On the 19 May 2009 at 16:47 (GMT+1), Milayla Rose Hochstein was born in the LUMC hospital in Leiden, Netherlands. I seriously doubt that words can convey the breadth of emotions and thoughts that I experienced as I watched my sweetheart give birth to our first daughter, but here's my attempt to at least share the birth story from a father's perspective.
I should preface the birth with a little about hypnobirthing since this wonderful practice was a key element to Laura's smooth and (dare I say) pleasant birthing. Laura was first introduced to hypnobirthing via friends of ours here in Holland who were going to use it in the birth of their son. Laura explained to me that hynobirthing basically consisted of the mother-to-be learning to put herself into a deep state of self-hypnosis - comparable to deep meditation - which would allow her to relax more deeply and fully during each phase of birth. Such relaxation would allow her to avoid the pain and interventions that are normally present in most Western birth experiences. Once I learned that 70% of the women who used one particular hypnobirthing program called Hypnobabies went through their deliveries pain-free without the use of any medication, I was 100% on-board. The idea that birthing for Laura could be such a positive experience, as described by many testimonials to the program, was a foreign idea, and one that I honestly had difficulty accepting. Although everything turned out well in the end for the birth of our son Atticus, the actual birth itself was all but traumatic, with several botched epidurals, a posterior-facing baby, an inconsiderate mid-wife, 36 hours of labour, vacuum assistance and an episiotomy. I was deeply concerned with having another child if it meant having to watch Laura go through that nightmare again. Thankfully, that was not at all the case.
And so our journey with hypnobirthing began. We ordered the Hypnobabies home-study course (in some places you can receive instructor taught courses) and got started. Each week both Laura and I were responsible for reading and studying reading assignments that taught us the fundamentals of self-hypnosis, positive affirmation, natural childbirth and other related subjects. In addition to this, Laura needed to listen to a series of hypnosis audio tracks each day that helped her go into a state of self-hypnosis. The majority of the work was on her shoulders since she would need to be the one to put herself into hypnosis, though I was responsible for helping the process along with certain cues and keywords. Laura was more than diligent, and after 5-6 weeks we had completed the course.
Even after completing the course, though, I was uncertain of what to expect - how would things really happen, and would I be able to help Laura? I think that's what I feared the most after the first birth - not knowing if I could help her during the delivery, being a passive observer as she "walked through the valley of the shadow of death". Gratefully, Hypnobabies empowered me, despite my doubts and fears, to be an active participant in the birth gave me responsibility, which was exactly what I personally needed.
Well, on May 18th, Laura started to get semi-regular contractions at around 20:00. They were approximately 10 minutes apart and lasting anywhere from 40 seconds to 2 minutes. We agreed it was pointless to call the hospital at this point, so we completed packing the birth bags and tried to get some sleep - admittedly, a little easier for me than for Laura.
In the morning, the contractions continued to progress, and following a walk around the block right before lunch, we called the obstetrics unit at the hospital who advised to come in to get checked, and bring our things. I watched Laura through each contraction or pressure wave; she simply paused what she was doing, breathed deeply with her eyes closed for a minute or two, and then picked up our conversation where it had left off like nothing had happened. I was encouraged already. We called our friend who had agreed to watch our son while we were gone, hailed a taxi, and were on our way. We arrived at the hospital around 13:30 on the 19th.
Our experience at the hospital was wonderful from the get-go. The nurses, mid-wives and even the student intern were all kind, helpful, compassionate, and respectful of our wishes (we're not sure if this was influenced by the chocolate cupcakes we brought for them, but we're assuming that's just how good they were). They had read our birth plan, which talked about the hypnobirthing, and would go silent each time Laura meditated through a contraction. When we first arrived, Laura's contractions and the baby's heart rate were monitored. To our dismay, the midwife on shift said that Laura seemed too relaxed to be in true labour, but that she would check the cervix before drawing a conclusion about whether we should go home. I nearly laughed out loud when her eyebrows raised as she announced that Laura was 7 cm dilated, and there would be no going home! This was a huge morale booster, and a testimony builder of the effectiveness of hypnobirthing to that point.
Nevertherless, the midwife was concerned that the contractions seemed weak and irregular, explaining that this could lead to excessive bleeding following delivery. She suggested rupturing the membranes to see if that would speed things up, and if not, to administer Pitocin through an IV drip to begin contractions. Neither Laura nor I were comfortable with this idea, and after discussing and praying about it, asked if we could wait a while longer to see if her body would catch up first. The midwife agreed and suggested taking a shower or bath to help her relax. This we did gladly, and taking a bath, in the end, was just what Laura needed. During the time that Laura was in the tub, a new midwife had come on shift, and coincidentally it was one that we knew from other past appointments. She was very pleasant and sincere in helping Laura. The contractions began increasing in strength and frequency. After about an hour in the tub, and a little while longer on the birthing ball, the midwife declared Laura to be 9cm dilated and progressing quickly. Though I knew Laura was feeling some discomfort during her contractions, she handled each with a serenity and peace that seemed inhuman while I did my little part and massaged her back, or provided water, ice or whatever else helped her stay comfortable.
At this point, the midwife recommended to rupture the membranes, explaining that the baby was coming and the membranes were the only thing impeding the birth from progressing more quickly. Surprisingly, we both felt good about it, and indeed, after the water was broken it was time to push and things started happening very rapidly. The contractions grew stronger, more frequent. Laura changed positions a couple of times until she found one that was particularly comfortable. At first she was partially on her left side with me holding up her right leg. Eventually, she shifted onto her back with me holding the right leg while the medical intern held the left. All the while: peace, serenity and relaxation. It was truly amazing to behold.
In the end, there was only 11 minutes of actual pushing. Milayla was born in a good anterior-facing position. I was a little panicked when I saw the cord wrapped around her neck as she came out, but the midwife deftly unraveled it and Milayla cried that incredible, piercing new-born cry. Both of us could hardly believe that it had happened so quickly, and without medication or any other intervention. It was SO different from what we had experienced before.
Another interesting moment that happened shortly after involved the birthing of the placenta. It didn't want to come. The midwife wanted to inject Pitocin to strengthen Laura's contractions, but Laura was hesitant to use any drugs. Instead, she asked to try pushing one more time with her next contraction, and voila, out it came. It may seem trivial, but it was another testimony to me of the importance of letting the body do what it was designed to do. Of course, I realize that things don't always work that way, and that intervention is absolutely necessary in some instances, but I think in the majority of cases it could be avoided through better information and a little patience.
Milayla was put right away to Laura's chest while they waited for the umbilical cord to stop pulsing. I got to cut the cord. It wasn't something I ever had a burning desire to do, but it was pretty cool nonetheless.
Nursing started soon thereafter, and Milayla did very well. The hospital staff offered to let us stay overnight if we wanted to, but after talking about it we decided it really wasn't necessary. Everyone was in good shape, and the kraamverzorgster would come to our apartment that night. In Holland, the kraamverzorgster is a type of specially trained maternity nurse that cares for the mother and baby for part of the day the first eight days after birth. They come to the home and examine both the mother and baby, and assist in normal, everyday sorts of jobs. Our "kraam" is sweet lady from the Dutch Antilles named Suzette. We enjoy her company and her sincerity in helping us.
So there you have it. That summary seems much longer than a summary ought to be, but I think everything that was important to me was in it, so I don't think it could have been shorter. Actually, there is one aspect of the birth that I haven't mentioned that I should. I felt that through the entire pregnancy and birth of Milayla, our decisions were gently guided by the hand of our Heavenly Father. He put people and ideas in our paths that ultimately led to this remarkable experience. It was, in a word, incredible. The joy that I felt as the midwife placed Milayla on Laura was indescribable. I felt supremely proud of Laura, and so blessed to have Milayla in our lives.