Our dark haired, olive skinned, wide eyed baby.
Our second born.
Our perfect-in-every-way little lion.
The story of your birth – our birth – feels so big, so important, so redemptive that I’m not sure I will be able to do it justice but I want to try. I want to capture our story in words while it is still fresh in my mind.
When I discovered I was pregnant, I knew that this time I was doing things differently.
This time I wasn’t going to let fear lead me to a birth support partner who was out of sync with my needs.
This time I wasn’t going to accept medical intervention unless I knew deep in my soul, I really needed it.
This time I wasn’t going to sign up to birth with someone I didn’t trust.
This time I was going to have the birth I knew was in me.
(Side note, dear reader: if you scroll back and read the story of Tommy’s birth you may wonder what I’m talking about. When I wrote the story of Tommy’s birth, I was at peace with how it played out. I thought I was making decisions based on having been given all of the facts and that I was empowered but as time progressed and I processed the birth, and as I spoke with other birth workers, I realised I had been duped. My pregnancy with Evie forced me to process residual trauma from Tommy’s birth, which I had been pushing away. I won’t go into that here but thought I should explain the discrepancy between what I wrote then compared to how I feel now.)
Not long after I found out I was pregnant we met with a private midwifery team and knew straight away that they were the right people to support the birth I wanted. We booked in and the pregnancy progressed without hiccup (global pandemic aside).
The midwifery team were part of a private practice who have admitting rights at our closest public hospital. This basically meant that when labour started, we would effectively hire a room at the hospital and bring our own midwives. We had initially wanted to have a home birth; however, this practice didn’t conduct home births for women who have previously had a caesarean, so we agreed to birth at the hospital.
Monday: 40 weeks, 1 day pregnant
We had our 40-week appointment with our midwife – over FaceTime, thanks to COVID-19 – and talked about early labour signs and when to head to the hospital.
A few hours later, our midwife called again and said, “I’m going to throw you a curveball but how would you feel about having a home birth?”
I told her I would need to talk to Chris and get back to her.
COVID-19 cases in Melbourne were on a steep upward trajectory and the hospital we planned to birth at had quite a few cases amongst staff members. Our midwife was in a high-risk category, and Chris and I weren’t feeling thrilled about the idea of having to go to hospital to birth. Not only was the risk of contracting COVID-19 a real threat, the ever-changing restrictions being placed on birthing women made us both anxious about what we would face when the big day came.
We started researching the risks regarding a VBAC (vaginal birth after caesarean) home birth but quickly realised we had both already decided we wanted to do it, so set about preparing.
Wednesday: 41 weeks, 3 days pregnant
I went to bed and wondered again if tonight would be the night that labour started. I had felt sure that I would have this baby earlier than I had Tommy, so when 41 weeks 3 days arrived and I was still pregnant I realised that this baby had their own plans and that I was just along for the ride.
I woke around 10pm to some tightenings but ignored them and went back to sleep. Around 30 minutes later their intensity strengthened and I wasn’t able to sleep through them so instead I breathed slowly and rested between each one. This went on all night but when I got up in the morning they stopped. I knew this was common so I didn’t think too much about it and went about my day as normal.
Thursday: 41 weeks, 4 days pregnant
The surges started as soon as I got Tommy to sleep and were more frequent than they had been the previous night but still weren’t consistent. I went to bed early, anticipating either another long night of prodromal labour or maybe even the real thing.
The surges continued on and off all night and at around 3am I realised my waters had started to slowly leak. By morning everything had once again stopped. I tried not to be disappointed, and reminded myself that every surge was doing something. I spent my morning walk listening to positive VBAC stories and guided meditations then had a nap in case the real thing started that night.
Friday: 41 weeks, 5 days pregnant
Given that my waters had started to leak during the previous night, we were fast approaching 42 weeks and I still hadn’t gone into labour, we decided to get some monitoring done.
A quick ultrasound to check fluid levels and blood flow, and a heart rate check later, and we knew baby was still happy as a clam and seemingly in no rush to leave my womb.
On the way home we called our midwife and discussed our options from here. We agreed to go to the hospital the next day to meet with an obstetrician and work out what the best way forward was. I was starting to realise my home birth probably wasn’t going to happen, which was disappointing after having spent the last couple of weeks preparing our space (and myself mentally) for one. After a good cry in the shower, I reminded myself that I could still achieve my VBAC at the hospital and that maybe that’s where our baby needed to be born.
In the afternoon, I went and saw my chiropractor for an adjustment to help ensure my pelvis was in the optimal position for giving birth then went home to rest.
I had another night of surges but once again, everything had settled down again by the morning. I was starting to wonder if I was ever going to go into labour.
Saturday 41 weeks, 6 days pregnant
On the 8th day of the 8th month of every year there is a cosmic alignment called the Lion’s Gateway. It is considered to be a time of increased cosmic energy between earth and the spiritual realms, occurring when the star Sirius rises into the sky, aligning with Earth, and Orien’s Belt directly aligns with the Pyramid of Giza. Sirius represents abundance, harvest and fertility – a perfect time to give birth.
Side note: if you are familiar with Tommy’s birth story, you will know he was born during a super blue blood moon. Epic astrological times seem to trigger labour for me!
After dropping Tommy at a friend’s house, Chris and I headed to the hospital for some more monitoring and to meet with the obstetrician. Chris wasn’t allowed into the hospital with me because of COVID-19 restrictions, so the plan was that he would wait in the car and I would call him when the appointment started so he could hear what the obstetrician said.
I waited for an hour or so before being told the obstetrician on duty had gone home for the day, so my midwife arranged for me to meet with the registrar instead, who was so incredibly kind and compassionate.
After giving a quick summary of the past few days, the registrar recommended I go home to pack a bag and come back immediately to be induced and to start IV antibiotics because it had been more than 30 hours since my waters had started leaking.
My number one aim for this birth – after avoiding another caesarean – was to avoid the use of synthetic hormones. I had read so much about the hormonal cascade that occurs in an intervention-free physiological birth, culminating in that intense immediate love for the baby, and I wanted to experience that. When I had Tommy, I barely registered his arrival because of the cascade of interventions I had during his birth. It took some time for that fog to clear and for me to feel that intense love everyone describes. I didn’t want that to be my experience this time.
Once the registrar finished going through her recommendations, she could tell I wasn’t keen to follow them and asked me if I was comfortable sharing what my reservations were. Through tears I explained why I wanted to avoid an induction and asked what my other options were. Of course, I wanted to keep baby safe but I was also gun shy about agreeing to interventions without thoroughly exploring other options first, after my experience during Tommy’s birth. I was still clinging to the last shred of hope that I could have a home birth so I asked if it was an option to have a stretch and sweep, have my waters broken completely, and to start oral antibiotics to help mitigate any risk of infection from the internal examination given my waters were partially broken. The registrar explained that evidence showed oral antibiotics weren’t effective in this scenario and that they would only do a stretch and sweep, and break my waters if I started IV antibiotics. So, we formulated a plan that I would go home to pack and come back that evening for the stretch and sweep, and have my waters broken, plus start IV antibiotics. If labour didn’t start over night, I agreed to be induced the following morning.
We called my parents on the way home and told them it was time for them to pack their bags and head down to Melbourne. Part of the stage 4 COVID-19 restrictions that Melbourne was under stipulated that no-one could visit another household unless it was for the purpose of providing care. Our midwife had written Mum and Dad a letter outlining the need for them to provide care for Tommy, and for me in the postpartum period, in case they were stopped by police while on their way to Melbourne.
We then called our neighbours, who were looking after Tommy while we were at the hospital and let them know that it was go time, and that my parents would be over in a couple of hours to pick Tommy up.
Once we got home, we packed our bags and had something to eat. I had planned to have a nap but as soon as I lay down the rest of my waters broke and I realised I wasn’t going to get any sleep. We went across the road and said goodbye to Tommy. It was an emotional moment for all of us: for Chris and I because we were about to introduce a new member to our family; for Tommy because he thought we were telling him it was time for him to come home and he wanted to keep playing with his friend’s trains.
We called our midwife to let her know we were on our way back to the hospital and asked her to meet us there. The midwife who had planned to attend our birth is in a high-risk group for COVID-19, so it wasn’t safe for her to be at the hospital. As a result, the decision was made for a different midwife to attend our birth. Ironically, this was the one midwife from the practice that I hadn’t spent much time with during my pregnancy but it intuitively felt right that she would be the one to be with us while I birthed.
We arrived at the hospital and headed up to the birth suites where we met our midwife – Courtney – and got settled in to the delivery room. Courtney did the stretch and sweep (which was surprisingly painless) and checked dilation. She didn’t tell me how dilated I was but let me know I was already further progressed than I got during Tommy’s labour. Being back in hospital again before I was in active labour was feeling uncomfortably similar to Tommy’s birth so finding out I was already further along was exactly the news I needed to hear to cement my belief that I really could have an intervention-free birth.
Courtney went home to get some rest, with the plan to return once active labour started. In the meantime, we would be looked after by the hospital midwives.
After Courtney left, we ordered some pizza from 400 Gradi and planned to settle in and watch something on Netflix; however, after we finished eating dinner, my surges, which had been quite sporadic up until then, started to come more frequently.
I asked for a sleeping tablet to try to get some rest before things really heated up. Three nights of minimal sleep had left me pretty shattered and I knew the importance of having enough gas in the tank to get through the rigours of labour. The sleeping tablet was only a mild one, and I knew it wouldn’t be strong enough to make me groggy, especially once labour started. I took the tablet at 11pm and hopped into bed to try to get some sleep.
I also asked for an anti-nausea tablet because I was starting to feel a bit sick during the surges and I wanted to avoid the constant vomiting I experienced during Tommy’s birth. I knew that if I didn’t get on top of the nausea early on, the vomiting would escalate. I realised a bit later on that I only felt nauseous during surges if I started panicking and wanting the intensity to stop. When I really embraced the sensations, relaxed my abdomen and mentally coached myself by saying, “Yes! That’s it, more intensity means faster progression,” I didn’t feel nauseous. Doing this really helped me stay connected to my labour rather than trying to escape my body.
From here, things get pretty blurry (sleep deprivation and labour will do that to you!) but for the next few hours I breathed through each surge, using the breath count function on the Freya app. I highly recommend this app for anyone wanting to birth without analgesia. It helped keep me calm and focused through each surge, and stopped me freaking out. I knew each surge only lasted for four or so slow breaths and that the peak intensity would be during the second or third breath, so once that was over, I knew the intensity would start to drop off again.
For most of the night, my surges came every three minutes and lasted 30-45 seconds. At some point I got a couple of hours of sleep after the sleeping pill kicked in but I was awake for most of the night.
At around 4am, the hospital midwife asked me to start continuous monitoring. I wasn’t keen to start monitoring because I wasn’t in active labour yet (I had previously agreed to start monitoring when active labour commenced), so I told the midwife I was going to have a shower first. I wanted to buy myself a bit more time before monitoring started because I knew from Tommy’s birth how annoying it was and how it constantly slipped off, resulting in the midwife fiddling around with it and me limiting my movements. Technically I wasn’t supposed to have a shower because of a new ridiculous COVID-19 restriction banning water births despite there being zero evidence to suggest that was necessary; however, I didn’t really give the midwife a choice. I just beelined for the bathroom before she could stop me.
I stayed in the shower as long as possible and when I hopped out the monitors were strapped on. As predicted, they almost immediately lost the baby’s heart rate and for the next 30 minutes or so the midwife kept coming in and fiddling around with the monitors, trying to fix them. I eventually asked for her to put a scalp clip on the baby instead, which she agreed to. Unfortunately, she had trouble getting it on so we went back to CTG monitoring. While attempting to fit the clip she did a cervix check and said I was 3cm (which is what I suspected I was when Courtney had done the stretch and sweep). I was a bit disappointed to hear I hadn’t progressed but I quickly put it out of so my mind. In Tommy’s birth, I was so stressed about my progression – or lack-there-of – which elevated my cortisol, preventing further dilation. I was determined not to stress this time around.
Thankfully, at 6am Courtney arrived back at the hospital and took over from the hospital midwife. I was surprised to open my eyes after a surge and find her standing there because at no point during my entire labour did I actually think I was in proper labour yet! Looking back, I think this was because the surges never got too intense for me to handle. Before this experience, I always did a bit of an internal eye roll when the occasional mum would say their birth wasn’t painful but now I’ve joined the ranks of one of those mums. Intense, sure (especially the pushing phase) but not painful.
Courtney quickly fitted the scalp clip and did another cervix check. Again, she didn’t tell me how dilated I was so I assumed I must still be 3cm. After the birth, Courtney told me I was 5cm at this point.
At around 8am the surges started lasting 45-60 seconds but I was still only having three surges in 10 minutes and the intensity hadn’t increased. I found out later that this was when I entered active labour.
For the next couple of hours, I continued to breathe through the surges, changing position frequently. Courtney helped me do some side lying releases, set me up with the peanut ball to keep my pelvis open when I wanted to rest in bed, and even did some hand expressing to help move things along.
At 10:20am I was standing and leaning on the bed. Halfway through a contraction I heard myself make a mooing/groaning sound and I started pushing involuntarily. I was really confused about why I had the urge to push because I still thought I was only 3cm dilated. I told Courtney I was pushing – although I’m sure she already knew based on the sounds I was making – and she told me to go with whatever my body was telling me to do.
I felt like I needed to poo so I moved to the toilet and stayed there for a while. I wasn’t actively pushing at this point; rather, I was just breathing through them and focusing on sending my energy down and relaxing abdomen and pelvic floor. After a while I started to feel a stretching sensation and more pressure between surges and suddenly had visions of giving birth on the toilet. I didn’t want a toilet bowl to be the first thing my baby saw upon their entry to the world, so I asked Courtney to help me back to the bed.
When I stood up, Courtney took the opportunity to check my cervix and told me I was fully dilated. At this point, all three of us burst into tears at the realisation I was actually going to get my VBAC.
It was about 10:40am when I moved back to the bed. By then the pushing sensations were increasing but I still wasn’t actively pushing. I spent some time kneeling with my arms resting at the top of the bed, which had been elevated to a sitting position. At around 10:50am I switched to a side lying position and Courtney suggested I try helping my body along a bit by actively pushing. I then switched to lying on my back in a reclined position, which I actually found to be the most comfortable position and also the most effective for pushing. I remember finding it strange because everything I had read said that was the least effective position to give birth in. Every labour really is different, I guess!
Once on my back, I really started pushing and soon baby’s head was visible. I could feel baby bobbing in and out with each surge. After a few pushes, baby’s heart rate started not recovering between surges and Courtney told me we needed to get baby out with the next push. When the next surge started I pushed with everything I had but baby’s head still didn’t quite make it out. I knew I was pushing effectively and hard enough so I couldn’t understand why baby wasn’t coming out. This was the only point in the whole labour that I doubted myself. I remember yelling, “Can’t you just pull the baby out?” It makes me laugh now when I think about it but at the time, I was deadly serious.
At this point, Courtney recommended an episiotomy, which I immediately consented to. I knew she had only done five episiotomies in her whole career as a midwife so I trusted that it was necessary. When the next surge hit, she cut a tiny episiotomy and the baby’s head shot out. Courtney told me to reach down and get ready to catch baby. In the next surge baby’s body came out and I suddenly – at 11:31am, 3.5 hours after I entered active labour and 70 minutes after I first felt the urge to push – I had a slippery little body in my hands. It was then that we learned why I was having so much trouble getting the head out – baby had wrapped their cord around their arm, abdomen and neck, so every time they tried to descend the last bit, their cord was acting like a bungy cord and pulling them back.
I held baby in the air while Courtney untangled the cord. I think I must have been in shock that I had actually done it because I was just staring at baby’s face and it didn’t occur to me to check the gender until Courtney gently reminded me to. A girl! A perfect, wide eyed, dark haired girl. Our Evie Grace.
I pulled Evie up onto my chest and rubbed her back for a few minutes to help her clear her lungs then we let her do the breast crawl before latching on for her first feed.
I had completely forgotten I still had to deliver the placenta but thankfully it detached quickly and came out with one small push seven minutes after I had given birth. We didn’t cut the cord until it had stopped pulsing and turned white, which took 14 minutes.
Evie stayed with me, feeding for the next two hours. It was only when I needed to get up to go to the toilet that she was weighed and checked. It was so important to me that we have that first hour or two completely undisturbed.
After I was stitched up, I had a shower, we ate some Nando’s and hospital sandwiches, and I finished off the smoothie I had brought in for labour, then we packed up our things and headed home, six hours after giving birth. We had planned to leave after four hours but I lost 800 mL of blood from the episiotomy site so stayed a couple of extra hours to be monitored. To be able to not only get out of bed so quickly but to leave the hospital was such an amazing feeling and so different to how I felt after Tommy’s birth.
I still can’t quite believe I achieved my VBAC. It was the most incredible, healing, life-affirming and empowering experience of my life, and I 100% know that I would not have achieved it if not for the support Courtney gave me. Midwives who believe in women’s ability to birth really are angels on Earth.