When I was pregnant with my first child I was your quintessential crunchy mom-to-be. I wanted to have the most "natural" pregnancy and birth experience possible. I saw a hippy nurse-midwife who emphasized the importance of getting to know my changing anatomy, bought me a copy of Our Bodies, Ourselves Pregnancy, and taught me how to use a mirror to examine my vulva, perform perineal massage, and check my cervix for dilation. When it was time to push she asked me if I wanted to watch my baby crown and, of course, I said yes. I'm here to tell you that it was amazing, friends, and while I'm not in the business of telling other people what to do during labor and delivery I highly recommend it. Yes, even you moms out there who are far less "crunchy" and wouldn't say things like "getting in touch with my body" should, I think, give it a shot.
Watching my baby crown was one of the most surreal and badass experiences of my life. While most would consider the sight of a baby exiting a woman's body via her vagina "gross," it was incredible and empowering. I could see, in real time, all the work I had put in over 40 weeks (more or less) of pregnancy and hours upon hours of labor. But more than being an empowering moment, watching my baby crown made a huge difference in my ability to push my baby into the world. After 22 hours of labor you can bet your you-know-what I was so ready to meet my baby, but pushing her out of my vagina was way harder than I imagined. I just couldn't figure it out... until I saw what was going on for myself, that is.
I had said yes to an epidural during labor, which was not what I had planned but was exactly what I needed to make it to the point that I was ready to push my baby into the world. But while I'm so grateful I had the option to have an epidural when I needed and wanted it, that choice also meant that I couldn't exactly feel everything that my body, or my baby, was doing. When I tried pushing it felt like I was just pooping, and after more than a few robust tries I was told I wasn't really progressing. It was discouraging, to say the least, not to mention exhausting.
I'm not going to lie, watching my baby crown was definitely shocking at first.
Since I wasn't able to push my baby out as efficiently as I had hoped, my midwife essentially "turned down" the epidural so that I could feel my baby crown. Being able to sense what was happening helped, sure, but I still couldn't manage to envision what was happening. It felt like burning fire, not me having a baby. Still, I tried to bear down, grit my teeth, and in the process was very guilty of pressing my nails into my husband's hand. And since I could feel everything I screamed so loud I probably disturbed the whole labor and delivery ward. And still, nothing. My daughter would descend, only to slide right back up again.
Apparently, all my pushing did was break every single blood vessel in my cheeks.
That's when my nurse asked me if a visual aid might help. She brought in a giant, free-standing mirror and angled it so I could see everything she was seeing. I'm not going to lie, watching my baby crown was definitely shocking at first. My vulva was red, bleeding, and swollen beyond belief. I was covered in sweat, blood, and amniotic fluid. I had never before seen my vulva, thighs, or belly from that specific angle, and it was not a pretty picture... at least from my exhausted, pregnant-and-trying-desperately-to-give-birth perspective.
I wanted to see him make his way out of my body, covered in vernix, blood, and all those other bodily fluids that make pregnancy, labor, and delivery possible.
But being able to see my daughter's tiny head full of dark hair crown was just what I needed. I laid on my left side, placed my foot on my midwife's shoulder, and pushed like I've never pushed before. I was able to see my progress in the mirror and finally, finally, push my baby out of my vagina and into my midwife's hands. Few moments in my life have been more amazing than that, and I was lucky enough to watch it all.
I have since watched every single one of my babies come into the world. With my second, and after I was induced induced early for preeclampsia, I asked for a mirror. I knew that it could make a huge difference in my ability to push effectively. I also remembered how amazing it had been the first time, and I didn't want to miss out on seeing my son's birth up close and personal. I saw him crowning, pushed once, and I literally caught my own baby myself before my midwife had a chance to turn around.
I will never forget watching my babies come into the world.
And with my youngest, and despite knowing what my body could do and what pushing actually felt like, I knew I didn't want to miss out on watching him enter the world, either. I wanted to see him make his way out of my body, covered in vernix, blood, and all those other bodily fluids that make pregnancy, labor, and delivery possible. So, when it came time to push, I asked to watch him crown. Again, pretty unforgettable.
Now, I’m not saying that getting up close and personal with your body, vulva, and baby's entrance into the world is for everyone. And I'm not saying you should be requesting the biggest mirror around just because it helped me birth my babies. But watching my babies crown was just what I needed to cross the proverbial finish line and meet my loves after three totally different pregnancies and birth experiences. It also taught me how amazing my body is, and how incredible I am; a fact that's often lost on new moms, even after they do something as awe-inspiring as give birth. I mean, I literally grew three humans in my body, and then watched as they came in the world and as I became their mom. It doesn't get more badass than that, my friends.
So, yes, I highly recommend that you watch your baby crown if you get the opportunity. I will never forget watching my babies come into the world.