By Emma Glover
Our darling Alice was born one month ago tomorrow. Ever since her birth, I have wanted to share our birth experience, talk about a topic that is often avoided.
Well it’s not entirely true, society loves to talk about childbirth. But the reality is that society loves to talk about the negative experiences, very few people share positive labour stories and birth experiences.
Throughout my pregnancy, I learnt a lot about the pre-conceptions society carry around childbirth. We are conditioned from a young age to believe that birthing baby is to be painful, will be difficult and is a medical issue requiring a doctor’s assistance. I discovered that most approach their due date with fear, apprehension and with little or no plan of what type of birth they desire.
Upon discovering I was pregnant, I immediately decided that I wanted a natural, drug free birth and set my intentions to focus on achieving this. I was shocked to find out that when I would express these intentions to people (anyone, not just women that had previously given birth) I was met with opinions of doubt, with sarcasm and comments such as ‘oh yeah, good luck with that’ and ‘ talk to me on the other side’. I decided to just brush these comments off, but I admit that it put me off talking to anyone about my birth plan, because I didn’t want other people’s opinions clouding my intentions.
I continued on with my goal, though not really feeling armed with any knowledge on the matter. I must admit that there was a little bit of doubt in my mind. Thoughts did pass through such as ‘does everyone say it is painful because it is?’ and ‘oh my god I’m going to have to push a baby out of my vagina’.
In February, one of Luke’s friends recommended the Calmbirth course to us. Feeling it was the right thing to do we booked in for the weekend course in Bowral in early May. I cannot recommend any antenatal education more than Calmbirth. We didn’t attend any other classes or courses, nor did we do any other reading, promptly sticking our fingers in our ears when anyone started talking to us about their views on childbirth.
During the two-day course we learnt all about childbirth, about the human body, the hormones that are produced during and after labour and the role they play in pain relief, endurance and recovery. We learnt about relaxation during labour, visualisation and breathing techniques. We left the course feeling empowered and holding all the tools we needed to achieve the natural birth we desired. Also provided was a book to read with everything taught in the course along with a handful of positive birth experiences from people who had previously attended the course.
For the three months after the course, I practiced the calm breathing techniques daily. I visulaised the birth I wanted to have, I spoke to Alice in the womb detailing how and when we wanted her to enter the world. I pushed all the fear from my mind, the fear of medical intervention, of having to be induced, of the ‘pain’ and of complications that would steer us away from our desired birth experience.
We wrote up our birth plan under guidance from our intuition and the Calmbirth education program to pass on to the midwife who would be assisting in the delivery of our girl on her birthday. Important wishes such as no offer of ‘pain’ relief, the freedom to move around and have an active labour, the birthing environment to be kept peaceful with music of our choice, delayed cord clamping and more.
I must admit there were times leading up to the due date that I felt nervous. That I was unsure of what to expect and a part of me still had the conditioning running through my mind that childbirth is to be ‘excruciatingly painful’ and that I was naïve to be thinking I could do it all naturally. But I remained determined, focused and continued on practicing the breathing, the relaxation and the visualization techniques.
Fast forward to Saturday 3rdAugust. I was 39 weeks and felt more than ready to pop. I had been experiencing strong Braxton Hicks contractions for two weeks and making sure I was going for regular walks, doing squats and any other exercises I felt necessary to bring on labour naturally. I woke at 4:30am to discover my waters had broken and I lost my plug shortly after. I immediately began feeling very mild contractions about 4 – 5 minutes apart. We were instructed to go to the hospital to be checked over to make sure bub was still happy. After receiving the okay from the midwives, we were told that if I was not in labour by Sunday morning (24 hours later) they would like to induce me. I immediately declined and was met with protests from the midwives and told we would need a doctor to come and speak with us of the risks… which Luke proved to them were incredibly low. I insisted that I knew labour was approaching as I could feel regular mild contractions and both Luke and I were shocked to be met with such resistance by the people who deliver babies every day!
We were sent off and told to come back later in the day to be checked again. Luke and I got home, went for a walk to the park and I noticed the contractions getting stronger and more regular. We cooked lunch while I focused more and more energy into the contractions, using the hot water in the shower and different positions to manage the intense new feeling.
We decided to go back to the hospital around 3pm, as the contractions were then 2 minutes apart and lasting 1 minute. I was again checked by the midwives; bub was still happy and slowly getting my body ready to deliver. I was informed that I was just 2 cm dilated, offered Panadeine Forte and told to go home and get some sleep as it could still be a long time to go. I politely declined the pain relief and Luke and I went back home to manage it ourselves in our own way. We ate dinner and around 5pm the contractions really started to intensify. This is when the training really came into play, not just for myself but for Luke also. I cannot stress how amazing it was to have an educated, switched on and supportive partner throughout the whole process.
Now this is where a natural birth process really starts to pay off. The human female body is built for this, it knows what to do. The contractions increased in intensity every few hours, so the body (and mind) has a chance to get used to each level before they get stronger. A contraction is like a wave, you feel it coming on… it gets stronger, reaches a peak and then tapers off. As soon as I felt one come on, Luke would put the heat pack on my back, get in a position for me to hold on to him and I would focus on long, slow rhythmic breathing through my nose. I would picture a wave and visualize my cervix opening. During some of the earlier contractions I even pictured snowboarding down a mountain, gaining speed as the contraction reached its peak. We remained in positions that would allow gravity to take effect, lying down flat is not going to encourage a baby to travel downwards! We then spent the next 4 hours going through this process, still using just heat and breathing to manage the contractions. At 9:30pm we decided it was time to go back to the hospital as the contractions were lasting 1.5 minutes and were just 1 minute apart. I didn’t realise at the time, but I had actually been pushing with each contraction since around 8pm!
We slowly made our way to the car and sped off to the hospital. I can only describe the drive as surreal. I really felt I had been transported to another place, another dimension. The contractions were almost back to back, I kept breathing and tried to resist the urge to push. We arrived at the hospital, Luke set up the music and the lighting (unfortunately we were not able to go to the birth centre as planned so had to make do with the delivery suite). We were blessed with an amazing midwife, who kindly respected every single wish on our birth plan.
Upon arrival, the midwife immediately noticed that I was pushing with each contraction. She decided to do an examination and discovered I was 8cm dilated but the last 2cm could go with a single contraction due to how thin my cervix was. I continued to breathe through the contractions and pushing only when my body told me to. At this point I was on all fours, and it was only under experienced advice from the midwife that I moved onto the bed as she informed me that I was likely to tear if I remained on the floor.
Alice Heather Iggleden was born at 00:06, Sunday 4thAugust, just over two hours after we arrived at the hospital. We delayed the cord clamping, which means her cord was not cut until it stopped pulsing (which was about 15 minutes after birth), allowing maximum blood to be transferred to her from the placenta. She was placed straight onto my chest and didn’t let off a single cry. She immediately recognised both mine and Luke’s voices and was quite honestly the calmest baby ever…and still is!
I had minimal blood loss, only a few stitches and had a physiological third stage shortly after she was born. I was up and moving two and a half hours later, once we determined Alice had had sufficient skin to skin contact with me. We were moved into the maternity ward to get some sleep and Luke headed off home around 4am. The next day was spent dealing with the public health system, trying to be discharged. The midwifes wanted us to stay another night but again we politely declined and we were home with our darling angel at 7pm the night of her birthday.
The next week I discovered just how much I was being paid back for the natural birth. I spent the next 7 days completely high on the hormone oxytocin, it was unlike anything I’ve ever felt before. I was full of love and completely able to function on little sleep, while learning to breastfeed and physically recover from birth. I had lots of people warn me about the ‘baby blues’ and ‘post-natal depression’ but, as expected, neither ever came. Alice remained calm, we didn’t even hear her cry in the first week. She was waking to be fed every two hours but sleeping like a complete angel in between. If she was ever unsettled I would hold her in my arms and practice the calm breathing I used during labour and she would settle straight away. I am still using that technique today!
7 days after Alice was born I was walking down to the park and shops with the dog and pram. 10 days, I was venturing out in the car with the baby in the capsule. 12 days, we were out for dinner for a family member’s birthday. 13 days I was at the hair salon, sitting in the chair with foils in my hair while breastfeeding. 16 days, I was back at the gym squatting and deadlifting. Still, I am met with amazement that I am back to living life so soon, but I just don’t understand what all the fuss is about. Childbirth is a natural part of life!
30 days later, I am writing about this experience. Not to ‘show off’ or ‘brag’ but just to share that it is possible. With the right mindset and determination, a natural, drug free and positive birth experience can be achieved. I understand that complications happen, and sometimes medical intervention is absolutely necessary. Part of having a positive experience is the ability to go with the flow and be okay with anything that needs to happen. But we need to share the positive experiences, understand that childbirth is natural, it is not a medical issue and the human female body is equipped with everything it needs to get through it.
Hoping this can inspire some mumma’s to be out there!