This is a guest post written by one of my friends, five months after she gave birth to her first child. The names have been changed for privacy reasons. It is a beautiful story of an amazing birth.
My birth story really begins before birth, when I was pregnant and feeling nervous about the process of labour. I joined our local library and discovered all the books they kept on babies, pregnancy, birth, and the like. I was in fact looking through the shelves for good pre-birth yoga books, as I had started a class of antenatal yoga, and wanted some pointers on how to practise at home. I also was aware that there were various breathing exercises that were supposed to help with labour pains.
My husband and I had enlisted a private obstetrician, and booked into a private hospital – we hadn’t done a lot of research into the how’s of options available for having a baby, but we were interested in lots of security of back ups, it being our first baby, and me having temporal lobe epilepsy.
I read a book that really scared me about labour – it later turned out that it was American in source, and I probably should have known better, but through it I became very determined to know all I could about labour, and what processes were good and what processes I needed to question. The reality was I knew nothing, there were evidently heaps of theories out there, but I felt it was difficult to work out what was good and what was bad. I also had sort of freaked myself out by reading other people’s labour horror stories on the various chat portals on line.
I knew what I didn’t want – lots of intervention, leading to a caesarean, or not being allowed to move as much as I wanted, but wasn’t really sure how I could help make that happen. I felt a bit like we had possibly enlisted the help of the devil by getting a private obstetrician, and booking into a private hospital, but were hoping to control the ride, so to speak – I was worried that the private hospital would be too eager to pack me off for a caesarean, that my obstetrician would erode my confidence in myself, and that I would be overtaken by the medical wants of risk minimisation. I was afraid of labour, but I wanted to do it as naturally as possible, I wanted to experience it, and at the same time, I was afraid that the setting that we had chosen (private hospital, obstetrician) would not support me and my desires for our birth.
I borrowed a book called “Birth Skills – Pain management techniques” by Juju Sundin with Sarah Murdoch. This revolutionised my preparation for labour. Instead of feeling faintly nervous about labour, I felt empowered, because in that book they were showing various techniques for dealing with the pain of labour naturally. I read the book, and told my husband, if you read one book, please read this one, so he dutifully took the book on the train commute into work every day and worked his way through it. I also contacted my mum, who I had asked to be in my birth team, and encouraged her to get hold of the book because that was the theory I was going to be trying to apply.
I had a notebook I was planning to take into t he labour ward filled with pertinent bits of useful information. I wrote a summary of “Birth Skills” into this book, and I packed a rather elaborate labour ward bag full of (among other things) juggling balls, oils, hand creams, and pictures of a beautiful holiday place that I could look at – anything I thought would help me carry out the techniques shown. Other things that went in my book – a list of reminders for my husband of odd stuff I thought he might have trouble remembering (like, remember to check that the water in the shower is hot enough before I strip off, if we end up using the shower), a summary of tips for a posterior labour, how to help the baby turn, what positions were particularly good, and my piece de resistance, a list of questions to ask when a medical intervention was suggested – like, why do you think it is necessary, what effects on the mother, what effects on the baby, etc.
I ran my pack for both the hospital and the labour ward past my mother (who is a midwife, but had never approached a birth from this point of view), and I felt prepared, if not still slightly nervous. I felt a bit like, it was up to me to make sure I got the best care, so I had to be really with it, and let my helpers know what I wanted to make sure that they could advocate for me if need be. The things that calmed me was knowing the hospital needed my signature, or that of my husband, as permission to do anything, the fact that I trusted my husband completely, and had told him of my worries, the knowledge that my mum’s medical knowledge could provide an extra point of view, which lessened the chances of us being bamboozled in the heat of the moment, and many many prayers about labour, about having a healthy baby, and about giving me the faith to trust that God had this one under control and that His will would be done.
What I imagined labour to be was long, hard tiring work, painful, but “good pain” from working muscles, and, because it was my first baby, at least a week late.
I had been experiencing practise (Braxton Hicks) contractions for probably at least three weeks before my due date, if not longer, and the baby was steadily moving downwards every week, but we thought the baby was definitely on its way on the night of the 15th, when I was having regular contractions about 10 minutes apart. There was a flurry of activity – I realised I had not washed any of the baby clothes or linen that was given to me, and was irritated that I did not feel ready yet. However, the contractions stopped in the early morning, so we assumed it was a false alarm, and the morning of the 16th was devoted to washing and doing the jobs that I had though of as reasons why I shouldn’t be going into labour!
About mid morning on the 16th, the contractions seemed to start again – about every 15 minutes apart or so, sort of painful, but just an uncomfortable period pain sort of pain. We were scheduled to have lunch with an aunt, where I would get to finally meet my cousin’s new baby, born about 10 days earlier. So because I could still ignore the contractions, and because I was so determined, I decided that it was another false start. There was no way I was going to put my life on hold for false starts, and I was busting to see the baby, so we went to lunch. I’m pretty sure my mum and my husband were a tad more nervous than they showed, but we agreed just not to mention anything, and to take it how it came. Lunch was really fun, with lots of laughs and good food, and I really enjoyed it. We went home for a sleep, and by about 4pm, the contractions were getting more regular, and more painful, and we started thinking that it might be the real thing. My husband and I decided to go for a walk before dinner, to get some fresh air, and the contractions really started to get to the point where I had to stand still and concentrate while they occurred, and they were getting closer together – about 5-7mins apart from memory. We chatted to some friends whose house we walked past, and I was terrified they would work out what was going on! One of my big needs was for the minimum number of people to know that I was in labour, because I had a fear of people needing updates, and of them ringing my husband every hour demanding to know if the baby had been born.
By the time I got home, the contractions were about 5 mins apart, and the pain was starting to get to me. I needed to breath, I needed to bounce on my exercise ball, I started needing to vocalise a bit, but felt a tad embarrassed about ahhing in the normalness of our lounge room. I remember crying for a couple of contractions, because I was scared, and I wasn’t sure if I could put up with the pain for the length that I imagined labour to be (8 hours or so?) I ate tea in between contractions, and by the end of dinner, contractions were three minutes apart, and I was unashamedly ahhing.
I was afraid of getting stuck in a little hospital room, so we stayed at home a little more. My husband packed the car so everything would be ready, while my mum stayed with me. I moved all over the house, restless, pausing for contractions, and doing whatever it took to get me through the contractions. I rocked on the exercise ball, and then when that got too much, I started rocking on all fours. I had a few contractions on the toilet, and I rocked on the toilet and ripped toilet paper. I spent a couple of contractions in the shower, but then we ran out of hot water, so I dressed again, and was on all fours, thumping the ground and ahhing. My husband kept on encouraging me to “match the pain” (from Juju’s book), and my mum also ahhed, and encouraged. I felt nauseous, and then I felt like I should be pushing, so I felt that we should move to the hospital. It took a couple of contractions to get out of the house – I was terrified of having a contraction outside our unit block, as by this time I was really loud, and I was terrified of meeting people, but my mum just steered me towards the car, and told me not to worry. I was worried about my husband driving unsafely, and took the time to instruct him to drive safely, that I would be ok, and then I jammed myself in the backseat, kneeling sideways on the seat, jamming my head in between the exercise ball, which was in the back seat, and the back seat head rest. I’m sure we must have got just about every red light between our place and the hospital, which was about a 15 minute drive away.
I felt really insecure in the drive to the hospital, out of my comfort zone at home, worried about the coming hospital stay, and worried about getting trapped on the road. We arrived at the hospital and I had a contraction in the car with my husband leaning in through the boot to encourage me, another contraction at the lift, and another contraction at the entrance to the labour ward. By this time, my world had shrunk to me, the pain of labour, my coping mechanisms, and what my support team were saying. I could barely concentrate on much else. Out of the vast array of Juju’s arsenal, I seemed to be sticking to breathing, and ahhing, or roaring in my case. I actually said “roar” repeatedly through my contractions. My mum was reminding me from the start to make my roars deep, so they weren’t high pitched, but deep, earthy roars that came from the bottom of my stomach. I was worried that the sound of our contraction would wake people in the maternity wing, right next door to the entrance to the labour ward, but along came a really nice midwife whose first words were “its ok, don’t worry, you do what you have to do and then come on in”. I had to sit on a bed so she could examine me and work out where I was in labour – first of all I went to the toilet and realised I had blood in my undies – I remembered that my mum had said there would be a show at about 5cm dilated, but I still was convinced the midwife would declare that I was only 1cm dilated.
In actual fact, I was 7 or 8 cm dilated, and the realisation that I had done most of my labour at home was encouraging, although it was hard to think on that in any concentrated manner. The shower at home had been really good, so I was determined to just hop straight into the shower at the hospital as soon as I could, I practically ran for the shower, stripping off clothes as I went, because I knew another contraction was on the way, and I wanted the shower to help me cope. I started out standing up with my mum spraying the water on my lower back, but ended up on all fours, slapping the ground with my hand. I wanted gas, because at the peak of every contraction there was a small period on time where I thought “I’m not coping”, where the pain just went beyond where I could deal with it by roaring, by listening to my husband roar beside me, by feeling the slap of water on my hand, and feeling the soothing warmth of water on my back. I actually had thoughts in one of those periods of whether banging my head against the tiles would make it all easier to deal with, not that I was trying to knock myself out, just that I felt like I couldn’t match the pain any more, like I had no more tricks and no where else to go, but the pain did seem to be getting worse. During contractions, I couldn’t swallow, so I was drooling into the shower, my head was hanging down, I couldn’t listen to anything on a conscious level, all I could do was work through it. I tried to concentrate on the sound of my husbands roaring, on the feel of the water, on the encouragement from those around me, but I could not respond, or thank them, or interact at all. They got me gas on a trolley, so I could stay in the shower, and the first time I used it I breathed so deeply I felt dizzy, but it was something to distract me from the pain, and after that, I breathed the gas in contractions, and my husband continued roaring for us. Later on I was told that I actually wasn’t using the gas effectively, more just holding the mouth piece in my mouth like a bone, but whatever I was doing, it helped me feel less out of control at the peak of the contractions.
I started feeling the urge to push, and was really worried, because I had read that a lot of first time labourers tried to push too early, and needed to be distracted from this while they finished dilating. My obstetrician had arrived, and they got me on the bed again for him to examine me, and I was still trying so hard not to push, but accidentally pushing and then apologising for it, but I was fully dilated, and all of a sudden, I realised that the midwife and obstetrician and my support team were encouraging me to push, so push I did! I had opted to kneel on the bed, holding onto the back of the bed for support. This meant I could rest on the back of the bed in between pushes, and sort of bear down towards the backs of my heels for pushing. I was comfortable in that position, I felt secure, and I requested a hospital robe to cover my back.
Pushing was such hard work, harder than anything I’d done before. The contractions didn’t hurt like they used to, but I was so physically tired, and emotionally exhausted. I was trying to put my energy into pushing down and out, and squeezing my husbands hand as hard as I could at the same time, and in between I was too tired to look around or interact with anyone much. My husband and my mum kept on encouraging, and the midwife said to me at some stage, “the harder you push, the sooner this will be over”, and that especially galvanised me, and I concentrated everything I had on pushing. I noticed that the obstetrician didn’t try to give me directions, he gave directions to my husband to pass on – this was just as well, as I had trouble concentrating on what anyone was saying. Every so often they would check the baby’s heart beat with some sort of ultrasound, but I was too exhausted to even take an interest in that. I started hearing them exclaim over the baby starting to be visible, and the midwife tried to encourage my husband to have a look, but he correctly realised that I was way beyond the stage where he could leave me. There was a really painful moment when the baby’s head crowned, where I though I was going to burst, because the contraction had ended, and I had to wait for the next contraction to come, but in the next contraction (or maybe the next two, I can’t really remember) the baby came out, which felt like a rush of warm solid water from between my legs. They passed the baby through my legs to me, and I levered my chest off the bed with my head and awkwardly took the baby under the arms. The baby was sort of browney grey, I remember, with red bloody bits all over and the cord was still attached. It had dark hair, and piercing dark eyes that were looking at me. I asked what the sex was, and they replied that I should take a look – it was a little boy. He was born about 2 hours after we got to the labour ward.
I remember trying to hug him to my chest to protect him from anyone who would dare try and take it away from me now. I remembered that it was important for the baby and mum to be left with skin to skin contact straight after the birth, not for the hospital to take baby away to do measurements and tests, and I wasn’t sure that someone wasn’t going to try and do that now. I didn’t feel a rush of love for the baby, it was more wonder, and fierce protectiveness – this baby was mine, and probably the only person who could have taken the baby off me without physical harm was my husband. Our boy was making sort of whimpering sounds, and he was all slippery, and I was kneeling in a pool of birth water and blood, with him still attached by what turned out to be a short umbilical cord. It felt all awkward but amazing and right at the same time – after so long anticipating, I was holding our baby. I stayed in that position until my husband had finished cutting the cord, and then with the help of my mum, the midwife and the obstetrician, I turned over into a sitting position, with the baby on my chest. I wanted the baby to suck, this was really important to me, but I also had gotten a tear during birth (my mum had remembered to tell the obstetrician that I didn’t want to be cut) that needed stitches. The fact that I needed stitches came as a shock to me – somehow I hadn’t thought through that occurring – I knew people did tear in birth, but hadn’t thought about it occurring or not during my labour. There was some sort of delay while they got the suture thread the obstetrician requested, and I was lying in the bed with my feet in those stirrups that are on the side of the bed that you look at when you tour a labour ward and hope you never have to use. Somewhere at the back of my mind I felt like I should be embarrassed to be laying semi naked with my feet in the air like that, but I was too tired, and distracted by our little boy, lying on my chest. We had a little trouble getting him to suck – I had read that newborns could inch their own way onto a nipple without help, given time, and I wanted to try that, but it was more important to me that he had a feed. I just held the baby while the obstetrician did his stitching, he still hadn’t had a suck, but we were going to try again later. After I was stitched up I started feeling faint, so the baby was given to my husband to hold. I was too faint to care about anything much, and then I started feeling sick, and then the obstetrician took my blood pressure, and then I got all warm and started retching. They decided to give me a saline drip to try and get my blood pressure up. I was conscious enough to tell the midwife “good luck” finding a vein, as I knew health professionals had had trouble trying to find a vein in other situations, and knew that my veins would be ‘disappearing’ as my mother puts it. On the second go she got the needle in, and the drip was attached. My husband had to give the baby to my mum to hold as he started feeling faint himself, he said later it was seeing me getting stitched, then start to go white that made him start to feel awful. My mum took the opportunity, after the drip was put in, while my husband was putting his head down, to try and get the baby to suck. Her persistence paid off, and our little boy had his first suck. This helped me feel better in myself no end, as I had worried about him not sucking. Turns out it was a bit more than an hour after birth that he got that suck, which is not ideal, but it was great he got a suck. After he had finished, the midwife took him into the other room with my husband to measure him and then they gave him his first bath. I lay in the hospital bed recovering, being fed jelly beans by my mother, and worrying that we would get in trouble for eating jelly beans in the labour ward! He was put to sleep in a hospital bassinette, and I lay in bed waiting for the drip to run its course. I thought I was better enough towards the end to have a shower – as it turned out, I started feeling woozy in the shower and they had to get me back to bed in a wheelchair and down to my room in the maternity ward in a wheelchair too. Finally, at about 3am, they judged that it was ok to take the drip out (it had just about finished) and my husband went home, and I tried to get some sleep. I got my husband to wheel Jackson in the bassinet to beside my bed – so I could lie in bed and look at his tiny sleeping face. I was so amazed that we had managed to create such a tiny perfect little human. I didn’t really sleep well, as Jackson was snuffling, and I was terrified about how I was going to look after him – I felt like I had no idea, but he slept through until about 8am the next morning.
Jackson is five months now, and I still feel like I have no idea about how to look after him, but that feeling is getting more and more normal, and therefore, less scary!! I love him more and more with each passing day – it seems that as he grows and gets more independent, and learns more skills, and gets to know the world more, I am more and more in love with him, and dread him growing up! I will always remember the feeling of holding him straight after he was born. He will always be my baby.
I love hearing positive, empowering birth stories. It’s what all women should hear. Not the rubbish that’s on tv, nor horror stories. Thank you to my friend who graciously allowed us all the privilege of reading her birth story. I’d love other people to share their stories, if your interested let me know and I’ll give you my email address.