The On-line Journal of Mary Esther Malloy

Meeting Your Baby Slowly

A mother studies and reaches out to touch her newborn

A ‘pregnant pause’ is a breath held in a story, a moment’s stillness where we linger between what has been told and what is yet to be told. A ‘birth pause’ then might be thought of as a breath at the moment of birth: a place to linger, suspended briefly between what has just happened – the mighty work of birth, and what is to come – the unfolding of the new human life that has been placed in your care.

What is this “birth pause?” you ask your midwife.

A mother looks down at and feels her just-born baby

Well, practically speaking, instead of delivering your baby directly to your chest, she will simply guide your baby down where he is born. He will land gently on soft pads in a warm pool of amniotic fluid, below or before you. He will stretch out his arms and expand his lungs for those first sweet gulps of air. You will likely take a breath yourself and gather yourself together after the huge effort of birth. Then, when you are ready, you will turn your attention to this newly-born child lying in front of you. You will be the one to welcome your baby as you touch his hands, arms, legs, and belly. You will be the one to wrap your hands around his torso and bring him up to your chest after you have had a good, long look at him. The moment of birth will be held by a pause in which you and your child first find each other on the other side of birth.

A woman who just birthed her baby rests while her husband studies the baby

Perhaps it makes sense to you that you’ll be able to really see your baby at the moment of birth if he is below or before you. But won’t you be sort of overwhelmed at the moment of birth for all this looking and studying, you wonder? Maybe you’ll need a moment to collect yourself?

Very true. You may need just such a moment. When a baby is birthed down, you will naturally have a moment to catch your breath following the hard work of birthing a baby. This part of the birth process will be accorded its own respect. Pausing at the moment of birth allows a woman to exhale from the work of birth before she begins to inhale the presence of her child and her new identity as a mother.

Now ready, she greets her child

Indeed, your midwife knows that when a baby is delivered directly to a woman’s chest, many women are somewhat overwhelmed when they finish the work of birth and – almost simultaneously – attempt to take in their baby. As a witness to the birth process and perhaps a mother herself, your midwife knows that the words and phrases that describe many mothers’ first moment after giving birth include a stunned kind of relief, bewilderment, and shock. Of course you are eager to see your baby at long last, but you are still very right brain. The tears your midwife most often sees at the time of birth are the father’s. You are not there yet. But then, like a cruise ship changing course, coming now into port, your attention shifts. There is a coming back, a return, a shifting of focus to this new child who is also experiencing his own coming into port. This changing of course will happen at more of a clip for some women than for others. But it is with this turn of attention that the high begins to swell, and it will continue to swell over hours and days, weeks and months, parenting effort after parenting effort, until one day it is the tidal wave of love that you have for your child.

Perhaps with a simple shift in business as usual, we can pause at the moment of birth. We can slow this first trip your baby makes to your body and allow what midwife Karen Strange calls the “natural sequence of birth” to unfold.

Looking down at their child

Karen Strange is a midwife from Colorado who describes the sequence of birth as a sort of blueprint for what happens when we do not disturb birth. She speaks of it as one of connection —mother and baby connected in pregnancy; separation —the moment of birth; rest —the pause as the baby lies before its mother, the mother seeing and touching her baby for the first time; and repair —the trip the baby makes to the breast, thus completing the sequence. Karen says, “We all carry this blueprint within us. When we follow it, it turns on the brain in a certain way. It is amazing!”

With the pause, there is no rush to get the baby to your chest. “This rest,” says Karen Strange, “allows the mother to integrate the moment of transition.” At this moment of transition, you’ll likely sigh and catch your breath with the completion of your labor. Then, you’ll turn your now-ready attention to the next deliberate moment, the moment in which you discover your baby. With your baby below you, you’ll see your child. You’ll study and touch him and then finally gather him in your arms.

Picking up her baby for the first time

When this sequence is uninterrupted, neither is there a rush to get the baby to latch onto the breast. There is a tender, gentle time as you rest from your own hard work where your baby, when ready, begins his search, as all mammals will do, for the breast. You’ll help him as needed, but he’ll have the opportunity to exercise his age-old, instinct-driven ability to find the breast. In fact, your midwife has seen how beneficial it is for a baby to be allowed to take the lead in breastfeeding in the special hours after birth (and beyond!), something that is dramatically shifting many parents’ experience of breastfeeding.

But just as your midwife is now appreciating what occurs when we respect a baby’s ability to find its mother’s breast at birth, we are learning a respect for and understanding of our own abilities as women to find our babies at birth. When we do not rush through the moment of birth, but honor the pause that marks the center of this sequence, what happens seems to be nothing less than a paradigm shift of equal significance. When you pause at birth you are stopping to catch the moment of arrival, yours as much as your baby’s. For you are not only finding your baby, you are finding yourself as a mother, finding your way into a new state of being. – Mary Esther Malloy, MA

This article was originally published in Pathways to Family Wellness, Winter 2015