A warning before getting any further into this post, I may have a tendency to get overly emotional and go ‘all warm and fuzzy’ at times in this entry. The reason for this…. I am currently writing this on my bed with my absolutely perfect four day old baby girl lying happily next to me. So not only have I just gone through the most amazing of all life’s experiences for the second time, but I’m also at the notorious baby blues (not that I’ve felt in any way down since the birth) stage so tears may be mandatory. A secondary warning, this post is going to focus on my childbirth experiences so you may choose to turn away now if that isn’t you thing. If there is anything women deserve to get contemplative about it’s their birth stories, good or bad, it’s a must to express these and to do so many times over many years.
I will start by saying that I seem to come from a family of women who are born to give birth – at least the last two generations seem that way inclined. It’s not that we easily get or stay pregnant, there have been many issues in these areas as there are in most families, but we definitely do the whole birth thing easily….. and quickly.
At the start of my first pregnancy I opted for a private obstetrician to care for me for the next nine months. I think it was nerves that made me think that I needed specialised obstetric care rather than that of a midwife. When I finally did go into labour, I found myself in a state of calmness and felt that I was in control. I stayed at home for the vast majority of the labour, much of that time completely on my own. Eventually though I felt it was time to head into the hospital. Once there we were introduced to a lovely midwife and told my expensive private obstetrician wasn’t on call and I would have another doctor who I had only met very briefly. This didn’t phase me, I was accepting of the situation and just got on with the job at hand. On the initial examination we all realised I was very close to the end of the first stage – much to my elation – but for reasons I will never understand the obstetrician chose to break my waters, speeding up an already very fast labour (at this stage I had only been in labour for four hours). Soon after I moved into the second stage which rocketed along with contractions one on top of another, still I felt okay about it all. In the end the obstetrician decided that my baby couldn’t cope with the speed of the contraction and that she would have to come out NOW, so turned to her scalpel and on the next contraction the baby shot out like a bullet. In total this was a labour of about 6 hours, and although there had been some intervention, I felt great about it, I felt empowered at having just brought a beautiful baby girl into our lives, quickly, without fuss and without drugs. My strategy to get through each contraction was to use my breath to stay focused and in control and it had worked a treat. I stayed in hospital for five days, began my breastfeeding journey that was to last another 14 months and, along with my husband, started to get to know our little girl.
Second time around I decided I didn’t need high level obstetric care and opted instead for a public hospital and one on one midwifery care. My midwife was terrific, down to earth and on the same wave length as me in terms of what I wanted out of this birth. My one fear was not being able to get myself to the hospital in time, given that second births are notoriously faster and I would potentially have to wait for my mother in law to arrive to take care of my older daughter as well as my husband to get back from working in the city. Depending on the time of day, either of these trips could take up to or even over an hour. In the end it seemed that labour had started in the middle of the night, so it was just my mother in law we had to wait for and her trip was quick as there as no traffic. We then made our way into the hospital only to have labour slow down and then stop altogether – I could not believe I had gotten it so wrong.
Having been up all night and worried that I would go into proper labour later that day, we organised for our daughter to stay with her grandmother for the day and for my husband to stay home with me. However, as nothing seemed to be happening by mid afternoon we thought it was time to go and collect her. Minutes later the contractions suddenly started again. The very first one, at 3.45pm, was strong and long and I immediately knew it was the real deal. I called my midwife to let her know what was going on, but was hit with a second contraction and couldn’t talk, she could hear me in the background and told my husband to get me into the car immediately. It was now a little after 4 and the traffic was getting heavy, not great timing. The car journey excruciating but again focused breathing got me through most of it. About three blocks from the hospital my waters broke and from there something or someone was looking over us as we suddenly got every green light and arrow and my mind took over in order to avoid pushing. As I found out, the mind is a powerful thing in times like these.
My midwife was waiting in the emergency department carpark with a wheelchair, and immediately whisked me up to the birth suite as that urge to push surged through my body. Within twenty minutes, I was holding a second writhing, slippery and completely perfect little girl. Besides this being an incredibly fast labour, totalling 1 hour and 35 minutes according to my records, this baby was born ‘sunny-side up’ or posterior (facing the ceiling instead of the floor) which usually leads long ardous labours with severe tearing or a necessary episiotomy. None of this was true for me, due entirely to the amazing work and guidence of my midwife. She realised what was happening and the potential damage this could cause and quietly and calmly instructed me to adopt a certain position, to control the urge to push through focused breathing and to do most of the hard work more slowly between rather than during the height of each contraction. Most incredibly I was able to push this little one into my own hands looking directly into her face. While this labour did feel too fast in many respects and I wasn’t sure we were going to make it to the hospital at all for a while, it was so much more empowering and natural than my first.
I was home withing 24 hours and have had several visits from the midwife, follow up care a never received from my expensive private obstetrician. And while I have been experiencing all the typical newborn traits including sleep deprivation, constant feeding, sore nipples as well as a dramatic increase in toddler tantrums I feel like I have managed to retain the calmness I felt during labour. I have accepted the changes to my own sleeping patterns and have given over to the sheer joy of holding a breastfeeding baby as she slowly and gently falls asleep in my arms, no matter what time of day or night it is. Becoming a parent the second time around allows you to understand how precious each small peaceful moment is without constant worrying about how much milk she’s getting, how long I should feed for, how often, should I wake her, etc, etc, etc. I’m not watching the clock, I feed when she stirs and let her sleep when and for as long as she chooses. I only wish I could have felt as relaxed as this last time, but perhaps at just four days old it is too early to think it will stay this way. It is my greatest desire though to continue with a calm and accepting approach to mothering, for both this new baby and for my exuberant and outgoing toddler.
Finally, I dearly want to pay homage to the incredible and often unrecognised work of midwives, they have the awe-inspiring position of helping women to bring new life into the world in the most natural way possible for each individual. Midwifery is an ancient craft, always one performed by women for women. In past centuries the midwife has driven fear into the hearts of men because of their strength and ability to show women the power the hold within their bodies. Often midwives were accused of witchcraft. Despite all this the midwife has maintained a vital part in the continuation of society and it seems many women, like me, are turning away from typical obstetric care with all its intervention and medicalisation of the birthing process, in favour of the more natural approach adopted by midwives. So to my midwife I say thank you; thank you for showing me how things could and often should be, for trusting that my body knew what to do despite the tricky position of the baby and most importantly for calmly and quietly talking me through what could have been a frantic and panic-driven experience.