For first-time mum Emma the birth of daughter Lucy went better than she could have expected. The secret of her success? Trust, planning, a great birth partner and – by her own admission – lots of luck ?
Describe your birth experience in 3 words:
Peaceful, joyful, awe-inspiring.
When was your birth?
Our adorable daughter Lucy was born at 10:59am on 26th June 2018, 11 days past her due date.
Was it your first?
Lucy is our first. Like many people, I was accustomed to hearing scary medical tales and anecdotes about the painful and horrifying nature of birth. My mum gave birth to all three of her children by caesarean and lots of my friends have had really difficult times. I’m not sure how or when it happened exactly, but the idea of having a low-intervention vaginal birth became important to me.
The only problem was that in the past I have fainted when confronted with strong pain, so I wasn’t at all confident that I could do it. I discussed my fears with my wonderful midwife Tammy and asked her about antenatal classes that could help. She mentioned She Births among others, and Ina May Gaskin. I did some research and felt confident from the evidence base that She Births was right for me.
How did you prepare for birth?
My husband Edwin and I completed a She Births® course with Radha on one extremely hot weekend in March and we found it eye-opening and really quite transformational. The skills we learned and the knowledge we gained made so much sense and gave us a lot to talk about after the course was over. I also spent a lot of time reading through Rebecca Dekker’s Evidence Based Birth website.
I went on maternity leave at 34 weeks, and spent the next 2-3 weeks winding up work, catching up with friends and getting ready for baby. I love being at home, and as Edwin is at home too I got to spend all my time with him and our dog which was great. I read and reread Juju Sundin’s “Birth Skills” which a dear friend had given me, and then Edwin and I wrote a birth plan and a labour plan together.
I had been following a lot of the She Births® protocols already, which I really ramped up from 36 weeks onwards. I had been doing prenatal yoga and walking the dog by the beach – right up until the day Lucy was born. I was also meditating daily, doing the Full Birth Rehearsal, practising my relaxation response, using a Fit Ball, doing breathing techniques, acupressure, pelvic floor exercises, using an epi-no, eating six dates a day – the works!
Despite knowing that due dates are just rubbish estimates really, it was still pretty deflating when my due date came and went with no sign of bub. We ramped up the natural induction methods, but no luck. At 41 weeks pregnant I agreed to some tests and spent a stressful morning lying on a hospital bed with a CTG monitor strapped to my belly waiting for my unborn baby to stop moving so they could get a ‘baseline’ reading. I was stressed about being overdue and frightened by talk about risk factors and stillbirths.
Three hours and a few tears later I realised that baby wasn’t going to stop moving unless I rocked her to sleep, and I couldn’t do that while lying down. I got off the bed and swayed her to sleep within minutes. The hospital got the reading they wanted, we had confirmation that our baby was well, and we could go home. It was a valuable reminder that we could still take control, and I vowed to remember this during my labour, especially if things didn’t go to plan.
After that, we took a weekend to ourselves. We went out for lunch, got massages, drove down the coast and ate ice-cream on the beach. It helped us both to take our minds off the pregnancy and just relax. The next morning on our dog walk I saw a whale jumping out of the water in a spectacular breach just off the coast and although I don’t usually believe in these things I did wonder if it was a sign … I was feeling energetic and felt like walking for much longer than usual which made us think that maybe, just maybe, the baby was coming!
How did you bring your baby into the world?
Lucy was born by waterbirth. A few hours after that walk I noticed some blood and started to feel like a period was coming on. Finally! Those ten days between my due date passing and labour beginning had felt like an eternity. We prepared a few things and Edwin cooked me the most amazing lunch, and later dinner. I rested, meditated, listened to my labour playlist, watched some Netflix and went to bed early. At 1am I woke and realised I was having regular contractions, so I put on the TENS machine that I had hired. It was too uncomfortable to go back to bed so Eddie made a ‘nest’ of pillows, blankets and heat packs on the living room floor and I went between there and the bathroom for the rest of the morning.
Edwin massaged my hips, kept water, tea and heat packs coming and fed me coconuts (which I kept vomiting up). We had to switch to shards of ice to maintain my hydration. I felt the contractions in my back mainly, and they lasted around a minute or so each. One of the weirdest things was that I slept between contractions the whole time, right up until the pushing stage. I actually think that practising all the She Births® meditations put me in a state of self-hypnosis, as I knew that I should rest deeply between contractions, so I did. Edwin was amazed (he didn’t sleep at all …)
I was so happy to be in labour and instead of feeling the fear I had earlier expected, I felt calm and at peace. As each contraction came on, I would press the button on my TENS machine, take 3 blissful belly breaths until the contraction peaked, then one cleansing calming breath as it eased off.
I felt completely in control and had many other techniques in my arsenal that I didn’t get around to using (aromatherapy oils, movement, and stress balls, I’m looking at you!) I did still have moments of fear, but I used mindfulness to step back from those thoughts and remember that my body was doing exactly what it was meant to do.
At around 3am I was having 3 contractions every 10 minutes, so Edwin phoned the midwife on call, but she and I both thought the contractions weren’t very strong and that I probably still had a long time to go.
At around 7am my waters broke, so Edwin called again. I spoke with the midwife and again we decided that as I wasn’t in that much pain, I was calm and could talk through the contractions, I was probably still a while off and could stay at home a bit longer.
My sense of time was very warped during labour. Suddenly it was almost 10am and my body started pushing, all by itself!! At that moment Edwin said he saw fear in my eyes for the first time. Luckily we live quite close to the hospital so off we went, with me puffing away in the back seat of the car through two more pushes, trying to keep the baby in! I had realised that my labour was progressing well and I had been noticing signs of transition, but I was truly waiting for the ‘big’ pain to come. I thought that as a first-time mum I would probably have to keep labouring all day. Nope.
When we got to hospital I told Edwin that I was ok to go to the front desk to be admitted – hilarious! The lady at the desk took one look at me and said “You look like you’re in some discomfort, perhaps you’d like to go straight upstairs?” Which we did. When my midwife checked me in the birthing suite, I was already fully dilated of course.
I had one or two more pushes as I got settled in the birthing suite. It wasn’t at all like the conscious ‘urge to push’ that I was expecting, instead it all just happened by pure reflex. And although the pushes were freakishly intense, between them everything was still calm. I felt good!
It was all going much faster and better than I could have hoped for and I felt so strong and excited to meet my baby! I got in the bathtub and only a minute later I was touching Lucy’s head, feeling her hair – incredible! Then there was another push and her head came out; then she twisted, and another push and she was in my arms. That moment was just indescribable…
We hadn’t even been at the birth centre for half an hour and here we had our Lucy with us at last. It was 11 days after her due date and she was a pretty big girl: 56 cms long, 3.94 kgs, 36 cm head circumference with a fabulous set of lungs. We couldn’t stop smiling, laughing, staring at her, and shaking our heads in awe.
Edwin cut the cord once it stopped pulsing, then he took Lucy in his arms and I had a physiological third stage. I’ve never felt so proud or so powerful. We were on a high for days later, there were no baby blues for us! We had already felt so connected to our daughter throughout the pregnancy, and the incredible birth experience just made our love for her even more concrete and strong. To say that I feel lucky is an understatement.
I had a slight second-degree tear and seriously, the stitching up of that was more painful than the birth … and don’t get me started on the pain of breastfeeding when my milk came in! But that all settled down within a week or so, and my recovery from the birth was fine. And we are completely in love with our gorgeous, vigorous, funny little girl.
Who supported you throughout the birth?
Edwin was my number one support. He was out of this world, so calm and completely on the ball with anticipating my needs. I really don’t know how women do it without supportive, composed and knowledgeable partners on hand. I was also lucky enough to get into a Midwifery Group Practice and my midwife and her colleagues were on the other end of the phone. For the actual birth, it was just me, Edwin and Tammy. There was a slight tinge of meconium immediately before Lucy’s birth and Tammy was concerned that she might be becoming distressed so another midwife hovered outside just in case.
What was the most challenging part of the birth?
Without a doubt, it was how far baby went past her due date. I was so keen to let my hormones do the work and avoid induction and the possibility of a cascade of intervention. Each day I had to try not to let myself worry again and again. It was hard to keep telling people that no, nothing had happened yet, and no, I wasn’t being induced. But then when labour actually started I was filled with such a sense of relief and happiness, which I’m sure helped the hormones along.
What most helped you through the birth experience?
The sense of utter safety and security I felt. Edwin knew exactly what to do to support me, the midwives were available by phone, and I didn’t have to think or decide anything as I knew they would do it for me. Everyone shared my goal of a ‘natural’ birth and the belief in stepping in only as medically indicated. All I had to do was breathe, push the button on my TENS machine, and listen to what my body was telling me. My labour was ‘safe, undisturbed and unobserved’ as we had discussed in the course.
Was there anything that surprised you on the day?
I was definitely surprised by how easily I slept between contractions, but the thing that surprised me the most was the pain. I was really waiting for the ‘big’ pain to come, the type of pain that would make me feel like I was being torn apart, that would make me lose control and would render my strategies useless, and for me it just never came… Don’t get me wrong, the contractions definitely hurt a lot and the pushing was a next level sensation, but I always felt secure in the fact that I knew what was happening and how to address it, and for me the pain was manageable. Pretty amazing, huh?
What has been the best post-birth care for you?
Having Edwin at home with me 24/7 has been the best. Caring for a newborn is more than a full-time job and it is so helpful to have him here for support, to share the parenting, the housework and the care of our fur baby. We took note of Radha’s discussion on taking a ‘golden month’ or at least spending five days in bed, five days on the bed, and five days around the bed post-birth. We didn’t stick to it completely but used it as a guide to take things easy and keep life quiet for the first month or so. We also got a chest freezer and filled it with a month’s worth of meals while I was still pregnant and that was a godsend when you need to eat well but you don’t have the time or the energy to plan and cook a meal!