Normalising birth: Real life birth stories from a real life Mum
If there is one thing I have learned since becoming a mother is that most things are not as you think they will be. I don’t know why this is. Perhaps it is because it looks so much on tv, because no one else shares the full story, or maybe it’s just because we’re a little deluded that the hard stuff won’t happen to us. I have to admit that (being ever the optimist) I was in this last category.
Today I wanted to write a little story about the childbirth. One of the reasons I want to write about this is because, after the birth of both of my boys I had thought that my birth experiences were far from the norm, however the more mums I talk to the more I hear so may stories about how mothers’ birth experiences are quite like the ones on TV! I myself was completely underprepared for an abnormal birth. I never expected it to be a walk in the park, I had always expected there to be pain, I knew it could take a while and that sometimes on the odd occasion a mum had to have intervention. But most births are normal. It would seem not. Out of the mum’s I’ve spoken to about this lately the greater majority of mums had “abnormal” birth experiences.
I’m not wanting to scare anyone with this post. In fact, I’m hoping to achieve two things in writing this: (1) to help mums who have had what we might think are abnormal birth experiences to understand that you are completely normal, and (2) to help some expectant mothers come to terms with the fact that their birth might not be normal so that you can emotionally prepare yourself for this before you get to the delivery room.
Among my own family and friends we have had fast deliveries, long labours, emergency c-sections and unplanned home deliveries. In amongst the lot of us, there have of course been what we might call “normal” deliveries, but the greater majority were not. Below I have shared my own two birth experiences just for a couple of examples of a couple of the not so normal things that can happen.
Oliver – emergency induction with pre-eclampsia and assisted delivery
During my pregnancy with Oliver I had experienced fluctuating blood pressure, but for the most part things had been pretty good. I suffered from swelling later in the pregnancy, and due to this experienced carpal tunnel in my hands, but aside from this I had felt pretty good.
My mum had suffered pre-eclampsia with both of her pregnancies, and my midwife was aware of this so monitored for the symptoms closely. There was no sign of any issue and I remained positive that everything would go according to my birth plan (natural labour, birthing pool delivery at the hospital etc etc). I should say at this point that, if you are like me and your tend to like to be in control of things, the birthing process is not something you ever get much control over. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of anyone who has had a birth plan and actually been able to stick to it. I’m not saying not to do one, as if you are like me you probably feel a bit reassured just having the plan down on paper, but be aware that there is a high chance that the birth plan will go out the window on the day so just prepare yourself a little should that occur.
At my 39 week check I went into my midwife’s clinic as usual. Everything looked good, but when my midwife checked my blood pressure she noticed that it was higher than usual. We waited and checked it again, and then checked it again, but it wasn’t going down. I can’t now remember the numbers, but they were sufficiently high that the midwife thought I should go straight to the hospital.
During the monitoring my blood pressure continued to rise. I now know that the clinical setting does nothing to help my blood pressure, so my fears of having the check done probably contributed to the rising blood pressure, but after a few hours the decision was made to book me in for an induction the following morning. Although this was not the plan, I still felt positive that we would be able to have a good birth experience.
To try and get things moving naturally, the midwife performed a stretch and sweep and I did start to contract naturally, but things were not moving as fast as the hospital staff wanted and they decided that they should break my waters to try and “get things moving”. Now, I’m no medical expert, but I feel like this was the wrong thing for me to do, and I swore I wouldn’t allow them to do this the next time. As soon as my waters were broken, I experienced a massive and instant increase in the amount of pain, which very quickly became unbearable and led to me needing to have an epidural. Now, it’s possible that I would have reached the point of wanting an epidural anyway, but needing the epidural meant that I was unable to do many of the things (mostly standing and pacing) that had allowed me to manage the pain in my labour with Xavier and to ultimately deliver him drug free. The pain in my labour with Xavier gradually built up over time, and I think this made things much more manageable.
While the epidural eased the pain, it also slowed my labour. Things were not progressing as fast as the doctors wanted, and my blood pressure continued to rise. I was pressured to have an emergency c-section, but I refused. The doctors continued to monitor both myself and the baby and regularly checked in to see whether I was ready to go for the c-section. I continued to refuse.
My labour continued to progress painfully slowly, and the decision was made to give me a syntocinon drip. Still my labour continued to progress slowly, but sensing that I was pretty darn determined to delivery my baby the old fashioned way, one of the nurses offered to increase the drip to speed things up a bit. While this did lead to quite big increase in the pain from the contractions, it did speed things along and eventually I was able to deliver Oliver with an assisted delivery. It took about 28 hours, but we got there in the end and I was pleased to have been able to get there without having to get the c-section.
I had thought that after the birth of Oliver, the blood pressure would return to normal, but that was not to be. I ended up having to stay in hospital for about a week after his birth. Unfortunately the blood pressure stayed so high that I wasn’t even able to leave the hospital for my brother’s wedding!!
So, my plan of having a nice and natural water hypno-birth all went out the window, but this didn’t deter me from wanting to try again a year or so later.
Xavier – speedy home delivery
Xavier’s delivery also did not go quite to plan. Thankfully my blood pressure had been well managed during my pregnancy with Xavier and I felt really good when I started to get some early contractions. I called my midwife to let her know that it seemed like baby might be on his way and she told me just to go to bed and call in the morning with an update on progress.
After our experience with Oliver, we had expected that we would be at home for quite some time, so we went off to bed. A couple of hours later woke up and went to the bathroom. Shortly after getting back into bed I heard a loud pop as my waters burst. Labour progressed relatively quickly after that, but the contractions were still not close enough together that we thought we should head to the hospital.
After a couple of hours of strong contractions I really felt like it was time for us to go to the hospital, but my husband (who was timing the contractions) reminded me that if we went to the hospital too early they would just send us home and we certainly didn’t want to make that car trip twice. So we continued to time the contractions and wait.
At around 4.00 in the morning, after about 3.5 hours of labour I had this feeling that baby was coming, and coming right now. My husband said that this was not possible, but having done this before, I knew that feeling. Hubby called the midwife to get her thoughts. She asked him to have a look and tell her what he could see. He could see the head!
At this point the midwife told us that we would not make it to the hospital, so would need to deliver this baby ourselves! She told my husband what to do, and luckily we had an old shower curtain that we had kept to protect the car seat on the way to the hospital. We instead used it to protect our living room floor, and a few minutes later my husband delivered Xavier right there in our living room.
This is totally not something that we would have planned, but I have to say that this birth experience was by far a much happier, more comfortable and more empowering experience than my hospital birth. I feel like for me this was the birth experience I was meant to have with Xavier. I had been so terrified of going to the hospital that every time I thought about it my blood pressure went up. I’m not saying that I don’t recommend going to the hospital, and there are certainly advantages of going there (e.g. pain relief, medical support etc), but for me the unplanned home birth was definitely the way to go.
So for all your mamas out there who feel like perhaps you’ve experienced an abnormal birth experience, remember…you are not alone. Many, many other mums have experienced similar experiences to you, and you are totally normal!
So, just like I said about parenting above, if there is one thing I’ve learned about giving birth, it’s that there is nothing normal about it!