You can also listen to my birthing story on the wonderful Nourishing the Mother podcast by clicking the logo to the left.
My first son was born in April of 2006. I had a perfect pregnancy with no issues whatsoever. I ate well, I exercised and I educated myself around birth and labour. Naively thinking I had done all the right things and ticked all the boxes (like birth is a wish list you work through), I confidently announced to anyone willing to listen that I was having a drug free natural birth and really, how hard could it be when women have been doing it for eons? My body had never failed me before, so why would it now? I’m booked into a birth centre, I’ve read all the books, I’ve completed an Independent Childbirth course, why would I not have a natural birth?
I had an appointment at the hospital on the day I was due and was pressured to book in for an induction for in 10 days time if I hadn’t had my baby by then. I was shocked they had this conversation with me already on the day they believed I was due (which was 4 days out from my calculated due date), and I remember coming home from that appointment feeling deflated and really stressed for the first time in my pregnancy. Over the course of the next 10 days I think I tried every ‘natural induction’ method possible, leading to consuming castor oil at 41 weeks. I self-induced because I had planned to birth in a birth centre, and I was told if I went too overdue (10+ days), I’d be transferred out and would have to birth in the birth suite. I really didn’t want to birth there as I didn’t believe I would achieve a natural birth in that setting with the cascade of interventions that come with that system.
My waters broke the next morning after a crampy night and my birth then unfolded with very little natural progress over the next 48 hours. Every vaginal exam showed no progress, every trace of the CTG machine showed inconsistent and mild contractions, and on day 3 of my labour, I had exhausted not only myself, but my birthing options within the system and I was put onto a drip augmentation. I laboured for 4 hours with the contractions finally coming hard and fast, surely this is what labour feels like now! I worked so hard, staying active and positive. At the next vaginal exam my cervix was no different, still 2cm. I felt crushed and completely spent. This was my crisis of confidence, as Rhea Dempsey so eloquently puts it, and I pleaded for an epidural just so I could get some sleep. I continued to labour on the epidural for another 8 hours. Then, at 3cm dilation and 65 hours after my waters had broken, my only option left was a cesarean birth. The classic ‘failure to progress’.
My cesarean was quite traumatic and took me a good 6 months to even feel ready to process it. I went into theatre so shocked and upset that I was even there in the first place, then my husband Keith couldn’t be with me as he had to get ‘gowned up’, so I was alone and very scared. I’d never had surgery before and the thought of them cutting open my uterus was petrifying. I was fretting for Keith, and I could feel them starting to tug and pull on my abdomen. Finally Keith was allowed in. The conversation of the theatre staff was very disrespectful, talking about how drunk they got at Easter in between telling me what they were doing to my body. I remember thinking how can you be so casual and untouched by the sacredness of what is about to occur! When my son was born and eventually brought over to me, I couldn’t hold him as the epidural had affected the use of my arms and I had a drip etc in one arm, which I could also not use. Keith held him as close to me as possible for a few brief moments before they told me that Keith and my baby would now have to leave the theatre while I was stitched up. I was absolutely gutted by this and pleaded with them to let me keep my baby with me, but they refused. I asked Keith to please have skin to skin with our boy until I could be with him. He was put in a humidi-crib and wheeled out with Keith. I felt so empty and sad lying on that table alone whilst they stitched me up. Eventually I was wheeled to recovery and one of the nice midwives from my labour came down the hall with Keith, his top off holding our boy. I was separated from him for about 40 min but it felt like a lifetime.
After my son Xylon was born they did tell me that he was in a posterior position and that my cervix was quite swollen on one side. It took me a good 6 months to even allow myself to process his birth. I was extremely traumatised and shocked that my birth unfolded the way it did. I was upset and confused why my body had ‘failed’, but once I realised it was the system that failed, not my body, I began to pull apart my birth from a place other than self blame.
Over the next 2 years I researched, read and talked to anyone I could about birth. I started to put some pieces of the jigsaw together and saw just how much it didn’t matter how much faith and trust I had in my body to birth, I had entered a system that didn’t operate out of the same beliefs and I was at the mercy of protocols and procedures born out of litigation fear and financial greed. Discovering the business side of birthing in a hospital system made me angry and I vowed that any future children I birthed would be a peaceful and loving homebirth, free of constraints, time limits and policies.
My second son was born in Feb of 2009. We planned a homebirth this time, having done my research and realising that my best chance for a successful vbac was at home with an independent midwife. I did everything I knew to do and talked to many birth professionals and took all their advice. I was very hopeful that I would get to birth naturally at home. I learnt about optimal fetal positioning and made sure my baby was in an anterior position this time, however at 38 weeks he had other ideas and turned posterior which I couldn’t then get him out of. This time I wanted to avoid all interventions and let my baby choose his birth.
At 17 days overdue, on Black Saturday, I awoke in labour. My labour started and stopped over the next 3 days. I’d have a night of intense contractions 2-3 min apart, and upon sunrise they would all stop. I felt like I was constantly ‘resting’ yet not getting any rest. On the 3rd night it was incredibly draining and intense. A short lull in contractions at 6am followed by a whopping contraction and a pushing urge, gave myself and the midwife a pleasant surprise, thinking it had been transition and that I was now ready to push. I hopped into the birth pool and the pushing urge continued with each contraction. After a while my midwife suggested I hop out of the pool so that she could check me. I was 6cm. On one hand that was great news as it was a lot further than the 2-3cm I got with my first labour, but it was a long way off the 10cm that I thought I was. So why the pushing urge? My cervix had swollen and it could have been pressing on a nerve? I had to try not to push with every contraction, otherwise my cervix would not un-swell and I wouldn’t dilate. I spent the rest of the day trying not to push, which was incredibly difficult and it took everything I had. I couldn’t eat as I felt so nauseous and I wasn’t drinking nearly enough given how hot it had been.
At around 10pm my midwife checked me again and I was still 6cm. My midwife and doula said that it was time to either break my waters to get this labour moving, or to transfer to hospital for a cesarean. The baby was still high so there was a concern of cord prolapse if my waters were broken. I also didn’t want to interfere with my son’s birth as I had promised him he could choose his own birth. I was so exhausted and had very little energy left to burn, so I made the gut wrenching decision to transfer to hospital for a cesarean.
After making the decision myself at home to transfer, it took us 50min in the car to get to the hospital and I feel like I made peace with his birth in that car trip. I was excited to meet my new little man. I had learnt relaxation techniques in my pregnancy, which had helped me get through the previous 4 days of labour, and so I focused on my breath on the theatre table. It helped me to stay present and in my body. I talked to my boy through every step, explaining to him what was happening and what was going to happen. My independent midwife was allowed into theatre along with Keith, so I had both of them there holding the space for my little man and me. I’d made a very detailed Cesar plan this time, as I knew it was a possibility and I wanted a better experience if it came to this. I requested that there be no talking other than what was necessary regarding the birth. I requested that my baby stay with me at all times and that I am able to initiate breastfeeding asap whilst in recovery. The theatre staff were so loving and kind to me, it was such a different experience, I remember welling up at how peaceful and divine his birth felt even though it wasn’t the birth I wanted. I truly felt he chose this birth and I had to surrender to that. Reef was born at 2:24am, 92 hours after my first contraction. A strong and healthy 4.1kg.
My 3rd pregnancy was a complete surprise. Reef was only 7 months old and I was using an IUD for contraception. My husband and I had literally just had the ‘no more kids’ conversation. Once the shock of being pregnant passed, I was then faced with what choices I was going to make for this babies birth. A big part of me felt like I’d been through the emotional and physical wringer with my son’s births, and I wasn’t sure if I could do it again. I was still breastfeeding Reef and I felt incredibly drained, for a brief moment I did allow myself to consider having an elective cesarean. But something didn’t sit right with me about it; I felt that if I didn’t at least give natural birth a go, I’d never know if I could have done it or not, and that would have haunted me for life. I knew it was my birth right as a woman to experience giving birth. I’d looked forward to that day since I was a little girl, and I knew I would forever feel empty and unfulfilled if I didn’t at least try one last time. I also knew on a deep level that there were ‘places’ I didn’t allow myself to go in my past two pregnancies and births. There were things I hadn’t dealt with that inhibited my ability to let go of control, to completely surrender.
Of course I was told it wasn’t an option by many people. Even on the theatre table after my 2nd cesarean whilst being stitched the OB said, “now if you have any more babies, you make sure you just come straight back to us wont you”. I didn’t answer him. Random strangers would make comments like “oh I didn’t think they let you have a natural birth after a cesarean?” or “are you allowed to do that?” These comments would make me feel angry and also saddened at the lack of ownership women have over their own bodies. I don’t believe anyone has the right to tell me what I can and cannot do with my body. I’m more worried about repeat major abdominal surgery, placenta previa or placenta acretia which is caused by c-sections. No one ever talked to me about that.
I spoke to my GP who is also an OB and he was supportive of my decision. Also just after my second son was born I completed my doula training with Rhea Dempsey, so I had a lot of support from my doula colleagues and also the independent midwives I had spoken to. I didn’t talk to anyone who I knew wouldn’t support my decision as I felt I was fully informed and I didn’t really care what other people thought. It is my body and my baby and no one else’s business. I took complete responsibility.
With my 3rd pregnancy I had 3 birth plans. I had a plan for birthing at home, a plan for if we had to transfer to hospital, and a cesarean plan. I made peace with the outcome way before I even birthed. At around 36 weeks into my 3rd pregnancy I finally realised that the outcome cannot take away the immense learning, growth and journeying that comes along the way. I was changed as a woman because of my birthing experiences, and for the better. I felt that I didn’t want to go into labour too hopeful as I could easily be disappointed again, so I went into labour with an open mind, open heart, and threw caution to the wind knowing I had done everything I possibly could to achieve the outcome I wanted. I knew that if I had to have a third cesarean that it would be necessary, beautiful and perfect, and that it would bring me lessons and gifts like the others had. I’d had counselling, bodywork, I’d been swimming, walking, I did yoga. I made sure my baby was in a great position, I had the best birthing team possible, I had no constraints of time limits or protocols put on me by others as I called these limits myself this time around. I saw that feeling like I had endless time in my previous birth did me no favours. I was not having another marathon birth so I gave myself 24hours before I would decide on a new plan. I was a willing woman this time around, it felt very different. I couldn’t have done any more than what I had, so if it had of ended in another cesarean I would have had no regrets and been able to accept the outcome very easily.
My labour started at 6am, 2 days past my due date. My baby was anterior which I felt so relieved about after my 2 posterior boys and it gave me some hope that things were starting different. I spent the whole day in pre labour pottering at home with Keith, his parents came and picked up our boys in the late morning and I baked a cheesecake. We got the house ready, listened to some of our favourite music, I ate plenty of energy building foods and had a nap. My contractions were about 10 min apart for most of the day and I was rather enjoying them and loving feeling my body working. I went to bed at 7:30 that night thinking I would try to sleep while I still could, but I only got about 2hrs sleep before waking up to an intense contraction and I needed to get up. I sat on the fit ball and spiralled whilst watching a movie, then made my way face down into a bean bag where I was sleeping in between contractions that were now coming every 4-5 min.
At midnight there was a knock at our door, It was our midwife Fiona. We hadn’t asked her to come yet, she just instinctively knew. As soon as she arrived things seemed to rise in intensity, I felt free to let go knowing we were now supported. She checked me and I was 2cm, which I’d guessed before she checked. A sign that I’m in tune with my body. I felt very calm and peaceful, almost like in a dream state, looking back at the video now I look completely out of it. At around 2am I went to the toilet and had a contraction with a pushing urge. I immediately knew something was wrong; it felt exactly the same as the early pushing urges I had in Reef’s birth. I knew I couldn’t be 10cm yet. In my head I thought it was all over, it’s happening again. This means my cervix has swollen again and I wont be able to dilate, they should just take me to the hospital for a ceserean now. Fiona came in and I explained to her what was happening, I felt very disheartened. She said to me that we have come to that fork in the road again where we can do nothing and wait, and potentially end up with the same result as last time, or we can take a different path and brake my waters and see where that leads us. I decided I wanted to break my waters and perhaps that will allow enough pressure on my cervix for it to thin out and for these pushing urges to stop. She went to get her hook out of her bag and I was to get off the toilet after the next contraction that was almost due. With the next contraction my waters broke on their own. I couldn’t believe it! I felt this was a sign from baby to trust and surrender, to completely let go of control.
Another internal exam and I was about 4cm, but my cervix is very thick and swollen. Keith fills the birth pool and Fiona calls my doula Rhea to come, it’s now about 4:30am. The next hour is very intense with pushy contractions coming hard and fast. I’m desperately trying not to push but at times I can’t help it and then I get distressed as I know when I’m pushing it’s swelling my cervix even more. I honestly believe it’s not going to happen and I feel everyone else has more hope and trust than I do right now. I can’t understand why no one isn’t packing me into the car and heading down eastlink! I even say to Keith “I think I need help”. Fiona gave me homeopathic’s to help relieve the swelling on my cervix and she checks me again thinking I’m around 6cm but still very swollen. Rhea arrives at 5:15am and kneels down with me and we do some pant style breathing through the contractions for about 30 min, I seem to regain some focus and energy from her arrival and support. Fiona inserts ice into my vagina to try and reduce the swelling on my cervix and whilst doing so, feels my cervix is completely thinned and gone except for an anterior lip. She kisses Keith on the forehead and says “she’s going to do it” but I am so out of it I don’t register, and in my head I’m in the back of the station wagon and on the way to the womens hospital. I feel immense pressure in my hips and start raising them in the water, the pressure in my bottom is so full on I say, “Can someone do something about my bum!?” which gives everyone a good chuckle. Then I feel myself tearing and I declare, “I’m tearing, I’m tearing!” Fiona gets her torch and shines it in the water and says “Bloody Nora! We’ve got head on view!” I’m baffled by this and don’t believe it to be true as I’m sure my cervix is still swollen? They tell me to reach down and feel my baby’s head, which I do, but that’s not a head, it’s my insides exploding out of me isn’t it? Rhea realises I’m not computing anything they are telling me, looks me in the eyes and says, “With the next contraction, you can go with that pushing urge”. The penny drops. “Are you serious?” I say. With that realisation comes a contraction and I didn’t even have to push, I just didn’t hold back and my baby shot out of me like a rocket across the birth pool.
Time stood still. “There’s your baby. Pick up your baby Bree” they said. I scooped up the delicious slippery body and brought this little soul to my breast. “Oh my god” is all I can mutter. I am in complete shock at what I have done. At first I see the umbilical cord and in the low light briefly think it’s another boy but then move it aside to discover my divine little girl. At 5:45am in July 2010, after approximately 6 hours of ‘active’ labour, I got my vaginal birth, and I got my girl.