My wonderful VBAC starts with the terrifying caesarean I experienced bringing my precious three year old into the world.
I now know that fear and stress can stop labour progressing. If someone had told me there was nothing to be afraid of, Maitreya’s birth could have been very different.
My mum had six kids and she was told she couldn’t possibly birth naturally because of a rare condition where she has two wombs. My mother in law was full of stories about the horrors of birth and seemed to delight in telling me as many bad stories as possible. I had been led to believe birth was a terrible, dangerous thing. I didn’t know birth could be empowering, spiritual and an amazing natural process that my body was built for. I have one amazing book and an amazing doctor who helped me see this.
My First Birth
I really wanted a natural birth. I went to birth classes and read a few books like Kaz Cook’s Up the Duff and The Complete Book of Pregnancy and Childbirth by Sheila Kitzinger. I thought I was prepared but all I knew was the mechanics of labour, not the emotional and spiritual side of birth. I was really vague with my first birth plan. I thought that they would know best and I should leave it up to them.
When I went in to labour in the afternoon, I tried to stay at home like the midwives advised me, but the phone rang constantly. At first it was just a couple of casual calls and one of these was very welcome, as it was a friend telling me she was pregnant! I remember saying “Yay! I’m in labour, talk to you soon!” Then my partner’s family caught wind of what was happening and they seemed to call one after another to ask how long I had been in labour, when I was going to go hospital and lots of other questions.
We also had a few unexpected visitors and my partner, Josh, decided they should be invited in for a drink. I was embarrassed to have contractions in front of the visitors so I kept leaving the room when I had them. I wanted my partner to be there for me but he was so distracted by the phone and the guests that he didn’t even have time to ask me how I was going. He seemed to treat it as just another day.
I felt stressed and I wanted to go to the hospital to be away from all the intrusions. I asked Josh to call my mum and ask her to meet me at the hospital. He had to ask the last of the friends to leave so he could drive me in. It was about 7pm.
I thought it would be quiet in the hospital but my birth room seemed so busy. People were coming and going. The lights were bright and it was noisy. I started to feel scared. Everyone seemed to be talking around me and not to me.
I had tested positive for Group B Streptococcus so a cannula was put in straight away for antibiotics. It seemed like that was an excuse to give me everything they had. I agreed to it all in a haze. One of the midwives broke my waters with the crochet hook looking thing, then I had syntocinon a while after that. At dawn they gave me pethidine. I didn’t know what it was at the time. I remember being told “We are giving you this to help you get some rest” but it had the opposite effect. I started chatting away to a student nurse about a girl I knew at school who had the same name as her. I’m sure she thought I was crazy!
I felt this excruciating stinging pain between contractions, but a midwife told me that I wasn’t having contractions so I wasn’t in pain! My mum told her, “She is in pain! Something’s not right!” The pain went on for a long time. I was exhausted and worried.
After 20 hours of labour, I was being monitored constantly and I was told to stay on the bed. Finally, a midwife told me that I hadn’t progressed and I was actually going backwards due to the swelling of my cervix. I had only reached 5cm dilation and now I was back to 3cm. I was bleeding and my baby was distressed. They brought me the paper to sign for a caesarean. I was terrified of losing my baby and I agreed straight away. But I felt like I had failed.
My little girl, Maitreya May, had a rough start so we couldn’t be together for a few hours. She had a huge cone head because she was stuck for such a long time. I had a long recovery afterwards.
In quiet moments, I felt this huge regret. I believe that the trouble I had breastfeeding was because I didn’t see my girl for what seemed like forever after the birth. She had trouble latching on, but after almost two months of pain and perseverance we sorted it out and went on to breastfeed for two years. Maitreya always wants to be with me and as a bub she wouldn’t let anyone else hold her including her dad. I think her fear of separation comes from her traumatic birth. I felt like I had no voice when it came to people wanting to hold her, even when I knew she would scream. I didn’t have the confidence to say “I’d better take her back” when she was upset (which was pretty much every time someone else held her).
My Second Birth
The obstetrician who performed the caesarean was an older gentleman, and when he came to follow up and check my incision he said I should get my hips x-rayed if I wanted more children. He said my hips could be too small to birth naturally. That really worried me but I didn’t get an x-ray as I was breastfeeding Maitreya and then I was pregnant again!
I was now terrified of birth and what might happen, so I spent the first half of my second pregnancy trying not to think about it much. I had heard of VBACs from books but everyone I knew just said why bother. They said I would probably have another caesarean anyway so why not just book myself in for one and then I wouldn’t even have to go in to labour.
My doctor told me that a VBAC was possible but that the likelihood was slim and most women go on to have another caesarean. She was full of facts. She told me,“If you go overdue it’s a caesarean. If you labour for more than 12 hours – it’s a caesarean. If you don’t progress quickly – it’s a caesarean.” This didn’t help me prepare for a natural birth. And to top it off, one of my shared-care midwives told me a horror story about a lady’s scar splitting and bubs hand sticking out of the tear!
I still wanted a natural birth despite all the pressure so I made sure I was fit and healthy. I did yoga because I wanted to be able to move, walk, pace around and have an active birth. I told quite a few people that I didn’t want to hear any negative birth stories.
During my third trimester, the book Birth Journeys came into my life and I realised ‘I can decide what happens to me during birth. I can be excited and positive about my birth. It’s my birth. I will be informed and make choices and not just let myself be told what to do. I will listen to my body and my instincts.’ I learnt that I could speak up and ask for what I want starting at home and working my way up to telling the doctors. I told Josh that he could either be supportive of me or not be there at all this time! He was pretty sorry and would be very attentive this time.
In my final month I decided I wanted a more supportive doctor. Dr Patty was another one of the doctors at my clinic. I had seen her once or twice in the waiting room and once she said “Ooooo… look at that lovely round belly” in such a motherly way that I immediately warmed to her. I had found out that she was an obstetrician about half way through my pregnancy, so now I picked up the courage and asked to see her instead of my normal doctor (Patty is now my regular doctor too).
Dr Patty is such an amazing woman. She is originally from San Francisco and she goes back every year for Christmas. While she is there she spends a few weeks volunteering in a women’s clinic in Mexico. She told me how poor the clinic is. They have hardly any equipment so there is very little intervention there! She is more at home with natural births and has had to learn lots of ‘old midwife tricks’. I can tell she cares so much about the babies she births. One wall in her office is covered with pictures of babies she helped into the world and now my little Xaani is up there too.
Patty asked me what I wanted to do and I said I would like to birth as naturally as possible. I told her about my first birth and my regrets. She said that I would be fine to have a VBAC, but there would be more monitoring this time round just to make sure I was progressing and that the baby was okay. She said I could move as much as I liked with the fetal monitor on, I just had to try not to get tangled!
While Patty told me the statistics on uterine rupture, she also asked me if I wanted to have a big family. She told me that statistically the risk of uterine rupture would go up with each caesarean I had, but it would actually go down with each VBAC. I have always wanted a lot of kids because I love being from a big family, so this made me even more determined to go natural.
I asked Patty if there was anyway to tell if my hips were too small and she said not to worry. In the 18th and 19th centuries poor nutrition, rickets and illnesses such as polio caused pelvic anomalies. As the obstetrician who performed the caesarean was from the older generation and older style of doctoring, he would think that a caesarean was because the mother was unable to birth rather than blame a failure in the medical system to provide a safe environment so labour could progress naturally. She kept saying that my body was fine and there was no reason that this birth would be like the last. She encouraged me and made me feel in charge of my birth – she made me feel confident.
I had learnt that I’m a very private person and I don’t like to feel as though I have an audience. The one thing I really wanted was to have the minimum number of people in my birthing room. Dr Patty agreed that I could have just one midwife with me. I felt very supported by the hospital and midwives, especially by Hannah, the midwife who attended my birth.
When I went in to labour I made sure my home felt safe; no phones, no visitors, just my mum, my partner and my little girl, Maitreya. My mum stayed with Maitreya and I chose when to go into the hospital. I felt happy, safe and in control this time. There was just one midwife and my partner present and the lights were down very low.
I started doing my birth dance, walking round in circles and occasionally squatting with support from Josh. I thought it was going to take a long time as I didn’t feel overwhelmed by the contractions yet, so I had a shower. The contractions were nothing like I remembered. They swept in like a wave and then faded away. I didn’t feel like I was out of my depth and drowning like I did the first time. I remembered to breath into the pain, not vocalise it but use the energy to help my body do what it needed to. I came out of the shower and sat on the birth ball.
I remembered a few mums from Birth Journeys talking about visualisation and how it helped them, so I visualised opening and my baby traveling down. It was working! I was progressing well and I knew this baby wouldn’t get stuck.
I did have one surprise visit this time, but it was a welcome one! Patty said she had asked the hospital to let her know when I came in. This was her night off and I was in a public hospital so she was in no way obliged to be there. She said she hadn’t birthed a baby for a while and she didn’t feel right if she hadn’t ‘caught a baby’ for a long time. She made me feel special. She wanted to be there for me and my baby and her joy was lovely to see. Every birth was a special moment for her, not just another day at work. I wasn’t just another birthing mum, and my birth mattered.
The final stage was tiring and my legs were shaking through most of it. Josh and Patty were both so encouraging, they were saying things like “You’re almost there”, “You’re doing great”. They really made me feel like superwoman!
After only three hours of full labour, my beautiful baby girl arrived. Patty caught Xanni Lily and handed her to me for skin-to-skin contact. Xanni latched on, her eyes opened and she looked at me. Contented, elated, proud and in awe of my baby and myself – this is exactly the birth I had dreamed about!
Kush is a 35 year old mother of two amazing girls, Maitreya and Xaani. Kush started making modern cloth nappies for her first bub and loved making these and other baby gear so much that she just couldn’t stop and had to start selling them! She now runs a business called Kushy Komfort (http://kushykomfort.com.au) selling her modern cloth nappies and other environmentally responsible products for mums and bubs. Kush lives in rural NSW with her partner of 18 years, a cat, dog, fish, chickens and a pet spotted python called Monty.