My initial introduction to pregnancy, birth and motherhood came in 2015. I was very surprised to learn at an early scan that I was expecting twins. Given that there were two babies and I also had large uterine fibroids that grew during pregnancy, I was under consultant care and labeled ‘high-risk’ by my hospital. There was never really any talk of anything other than a caesarean birth due to the risks that the fibroid posed. When the baby closest to the birth canal turned transverse and ran out of room to move, the deal was sealed: I was booked in for a caesarean at 37 weeks. The operation was brought forward by a week when I developed preeclampsia (due to carrying twins later term). On August 14th my two beautiful sons were born. As predicted, the fibroids caused a severe postpartum haemorrhage – I lost 3.5L blood and went into intensive care for a few days. Being physically exhausted, immobile and not knowing how to ask for the help I needed, skin-to-skin went out the window as did breastfeeding. I slowly felt many of the aspirations I had held prior to birth had slipped away from me. I was thrilled to become a mother – to have two beautiful boys that were all mine – and I was reminded by many that ‘all that really mattered was that baby and mum were safe’. I repeated this to myself many times… but as the weeks passed a part of me hidden deep within felt robbed of the birth experience I had been hoping for and frightened by the one I’d had. I was raised as one of five children, all of whom my mother had birthed naturally without drugs and had breastfed to toddler age…I felt bad that I had not been able to offer myself and my boys the same. Yet at the same time I felt guilty for not being grateful that we were all alive and well considering the circumstances.
In 2017, after seeing several consultants to confirm that my fibroids (now calcified) did not pose the same risks, I fell pregnant with a single baby. My initial thoughts were that I was very likely destined for another section, however I had heard of a VBAC (vaginal birth after caesarean) and thought I would explore the idea. I knew that the most often mentioned risk of VBAC is scar rupture and this scared me a little. When I was about halfway through my pregnancy, I attended a Positive Birth Movement meet up and met Shirley Stump, who I would soon ask to be my doula. The conversation amongst the women at the PBM meet up helped me realise that a positive birth experience was possible and that our society often perpetuates the idea that birth is a painful medical affliction fraught with risks. Shirley gave me some fabulous reading material, the most influential being the Positive Birth book by Milli Hill and the AIMS (Association for Improvements in Maternity Services) book on VBAC births. There began my journey towards becoming an informed and involved participant in my upcoming birth. I read voraciously and joined online support groups (there is great one on Facebook called ‘VBAC Support Group UK’ amongst others). Shirley helped both me and my husband with birth preparation and I practiced the KG Hypnobirthing techniques and affirmations that Shirley had taught me daily. It was through developing a better understanding of the research and statistics on a rational level coupled with learning to trust my body’s natural, in-built ability to birth a child that I became absolutely sure I wanted to try for a VBAC birth. From all that I had garnered there was one particular thing that would help increase my chances of giving birth vaginally: to avoid a cascade of medical interventions. Of course, intervention is sometimes absolutely and unarguably necessary for the safety of baby and/or mum, but if it can be reasonably avoided without compromising safety then this can increase the chances of going into labour naturally, when baby decided it was time. So for me, that meant avoiding an induction, looking to hypnotherapy as my first point of call for pain relief and creating a birth environment that boosted oxytocin (the birthing hormone) – a calm, safe, softly lit, supportive environment.
There was a lot of ongoing ‘discussion’ with the medical professionals in the lead up to the birth, who because of my high-risk previous birth were naturally wanting to be cautious with me. I learnt how to use my BRAIN acronym (in which you ask about the Benefits, Risks, Alternatives, what does my Instinct tell me, and what happens if we do Nothing) in these conversations. Well, baby gave me a lot of opportunities to test out these skills, as my ‘due’ (guess) date came and went, and there was no baby in sight! Whilst the consultant was keen to induce, I wasn’t feeling ready and wanted to wait. At 41 weeks I agreed to a sweep, after I suspected that my hind waters had been broken for more than a couple of days. I had started to have some mild contractions the night before, so I felt my body was very ripe by then. Later that day, the surges started again, intermittently. Through the night they intensified, but by the next morning they had calmed down again. Shirley came over to mine and we went for a wonderful, relaxing walk in the woods near my house (I highly recommend getting a dose of nature if you can when in early labour – this really helped me to connect to my in-built maternal instincts) and then I was treated to a wonderful massage and some Reiki from Shirley. I decided I wanted to get some rest after that, so I suggested that Shirley head home and I would call her if things picked up pace. At that stage my surges were every 15 minutes and even though they were strong, the hypnobirthing techniques really helped me ride the waves out. I found reciting the affirmations to myself really helpful too. My personal favourites were ‘I feel calm and strong, I could do this on and on’, ‘This is what I came for’ and ‘Be like water’. By later that day, my surges had increased to one every 10mins. I called the hospital to ask when they would advise for me to come in and the midwife suggested to wait until they were coming 2 in every ten minutes. Well, only an hour or so later, with the surges still only coming approximately every 10 minutes, I found myself on my bathroom floor suddenly with the impulsive urge to push! ‘Oh blimey!’ I thought, ‘This might be the baby coming!’. I called out loudly to my husband downstairs and he came running. He called for an ambulance (based on the hospital’s advice) and then called Shirley, who was over and there holding my hand on the bathroom floor within mere minutes. I was panicking a lot in this moment, which later made sense as I was in transition and the adrenaline was pumping within me. I wanted to be within reach of medical care when the baby arrived, so I resisted with all my might against the continuing impulses to push, and did the same on the journey to hospital too. Whilst I was feeling nervous, I was also feeling so alive and excited… it was happening! Baby was coming!!
When we arrived at the hospital, the midwife quickly checked to see how far progressed I was and said that she could see the baby’s head. ‘Wow’, I thought, ‘the baby is almost here!’ I couldn’t believe it. I was encouraged to push every time a surge came, but I noticed that my surges were much weaker. Perhaps it was that I was tired, or that the timing had been missed. After an hour of pushing, a consultant advised that they would not like to allow any further pushing. He suggested to try a ventouse and I agreed. The ventouse worked and soon we all heard the primal, heart-stopping cries of a newborn entering the world. This gorgeous, completely perfect little life was placed upon my chest and my husband exclaimed ‘it’s a girl!’. All I felt in that moment was pure elation that I had this divine, perfect girl on my chest and that my dream of having a VBAC had come true. Shirley had photographed and filmed parts of the birth and later put them together into a short video compilation. I have watched it countless times and watching these memories bring me to tears every time. The exhaustion and elation in my voice when she arrived and was placed on my chest are so clear. I had a glorious hour or longer in that softly lit room, enjoying the skin to skin and breastfeeding my little girl.
I will treasure the memories I have of that birth for the rest of my life. It had its share of drama but every step of the way I felt like I was an important and valued player in how things went. Not only were baby and I safe and well, but I also had a positive birth experience that I will treasure forever.