Birth story: Voice lessons as labor aid

Birth story: Voice lessons as labor aid

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Sophia Christine Hudson
(A girl)
Born July 15, 2007, at 4:18 p.m.
8 pounds, 1 ounce and 20 1/2 inches
The proud parents: Brian and Bethany Hudson

Brian and I are young parents – we were both 23 when Sophia, our first child, was born. We married in December 2005 during our senior year of college. We knew from the start that we wanted children. Brian is a program manager for a major computer software corporation and I am an actress and also stay at home with our daughter. We are a Christian family, and we live in the Seattle area.

How it all began

Brian and I are both only children – not by our parents' choice. Since we had grown up with stories of how hard it was for our parents to conceive us, we decided not wait long because we knew we wanted children. We felt we had a good head start by getting married so young. We considered our relationship, our finances, etc., and decided in October 2006, 10 months after our wedding, that we were ready to have a baby. We got pregnant that first month, and we were so thrilled! It was such a blessing to find we had no trouble conceiving.

I found out I was pregnant just days before Brian's birthday. I'm no good at keeping big news to myself, so I suggested he open his presents early as we'd be out of town on his birthday. Along with his gifts, I gave him an extra box containing the positive pregnancy test and a note that said, "Happy Birthday, Daddy!" He was so thrilled. He said, "Really?" with this huge grin on his face, then grabbed me in his arms and kissed me.

My pregnancy went quite smoothly. I had only mild morning sickness, and I never got a single stretch mark. I didn't use any creams or anything. No one in my family has ever gotten stretch marks – it must be genetic.

We had a bit of a scare when my doctor said our baby was under the 10th percentile for growth. We proceeded to have a series of ultrasounds, typically every two weeks, and I was put on a high-protein diet. After a couple months of this, I had yet to hear an explanation of what might be wrong with my baby. I kept reminding the specialist that I'd been charting before getting pregnant, and I was fairly certain my due date was later than what I'd been told – couldn't that affect the readings? Eventually, when it seemed that our baby was healthy, we stopped having ultrasounds and switched to a midwife for my prenatal care. It was the best decision we made during the pregnancy!

Before getting pregnant, I always thought I'd want to be surprised by the baby's gender. But when it came down to it, I so dearly wanted to be able to call our child by his or her name. Before the 20-week ultrasound, Brian and I were sure it was going to be a boy. Everyone said I looked like I was having a boy: I had great skin, I carried front and high.

When the technician told us it was a girl, I was overjoyed! I had always wanted a daughter. I want a son, too, but at least now I've got my little girl. Brian told me later that for about a millisecond he was both stunned and a little disappointed, and then the next millisecond he thought, "Sweet, it's a girl! That's even better than a boy! ... Though I have no idea why."

I wanted a natural childbirth. I was worried about the side effects of an epidural. The idea of getting an IV almost makes me pass out, so I knew I wasn't going to want a needle and catheter anywhere near my spine! Besides, I found the idea of giving birth naturally to be so empowering and spiritual. I didn't want to miss out on this rare and beautiful opportunity just because of some pain.

The class at my hospital was no help as we prepared. Our hospital has a 90 percent epidural rate, and the classes largely cater to those who want some form of pain medication. But being an actress, I have had over a decade of voice lessons that teach how your voice, mind, and body are interconnected. When you can breathe and vocalize freely, efficiently, honestly, and openly, your mindset and body follow. It's a lot like yoga. I never took a Bradley class or the like, I just trusted years of Linklater voice lessons. They ended up serving me very well.

Although I wanted a natural birth, I was adamant that it be in a hospital. My mother labored naturally for over 24 hours with me, but in the end she needed an emergency c-section. I understood that sometimes medical intervention is necessary and I was open to that possibility.


I was just over 40 weeks when I suspected I was leaking amniotic fluid. I was positive for Group B strep, so we went to the hospital on July 14. I was so sure they'd tell me it wasn't amniotic fluid that I didn't bring anything with me – I didn't even eat dinner. Well, it was amniotic fluid. They started me on penicillin, then told me I could go home, pack, and come back later that night to be induced.

When the nurse inserted the IV for the penicillin, I freaked out! The nurse very pointedly asked me, "What exactly is your plan for coping?" I said, "Oh, I'm planning to go natural."

"Well," she told me, "just stay open to other options, okay?" I assured her that needles scared me very much but that I was ready to deal with the very different pain of childbirth. I'm fairly certain she didn't believe me, but she never said it. She was very kind.

We returned to the hospital around 11 p.m. I got in my gown, climbed in bed, and got another penicillin drip. They had to get me in active labor by noon on the 15th because of the fluid drip and the Group B strep, so at 3 a.m. they started me on a low dosage of Pitocin. An hour later, they upped the dose, and by 5 a.m. I was finally feeling some contractions.

I spent the morning hours calmly riding the wave of each contraction with my husband supporting me all the way. I walked around the halls because I knew I'd be spending a lot of time in the room later. This was awkward since I was hooked up to an IV and monitors, but we managed. When a contraction came on, I would put my arms around my husband's neck and relax forward completely on his chest, then I would make some simple vocalizations. Getting the impulse from what I was feeling in the contraction, I would breathe deep into my stomach and release hums or huhs. At one point, the nurses asked me what classes I had taken and said I should make a video. I laughed! At this point in labor, I still laughed easily.

As the contractions got stronger and I got tired of walking, we returned to the room. I decided to try a birthing ball and give my husband a break before active labor came on. I leaned over the ball and vocalized with my ear pressed to it. I found the vibrations and sound very comforting and relaxing.

Around 9 a.m., my midwife, Michelle, checked on me. I was disappointed to hear I was dilated only 3 centimeters – I had to be pretty far along by noon or I would need a cesarean. Michelle said she'd come back at 11, and we continued on as we'd been doing for a few more hours. Michelle saw to it that I could get some pudding since I hadn't eaten anything that morning. Boy, was that pudding good!

Michelle got held up with another delivery, so she came back closer to noon. I hadn't made any progress, so she decided to break my water. The idea of someone reaching what looks like a crochet hook inside of me was terrifying, but I held my husband's hand and it really didn't hurt. It felt like a Pap smear. What did hurt was my next contraction. Before my water broke, I was thinking, "You know, this labor thing isn't really so painful. I'd give it about a three on a scale of one to 10." After my water was broken, that pain scale jumped right up to a nine.

After getting over the shock of that first contraction – and mind you, I was on Pitocin, so my contractions had been two minutes apart since the beginning – I recovered my breathing rhythm, with help from my husband. My breathing got deeper and my vocalizing was longer and louder. I didn't know I had that much power in me or that my range could go that low! My voice teacher would have been so proud.

Before, the contractions had been like a wave of tension, like a weak charley horse in my abdomen. By 1 p.m., they were all consuming. I had trouble focusing. I remember at one point I was sitting on the toilet, having diarrhea, completely naked, and one of the nurses was rubbing my back through a contraction, and I couldn't have cared less! I'm normally a very modest person. I had requested that all staff in my room be women, and I think that helped me feel more comfortable.

By 2 p.m., the contractions were extremely powerful. I thought, "If this is what active labor is like, I don't know how I can survive transition." I told my husband I needed an epidural. He said we would talk to the midwife about it, and conferred with my mom. They knew how much I'd wanted a natural childbirth, but I was beginning to get scared. I was two hours beyond when I should have given birth, and I didn't see how I could survive something more painful than what I was feeling. I started to shake and feel cold. And then I threw up.

Michelle came in and checked me and told me what I had started to suspect myself: I was already in transition! I was at 7 centimeters. I felt completely renewed. I cried for joy on Brian's chest. I knew I could handle this now. I put everything I had into relaxing, vocalizing, and letting my body do the work of laboring this baby into the world.

At Michelle's suggestion, I spent some time in the Jacuzzi, but I got too hot and decided to go back to the bed. All I wanted to do was lie on my side and concentrate on taking the next breath. Around 3, I started have contractions that overlapped for five to 10 minutes, with about a 30-second rest before the cycle picked up again. Even though I was in a ton of pain, I felt so exhilarated! When else in your life do you get to feel something so intensely when you know that it's doing something good and not harming you? I was in awe of my body, in awe of God. I was joyful, even in the midst of the pain. Of course, from the outside, you'd never have known. I was either panting or making some sort of howl that sounded like a cross between a lion and a cow.

Just before 4, I suddenly felt this intense pressure, like my body was trying to vomit the baby out. That's really graphic, but that's how it felt. Michelle was getting everything set up for delivery. She had checked me about 20 minutes before, and told me to go with the feeling and push if I wanted to. I had never been told how to do this, but somehow I knew exactly what to do. I was still on my side – Michelle said I could stay in that position to deliver, which sounded great to me because I did not want to move. They lifted my leg in the air: Brian stood in front of me, holding my knee, and my mother stood behind me supporting my foot. It was such a blessing to have the two most important people in my life helping me to bring my daughter into the world.

I was stunned when, only 10 minutes later, Michelle said, "Wow! That's a lot of hair!" Five minutes later, the baby was crowning. I was surprised how much it burned and I started to scream -- the only time I actually screamed during all of labor and delivery. Michelle calmed me down, I started vocalizing in my lower register again, and I pushed – and out came my daughter's head! I put my hand down to touch her wet hair, and I started crying.

Then we ran into trouble. Her shoulders were stuck. After a couple contractions, Michelle told me, "Okay, Bethany, listen. We need to get the body out now. Don't worry about contractions, just push as hard as you possibly can." That was my first taste of how hard a mother can work for her child. Sophia was born and quickly placed with the nurses so they could get her breathing. Thirty seconds later, I heard the most beautiful sound I've ever heard: my daughter's first cry! I didn't even notice the pain anymore. All I remember is Brian putting his arms around me, tears in his eyes, saying, "I'm so proud of you."

Once Sophia was breathing, the nurse brought her to me and laid her on my chest. I was euphoric! I just stared at her, tears streaming down my cheeks, saying, "She's so beautiful!" I birthed the placenta and then I was able to nurse Sophia for the first time. She was calm and bright-eyed and latched on very easily. Once she'd eaten, the nurse gave her to my husband and they gave her her first bath together in the room while I got stitched up. I had third-degree tears and several smaller ones. It took a good half-hour before I was stitched up. That was uncomfortable, but I was on such a high I didn't care.

After delivery

I took pain medication for the cramping and the stitches the first day. By the time I went home the next afternoon, I was only taking a stool softener, which was necessary for the first week or so until the stitches dissolved since I tore nearly to my rectum – fortunately not all the way!

I was amazed by how quickly my body came back. I don't know if it was my age or genetics, but within three days I was done with maternity shirts, and in two weeks I was in my old jeans. I stayed active – we took Sophia with us to run errands from day one. It was really helpful to have my mother staying with us. Having an extra set of hands or someone to finish preparing dinner if Sophia needed to nurse in the middle of cooking was amazing. I'm not sure I would have bounced back as well without my mom. I recommend having a family member or good friend to stay with you at first or at least come over often. If you can't do that, definitely look into hiring a doula. The companionship, if nothing else, is invaluable. I also recommend getting out of the house and keeping up your routine as much as you're able. Obviously, if you're tired, get rest!

If I had to describe my first week with my daughter in five words, they would be: learning, caring, nursing, joy, and love. Overwhelming love.



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