A stressful pregnancy
I had a high risk pregnancy, with a history of pre-eclampsia, a threatened miscarriage and a subchorionic hematoma. This meant I had significant bleeding for more than 3 months of the pregnancy. From as early as 9 weeks, the obstetrician recommended that I have fortnightly ultrasounds, to check on the hematoma. It grew for quite some time before finally stabilising and then slowly shrinking, well into the third trimester. My pregnancy was stressful, medicalised, and then we entered lockdown which only made things harder. I spent a lot of energy trying to relax – which is as counterproductive as it sounds and quite difficult to manage with two active boys. Bub was also posterior, so I spent weeks employing all the spinning babies recommendations, squatting at every opportunity – you name it, I was trying it. I did my very best to give bub space to turn.
A change of heart
At 37 weeks I wanted to switch care providers. I decided I wanted a home birth and to stay out of the hospital system. My change of heart was also fuelled by the currently lockdown situation. I wanted family life to continue on as normally as possible after bub was born. Unfortunately, no one was available, home birth midwives book out so early! Instead, I prepped my husband that I wanted to aim for a water birth and interventions I wanted to avoid. I’ve wanted a water birth with every Bub, but hadn’t yet experienced it. I really wanted an empowering birth experience. This time I was going to advocate for myself, to see if I could help the pieces fall into place.
Sunday & Monday
Throughout my pregnancy people had asked if I had a feeling what the gender was – I had no idea. I did however, have a strong feeling that bub would come early. I was 39 weeks exactly on Sunday. All afternoon I felt mild contractions, but not strong enough to stop me from what I was doing. I mentioned it to my husband and we carried on with our day to day activities.
Monday afternoon was the same. That evening the contractions picked up in intensity and duration, but I was in bed so I stayed there, trying to sleep. Interestingly, my 5 year old had jumped into my bed really early in the evening. Normally, being so early in the night I would have sent him back to his bed, but this time, it was nice to have him there and watch him sleep. I thought that this was the last night of us as a family of four.
Around 230am I wasn’t able to stay in bed anymore. I lit a candle, turned on my hypnobirthing playlist that I’d found on Spotify and went to wake my husband around 3am. He packed the boy’s bags, packed the hospital bag and sat by me. I wanted peace and quiet, and so he gave me space to be by myself. I rested as much as I could. My 5 year old was still fast asleep in my bed – when he woke up around 630, he turned to me at without speaking gently laid his hand on me to support me through a contraction – there’s no way he would have known what it was. It was like he knew he had to just be present for me that night. Having him there definitely helped with my oxytocin levels!
On Tuesday the contractions picked up even more. They were irregular in duration and frequency but becoming more and more painful. I was lucky to have about an hour of sleep in the middle of the day without any contractions at all. I was already so tired from being awake all of Monday night. The contractions woke me back up and I was back in the zone again, navigating the ebb and flow of them. My husband helped me get through the contractions with various counter pressures and techniques that we’d practiced in the weeks prior. I encouraged myself to be patient. These techniques helped curb the pain levels significantly. Despite the pain and long contractions, I knew I wasn’t close. My body didn’t feel ready.
Tuesday night was really exhausting. I spent countless hours in the shower with the water on my back. The contractions would follow a pattern, starting with 10min of rest, then kicking off with a long, painful contraction lasting over 2min, followed by an hour of shorter, ineffective contractions. I would enjoy the rest phase, but dread the next intense contraction that I knew was coming each time. Sleep wasn’t possible. I wasn’t progressing, in pain and felt frustrated. I did my best to breathe out the frustration and let it unfold the way my body needed it to.
Wednesday morning I decided it was time to visit to the hospital to see why things were not progressing. I wasn’t feeling anywhere close to active labour. I knew I hadn’t been through transition, yet I was completely wiped out. The midwife confirmed Bub was still posterior – news that didn’t surprise me, but I still felt really disappointed. A bubble of fear tried to come up – my first birth was posterior and led to a traumatic experience. I was adamant to avoid that this time around. Refocussing myself, letting that fear go, I agreed to a stretch and sweep.
The doctor gave me the option to be admitted and given pain relief, or to forgo the pain relief and head home. Given the pain I was in and how long it had been going on for, it was a really tough choice. I had a gut feeling that if I chose the pain relief, that it might be the start of the cascade of intervention that I was so keen to avoid. I chose to go back home to see if my body just needed a little more time to turn bub around.
By 1230pm I was ready to head back into hospital. The S&S wasn’t effective in that time but I felt too depleted to keep going at home. I knew I needed to keep myself in the zone of pre-labour, sothroughout the car ride, going through the Covid check-in and heading up to the birthing unit, I had my music playing in my headphones and kept my eyes down or closed. The midwife admitted me straight away, thankfully without an assessment. I was glad to be there, despite still not being in active labour.
My husband prepped the room, closing the blinds and turning on the candles (I didn’t even have to ask – he remembered!). I hopped (more like upright crawled) straight into the bath. Being in the water felt amazing. It was beautifully warm and deep – it was the pain relief that I needed and was a chance to recenter myself. I had my eye mask on, and my music was still playing so I had something positive to focus on, rather than what was happening around me. I knew I wasn’t close to actually birthing Bub yet, but I remained hopeful that a combination of active birth positions and the buoyancy of the water would help turn bub.
No thank you, let’s wait and see
The midwife told me the doctor had recommended a cannula and bloods as I had lost a significant amount of blood from a previous birth. I declined it as it felt pre-emptive and I also didn’t want a reason to be out of the water. The contractions were stronger, longer but still ineffective and variable. I knew I wasn’t progressing. After an hour and a half, the midwife suggested it might be time to break my waters to help establish labour. I knew I needed some energy reserves if I was to continue for when active labour hit and so I agreed.
After the midwife broke my waters, I was straight back into the bath. Labour kicked in almost immediately. The contractions became regular, *finally!!*, more painful and longer. Despite the discomfort, it was such a relief knowing that things were moving forwards.My husband topped the bath with hot water as the water had started to cool. I had some low dose gas to take the edge of the contractions. My husband was continuing with the counter pressures with every contraction as well to help manage the pain. I remember calling out “more!” when more pressure was needed – it was the most amount of communicating I was doing.
An educator came to talk to me about my desire for a water birth. I nodded in agreement that I would follow instructions if needed – but then I stopped listening because a contraction kicked in. I wasn’t worried though,trusting that I had learnt about, and thoroughly researched water births.By following my body’s lead, I knew I wouldn’t need to rely on instructions.
I did it! Bub did it! We did it together.
I was in active labour for less than an hour. A couple of really intense contractions when Bub turned, and then all of a sudden I realised Bub was ready to be born. I had tried to avoid wondering what it was going to be time – so long as things progressed I was happy to wait until my body was ready. Out of nowhere, I felt him coming down. Fast. His descent and exit only took 5 contractions, it felt intuitive to push alongside 3 of them. I told my husband to stop with the counter pressures. Bub was crowning on the third contraction.
For the first time in many hours I changed my position from hands and knees to a deep lunge. I felt the contraction start to slow so I whispered to him that we could wait until the next contraction, that we would birth him together. Bub was nearly born in 3 contractions but I took the time to breathe and wait for the next contraction. His head came out and I said to my husband and the single midwife in the room – ‘the head is out’. No one was ready for it, or quite believe that it was happening. On the fifth contraction he was born. I caught him myself, took a moment to catch my breath and brought him up for a cuddle.
We took our time after the birth to relax, waited for the paediatric review and then chose to head home a few hours later. It was an amazing and empowering birth and I am so grateful to have had such a positive experience.
Your Questions, Answered
I’ve received a number of questions already about how I prepped for this birth (especially on the background of having a previous traumatic birth). Everyone is different – every pregnancy and every birth is different, so I thought I would share what worked for me. Maybe it will help someone else too.
Process your previous birth experience.
Disclaimer: I’m not a counsellor or psychologist, so this isn’t clinical advice. I know that for me, I needed to process my traumatic experience. Ignoring it wasn’t helpful and I spent much of my second pregnancy avoiding thinking about giving birth again. It’s very liberating to come out the other side and to fully believe that every birth is different.
Relearn what birth means.
When I was pregnant with my first, I was told so many scary birth stories. My fear around labour and birth grew as the pregnancy progressed. For this pregnancy I deliberately changed the narrative. Below are just a couple of my favourite resources that helped me do this. I’ve linked them for you, you’re welcome to check them out (not sponsored).
Better Births Illawarra. I was lucky to have the opportunity to photograph one of their active birth workshops. Here I learnt a lot about active birth labour positions, the fact that we do have choices during labour, self advocacy and the role of fear.
Australian Birth Stories podcast. A range of stories – I focussed on the positive and physiological birth stories.
Badassmotherbirther on Instagram. As I was hoping for a water birth I watched a lot of water births to learn what these positive birth experiences looked like. I also credit the idea of wearing an eye mask in hospital to reduce external stimulation to this account.
I’m always happy to chat if you have any questions, or would like suggestions on where to find resources – anything from birth education, local doulas, women’s health, psychology etc.