The birth that changed me

I get asked sometimes, why I wanted to be a Doula. I was 10 when my youngest brother was born, and I remember clearly, helping my mum sort through the baby clothes as we awaited his arrival. I fed him his bottle, changed him and took him for walks and I had an inkling then of how amazing this whole process was. When I found out I was pregnant with my first child, I was thrilled, but I was also young, naïve and unprepared. All my births were amazing – of course they were! But having 3 successive breech babies, resulting in 3 successive caesarean births wasn’t what I’d hoped for. Even when I was pregnant with my first, people asked me if I was scared of the actual ‘giving birth’ bit. I wasn’t, I couldn’t wait to experience it. But this was 14 years ago and she was breech. Despite reflexology, endless amounts of time spent on all fours and an ECV, she stubbornly remained breech and I was told I needed to have a caesarean. She was perfect, happy and healthy, and the experience was largely positive, but it wasn’t the vaginal birth I’d wanted.

My second baby was equally as stubborn! But I fought this time for my right to go in to labour naturally before agreeing to a caesarean birth for my second breech baby (I was told I would ‘have to have’ a caesarean and that it didn’t suit their theatre schedule to not book me in). The ultimate rush of joy I felt when I rolled over in the middle of the night and felt my waters go – the fist pump of success as I began to have surges, I felt like I’d won the battle, if not the war. Labour progressed quickly, but ultimately I was taken for an emergency caesarean as the consultant had dictated. At 37 weeks, our son was born, a tiny scrap at 5lb 7oz. Underweight – but he’d somehow managed to be born with 2 teeth… Happy with this small victory of experiencing labour and having this beautiful baby boy, I set about enjoying my children.

Then my third breech baby. Preparing myself for the inevitable fight to again resist a scheduled caesarean, I felt incredibly lonely. I even looked in to private midwives, but the cost was something we just couldn’t cover. The word Doula, and what this meant crept in to my consciousness though and I briefly imagined what it must feel like to have someone who supported you and your informed decisions 100%. Eventually I decided that I knew enough to fight my own corner, and alongside a change in hospital policies, it was agreed that we would wait for labour to start and see if we could birth this breech baby vaginally. Again, labour came on quickly after my waters broke and the surges were fierce. This time my consultant was Dutch, I wanted to have a vaginal breech birth, baby was Frank breech and she couldn’t see the problem. She told me that in her country, breech was just viewed as a different presentation- not necessarily an immediate cause for a caesarean.  The urge to push was building in me and when they examined me, a foot was dangling… whilst the other remained extended up by her head. This particular feat of acrobatics led to my third caesarean birth. Closer every time – but ultimately thwarted.

I found out I was pregnant with my fourth baby a few days after my unique and beloved Grandpa died. We had always wanted four children, but hadn’t been planning our fourth and final just yet (we’d actually booked a family holiday to Italy and yep, you guessed it – the EDD fell right in the middle of our holiday there!) But it felt fatalistic, I very quickly accepted that this was greater than me, and with that came a relaxation and release. This was the birth that changed everything for me. (It’s important for mums who want a VBAC or Vaginal Birth After Caesarean to hear first hand how it can not only be achieved, but achieved with no interventions – and even after 3 previous caesareans!)

I can’t tell you how much of my previous pregnancies were given over to trying to get a baby that was head down, but I think I tried every trick in the book. This time, the only thing left that I hadn’t previously tried, was seeing an osteopath. I saw her when I was 12 weeks and she was positive that she could help. Having suffered migraines that increased with each pregnancy, I was also terrified about that happening, but actually, it was probably my easiest pregnancy.

At a 28 week scan (done purely so that I could check position) she was breech. I waited to be hit with the wave of disappointment, but it didn’t come.  To a certain extent, this was all happening out of my control, and I had already accepted that. The next morning I had a routine midwife check-up, baby was head down. I burst in to tears and phoned my husband, sobbing (not advisable if you don’t want to immediately send them in to a panic!)

I saw the osteopath a few more times, she had ‘opened’ up my pelvis and in doing so – gave so much room to my baby, but she always returned head down.

We did go to Italy (we brought the holiday forward, but I flew back at the limit for pregnant women – 36+6) I loved it, my husband however, worried that the baby would come at any moment (after all, our son was born at 37 weeks) did NOT! One night during our holiday I did experience quite intense Braxton hicks and I was sick, but I still didn’t worry – I just didn’t tell my husband.

We got home from Italy and immediately moved house, but this little baby stayed put – knowing instinctively that now wasn’t the time to come.

The day before my EDD we had friends over. It was a blustery, sunny Saturday in June. The children and I made cakes in the morning, and then I did bacon sandwiches for everyone for lunch. I had a few Braxton Hicks throughout the day, but that wasn’t unusual. The children played outside and my friend and I chatted happily together. Around 2pm I found myself instinctively sitting on my birth ball, rotating in slow circles and figures of 8. I’d been to the toilet a few times (after 6 months on iron tablets – this was a very happy, welcome occurrence) But it didn’t occur to me that I may be in labour – my waters had always broken first, and I just assumed it would be the same this time. Around 2.45pm my friend took her son and returned home ‘you’re being weird’ she told me, she saw what I hadn’t, I was beginning to ‘go in’ and those Braxton Hicks? Well, they were picking up. Around 3pm, I thought I’d time them just to see. They were every 5 minutes, sometimes less, but I felt fine. I was feeling them, leaning over the worktop, breathing through them, swaying with them. I phoned the hospital, the midwife said ‘if you feel ok, then you can just stay at home for a bit longer’. Then I told her I was going for a VBAC after 3 previous caesarean births.. She quickly changed her mind and told me to come in straight away.

I went out to get my husband; he was in the middle of building a trampoline for the children and had been completely unaware that I’d even been having surges. He looked utterly bemused when I said we needed to go to hospital because I thought I was in labour! Before we left, I went and got the washing in off the line, by now it was gone 4pm and the surges required my absolute attention when they rippled through me, but I managed them easily. So easily, that I was convinced we’d get to hospital, they’d check me and say it was still really early, and send me home again. We didn’t even bother taking the baby car seat with us.

I walked through the hospital doors at 5.05pm, the car ride had been uncomfortable, but bearable. A few powerful surges hit me in quite quick succession and I was taken in to the assessment ward. I stood, looking out of the window and remember talking with total clarity to my husband before a tremendous power rolled through me, I growled at him to rub my lower back – hard.

I felt removed from the situation whilst retaining and respecting the absolute power of my body. That powerful surge broke my waters, and I sent my husband to find a midwife. He returned  saying they were coming. The next surge brought such an intense need to bear down that I threw myself back on the bed – the first time I’d not been upright – but necessary to me because I genuinely thought she was going to fall out on to the floor!

At this point the midwife came in, I’d hurriedly removed my clothing, and so when she walked in to the room she was met with a roaring, naked woman, with a baby very obviously on its way. She panicked and quickly got another midwife, they were noticeably flustered, I was a VBAC – after 3 caesareans! They needed to do lots of monitoring/checks/observations, they needed to get me in a labour room – not in an open assessment ward! One went to get a wheelchair to transport me. I ignored them and gave myself over to my body, to instinct and primal power. Meanwhile, I continued to roar her out, I put my hand down and felt her head, I roared again and I felt that beautifully satisfying sensation of a baby slithering smoothly out of your body. Utter bliss! She was lifted up on to my chest and my husband, shell shocked beside me (an hour ago he was building a trampoline? How had this happened?!) stroked my hair and was speechless. I laughed and beamed and said ‘I knew I could do it!’ My body throbbed with joy. Her cord was left to pulsate before I birthed the placenta – an odd feeling of trying to contract against something that offers no resistance. The midwives, breathing sighs of relief, finally got me in to a labour room. We looked at my placenta, I marvelled at its beautiful intricacy. I felt like I was on top of the world, I felt vindicated. That trust and faith I’d put in my body and baby had been rewarded. I briefly thought of the consultant who told me he couldn’t veto my ‘crackpot’ idea of trying for a VBAC after 3 caesarean births, I wanted to march in to his office and show him my baby – this thing that I just did, this ‘crackpot idea’ that had come off, spectacularly.

We were left on our own – bliss, after the constant interruptions and monitoring that is part and parcel of having a caesarean birth, no pressure cuff inflating on my arm, no wires leading everywhere, no loud, busy ward. We went home later that evening – the thought of being able to sleep in my own bed, my baby beside me, no additional major scar that I had to be super aware of, it didn’t feel real. The midwife later confessed that she’d been terrified of being assigned to me – the mad woman attempting a VBA3C, but that I’d actually been the easiest, most straightforward delivery she’d had that day. We left hospital at 9pm (we had to wait for my wonderful brother-in-law to bring the car seat we hadn’t thought we’d need yet) and drove to the nearest McDonalds – I was famished and sometimes a dirty burger is a necessity.  We just sat in the car and grinned at each other whilst our amazing newborn baby slept in the back. Everything had unfolded perfectly and I felt the old wounds of birth disappointments start to heal. My husband too – he’d lived through the pregnancies overshadowed by frustration at having to fight so hard to make my voice heard, the conflicting tears when , despite your best efforts your baby remains breech, against the guilt that you HAVE a baby – be thankful for that. He listened to me rant and rail, quietly supported me even when he wasn’t entirely comfortable. ‘I knew you would do it’ he said, shrugging with calm acceptance, knowing better than anyone how I’d longed for this.

I couldn’t wait to have my children wake up in the morning, come in to our room and see me, holding their new sister, full of joy and power. I didn’t sleep that night, not because she was awake –but because I couldn’t believe what I’d done, I felt like the luckiest person in the world and I closed my eyes and re-ran it in my mind time and time again. I kissed her, held her and thanked her for what she’d given me. And I knew that every woman should feel like this. Which isn’t to say it can only be achieved with a vaginal birth – any birth that YOU own and control, any birth where you are respected, listened to and your wishes honoured is a birth to celebrate. And this is the role of a Doula – to hold that space around you and make sure that YOU are empowered. Only you can give birth to your baby, we just need to support how you choose to do that, and what a privilege it is to do just that.

As we sat in the quietness of our bed, our daughter sleeping peacefully beside us just a few hours old, I asked my husband if he’d filmed it – he told me hadn’t had time. Our daughter, our fourth child and third daughter had been born at 5:17pm, precisely 12 minutes after I’d walked in to the hospital.