– Birth Story #1 –
Taking Back the Power
I was pregnant with my second baby during 2017. From early on I felt that she would be a girl, though at every scan she decided to do some interesting cartwheels to ensure we wouldn’t know for sure. My first birth experience with our son D was difficult, and resulted in a long and scary recovery. As soon as I knew we had successfully conceived our second I threw myself into trying to discover what I could do to better my chances of a positive experience this time around. I researched endlessly, trying to figure out if going privately was worth the cost, whether I was eligible for a home birth, whether a doula would be of any real use, which hospital would provide the best care and respect my choices… As my due date approached, I finally felt calm and prepared.
“We had chosen to go with hiring a doula and going publicly at CUMH. Our doula Jacquie was bright, open, and so practical about everything. We met a few times and chatted frequently via email any time I had questions. It was so reassuring to have someone to reach out to!”
All the things that I had been worried about in my first pregnancy I got to go over with someone who actually knew stuff (and remembered my name). My due date, a Monday, came and went. I was feeling pretty relaxed at first, but as the days began to pass, I started to feel a bit stressed. The registrar I met at my appointment told me they’d do a stretch and sweep (a medical procedure thought to increase the likelihood of going into labour earlier). Not wanting to do anything but enjoy this pregnancy and let things unfold in their own time, I declined. I was also reassured by the understanding my doula had given me about consent. This was MY body, which meant I got to decide when and how things happened to it. Eventually, on Friday evening, I asked a friend for reflexology to help move things along. Though I had been confident at the check-up on my due date, I wasn’t really looking forward to having to go through the same conversation again. The next morning, Saturday, I went to the bathroom and things felt a bit more… gooey than normal. Sure enough, when I wiped there was some green and white mucus with streaks of blood through it. I’d been induced with my first so this was the first real sign of something like labour happening and I was so excited! And scared. The fear lasted about as long as it took for me to text Jacquie who responded with such enthusiasm and encouragement that my own excitement grew to match it. My husband and I had decided to rent a small place closer to CUMH so that I would be able to labour as long as possible before going in, so that day we bundled up our little 2-year-old boy, grabbed our bags and headed off.
That night I woke at 2am. I lay there, just feeling. I was in a bed on my own (my husband was in with D), and could feel these surges of pressure and tightness and pain through my abdomen. I started timing them on my phone and they were coming every 8 minutes or so, regularly. I woke up my mum and we sat and talked a little whilst I rolled my hips in circles sitting on my birth ball. By 5am I had decided to ring my doula and let her know. She arrived soon after, checking if I was hungry and getting me some water. The contractions were not yet needing my full attention. In fact, over the day, they eased a little. My father and sisters had arrived to play with D and we went for a walk together. At one point Jacquie pointed out that having my various family members come and go could be affecting how my labour was progressing. Although a bit funny at first, her insight made sense! With all the comings and goings my attention was constantly being focused on whether everyone else was ok. By that Sunday evening the contractions had stopped completely. I felt a little disappointed, but also tired and grateful for the chance to sleep. Jacquie headed home, letting me know I should call her as soon as I felt things were progressing again.
The following morning, Monday, I woke up early. I felt completely different. The surges started off strong, making me really feel them throughout my stomach and upper thighs. I put on my TENS machine to begin offsetting the contractions. We rang Jacquie who headed over, and my parents took D off for the day. Now it was just my husband, my older sister and Jacquie. It suddenly felt real, and I knew instinctively I was going to meet our little girl that day.
The next few hours of the morning were intense. Movement helped so much, I would stand and hold onto my husband’s arms whilst a contraction surged and peaked. After a while my legs began to ache and Jacquie suggested I sit for a while on the birth ball. She and my sister massaged my legs and feet, applying pressure to certain points that Jacquie said could help strengthen the labour. It felt amazing and intense, and completely wonderful to be at the centre of this strange little circle of support. Jacquie also had some clary sage oil, a powerful herb used to strengthen contractions.
“She showed my husband how to massage it into my enormous belly. He was amazed to realise that he could actually feel the contractions starting, even before I would feel them. I will never forget the way he looked up at me and we shared that magical moment of labouring together.”
Together, they created a team that met every need as it arose. They made sure I used the bathroom frequently, ate, drank, rested or moved position. Jacquie was unobtrusive, and though I’d been worried she would try to make me do things I didn’t want, she was completely respectful any time I said no to a suggestion (even when my contractions meant I was short to the point of being rude!). Finally, at about 2pm I could feel we were at the point where I would need to start moving to the hospital. I really, really didn’t want to go. I felt anxious about leaving my safe space where things were going so well. I talked it over with Jacquie who was calm and reassuring, letting me know what to expect.
At last I agreed it was time to go. I think everyone was quite relieved! At this point contractions were coming about every 4 minutes, and I was dreading having to deal with them in the 20-minute car journey. In the end, I only had two in the car, which I was so grateful for! Once we reached the hospital, things really ratcheted up. Jacquie was already there, took one look at me and stepped up to hold onto me. I felt another surge coming, almost on the heels of the last, and felt nausea grip my stomach. I told Jacquie I felt sick and once my surge had passed she went to find something for me to vomit into from a nurse. Instead, even better, she came back with the midwife who took me into triage to determine if I was in active labour and ready to be admitted.
This was probably the weirdest part of my labour – we were brought into a tiny cubicle, the midwife didn’t even want my husband to be there. I told her that he was coming with, I couldn’t imagine trying to get through even one contraction without him! The midwife told me to get up on the bed so she could attach the wires for a 40-minute trace which would track how often my contractions were happening and how the baby was doing. She also told me she would do a vaginal exam to see how dilated I was. I declined. There was no way I was going to be able to get up on that bed! At this point it was taking all my focus to get through each surge. I felt flushed, shaky, though thankfully the intense nausea had eased. The midwife said we could try doing the trace with me standing and if that didn’t work I would have to get on the bed. Once set up, she left us to it. She had barely left the room when another contraction hit me, completely unlike anything that had come before. Unfortunately my husband was behind me, so had to catch me awkwardly as my knees buckled with the pressure of bearing down. I let out a massive moan that seemed to come right from the pit of my belly! The worst of it was, this contraction didn’t really seem to be letting up, the pressure continued, pushing down into my vagina with such force that I was breathless and shaken from it. The midwife hurried in, and told me I absolutely had to get up on the bed. I agreed to get up on all fours and finally (with much heaving from my husband), managed to kneel rather precariously. She checked me and the next thing I know was calling for porters and telling us we had to get downstairs. Baby was ready to be born.
“At the time I was too far gone in genuinely letting go and being a powerful birthing woman, but looking back, I can actually laugh at what came next. Bellowing like a bull, I was draped with a sheet and pushed out of the little cubicle, still on all fours. My head was buried in the pillow as we rushed down the hallway, Jacquie catching up along the way as we got into the elevator.”
When we entered the birthing room, I decided it was definitely only going to be possible for me to remain exactly where I was, on my knees. I straight out refused to consider changing position at all. The midwife told me that my water bag was bulging and I was 10cm dilated. Though I hadn’t planned on any interventions at all, at this point the pressure was building and becoming too painful so I asked if she could break the water bag for me. Once the water bag was broken instead of easing the pressure it simply changed it and I felt my body surge with a need to push. Not me pushing, my body, completely of its own choice! The midwife was telling me when I was supposed to push but Jacquie who was on my left and my husband who was on my right, said it was ok to just listen to my body and push when it felt right, so that’s what I did. I recall being told by my wonderful doula during one powerful surge that it was ok, the room was sound-proofed. Clearly I was using all my muscles really well, including my vocal ones!
“My gorgeous rosy-coloured girl was born only an hour after we had walked into the hospital at about 5pm on Monday, beautiful and just as loud as her mother. She weighed a whopping 9lbs 13oz and was absolutely perfect in every way. As she settled into my arms, surprisingly solid and strong, my heart grew another thousand times in size.”
Her brother had opened up a magical world for me as a mother and I was excited for this new part of that journey. She was tired out by the long and exciting birth too, and settled comfortably onto my chest with utter contentment. But not before doing an enormous poo all over me. Oh the joys of motherhood!