My requested (or rather demanded!) induction for my estimated 41 weeks and 3 days gestation, just 4 days before Christmas Day, had been approved.
My OB was someone that I considered to be the perfect care provider for me (and in hindsight she was, and had only grudgingly approved the induction for before 42 weeks – which is such a rarity these days!)
The hospital I had chosen to birth at was 40 minutes or so away from the home we had just bought in September, but that was all good because we had family and friends near it and a guaranteed place to stay for a couple of days after I was discharged before heading home to start our new life as family of 3.
I’d read every single pregnancy and birth book I could get my hands on locally, and had Googled the heck out of everything I could about vaginal birth – that was my goal of course!
I was going to have the perfect drug free labour.
It was going to only last maybe 24 hours at most.
Everything was going to go perfectly and nothing was going to go wrong – it couldn’t go wrong!
I was excited to finally meet our son.
And then the induction started.
The gel took 3 doses + the tape to get me from 0 dilated and 0% effaced to 1cm dilated and something effaced (even now, over 11 years later I still don’t know how much effacement had happened) between 7pm on the 21st and 9am on the 22nd of December, syntocinon was started around 9:30am that day after my waters were broken.
Cue a long, tiring, extremely painful induced labour that saw me very quickly getting an epidural – that slipped out of place late at night on the 22nd and left me with permanent nerve damage to the nerves where they joined my spinal cord – and then finally making it to 9cm dilated at 9am on the 23rd, and fully dilated and starting to, ineffectively, push shortly afterwards.
After somewhere between 2-3 hours of pushing and my son starting to have heart decels that were slow to recover once the syntocin-induced contractions had ended it was decided that a caesarean would be the best option – not by me though, I had adamantly refused it repeatedly, it was decided by my OB who went to my now husband and told him that if a caesarean wasn’t done our baby and myself would both die (and oh how ironic it was that she said that, because one of the anaesthetic medications in the spinal nearly did kill me while they were stitching me up!)
It was agreed that they would try the ventousse (vacuum) briefly in theatre, technically they were only meant to try it 3 times in total but I distinctly remember through my exhausted fugue the surgeon attaching it to my sons head at least 6 or 7 times before giving up.
The caesarean was, initially, very straight forward. I felt the tugging, the pulling, but did not feel any pain, and I was terrified and shaking and it all felt extremely surreal – like it was happening to someone else and I was looking in from the outside.
I saw my son briefly as they held him up over the blue drape before they whisked him over to the heated table to clean him up. He cried the moment he was out, then promptly pee’d on the surgeon. I got to touch his cheek briefly after he was cleaned and wrapped up before he and my husband were taken away to the nursery (there was no skin-on-skin in theatre back then) and shortly after that I nearly died.
My vision went black and I remember trying to tell the anaesthetist that I couldn’t breathe a few times before he finally heard me and then I lost consciousness.
My blood pressure had bottomed out while I was being stitched up. I was later told that they were worried that they’d have to do full CPR before they were able to get it back up. Not the kind of thing you really want to hear right after you’ve woken up after having major surgery. I was also told that I’d never be able to give birth vaginally, that my pelvis was “too small and the wrong shape” for vaginal birth. I’d need caesareans forever afterwards and they would not “allow” me to have more than 3 caesareans at most.
I eventually recovered – 6 whole long months of pain before I reached my “new” normal.
At around 3 months postpartum I threw myself into planning my next birth. My next birth HAD to be better than what I had gone through with my first, the whole experience of an emergency caesarean had traumatised me so greatly that just the thought of needing another one left me anxious and feeling very panicky.
I found out that vaginal birth after caesarean (VBAC) WAS an option for me, that the “diagnosis” of my pelvis being too small and the wrong shape (cephalo-pelvic disproportion, or CPD) was so rare that it only affected 2% of the population in the western world and could not be diagnosed from just one birth alone or even during a caesarean.
I aimed to have a VBAC, even when I was diagnosed with whooping cough at 16 weeks gestation and then gestational diabetes at 30 weeks and put on insulin at 35 weeks I still aimed for a VBAC. That was my plan, my goal, my whole reason for living while battling undiagnosed PND – resulting from that first unplanned caesarean birth - during my next pregnancy.
Did I have a VBAC?
I sure as hell did! 4 hours & 43 minutes of labour, no syntocin, induced at my request solely by having my waters broken, only 20 minutes of pushing. My 2nd child was born vaginally at 40+2 and was my smallest child at what, to me at least, seemed a teeny tiny 8pd/3.65kg (my son was 8pd 3, 3.774kg, when born at 41+5).
And it was how my first birth should have been and wasn’t.
It was healing.
It was how I’d always imagined my births would go.
I was respected. I was supported.
I made all the choices and decisions myself and none of them were taken out of my hands and made by anyone else.
It was how birth should be for everyone – respectful, caring, supportive and following the birthing persons lead.
I had picked a new supportive care provider (not my original OB who had travelled to Tibet for volunteer work by then) who respected my wishes, who didn’t push anything on me, who left all decisions in my hands and who treated me respectfully as a human being with thoughts, feelings, knowledge and the ability to make the right choices for me and my baby.
Like with my first birth I didn’t have a written birth plan, but this time I did have a plan that I had discussed many times with my care provider so that I knew, and could trust, that he was on board and supportive of what I wanted.
I sit here typing this all out now, remembering my first and second births as my 2nd child’s 9th birthday approaches, March 30th, thinking about the long journey that I had along the way.
And I am also thinking of all the mothers who were left disappointed, feeling broken, had their choices and bodily autonomy taken from them during their own births, like mine was during my 1st and 3rd births.
I remember why I entered into this field of doula work, birth work, and why it means so much to me.
I remember the student midwife who supported me so well during my 1st birth even when everything went to crap, and the other student midwife who supported me during my 2nd birth - I only remember her first name, Elise, because it is my 2nd child’s name as well, and though I had picked that name out many many years before I saw it as a good omen that the student midwife who supported me the way that I, as a doula, would have wanted to be supported from another doula bore the same name (MANY MANY THANKS TO YOU ELISE! I always wanted to thank you in person afterwards and wasn’t able to, I hope that you will see this one day and will know how very grateful I was, and still am, for your support during my first VBAC).
I also find myself wishing that more women, more birthing people, were able to experience the kind of respectful support and care that I was given during my 2nd pregnancy and birth.
As both a mother and a doula I have become somewhat jaded towards obstetricians over the years – I have experienced disrespectful and outright abusive care and treatment as a birthing person (#metoo #sayNOtoobstetricabuse), and I have witnessed, oh so many damn times, the way that many care providers act and speak in order to make their patients do what they want them to do – and yes, I have reported those who needed reporting. I have had to bite my tongue so many times – it’s not my job to argue with a care provider in the exam rooms, my job is to support and educate the person I am supporting so that she can do that herself if she wishes to! – until I’m outside and able to let loose those condemning words that I’ve held inside.
I have also witnessed amazing, respectful care, just like what I had received from the obstetrician that I chose for my 2nd birth, too. And while it isn’t often that I witness it, it still gives me hope. There are still respectful care providers out there.
They might be few and far between, the proverbial Unicorns of the Obstetric world, but they DO exist.
Their rarity is part of the reason why I do what I do.
Why I have chosen to support women, to support birthing people, to support new and growing families.
I have, as a mother, been on both ends of the spectrum of hospital based maternity care and also right in the middle of that spectrum too – I have received respectful care, received completely average care and received bloody awful care – and that gives me something unique that my clients can and do benefit from. I have that knowledge learned from experience of what birth usually is in a hospital setting, what it could be, what it can be and also what it’s like when it’s really fucking crap.
Have you been on the receiving end or amazing care? Or have you been on the receiving end of pretty average or really bloody awful care?
I’d love to hear from you, and if you are willing to share your birth story/stories I would love to be able to post it on this blog so that others can see them, read them and gain hope from them.
Does any of this resonate with you? Do you want extra support during your pregnancy and/or birth? Send a message to arrange a no obligation interview to find out if I'm the right doula for you!