My story, is about taking back power in birth – it isn’t going to look the same for everyone, but this was my process. I am a c-section, Vaginal birth after caesarean (VBAC) and homebirth mama. My journey started out with a traumatic birth and ended with the most empowered experience I could ever imagine. My baby, born at home, on my terms.
Birth is transformational. It can really change a woman for better or worse. As first time mums we don’t know what the experience is going to be like. Some of us go into birth educated about our choices and have a wealth of information to draw on, but for a lot of us there is a degree of ambiguity.
I was 24 when I had [my first daughter] Bela and I thought I knew it all. I thought I was going to be a birthing goddess and have this beautiful natural birth. Even though I planned on birthing in the hospital, I had it in my head it was going to be amazing. Some of it was amazing but most of it was and utterly exhausting.
I truly believed I was going to go in to labour early and every day that that didn’t happen I go more and more anxious and frustrated in my body. I ended up going into labour at 41w+1 on the Friday night and Bela was born Sunday morning. I stayed at home labouring for all day Saturay. My midwife was very present but it was pretty intense. We went into hospital at about 9:00 pm Saturday and I got straight into the water.
I got to 9 cm dilated I had a cervical lip that just wasn’t moving. At this point, I was put on the bed and told they were going to get a trace of baby for 20 mins. I ended up being left for 2 hours and got so fed up with it all that I just jumped off the bed. All the monitors fell off and alarms went off everywhere because obviously they thought baby’s heart had bottomed out. Doctors and midwives came rushing in, “what’re you doing?”.
I told them I was sick and tired of being on my back. I got told off for getting off the bed and was made to lie back down for an internal examination where they found out I had dilated backwards. I honestly put this down to stress. I was vomiting with every single contraction, I was incredibly dehydrated and I only had my hubby and mum in the room with me so I felt very stressed out.
It was then decided I was going to have a caesarean. I was made to sign stuff and told I had to have a catheter put in; not asked, told. I asked if they could put it in when I in surgery and the midwife’s reply was, “well you’re going to have to get it done anyway so I’m just going to get it done now”. And then suddenly I was being shaved and there was no asking for my permission, no warning. It’s like all of this stuff just gets done to you, I remember feeling so vulnerable.
I think it was about 45 minutes between being told I was having a c-section to Bela being born. After 31 hours in labour, I was suddenly a Mama to my first baby girl, Izabela.
As she was lifted out, I was told ‘her cord was wrapped three times around her neck, she would have died if you had pushed.’ At the time I felt relieved, my baby was here safely. But now, now I question if that was the case, or just a way to make me feel better about the situation that I was in. I couldn’t hold her for quite some time so my husband Gareth (then boyfriend) sat next to me holding Bela while I was being stitched up. I was wheeled into recovery and suddenly I was being stripped off and my baby shoved on my breast- that first latch counts for so much.
It has taken me 10 years to acknowledge that I experienced birth trauma. I am truly conflicted when I think about how I felt about being a new mum after that first birth and the impact it had on forming mine and Bela’s relationship. Even to this day, our relationship can be quite testing and sometimes doesn’t feel natural and I do believe that our birth experience plays a huge part in that.
Breastfeeding was terrible and all in all, I feel like I was really let down. I was told its normal that my baby vomit up pink milk, that my nipples were cracked and bleeding and that the pain was excruciating. I cried every time I had to feed, my toes curled, my left nipple was torn so deeply that it was almost off. There was nothing normal about my breastfeeding experience and I didn’t know where to go for help, so I gave up.
After my c-section, ‘my’ obstetrician (who I had never met) came in to give me a check up. He took a look at me and said, “you’re really small so I wouldn’t recommend you ever try and have a vaginal birth.” That ended up being a big motivator for me to go on to try for a VBAC.
I was able to do this five years later with Quinn.
I had a miscarriage and an ectopic pregnancy where I lost a tube before falling pregnant with Quinn, so I was so vulnerable and knew I needed so much support as I headed into a future pregnancy. Once pregnant again, I found a brilliant midwife who really backed me and supported my decision for a vaginal birth after caesarean (VBAC). It is important to have a supportive team on your side for a VBAC because they are quite uncommon (this is really unfortunate and hence my passion for taking control of our birth story).
When you’re a VBAC mum, there’s all of these rules and as a result I had to go see an obstetrician at around 30 weeks. I was told that when I go into labour I have to head straight to hospital and be admitted, I had to be constantly monitored (although I stipulated the monitoring needed to be portable so I could get into the water ) and I had to have an IV line put in as soon as I arrived.
Now all of these rules come from the risk, that as a c-section mum, your uterus may rupture during delivery: but realistically this is a risk for all mothers. The chances of rupture are 1.5% but there is no focus put on the 98.5% chance of a successful vaginal delivery without rupture.
I like to think of it as, if you told a heart patient there was a 1.5% chance they may die during life-saving surgery but a 98.5% chance of survival: you’re going to encourage them to have the surgery. Yet mums are encouraged to have a repeat caesarean instead of trying for a vaginal delivery.
When opting for a VBAC, you don’t have autonomous birthing power in a hospital setting. You can make the rules as much as you’d like during pregnancy, but once you go through those hospital doors, you’ll be put on a 12 hour clock and if you aren’t progressing or your body is taking longer to dilate, then they’re going to start putting pressure on you to have a repeat c-section.
After the OB consult, I went back to my midwife and said I consent to the monitoring but that’s it. If it got to the point where they needed to put an IV line in, surely that can be done pretty quickly. She was excellent and agreed with my decision.
I had prodromal (early) labour from 39-40 weeks and this was exhausting. I started to lose my nerve for a VBAC because I began to believe that maybe my body wasn’t working, I wasn’t going to perform and I wasn’t going to end up with a vaginal birth after all. In the end, at 40 weeks, I decided I’d had enough and I booked a repeat c-section for 5 days later. My midwife gave me a stretch and sweep while I was there.
I left the hospital and headed into the mall with my mum and my daughter Bela and went into full blown labour at the mall. I was that lady walking around the mall having contractions. I even had a woman come up to me in Glassons and say, “are you okay?!”
I laboured at home for a few hours and my midwife came over and hung out. When we went into the hospital, she was really respectful of my choices and knew what I wanted. At one point near the end, I asked for an epidural because it had gotten so intense and she very smartly fluffed around. I was in the water (which I didn’t actually enjoy for Quinn’s birth) so she helped me out of the pool but I had to be monitored for 30 minutes before they’d do an epidural.
She performed an internal (I was about 7cms) and asked me to go to the bathroom. My waters broke when I was in the bathroom (which was her hope all along) and I went from 7 to 10cm immediately because my waters had been bulging and were in the way of my cervix.
I started pushing instantly. If you’ve never heard of the foetal ejection reflex, it is when your body just starts pushing your baby out and you have no control over it. It took a while for me to get into a rhythm with my body pushing because it was happening every contraction, but once I was in rhythm, Quinn was born very quickly (20 minutes and out she shot).
I had my VBAC.
I felt so amazing afterwards. I had a small tear because she came out so fast but it was such a beautiful experience and I felt like I had some of myself back. Because we thought Quinn was our last baby, I had to put a lot of work into accepting that that was my best birth.
I was diagnosed with postnatal depression when Quinn was around 4 months old. I put so much pressure on myself to be a better Mum to Quinn than I was to Bela, that I judged myself and everything I did. I longed to breastfeed Quinn but again, through lack of support, I felt like I failed. I know better now, I know that I was failed.
When we fell pregnant with Mila, it was a big shock to my hubby and I. We weren’t planning her and hubby didn’t want her. I really had to fight for that pregnancy. I had to fight for me to have the power in my birth (just a quick sidenote: I am a notorious people pleaser but a recovering one now!). But with this third pregnancy, right from conception, I had to fight for my baby’s life and I think that’s what set me up for the birth that I did have. Every part of that pregnancy and delivery, I was fighting for MY power.
I fought for her and could’ve lost my marriage but we worked through it. At 16 weeks I went along to a Home Birth Canterbury event. My midwife had previously suggested a homebirth but I’d vehemently said it wasn’t for me. I would of loved to birth in the hospital’s birthing centres but if you’re a VBAC mum, the option isn’t open to you. I’d even had a successful VBAC – but the option still wasn’t open to me.
The Home Birth Canterbury event completely changed my perspective and I went home to Gareth and said, “we’re going to have a baby at home”. He said I was crazy and that we had to be in a hospital because I’ve had a c-section and something might go wrong. I pushed back and said “no, it’s my body and my choice. You just have to be here.” He rolled his eyes but he supported my choice.
One of the biggest regrets I have is not being proud of my decision to birth my baby at home. When telling the family about my decision they were shocked and judgemental and I don’t feel like I truly owned my decision with pride. I wasn’t particularly celebrated for having my baby at home and I really wish that I was, because I felt like a total rockstar!
I knew that healing me, meant I had to be making the rules. I wanted to be at home because I wanted it to be about me and my baby, no one else. It was a wonderful experience and my midwife basically just observed me during the entire labour, there was no interference. There was no reason to see how dilated I was and thus no need for an internal because there wasn’t someone in the hospital corridors tracking my progress. All we needed to know was that my body was doing its job. And visually we saw the progression and my body was progressing.
It was the most phenomenal experience birthing my baby at home. I was in the water and I did it all myself. I caught her and pulled her up to me and two minutes later Bela was there meeting her baby sister. That was one of the most special moments for our family and I know for Bela too.
For me, a home birth was about taking back my power and being in charge. Labour and birth is absolutely transformational for a woman. For some, it doesn’t touch us but for me, I know this is my passion and this is where I’m meant to be int the world: helping women overcome their trauma and re-write their birth story.
For some people, their birth story and taking back their power might be, “I’m going to be induced at 38 weeks, I’m going to get an epidural and I want to be in the ward ASAP”. And that is okay. Because as long as you are making those decisions and you are choosing that for your birth then you’ll be left feeling empowered. The same goes for electing to have a repeat c-section – as long as you have been given all of the information and are making a really informed decision, the choice is yours and you will feel empowered.
Which brings me to another point: as women we are so capable of birthing our babies and the medical system has taken that confidence away from us and made us believe that we need intervention and pain relief, but it’s just not the case.
I would also say that the biggest thing for first time mum or a fourth time mum’s is to really believe in yourself and have a team behind you who are actually going to support you. Saying “no” is entirely okay and if you feel pressured into what the hospital system wants, you have a voice and need to advocate for yourself and your baby.
I want my story to highlight that you can take back your power after an emergency cesarean and that you can make the decisions that allow you to have the beautiful birth that you choose and visualise. My third birth came to fruition because I took control of my birth and my situation. I rewrote my birth story and had the exact birth I imagined I would have for my first- I just took it one step further and birthed her in the comfort of my own home. I now knew exactly what a calm, love filled birth felt like and it changed my life.