This belongs to a series of 5 articles dealing with child birth and the medical system in Sweden – from both a man’s perspective but also from a woman’s perspective, thanks to direct input from my wife. The reasons for writing the series are presented on the start/summary page^ where all 5 articles are linked.
It was a sunny Saturday morning, just like the Saturday when we found out that we’re withbaby. We started our day just like we did every other day but, of course, it wasn’t going to be just like every other day.
In the previous part^ I mentioned that, according to new discoveries, the signal that triggers the birth is coming from the baby. However, I believe that the communication is bidirectional and that a sort of negotiation takes place. Mother and child communicate through a language that we cannot even guess at. And, using this language, Crina, who knew that there will be less traffic on the motorways on Saturday, had agreed with WinterKid that they will meet this day. I’m only half-joking.
So yes, on this Saturday morning, Crina’s body started to help WinterKid towards his meeting with us. We later realized that her body had been doing preparations for a few days already. That’s probably why things moved quite fast during the morning.
Crina’s water broke without much pain, but then she started to have powerful contractions, which in hypnobirthing are referred to as waves or surges. I like that term, because it’s both an accurate and a creative description of how the body pushes the baby forward in a natural but relentless way. “Contractions” is, again, a rather cold medical term that sacrifices emotion for precision. And birth, as I found, is very much about emotion.
Important: a woman’s mood during her birthing time is very fragile. One wrong word or look can easily interrupt her focus. It is therefore imperative that the partner and staff show love, understanding and patience. Nothing short will suffice. I think this was one of the very few times in my life when I completely forgot about my ego.
I have to confess that WinterKid’s decision to come out and meet us caught me by surprise. The baby was a week early and, statistically speaking, first-borns choose to get out slightly after the average due date. But also as I said in the previous part, WinterKid seemed like an enthusiastic little fellow (“little” because Crina’s belly was considered below average given the baby’s age).
Thanks to my wife’s always “well-researched and well-prepared” style, we had a lot of stuff ready for immediate take-off towards the hospital. We called BB Stockholm to tell them that Crina’s and WinterKid’s work had started. They asked us to time the contractions and call back in about an hour. I spent that hour being close to Crina and supporting her when the waves were getting intense, helping her with the count and running around the house grabbing stuff almost at random and shoving them in bags.
Crina was walking around the house with slow steps, supporting herself against some wall when it was becoming too intense. She was moaning, under the pressure of her own muscles. I tried to assist with some hypnobirthing methods but her state of mind wasn’t exactly ready for that. Even so, I felt confident. I believed that she was doing what she had been preparing to do, and doing it very well.
I couldn’t help thinking of cultural references regarding childbirth (insert images with women in agony here). Compared to those, while not exactly having the time of her life, she was definitely “in control”. Of course, I suspected that the hard part is yet to come, but I harbored hope that the teachings we had from hypnobirthing would help us.
Important: a tip for a birthing woman’s partner: it’s ok to be surprised or even shocked, as long as you know what you have to do. Make sure you do your homework several weeks before the birthing time. Maybe you won’t have all your bags ready for departure, but a list of items and things to do will do miracles.
After one hour we called the hospital. They confirmed that it’s time for us to go there. It appeared like there was room for us at our favorite place, BB Stockholm. I went for the car (they don’t normally send an ambulance in Sweden; you either drive of they pay for the taxi).
I had time for one phone call as I was walk-running towards the parking lot, situated about 5 minutes away from our apartment building. I needed to beam out some of the strong emotions that were gripping me, so I called our friends with whom we had been at the African restaurant the previous evening.
When I came back, Crina was rather… spaced-out. I attribute this to the skyrocketing natural production of endorphins^ in her body. Body chemistry during childbirth is amazing^. Throughout a natural, healthy birthing process, the body is able to partially anesthetize itself. It is such knowledge which lies at the foundation of hypnobirthing. The assumption is that the more the brain is aware and connected to the present moment, the more it can work with the body to facilitate birth.
Important: the birthing process depends on a staggering number of variables. Psychological factors can ensure the production of more endorphins, but the woman’s pelvis might not have softened enough to facilitate an easy passage through the birth canal (practice daily perineal massage!^). The baby might be in the wrong position, but an experienced midwife can massage it back into place. Relax, nothing is under control.
I carried our stuff to the car, then helped her to the elevator and onto the passenger’s seat. We then set out for a calm, beautiful sunny Saturday morning ride. Her waves had taken a break, just like we were told they would. The body can (and will) temporarily pause the birthing process when surroundings change. This is one of the strongest arguments for homebirth: the environment doesn’t change and the birth is even more natural. But Sweden isn’t in the top 5 countries when it comes to birth safety for no reason. The system only supports home birth starting with the second child.
We arrived at the hospital quickly, thanks to the low weekend traffic. We were taken to our room without delay. I wasn’t sure if we were going to be allowed to stay. According to Swedish regulations, they accept a woman for birthing when her cervix is open at least 4 centimeters. When the cervix is open 10 centimeters, then the actual birth can begin. But the road to those 10 centimeters, we had learned, is long.
As a midwife was checking Crina, I was keeping my fingers crossed that her cervix is at least 3 centimeters open. Then, we could perhaps stay in the maternity ward as opposed to being forced to wait outside or, worse, be sent back home. It’s been known to happen.
So, knowing all this, imagine our faces when the midwife, rather surprised herself, said: “your cervix is 8 centimeters wide now. You’ve done terrific work all by yourself.” I could feel the admiration in her voice. My jaw dropped. Crina was too into it to take in that amount of surprise, but I compensated for the both of us. I kissed her, encouraged and congratulated her for the amazing work she has done with her body.
I am still not sure to what circumstance we should attribute this excellent start: hypnobirthing? The fact that she’s a strong, ambitious woman? The fact that her body is well-suited for giving birth? Luck? A bit of everything? It didn’t really matter. What mattered (at least to me) was that it seemed like this was going to be an easy birth. We were so close to meeting our baby. I could hardly believe she was that far into the birthing process.
Important: expectations are a two-edged sword.
We remained in the same room. This made me very happy because it was beautiful. In (most) other countries, you could easily have 4 births going on in the same space. Other than the sensor equipment and some extra piping on the walls, there was almost nothing else that indicated this is a hospital. There was a large couch in one corner, generous windows, chairs, a coffee table, a couple of closets and a bathroom. A bit later I noticed that there was a bit more to the room that met the (untrained) eye: a gym ball, a small chair and a walking frame – various tools (both ancient and modern) to accommodate a woman’s birthing needs.
The midwife, called Lysa, hooked Crina to a couple of sensors. It didn’t look exactly necessary to me, nor comfortable, but she was only taking measurements from time to time. It didn’t seem like she was distracting my wife too much either.
The first couple of hours went really fast. Lysa helped Crina to change positions a couple of times. She seemed to take a liking to the walking frame, which had supports for the elbows and had wheels so that she could walk around the room slightly bent over it. From time to time, when the surges were getting very intense, she would stop and get support from both the frame and the ones around her. Occasionally, Lysa would have to get Crina back to bed so that she could take measurements.
Then, all of a sudden, roughly two hours into our stay there, Lysa declared that Crina’s cervix was now fully open: 10 centimeters. Now it was time to start pushing so that WinterKid can start moving down the birth canal. I was overjoyed because I wanted Crina to have an easy birth.
She was having very powerful surges, but the baby wasn’t progressing too much. A second midwife joined us sometime during this period. Her name was Kiki and she sure knew how to make an awesome smoothie. She brought two such drinks, one for Crina and one for me. I just tasted mine, then gradually served both drinks to my wife, as I figured she needs the nutrition more than I do. I drank water when I was remembering to, which was not often.
The following two hours Crina continued to try and help WinterKid get out, but to no avail. Kiki massaged her while Lysa did some awesome acupuncture: it really helped Crina to go through the next series of surges. Sometimes the surges would calm down slightly. At these times, we thought the body is getting ready for the final push, as we had learned it does.
Important: a clock may show time as flowing with a constant speed, but we all know that a human’s perception of time can be quite relative. During this day, I found time to be very relative. For the most part, time flew with dizzying speed. Sunset came around 16:00. I could barely believe it when the golden light of the departing sun spilled into our room. Yet, there were moments that took an eternity and it felt like we had gone through weeks of work.
I supported Crina the best I could, following the tips I had learned during our hypnobirthing preparation. Unfortunately, it didn’t seem like she enjoyed my style of support, or my talking, so then I reverted to just being there, giving her water, holding her hands or massaging her. I think my lack of training is partially to blame. I couldn’t help feeling a bit guilty over this: could I have prepared better? For sure! But what good is blame at times like this? Love, focus, do what you can!
Luckily, Lysa turned out to be an amazing midwife, who I believe had at least heard of hypnobirthing, because she was helping Crina relax using almost identical exercises to those that we had practiced at home. Between surges, Lysa was asking Crina to go to the special place of peace and beauty where she always imagined herself during her hypnobirthing preparations. She was also repeatedly encouraging her with a phrase that is now history in our relationship and that I sometimes use for my wife: “super-strong you!”
Five hours in, we were still there. Lysa discovered that a certain area of the birth canal wasn’t allowing WinterKid to progress. She tried to help by pushing upwards with her fingers during a surge, but it didn’t work. Kiki, who had assisted us for hours now, gave Crina some massage that she seemed to appreciate a great deal. Then, she received sterilized water injections in her back, another natural pain remedy.
At one point, she started to become a bit afraid that she’s disappointing me with her “hypnobirthing performance”. I was mind-blown by such an outrageous statement, but instead offered her all the encouragement I could muster. And on the birth went…
Important: the chemistry between mother and midwife (or doctor) is extremely important. As I said earlier, the birthing process summons some very powerful emotions. Experienced staff know how to anchor these emotions and how to reflect positive energy back towards the mother. If the mother or partner feel that the collaboration isn’t working the way it should, immediately request for a change of staff, if such a thing is even possible. In Sweden, it is. Don’t wait until the end of the shift! I can’t stress enough how important it is for the mother to have experienced, positive, connected people around her during her birthing time.
They asked Crina if she wants any sort of anesthetic. It wasn’t going to be of much use now anyway, since the cervix was fully open, so she decided that she will continue the journey using only natural remedies. I am happy she was in the position to do so. Not all mothers get this chance and neither should they necessarily yearn for this.
Important: The mother knows best what she needs during her birthing time. The more the mother is in tune with her ancestral, instinctual knowledge, the better choices she can make. This is why deprogramming and getting away from cultural trends is vital well before even becoming withbaby. Hypnobirthing (which consists of several different practice areas) is quite good at dealing with softening and even erasing social norms and pressures that would otherwise become a burden for the mother’s psyche during these critical moments.
Around 18:00, they proposed that Crina goes for a dip in the vertical bathtub that they had in another room. Kiki went and prepared it. Soon, we were in a dark room, lit only by a bunch of electrical candles. In the middle was the vertical bathtub, where Crina got in with our help. She could stand or sit; the water was high enough to cover her breasts. I brought our portable speaker and played some of Crina’s chosen music. Kiki brought us two glasses of very sweet lemonade. I gave it all to Crina again, since the sugar would provide quick fuel for her to burn.
She then tried some nitrous oxide, but didn’t consider it too helpful. After about 20 minutes, Lysa gave us good news: it seemed like the baby had cleared the difficult area and could now proceed onwards through the birth canal. Crina wanted to get out, so we went back to the room. All this took about an hour, as we paused anything we were doing to support her when the waves would come.
Important: a change of scenery is always worth considering. So is switching positions often. This facilitates the baby’s journey through the birth canal. Crina seemed to be in tune with her mother instincts regarding this, because she was very keen on changing positions often. She also loved walking around with her elbows propped on the metal frame, which we dubbed her “little car”.
Back in our room, Crina received another session of acupuncture. She was getting very warm, so I started applying cold, wet compresses on her forehead and neck, which she loved. I also joined Kiki in massaging her feet. I wished there could have been two of me in that room, so I could do more things. Crina really loved Kiki’s massage, who told us it’s a skill she learned from her husband.
I was and will always be amazed with the skill and dedication of our midwives at BB Stockholm. They went way beyond what was required of them, including staying with us even though their shift was over. They were both highly experienced, judging by the multitude of different ways they helped Crina.
One thing that I’ll never forget is how Kiki taught my wife about the primal scream. She said that when the surges are getting too intense, she should scream from the lower part of her chest. This, apparently, helps with pushing the baby. I also believe that it triggers other functions of the organism, such as generation of various hormones and neurotransmitters that help during critical situations when the body needs to give it its all.
Not only that, but the baby hears the scream and, thanks to the birth instincts that are at play, is possibly cued into action. After all, the baby wants to get out too. As an interesting parenthesis: battle cries^ have long been said to exist for the purpose of instilling fear in the enemy, but perhaps these powerful vocal manifestations are also generating hormones that help warriors in battle.
Important: a friend who is about to give birth soon, shared with me something her midwife told her. As a mother giving birth, you have a “birth card” that you can use to do whatever you want. Perhaps this goes without saying, but sometimes it doesn’t. The sooner the mother listens to her instincts and does whatever the body wants to do (scream, dance, box, jump around), the better.
Crina made constant progress after the journey to the vertical bathtub. Soon, WinterKid’s head started to show. The midwives invited me to touch it. The baby had quite a bit of dark hair. I touched it very lightly and respectfully. Somehow it just didn’t seem to me like a man’s hand belongs in this process.
And then we came to the climax. Crina preferred to be standing for the last portion of WinterKid’s birth, supporting herself against the walking frame. Lysa and Kiki positioned themselves on the floor to assist her. This moment is too powerful to describe in words. It has what I call a “singularity quality”, which is a scientific expression for the divine. The sheer intensity of what she was going through was blinding.
At long last, an expression of pure relief came over Crina’s face and then WinterKid was out. She cried with tears of joy. What I saw, heard or felt is irrelevant, and so is what others saw, heard or felt. What matters is what she felt.
What Crina says about her birthing time is that it was, quite simply, AMAZING. She told me later that evening that she would greatly enjoy going through this again. And that’s all that matters. That’s what I call a great birthing experience. Perhaps it wasn’t the easy birth I had wished for her, but it was all as it should have been.
Seeing her go through this ritual has increased my already-high respect for women. She was braver than I’ve ever been, and brought forward more determination than I’ll ever have. Women are heroes. I honestly wish more men worldwide to witness such moments.
She got back into the bed, with WinterKid screaming at her breast. I was so into it that I didn’t even consider looking if it’s a boy or girl. I was just stuck there, taking in the image of her and our baby. Only when she asked me did I look and told her we have a baby boy.
Lysa and Kiki were there, celebrating with us, a bit after 21:00, long after their shift had ended. Only now did I allow myself to take a couple of pictures. The second shift of midwives arrived and, after consulting with her, administered Crina a shot of oxytocin, to help with expelling the rest of the placenta faster.
They also asked us if we want to administer our boy a vitamin K shot^. I would have opted for an oral means of administration, but Crina decided, on the spot, that she wants him to have the injection (which is more effective). He was screaming without interruption so this was as good a time as any.
After some time had passed, they offered me the opportunity to cut the umbilical cord, which I humbly declined. Again, I didn’t feel like it was my role to interfere much. I felt like I should be a quiet (but present) supporter and stand aside, in awe and respect towards the ancient tribe of women, carrying our species forward.
Important: in Sweden, they perform delayed umbilical cord cutting^. This is in line with recommendations from the World Health Organization^. If this is not done in your country, then it is simply a matter of you instructing your staff what to do. And make no mistake here: YOU are the master of how your offspring should be greeted upon birth. Inform yourself and make the decisions you feel are right. Especially if you live in a democratic country, they cannot interfere in the birthing process more than you allow them to. And this applies to any and all decisions during the birthing time. By all means, take professional advice, but also be informed and listen to your instinct.
After they cut the umbilical cord, I got to hold our baby boy at my breast. Like many other moments during this day, it was one to never forget. I just lay on the couch and let him scream it out while I felt his skin upon mine. In Sweden, they emphasize the importance of the baby having as much skin-to-skin as possible with the parents during the first days of life.
I will forever be thankful to Sweden because it allowed us to experience such a birth. Not only did society here help us understand the importance of natural birth, but the maternity wards in this country are simply luxurious. Sure, it’s too bad they don’t allow water birthing anymore and I’m convinced there can be even better birthing conditions, but for us, this was way, way beyond what we would have dreamt of.
I still have no idea how come we were lucky enough to have two midwives taking care of us for almost 8 hours. And what midwives! Experienced, warm, professional and completely devoted. I cannot imagine a better team for Crina’s birthing time than the team she was gifted from BB Stockholm.
And so, Rune was born.