Overcoming a traumatic birth, the ‘die-hard cynic’ Helen’s story
“This is my proudest ever achievement. I am Helen of Troy, emerging battle scarred, weary yet triumphant from my second birth. Birthing rocks.”
We moved to Broadstairs from London in summer 2012, to live in the fresh air, by the sea and good schools of Kent. We are lucky enough to have two living rooms in our new home so we had delegated one to be “the birthing room” since a month or so before my due date on 8th Jan.
<aside> Dear Reader, suffice to say, *I know*. I was officially NEVER going to have a baby so close to Christmas as I am a January baby myself and have long considered it akin to neglect to subject a child to the lifelong hardship of rubbish joint Christmas birthday /Jan sale gifts and no one having the cash or energy to party… but hey, the best laid plans and all that!!
The room had been readied with what felt like every birth support device and alternative therapy known to (wo)man, save creating a life size replica of a baobab birthing tree in papier mache. The windows had been covered. Candles arranged. Tens machine had new batteries in plus spares. Spare Tens machine too. Lavender oil and burner sat ready. The walls were lined with blossoming rose images, glittery inspirational words like ‘natural’, ‘easy’ and ‘strong’ and affirmations written in bright colours and decorated with fairy stickers (created with the able assistance of our two year old daughter, Ada). Perhaps my all time favourite affirmation summed up my plan for the day my contractions began: the Hippocratic oath “First do nothing”. I’d done months of hypnobirthing practice and my husband had recorded a tailor made relaxation script for me. I was taking no chances and deciding to work with an experienced and inspirational doula like Rebecca capped that off nicely.
<cue flashback wobbly screen> My first birth with Ada had been the antithesis of the natural home water birth we’d hoped for, despite a similar amount of planning to have an active home birth . Lowlights included a plummeting baby’s heart rate, a steady stream of changing midwives, some of whom inspired about as much confidence as a five year old playing nurses, emergency ambulance transfer to hospital, porters missing the doors and hitting the doorframe at high speed while contracting heavily during the first emergency theatre dash, more drugs than a Saturday night in Camden and finally, emergency forceps delivery and a MUCH undesired episiotomy which left me more sore than I can say for far too long afterwards. The only positive things were the blissful few hours we’d spent pottering at home before the chaos kicked off and the perfect baby girl delivered safe and well at the end of it all.
So, I knew there was such a thing as a quiet, calm, natural birth. In theory. I knew it somewhere deep down and instinctive. I’d seen the YouTube videos. Read the birth stories. Spoken to those who’d been blessed to experience this elusive event. Hell, I’d even seen my sister do it a couple of years earlier. But still, something in my mind niggled. That first, traumatic birth experience had made me a bit of a die hard cynic. I’m also (and don’t tell my husband I have admitted this but…) something of a control freak. How can something so deeply personal and life changing not be run and managed to within an inch of its life by me??!! Queue that Hippocratic oath. So I repeated it again and again in my mind. That and my second and third favourites: “I can do this” and “My heart knows what a wonderful birth I can have. My head is still learning”. When my contractions began, I’d needed to feel as though we’d done the prep. And then some. So it would be ok to switch off and let my body do the talking…
It was 3am on the 4th Jan when I woke up feeling the need to practice my breathing as I guessed I’d turned over a bit suddenly in my sleep and pulled a tummy muscle. It quickly dawned on me through the fog that I was feeling a little moist too, at which point I made a mad dash for the loo. There was no doubting this was it. I sat for a good thirty seconds telling myself to go downstairs, make tea, enjoy some time by myself, but I couldn’t contain my excitement and woke my husband straight away. Besides, I’d made him a list of things to do entitled “Here we go list” which was at the front of the ring binder containing directions to the hospital, affirmations, our birth plan, daughter’s routine etc. (See? Slightly obsessive, I’ll admit :0)) He got to work blowing up and filling the birth pool which Rebecca had kindly lent us. I hung out in bed breathing and thinking positive thoughts. By 3.30 I’d continued having regular, what felt like quite productive but manageable surges and had interrupted Rebecca’s dreams by text. She immediately responded to tell me to get relaxed sooner rather than later (her ever tactical way of telling me to stop micro managing!) and that she was there as soon as we needed her. By 6am, Rebecca had arrived as had my sister who had been draughted in as the first line of defence to look after Ada while we took care of business! I was having contractions every 3-4 minutes by this time, so a check in call with the midwives resulted in them sending someone straight away “just to check how things were going”. Having answered the door to Rebecca and my sister and had the broken conversation while having contractions with the midwives, I realised it was time to get serious and deploy the birth ball and ohmmmming. Queue enough candles to power Birmingham for a week of powercuts. Whale/spa music on the iPod. Wood burner crackling full of logs. Birth pool gently steaming in the corner. This, my friends, was Kick Off and I was going in with open arms.
From that point on, things get a little fuzzy, as I really did get in to the zone. Rebecca remained respectfully on the sidelines, managing all the things I would have done myself like briefing the midwives on their arrival, distracting my overly excited and talkative sister away from me and just general confidence giving. The fruity surges were now coming thick and fast but instead of panic that I’d felt first time around, I felt really pleased that things were progressing and we’d not seen a whiff of blue lights or syringes. Rebecca came to sit with me by then and did some fantastically supportive ohmmmming with me to keep my breathing on track. I’d requested no vaginal exams, not believing for a moment that I’d be confident enough on the day to go through with it and believe that I’d know what was happening myself, but I did know. By about 7.30am, I could tell that I needed to be in the birth pool. And quickly. It was too hot so several pans of water were rapidly brought in and then I hopped in. Bliss! 30 minutes later, I was feeling pressure. I hadn’t yet seen the midwife (a MAN no less. Though even this hadn’t thrown me in my mellow yellow state of mind), but I wanted them there then. Not to feel their cool hand on my brow, no. For their gas and air. Now. Please? Quick!
I started to feel a little queasy and remember doing a sick burp! (Too much information? No, wait, we’re talking vaginas and VEs here…) I asked for a homeopathic remedy for fear as I had my first and only moment of doubt as I now know I was transitioning. It didn’t last and I was soon in to the only bit of it all that I would describe as toe curling. Incredibly powerful surges were washing over me and I could feel that baby was well on their way down. Even though all these sensations were new to me as I’d been numb on the surgeons table for this bit first time around, I knew it was all ok. Rebecca had told me that it was very good news to get in the pool and for things to speed up as it could go the other way and slow things down if my body and baby weren’t quite ready. So, I knew things were nicely on track and coming to a crescendo – that made the feelings manageable in my head.
My husband, I have been told since, suggested I change positions from my back to kneeling at this point, and apparently I completely ignored him. Rebecca made the same suggestion in my ear immediately afterwards and I quickly responded and turned over. The midwives (second now on scene) had appeared in the room recently and were standing on the sidelines. I was on my knees leaning over the edge, with my husband and Rebecca alongside the pool. When I said I could feel ‘pressure’, even I was a little disbelieving that this might actually be working as we’d planned! My birthing body went in to hyperdrive now and my primitive mind completely and utterly took over. Breathing the baby down was flung firmly out the window. Ready or not, my body was pushing and there wasn’t a thing I could do about it. Rebecca calmly suggested that I reach down to feel. I thought she meant outside the pool for the other handle to hold on to… which I did and which felt really good to tug on! After that push though I realised what she meant and I copped a feel down below. I can only describe what I felt as mushy! Not the mini melon I’d expected but a presence all the same. (I know now this was the top of my daughter’s very hairy little head!) This surprised the midwives somewhat as they must have thought I was still some way off. And, with them hurriedly putting on their gloves and me doing some impromptu and somewhat random Mr Miyagi arm motions to control my breathing (hey, whatever works, right?!), I knelt upright with one last relatively easy push (only about the fifth in total I think), Beatrice was born. 7lbs 12oz. At home. At home. At home!
I was elated beyond belief and enjoyed ten minutes in the water thanking Beattie for joining me and helping me have this wonderful birth. I could have done it all again and think I suggested it to my husband at some point! My placenta took a while to deliver so I hung out with Beattie snuggled in my dressing gown while the cord stopped pulsating. Rebecca had a top tip for delivering the placenta involving a bucket and some none-too-ladylike squatting! She was there to squeeze my hand during the one and only time the midwives needed to see my nether regions and inspect for tears afterwards. Guess what? I had none. Just one tiny graze which needed no stitches!!! The icing on the cake. I was ecstatic. Proud beyond belief. We’d done it :0)
Rebecca suggested we could change our names for this birth story, but I can’t think of one good reason why I’d want to! This is my proudest ever achievement, despite rocketing to the pinnacle of a flaming career in IT management <ahem> before giving up work to be a full time mum! I am Helen of Troy, emerging battle scarred, weary yet triumphant from my second birth.
If you are considering working with a doula, or Rebecca specifically, I say emphatically – DO. If you are feeling fearful or doubtful about your upcoming birth, I say, even more emphatically – DON’T. Birthing rocks.
Sincerely yours, the die hard cynic, Helen.