by Alysse Robin
It is spring and there is a newness of life that invites the exploration of nature and humanity. What better topic to bring all that magic together than birthing? And in these wet spring days, let’s add some water to the mix—yes, let’s talk water birthing. Here in the Hudson Valley there are many options for women who want to create not only a healthy and safe environment for the new life to enter into, but also a sacred and welcoming experience that brings balance and security to everyone involved in the process. Women can easily access information about all of the amazing prenatal and birthing options. Pregnant women are doing yoga, using forms of hypno-birthing, aromatherapy, and accessing many other new and ancient practices— water birthing is among those options.
What on earth is water birthing, you ask. Simple. Water birthing is when a pregnant woman is in water during her labor and/or the delivery of the baby. This immersion may ease pain, relax muscles, and create a smooth transition for babies from womb to water to room. We and the earth are, after all, mostly water.
Water birthing has an old history told through legends, which include South Pacific Islanders giving birth in shallow seawater and stories of Egyptian pharaohs born in water some 8,000 years ago. However the trend did not pick up quickly in the western world. The first documented water birth was in France in 1803. When a mother was having a very hard time delivering, she was finally put into a tub to relax and reduce her pain. Once in the water, her labor quickly progressed and she had her baby in the tub before they could make efforts to get her out. Both baby and mom were safe and happy!
It wasn’t until the 1970s that water birth began being explored in modern medicine, and slowly interest in water birth grew in the UK, Europe, and Canada among midwives looking for comfortable and natural childbirth options. In 1993, a Department of Health report on maternity services, among other recommendations, said women should be able to labor and deliver in water. As a result, some hospitals installed birthing tubs and became experts in this form of delivery.
Today, there are many hospitals and providers within our communities that support women of varying needs and birthing plans. More and more hospitals understand that when a woman enters the hospital for childbirth she should not be treated like a trauma patient, nor like she is ill (although all of these people deserve a serene environment, too)—she is, in fact, about to experience the most extraordinary thing her body could ever do.
At Northern Dutchess Hospital’s Neugarten Birth Center, there is a water tub for women who either want to relax in warm water during labor, or who want to give birth in the tub. I delivered both my children as water births at Neugarten Birth Center. Not only did I find the tub an extremely soothing experience for me and a natural transition for my babies, but I also had my husband and best friend with me, helping me relax. The midwife and nurses left us alone as much as we liked, making space for an intimate and special experience.
In the birthing tub I was buoyant, which took the intense pressure off my bloated body. My children floated out into the world under water, stayed under as the midwife cleaned them off, and then took their first breaths when they were gently lifted into the towel and put on my chest. It was beyond awesome, and I was very grateful that this option existed in such a relaxing birthing environment, with access to a full hospital just next door. I didn’t even think about pain medication once. Being submerged in the warm water with my husband lovingly pressing my forehead with an icy cloth were all the sedation that I required.
Recently, I had my annual check up with my midwife, Suzanne Berger, who delivered my first child 12 years ago. Berger is part of the HealthQuest practice, which offers midwifery 24/7. She has been “catching babies” for 23 years. When asked if she had any recommendations for new mothers, she gave these words of wisdom, “Research. Do your homework. Talk to other women who’ve had babies. Claim your power. Listen to your heart.”