I love speaking to women and hearing how different the pregnancy journey can be for each one of us. I want to share it because there are so many stories out there, and many which focus on the scary and negative aspects of birth. This is simply our story. No right or wrong. A positive one with challenges of it’s own. I also acknowledge and empathise with women who struggle with complicated pregnancies, as well as unforeseen and difficult birth outcomes. No matter what the story, I feel that there is nothing more therapeutic than reflecting and talking about it, not necessarily in a written and public form, but there is so much that gets swept under the bliss/ challenge of a newborn.
For us, after Cooper was born, it was such a busy time with the New Year and family events, I hadn't actually had much time to process and think about it all. So when a friend first asked me ‘how labour and birth went’ I was so excited to hear myself say ‘it was pretty great'. I decided to write it all down to remember it - so here it is.
In the months leading up to Cooper’s birth, there was a lot going on. A lot of uncertainties and change, and simply keeping up with a toddler, kept my mind off what was coming up. On the other hand, closer to my due date of Christmas day itself, I did get a lot of friends checking in and letting me know they were thinking of me.
In the week and a half before Christmas itself, my body was definitely gearing up with regular Braxton Hicks contractions, at least a few everyday. I'm generally someone who cannot sit still, and kept moving, doing the housework and playing with our 20 month old, Archie – probably a bit too much for how huge I was. The end of this pregnancy was noticeably more uncomfortable compared to my pregnancy with Archie. Possibly because Cooper was in the posterior position, with his back on my back, for about the last 5 weeks, or because, being a small person, my belly was so far forward that it entered the room a few minutes before the rest of me.
On Christmas eve, we spent the day with family as usual because I didn't want to sit around away from all the celebrations focusing on every little niggle thinking “this must it”. But I must say being away from home I freaked out a little when contractions became regular for about 2 hours after going to bed – at least I had my hospital bag ready. The only day I really didn't want bub to be born was Christmas Day, and I took comfort in the fact that something like only four percent of babies actually come on their due date. I had another round of these somewhat regular contractions the week before, and was glad to wake up on Christmas Day to find they had slowed down again.
On the few days after Christmas, I decided it was time to start listening to my “relaxation for labour" playlist more actively. I used the same one I had created for Archie's birth a year and a half prior - just a random Spotify mix of relaxing string music, some tracks I was using in yoga classes I was instructing, and some birth affirmations.
On the 27th of December I had organised for my midwife appointment for a stretch and sweep. This is what got things moving last time with Archie's labour, and decided to do the same as my body was starting to get tired from all the practice contractions. After this appointment we decided to venture out to pick up some baby things and get a coffee at one of our favourite sports in Marrackville. It was a rather warm day, and I needed quite a few breaks to catch my breath from what seemed like more regular Braxton Hicks contractions. They slowed down when we got home and went through the usual dinner and bath routine for our toddler, and then folded some clothes whilst laughing hysterically at some episodes of Friends with my hubby and my sister - which never seems to get old, even after the 30th time!
Getting to bed that night was pretty challenging as the contractions became a bit stronger, whilst still being irregular. At some point I thought maybe I should start timing them, and went downstairs so I didn't wake my husband up. Part of me felt I like I knew a little more this time about what to expect. I had read and listened to quite a few positive birth stories and strategies the first time around – a few favourites were Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth (Ina May Gaskin), Birth Skills (Physiotherapist Juju Sundin), and the Fear Free Childbirth podcast (Alexia Leachman).
I was totally open to the fact that every pregnancy, labour and birth is different. Before my first birth experience with Archie I was really looking forward to seeing what my body was capable of, and people looked at me strangely when I told them this. I had tried to incorporate as much of the strategies I had read about into my first labour. Despite it being a tiring 20 hour labour, and a long pushing stage that ended in an assisted birth, I was still really looking forward to the birth experience again, wondering how different it would be and what special little person we would meet at the end of it all.
This time though, instead of trying to incorporate all of the tricks I had up my sleeve, I focused on letting my body do what came more instinctively than before. So when I couldn't get to sleep, I thought there would be no better way than to relax with a bath at home. For me, a bath has always been a treat for the mind and body. So here I was - a candle lit bath, soothing string music and my big belly. I spent about an hour in the water until my contractions felt closer. I got out, ate some cheese and biscuits, packed a quick snack bag to take to the hospital, and by now contractions were every 3-5mins and lasting about a minutes. After speaking to my midwife I woke hubby, who calmly made himself a coffee in preparation to be on his best game - which is somewhere between 2-3 coffees a day.
After parking and slowly making our way, we met with my midwife just after 3am. After doing a check and finding out I was about 4cm dilated and ‘established' I could feel my mind slipping into somewhat of a fear state. I thought back to Archie's labour when I was 7cm at my first hospital check and thought if that was a long labour this was going to be even longer. I allowed that thought to only float for a moment before I told myself again that every pregnancy, labour and birth is different, just as I tell so many of my women in my line of work.
I feel like this was a defining moment for the rest of my labour, where I became more and more focused on what my body was capable of doing all on it's own. As soon as we got into the birthing suite we set up the music and oil burner with one of my favourite oils. After a few contractions and encouragement from my partner, I could see his coffee was wearing off. I suggested that take a nap in case it was a long night and I needed him more when things got more intense. It's funny the things you learn about your partner over the years - sleep and caffeine are essential for Isaac’s day to day functioning. Whilst he napped uncomfortably on a lounge chair, I laughed for moment and then re-focused on what my body was doing. Many things I had read or had been told about was to relax and rest in between contractions, but I just had the urge to keep moving, pacing slowly and breathing deeply.
With Cooper being back to back with me, contractions were pretty intense on my lower back, so I focused on leaning forward or using an whenever possible. Using the bed, chair and yoga ball were great, but this time I had the added advantage of some bean bags which worked wonders to relax forward completely onto my belly as it moulded to my shape.
As I slowly paced the room and used breathing techniques to relax during contractions (as much as one can possibly relax in this state), I could feel that the contractions were getting closer and more intense. I watched the clock above the bed to time them for a while, but had to stop myself from becoming too focused on the rigidity of time and setting an expectation of when baby would arrive. I had packed my eye masks which I added a few drops of my essential oils to. I used these every now and then to take my mind to comfortable and familiar surroundings, knowing that relaxation and a sense of safety would only help things progress further.
In the last few hours, when things started to gear up even more, I asked my midwife to get the bath ready. My mind was in all sorts of places, and time seemed to stand still, but at the same time it felt like I was in here for ages. I kept reflecting on the utter amazement of this God given gift of life our bodies were made for. I had to actively focus on the positives to stop myself from forgetting that I had done this before, which became more challenging as I felt the pressure on my lower back as I went through transition. Whilst I got louder and splashed about, I also focused on other outward sensations. Using running water onto my belly from the shower head between contractions, and leaning over the bath with hubby putting pressure onto my lower back at the peak of intensity, I found a nice rhythm.
Like my previous labour, the bath eventually felt too hot and I needed to get out. I told my midwife I felt the urge to go to the toilet and remember her being slightly excited saying ‘that’s a great sign’. I was back out onto the bean bag, and just when I felt like I almost couldn't keep going, with a few pushes my waters broke. My midwife gave me a heads up of the feeling of baby’s head coming down, and this was by far the most intense part of it all for me. I felt like I couldn’t move or he would just fall out. Isaac, in all his strength, lifted me and laid me on the bed. At this time, I remember all that I had come across about “breathing baby out”. It was definitely not a quiet room, but I focused on my breath and direction from my midwife telling me when to release and when to hold. Within a few minutes, Isaac caught him and said “another boy!”
All the mums out there will know that moment. The utter bliss, tears, tiredness and joy that comes from that moment when baby is first placed on you. Within a few minutes he wriggled himself down and had his first feed. There he was. I was so thrilled because I wasn’t sure what that last part would be like, having an assisted birth last time.
This time though, I had opted for a physiological third stage where the placenta is delivered naturally. Taking a bit longer than it should have, the team noticed I was losing a lot of blood and I eventually requested for intervention. I had gotten through the whole labour and birth process without any pain relief, and was surprised that I had no tearing. But by the end of it all, I ended up sustaining a post-partum hemorrhage, losing nearly half my blood. The team were amazing to turn things around, and whilst I really struggled with side effects of the medications afterwards I focused on reporting everything I was felt and taking it one minute at a time. The next day I was out of hospital and in my own space with my boys.
Reflecting on it all now, both pregnancies and deliveries were perfect. There aught to be challenges, and that makes it all the more rewarding, and a great reminder of the strength we are given. This is the start to each journey that gave me this family, and this ultimate gift of life and love, and I couldn't be anymore thankful.
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