In my life, and particularly during my pregnancy, I was blessed by the positive birthing stories shared by my mum, my mother in law, friends and on the web. I focused on these and truly relished a healthy, happy pregnancy, a strong trust in my body, active birth yogababy classes, calmbirth workshop, lots of reading and learning about pregnancy and birth and the anticipation of meeting our little one. These all helped me to feel prepared and look forward to giving birth for the first time.
I was part of the Mater Group Midwifery Program where I had regular check-ups and info sessions with a group of 4 midwives who I developed a great deal of respect and trust for. All was feeling good and wonderful as my due date drew closer and I prepared for what was to come physically and mentally by taking our dog for walks along the creek near our house and exploring our new neighbourhood, drinking raspberry leaf tea, perineal massage, stretching, swaying, meditating, filling a chest freezer with food, and, of course, writing my birth plan full of ideas and ways to have a beautiful, natural, drug-free birth.
One of the best pieces of advice I received during my pregnancy was to be open to whatever the day of the birth brings; that births are unpredictable and unfold in their own time and own way. From this understanding Mitch and I decided that, come what may, our focus would always be to create a loving, peaceful environment to welcome our baby into the world. This is how we did that when presented with a birth that didn’t quite fit our plan but turned out to be even more rich and beautiful then we could have imagined.
It seems to me, more often than not, you can only tell the start of a birth in hindsight.... I called my midwife in excitement on Wednesday, 2 weeks before my due date, to tell her my cervical plug had come out. My mum’s labours had started this way, hence my excitement, but by the next Monday night things still hadn’t progressed beyond Braxton Hicks contractions. Mitch encouraged me to call the midwives for reassurance and to see what the next step was. After asking a few questions about discharges and timings (I said all I had was barely noticeable amounts of clear water which I thought were part of the lubrication for birth I had read about) the midwife said it was possible my hindwaters might have broken with the plug and I should get checked by the Pregnancy Assessment Unit (PAU) straight away. This really threw me because I had been feeling so good and everything had been going so well and suddenly I was facing the prospect that actually this might not be the case atall. So, flustered, but grateful the car was already packed with the hospital stuff, we headed in.
Turned out yes, my hind waters were leaking and may have been doing so for 5 days. Not good. This was already 2 days longer than the hospital would allow women to go with broken membranes. Even though only very small amounts of amniotic fluid had been released, the ruptured membranes meant a risk of infection. I was told my baby needed to be birthed as soon as possible so I was taken to a birthing suite, put on a course of IV antibiotics and the induction process was explained. This all came as a bit of shock and I started getting scared. I didn’t want a chemical labour. I had heard from friends and books how the syntocinon drip was intense and unnatural and could quickly leadto a cascade of other interventions, usually ending in epidurals and vacuums. Even the midwife on duty was pessimistic “I’ve seen 4 or 5 girls do it without an epidural”. This was not at all like the slow, calm, natural start to labour at home I had hoped for. It was after midnight at this stage, I was tired and stressed and things were feeling bleak. I did not want to start my birth in this fearfuland weary state. Mitch and I considered our options carefully and decided the benefits of spending the remainder of the night resting, meditating and preparing a strong, positive state of mind and getting induced first thing in the morning outweighed the risks. I figured, I had just been pumped full of preventative antibiotics, my baby was showing no signs of distress or infection (we had been checked on the fetal heart rate monitor in PAU), and neither was I. To stick to this course of action challenged me to be more assertive than I am normally ever able to be and to step away from hospital recommendations, into listening deeply to my intuition and standing strong with what felt right.
Best decision I have ever made - after a few hours of sleep in the ward (smelling clary sage in an optimistic attempt to spur on natural contractions), watching sunrise and meditating with my baby I was feeling really good. A new midwife, Trish, came and walked me to the birth suite, she was positive and supportive, things felt really right, it was a new day, Mitch and my mate Mollywere waiting there to support me and there was a beautiful big tree outside my new birthing suite window!! The image of this tree, strong and calm, stayed with me throughout my labour and somehow helped me to know that now was exactly the right place and time.
Trish hooked me up to the antibiotics for an hour, broke my waters and then started the syntocinon drip. My low level natural contractions were enhanced and I started to fall into a rhythm of gradually increasing contraction frequency and intensity. I think it was at this stage that a doctor popped into the room to check everything was okay with the drip, he spoke to the midwife briefly thencomplimented the CD of Dalai Lama chanting music we were playing. Growing up in India he was able to translate the Sanskrit words for me telling me, describing how they were evoking peace and explained the meaning of Om as the universal creation energy, saying it was perfect for a birth! What a beautiful contribution!
I continued labouring on the bed for a while, then stood up and tried some standing positions and ended up getting back into bed. Trish arrived back in the room and proudly presented a ‘Telemetry Machine’ (which turned out to be a wireless and waterproof foetal heart rate monitor that made it possible for me to labour in the shower and the bath). I found out later that Anne (my primarymidwife, who wasn’t on duty at the time but knew how much I had wanted as natural a birth as possible) had made calls from home to track it down for me and let Trish know of it’s whereabouts. Though I wasn’t sure what it actually was at first (and probably looked a bit confused that Trish was so excited about it) it turned out an incredible blessing and I are very grateful to my midwives forputting in the effort to find it for me and the student midwife Julie for continually re-adjusting it so patiently as my baby and I moved about, wild and free.
Trish guided me throughout my labour, always in the background, but making suggestions at crucial points, encouraging me to stay active and encouraged me to spend time in water. Her calm confidence and timely guidance were wonderful.
As the contractions intensified Trish suggested Mitch and I to get into the shower – we went straight in, swaying, dancing and then sitting on the birth ball. The warmth of the shower and Mitch was beautiful and the contractions fell into a stronger and stronger rhythm. After some time had passed Trish checked and found I was 4cm dilated – sweet! The labour was progressing well and although the contractions were getting full on I was breathing through them and feeling good between them.
The messages I had received during my pregnancy – to not fight the contractions but to relax into them as best as I could, to let them open me, and to resist fear and to breathe as deep as I could, moment by moment, made a big difference. As labour intensified Trish encouraged me into the bath, telling me to keep my belly in the warm water. Here, lying in the bath I started to go deeper and deeper within during each contraction. Trish brought the gas canister and I found it helpful – I felt nauseous at first but after a vomit felt so much better. The best thing about the gas is that the effects are temporary and it doesn’t affect the baby, and I found it really helped me to concentrate on breathing deep and slow.
As time progressed and the contractions heightened I would visualise my cervix, a circle deep and dark within my body and internally repeat open, open, open, over and over, feeling the warm water lap around and Mitch’s hands holding me. As the intensity continued to increase I was blessed with the arrival of my deeply respected friend and mentor Liz Lotscher from www.innershe.com.au . Liz sprinkled rose petals around my bath and encouraged me to go deeper still, to watch the sensations change. Being surrounded by the love and support of the midwives, trusted friends and my beloved Mitch made it entirely possible for me to birth my baby without further interventions. During contractions I would close my eyes and travel within, between contractions I would repeat ‘thank you’; to Mitch for holding me physically and emotionally, in love, to Molly for bringing me water and attending to all requests so quickly and with so much heart, to Liz for her wise feminine understanding and encouragement and to the midwives for their knowledge, practical guidance and support. My baby was truly born in an aura of profound gratitude.
After about 4-5 hours had passed on the drip I started getting restless and reaching my limits in the bath, Trish noticed and suggested I stand up to move my baby and encouraged Mitch and I back into the shower. Standing and walking must have been exactly what I needed as I had only been in theshower for a minute or two when I felt an incredible urge to push and the rest of my waters flooded out. Trish magically arranged a beanbag for me to lie on and during a break between contractions checked and announced I was 10 cm dilated! We couldn’t believe it, everyone around me got so excited, I just felt relief at the news! Trish asked where I would like to birth my baby, she was happy to deliver it on the floor in the shower, but also suggested the bed. I chose the bed and, leaning forward on the bed head and pillows, my wet body kept warm by Mitch’s poncho, Trish guided me through the second stage. Anne, my primary midwife arrived at this point to help too (joking talking about all the red lights she had to run to get here because my labour was progressing so quickly). Between the two of them talking me through each push “push without the gas this time, push strong, push til I say stop and pant etc” and Liz giving me a crucial piece of wisdom when I was seriously doubting I could handle this level of intensity “big yes, just let it be a big yes” I birthed my beautiful baby girl in about 5 pushes without tearing or needing stitches. Mitch caught our baby (and was grateful for the midwife’s prediction of our birthing baby’s surprising last minute changes in trajectory as she turned her shoulder and spiralled out) and placed her on my chest. We watched with joy as she bobbed and wiggled her way to my breast, alert, calm and strong, with a head of softblack hair and wide blue eyes, she was and is the most beautiful thing we have ever known.