It’s taken 2 years to get this blog going, so allow me to fill you in on what you’ve missed – starting with the birth of Wren.

I feel like there are really two stories of Wren’s birth. There is a rather frantic story about phone calls, plans upset, hospital understaffing and all that went on around me. Then there is a beautiful story of how my body and my baby worked together to bring him safely into this world. I find that too often when I tell the story – and particularly when my partner tells it – it is the former that dominates. This is probably because it has more dramatic value and is easier to recount. But what I really want to remember and what I really want to tell the world is how incredible it was, how extremely proud I am of my body, how my understanding of myself and life will never be the same.

I will tell two stories here together – they are of course intertwined, but I hope that the second story will stand out and be remembered. To set the scene, I’ll start with my pregnant days.

I had a really wonderful pregnancy – at least once I got used to idea and I got in to the habit of eating more regularly (to avoid that sudden drop in blood sugar level, leaving me a blubbering mess). I remember being 4 months pregnant and walking over the sand dunes, looking out at Ningaloo Reef (my last holiday alone), feeling on top of the world, my hand on my belly, a sense of satisfaction with what was growing inside me, wishing I could stay in this state forever (but also knowing the satisfaction was dependent on a progressing pregnancy).

Soon after that, I became very focused on birth. I read a lot, about natural birth, active birth. I did yoga, drank raspberry leaf tea, prepared myself physically, mentally, emotionally. Hmmm, perhaps I’m making it sound like I had a very active pregnancy; that’s so far from the truth – I slept A LOT, and I enjoyed that sleep, as I could do it without feeling guilty or lazy, knowing that my body was always hard at work. And looking back now, I’m glad I slept when I had the chance!

I thought a lot about birth. I knew what kind of birth I wanted and knew that I was capable of it. I wanted a home birth, but this turned out to be too expensive and too difficult to organise, given that we were moving back east only a couple of months before the due date. I settled on a hospital where a friend had given birth – I liked its setting, small size, and midwife-centred approach and support for active, natural birth – at least, that’s how it appeared at my first appointment there. Just in case, I got myself a doula – Sarah. Having someone there who I knew, and who knew what kind of birth I wanted, made me feel more confident. The importance of this was soon confirmed for me, as I became fed up with the lack of continuity of care provided by the hospital. I found my antenatal appointments quite frustrating, having a different midwife each time, going through the same things each time, particularly having to defend my well-researched choice not to take GBS antibiotics during labour (eventually I wrote them a letter to put in my file and refused to explain myself any further).

A couple of days before my due date, I started to get pain in my thighs. Walking became increasingly uncomfortable, but I felt like I had to keep moving or I would stiffen up. On the afternoon of 11 July, the day before my due date, I went to the pool and swam a few slow laps, did some gentle stretching in the water. This felt really good and was the best thing I could have done. That night I packed my hospital bag, which for some reason I’d been putting off. My partner went to bed early and I remember sitting in the lounge room alone, deciding I was ready, stroking my now very big belly and telling my baby I was ready for him, asking him to come. I pressed the acupressure point in my hands. Somehow it seemed unlikely he would come on his due date, but I convinced myself it was possible.

I woke early the following morning, thinking I’d felt something in my belly, but by the time I’d woken the feeling had passed. A little while later I again felt something like mild period pain – a contraction! I got up at 4am to go to the toilet, feeling sure labour was starting, but not knowing how quickly – my main concern at this time was to figure out how established it was before Simon had to go to work, as I knew he was working an hour away that day. Remembering pre-labour can last hours or even days, I went back to bed to try and rest. More contractions came, getting gradually stronger. I couldn’t get back to sleep. Around 5am, I got up, turned the heater on in the lounge, ate a banana, put the birthing visualisation / meditation CD on and lay on the couch, trying to relax. I felt surprisingly calm, but couldn’t concentrate for long on the CD. Within half an hour, the contractions were significantly stronger and I thought they were quite regular. I thought it was happening quickly, but I didn’t feel I had a good sense of time – I was already drifting off into a labour haze. I woke my partner up, asked him to come and time my contractions. I lay forward on the beanbag and told him when my contractions came. They seemed to be about 2-3 minutes apart. I knew this to be considered very regular, but I don’t think he realised that yet, and I didn’t want to alarm him. At this stage, I was breathing heavily through the contractions. It wasn’t until I tried to talk to my partner that I realised how vague I’d become. He rubbed my back for a while, then called the doula, Sarah, who didn’t answer. He then called the hospital. They informed him that there was no anaesthetist at the hospital that day (in case I needed an emergency caesarean or epidural), so we would have to go to a large hospital an hour away – and if my contractions were 2-3 minutes apart we should leave NOW. I was devastated; “I’m not going there! I don’t need an anaesthetist! Tell them I’m not going!” I did NOT want to drive for an hour to an unfamiliar hospital. Sarah called back and my partner updated her.
By this time I’d done two poos; my body emptying out. Then I vomited up the banana – so much for keeping my energy up. (How come everybody seems to leave these bits out of their birth stories? What’s wrong with a bit of excrement?).
My partner suggested I have a shower; a great idea. It felt SO good. I relaxed in the shower and I believe this made the labour progress even more quickly. I really didn’t want to get out of the shower, but I tried to create an acceptance within myself of whatever was to happen, reminding myself that what was happening in me was more important than where I might me.
We did consider staying at home for the birth, but weren’t quite brave enough to go it alone.
My partner called back the hospital, insisting it was too risky to drive to the big hospital; we didn’t want to have the baby on the side of the road; it was getting into morning rush hour. The midwife said that if we came there, they’d put us in an ambulance to the big hospital. My partner said this was better than him driving.
While he was making phone calls, I was sitting on the toilet, with contractions coming one after the other. I was moaning loudly. I thought I was beginning to feel the urge to push at the end of each contraction. I knew the baby was very close, but I didn’t tell my partner this because I could see he was quite nervous and I didn’t want to add to his worries. Somewhere in my labour haze, I was actually finding amusement in his nervousness and feeling fondness and appreciation for the care he was taking.

We gathered our things and got in the car. It was about 7am. I lay in the back seat, forward over some pillows. After a short, awkward drive, my partner pulled into the emergency entry at the hospital, thinking the ambulance waiting here had been called for us. But no, apparently my birth wasn’t the only thing happening that morning. My partner explained what was happening to some men there. I heard one of them say “Is it her first baby? … well then its probably a lot further away than she thinks.” This annoyed me because I knew he was wrong, but I let it pass. I was very much in my own world by now, everything was surreal.
I was put in a wheelchair and my partner wheeled me to the maternity unit.

I felt a contraction come on as we rolled up to reception and was glad for the opportunity to moan loudly; I wanted the midwives to see how far gone I was (I remembered my yoga teacher saying that if you appear too calm when you get to hospital – meditative, as she teaches – they won’t believe you’re in real labour). I was enjoying the freedom to be loud, that whatever I needed to do was okay. I remember thinking in passing that although I felt the urge to be loud through contractions, and probably looked like I was in pain, I wasn’t really feeling pain – I thought there was pain somewhere, or something very powerful happening in my body, but I wasn’t connected to it; it felt far away.
I was taken to a labour ward, to be checked by a midwife. Although I’d said in my birth plan that I didn’t want vaginal examinations, I consented because I wanted them to know I was about to have a baby, so that I wouldn’t be sent to the other hospital. And sure enough, she found I was fully dilated. No time to go anywhere. Hurray! What a relief!
I leaned forward on a beanbag, as I’d been comfortable doing at home. My partner called Sarah to let her know we were staying here after all. I think she’d already started driving to the other hospital, so it was a while before she got there.
The midwife mostly let me be for a while, she said to push when I felt like it, as my instincts were good. I really appreciated her trust in me, but I didn’t feel like pushing much. I just wanted to get through contractions with minimum effort. The main thing bothering me at this time was pressure on my anus – It felt like if I pushed too hard the baby would burst out of my bum!
It was only when I heard her say that it could be just 5 more minutes that I thought “Oh wow, this could be over in 5 minutes, there’s no need to pace myself, I can push for 5 minutes.” (I later found out that what she’d actually said was “It could be 5 minutes or it could be an hour”, but I’d only heard the positive). I moved from the bean bag to kneeling and leaning up against the back of the bed, which was raised.
The baby was crowning during contractions, but not moving much for some time. The midwife began to encourage me to push more and cough. She asked me to lie on my side. I reluctantly did, but it was uncomfortable, so I returned to my kneeling position.
Sarah arrived at some point – I don’t think I was able to acknowledge her. She came and stood by me, reminding me to relax my shoulders between contractions. I was also only vaguely aware that there was a second midwife there, who came and went a few times. My partner said later that she was really rude, possibly resentful that we were there at all, so I’m glad I didn’t notice her.
I remember my partner telling me he could see the baby’s head and that it had hair. He sounded happy and close to tears, so this encouraged me to keep pushing. I could feel my perineum stretching, stretching, stretching.
When the baby still wasn’t moving any more, the midwives began to get a bit concerned. The baby’s heart rate dropped a bit. They said I had to change positions, explaining that the baby’s head was pressing against my perineum and couldn’t go any further and that this would cause the baby distress if it was there for too long. They wanted me to lie on my back but I refused – this was against everything I understood about birth. I did agree to try lying on my side again. Sarah held up my upper leg and I pushed really hard.
Then it all happened very quickly. I felt a sudden sharp pain in the front of my vagina as it stretched when the baby’s head came out (up until then all the stretching pain had been at the back) – later revealed to be two significant tears of the labia. But the head was out – such relief! I think I rolled on to my back then. The rest of the baby came out on the next contraction (8.18am).
All of a sudden there was a wriggling, crying baby on my chest. It was almost a shock. Amazing. I think my partner cried, which touched me. He described how he’d watched the baby turn from blue to pink with the first few breaths. It felt like several minutes before the midwife asked if we’d seen the sex. It hadn’t even occurred to me – a baby was enough. The midwife knew was letting us make the discovery. So Simon and I peered under the baby’s belly and saw he was a boy. I was not surprised; I’d had hundreds of dreams of a baby boy.
My heart jumped when the midwife referred to him as “your son” – it wasn’t just a baby, he had a gender now. I have a son.
When the cord stopped working, my partner cut it.
The first attempts at breastfeeding were exciting and amazing, watching this new little creature snuffle around for my nipple – making real cute snuffling noises. Sarah and the midwife helped with positioning and attachment. Although the advice was good, at this time I felt like there were too many people talking, I wanted peace and quiet to discover my baby.
These delightful moments were interrupted by the realisation that the placenta was still to come. I had only had a couple of very minor contractions since the birth. I did not want the placenta induced, as is the normal procedure. The midwife informed us that the doctor (somewhere outside) said they’d give me an hour to deliver it naturally – any longer was too big a risk, given there was no anaesthetist on duty, in case I had a significant haemorrhage.
I had to then focus on pushing the placenta out. I handed the baby over to my partner (seeing him with his shirt off with the baby in his arms made me melt), as Sarah walked me to the toilet – emptying the bladder was supposed to help. I had a couple of contractions on the toilet, but no wee and no placenta. Back to the bed, tried squatting over a bedpan. This time was stressful and confusing. The obstetrician came in to talk to me. I’d liked her when I’d met her at an earlier appointment, but now she seemed severe, intimidating. She explained to me the risks – that I might be bleeding behind the placenta, if they didn’t find out for many hours, there was a risk of death, I’d have to be flown to Nepean – the worst case scenario. She didn’t even stop talking when I was having a contraction – everyone else was perceptive enough to know when to be quiet. I felt exhausted, all I wanted was for it to be over so I could sleep. I couldn’t remember why I was so against inducing the placenta, but I knew I’d decided that earlier so there must have been a good reason. It was good to have Sarah there to clarify things and to ask the doctor for time to think. I felt under a lot of pressure and I think this slowed things down. The midwife kept coming in and explaining things over and over again, saying she was under pressure from the doctor outside – it was a good cop / bad cop routine. I wished they’d just leave me alone. The hour was extended to an hour and a half. I eventually consented to the syntocin injection – just for it all to be over, and I didn’t want to risk things going wrong – I felt lucky to have been able to have the baby there, I didn’t want to have to go to the other hospital now.
So they injected it into my thigh and very quickly the contractions got intense again. I don’t think they were as strong as they’d been for the baby, but I was more aware of them now and I felt more self-conscious about making noise. It was a lot to go through this again after the high of having a baby. But in about 15 minutes, the placenta came out in one big blob (10.15am). And there wasn’t even much bleeding.
The doctor was there and she checked me for tearing – two big tears at the front of the labia, I wasn’t surprised. I had to have my legs in the stirrups for the stitches, which wasn’t pleasant. Several painful injections of local anaesthetic. As I flinched with one very painful shot, my baby (still in my partner’s arms) let out a loud scream – were we still connected? It made me smile, anyway.
After I was stitched up, I held my baby again. I no longer felt so tired and was very happy sitting there. I enjoyed being able to sit there naked, not being cold or self-conscious. I was a little disappointed to have to put my dressing gown on, when I was transferred in a wheelchair to my room in the maternity ward.
I had to spend at least 24 hours at the hospital, so that my baby could be observed for Group B Strep symptoms (I had refused antibiotics during labour – and it would have been too quick anyway). The best thing about being hospital was the bed – I loved the bed which went up and down by pressing a button! How anyone sits up on their own after having a baby, I don’ know. I would have stayed longer were it not for the AWFUL, tiny hospital meals and having people I didn’t know walk into my room all the time (the midwives shifts seemed to change so often). But I was recovering well. Midwives kept coming in asking if I wanted pain relief – what for? I asked, genuinely surprised by the offers.
We left hospital the following evening, after a test walk around the hospital, and took my beautiful little boy home.