Brandy’s third birth: Painless Curtis Method Hypnobirth, baby born “en caul”

December 8, 2014

Curtis Method mama Brandy’s baby was born inside his amniotic sac, or “en caul”, an unusual birth circumstance which is considered “lucky” in many cultures. Her birth was so gentle that the amniotic membranes remained intact as baby slowly slid out into the world. Brandy experienced a painless birth. Her description of the sensations she felt while birthing her baby in the sac are just wonderful to read! Although this little “caulbearer” needed some help breathing at first, Brandy’s skilled midwives called upon their training to make sure baby and mama were healthy and well. 

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Our Little Caulbearer:

When we were heading down to spend a few days at my sister’s and brother-in-law’s house in Nephi for Thanksgiving, we had no idea the condition we were going to leave it in. I was over 41 weeks pregnant, but even though our oldest boy was a week overdue, his little brother had been almost three weeks over. So I assumed their new baby brother was going to wait at least two more weeks as well.

Well, Thanksgiving went off without a hitch. Even though our original plan was to leave Friday night, we decided to stay one more night and leave for our prenatal appointment on Saturday morning. Little did I know that Christopher, aged three, was going to come shake me awake at 6:30 on Saturday morning, depriving me of any chance of sleeping in. So after I helped him unzip his pajamas so he could go to the bathroom, and after he got tucked into his bed again, my very pregnant self was too awake to go back to sleep. I laid in bed and kept thinking about birth and said a little prayer to my unborn son, asking him when he wanted his birthday to be, what he wanted his name to be, what other things I could be doing to help his body grow more, etc. Of course, by this time I really did want to go back to sleep, so I turned on our Hypnobirthing tracks and envisioned my ideal birth, which always took place in our jetted bathtub at home.

It wasn’t until an hour later that I realized the practice surges I had been having were actually the cause of my inability to sleep. I’d been having Braxton-Hicks contractions for months now, and the last week they had been happening more frequently. I actually loved experiencing them because they really felt like my body was getting ready for labor, and I felt such a sweet familiarity with them. Since we took the Hypnobirthing classes in October, I felt even more kinship with them since I knew now what exactly they were doing and why they were there and how my body was trying to help me to have the best birth I could have.

But still. I wasn’t getting any sleep. So I took a shower. After that, there was quite the flurry on our part getting all of our stuff together, getting our two little boys dressed and ready to go, getting US dressed and ready to go, and packing up all the food we had brought for Thanksgiving. By this time, it was nearing 10am and I was so focused on getting us out the door that it wasn’t until John saw me breathing through two contractions within the space of five minutes that I realized my practice surges never had let up like they usually do.

It got me hoping. Could I really be in labor? Either way, we had a very long car drive in front of us. But if I was, it wasn’t like I was going to give birth in the car. Both of my previous homebirths were around twelve hours from the onset of the very first contraction, and resulted in an hour-long pushing phase. I had plenty of time.

So we said our goodbyes, stopped by a drive-thru for breakfast, and headed back up to Salt Lake City. My darling husband turned on a Baby Einstein movie for the boys for the ride because the calming classical music was much more preferable for a woman in labor. With such a good spirit in the car, and knowing we were going to meet our baby soon, I got rather excited and chatty. By 11:30, however, as we neared Pleasant Grove my contractions ceased to become “just surges” and turned into the labor contractions I remembered. I closed my eyes during them and focused very intently on my birthing room. NOT having our baby in the car!

So we called our midwife and let her know that we’d be skipping the prenatal today and were going to have our baby instead! She said she would meet us at our house with some attendants and in the meanwhile asked us to time our contractions to see where we were at. Of course, this task could have been made easier if John hadn’t been driving, if I wasn’t having them every two minutes from start to start, (and lasting for two minutes), and if our sons weren’t singing and arguing lustily in the back (the calming classical movie was long over). To drown them out, I turned on the Hypnobirthing tracks on our iPad and tried to concentrate on breathing.

Now, believe me, you haven’t DONE Hypnobirthing until you have concentrated in a moving car, with two loud, over-tired toddlers and their movie, feeling baby’s head start making its way down, and knowing full well you are nowhere near home. I thought I would be using Hypnobirthing to make baby come out…not to keep him in!

We knew we didn’t have much time left. We called and texted everyone that we wanted at the birth, asking them to come to our house, and stopped by John’s parents’ house to drop off the boys. By this time, we were only ten minutes away from our house, but it felt like a lifetime. My friend Vickie met us at our house and helped us take the laboring essentials inside. Once I was back in our own room with all of my birthing affirmations and candles and beautifully-made bed and perfectly jetted tub…I was able to relax.

I was in my element.

The contractions were still coming…but they weren’t the flurry of baby-please-don’t-make-me-give-birth-in-the-car that they were before. I sat on my birthing ball for a bit, leaned against the counter in our room while John applied acupressure, and even (oddly enough) laid on the floor. At some point, I moved to the bed; and while I had my eyes closed, meditating and listening to the Hypno tracks, things were going on.

My midwife, Nikkii, arrived with the midwife who trained her, Dianne, and Dianne’s daughter Raili was there as well. They spoke in whispers and started setting up and it took me a while to even know they were there at all. My mother-in-law, Linda, arrived but I was concentrating so much that I didn’t even realize that some of the acupressure on my lower back during contractions was from her and Vickie as well as John. And during it all, I kept smelling heaven from the Citrus Bliss they put on their hands and waved in front of my face.

The atmosphere in the room was peaceful, relaxing, and serene, and even though we had five other people floating in and out of the room (two of whom I had never met), everyone was so respectful and helpful, I was so grateful they were each there. Looking back on it now especially, I am so incredibly grateful for all the help I am given during all my births! I have loved every one of my birthing teams and the experiences we had during my births. And something that made me feel totally blessed was seeing my husband wearing a white church shirt.

The thing about his shirt is that white is my birthing color – always has been, even before I knew there were such things as birthing colors. When picking out my laboring wardrobe, I picked out several white shirts, tank tops, birthing gowns and towels because it was important to me that whatever I had on at the time be white (even if we had to throw it away afterwards). I mentioned this in passing to my husband and felt very blessed to see him not just honoring my request, but wearing his own church clothes. Because that is what birth is to me: a sacred, spiritual ordinance of sorts as another spirit comes into this world…and our family. And in our own special way, we were honoring that.

While I was on the bed, I asked if someone could make me an electrolyte labor drink that I had found online. I also had a few almonds to eat and a bite of a granola bar (it turns out that organic health-store granola bars, while healthy, are too hard for laboring woman to eat). With occasional sips from a chlorophyll-laced juice and a green smoothie, I was all set!

So I was laboring on our bed for about an hour with the acupressure on my lower back helping me the most during surges, when I suddenly stopped wanting to breathe during them and started moving my body instead. Perhaps it was the throwing up that did it (in my other two vaginal births, I always threw up when I was dilated), or maybe it was just knowing I needed to be vertical to get baby down, but I said “I think I need to get into the bath now”, and got up. They had gotten bath water started for me, but whether the tub was filled up enough or not, I had to be in it.

A few more surges hit, and I used my husband to help me “slow dance” them through. He was repeating my birthing affirmations and was such a rock as I hugged him. I didn’t know whether it felt better to hold on to him during it, or to push on him for the counter pressure. I changed into a white tank top that was more fitting for the tub, had another surge that made me want to push something awful, and made my way over to the bathroom. By then, I guess everyone else knew something was up, because they all gravitated towards our bedroom again as I made my way into the bathroom in our master suite. Another surge came before I could get in, however, and I got down on all fours.

Someone said my water broke then, all over our new, memory foam bath mat, but I wasn’t sure that’s what it was. Then I got into the tub and was on all fours again. I had another surge and discovered that I had found my voice in these last few contractions. I was a majestic tiger who’d earned her roar!

And that’s when his head descended down the birth path.

I didn’t feel any pain. I would hardly even call it pressure, because my muscles didn’t feel “pressed”. It was simply his head coming down, and it felt…beautiful. Peaceful. My body opened up in a way it never had before. It felt quite like I had simply swallowed a big bite of food and could feel it going down my esophagus – no pain, no stretching, no pressure…just simply an object going down to a place it was meant to go. I braced myself for the dreaded “ring of fire” that is the head tearing into the perineum. It never came. Just a small “plop” feeling. His head came out.

I was in awe. Did I just experience transition, crowning, AND delivery without pain? Was I even allowed to do that? Wasn’t that… I don’t know…cheating birth?

Immediately, I reached down and held his head – just cradled it in my hand – and was taken aback. It totally did not feel like a head. It was very round and very squishy. I’ve given birth to human heads before, and they feel hard. Like…you know…a tennis ball. A fragile, hairy, slimy tennis ball of a head. But this…was not a head.

I had just given birth to a jellyfish.

Of course, I make light of it now. But at the time, I was so caught up in the awe-inspiring miracle that is a pain-free birth that I quickly filed away the squishy head and realized from the shout my husband made that nobody else had realized I had just birthed our baby’s head. For those precious seconds, in that small room full of women, it was just me and our baby.

When John first saw our son, he was amazed at the caul surrounding him. It was black, green, and purple and, in his words, “slimy”. He remembers after the head came out that he couldn’t see any facial features because of the sac, but he did see four little white lines come out of the vaginal opening and creep up the side of baby’s head. It took John a second to realize those were our baby’s fingers sliding up his little cheeks inside of the sac. He saw the baby had his little arm up inside the sac and pressed right next to his little face – our baby came out with it there the entire time, but since he was born in the caul, the arm didn’t tear me or hurt at all as it would have done in a normal birth.

I was also so caught up in my baby that I didn’t even hear the flurry of activity that started to happen. Nobody thought that I would be giving birth the moment I stepped into the tub. John thought we still had a few more hours. But our baby’s head was already out and he was still in the water. I was in such a hypnotic state that I didn’t hear anything happening. Not even the midwives and John telling me that I needed to push the rest of his body out. It wasn’t until Nikkii grabbed my face and used touch to snap me out of hypnosis that I heard anything at all. So, with John hold our child’s head, left shoulder and arm, I began to bear down, bracing myself and roaring as I did so. But something occurred to me, and I suddenly stopped.

This didn’t have to hurt. In fact, I really didn’t need to push at all. His body was coming down already, without my help.

I released my muscles and felt immediate relaxation as my body told his that he had my permission to enter into this world on his own. My body didn’t help or hinder him at all. I simply opened mine, and his body slowly slid out of me.

My husband reached his arms out and held our baby. I couldn’t see anything, but could at least hear now what was happening. I was told later that our child had been born in the caul. His amniotic sac had been covering his head and torso as he came out, and that’s why my water never really broke, why his head felt odd when I reached down to touch him (no giving birth to jellyfish that day) and probably why I didn’t feel any pain as he descended – the sac acted as extra lubricant, making his birth happen as smoothly and easily as possible.

John said that the sac had already started tearing off our child’s head and torso, so he and Nikkii helped it along by rubbing at the back of baby’s head and getting it off his face. I sat down in the tub, exhausted, but not as much as I thought I would be. John handed me our son, now wrapped in a towel, and I held the darling thing we made.

The midwives at once were concerned about our baby’s lack of oxygen. He was purple and gray and still hadn’t made a sound. Because he had been born in the sac, he had gotten a lot of fluid and meconium in his lungs. They needed me out of the tub, but I knew that wasn’t gonna happen just yet. Then I felt a splash behind me and saw that it was John jumping into the tub, fully dressed and all, to help me and baby out of the tub. They sat me on the birthing stool and had me hold our baby while they gave him oxygen and tried to help him breathe. He would take a few breaths but wasn’t keeping it up on his own. He needed help.

For about ten minutes, they worked on our baby as I held him, repeating the same stuff. Everyone in the room was worried about him, but I wasn’t. I was filled with a spiritual peace, and I knew he was going to be all right. I already had a baby die on me – our first pregnancy resulted in toxemia, pre-eclampsia, placental abruption, an emergency c-section, and a stillborn. And I simply knew that this time everything was going to be all right. This child of mine was going to be fine.

At long last, he was breathing regularly on his own. I was asked if I was ready to push the placenta out, and I said no. I was feeling that now-familiar sensation of things in my body coming out in their own due time without any help from me. Less than a minute later, the placenta fell out – no pushing or straining from me, just controlled breathing and releasing it from my body. The cord had no more oxygen pulsing through and was cut and clamped.

When I was ready to, I was moved to the bed and John took off his shirt to give our son some much-needed skin-to-skin. I had no tearing from the birth, and I didn’t even hurt that much down there, like I had with my other births, so the recovery time was a lot easier. We just sat on the bed together and marveled at what we had made.

I later did some research on caul births. For over a thousand years, cultures around the world have had their own myths surrounding children and the caul they are born in. Today, apparently only about 1 in 80,000 births are babies born “in the caul” or “en caul”. Out of those rare births, the most common are “en caul”, meaning the baby is born inside of the whole amniotic sac. They are the most common because of doctors delivering c-sections and lifting the baby, sac and all, right out. The most common “in the caul” births are when the sac is covering just the baby’s face and looping behind the baby’s ears. And the rarest caul births are when the sac covers just the baby’s head and torso, which is what happened to our son.

Our little Arthur Thomas was born at 2:10 PM on Saturday, the 29th of November, a week and a half past his “estimated due date”. I delivered him after seven total hours of labor: four hours of early labor, three hours of active labor, and only about five minutes of “pushing”. He weighed seven pounds even and was twenty inches long.

Of course, none of that portrays how much of a miracle he is.

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