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Station: Water babies
In Buddhist culture, the lotus symbolizes not only potential, awakening, and enlightenment but also the releasing of strength and fears.
As such, the flower is seen as a fitting image for birth — more particularly, birth in water.
And just as the lotus emerges, representing a gentle arrival with warmth, love and compassion, Erin and Nathan Hollett’s second child, Taliesin Sol Hollett arrived in this world Nov. 6 in water.
“Coming from water, into water, it was such a gentle transition,” said Erin. “It’s not like shock: I’m out in the world.
“At first when they put him on my chest, he didn’t cry the same way, and before I could even say anything, (midwives) Kate (Koyote) and Selina (Boily) were like, ‘It’s just that much more of a gentle way to arrive in this world.’”
Taliesin’s peaceful journey from birth canal to water to world, wasn’t the only benefit to Erin and Nathan choosing a water birth.
“I had a long bath while I was labouring before I got into the pool,” said Erin, age 27, who’s water birth was captured in photos by photographer Ashley Marston in the family’s dining room. “I really liked the water.”
Pain reduction is one of biggest reasons women opt for water deliveries.
“One thing I’ve noticed as a midwife is women tend to connect with their bodies more in water,” said Talia McKenzie of the Cowichan Midwifery Group. “When they’re able to become more relaxed, it makes it that much easier.”
For centuries, women have used water to ease pain during labour.
Soaking facilitates deeper relaxation reducing the production of stress hormones which can slow labour and decrease the perception of pain.
“You’re more buoyant in water. You don’t have to support yourself,” added McKenzie. “Your muscles tend to work more efficiently. For some women, when they are contracting, they don’t feel it the same way. We call it our home-birth epidural.”
Water birth is more widely available in hospitals in Europe, than in North America. It isn’t an option at Cowichan District Hospital, where there has been talk of installing labouring tubs to be used for pain management, but not for birthing.
McKenzie, a UBC midwifery graduate who’s been practising since 2011, said more and more folks are becoming interested in water birth.
“They’re hearing stories of how much women have enjoyed it and the information is spreading,” she said. “Having water available, not only for birthing but labouring is very beneficial.”
Based on numbers collected a couple years ago, McKenzie estimated about 30% of Cowichan Midwifery Group clients are opting for home births. About 80% of those are water births.
To give birth in water, the midwives first run through a checklist. It includes factors such as your health history, pregnancy risks, and whether your house is in close proximity to the hospital in case of emergency.
If you’re given the green light, there are quite a few factors to consider.
“I knew I really wanted a home birth,” Erin said. “I watched a lot of videos. The Business of Being Born was a great one. I was at a home birth for my sister-in-law. She did end up birthing in hospital, but laboured in a pool.”
Once she was convinced, she brought the discussion up with her husband.
“When I was pregnant with my daughter and wanted the home birth, my husband was a little leery. I had a hard time with that because I really wanted the home birth but I also knew he had to be comfortable as well,” she said.
She asked him to educate himself. After listening to the midwives and watching some videos, he overcame his fears.
“He came full circle,” Erin said. “And after the birth, he said he couldn’t imagine it being any other way.”
The Holletts’ first child, 21-month-old daughter Lyrah, was supposed to have also been born in water. But because she decided to make her entry into this world so fast, faster than they could fill the birthing pool, she was born on their bed.
McKenzie said there are misconceptions around water deliveries.
“Often people are afraid the baby will gasp for air and drown,” McKenzie said.
There are several factors that prevent a baby from inhaling water, including inhibitory responses which include hypoxia (lack of oxygen). That results in apnea and swallowing, not breathing or gasping. Ensuring the water temperature is close to that of the fluid in the womb is also important.
Frankly, some people are often grossed out by the idea of birthing a baby in water saturated with bodily fluids.
"For us, it's important to keep the water relatively clean," McKenzie said, noting the placenta is delivered out of water, on somewhere like a bed, and a fish net is a great accessory to have on hand to scoop out any unwanted visitors.
Specifically-designed birthing pools are available to buy, rent or borrow, but often couples expecting in the summer purchase a kiddie pool.
Along with plenty of old towels, linens, and receiving blankets, water births also require having a marine or RV (lead-free) hose and adapter to attach to a sink or bathtub.
"It takes a lot of water," Hollett said. She shared the cost of her birthing pool with a friend, who delivered shortly after her. Replacement liners are also available for purchase to re-line the pool after a delivery.
"I couldn't believe it, even this time around, knowing we wanted to make sure it was ready because it wasn't ready last time. It takes a long time to fill the pool," she said.
Some hot water tanks might not be able to fill an entire pool.
And that's why it's always a good idea to also have extra pots on hand to boil water if necessary.
That, and McKenzie suggests having someone on hand at the birth to help monitor water temperature.
Besides logistics, what was most important for the Holletts was being able to experience and witness what a women's body is capable of in the most calming of ways.
"For myself, I just wanted to trust my body and if my body needed a little help, to trust my midwives to make that call," Erin said.
Her biggest advice to those considering water birth is education and healthy discussions.
And finally, just having a little faith in what's a very natural and enlightening journey.
"I was so amazed and proud of what my body did for me," she said.