When I had my first son, I was 26 years old and I went in blind. Not because I didn’t do any research, but because I believed everything that I was told. I had no clue as to my rights and I put complete and total trust in the doctors who attended me.
I used the public system for all my births and I was incredibly lucky to birth at the now defunct Maternity Ward at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Adelaide. This hospital provided a fantastic midwife programme that was called ‘Mothers with Midwives’, so I formed a close bond with a group of midwives who would be there to support me throughout my pregnancy, birth and postnatal care.
Due to the excitement of this being my first pregnancy and birth, I didn’t utilise this opportunity to its full potential. I was bombarded with information on how to make the birthing experience as painless as possible and even strangers were willing to inform me that I was an idiot if I didn’t go straight for the epidural. Sure, I heard some horror stories, but of course they get put to the back of your mind so as not to panic you unnecessarily! No one, however, informed me of the statistics behind any of the interventions. I was not aware that being induced increased your chance of further interventions and needing a CS, nor did I realise that having an epidural again increases the chances again of ending up with a CS.
At my last prenatal appointment on my due date, I was told by the doctor that I would be booked in to be induced a week after my due date; I had read that doctors would actually allow for two weeks after a woman’s due date, but there was no way I thought I could query what I was being told.
A week later, nothing was happening so I went into the hospital as told and I was induced. To make a long story short, I took the epidural option and then everything went pear-shaped; my baby boy was stuck and an Emergency Caesarean was necessary. I was really scared, but all went well and they allowed my beautiful new baby boy to remain with me in the recovery room. One of the lovely midwives came to visit me postnatally and was very understanding with regards to the unfortunate outcome of a CS, and she suggested that I shouldn’t be discouraged to give a vaginal birth a go for my next baby.
With my second pregnancy I was with the ‘Mothers with Midwives’ programme again, and they were great. They provided me with peer-reviewed scientific papers on VBACs. I was surprised to find that the risks weren’t quite as great as some of the doctors had suggested. I had one doctor even tell me that it I may well have something wrong with me and would never be able to have a vaginal birth.
I informed myself a little more of all the processes and statistics so as to birth my second son with little to no interventions. It was evident that this would mean no epidural. When I had my doctor appointment on my due date, they again tried to tell me they could only give me a week over my due date. However, we told them we weren’t able to go in on that particular day and as they only wanted to book me in for a repeat CS, we managed to buy extra time using a weekend to extend our booking to ten days past my due date.
Thankfully, I went into labour about nine days after my due date and progressed well at home. By the time I got into hospital I was 5cm and labour was now into some hard yards. The first doctor was great and very encouraging. The last time this doctor checked on me, she told me I was doing exceptionally well and was now 8cm. Unfortunately, later on, a change of shift meant that another doctor, who was very young and very rude to me, replaced her. This doctor’s attitude was that I should have already booked myself in for a CS and should be hooked up to an epidural. When this doctor checked me, she informed me that I was not 8cm – I was still only 5cm, there was no progression and that if I didn’t hurry up and get an epidural now, then my ‘inevitable’ C-Section (after my vain attempt at a vaginal birth) would need to be under a general anaesthetic.
With the fear of another CS, the labour pains began to feel so extreme that I started to doubt myself. My husband and I are very obliging and felt really uncomfortable that we seemed to be upsetting this doctor; my midwife tried to reassure me that all was fine and that I didn’t HAVE to have the epidural, but it was too late – I had lost all nerve and felt completely defeated with the news I had gone backwards from 8cm back to 5cm. I agreed to have an epidural and now bedridden while I waited and waited.
Eventually, my midwife informed us she could see some meconium. Although she said it was very minimal, she was required to inform the doctor. After my midwife returned, she encouraged me to start pushing, so I did, but then the doctor walked in and was really displeased and my midwife was forced to have a break. My midwife, however, stood her ground and, right before leaving, she told the doctor that I really wanted to have a go at pushing. Much to the doctor’s displeasure, she allowed me all of about 10 minutes of pushing and ranted and raved about the danger the baby was in because of passing the meconium and I needed to hurry up and have this Caesarean. I started to feel selfish and scared, so I agreed to the CS. And so the ball was rolling. My midwife returned from her break and reassured me that my baby’s heartbeat was strong and there was no indication of major stress; she wanted me to be certain that this was the outcome that I wanted, but fear had well and truly settled in for the ride.
In the theatre room, the doctor was a different person. She was clapping her hands together smiling and dancing around like a giddy school child. I started to feel like this was a notch for her Caesarean Belt. Her abrupt and nasty manner changed completely and she began to tell me what a lovely scar I had and how she planned to cut very closely to that scar so as to keep it lovely and neat for me (like I gave a shit). The time that it took for me to be prepped was so long it now seemed the meconium was no longer such a huge issue. I got a quick look at my beautiful baby boy and then they whisked him away to the nursery to be monitored due to the meconium.
I was wheeled into a recovery room where not a soul spoke to me for what seemed like an eternity. Eventually I was approached and told that my baby was perfectly fine and that I would be reunited with him as soon as I could move my legs again. It seemed to take forever and my husband dropped in. He began to tell me how lovely our new son is and that my mum, his mum and he had all been with our baby the whole time in the nursery, and that he needed to hurry back to him. I felt so miserable; everyone was enjoying my baby and I was being held prisoner with no company whatsoever.
Finally I was approached again and asked to move my legs – boy, did I make sure I moved those damn lead weights! They seemed to move enough for the nod, and so they said I’d be moved to my postnatal room shortly and they would bring my baby straight up to me once I was there. This did not happen. I waited in that lonely postnatal room. I felt like I had been forgotten about and wondered if I would ever be able to bond with my newborn baby. Eventually, they brought in my gorgeous little man, followed by the rest of my family.
This negative experience is why I had the greatest determination to go for a Vaginal Birth After 2 Caesareans (VBA2C) for my third and I was not going to be all obliging and be forced into anything I didn’t want to do EVER!
Third time round, I was told right from the word go by one particular doctor that they really didn’t think I would be ‘allowed’ to have a VBA2C, to which I just smiled and said, “Oh, is that right?” I equipped myself with the knowledge I needed to back up my plans. This time the ‘Mothers with Midwives’ programme was now a Midwifery Group Practice, and instead of having a group of midwives to take care of you, you had your very own midwife with a backup midwife (just in case). It was absolutely brilliant – they were happy for me to follow the path I had chosen, but they also provided me with information on birthing courses and support groups to help me.
This time my husband was on board too. He saw how hurt I was by the whole experience the last time and he was unhappy with the way we were treated also. My husband and I attended the birthing course together and it was an uplifting experience. The best thing about it was that the whole birthing process was acted out in front of us, now I had received pamphlets on this but to see the stages acted out opened my eyes to a deeper understanding. I began to feel empowered and I had an amazing student midwife who was following my experience and forever congratulating me for my strength and determination, as she herself had three sons by C-Section because of being told ‘that is just how it is done once you’ve had one’. This time I also wrote in a detailed birth plan; I recommend highly that all birthing women have one of these.
I went into labour about 9 days after my due date, again, which I also had to push for, again. I knew what to expect this time from the course, and I was walking myself through the stages in my mind which helped me to stay focused. This time I told my husband and my mum (my extra birth partner) that I would not be having an epidural and that, even if I begged for one, they were to stay strong and refuse me. Of course, right before transition, I did in fact ask for my mum to get me an epidural and felt like murdering my mum when she stuck to her/my guns.
The only time I saw a doctor was when they needed to put in a drip needle for me. Pushing was incredibly difficult for me being my first time at it, really, and I just did not get the whole ‘bearing down in your bottom’ thing. My midwife was just about to call on the doctor for a repeat Caesarean when – wham bam! – I got it. My gorgeous boy number 3 came into this world!
It was wonderful to be able to hold him without working around an abdominal wound. Recovery was so much quicker and easier, and yes, I tore and needed stitches, but I was not housebound for six weeks unable to drive and take care of my family. The doctor came in shortly after the birth and congratulated me for achieving what I had set out to do (and what I was told I could not do!). All in all, it was an uplifting and empowering experience which has made me truly grateful for the support of my husband, my mum and my midwives (especially the student midwife!).
My fourth birth experience was completely different. No one questioned me on why I was attempting a vaginal birth or how it was dangerous, nothing like that. I was treated like any other woman about to birth her child. I went with the Midwifery Group Practice again and have nothing but praise for this amazing group of midwives. I went into labour about nine days after my due date, again!, and all went smoothly. I again began to consider the epidural right before transition, but this time I never expressed that out loud as I trusted what my body was experiencing. My husband was my main support this time as my mum watched on – I think she was glad it was my husband helping when I got him in a headlock and tore him to the floor when the big urge to push came! Pushing was a little too easy this time, so I tore again (a little worse than before), but all is fine and works normally again four years on.
I hope, by sharing my experience, that someone else feels empowered to make their own choice and not feel bullied into making any decisions they are not comfortable with. I’m not saying there aren’t any risks – there are always risks in childbirth, even with recommended C-Sections. (As it turns out, my student midwife attended a C-Section right after the birth of my third and the woman’s bladder was nicked in the operation!) There are risks with everything in life, I just want women to be well informed and confident in the choices they make. It is your body and your precious child in the end, so happy birthing.