My contractions were getting stronger. Erika rang the hospital and then drove me in her car. I chose the back seat. About half way to the hospital my waters broke (fortunately I was sitting on a towel). When I told her, Erika said just what I needed to hear: that’s good, we’ll be at the hospital soon; the pressure may feel more intense, breathe with it.
Our two sons were born two and a half years apart. Our eldest son’s birth was prolonged; around 36 hours pre-labour and 16 hours active labour, while our youngest son was born just 4 hours after I first sensed the start of contractions. Thinking back over the births, I feel grateful for these experiences of bringing life into the world and am very appreciative of the help and support I received before, during and after the births.
When I became pregnant my husband and I embarked on the steep (and continual) learning curve of parenthood. I wanted to be as prepared as possible, and I convinced my husband that we should attend several classes prior to the birth. We went to a series of independent birth classes, in addition to a class provided by the Family Birth Centre where we were booked in to have the baby, as well as a weekend CalmBirth workshop. The independent classes revealed to us the regularity of interventions during hospital births, and that we would be wise to take active steps to have the greatest likelihood of a natural birth. Erika was the first doula we contacted. When we met Erika we felt an immediate connection and increased confidence about the forthcoming birth.
A weekend CalmBirth workshop in Barwon Heads left my husband and I feeling empowered about birth, and supported by a range of relaxation techniques to use during labour. From about 31 weeks, I listened to the CalmBirth cds and practised the breathing, affirmations and visualization techniques almost every day. I also used an Epino device to assist with stretching the perineum and strengthening the pelvic floor.
My antenatal visits were with midwives at the Birth Centre. We wrote our birth plan so that it was clear to all involved what our ideal birth scenario would be.
Our expected due date came and went. I was keen to avoid being induced and we tried the recommended home methods as well as acupuncture with fertility and labour induction specialist Winton Terry. I had two sessions, on the Monday and Wednesday with Chinese herbs to take after the second session.
Late on Wednesday evening I had a show and contractions started. I found it very difficult to find a comfortable position to sleep. Erika came to our house on Thursday morning, providing active support including massages and affirming conversations. Her positive and calm presence helped us to stay relaxed and centred. The frequency and intensity of the contractions varied throughout the day. I threw up and had trouble keeping any food down. I settled into a rhythm of focused breathing with each contraction. By the early evening things seemed to have slowed down so Erika returned home. I had a second night with only brief sleep between contractions.
On Friday morning, following the advice of Winton, I took more of the herbs he had provided. The contractions came closer together and were more intense. In the late morning we called the Birth Centre and they suggested we come into the hospital to see how things were going. The midwife performed an internal examination and we were delighted to hear that I was already 7-8cm dilated! She took us to our room in the Birth Centre. We had hardly settled in when I found there was a show of meconium, which meant automatic transfer from the Birth Centre to the birthing suites. We were disappointed as we had planned and imagined ourselves in the Birth Centre, and I was especially looking forward to using their big bath. The other implication of the presence of meconium was that continuous monitoring was required. The monitor was strapped around my waist and connected to the CTG and consequently I was not even able to use the shower (I understand that they now have automatic transmitting devices).
Erika made sure that the transferring midwife in the birthing suite was aware of our birth plan. Despite our request for no artificial rupture of membranes outlined in the birth plan, the doctor on duty felt it was required given the presence of meconium. Her reasoning to take this step did not make sense to us. There was considerable pressure to undertake the procedure. I really appreciated having Erika there to talk through the various options. During our discussion with the doctor my contractions virtually stopped, showing the power of the mind and emotions in the process. We negotiated to delay the rupture until about 8.15pm. An internal examination at this time showed that I was only 6-7cm dilated! Less than the amount we had been told when I had been admitted 8 hours earlier! This was not great news but I was deeply focused and managing the contractions well and I believed that the magic 10cm could not be too far away.
Fortunately, there was a change in staff in the late evening. We were happy to meet our new midwife, as she was familiar to us from the Birth Centre. During consultation with new doctor we realised that I hadn’t urinated for many hours and I received relief when a catheter was used to drain the urine. The doctor did an internal examination and I was fully dilated. He said: “Go for it!”
I tried many different positions, trying to breath my baby down during each contraction. Eventually the top of the baby’s head was visible using a mirror, and I was able to touch it with my hand. But things didn’t seem to be progressing and I began to wonder if there was something I wasn’t doing quite right. Erika and the midwife assured me that I was doing just fine. After about 2½ hours the doctor asked if I needed some help. I was exhausted and felt I needed assistance. He suggested vacuum extraction, which after some discussion we agreed to.
The device was attached to the baby’s head but after three contractions it came off of its own accord. The doctor agreed to let me try again on my own for three contractions. I tried the birthing stool and then on all fours, but apparently the baby’s head slid back. The doctor said that he had read our birth plan, but at this point, it was his opinion that an episiotomy was required. He had been very supportive of our preferences up till now and we trusted his advice. The vacuum was attached again. Due to distress indications for the baby, he said we needed to get the baby out in three contractions. Suddenly additional medical staff appeared and bright lights were set up. My legs were put in high stirrups (McRobinson’s manoeuvre) with a nurse pushing either side of my pelvis. I was pushing as hard as I possibly could. The baby’s shoulder was stuck against my pelvis (shoulder dystocia) and during the final contraction the doctor had to put his hand in to release the shoulder. At 3.30am our baby boy was born! He weighed 4.2kg.
As requested in our birth plan, the doctor put our baby boy on my chest, but only for the briefest moment. After my husband cut the cord, he went straight to the paediatrician who had set up a table in the room. The baby was quite floppy and he was resuscitated with oxygen, Apgars – 6 at 1 min, 8 at 5 mins, 9 at 10 mins. We were asked if he had a name and my husband replied “Liam”. We were told Liam was going to be ok but he had to be taken to Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) for further oxygen treatment. My husband wanted to stay with me, so Erika went with Liam.
The doctor said that as it had been such a long labour that he would recommend an assisted 3rd stage using Syntocinon. I agreed and I didn’t even notice the birth of the placenta.
Joy, Relief and Separation
Immediately after the birth I felt very alert and my husband and I were filled with happiness, and relief that our baby was ok. But I had lost about 1 litre of blood and had had hardly had any sleep for about 3 days. I managed to have a shower but after that I felt faint and just too exhausted to go and see my baby in NICU. I went up to the ward to sleep and I didn’t see Liam for another 8 hours. Liam was 5 days in hospital following the birth as he developed an infection. With concerted effort and the assistance of hospital staff Liam was exclusively breastfeeding by this time. It was a celebratory moment when we finally drove out of the hospital to start our new life with our baby.
I was keen to give birth to our second child at the Birth Centre, however due to the nature of the previous birth I was considered unsuitable for admission to the centre. I opted for Team Maternity where the antenatal checks were provided by a team of midwives. We engaged Erika as our doula and I practiced the CalmBirth techniques.
I wanted to avoid, if possible, the situation previously where I was over the estimated due date and under pressure to have a medical induction. I contacted Winton and arranged an appointment at 38 weeks. I had three sessions in all, the last one on the baby’s estimated due date. The treatment focussed initially on maximizing energy in the parts of the body where it was needed for birth. Additionally, in each session an emotional block was identified and techniques such as a visualization and sound were used to help move through the issue. Until I had the treatment, I hadn’t realised that I still felt sadness about the separation I had from my first baby when he was born. Other issues were: how there was going to be enough love for my darling first born as well as the new baby when it came, and just how my husband and I were going to cope looking after two children!
The day after the due date I was tired and emotional. I began to think that this baby would likely come many days after the due date like our first. Erika came by in the afternoon to have a chat; little did we know that she would be back a few hours later when I was in active labour.
I was in the middle of cooking dinner when I felt uncomfortable sensations that I first put down to “gas”. When my husband came home he took over the dinner preparations. I felt the sensations coming in waves so I knew something was happening! We ate our pasta carbonara and made calls to the hospital, family members who would be looking after Liam, and Erika. Erika arrived, and my husband took Liam to our family. The contractions were feeling very strong and I decided that we had to go to the hospital NOW! Erika rang the hospital and my husband and drove me in her car. I chose the back seat. About half way to the hospital my waters broke (fortunately I was sitting on a towel). When I told her, Erika said just what I needed to hear: that’s good, we’ll be at the hospital soon; the pressure may feel more intense, breathe with it. My husband was there when we arrived. It was a slow walk to the birth suite, stopping so I could focus on my breathing (eyes closed) with each intense contraction. We went straight to our room and I felt a strong urge to go to the toilet and bear down. It was a challenge to keep breathing during the surges. The contractions were very strong and I felt stinging as the baby’s head emerged. The midwife asked me to go on all fours on the mat in the room. My husband helped deliver the baby shortly afterwards, about 20 minutes after we had arrived at the hospital. I held our baby boy immediately and for the next several hours. A short time after he was born I gave a little push and the placenta came out. A lotus birth – with the baby still attached to the placenta. Soon after the birth our baby was nuzzling for the breast and he began feeding within the hour.
Joy, Relief and Pride
We were exhilarated with the arrival of our baby Jack. I felt so happy and so proud that we had been blessed with a beautiful natural birth. And so relieved that I hadn’t given birth on the freeway!
Becoming and being a parent is an amazing journey. Birth takes us to unknown places, of mystery and vulnerability. For me it was about trusting my body and surrendering to the process. I am incredibly thankful to all the people who supported me on the journey.