The Birth of leah
My pregnancy with Leah was beautiful. She was the soul who stuck after my first pregnancy that ended in miscarriage at 13 weeks. Despite the inevitable fear of another loss that is always in the back of one’s mind, I felt amazing. I tracked every little development of my precious bean… mango… cantaloupe… melon, obsessed over every baby book I could keep my eyes open long enough to read, and photographed my growing belly weekly. My husband and I went on a “babymoon” to Paris when I was six months pregnant. He drank wine and ate brie. I did not. (Note: Paris is not always a good idea) But, we walked the beautiful streets. So much strolling along the Seine in fact that our baby moved head down and happily stayed in that position until her birth day.
I typed and ticked off my hospital bag list, the birthing ball was blown up for the workout of my life and my birth plan was ready, as far as printing out a sheet and ticking boxes goes. But I was adamant that no one was going to mess with it.
The vision… a beautiful, drug-free, zen birth with me listening to whale calls and the calming sounds of the ocean. I was living in the Middle East, booked into our local private hospital and water birth was not an options so that decision was taken care of.
Two weeks before our due date we eagerly joined the hospital’s antenatal welcome session. The group of midwives who would be on call would be taking us through what we could expect during labour and what drugs would be available to us. Definitely worth listening to, we thought. The hospital midwives were gurus weren’t they?!
All I can remember of that meeting, however, was the head midwife telling everyone that this was going to be the most painful thing they would ever experience but “not to worry we would soon forget it” and another midwife going round the room and, like Whoopi in Ghost, informing each mom how she would have her baby. Her opinion, however, wasn’t coming from anywhere other than how we physically looked. I was told I was definitely going to have a c-section, apparently because I was 5ft1.
I still remember a wave of anger and doubt and fear coming over me as I mentally took a trip back to lunch break in high school when one the girls in my class told me that with my size she could not imagine me ever being pregnant. I was going to prove this woman wrong. As defiant as I felt, however, I really had no idea what lay ahead.
From the dawn of my due date, I willed labour to start as I did not want to be induced. I knew I had seven days at most. And when the Braxton’s began, I got my husband home from work and with a paper and pen we timed EACH and EVERY contraction. To say they were irregular is a bit of an understatement, but we were first time parents ready to do this, and when we had a few that were three minutes apart we rushed off to hospital. I was in labour!!! Tell the world!
Wait, no, I wasn’t. They hooked me up to the Electro Fetal Monitor (EFM) for 20 minutes, told me I was having very strong contractions and that I’d probably deliver the next day. I was told to go home.
Dejectedly, I went home and sat, willing the unknown. I had a warm shower before bed that evening and went to bed anxiously wondering if this would be the night. At 10:30 I woke up with a contraction that sent me into the foetal position. I got out of bed, bent over double, and told my husband that this was definitely it.
Off we rushed again to the hospital and this time I ended up in a white gown that left me feeling slightly panicky and lying on bed that would leave anyone’s tailbone crying out for something stronger than Neurofen. With an even more uncomfortable EFM strap around my contracting belly, I lay there as a cannula was inserted in my hand for “just in case” and we were good to go, or so I thought. With every latex-gloved internal examination I had, though, I looked hopefully at a midwife’s head that shook and said “no, still only 2cm I’m afraid.” What was I doing wrong, I wondered. There was no encouragement, no tips on what I should do, simply a mark out of 10cm for dilation and the notification that they would give me a bit more time before trying something to help me along.
I remember seeing the sunrise through the beige curtains the next day and desperately hoping that the whale cries coming at me through my earphones might transport me to some less painful place. I tried showering and then returned to my bed only to be told that I was still only 3cm.
Anxious and conceding that my body must be clearly jammed, I agreed that drugs could be administered to move things along.
Still no luck. How could my belly be contracting violently for hours yet my cervix not be dilating?! I was a perfectly healthy, energetic 30-year-old.
Eventually they decided to break my waters, hoping that that would do the trick. After that, contractions became so unbearable that Nitrox gas became my best friend… to the point of hallucination.
By this point I was exhausted and no longer part of the discussion. All decisions were going through my husband and, despite him being adamant that I could do this and all his efforts to get them to give me a chance, at some point in my delirium the decision was made that they would prep me for a c-section.
I somehow ended up in a delivery room sitting on a bed, trying not to move between contractions as the epidural was administered. They left me to allow anaesthesia to kick in and when my OB/GYN arrived and did a final check, she realized that I had suddenly dilated from 3cm to 10cm and I was instructed to start pushing. Knees bent, huffing and puffing till I felt like my head would explode, squeezing my husband’s hand… I suddenly felt okay. This was how it was meant to be, it was just like I’d seen in the movies.
At some point they performed an episiotomy to help our baby out and before I knew it our beautiful little girl’s cord was cut and she was cleaned up, bundled up in a towel and placed on my chest. I was a mom! I was an exhausted, numb, bewildered mom. But I’d done it. After 20 hours of labour, I’d had the natural birth I wanted.
I lay in my hospital bed that night, clueless (despite all the books I’d read) as to what I needed to do with this new little person. I was physically drained and desperate for sleep and when she screamed for what felt like hours on the first night, I willingly allowed one of the midwives to take her from me for a few hours so I could rest.
The next day, it was desperation for the comfort of my own bed more than anything that made us bravely leave the hospital with our sweet baby. I was told to return in a week so they could check my recovery, and off we went.
There was a lingering confusion, though, as to exactly why I hadn’t dilated until the epidural worked it’s magic. Why had my body let me down? While I didn’t realize it at the time, there was a great deal of self-doubt that resulted from this labour and it wasn’t until my second pregnancy that I quite literally came back to earth.
While pregnant with my second daughter in Australia, I bumped into a friend of a friend who told me her birth story. Hers had ended in a c-section, but the story of failure to progress, drugs, waters being broken, epidural… could have been mine. How on earth was it exactly the same, I wondered?! We were two different women, with two different bodies and two different babies. Should we high-five and assume that was simply the way birth goes?
Fortunately a dinner with another 5ft friend who told me about her waterbirth gave me a different story, a calm, peaceful story. Was she just a superwoman? That gut feel that I should be able to do this as a woman then lead me into a frenzy of research and wide-eyed watching of you tube videos of waterbirths, orgasmic births and HypnoBirths.
Terrified of experiencing another labour that left me so drugged I felt disconnected from the world and my baby, a google search for HypnoBirthing led me to a wonderful practitioner in my area.
My second birth was a very different story…