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My birthing experience: Part 2 (Warning: Graphic)

Sunday, March 20th, 2011

Leading up to the birth of my second baby, I felt more nervous and anxious than first time round. I had very mixed emotions about my first labour and birth. My hopes and dreams of a beautiful, normal, homebirth had been shattered. But, I had been fortunate enough to be transferred to a place where I felt comfortable and I was able to have a vaginal birth, albeit not completely normal (see my previous post for the full story).

I thought about it a lot, and I still could not imagine labouring and birthing anywhere but my home. It’s where I feel comfortable. It’s where my family dwell. Everything I love is there. I can be myself. So with much trepidation and nervousness I booked in once again to the St George Hospital homebirth program.

I was very blessed that my good friend and midwifery mentor and legend was able to be my caseload midwife. The same midwife that had assisted me to bring Levi into the world. It was so special and important to me that she be my midwife again. We did and still do have such a strong connection, that had only been made stronger by my first birthing experience. She understood my devastation and grief for not having achieved my homebirth goal. We had worked through it together for the last one and a half years.

While I was pregnant I did a lot of extra brainwork to ensure I would be able to manage, cope and stay calm even if the same outcome happened. This included yoga, deep breathing and relaxation, reading through the ‘Calmbirth’ course notes and seeing a psychologist to work through the reasons things didn’t go to plan. I feel like I really missed out on vital information by not doing these things during my first pregnancy. First time round I had been ready physically by exercising and doing yoga, but I had not prepared my mind adequately for the challenges of unexpected outcomes. This time I made sure I was ready.

So… The whole pregnancy I had had a feeling I was having a girl, except for the very last week. The more overdue I was, the more convinced I became that the baby was a boy. Silly unproven theory I know, but I think the feeling was deeper than just guessing. I had not enjoyed being pregnant. Sciatica, tiredness and pubic symphysis dysfunction (pregnancy hormones cause loosening of ligaments, so pubic bones rub together, excruciating!). Not to mention the exhaustion of being pregnant while looking after a toddler. Hats off to anyone who’s done it. Although pregnancy wasn’t fun, I was bursting with excitement to meet my new baby. I was also even looking forward to seeing what this labour and birth would be like.

40+5 days and 40+5 degrees, or so it felt. It was Australia Day and it was stinking hot. I had been having mild period-like pain all day but didn’t think too much of it because I had felt like that a couple of times that week already. By lunchtime though, I was pretty sure I would be having a baby soon. Levi had an especially long sleep (I think he just knew I needed time to prepare myself and rest). At 4pm we went to a friends house for a swim to cool down. It was that hot that an almost labouring woman would venture out for some watery relief. When we got home at 6pm things really heated up. The waves came every 2-3 minutes, lasting about a minute, though I wasn’t really counting. I decided it was time to get the labour plan into action. So, I tried calling my mum to pick Levi up so she could put him to bed at her house and he wouldn’t have to be disturbed halfway through the night. She wouldn’t answer. I tried her mobile. I tried her home number. I tried dad’s mobile. NO ONE ANSWERED! I was getting a bit worried now. I called my brother (who still lives with my parents) and he told me they were at an Australia Day BBQ with friends. Great. I would have to ring their friend’s house and everyone would know I was in labour. The absolutely last thing I wanted. No one knowing = no expectations. But I got over it and finally got in contact with mum.

As mum was leaving with Levi she gave me a kiss and said that this might be an Australia Day baby after all. It was about 7:30pm. I laughed and said there was no way, as there were only a few hours left of Australia Day. I thought maybe by 6am or so I might meet this baby. As I was kissing my precious only child goodbye, I felt sad. It was more than just the normal “I’ll miss you” kind of sad. It was a loss of him being my only child, my precious gift, my special one. We would all have to make room in our lives and hearts for this new creation. So with an extra big hug and kiss, my mum and my world left.

I perked up quickly at the thought that I was in labour and feeling so fine. I was getting excited! I brought in the washing and tidied the bomb site that was our house, in between pacing up and down the corridor and deep breathing/blowing through contractions. I remember one particular contraction just after going to the bathroom, I was leaning on the sink and drawing figure eights with my hips. I smiled and spoke silently to my baby, “we’re doing well, we’ll do this together, can’t wait to meet you little one”.

2 hours before birth, still with a smile on my face

At 9pm I said to hubby that I just didn’t know when to call the midwife and my sister to come. I had no idea how I was progressing, this labour felt so different to last time. So he sat down next to me and timed my contractions. After about 45 minutes he announced that I was contracting for a minute every second minute (obviously not a midwife). So we decided to call in the troops. It was now 9:50pm. After he hung up the phone, I had a huge almighty contraction. I looked up at him and said “I don’t like this anymore”. The next wave came and I heard this loud deep earthy trembling roar. I realised only after the pain eased that the roar was coming from me! I was beginning to feel the need to push. OH MY GOODNESS! I can’t be at this stage already, it’s only been a few hours, my midwife’s not here, my sister’s not here and worst of all we haven’t even started filling the pool!

My sister arrived at 10pm- record time. She knew as soon as she walked in that it wouldn’t be long. She could hear that I was pushing through my breaths. She told me later, how she thought she and hubby were going to have to catch the baby by themselves. Meanwhile I was on my hands and knees on the floor and kept looking at the pool being filled agonisingly slowly. I kept yelling “The baby’s coming, hurry up, I can’t wait, is the pool ready yet?”. My midwife arrived at 10:10pm and later she told me she could feel the stress in the air, though everyone was very calm externally, they were happy and relieved to see her face. She called her backup midwife to come (there are always 2 midwives present for the birth in this program), but knew she wouldn’t make it because she had a minimum 40 minute drive to make.

Finally at 10:20pm the birth pool was full enough for me to get in. I had absolutely no strength in my legs and it took the help of both my sister and the midwife to awkwardly drag me into the pool (hubby was still busy filling the pool with buckets so it could be deeper as it was only just deeper than my hips). The water felt amazing. The buoyancy and coolness penetrating my skin and calming me further. I hadn’t imagined a cold bath. The water had been scorching hot with Levi’s birth, but this cool sensation felt just perfect for this birth.

My midwife whispered in my ear, “you don’t have to rush this, just take your time”. This was a great reminder and made me refocus and try and breathe the baby out rather than frantically pushing. This was different to last time as I had had to push with all my might because Levi had pooed and they were worried he might become distressed. So, on my hands and knees, trying to breathe through the contractions while every fibre of my being was screaming at me to push, resulted in my blowing some serious raspberries against the plastic wall of the pool. Why hadn’t anyone told me how helpful raspberry blowing could be? It was great!

I could feel myself opening up to allow this precious being to come further down. Again it felt different to last time. Now it was a stretching, opening, releasing, groaning of my body, rather than the unbearable pressure and pain from last time. My midwife said that the baby might be born in the caul (still in the bag of waters) but as she got ready with the amnihook (like a crochet needle to pop the bag) I felt my waters pop. Suddenly that stinging sensation was there again and before I could breathe I could feel a head and body slipping gently out of me and into the water. As my husband lifted the baby out of the water he said “it’s a boy”.

I was in disbelief. I started balling my eyes out. I quickly rolled over into a sitting position so I could meet my new little man. I couldn’t fathom the experience I had just been through. “I can’t believe it’s over, oh my goodness I’ve had a baby, he’s out, I’m finished, I can’t believe it”. He was stunningly perfect. His smooth skin still totally covered in vernix (waxy cream like coating to protect the skin during a baby’s development, not usually seen in overdue babies). Cradled in my husbands arms was beautiful creamy white, angel baby. A few minutes later I gave a gentle push and out came the placenta, almost no blood at all.

Adoring our gift

I had been impatient to hold this new creation, though felt too shaky and wanted to birth the placenta first. Once I had done this, I excitedly and with an abundance of tears, lovingly enfolded my beautiful baby boy into my arms. He was much bigger than I remember Levi being. He almost immediately started to suckle. We sat there together in the water, gazing into each others eyes, I soaked him in. That’s when the back up midwife arrived. She had missed the birth by about 10 minutes. It didn’t matter. I had been hugely blessed. I was restored. I once again had faith in my body’s ability to birth a baby safely and normally. I had even managed to have an Australia day baby when I thought it would be impossible to birth that quickly. The adventure of parenting two little boys had begun!

“Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him.”- Psalm 127: 3.

My birthing experience: Part 1 (Warning: Graphic)

Friday, March 18th, 2011

It was a cool Sunday on May 17, 2009. I was 40 weeks and 9 days pregnant and incredibly impatient. I was planning to have a homebirth with the St George Hospital, publicly funded homebirth program. One of the criteria to have a homebirth with this program is that you must give birth no later that 40+14 weeks (ie. 42 weeks). I was becoming nervous that I would have to be induced in the delivery suite at St George, the absolute last place I’d choose. I had tried almost every method of self-induction; long walks, hot bath, sex, clary sage oil, evening primrose oil, internal exam to sweep the membranes, spicy food, reflexology and herbal remedies. I remember asking everyone I knew, to pray that this baby would finally come out. But as night came and the eternity of that day drew to a close, I thought I might try and take matters into my own hands.

Now there’s something you should know about me for the next part to make sense; I have irritable bowel syndrome. I had been managing my IBS with a dairy-free diet since June 2008. I had slipped up occasionally and succumbed to a sticky date pudding here or Devonshire tea there, but on the most part I’d tried to behave myself. So to “take matters into my own hands” as I mentioned previously, I ate a huge piece of the cheesiest lasagne, accompanied with the most buttery garlic bread I’ve ever had.

The theory behind this method of self-induction, is that if you “irritate” your gastrointestinal tract(GIT), this will rub against your uterus and thus “irritate” your uterus into starting contractions. And irritate it did! At first I was fine. I went to bed no problems, but woke at about 4am with a bout of diarrhoea. I managed to go back to sleep, then woke again at 7am on monday morning with mild period-pain-like waves and more diarrhoea. The waves came about every 3 minutes, even at the start, though they were very mild then. I knew my midwife was coming for a checkup at 9am so I didn’t bother to ring her. Hubby went to work and I continued about my day, hanging washing, mopping the floors, tidying up etc. All the while I was having to stop every 2-3 minutes to breathe through the mild contractions.

My midwife arrived at 9am and I remember beaming to her “it’s happening!”. She and I were both so excited. She felt my belly, observed a few contractions, asked if I was ok and they baby was moving, and because all was ship shape she left again, as it was still early days, with the reassurance that I could ring and ask her to come anytime.

After she left, the waves became stronger and more painful. I could no longer use distraction. Instead, I sat on a gym ball and rocked and used deep breathing, then when the pain eased, I laid my head on a pillow on my dining table. I liked this. I liked being on my own with my baby. I liked thinking that in a few hours this would be over and i could finally see my baby’s face.

It got to 12pm and I clearly recall thinking “I don’t have time to get up and get a drink of water before the next pain so I think it’s time to call hubby back” and at that precise moment he walked in the door! He sat with me for a bit and we decided to call my midwife back. She arrived at about 12:30 and I was in my bedroom. She assessed me for a while but it wasnt clear if I was progressing so she asked if she could do a vaginal examination. I agreed. Man, now I understood the reactions I’d seen in so many labouring women that I’d looked after, even when performing a gentle exam. It HURT! Especially the being on my back bit.

At this point my mother brain turned off and my midwife brain turned on. I wanted to know. I wanted to know everything. How dilated? How high was the head? How soft was my cervix? Was the presenting part well applied? How effaced? (Sorry to my non-midwife readers, all those terms are important to assess progress, I might explain in another post one day). Imagine referring to my precious baby as “the head” or “the presenting part”. Unbelievable. I just couldn’t turn my midwife brain off and focus on myself and my baby. All I managed to say was “how much?”. She didn’t have to tell me how high the head was, it felt like her fingers were up near my ribcage.

My midwife informed me that I was 2cm dilated. Shattered. All that work, all that pain, for 2cm? I regrouped and thought, “That’s ok, well it sux but I can do this, I can manage this pain”. Then she left again. I really didn’t want her to leave. But I didn’t say anything because I didn’t want her to think I was a wuss. Continuous barely-there thoughts kept running through my mind, “I’m a midwife, I’ve seen lots of people do this, I should be able to handle this pain, I’m only 2cm, it’s going to get a lot worse”. Throughout the labour I had also continued to have diarrhoea which had caused me some pain even in between contractions.

My mum and sister arrived a few hours later. I had lost track of time. I was in a cocoon. Just me, my doona, my windchime music, my breathing and my pain. When rocking on hands and knees became too uncomfortable I stood and did the hula. By now the contractions were still 2-3 minutes apart but lasting longer and were much stronger. Mum was getting worried because the way I was acting was the way she behaved right before giving birth (mind you her longest of 3 labours was about an hour in total!). So we called my midwife back yet again.

Resting in between contractions, anxious onlooker

When she arrived she could see I was working really hard so she encouraged us to move downstairs so I could get in the birth pool if I wanted. Sliding down into the silky warmth of the deep inflatable birth pool felt like heaven. I could not believe that such a simple thing could make such a gigantic difference to how I was feeling. Sweet relief. I remember saying “this is almost orgasmic” haha! I like hot baths. Like cooking-a-lobster-hot. So I enjoyed the pool for an hour but then I was too hot and needed to go to the bathroom yet again (the IBS was absolutely killing me). By this time my contractions had slowed down to 5 minutes apart but returned to 2 minutely quickly after getting out of the pool. I really felt that since I had been working so extremely hard, I deserved to be transitional (almost at the pushing stage). I was also behaving and sounding like so many of the women I’d cared for who were “nearly there”. There I was again, not being able to turn my midwife brain off. My midwife examined me again. This is when my world broke. 2cm – STILL 2cm?? I cannot describe in words how upset I was. I think this is when I gave up on being calm. My mantra changed from “come on, you can do this” to “I can’t deal with this useless pain that’s serving no purpose”. I remember yelling to my midwife through the tears “so I’m not even in labour?” (technically labour is when your cervix is 3cm or more, with regular painful contractions). My beautiful midwife friend, through tears of her own, reassured me that of course I was in labour but my cervix just needed more time. So… I picked myself up and carried on.

Finally in the birth pool

It got lots worse. I think my loss of confidence in my body overtook my brainspace. I lost my calm and focus. I started screaming through every contraction. I was screaming like a banshee. I kept repeating “I can’t do this”. A few more hours passed in this way. My IBS was excruciating and I was having to be in the bathroom most of the time. My midwife said she needed to examine me again. I yelled out at the end of a contraction “if I’m still 2cm I’m going to hospital and getting an epidural”. I didn’t really mean it. I thought she would rally me and encourage me to keep going. It was only when she quietly said “ok” that I realised this wasn’t normal labour. I had been in rip roaring labour with no progress for almost 12 hours. There are a few reasons why I think this happened but I’ll go into that on another post.

So I was examined again. She didn’t even have to speak. I could tell by her face. She was so upset for me. She wanted my hopes and dreams to be realised, and they weren’t going to be. But me? I was resolute. Right! That’s it! Call the ambulance, call the hospital, call the VMO anesthetist- I don’t want any bloody trainee sticking a needle my back! The wait for the ambulance was unbearable. I was screaming at the top of my lungs “I’m going to die”.

When the ambulance officers arrived they gave me a penthrox inhaler (like morphine). At first I threw it away but I was in so much pain I couldn’t move to the ambulance. So I took it, then it was all over, you would have had to chop my arm off to get me to give that thing up! Bit of a scary drug though because from the time I got into the ambulance, I recall nothing until the sound of the delivery suite doorbell.

I arrived at the hospital at about 11pm. Contrary to what you might think, I was actually really relieved to be there. I saw the familiar faces of the incredibly experienced midwives that I work with, I saw familiar surroundings. I remember rolling over and seeing the blue recliner in the corner, which for some reason made me feel calm. I was 5cm. Finally. Some progress. Must have been the brain numbing inhaler pain relief that enabled my body to relax and start to dilate. I was renewed, reinvigorated. I was still in unbelievable pain and was sucking on the gas like my life depended on it, but I no longer wanted an epidural. I began to think positively again – “I can do this, my body is finally working”.

An hour later I had only a small anterior lip of cervix left. Through the contractions and gas sucking, I began that incomparable uncontrollable deep groaning of pushing. I was told to try not to push as I was not yet fully dilated, but there was nothing on God’s green earth that could stop me pushing. I had never felt anything like that. Absolutely indescribable.

I felt my waters break. It just felt like wee coming out, over which i had no control. After about half an hour of pushing, my midwife, who had sacrificially stayed with me, quietly told me that the liquor (technical term for amniotic fluid, pronounced ‘lie-core’) was “mec stained”. In other words the baby had done a poo. This can happen in babies for a number of reasons, namely for post dates (overdue) or because they are distressed. Because I was overdue and bub’s heart rate was fine, I wasn’t really worried. Later, my midwife told me she had never seen such thick meconium in all her 20 years of midwifery. Scary. I still praise God that nothing went wrong.

I soon began to feel the burn of birth. I felt like my labia had chains with concrete hanging from them. Such a heavy, dragging, burning, ripping sensation (and my labia didn’t even tear). I think a lot of that feeling had to do with the fact that i was on my back, as i was too exhausted and off my face on gas, to move. The pressure was incredible. I continued pushing and in under an hour (though it felt like only minutes), a tiny perfect head came out. I remember only then, seeing that little person’s head coming out of me, clicking back into reality and realisation “oh I’m having a baby, that’s what this has all been about”. I really think the gas had knocked me off my perch til I had stopped using it to start pushing seriously. One more contraction and out came a perfect body to match the perfect head.

“Oh my goodness there’s a baby, there’s a baby, that’s a baby, that’s MY baby, my baby, oh my baby, you’re finally here”. As my absolutely precious baby was lifted up to me I caught a glimpse of HIS nether regions. “It’s a boy, I have a baby boy, OF COURSE I have a baby boy!”. I had had a hugely strong feeling this baby was going to be a boy and I was right! He was covered in meconium but I didn’t even notice, to me he was perfect. Through tears of relief, love and exhaustion I kissed and hugged my beautiful, perfect angel baby. “This is Levi Aaron Helm” my husband pronounced proudly to the room.

A few minutes later I pushed the placenta out no problems and was stitched up. Levi was already having a great feed. I’ll always say, that first shower after giving birth is the most glorious sensation. So restorative and relaxing. I felt almost normal again. Except I was a different normal. I was a mother.

Two of my rocks; Beautiful husband and beautiful midwife