As a pelvic floor physical therapist I have found that birth outcomes truly improve if a person is in an environment they feel comfortable and respected in. There are many contributing factors that play a role in creating a great birth environment including the physical location, the people, and our own mindsets. Here is my story and a few things to consider when envisioning and crafting the best birth environment for yourself.
Physical Location – Places to Give Birth
While many default to thinking the hospital is the only place to give birth, there are several more options available today. Birth centers are becoming more common, along with the practice of giving birth at home.
Though I am a health care professional and accustomed to the clinical setting, when it came time for me to give birth I knew I would be most comfortable at home. My husband and I planned around this desire and I was fortunate to be in my home when I began having pre-labor contractions.
My husband and I kept to our routine and went for a hike together with our dogs early in the morning. I am grateful to have been able to stay active during pregnancy. Upon arriving back home, we turned our focus to our home where I planned to give birth. Together we did a lot of nesting through cleaning, mowing the lawn and preparing the birth space.
The Comforts of Home:
As the day passed my contractions increased and in the evening became more intense and painful. I was able to take a warm bath in my own bathtub which helped slow down the intensity and frequency. While pre-labor contractions continued throughout the night, leaving me unable to sleep, I took this time to adjust to what was happening with my body, all while my doggie doulas offered cuddles.
Active labor increased in the early morning hours and I was able to take a shower in my own bathroom. The warm water helped calm me down and to further turn inward to process all that was happening. I knew shortly thereafter that it was time to assemble my birthing team.
People – Building Your Birth Team
An important part of the birth experience is who you surround yourself with. You may begin by considering if you want to go solo or include your partner, family members, and friends. Then there are the medical professionals to consider: midwives, doulas, OB/GYNs, and family practice doctors. The perfect team is that which you choose.
The birth team that I envisioned included my husband, our wonderful dogs, and three midwives (one of whom is a dear friend). I’m so thankful I had them all surrounding me during this challenging and beautiful experience. Throughout labor, my husband was always near me holding my hand or putting an arm around me as I needed it. My dogs were also a big part of my comfort, giving me little licks or letting me pet them which brought me peace.
Calling The Birth Professionals
In the pre-labor contractions my husband, our dogs, and I handled things, but as the contractions grew I knew it was time to alert my midwife team. I sent out a text early in the morning letting them know that I was doing okay solo, with one minute long contractions coming every five minutes for over an hour. I also let them know that I would call upon them within the hour if labor kept progressing… which it did.
By 4:45 in the morning I was ready to have others join me. I called one of my midwife team members to come over to check my progress. I then woke up my husband and asked him to call into work because:
“I think this baby is coming today”
Comfort Through Confirmation:
When my first midwife arrived she watched me through a contraction or two and then with my request and consent checked my cervix. She let me know that I was fully effaced and that I was dilated to 4cm but quickly opened to 6cm while she was checking. After her confirmation that this was really happening, my contractions continued to intensify. I felt a release in my body and a connection with my baby that we were really ready to do this. I started to be more vocal and really go into the contractions. I felt wild and powerful.
My Mindset – Visualization to Realization
With many options available for birth today and having been exposed to many birth stories through my career as a pelvic floor physical therapist, it was important for me to mentally prepare for the birth experience.
I envisioned a birth that felt right for me and my family. My goals for birth came about through a mix of research and intuition. I practiced affirmations and mindfulness exercises daily to visualize my dream birth (including reading through this website and changing the narrative slightly to make it my own). My birthing experience was challenging and hard, but also beautiful and through preparation and turning inward throughout the process I made it my own.
As labor increased in intensity all three factors of place, people, and my own mindset preparations played a huge role in supporting me.
My Birth Experience
As labor progressed I moved throughout me and my birth team moved throughout home trying different positions in different places, like the couch and the bathroom. At a point early on I knew I wanted to be outside where my husband and I could look at the trees and enjoy the fresh air. We headed to our sundeck as the sun was rising.
I kept my eyes closed for a lot of my labor and just went inside my body/experience. Contractions progressed into the morning and I felt the urge for the first push around 9:30. The pushing phase was the hardest part of labor for me, both mentally and physically. Full disclosure, it was really hard for me to put my professional mind aside and connect with my body’s need for breathing versus breath holding while pushing.
My water still had not broken at this point and I could feel a resistance from that. I tried pushing for a while outside and slowly took off layers as the sun continued to climb. I began to get too hot and we decided to move the bed over to the shade, an area my husband and I had previously envisioned for our baby to be born. I tried pushing there for a bit, but was still having difficulty. At one point I let out a cry for my waters to be broken, as I knew intuitively I wanted this relief of pressure to be able to progress. My midwife broke the water bag and I felt a huge relief.
Pushing and Breathing
I kept pushing while I squeezed my husband’s hands hard and gritted my teeth. I held my breath more than I ever expected to, but it’s what I felt like I needed to do at the time. During contractions prior to pushing, I felt I could exhale or be vocal during the sensations, but during pushing I felt the need to breath hold and use that pressure to push the baby out (this isn’t what I typically teach, however, I do always recommend following what your body is telling you).
An Outdoor Home Birth
Per our visualization and planning, my husband and I wanted our baby to be born outdoors in a space where we felt most at home. Towards the end my husband held me in a slow dance embrace then stood along the railing looking out to the trees. I pushed a few more times. I felt my baby’s head. My husband felt the baby’s head. And then I gathered all the remaining energy and strength I could and I pushed my baby out into my husband’s hands. It was 11:02 a.m. I didn’t plan to birth in a standing position, but once again I listened to my body.
My husband caught our baby and then helped bring the baby into my arms. There our baby was, earth-side. We laid down together in the bed and cuddled the baby to us. The dogs took turns meeting the baby. It was around then that I looked down to see the sex of our baby. An awesome surprise. I really thought I was about to see a penis, but instead I saw a vulva.
It felt so awesome to give birth to our baby outdoors at our home surrounded by trees. Elements that felt comfortable to us. After birth, we headed inside to bed where the midwives tucked us in and made us breakfast in bed, which was amazing. They did a few newborn tests while we all lay in the bed and bonded.
Baby weighed 8 pounds 10 ounces and was 21 inches long. We named her Rowan after the rowan tree and for our love for nature. On day two, we gave her the middle name Sofia after the Greek word for wisdom.
There are so many choices available to us in our birthing process. And there’s no right or wrong way. There’s no medal for doing birth a certain way. And sometimes your birth doesn’t go the way you want. If you’re struggling with your birth not going the way you wanted, I encourage you to reach out to others, share your story and heal when you’re ready.
Do I recommend others give birth at home with family and midwives like I did? Only if it’s something that you want. Do I recommend some people go to a birth center or hospitals or have epidurals or have a water-birth or even recommend some have elective cesareans? Yes, absolutely. It’s all about being informed as much as you can, or as much as you want to, and then making a choice that feels right for you and your family. You don’t owe an explanation to anyone. You do you and best of luck!
Are you currently pregnant or planning to conceive? If so, make sure to download my FREE resource — How to Prepare Your Pelvic Floor & Core for Childbirth + 8 Must-Dos for C-Section and Vaginal Deliveries.
Jen Torborg, PT, DPT, CMTPT, is a pelvic floor physical therapist and author of three Amazon bestselling books: Your Best Pregnancy Ever, Your Best Body after Baby, and Your Pelvic Health. Jen treats clients in Ashland and Bayfield, Wisconsin through Orthopedic & Spine Therapy.