"Lotus Birth? What on earth is that?" Not the most impressive start to a discussion on whether or not to participate in a Lotus Birth for the birth of our third daughter, but our Independent Midwife (IM) had asked the question, and in the spirit of informed choice, I had researched my answer.
Why would I want a Lotus birth? Well, why not? No evidence that my husband or I could find, actually said that a Lotus Birth would do harm to our daughter, and the only evidence we could find was anecdotal about how Lotus Birth produced calmer babies. Well, what's not to like about that, we figured?
Neither my husband nor I are particularly spiritual, but we both liked the idea of having some form of control over our daughter's birth- having had two prior caesareans, we both figured that perhaps, if this birth didn't go the way we wanted, and then perhaps we could salvage something from the birthing experience.
As our due date got closer, we actually started to plan what we would need for the Lotus birth - my husband made a blue velvet bag to put the placenta in, and we had lavender plants and oil and salt to help preserve the placenta. Our IM, Rosie said that she would be more than willing to take the hands on approach, and prepare the placenta on arrival, so we really didn't have too much to worry about there!
Ten days past my due date, and panic set in - I went for acupuncture to bring on labour, I was terrified I would have to be taken into hospital for another caesarean, so opted for a form of induction, more natural and less damaging than oxytocin (which studies have shown increase risks for VBAC mothers).
Twelve hours after the acupuncture and my waters spontaneously broke at 4am - relief! I was in labour! I had got that far, now all I had to do was the rest. I turned on my tens and started my hypnobirthing. I laboured at home, and in water, for about twenty hours, before we made the decision to go into hospital - introduction of syntocinon led to a failure to progress, and theatre here we come.
Devastated is probably the closest word I can choose to use, to mirror my feelings. Loss of control, my birth was, yet again, being taken away from me. Without choice, without reason. There was nothing I could do. My IM asked if we still wanted a Lotus Birth, to which I replied, through tears, "Yes!" It was on my birth plan, so why not?
At this point, it all gets a little vague for me - I was in shock, devastated, already mourning the loss of this most wanted ‘natural' birth- how could I possibly salvage anything from this situation? The NHS midwives and consultant registrar came in to discuss my options- the pink form that you sign for accepting a caesarean intervention, to this day, scares the living daylights out of me. I remember not being able to sign it properly, as I was so upset.
My birth plan contained a fair amount of detail - what I did want, what I didn't want and what I was prepared to consent too. There was also a small line about how I wanted to have a Lotus Birth, whether my baby was born by caesarean or not. I was asked by the staff if I still wanted to have my Lotus Birth, to which I empathically replied "Yes!". It was my only way of having an input into my daughter's birth, some slight sense of control in a powerless situation.
The staff didn't ask too many questions - they told me that it may not be possible to perform the Lotus Birth, depending on the position of my daughter, and any other 'emergencies' that may arise, and I was wheeled in to theatre. As far as I could tell, after my baby was delivered, one of the surgical team peeled away the placenta from my uterine wall and placed it in a dish, whilst another did the post delivery checks on my baby. It all seemed very quick, and the cord was good and long so that might have made it easier.
On the whole we were surprised how well the theatre staff dealt with a procedure so different from the norm. There was no issue with the procedure, they just did it, silently, without judgement, for which I was intensely grateful.
Once the baby and placenta are delivered there is nothing more to do for a lotus birth medically speaking as it is by definition a lack of intervention, however there is plenty to do for the parents!
First we had to peel off the membranes and wash the placenta; a colander was good for this. Next we folded up a muslin into a square about the same size as the placenta, and placed the folded muslin into the centre of another unfolded muslin. We then made salt packs out of paper towels and put them on top of the folded muslin, onto which we placed the placenta. We then knotted the corners of the outer muslin to make a bundle, and wrapped the bundle in another muslin knotting it in the same way, so that the cord comes out between the knots.
This wrapping method also came in hand when challenged by medical staff who asked how we would transfer the placenta in the car with the baby without it moving and pulling; Using the ends of the knotted muslin we tied the bundle to the side of the car seat.
We had made a bag to put the placenta in but if truth be told muslins are better as they allow drying, are cheap and, let's face it, you probably have too many anyway! We dyed ours black to hide any staining.
To start with we changed the wrapping's and salt packs every day, adding lavender oil, however after a few days we did this less often. There was never any unpleasant smell or leaks, the salt takes care of the preserving and drying, and we were both really surprised at how easy the placenta was to look after.
Eventually the cord come off, after 10 days - which was a little slower. We think this was because we used absorbant pads in the hospital, which kept the placenta and cord dryer than the muslins.
Our next daughter, my 4th child was also born by caesarean and we again choose to have a lotus birth. These babies that had their placentas left attached proved to be calmer, more peaceful babies. Whether this was a spiritual connection or just luck, we don't know. But what we do know is that if, and when, we will have baby #5, we will definitely be having a Lotus birth again!