Eilleen's birth story

“If you hear me even considering a vaginal birth, then please hit me over the head!”
That’s what I told everyone when I found out I was pregnant with our second child. I swore to myself that I was going to have an elective caesarean. You see, I had an emergency caesarean for the birth of my first child. The procedure was performed under a general anaesthetic and my fervent wish was to be awake for the birth of my second child. Test

In my mind, I rationalised my determination to have an elective caesarean by quoting the risks involved with having a vaginal birth after caesarean (VBAC). There was the risk of my previous caesar scar tearing. And if my scar tore, then there was the chance that I or my child could die. Finally, no one, not the midwives, nor my OB can give me a 100% guarantee that I would not have to go through an emergency caesar again. I told myself that with an elective caesar, I would be avoiding all the cons and still get my wish of being awake for the birth of my son.

However, as I entered my 2nd trimester, I realised that all my reasons for having an elective caesar were just a cover for the real reason. The real reason why I wanted to have an elective caesar was that I was scared witless of a vaginal delivery. Aside from a general fear of the unknown, there were two specific reasons as to why I’m scared of vaginal births.

I am a wuss.
When it comes to pain, I’m not one of those people who suffer in silence. Instead, every time I encountered the slightest bit of pain, anyone within a 2km radius would have to put up with me whinging about it for weeks on end. I have a headache, I take paracetamol. I get a paper cut and I’m almost begging to go home sick. With such an attitude to pain, I have warmly embraced pain relieving drugs. Aspirin, paracetamol and anti-histamines were (and are still) a constant and comforting feature in my bathroom cupboard.

The thought of being in pain during labour absolutely terrified me! I regarded pain as unnatural and unnecessary.

I love being in control!
I like to present myself as someone who is control – especially of my personal life. I try to make sure that I am always actively involved and have a say in events that affect my life. So the thought of going through a process where I can not actively control how my body and my emotions would respond really scared me. Worse, I knew that I would be “losing control” in front of an audience!! So for me, losing control during labour was not only scary, but also a matter of pride.

I am inadequate.
It’s funny what happens when you finally face your real fears. I have always imagined that when you realise your fears, you become a stronger and better person. After all, isn’t that what all the self-help books say?? Unfortunately, that was not the reality for me. Instead of feeling ‘enlightened’, I felt inadequate. Millions of women have given birth – many of them more than once! Next to them, I felt incapable, unworthy and, well, different. Giving birth is supposed to be a joyous thing, but instead I was scared.

My feelings of inadequacy started to affect my day-to-day life. I got very angry at the slightest things. My husband might put too much sugar in my tea. A friend might seem too distracted to listen to me. These small things were enough to make me angry for hours on end. I also started to become frighteningly forgetful. One day I went shopping and left the car door wide open in the car park. I became anxious all the time.

My emotional and mental state rapidly declined. Finally, during my 18th week appointment, I was diagnosed with ante natal depression. In many ways, this diagnosis was probably the best thing that could have happened to me. I started seeing a counsellor from Canberra’s Post and Ante Natal Depression Support and Information (PANDSI). In time and with her help, I was finally able to view my feelings of inadequacy and anger in its proper perspective. I was also finally able to separate my previous pregnancy and labour experience from THIS pregnancy.

I can learn.
I had been coping quite well with my depression for some weeks, when my husband asked me: “When are you going to make a decision?” I was rapidly approaching my 30th week of pregnancy and I still hadn’t decided whether to have a VBAC or not. My OB had said that he would like to know my decision by the 36th week. So now, I only had 6 weeks to make up my mind.

With my depression under control, I could start weighing up my options calmly and rationally. I realised that I needed to know more – not just about vaginal births, but also about caesars.

I attended the hospital’s caesarean class. In many ways, attending that session was pivotal in my healing from depression. During the session, we literally walked through the procedure. Every noise, light and machine was explained to us as we walked from the delivery ward to the operating theatre. As I was unconscious for my daughter’s birth, seeing the place where she was born, the place where my husband waited for her and the place where I spent time prior to gaining consciousness finally put to rest questions I didn’t even realise had been begging to be answered inside me. The session also brought home how clinical the entire process was. I came to the very real understanding that caesareans are for when things go wrong.

I started to surf the net reading information about VBACs and caesareans. I talked to my counsellor about the possible emotional impact of having an unsuccessful VBAC. I talked and negotiated with my OB and the admitting midwife about hospital protocols and procedures. I talked to other women about their vaginal birth and/or caesarean experience.

I became aware of what was important to me.
Despite all of my research, the thing that finally swayed me to try for a VBAC was not the facts and figures. It was my family. The moment came to me quite suddenly. I was reading a book with my daughter, Jade, when all of a sudden, she put the book away, climbed on to my lap and gave me a big hug. As I hugged her back, I became aware that she was pressing quite hard on my old caesar scar. I suddenly realised that if I had a caesarean, she would not be able to hug me like this for quite some time.

That’s when I finally understood that having a caesarean would affect not only me or my unborn son but also my entire family. I carefully looked at what a caesar would mean for my husband and my daughter and realised that I needed to try for a vaginal birth for myself AND my family.

I learnt to manage my fears.
My decision to try for a VBAC didn’t mean that my original fears have gone away. It did mean though that it was time to start managing my fears. I tried to tackle my fear of losing control first. With no guarantees I would have a successful vaginal birth, I decided I needed to plan and prepare myself for every outcome. So I made my very first birth plan. In it, I listed things to be done in the event I had a vaginal birth, a caesarean under a spinal block or a caesarean under a general anaesthetic. Doing a birth plan that covered the three most likely scenarios gave me that feeling of being control. However, the best (and unforseen) outcome of doing such a birth plan is that it finally made me accept that there are no guarantees and that I might not have a successful vaginal birth. I realised that not having a successful vaginal birth does not mean that I would have a “bad” birth experience. With a few adjustments to my environment, I can have a “good” caesarean experience as well. With this realisation, I was finally able to let go of the concept of controlling my son’s birth.

Next came the time to manage my fear of pain. Immediately, my mind came up with what I thought would be my saviour – EPIDURAL. So you can imagine my shock, when my OB told me that he was not willing to administer an epidural for me. My OB said that if I did not want continuous foetal monitoring, then another way to warn everyone that my caesar scar is about to tear is my ability to feel a different type of pain. He said that the pain of a scar about to tear is completely different from labour pain and that I will know that something is wrong.

I was now at my 34th week, and I was fast running out of “preparation” time. Michael and I had decided to hire a doula to assist me with my vaginal birth. Margie was a very calm and straight-down-the-line type of person. She had been a birth partner to many women for some 17 years, and I immediately felt I could trust her. I discussed with her what my OB said. She assured me that what he said was good medical practice and told me that there are other ways to handle the pain. She gave me a book that was to change my view of labour profoundly. The book was called “Birthing from Within”.

I read that book in just a few days. I came away inspired by the stories of women giving birth without a medical experience. I started to separate my view of labour pain from sick or “bad” pain. Once I did this, I realised that labour pain is there to actually HELP me. So I started to prepare myself to NOT fight that pain but rather just go with the flow. As per the book’s examples, I prepared myself emotionally by drawing pictures of how I felt about my pregnancy and my upcoming labour.

Looking back…
As I entered my 39th week, I realised I was as ready as I could be for giving birth. I spent the days leading up to my due date in quiet reflection. As I looked back over the course of my pregnancy and how far I have come, I finally grasped what it meant to have an empowered birth.

An empowered birth is NOT about having a vaginal delivery. It is about acceptance, ownership and trust. An empowered birth is NOT about having control. Its knowing that this labour is mine, but at the same time accepting that I can not state when and how I progress through giving birth. An empowered birth is about trust and faith. It’s about trusting my body, my support people and my hospital’s staff. Perhaps more importantly, it’s about trusting that I can handle whatever outcome – a vaginal delivery or caesarean. I no longer depended on having a vaginal delivery in order to BE empowered or worthy.

The birth!
But this story wouldn’t be complete without recounting my birth experience!

Four days before my due date, I had spotting on Sunday morning and my back was playing up more than usual. Then at 11:30pm that night, I started to get regular contractions seven minutes apart. At midnight, Michael rang Margie who told him to stick me in the shower until she arrived. The shower eased the panic I was starting to feel. When she arrived, we moved to the living room, where she dimmed the lights and started to talk me through the contractions and my breathing/relaxation techniques. She also started to massage my back. As I relaxed into labour, I started to fall asleep in between my contractions! I also must have gotten a huge surge of the magic endorphin hormone, because everything started to take on a real hazy glow. As a result, I slept through the transition phase of my labour (it was like a light sleep where you’re sort of asleep dreaming that something was happening). I would briefly wake at the peak of each contraction. Whenever I started to feel the pain, I immediately visualised the picture I drew to remind myself that this entire process was helping me give birth. In many ways, this visualisation kept me from fully waking. It also helped me manage the pain. Next thing I know I woke up to total awareness and my body was starting to push. That took everyone by surprise and we decided to go to hospital. Again, Margie had to talk me through to changing my breathing for the hospital trip.

When we got to hospital, I finally was able to push. I was still in that sleepy state though and again I started to fall asleep in between pushing (though the sleep was a lot lighter than before). After 1 hour of pushing, (where with Margie’s suggestion I changed positions from kneeling to squatting) I felt a burning sensation and WOOOOOOSHKA Sean came out!

I cuddled my little boy while they sewed me up – I got a very small 1st degree tear. The OB said it was smaller than a regular episiotomy. When they finally took Sean away I had my shower and immediately fell asleep (again).

So there you go, I had a vaginal delivery with no medical interventions after all. Despite it, I still feel that if I had ended up with a caesarean, I would still have had an empowered birth.

Eilleen's birth story

“If you hear me even considering a vaginal birth, then please hit me over the head!”
That’s what I told everyone when I found out I was pregnant with our second child. I swore to myself that I was going to have an elective caesarean. You see, I had an emergency caesarean for the birth of my first child. The procedure was performed under a general anaesthetic and my fervent wish was to be awake for the birth of my second child. Test

In my mind, I rationalised my determination to have an elective caesarean by quoting the risks involved with having a vaginal birth after caesarean (VBAC). There was the risk of my previous caesar scar tearing. And if my scar tore, then there was the chance that I or my child could die. Finally, no one, not the midwives, nor my OB can give me a 100% guarantee that I would not have to go through an emergency caesar again. I told myself that with an elective caesar, I would be avoiding all the cons and still get my wish of being awake for the birth of my son.

However, as I entered my 2nd trimester, I realised that all my reasons for having an elective caesar were just a cover for the real reason. The real reason why I wanted to have an elective caesar was that I was scared witless of a vaginal delivery. Aside from a general fear of the unknown, there were two specific reasons as to why I’m scared of vaginal births.

I am a wuss.
When it comes to pain, I’m not one of those people who suffer in silence. Instead, every time I encountered the slightest bit of pain, anyone within a 2km radius would have to put up with me whinging about it for weeks on end. I have a headache, I take paracetamol. I get a paper cut and I’m almost begging to go home sick. With such an attitude to pain, I have warmly embraced pain relieving drugs. Aspirin, paracetamol and anti-histamines were (and are still) a constant and comforting feature in my bathroom cupboard.

The thought of being in pain during labour absolutely terrified me! I regarded pain as unnatural and unnecessary.

I love being in control!
I like to present myself as someone who is control – especially of my personal life. I try to make sure that I am always actively involved and have a say in events that affect my life. So the thought of going through a process where I can not actively control how my body and my emotions would respond really scared me. Worse, I knew that I would be “losing control” in front of an audience!! So for me, losing control during labour was not only scary, but also a matter of pride.

I am inadequate.
It’s funny what happens when you finally face your real fears. I have always imagined that when you realise your fears, you become a stronger and better person. After all, isn’t that what all the self-help books say?? Unfortunately, that was not the reality for me. Instead of feeling ‘enlightened’, I felt inadequate. Millions of women have given birth – many of them more than once! Next to them, I felt incapable, unworthy and, well, different. Giving birth is supposed to be a joyous thing, but instead I was scared.

My feelings of inadequacy started to affect my day-to-day life. I got very angry at the slightest things. My husband might put too much sugar in my tea. A friend might seem too distracted to listen to me. These small things were enough to make me angry for hours on end. I also started to become frighteningly forgetful. One day I went shopping and left the car door wide open in the car park. I became anxious all the time.

My emotional and mental state rapidly declined. Finally, during my 18th week appointment, I was diagnosed with ante natal depression. In many ways, this diagnosis was probably the best thing that could have happened to me. I started seeing a counsellor from Canberra’s Post and Ante Natal Depression Support and Information (PANDSI). In time and with her help, I was finally able to view my feelings of inadequacy and anger in its proper perspective. I was also finally able to separate my previous pregnancy and labour experience from THIS pregnancy.

I can learn.
I had been coping quite well with my depression for some weeks, when my husband asked me: “When are you going to make a decision?” I was rapidly approaching my 30th week of pregnancy and I still hadn’t decided whether to have a VBAC or not. My OB had said that he would like to know my decision by the 36th week. So now, I only had 6 weeks to make up my mind.

With my depression under control, I could start weighing up my options calmly and rationally. I realised that I needed to know more – not just about vaginal births, but also about caesars.

I attended the hospital’s caesarean class. In many ways, attending that session was pivotal in my healing from depression. During the session, we literally walked through the procedure. Every noise, light and machine was explained to us as we walked from the delivery ward to the operating theatre. As I was unconscious for my daughter’s birth, seeing the place where she was born, the place where my husband waited for her and the place where I spent time prior to gaining consciousness finally put to rest questions I didn’t even realise had been begging to be answered inside me. The session also brought home how clinical the entire process was. I came to the very real understanding that caesareans are for when things go wrong.

I started to surf the net reading information about VBACs and caesareans. I talked to my counsellor about the possible emotional impact of having an unsuccessful VBAC. I talked and negotiated with my OB and the admitting midwife about hospital protocols and procedures. I talked to other women about their vaginal birth and/or caesarean experience.

I became aware of what was important to me.
Despite all of my research, the thing that finally swayed me to try for a VBAC was not the facts and figures. It was my family. The moment came to me quite suddenly. I was reading a book with my daughter, Jade, when all of a sudden, she put the book away, climbed on to my lap and gave me a big hug. As I hugged her back, I became aware that she was pressing quite hard on my old caesar scar. I suddenly realised that if I had a caesarean, she would not be able to hug me like this for quite some time.

That’s when I finally understood that having a caesarean would affect not only me or my unborn son but also my entire family. I carefully looked at what a caesar would mean for my husband and my daughter and realised that I needed to try for a vaginal birth for myself AND my family.

I learnt to manage my fears.
My decision to try for a VBAC didn’t mean that my original fears have gone away. It did mean though that it was time to start managing my fears. I tried to tackle my fear of losing control first. With no guarantees I would have a successful vaginal birth, I decided I needed to plan and prepare myself for every outcome. So I made my very first birth plan. In it, I listed things to be done in the event I had a vaginal birth, a caesarean under a spinal block or a caesarean under a general anaesthetic. Doing a birth plan that covered the three most likely scenarios gave me that feeling of being control. However, the best (and unforseen) outcome of doing such a birth plan is that it finally made me accept that there are no guarantees and that I might not have a successful vaginal birth. I realised that not having a successful vaginal birth does not mean that I would have a “bad” birth experience. With a few adjustments to my environment, I can have a “good” caesarean experience as well. With this realisation, I was finally able to let go of the concept of controlling my son’s birth.

Next came the time to manage my fear of pain. Immediately, my mind came up with what I thought would be my saviour – EPIDURAL. So you can imagine my shock, when my OB told me that he was not willing to administer an epidural for me. My OB said that if I did not want continuous foetal monitoring, then another way to warn everyone that my caesar scar is about to tear is my ability to feel a different type of pain. He said that the pain of a scar about to tear is completely different from labour pain and that I will know that something is wrong.

I was now at my 34th week, and I was fast running out of “preparation” time. Michael and I had decided to hire a doula to assist me with my vaginal birth. Margie was a very calm and straight-down-the-line type of person. She had been a birth partner to many women for some 17 years, and I immediately felt I could trust her. I discussed with her what my OB said. She assured me that what he said was good medical practice and told me that there are other ways to handle the pain. She gave me a book that was to change my view of labour profoundly. The book was called “Birthing from Within”.

I read that book in just a few days. I came away inspired by the stories of women giving birth without a medical experience. I started to separate my view of labour pain from sick or “bad” pain. Once I did this, I realised that labour pain is there to actually HELP me. So I started to prepare myself to NOT fight that pain but rather just go with the flow. As per the book’s examples, I prepared myself emotionally by drawing pictures of how I felt about my pregnancy and my upcoming labour.

Looking back…
As I entered my 39th week, I realised I was as ready as I could be for giving birth. I spent the days leading up to my due date in quiet reflection. As I looked back over the course of my pregnancy and how far I have come, I finally grasped what it meant to have an empowered birth.

An empowered birth is NOT about having a vaginal delivery. It is about acceptance, ownership and trust. An empowered birth is NOT about having control. Its knowing that this labour is mine, but at the same time accepting that I can not state when and how I progress through giving birth. An empowered birth is about trust and faith. It’s about trusting my body, my support people and my hospital’s staff. Perhaps more importantly, it’s about trusting that I can handle whatever outcome – a vaginal delivery or caesarean. I no longer depended on having a vaginal delivery in order to BE empowered or worthy.

The birth!
But this story wouldn’t be complete without recounting my birth experience!

Four days before my due date, I had spotting on Sunday morning and my back was playing up more than usual. Then at 11:30pm that night, I started to get regular contractions seven minutes apart. At midnight, Michael rang Margie who told him to stick me in the shower until she arrived. The shower eased the panic I was starting to feel. When she arrived, we moved to the living room, where she dimmed the lights and started to talk me through the contractions and my breathing/relaxation techniques. She also started to massage my back. As I relaxed into labour, I started to fall asleep in between my contractions! I also must have gotten a huge surge of the magic endorphin hormone, because everything started to take on a real hazy glow. As a result, I slept through the transition phase of my labour (it was like a light sleep where you’re sort of asleep dreaming that something was happening). I would briefly wake at the peak of each contraction. Whenever I started to feel the pain, I immediately visualised the picture I drew to remind myself that this entire process was helping me give birth. In many ways, this visualisation kept me from fully waking. It also helped me manage the pain. Next thing I know I woke up to total awareness and my body was starting to push. That took everyone by surprise and we decided to go to hospital. Again, Margie had to talk me through to changing my breathing for the hospital trip.

When we got to hospital, I finally was able to push. I was still in that sleepy state though and again I started to fall asleep in between pushing (though the sleep was a lot lighter than before). After 1 hour of pushing, (where with Margie’s suggestion I changed positions from kneeling to squatting) I felt a burning sensation and WOOOOOOSHKA Sean came out!

I cuddled my little boy while they sewed me up – I got a very small 1st degree tear. The OB said it was smaller than a regular episiotomy. When they finally took Sean away I had my shower and immediately fell asleep (again).

So there you go, I had a vaginal delivery with no medical interventions after all. Despite it, I still feel that if I had ended up with a caesarean, I would still have had an empowered birth.