‘They’ said it would take AGES to fall pregnant…my birth story…
I have to admit, the minute I saw those two stripes on that skinny little stick, my heart dropped. Not because I didn’t want a baby, as lord knows my clock was chiming like Big Ben! but because if there was one fear on earth that scared the bejeezus out of me, more than heights, more than spiders and more than the ocean….it was giving birth.
Once I called my husband in, showed him the stick and we’d both recovered from the shock. I confessed I was scared, petrified in fact, that a mini-person was going to enter the world from my delicate undercarriage (as we used to call it on long cycling trips). It was shock because we were both prepared for months and months of attempts, as mentally I’m not sure we were quite ‘ready’ to commit to parenthood. He had his adventure racing, paragliding, mountain biking and kayak trips. I had my rigid gym routine, constant Melbourne runs I signed up to and at the back of my mind, after a visit to the magical North Island, was a whisper of a dream of a half iron man at Lake Taupo. Selfish, yes we sure were. Committed to our passions, again yes we were. I knew though that all the fertility articles I’d read, many friends who’d struggled to first conceive, and the burning desire gradually building in me to add to our family, that we needed to give it a crack. So needless to say after the first month when I was late, I was living at 28 Denial Street.
I’d had a crazy hectic month at work. I was absolutely loving the team I was in but had hunted down my ideal role with a blue chip corporate in which I knew I would thrive. My dreams ballooned into maybe working my way from internal recruitment into a learning and development role which would enable me to practise all the career development soft skills I’d built up over the years and put into motion the strategies I’d studied in a recent Diploma. Then suddenly that path came to a screeching halt. I found myself no longer focused on which departments to network in, which strategic arm of the business I was more interested in aligning myself to and which after-work information sessions I should attend. I was focused on…the birth.
My obstetrician metaphorically slapped my face and told me to stop stressing about the birth, that’s one day of my life compared to 18 more years of parenting I’ll have to wrap my head around. Rightly so, I thought, however I still had to get through that day, and probably night, of something that really was one of my greatest fears in this lifetime. Horror story after horror story rushed excitedly out of nearly every female friend, relative, acquaintance and colleague’s mouth. It was almost like they delighted in telling me it was going to be the worst pain on earth but worth it, or no matter how much I prepared NOTHING will prepare you, or whatever you read triple the intensity of it and times it by a million. The logical part of my brain told myself that women have gone back again and again as they grow their beautiful families. Why would they put themselves through that, no matter how beautiful their little ones were, if it was such a heart-stoppingly horrific experience? Surely our bodies are built to deliver babies so why should I be afraid?
Nevertheless. I approached this challenge in my life like I approach every challenge. I researched. I was like a passionate scientist following a lead to a cure. I borrowed library DVD’s on birth, I read all the usual pregnancy books. I You Tubed every birth clip I could find. I watched it again and again. I absorbed myself in the world of birth. I thought well even if it will be the most hair-raising experience of my life, at least I’ll be familiar with it. Despite reading, watching, listening and talking about every birth experience I could find my number one most valuable thing I did in the lead up to meeting my little girl was attend a Calm Birth workshop.
I admitted it was one of my greatest fears and this level of psychological fear needed something more than a charming story of quickly squeezing out a little one in record time with just a bit of pain. I knew I needed to tackle my fear at a deeper level. So I researched calm birth, otherwise known as hypno-birthing in the US, and asked a few friends who’d followed this path, who they’d consulted and I decided on Lael from About Birth . She sounded resassuringly calm, warm and positive over the phone, all qualities I craved when looking for support at this time. The course ran over two weekends for one day each weekend. Husbands were encouraged to attend as well, as they too learnt about this journey that, I had to keep reminding myself, we were both about to embark on. As it really does seem that given the woman has to spend nine months carrying the baby, the woman has to go through the entire birth herself, then the woman has to learn breastfeeding, give up her career and apply herself to this important role, that it’s a bit of a lopsided experience. The man really does appear to be more a spectator of this performance as it rolls along gathers momentum and crescendos in the incredible birth day.
So with great trepidation we both gingerly walked in the door of this workshop expecting earthy, hippy types who told us that it’s a natural thing to go through, the body knows what to do and that we’d sing kum ba yah my lord in a circle. How wrong were we?! As we slowly opened up and confessed our fears, excitement and emotions about this incredible time in our lives, we met many like-minded couples in exactly the same situation as us. The leaders of the workshop, Jules and Lael, were as honest as nannas and talked us through each of their own personal birth journeys so we completely understood what they brought to the course personally, not just from a teaching perspective. Their journeys had been extremely varied in all of the birth stories they’d had between then and I have to admit not altogether pleasant. I thought to myself, but they are the teachers, they should have sunny, happy, bouncy birth stories to share with us so we are not afraid. Then once the second day came to an end I realised it’s not all about the sweetness and light of birth and covering up the scary, horrible and messy side of it. It’s about preparing and dealing with the experience and whatever path your birth experience takes you on. It’s about being ready to switch track, jump on a different train or change platforms once you know which station you need to get off at. Oh you’re baby is breach – you’re getting out at C-section Central then!, oh you’re going to be induced – just be careful you may end up at C-section Central but hopefully you can change at Epidural Junction and arrive at Mummy Street in one piece.
Needless to say I walked out of that course a changed person. I was calm. I allowed myself to get excited and I no longer begrudged the fact that hubby would be standing by my side awaiting the little face that I was so painfully producing.
I studied the Calm Birth material like I was preparing for an exam. I vacuumed up all the birth stories in their literature and a few months before the due date I religiously played their CD’s on my iPhone in bed every night as we went to sleep. I’m sure my husband was ready to deliver a baby himself after two whole months of the extremely relaxing, meditative voice repeating the philosophies each evening to us lulling us into a calm sleep.
So as D-day approached I was mindful that my expectations were more about what colour eyes she would have, who would she look more like and what type of personality would erupt from her rather than what experience I would have.
It was at the start of my 39th week that I started to feel a little uncomfortable. I’d had some pelvic instability during my pregnancy but really nothing to complain about. I simply stopped walking long distances and stuck to spin classes on a bike careful not to spike my heart rate. I also looked forward to the aqua aerobics I did with many fellow pregnant mates where we bounced on the water like a collection of inflatable beach balls. So I actually got quite used to not being able to see my feet. Stroking her little bottom, back or head as I lay on my side in bed of a night and feeling her constant hiccups as my belly bumped up and down in tune to her beat.
The night of the most dreadful mini-series I’d ever watched, Wills and Kate, in the lead-up to the Royal Wedding I started to get some pangs. I’d been very aware that I’d never had these braxton hicks everyone spoke about and I thought FINALLY, two days before my first due date (as I’d had two due dates given to me based on the first one from the end of my period and the other one when they scanned her and gave me a later date based on her size). So in my weekly phone call to mum I said I was finally getting some pains and that it meant that she’s not too far off from meeting us! As I sat through this series I wondered if in fact the pains were groans from my little lass who already had such great taste as to realise that this program was absolutely terrible. As the mini-series progressed I realised that these ‘braxton hicks’ were a minute apart – crazy I thought, as I compared them to period pain, I didn’t realise these were supposed to be painful! So I endured them for a few hours wondering when they would subside and I could get to bed. They didn’t subside. In fact they started to get stronger. I began to google what braxton hicks felt like just to make sure it wasn’t something else. It couldn’t be labour I thought to myself a) I haven’t had any braxton hicks or warning that she may be coming and b) they are a minute apart and I thought you generally started off with quite a while between contractions.
Well it turned out I was in pre-labour. Pale-faced, I hung up the phone to the hospital that I’d called, and explained the situation to my husband. Well then, he said, off to bed! As we both knew that as soon as labour started it was important to conserve energy as it’s a long road to the final birth and the more rested the body the more energy you have to focus on the task. I’d also hired a TENS machine with the decision to take along my bag of tricks and try each magical little item to see which one produced the rabbit. So into bed we both went equipped with towel and the TENS machine. I lay on my side and breathed through each contraction attempting to sleep between each one, but as anyone in labour knows there’s really no chance of sleeping as it seems like only minutes before the next one comes along. As the pain escalated I knew it was time to put on the machine in order to be prepared for the most painful ones. So my husband quickly taped the electrodes to my back and as I breathed through each contraction and escaped into my visual peaceful place thanks to calm birth I began my birth process. I was actually suprisingly calm. I was calm when I started to throw up after every third contraction as it started to get pretty painful and I think it was my body’s way of coping with the pain and also to purge itself ready for birth. I also found I was frequently needing to go to the loo, which surprised me as I’d hardly had anything to eat, so I imagine it was also my clever body’s way of focusing on the task and getting rid of everything else in me besides the baby. I started shivering between contractions as well which I vaguely remember reading was quite normal.
After about six hours I went to the loo for what seemed the twentieth time and I got the show, so I knew labour was close. I was however horrified at the amount of blood I also lost. Despite lots of movement in the contractions leading up to the show I was feeling my belly and she was still. So quiet it unnerved me. Worst case scenario Pip thought, oh my god. I’ve lost her. All that blood. So silent in my belly. I need to get to the hospital NOW! So despite doing as much as the labour at home as I could bear we grabbed the bags, which if I’m honest were only half packed as every first pregnancy is late isn’t it?! and we waddled/rushed to the car. Of course for the first time ever there was a massive semi trailer loading the Spiegeltent outside the Arts Centre blocking the entire service lane we were hurtling down on the way to the hospital! Well, I’ve never seen my husband reverse quite so expertly or spine-tinglely fast up Flinders Street and suddenly I found we’d moved into the central lanes that were accessible to through traffic.
In my head I was frantically trying to remember all the tear-producing birth loss stories I’d read on Twitter and through all the mummy blogs I’d consumed in the preceding months. I honestly thought I’d lost my little girl as my belly was motionless. My contractions were still strong so I still knew my birth was progressing but I still couldn’t get over the blood loss. I was calm but sad.
Once I burst through the hospital doors I positively jumped onto the bed and wrenched the monitors onto my tummy myself in an effort to hear her heart beat and check out this valuable little person to see if she was still in there. Calm efficiency enveloped me and the experts took over. Young midwives fluttered around me like pretty butterflies and patted my forehead, plugged in equipment and set about establishing what on earth was happening in my tummy.
‘There’s the heartbeat’, one announced. ‘She’s just fine’, the other said. Phew, I let out a sigh that I felt I was holding ever since I’d got off the toilet, along with another intense contraction. Then with all that weight of worry off my mind I felt I could endure labour another few hours. That’s exactly what I did, I breathed, relaxed and visualised what she would look like, thought about how strong my body was and imagined how incredible it would feel to hold her in my arms. ‘Now don’t push please’ said one midwife when she said that my cervix was still partially covered and I would tear if I pushed. I felt like the ‘don’t push’ instruction was like the ‘please don’t vomit’ request when you’re in a car – not bloody likely. So trying not to push, even though my baby felt like one of those bulls waiting to be released at Pamplona, I lay on my side and went back to breathing. Finally my obstetrician arrived and I breathed my second massive sigh for the labour and she said ‘right! you can push’, so I flipped on to my back and pushed – her head came out immediately! – and they yelled, ‘wait! we haven’t got the blanket ready!’. I was thinking well don’t tell me to push if you’re not ready to catch her please. So I held on. Then when I was told I could push again I did. Although it was one of the weirdest feelings I think I will ever have and during the pushing I was actually thinking to myself I honestly can’t believe I’m giving birth to a little human being, I didn’t find it too alarming, scary or horrific – just amazing. I was truly amazed. So three pushes with a few breaths in between as she gradually made her way down the canal and she was out. In all her screaming, red, glorious beauty, my precious little girl had calmly and safely made her debut into our world.
She crawled up my tummy, sniffed out my nipple and started sucking. I’m sure nothing was coming out but just the motion itself was a relief to me. Relief to see her do what instinctively she knew what to do, and relief that this motion in itself was probably giving me a good chance to hopefully start breastfeeding. Relief that she was safe, relief that she was feeding, relief that she had arrived in the world, breathing, hungry and knowing she was in my protective arms.
That’s the end of my first birth journey. Not horrific, quite calm and definitely the most incredible journey I think I will go on in my life. No doubt if I’m to go through it again it won’t be the same, I’m sure it will be just as scary/exciting, and possibly just as planned and unplanned in some sections. I do admit though that I knew every journey is unique and as much as you try to plan, control and study up on the outcome, nothing can prepare you for this grand finale, but it can make your approach to it a heck of a lot calmer, and for that Calm Birth, I thank you with every grateful bone in my body.
Positive birth story kindly contributed by Pip Macdonald