My first pregnancy was a much loved and wanted experience. I wanted my baby Evie so badly that my pregnancy, although progressing perfectly, was often fraught with anxiety that something might go wrong.
I’d been participating regularly in a pregnancy forum and read all kinds of horror stories. I was anxious despite not having ever had a miscarriage, despite perfect blood pressure and a baby that was growing at exactly the rate expected for dates.
And then at 34 weeks at my ob appointment, it became apparent that my baby had barely grown in the last two weeks. Barely at all. My perfect pregnancy and my perfectly healthy baby were suddenly in jeopardy. The doctor checked blood flow to the placenta and although that seemed ok, she still seemed concerned, she referred me for an ultrasound. I fought back tears as I left the office and paid the account at the reception desk. The rest of the day I was unable to do anything except lie on the couch and google small birthweight babies. Friends and relatives told me not to worry, that maybe she was just small. That’s what I felt too. I tried tuning in to the little mystery in my womb and she told me not to worry Mum.
I tried not worry too but I couldn’t help it.
My baby shower the following weekend was fun until as the last guest was leaving it occurred to me that I hadn’t felt the baby move for hours. Panic set in. I sat on the couch wondering if I should make the trip to emergency, hands on tummy, beside myself in worry. And then a movement, and another. I could relax again. Sort of.
The ultrasound showed a healthy baby with healthy blood flow. By the next appointment at 36 weeks she had grown the expected amount for the time frame, but had now dropped from 50th percentile to 10th percentile because of the lost two weeks. Weekly appointments from there on in showed consistent growth.
I attended a pre-natal intensive with a local doula and midwife. She spoke of how she breathed out her last two babies and instilled in me a firm belief that I could have this perfect drug free birth. I identified as one of those chicks, the ones that have spiritual and drug free home births, use doulas and experience orgasmic labours, even though I was using an obstetrician and a private hospital, and my husband didn’t like the idea of a doula at the birth. He wanted it to be just us two. My mother had five babies, drug free. My younger sister had two babies drug free. I was going to do this as close to nature as possible. I had this.
I started acupuncture to help with a timely and well positioned birth. I’d been practicing maternity yoga. I started a little part-prep herbal to bring on a timely labour. I’d been attached to my babies due date, the 21 June. A solstice birthday like mine, the 21 December. I loved that my baby was due on the opposite solstice, it felt so right, we were meant to be.
My doctor suggested an induction at 39.5 weeks. She thought it was the best option as because now my baby was small there was greater risk. My heart sank. I’d imagined going into labour at home, having a lovely relaxing bath, woman-powering through contractions and not going into the hospital before I was well on my way to being fully dilated. Once there I would breathe the baby out unmedicated and high on labour love.
I asked why? She said that there was a greater risk of stillbirth (horror) with small babies allowed to gestate longer then the due date. This was too much for my already anxious mind. She was the expert after all. I couldn’t bare to wait out what could be a labour that was two weeks late, freaking out that my baby would be born dead.
I asked if we could wait for the due date. Falling on a Sunday, the doctor agreed I would come in Sunday night for examination, and then be induced on the Monday morning of the 22.
I’m not really an astrology kind of girl but heres another thing that bothered me about inductions: Because her due date was the 21st on the cusp of Gemini and Cancer. Had I have chosen to induce on at the 39 weeks my doctor initially suggested I would have made her a Gemini. No I couldn’t do that, I had to let the Gemini ship sail before any inductions were going to take place. Besides, I wanted her to be a solstice baby, like me.
I was quietly confident I would go into labour naturally anyway and she would be born on her due date, the 21 June. I was doing all the things. Acupuncture, bouncing up and down on the bouncy ball. I had my herbal, I was meditating, doing yoga, taking ridiculously long walks even though I had a pain in my hip with each step from 37 weeks. I was rubbing clary sage on my belly. I created and practiced ritual for a healthy timely birth. I’d read JuJu’s Sundin’s book ‘Birth skills’ about the art of distracting oneself from the physical pain of labour and had created a birth poster with affirmations and images of flowers opening to aid me in the birth.
The Friday two days prior to the due date rolled around. Slowly. I went for my last acupuncture appointment – my practitioner didn’t work on Saturdays. I felt it wouldn’t be enough. I made a final appointment for Saturday morning with another acupuncturist closer to home. I was determined to go into labour.
We went out to dinner, Andy and I, that Saturday night. We had a delicious cosy meal by a roaring open fireplace with the weather wild and wooly outside. we were home by 8.00pm and in bed not long after. I fell asleep lying on a towel in case my water broke, expecting to be awoken by contractions in the wee hours of the morning.
When I woke up to daylight streaming through my window I was terribly disappointed I hadn’t gone into labour the night before. In retrospect I should have been happily lazing in bed taking in the wonder of being able to sleep a whole night without interruption and wake up at leisure. A luxury that I still have not yet managed to experience almost 14 months later.
I was booked into hospital for 4.30 that afternoon. The time rolled around without so much of a hint of impending labour. We packed our bags in the car, weather still wet and wild. Nature was well and truly reflecting the changes that were taking place in our lives that day. I didn’t really believe I would go through with the induction. I thought I’d find the strength and clarity to back out at the last minute. Andy and I drove to hospital, it was just us, like it always had been, for the past 11 years we’d been together. It didn’t feel like I’d be returning home with a baby. We hadn’t even picked up a the baby capsule yet.
A beautiful statue of the Virgin Mary was presiding over the end of the reception desk at the birth ward and I was immediately comforted. I took a photo of her.
Another patient had arrived with her husband and was first in line to be served. She had bags and bags of stuff at her feet. The Reception nurse wasn’t able to find her induction booking. We all stood around in shifty silence. What kind of operation were they running here? A call to her doctor confirmed she was meant to be there.
Then my turn. Thankfully they were expecting me. They took me straight to a labour suite, with a single cold bed, plenty of medical equipment and a teeny awkwardly placed television. I lay on the bed and waited for my doctor to see me. Being Sunday night she had brought her baby into work with her, a giant 10 month old baby. Of course the baby was not literally giant, just average I’m sure, but even a 12 week old baby looks huge to a first time pregnant mother. She was a giant looking baby.
The doctor checked my cervix while the baby was minded out of the room. Hard and closed. It was a strong one.
She explained that they would use a prostaglandin gel to soften my cervix overnight and I would be induced in the morning. After the doctor left I started to cry.
I explained the the midwife that I hadn’t wanted an induction.
There was no inner strength rising up to say STOP! I will have a natural birth.
Instead of a beautifully orchestrated miracle of nature playing it’s symphony as I birthed my baby into the world, I was lying on a cold hard bed having my completely inactive vagina and hard cervix prodded with cold hands and looking at a medical induction.
So why not an induction
It would hurt more
the cascade of intervention – one thing leads to another and a c-section is all the more likely.
The syntocinon would interfere with the natural hormonal cascade of childbirth, including restricting the natural pain killer oxytocin that also creates the falling in love euphoria experienced once the child is birthed. I didn’t want to interfere with this natural miracle.
Yet here I was, interfering. The gel was applied.
Unable to hold back the tears, a midwife coming in to check on me asked what was wrong. I told her I didn’t want to have an induction and she went to find the obstetrician.
My doctor came in. Don’t be sad, she said. You’ll have your baby tomorrow. This is a happy time. You should be excited.
Next thing I had been served dinner. My husband hung out for not very long. Leaving to go home to Sunday night television and his own bed. I tried to watch TV, and scrolled Facebook on my phone. Started to feel mild contractions at about 8.00. They came regularly, perhaps every half an hour at first. I managed to fall asleep by 11pm but was awake by 1pm as the contractions were getting stronger. By 3.30 labour was definitely in full swing. I called Andy. “it’s happening babe. He arrived, we were both wildly excited. Pacing around the room, bouncing up and down on the fit ball. Trying out yoga stretches. Focusing on my affirmations.
As they do, the contractions got more and more intense. I tried the shower. Got out, some more yoga stretches. Fit balling. Repeat. By about 5am I started to vomit. Anything that was in my digestive system came back out again. Vomiting from pain? Vomiting because Evie was compressing my digestive system? Vomiting because of the adrenaline flooding my body? I’m not sure but it was horrific. I’d vomit at the peak of the contractions, and it kept happening, until there was nothing left, nothing. Time went on, the vomiting subsided. I sipped some water. It was brought up with the next contraction, which by now seemed only seconds apart.
The exhaustion set in, I was so dehydrated, I was losing strength. The pain was worse and worse. I began to understand that my baby was posterior. She must be for me to be feeling like this. No one had felt and checked her position for me the previous day, or if they did they didn’t tell me about it. She had been posterior at my ob appointment 5 days earlier. I didn’t give it much thought, optimistic she would turn. Now with contractions in full swing it was glaringly obvious this was a posterior birth. It just hurt that much. Contractions seemed to last a minute with only a few seconds in between, like 5 seconds, I’m not joking, they were back to back. All the labour literature I’d read said ‘there is a 1 to 2 minute rest in between contractions.’ Absolute horse shit.
By about 9am the midwife put a drip in my arm, bypassing my digestive system so I could get some hydration into me. I started to feel better. By now about 6 hours had passed since that 3.30am phone call. I was offered gas and I took it. The gas made me feel dizzy and a bit out of it, but didn’t really touch the sides of the contractions. Once I’d started inhaling that gas I couldn’t give it away again, it became a crutch. My coping strategies were lost and replaced with this lightweight drug. My affirmation poster was pretty much forgotten about. My doctor came to see me as I sucked on the gas machine and blared out noises similar to a distressed cow, eyes watery and wild. She seemed to look at me with a disturbed look on her face. Possibly my imagination.
My cervix was checked. With contractions like this I must be at least 7cm along, surely.
“You’re 3 cm dilated.” What the fuck? I could die like this. I can’t even drink fucking water.
Dr Chua told me she was going to break my water. I closed my eyes. I knew that sac of amniotic fluid was helping cushion me from some pain and my baby from some trauma. I had no strength to argue, maybe it would make about go faster. I agreed. She broke it, it hurt as she was breaking it. I felt the fluid rush out, and immediately my contractions got worse, more grating.
I knew I needed an epidural.
I said this to the doctor. She said, “hmmm I think it’s a good idea” and asked the midwife the call the anaesthetist. He would be half an hour. Another half hour of excruciating posterior contractions. Fucking agony. I used the best of my mental capabilities to get through it.My husband was shocked that this was all so difficult and was clearly uncomfortable. I kept asking him to rub my back,
The midwife had been asking me to try and do a wee. I had absolutely no desire to wee and nothing came out when I made an attempt. Doing a wee was the last thing on my mind
As the epidural was administered, I sat leaning forward on the bed doing everything in my power not to move while a hideous contraction wracked my body. Thankfully no nerves were severed. I was given a dose just big enough to cut some pain, I was still able to walk to the bathroom and back and try for that wee. Still nothing, no desire to wee. The midwife knew my bladder must be full.
Everything quietened down once the epidural kicked in. I could lie on my side on the bed. “you can get some sleep” No there was no sleeping. Even though the pain was mostly gone. I could still feel the contractions rolling through my body, and I was still uncomfortable, and probably quite traumatised.
Andy asked if I minded if he went home for a shower. “are you kidding? NO”
He had a shower in the ensuite.
Meanwhile the midwife inserted a catheter to release my bladder. There was an awful lot of wee’s to release.
Within an hour the epidural was starting to wear off a bit and the contractions seemed to be getting more intense.
The midwife checked my cervix and told me I was 10cm and was ready to push. Only an hour after the epidural, 1.5 hours after being told I was 3cm.
Evie’s head had been pressing against my urethra not allowing any fluid to pass. However my full bladder was preventing her from progressing through the birth canal.
So once I had the epidural
I had the catheter
My bladder was emptied
Baby moves down canal
Viola, you’re pushing
Without the epidural and that IV drip who knows what would have happened. Labour could have been hours and hours longer. It could have been days. Severely dehydrated suffering hideous back to back contractions. I’m not really sure I would would have survived this birth without modern medicine. Sadly I’m not joking.
I tried and tried to push without an awareness of where I should be pushing, caused by the epidural. The midwife showed me with her fingers, and I asked her to keep them there so I could focus on that point.
A hour of pushing, we made some progress.
“I feel hair” said the midwife.
For some reason the pushing was the most terrifying part of the whole ordeal. My body was open, there was so much pain, was it getting worse? I couldn’t really get a good sense of what was going on. The epidural was wearing off. I was terrified, as well as being mentally and physically exhausted. I wanted this to be over.
My doctor came back. She asked if I wanted some help. Yes, I wanted some help. She asked me to lie on my back, propped up by the bed, legs in stirrups, the least favourable position for birthing naturally. She got the vacuum, and vacuumed my baby out. There were a few contractions more, the head was out, she was 180 deg posterior, starting straight up. As posterior as they come.
The umbilical cord was wrapped tightly around her neck, three times. “Andy” Said the doctor, if you want to cut the cord you better come a cut it now.” Another disappointment, no delayed cord cutting for Evie and I. There wasn’t enough umbilical length to birth the body of the baby without cutting it, and of course there were the strangulation implications, not so much a problem while the placenta is still attached and working.
Andy snipped the cord from Evies neck, her body still in mine.
She was out with the next push. At 12:50pm on the 22 of June. And this is where I cry.
They put her on my chest, wide eyed, but still. Breathing in tiny little gasps, not proper breathing. She was there, quiet. Come on I said to her, rubbing her back, or giving a little tap.
“She’s not a good colour” said the midwife. They took her to the infant incubator, put oxygen on her, called the paediatrician. He was in pretty quickly. he was working on her with the nurse at the incubator. I listened for a cry. He got her making a few sounds. Cry like sounds, but not continuous crying. The Obstetrician was stitching me up. She said “you’re not saying anything” to me. I was listening. Listening for my baby’s cry, listening for the words and body language of the paediatrician and midwives, listening for inner guidance about what was happening.
I asked for Evie back. They brought her back to my chest, Only for a few more moments. Her breathing was still not right, she wasn’t moving, much, her eyes were open. “We better take her into the special care nursery” said the paediatrician.
The midwife said on my right, like an angel “Her heartbeat is good” and for this reason I didn’t panic. I was calm, and I knew she’d be alright. Andy was more concerned however and followed our baby out of the room.
I birthed the placenta, after an injection of syntocinin. The only syntocinin I had that day, thankfully. The prostaglandin gel had been enough to set me off into labour.
The midwife finished up what she was doing and left the room.
I was lying there alone, a mere 20 minutes after the biggest event of my whole life. No baby in my arms, no husband at my side.
The loneliest I have ever felt.
Then miraculously my mother called. Mum I just had a baby. She hadn’t known I was in labour. We had decided not to tell anyone that we were going in for an induction because I felt like it would be pressure. It was difficult telling her I’d had an epidural, as my mother had a negative view of them. I was relieved to perceive no judgement on her behalf.
Andy returned with a photo of our little girl and reported she was fine, but they’re keeping her in to watch her. She had some movement in her left arm but it isn’t behaving like the right arm. She had a birthmark on her right eye. Shaped like a little triangle. A bit David Bowie.
I asked Andy to get me a coffee. I hadn’t had one for over 24 hours. He went and got them. We drank them, just us two in celebration of getting through the labour. We debriefed, we were used to it being just us after all, and because our baby was still a stranger to me, that coffee between just as two was our last as just us.
Then it was time to go see little Evie. I was anxious I hadn’t had my hour of skin to skin after the birth. That she hadn’t latched on to my breast. That the time with mother and baby together one-on-one after birth just didn’t happen for me. I was also worried about her health. She’d been what the doctors called ‘stunned.’ Not a medical term by any means. No one explained what they actually meant by ‘stunned. And perhaps they didn’t really know themselves. She wasn’t quite present. It was like the lights were on but no one was home. Even for a new born.
I was wheeled into the special care nursery and there she was. My baby in just a little T-shirt and nappy. Tiny on a giant infant incubator, bright lights in her face, exposed, alone. She was jumping and screaming at every noise. My heart broke that she was alone and scared while my spirit was delighted to meet with hers in that moment. I was a curious and inadequate-feeling mother, as I hadn’t yet nursed her or taken care of her at all.
She had a sore head, they told me, from the vacuum. Indeed she had a cone head with a red circle on the top.
My first instinct was to brush her forehead. But she cried out and Andy told me “she has a sore head” I immediately felt stupid, but I shouldn’t have as this is a very normal first instinct for a mother.
The special care nurse encouraged skin to skin and trying to get Evie to latch on.
I sat there and she was placed under my hospital gown. There was no interest in my nipples, still stunned. “Is she alright? I asked the nurse, contemplating the possibility I have a brain damaged child and feeling completely prepared to take that on.
I held her there on my chest, and she slept. I too became very sleepy and even began to nod off for micro sleeps. After an hour Andy held her for a little while, she was much more alert, and despite not latching on, seemed to be acting more like a normal baby. They told me to get into my room and have my dinner. The last time the doctor had assessed her before our skin to skin, they had thought they might keep her in overnight as she wasn’t improving to their liking.
I was wheeled into my room and presented with some food I found I had no appetite for. I was told not long after that the doctor was happy to release her into my care for the night. At 6pm a couple of nurses knocked on the door ‘We have a special delivery’ and wheeled in my gorgeous newborn child.
They helped me express a little colostrum and Evie latched on almost immediately, she started to suck. It was such a joy and relief. We had a beautiful little suckling.
An hour on mummy’s chest in the special care nursery and she came good. Her lights came on. I believe if they’d brought her back to me once her breathing was stable she might have come good a lot quicker. We could have had that precious time together after birth. She wouldn’t have been terrified and alone on an infant warmer. She would have been fine. It’s difficult not to feel a little angry and sad when I think about this.
Evie is wonderfully intelligent and perfectly healthy. Once she was in that hospital room with me she fed like a champion and gained a fabulous amount of weight. We snuggled and cuddled. In the beginning I could make all of her problems go away by holding her on my chest. It was divine.
And the mothering begins. The next few days are a blur of feeds, short sleeps, learning how to swaddle, bath and change nappies. My nipples progressively got sorer. And then in the quiet in-between moments, when I had time to think, memories of the labour infiltrated my mind like a shadow. After a couple of weeks the shadow began to fade away. Behind me now, babe in arms.
This birth story is not the one I wanted for myself, in a lot of ways it’s actually the opposite of what I wanted, and awful. But the baby I birthed is the greatest miracle of my life and better then anything I could ever have hoped for.
Though this labour didnt go as planned, I now realise truly it isn’t the way they are born that’s important, c-section, induction, home birth, whatever, but that you have a beautiful healthy gorgeous baby at the end of it. Of course there is evidence for a natural drug free birth providing the best outcome for baby, but a natural drug free birth isn’t always the best pathway to a healthy mother and baby.
What I will do differently next time
Unless there’s a damn good reason, I’m going into labour naturally. I want the experience of natural labour, starting at home, or in the supermarket, or wherever, just not on a cold hospital bed.
I’ll say no to my doctor more.
I won’t let my waters be broken before their time, unless of course, there is good medical reason
This all being said, I won’t be so attached to the method of delivery. Had I needed a caesarian for Evies birth I would’ve been devastated. However, having been through this, I now realise you really can’t control what happens in the labour room, or before it, no matter how much maternity yoga, hypnobirthing, meditation and green smoothies you drink. Of course I’d read this before going into labour, but now I truly understand it. Of course do everything you can to have a healthy, positive pregnancy and birth, but let go of any attachment to the outcome.
If your body has abundant and balanced hormones, a baby in the right position, and you are mentally in the right place, blessings to you, you are so lucky to be able to have a healthy natural birth. Cherish it with all of your being.
If my next baby is posterior, (currently I’m in my second trimester of my second pregnancy) I’ll be prepared for an epidural, probably quite a bit earlier.
I won’t be so attached to a particular birthday. To be honest, the doctor scared me into an induction for ‘medical reasons,’ however my attachment to a set birthdate helped persuade the induction, and it’s just not worth it for me this time.
I’m already seeing a chiropractor regularly and will commence acupuncture earlier. Evie may have been posterior due to a rotation in my pelvis. If I can fix this, I will.
Trust more. I had so many freak outs something was wrong during the pregnancy, when everything was fine. This time I’m feeling much more relaxed.
What I will do the same
Be as mentally fit and prepared as possible for the experience of child birth (the pain I mean the pain). I got through 8 hours of posterior contractions with the power of my own mind.
Make as beautiful an environment as possible to give birth in
Visualise the most perfect birth experience possible.
Use an obstetrician and private hospital. I loved the care I received by the midwives at St John of God Murdoch. They were all so lovely and attentive. The only attitude I got was from the lunch lady! I had a private room with a view of a beautiful pond and a double bed. I considered a home birth but to be honest, I need the rest after giving birth, and I got rest in hospital. I don’t want to clean up after my own labour thank you very much, and finding space to spend time with my new born will be tough with my toddler in the same building.
The Obstetrician and I had some differing views on childbirth, however she helped me when I needed it, I’m feeling more confident to stand my ground when I need too.
Pray, create ritual, intend for everything to go as perfect as possible. Be grateful for the healthy baby I’m carrying and the wonderful care I am receiving.
Encapsulate my placenta. I really didn’t feel the ‘baby blues’ that nearly every woman feels about three weeks post-natal. I believe they helped me regain some strength quite quickly.
Love the experience.
I’ll leave you with this link to a video of a very beautiful peaceful moment Evie and I had together soon after her birth.