[Birth Story] Why Having an Audience Stalled Her Birth

Heather Lauf was so clear on the importance of choosing the right care provider for her birth that she switched practices, twice! Even with her ample preparation, labor still threw her for a loop when she found out her water hadn’t broken (it really seemed it had!), and then again when she couldn’t quiet her thinking brain after realizing she had too many eyes watching her. Nevertheless, Heather was able to have the unmedicated vaginal birth she was hoping for with the help of her trusted team.

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A black-and-white photograph of Heather, looking tired but satisfied with a compress over her forehead, reclined in bed with her newborn baby skin-to-skin on her chest, draped in a towel

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Transcript

[Birth Story] Why Having an Audience Stalled Her Birth

Adriana Lozada: Welcome to Birthful, Mighty Parent or Parent-To-Be. I’m Adriana Lozada and we’ve got a truly insightful birth story for you today as we continue with our Care Provider series.

My guest is Heather Lauf, whose initial preparation for birth was sadly cut short as she experienced a miscarriage. The whole experience was heartbreaking and compounded by her rude awakening to the shortfalls of the perinatal system and Western medicine in general, so for then her next pregnancy, Heather dug deep into the information and resources available to her, to make sure she understood her options and that her choices were aligned with her wishes. So much so that, in fact, she ended up switching providers, twice.

And in this series, we’ve definitely been focusing on the value of finding the care provider that’s right for you. That’s a foundational piece for sure. But Heather’s experience also reminded me that if we’re looking at birth as a physiological process, which is what we always do here at Birthful, then, when you’re feeling observed, your thinking brain gets activated and that can disrupt the whole labor process.

Now, this doesn’t mean that then your labor is forever derailed. Heather’s story has a great example of how she identified the issue and dealt with it so she could get back to birthing.

I also want you to know that not every gaze is created equal. In my experience, birthing people have no problem being surrounded by those that they feel are helping them do the work— like for example their partner, their doula, their trusted care provider, or a nurse that they connected with— and this is because, in the words of the fabulous Michel Odent, these people are not creating “an attention enhancing situation that is stimulating neocortical activity” in the birthing person. So they’re not activating the “thinking birthing words.” But if at any point in your birth, you feel OBSERVED then you may need to politely ask the observers to step out or have someone else get them out of your line of sight so that then you can get back to your birthing. It’s a mammalian thing.

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

Adriana: Welcome, Heather. It is so great to have you here today.

Heather Lauf: Thanks so much for having me Adriana.

Adriana: And thank you for wanting to share your story, your birth story. I’m really looking forward to hearing it.

So let’s think back to when you were pregnant, when you first found out what were your wishes? What were your thoughts about birth and what you wanted? How you wanted this experience to unfold?

Heather: Yeah. Well, when I first found out that I was pregnant, I had really already had quite a bit of time to think about that, which may be a little bit unusual. I had gotten pregnant the first time but had an early miscarriage, and unfortunately that took place in a hospital ER, and it was a very unpleasant experience to say the least.

Adriana: Oh, I’m so sorry.

Heather: Oh thank you. But anyways, I guess that after that, I had some kind of ongoing health issues that resulted in a very long trip through the traditional medical system, I guess you could say. And coming out of that— I mean, many of the experiences I had with those hospitals and centers and doctors I worked with were great, but also many parts of that were not really what I expected. And I guess you could say almost sort of traumatizing. I think I had a lot of confidence and trust in the medical world before that happened, before those things happened to me, but I came out of that with a very different perspective. So I also gained, kind of, a sense that some things really just can’t be explained or fixed by Western medicine.

So my situation is not, maybe, very typical— I had a year and a half to really learn a lot more about pregnancy and birth and kind of the care options that were available in my area. So I ended up interviewing and switching to a different OB. So this was one who I had heard from, from friends that was generally thought of as more “natural-minded” in our particular area, and that was what I was hoping for.

And through talking to a friend who had recently had a successful VBAC, I met the person who would later… I would later choose to be my doula. She hosts a monthly group called “The Birth Circle.” And in that group, moms share their birth stories every month. I started to attend it regularly, even though I wasn’t even pregnant yet , but I just loved hearing the moms telling their stories. And I just wondered, you know, when would my time come to do that?

I was able to learn a lot from them by listening to their stories— just the choices they’d made, why they’d made those choices. And really, that’s a huge reason why I wanted to share my story and kind of give back in that same way, to other people. So, this was the first time I ever heard about things like The Business of Being Born, VBACs, doulas, and even things like out-of-hospital birth.

Adriana: Yeah. And it sounds like it was an experience to soak in all the different possibilities and options and just general knowledge about what birth is like. So it’s a little bit of a detoxing of the basic medical Western notions that tend to only, y’know, be portrayed in the media and that we tend to learn about.

Heather: Yes, definitely. I think I really learned a lot more about different options and not just defaulting basically to, y’know, your standard kind of thing. So I guess my thoughts really were to have an unmedicated vaginal birth, and I kind of assumed though, actually, still that I would give birth in the hospital, which is funny because I heard all homebirth stories really, and other stories, that I just thought that, well, homebirth wasn’t what I wanted to pursue or what my husband wanted to pursue either. And I really thought that was kind of the only other option in our area. I’m the oldest of four kids, and my mom had had four unmedicated hospital births with midwives. So I knew that that was possible and my mom had done it. So I kind of had that feeling in my corner.

Adriana: So then you connected with this OB. And did you stay with that OB? What happened?

Heather: Well, I… we did end up switching, because of some conversations that I had with my doula and with other moms at The Birth Circle. There actually had been a brand-new birth center— so this is actually the very first freestanding birth center in Illinois, outside of the Chicago area. And it had just opened six months ago at that point in my pregnancy.

It was about an hour away, actually, from where we live. So I guess I kind of assumed that I couldn’t go there. I wouldn’t go there. I thought it was too far away, which now seems so silly! It was totally worth it. So we decided— my husband and I— decided to go to take a tour of it after my doula kind of said, “Well, what about going to the birth center?”

She just kind of presented it like, “Hmm. This is an option for you.” So we took a tour, to get a feel and ask our questions. And it was just… it just felt so right. The staff, they were so personable. It’s a beautiful birth center, it feels so comfortable and homey, too. There’s, like, a big shared kitchen. There are three birth suites; you get to pick which one is kind of your first choice. The center is owned by two OBs, but they don’t provide any of the care there. All the care is provided by midwives. The midwives do all the prenatal visits. They attend all the births.

This birth… This particular center was also very close to the hospital that they work with for transfers. So that made us feel comfortable, kind of knowing they have a clear process for transfers and that it’s very close by. So in my mind, it kind of had all the advantages of a birth center-style birth, yet the hospital was basically five minutes away if we needed it for some reason.

Adriana: So how far along were you in your pregnancy then when you found out about the birth center and switched?

Heather: I was 15 weeks when I had my first midwife appointment there.

Adriana: Okay, so still quite early.

Heather: Yes.

Adriana: And then, once you had your doula, the birth center and midwives, was there anything else you added to that preparation?

Heather: Yes, we did prenatal education courses at the birth center, which was great because we actually got to kind of prepare— practice the comfort measures— in the actual place where I’d be giving birth, which is very cool. I also prepared for breastfeeding, which I felt was really an important step. I was kind of, like, hesitant about that— or just didn’t think I would need to— but then I’m really glad that I took the steps that I did.

Adriana: What were those steps?

Heather: I took an additional breastfeeding course at a hospital, that the midwives recommended. And I also asked my doula and some other friends for recommendations of an IBCLC to kind of have ready sort of on call for me. She suggested coming while I was still pregnant to one of her free group meetings that she has twice a month in her office. So it’s just breastfeeding moms, and she kind of walks around other moms and helps and assists. And it’s just a good way to kind of see breastfeeding in action, which is something that we don’t typically see in society.

Adriana: And so incredibly important! I’m really glad you took those steps. And did I wish everybody would do that: set up their IBCLC, go sit in a group and see other people breastfeeding. You learn so much with those little encounters!

Heather: Oh, absolutely. That was probably one of the best things I did honestly, to prepare. I was 36 weeks pregnant when I went to it and I got to see, like, a weighted feeding being done and just… I felt so comfortable with my IBCLC before I even had my baby! So I was excited to work with her and I felt very confident about that.

Adriana: Can you explain quickly what a weighted feeding is? Because people, if they haven’t had it done or seen it, have no idea what that means.

Heather: Yes. So— well, at least how she did it— she had a digital scale, and so before feeding, breastfeeding them, you weigh the baby. She records that weight. Then you go, feed them— maybe just one side. And then you weigh the baby again. She records that weight and then she calculates how many ounces the baby had transferred during that feeding. You get to see exactly.

Adriana: Yeah, it is so cool, I find, because their scales tend to be hypersensitive, right? You’re measuring ounces (and partial ounces, ’cause babies don’t eat that much, especially newborns). But it’s so cool to see! And so validating and rewarding, like, “You weighed my baby. I fed my baby. You weighed him again and look, that’s all milk!”

Heather: Yeah, it was really… it’s really cool that you can do that and, like, literally each side you can see what each side they’re transferring from.

Adriana: Ugh. So cool. So fast forward to when labor started, did you know it was labor starting? How did that feel?

Heather: Ooh. Yes. So my estimated due date was on a Sunday, and that day came and went, as it often does for a first-time mom. I was kind of prepared for that to happen mentally. And then also kind of not— I was born on the day before my due date, so I guess I was kind of hoping for something like that, but that’s just not how it went down.

I had a 40 week midwife appointment that Wednesday, and we went to that one. I had decided not to have a vaginal check done because I had heard from so many birth stories— on, actually, on this podcast. I forgot to mention, I listened to this podcast most of my pregnancy, too. I love it! My doula recommended it. But anyways, I felt like I would fall into the category of the “fixating on a number,” so fixating on a vaginal check number. So I decided that I would not want that done. And part of my intentions for the birth was to not really have many vaginal checks done.

I guess a quick side note is that I was fairly concerned about having a large baby, because I weighed nearly nine pounds when I was born and my husband weighed, like, nine and a half pounds. So I purposely didn’t have a third trust trimester ultrasound, ’cause I just didn’t wanna hear a weight estimate of the baby— I feel like I would fixate on that. And then that would kind of, I don’t know, intimidate me? Or bring doubts into my head. So I just kept asking my midwife each week, how big did she think the baby was gonna be at birth, just based on feeling the baby and she… their estimates never really changed. They were kind of like, “Yeah. It’s a normal size baby, probably between 7-8 pounds.” This is gonna come into play later.

So, anyways, that evening— this is still Wednesday— I was just hanging out on the couch, and I stood up and I felt a gush of fluid. I was like, “Oh, did my water just break? I haven’t been having any contractions.” I was like, “Oh no!” So I called my doula; she said I should just let the midwife know. She said since I wasn’t having any contractions, I should just go to bed that night, like normal. And we would plan to have me come into the birth center the next early, the next morning to see what was going on. I was just so nervous that night I could barely sleep! I was just… I was really worried. This just wasn’t how I kind of envisioned labor starting, and just knowing that I was probably quote-unquote “on a clock.” I would need to be in active labor within 24 hours in order to continue with the birth center, so that’s kind of their protocol!

But anyways, we got up at 5:00 a.m. and got there by 7:00 a.m. on Thursday. And I still wasn’t having any contractions. Such a bummer! I remember there was this… just this beautiful sunrise and we were driving directly east, but all I could think was “This is just not how I envisioned the drive to the birth center going down.” So we got in there, and my midwife said that she would need to do a test to make sure that that was amniotic fluid that had come out, since it was just kind of a leak and not a big obvious water break. So she had this piece of paper that she was using to test the fluid. It was supposed to turn a certain color if it was amniotic fluid, but it was not turning that color, no matter, kind of, how much she tried. She even ended up doing a cervical check, trying to get some of the fluid to put on this paper. And that was so uncomfortable, which really surprised me!

Adriana: And they do that just so… Amniotic fluid has… It’s a pH test, like, on this paper. So that’s why it needs to turn to a certain color. Amniotic fluid has a very distinct pH, very different from urine, say, or from general, like, vaginal fluid. So that’s why they test it that way.

Heather: Oh, that’s okay. Cool. I missed that part, I guess! Or I was not paying attention. That’s neat. Anyways, it turned out I wasn’t dilated at all. And I was, like, maybe 50% effaced. And that it just kept not changing. So she said, “Well, it’s also possible that this isn’t amniotic fluid.” So she did a test of it under a slide— I guess it’s, like she said, kind of the definitive test.

Adriana: Yeah, that’s the next step— they do the paper first and then they do the slide, yeah. And they… and, like, this is at a hospital, OBs, like, this is the standard way that I’ve seen and heard for anybody.

Heather: Okay. Yeah. So she went to do that test and I was just so nervous. Like, “Well, maybe there’s a chance that it wasn’t actually the water.” I didn’t wanna get my hopes up. It was gonna be a rough road ahead if it was. Well, she came back and it’s… and it definitely wasn’t. So that was great! We got to go back home, carry on as normal. So, false alarm!

Adriana: Oh, well, and you know what, I’ve seen that before, and I’m so glad you are sharing that because it’s one of those variations of normal that you don’t expect, right? And especially since you felt a gush, you’re like, “This has to be it,” but maybe baby just pressed on your bladder weird, or who knows?

Heather: Probably!

Adriana: So what a relief, in a way, that it wasn’t your amniotic fluid, because nothing was happening and, y’know, things were looking a little hairy for a second there.

Heather: Oh, yeah. I was just so glad. Yeah. So I felt like I had gotten a second chance!

Adriana: And so then, when did things actually start happening or what happened next, I guess?

Heather: Yeah, well, part of the plan I had made with my midwife on that Wednesday was that I was gonna go get two rounds of acupuncture before my next appointment, which was gonna be on Monday. So the first round was on Friday morning. It was with the chiropractor that I had been going to throughout pregnancy who was doing Webster technique for me. So, she also did acupuncture. I was a little nervous about it, because I had never gotten it done before, but I was really willing to try a few more things at that point, especially after, kind of, that water break scare.

Adriana: Did you love it?

Heather: I did. It was so lovely! I got super relaxed sitting there, once everything was in and I was just kind of hanging out by myself. Yeah. It was really nice. I surprised myself by enjoying it. So yeah, enjoyed that that morning. Then I went home and I ended up taking, kind of, this long walk up a giant hill. Maybe not the best idea, but I thought that might help things… get things going. That night, I started having some light contractions, nothing regular. Went to bed, kind of hoped to be woken up! No, no luck. They stopped at some point.

So now it’s Saturday morning. It’s the weekend. My husband’s home. We have no plans. Of course— ’cause you don’t have plans at that point— we kind of wanna do something, you’re getting a little stir-crazy! So we end up going to this home improvement-type of store, and just walk around, looking at everything, and talk about redoing our kitchen floor. So my husband decides he’s gonna go ahead and start that little project now, which apparently I was okay with at the time, which is hilarious. So we bought all this flooring and the things we needed to put this floor down. So he starts working on that at home and I was, like, cleaning— and basically we were couples nesting, which is kind of funny.

That night I started having contractions again. So I just kind of… I don’t know, just tried to go to bed. I couldn’t fall… I just couldn’t fall asleep. So I went out to the couch. Things seemed like they were kind of picking up, but I really didn’t know if I should time them or not. I just… I think I got really excited. I should have just gone to bed! I called my poor doula at like three or four in the morning. She’s like, “Just go to sleep, please go to some rest.” I’m like, “Okay, I’m that person?”

Adriana: No, but I totally understand! Like, my heart goes out to— when I get that call, because I know that you just want things to happen. You wanna do something. You wanna, like, make it happen, and not quite understanding that actually the best thing you could do for it is fall asleep, ’cause then you’re shutting down your thinking brain. You’re gaining energy. You’re, like, letting the body do its thing. But it’s so hard. It’s so hard.

Heather: Yes, it is so hard, but I’m so glad I did go to sleep because I got probably five or six hours that night… and I was gonna need it, we’ll just say that! So I woke up that next morning— this is Sunday morning, 9:00 a.m.— I was having a contraction. It’s like, “Wow. Okay. That’s probably actually stronger than when I was feeling last night. Awesome.”

And they kept happening every 10 minutes or so— very manageable, definitely early labor stuff. We decided to, kind of, follow the advice of my doula: go about our normal day as much as possible. I think we went to the grocery store, went out to eat. I remember standing in the grocery store line thinking, “Oh boy, I really hope my water doesn’t, like, break right in here or something!” It didn’t! We went back home.

That afternoon, I kind of set up, like, a labor cave for myself, I would call it, in our living room (with the lights down, candles, my birth ball). I just kind of went back and forth, from the couch and the birth ball. My husband, this whole time, is working on our kitchen floor, still trying to get that done! And things were definitely, I don’t know, just getting a little bit more intense gradually. I was kind of timing and recording things, old school, ’cause I just prefer to look at it that way instead of with an app.

And at about 4:00 p.m. that afternoon, I had a stronger contraction. I decided to go, kind of, look at my paper and see whether things were actually getting, like, stronger and closer, like I was feeling. And I stood up to lean over the table, and my— that’s when my water definitely broke. Like, it was unmistakable! It was just that giant gush. There’s no doubt about what just happened that time. So, I was pretty excited!

So I called my midwife, my doula. My midwife said, “There’s no rush, but you can head over to the birth center whenever you want.” I kind of wanted to; I wasn’t sure how far along I was, and I think I kind of wanted to believe I was farther along because my water had broken. Anyway, we took our time getting ready. I hopped in a shower. We drove over to the birth center, the hour drive. And I, at this point, I started getting a little worried because my contractions had kind of spaced out. They weren’t as strong as they had been, but they did kind of pick up again in the last 20 minutes or so in the car.

I think we got there at about maybe 6:30 or 7:00. And the birth suite that I had chosen was prepared. It was lovely. There were essential oils already diffusing, the lights were dimmed. It was just very cozy and nice. So she needed to check me, to see if I was far enough along to stay there. And I was really nervous about knowing that particular information, and I hoped I was actually in active labor. Well, I was three centimeters, 90% effaced, and he was at a -2 station… and I was pretty disappointed. I felt almost embarrassed that we had driven there already. I really wanted to labor at home longer, but kinda lost that part of the plan.

She said that we… I would need to be four centimeters for us to be able to kind of stay and labor there. We could walk around for the next hour or so, and then she could check me again. So we did that. I remember her saying the hardest centimeter was getting from three to four… I don’t know why?

Adriana: It’s those first… it’s like… it’s just the “getting you into active labor,” that it’s, like, a leap. Because once you go from early to active, sort of, your body takes over and it’s a… and then you, as a doula, you’re like, “Okay, can we get it to take over? Can we get it to…?” y’know “When’s this gonna happen?” And when it happens, you’re like, “Yes, now it’s just downhill.” It’s like a rollercoaster— you’re going up and then suddenly you’re going down into it, right? And it just… Ugh, you’re along for the ride. Usually— usually, that’s the case. Usually.

Heather: Yeah. Yeah, so we did kind of just walk around and I actually started to feel really nauseous during that time. And I did throw up in their lovely kitchen sink. I felt so bad, but they had somebody’s, like, coffee mug was in there, oddly enough. And I remember, I did take it out. Like, I actually had enough presence of mind to still do that. So I’m like, “Hmm. I don’t think we’re very far here.” Anyways, she checked me again, at about an hour later, and I was four centimeters. So I could be “officially,” quote-unquote, admitted in the birth center. We didn’t have to go back home!

And I think at that point, my husband also kind of texted my doula, ’cause we were waiting to see whether we were gonna be able to stay there, if… to have her come over. So she was gonna be on her way. And I think at that point, my midwife said that I could try hopping in the shower until my doula got there, so I did that. They have a wonderful big shower in each of the birth suites and there’s like room to move around. It was very nice, but I actually started getting— I don’t know— sort of hot in there, and I think this is the part where I started to actually get into that, like more internal… Because I could hear my husband and my midwife kind of talking to each other in the birth suite— there’s not an actual wall there, it’s just, like, a curtain. And for some reason that started really annoying me, just to hear them, like, just talking like normal. Like, they’re just carrying on this normal conversation, like there was just nothing going on! I had some background music on too, that I thought was gonna be something I would want. And it really annoyed me then too. So I told them to turn it off. I just didn’t want anything. I just… I felt like I had to focus. I would think that I had said certain things out loud, but it turns out like I had never actually said these things— kind of saying them to myself, in my head.

My doula got there, I think, at around 9:00 p.m. and we started doing all kinds of different positions for labor. So I was just willing to try anything. So we were doing, like, lunges on a yoga mat. We were sitting on a birth ball. I was on my side, laying on my side, with a peanut ball. We did, like, high knee lunges with, like, a leg up on like this big foot stool. It was just anything! We switched it up a lot, which was good. But I was very, like, just nauseous this whole time and I thought I was gonna throw up at any moment. So my poor husband had to keep holding this barf bag for me, in case I threw up again.

Adriana: That’s the least he can do, c’mon.

Heather: Yeah. Just ready with this bag!

But so at some point, I guess my midwife got concerned because my contractions were spacing out, instead of getting closer together. So she suggested an herbal tincture that they use there to help kind of contractions get stronger and closer together. They kind of presented it to me really as like two different options because it was getting closer to midnight and they were worried about how tired I was already. So I was… At the moment, I was, like, sitting backwards on the toilet and kind of resting my head down, but I didn’t like it. It felt really uncomfortable. And then my doula just kind of appeared out of nowhere. I had kind of even forgotten she was there and she said, “We kind of have, like, two options right now: you can choose to take a drug to slow down your labor and let you rest, or you can take this herbal tincture to kind of help speed things up and get everything moving along.”

Adriana: How Alice in Wonderland.

Heather: Yeah, it was weird!

Adriana: Take this and grow. Take this and shrink. Like…

Heather: Yeah.

Adriana: But I do appreciate the “either start it or stop it”— like, something needs to change. I appreciate that aspect of it, for sure. For sure.

Heather: It was very clear, like, and at that time it was really hard to, like, make a decision. But I was… I was just so tired, but I didn’t really wanna take drugs, any drugs for rest, really. I just wanted to get it over with. So I took the herbal tincture. And I should mention, to the position of my baby was in, in Spinning Babies talk, it was LOT (left occiput transverse).

Adriana: Mhm.

Heather: Yeah. So basically that meant his back was up against my left side and my hip, and then he was facing my right hip. And he’d been in that position forever, like, probably since 30 weeks or something and he wasn’t moving. I read up about that on Spinning Babies, and supposedly it was one of the better positions for things to be going into labor? So I was kinda hopeful about that, because I had really… I really didn’t wanna have a posterior baby in labor.

Adriana: Well, and you weren’t feeling it on your back, necessarily…? Just the contraction pattern was a little… slowing down? Yeah.

Heather: Yep. It was just kind of weird. So anyways… So they gave me that tincture, it was like probably around midnight. It didn’t really take very long and things really did start to pick up. And we weren’t… we still weren’t doing any vaginal checks because I’d requested not to. This is definitely when I went into more that Laborland mind. I think it was… it was good. I didn’t know what… how much time was really passing, but I would’ve probably freaked out if I knew how much!

So I’m glad I didn’t know. So I asked to get in the tub. And I do have… I did get my notes from the midwives, so I have kind of time stamps on things. So this was around 1:00 a.m. early Monday morning when I got in the tub, and I wanted to kind of save that as a last resort. I was hoping to possibly give birth in there.

They do waterbirths at the birth center, and I thought it would be pretty relaxing. And it certainly was! This is when I was kind of starting to vocalize more through contractions— kind of the low, low moans was really helping me. Whenever one would come, I would get on my hands and knees in the tub and put my forehead, kind of, on this towel on the side of it, and just sway back and forth.

I just remember doing that over and over, and doing kind of the low moans. And that was the best way for me to cope, at that point. My doula would kind of help me bring things lower, when I started getting higher. But, my doula and my husband were kind of pouring, like, warm water over me— this big cup, like, on my back during contractions. And that felt so nice! When contractions were done, I would just lay down and rest, basically, on my side. And that was the best. The rests between are just… That’s just what made it possible for me to get through… Which this did end up being transition for me, in the tub, which was a lovely place to be for that.

Adriana: Mhm. So you were in the tub, you had your ritual and rhythm going on— of swaying on hands and knees, and people were pouring water on your back and it felt good— and you were resting in between. And then what happened?

Heather: Oh… Well, during that whole time I was having craziest thoughts. So I thought “I am never doing this again. This is just… How did I ever think I could do this? How does anyone do this? This is way too hard.” I felt like I’d underestimated the intensity of it, but I also had a lot of very stubborn thoughts. Like, “I am not transferring unless there is some medical reason to do it. I am not going to choose to go to the hospital.” So it’s kind of a weird mix. So I think I was in the tub about an hour. The contractions unfortunately did start spacing out again. So I did have another bit of the tincture. They wanted me to get out and try to go to the bathroom.

So I did, and I tried sitting on the toilet for a few contractions. It was… It was not very… It wasn’t very comfortable for me. I guess at that point, my midwife asked if she could go ahead and check me. I was fine with that. I just didn’t care at that point. I was so uncomfortable and exhausted and I’m like, “Okay, let’s maybe… We’ll find out some good news, that things have progressed.” So, turns out I was nine and a half centimeters with an anterior cervical lip. So there was lots of progress!

Adriana: Mhm!

Heather: I was so relieved to hear that the hardest part had kind of… had just happened. I wasn’t totally overestimating things! My midwife asked if she could try to hold back the lip during a contraction and she said it did slip back well over my son’s head. So they wanted me to try to lay down with the peanut ball at that point. And I guess I did that for a little while. And then she checked again and I was 10 centimeters! I felt like I was feeling kind of some pressure, but honestly now looking back, I think it was sort of wishful thinking, after just hearing the fact that I was 10 centimeters. So I did start kind of trying to push. If I could change things, I would not have started to try at that point, but, y’know, hindsight is 20/20. But we tried lots of different positions through pushing. There really wasn’t progress happening, though. I could tell just by the way that they kinda looked at— like, my doula, my midwife would kind of look at each other like, “Hmm, this isn’t working.”

And this is where, I guess you could say, my kind of performance-oriented brain kicked in. I started to feel like I wasn’t doing a good job. I was failing. This is around 4:00 a.m. or so. And I don’t know, we just kept trying different different positions for pushing. We tried the birth stool. And this is where suddenly I realized that I sort of had an audience. So, I had a birth photographer who I’d forgotten about until then. And there was also a student doula at my birth watching. I had consented to allow her to come in and watch it. I had met the photographer once and I had never met the student doula. I had never… I had not even noticed they were there until then. I don’t even know when they got there, but I saw them sitting way over by the door in chairs, like, just sitting there watching. And I… The position of where the birth stool was was, like, I was faced directly towards them and I felt so just conscious of myself, all of a sudden I believed the thing about like the need for privacy during birth just based on that experience, because there was just something in me at that moment that just closed up. Like, I think— both, like, literally and figuratively— I felt like “I don’t want them to be there watching me,” but I couldn’t say anything. I just didn’t feel like I was capable of saying something at that moment.

Adriana: Mhm.

Heather: It was very strange.

Adriana: All these thoughts in your head.

Heather: Yeah. And they just weren’t coming out, yeah. So I had that, y’know, and now I have this in my head, and in that Laborland brain, I heard my doula saying, “Should we try Walcher’s?” And they said, “It will… If she’s willing to try it.” So I had never heard of this before, but Walcher’s is something that’s… not a pushing position, it’s a position to help open the brim of the pelvis. So my baby was still very high up and this was supposed to help him move down. I think it’s from Spinning Babies? Or at least they kind of promote it. So have you ever heard of it?

Adriana: Yeah, I’ve heard of it. I’ve tried to do it during births, yeah. So it comes from an obstetric— y’know, like most obstetric maneuvers— from somebody’s last name. It’s about trying to get the head into the pelvic opening, into the, like, down underneath the rim at the top when babies are very, very high. But you did it, so you can describe what that looks like, ’cause it’s really, it’s a weird position!

Heather: It’s position that is so weird. So I was… I would I lay it off the end of the bed with my legs off the side and with this like giant towel roll under my like lower back and—

Adriana: —right, and your legs are dangling—

Heather: —yes, off the end of the bed.

So I was supposed to stay like that through three contractions without moving. So I agreed I would try… It was very uncomfortable, but I was willing to try anything to get him engaged in there lower. So I got arranged like that. I made it through the three contractions, just taking it one at a time. Then I got kind of confused, and I thought someone would tell me when it was time to move out of the position? So I just kind of stayed there and kept trying it out through contractions. And I guess at some point I either said something or started moving away— like, they said afterwards, they told me they’d never seen somebody stay in that position that long. So the only reason I did it was because I was… I just wanted pushing to be over.

They kept trying to get me to eat, but I just… I couldn’t. I felt like I was just gonna throw up anything, so I wouldn’t. So I was just really getting exhausted at this point. The contractions were spacing out, again… seemed to be less strong. I just wasn’t making any progress, really. It felt like the baby was just never gonna come out.

I just felt like he was just stuck in there forever! At 5:30 a.m., my midwife decided we were just gonna take an hour-long break and we would get back to pushing after that. Everybody was so exhausted. It was a long night. So everybody went out to take a nap and they helped me and my husband get in the bed, and we were sort of spooning in the bed.

I thought the idea of, like, a nap sounded so good until I realized I was, y’know, still gonna be having contractions. And I just couldn’t lay there. I tried so hard, but I made it maybe half an hour before I felt like I just had to get out of the bed. And I actually felt like I had to go to the bathroom, like I had to poop.

So I got up and went to sit on the toilet. I didn’t actually go, but I think at that point, I was finally able to tell my husband that I really, I needed to have the photographer and the student doula not come back into the room. And he told my doula and she kind of relayed that message. So I finally was able to, I don’t know, realize that that was important, I guess, for me to be able to feel like I could push out the baby without having an audience or something.

Adriana: And good for you, for, y’know, finding that voice and advocating for yourself, ’cause that’s… It’s hard to do!

Heather: Yes, it is. I didn’t know how hard it would be during that time, but it was. So I started pushing in the bed on my left side and my right side. Now I could tell that progress was happening. So I think he had had some time to, basically— I dunno, maybe it was kind of that Quietude, that the one lady talked about in your podcast…?

Adriana: Yeah, Whapio. And I’ll link it to the show notes, in her Holistic Stages of Birth, which I love. And, y’know, and I’m gonna link also the Rethinking the Pushing Stage, because I think part of it is understanding that baby and uterus work together. And it’s just not just about the cervix opening up, but actually the lower uterine segment, after it opens up, pulling up to release the head, so that it can more easily rotate. And so if, y’know, it’s hard to… Back to this idea of like, you want to have things happen, but maybe the best thing to do is rest. And knowing that when you did rest, then everybody laid down and then nobody was telling you to push and you were just letting your body do its thing and you were lying down, then the baby had, like, that space without external force other than the uterus, which is calming down and giving… slowing down and giving less strength, right? Giving baby, ideally, more time to rotate and get into a better position. So that then, when that intensity came back and when you pushed, then you could feel that, “Okay, this is actually making change.”

Heather: Yeah, I think that was that allowed that to happen at that point, which was so good. They got me to finally eat some honey at that point— and that was like the most delicious thing I’d ever eaten. And I really started to feel like I did have more energy all of a sudden. I was pushing then on my, like, in kind of a semi-sitting position on the bed. And I never really thought that that’s how I would wanna push, but this was the best way at this point, because I was so tired. I was holding my legs behind my thighs and my husband and doula were holding a leg. And I felt like that was the only way I could get, like, any traction at that point. And I think this is when my baby finally rotated from my left side and my hip to be anterior, because my left hip just started cramping so bad during and after each contraction, I was trying to massage it during the contractions. It just… It hurt so bad. I wasn’t saying anything about it, I think, but I was thinking “Why isn’t anybody helping me with this hip?” It hurt so terribly, but things started happening then, because I think he did move at 8:30. The next midwife who was coming on-call, she came in to assist. And I don’t remember seeing her come in, but I just remember hearing her voice.

She was like a breath of fresh air in that room! She had actually had a night’s sleep. She was also the midwife I had really clicked the most with. And her presence was just so wonderful in the room. I just felt so… kind of relieved, I guess, that she was there and it was like probably shortly after that, that he started crowning. I remember feeling like the ring of fire, like the… I was like, “This has to be it,” but I didn’t care about how it felt. I just was so relieved knowing that that meant that I was almost done. And he… Each push just felt like I couldn’t do another one, but I just kept going.

He was born at 9:10 a.m. and my midwife put him on my lower stomach. They thought the cord was short, so I couldn’t really see him, but I felt him there and it felt so amazing. We just… My husband and I just both started crying from relief, and our baby wasn’t really crying. I just kept asking the doula, “Is he okay?” And she said, “Yes, he’s fine”. He started breathing really soon after coming out, but he just was… he was very calm. I think it was partly because of the environment that he was born into. It was just so peaceful in there, with the lights being dimmed, quiet voices, this small number of people. And they realized then that the cord was actually long (really long!), but it was kind of, like, stuck in there somewhat, and he got put up higher on my chest at that point. I was able to kind of look into his eyes and he just seemed so familiar somehow, even though I was just meeting him. It was really cool.

Adriana: Yay! So, oh, that must have felt, like, so incredible that you were also done?

Heather: Yeah, I was so relieved! We were just kind of admiring our baby, and I wasn’t taking any notice of anything else that was going on. I was just in, like, just complete “la-la” ecstasy, birth high, and suddenly I hear my midwife say, “Oh, you have to cut the cord now, and we’re gonna give you a shot of Pitocin,” and I’m like, “Oh, okay.”

I was a little confused, ’cause I had really wanted delayed cord clamping and that was… that is the standard of care there at the birth center. They do that automatically, but I kind of… I was just trusting that my midwives were gonna do whatever they needed to do. So I barely felt the shot. The cord was cut about three minutes after he was born.

So it wasn’t immediately or anything. And then after a couple more minutes, they told me that I just needed to push the placenta right then. So I was like, “Oh, okay.” She said, “It’s right here!” She felt it— it was detached. “And you just have to push it now.” So like, “Okay. I’ll try.” I pushed twice. And the whole thing just came right out: intact, no trouble. So that was a major blessing!

She (the midwife) was then doing the fundal massage, and everything was under control within the first 20 minutes. It was a kind of a minor, minor hemorrhage, I guess— that we didn’t have to transfer at all or anything. I was so, so glad that we didn’t have to. I trusted that they, the midwife team, would know how to handle that. We had talked about it before even, in a prenatal visit, their process and how they handle those things and they would transfer if it was necessary, but I just trusted them so much. I didn’t even feel scared, which is now, looking back… That’s so amazing. I was just… I had so much confidence in my team.

Adriana: And I mean, I wish everybody had that amount of confidence and everything went as smooth as it did for you obviously! And the bleeding sort of got into control after just after, when the placenta came out. And when you had the shot of Pitocin, so you didn’t really need anything else more than that, like… yeah.

One of the things about hemorrhaging is that I really appreciate is that they have so many different steps they can do and contingencies. So it’s one of those things that can be scary, but if it’s happening, they’ve got like, “Okay, let’s try this. Okay, now we have to try this. Okay, now we try this…” and lots of stuff, even before transferring.

Heather: Yes. Yeah. They’re… It’s amazing. They have all their processes worked out like that. They know what they’re doing!

Adriana: Yeah. Yeah, no, for sure. Now, looking back at it, are you feeling like anything you would do differently? Anything that really helped, and you were like, so happy about how are you feeling about the whole experience now?

Heather: Oh, wow. I feel really good about it. I didn’t feel so good about it, I think, right afterwards. I felt sort of like I was confused about why my contractions started spacing out so much, I guess, and about the long pushing stage. But, I don’t know, really thinking about it more and having more time, I think, as parents, we do this about so many things that we kind of judge ourselves around it. So not even just how our birth goes, but things like breastfeeding and how the baby sleeps. But I think, really, it comes to being… just accepting it. So, kind of radical acceptance of how things did go down for us.

And I’m still kind of working out on getting to it, but working on it. I think we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to get everything quote-unquote “right.” And there are some things we have choices about, and we have control over, but then there are things that are out of our control that are beyond our control. But I think it’s just about— for me as a new parent— it’s about working to release and surrender the things that I can’t control. Yes. I can do research. I can learn about things. I can make choices, informed choices that I believe are the best for me, my family. But then at a certain point, it is about surrender.

Adriana: Yeah. So much. And that’s almost a harder thing to do, right? ‘Cause we want to control everything and have it just right, ’cause that’s what we do with our lives all the time.

Heather: Yes.

Adriana: Yeah. And one of the things that I try to do with my doula clients in that aspect is, yes, we do a birth plan, but more than just focus on the birth plan, we also do sort of birth wishes and have a little handout of how you wanna feel during the experience, because that’s— I mean, you can’t control anything else, but you can control how you show up. So knowing how you want to feel in it, I mean, ’cause you can feel really confident— whether it’s a non-medicated vaginal birth or a cesarean, right?— we can… You can’t control the circumstances, but you control how you feel. And we talk about “What if things aren’t going the way you’d like? What are some things we can do to try to help you feel that way?” So we work on those, sort of, emotional coping mechanisms, as well as the physical coping mechanisms.

Heather: Yeah. I think that’s so important.

Adriana: Yeah. Yeah, ’cause it requires… It’s so hard, but it requires that flexibility and surrender and just, you’re just there for the ride. You gotta turn off, and go with the ride.

Heather: Yeah. And parenting is like that too!

Adriana: Yes! How was your immediate postpartum?

Heather: Pretty good! My son nursed within, I think, like the first half hour or so after birth. And he just… He was kind of just a champ nurser from the start. He latched on right away. And— oh, I should mention that he… everyone thought he looked huge. The consensus was kind of like, “Oh, he’s gotta be more than nine pounds.” Well, not quite; he ended up being 8 pounds, 10 ounces. But what made him look bigger was the fact that he was 22 inches long! So he was just really long, and he had kind of a big head. So that made me feel a little better about the whole thing. Just kind of a big… big first baby.

Adriana: That is a long baby, yeah.

Heather: Yeah. He’s long, lean.

Adriana: Yeah.

Heather: We went home from the birth center about nine hours later. And normally they would send people back maybe around four to six hours later, but they just kind of wanted to watch me a little longer, just ’cause of the hemorrhage and stuff. So yeah, we went home. We were home that same night, that Monday night. My mom came and stayed with us and she was basically kind of like my postpartum doula. So she made all our food. She kind of kept the house up for us. And I just… My job was, y’know, nursing the baby. Which is your job at that point. And it was just nice to not have to worry about the other stuff. And yeah, we hung out. My doula came over and encapsulated my placenta in our house. And I had a visit from the IBCLC that I had planned. I had her come over on like day three, so it was the Wednesday. He was born on the Monday and she came on the Wednesday, just to kind of do the weighted feeding, see how things were going with breastfeeding. And that gave me… Doing that gave me a lot of confidence. I think I was hoping that it seemed like things were going well, as far as the latch and the suck, but it was nice to see that yes, indeed, this is going well. And that was one of the things I think I didn’t expect, but I just really love and treasure our nursing relationship. It’s one of the more unexpected, wonderful things about, for me, about becoming a mother.

Adriana: Mhm. Before we wrap up, is there anything that you want to make sure the listeners know or something that you wanted to get to that we’ve left out?

Heather: Yeah, I think the main thing I would tell them is don’t underestimate the importance of the decision that you make about your care provider and where you’re gonna give birth— that decision, that single decision, really can impact your options in a lot of different ways. That I never realized, but fortunately I saw that I did have other options, so my doula helped me with that.

So side note, get a doula, because they’ll support you in your decision-making process. And I really believe that my birth outcomes might have been very different if I wasn’t at the birth center. If I was at the hospital with an OB, for example, I think there might not have been as much patience with the long pushing stage, and more pressure to allow interventions. So I’m so thankful for the patience of the midwives. They trusted the process of birth. They ultimately trusted me and my body and my baby to do what we needed to do. So I guess I would say, just make sure you know all of your options when it comes to care providers. Think about your wishes and your values, and then choose your provider based on that— so not just necessarily just defaulting to whoever your gynecologist or provider has been even for years, or maybe even somebody a friend recommended, but listen to your gut. Something doesn’t seem quite right. Don’t be afraid to make the switch! Part of why I switched was I remembered something that the OB that I was with at the time had said, when I was interviewing her, she said— I asked her about what she does with inductions, does she recommend them? When? And her response basically was “Well, nothing good happens after 41 weeks.” And I didn’t really like that particular response!

Adriana: You turn into a gremlin? What?

Heather: Yeah, apparently.

Adriana: After midnight, don’t eat!

Heather: Mhm. Yeah, something just didn’t sit well with me about that once I was pregnant.

Adriana: Yeah! It’s those red flags.

Heather: Yeah, it can be hard to switch. I sometimes… We worry about how, maybe even how that person feels about it, but really they’re in a business and they’re not going to think about it beyond the fact that they’ve maybe lost a client or patient. But if your gut’s telling you that your current provider isn’t lining up with your values, I would just tell you to listen— your provider needs to line up with your values and not the other way around. This is gonna be huge. That’s so huge. I think even throughout all parenthood, just getting in touch with your intuition and listening to it now.

Adriana: Well, and you were the expert on your body— yourself, your baby. They are experts in their field, but you are the expert in you. So that is just as valid.

Heather: Yes!

The other thing I would say is to truly prepare for breastfeeding as much as you prepare for a birth. I took your Thrive with Your Newborn course. And one of the things… What you had said in there was to get the IBCLC on speed dial before the birth. And I did that! I followed through on that, and I’m so glad that I did. Getting a support team for breastfeeding is… You do that, just like preparing your birth team. So, I’d recommend interviewing or, like, looking into different IBCLCs. And meet them, if possible, while you’re still pregnant. See if you click with them, just like you would with a care provider. And I think we… I think you say this in some of your other episodes, but we tend to think that breastfeeding is… Because it’s natural, it’ll just happen, but it’s not easy for anyone. So I think it’s important to get the IBCLC lined up ahead of time. Get them in your phone, so you’re not searching for an IBCLC on day three after the birth, when you’re, like, super-duper emotional on that rollercoaster. Just get them in place and just have them on your team. Have ’em ready to go. They can support you then.

Adriana: Yeah, so much, so much. And I love the concept that, y’know, what also is natural? Walking is natural…

Heather: Yeah.

Adriana: …but how many times do babies fall down before they actually take those solid steps, right? You gotta keep practicing and learning and stuff. So that was… That was an eye-opening analogy. And I’m so glad you took the Thrive with Your Newborn course. Now it makes that your, y’know, you had your mom set up and you had all the things like, “Oh, okay. Yeah, that helped.”

Heather: I did. I did, yeah. I forgot to mention that before, but that was very helpful. I’m so glad that I took it.

Adriana: No, well, I’m glad it was there for you. Oh, love it. Heather, thank you so very much for sharing your story. This has been lots of fun.

Heather: Fun, yes. Thank you so much. This has been great!

That was freelance writer and editor Heather Lauf. Since we recorded Heather had another child and is now mom to two boys, so big congratulations to Heather.

You can connect with us @birthfulpodcast on Instagram.

In fact, if you are not driving, we would just so love it if you would take a screenshot of this episode right now and post it to Instagram sharing your biggest takeaway from the episode. Maybe it was learning about the tests to confirm that your amniotic sac has ruptured. Whatever it is, make sure to tag @birthfulpodcast on your Story so we can see it and amplify it.

You can find the in-depth show notes and transcript of this episode at birthful.com, where you can also learn more about my birth and postpartum 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 so much for listening to and sharing Birthful. Be sure to follow us on Goodpods, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music, and everywhere you listen.

Come back for more ways to inform your intuition.

CITATION: 

Lozada, Adriana, host. “[Birth Story] Why Having an Audience Stalled Her Birth.” Birthful, Birthful. October 12, 2022. Birthful.com.

 

 

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A black-and-white photograph of Heather Lauf, smiling broadly with her long hair cascading, as she looks down at her newborn, cradled in her arms

Image description: a black-and-white photograph of Heather Lauf, smiling broadly with her long hair cascading, as she looks down at her newborn, cradled in her arms (photo courtesy of Short Little Blessings)

About Heather Lauf

Heather Lauf is a freelance writer and editor, and mom of two boys.

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