SBS Birth Wars, the behind the scenes…

Did you tune into BIRTH WARS on The Feed last Tuesday night? Catch up here on SBS Viceland and be prepared to have some of those birth buttons pressed 😉 You will also you get to see how She Births¼ is considered to be at the ‘forefront’ of the positive birthing movement.

I will try make my comments super quick today because I want to give space to the wonderful She BirthsÂź families who participated in the documentary. Aoife and Tom with baby Fionn and Kayla and Richard with baby Hunter were both in touch after the show to say they were disappointed in the way their stories had been told. Our community as a whole has been surprised that SBS seemed to edit towards such a negative bias.

There were some pretty crazy edits I have to agree, and a lot of what I said was used in a different context. For example, when I say everyone has an opinion about birth – it was in regards to pregnant mums being harrassed by the public about ‘how birth is meant to be and what birth is really like’ etc. Which can be a dangerous thing when you are pregnant and susceptible to influence – lost in a sea of ignorance, negativity, projections and fear.

In regards to informed consent. It’s important to be clear that there are two very different types. One occurs during the birth itself, say prior to a caregiver suggesting an episiotomy and the other is a long list of potential risks that may occur and is given to mum during pregnancy, almost like a disclaimer, so that you can make a so called informed choice between attempting a vaginal or electing a c-s delivery. Both two very different contexts that were getting a bit jumbled in the doco.

I believe VERY strongly in the former – and will talk more about this on Kinderling radio in regards to birth trauma on Wednesday 2nd October. But, I am quite reluctant to promote the latter because of the inappropriate way it is so often done. I do not believe in keeping secrets or having taboos around birth. I do not believe we should silence our negative or our positive stories. However, to give a list of the many potential things that could go wrong is not helpful for a majority, unless, you can also provide preventative education and empowerment skills for the poor mum that has just been overwhelmed by absolute terror.

For a lot of us it can feel like there is already enough negativity being shared in the general media and thus for a lot of us we are aware of so many things that can go wrong. To give information without preventative resources and guidance I believe is unethical.

That is why this week on our Private She BirthsŸ Facebook Forum page I will be joined by Lyz Evans, director of Women in Focus Physiotherapy  , who has just completed a 3 year research program tracking and measuring over 200 women with perineal and pelvic floor damage. Both Lyz and I believe that preparation is critical to preventing damage. Along with a revision of all the She BirthsŸ preventative measures we teach: pelvic floor assessments, perineal massage, patience and avoiding induction, water immersion during labour or birth, optimal positioning for the mother and our specific breathing techniques for second stage we will dive even deeper into this topic.

Prof. Dietz’ interpretation of data is definitely important to consider but in my experience the argument and data put forward by Prof. Dahlen was more convincing. At the end of the day however it seems like the She Births¼ data both in the public trials and in our own data collections prove that it is possible to have both an increasing normal birth rate (above 80% as the Govt suggests) while we also also reduce the rate of perineal trauma.

Here are the two very triumphant birth stories from our couples plus a comment from the amazing mum, Kate, who included her VBA2C story in the SBS doco. It is interesting that one birth story included informed consent and the use of forceps and one experienced a factioning within the hospital system, perhaps representative of the birth wars. Let’s just stay away from wars in general I say…and start to have more open and explorative conversations!

This is what the mums and dads had to say


“I just wanted to pop over and give my two cents also. I was also interviewed for the segment shown last night, and everything I said was turned around and manipulated. They made it sound as though my VBA2C was traumatic. They put a lot of emphasis on the unfortunate emergency caesarian and really drove home how serious and urgent the matter was. While this is true, they failed to mention that the birth was also the most empowering and healing experience of my life. The trauma I discussed was from my first two unnecessary and ill-informed caesareans. They also edited specific sentences to make me sound quite irrational “her heart rate dropped…there was no emergency” – they edited out the part in the middle that mentioned that we waited 2.5 hours for surgery so… “it wasn’t an emergency”.

I’m so sad they’ve used my story of triumph and a message that trauma often comes from the way you’re treated rather than things that happen to make women even more fearful of birth. Also, there was no mention of any the risks associated with cesareans including increased risk of hysterectomy, increased risk of blood clots, increased risk of deep adhesions. I’m so sorry to hear that other stories were misrepresented as well.”

Kayla and Richard’s Birth story

How did you prepare for birth?

Richard and I read all the books you could think of. We researched any and every website we could get our hands on. We then completed our weekend course with our inspiring instructor Radha. (thanks to HCF*) 

Before attending this class I can openly and honestly say that I was absolutely terrified of going into labour. It was something that my anxiety wouldn’t let me shake and it was becoming a very big issue not only for myself but also my husband as when we spoke about things I couldn’t keep my head straight and I would panic and shut down.

During the course the amount of information I received was above and beyond expectations. I have attended so many different courses and by far was this course the only one that I sat absolutely glued onto what was being said. Not once did my mind ever wonder off and wish I was somewhere else. Instead I was so focused and wanted to continue to listen.

Radha was such a beautiful, absolutely beautiful soul who made this class just that so much better. Her honesty and her enthusiasm really fit well into our learning. She made us feel so comfortable and never once did any question be judged or was anyone afraid to ask anything (and I do mean anything).

I felt more than ready to bring this beautiful baby into the world with the help and guidance from Richard and every single thing we have taken away from our course. I would recommend this course a thousand times over to anyone.

How did your birth go?

My contractions started Saturday 18th of August and had stopped and started continuously until I went into full labor on the Wednesday night ( 22nd my due date) and Hunter was born Friday 24th August at 12:07pm.

We had a vaginal birth after a 42 and a half hour labor. We arrived to the hospital when I was unable to continue at home on Thursday. We got there at 1pm. I was only 4cm but they told me they needed to continue to check my baby boy’s heart as they were concerned.

We then heard nothing. By 730pm  I was given a shot of morphine then eventually I was offered to have gas by 11pm. They checked me again and I was only 5cm I was completely and utterly exhausted and in so much pain. Richard and I were left alone and unknowing as to what was actually happening for the majority of the birth.

My contractions were just over a minute apart and would last for 40-60 seconds. By Friday morning, while I was in the bath, the doctors tried to force me to have an epidural. I had already refused this many times, even though it was in my notes that I have a contraindication. I am unable to have one due to the risks with my intracranial hypertension.

Thankfully Richard was able to stand up to them. I was asked to leave the bath as I needed to be checked. This is when we found out I was only 7cm. By this point I had begged them for some help something/anything to help as I knew my body was giving up. I was then eventually given the drip to increase my contractions.

I was told very bluntly not to push if I felt the urge and then we were left alone again. Richard stood by my side begging me not to push until I was physically unable to hold on anymore.  I had started to push my baby out while only 7cm, this obviously caused some tearing internally and externally but within just 12 contractions Hunter was born.

It was then we found out he had actually had a stress poop on Thursday afternoon. This was only found out as the midwives were having a conversation about it while I was being stitched up. I also overheard as the nurses did a handover that I had fragmented membranes so I needed to be monitored continuously afterwards.

It was an experience that could have been managed a lot better, although having Richard by my side, I would not have been able to do what I did without his support and he wouldn’t have been able to support me without the knowledge we had learnt from the course. Richard was able to keep me grounded and we knew what stages of labour I was in during the whole process, which helped us make our decisions and kept us in control when we could be. As horrible as it was, it was still my labor and it was as natural as it could be for me.

What was the most challenging part of the birth?

Besides the whole thing hahaha – I would have to say the limited support and contact we had from the hospital. As much as I adore my husband and he honestly never left my side, it would have been a little easier on him if we had more of a support system. We were left alone for the majority of my labour which was a very daunting experience for the both of us.

What most helped you through the birth experience?

My husband and his knowledge from what we learnt in the She BirthsÂź course.

He kept me grounded and calm when I could be. He was able to reassure me the entire labor and kept me up to date with what was actually happening – I was honestly in and out of it due to complete exhaustion.

What surprised you?

The fact that they had my file, knowing the risks I had for an epidural and still they just pushed and pushed me for one and wouldn’t listen to us and what we wanted. I’m so grateful Richard was able to stand up to them.

I’m also surprised that after that many hours I was still actually able to push him out. Must have been all that good oxytocin.

What has been the best post birth care for you?

Having the support from my husband. Again I couldn’t do life without him

Describe your birth experience in 3 words:  

Horrendously Traumatic

Painful yet Doable

Totally worth it

* HCF is conducting a trial of She BirthsÂź with their members and offering the weekend course for free

Baby lying next to woollen toy lion


Baby lying on red blanket

Photo of Kayla and Richard with their baby sitting on a couch


Aoife’s Birth story

When was your birth?

I gave birth on the 18/8/18, a very auspicious date apparently. We plan on buying some lottery tickets and rubbing them on Fionn’s head

I was 9 days overdue, I had always felt that I would go quite a bit over as my mother had been almost two weeks late with me and my sister was 2 weeks late with both her children. I was very keen to avoid an induction and discussed this with my obstetrician so we agreed that if I had not spontaneously gone into labour by the 20th I would have an induction. I was happy with this arrangement as it is a fine balance between avoiding intervention and acknowledging the risks with going over 42 weeks gestation. It also gave me a deadline to work towards and I work best with a deadline in all aspects of life!

By the 17th I was really determined to get this show on the road, that morning I visited an acupuncturist in the hope of inducing labour. Afterwards I wanted to keep the energy going so I walked down to the beach and spent a long time listening to the pounding waves using a visualisation about the sea.

When I went home I decided to try some nipple stimulation. This is going to sound completely bonkers but I had read a small study where they had stimulated participants nipples using TENS machines to induce labour, although it was a very small study, only 21 participants, of the 21 participants 15 of them successfully induced labour. I liked those odds and using a TENS seemed preferable to tugging at my nipples for 3 hours!  

By late afternoon contractions were starting to become stronger and more regular. That night, the 3 of us (including the dog) went for a walk along Manly beach. We sat and listened to the waves until we got too cold. It was a very special time as we knew this would be our last evening as a trio.

I went to bed to try to get some rest but by 2am it was getting too intense to stay in bed. I got up and laboured on my own for a while, my husband joined me a short while later to support me.

By 5am we had contacted the hospital who suggested we come in. In retrospect I wish I had stayed a bit longer but as we didn’t really have a frame of reference we thought I was a good bit further along than I actually was. I think my poor husband was worried that he would be delivering his child on the spit bridge. Oh if only we knew then that we could have driven to the Sunshine Coast by the time this baby would arrive!

How did you prepare for birth? 

From the outset my obstetrician advised that staying active and healthy was one of the best things I could do to help my chances of having a natural birth. Prior to getting pregnant I was pretty active so under her guidance I continued attending crossfit and surfing until my 7th month of pregnancy, by which time it was really awkward to lift a barbell over my bump and even with my modified surfing position paddling was proving too inefficient to actually catch any waves.

I completed She BirthsÂź early on in my pregnancy as I wanted to give myself & my husband, Tom, as much time as possible to implement all the skills we learned during the course.

My main motivation for doing She BirthsÂź was I was really terrified about the idea of giving birth. I knew that I wanted to avoid having caesarean as my sister had quite a difficult recovery from hers, but I had know idea what I could do to help avoid this. I came to She BirthsÂź looking to help me physically prepare for this but surprisingly it was the mental/psychological aspects of the course that probably helped me the most.

She Births¼ really opened my eyes to a whole host of other resources that I hadn’t been aware of. After the course I started doing prenatal yoga twice a week with another She Births¼ Educator, Radha. I was never into yoga before so I was really surprised how much I enjoyed it. Radha is an amazing teacher and her classes were much more than just yoga, she encouraged the second and third time Mums to share their birth stories with the class, she peppered the classes with nuggets of birthing and parenting wisdom, the classes really helped cement all the skills that I had learnt during the She Births¼ course.

One of the other mums at yoga introduced me to a hypnobirthing podcast called ‘Surge of the Sea’ that she had found helpful in her previous birth. I used the resources on the She Births¼ members website and listened to the visualisation pretty regularly from about 27 weeks on.

The She Births¼ suggested reading list contained a lot of great books but it wasn’t until I was on maternity leave that I really had the time to start reading. One of the books that I found most helpful was ‘Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth’, the book contained dozens of stories of women who had given birth at her birthing centre. It was very affirming to read all these positive stories about real women who had given birth, this really helped get me in the right frame of mind about my upcoming birth.

Once I was a over 32 weeks I started to drink raspberry leaf tea and taking evening primrose oil, from 36 weeks we started perineal massage, unfortunately for my poor husband it was not the sexy thing he had envisioned

How did the birth happen?

I will start off by saying that if someone had told me a few months ago how the birth would unfold I would have been pretty scared about what was in store for me, but by the time I came to birthing my baby I really felt that I had developed so much mental resilience that I could really just let go, go with the flow and find the beauty in that moment.

As previously mentioned we had left for the hospital at 5am that morning. I had laboured beautifully with the assistance of my husband for most of that time however as the day turned into evening things were starting to stall, by about 8.30pm it became apparent that we needed some assistance. My baby’s heart rate was decelerating during contractions and my contractions were slowing down. My obstetrician advised that we should think about a forceps delivery. I asked her if she thought a caesarean would be safer for my baby and I, but she was very confident that she could deliver him safely without injury to me and she wanted to give me the best chance of a natural birth for any subsequent babies I might have.

I was taken down to surgery, given a spinal block and Fionn was delivered with the assistance of forceps at 21.21 on the 18/08/18

Possibly part of the reason I had needed forceps was that Fionn’s cord was very short, this meant that when he was born they couldn’t put him on my chest until his cord had been cut. When he was delivered the team realised that he had passed meconium in utero, probably a few days previous as he was quite stained, because of this the paediatrician recommended that he be taken to the special care nursery to be checked out.

This is probably all sounding very traumatic for anyone reading but I can assure you that it was anything but, I felt so confident in the skills of the care team I knew that everything was going to be ok.

Seeing Fionn for the first time was the most amazing feeling, he was the most beautiful thing I ever laid eyes on. I am still in awe about how strong and all-consuming the maternal instinct is, the second I laid eyes on Fionn I was head over heels in love.

My obstetrician is pretty nifty with the old bbq thongs, Fionn didn’t have any bruising and while I did have a tear it healed well. Within two days of the birth I was sitting cross legged on my bed nursing Fionn.

Who supported you?

My husband Tom was my Daddy Doula. He was absolutely fantastic. He kept me calm and helped soothe me with massage. He was my cheerleader when I needed encouragement. I have never felt closer or more in love with my husband than on that day.

What was the most challenging part?

Every few hours the midwives needed to trace the babies heart rate for 20 minutes uninterrupted. Unfortunately, the foetal monitor was a bit flaky and it didn’t pick up the babies heart rate if I moved so I had to lie on the bed and stay very still. I found this quite uncomfortable and frustrating as every time the monitor dropped out they would need a further 20-minute trace. Somebody seriously needs to make better foetal monitors!

What most helped you the most?

I used the whole gamut of She BirthsÂź tools during my labour. i used a tens machine throughout my labour, I started with it on quite a low setting and gradually ramped it up, this was particularly helpful when I had to stay still on the bed for the trace. In the birthing suite there was a lovely large bath and a double head shower, I love water and found labouring in these really helped me.

This may sound odd but when the contractions became more intense I started scratching my head quite vigorously. It was an instinctive response to the contractions, I’m sure it must have looked like I had nits! I found that it was a great distraction as it is an intense sensation and it creates a lot of noise in your head, so it really helped take my focus away from the contractions. My husband Tom took on the duty of chief head scratcher once I got towards the later stages of labour.

I also found myself vocalising, not in a screechy way but in a long low sound, I joke with my husband that I sounded like the ‘Whale Rider’ sound track.

What surprised you?

How little I cared about being completely naked and in some pretty awful position in front of complete strangers. I had been a bit nervous about feeling embarrassed to be naked but within about half an hour of being in the birthing suite I gave zero f**** about it!

What has been the best post birth care for you?

I was very glad that the hospital had a standard stay of 4 nights post-birth it meant that I had access to great advice and support during that very intense first few days. By the time I was being discharged I felt reasonably confident with breastfeeding and caring for my baby, I think I would have struggled had I been discharged earlier as neither Tom nor I have much experience with babies and neither of us have family close by to help out.

Describe your birth experience in 3 words: 

Empowering, loving, joyful

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