#159 | Yvonne Strahovski's Birth Story: The Most Important Lesson in Childbirth

May 4, 2022

Yvonne Strahovski is the Emmy-nominated, SAG Award-nominated and Golden-Globe-nominated actress whose voice you may recognize as the stoic Serena Joy Waterford from The Handmaid's Tale. She is the mother of a toddler and newborn, with starkly different birth stories to share. During Yvonne's first pregnancy, she felt an intuitive pull toward birthing at home, but suppressed her inner voice in favor of the rational, which warned Yvonne that she lived too far from the hospital in the event of a possible transfer.  Choosing not to explore it further, Yvonne had her first baby in the hospital. Despite having an obstetrician she deeply trusted, she felt her birthing body start to shut down as soon as she arrived to the unfamiliar setting and found herself surrounded by numerous "strangers" - e.g. hospital staff. Yvonne began her second pregnancy sensing some PTSD from her first birth, and this time allowed her inner voice to grow louder. Yvonne shares her story of consuming  a series of inspiring home-birth stories on Down to Birth Show and other platforms, until finally she said, "If all these women can do it, why can't I?" Yvonne's second son was born at home in December 2021, with her husband, midwives and doula present, along with some of her closest friends and even her obstetrician, who served as a back-up attendant.

Yvonne shares how her fear was never completely eradicated before going into her second labor, and said her supportive team and HypnoBirthing - which she had once assumed was best-suited for those with an inclination toward yoga and meditation - were what kept her erring on the side of grounded and calm through pregnancy and birth rather than fearful.

Yvonne commented on the irony of playing Serena Waterford in the world of Gilead during these formative years as a new mother, and is certain she'll have more to say when she can speak freely after the next season drops. Even though Yvonne is typically very private, she felt compelled to join us as a way to pay forward an inspiring story that might reach those with their own inner voices about pursuing home birth.

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Cynthia is an expert in the HypnoBirthing method. Her classes are live, interactive and online, and they're offered six times per year. You can reach her by emailing Cynthia@HypnoBirthingCT.com or by visiting HypnoBirthingCT.com or texting 203-952-7299.

Trisha is an IBCLC and supports breastfeeding mothers in private online sessions. Email her at Trisha.Ludwig@gmail.com or text 734-649-6294 for more info.

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View Episode Transcript

Hi everyone, I'm Yvonne Strahovski I play the lovely Serena Joy Waterford on The Handmaid's Tale and I'm here with Cynthia and Trisha to share my book story or both of them really in the labor. I started into like a fear spiral and I, I just opened up and I said, I'm, I'm, I'm really scared, I'm scared, I can't do this, my body extraordinarily, surprise, surprise knew exactly what to do when it felt safe. And when it felt you have an inner voice for a reason. And I learned to listen to it in a very big way.

I'm Cynthia Overgard, owner of HypnoBirthing of Connecticut, childbirth advocate and postpartum support specialist. And I'm Trisha Ludwig, certified nurse midwife and international board certified lactation consultant. And this is the Down To Birth Podcast. Childbirth is something we're made to do. But how do we have our safest and most satisfying experience in today's medical culture? Let's dispel the myths and get down to birth.

Hi, everyone, I'm Yvonne Strahovski. I play the lovely Serena Joy Waterford on The Handmaid's Tale, and I'm here with Cynthia and Trisha to share my book story or both of them really talk about talk about all things birth and what inspired me.

So why don't we start Yvonne, without you telling us about your first son's birth? William? Right.

Yeah, William. Yeah. Well, with William I, you know, we live aways from the hospital, we're not in the in the city. So that was kind of the biggest factor in the deciding that I wanted to birth at the hospital, even though intuitively instinctively, you know, who I am as a person really just wanted to birth at home. But I didn't feel brave enough at the time. And I, I didn't really, I probably could have looked into it more in the way that I did my second book, but I didn't do that. I went to the hospital. And it's a strange thing, because I look back now. And in hindsight, after both the books, I realized, you know, what my body was trying to tell me both, you know, before I planned Williamsburg, and during it, which is, you know, instinctively I knew that I was going to kind of clam up in the hospital, which is kind of exactly what ended up happening. I had a 46 hour labor. So it was it started in the evening, and went for two nights and two days. And it was kind of a bit like a traveling circus. It was, you know, it started at home. And then eventually, it was time to go to the doctor's office to check things out. And I was advised at that point that I would probably have my baby by sundown. So we should stay in the area, which meant not going back home, you know, doing the drive again. And so, you know, then it meant, okay, well, where do I go to continuing to continue labor. And so then we got a hotel to continue laboring while the hotel was being sorted out by my husband, who was unfortunately kind of doing all these things rather than being present with me. You know, I was walking around the streets, you know, laboring, which also wasn't, you know, something that I was terribly comfortable with our you know, being a super private person and someone who kind of likes being enveloped in a safe cozy space, especially when I'm given giving birth. It wasn't ideal. So, you know, we moved to the hotel, and, and I just, it just kind of went on and on and on. But the next night, and obviously, I was exhausted. So by the time you know, my OBGYN came to the hotel at various intervals throughout the night. He's wonderful. My my obg and he, you know, he did checking in all that stuff. And then finally in the morning, he said it was time to go to the hospital.

I was dilated enough, and then we went over there. And as soon as I got there, my body just went Oh, yeah, no, no thanks. I just can't I mean, it just I clammed up and the process stalled and, and kind of stopped and so consequently, I did things that were not part of my birth plan, which is fine. You have to be flexible. And all the rest of it however, you know, it was the Pitocin and it was you know, breaking my water man, you Normally, it was having someone come into the room, who I didn't know, which automatically makes me freak out. And of course, you know, I'm hyper aware, I'm hyper aware anyway of my surroundings just as a human being, but, you know, especially when I'm, you know, when you're birthing, and so it was just, it was just a lot. And then, you know, we dealt with a Mykonian problem. So then, of course, you know, once he was born, a NICU team was all standing by right there also, you know, not ideal for me, I understand that, you know, they were there for the safety of my child. And I totally respect that. But, you know, as someone who, again, is freaked out by people I've never met, that was also another thing that was like, Oh, my God, here's like, four people standing here, looking at me doing this super intimate, private, special thing, you know, and he was fine. He was great. Everything, you know, after that was was fine. But just knowing I looked back on that, and I, and I felt like, oh, I, I really should have listened to my original instinct about planning for something that wasn't going to be a hospital, I just really didn't know how to do that. And so when I was facing, and I say, facing, planning my second book, because it was kind of a little bit of PTSD. You know, it was it felt like I had to kind of face something and change something that was scary to me at the time. And, and I had to kind of start again, and a lot of it was really about trusting myself, and trusting those little voices in my head and my gut instinct on what was going to be right for me. And I was lucky to have two very healthy pregnancies, though, I didn't have complications. So with the second one, I kind of ended up, I had a talk with myself, basically. And I was like, Listen, you need to, you need to stop calling all your friends, just start having conversations, use your resources, just stopped talking, and something is going to come to you. And that's exactly what I did. I spoke to two friends who had just had a baby, they recommended their their doula who then recommended the midwife that she was training under. And I met them both and, and I loved their energy in there, they were very calm, and very powerful women. And I thought that was such a contrast and in their energies, but so necessary for me and for what I needed. And so it just kind of built from there. And essentially, these two women gave me infused me with more trust in myself. So I came to them with a little bit of trust in myself, and then they put it right back into me, to set myself up for what I really truly wanted fully knowing that if something were to happen, we could easily transfer. And that wasn't going to be a problem. But that involved a lot of, you know, getting educated on all the things that you guys know all about, you know, like cords wrapped around necks and all the fears and concerns and all the things that you worry about as as a as a mom birthing, and what is actually a real threat, what isn't how it actually works, all the things to the point where I, I just really learnt to trust myself, and set myself up for that home birth, which is what I did the second time around. And it was a dream come true.

I think it's so easy for women to assume that those who have home births get pregnant and they go, I totally trusted my body. And I just don't want to be anywhere but home. And I'm so looking forward to this birth that I know everything is going to go perfectly. But a majority of the women that I've worked with over the years never initially planned on birthing at home, they felt that they first felt an aversion to the alternative. Like Well, I really don't want to birth in the hospital, or I don't want to birth in the hospital again. And then they're like, oh god, how am I really going to do this at home and then they have to get calm interesting about the plan to birth at home. And that's okay, that's a legitimate approach. If you start with an aversion like to know what you want to avoid before you know what you're pulling toward. But isn't it interesting how your second pregnancy got you to reprocess your first birth? It just makes you realize how much we carry for years. And sometimes it takes another pregnancy to just get us to sometimes women cry processing it years later, they get angry years later, right? Isn't that incredible? So we're holding that in all those years?

Yeah. Well, that was definitely something I discussed with both my daughter and my midwife I was it was all the fears. I mean, I sort of forced myself to be very open about that stuff. And really because I you know, again, had many conversations with myself when I said look, if I'm going to set myself up in the best way possible. I need to be able to speak about every little fear I have, and make sure that these two women are going to support me through this and, and be here for it. And they were Oh, my God, they were they were there. I mean, it was amazing. So I, I had to talk through the entire first birth, I had to talk, you know about what resonated with me and what didn't, more so about what didn't, because those will work, you know, a lot of my fears and hesitations was centered around, and then my own my own fears. I wasn't like a super, you know, I'm like, super natural hippie dippie. Yeah, I'm like, I'm at home. And I'm super cool with this, like, No, I, you know, I still, you know, I kept saying, I'm terrified. I'm terrified. But, but why? And I, you know, I had to ask myself why I mean, I am also aware that, you know, we're conditioned to feel that way a little bit as, as birthing moms, like, there's a lot of that we're taught that a lot of stuff can go wrong. And that's obviously what I was kind of leaning into.

That's mostly what we see, growing up is that birth, we see it on TV, we see it in the movies, we see the drama, we see the scary stuff. And we mostly see, you know, see it as hospital birth, and most of us grew up thinking that home birth is for sort of that out there person who either doesn't have access to a hospital or is So Uber natural that they would choose something that's potentially dangerous for themselves or their baby. But interestingly, you did have an intuitive feeling from the beginning that home birth really was maybe where you wanted to be. So did you know anybody who had a home birth or was so you kind of did you see that growing up? Did you have a supportive family? Did you have a supportive partner?

We chose to keep the planning of the homebirth to ourselves, that we know why.

Yeah, there's, I mean, there's a lot you know, and I love my family, but it was something this time that I, I just wanted to stay true to following that instinct of this is going to be right for me. And I know that not many people will understand that people might have judgments on it, but I wanted to stay true to, to me and, and my husband as well. I mean, Tim was super, super supportive. I mean, part of this whole planning also was, you know, to do with Tim, and the fact that he was so not able to be present during the first. I mean, he was driving me from one place to the next to the next, booking a hotel getting waters for when I was walking around the streets, you know, like, like a marathon runner with a cut support car next to them, like it was just so much and it wasn't, you know, what we wanted as a couple either. And so, you know, that was a huge part of this birth preparation for me where, you know, I sat him down, and I said, You, I want you to think about what you want out of this to and what we want together, you know, I this is, you know, I have my own set of things, but we have to talk about together what we want out of this and, and we wanted just we wanted him to be present and be available and not have to think about, you know, feeding me or anybody else and all the other things. So it was just a sort of very organic process, you know, to talk this through with our, you know, support team and then add people to our support team. So, in order for Tim to support me and be present through it, we we asked our best friends to be on call for that. Due month when I was due, I'm going to call it a day month. Now the due date, because William was 17 days overdue, by the way overdue 42 + 3, that's that's good, impressive.

Right And thankfully, I had a doctor who was not forcing me to induce and, you know, get it going and you know, we checked you know, we checked out the flu and in the placenta and the whole thing of you know, however many days in a row leading up to it but every you know, everything was healthy and I am glad that I wasn't pressured to induce induce induce, because that's really not what I wanted.

If I'm tell everyone, um, how, how much he weighed, because he was over 42 weeks, and I think it'll surprise people when they hear oh, he was six pounds 611 six pounds, 11 ounces. So there's often this assumption that if a baby is born over 40, Tuesday will be big. My daughter was nine and a half pounds at 39 weeks. They're on their own unique trajectory. So obviously, William weighed more than he weighed at 38 and 39 weeks but he was not by any means too big and that rhetoric is Something that's really hurting women, nor would he have been ready to come at 40 weeks. I mean, that would have been very, he would have been small.

Well, and also the, you know, the machine was telling us that he was gonna be like some eight pound plus baby. And that also was not not true, you know? And yeah, so meanwhile, Henry was the 9.1 pound baby, and three inches longer. And you know, and he was, he was just, I was saying this the speech, quote marks one week

overdue. He was longer, heavier. Yeah. Isn't that interesting?

And, and I birthed him naturally without any anything, any meds at home in my bedroom.

So tell us more about that. But you know, just a comment about your first birth as well, it was so, so good, that your doctor didn't stress you and pressure you into induction, however, then they did do those things they did give you Pitocin they did give you an Amjad me. It was kind of like, everything kind of changed when you got there? Or was that a result of the long labor? Was that? What what was? Why was all that happening to you? Do you think? Well, I got in there and I was dilated, I think at eight centimeters, I think it was in the morning, the day that I finally gave birth and and it and I was stalled. So I just remember lying there. And then an hours had gone by another six hours. And I remember my husband talking quietly to the doctor and the door. And I was overhearing it saying, you know, she hasn't dilated any more. It's stalled. And we we need to Yeah, suggest Pitocin and break the sack. Also, there was a thing that, you know, once the sack was broken, William changed direction. So he shifted in an unfavorable position, he had been in a favorable position the entire time. And at that point he had shifted. So do that.

No, that's a side effect of Amjad me. Are you aware that they likely caused that?

No, I was not aware at the time, no. And so then, you know, in order to get him back into position, they said I had to sort of lie on my side for 20 minutes at a time with, you know, in a certain position and lying still, at that moment in time seemed like they were asking me to climb Mount Everest, like impossible Island labor, it was impossible. Yeah. So consequently, I ended up with an epidural at our 41 of labor. And then, five hours later, he was born.

And he was born vaginally. Yeah,

it seems unfair to say this after all you went through, but it was lucky that it was a vaginal birth, especially given that you were having other children in your future. It made those births easier as well.

Yeah, I mean, I think that definitely was a priority, thankfully for my obg to do that definitely was a priority for him. So which again, you know, because I'm also I was also going off of their judgment, you know, in the moment as a first time, Mom, you're, you're just trusting what people are telling you in the moment in the hospital because, you know, I'm no specialist.

Honestly, after 40, after 41 hours of labor, your body was exhausted, no doubt, exhausted. Totally. And you were having artificial stimulation with Pitocin. Most people in that position do end up with an epidural. And sometimes even though we're not huge proponents of epidurals, especially in early labor, or for women who want an unmedicated birth or physiologic birth, but sometimes it is the thing actually, that you need when you've been in that state of sort of fear, which happened to you transferring to the hospital you kind of got in that place of this is an uncomfortable new environment, everything in your body shut down. It's exactly what's supposed to happen. It's how nature has designed our bodies to work. But the epidural can in that situation actually relax you enough to allow the baby to come through. Yeah, definitely.

I mean, that's exactly what happened. I was I was so thrown, you know, by just the hospital space. I mean, it's just not for me. I mean, I you know, there's I wish I was a person who was comfortable with it. I'm just not it's just how I made Yeah, I definitely relaxed me I instantly fell asleep because I was literally falling asleep in between contractions at that point. I was so tired. My head would just drop in the 60 seconds that I had in between the contractions and and so yeah, that the epidural happened. I fell asleep. They were able to, you know, position me in chanting and William was able to shift his position and I remember they woke me in I'll pull the plug out of the epidural. Once it was time to push, I specifically said, you know, if we can get rid of that epidural thing, get rid of it, you know, once it's fine because I really desperately wanted to just experience it naturally I wanted to, I wanted to know what my body was capable of, and just and trust it. But so I definitely got to do that the second time around.

So at what point after your first birth? Was it not until you got pregnant? The second time that you started to really process that experience and decide how you wanted to do it differently? Or were you were you already kind of after the birth? Sometimes women are like, they know, right, then that the next time? This is absolutely not how I'm going to do it? Or what became the strongest, most important reasons for you to choose home birth the second time around, what about your first birth, what caused you to feel that way?

It was honestly, just the the fact that I had that little voice inside of me telling me trust yourself enough to do a home birth. Because the hospital just wasn't for me, I wanted to have the hospital there as a backup, obviously, if something was to go wrong, and you know, and I need it, and then the small chance that I would have needed a transfer, I wanted to be there, obviously, and be flexible to go there. But there was a voice inside my head that that kind of looked back on that 46 hours of, you know, labor with William and thought, there's a better way for me to do this from my body, from my voice from my gut instinct. And it was really just about leaning into that, and setting myself up for the best case scenario, and utilizing all the tools around me to, to do that.

And being in a space where your husband could be focused on you and not on the logistics of it.

And be in my home. I mean, it was just such a, it's my sacred space and, and my husband is my sacred space. And then, you know, getting to know these two women who supported me through it, they were truly amazing. I mean, their superpower was, was to know when to not step in, honestly, it was, it was all about not stepping in and in not interrupting what my body was doing. By itself, I didn't really need to do anything. And this was the greatest lesson of all time is that my body extraordinarily, surprise, surprise, knew exactly what to do, when it felt safe. And when it felt like it could go through the motions by itself. And, and you know, and so set it up that my best friends were there and available don't call so that they could come and look after my toddler and be there for him. And they all showed up I think at three o'clock in the morning of or four o'clock in the morning. So I started at one o'clock. And then weirdly, my toddler woke up in the middle of the night and came into the room. And I remember I remember going back to his room and him and Tim waking up and saying lamb mom has to birth Henry right now. So mom's gonna go in the other room and do that. And I just knew, like, right, so I I went back in there, and I put my earplugs in. And I started listening to HypnoBirthing tracks, which is what the midwife and a doula had suggested to me. Which again, was something that I was like, ah, is this really going to work? I don't know, like what you know, which, you know, ended up like being amazing. And my two best friends got there. And you know, so we, we set it up so that they knew what the plan was we had food in the fridge, they were going to cook in the coffee's for everybody and do all that stuff. And look after William while my husband and I were just purely focused on the book. And it was amazing. It was 10 hours. My water broke naturally. I didn't go walking around the neighborhood because I didn't want to and I know that's like a thing that people often do and it's supposed to speed up labor. But it just wasn't for me. It wasn't for me at all. And I didn't want to do it. I just I just committed to myself I committed to listening to my instincts. And and focusing in on that doesn't mean I didn't have a horrible inner monologue person telling me, you know, fear, fear, fear, blah, blah, blah, it you know, I really truly had to push against that and hone in on my fears. I mean, early in the labor. I started into like a fear spiral and I remember I asked for my doula and I I just opened up and I said I'm, I'm I'm really scared. I'm just scared, I can't do this, I'm scared, I am going to need something or whatever and this and that, and she brought me back down to level zero. Reality, you have a healthy pregnancy, everything is great, your baby's heart sounds great. You're going to trust yourself, you know, all the things and, and it felt so good. It was just such a great moment is I guess part of the inspiration. And part of what I want other women to know is like, if you have fears, it's okay to speak them out loud to your trusted circle. And it's okay. Because after that it really, you know, allowed me to focus and hone in on, on what my body was, was trying to do by itself and let it do what it wanted to do. By itself. I mean, I was, you know, the most astounding takeaway for me is when the baby was coming through the birth canal, how extraordinary it is that I really didn't need to do anything. I mean, all this stuff about pushing and pushing, and there was no pushing. Even if I tried to push which I did want at one point, my body went, nope, no, thank you, you're stopping right here. We're going to, I guess, stretch your body out a little bit more. Prepare you and and you know, I could feel the baby's head, go back up a little bit, and then back down again, and then go back up a little bit and go back down again, go back up a little bit. I'm as my body's way of making sure everything was stretched in time and ready in its own time. And I just had to get through it. And wow, lets you have you just allow. And it was the most I mean, there's this is the most amazing takeaway, and this is my biggest thing that I want to tell everybody about is like, No, you guys, you have no idea. Like, your body is just going to do it by itself. Like there's, there's no need all this stuff.

I sometimes phrase it as though your body will give birth with or without your participation.

Yes. That's a totally what it felt like, totally.

It's really, it's really the most important lesson in childbirth. Yeah,

I mean, then this is like, we're so conditioned to kind of have a baby other women, that's the majority of people, right. And I think I read this statistic even on your your platform, right about like 1% of American women are less than 1% will have a home birth. So like most people are just, we're all conditioned to like, understand that we're gonna have cords and things and IV and whatever else bla bla strapped to us. And that's the process of birth. But it's for me, it took it took away my body's kind of autonomy, they just do it by itself and allow me to step aside and let it do it.

We're really conditioned to believe that others know more about how to birth our baby than we do. We're conditioned to believe that all the things around us are needed. It's exactly the opposite of that, and what you said about your midwives, knowing when to step in, and when to stay back. That's the key to being a good birth provider. Mm hmm.

I think a key point that you made also is that in order to have a beautiful trusting home birth, doesn't require eradicating all fear. You don't have to get to the point where you're right, devoid of any fear. We always have that. We always say, Well, what if I am that one? I don't care how rare it is that there's an emergency, I don't care how few women are transferred. What if I'm that one, we always think that and I think what you're showing is you it's not that you got to the point where you just knew for sure everything would go well, you acknowledged your fear, you spoke your fear, but you were looking in the eyes of people you deeply trusted. And you use your rational thinking as they did as providers to say, look, we're at this point. Now, we know this pregnancy is healthy, we know this baby is well positioned. We know we have all these things lined up in our favor. And it's a rational choice. It's not just winging it. And I think that's what I didn't used to understand having I had a similar not really similar. My first was a natural birth in a birthing center. My second wasn't home, but that still felt like a big leap for me. And you do realize, you think of home birthing women are just going to wing it. They're just being optimistic, but that's not really the experience. As you get closer and closer to that day you give birth you really do say Okay, check, check, check, these things are really lining up and I can relax a little more. Anyway, I think that was a really important point.

I completely agree. I wanted to comment on that I in the same thing goes throughout labor. I mean, you. You have your trusted provider there to check in to make sure that everything is going the way it should every step of the way. And we don't want a provider to be fearless about birth. That wouldn't be good. And we don't want a mother to be fearless about it. That's reckless. We have to understand that there's risk to birth always everywhere.

Yeah, I mean, that was the end that was the process of, you know, educating myself on the things, the real things to be concerned about and the things to not be concerned about. And that I am leaning into the fact that I did have a very healthy pregnancy and, and that my midwife was in incredibly concerned with every step as well. I mean, that was something that, you know, it was really kind of no different in a way, in terms of I mean, like you said, no one's winging it. It's not like we're all hippies in the forest, you know, birthing out, babies carefree and no worries at all. I mean, it was an incredibly informed choice. It was so beyond thoughtful, and I wouldn't have done it obviously any other way. I mean, otherwise, I wouldn't have felt comfortable to do it. So yeah, there was a lot of there was a lot of talking a lot of education, a lot of airing out my my fears, and that's definitely something I would encourage women to do is talk all the things through even this stupid list of fears or whatever it is that that's on your mind, or the what if this or what if that, or bla bla bla, like, you have to get it out of your system and then get educated and make the informed choice.

I think the other takeaway that you're emphasizing is, in order to have a good homebirth, all the stars don't have to be perfectly aligned, you can have meconium, you can have a baby with a cord around the neck. That's in fact, very common. You can have anomalies, homebirth midwives are specifically trained in just that. That's why they do intervene when they intervene.

Yeah, I mean, we had that. So I, you know, I learned going on, I hope I'm relaying this correctly, but that, you know, at the time of a while the babies coming out, it's not really the, you know, the oxygen is still being provided from the placenta, right? Through the through the cords. So the cord being wrapped around a neck isn't isn't a neck isn't being blocked, because the oxygen isn't coming from the neck in the lungs and the baby, it's coming from that placenta. So unless the cause is completely twisted and clamped down, there's nothing going through it, then you don't have a problem. Yeah, you you. I mean, tell me if I don't know

you're exactly right. It's it's a very common misconception, because of course, we think about something around their neck or something around our necks, we get that with choking. It's not that at all for baby, because they're not breathing through their airway. As you said, their airway is not open, it's not active, yet. They're there, all their oxygen is coming through the cord. So the only time a cord around the neck is actually dangerous, and it's exceptionally rare, is if it's extremely tight and extremely short. And so to the extent that it is completely blocked off the flow from the placenta to the baby, right, yeah, so this, I mean, these are the kinds of things that I asked. I mean, I was like, what if the cord is wrapped in and these are the things I learned and sure enough, we had Henry, we have a cord was wrapped around twice. And we just took it off. I mean, it wasn't a big deal. It was just as soon as the cord was was there was enough cord and enough neck and head visible. It just just came right off. You know, we we also had meconium at the end there with Henry. So but it was it was later so like, my, my, my water broken. conium wasn't present then it was it came later. But again, it was I had to be educated on what that meant, you know, that actually dangerous or not? And you know, and make my own informed decision about that.

Let's talk about your age. And you gave birth and Henry, your second boy, December of 2021.

At what age 39.

Okay, well, right there women are just part of the misinformation out there is that age is a factor. It is just not. It's not I mean, I'm my home birth was just shy of 39. And it never came up once. But I have women that I teach and I work with who are convinced that they're old at 35 when they're in beautiful health. Did you have a conversation with your obstetrician and changing your plan for your second birth?

I did. And it was really honestly amazing. I mean, I I you know at about this, we're in the second trimester and after I'd sort of researched all this, I said, Look, I I'm thinking of doing this at home with a midwife. And you know, there was several conversations and it was like, okay, and I actually said I would love for you to be there. If you're open to a midwife led birth if you're open to just being there and taking a backseat to a What was you know, to what my midwife was going to be doing and he was so gracious and I mean, he's incredibly passionate about birth and babies. And he did. He came along, and he was there. Yes, it was incredible. It was so beautiful. I have to say, I was like a really beautiful experience for everybody, for my best friends from my OBGYN. And my midwife, my daughter, my husband, and I mean it, it just was like, really like a dream. Dream book, but you know, and in the same breath, I'll remind everybody, like, I still had my fears, and I still had all of the, you know, the things in your inner monologue that you're fighting and whatever, but I was listening to my HypnoBirthing. I mean, there's, you know, I, but what was successful is that I had set myself up exactly how I wanted to be set up in it. And it worked for me. And, you know, even down to my OBGYN being present and, and being there and just just watching, you know, so let's compare the husband who was that your first birth to the husband? Who was that your second Tim being the husband at bookcases? What was the difference?

Well, I'm, you know, he, he was just by my side, I mean, it was, you know, I have my earplugs in I am non stop listening to the HypnoBirthing. But he was there when I needed him throughout the whole entire process. And then towards the end, you know, I was actually I got into the shower at one point into my, you know, my shower, mix my bedroom, and I got really uncomfortable in the shower. Actually, what I didn't know was that it was, I was uncomfortable, because it was speeding up the process. And I was suddenly feeling you know, like, Oh, God, here it comes a bit more, which was actually ended up being perfect, because it didn't speed up the process. So I got out and I lay on my bed again, and my water break. And it because I had that was the first time I felt it naturally. I was like, oh my god, transition.

Whoa, well, it's mind blowing that it actually happens on its own. Like, did I really think someone had to do this for me? Did nature not have a plan to ever get this baby out of the sack of fluid?

The progression was amazing. And then and then and then at that point, you know, they had fixed up the tub, because I we had a, you know, a big birthing tub. And, and my midwife said it's time to go in now you're ready, you're really ready to sit into the water now if you want to. And, and I did, and I remember sitting in there and then Tim was by my side and and you know, outside of the tub. And at one point, I was like, No, I need you in the tub. Can you get in the tub with me. And so he got into the tub, and he sat you know, leaning against the wall. And then I ended up straddling him and holding on to his shoulders. And, and it was so beautiful, because it felt like, We did it together, you know, we we brought our second son into the world together, holding each other. It was very romantic. It was I mean, you know, even though there's so much going on for me in my body, I just had them the best case scenario in terms of where I wanted my husband to be in terms of supporting me and, and for him. It was best case scenario as well. But that's that was that was it and and it was just so beautiful. I mean, I can't tell you like how, how blown away I was by by a, you know, lo and behold, like, why did you what to do. And then the fact that I did it with my husband like that,

and all that extra touch in contact and the skin to skin and that effect is that it just shoots her oxytocin, you know, through the roof. And like you said, when your baby was coming out, there was no like your body was just doing you didn't even have to push because your fetal ejection reflex was activated. And that's all from Yes, contact and that touch and that feeling safe. And that feeling love you had so much love in that moment.

Yeah, and I didn't know there was a time for the fetal ejection. Right? But it was like, I was like, it was amazing, but I was like, Oh my God, there's there's like this. There's like an earthquake happening inside of me. And it is it is it is literally pushing my baby out. Like I'm not I am. I'm doing it. But I'm not like I'm not there was no extra effort here. It's, it's, it's so involuntary. And I feel like nope, nobody knows that somehow. I mean, it I did hurt it.

Part of the reason people don't know about it is because somebody is intervening too soon and saying, Okay, it's time to push now hold your breath and bear down and it's not going to be activated when you intervene in advance of it naturally doing Yeah, yeah, yeah.

And just to comment about the intimacy our society is conditioned to perceive Have sex as pleasurable and birth as painful. But sometimes it's the reverse people have orgasmic births. Some people can have painful sex, but we're so deeply conditioned. But these two things, it's really a full circle. They're so inextricably linked. It's the same body parts. It's the exact same horror films. It's not it shouldn't be surprising that an intimate, sensuous birth should feel so gratifying. It makes perfect sense. It's just societally we're can. We're so conditioned to only perceive it as painful. Maybe you got there yourself. You got yourself there and experienced it on your own without being told you and your husband just you found yourselves to it.

Yeah, I mean, honestly, I mean, I, I've just met you guys face to face. But you know, when I was looking through Instagram, and you know, I saw you guys posting about women doing this kind of thing, you know, at home and with their partners. And I, it was exactly that, that was kind of pushed me over the edge in the end, because I thought, well, it's so many people can do this. Why can I I mean, I surely I can do this too. If I am set up for this, and I have a healthy pregnancy that allows me to do this like I am. I think I'm going to be okay. And so I was just so inspired by seeing women. I mean, that's so brave. I mean, to be able to to even share your birth video. I mean, thank you to the women out there who do that. I mean, that was such a, such a monumental piece of information and piece to this puzzle that ultimately allowed me to trust the process and have faith that if their bodies knew what they were doing, then mind would too, even though I was conditioned to think otherwise, or or had you know, for years, I can't express enough how and how important it was for me to see other people's stories and hear them and just kept thinking, listen, listen, listen to your body, listen to your voice, you can do this.

And one of my favorite parts about home birth is after it's all over you and your baby and your partner climb into bed together and your son, your other children, and you eat a home cooked meal. And you just you're home and you're settled and you just ravish and this new love and this new life and you sit in your bed and you don't have to go anywhere and nobody's bothering you and no strangers are around and you're not eating, you know, yucky hospital food. I mean, that transition post birth in the early postpartum is so it's such a huge part of having your baby at home that people don't even think about it.

Oh my gosh, that was amazing to be able to climb into my bed with my baby meet. I mean, that was you know, and also to have my best friend my best girlfriends right there with my other son, you know, and you know, it was amazing to it. But at the time it literally the time can we came out one of my friends was upstairs getting something that my other son had asked her to get from his room and she had an impossible time and and then I said you know come on in if William wants to come in and come in and because my policy at home, I wanted it to be an open door I wanted if William wanted to be part of it and come and check in whenever he wanted. I wanted that to be available to him because I mean, there's that's a whole nother conversation about you know, having an existing child who there's another child coming into the family and how difficult that can be for the for the older sibling. And so, you know, I just I wanted him to be part of that process if he wanted to. And he ended up coming in just as just after I had given birth to Henry and it was just beautiful. Like he was right there. And he he wanted to hold him straight away. And he said Can I have him? And my best friend's been there and you know, we climbed into bed and it was just great. It was just really, really something else to to have that and yeah.

So, Handmaid's Tale, I have to ask you and I promise this is a fair question. I would never dream of the an Off the record what's happening in the next season? Man, I'm gonna go there. Now, but this is what I have to ask you. I mean, you play first of all I am I'm really not a big TV watcher and we have been watching every episode as they've been released. My husband, all my family members, we text after it. It is the first dystopian anything I have deeply appreciated actually feel. It's an important production because you know what Margaret Atwood says, I mean, these things have happened in history. You play I think I want to say like this is a fact you play the most fascinating character on the show. Because you I really think that's a pretty fair thing to say. And I feel like everyone should agree with this, but you As Serena Waterford helped to create Gilead, we first meet her. And we want so much to only see her as an antagonist. We want only to believe we're not supposed to like her. And then we go through this anguish of like, oh my gosh, I'm feeling compassion for her. Oh my gosh, she's oppressed by the very system she helped to create, oh, my gosh, she and her husband are not equal in this. I mean, it's, you play the role, obviously, beautifully, and you have endless nominations to show for it, you know, SAG Awards, Golden Globes, Emmys. But I just have to ask you, like, when you're an actress, I can only imagine that your psyche gets deeply into your work. And I can't imagine what it's like for you to, to live in this world, Gilead for a portion of your life and then to have this empowered, free like birth, this loving relationship. Do you feel like this is an ironic aspect of your 30s? I mean, how do you perceive this, that you get to experience both extremes in your life, even though one is pure fiction? But yeah, I mean, it's not lost on me the two experiences side by side, it is very strange. But But when I'm in it, I'm in it. And when I'm out of it, I'm out of it. So like, it is, you know, it's been kind of strange to, we'll be, you know, like, there was one season where I was actually pregnant, and we were hiding the pregnancy because the character wasn't pregnant yet. So I was pregnant with William and we were hiding it and then and then, of course, you know, it was like, Well, I'm just I'm trying to think ahead, because I want to make sure I'm not spoiling anything with everyone knows I'm pregnant now. Yes. So no, you're pregnant now. Right. So now me now I'm wearing a big belly even though I just had my own belly not too long ago. And, and it's, it's very weird. And also, you know, I both babies because I'm, I'm really big on breastfeeding. I breastfed William 26 months. And I was able to do that. I mean, I think because I had him close by all the time, and I have an amazing husband who was able to come to work with me and be in the trailer with me with the baby. And so that I was able to breastfeed in between scenes in between takes and between camera setups, which is exactly what I'm doing now. Breastfeeding Henry the same same way in between work so I remember you know, now I'm kind of used to it because I've done it before but with with William it really felt like oh my god it's such a split personality situation because I'm I'm doing these crazy Serena joy seeing the like screaming at Fred whatever it whatever it is that we're doing like saw there's a lot of scene goes by where there was not like some high emotion going on. So there's all this intense stuff going on, on set, and then I come back to breastfeed my baby. And that's just so glorious and wonderful for me. Like, I'm really loved breastfeeding. So it's a beautiful experience for me and yeah, and then and then you finish that and then you go right back to that and, you know, you're portraying this very complicated, often evil woman so it's just the the, you know, the John's believing that all Fred's baby is yours, the conviction that she has that it is her baby.

Yeah, I mean, I will say, as of now that I have two kids the story and I feel like we're gonna probably have to do another podcast once this season airs in it, knowing that I can't say anything about it. And my husband's waving at me he's on the street with my kids but, but it's it's like terribly close to home now. You know. And this, this, I mean, I'm so excited. It'd be really fun to talk about this freely once the season is in the cannon shot and aired. Because, yeah, it's some of the some of the scripts. I mean, I'm reading like, go on, like, I'm reading them with one eye open and when I shot because I almost can't take it anymore. It's because it's hard for me to watch as well, you know, and I know, like, I've had a lot of mothers say, This is really hard for me to watch. I can you know, I can only do so much and understandably. The now that I'm a mom as well, I Yeah. Wow. Especially. I have a little baby. You know, right now.

It's it's heart wrenching. Fascinating story. And you you get hooked into it.

Yeah. Yeah. It's It is fascinating. And so confronting. Yeah. Yeah.

We just want to ask you also what motherhood means to you at large. And what you said earlier that made me want to ask you this question is the part where you were talking about the decision, the conscious choice you made, not to include family who you love, and who you're close to, and who love you so much, you know not to include them in that decision to have a home birth. And it's in part, knowing that their own love for you is going to bring them down that path of fear. The end, you know, you know, that their fear wouldn't have served you you had to deal with that between yourself and with Tim and your providers. But the very choice to not involve them in it is what a grown up does. That's the kind of thing that turns us into the adults in our lives, the adults that we need to be in order to raise our children. So what has motherhood meant to you? How have you seen yourself evolving as a mother through this process? Well, first of all, I mean, I should say that the choice to sort of not involve family in the process of deciding to have a home birth, you know, it was it was, it was definitely about making sure and choosing to not manage everybody else's fears. I had enough of my own. And I just needed to create that space. And I didn't want my space to be taken up with sort of managing everybody else's potential fears of oh my gosh, are you sure you want to do this, but you're so far away from the hospital, and blah, blah, blah, like all these things, I just thought, as is just not something I want to deal with, which is very unlikely. By the way, I will say that's not something I've done before. It's not like a common thing for me, I'm super open with with my family and my close friends. And it was an incredibly again, informed, thoughtful decision that I made. And thankfully, everyone was supportive after the fact, no one gave me shade for it.

I think it's really, it's a really intelligent thing to do. It's just like, when you're creating some unique idea or creation, like the more you start sharing about it before you are into it deeply or even have done it, the more extraneous noise you have to deal with, you have other people who had the opinions and the feelings and it makes you doubt yourself, it's better to just go on your journey, do your thing, and then show at the end what you've done. And nobody can, how can anybody give you a hard time for a beautiful home birth, it's your journey. It's your process. And all that noise and clutter is just other stuff we have to spend our energy on, that's useless.

Yeah, and the HypnoBirthing stuff, actually in preparation. So I started listening to that way before, or they actual birth. And it really allowed me to kind of tune out a lot of the noise as well. And that noise in my own head. And you know, this is coming from someone who's like, I'm not a meditator, like, I'm not someone who does yoga, or will sit there every day for 10 minutes. And I wish I was I wish I was that person, and I'm not that person. So I made a commitment to myself to sort of trust in, in the process of using HypnoBirthing as as a meditative kind of thing in my in my life during my pregnancy journey to ground myself again. And that was hard, because I'm not wired that way. I'm wired to kind of be doing things and moving constantly. And, you know, this is another thing like to going back to that whole, like, oh, just let everything kind of happened naturally, as is, is in like there's no preparation, there's no informed choices like this was also like a very conscious thing that I that I did to set myself up in the best case scenario. So it really allowed me to at the end of the day is I would I would put it on at the end of the day when I was already in bed and then it would kind of zone me out into into a clear space. It felt like another trusted voice that I could lean on in addition to the voices of my midwife and my doula and my husband. And my obg who was super supportive of the whole thing. Oh, becoming a mother. I remember feeling super confronted when I first became pregnant. I was like a identity crisis in a way where I was like, Oh, wow, I'm pregnant. Now I'm about to have a baby and this child is going to see me like, see me and this baby and our child is going to see me and all the things that I am all the good things and all the bad things and everything in between. And it was just such a moment of kind of asking myself Whew. I mean, this kind of sounds cheesy, but it was, it was a little bit of like, who am I? How do I want to evolve? What do I want my children to see in me that is going to inspire them? What do I need to work on, in order to, you know, try and be the best mom that I possibly can. It was very much I sort of started this process of digging very deep, deeply into my psyche, my soul, and I'm still doing it. And I don't know when that's going to stop. Probably never, it won't. It's never going to stop. But it's been it's been so enlightening and confronting, and really hard and really difficult and really powerful, and really amazing and really exciting and liberating, to go on this journey. And, and again, like, lean into that instinct that I had to question, you know, to question who I am and, and what can I learn more about myself, I'd be curious about myself, I guess it's sort of the best way to put it be curious about myself and off questions and, and discover and, and hopefully, try and be a good mom.

One of the things we talk about a lot on the podcast is about how the way a woman experiences birth completely informs how she experiences early motherhood, and potentially all of motherhood. So it's so important that we go into our birth experience the way we want to the best that we can, because how that first initiation into through birth into motherhood teaches us about ourself. And the journey continues. Every stage of your child's life is another big old mirror that's putting your face and to look at yourself and reflect and grow and transform, but it begins with your birth experience. It starts right there.

Well, this is why we all have a responsibility to give women complete agency when it comes to their births, not to say don't worry, I'll get that baby out of you. Or leave it to me. I've been doing this a long time, or for in laws to say, look, we've raised kids, we just know how this works. If we rob women, of making their own decisions, we're robbing them of trusting themselves as mothers. And it does start with midwives and obstetricians in saying, Well, what feels right to you. Like you said, with your midwives, their job is not to intervene until slash unless they need to intervene. But as soon as we start making those decisions, and stepping in, it's a little message to her that like, I've got this not you. And you're exactly right, it starts with the midwife or there will be because they have the ability to take that from her strip that from her, or they have the power to give it to her by supporting me interesting.

Oh, my God. Yeah, I definitely felt empowered by these two women. I mean, it was really incredible. It was so incredible to have people who continuously reaffirmed for me that I was going to have a beautiful birth someone else so I don't know where I read this or who said it. But you know, it's it's obviously a huge big day, it's the birth of your child, but it's also the both of you as a mother. And I, I make note to tape to say that to people that I know who are about to have their first baby like I tell them that because I don't think people many people here that are kind of under their like, realize that that that's it's also about you as a human being and you are in those moments birthing yourself as a as a as a parent as a mom. And what does that mean to you and how beautiful that is? And yeah, I just it was such a beautiful important thing, I think for pregnant women to hear.

So Yvonne, why did you want to come on and tell your story? What's the most meaningful part of this to you that you get to put this out there your private person and evolved things you want to share? You're going right to birth? Not where you shop. You're going right to birth, the most thing that you've experienced in your life. I mean, what's what does this satisfying you that feels so right, to put your story out there? And there's so many things I mean, I I just had such a profound journey, you know, from the first birth to the second birth, the profound journey of realizing how capable I am as a woman and how capable my body is. I allow my body to do what it is designed to do. I can't I mean, it's almost like I can't express it in words like I, you know, after I gave birth, that was the biggest thing I kept wanting to talk about with everybody who wanted to hear though. I was I was just so excited that that I had learned the power of my BA They, and then all I needed to do was to let it do what it needed to do. And really, like I've always been sort of all about trusting your instincts and your and your inner voice. And I think you know what, you know, a society kind of squashes that a lot, you know, you have an inner voice for a reason. And I learned to listen to it in a very big way, I learned that I didn't listen to it the first time around. And that when I did it, it really allowed for me to set the space up for my body to feel safe. I saw so many stories online, I mean, also on your Instagram, you know, platform and, and it's kind of a way for me to give back. I mean, I hope that if I can, you know, if there's one woman out there who is like me and is like, Oh God, I don't, I don't know, if I should have a home birth, I don't know what to do. Like, I encourage you look into it, it is hard to find the right resources sometimes. But if you keep digging and digging and digging the universe will provide people will put people in your way to lead you to the next lessons and the next thing to whatever to what feels right for you and to really create the space to listen to your body really. I mean, this was such a big lesson for me. I just want to give back and kind of I guess this is my way of saying thank you to everybody who who shared on your platform or and every other thing that I you know, came across in my scrolling or whatever. So although this is super intimate and super private, I think it's really important. I want to be part of the journey that empowers women to make informed choices and listen to their bodies.

Thank you for joining us at the Down To Birth Show. You can reach us @downtobirthshow on Instagram or email us at Contact@DownToBirthShow.com. All of Cynthia’s classes and Trisha’s breastfeeding services are offered live online, serving women and couples everywhere. Please remember this information is made available to you for educational and informational purposes only. It is in no way a substitute for medical advice. For our full disclaimer visit downtobirthshow.com/disclaimer. Thanks for tuning in, and as always, hear everyone and listen to yourself.

I have Yeah, I had to film handmaid's that was pregnant with William and and I got to the point I mean, I was trying to hide it because I wanted to I wanted to get towards the significant amount of weeks before I kind of said something and and I was just there was one point where we were filming I was in the back of a limo with the DP Colin and and I had crackers with me and I just I was so nauseous and had my speedy cup and I was just like you guys I'm pregnant. Like I can't hang on anymore. Like I can't hide this. I don't even care what week this is like I'm pregnant and I'm spinning in this cup and you all have to see it and we got to the point where when we were doing scenes that were longer you know I just hold my mouth shut and and then people just got to know that you know when they called cut that was like you know, someone would fly in with a paper cup stuffed with paper towels that I could I mean that was a hilarious moment. And when we went back so once it was all said and done I had my my first son you know we went back to set we got into Serena's sitting room. And the first ad Pierre I remember he opens my knitting basket and there was a city cup from the last season. Oh no yeah, it was really funny was really funny.

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About Cynthia Overgard

Cynthia is a published writer, advocate, childbirth educator and postpartum support specialist in prenatal/postpartum healthcare and has served thousands of clients since 2007. 

About Trisha Ludwig

Trisha is a Yale-educated Certified Nurse Midwife and International Board Certified Lactation Counselor. She has worked in women's health for more than 15 years.

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