There was nothing about my birth that was “as seen on TV.” For starters, my water didn’t break in the middle of a crowded city street à la Charlotte on Sex and the City (and I was really hoping for that). My midwife also used a now-controversial birthing practice that completely turned my birth experience on its head.
It’s called delayed cord clamping, and it wholly defies that classic cutting-the-cord moment that happens seconds after a baby is pushed out, the high point of every tear-jerking birth story we see in movies and on TV. I’d always assumed that giving birth went in that particular order, based on the media’s portrayal.
First, the water breaks (hopefully in a fun and public location that makes for a good story later). Second, you hightail it to the hospital just in time for the big contractions to start — and cue a sweaty mom screaming on the delivery table. Third, your brand-new bundle of joy finally makes his way into the world, Dad cuts the cord and everyone lives happily ever after.
After having not one but two children, I now know that the typical birth story is anything but. I chose to have my kids outside of the hospital as a low-risk pregnancy, the first at a local birthing center and the second at home. With both kids, I used the same midwife who stuck to the same unmedicated birthing protocol — which included all the fun stuff like letting me eat snacks while I labored at home, encouraging lots of movement and the changing of birthing positions during the final stages of labor and even keeping my baby attached to me long after he came out of my womb.
As it turns out, making my husband hold off on his proud first duties as Dad was not just my midwife being lazy. Quite the contrary — my midwife believed, as many midwives and medical professionals now do, that waiting to cut the cord until it “pulsed out” was beneficial to mother and baby.
The WHO thinks it’s a great idea, recommending not to clamp the umbilical cord earlier than one minute after birth to improve health and nutrition outcomes for both mother and baby. And last year, NPR made waves when it revived the discussion of this traditional practice, asserting that waiting to cut the cord for several minutes after birth could improve neurodevelopment several years down the road.
While I love my children deeply and also relish in the fact that their brains could be a little sharper because of delayed cord clamping, for me, it was the relaxation of the practice that stuck out most in both of my birth experiences.
As soon as both of my babies slipped out and were officially in the world, it seemed like time stopped for a minute. And while this is a moment that any new parent can identify with, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate that our first face-to-face meeting wasn’t interrupted by the cutting of the cord. My kids came out and were immediately plopped onto my belly, gooey and goopy and struggling for their first breaths. The midwives stood back and let my husband and me have our first moments as a little family, first with one child and then with the other, a few years later.
It wasn’t until after my kids were born, when I read more about the research that surrounds delayed cord clamping, that I understood what was actually happening. Time was standing still, I was enjoying the first few uninterrupted minutes examining my new baby’s face that I had been waiting nine months to see, and all the while, the excess blood from my placenta was being transferred into my son. Those extra minutes had the potential to increase my babies’ blood volume by up to a third and provide a hefty dose of iron at birth — hence, the leg-up when it comes to development.
My husband eventually got to cut the cord, and it’s a special moment he still remembers. But what stuck out to me most of all was how quiet those first few moments felt. No one interrupted me, no one rushed over to scrub down my baby and cut his cord and make sure he was OK — there would be plenty of time for that later. I got to enjoy my sons’ first minutes in the world while they were still attached to me, still feeling the beating of my heart. That delayed cord clamping has proven health benefits only makes this memory sweeter.
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