Birthrites: Healing After Caesarean.

ONE MOTHER'S STORY

My story begins with the birth of my first son Sean. I had started pre-labour, but the contractions were painless. I went to the hospital and the obstetrician said I could go home, but the pre-labour could go on for days and I would be extremely tired when hard labour finally begins. If I wanted he could induce me and we could get this baby out. It was hot and we didn't have airconditioning at home, I was tired and I'd had severe oedema from five months and I agreed. The biggest mistake of my life. I was put on the drip at 8.15am, by 8.30am I'd had my first contraction, and they kept coming every two minutes. I was in labour for twelve hours and reached nine and half centimetres . The obstetrician decided that I should have a caesarean section, as though the baby wasn't in distress I was. It was the worst experience of my life. They talked over me like they were having morning tea, talking about sports etc. He was born at 9.35pm. Then they took Sean in a corner where I couldn't see him. The only memory I have of his first minutes is a photo my husband Rob took. They brought him to me briefly and said "this is your baby boy." All I could see was his dark hair and eyes as I wasn't wearing my glasses. I didn't see him for an hour and a half, until they took me to my room. Then it was only briefly. I didn't see him again until 6am the next morning. They continually took him away during the day. Though nobody explained why this was happening. I found out later it was because he had low glucose levels. At 5pm a midwife came in and told me that Sean would be going to PMH as they couldn't stabilise him. I was devastated - was he going away to die?, I didn't understand, all I could do was cry. The ambulance arrived and they took him away. Rob followed the ambulance and spent a couple of hours with Sean. It was two days before I was able to see him. My sister came and picked me up and drove me, even though she had a three month old baby herself and had to drive an hour to get to the hospital. It was a 45min drive to PMH and extremely painful. I was only able to spend half an hour with him, as I was in so much pain. I hated leaving him behind. Rob and I went to the hospital the next morning as Rob wasn't working. Sean was allowed to come back to the maternity hospital late that afternoon. The bonding process had already been broken. Sean was a 'high need" baby and I'm sure it was because we had been separated. It was six months before he would trust any adult.

When Sean was six months old, I was made aware that I had post-natal depression. Not surprising with everything that had happened. I went to a support group at the Women's Health Care Place and then had one to one counselling. Slowly I was healing and accepting what had happened and how it had affected my life. When Sean was eleven months old I went back to work three days a week. When I fell pregnant with our second child I thought I'd dealt with a lot of the emotional issues of my c/sec. How wrong I was. This was the beginning of an emotional rollercoaster, that I wasn't prepared for. When I was only six weeks pregnant, we thought I'd miscarried as my hormone levels were low. After a week and a half an ultrasound confirmed we still had a baby. I gave up work at 11 weeks, as I was determined to be healthy and happy during this pregnancy. We first went to visit a GP who did obstetrics, who is supportive of VBAC's. We were told if the baby was bigger than Sean or I was overdue than I might need to have another c/sec, and I would have to do shared care with an obstetrician. I walked out of the doctors surgery in tears. If this doctor is supposed to support VBAC's, what hope did I have. A couple of days later we visited the obstetrician who'd given me the c/sec. He gave me the same ultimatum plus I'd have to be continually monitored (in case my scar ruptured) and I had to have the baby in a set time limit. I made it very clear that I wanted a vaginal birth, and that I'd been very unhappy about the birth of Sean. Rob even told him that if I hadn't gone to hospital so early and been induced that I wouldn't have a c/sec. I think he was very surprised by Rob's comment. I told him that I was prepared to have a larger baby, that Sean was overdue and if my labour was long I was willing to wait as I did not want time limits if both baby and I were well. His comment was " I couldn't imagine any woman wanting to be in pain that long." I was so shocked I was speechless. When we left I kept saying to myself, " I can do this, I just have to be stronger than he is." I said to Rob "I'm not going to hospital too soon, you have to be prepared to deliver this baby on the side of the road!" Days later I spoke to a friend Julie (who happens to be a midwife) who suggested that I have a private midwife, who acts as a support person at the hospital and obviously would be with us when I laboured at home. After a lot of thought we decided a private midwife was the best option, no matter what the cost. Somehow it progressed to us having a homebirth, as we were both scared of hospitals after Sean's birth, and I didn't want to have to fight doctors and midwives when I was in labour. I did a lot of reading on homebirths and spoke to people about their experiences. Then I had to choose a midwife, which was very hard. I interviewed two midwives and they were both wonderful, caring people. In the end I slept on it for two nights and let my dreams decide. Thankfully they were each other's backup, so no matter what happened the right person would be at the birth.

I started working with a vengeance on ensuring that I would have a successful VBAC. I obtained copies of my hospital records, which was extremely upsetting, as I found out that the obstetrician had already decided after six and a half hours that he would probably be doing a c/sec. Why didn't he tell me, why didn't someone make me get off the bed, do anything to avoid it? I started going to BACUP and met Jackie and Kym. I went swimming three to four times a week and doing yoga. I read every book I could lay my hands on. Since Sean's birth 15 months previously, I would estimate I'd read more than two dozen book on birth, labour, birth experiences, VBAC's etc. I started visualizing the kind of birth I wanted, how long the labour would be, and the different birthing positions. I put up affirmations around the house to remind me what I wanted.

 

Out of the blue I got a letter from my original obstetrician trying to explain why he'd felt the need to induce me and though he was happy to have a trial of scar, I could be putting myself at risk. (Obviously our initial visit had some impact for him to write a letter) . I then wrote a letter back explaining how I felt which was extremely cleansing. I shed a lot of tears writing that letter, it hurt like hell, having to re-read it constantly to ensure that it wasn't too long and that he understood where I was coming from. Those letters allowed me to release some of the anger I felt towards the midwives, hospital, doctor, my husband and especially myself for the 'failure' of my first birth.

Halfway through the pregnancy I realised I was no longer coping. Being a mother and wife was too hard. Life was too hard, trying to plan a VBAC was useless. Staying positive and happy was impossible. I yelled at my son, I cried, I felt a failure as a mother, how could I bring another life into world, I couldn't sleep. I was constantly tired and angry. At least this time I recognised the symptoms, I had ante-natal depression. After weeks of feeling this way I rang up the Women's Health Care Place and had an appointment to see a counsellor within the week. I then booked myself into the Triple P Parenting course. I wasn't going to be beaten by depression again. Through the counselling I began to realise how hard I was on myself. I was trying to be the perfect parent and wife. That I was setting myself up for failure with my need for a VBAC, by saying to myself that this is my only chance to get it right. Having to prove to my family that I could do it. The guilt and anger I felt for failing my first son, for the loss of bonding when he was born. The fear of having another c/sec and not bonding with my baby. My anger and fear of hospitals and doctors. Can I cope with the pain? For having post-natal and ante-natal depression in the first place. I lost confidence in my ability to make simple decisions. Slowly we worked through these issues, even up until the day before he was born.

When I had six weeks to go Sean was hospitilised for dehydration for two days, from a bacterial infection. As I'd had a bad cough for weeks I wasn't well and I didn't have the strength to control him and it was decided that Rob would stay the night with him, as they wouldn't let two parents stay. The guilt I felt leaving him was terrible, it was just like re-living his birth all over again. I spent a lot of the time crying and Sean spent his time taking his anger out on me. He had atrocious tantrums and would try punching and kicking me. I had failed him again just like when he was born. His mother had left him again when he needed her most. As usual everything went back to the guilt I felt at his birth, how I failed to protect and bond with him. How he was rejecting me now as he had rejected me then. After we'd left the hospital he eventually did let me hold him and I began to see he wasn't scarred for life. Yes, he was hurt and confused, but he survived , he can be happy and he will eventually forgive me. It made me realise that if I did end up in hospital and have a repeat c/sec my child wouldn't be scarred for life, but I would do the best hospital birth plan that would suit what I wanted and how I wanted things to happen to minimise our time apart.

When I had only four weeks to go I ended up with an irritable uterus. It is like having one long continuous contraction that won't stop, and any movement the baby made was like being jabbed with a knife internally. Walking,sitting,coughing and sneezing was excrutiating. The GP said if I didn't rest I would end up in hospital and I didn't want that. My body was telling me it's time to take it easy, to relax and give myself time to breathe, slow down and stop being so hard on myself, trying to be the perfect everything. At the end of the week I was having the BACUP meeting at my place and though I wasn't well enough it was too important to me to have the last meeting at my place before my due date. I'd mentally prepared for this for two months. I had my midwife and friend Julie (who'd had 2 VBAC's) coming. I had a need to be surrounded by people who supported me and wanted me to succeed. What a surprise I had when a dozen women and a dozen children arrived. I felt extremely overwhelmed, but Jackie took control. I was told that we had to sit in a circle and that we were going to have a Blessing-Way. I'd never heard of a Blessing-Way, but I was soon to discover it was a way of everyone showing how much they supported and believed in me. Everyone put a bead on string and as they did this they said a blessing for my labour. It was so beautiful I cried. These women filled me with so much warmth and hope. I was filled with so much power as a woman, that anything was possible and I could give birth at home, where I felt safe. I put the beads around my bed post where everytime I hopped in and out of bed they would tinkle and it would remind me of the blessings.

The following week I booked into hospital just in case I was transferred in labour. I was petrified. I gave the doctor my birth plan and he agreed to all the things that I felt were most important. I then had a tour of the labour ward. What a relief, the fear that I'd had seemed to disappear. It strengthened my belief that a homebirth would be realised. I'd confronted one of my worst fears, If I had to be transferred it would be under my conditions, my birth would happen the way I wanted.

In my last week and a half I felt really peaceful. I was finally loving being pregnant. The enjoyment I felt from the baby's movement, the huge stomach, even the difficulty in doing everyday chores. I loved life, I loved being a mother and wife. I wasn't in a hurry for this baby to be born, he would come when he was ready. The peacefulness and tranquility I felt is hard to explain. It was like a huge aura of light surrounding me and nothing could break that bubble. I could have been pregnant forever. I thank God I was given this time of peace. I knew that whatever the outcome of this birth, I had done everything in my power and this birth was now in the hands of God.

Two days before my due date my midwife asked me when did I think this baby would be born. I knew in my heart that it would be very soon, no specific date, just soon. That night I had a dream that I was giving birth in the water and I could feel his head between my legs and I lifted him into my arms. He was fair and had blonde hair, the complete opposite of Sean. Plus I'd never visualised birthing in the water.

The morning of my due date, I was woken just after midnight with a strong braxton hicks. Ten minutes later I had another. It was like bad period pain. Rob and Sean were snoring beside me. All I thought was how can I get back to sleep with all this noise! The pain kept coming around every ten minutes. I kept thinking if this is the beginning of early labour, I need to sleep. I woke Rob up at 1.30am and told him to take Sean back to his cot. I still couldn't sleep. During the early hours I ended up drinking milk, having two showers and taking Rescue Remedy and wandering around the house. I was trying not to get excited in case this was just pre-labour. Deep down I knew he was being born today. I lay down again at 5am when I had a strong contraction that took my breath away. I closed my eyes and breathed. I'd had another two contractions, so I thought it must be 5.30am. When I looked at the clock, to my surprise only ten minutes had passed. By 5.20am I woke up Rob, I told him to get up, that I'd started labour and I wasn't doing this on my own. He started timing contractions and they were coming two minutes apart. I was hungry so Rob went out to make me a cup of tea and toast. Then Sean woke up and started running around the house. I got upset because I wanted to ring my midwife but I wanted to give her an accurate timing of contractions. So Rob spent the next ten minutes timing and they were coming two minutely and lasting from 30 to 60 seconds. I rang my midwife at 6.15am, she answered the phone quickly and I explained that it had started. She asked me if I thought it was pre-labour. I started to cry. If this was pre-labour, I wanted to go to hospital now! I couldn't handle this happening on and off for days. She said she'd be there shortly. Then Rob rang my mum, she'd be looking after Sean at our home while I was in labour. I went back to our bedroom and knelt leaning over the bed. Rob came in and stroked my back and Sean followed and tried as well. Before I knew it she had arrived, it was only 7.05am , she did an internal and I was 4cm dilated. I couldn't believe it, I really was in labour. Even though the contractions were coming so often I still felt that I was going to be told I was imagining this. I started getting intense backache really low in my buttocks. I thought at first it meant he'd turned posterior, but he was fine. I had a slight show so I decided to have a shower. A bad move as we were soon to discover when we went to fill up the birth tub. With three very long showers I had used up nearly all the hot water in the storage unit. I really began to moan with the contractions, which at first felt strange as I'd been so silent in my first labour. I found kneeling and leaning over the bed and swaying helped keep me relaxed. Rob was there the whole time stroking my back and buttocks, reassuring me, telling me he loved me and I was doing well. Whenever I felt scared or panicky, my midwife was there holding me, reminding me that I could do this, to open up and let this baby down, that she believed I could birth this baby. Sometimes it felt like my contractions had slowed down, but she assured me that it was my endorphins kicking in. Finally I was allowed to get into the tub. I stripped off with joy and hopped in. It felt very strange being surrounded by the black plastic, it was almost like being comforted by the solitude of darkness. I stayed on all fours for a long time until my wrists were too numb. Then I leant on the side of the tub kneeling with my legs spread so far apart my buttocks were almost touching the bottom. When my midwife told me I'd hit transition I didn't believe her. I thought it would be different. That I'd be screaming for drugs or something, only I felt the same and I was beginning to have the urge to push. Boy, when your body starts pushing it's out of your control. My waters broke suddenly, it was the strangest feeling, like a pop. Then I felt the fluid stroking my thighs as it gushed out. I opened my eyes and it was like watching a cloud dispersing quickly in the wind. It seemed that suddenly she wanted me out of the tub. She was concerned about the anterior lip, the lip was covering part of his head. I lay on my side and held my leg while she pushed back the lip during a contraction, then made sure it stayed put during another contraction. I then thankfully got back into the tub. My body started to really push with the contractions and I was making lots of deep loud noises. She told me to feel for his head. I put my finger up very high and I could just feel this small round soft thing, not very large, Rob also had felt it. She kept repeating, you just have to push him around the bend. All I thought was, that he'd never get around the bend. She suggested sitting on the toilet and pushing for a while to give my legs a rest. There was no way I was getting out of the water, so I changed position and squatted holding onto the side of the tub during contractions and leaning against Rob in between. I could feel more of his head coming down. This was really happening, I was birthing my baby. When his head was pushing against my perineum, I felt like I was going to rip in half. The stinging sensation was in some ways the most intense pain. I was told to try and push slowly so I could let the perineum stretch. My body said push and my mind was saying no. Suddenly out he popped. My first words were "oh my God, he's out!!" Rob caught him, he said later the head was coming out and then suddenly his hands were full of arms and legs. I turned over quickly and grabbed him. He gave an almighty scream when his body came out of the water. I lowered him back under the water so only his head was out and held him close to me. Jesse was born at 11.17am, 8lb 4oz on his due date. I achieved what I 'd set out to do, though the reality of what I'd done didn't hit me for a couple of weeks. I had set out on a mission, I worked hard, I survived and I achieved the greatest personal accomplishment of my life. The greatest gift being able to hold my beautiful newborn baby in my arms and welcome him into the world.

A loving thank you to my husband Rob, who loved me so much that he believed I could do anything I want. Thanks also to my wonderful midwife, mum, family, friends (especially Julie), Jackie and Kym and the ladies from BACUP. Who stood by me and believed in me and my plan. My greatest thank you goes to my first born son Sean, who through the pain of his birth gave me the greatest gift of all. The ability to take control of my life. To find the awesome power of being a woman. Through pain find strength, through birth find healing.