The sharing, reading, hearing of birth stories is one of the most powerful resources and important ways one can prepare for giving birth. It is part of our DNA to learn and absorb knowledge across generations and from each other about birth. Postpartum, fellow parents’ experience can bring light to our own and make sense of it in ways we hadn’t previously considered. Above all giving room for these incredible, transformative, unbelievable, challenging, difficult and beautiful stories to be told is a way to celebrate them.
Jaro’s birth – Birth Centre Birth in Berlin
My second son Jaro was born on June 22, 2020 on a warm evening at the beginning of summer in the birth center in Berlin. I had an uncomplicated second pregnancy, but the last three months were quite exhausting due to the pandemic and the everyday life with my 2.5 year son at home. Jaro’s due date was 29.6. and I was sure that he would be born a little earlier. On 22.6. I felt after waking up that something was different. Already in the night I had been woken up by a strong contraction, which scared me for a short moment and reminded me of my difficult first birth.I spent the morning quietly in bed, my son was in kindergarten and my partner worked from home. Grandma had already been there for two days to watch our son during birth. I started timing the contractions, tried to sleep some more and meditated. Unlike the first birth, this time I had prepared myself intensively mentally for the birth with the help of meditation and self-hypnosis. I spent the morning in bed, listening to my meditations and calmly breathing in the waves, whose intensity slowly increased. I felt very comfortable at home and although the midwife at the birth center kept asking when I would like to come, I didn’t feel the need to leave yet. In the meantime, my son was also back home and I sent him to the playground with my partner and grandma. Saying goodbye to him was incredibly difficult for me, because I knew that it was also a goodbye to him as an only child, to what he and we had known so far. A short time later, I called my partner and we headed to the birth center. The contractions were already more intense, but I still thought that it would take a long time until the baby would be born. At the birth center, the midwife took us in and examined me as I wished. The cervix was already open and she left me alone with my partner because I felt comfortable and calm. I breathed the waves, listened to a birth meditation and felt clear and present with the deep knowledge that everything was going to be okay. I visualized spaciousness and was not fighting the pain, which was a huge difference from my first birth experience. I felt the need to go into the birth tub and the warm water did incredible good. A short time later, the pushing waves started. I was overwhelmed how fast everything went and had short doubts to make it. My midwife supported me and when she said that I was ready and the little one could come, Jaro was born into my hands after two waves in the water.An incredible feeling! Just a few hours later we were able to drive home with our ‘light in the night’, which is the meaning of the name Jaro. I am happy and grateful to have experienced such a self-determined, calm birth and this strength carries me until today.
Teo and Eli’s births – Emergency cesarean birth and scheduled cesarean birth in Berlin
I felt one sharp cutting pain three days before my first son was born. I was very active my whole pregnancy and felt really happy to work in my studio and home. As I realised that the pain was unusual, I knew this was the beginning, so I calmed down and stayed at home the whole day, just enjoying being alone. As the night came, the pain started getting more frequent, so after a while, I gave up on sleep and was just resting, waiting and observing. I had contractions every 5 -10 minutes when we decided to have an easy drive to the hospital. I was just 2 cm dilated. Contractions, although frequent, were still not strong enough. We went back home. Dario made me a warm bath gave me massages, and provided me support when really uncomfortable pains came. We spend the whole day at home, walking, breathing and preparing for what was to come. The truth is we did not have an idea of what was expecting us. After 12 hours, we went back to the hospital. We expected much more than it really happened. I was not dilating, only the pain was getting greater and more often, by that time less than every 5 minutes. We continued walking around and were admitted to the prelabour room, where we could rest when needed. The midwife was around from time to time to check if need anything. Still, all the emotional and physical support I got was from Dario. Sometime about 3 AM, I was exhausted from frequent pain and no sleep. It was about letting go, and letting the body do its thing and stepping back, which was new to me. I felt like an astronaut and had almost hallucinations about losing my ground. My body was rejecting food, and I could not fall asleep, so I was wearied. The midwife showed us positions that can help the baby come further and help with the pain. She then offered an intravenous medication to help me relax. I took it and fell right asleep next to my partner for three hours. When I woke up, the midwife was there to check on how dilated I am, and there was finally some progress but rather still very slow. At this point, I called the midwife to me, asking her for advice about PDA. Before it all started, I was determined not to take PDA because I was pretty scared of it.
Another thing that I was petrified of was a c-section. I did not even read about it during my pregnancy, being confident that I would not need that knowledge at all. I prepared for active birth with the help of literature and yoga, but even more, remembering my grandmothers birth stories. She gave birth to ten children at her home, either alone or with the help of another woman from her village mostly in standing position holding herself to something stable. I was always told about the remarkable resemblance between the two of us, so I was convinced all genetics and spirits are on my side.
They took me to the maternity ward at dawn—a lovely room with a hammock, jacuzzi, and all other nice things like a hospital in a privileged world would have. I never came even close to them… I felt tremendous joy because I thought I would hold my baby soon. Still, it turned out that he was a Sterngucker, a lovely german word for babies in occiput posterior position. It seemed that he was trying to turn and got stuck halfway through. I got my PDA then. All my fears have watered down, and I had a voice of my friend in my head: “Make no plans and visions. They can hinder you have your own authentic experience. Whatever needs to happen, it will”.
When a team of 4 (or so) doctors came into my room, I knew something is not correct. They checked me. I was about 5 cm open, the baby was sideways, my water, which was broken by a doctor, was green, and a final and the scariest fact was that they were worried about babies heartbeat. They run some unpleasant blood tests to be sure he is doing well. This was a moment when they told us that if I don’t open enough in 30 minutes, they will have to do a cesarian. So it was. Despite the oxytocin I was given to support contractions and all my efforts I ended up on the surgery table. My partner had to be away until they prepared me.
I was sobbing and shivering from the cold for some time. And then suddenly regained my strength and accepted this is now what is happening. I was lucky to be awake, all because I decided to overcome my fear of the PDA. They placed a green cloth between me and my belly. There was two anesthesiologists above my head, two midwives on my sides and three surgeons behind the curtain. Dario came in shortly before they started operating. We held close, both in tremendous fear and relief that something is finally moving forward. And then he cried! Teo was born at 10:37 that morning in March. He landed right on my chest shortly, then taken away for few minutes and then came back.
I remember being surprised by how soft his skin was and how we were immediately glued to each other (he is like that even now, 4 years after). My birth story could be described as a horror story, but I don’t feel that way. Later I discovered how difficult sometimes it can be to overcome the strong emotions about emergency c-section. The feeling of failure and not having a perfect birth to remember. I surprised myself how much I came to love every detail about my own birth as a mother. How much I admire my body and its scars. It prepared me for everything that is about to come for me as a mother. It was a massive lesson on life taking the unexpected turns, and I was lucky enough to have and hold my baby at the end. I felt loved and supported the whole time. Dario never left the hospital. We had a family room for the next 7 days to recover under observation. I had my friends help me with the breastfeeding that went extremely difficult in my case ( I also learned later that was due to difficult labour and my exhaustion).
As I had my second son, the pandemic was already reaching a peak, so Dario by my side and friends and family visits were significantly shorter. The feelings I had were different. The c-section was planed, which was not an easy decision to make. It felt wrong to choose the day, and the time my baby will be born and have it in my calendar. In Germany, doctors have a strange habit of not involving too much in your decisions (for legal reasons, as I learned). Everything was very bureaucratic.
Nevertheless, I decided to celebrate instead of dwell on my choice. So I dived in paperwork and got all set. With the support of my sister, the care for my first child was planed with a lot of confidence and attention. The birth was short. I was well-rested, and Eli was born one day in June at 09:31 AM. There was a fear, and sickness and an unpleasant clinical feel to it. I cried again, and it was all going too fast for me to sit with my thoughts and emotions. But there were also Dario by my side, splendid midwives, kind surgeons and a fantastic cheer up from an anesthesiologist that I could derive my strength from.
Most importantly, Dario, Eli and I could all be together and awake right after the birth. There was a lot of bleeding, and my uterus suffered a lot after two surgeries too. We worried about my recovery, but this time I was a new person, already a mother, which made me have something like superpowers. I knew what I need, I learned how to feed my baby, and my baby came with a whole set of new skills that were different from his brother. So, the excitement stayed high. Also, the sense of being round and complete came up suddenly. Right there I knew this was the last time I was going through this experience, so I wanted to enjoy it for everything that it was.
So there it is. I became a mother in a land I never thought I would be living in, having some of my worst fears come true. It was more clinical than I could ever imagine. My birth story made me different, not in the way I thought but how reality makes it. My sense of nature changed and gave me a lot of impulse for thinking and about our human condition. I am feeling remarkably grateful and empowered by those facts.
Teodoro’s birth – Hospital Birth in Italy
On 5 October 2018 at 2.24 in the morning I discovered that giving life is the most painful thing that can exist.
I found that I have a strength within me that I never in all my previous 27 years of life could ever even imagine. I have found that a woman’s body is made for the greatest suffering and the greatest joy. I discovered that there is no greater joy than a life that is born.
For the first time I experienced an out of the ordinary emotion when after 27 hours of labor I felt my son’s body on my belly. That belly that for nine months was his first home, for a moment was his first cradle. And I will never forget the feeling of my son on my belly. It was as if someone really touched me for the first time.
I have learned that all relationships need to be built. Even those between a mother and her son. That despite having carried my baby for nine months, we didn’t know each other at all. And when I gave him the milk from my breast, for the first time, I felt as confused as he was. I learned that strong emotions can be felt in a short time, emotions that seem distant and instead concentrate. Within 27 hours I felt I was fighting battles without having the strength, I felt exhausted, I gave up, I found my strength, I lost it, I thought I could not do it and then in the end I did it. My birth was not an easy one. Although I had taken pre-birth yoga classes and pre-birth courses organized by the clinic where I gave birth, I don’t think anyone can really prepare you for a birth. Each birth is on its own. My mother gave birth to both my brother and me in less than 40 minutes. Me? Well, no. They don’t talk about many things. For example of the episiotomy.
Instead it exists. And it hurts.
No one had told me about the postpartum. Of moments of profound physical suffering, of fatigue, of loneliness. Yet all of this exists. And all this is the cradle of life. A changing body, a changing mind, all this is the birth of light. Life is born like this, from the bowels! And so is the love I feel for my visceral son. I was worried about my poor preparation, but I have learned over time to listen to the suggestions that mother nature has given us as mothers. So listening to the natural rhythms of life, I breastfeed my son for almost two years. I was surprised at how instinctively I already knew how to move, how to take care of my baby, how to take care of a life.
Every day I think about how much my son has done for me, now that he is two and a half years old I always get excited to hear him call me mom. It’s amazing how different my life was before, my thoughts, my worries.
I understood what unconditional love means. A love that wants nothing in return, a love for which everything is given and done, without a reason, without limitations, to love in order to love. And I wish this to all living beings. To feel unconditional love for someone.
Atreiu Jupiter’s birth – Home birth in Palermo
Birthing Atreiu was at the same time a very long and very short process. I spent months preparing myself profoundly for the birth on all levels: mentally, physically and spiritually. I went through a whole month of gentle on and off pre-labour, which left me in a state of both excitement and frustration. The birth itself however, only lasted an hour from start to finish. In the end more time was spent creating the birth playlist, than actually giving birth. It was wild, out of control, absolutely beautiful and most of all sacred. It was a simultaneous union and separation between me and my child.
After moving to Sicily three months pregnant we tried to find a care provider that would support us having a home birth. It turned our options were very limited and at the same time I was dealing with quite intense perinatal anxiety, rooted in the trauma of being separated from Indra upon her premature birth. I found myself hesitant to attach myself to the idea of a home birth, as I was terrified of having another premature baby. So while trying to keep our options open and still envisioning what kind of birth I was hoping to have, I was in a state of fear, which made me doubt myself. I remember saying to my soul sister “I really want a home birth, we just haven’t found the right person”, feeling like me being able to have this experience depended on who would assist me through it. My wise soul sister answered “You are the right person.”
When having my checkups I visited the labour and delivery of the hospital and my whole being was internally screaming no, this is not where my child will be born. I visited another hospital thinking it maybe would feel different, but it felt worse. I spoke to my OB about my birth plan and preferences and was continuously met with little understanding. At this point, around 30 weeks pregnant, I began to reconsider the limited options we had encountered in looking for a home birth midwife. That’s when the pandemic struck and Italy was placed in national lockdown.
At first only the hospitals implemented the rule of not allowing birth partners and still standing with no alternative we began looking for private clinics, but none would take us during the emergency state. Soon all private clinics also put the same rule in order so we no longer considered this an option. However, we did manage to get an appointment with a home birth midwife that we had previously not “clicked with”, but at that point personal connection didn’t feel important (though it really is). I struggled imagining her attending such an intimate event like my home birth, but because I really wanted a home birth I felt like I needed to make the compromise. Well, universe and its divine ruling forces don’t like compromises. When we were trying to lock her down to assist the birth, it turned out her fee was nearly 5000€, which is normally a lot for us, but during a pandemic when we’re completely out of work, simply impossible.
Thinking about birthing alone in a hospital without any support felt really absurd – especially knowing the facilities and all that they lacked: no bath, no showers, no privacy, all bright – the people in the anti covid space suits. It was really scary to think of this and I worried I wouldn’t be able to manage and beg for an epidural and that things would spiral out of control with interventions and obstetrical violence. I just couldn’t imagine how to birth while needing to protect myself from providers with little belief in natural birth. I felt truly unprotected.
It was at this point we began to consider to just do it ourselves – we were deciding to have a freebirth, a completely medically unassisted home birth. And although this was an intense reality to consider it actually freed us and the birth from all the connotations of panic and fear – first those internal fears caused by my perinatal anxiety, then those all around us caused by the pandemic. We felt so connected to one another through making this choice and so free. I stopped feeling like a victim to patriarchal laws and of the ill fate of having a baby in a pandemic and instead felt empowered, much thanks to the online freebirth community. We began to educate ourselves and get the supplies needed. At the same time my body was already preparing for labour and we knew a hospital birth was still very possible should the baby come early like his big sister did. We said, if we make it to 38 weeks we go for it, otherwise hospital. Because I was having contractions almost daily and my cervix was completely effaced by 35 weeks and 5 days I was trying to prepare myself for both realities. I was still scared, equally of having another premature baby and of having an inhumane hospital birth with all my ways of coping robbed off of me.
One day I was speaking to my maternal grandmother. We chatted for a long time and towards the end of our call I told her about the situation in Italy, the pre-labour I was going through and the price of a home birth midwife. Not expecting her to understand much about my dreams of having a home birth, I knew she could relate to my fears, as she had birthed my mother alone in a hospital, feeling completely abandoned and isolated. A little after our call she called again to let me know she and my grandfather had decided to give me the money for the home birth. She sounded more excited than I had ever heard her when she told me and I was so touched I could hardly speak. The healing powers of that moment stretched back generations. It was such a blessing.
I did make it to 38 weeks and on the day I did a very special person stepped into our lives. Maria Grazia was a retired home birth midwife. Not having practiced midwifery for five years, she couldn’t legally attend births, but the connection we found with her made me feel like I’d found the person I’d been looking for for two pregnancies. She agreed to attend the birth. The time to come she came to spend time with me every third day or so. I was continuously going through nightly periods of contractions, but not a lot of change could be detected physically – I was still very effaced, but my cervix was high and posterior and only a centimetre dilated. Birth felt imminent for so long. This was, as experienced by so many mamas before myself, a pretty frustrating experience. When I hit 39 weeks I felt like the baby was never going to come and I made the decision to simply let go and be at peace with being pregnant forever. At the same time all those “did you have the baby yet”-messages started pouring into my inbox, but I tried to remain calm and focused, but also prepared. We made sure to always have fresh snacks and fruit in the house, devices charged and our home tidy and clean. I kept scrubbing especially the bathroom every second night.
Halfway through week 39, at 39+5 I woke up to mild contractions. With the month behind me I did not give it much importance, but I was quite excited. My discharge was heavier than I’d ever experienced – to the point that I considered if my amniotic sac had ruptured, but when it eventually stopped mid-morning I ruled that out. The contractions however, were also accompanied by a burst of “fix stuff”-energy, so we went and did a massive grocery shopping and back at home I kept tidying the house, including giving the bathroom a final deep scrub. The whole time there was so much kissing, touching, checking in on each other and feeling so in love just doing normal things together, with the added excitement that we were preparing for our baby’s arrival. After lunch, still experiencing contractions, but not too regular nor painful, I decided to have a nap. Once again I woke up to find the contractions had stopped completely. My soul sister, sensing my frustration, offered support in the shape of the following mantra: “I am open and embrace whatever comes.”
The afternoon was spent in our yoga shala, Luca playing vinyls, me reading a bit and practicing my daily three rounds of the moon salutation to get the baby to drop deeper into my pelvis. I felt really happy and finally at peace. So ready to meet my baby, but not in a rush. Baby had been in the ideal position for birth for weeks leading up to the birth, but the last ten days or so kept switching between left occiput anterior and less optimal right occiput anterior, but this day he was finally back in LOA and seemed quite settled there. We had dinner together and then Luca went to pick up Indra from her grandma. We cuddled as I put her to bed and by nine she was asleep. I lit candles at my birth altar next to the bouquet of wild purple and white flowers I had collected by the sea. With plenty of props I began a deep yin yoga practice. I asked Luca to be in the room with me to continue feel our deep intense connection. The sequence I did was focused on the meridians of the bladder and kidneys. In TCM it is believed that the kidneys produce and hold our primal Qi – our vital force and supported by the bladder, these organs and their energies connect to birth, survival and primal power. In the last asana, a reclined twist, I felt a contraction which was different from the others – short, but definitely more intense. I then put lotion on my whole body as a ritual of self love and went to bed.
About an hour and a half later, at 23:45, I woke up by a sudden and sort of painful POP, which made me make a loud squeak. It was as if my amniotic sac had exploded. Pinkish water had shot out of me down my legs and onto the bed. My squeak had woken Luca up and I told him my water had broken. He said we should call Maria Grazia, but I said let’s wait a bit to see what happens and time the contractions first. He insisted (luckily enough) and she (also luckily enough) decided to come straight away. We started setting up the space, bringing in a huge futon and covering it with plastic and then many blankets. We lit candles and Luca was running between our room and the kitchen where he was preparing tea and coconut water for me. I worked through a contraction that clearly showed me that this was it. Then another one and another one. They came so close together and so intensely we did not even bother to time them. Staying on my feet leaning forward and swaying my hips helped and as the intensity increased with every wave, I began to vocalise. I did not even notice when Maria Grazia arrived because things were so intense, but realised at some point that she was observing me from across the room. I began to undress because I was feeling so warm and had her put my hair up. Then I felt I had to relieve myself and went to the bathroom to poop. I splashed cold water all over and while the waves were coming I tried to focus on matching the pain, by finding some kind of rhythm or ritual, but it was so intense the only things I could do were to vocalise and sway my hips.
I made it back to the bedroom and managed to put on the birth playlist in between contractions, but as soon as I settled in onto the birth nest Luca had made me I had to poop again so I returned to the bathroom. On my way there a wave hit me and I went to lean forward and sway my hips, only to discover that the pain was so great it no longer offered any comfort. In the bathroom the intensity went to the next level and I called in Luca for support. Even though I had just pooped I had to poop again and I was really embarrassed to have him see me poop so told him to go and then immediately called for him to come back because at this point the waves were coming back to back. I managed once again to relieve myself and then went down onto the floor. The tap of the sink and the bidet were running and I kept reaching out to feel the cold water on my hands. I began to shake and at the same time feel like I couldn’t go on. It was too much, too, too painful. I held on to Luca the strongest I could and begged him to talk to me. Noticing that I was drawn to the water he started talking about a river and although there was some shaky elements in his voice, it offered so much support in that moment. When the next wave came the intensity was so great that I felt like I had to exit my own body to survive it – I am dying, I heard myself saying between screams and I bit Luca in the upper arms. This was the highest point of absolute chaos and the rawest dullest sharpest deepest pain and it was also the moment I surrendered fully and completely. As I let go of anything that resembled control, security, form or Self, I felt my baby entering the birth canal. That’s when we reached the other side of the peak. I had surrendered. There was a sense of absolute silence inside of me and with the next wave my body was helping him descend. I reached down and felt his head inside my vagina and also an immense sense of relief. Around me things were chaotic, Luca was putting something below me on the bathroom floor, Maria Grazia was trying to get into the bathroom, Indra was there, she was crying holding on to Luca. A pause of even profounder silence followed. I felt incredibly focused. Then I began to breathe deeply, intuitively, in and out of my mouth as the third wave, since he entered the birth canal, rolled in. This is the breath that birthed my son into my hands.
When I looked down on him I felt all love. We were finally together. I felt in a very deep sense that our family was complete. That everyone was there.
The most absolute sense of bliss filled the tiny space. We showed Indra her brother as we brought him up to my chest. She answered as a two year old does “no!”. I asked Luca what time it was and was chocked to hear that it was 00:45 and that the birth had lasted only one hour. It wasn’t that it had felt any longer, it was just I didn’t know it could be so quick. I lay back supported by Luca and we were all laughing and looking at the wonder in my arms. After a while I birthed the placenta, which was very small. But so was our precious baby. Supported by Luca and Maria Grazia I managed to get up and go to the bed where baby Atreiu latched as Indra, I and him cuddled in bed. Meanwhile my afterpains were coming in and they were so strong I thought I would pass out. They made me dry heave. It was as if whatever labouring I had missed out on during the quick birth was coming now. Luca and Maria Grazia did the best they could to support me through them. After weighing our son (3 kg!) and having Luca cutting the cord I had a shower and then we went to bed. The little one was already nursing and colostrum was streaming down my belly from the opposite breast when he was nursing. The oxytocin was literally flowing all over and all through us. We placed baby boy on Luca’s chest and that’s where he blissfully slept his first night, our Atreiu Jupiter.