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  • Writer's pictureBrittany Irwin

Willa's Birth Story

Updated: Jan 24, 2019

Breathing baby down, and experiencing the incredible power of the fetal ejection reflex.

Have you ever heard of the term “Fetal ejection reflex”?

It’s this incredible thing where your body takes over and does the work of pushing your baby out for you. Its something that will inevitably happen for all women if they give themselves the time and are able to really let go, relax, and let nature take its course. If you can get the anxiety, fear and tension out of the way and let the primal part of the brain take over, the body will respond and do what it was designed to do.

Unfortunately, the sensation of the fetal ejection reflex isn’t something that most women get to experience. Typically, once the cervix is fully effaced and dilated the woman is asked to push. Not that there's anything wrong with that, and there are of course times when baby needs to be born quickly if there's a medical need or concern; but what if we allowed for a bit more time and created a space where mom and baby felt the freedom to do it on their terms? I wonder if more women would leave the birth experience feeling more satisfied and in tune with what their body was doing.

I got to experience this during the birth of my daughter Willa.

Preparing for birth

I loved preparing for birth! This was something tangible that I could focus my energy into during the endless weeks and months of pregnancy. It felt productive and kept my anxiety at bay.

Willa was our Rainbow Baby. We had lost our first through a miscarriage and I was never the same after losing our first baby. Fear and anxiety consumed my mind and I needed something to occupy my thoughts. So I poured that energy into education, research, and hypnobirthing. (Knowledge is POWER!) I knew I couldn't control fate, but I could control the way I cared for myself. I was determined to be the healthiest I could be, and really work hard to prepare myself mentally and emotionally.

I enrolled in a local hypnobirthing course because I truly believed it would give me the tools I needed to release fear and find relaxation in the midst of the intensity of childbirth. -This was one of the best decisions I made!

One of the methods taught in this course was “breathing your baby down.” Rather than the classic “purple faced pushing” we normally associate with the pushing stage of birth, the point of this technique is to focus on productive breathing, coupled with a deep state of relaxation, in order for your baby and body to work together in harmony and essentially do the work they are designed to do (letting the fetal ejection reflex take over). Just relax, let go, and let your body move baby gently down the birth path.

I knew that THIS is what I wanted for myself.

I believed in my body’s ability to do this very thing.

I informed my midwife of my intentions to "breathe my baby down" at one of our clinical visits. Her response to this was generally supportive but also informative. She encouraged me not to get too hung up on a specific birth plan in case things didn't go as planned. It's important to be realistic and remain flexible. I assured her that I had already accepted the fact that birth isn't a one size fits all scenario.

These were my goals, and I was fully prepared to calmly embrace whichever turn my birthing would take.

Please Dear God, make this baby come out!

41 weeks. Never thought I'd still be pregnant at 41 weeks, but here I was. The weeks leading up this point Willa had dropped very low into my pelvis and I was experiencing contractions on and off on a regular basis.

I had attempted every natural induction method with ZERO signs of labor starting. I finally spoke to my midwife about using castor oil and agreed to take small doses every four hours in hopes it would get things going. After my 3rd dose and completely evacuating my bowls, contractions started and were coming consistently every 5 minutes and were intense. I labored in the bath tub at home for several hours until it was late and I decided to get into bed and try closing my eyes for some rest. I ended up falling asleep and woke 4 hours later and contractions had completely ceased. I was so disappointed and discouraged that it hadn’t "worked".

The next day I noticed contractions would come on and off again, but still nothing consistent or promising.

I had dilated to 3 cm and was now 50% effaced. Progress was made but I still wasn’t in active labor, which is what I so desperately wanted!

I decided to give up trying to induce something my baby and body clearly weren't ready for and pull away from people and social media to focus on staying in a healthy place mentally and emotionally.

For 4 more days I endured what’s called “prodromal labor.” It’s essentially the feeling of being in labor with regular contractions but no dilation or progress. They would come every 5 minutes to every 10-15 minutes for FOUR STRAIGHT DAYS. -Waddling around partially dilated, with a baby’s head sitting VERY low in your pelvis, and regular contractions makes for a miserable existence.

I saw my midwife at 41 weeks and 5 days and asked her to do a stretch and sweep, hoping and praying it would finally get things going. I left that appointment and shortly there after noticed the intensity of my contractions had increased.

I drove home and tried to ignore each wave. I made it inside with my groceries, set them down near the fridge and walked over to the couch for a rest. That’s when I felt it; the sensation of my cervix dilating while my uterus contracted. I had felt that before. It was the same pain I felt as I miscarried and passed my baby at home a year prior. It was then I knew, this was the real deal. I called my husband and told him to come home from work because it was go time.

Active Labor

"If you don't get up and out of this tub right now, you are going to have a baby right here. You need to get up."

I labored while leaning over my birth ball, then moved into the shower. My husband decided it was a good time to call in our doula, Clare. Once she had arrived, I felt this immense wave of peace wash over me. Just having her there while I labored in the shower, taking over the timing my contractions made such a big difference for me and my peace of mind. A short while later, Clare urged me to consider heading into the birth center since my contractions were now coming every 2-3 minutes.

Upon arrival at the the birth center we found out that I hadn’t progressed much since my appointment earlier that day which was disappointing.

We walked the halls, did lunges up the stairs and worked hard to get things moving along. Finally my midwife suggested I head back home, try get some sleep, and come back when things pick up.

I was so discouraged and didn’t want to get back into the car but was also wanting sleep. She gave me a mild sedative to help me rest and we left for home. I crawled into bed and fell asleep. I woke every 5 minutes to breathe and moan through each contraction and then would fall back into a deep sleep.

Around 9 AM I was fully awake, exhausted, but still braving regular contractions. I got into the shower, then filled the tub and laid down. I did notice that I was getting louder as time went on and started to feel pressure in my bottom. I then heard this clear voice in my head that said, "If you don't get up and out of this tub right now, you are going to have a baby right here. You need to get up." -to this day I am convinced that was holy spirit speaking wisdom.

Standing up and getting out of the tub seemed to intensify the surges and I was really having a hard time staying calm. I just needed to moan and get loud to really work through them.

I called Clare. I was crying and moaning as I told her to meet us at the birth center. I expressed to her my frustration with how long I had been laboring. I was feeling like I couldn't do this any longer. I made her aware that if we got to the birth center and things had not progressed, and if I hadn't dilated much further I was tapping out and going to the hospital and getting the epidural. Clare was so sweet and supportive and assured me that I was so close, but she would support whatever decision I made. Somehow, I managed to eat half a bowl of oatmeal and magically put clothes on so we could get into the car. -Now that last car ride was by far the worst. My poor husband's ears!

Working through a contraction on our way up to the birth center.

When we arrived at the birth center I couldn't wait to get into that room. I immediately made my way into the bathroom and sat on the toilet to pee and when another contraction came. I was having a hard time breathing through it. Clare sat in front of me, held my hand and helped me find my breath. I began to breakdown and cry when my midwife came into the restroom and she very calmly pressed her cool hands onto my forehead and around my face. -I will never forget this moment. This right here is why I chose midwifery care. The patience, compassion, and nurturing care provided by these amazing women is the exact kind of support I needed in that moment. They did another cervical check and told me I was at a 7.

The tub was ready, and I was eager to get into it.

The water was such a relief, but those surges were at their peak of intensity. The midwife encouraged me to get into a different position every 3-4 contractions to keep things moving. I just went into THE ZONE. “Labor lala land” as it’s called. I focused on my breathing and squeezed Ben's hand with every surge. I was determined to let my body do it's job. When I got into the cross legged "campfire style" of sitting in the tub I could feel her head move past my cervix and begin the journey down the birth path. I wasn't aware at the time, but Ben and Clare could see my waters bulging. They finally burst with the next surge (Which I did not feel) and Clare got up to let the midwife know that they had broken and there was a bit of meconium in the fluid.

I started to notice my surges had spaced out and gave me time in between, but when they did come, I could feel my body "pushing" her downward. With that fetal ejection reflex I had to focus on my breathing and not forcing anything. My breath started to sound grunty and pushy without even trying.

I let my birth team know at this point that she was close. I could feel her inching downward with each contraction and then sliding back up a bit. This feeling didn't worry me, because I knew it meant progress and I wanted things to go slow so my body would have time to stretch. Clare encouraged me to move into yet another position so I positioned myself onto my knees, faced Ben and held onto the outside of the birth tub.

I started to feel that pressure and burning sensation as my skin stretched. I spoke to my body in that moment and commanded it to go "nice and slow." With the very next surge, I let out a great roar, and my body moved her head out, I felt her rotate, then her shoulders and the rest of her body quickly following in the same push. My midwife caught her from behind and slid her between my legs. She said, "Reach down and get your baby." When I opened my eyes and looked down I saw this little baby staring up at me in the water. I picked her up and turned onto my butt and held her closely. She hardly cried and was suckling her little fist. She was finally here and she was so healthy & strong!!!

Willa had spent so long sitting so low in my pelvis that her ears were bent for a number of hours after birth.

We delayed cord clamping until it stopped pulsating. Ben cut the cord and I started to feel contractions kick in as my placenta was ready to come out. Delivering the placenta was smooth and easy. I remember feeling so relieved that it was all over and I wasn't pregnant anymore.

I got out of the tub, with a giant diaper pad between my legs and a soft plush robe to wrap my tired body in. I got into the cozy bed the staff had prepared for me and snuggled with Willa. Ben heated up some soup for me to eat. -All of the amazing things you get to experience at a birth center. Just so wonderful!

After being examined I was delighted to hear that I did not tear and would not be receiving any stitches! Not only did I get to have the gentle water birth of my dreams, but I actually got to breathe my baby down. I was so proud and in awe of the raw power and beauty of my body. I felt so incredibly safe and surrounded. I had complete trust that I was in excellent hands with my Midwife, doula, and husband, and it made a world of difference in the outcome.

We got to go home 5 more hours after giving birth with our perfect little Rainbow baby, Willa Joy. She weighed 7 lb. 13 oz. and was 18.5 inches long.

Ben picked up a pizza and some beer to celebrate the birth of our daughter and becoming a family of three!

I'll never forget it.

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1 Comment

Rachelle Cameron
Rachelle Cameron
Jun 15, 2021

I love this!! Thankyou so much for sharing your birth story. You are real and honest and raw and that is what I love about this. I have three kids; but want to have one more and I would love to learn how to breathe my baby out like you did. The way God made our bodies is so amazing!

I am a Certified Birth Doula and am eager to learn all the things so thankyou once again for sharing your story :)

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