Birthing Bodhi- by Teresa Palmer

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My sweet boy Bodhi Rain Palmer was born February 17th 2014 in Los Angeles. This is the story of his birth.

I had a very uneventful pregnancy with Bodhi, we conceived pretty easily, I didn’t suffer badly from morning sickness and I shot 3 films during my pregnancy as I was feeling energetic. By the time I was 35 weeks I couldn’t really think or talk about anything else, I was completely consumed with prepping for his birth, I read everything there was to read that Ina May Gaskin had written plus at least 6 or 7 others books. I was in a routine of watching 4 homebirth videos per night and we had completed our hypnobirthing course a few weeks earlier so I was feeling pretty confident about birthing Bodhi at home. We had chosen a homebirth after watching Ricki Lake’s amazing documentary “The Business of Being Born” Mark was also an advocate for home birth as he had experienced a really positive one with the birth of his first son Isaac back in 2008. I recall February as being a month of such excitement and anticipation leading up to his arrival.

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On Saturday 15th February when I was 38 weeks and 4 days along we had a little surprise! It was around 11:30pm and my waters broke whilst…ahem… having some special time with my husband! needless to say we were both very shocked. I immediately got giddy with excitement and Mark went straight in to Papa Bear mode “You need to eat! Wait no! You should go to sleep! Should we call the midwife!?” Then he ran upstairs to get me a banana. I couldn’t believe that the moment was here, I was feeling just beautiful waves of excitement, emotions and also shock that it was all about to unfold!

That night Mark and I settled in to the guest bedroom upstairs and I tried unsuccessfully to sleep, I could feel a cramp every now and then and would wake my husband up to say “Oh my gosh! it’s starting!” He kept on trying to get me to sleep but I was just way too excited! I re-read my Spiritual Midwifery book all night long waiting for the cramping to intensify, which they never did, they just felt very much like Braxton Hicks contractions. They were very light and I was only having a couple every hour. I remember thinking “this isn’t so bad!” Haha I’m now laughing at my naivety!

At 9am after maybe getting an hour sleep we rang my Midwife Davi and told her about my waters breaking. She said that I had PROM (premature rupture of membranes aka waters) and that we would need to be in active labor by midnight that night as it would have been 24 hours since my waters broke and baby boy would be at risk for an infection. We hung up and patiently waited for something to happen. It didnt. So at 12pm that day we went in to see Davi and she confirmed that it was definitely my waters that had broken, she suggested that if labor didn’t start soon that I should have an acupuncturist come in to help kickstart labor. We rang the acupuncturist on the way home and she arrived to the house about 1pm. She was simply amazing, what a loving and beautiful force she was, exactly the kind of energy I wanted around me. I was so happy to have her in my space and she told me all about her own beautiful positive birth stories.

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As soon as the session was about 20 minutes in, I started contracting. Davi had also suggested I take a swig of Castor Oil to help bring on labor, so once acupuncture had finished I drunk some Castor Oil (seriously gross!) and then sat on the toilet for the best part of the next hour! But the contractions started coming in a really consistent pattern so it felt good that it was all finally moving in the right direction. I found the contractions very manageable. I bounced on the birthing ball and relaxed as we flowed through them. I knew in the back of my mind that we were now against the clock.

By 10pm that night I was having surges every 3 minutes lasting a minute long so my midwife came over, I asked not to be checked as I assumed I was only a few cms a long. At this point it felt just like menstrual cramping and it would come in waves. I was actually enjoying the sensations and didn’t consider them to be painful at this point, in fact I really tried to steer away from using that word throughout my whole labor. In this early stage it just felt like pressure and tightening. I vocalized very low to move the energy out of my body, I rocked my hips and danced through them, shifting the feeling through my body but not running away from it either. I would also smile through the contractions and say “Yes” audibly. I spoke to Bodhi and told him “Thank you” for being my partner through this. During this time Sarah Olsen (my YZM co-founder!) was called as she was going to be an extra support and a birth photographer, so she popped over as did my doula Malaena.

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By 3am I was checked and I was at 4cm dilation. I felt like I was right where I should’ve been, so I was neither excited or disappointed, I was just determined. Earlier in the week I had written out signs that I had put around the room to remind me of positions and comforts that may help me during labor. I remember reading one of them which was “birthing ball in the shower” so I asked Mark to put the birthing ball in the shower and it was seriously like HEAVEN to me. I kept asking “can I please stay here?” I was happy to hear that everyone thought I was very polite during my labor! I also find it amusing that I was still trying to control things like “would you please pass me this, can you please rub there and not here, do you mind if we change the music, shall we check baby’s heart rate etc” it’s very much my type A personality! During a contraction I felt really suspended in another place but between them I was totally there in the room. Some women go to another planet and stay there, but that wasn’t my own experience.

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Through the night and in to the next morning I labored in the birthing tub and could actually fall asleep in between contractions. Davi my midwife suggested that instead of low vocalizing I try sighing sweetly through the rushes, this was actually a nice way to switch up what I was doing. She also had me move on to the bed and assume the Sims Position which is lying on my side, bottom leg straight and top leg bent as high as possible. This helps bring the baby down further. Laboring on the bed seemed unnatural and challenging for me, I preferred being on my feet and moving around but I knew it would help so I just kept telling myself to surrender to whatever came up. When one got very powerful I would say “thank you baby” and smile moving my head from side to side. My doula said it looked like I was in ecstasy at times, I wouldn’t describe it as that! But I was a swinging pendulum between emotions and feelings and just kept the unwavering thought of how each powerful rush brought me closer to holding my baby, it helped me to dive in to those sensations and it felt primal and natural. I would often look over at a picture of my Nanna who had birthed 4 of her 8 children at home and I felt immense strength emanating from that picture.

Censored sleeping photo of us!
Censored sleeping photo of us!

By 11am I was around 6cm dilated and that’s when I started feeling an intense throbbing in my back during each surge. Davi said that the baby must be posterior (face up instead of the optimal face down position) hence why I was experiencing back labor. Malaena and Davi tried using the Rebozo Scarf on me to help shift him in the right position. It was a strange feeling, them pulling it back and forth rigorously around my belly, I was hopeful it would work however the back pain only intensified the further along I got. These hours felt very strong for me. I would ask for help with my back during the waves. My husband and Sarah would put pressure on my back as well as ice packs and my doula would alternate with a heating pack. At this point the low vocalizing was the only tool that was working for me to move through the sensations as the back labor really took over and it was all I was feeling. I could feel my stomach tighten like a regular contraction, but that felt really mild in comparison to my back. I was bouncing on my birthing ball a lot which felt good too, although it was hard for my birthing team to help with my back at that point as I was constantly moving. I was starting to feel a little wobbly with the intensity and I threw up a few times (I now know this to be a sign of transition!)

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Sarah working her magic hands!

I was soon checked again around 3pm Feb 17th and Davi said you’re at an 8.5/9cm!! That was the best news ever. I then got in to the bath and labored there for an hour, however I started to notice that my waves were getting further and further apart which isn’t typical in labor, traditionally the waves begin further apart and then increase until they’re so strong that your body starts to push the baby out. I had read enough books to understand what was happening and what this meant for us. I knew that I needed the contractions to stay regular so I could push my baby out. Whilst the respite felt great I just willed them to come back as strongly as they had been earlier. Davi came in to the bathroom where I was laboring on the toilet and had now reached full dilation (the pressure was INSANE), she spoke with me and said that we needed to get the surges happening again otherwise we wouldn’t be able to birth at home. So we called the acupuncturist back. She helped me get a few started again however they just weren’t what they had been before. At this point I could reach up and feel my sons head only a fingers length away. Davi explained that to get the baby underneath the pelvic bone my body had to have the strong contractions as no amount of manual pushing would be able to shift him past this point. Davi also gently said that the baby whilst his heart rate was stable, that he had now been without his water bag protecting him from infection for 36 hours which was a long time and that he would be susceptible to infection at this point. So it was decided to transfer to my doctor Dr Paul Crane at Cedars Sinai Hospital.

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My husband and I drove there, I was very reflective in the car about how I had really wanted to birth him at home, however I knew in my heart we were making the safest decision for all of us and gave over to what the experience would be at the hospital. I had managed to get fully dilated at home without unnecessary medical intervention and I had control of where I wanted to labor and in what position, which was one of the reasons I wanted a home birth in the first place; to feel comfortable in my own environment. I knew at the hospital I was birthing with a doctor who greatly respected woman’s bodies and supported natural birth so that gave me confidence. By this stage the back labor had kicked up a notch and I couldn’t walk on my left leg. My body had started involuntarily shaking and I felt freezing. Sure enough when I got in to the hospital bed, I had high blood pressure and a high fever. The nursing staff got cold bags of ice and put them all over my body! But I was feeling so freezing at that point that it wasn’t the most pleasant feeling. The ice however helped relieve the back tension. I was then asked if I wanted pain relief and I said no, I knew I had come this far and although it was tempting, I had made the decision that I wanted a natural birth and also knowing that what is considered the hardest part of labor was now complete helped me to decline too. The doctor decided to give me 4 drops of Pitocin to bring on my contractions again. About 20 minutes later I could really feel what Davi meant about your body aiding to bring the baby down, I had these very strong and intense contractions but they felt great in a really wonderful and productive way. I just knew I would birth my baby soon.

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I had read a lot about pushing techniques and felt confident in my ability to push productively. I asked questions in there and was extremely focused on the task at hand. The nurses and doctor kept telling me what a great pusher I was and whether they meant it or not it gave me a burst of confidence. The pushing was actually a relief as it took the pressure away from my back. I pushed HARD and didn’t vocalize, instead I just kept everything internal. They brought out a mirror so that I could see my boy coming down. That gave me such a burst that I almost started crying from joy. It was an elation in a sense and although it wasn’t over I just knew all was going beautifully and that I would have him soon. After 30 minutes of pushing he crowned, luckily I didn’t tear, the reason being is that I was told by Davi to pant as I felt him coming out, which slowed him down. I also think the litre of coconut oil they put down there also meant I didn’t tear! I did however, get an abrasion which I didn’t feel at the time (although totally felt post birth!) it happened as the doctor rotated him (I have pictures of him coming out with his little squished face pointed upwards diagonally, so he was pretty posterior) in the next push his shoulders were born. Mark and I both reached down and pulled him out together as I put him on my chest and cried saying to him over and over “my sweet baby!”. He scored high on his Apgar test so he didn’t need any treatment from the pediatricians who had been on standby in case Bodhi was affected by my fever or from being out of the water bag for so long. He was perfectly healthy and had a beautiful big cry on him! He immediately breastfed and was looking up in to my eyes so still and calm, it’s still my favorite memory of meeting him, such a magical and quiet moment between us.

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An hour later my placenta still hadn’t come down (a retained placenta) and my body wouldn’t contract anymore, so it was decided that I would have to have a manual extraction. Dr Crane explained that most patients he had done this on had had an epidural or other pain relief methods. In the same breath he told me he could do it under 1 minute, so since I had come this far, I wanted to be able to be discharged that night and was feeling good, so we decided to go ahead and do it without pain relief. I won’t go in to details but let’s just say there were some never-said-before expletives thrown around!! I have never experienced such blackout pain as that but he did it so fast and efficiently, that soon enough my babe was back in my arms for me to stare at adoringly.

The whole birthing experience was such a mixed bag of emotions, pure elation, disbelief, exhaustion, overwhelming love and excitement. It was and still is the most surreal and profound experience in my life. Bodhi Rain Palmer was born at 7:04pm February 17th 2014, weighing 8lbs and 20 inches long

I’m so grateful to my husband Mark for being my strength, my guide, my emotional regulator and my loving comrade through Bodhi’s birth, to Sarah one of my best friends and YZM co-founder whose own birth with her son Wyatt was a huge source of inspiration for me. Just having you there made me feel braver. To Davi my midwife, I always felt safe in your intuitive hands, thank you for holding it down and steering the ship. Malaena your soothing voice and calm energy was so recharging and kept me feeling peaceful. Dr Crane you were sensational, kind, encouraging and supportive. GRATEFUL. Bodhi, you’re my world, thank you for helping guide me on this journey and for choosing me to be your Mama.

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Posterior Birth Info

In preparing for this new little guys birth, I’ve been doing a lot of research into Posterior Birth and the challenges that come with these kind of births. As many of you know, I was told this baby is in the posterior position so I’ve been doing a lot of reading and found some answers that in fact I wasn’t looking for but have now found to be invaluable. After Bodhi’s birth I accepted that things didn’t go textbook, I assumed it was because it was just the way our story went. I have now found out that when a baby is posterior it can cause many complications during labor, all the ones that we experienced! And usually this happens without having symptoms during the pregnancy. This list below comes from Spinning Babies and there are even more issues that can arise during labor that were on the list which I personally didn’t experience (I.e needing to use a vacuum, epidural, caesarean etc) Here are all the ones I experienced due to Bodhi’s posterior position;

  • The amniotic sac breaking (water breaks, membranes open, rupture of membranes) before labor.
  • Labor is longer and stronger and less rhythmic than expected.
  • Start and stop labor pattern.
  • Baby may not engage, even during pushing stage.
  • Longer early labor.
  • Longer active labor.
  • Back labor.
  • Pitocin may be used when labor stalls.
  • Sometimes the baby’s head gets stuck turned half way to anterior – in the transverse diameter.
  • More likely to tear or have an abrasion.

If I had been more aware of Bodhi’s position I would’ve made an effort to turn him to avoid the above situations, but alas we didn’t find out until the back labor started so I rode the experience as it came. Now that I’m equipped with the knowledge I’m doing everything in my power to turn this little guy (I must just carry posterior babies!) but I know that even if it doesn’t happen, I birthed Bodhi this way and now know many coping mechanisms to help ensure that labor progresses quickly. I’m up for whatever comes our way. For more info on figuring out your babies position check out Spinningbabies.com.

After Thoughts

My birthing journey with Bodhi was such a life changing event for me, not just because it made me a Mother which has always been my greatest dream, but also because it taught me the gift in surrendering. I’ve always been a very I-prefer-to-be-in-control kind of person but to have given birth to Bodhi in this way gave me such a pearl of wisdom, to know that things will unravel in life in ways that are unexpected and that despite how hard we try to have situations meet our expectations that really we aren’t in control. The only thing we have the power to control is our openness to what our experience becomes, even if it’s such a different color than we envisioned. Bodhi’s birth was exactly the birth we were supposed to have and it was even more impactful on me than I had imagined. I loved it. Through all the challenges and unforeseen hurdles, being able to ride the experience with a sense of surrender, presence and acceptance has singlehandedly been the greatest lesson I’ve learnt in my life and it so beautifully set me up for the adventures in parenting.

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