Thankful for natural birth…and modern medicine

Nicola Ayoub, an American dancer living in Paris, tells her empowering birth story.

Paris. March 30, 2017

I loved every moment of my pregnancy. I loved feeling my baby grow inside of me kicking and jumping, so much like myself. I am a professional dancer and continued performing pregnant the first four months and dancing and teaching until the end. During the last two months of pregnancy, I attended twice weekly yoga classes, prenatal singing classes, and relaxation classes. I declared my birthing affirmations every day. My favourite one was “My body was made to give life.” I wanted a 100% natural birth with movement and music, a birth as perfect as each day of my pregnancy.

I live in Paris, France. I had a midwife throughout my pregnancy for both consultation and preparation classes (theory and relaxation techniques). Knowing that I wanted an all-natural birth, she advised me to deliver at the Maternité de Lilas, a birthing clinic run almost exclusively by midwives who respect their patients’ choices.

On Monday morning March 6, 2017, I had a couple of easy contractions but nothing more so I went about my day with no problem. I took the metro to Bastille for my evening yoga class. When I came home I fixed up a fancy dinner for my husband, Julien-Francois, and me. We watched Indiana Jones on TV. A little before midnight I had a harder contraction. We went to sleep after that, but I started having contractions every 30 minutes and had to pee each time. I could still nap in between them. Around 4:30am, it was every 15 minutes and I could not sleep anymore.

At 7am Tuesday morning, I got up with Julien-Francois and walked with him to the bus stop. He wanted to stay with me but I had a feeling that there would be nothing dramatic happening all day so I told him to go to work. I was right. I took a long walk and felt great, went home, had some breakfast and generally felt awesome in between my contractions which were not very painful. I even did some yoga and relaxation exercises and took a little nap. I went to the market to buy flowers and took a walk in the park. At 4pm I had an appointment with my midwife for a relaxation class. She checked me out and said that no, I was not yet dilated but yes, my cervix was very short and soft and that things would probably pick up soon. How exciting! It could be tonight! Or in two days. . . Ugh.

Things did not really pick up until about 10pm that night. Julien-Francois and I took a long walk which felt nice and then I took a hot bath. Around midnight I started having contractions every five minutes and they were definitely stronger. I got on all fours a lot and bounced on my exercise ball. Finally, around 4:30am they were four minutes apart so we called the clinic and asked if we could come. The midwife on duty looked at my birth plan (yes, I am a nerd and wrote out exactly what I wanted for my ideal birth) in my dossier and said “go for another walk and wait till it’s really unbearable because you said you want this to be all-natural and you’ll feel better walking or relaxing at home.” So, that is what we did.

Finally, we needed a change of scenery and the contractions were getting more and more painful. We called for a taxi and got to the clinic at 7:45am Wednesday morning March 8, which was exactly my 40th week of pregnancy. I was checked out- five centimetres dilated. Awesome! Baby and me doing well.

There were two midwives on duty, one experienced, and the other in her last year of school. The student midwife took me to the birthing room and drew me a hot bath. She chatted with us for a while, before leaving us be. I stayed in the big hot bath for about 30 minutes, but then felt like getting out and using the ball. For the next five hours, I alternated between hot baths, walking, two different types of birthing balls, or getting on all fours. Each time I had a contraction Julien-Francois would massage my sacrum, hold me, or kiss me (as Ina May says “an open mouth means an open vagina”). The contractions got tougher but still about three to four minutes apart. In a way, that was good because I could completely relax in between them, but at the same time meant that I was dilating slower than what I expected. For that detail, the midwives were great. They were like “take all the time you need. No worries.” They would come check on us about every hour or so, but mostly let my husband and me be private and concentrated together. Whenever the midwives would do a check with the fetal monitor (only a few times during the whole day), they put me on the ball to continue bouncing and relax. Once they gave me a fetal monitoring in the bath tub. Around 2pm I told them I felt like I really needed to take a mega poop. They said great let’s see if you are fully dilated now because that is a good sign. I was barely at eight centimeters. Oh well.

I had another long, hot bath and sang deep low sounds for each contraction. Thank you prenatal singing. Julien-Francois and the student midwife sang with me. I did shit a little in the bath, but the midwife scooped it up and out.

At 4pm I went to the bathroom and took an awesome big crap. When I stood up my water broke. It felt really good. I got checked and finally was 10 centimeters dilated, but baby’s head was still a little high.

At this point, the older midwife set up a traction bar for me to hang from as I sat on the ball. That felt good. I started some slow pushes with the next contractions, making long exhales. Sometimes I would roll off the ball and just hang from the bar. Then I used the bar to stand up and swayed for a while and squatted to push. The pressure was so intense in the squat. My legs and arms started getting really tired and I felt like I needed to be on all fours. That worked really well. The older midwife sat beside me, talked to me and guided my breathing. My husband kissed and encouraged me. In between contractions, I would sit back into child’s pose as the student midwife would massage my bottom and sacrum and put warm compresses on my perineum.

Finally, the older midwife got a birth stool for me and said to sit on it and grab the traction bar at the same time. I had been pushing for more than two hours at this point. We were tired and wanted to meet our baby. I could feel the baby’s head crown a bit with every push but it would go back inside each time. Getting closer but so frustrating. Then the midwives told my husband to get behind me and support me under my armpits with the next push. I pushed like hell and pulled myself from sitting to upright with the help of the bar and Julien-Francois. At this point it was stinging, burning like crazy and I felt my baby’s whole head come out. The midwives cheered “Go, go, go!” I kept pushing. And then the young midwife yelled “catch your baby!” I bent down and caught my baby girl and stood up again and put her on my chest. Wild! I was shaking, so surprised that I had actually caught my baby. At this point, Julien-Francois helped me onto the bed to lie down with our baby, which was my first time to lie down on the clinic’s bed. A nurse got us warmed sheets to wrap us up. The midwives said ok just one more push to get the placenta out. I felt like I had nothing left in me, but with a little push and a tug on the umbilical cord they got it out. Then my husband cut the umbilical cord.

My perineum had torn a bit so they gave me a few stitches. At the same time, our daughter had already found my breast and was nursing. They wiped me off and made sure we were all fine. Then they let us be for the next three hours to have skin to skin time to get to know our gorgeous daughter Elise.

It was exactly the birth I wanted. And how thrilling to welcome my daughter into the world March 8, on International Women’s Day.

We spent four wonderful days at the clinic. Elise and I seemed to be in tip-top shape when we left. Unfortunately, I did have a complication which only showed itself when we got home.

Within hours of being home I noticed something hanging from my vagina. It actually looked like a piece of my vagina was falling out. It did not hurt but I thought that it wasn’t right. An hour later I started having the chills and a small fever. It was midnight. I called the clinic. I caught a taxi and went back to the clinic in a rush, leaving Elise with her Papa and hoping that she wouldn’t get too hungry while I was gone. The night shift doctor met me and examined me. It turns out that the thing hanging down were membranes of the amniotic sac coming out. When I delivered the placenta it seems that both the placenta and the amniotic sac had come out in multiple pieces. I had been so focused on nursing Elise that I had not heard the midwives talk about this. They had checked me regularly for haemorrhaging which is the usual sign for a torn amniotic sac. Since I had never hemorrhage they thought that everything had come out. Well, no. Bits of membrane were coming out now four days later and smelled funny. The doctor did an ultrasound. Thankfully, the placenta was all out but there were still parts of the amniotic sac stuck to my uterus. The doctor gave me Cytotec tablets to take for the next 48 hours to induce contractions to push out the membranes and a prescription of Amoxicillin for the infection. I went home and nursed my baby, who happily fell asleep beside me. I, however, could not sleep because of the horrible cramps from the Cytotec. The next day, long rolled up pieces of membranes mixed with blood came out. Two days later I returned to the clinic for another ultrasound. There were still stuck pieces of the amniotic sac. Another 48 hours of Cytotec were given. The doctor said that the membranes and blood would continue to come out for the whole month.

It has been three weeks now since I birthed Elise. She is growing well. I am much better but yes, still bits of blood and membrane come out daily. That is the unglamorous side of childbirth.

I am thankful for the 100% natural childbirth I had, supported by my husband and the clinic’s midwives. It was so empowering catching my baby. I am also thankful for modern medicine to heal my infection. It is ironic to me that four days after such a natural childbirth I needed strong medication to induce uterine contractions. But thankfully ultrasounds and medicine exist so that I can still be here in great health and tell my story.