milk had come in, which was obviously another worry about not having her latch that much at the beginning is, you know, “What if my milk didn’t come in?”
By the end of that– maybe by the time she was a week old– some of the feeding issues really were better, I think. And at the lactation consultant appointment, they showed me a different hold, and so we had a couple different ways to hold her to get her to nurse so that improved a lot.
And then, of course, the next struggle became sleep. I didn’t… We didn’t know what we were supposed to be doing for sleep. We weren’t prepared for any of that. We didn’t know. We just didn’t know. We just didn’t know anything about whether we were supposed to try to get her to sleep and how and how often and how do you know when she’s ready to sleep and how do you get her to sleep and all of that. So that was the next struggle.
Adriana: So what did you do?
Michelle: I don’t really know what we did. I think we just kind of struggled for a long time, and then finally around when she was maybe three weeks or so, actually one of your classes, Thrive with Your Newborn. There was a sale on it and I was like, “You know what? I had kind of meant to do this before and I didn’t have the time and I didn’t,” and so I ended up signing up for that class in the middle of the night when I was nursing. The very first couple sections of that class were really helpful because it talked about wake windows and different ways to get the baby to sleep. And actually one of the videos that you linked to… It was the one where there’s the hypnotist? Like a video of “five ways to get your baby to sleep” or something like that.
Adriana: Like “little tricks to help improve sleep.” Yeah, I like that one with the hypnotist, yeah!
Michelle: Right, so the one where what we found that really worked, and actually I’m doing it right now, is kind of putting your hand on the crown of their head. And just kind of going down towards their eyes slowly to get her to eventually close her eyes. And that… Yeah, that, that trick is something that we still use probably every day, several times a day.
Adriana: And I will link it on the show notes. I love the one where it’s like, you tilt the head up so the eyes have to look rolling up and that gets… the muscles get tired, and then they have to close their eyes. And so, yeah.
Michelle: Yeah, so those types of things, that was really, really helpful to know that there’s such a thing as a wake window, to start paying attention to the wake window. To learn how to put her to sleep. All of that is really helpful. And so finally, things are getting better.
Adriana: And I love, frankly, I’m really happy that it did help you, even though it’s set up to be done while pregnant, right– “prepare ahead of time and do all these things.” But the fact that you were like four weeks into it (into postpartum) and it still was super helpful, and you got to watch it and rewatch it. Yay! I’m so excited for you that that was helpful.
Michelle: Well, and, and so there’s, you know, there’s multiple parts of that class, right? And so I’d be like, “Okay, there’s this video and then you watch this and you do this.” And I would kind of never remember where I stopped. And so I would just start again a lot of the times.
And so it was helpful, because I just kind of kept watching things over and over again until I felt like, “Okay, this makes sense. I know something that I can do.” And I think one of the PDFs that you do… the sleep… the sleeping PDF? That talks about, kind of, “every month these are the things you should think about,” while I haven’t been great at doing them–
Adriana: Oh, the one that walks you from newborn to two years old and how sleep changes and what to expect, yeah? Yeah.
Michelle: –so I haven’t necessarily been great at following everything, but it’s been really helpful to me to have. I have it kind of saved on my phone so I can just kind of click to it and be like, “Okay, so now that she’s four months, what does the wake window look like?” and, you know, “What’s going on with this?” I definitely need to do better with the routines, the sleeping routines and the waking routines. That’s not something that we’ve done a very good job with.
I think, partly, just around five weeks I started doing more bedsharing, and that was amazing. I feel like I went from trying to get five hours of sleep every night, to getting eight hours easily. And so then of course when things aren’t as big of a struggle, you don’t pay attention to them as much. So that’s why I haven’t done as good with the routines!
Adriana: And frankly, I mean, the whole point of it is– and I do say these in the classes, you’ve heard me say this before– it has to work for you. So if things are working, then it’s working. It’s when things aren’t working that you need to change that.
Michelle: And, I think one thing that’s so bedsharing is really helpful for nighttime. So overnight’s really not an issue. It’s more of the nap time that we struggle with.
Adriana: And I am gonna, in the show notes, also link to another episode that I have on safer bedsharing, so that… because bedsharing can be amazing, it’s just a matter of wherever baby sleeps, sleep safely. But there are… like, Dr. James McKenna has a whole, in Indiana, he has a sleep lab. It’s an infant-maternal sleep lab, and he just looks at the patterns and what/how infants and moms sleep together. And the conclusion is if you’re an exclusively breastfeeding mom that– he calls it “breastsleeping,” because it’s exclusively breastfeeding and bedsharing– even though they get more wake ups (like, they’re awoken more), they get more sleep because it’s not a full come out of slumber, and so the time that you’re awake is so much shorter. The boob’s right there. Boob! Yeah, as you’ve experienced.
Michelle: I mean, at the beginning, I remember she wasn’t able to nurse very well, either laid back or side lying, and so it was very much like getting up and sitting in a chair. And she also spits up a lot, so it was trying to keep her elevated after she nursed. And so I remember nights where it was a “good” night if I had only been awake for an hour and 15 minutes every time she had to feed. Like, that was a really good thing, because of all the things… and then trying to get her to lay back down and then she’d, you know, wake up again and all of that.
But yeah, once we started bedsharing more… And, we actually do. So we always had the crib sidecarred, so it’s always been kind of next to my bed. And so now I feel like one of the safer ways that we can bedshare is actually more of me sharing her bed rather than her sharing my bed. So, at this point, probably 80 or 90% of the night, she’s in her own crib, which has that kind of firm, flat surface and all of that. It’s just that I’m kind of curled around her a decent portion of that time.
Adriana: Like you’re closer to her, so you’re not on the same surface, you’re just next to each other.
Michelle: Well, I am on the same surface with her. I am, like, wrapped around her in her bed.
Adriana: Oh, okay, you’re kind of scooted in the crib.
Michelle: Right. So, at the beginning, I was staying on my bed. And at some point I actually– especially when I wanted to nurse on the other side– I would actually literally climb completely into the crib. But now I’m just kind of laying more awkwardly the same way I normally was in order to nurse in the crib. But yeah, I keep my hips on my bed and then I put my pillow and everything in her bed and I just try to follow the same, you know, the safe sleep stuff from James McKenna to make sure that the blankets aren’t near her and all of that. But, I don’t know, I feel like some people are really… They think you’re gonna roll over on your baby, and I’m like, “Well, how often do you roll over and fall out of bed at night?” You’re aware of where the edge of the bed is. You’re aware of where your baby is, too.
Adriana: Yeah, and that’s why, like the Safer Sleep 7, one of the things is to be not impaired, to be exclusively breastfeeding, because then you’re more in sync and connected to the baby and have more awareness, you don’t sleep as soundly when you’re doing that… And the flat surface and making sure baby’s not overheated and what else am I missing? There’s, like… there’s seven things. I’ll link in the show notes. And things always evolve.
So, how was the breastfeeding? How did it go? How is it now?
Michelle: Now it’s amazing. I love breastfeeding, actually. It was so painful at the beginning and it was so stressful. But it is amazing now. We side lie nurse a lot, or lay down and nurse a lot. I still don’t know that she has a great latch, but at this point it’s not painful and she certainly seems to be getting enough milk.
I love breastfeeding. I actually… Maybe a week or two ago, my supply went down a little bit for a few days and it really worried me. It made me realize, like, how much I don’t want to lose this. So, my supply came back up and everything’s good. But yeah, so I really, really love breastfeeding now.
Adriana: Cool! Yay. Things always change, Michelle, yes. And in terms of that ever-changing, how did this experience… How did birth change you?
Michelle: How did birth change me? I don’t know. I know that some of the things that I was really looking for that I was really hoping to get out of my birth was, I wanted to kind of continue that, like, almost confidence, that “You can do it.” And I also wanted my husband to have a sense of he was needed– not feel like he didn’t know what to do or he wasn’t able to help. And both of those definitely happened.
I felt like birth was totally doable, and I think it was because I had such a good birth team. It was because I was able to move the way I needed to, because I had so much support that I was able to do that. And also my husband having that job of having to push on my back. He didn’t feel useless. He really felt like he could be a part of it. And I think that that was really cool. And it kind of set us up going into parenthood well, especially considering we struggled so much at the beginning with breastfeeding and sleeping and not really having the knowledge that I wanted to have.
So I think that I’m really glad that I had had a really good and kind of empowering birth because I think, had I gone into it feeling like maybe my body was broken or having any of those kind of thoughts that sometimes people have, or even just not having spent a lot of time learning about birth and not understanding the process, that would have set me up to not feel as confident as a parent, I think.
Adriana: So in parenting itself in this postpartum period, what would you say are like a few of the things that have been super helpful for you?
Michelle: I know one of the things that was helpful for me, honestly, was just realizing that you’re not always going to know. So I remember there were times when she would just start screaming and we would have no idea and we would be working so hard, not only to stop her from screaming, but to understand why, and eventually I just kind of realized that, “You know what? You’re not always going to know why, and sometimes it just has to be enough to make her feel better,” you know, get it to the point where she’s not screaming anymore. And sometimes you’re never going to know what, what happened and why. So that’s definitely one.
And in our local community, there’s a really cool class that’s offered at the community college that is Live and Learn with Your Baby. And so I just started doing that class when she was maybe eight, ten weeks, something like that.
And so that’s really cool to be in a space with other parents and their babies and we’re learning about all different topics and having a lot of conversations and stuff. So kind of just having that community of parents and especially mothers. It was really helpful. I’m currently reading the book, The Happy Sleeper, and I’m really hoping that that will help us especially figure out naps a little bit better, but kind of having that knowledge… Eventually, I assume, she probably won’t sleep next to me, so trying to figure out how that will all work!
Adriana: Right. You won’t both fit in that crib anymore. [Laughs.]
Michelle: Right. Right. Right. [Laughs.]
Adriana: Oh, fantastic! As we wrap up, is there anything else that you want to make sure people know?
Michelle: So I did send you some resources that you can share in the show notes, for some really great podcasts that were helpful and some books and things like that. I would definitely say, for someone who is going to have their first baby, especially if you plan to breastfeed, I highly, highly recommend doing a breastfeeding class and doing some sort of “understanding what’s going to be happening with the newborn”– so your class that I did was great.
Also, if you’re not… if you haven’t been exposed to a lot of the postpartum stuff, to really learn about that. Learn about, you know, what should be your expectations in postpartum. I did not have a lot of expectations. I didn’t. No one expected me to get up and help cook or do laundry or anything like that at the very beginning. And that’s something that I think is really important. Oh yeah, also, I’m doing cloth diapering. And I highly recommend a cloth diaper service at the beginning. It was so super helpful to not have to worry about that.
Adriana: That! Because that’s a whole different thing to figure out.
Michelle: Yeah, and because I’m such a researcher– but I knew that I was going to be doing the cloth, or we were going to do the service– I was able to just not do research about cloth diapering. So I saved so much time before I had her just knowing that I didn’t have to worry about it. And knowing that I was going to have someone else providing the diapers for me and they were going to wash them for me, and I didn’t have to deal with any of that until I was ready? And that was really helpful. And I love cloth diapering. So I’m really glad that we did that!
Adriana: Are you still doing the service, or did you… are you doing your own?
Michelle: Nope. I think around ten weeks or so we stopped the service and started taking over on our… for ourselves. And yeah, it’s great. I love it.
Adriana: Yeah. Awesome! I love it. Love it so much.
Well, thank you so much for sharing all of this! And I’m really happy that you had this beautiful birth that you shared with us because it… I just, the whole time I’m, as you’re talking, I’m drawing pictures in my head and it’s just… I keep laughing at, like, your denial. “I’m not sure if this is it,” you know, heads crowning, “I don’t know if I’m happy with it.” [Laughs.]
Michelle: Yeah, pretty much! I mean, that’s pretty much the way it went. I remember I have a friend who texted me while I was in labor that day and she’s like, you know, “How are you doing?” And I was like, “I’m feeling crampy,” and she’s like, “That’s called ‘contractions,'” and I’m like, “Yeah, whatever. It feels like cramps.”
Adriana: To-may-to, to-mah-to. I love it. Thank you so, so much, Michelle!
Michelle: Thank you! Thanks so much for having me. I listened to your podcast starting pretty early– maybe even before I was pregnant, and that was really helpful for me, especially, as I said, we were so busy! I didn’t have time to do a whole lot of other things. So thanks for offering your podcast.
Adriana: Mighty Ones, I love to hear from you. Go to birthful.com, where you can learn more about me, the show, send me messages and more. This episode was produced by me and made possible by you. The title song for this podcast is Vive Ace by Kevin McLeod. And the sponsorship song is Air Hockey Saloon by Chris Zabriskie. Find them both at freemusicarchive. org.
I’m Adriana Lozada. Please join me next Wednesday to inform your intuition here at The Birthful Podcast. Thanks so much for listening!
Lozada, Adriana, host. “[Birth Stories] Wonderful Waterbirth with Strong Fetal Ejection Reflex.” Birthful, Birthful. August 30, 2023. Birthful.com.
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About Michelle Onaka
Michelle Onaka lives in Oregon with her partner, two children, and dog. Social justice and evidence-based everything are big parts of her life, as are baking, traveling, hiking, amateur photography, snowboarding, listening to audiobooks and podcasts. Professionally, Michelle supports educators in identifying, setting, and reaching their financial goals, including investing to make work optional!
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