As a child, I was terrified of the thought of giving birth – well the pain really more than anything. I suppose I only knew what was portrayed in the sitcoms on TV and hoped that by the time I had my children there would be a pain free way to accomplish this. Perhaps they could knock me out for it? Being in hospital, even when only visiting, made me uncomfortable. I felt lost in the corridors (getting lost is a compulsory part of any hospital visit, isn’t it?), and couldn’t imagine bringing a baby into the world in such an environment; in a building filled with sick people! Not to mention your husband having to leave when you are ‘done’ – horrible!
In my late teens, through Anna Holloway, who would turn out to be one of the midwives at the births of both of my children, I began to learn more about birth – well, natural physiological birth. The way the body was physically designed to birth a baby, and the hormones involved, and how the pain I was afraid of was a part of that process. But along the way I also learned how this process can be hampered by an environment not conducive to giving birth; an environment where the mother doesn’t feel safe and supported and cannot concentrate on the job at hand due to interruption, worry, and being rushed, both to go into labour, and during birth. This terrified me.
Because of Anna, I was lucky enough to know about the birth centre and the independent midwives working there, when I became pregnant with my first baby and knew that this was the safe environment I wanted my baby to be born into, with midwives totally focused on only me and my baby and both our safety and comfort in that moment. A place that felt more like home.
I suppose my advantage was that I never doubted that I could do it! My mum’s births were all 3-4 hours in length and I always felt like it would be the same for me.
I gave birth to my first baby Austin in the birthing bath at the Launceston Birth Centre in 2015. My labour was 4 hours and 5mins. It was fast and full on and I felt a little in shock afterwards and all I wanted to do was sleep! In February 2017, pregnant with my second baby, I first met my primary midwife Jasmijn vd Winckel. I distinctly remember texting Anna, who was to be my midwife again this time around, telling her how wonderful Jasmijn was and how I loved her straight away!
We got on so well during all of our visits together. It was very easy to talk freely about concerns but also just to chat. On the day of the birth I remember waking very early in the morning and feeling a strong contraction and then waiting for more but dropping off before any more came. I had a fair amount of pre-labour with both babies so there was no excitement just yet. This happened multiple times and then upon waking at around 7am I got up and stretched and felt another even stronger one.
I messaged Jasmijn at 7.22am advising her of this this and that my contractions were now 5mins apart and feeling them in my back. I did feel like the baby wasn’t quite in the right position. She suggested some positions to help the baby into a better position just in case so I spent some time draped over the fitball. The contractions were going from being quite close to far apart, strong to mild. I do believe going into labour in the morning with goings on of the day happening around you, talking to the toddler, eating breakfast, etc, definitely pulls you out of the zone.
We called my sister to come as she was going to be looking after Austin. Meanwhile I just walked around the house trying to get things going. It was always while I was off on own down the other end of the house where my strongest “get down on my knees” ones were - away from the busyness of the household.
I phoned Jasmijn at 10:06am as I was keen to get to the birth centre. I knew it would be an uncomfy car ride if things got stronger. It was a rainy day outside and the closeness of the car ride made the contractions stronger and closer together again. We arrived at 11am and they lessened again once we got inside and began chatting to the midwives. I did some laying over the fitball again. I felt like a fraud calling them in but we knew this baby was coming today and given my history it likely wouldn’t be slow. We had taken music and oils and snacks to our first birth and none of it came out of the bag as it was too fast so we brought nothing of that sort this time around!
My contractions then did get less painful in my back and I could feel a bit more pressure.
I called my close friend Sarah to come as she was going to be taking photos. She did so at Austin’s birth and I had done the same for her. At 11.45am they all decided to give Simon and I some space as it was clear I wasn’t in the zone, being the middle of the day, and having everyone around. They suggested a warm shower and relax in the dark bedroom and “perhaps a kiss and a cuddle together to get the oxytocin flowing”.
We moved from the light airy lounge room to the cosy dark bedroom and made a big effort to just relax in the moment together as they said and it worked! Talk about the most regretful kiss of my life as it was followed by a long and painful contraction. And another, and another…
I asked Simon if we should let the midwives know but he suggested we wait for a few more just in case. I was pretty sure we were good to go mind you!
I remembered from my first birth that the shower had helped so my singular focus was then to get to the shower but I could only make it a little way before another contraction as they were so close and I was again down on the ground on knees, anchored to Simon with each one. It was 12:30pm and I made it halfway to the shower when we decided to call the midwives back in and the filling of the birth bath began.
With my first labour I couldn’t stand to have anyone touching me i.e. massage, pressure to help with pain, etc, the labour itself was already too much stimulation I couldn’t handle adding to it and there was much more definition between the more painful contractions before and during transition and the pushing ones. This time around it was like they were all melded together, so powerful and so painful that I would panic at the start of each one, then remember the quote on the wall in the centre I noticed as I walked in that morning “There is a secret in our culture, and it not that labour is painful, but that women are strong” (Laura Stavoe Harm).
I would remember this, get a grip, and go with it, blowing out forcefully through the rest of the contraction “Women are strong, women are strong…”. Each one took me by surprise at the strength of it, that I had to get myself together, over, and over again with every single one.
By 12:40pm contractions were 1-2mins apart. I could feel her wriggling around between contractions. By 12:47pm they were feeling more pushy and I hoped into the bath on hands and knees. Simon sat on the side and I clung to him with each one and he held me up. I had a specific request to be talked constantly through the last part of the delivery, even though it was slow and controlled with my first birth I tore and I wanted to make doubly sure this time, that I had done everything in my power to prevent a tear, and both Anna and Jasmijn were so great with their instructions and encouragement.
And then there she was – born at 1:09pm. Elena Autumn, my beautiful daughter. She was born in the caul but when I lifted her up out of the water she wasn’t any longer. She was quiet and peaceful but alert with eyes wide! I was still gasping and reeling from having delivered her but Jasmijn waved some lavender oil under my nose and I felt instantly calm. We waited until the cord had stopped pulsating before Simon cut it and the placenta took its time to come so she also waved some clary sage under my nose and there was the placenta! Jasmijn informed me that the sun came out during that last part of Elena’s birth and then Simon remembers the very heavy rain starting again half an hour after she arrived. It was a lovely thought considering Elena means shining light, or the bright one.
Elena latched on, all by herself, quite unexpectedly, whilst I was talking to one of the midwives. Unfortunately, I did still tear, despite all of our best efforts, so I left Elena with Simon and Anna to be weighed while Jasmijn and I headed over to the LGH for suturing. Jasmijn held my hand while it went on and we laughed and joked with the doctor who was just so funny!
Back at the birth centre I found Elena fast asleep on her daddy’s chest. Simon and I decided to stay the night instead of head home as we were just so cosy and warm there and we loved the little birth bubble we were still in with our sweet new babe. Just like before the birth, I loved that I could always call or message Jasmijn with a question or concern and it was the same after the birth (even well after the birth, at one point getting the beginnings of mastitis and what she suggested to help it, fixed it!). I always looked forward to our post natal visits with our lovely midwives and I still keep in touch with both Jasmijn and Anna.