This story really begins with the birth of our daughter, Holly, by Caesarean section in 2007. My husband and I were excited by the impending birth of our daughter, but really didn’t think too much about preparing ourselves mentally or physically for the birth. After all, the doctors would tell us what to do, right?
I ended up in hospital at 36 weeks pregnant with significant pre-eclampsia, and at 37 weeks I was induced. The mood in the room was one of impending disaster and fear, and eventually disaster happened. After 12 hours, I was told that a Caesarean was the best course of action. I was wheeled into theatre with a patchy epidural and felt more than I should have. Our daughter Holly was born and whisked away out of sight to be wrapped tightly and given to my husband, Todd. He held her next to my cheek and I whispered to her, “I’m sorry.” We were so traumatised by what happened that we didn’t take any photos until Holly was about 24 hours old. Luckily, I had a wonderful and easy breastfeeding experience which helped to normalise her entry into the world.
I suffered from nightmares for months after the birth and knew that what happened to me was not right. Finally, I saw an ad in the local paper about CARES and a meeting in the Riverland where we lived at the time. It was there that I met Melissa who would eventually become our doula. After meeting her, I had a wonderful dream that I gave birth joyfully and that she was there with me. I dared to think about having another baby one day in the future. I joined CARES and educated myself about birth. I read and re-read Birthing From Within. The more I read the angrier I got about Holly’s birth and started to take responsibility for my part in handing over her birth to others.
Over the next 12 months or so, I got myself fit — mentally and physically — and started taking my fertility tonic from Sharkey’s Healing Centre (I suffer from endometriosis). In November 2009, I was delighted to find that I was pregnant again. The GP told me I was pregnant (I already knew that!!) and smiled politely when I informed him I was planning a VBAC. He said he would “let” me “have a go” and “would not let” me go a day over 40 weeks. I was concerned, but my husband assured me they couldn’t touch me if I didn’t go to hospital!
In March 2010, we moved to the Murraylands and the new doctor I saw at 16 weeks appeared supportive of my plans. The booking midwife for the local hospital was lovely, and congratulated me on my four page birth plan. Alarm bells should have started ringing when she asked what the doctor thought of my plan. When the doctor finally saw my plan in writing, it set in motion an unfortunate change in attitude. A series of long letters were exchanged, where even the ‘dead baby card’ was played. Basically, my birth plan stated that I didn’t want any interventions unless there was a problem. The doctor insisted on a cannula being inserted upon arrival at hospital, foetal monitoring with a CTG, vaginal examinations whenever they wanted, and that my cervix dilate at 1cm per hour or I would be taken for a Caeserean regardless of the health of me and my baby.
After weeks of negotiation, the goal posts kept changing when finally even having my husband and doula present at all times during labour was challenged. At 32 weeks, the doctor informed me that if I did not agree to his terms and change my birth plan in writing, then I was not to birth at our local hospital. He explained this was a “resource” issue. Of course, I refused to change my birth plan; I knew I couldn’t labour under those terms.
That day I drove home from the doctor crying hysterically. He had obviously thought he would change my mind. I knew that even if the baby came out my vagina, it wouldn’t be an empowering birth. Our doula listened to my rants and cries and mentioned that perhaps I speak with an independent midwife about my options. I wasn’t interested in a home birth, but I was now ‘dumped’ by my doctor so had to do something. I rang an independent midwife (IM) who listened sympathetically to my plight. She was heading overseas for three weeks and wasn’t sure how it would work. However, she met Todd and me a week later and we discussed our options. We still were not keen on a home birth. I was in awe of women who birth at home and thought it safe, however, something was blocking me from connecting with the idea — I’m sure our IM thought we were completely flakey! I just wanted to labour quietly and not feel the fear we had experienced with Holly’s birth. We decided that I would consult another doctor in Mt Barker (45 minutes away) because our IM was going away, and that we would labour with her. We would then make the decision to go to Mt Barker, or to stay home to give birth depending on how comfortable we felt.
I set about visualising what it might be like to give birth at home. I went to my appointments with the doctor, saw the chiropractor, took my birthing herbs and began to feel more positive. I asked our doula what we needed to have for a homebirth and she answered, “Umm… a vagina!” At 37 weeks I started to show signs of mild preeclampsia. I was devastated and felt my plans slipping away. I spoke with our doula (truthfully, we were in constant contact for hours at a time!) and she gave me some tips on what I could do about my health. At my next appointment, at 38 weeks, the doctor was unconcerned with my stats, and thankfully my plans were still on track. The doctor did confirm that the baby was quite small, no more than 6 pounds. I started putting together my birth necklace, made with beads that my women friends had sent to me. I told my mother that I was going to have the baby by Sunday lunch time, the 8th of August (at 39 weeks). On the 7th of August, I texted our doula that I was going to have my baby tomorrow. She said that would be a good day as it was the 8th of the 8th. Well, bugger me — at 1am on the 8th of the 8th, I awoke to a giant contraction. I wasn’t sure if my waters had broken as there was only a little bit of fluid, but, sure enough, the contractions started and came in a hurry. I texted our IM that my waters had broken. She replied that I should get some sleep and ring her when I needed her to come. She also wrote, “Good timing!” as she had recently returned from overseas.
I went from having contractions 15 minutes apart to them coming every couple of minutes. Our doula arrived at 4am and I told her, “I don’t like this — this is crap! What about the gradual build up?” She smiled and reminded me that I would be meeting my baby today. I also told her that I was “not going anywhere in the car” and she reassured me that no one was going to make me.
Our doula helped get me comfortable and Todd’s dad collected Holly for a sleepover. She sent Todd back to bed, and helped me to get some rest. By 7am I started to get cracking and couldn’t lie down anymore. Our doula then rang our IM and I could hear her say that I was sounding a bit “pushy”. I was leaning over the kitchen bench and in a half squat when the contractions were going. Our doula reminded me that if I wanted to have the baby, I would have to take my pants off! I moved to a mattress on the lounge room floor and our IM arrived shortly thereafter, at around 8am. She listened to me and thought the baby wasn’t too far away. She asked whether I wanted her to examine me and I was 9.5 cm with a cervical lip. I let my body tell me when I needed to push and I was on my knees with my head in Todd’s lap as he sat on the lounge.
For the next few hours I pushed, whinged, complained, and used a low growling voice to get through each contraction. It was physically harder than I ever imagined. I mentioned that I could smell that I had body odour, and worried that the baby was ages away if I was still thinking about crap like that! I had been pushing for about 4 hours when our IM mentioned that baby might need a little help being guided out with the Ventouse. She said that I was fine and the baby was completely happy, just that he was taking his time coming out. The thought of getting in the car for a 45 minute ride to hospital was more than I could bear, so I pushed and pushed with renewed determination. At one stage I stared to cry, but my IM and doula got me back on track. There was no way I was getting in that car unless something was wrong. At one stage, I reluctantly got in the shower to try and bring baby down. I hated it in there, so got on my hands and knees to crawl out. My IM again offered the option of transferring for a little help. She asked, “Heidi, how’s this baby going to come out?” I cried back, “I’m going to push him out!” Surely I could push this little 6-pounder out! I moved to the toilet to try again to push more effectively and baby started to crown. My IM asked me if I wanted to have the baby on the toilet. Although I had cleaned the toilet twice a day for the last week, I really didn’t want to birth there, so I waddled back to the lounge.
Our doula told me that it was lunch time and time to have this baby just as I’d predicted. I got back on my hands and knees and continued pushing and my waters exploded with a huge pop! Shortly after this, at 1.10pm, I pushed our beautiful son out onto the mattress. My IM told me to turn around and pick my baby up. It was the most exhilarating feeling, picking up my baby. He cried and cried, and was completely healthy. Our IM stated, “He ain’t 6 pounds!” and estimated his weight at about 4 kilos. She called him a delicious, nuggety baby. He was huge and round, with broad shoulders just like his dad. We named him Archie Michael and I cuddled him for an hour before anyone else got a hold. We started breastfeeding immediately and after a huge feed, I got into the shower to wash and dress. We called for Holly to come home, and she met her brother soon after. Our IM did her final checks and left. She didn’t have her scales with her so we decided to weigh him at our local CYHS service when we were ready. He weighed in at 9 pounds, 6ounces — not bad for the 6 pound baby the doctor was predicting!
Archie’s birth was amazing. Not once did I feel scared and our IM reassured me that all was well at the right times. I never looked around and thought, “Oh crap, I’m not in a hospital!” It felt completely natural to be at home. My birth plan was followed to the letter, although I did look at the clock quite a lot to check if it was lunch time yet! I had a friend ask me if I used pain relief, and I can honestly say it never crossed my mind. When it’s not an option, I guess you just don’t think about it. Our doula and Todd did an awesome job at keeping me comfortable with touch, massage, hydration and reassurance. A lot of my friends called me ‘brave’ for having a homebirth, but having a baby at home with so much support was easy. The ‘brave’ option would have been to birth in hospital fighting against intervention.
Our story has so many twists and turns, but turned out beautifully in the end. We knew that we had definitely made the right choices for our son when our IM informed us that her husband’s grandfather was an Archie Elliott. All is now right in our universe!