Monday, September 13, 2010

Birth Around the World: Birth Center in Guadalajara, Mexico

In 2009, Carly gave birth in the Plenitud birth center in Guadalajara, Mexico. The birth center is the first of its kind in Mexico and unlike almost anything found in the US. It's housed in its own wing in a hospital, but is run independently by a team of midwives, childbirth educators, doulas, OBs (José Luis Grefnes), and pediatricians. To read the story of how the birth center came to be, click here (Word document).

Carly lives in Guadalajara, Mexico with her husband Brendon, daughter Jessica, and cats Parker and Puck. She enjoys running, travel, reading, and good food and drink.

The Most Awesome Experience Of My Life
by Carly V.

I had been undecided about whether I wanted to have any children until a couple of major life events made it clear to me that I most certainly did. My beloved grandmother, whom I called “Grandma Helen,” passed away right before Thanksgiving in 2006. The following spring, I learned that I had Stage 0 cervical cancer—two kinds of it, actually—and had to have a cervical conization to remove it. The good news was that the pathology report that followed showed clear margins, meaning that the surgery had successfully removed all of the cancerous cells. Still, my gynecologist recommended that I have a hysterectomy after I finished having children or after I decided that I definitely did not want to have any children. These events made me consider the “circle of life,” and I realized that I did not want that circle to end with me. After a normal pap smear in the fall of 2007, my husband Brendon and I began to discuss the possibility of trying to conceive. By early 2008, we were ready.

Meanwhile, an opportunity began to unfold for Brendon at work. There was talk that he might be offered a three-year assignment in Guadalajara, Mexico. The experience of living in another country was something we both had wanted for a long time. He asked me if giving birth in Mexico was something that I was willing to do. After only a minimal amount of consideration, I answered in the affirmative. So, we continued trying to conceive as we waited to see if this international assignment would materialize. Those efforts proved successful on my fourth cycle of trying to conceive, when a home pregnancy test revealed two pink lines. That was May 7, 2008. Just a few weeks later, we told our family and friends that we were expecting. Just a few more weeks after that, we told them that we also were moving to Mexico for three years.

When both the pregnancy and the international move became realities, I began to do some serious research about birthing in Mexico. The first stories I found and read concerned me. I learned that, at many hospitals in Mexico, Caesarean sections were the norm, and babies were whisked off to the nursery after birth—instead of staying with their mothers to bond and to breastfeed, which is what I wanted. Then I typed four fateful words into the Google search engine: “natural birth center Guadalajara.” At the time, I was not sure whether an unmedicated birth was for me, but I knew I did not want the standard Mexican hospital birth. At the top of the search results, I found midwife Joni Nichols’ website, which featured the little birthing center that she helped create at Hospital del Valle de Atemajac in Guadalajara. Water birth was common at the birthing center. I was intrigued and excited. I began corresponding with Joni, who graciously answered all of my questions. I also bought a self-hypnosis CD, as I was interested in using self-hypnosis for relaxation and pain control during birth.

As my belly grew, our moving plans solidified. We had an investigatory trip, during which time we were able to meet Joni, as well as Dr. José Luis, the OB/GYN with whom she worked. I was thrilled when Brendon was as impressed with both of them as I was. I committed to an unmedicated birth. I told Brendon that I wanted to move no later than early November (at which time I would be seven months along). Otherwise, I would want us to stay put in Michigan until the baby was at least a couple of months old. As it turned out, we arrived in Guadalajara on October 31, 2008, after a five day road trip with our two cats, which actually proved to be enjoyable.

Soon after our arrival, we visited the birthing center. It was candlelit, warm, and cozy. The birthing tub had a soft cloth “rope” suspended from the ceiling. Just a few days earlier, I had read in Birthing From Within by Pam England and Rob Horowitz about Native American women hanging onto a rope while birthing, and it was a possibility that appealed to me. The presence of that particular tool in the birthing center was a sign that I was in the right place. It was surreal standing there and knowing that in two months, I would be giving birth to our baby there.

Over the next two months, while Brendon worked, I had the luxury of spending my days mentally preparing myself for childbirth. Joni provided me with an abundance of great information. I learned about pain-free births, even orgasmic births. I practiced self-hypnosis and practiced positive affirmations about the coming birth. A link that Joni gave me led me to find Journey Into Motherhood: Inspirational Stories of Natural Birth, compiled by Sheri L. Menelli. Ultimately, it was that book that most helped me to feel confident and ready to birth my baby. My “due date” was January 10, 2009. I wondered whether the baby would arrive early or late, but the only thing to do was to wait.

Around 2:30 p.m. Central time on Sunday, January 11, Brendon and I were getting ready to eat lunch (some chipotle-flavored tortillas with leftover refried beans and cheese—and some cucumber slices, I think). I felt a tiny warm gush and thought that it felt interesting. Then I felt another and made a little "hmmm" noise. Brendon asked, "What?" I said I wasn't sure, but I thought maybe my water had broken. I decided we should just go ahead and eat our lunch and then I would investigate the situation. I was a little giddy during lunch, laughing happily at the idea that maybe our baby would be with us soon.

After eating, I headed upstairs. On the way up, my pants got soaked. Indeed, my water had broken! I cleaned up and noted that the fluid was yellow in color. I knew that clear was good and that green or brown was indicative of meconium, but I wasn't sure about yellow. So, I felt a little nervous. I called Joni but got her voice mail. I then called Dr. José Luis, who told me that fluid the color of pineapple juice was a good thing, so I relaxed. He said to go about my life and to call if anything changed. Soon Joni called back and reiterated what the doctor said and also told me that as long as I didn't have a vaginal exam, I could wait for the contractions to start labor, even if it didn't happen that day or even the next day.

We talked to Brendon's mother on the webcam a little later in the afternoon but did not tell her that my water had broken. I had decided previously that I did not want to tell our families when I was in labor and that we should wait until the baby arrived to contact them. If the labor took a long time, I didn't want to be thinking about people back home worrying and wondering what was happening. And, now that my water had broken without any sign of contractions (and we would not be following the rule typical in the U.S. medical community that labor must start within 24 hours or else they will induce), I especially didn't want people worrying about that. During the chat with Brendon's mom, at around 4:30 p.m., I had my first noticeable contraction. It was pretty mild, so I was able to keep my secret easily.

By about 6:00 p.m., I was having regular contractions that were uncomfortable enough that I was changing my position to deal with them. Brendon started casually keeping track of them, and by 7:00 p.m. or so, we were amazed that they had been regularly coming every five minutes or so. I decided to call Joni. While talking to her, I had one contraction, but it was milder than most of the ones I had been having, and I easily talked through it. She encouraged me to labor at home awhile longer. She told me that I should wait for the contractions to take my breath away.

I decided to lie down on our bed for awhile. Brendon brought me juice, water, and dry toast. It wasn't long before I was moaning through some of the contractions. I decided to call Joni back a little after 8:30 p.m. I was surprised that she seemed to be discouraging me from leaving for the birth center again. Later, she told me that typically the laboring moms get adamant that they are going to the hospital NOW, so she does not tell them when the time is right. I was a bit different and was patiently looking for direction. I had three contractions three minutes apart while talking to Joni, and she then told me that she thought we should get on our way to the birth center.

We left the house a little after 9:00 p.m. I dreaded the drive to the birthing center. The streets here in Guadalajara are SO bumpy and rough. Brendon drove carefully but quickly. It took about a half an hour to arrive. By the time we got settled, it was about 10:00 p.m. Joni showed us our room—a cute little bedroom with its own bathroom, including shower. The birthing center was candlelit and very warm, just like when we visited. She told me that my tub was almost ready. I was excited to hear that. I had wanted to be in the tub for awhile at that point! She gave me a birthing ball to lean over on the bed. I stayed there briefly and then remembered that I had to pee. As I got up to go to the bathroom, I felt nauseated. I threw up as soon as I got to the bathroom. Joni told me that that was a very good sign. I returned to the birthing ball on the bed and asked how the tub was. Joni said it was ready, and I said I wanted to go there.
Shortly after I arrived, with Dr. Jose Luis listening for baby's heartbeat before I went to the birthing tub

In the tub, things continued to move quickly. With every contraction, I grabbed the soft cloth "rope" hanging from the ceiling and leaned back while lifting up my hips. Brendon, Joni, and Dr. José Luis made sure I got drinks of water in between contractions. No one could believe how much water I drank. Brendon said I probably drank two gallons! Joni also offered little juice ice cubes, which tasted really good to me. It wasn't long before I felt my body starting to push. I was stunned that it was happening already. I asked Joni if it was okay, and she said it was.
Me smiling in between pushing contractions

The pushing stage tested my endurance, even though it really didn't last all that long. It took me a few contractions to get used to the pushing sensations and really let them happen. Soon Dr. Franky, the pediatrician, arrived. I was kneeling/squatting in the tub and hanging on the "rope" through contractions, then leaning back on Brendon (who was sitting on the edge of the tub with his legs in it) in between contractions. I knew I was SO close, and I got a little impatient with waiting for the baby to come. The contractions had slowed down, giving me a nice break in between. When Joni pointed that out, I appreciated that aspect of it.

Finally, the baby's head was just about to emerge. Joni warned me that if I felt burning, I should breathe through the contraction to ensure that my tissues stretched slowly rather than tearing. I did feel some mild burning, so I did this. But, after a few contractions, the burning was still there. I told Joni what was happening, and she told me that I might have to go ahead and just push through it. I gladly did. As my baby’s head crowned, Joni told us that the baby had light hair. It took a bit longer to push her ears out, but soon I felt her whole body sliding out. I was so excited, saying, "My baby, my baby..." It was 12:12 a.m. on January 12, 2009.
Jessica latching on to nurse for the first time while still in the tub, cord still attached

Dr. Franky scooped her up and handed her to me. I took a quick look and pulled her to my chest, saying to Brendon, “I think it’s a girl.” Dr. Franky helped me check her out more thoroughly. "It is a girl," I said. Then they put her on my chest, and she immediately started crying loudly, but that did not last long. She soon settled down and opened her eyes. Both Brendon and I were instantly smitten.

Jessica scored a perfect 10 on her Apgars. She stayed on my chest for awhile and even started nursing while still in the tub. After a bit, our caregivers had Brendon check the cord to see if it was still pulsating. It had stopped, so they clamped it and let Brendon cut the cord. Then they took Jessica to dry her off and dress her for us. Joni also clipped her fingernails. Brendon and I washed up a bit. After that, I delivered the placenta, and the doctor inspected it. We looked at it, too. Then I felt lightheaded and had to lie down in the tub for a few minutes. Once I was feeling better, Dr. José Luis helped me into a wheelchair, and we went to our room. Brendon held our daughter, whom we named Jessica Helen. The doctor inspected me for tearing, along with Joni. I only had a superficial tear, and Dr. José Luis considering not giving me any stitches, but Joni thought it would be better to give me a couple to ensure that I healed without any problems. So, he gave me two stitches, after administering a local anesthetic. I was nervous about the injections, but they didn't hurt any more than the ones I'd had at the dentist.
The 3 of us, ready to go to our room to rest for the night

Then, our caregivers left us alone for the night to bond, to nurse, and to try to get some sleep. We called our parents to share the news. Jessica cried for awhile but ultimately cuddled up with her daddy and went to sleep. The next day, each of our caregivers (Joni, Dr. José Luis, and Dr. Franky) stopped by to see how we were doing and to give us additional instructions. Joni was delayed until mid-afternoon, so it was about 5:00 p.m. when we left the hospital. Otherwise, we would have left even earlier, as neither Jessica nor I needed any medical attention. We all just needed to rest, which we were happy to do at home.

I am now an unmedicated childbirth fanatic, because this was the most awesome experience of my life. I found birthing to be "painful" only in the way that the hard work of strenuous exercise is painful. It was not painful in the sense of something being wrong with my body, like an injury. When I was in labor, Joni told me that I must have given birth in another life or something. She also told me that I did everything perfectly, and that the superficial tear did not mean that I had done anything wrong. I felt so strong and powerful for having brought our beautiful little Jessica Helen into the world. I did not get to use my hypnosis much during labor, because the contractions became intense very suddenly, making deep concentration impossible. Instead, I focused on relaxing as much as I possibly could and on letting my body do its job. I believe the hypnosis practice I did and the affirmations I practiced helped with that significantly. I was far more vocal than I thought I might be--lots of primal, guttural growling and groaning. Some of the things I was said kind of cracked me up, even as I was saying them. When the pushing sensations started, I said, "Oh, my" a couple of times. I was thinking, "Oh, my? Who says THAT in labor? Apparently I do." I also said, "Yes, yes" and "oh, yeah" a lot while contractions were subsiding, prompting Joni to ask Brendon if he could see why a lot of medical professionals discourage women from making noise in labor—because it sounds a lot like lovemaking and makes them uncomfortable.

I had a natural high for at least a good week after the birth, if not two. I am amazed at what my body did in birthing and how efficiently it did it. I am amazed by little Jessica Helen. I am amazed and thrilled at what an awesome father Brendon is. Now I am enjoying every moment of life with my healthy, happy, wonderful baby girl. I hope that by sharing this birth story, I might inspire and encourage other women to have an equally great experience that is uniquely their own.


  1. LOVE this piece!! I love Jose Luis, LOVE Joni (and am thrilled she's living back in S. California again)... and even Sheri Menelli's book, "Journey Into Motherhood" began its trip here in San Diego... gotta love the home team.

    I've told Joni a dozen times she needs to write a book about Plenitud. Maybe this will get you going, Joni!

    Thank you for sharing this, Rixa... thanks loads!

  2. This piece brought back some wonderful memories of having my son in the birthing centre at Vale de Atemejac. Beng accompanied on our journey into parenthood by Joni, Jose Luis and the team at Plenitud, had a grand effect on me, not only during the birthing event, but on my whole outlook as a mother and teacher.
    A very special place and some very special folks. :)

  3. I think it's great that the OB is wearing jeans and t-shirt - laid back and ready to just go with the unlike many US OBs!

  4. Thanks for a beautiful story. Ughh.. I'm sitting on my laptop through 4 hours of OB nursing class and this is a great distraction.

  5. Beautiful!! What wonderful work they are doing. Loved the pictures. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Amazing!! Awesome birth! Absolutely loved it :-)


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