Dewi Lestari is a well-known singer, songwriter and best-selling author. What’s less well known about her, however, is her interest in natural childbirth. Her first child, 6-year-old son Keenan, from her first marriage, was born by Caesarean section in a hospital. However, two years ago, Dewi and her second husband, holistic healer Reza Gunawan, brought their daughter into the world the natural way.
“I feel like hospital births are too time focused,” Dewi said. “With Keenan, I went to the hospital in the morning, and after four hours passed the hospital staff said I wasn’t dilated enough and should have a Caesarean,” she said. “It was like there was a deadline.”
Reza, who runs the True Nature Holistic Health center in Kebayoran Baru, South Jakarta, said he heard from a close friend, who is a pediatrician, that there aren’t enough beds in the capital’s hospitals for women needing to give birth. “Once a women goes into hospital, they need to get the birth done as soon as possible to get on to the next one,” he said.
“People who don’t know about natural birth [at home] think it is better to give birth at a modern hospital, where it costs a lot more, without realizing that it may not be best for the baby’s health, safety and well-being,” Reza said.
Dewi said the first time she watched a film about natural childbirth called “Birth as We Know It,” she had to stop the movie after the first five minutes. “I was crying. It was like there was this big trauma that I never knew I was carrying,” she said. “That was the first time I watched a woman have a natural birth.”
She was only able to continue watching the film after she and Reza held a trauma-healing session.
“I didn’t know I was holding this disappointment toward myself because I hadn’t been able to have the kind of birth that I wanted with my first pregnancy,” she said. “I feel that to have a sacred, gentle birth is a nine-month journey of becoming at one with yourself.”
Reza agreed with his wife. “I feel it’s important for women to understand that nine months of pregnancy is a time of accelerated enlightenment where you become at one with yourself, where you fully allow and surrender to whatever happens on D-Day [delivery day].”
With natural birth as the goal, Dewi’s approach to her second pregnancy was completely different to her first. “I didn’t take any medication even though I was experiencing pregnancy itches and heavy nausea,” she said. “Just Bach flower remedies, tai chi and meditation.”
Dewi said she initially doubted whether she was capable of giving birth the natural way, and was discouraged by her family. “One of my sisters said that once you’ve had a Caesarean, you have to do it again.” Dewi said. “She encouraged me to give up the idea of having a natural birth and keep it safe, just go for another Caesarean.”
Dewi said she was not induced when she had her daughter, Atisha, and the labor pains were not as painful as those she felt with Keenan. Studies have found that inducing labor can set off a cascade effect — the induction causes more painful contractions, which can lead to a more difficult labor, increasing the incentive for a Caesarean.
Dewi said that because she and Reza chose to be at home for the birth, she was free to behave as she wanted during the labor — squat, bury her head in a pillow, pound a mattress or walk around.
She made Reza promise that the two of them would have total privacy, with no one else entering the room, not even family members. “Behind a closed door, my sister was there to help, bringing hot water and towels,” Reza said.
Reza, meanwhile, was preoccupied preparing for the birth, trying to arrange for their midwife to travel to their home and filling the birthing tub with water. In the end, Dewi realized that Reza was too busy to hold a camera, and asked Reza’s sister to film the birth.
Initially, Reza and Dewi thought Dewi’s early contractions were Braxton Hicks contractions, also known as false labor or practice contractions. By the time they realized that Dewi was in labor, it was too late to get the midwife to their home in time.
“We knew it was going to be unassisted,” said Reza, adding they were only minutes from a hospital if anything went wrong.
Dewi said the birth was so sudden, there was no time for her or Reza to be afraid. “The birth was already happening, already unfolding,” she said. “I didn’t have time to think. I had to follow my body.”
She said the labor felt normal, even casual. “Then the pain changed, just shifted to another sensation, as if the pushing just came from nowhere,” she said.
“I remember I walked near the pool and my body suddenly squatted. My knees just bent. I said to Reza, ‘OK, I think its time to go to the pool,’ ” she said. “It was instinctive, I didn’t think twice. Five minutes later, we were in the pool.” Half an hour later, Atisha was in Reza’s hands.
Dewi said when she was giving birth in the water “the pushing sensation wasn’t painful at all. It was as if my body was opening up. I made all these sounds, like screaming, but when I listen to it [in the film] it doesn’t sound human, it sounds like a cow mooing, like an animal. Very primal.
“I was split in two, the thinking me and the doing me. The thinking me was like, ‘Oh those don’t sound like human sounds at all.’ ”
Dewi said when she was pregnant with Keenan, the nurse gave her a briefing about birthing practices in history. “When I saw a picture of a women squatting to give birth, I thought, oh that’s so uncivilized,” she said.
She laughed at the memory. “When I had Atisha, I was squatting instinctively.
“It was so natural. In modern birthing practice, women lie down and put their feet up,” she said. “That’s how disconnected women are to nature now.”
“When the baby came out, I was so shocked,” Dewi said. “I thought, huh, I did it? That’s it? I held her on my chest, and half an hour later, she was breast-feeding. It was really, really magical.
“I couldn’t believe we were able to have the kind of birth we wanted. All the way from a Caesarean to an unassisted birth at home — in water. It was a dream come true.”