Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Leo's Birth Story

This will be the most anticipated blog entry (for me) ever written!  First because I LOVE blogging and missed doing it.  Since the last entry almost 2 MONTHS to the date, life has been a whirlwind of go, go, go!

What has been keeping me away for so long?  Well, first there was my on the road driving practice hours leading up to the big test (failed!).  Then there was the preparation for my cousin's 10 year old daughter coming ALL BY HERSELF! (awesome!) to visit us for 10 days.  Then she was here and even though I was more than 8 months pregnant, we sightsaw, meandered and roadtripped the entire time.  It was incredibly fun, but afterwards, I felt the full brunt of the exhaustion that had been building.  Around all of this were appointments with various midwives, laboratories, hospital visits and dentist.  AND, no day care for Sabine since it was August and most of the Paris population had left the city for their far flung vacays.  Finally, we were busy with our hypno-birthing sessions (more on that later), preparing for the birth, getting the apt ready to welcome our new daughter AND getting Sabine's big girl bed!  We thought it would be better to get her out of her crib before the new baby came so the changes were a bit more gradual. 

Okay so, whew!  It has been a busy last 2 months and since I haven't blogged, you know I haven't had much time to myself!  But well, things are now much more calm and settled especially with the birth of our new little girl!

Leonora Phoenix 

ended her birth journey on 

September 2, 2012 at 1:05pm

My ranting about the Medical Model of Birth (actual birth story below)

I am not gonna even try to lie, giving birth to Leo will be one of the highlights in my life.  Sadly, I cannot say the same for Sabine - but I know that wasn't entirely my fault and for this birth I was determined to make some improvements.  I will take some responsibility though as there were times when I should have spoken up before the birth, giving voice to my concerns.  And I most certainly should have ignored my midwife's suggestion to not read books.  He thought it better to have "my own experience" and besides he said he would be there to help on the big day.  Well, he was there ... physically ... sort-of :(

And I know "they" say, you cannot plan a birth nor can you predict how it will go on the day.  I call bullshit to that.  Nobody ever says that stuff for someone preparing for a marathon or a big test.  Imagine saying to an athlete, "I know that you run everyday, eat well, meditate, have  the right shoes etc - but hey, on the big day, forget your goals and aspirations and just see what happens!".

Well that is the nonsense that is told to women as they are about to give birth.  There are some who will have their birth plan and will do whatever it takes to defend that plan - even if it means becoming an inconvenience to a doctor who wants to go home and would just rather induce or c-section and get it over with.  There is a lot I could rant about at this moment - and particularly so here in France where there are even fewer options for women giving birth.  In fact, a good French friend of mine even recently asked me if they even allowed natural births in France!  While, it is true most most most french women go the epidural route, thereby inviting lots of other medical interventions to counteract the epidural consequences - natural births are certainly "allowed" - though not the norm.  I will add the necessary and politically correct thing which is to say, of course some women must utilize western medicine to birth their babies and I am very grateful that they exist when they are necessary.  Really I am!  I can think of

My concern is that we women have been manipulated to believe they cannot handle the pain or that birth is a medical procedure when it is usually not.  I mean, pooping doesn't require a doctor.  Having bad cramps isn't a call for intense numbing of your body.  These are both natural occurrences which we deal with on a regular basis.   And yet so often, we walk into the hospital and get swept away with the medical model of birth.  And THEN... when some medical issue arises the woman will say, thank god for the doctor because otherwise my baby would have died!  When in many cases, if it weren't for the doctor intervening in the first place, the birth would have occurred just fine.  Don't take my word for it, research the common consequences of each and every intervention that are typical during a Western woman's birth. 

For this birth, I did think about it and wanted to be informed and prepared.  Allow me to also give credit where credit is due.  Since my first birth (though natural) was a traumatizing fiasco at all levels, I wanted to be more prepared for this one.  To do so, I got informed on every level.  I read Ina May Gaskin books, watched an amazing natural birth video (and the Business of Being Born), read tons of natural birthing websites, and did Hypnobirthing as mentioned in other posts.  I basically brainwashed the screaming women in the hospitals out of my head and replaced these normalized fear mongering tales of woe to what birth can be: getting that baby out without terror, agony or drugs! 

Now you know I wanted to do a homebirth desperately, but try as I might I could not find an English speaking midwife who had availability in Sept.  This was due to 3 reasons. 1) There are few who fit this profile (like 5!). 2). Because they have to be available up to a month before the due date and since that is August when they are all on vacay... 3)The ones who were here were all booked up, apparently the holidays is a busy procreation time leading to Sept births ;)


And so, after a bunch of nonsense (understated for real), I finally found Anne-Severine Desmarais!  Phone: 06 60 86 40 02. I liked her immediately.  She is a new midwife to the Groupe Naissance, there are 2 groups who offer natural births and midwives to follow your entire pregnancy/birth.  The other group, CALM is amazing too but lacks English speakers.  Groupe Naissance is incredibly lucky to have Anne.  She is open-minded, warm and caring.  She is also an osteopath and does humanitarian volunteering in Africa.

She is not yet at the place where she is ready to do home births and so in order to have her as my midwife, I had to compromise on a few things.  Fortunately, none of them directly related to the big day except that we had to go to the clinique Jeanne D'Arc to welcome Leonora out. What I know is this, having Anne as my midwife was worth going to the clinic. 

Okay, so here is the birth story:

In the morning before going to the clinic
I woke up around 7 am because I felt some wetness "down-there" and while my waters had not broken, there was what is referred to as seepage. Even without the big splash, I felt pretty sure the baby was going to be born that day... even though it was 2 weeks before her French due date (and yes they are different).  Then the cramps started.  They were about 7-8 minutes apart.  Luckily, my bags were packed and we had 2 women Sabine knows and likes to take care of her ready.

The really cool thing was that Leo was kind enough to be born on a Sunday.  For both Sabine care and Paris traffic, this was incredibly thoughtful of her.  We had Sabine installed at Lexie's at around 8:30 and were at the clinic by 9:00 am.  Midwife Anne was already there and got straight to checking out my blood pressure and dilation.  I was at about a 3 out of 10 cm.  I was not very relaxed as we were talking, checking out my body and generally being very left brained.  I couldn't wait to start focusing on the birth.

We finally got ourselves set up in the room that we were to use for the birth.  One of the main reasons I wanted to deliver at home, but ultimately decided Jeanne D'Arc was an acceptable alternative was because they had a bathtub.  As a side note, for anyone considering this place, they will be (or already have) installing the large-enough-for-two round tubs for labor.  I think this will be the only public place in the city of Paris to offer this option.  You can rent them though for home births, email me for details.

Oddly, I didn't at any point wish to get into a bathtub.  This was something I obsessed over for months as D'Arc clinic didn't first have them when I met Anne because the previous clinic (where Groupe Naissance used to be and where Sabine was born) had closed due to bankruptcy- and GN moved to D'Arc, where the tubs were not installed for several months during my pregnancy.  Would they be installed in time for the birth???  But on the actual day, I had no desire to get wet.  This could have been my interest in making EVERYTHING about this birth different than the first, where I spent the entire labor languishing in the bathtub.  All that said, I never even went into the room where the bathtub was, but rather installed myself in a large bright space and got out my music, special stone, candles, water, health cookies and rice cakes.  I laid down on the ridiculous table bed.  How shitty are these contraptions? I cannot imagine how anyone thought it was clever to put a large stomached woman who already has an off sense of balance up high on a table the very width of her hips.  There was some thin padding so it could pretend to be comfortable, but it felt incredibly unstable and was of course, metal and cold.  I only used it at the beginning.

I laid there for about an hour doing my Hypnobirthing breaths and R-E-L-A-X-I-N-G that had been instilled in us with the most delightful woman you could ever invite into your pregnancy preparation.  I can be a bit of a jerk when it comes to be people, or should I say, I am pretty critical of experts as so often, they are not.  Or, if they are really experts, they forget also to relate humanely to people.  Elizabeth Echlin was the best of both worlds.  She knew her stuff but kept her heart in the process too.  Elizabeth helped us to move from a scared, negative space surrounding birth to one of tranquility and love.  Because the first birth did some damage to our relationship, Hicham and I worked on how this birth could bring us closer and how we would face this experience together.  We did deep meditations, discussed our visions, learned about the physiology of birth and how hypnobirthing techniques can help our bodies tap into and increase natural pain control.  And of course, there was just Elizabeth, who while is not a friend per say, but definitely brings that compassionate support to birth preparation.  She is also the one who introduced us to the "Orgasmic Birth" video - which was instrumental in re-envisioning birth as something we women were born to do.  I will admit that the title is a bit off-putting.  Not that I don't like orgasms and all, but it somehow cheapens the many and diverse messages and information it provides which really have nothing at all do with orgasms.  In fact, the first time I heard of "orgasmic birth" years ago, I thought in involved having an orgasm during labor.

Okay, anyway ....

So, as I was saying for about an hour from 9:30-10:30ish, I laid on the metal table and got in tune with my body.  I did hypno-birthing relaxation techniques and went deeper and deeper into a calm and relaxed state.  Allowing your body (arms, legs, neck, mouth, chin, hands, feet, everything) to stay loose and your mind NOT afraid - lets the muscles and the cervix have all the energy they need to get that baby moving.  Energy is not wasted (as my with my first) with tensing up the legs with each contraction (or wave or surge).  You just watch it come and go and stay cool.  I then began to worry that maybe I was TOO relaxed and I wanted this baby asap ... I didn't want to slow anything down by just "laying there!"

On the outside, it looked as though my contractions were mild and even short - and therefore, we wondered if little progress was being made because it seemed the contractions were short and mild, but in fact it was just that because I was handling the labor calmly and relaxed.  Even so, I decided to change up the music and put on something a bit more, well danceable.  And of course, then I had to get off that table and dance.  I put in some perfect labor room music: Zap Mama! 

"the knowledge of how to give birth without outside interventions lies deep within each woman. Successful childbirth depends on the acceptance of the process."
I danced for the entire cd.  It was hypnobirthing in motion.  Dancing definitely relaxes me and talk about soothing away stress with arms outstretched  and hips aswaying.  It was wonderful - when the contractions happened, I would swoop down to the floor, take in some air and let it out in deeeep long breaths.  At some point, Anne wanted to go and change into her scrubs for the birth.  She asked if I would like her to check the dilation, I said yes please!  I couldn't wait to hear the progress we had made.  She told me not to be disappointed if there wasn't much change.  Now it was about 11:45 am.  Imagine her surprise when I was at 8 cm.  She was visibly surprised - again because it appeared as though my contractions were mild, how could anything have been happening?  She hurried out to change.

Where was Hicham all this time?  He gave me water, smiled at me, reminded me to relax and was basically just a calm source of love.  When the contractions became more intense and I will admit more painful, I moved on over to the ball and moved my hips around in circles on the ball.  Not sure when it happened but some point Hicham sat behind me and cradled me in his arms.  How I wish there was a picture of this.  But I know how wonderful it felt and he kept whispering in my ear to breathe and relax.  This time it was harder as the surges were bombastic and it was really hard not to tense up in reaction to the contraction.  But he kept reminding me and I kept letting my arms relax.  

Then Anne encouraged me to make the deep ooooooo sounds.  I didn't want to do it, but my goodness,  I tried and wow, did it feel right!  For about 30 minutes, we all worked together, keeping the rhythm, the breath, the deep oooo sound and I opened and opened some more.  When I started doing the sound at a higher pitch, Anne would make the sound at a low tone and I would too, that would instantly bring me back to groundedness and fearlessness.  I felt Hicham's arms around me and the love of our shared life and it was really a beloved experience.  Then the urge to poop, er push, started.

This was the moment when my last birth went from bad to hell.  This time was different, completely different.  When I said I wanted to push, I was encouraged to do so and then so at about 12:30ish, I began pushing and it hurt so good.  The baby was about ready but because I was sitting on the ball, it would have been tricky for her to come out, so I moved over to the birthing stool.  It is like a stool with a hole cut out in the middle.  ABSOLUTELY FANTASTIC!  It was like sitting on a low toilet - working with gravity and low and stable.  Within minutes of sitting, I pushed our little Leo out. This time, the sounds were loud and not low.  It was as high-pitched as could be, but I couldn't stop it.

Me, Leo and Anne
Anne told me to reach down and hold our little girl.  I will say that for both births, I found it difficult to hold a tiny infant just after having gone through something that intense.  I wanted to just collect myself for a bit before handling such a fragile, delicate thing.  But that is the thing with being a parent, isn't it?  Time to collect oneself is very rare after having kids!  She was very tiny, a mere 6.5 pounds (or 2.9 kilos).  And I held her close to me and said hello about 100 times.  I couldn't think of what else to say.  She remained attached by her umbilical cord for a good long time and Anne left to go do something.  Hicham helped me up off the stool and we scooted over to the stupid wobbly table so I could be horizontal.

Happy Birthday Leonora!
Little Leo nursed immediately and was in perfect condition.  Just to be clear, I did not wear any monitoring nonsense (though Anne did check the baby's heartbeat intermittently) , I nibbled snacks and drank water as I wished, had fresh air blowing in the room, turned the lights off.  After Leo was born, Hicham cut the cord and she was not touched by anyone else or taken anywhere for at least an hour (probably more).  When she was taken to be weighed, it was with Hicham and she was swiftly back in my arms.  We then went to my room, which was comfortable and private.  All the staff there were welcoming, warm and hospitable.  Everyone around me was smiling and friendly.  I almost forgot where I was!  Even the food was pretty darn good. 

Well, so, Leo was born and it was great.  I felt wonderful afterwards too.

Great websites to check out when you are pregnant:


Stephen Embree said...

Nice work Nicole. You're an inspiration!

Kenai Alaska Or Bust! said...


lucidmusing said...

Hey Nicole! I found your site via expat women, and mega dig it! I'm the co-founder of, and would love to talk to you about possibly being an affiliate for a program we offer ( or maybe being a contributor to our site? We want to offer interesting and diverse info to American women living in France. Sorry to leave this in comments, but I didn't see an email... MAJOR congratulations on your beautiful birth, and your adorable bebe!!! Hope to hear from you soon!