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Birth Story: from devastation to empowerment

Updated: Aug 19, 2023

This story was sent to by a doula client who wished to share her story anonymously. Our eldest's labour had been very long and difficult, with coercion into nearly every intervention once I phoned the community midwives to let them know I was in labour and my waters had gone. This was despite having planned a home birth with minimal intervention and advocating for this throughout my labour. After the birth I felt violated and assaulted, and was traumatised. My faith in maternity services was shattered and I was left with huge doubts over my ability to give birth without intervention - although I was certain the interventions I'd recieved made the labour longer and more difficult. The ombudsman investigation into how the health board acted was still ongoing, and this pregnancy I'd hired a doula (Laura), independent midwife and had all scans privately, in the hopes I might have an undisturbed experience at home.

Two weeks prior to labour I was ill and having labour type symptoms. I had lots of lightening crotch, loose frequent stools, Braxton Hicks and occasional cramping. Nothing materialised, which I was very relieved at given how unwell I felt. The following week all labour symptoms disappeared despite me finally feeling excited rather than anxious about birth. I'd been expecting to go into labour at around 39 weeks as my first labour had started at 40 weeks exactly. As 40 weeks approached, however, and I now had no signs of labour approaching, I became dejected and felt as though I still had a number of weeks to go. I finally made my peace with this on my due date and accepted that I would go with the flow however long it took. I mentioned to my husband that my vagina felt a bit swollen and tender that day, but didn't think this indicated anything in particular.

That evening after our eldest fell asleep at 9pm I began to get cramps as I was lying in bed. At first they were mild and I was able to sleep between them. I expected they would probably fizzle out and were just strong Braxton Hicks. As they kept coming I needed to wee frequently and eventually I wasn't able to sleep between the bathroom trips. I stayed in bed as long as I could, expecting that if I went anywhere either they would stop, or I would have a very long time before any 'real' start of labour. I was too uncomfortable to stay in bed lying down and breathing through them though, and didn't want to disturb my husband in case anything did happen later on. It was around 10.30-11pm.

I left the bedroom and pottered around setting up lanterns, lights and bringing towels downstairs in case something did happen. I turned on the heating in case things ramped up quickly and hot water was needed for the pool. Focusing on doing something helped with the pain and I estimated I was contracting three in ten with intense but very short contractions. They were manageable with breathing, visualisations of surfing a wave and affirmations. I leant forwards with contractions and moved my hips in a figure of eight. I kept drinking and going to the toilet to wee lots. I noticed the 'peak' of the contractions came quite early on, and they then steadily tailed off over a longer period of time, which was helpful for me to hold in mind. As contractions got longer and stronger I began to vocalise. I thought I probably wasn't managing well to be making noise when I likely had so long to go. I tried to remember that the contractions might get longer and more frequent but not necessarily worse. They were irregular in terms of length, frequency and intensity and I knew baby was in an ROA (right occiput anterior) position and likely to go 'the long way around'. I tried to keep in UFO (upright, forward, open) positions and moving my hips in figures of eight during contractions to help baby rotate around the shorter way to OA (occiput anterior) but didn't feel baby turning at all.

My husband heard me and came downstairs between 12 and 1am to check on me. I was amazed our eldest hadn't woken from my noises yet. I had been umming and ahhing about whether to get the birth pool out since I felt I was in for a long labour again and wanted the space to move around without the pool up, but was mindful that if things did ramp up quickly I wanted it available. We agreed to start putting it up and I told my husband he should then go back to bed. I kept moving around, generally in a different room to my husband. I noticed we seemed to run out of hot water (which my husband tried to cover up and fix) and managed to be only mildly annoyed/irritated about this and held faith everything would get set up ok.

Things were getting more and more intense and my husband went upstairs to comfort our eldest who had now been woken up by the noises I was making. At some point I did a poo and wondered if my body might perhaps be clearing out. I started struggling with the intensity and finding positions which helped - I shouted "help!, help!" During a particularly difficult contraction and noticed making higher pitched noises really did make the pain worse. I was getting shooting pains down the front of my thighs, feeling hot and like I might vomit. My husband and son came down to see what I needed but I waved them off saying "nothing" as the contraction had ended. My son was very upset to see and hear me and we reminded him what was happening. He was also very curious to see all of the new objects in our house and seemed to sense that something potentially exciting might be happening. However, he continued to become upset and I was finding his presence really distracting and inhibiting. I asked if he wanted to go to his grandparents as we had discussed before and he said yes he did. My husband called them while I went to get his things, although I found I was in too much pain to actually pack anything together. My husband returned and I was happily surprised that my parents had picked up the phone and my husband and son would meet them shortly. I was relieved as I really needed distractions gone. They left shortly after, around 3am, and I was really struggling with the pain and finding any position that helped it. I couldn't squat or lean forwards anymore as this was so painful and I was confused about what I should do. I ended up a lot more upright than before. I felt I should go to the toilet to empty my bladder again, but couldn't. At some points I had brief thoughts of contacting Laura, my midwife or even getting an epidural, but quickly moved on from these thoughts as I wanted to be on my own. I was sure I was still in early labour.

I began pacing more fervently than before and couldn't stop walking around. It seemed contractions had stopped but I was instead constantly very uncomfortable and had a lot of discomfort in my lower back. I was worried this meant labour would now stall for a long time, or perhaps baby had rotated to OP and back labour would now begin. Eventually contractions started to pick back up but nothing helped me to feel less pain. I felt like I needed a wee again perhaps and sat backwards on a toilet, I tried to push a wee out but nothing happened. I was shaky and hot and felt like vomiting again. The pushing seemed to help a little with the pain however. This really worried me as I really wanted to make things feel better but was petrified I'd not yet dilated at all, like in my first labour.

I kept moving and noticing I just wanted to do pushes despite my body not seeming to tell me to. I felt perhaps baby was lower now than before. I decided to get in the pool to see if this at least allowed me to try and find some more comfortable positions. I was so worried about getting in the pool too soon but was really struggling. To my surprise, entering the pool during this labour did help and offered some relief along with the ability to use more UFO positions. I realised I was pushing and the contractions seemed more spaced out than before.

My husband returned home around 3.30am. The pool wasn't as hot as I'd like and so he turned the hose on which was lovely. I told him I was pushing but didn't think I should be. I had tried feeling my cervix but couldn't find it and thought it was therefore probably still far back and not dilated at all. It occurred to me later that perhaps I couldn't feel it because it WAS dilated, but I thought this unlikely as I couldn't feel anything else either. I was panicking about my pushing, which was the only thing that made me feel any better. I thought perhaps baby was starting to move down but that this was likely wishful thinking. I told my husband I couldn't do it and shouldn't be pushing. He reassured me to listen to my body. I told him it wasn't my body it was my mind and he told me that my mind was part of my body too. I kept pushing and felt something moving down. I prayed that this was actually the baby. Each contraction I pushed as much as I could. Soon I felt a strong pop (my waters? I really hoped it wasn't anything else!) and looked down to see the pool water was all clear. Then I felt something which felt like it might be the start of the ring of fire and shouted "SHIT OH SHIT". I kept going, desperate for this to be it. I tried to slow my pushing down but couldn't pant through it. I was crying out through each contraction, as if by making more noise than the contraction had power then I would be ok. I roared as loudly as I could, which helped me focus and feel in control. Contractions were irregular and sometimes I felt like I was creating them. I felt something moving further down and more ring of fire. I was rearing up like I heard some do in the pushing stage but still didn't feel my body pushing. I cried "it's moving back in!" and my husband responded this was normal but I was desperate for it to be over and so prevented things moving backwards. I was very, very loud as something finally moved outwards. I cried, feeling this must be wrong and I was forcing my body to do something it wasn't ready for.

I saw a watch which told me it was 4am - my first was born at 4pm. Soon after I felt down and felt something between my hand and a head I shouted to my husband "I've pushed my cervix out of my body!" convinced it couldn't be the baby. My husband reached down and calmly said "that's a baby's head. I can feel the hair". I felt again and could feel something like hair. I kept pushing so hard, willing each contraction on. I said "I need it out" and finally the head was fully out. I couldn't work out whether to catch the baby in front of or behind me, and wiggled back and forth to figure out which would work. After what seemed a lifetime I pushed and pushed and the body followed. I lifted my baby out of the water and the cord was loosely around their neck, which I took off. I saw something on the bottom of the pool and worried it was cord but it was poo! The baby looked at me for several moments. I thought their face looked like a boys, but didn't check as I was focusing on them breathing. My husband passed a towel and we rubbed them and they began to cry. I'd actually done it!

During and after getting out of the pool there were quite a few more gushes of blood than I expected and I asked my husband to phone an ambulance as I'd soaked several towels and it kept gushing. I then phoned Laura and my midwife and asked them to come. I checked and saw we had a baby boy. I delivered the placenta while lying on the sofa before anyone arrived, having been told to lie on my back and taking a drop of angelica to help, and felt my uterus was contracting down strongly. The afterpains were very unpleasant! The bloodloss slowed considerably and we advocated for ourselves and declined to transfer to hospital while we waited for Laura and our midwife to arrive. Laura arrived and reassured me and helped me to feel calm despite the five abulance staff around. Laura and our midwife helped to keep the situation calm and weren't at all worried about the blood loss. Most of the paramedics were respectful, however one was very pushy that we should transfer in, which was unpleasant. I'm glad we called them though, so we knew help was available if we needed it. I'm proud of us for advocating for ourselves and not doing anything we didn't want or need to. Once my midwife spoke to them, explaining she was not concerned, they left and wished us well. We then retired upstairs to bed to bond and feed.

The birth was everything I could have hoped for. Despite my uncertainty and doubt before and during labour, I was able to hold onto the quiet hope my body and baby were doing as they should. I'm so proud of myself and for doing it all my way. I'm incredibly grateful to Laura for supporting me throughout my journey and the confidence she helped to impart.

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