Gianina's long hospital water birth

I chose to give birth to my first baby at the Centro Nascita Alternativo (Alternative Birth Center), which is part of a hospital in Genoa, Italy.  We were living in Rapallo, about a 30 minute drive from the hospital. This midwife-run birthing center was attractive to me because I could have my own room and bathroom where I would labor, birth, bathe my baby, sleep with my baby, and receive just a few visitors with the baby always with me.  The birth would be allowed to develop naturally, and there was a birthing tub. All mothers eat meals together in a family style kitchen, and there was even a breastfeeding pillow in the closet. It sounded so cozy and idyllic.

The kitchen where families eat together.  Photo credit: "Partorire a San Martino"

The kitchen where families eat together.

Photo credit: "Partorire a San Martino"

The birthing tub  Photo credit:  B&B Color Design

The birthing tub

Photo credit: B&B Color Design

My contractions started the day my mom arrived. I was close to 40 weeks. We were all so excited that she hadn't missed the birth. I remember sitting in the living room with the timer on my phone measuring the distance apart and duration of the contractions. We were all giddy. Yay! The baby was on her way!

By about midnight the contractions started to be hard to get through. I was still really happy and proud of myself, though. I was doing this! The contractions were about seven minutes apart and almost a minute long. I walked around and leaned on to the dining room table when I felt one coming. I couldn't believe that my husband and mom were sleeping. I felt like this was such an important event and why would anyone want to miss even a minute!

Note that my attitude at this point was super strong and positive.

Okay, better start thinking about the hospital now! I woke my husband and he wasn't totally convinced it was time, but I was convinced and that's what mattered. But first he had to take a shower. And shave. And put on a nice shirt. Aww.. he was dressing up to meet his daughter.

"See you tomorrow, mom! When you come to see me at the hospital you'll meet your granddaughter!"

It was about 3 am when we got to the hospital. I remember having a contraction right before going in. I stopped and held onto a railing.  I could feel my body opening. I was still feeling strong and ready for this challenge.

The midwife who opened the door for us asked why we were there. I explained that my contractions were getting stronger and I thought that the birth might be happening soon. Maybe I looked a little too strong and happy. Her expression seemed to say, "there is no way this girl is in active labor but okay, come in."

She hooked me up to a machine that measured the intensity and duration of the contractions. She left me alone with my husband. I could see the little line go up and down. I had one contraction in the 20 minutes that I was sitting there. That seemed strange. At home they had been coming more frequently.

The midwife returned and looked at the machine. Then she looked at me.  "You're in the stage of labor called early labor. Not active labor. Did you do a prenatal course?" 

Oh no she did not just asked me if I did a prenatal course. I drove all the way from Rapallo to Genova 8 times for that course. It was fascinating and I loved it and I had read about a million books on childbirth. She did not know who she was talking to.

Then another contraction came. I was breathing hard and clutching the chair. "What are you doing? Don't breathe like that. You are going to make yourself faint."

"Um, so maybe you can tell me how I should breathe." Geez, this lady and I were not off to a good start. "Breathe deeply," she said, "and slower."

I did my best to work on my breathing and the midwife checked to see how many centimeters my cervix was dilated. I had to sit up on this special bed and spread my legs and put my feet in stirrups.  A very vulnerable and slightly humiliating position.  She  stuck her hand inside me during a contraction.  It hurt so much and it was awkward and uncomfortable. 3 centimeters. Not even half way there.  I felt like I was not performing as I should have been.  I felt strong except for when I was in her presence. She made me feel broken.  She wanted to send us back home to Rapallo. But she said that Rapallo was a little far so I guess you can stay here, just in case the labor picks up. "Oh gee, thanks," I thought. In case labor picks up. I had been certain that it would pick up. Until that moment.

I stayed at 3 centimeters for a long time. Hours. Contractions were really irregular. I had breakfast with the other mothers. Then I was at 4 centimeters. Then I had lunch. My (not so) favorite midwife went home and another one started her shift.

I talked to Gianina (pronounced Janeena). "Why aren't you coming?" I asked her. Then, "Please come so I can hold you and we can leave this place."

Every once in a while they hooked me up to some sort of monitor that measures the intensity of the contractions with a number. My number was 60 something, then 70 something. They were really intense. I started to think I couldn't do it. I could just go across the hall to the hospital part of the birthing floor and get an epidural.  This is what I always do, I thought. I make things harder than they really are. I should just get the epidural.

One midwife suggested I use the seat in the shower and direct the warm water where it hurts. She was really sweet. The water felt so good.

One midwife came in and watched me have a contraction. She watched my face and my breathing and moaning.  "Did it really hurt that much?" 

"Well, yes," I said. What kind of question is that, anyway?

"That really wasn't a very big contraction." Well, thanks a lot for that tidbit of information. That's really going to help me have this baby. Thank goodness you came in to give me some support. Geez.

I could not WAIT for this to be over.

Luckily I started to ride the waves of my contractions in a semi-focused way and sort of forgot about asking for the epidural. My cervix was dilating slowly but surely.

Then there was another shift change and I got a new midwife. A nice one.  Dinner time came and went and I labored away. This time I didn't join the women in the family style kitchen. The contractions were intense, closer together, but not very regular. The nice midwife suggested that she break my water bag to speed things up a bit. She also said that she'd get the birthing tub ready. Sounded awesome to me. I had been there for almost 24 hours and still no baby in my arms. It was late at night. My second night of labor.

After she gently broke my water bag I had a hard time standing during contractions. I tried leaning my back on my husband while he held me. I tried kneeling and leaning on the bed. It was so intense and so uncomfortable. The numbers on that machine went above 100. I didn't think that machine could do triple digits. I didn't know that the contractions could be any more intense, but they were. 

Finally, the birthing tub. That water was sent from God. Embracing me with its warmth. Angels whispered to me that I could do this.  Hallelujah. I relaxed. My husband put a cool wet handkerchief on my forehead. I felt his strong presence. I knew my little girl was on her way.

Then my (not so) favorite midwife came back for another shift. I wanted to say, "See, I actually am in labor."

The two midwives worked together to check the baby's heart rate with a simple device that could go in the water. It was always a really strong, clear heartbeat. 

In between contractions I felt totally calm and fine. I remember being amazed at that.

Then they said that they could see my baby's head! "Just 2 or 3 more pushes and she will be here! You've got this!"

2 or 3 more pushes seemed like too many. I could get her out in one. I pushed so hard. "Wait! Slow down! Piano piano!" they said. But I wasn't into taking my time at that moment. Out came Gianina. It was 2 in the morning.

They gently pushed her up to me and we were side by side in the water. What an amazing feeling. They said to keep her mostly under the warm water so she wouldn't be cold. We had our first mother daughter chat.  After a few minutes my husband cut the umbilical cord.  I felt so thankful for his support and so in love with him at that moment.

I felt so proud of us. All of us. We did it. We finally did it.

My husband went with Gianina for her bath.  I delivered the placenta. I'm not sure why but the nice midwife had to stick her hand inside me for about 5 seconds and help it out.  She warned me that it would hurt.  It did. A lot. More than a contraction. Then she was done and I felt the placenta slip out.  She was very nice and showed it to me up close.  The organ that my body grew. The organ that I shared with Gianina.  The organ that sustained life inside me for 9 months. It looked like a big thick dark sponge.

This is not my placenta. Jane McCrae Photography, based near Sydney, Australia, has the most heartfelt birth photos I have ever seen.

This is not my placenta. Jane McCrae Photography, based near Sydney, Australia, has the most heartfelt birth photos I have ever seen.

I wish I had known then why the midwives had told me to push 2 or 3 more times. It was so I wouldn't tear. I had a third degree tear. I had local anesthesia and the (not so) favorite midwife gave me stitches as my husband held Gianina next to me. I was all healed in less than a month, but I have lost some bladder control (when I sneeze and when I run).

Everyone was amazed that I was walking around and feeling fine moments after the birth. I was so proud of myself. I was so happy to have my baby in my arms. The world, through my eyes, was perfect that day. A new human being was here among us. And I had helped her get here.

Gianina nursing a few hours after her birth.

Gianina nursing a few hours after her birth.

This heated changing table was in my private room. Diapers, soap, and cream were provided by the hospital.  Mothers wear their own clothes and bring clothes for the baby. The cost of birth is covered by the Italian public health system.

This heated changing table was in my private room. Diapers, soap, and cream were provided by the hospital.  Mothers wear their own clothes and bring clothes for the baby. The cost of birth is covered by the Italian public health system.