The birth story of my second baby: part 2

Part 1 of this story is here, in case you missed it.

Saturday 23rd August. There was rugby on tv for some reason, as Mr C was cooking dinner, and I felt what I was pretty sure was a contraction. I didn’t have my phone handy to check the time, so I just looked at the time on the clock on tv – 6:30pm. A while later, as we sat down to dinner, I felt the same twinge and looked at the clock on the radio – 6:51pm. 20 minutes. That’s prelabour. We ate one of Mr C’s hearty meals – I think it was stir fry – and the Dude went off to sleep as usual about 7:30 or so. I sat uncomfortably on the couch and downloaded a contraction timing app. When Mr C came back downstairs I told him I was pretty sure contractions were coming regularly and he said I should call the midwife. So about 8:30pm I let her know something was happening and she was glad as we’d already had a discussion about the amount of time hospital would allow to lapse between membrane rupture and birth of baby and the need for antibiotics and neither of us wanted to have to deal with any of that. I wouldn’t have them of course, but it added an element of doom and gloom, just having the discussion, and made me regret again having had that stupid GBS swab back in my first pregnancy. Anyway, my midwife suggested getting to bed as early as possible to try to get some rest before things ramped up, as they are wont to do overnight, and I of course agreed but knew the chances were slim as I’m such a night person.

We watched something on tv, no idea what, and then Mr C kept badgering me about the pool: “Now should I get this pool up or what? I don’t want to be doing it at 2am!” And I kept saying, “yeah, I don’t know, like, I’m definitely having contractions but, yeah, I don’t know, whatever…” Typically vague! Eventually I said okay, blow it up, and he didn’t need to be asked twice. As he moved some furniture around and got the pump out, he kept saying to me, “go upstairs, get some rest, I’ll finish this.” And I kept saying, “okay, yep, after the next contraction I will…” Anyway, I had a few spoonfuls of yoghurt in case this really was ‘it’ and I needed the extra energy, and ended up finally going upstairs at some point around 10:30pm I think. It was bizarre swinging my hips through a contraction as I brushed my teeth but not painful, just weird. Those early sensations are the best, not painful but strong enough to know they’re doing some good work!

I finally lay down, probably past 11pm at this point I’d say, and started reading stuff on my phone, my usual bedtime wind down routine. Ridiculous, as I needed the rest now more than ever, but that’s me. Contractions were becoming pretty uncomfortable and lying down wasn’t helping, although I was tired. I turned off my phone and tried to sleep, and I think I did manage to drift off, but the sensations just got stronger and stronger and less and less bearable. I tried to relax into them and visualise opening and softening and all those good things. I thought about the hypnobirthing idea that labour needn’t be painful and that the pain is a man-made thing. I wondered how this could be the case as the pain got more and more intense and I found it nearly unbearable to continue lying down. The Dude got up and climbed into our bed, which he does most nights at the moment. I finally couldn’t stand to have another contraction lying down so I took my phone, got some clothes on, and went into his room. I couldn’t lie on the bed so I leant over it, kneeling on the ground, trying to rest between sensations. I had maybe three or four like that but I just wasn’t comfortable and I realised I probably wasn’t going to get any more rest, this was it. By this point it was probably about midnight or 12:30ish. I went downstairs. I knew Mr C would hear me and come down when he could once the Dude was back asleep. I kept timing the contractions and some were getting to be really close, five minutes apart and lasting about 45 seconds. I realised I had no idea when I would be deemed to be in active labour, and therefore when I should call the midwife. Between sensations I turned the water on, as Mr C had hooked the hose up before coming to bed, and got the pool filling. There was something really awesome about being in labour by myself, just kind of pottering about in the dark of night, stopping to lean over a bench or the back of the couch every few minutes.

Mr C came down I think about 1am and busied himself putting candles around the room. There came a point, I don’t really know when, but soon thereafter, when he just instinctively came over and massaged my lower back as I had a contraction. I got him to press down on my hips and it really helped sort of diffuse the pain. I finally understood what this term ‘applying counter pressure’ meant. He immediately asked if I’d called the midwife and I said no, so he said I think you should and asked me when we are supposed to, like how far apart the contractions should be. It was then that I admitted I had no freaking idea! There were some coming three minutes apart and they were sometimes starting to last a good minute or more. I called our midwife at 1:45am, or rather, I got Mr C to call her, and she asked to speak to me, of course, to see just how full on things really were. I was able to speak, and in fact I remember sort of taking a break to speak to her, like putting the labour on hold for a few minutes while I concentrated on the conversation. I think she and the other two midwives must have arrived about 2:15 or so, not really sure, but by that point I was in the pool and screaming the house down, needing Mr C to lean over and press on my lower back in a really awkward (for him!) way. Thinking back now, I wasn’t at all concerned about the midwives not making it. I think I would have managed just fine if they hadn’t. Anyway, I had this idea that I should try to remain upright in the pool if I could, so I was on my knees leaning over the edge. I wanted to be in the position that would get this baby moving down as quickly and efficiently as possible and this was it, although it was really uncomfortable as I’d have to pull myself up every time a contraction came and I felt my hips coming out of the water which meant I wasn’t getting the benefit of it during the time I needed it and I felt someone, probably the midwife, pushing my pelvis slightly further down so it was submerged, which I knew was important as if baby were to emerge it needs to be totally under the water as the first contact with air will stimulate breathing.

I eventually changed to lying semi-reclining, as I did during the Dude’s birth, although I didn’t sit on the blow up ‘seat’ part, just on the floor of the pool. I liked this because it was deeper, but I didn’t realise until the next day that I’d totally bruised my lower spine doing that as the floor of the pool wasn’t remaining inflated so I was pressing on the floor beneath. The contractions were insanely intense, beyond anything I could ever imagine! I thought later how ironic it was that I’d been so adamant that the pain wasn’t an issue for me, I wasn’t afraid of it and could handle any level of pain, no problem. I wasn’t handling this pain, or at least, I was simply withstanding it and screaming at it and hating it and feeling like it was too much for me. I did ‘handle’ it, in that I managed to get through it, but my god, it was just so far beyond anything I thought could be possible. I wasn’t going to pass out or anything, I just wanted to escape it. I remember when I was still in the upright position I just screamed and kicked my legs and said ‘no, no, no!’ which as I recall was similar to what I did pre pushing stage with the Dude. And the midwives, as my first midwife had done, said, ‘yes, yes, yes’ in response. I knew in my head I had to accept it and I forced myself to visualise opening and relaxing but there were moments at the height of the contraction where I just tried to run from it. It sounds weird, running from something happening inside your own body, but it’s what I did, or tried to do. I kept beginning to say, “I don’t think I can do this…”, shaking my head, and at one point I threw up all over the edge of the pool. I had my eyes closed but I imagined the knowing smiles on the faces of the midwives; aah, transition. I thought a few times about transferring for pain relief, like I wasn’t totally sure I could withstand the intensity. Mr C said later he knew I was thinking about that. Neither of us ever voiced it during labour though and the midwives had no idea that’s what I was thinking.

I felt a shift in the atmosphere and I knew the Dude had woken up and come downstairs. It was about 3am by this point, and I was really in the thick of it, needing Mr C for every contraction, reaching behind to grab his arms as I withstood another wave of intensity and hoped for the ‘pushy’ feeling. Dude wasn’t upset or afraid or even vaguely concerned. I heard him laughing at various points, being read stories, commenting on things, like an old hand, like watching your mum give birth in a pool in your living room in the middle of the night was an everyday occurrence. The funny thing is, a week or so after the birth, I was sitting on the couch with him, which I don’t think had happened before as I was on strict bed rest upstairs, and I asked if I could get up and do something and he said, no, not yet mummy, and grabbed onto my arm. He just wanted me to hold him. So I whispered to him: “Did you miss mummy when I had a baby?” And he must have misunderstood what I was asking because he said: “Yes, mummy, I was really super scared when you having a baby. I was scared you were so loud.” So even though he hadn’t shown it, he obviously was afraid during the birth, and understandably so as I was incredibly loud, much louder than during his birth. I explained that sometimes it takes a really loud noise to get a baby to come out and he didn’t demand anything further and soon let me get up and do what I needed to do.

As I began to get closer to crowning and my body gave those pushes as it had the last time, my midwife bent down and spoke to me about how I should try to go easy during crowning, take it slow, let my body do the work, don’t crazily push hard. I guessed it was because she didn’t want me to tear, but I just said, “I didn’t do that last time”. I wasn’t in the mood to take anything slow at this point, I just wanted the baby out as quickly as possible! I heard what she said and took it on board but I was thinking, screw that, I want this over with! I began pushing on top of the contractions, and I did actually feel baby moving down this time. As I got closer I felt her moving inside me, a really weird and frankly not nice feeling. But I knew it had to happen. As before, I felt like my pushes weren’t doing much and I was pushing against that brick wall again. This time I actually reached down a few times to feel what was happening which was a bit of a mistake as despite the optimistic words and noises of the birth team, my vagina felt exactly as it always does. I couldn’t feel a head or indeed any kind of stretching. Massive disappointment. I questioned just how much longer I could do this, as every contraction was hell but as I began to push on top of them it felt marginally better, like I was getting some relief. I tried my best to keep my sounds low and guttural but it just wasn’t possible all the time, I literally screamed the house down, sometimes sounding like a murder victim from some tacky horror film. Not good birthing noises. But that’s what I did.

I finally felt something when I reached down, although again I was disappointed as it just felt squishy, no hard head, no stretched bits. The midwives had already announced they could see the head and asked for the mirror I was apparently supposed to have in my box of birth stuff. I was like, “oh no, I didn’t get it as I don’t want to see,” and they said, “yes, but it’s for us to see!” Anyway, they of course had one and I think perhaps Mr C got to see things stretching that way, although I didn’t have my eyes open so I have no idea really. I think I opened my eyes maybe twice from the moment the midwives arrived to when she was born. Towards these latter moments I began making this sort of mooing sound between contractions, kind of like keeping the momentum flowing or something. I could hear myself and was thinking, what a bloody awful sound for everyone to have to listen to, but it was working to keep me going so I went with it.

The head was doing what the Dude’s head did, starting to crown and then going back in again. I think it probably happened about three or four times before I managed to hold it there while I breathed between contractions and then I pushed like crazy and out she came. I think I heard the midwife begin to say I should take a breather and bring out the body on the next contraction but I don’t think I did that, I just needed her out!

“And welcome back, Kat,” said my midwife as her body emerged and I immediately snapped out of birthing and back into consciousness again. I felt how quickly it happened, I didn’t lie back and rest or anything, I just reached for my baby and as before helped the midwife unwind the cord which I think was a couple of times around her neck, I can’t remember. She had the same Apgars as the Dude, 9 and 9, and she began crying, clearing out all the fluid and mucus. I can’t express the sense of relief I had at getting that baby out. 4:25am, so more or less a five-hour labour, three hours active really. So fast! Thank goodness! Within minutes of beginning to breathe, she began sucking on her hands and rooting around for the breast. This little girl had a perfectly round little head, no cone head moulding like the poor Dude had after his spinning around during labour. She was going to be a happier baby.

I glanced into the water in front of me and saw this sudden cloud of red blood billowing out around me. I wondered if it would have been a gush, had I been on land. The midwives were keeping an eye on things and certainly hadn’t missed the loss of blood. We had a few minutes of oohing and aahing and kissing and smiling and coughing and spluttering from baby before my midwife suggested I get out of the pool as she didn’t like the look of the amount of blood I was losing while waiting for the placenta. I had a couple of mild contractions in the pool I think, and I was soon out and lying on the couch. I just let my midwives get on with things and look after my bleeding as I couldn’t feel it and didn’t feel any different at that point. It wasn’t long before the placenta arrived, perhaps 20 minutes or so, much faster than the hour it took for the Dude’s to come out. I guess perhaps my body knew it had no time to waste and I couldn’t afford to lose much more blood. Dude and Mr C cut the cord together which was kind of cool, although I’m sure Dude just liked the idea of getting to use scissors!

My midwife told me that as soon as the placenta emerged, the bleeding stopped, which is just what should happen of course. But overall I’d lost in the region of 800ml, which, when you consider I lost only 400 last time and anything over 500 is considered a haemorrhage, it certainly wasn’t anything to write off. I knew I’d be okay of course, but still, it’s a little disconcerting realising you’ve suddenly lost almost a quarter of the blood in your body! I knew I was pale and beginning to feel a bit odd, although I wasn’t dizzy or anything and there was no chance of fainting. I did feel a bit out of it though, and found it hard to concentrate on what my midwife was saying for a while there. The crazy thing was that no one offered me food, and I didn’t think to ask as I was out of it and concentrating on baby and what was happening moment by moment. Eventually, when baby had fed well and passed out happily, and my midwife checked to see about tears. She mentioned she’d seen my scar tissue stretch when the head emerged, but I was puzzled. “What scar tissue?” I asked. “Oh, you know, where you tore last time,” she said. But as far as I was aware I had no tears or grazes last time. When she checked she could see the ‘old’ scar and after initially declaring no tearing, she looked again and discovered a first degree tear and labial graze. I realised that I must have torn last time but it wasn’t picked up. I was pleasantly surprised that even my first wee wasn’t really that painful, nowhere near what it was the last time when I had to get in the shower every time I needed to go to the toilet. Apart from that funny feeling of having no muscles in your general pubic area, I felt really good physically. But I was pretty depleted. I eventually got someone to make me some Vegemite toast (without butter, what the hell?!) and drank juice and despite a bit of hesitation from the midwives, I decided I could make it up the stairs to bed. It was a slow ascent and I was shocked by how short of breath I was – my first real experience of iron deficiency I think.

But it was done. She was here. 24 August 2014, 4:25am. 3.935kg, 54cm. Clementine Elizabeth. Or ‘Mole’, as we’ve dubbed her, due to her distinct lack of hair on her little round head and her snuffly head bobbing as she roots around for boobie. I love her. I finally understand how it is to feel that strong bond with your baby instantly, to love breastfeeding, despite oversupply and engorgement and vomit and poo and night waking. I definitely don’t want to have any more children at this stage, I’m grateful to have these two, a boy and girl, and I just can’t wait to see who she becomes.

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First feed soon after birth

The birth story of my second baby: part 1

I’m publishing this in two parts because it’s hellishly long, as most stuff I write is, and I wanted to split it into the ‘build up’ and the ‘real deal’.

I’d been fairly casual about the planning for this birth, in typical fashion. There was no question I’d be having the baby at home, as I did the Dude, and although we’d only recently moved to Melbourne, I’d made it my business to get an independent midwife sorted out quickly. I ended up swapping to a different midwifery practice at 32 weeks as the midwife who was meant to be my primary announced she was stopping practice and while she could still come to my birth, all pre and post natal care would need to be handed to another midwife at the practice. I’d already been less than satisfied with a few other goings on at that practice, being asked odd questions and having to have appointments with different midwives when really I just wanted one-on-one care, so I decided to swap to the midwife I’d originally met back when I was about 14 weeks.

I felt well, better than I had with the Dude, and it was only at about 38 weeks that I noticed a bit of swelling round my ankles which didn’t surprise me as I’d had it for the whole third trimester in my first pregnancy and I’d been under a bit of stress, trying to get things done before baby arrived and forgetting to take my supplements. I was starting to feel heavy, and baby felt very low and dug into my cervix regularly. But I had no Braxton Hicks that I could feel and I began to think about when this baby might arrive. Previously, my water had broken on the dot of 39 weeks, at about 1:30am, and then I had no contractions for 28 hours. I’d always considered this to be partly the way my body worked (my mum had the same thing with me) and partly because my boy was so keen to come. I expected this second labour to be faster and a bit more ‘normal’, not your typical long first labour which mine was, more or less, apart from the premature membrane rupture.

As things started to wind down and we did our dry run with the birth pool, I realised I really needed this baby to wait a bit longer than 39 weeks. Dude had come down with a really nasty virus that was turning into a horrible cough and just going on and on, so I was looking after him and not even thinking about giving birth. It just so happened that Mr Chewbacca’s contract at work was due to finish on 29 August (four days after 40 weeks for me), the third intern midwife who I’d invited to the birth to help with the Dude was going to be away between 25 and 30 August, and my favourite ABA group meeting was scheduled for 27 August. I wrote all these things on the calender and suddenly realised I was pretty sure this baby would wait until after the 30th to be born. I was predicting either the 31st or 1st September. I even wrote a post about it on one of the online groups I’m regularly on, the morning of 22 August:

A question about timing and mummy instinct: much of this pregnancy I’ve thought there’s a good chance baby will come at 39 weeks like my first. But just in the last couple of weeks I’ve come to this realisation that baby will wait until we are ready. There are a few things happening that would mean baby arriving any time in the next week would be a bit inconvenient – husband’s contract at work finishes on the 29th, toddler is still recovering from a bad bout of the flu, extra assisting midwife isn’t available until after the 30th…
Now at 39 weeks (depending on the calculation my guess date is somewhere between 25 and 28 Aug), I have this strong feeling that baby will stay put and most likely arrive about the 31st/1st. Aside from a hard head pressing on my pubic bones and cervix, I’m really not feeling uncomfortable or over it, not wanting to ‘make’ anything happen, but I was more wondering about this sudden confidence I have about when baby will arrive. Has anyone got any stories to share about ‘knowing’ when baby will come? It feels so at odds with my logical understanding that babies come when ready and I have no real say in it, more just about practising surrender and faith. But I feel so clear about this, I just know baby is waiting until we’re ready, husband can focus on us, toddler doesn’t need me 24/7… Thoughts?? I’d love anyone’s stories around this.

And then the next morning:

Well. So much for ‘knowing’ bub is staying put for another week! I woke about 1:30am after some fitful dreams (refusing to wake up I think!) about my membranes rupturing but trying to deny it, only to feel a ‘leak’! I got up to go to the toilet, felt more wet, soaked through my pyjama pants… The ol’ bladder can be a bit dodgy these days but I’m pretty sure it was amniotic fluid. I shoved a bunch of toilet paper in a new pair of undies, lay back down, realised I was an idiot not to use one of the many maternity pads on hand (conventionally located all the way downstairs of course) and I felt shaky, massive adrenaline, exactly like my first labour. Got a pad, took some emergency essence, back into bed. Oh no, I didn’t want her to come yet, just one more week please! Felt some ‘tightenings’, eventually drifted back off to sleep after explaining what was possibly happening to husband, who’d been getting our three year old back to sleep while I leaked… Nothing happening this morning, again, same as last time… Am I going to have a baby tonight?!

Thinking back now, I realise there was no way baby was waiting. Although the membrane rupture was not a big gush like the first time, it was clear it was a leak and I was getting ready to have a baby. Mr C and I just looked at each other in disbelief: now, really?! And then he said something to seal the deal: “Well, if she’s going to come, she better come TONIGHT or stay in for another week!” I didn’t say anything because I was still in denial but I knew that he’d just given our girl permission to come on out. We randomly decided that if this was going to be ‘it’, we should do something productive. And you can’t get much more productive than going to a shopping centre and buying an electric kettle! We ate a big meal at Schnitz, followed by icecream, and spent an hour with Dude in the Target play area. I had to walk so slowly, leaking the whole time, it was almost comical actually. Last time I hadn’t had this heavy head in my pelvis as Dude began labour in a breech position and turned sometime during the 38 hours of contractions that followed, so I’d been a lot more comfortable walking around.

We got home mid afternoon sometime and I just wanted to rest. We tested out our new kettle only to decide immediately to return it as it beeped really loudly. I began to get emotional. Our neighbours began to play their usual loud Arabic-style music which has this throbbing, incessant beat, and I began to feel desperate. This was my worst nightmare. I tried to hold back tears as I sat on the couch with the Dude. I felt what I thought might have been a contraction but wasn’t sure. What do contractions feel like again? Period pain? But I don’t get period pain. I felt this internal dilemma, like I knew I needed to accept that this baby was coming but I just couldn’t bring myself to that point yet, nothing was going right. I cried in Mr C’s arms, in the Dude’s arms. “It’s okay mummy, don’t cry,” he said, and patted my head.

To be continued…

 

 

Finding the right midwife: a story

I haven’t written much about this pregnancy or the stuff going on around it. It’s all just too normal and boring really. In a good way! But there have been some interesting goings on in terms of my care provider which I feel may be good to share, possibly useful for women looking to find a midwife to support them in birth and all that goes with it.

As you might know, I gave birth to the Dude in a pool in my living room just over three years ago now. I planned a homebirth from the get go and wouldn’t have had it any other way. Given the epic nature of the birth and what I withstood in order to keep to my plan of having my baby at home (38 hours from first contraction to birth with 10-12 hours of active labour, most contractions during that time without a break as Dude apparently turned from breech to head down during labour which meant incredible pain in my sides between contractions), it would have taken something pretty full on to get me to go to a hospital to have my baby. And that hasn’t changed. There are really only a few very rare medical problems that would compel me to seek guidance from an obstetrician and give birth in a hospital. Things like complete placenta praevia or placental abruption, life-threatening haemorrhaging, or serious infection. Real medical problems. Not just being in pain or feeling tired. I have more faith in my body than that, and I am extremely robust and strong physically. Especially after having the Dude, I have absolutely no doubt in my body’s ability to give birth and I don’t need any assistance or pain relief, it just works.

Anyway, having moved to another state when newly pregnant with this second one, I couldn’t seek out the same (awesome) midwife this time around. I did a bit of reading and research and discovered that in Victoria we have an abundance of midwives available for pretty much any birth scenario a woman might choose. How fabulous, I thought! Some midwives work in practices, some individually, some have practising rights in hospitals, and there are a very large number of independent midwives in general. In addition, there is more than one GP who supports women to give birth anywhere they choose, even at home, and getting that pesky Medicare referral signed is pretty easy.

I felt so relaxed this time round, couldn’t really think of any requirements I had for birth. I just wanted a midwife who had the same ideas about birth as me and would support me at home. Easy! Or at least, that’s the way it seemed. I only met a few, and only dealt with two practices, but it was hard to meet more as a lot of them charge for even a first consultation and they are all really nice, it didn’t seem like it would be a hard choice. Anyone would do. I must admit I felt rather corralled (Mr Chewbacca’s very apt description) during my initial consultation with one of the midwives, but I was already about 12 weeks pregnant and wanting to get my midwife sorted. I was keen to have that first ultrasound and blood test done and then just sit back and relax into pregnancy. I let the midwife I saw do what needed to be done, even though I made it clear that we hadn’t made our choice yet. We met with two other midwives, one from a different practice, who was lovely, and another from that first practice, again lovely. We ended up choosing the latter, not for any reason in particular, perhaps just because we chatted a little more freely and had a few more things in common, but there was really nothing in it. Mr C did mention he thought the practice we chose felt ‘clinical’ when we first walked in, but I dismissed this without really thinking. After all, his only real experience of birth is what we had with the Dude, at home, so a midwifery practice office is going to seem more clinical in comparison. Certainly nothing even close to a clinical hospital environment. He has good instincts for this sort of thing, though, and I really wish I’d been more open to hearing him and shopping around a bit more. Not that I regret choosing the midwife we did, but in hindsight I don’t think it was the right choice.

Fast forward to the next appointment, a real prenatal check. It was fairly relaxed, a nice conversation, the usual listening to the baby’s heartbeat, blood pressure check. Midwives generally are easy to chat to, especially about pregnancy, birth and babies, and this one was no exception, so there was nothing really wrong, just different from what I’d experienced previously where I went to my midwife’s house and she had a cosy little room with all the midwife paraphernalia and it felt so comfy. I was a bit taken aback when my midwife suggested I make my next appointment with one of the other midwives in the practice with the aim of getting to know a few of the others. I wasn’t really sure why I would but I got the impression it was because one of them would be the back up midwife, the second midwife, which I was assured would be there for the whole birth as much as possible. This was also weird as I just had the one midwife last time and although there was a backup who I’m sure would have come along if need be, I never actually met her. I gathered the these midwives I’d signed up with worked in more of a group style practice and I didn’t think much more about it. I ended up meeting not just with that other midwife (who turned out to be the one who’d corralled us at the first appointment), but yet another midwife who I hadn’t previously met. The reason for meeting the third one was that after booking in with my primary midwife, I got a call before the appointment to say she wouldn’t be there and I’d either need to reschedule or have my check with a different midwife. So I chose the latter.  Again, didn’t really think much about it.

After my second appointment with the corralling midwife, I decided that although I respected and actually liked her, I didn’t want her at the birth unless something went seriously wrong and I had to transfer. She seemed far more interested in training student midwives and rabbiting on about risks or things that didn’t pertain to me than actually providing one-on-one woman-centred care. So I made it clear to my primary midwife at our next appointment exactly how I felt. She was understanding and said that would be fine. But then she dropped a bombshell: she said she was going to be ceasing work as a midwife and wouldn’t be renewing her (undoubtedly very expensive) insurance and therefore wouldn’t be able to do any of my pre or post natal care. She said she’d come to the birth, which kind of made sense as independent midwives are exempt from insurance for birth at home so she wouldn’t need it for that, but alarm bells began to ring for me when she said I’d need to book in with another previously unknown midwife in the practice to cover the rest of my care. Another one! So that’s now four midwives I’d have seen. I agreed, more just because I was a bit shocked than anything else, but as I made my appointment with this other person I’d never heard of, I began to feel uneasy. Later when I received a call to say that midwife actually didn’t work out of the local practice and I’d need to book in with yet another person I’d never heard of, I realised that none of this was sitting well with me. It suddenly dawned on me that the model of care that this practice worked with was not like that which I’d previously experienced; I would never get that personalised, cosy, woman-centred, one-on-one care I needed with this practice, and I suddenly became acutely aware of how important that was for me. It was the very reason I’d chosen to birth at home with an independent midwife. Needless to say, my brain went into overdrive, thinking of possible scenarios and options.

I spoke to Mr C about it all, my mind reeling, beginning to panic and worry about how this would all pan out. I was 31 weeks pregnant, on the home stretch, and all of a sudden I didn’t know who would be at my birth! This might not even be a consideration for most women who are booked into the public system. You rock up in labour and whoever is rostered on is who you get. When there’s a shift change, new midwives come on board. You might be lucky if you get a lovely one who stays on a bit longer after her shift ends to support you through to the end. Or you might have numerous people coming and going throughout. However for me, birth is private and sacred. I don’t want a whole bunch of randoms I hardly know hanging out and influencing things. I want to know who will be there so I can relax and do what I do best. And I want to be sure my philosophies and choices are respected. There had been a bit of talk about ‘pain relief’ during some prenatal appointments, and I found this rather odd as it’s not something I felt I needed assistance with. Surely at home you just give birth, and yes, it’s painful (for some it isn’t, just intense), but you make it through and it’s this incredible feeling of elation and achievement straight afterwards. I began to think about this and how the suggestion of pain relief was a bit at odds with what I thought I’d explained about my own philosophies and choices.

After a couple of days mulling it over and chatting with Mr C, it became pretty clear that I needed to find a new midwife. I thought back to the one we’d met from the other practice, and I knew I had to contact her. I had to return a book I’d borrowed when we first met which I should have done ages ago, so I thought that was a bit of a sign that I needed to get back in touch. But when I called, her phone went straight to voicemail. I suspected she was at a birth or sleeping one off, but in fact it turned out she was overseas – oh no! She returned literally a couple of days after I called and we had the loveliest conversation over the phone. By some miracle, even though August is the busy time for birth, she turned out to be free for the whole month and beyond into September! And she said she would be happy to support me. Wow! I was blown away and so relieved. I met her and the other midwives last night and feel already so much more connected to them than the ones I have been seeing at the other practice. I can’t express how glad I am that I’ve managed to make this choice and get what I need for this baby. There’s only one thing left to do: speak to my original midwife and explain that I won’t be using their services any more. That is scary! I am terrible at confrontation! I don’t want to be a bother and I’m a bit worried about what I’ll have to pay to get out of it, but I think the fact that they’ve changed things on me gives me more of a leg to stand on in that respect. Anyway, I have to make that dreaded call today and arrange for my records to be copied so I can bring them across to my new midwife next week when we meet for our first prenatal check. I will be 33 weeks then!

I hope anyone who has managed to get to the end of this story will find it useful in their hunt for the right provider. Everyone has different needs and a different picture of their pregnancy and birth care. I hope that no matter where, how and with whom you choose to have your baby, you experience what works for you.

What does it mean to be a woman? A response

These days I don’t read my ‘baby’ blogs anywhere near as much as when I did while pregnant, as writing and reading has become my escape from all things ‘baby’, but today I decided to read about what Rixa has been up to on her fantastic blog, Stand and Deliver.  She’s written a short essay to inspire her students for their first writing assignment, and I enjoyed it so much that I thought I’d write something in response.

Once I got past puberty, whenever I heard the word ‘woman’, I’d squirm.  Woman.  There was something old, frumpy, big, mother hen-like about women; and I didn’t want to be that.  Don’t get me wrong, I was always happy being female.  But being a woman irked me.  In fact I never thought of myself as womanly, and if someone ever described me as curvy or voluptuous I’d really hate it.  I think this has to do with my weight issues, but also the fact that I’ve never been particularly maternal.

So for me to answer a question like what it means to be a woman is really a bizarre thing.  I remember my midwife referring to me as a ‘woman’ during my prenatal visits and I had to voice my feelings about that.  It was good to get it out.  I was never surprised that my body worked perfectly, that all the aspects of being female where, in me, efficient and effective and exactly as they should be.  I knew I was fertile, and I knew I was strong.  I knew I could get through labour, whatever it was, and that being a fantastic example of femininity would stand me in good stead.

Because I chose to have a baby at home instead of hospital, I began to read.  And inevitably stumbled upon all the hippy/crunchy stuff out there.  All the so-called ‘feminists’.  I’m all for empowerment, but of human beings in general, not just women.  I get the whole suffragette thing, I really do, but I really can’t stand women who go on about being ‘equal’ to men.  What’s the point when men and women are so incredibly different?  Why do we have to compete?  So women earn less that men, on average; so what?  Women are more likely to be at home with children.  This isn’t a burden; this is what women are great at.  Men can’t breastfeed or grow a baby or give birth.  Men don’t have bodies that secrete such delicate and perfect amounts of so many different hormones, that create life in such a complex and mysterious way.  We don’t have to prove ourselves or try to become ‘equal’; it’s an illusion.  We already are great.  Money is not a measurement of greatness, nor does the amount you earn have any bearing on your greatness as a human being.  The relationship between remuneration and gender is arbitrary.

I struggled with all these ‘women’ who wrote ‘womyn’ instead and expressed anger about men in general.  Apparently because we live in a patriarchal society, all hospitals are run by men who try to bring women down and violate them; so all men are evil.  Being a woman means fighting for your rights, fighting men.  This doesn’t sit right with me.

I have done the things that only women can do.  I’ve conceived a baby; I’ve carried that baby until he was ready to come into the world; and I’ve given birth to him, which was beyond the hardest thing I could ever have imagined doing.  Although I’ve never been maternal or interested in children, I give all that I have to this baby, my baby, my boy.  I do this not because I am a woman specifically but because I am a mother.  So being a woman is not just about motherhood, which I don’t even know well yet.  Being a woman is about knowing true power and being satisfied with that.  It’s about feeling so in tune with nature and the universe, and being thankful for the gift that is knowing the secret of creation.

Unlike some really crunchy hippies out there, I don’t catch my menstrual blood or participate in women’s workshops.  In fact I hardly notice my period coming and going most of the time.  But I do notice how wonderfully efficient my body is and how amazing it is that I can do what I’ve done.  Beyond having babies, being a woman is being a creator, whether you feel creative or not.  Being a woman is powerful; knowing womanhood is empowering!

The Dude’s birth: post script

Our little Mr I, aka The Dude, was born on Monday 9 May 2011 at 7:57pm in the pool at home.  The birth was transforming, as expected, but beyond anything I could have imagined.

There are a few key lessons I learnt from this birth.

First, my relationship with my mum completely transformed.  During the pregnancy I was able to identify the fact that I’ve not relied on anyone for a very long time, since I was a very young child in fact.  I’ve always been independent and headstrong, and I had some kind of complex about relying on others, probably because I couldn’t be sure they were reliable.  No one had shown much in terms of reliability.  It wasn’t so much anyone’s fault, it was the situation, the circumstance.  My mum, through no real fault of her own, let me down somewhat because she didn’t stand firm with me.  It was hard, I was clever and angry and strong and lacked empathy; I’d be so adamant about what I wanted and she found it impossible to stand firm against that, she actually needed to protect herself.  So when, during the birth, I lost control, lost faith, lost hope, and was running from the very thing that would bring the baby down and out, my mum did something heroic and unlike anything she’d done before.  She stepped up.  She didn’t let me escape.  She wasn’t mean, she just supported me and she didn’t let me down.  She was there, no matter how long it took, and she was prepared to go through it with me and be my rock.  And I needed her, I really did.

Second, I couldn’t take shortcuts.  All my life I’ve been really good at most things without exerting as much effort as most people.  I was always healthy and strong, tall and flexible, clever and funny, and I managed to cruise through most things others would consider a challenge without much effort.  When I had to put effort in, it would be half-hearted, and if I wasn’t great at something firs time, forget it, give it away, not worth doing anyway.  I didn’t take direction well and would ignore teachers at every interval, from the ice-skating teacher I had at age 8, to the maths tutor I had at age 14, to the flute teacher at age 16, I wrote them all off, did whatever I wanted, scraped through and escaped the challenge.  My mum always said, ‘you’re living small’ and that made me angry.  I know my dad could see it too, as he does the same thing.  But this labour, this was by far the biggest challenge of my life, and I couldn’t escape it!  There was a way out; hospital, intervention, drugs, disappointment.  I couldn’t do that.  I knew that was wrong for me and for baby.  So I did it, I rose to the challenge, I pushed through pain a hundred times beyond anything I could even imagine feeling, and I achieved a huge goal.  I overcame this without any shortcuts.  I don’t ever want that feeling to go away; I want to always remember how it was to beat myself and overcome this, so that I can achieve really great things in life and not wimp out or make excuses like I have in the past.

Birth story: part 3

Continued from part 2

I thought, surely the head must be visible after all this.  It seemed like so long that my body had been pushing, and R had even said that I should try pushing on top of the involuntary push, which was relatively satisfying.  It took a while to get the hang of the breathing and sounds needed to accompany a good push.  I was confused by R’s direction, because on the one hand she said ‘don’t hold your breath’ which made sense, but on the other hand she said, ‘don’t let the energy escape in your breath or noise,’ or something like that, it seemed that I couldn’t quite get it at first.  But when I did get it, I knew.

Finally the pain in my pelvis eased, but was quickly replaced by another debilitating pain, all around my waist.  R said this was the uterus fatiguing, which kind of made sense given I’d been having contractions for over 36 hours now.  I think there was a point here where I really became strong and focused.  Perhaps it was the pushing, or the fatigue of my amazing uterus that had been going for so long without a break, but I just knew how close I was and I wasn’t going to give up!

But why wasn’t R saying, ‘oh, look, there’s the head,’ or ‘you’re so close’.  Maybe she did say I was close.  I could see her shining her torch into the water but saying nothing, just helping me push when my body began pushing.  I can’t say I ever had an ‘urge’ to push as such, it was more that my body was already pushing, so I just did more on top.

I changed position to my knees, leaning forward over the edge of the pool, and Mr Chewbacca was there again.  I had renewed energy at this point for some reason, changing position was a lot quicker and easier than it had been before because I felt more in control and I knew I was making progress.  I pushed a bit in this position, and had the urge to be more upright, as I’d read is common as the baby is close to crowning.  R then suggested moving back to the semi-reclining position, which I wasn’t totally keen on because I liked the upright idea, but then I remembered that I didn’t see myself giving birth on all fours, it didn’t seem like me, and I liked the idea of baby just coming out in front of me.  I got the sense that me being back in that position was easier for R too because she was probably thinking about whether baby might need help breathing etc, given the GBS element.  Not that she’d ever have asked me to change position for her, I just had that thought.  I went back on my back and it felt right.

I was still feeling a little confused because no one had said they could see the head yet, but I was sure I could feel it right there!  Apparently the water was too murky to see that much, but R obviously knew it was there because soon she said to reach down and feel for the head.  I felt it, but wasn’t sure if it was the hair or the membranes still as it felt quite silky and smooth.  I really needed that motivation, especially as when I felt it I was surprised it wasn’t out more.  It felt like the width of the opening was about a centimetre, yet before I’d felt with my hand it seemed like five times that.  I kept going, really giving it everything and beyond what I thought was possible.  I pushed so hard, it was very empowering!  There was a moment of relief and pleasure just towards the end of each push.  I remember Mr Chewbacca saying to me I sounded like I was enjoying myself at one point (I wasn’t, but I guess the noises were similar and he was probably thinking of Orgasmic Birth.)  R said I should feel for the head again and this time it was about a quarter to a third out, or at least that’s what it felt like.  I could feel the hair, it was so close!  I’d felt it going in and out a few times, but this wasn’t disheartening as I knew the more it went in and out, then better I’d stretch and the less likely I’d tear.  I thought about all those people who breathe their babies out and couldn’t understand how that is possible – if I hadn’t pushed on top of my body’s involuntary pushes, I’d have been there another six hours at least!  It was so great to be pushing out this head, and it really wasn’t painful, especially compared to the pain of the contractions, pelvis and my waist.  I felt the perineum stretch so easily, it didn’t sting, no ring of fire or burning, just stretching like a piece of tight elastic.  It did sting at the front, and I was convinced I was tearing around my clitoris and urethra but I so didn’t care, I was almost there and that stinging was such normal, localised pain, it was nothing really.

I knew when the head was out, and everyone was oohing and aahing, standing around the bottom of the pool.  I think I waited for the next contraction before I pushed out the shoulders, and then the body slid out with a rush and everyone gasped and cheered and I heard J burst into tears, maybe S too, I’m not sure.  Someone said it was 7:57pm.  It was an intensely emotional moment.

R lifted him from the water and began unravelling the cord which was twice around his neck and once around his body.  I was so calm, and I helped pull it away and held him as he cried almost straight away.  His body was purplish, his head slightly paler, because of the cord, but he cried robustly and loudly, not because he was shocked or traumatised but because he needed to clear out stuff from his mouth and lungs.  I massaged his little hands as I remembered that might help stimulate him, not that he really needed it that much.  Someone had a warm towel which was put over him and immediately became wet but the bath was warm and I kept him semi-submerged.

As I looked at the baby and said hi for the first time, I realised it was a complete stranger.  I didn’t know this person, yet it was my child and had come out of me.  Mr C was overwhelmed of course, and we just looked at our baby and he said how proud he was of me and all sorts of other things, it was amazing.  I realised we didn’t know the sex – ‘shall we see what we’ve got?’ I said to Mr C before lifting the wet towel and seeing a little penis.  Mr C commented on his big testicles and I laughed and explained about the hormones.

It was extraordinary how quickly the atmosphere in the room changed, at that moment of birth, and how I suddenly came back into myself and it was like none of the previous hours of labour had even happened.  I talked to him and said how keen he was to be here, made lots of silly jokes about various noises he made, and I think he very quickly got hiccups, which he’d had throughout the last trimester, at least once a day in the last couple of months.

R pulled out a tube attached to the oxygen cylinder and asked Mr C to wave the end of it in front of bub’s nose, just to help him get the breathing thing down pat, although his Apgars were 9 and 9.  We could see that the top of his head had the imprint of the cervix on it, and also some lines that R said could be my ribs.  It was a this point we speculated he may have been breech and actually turned during labour, which would explain why it took so long from when the contractions ramped up.

I soon began to feel a dull pain in my tailbone, which got more uncomfortable and I mentioned it to R who said it was probably a contraction for the placenta.  She held the cord and said to push with the contraction, and a little bit of cord came out, plus some blood, and I think the big clot was out by then (it was huge, like a big blobby slab of liver!).  The pool was very dark with blood and fluids, but I felt totally fine, and R said the placenta had detached but was probably just sticking in the cervix and to be patient.  Shortly I had another contraction, but still no placenta.  I think it wasn’t until the third or fourth that I really pushed and out it came as R said, ‘remember it has no bones, it’s easy’.  She was right of course.

The placenta was huge!  R made almost double the amount of placenta pills from it as she would normally.  We looked at it, and it seemed very dark red, much darker than I remembered S’s had been.  I could see some calcification in it, and R carefully spread it out in a kidney dish and pulled out the membranes for everyone to see.  Mr C had a feel of the cord and posed for a photo pretending to eat the placenta.  It was so great that everyone was so fascinated, as R showed both sides and explained how it would have been attached to the wall of the uterus.  Mr C in particular found it really interesting I think, and yet again showed how awesomely non-squeamish he is.

By then the cord had stopped pulsating a while ago, and I said Mr C should cut it, so R put on the plastic clamp next to our boy’s future belly button and some scissor clamps a few inches beyond and Mr C cut it.  Our baby didn’t seem to mind that much, although he did happen to cry a bit around the time it was cut, but I’m not convinced he was too bothered by it being cut, he was more just a bit grumpy because the pool was cooling right down. That and just having been born were, you know, pissing him off just a little bit.

I was in the pool for about an hour after the birth, and was helped out and stepped across to the couch, pre-prepared with plastic sheets and towels.  I had warm towels covering me and baby, which was lovely, and I felt pretty good, not really light-headed, but definitely hungry.  It was then I remember how many times my tummy had rumbled during labour, even during the most intense contractions.  I drank some sickly sweet red grape juice for the sugar and ate some strawberries and orange, before my mum made me some eggs and I began to feel more on this planet.  It was kind of nice to have people getting things for me and not have to even reach for my glass of water.

My little boy began to suckle finally, as I’d offered him the breast in the pool but he was too busy crying and clearing out his lungs.  He yawned within moments of being born, and I thought it was because he was tired from that epic journey, but R said it’s more likely he’s doing it for the extra air, which makes sense, as that’s what yawning is after all.

We set about getting him dressed, and Mr C was on deck to put on his first nappy and outfit, which he was very nervous about but managed perfectly of course.  I reminded R we should weigh him first, and we did and he was 4kg exactly and measured 50cm long with big hands and feet.  His head was a nice 35cm, which is probably why I found the crowning part somewhat more manageable.

R examined me to find I had no tears, not even a graze, which was amazed at because I’d felt such stinging at the front.  J and S had to go, as it was about 10pm by now, so we said goodbye and soon R suggested I head to the shower and rinse off, then to bed, which had been prepared for leaks with a plastic sheet and towel under the sheet.  I sat down in the ridiculously small bath and used the hand shower to rinse myself.  The crazy big adult diaper thing R had brought was really weird, but did the job well.  I was finally tucked up in bed with my little boy and my amazing husband, the most incredible man in the world.  If the Dude turns out like his dad I will be so proud.  I don’t remember much about that first night, I don’t know if I slept or if Mr C slept, despite us both having little sleep over the previous 36 hours or more.  I still can’t believe I did it, I actually had my baby at home with no intervention, I stood my ground, I knew what was right, and I made it, perfectly.

If that wasn’t enough, read the postscript, aka what I learnt from this birth.

Birth story: part 2

Continued from part 1

Then it was just me and my mum.  Until then I hadn’t been that aware of her presence, or at least only alongside that of my friends.  Everyone was doing their own thing to help, pouring hot water into the bath, getting my water, making each other teas and food and going out to the shops when needed, and I could hear all this going on in the background, but at this point everything seemed down and at a standstill.  I think it also felt empty because Mr Chewbacca was off on his walk, probably feeling exasperated and finding it hard to watch me and listen to me in so much pain.  I got the sense that my moaning was getting repetitive, it was not only tiring me out but it was draining on everyone else too.  Emotions were feeling stretched and everyone needed a break.

My mum was somehow next to me.  I don’t remember her coming there, she just was there.  At first it was a little annoying.  She has a very light touch and it can be a bit irritating, rather than Mr C’s firm, strong, confident touch which is reassuring.  And I’m oddly touch-sensitive too.  But then she did something I don’t think she’s ever done.  She began to tell me I could do it, and with each contraction she told me it was ‘a good one’.  She repeated the same things over and over, and in my head it was a bit annoying but I began to believe it after a while.  She made the noises with me, in a really steady way, and it was just the two of us, breathing and making noises and getting through it.  She was the only one still sticking by me, and she wasn’t going to let me get out of this and give up, she was going to see me through no matter what.  She’s never done this; she’s always let me get off scot free, give up halfway through, take the easy way out.

Mr Chewbacca came back from his walk and things had changed.  Everyone began to migrate back into the room, hanging around the edges watching and noticing the atmosphere changing.  I was only vaguely aware of this at the time, but everyone commented on it later and it made sense.

At a couple of points, I vomited pretty violently.  Most of it went on Mr C!  If it were me, I’d have been sick in response, but he took it all in his stride, didn’t even change his shirt apparently, just stayed with me.  A bit of vomit went in the pool, which I hated, but was too out of it to deal with.  And it wasn’t like there was a lot to throw up, mainly just water and some orange bits.  R of course was excited by this, recognising it as a sign of transition.  I’m not sure that it was, but things did change when it happened.

R wanted me to get out of the bath.  Things were happening, but not enough, it had been going on for way too long, even I knew this.  I wasn’t getting a break between contractions because, even though they were at least three minutes apart, I had this intense pain in the front of my pelvis.  R suggested this might be the last bit of cervical dilation happening while the baby’s head pushed against it.  Whatever it was, it was debilitating and never-ending.  The only thing that made it go away was a contraction, even more pain.  I remember being given different homeopathics and having peppermint oil waved under my nose to help stave off the vomiting. Or was it orange oil?

Apparently it was around 3pm that R finally got me out of the pool.  It felt like the most difficult thing I had ever done, working up the strength to move.  I’d talk myself out of it between contractions, then a contraction would hit and it’d be like, oh well, can’t move during a contraction.  Eventually I got out, and went into the bathroom and sat on the toilet.  There were a few contractions there, not pleasant, and I just felt like I was more uncomfortable, didn’t feel like the contractions were stronger as such.  But R was pleased with this, and when we came back to the pool she firmly said I should lie on the couch a bit first, which I was really unhappy about.  I stayed there for maybe two or three contractions but they were just unbearable, I remember saying I need to move now because I don’t think I can make it through another one here.  I don’t know what not making it through actually means, but I was adamant.  So I got up, but R still insisted I stay out of the pool, so I stood for a while, leaning on poor Mr C whose back was completely screwed by now.  But of course he gave me everything and let me do what I needed, continued to hold me up despite being in pain himself.  What a man!  I knew he’d be amazing, but it brings tears to my eyes every time I think of him and how committed he is to me, especially during the birth of our baby, just extraordinary.

I stood for longer than I thought I could, leaning on Mr C, and R said, ‘just stay there for two contractions, then you can get back in the pool’.  More than two passed, and I knew it, but I couldn’t summon the strength to say, hey, you’re trying to trick me!  Eventually when she said again, ‘just one more now,’ I said, ‘you already said that two contractions ago!’  So I went back in the pool which provided some relief.

I think standing up must have helped somehow, and I’m sort of hazy as to when the transition with my mum occurred, but eventually I began to feel my body push, and she was next to me when this happened.  It was overwhelming.  It reminds me of that movie Ghost, where the various spirits jump into the bodies of the living; it felt like something taking me over and my whole body convulsed.  The pushing felt so intense, but I was glad to feel it because I guessed it meant I’d reached the last part.  There was a still a fear that nothing was being achieved.  I expected to feel the baby moving down the birth canal, getting closer, but nothing, it just felt like my body was pushing against a rock that wouldn’t move.  I wondered briefly if my cervix was dilated, especially as R mentioned what the pain in my lower pelvis might be.  But I knew to trust in my body and that if it was pushing for me, it was ready, and it would do exactly what was needed.  I wondered if R could tell my body was pushing; I assumed she could actually, and was a little frustrated that she hadn’t said anything.  Reading back through the notes I can’t see any mention of it until I mentioned my body was pushing for me, which was quite a while after it began I think.

After a while of this pushing, and after I’d told R it was happening, she offered to check my dilation, just to see if I was progressing and if the cervix was actually out of the way.  She wrote in my notes that I’d declined several times but I don’t remember declining, I just remember being silent, and thinking to myself, what good is it?  Let it just happen.

Continued in part 3