Léon is nearly eight weeks old and finally in bed for the night, as is his big brother. Witching hour (s) is in full effect in this house as Jean and I tag team depending on our children’s needs. So far, Léon has been a little easier than his brother was but still intense as he discovers his body through colic pains and the world through developmental leaps. I’m tired. Exhausted actually. Hormones and fatigue aren’t a great combination. I’m quite high functioning but my emotional regulation leaves a little to be desired. I can find myself oscillating between being content and laughing to tears and frustration remarkably quickly. Despite this, life is good and I’m mostly accepting that this is just how it is right now. It’s hard work adjusting to life with a newborn and toddler.
Actually, when I had Louis it was so much harder. I was adjusting to motherhood whilst in pain and feeling traumatised. This time, I’ve hardly thought about Léon’s birth except for the occasional smile to myself as I realise “I did it!”. It was a vastly different experience that I want to write about before I forget.
I thought I had adequately dealt with my fears and trauma from Louis’ birth. Then I fell pregnant again. Pregnancy isn’t something I love. It’s full of emotions, nausea, aching, discomfort and anxiety. I worried about birthing again but mostly my days were filled with loving a toddler, keeping our beautiful messy life going, fatigue and low iron, housework and distraction. Pregnancy and birthing books piled beside my bed and meditation apps downloaded on my phone couldn’t motivate me into preparing. Prenatal yoga wasn’t an option as Louis wasn’t in daycare. I wondered if I was in denial sometimes.
Instead, I went to my monthly women’s circles where I poured my heart out to my beloved friends who would hold me by listening without advising. I started going to Gestalt trauma therapy regularly too. This is where most of my work was done. I delved deep into everything: from my previous birthing experience to the long held beliefs I hold about my body and how it fails me.
My dear friend, Anna, then bought me a book, “How to Heal a Bad Birth” by Melissa Brujin and Debby Gould, and I thought “now this is a book I can read”. Tears fell within just a few pages. I felt understood and validated. Between this book and therapy I began to realise that my birth trauma wasn’t a result of what happened, but rather how I felt about it. I could finally tell people that no, an epidural or a c-section won’t solve my problems. I needed to feel empowered. I spoke to my midwife and student midwife (who has 8 years’ experience as a doula) about everything! I needed them to know what was going on in my head. I realised through those discussions that I had been on a 2 hour pushing time limit with Louis, as is the standard practice in the birth centre before they have to send you to the bigger hospital. All the pressure to get him out is what led to me feeling not good enough, that my body had failed, eventuating in all the interventions. I now realise that Louis was asynclitic (tilted) and I believe (wrongly or rightly) that had we waited, he would have moved into position in his own time.
Months of therapy passed but I was still anxious, worried and unprepared. One day my therapist reflected that I was preparing. She observed that I was finally getting out of my head by letting go of all the preparations I thought I should be doing. I told her that when people asked me what my birth plan was, that I had no idea. Some seemed concerned I was going to the birth centre again or that I wouldn’t opt for a c-section. I explained “I have no plan, just that I want to feel empowered and nurtured regardless of what happens”. A smile beamed on her face that day as she exclaimed how beautiful that response was in demonstrating my inner evolution. As is my way, I partly believed her but continued to worry.
A week before I went into labour I speed read a hynobirthing book and started listening to their meditations. Panic crept in as I received the old message of “if you do this, you’ll have a good birth”. I stopped.
Two days before I went into labour I speed read “Birthing from within” by Pam England and Rob Horowitz. It was excellent but I felt it was too late to try preparing now.
Then, at 2am Friday 16th November, a small trickle indicated that my waters broke and I knew labour was imminent. I let Jean know, but told him we should sleep. I quickly realised sleep wasn’t going to happen as I started timing the contractions which were already 8 minutes apart. They weren’t strong but were certainly enough to keep my attention. By 5am they were 5 minutes apart. I woke Jean up and suggested we finish packing the bag and get ready before Louis woke up. I did what I could between contractions and Jean started preparing coffee and breakfast, thinking we’d have plenty of time.
By 6am the contractions were 3 minutes apart. I couldn’t eat breakfast. I worried that we hadn’t called our friend, Anna, to look after Louis or even let the midwives know. Jean made the phone calls while I braced myself on our kitchen floor. I heard him on the phone to Anna, calmly explaining we’d need her to come over and I realised he had no idea how close I was to birthing! “Jean! Tell her how far apart my contractions are” I yelled. He was confused. He had struggled timing them as they rolled on top of each other. At 620am Anna arrived, massaging me through contractions while Jean attended to Louis waking up. I felt distressed as I couldn’t work out why he was taking so long and I needed to go before this baby was born! In between contractions I composed myself, went to Louis’ room, kissed him goodbye and left him in Anna’s loving arms. At 645am we left for the hospital.
At 7am I entered emergency screaming through contractions that were just minutes apart to discover the birthing unit was completely empty. As a moment of panic entered my head, a nurse from the wards who used to be a midwife and was at Louis’ birth, ran in, undressed me and started running the bath, exclaiming “ let’s hope we get this bath full before the baby arrives!”.
I don’t really remember how it felt to get in the bath. I know other women feel enormous relief from it. All I remember thinking is “Am I in transition or pushing? When did I go through transition?”, followed by “Who cares, Carly? Just be present!”. Then, I looked around me to see my doctor, midwife and student midwife had arrived. They were sitting around the bath encouraging me while Jean diligently massaged my back and lovingly supported me through the contractions.
I leant over the side of the bath. The contractions were intense. I screamed so loudly I surprised myself. I felt fear creep in. I recognised myself feeling like a victim. Then, suddenly I had my midwife friend, Asha, in my mind and her text message from the previous day that read “you are badass” and I thought to myself “Asha said you are badass!”. Everyone knows I’m not badass. I’m a goody two shoes. The contractions changed. I stopped screaming and I pushed through low grunting noises that came from deep within. There was immense pressure in my pelvis and as everything stretched it felt as I was busting to wee and poo, except I wasn’t. I rested in between pushing. I could feel Léon’s head moving down and sliding back up a little in between contractions so I played with it and held him down. Everyone encouraged me as they saw progress from a mirror that was placed beneath me. I felt calm and controlled.
I looked around and thought “this is taking ages, are they going to sit here looking at me all day?”. I turned to my student midwife and asked her how long it would take and she softly replied that it would take as long as it needed to. I was grateful for her sweet answer.
My midwife suggested I turn over so Jean held me from behind, I put my feet up on the sides of the bath and in one long push Léon arrived. My student midwife caught him and put him on my chest. The bath filled with blood. Léon was purple… and big at 4.2kg, 53.5cm long and 38cm head circumference. I was in shock. They rubbed Léon and he slowly became pink. Relief. Then shock again. I was unable to cry or smile. Just shock. I had done it!
The cord to the placenta was short and uncomfortable. I left the bath and walked with my beautiful, big baby to the bed. I looked up. The clock showed it was only 8am. I asked Jean if that was the real time as it felt like I had been in the bath for hours. It was.
I was bleeding from a second degree tear and the placenta was taking a while to birth. My leg was injected with oxytocin to speed it up. I was stitched up while Léon found his way to my breast and started to suck. I’m still in awe that they just know how to do that!
The next 4 hours were bliss as we met our second son and introduced him to Louis, who was in love the moment they met. He climbed on to the bed to snuggle next to us, cuddling and kissing his little brother and even pushing my hand off him so he could have him to himself. Our family had grown. Anna captured it with these beautiful photos that I’ll treasure forever.
As I lay there I realised that I was prepared all along. I didn’t need special breathing or positions. This birth felt completely different in my body. The contractions felt different. The pushing felt different. It wasn’t because I had got rid of my fear – I hadn’t. It was just physically different. And with that, I felt healed. I didn’t do anything wrong in Louis’ birth.
Now, I actually believe therapy is the best preparation for birthing. It might not feel like it in the moment, but it’s doing something to our brains that matter when we need it most. I kept saying to my therapist that I wasn’t feeling any internal change, that I still felt fear and wondered if I should be doing more to prepare. She asked me if I could trust her to guide me through what was needed. I’m so glad I did. It involved exploring long held beliefs, validating feelings, speaking my truth, addressing my beliefs about my body failing me and wondering if I was a wimp. Of course, my twin sister’s illness and death featured too and no therapy is complete without reflections of our own childhoods and relationships with our parents. So much work was done to prepare me for whatever birth experience would eventuate. I’m just so grateful that in this instance that involved a drug free water birth.
I should mention that after 4 hours in the birthing unit we were supposed to go home. However, I was wheeled to the toilet and when I tried to get back in the wheelchair I fainted. I reluctantly awoke from a gorgeous dream to what felt like the entire emergency department looking over me. I had lost 800mL from the second degree tear and combined with the gastro I had leading up to labour, I had little reserves. I was administered a drip. 4 hours later I still couldn’t sit on the bed without losing my vision and feeling like fainting. Eventually, they transferred me to the big hospital for monitoring. I was so disappointed but it was a good thing as I ended up getting 2 more drips and an iron infusion before returning home the next day. For some reason, this event doesn’t affect my positive feelings about the birth at all! It was annoying, but fine. The tear was a little tender but I could move easily without pain. It was nothing like having an episiotomy and it healed very quickly.
At home, I felt exhausted but happy. I did it. We did it. My husband, my son, my community, my therapist, my midwives. I felt so proud.