Max, Ella & Oliver’s Birth Stories
Max. Ella & Oliver’s Birth Stories
Olly is our third baby and this story was originally meant to be about his birth two and half months ago. But I soon realized that Ollys story is closely entwined with my other births and none can be told separately. So here they all are.
Our first son Max was born eleven years ago in a public hospital under the care of an obstetrician. My memories of my pregnancy with Max are of fear of the unknown. This fear was compounded with the undeniable fact that the baby in my belly was large. I was also diagnosed at about 32 weeks with borderline gestational diabetes, a condition that never reoccurred with my subsequent births. These factors contributed to what my GP considered a “high risk” and I was referred to an obstetrician for my last few weeks. In hindsight I should have heard some warning bells when the obstetrician was uninterested in my careful birth plan that involved not being offered any pain relief and request to be encouraged to be active rather than passive. He brushed the birth plan aside not bothering to go through any of the points I had prepared for discussion with him. Regardless, I still believed that I was in the best care, not realizing that by giving away my autonomy I was giving away my power to give birth – the only thing that could ensure that my baby was truly safe. Im not saying the obstetrician world is wrong, I know their skill have saved hundreds of lives and diverted many disasters. But I also know now that a woman has the best chances of having a healthy and normal birth if she is empowered. Empowerment was something the obstetrician did not allow me.
10 days after my due date had been and gone, I was booked into the hospital for an induction. The night before I was given a jelly and at 2.00 am I started to labour. I was so excited that I rang my husband, Sean to come to the hospital straight away. We laboured happily together and I felt like I was progressing nicely. Despite my feelings that all was well, the obstetrician routinely broke my waters at 8.00 am, in a production line with everyone else “scheduled” to give birth in the hospital that day. I now believe that this was a terrible thing to do and began a chain of events out of my control.
By the evening my carefully written birth plan was in tatters somewhere in a corner. One midwife had even asked me what on earth I was doing trying to squat next to the bed and ordered to get up and to lie on my back. I heard her muttering to someone else that she did not know what they taught young girls these days. I had been vaginally examined on the hour, had been offered and accepted gas and pethidine and was blinded and nauseated with terror and pain. The pain relief did nothing for me except to change the type of pain and defocus me.
The midwives shifts came and went, and with every new midwife came a new set of confusing orders. I saw nothing of the obstetrician until around midnight when I started to beg for something to save me and was given an epidural by an angry anesthetist who did not appreciate having to work at such a late time.
All through this harrowing ordeal, my husband Sean supported me. He was there for every contraction and I clung to him as my security and only familiar person I knew or trusted. Because of my dependency on him, he was not able to eat anything or drink or rest for over the 24 hours of the birth. I only realized how tired and stressed he was during the administration of the epidural. It didn’t work and the anesthetist had to keep topping it up with drugs. While my spine was being stabbed by a big needle, I saw Sean out the corner of my eye looking sick, traumatized and exhausted, and I felt terrible that I could have done this to him. This moment was probably a turning point in my understanding of how important proper midwifery support is for women and their partners when birthing.
Once the epidural was in place, I was trolleyed up to theatre for a caesarean. In the lift I kept telling staff how I could still feel pain and I became terrified I was going to have to have a caesarian with a failed epidural and no pain relief. Luckily Ill never know whether it was just my imagination or that the epidural had failed as on the theatre table, the obstetrician announced he would try a forcep birth. I blacked out at this stage and found myself in a warm bright place like a beach on a hot day, I would have stayed there if it hadn’t been Seans voice saying, “look its our boy” over and over again. There on my chest was a beautiful robust boy looking straight up at us, locking in eye contact and we both fell immediately in love with him.
A few hours after the birth Max was whisked away and I was put back into the room I had laboured in, as it was late and there must have been no room in the normal ward. So when I woke at dawn disorientated I found myself glued to my bed from blood, wired into a drip and felt too scared to move. My baby was nowhere to be found and in rooms surrounding me, there were three different women screaming in labour pain. I found a button to ring, and a harassed midwife poked her head in and said told me that as I was alright, everyone was too busy to help me and someone would be there as soon as possible. It dawned on me as I lay there that labour wards can resemble a war zone, and I felt extremely sorry for the staff having to go to work under such high stress. It just seemed so wrong when the birth process should be honored and protected as the most spectacular life event a family experiences.
Eventually a nurse did come in and almost shouted at me that I had to go to the toilet and have a shower, I can still remember her vividly after eleven years glaring at me from the doorway as if I had a contagious disease. Later one of my sisters came by and I burst into tears and asked her to find my baby, which she did and once I had Max in my arms I didn’t really care where I was. We stayed in hospital for 7 days as I could hardly walk. This was partially due to the wounds of the high forceps birth but also due to some huge hemorrhoids caused from me trying to push, even though I had no urge because I believed the midwife when she had told me I was ready to push!.
On the first morning at the hospital, I started talking to my roommate who was about to be discharged. I expressed my amazement at what women experience when birthing and` wondered if it would ever be possible for me to walk or sit up again. She commiserated with me and explained how she had had a birth just like me the first time, swore she couldn’t ever do it again and so had organized with her obstetrician to have a caesarian this time. Shocked as I listened to this, I promised to myself if surgery was the only solution to a better birth, I would rather not have any more children.
This is the first time in eleven years that I have written all this down, and as I look at it I feel ashamed that I am dwelling on the negative aspects of the birth of our wonderful son, who has really only brought extreme joy to our lives. Ill also never forget, the honeymoon feel of Sean, Max and I snuggled together in a hospital bed during that first week, the lovely family and friend visits and support of some of the staff at the hospital.
But there is one more awful incident I feel compelled to describe. On the third day, commonly known as the baby blues day, my eyes kept being drawn to the window and I had thoughts of how it would be best for Max and I to jump out of it. This is not like me and was petrifying. I have never felt like this before or after and believe it was the trauma of the whole situation that led me to feeling like that. It was the ugliness of these thoughts that drove me to respecting the fragility of a newly birthed mother and how important after birth support is for her.
It was over three years before I even considered having another baby. The sheer pleasure Max brought us gradually eroded away my fear and I started to consider how nice it would be to try again. There was also another aspect to my evolving attitude to birth and that was meeting some women who had had homebirths. It was a revelation to me when somebody showed me her birthing photos and treated them like a celebration. I was fascinated. A number of these women formed deep life long friendships with me and I found myself admiring their belief in themselves as capable women and mothers.
Once I was pregnant with Ella, I began to plot a plan to save my baby, husband and myself from the terror we experienced in the hospital. These were the points we considered important for Ella’s birth: • Consistent support;
• Respect of the mothers role in the birthing process.
We settled for an independent midwife who also worked at the local hospital, to assist with the birth in the hospital. I carried a lot of emotional baggage through this pregnancy- and I have to thank my home-birth friends for supporting me through this and encouraging me to surrender to my birthing instincts. I also have to thank the independent midwife who had to work very hard at helping me be unafraid. She was amazing. My labor pains began around 3.00 am in the morning. They were light and regular so by dawn, Sean and I decided to go walking on the beach. It was Australia Day, and bright and sunny with a festive holiday feel. When the contractions started to grow stronger I jumped into the gentle whitewash. I always tell Ella that she really tried to be born on the beach because by the time we were headed towards home, I really felt like I was in labor. It was so different from the first time because I was active and moving.
I had not arranged to have a home birth and planned to take the midwife into hospital with me. I had also organized a close supportive friend to be with us. By lunch time I was laboring in our home, surrounded by a circle of friends and family. Max and Sean’s family was in the kitchen cooking cakes for the new baby. Little cousins were running happily through the house and there was a happy excited vibe in the air. By the time my waters broke naturally, the last place I wanted to go was to hospital.
There was a distinct moment during the birth where Sean was trying to put everything in the car for the trip to the hospital, and I made the choice to stay home because I knew that it was me that was going to have to birth this baby and it didn’t matter who was there or where I was. I cannot explain the feeling that came with this thought but it was powerful and a feeling that every mother deserves to feel when birthing.
And so Ella was born at home. In a pool of bright sunshine in our lounge room, with the care of a independent midwife, and Ella’s big brother, father, cousins, aunts, nanny and friends. After the birth I was nurtured with a plate of lovingly prepared food, I bathed with my baby in our bath and curled up with her in our bed with the happy noises of family and friends elsewhere in the house. Bliss.
Ella was born 7 years ago, and since then we have lived in the UK for a couple of years, developed a business and moved to a rural property to live in a house with an alternate power system. Our home is also perched up on a hill with a dirt road that becomes boggy in the rain. Sean and I were also starting to nudge 40 and didn’t really think we were going to have any more children. We felt sad that we hadn’t had more children as it had become obvious to us as our children grew that nothing came close to the pleasure we had from Max and Ella. Therefore, this third pregnancy came with great excitement.
Given our remote geographic location, the place of birth became a dilemma. Independent midwives are expensive and so we decided that we would have a public hospital birth despite being in a private medical fund. I then believed that it wouldn’t really matter how I gave birth as I believed all I had to do was protect myself from loosing control. Accordingly I booked into the local hospital and was excited to find they had a midwife program where you built up a relationship with a team of midwives- one of which would remain with you for the entire birth. To be enrolled on this program and to be registered in the hospital, I needed to be checked by the hospital obstetrician. I had also seen this obstetrician for genetic counseling after the ultrasounds that had identified that Olly would have a low chance of having a birth defect.
The pregnancy was going well, there was no sign of the gestational diabetes and the baby was active and growing consistently. But the confidence I felt was apparently not shared with the obstetrician. In a conversation more similar to a bizarre power game than a consultation, the obstetrician told me that I could not go on the independent midwife program as I wished. No explanation for why accompanied this verdict. When questioned he told me that the reason why was because I was “high risk”. I immediately thought this must be because of my age of 39. But that apparently wasn’t it; after much questioning he admitted it was the large size of my past two babies, and the as the program was so new and part of a research program, it could not afford to have any high risk births. Since then I have heard rumors that there are some politics involved this program, and that may have been the reason such a random excuse was found.
Once again I found myself on a similar crossroad to one I had been on eleven years ago with Max. The last time I had placed myself into the hands of these medical experts I lost all ability to give birth. In doing so I became powerless to protect my baby and give him a safe birth. It was then essentially left to the medical world to ensure he was born safely.
It was agonizing trying to work out what to do. One comment made by a GP who was also pregnant clinched it for me. She said that when she was giving birth previously and had known all the midwives at the hospital, she had drawn up a list of midwives names she didn’t want in the labor room. How on earth could I do that if I didn’t even know any of the midwives?
It seemed to me that in order to provide a safe birth I needed a strategy that allowed me to be proactive. The cost of an independent midwife now seemed irrelevant compared to the potential cost of a disastrous birth. With Seans support I contacted Marie Heath, an independent midwife. I knew her from some friends’ births. At our first meeting, I could quickly see that she would be perfect for Ollys birth. She was highly experienced and a fantastic listener who understood and respected my needs. Over the next few months as we got to know each other better, I knew that I could trust Marie’s judgment. This was important because if the obstetrician was right and this was a high risk pregnancy, I thought I might need Marie to make medical decisions for me during the birth.
One interesting observation I can also make at this time was the money-making industry surrounding pregnant women in the Illawarra area. During the pregnancy I had 3 ultrasounds at 10 weeks, 12 weeks and 18 weeks, at the local ultrasound service owned by the head obstetrician (the same one I had seen) at the hospital. These ultrasounds gathered important information involving dating, and the health of my baby, although this should be weighed up by any parent against the unknown side effects of ultrasounds. Each of these ultrasounds was costly, but partially claimable on Medicare, and therefore mostly paid by the government. I didn’t have a problem with paying my portion for these as I appreciated the information. However, around 32 weeks I was advised by the GP that in order to give birth at the hospital, all women had to have a “Welfare Scan”. Of course I did not bother as it seemed to me yet another excuse to over “medicalise” the birthing process and possibly pay off the expensive ultrasound machinery. So I booked into another hospital at Marie’s advice.
Olly’s birth began at 3.00 am, a week before I turned 40. I had had an inkling that something could happen before going to bed and woke to light but comfortable cramps. Sean woke too and we decided to time the cramps. However before we even had time to do this, my waters dramatically broke. The contractions were still not painful but started to escalate. I still thought I might have a lot of time but Sean encouraged me to phone Marie- which I did. We organized to meet at the hospital.
Now I was finding that with each contraction I would need to kneel. Remembering the pain I had with the other births I started to tell myself to let go with each contraction, as the pain was my friend and taking me closer to that wonderful moment when you can hold the baby.
It was a clear crisp night with lots of stars. I waited next to the car while Sean bundled the excited kids into the car. While waiting I found it very comfortable to hang off a branch of a large red cedar tree next to the car during the contractions. I think that I could have just stayed like that if we hadn’t planned to go to the hospital.
We dropped Max and Ella with their cousins- planning to have them brought down in the morning and hopefully attend the birth. Max had really enjoyed seeing Ella being born and both were looking forward to Ollys birth. I had thought it was pointless to have them there for the long night of labour which I believed lay ahead.
On the way, we also picked up a friend to be our support person; she brought a box of goodies I had planned with her- candles, incense, nice teas etc. I spent the trip crouching on the back seat, chatting between the contractions which were now getting too strong to be able to talk during.
We arrived at the hospital before Marie, who was about 20 minutes behind us. The room was beautiful as it is a new hospital with large baths. At this time another midwife came in to borrow a weighing machine holding a freshly newborn baby. Just by looking at this baby my labour seemed to refocus and settle into serious work, and I climbed into the bath. Being in the water helped but the turning point occurred when Marie arrived. The midwife in charge of the room had been telling me to try out some positions whereas Marie just worked with me and my needs. She knew how to form a protective circle around me where I felt safe and empowered to give birth. This seemed to make things go very fast. I had been cut with Maxs birth and tore with Ellas so I was very aware of listening to Maries advice, as she facilitated my pushing.
Within this powerful circle of security, Olly was born only 3 ½ hours after the first small labour twinge. He was born under water and came out peacefully with not a mark of trauma on his body. For a moment he lay in my arms blue and not moving as under water they do not take a breath. As he took his first breath we were there looking into his face, holding him and falling in love with our third child. We hadn’t had time to burn incense, drink teas, put on music or organize for Max and Ella to be there.
I didn’t tear and we were admitted out of hospital 4 ½ hours after being admitted into the hospital. On Ollys first night, we sat next to our fire, cuddling our little baby. The most amazing thing for me is how intact I was after Ollys birth. I was mobile and felt like I could conquer the world. Olly has also been an easy baby. He has slept through the night at three weeks old and settling very easily during the day. He has been delightful for all of us. Max and Ella are besotted with him. Olly has just started to laugh and we can all spend hours trying to see who gets the best laugh. He is a lucky little baby.
I have Marie to thank for the glorious babymoon we have had. Her support continued for over 6 weeks. I had forgotten a lot of things, including how to breast feed a new born baby. Both other times I had experienced severe mastitis but under Marie’s care- my nipples didn’t even blister. Her advice on settling was fantastic too. It’s amazing how quickly you forget how specialized newborn care is, and its reassuring to have the advice of an experienced midwife during this time.
So this is the end of my children’s birthing stories. From the journey these births have given me I believe every birth is special as it honors life and there is absolutely no reason why anyone doesn’t deserve the best support during birthing.