Pia’s story is not in itself remarkable, but in the context of Max’s birth, and all that has happened in between, it is very remarkable for me. I think it’s really important to share birth stories – the good bits and the bad bits. It’s cathartic, and reassuring, and a good record for later when your memory fades and the details become obscured. I also want to tell this because in a way it explains why I needed the information on ARM, why it was important, and for all those other women who want to try VBAC (Vaginal Birth After C-section).
Nearly 4 years ago I gave birth to Max. It was supposed to be a drug free, natural water birth. That’s what I hoped for anyway. Hospital management systems decided otherwise, and when at 11 days overdue my body still showed no signs of going into labour, and I was worn out and loosing confidence every day to do it naturally, it was decided we should induce. Induction with prostin gel led to concentrated labour of intense pain, but little strength in contractions, slow moving labour, constant monitoring, additional drug use with syntocinin drip, more drawn out labour, a change of midwives at the end of the crucial first stage, a new midwive considerably less interested in me and the baby and who asked me to push against my will and against contractions, and the end result a c-section. I think we did every form of invasive drug related medicalised birthing possible – except forceps or ventouse for which I am still grateful. The trauma of the birth caught up with me a few days later when more drama hit the shared post natal ward in numerous forms, and the well latching baby decided to not latch well, and breastfeeding took a downward spiral to anxiety, distress, lack of bonding with Max, hysteria, shredded nipples, and the decision to stop in order to save my fledgling relationship with my son. Down the track, PND set in, and a lot of it had to do with the breastfeeding and birth. All of this could have been avoided with proper management, control, and people who cared enough to make it happen. So when I got pregnant with Pia, I was determined to make it a different experience, not matter what the outcome.
Many people assumed that because the first birth had been so traumatic, that the second one I would choose the ‘easy’ option and elect to have a c-section. But I was pretty convinced the birth went the way it did because of mismanagement, not because of a fault with my body. I read up what I could and where I could, and there seemed to be no reason not to birth naturally this time. I made sure I tapped into whatever support structures I needed at the hospital and through friends and the community. My hospital notes have many stickers and coloured pieces of paper on them highlighting past trauma and case management plans. My acupuncturist and osteopath became critical people in the support team. As did the antenatal councilor. I attended lactation classes determined to change that outcome as well.
I did all of this knowing that at a point half way through the pregnancy I had been told by a OB that my chances of delivering naturally after a c-section (VBAC) were slim, and that in his opinion I wouldn’t be able to do it. He used statistics rather than personal history to dictate outcomes. While I didn’t agree with him – I was sure if my body could just go into labour naturally it would do it’s stuff – it did ensure I covered the option of it not going naturally as well in my ‘planning’. VBAC does have it’s risks, and a lot of hospitals don’t support it. Luckily mine did. I knew I would have to work extra hard to ensure it happened as well. Hence the acupuncture eviction sessions, the desire to try everything I could before going through something more invasive. While I wasn’t terribly overdue when I posted for help with ARM, I needed to know what I might be in for at a later point if it got to that. And I thank everyone who responded in comments and privately. I got to replying to a number of you, and some of you (Leanne I am forever grateful to you for your words and confidence and support for someone you have never met) gave so much to me I cannot express my gratitude. I hope those I didn’t reply to understand things took off in the meantime….
So to Pia’s story: I had been in pre-labour for just over a week. Things stopped, started, stopped, started. I had a membrane sweep at 1cm dilated which started it all, and followed it up with regular acupuncture over 5 days. The acupuncture strengthened what was going on, but didn’t ever tip it over. I had a show a week before going into labour. I felt I was so close…..on the Friday at lunchtime I had another hospital appointment with a Dr – to check progress, and make any bookings for down the track. I didn’t want intervention, but I also realized that if it was going to come to that, I wanted control and calm surrounding it. I had dilated to 2-3cm. Slowly my body was doing things, and this was heartening. I never started dilating with Max. I kept trying to focus on advice from Cari and Leanne that all of this was good preparation work, all of it was leading me in the right direction. Another membrane sweep was done. I had been having mild widely spaced contractions through the morning, but nothing I hadn’t had in the week previous. I went home, had lunch, grabbed Max and went to meet Kristen at a local playground so the boys could run around. At about 4pm I started feeling more intense contractions, but let them play in the back of my mind and tried to ignore them. By 5.30pm I was thinking I’d rather be home, and Max was tired so we left. Had you registered what was happening Kristen??!! Once home I thought it might be good to time some of these contractions. So sat down, and got a few at 10 minutes apart. Again we had been here before, so I ignored them. However I did think to call Mr 6.5st and tell him to come home earlier rather than later, just in case. I was sure stress had stopped contractions progressing through the week, so when Mr 6.5st did come home I went to lie down and concentrate. 10 minutes, then suddenly 8 minutes. I couldn’t get a stable reading, and was starting to loose faith a little bit. Contractions are regular, right? These were ‘all over the place’. I wasn’t quite prepared for the contractions to be irregular because it was happening fast. By 7.30pm they were 6 minutes apart and I was wondering what I should do. Mainly at what point did I think it might be a good idea to call the hospital…..I rang a friend. She said, Alison, please go and ring the hospital now. I said, No, No, I’ll wait a little bit longer and see what they do. I went back upstairs. The trip upstairs via the bathroom leapt to 4 minutes apart and then 2-3 minutes apart instantly and I thought this might be a nice time to call the hospital. The contractions weren’t strong, and when talking to the midwive, she said to stay at home, I’d know when to come in. I went and packed what I hadn’t packed in my bag already. We got Max asleep, and eventually told Nonna 6.5st I was in labour.
And then it hit. Thwack. Intense contractions rolling over one another, gathering speed and intensity with each new one. I rang the hospital breathless, we rang for a taxi. And then, my mother called. In China for my brother's wedding we had no communication with her or other friends there because of bungled phone information. But at that moment my mother had got anxious about me, and borrowed a phone and called. We were walking out the door. It was 9.35. I was moving further and further into my own little world, concentrating solely on what was coming fast and breathing through it. The taxi took forever. I was shouting at Mr6.5st to forget the taxi, we have to drive NOW. And we only live 2 minutes away. And as I did so a taxi pulled up, and 1.5 minutes later I was attempting to stand up in reception at RPA and wishing the receptionist would hurry the hell up. I clocked in at 9.40pm, and 6cm dilated. That was all the confidence I needed. Asked what pain relief options I wanted to use, I said shower/bath and gas and air. We agreed to use the shower first. I barely made it into the delivery room and into a chair. I was not moving. Gas and Air please. The intensity of contractions was getting hard, fast, raw and painful. But it was all I could do to keep on top of them. After a few goes with gas and air I decided I wasn’t enjoying this and that I would stop it and see what the contractions were really doing. I didn’t like loosing the feeling of the contractions.
The primal noises coming out of me were alien, yet that’s what my body needed to do. I was not there. My eyes were shut, my body just surfed through the torrents of pain and pressure sweeping through it time after time. I had no idea where I was in the process, but the unbearable need to bear down suggested not far. I was ready for that epidural….and my waters broke. In came the midwives, and all I remember them saying as they entered mid primal scream, was ‘we’re having a baby’. Oh. So that’s how far along I was. What happened to the nice transition stage where the contractions stop. Ah. We seemed to have missed that one.
Bed. Hard. Legs stopped working. I believe I nearly knocked one of the midwives over with the force of one leg against her through a contraction. And then I was pushing. And pushing for all it’s worth. And the midwife was fantastic. Absolutely fantastic. Calm, and reassuring, and saying just the right things at just the right times. And then we were going to have a little cut, and I was going to pant. And the head, oh my the head - the head came out and I opened my eyes at last. And Oh My Lord there she came out. Just slithered out. And that was the most amazing thing ever. All I could say and do is stare in amazement and say Oh My Lord over and over in utter, utter amazement and surprise that I Did It.
I dit it. And I did it without drugs. My body worked. I proved people wrong. I did it for all those wanting to go VBAC. I got the perfect birth for me. I worked hard to get it. As one friend said to me through the week, I have never known anyone prepare so thoroughly to get the outcome they wanted. And this time I get to hold my baby, and bond instantly and deeply, and spend time with her in the first few weeks that I never had with Max*. And that in itself is fantastic.
(I’d like to say though that there are other reasons I never bonded straight away with Max, and that those same problems reared their ugly head again this time, but that’s another post, and it’s too raw even now 4 years later to talk about it without a lot of emotion).
Welcome to our lives Pia.