Renae’s story illustrates the power of allowing ourselves to be supported during pregnancy and labour. Renae shares her journey from a difficult first birth to a beautiful, powerful second birth. Renae had wanted and prepared for a natural first birth. She had a positive outlook, she had done the birth preparation and she was realistic, but not frightened. However her plans and expectations evaporated as she was overwhelmed by the pain of an intense induced labour. Renae opted for an epidural and experienced a damaging forceps delivery, under the threat of a caesarean.
Before she even became pregnant with her second daughter, Renae decided that she needed and wanted more support next time. She decided that a doula would meet her needs. Renae’s doula was a source of supportive friendship, informative discussion and beautiful encouragement during Renae’s pregnancy. Renae’s second birth was empowering and drug-free with a natural third stage and ‘delayed’ cord clamping. It was everything Renae had hoped for.
My First Birth
I went into my first birth with positive expectations. My sister-in-law had two natural and positive births so she was a great influence on me! My husband and I did a Calmbirth course which I loved (but he thought was a waste of time). I did a heap of magazine reading and read a few books. So I wasn’t scared, but realistic. I thought labour would be natural and instinctive.
I was five days overdue and my doctor was concerned with my blood pressure. I went in for my 41 week appointment and was sent straight to the hospital from there. It caught me off guard! At about 7pm the next night my doctor put in the gel and the machine picked up that I was having ‘tightenings’ but they weren’t considered contractions. They weren’t too painful and I was able to sleep that night. The gel was repeated the next morning but it still wasn’t bringing on labour so I had my waters broken at about 1pm. When that didn’t start labour I went on the syntocinon drip at about 2.30pm.
It took about an hour and then the ‘real’ contractions started. I breathed through them and by 6pm I was at 4cm. I was doing OK but would have done better if I could have moved off the bed, had a shower, or walked around but I was continually hooked to the bed! Then all of a sudden I had this huge long contraction that just didn’t stop! Oh my, it was so painful! I lost my focus. I had the gas and I’m not sure if it helped or hindered the situation. The drip had caused the long contraction so they turned it off to give me a little break. My doctor came back and checked me. I was 7cm (9pm). I was over the pain so I chose to have an epidural. The next two hours were pain free and I progressed to 10cm by 11pm.
I pushed for about an hour and frankly gave up. I just wasn’t getting anywhere and I was exhausted. So my doctor called another doctor who did forceps deliveries and I got a huge top up of epidural. The new doctor said “If this doesn’t work you’ll have to get a c-section!” so I pushed as hard and long as possible (with him pulling!) and with that my baby Eloise was born.
I had an episiotomy, and her head tore me down the middle, to the side, and her hand got me inside too. Thank goodness for epidurals! They put my baby on my chest and it took so long to stitch me up, she was pretty much screaming the whole time. I was shivering and not well at all. I didn’t feel the instant relief or a flood of love. I was so overwhelmed by what had happened.
Soon after my first birth I felt positive. I believed that everything had happened how it had to happen and I was OK with that…for a while. But then I got talking, thinking and did more reading. Now I realised I wasn’t really happy with how things went at all.
I didn’t feel I was strong enough to speak up or question the midwives or my doctor. I went along with what they said even if I was uncomfortable with it. The pain seemed to overtake my will to labour my way. At one stage, when they were putting the drip in my arm, I asked if I had to be hooked up to the drip the whole time. The midwife had said “Maybe, we will have to see how it goes.” Now I know that once you’re hooked up, it stays that way!
Choosing a Doula
Before my next birth, I decided to hire a doula. The idea mainly came from reading the Birth Journeys book. Hardly anyone around my area had even heard of one and I had to do a lot of explaining to my friends!
Sophie was a student doula and I knew her through a friend. We were pregnant at the same time (but only saw each other once during this time) so we had the basis of a friendship already. Then we bonded over our mutual feelings towards birth activism on Facebook and got talking about our births. Her birth was awesome and empowering. Mine was not! We had our first doula meeting at a play café with our daughters and we found we had an easy friendship. Sophie is so different to me in her parenting style but we agreed on some fundamental points and that got us talking.
For a while I considered going in for a planned C-section. I thought it would be easier and at least I would get the baby with no damage to that ‘sensitive’ area that was so hurt last time. However talking to people and reading Birth Journeys (again!) helped me to want a positive natural birth. My mum is a very positive person and said from her experience (6 births) the first one is always the hardest! She helped a lot. I also had a miscarriage between Eloise and Charlotte and that seemed to change my perspective.
Sophie was always only a conversation away with positive words and support. At one stage the baby was posterior and I was so worried about birthing a posterior baby as I had heard so many bad stories. Sophie sent me links to read to help baby get in a better position and every time we talked she would remind me to do the exercises – I was lazy at doing them!
Sophie helped me to feel excited about birth. Just knowing that she would be there with me made me look forward to it! She gave me two books to read (one by Ina May Gaskin) and they were both a bit out of my comfort zone as Sophie is a lot more of an ‘earth mother’ than me! But I loved Juju Sundin’s Birth Skills. I read it when I was 36-38 weeks while on holiday and it got me in the mood to have a baby! I had lots of conversations about induced labours compared to natural labours. I also talked about being in control and having delayed cord clamping, a natural third stage and allowing my waters to break naturally. My friends couldn’t understand why I would want any of these or that they had that choice.
I also talked to my doctor about my thoughts and my fears and she was wonderfully supportive. The midwives however, had never had a doula, rarely did delayed cord clamping and never did a natural third stage! I was told that delayed cord clamping is dangerous, a natural third stage can cause a haemorrhage and that my doctor wouldn’t do it! It shows they were misinformed! I just said “OK” and went ahead and wrote my birth plan with my doctor’s support. My doctor understood that I was well read and wanted the things I wanted for a reason! I never knew which midwife I would get so there was no point in challenging them.
My Second Birth
I was sure Charlotte would be late like her sister and I was determined not to be induced this time. I decided I was willing to go two weeks over. I decided to go to one last movie in Adelaide (100km from home!). I decided not to waste my time at home and go and enjoy myself. Whilst at the movie (10.30am, Life of Pi) I had a few niggles but wrote them off as braxton hicks – I was in denial from that first pain!
I had lunch with a friend after the movie at 1pm and kept getting slight pains. At one time I had to sit down instead of going to get a drink as I couldn’t walk! But once again, I decided it was nothing. After lunch and a walk around the mall, I went to Bunnings to buy a hose (It was suddenly very important to buy a hose!!) but I left empty-handed as the pains were getting stronger and more frequent. I also had a headache so I bought some water and panadol and decided to drive the hour long trip home.
On the way home, I called my husband and told him that I thought I might be in labour, but probably not, as it felt too easy. I called my doula Sophie and explained what was happening. She confirmed that it sounded like early labour and suggested I have a rest once I got home. During the drive the pains were bearable, coming every 15 minutes or so.
When I got home, there was a lovely surprise from my husband (Matthew) – a beautiful clean house. He must have had the nesting urge instead of me! Instead of relaxing, I ran around the house packing my maternity bag. I was still in denial. With each contraction I would think ‘Yep, this is definitely real’ then when it was over I would think ‘Nah, it didn’t hurt much, so it must be braxton hicks’. I thought I should time them properly using an app on my phone and it turned out the contractions were 10 minutes apart and lasting about 40 seconds but they were still completely manageable.
I decided to listen to Sophie’s advice and I went to bed. It was the best decision because I fell asleep in between the pains and I’m sure they slowed right down. I felt very refreshed after my sleep. The next few hours were spent having a nice long shower, texting Sophie (we were both very excited!) and watching TV. I held a heat pack to my lower bump and paced the kitchen during contractions. I focused on not clenching or holding on during contractions but letting go and relaxing. In between I rested on the fit ball with my eyes closed. It was quite enjoyable!
At 8pm Sophie arrived. She was a lovely, calming presence (like I have often read about doulas) and she helped me to accept that this really was happening and I would meet my little girl soon! By this stage contractions were five minutes apart, still around 40 seconds long and not that painful. I continued to pace and added in counting my steps. I handled the pain quite well this way. Sophie had brought with her the best contraption, a stretchy belt to hold a heated wheat bag in place on my tummy and one on my back. It was a wonderful addition!
Packed to the Rafters was on, and as it is my favourite show, I watched it in between the contractions with both Matt and Sophie sitting on the couch. It was a very calm and enjoyable time. During the ads we talked about our children, about Sophie’s labour, my previous labour and worked on convincing Matt that this was the real thing.
I called the hospital at 8.30pm and told them what was happening. I told them I wanted to stay at home as long as possible and they were happy with that as their midwife started work at 11pm. I also called the on-call midwife who delivered my first daughter and she reminded me that the second stage with her was quite fast, which I didn’t know. I also had to factor in the 30 minute very bumpy drive to the hospital.
By 11pm the contractions were closer and stronger, so I decided to leave for the hospital. I had so many contractions in the car and I dealt with the pain using strategies from Birth Skills by Juju Sundin. I pulled myself up on the roof handle, tapped my foot and counted the taps to distract myself from the pain – it worked so well.
We arrived at the hospital at 11.30pm and I said to Matt that our daughter would be born the next day. I thought we still had hours to go. It still wasn’t as painful as I thought it was going to be. I was contracting frequently but they were short and once again pacing, breathing and counting helped.
My midwife Marlene wanted to check the baby’s heartbeat but only managed two short readings as I needed to move around to manage the contractions. Marlene then checked my dilation, (which was horrible as I was lying down). She knew I didn’t want my waters to be broken so she just did a quick check and found that I was 8cms but my baby’s head was still high. As she removed her hand, something made me gag and I started to vomit. This somehow triggered my waters to break! Stuff was gushing out both ends, and my poor doula had to hold a bag for me to vomit. She was amazing and cleaned me up a bit before helping me to the shower. My husband had gone to get my birth plan and decided to also bring our bags in (as it was going to be ages until the birth) so he missed all the messy stuff!
Once in the shower I felt overwhelming pain and I squatted and held onto the rail. It was a completely instinctive movement. I let out a loud moan. I had been quite silent until now. Matt later told me it sounded very animalistic. I experienced immense pressure through the constant contractions. I didn’t quite ‘get’ what was going on and I put my hand down and right on my baby’s head. I yelled ‘I can feel the head!’ Sophie was behind me the whole time holding the water on my back and telling me how well I was doing and that this was all natural.
Marlene instructed someone to call the doctor and asked me if I could get onto the bed. I said ‘NO!!’ and got on to all fours. Marlene somehow got in behind me (a very small space!) and did her thing as I did mine with a lot of noise. I hardly remember pushing but instead seemed to ‘moan’ my baby out.
It was incredibly intense and then BAM! There was my little girl! I was in shock and just stayed there for a minute, speechless! As I wanted to delay the cord cutting, Marlene had to follow behind me holding Charlotte, while we went to the bed and waited. When the cord stopped pulsating Matt didn’t want to cut the cord and neither did I, so Sophie did the honours.
Charlotte was handed to a stunned Matt as I wanted to deliver the placenta naturally. It happened quite quickly and easily. I only had a slight tear which didn’t need to be stitched. From the waters breaking to Charlotte’s arrival it was only about seven minutes! We had only just made it to hospital in time. We don’t even know the exact arrival time as it happened so fast and everyone forgot to look at the clock!
My second birth still makes me feel great! From moments after the birth I couldn’t stop smiling! I was in shock that it was so good. I feel like I’m amazing for doing it exactly how I wanted it – and it makes me feel proud. I feel that birth is so instinctive if you just let it be! As I’ve read – birth is not a medical problem – it’s a natural part of life.
I bonded with Charlotte so much quicker and she is an easier and more settled baby than Eloise. I actually thought I hated the baby stage, but turns out I don’t!
I had a positive birth experience because I believed I could have one. I was in control and made the necessary changes that I needed to make to make it happen. I looked at birth as something natural not medical and I did the reading to back it all up.
What do you want other women to know about birth?
That knowledge is power and if you don’t get the answer you want from your doctor or midwife – go to another one until you find one that supports you! To be strong – it’s your body, your choice!!
What do you think your journey from your first birth to second birth shows or offers to teach other women?
One bad birth doesn’t mean they will all be the same. You can make small changes to help you be in control and get that positive feeling. Talk to women and read about positive birth experiences because how you feel about birth starts in your head!
Renae is 29 and she lives on a sheep and cropping farm in the near the Clare Valley in South Australia with her husband Matthew and daughters Eloise (2) and Charlotte (5months). Renae is a kindy teacher but she is focusing on being a stay-at-home mum until her kids are all at school. Renae loves to read and still gets to do a lot of it as her girls have been wonderful sleepers!
Sophie is a doula who has studied with the Australian Doula College.