February 12, 2014

Sadbh’s Birth Story March 2006

I wrote about my experience of fear and how I managed to deal with that in my first pregnancy here. Now I want to add the actual story of my first labour.

When we went for our first scan I was told that my due date was 22nd February. We were suprised as we had thought it would be March. I remember we asked the sonographer if the scan dates could be wrong and she said no. As first time parents we just accepted this, since we weren’t completley sure about our own dates.

February 22nd came and went and there was no sign of labour starting. I was fine with this as I was hoping my baby would be born in March. This would mean an extra 2 months of maternity leave for me, so I wasn’t unduly worried and felt very relaxed. By 8th March, however, the hospital were putting a lot of pressure on me to come in to be induced. (I had a horrible meeting with the consultant who was quite nasty about me asking for a few more days before induction and annoyed I was hoping to have a Home Birth). Under the Home Birth Scheme I would have to have the baby within 14 days of my official estimated due date. After that I would have to be discharged into the hospital. So I was feeling pressure all around to have this baby.

Mary Cronin (one of the 2 amazing midwives I had booked with) had given me a sweep to see if it would help move things along but it didn’t. I took some Castor Oil and I also went to see an acupuncturist who had a great reputation at helping to kickstart labour. I had the appointment for 5pm that evening (8th March) and just before I sat up on the bed for the treatment, my waters released. It was a strange sensation. On TV, labour usually starts with waters releasing and it always looks so dramatic. This was not – though I had a good joke with the acupuncturist that she was even better than I had heard as she hadn’t even put a needle in and things seemed to have started!!!!

After getting some towels and drying off, I had my treatment, which was wonderful by the way (I resolved to get acupuncture more regularly on my next pregnancy). I had planned to go out to dinner with my ‘labour team’ – my husband David, my Mam, and my two close friends Gwen and Tracey who were acting as my doulas.

My Birth Team (minus David). From left to right: Gwen, Me!, my Mammy and Tracey

My Birth Team (minus David). From left to right: Gwen, Me!, my Mammy and Tracey

I felt fine, so I just phoned my Mam and asked her to bring in a change of clothes for me, as well as some sanitary towels. David picked me up and we headed to Liberty Grill (one of my favourite restaurants in Cork) for a bite to eat. When the gang arrived I went into the toilet and changed my clothes. We had a lovely dinner and I could feel surges throughout the dinner, but they were so mild I was able to eat and have a fun evening. At about 8.30pm we headed for Midleton. In the car going home my surges began to pick up pace. We got back to the house and my 2 midwives, Mary and EllMarie, arrived to check me out. I changed into lovely white pjs (the midwives thought this was hilarious).

We set ourselves up in the sitting room: birthing ball, candles, music, TENS machine. The midwives left saying they would see me later at some point, and everyone – except myself and David – went to bed. I laboured throughout the night and to be honest it’s quite a blur now. I have snippets of memories: rolling on the birth ball (oh this was heaven), groaning, listening to my music, listening to the Hypnobirth CD, the relief of the TENS machine. The lovely smells from the aromatherapy blends that David would massage on my bump and back in between the surges. According to David I fell fast asleep between a lot of the surges, snoring away (but since I don’t snore I doubt this)! I felt so cosseted and cosy, so enveloped in peace – we ended up going down to just one small tea light, as I preferred it to be dark. Around 4am David was feeling tired as he was getting no sleep at all, so he went to bed and my friend Tracey took over. Fair play to her – modern technology of any kind is completely stressful for her, but she managed to operate both the TENS machine and the stereo remote control with just the one tea light!!! (This was no mean feat for her!!!).

When daylight came the mood changed. I was getting tired and Gwen came down and suggested a shower – this was great as it really revived me and gave me a change of scene. Then I had a bite to eat – I couldn’t manage much but it did help (again on Gwen’s suggestion, I probably wouldn’t have thought to eat myself).

Then it was on with the radio and we had Ray D’arcy and the team to occupy us (I love listening to his show, so it was great to be in labour during it – I even tried texting him in). I still felt so cosy. At one stage I was leaning over the birth ball and both Gwen and Tracey were massaging my feet – bliss. At times I would find myself struggling and I would just repeat one of the affirmations from the CDs I had been listening to and this would help. By this stage the TENs machine was just feeling itchy and was annoying me, so I took that off.

EllMarie came out and checked me and said I could put the La Bassine pool up (Mary had flown off to Prague at this stage as I had gone much further over my dates than anyone expected). The pool was lovely, the heat really helped and I could just float back and forth when a surge came. Gwen put hot towels over my back – this was divine and I would nearly go through labour again for this! The day is a bit of a blur, I remember feeling so cared for and loved and enjoying the labour. I have to say that even having done the Hypnobirthing, I was dreading transition slightly. I needn’t have worried. This was probably one of the nicest parts of labour for me as I went totally into my own world – I was in a blissful haze and it wasn’t unmanageable at all – I didn’t realise it was transition until later – so there you go. It was a very dreamy state and I felt so spaced out (in a good way). I was super relaxed and being in the pool helped immensely. It was amazing and not at all like I had imagined (thankfully!)

I love this photo - it always reminds me of how much I loved the pool and my labour!

I love this photo – it always reminds me of how much I loved the pool and my labour!

After this I came back totally into the room – everything cleared up – this was about 4pm. I was really excited at how easy the labour had been – I had no fears around the pushing, I had made it through transition. Little did I know!!! Unfortunately for me, the 2nd stage of labour never really kicked in for me. We tried everything: dancing, sitting on the toilet, running (well walking as fast as I could) up and down the stairs, I got back into the pool again. I did lots of squatting over the midwife’s birth stool. I took herbs and homeopathy….the list was endless. I had a fantastic birth team of very experienced people and I tried all their suggestions.

I would get a few contractions and then nothing – I never had that overwhelming urge to push that I believe normally happens. My baby was making her way down the birth canal but it was SLOWLY! She was in great condition for all of this, her heartbeat never got erratic, but I was getting very tired. Ellmarie suggested going into hospital, but as both myself and baby were OK I wanted more time, so I declined.

I stayed at home until about 6am and then EllMarie suggested for the second time that I should go into the hospital. I was absolutely exhausted at this stage and though I could feel my baby’s head, she was nowhere near crowning yet, so I agreed. I was worried myself at how tired I was and knew I needed some extra help.

After transition, having to transfer into hospital was probably one of biggest fears. I worried that the hosptial staff would be dismissive of me for trying to have a home birth and ‘failing’. Thankfully my worries were groundless. The midwives could not have been nicer to us. Ellmarie, who drove us in, was able to stay which I appreciated. I was given pitocin (synthetic oxytocin) to strengthen contractions. The hospital was not as cosseted as home. There were so many people around – doctor’s in and out advising me to take antibiotics, telling me I would have to have a forceps if things didn’t move along. It was harder to focus but I managed to stay calm and found the midwives enthusiasm and confidence that I could do it really helpful. They were really supportive.  At this stage I was exhausted, I wasn’t in pain I was just so tired and I wanted the labour to stop. In the end I agreed to an episiotomy and Sadbh came out at last immediately after. I had my beautiful baby girl.

All of a sudden the exhaustion vanished. I was elated and so so happy to have my baby.

Sadbh a few minutes after she was born.

Sadbh a few minutes after she was born.

Looking back now nearly 8 years later I wonder if my fear of becoming a parent for the first time slowed things down. I remember Ellmarie saying that my baby would probably be here by tea time and being excited but deep down a bit fearful. As Ina May Gaskin points out in her book Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth strong emotions such as underlying fear can impede the progress of childbirth (she talks about this specifically on pages 134-135). Although I had dealt with the fears I had around being in labour, I perhaps hadn’t dealt with my fears of becoming a mother.

I was disappointed that I didn’t get to have my home birth and that I had to have an episiotomy but I was thrilled I was able to my stay calm throughout my labour. I was also very happy that I had such a positive labour experience, something I would never have imagined possible before I did the workshop with Tracy Donegan. I felt I had been given the chance to make decisions regarding everything that happened and was very happy i was able to labour at home for so long with such a great team of friends and family. Ellmarie was incredible throughout, she was so supportive and positive and full of advice. She must have been exhausted when we got to the hospital, but she stayed with me until Sadbh was born and even came back again that night to check and see how we were doing. The level of care with the Home Birth Scheme is absolutely fantastic.

I am so glad to have such positive memories of my first birth, it is amazing how vivid the memories still are.


March 30, 2013

My First Pregnancy

I discovered I had feminist ‘leanings’ in college when I went as a ‘mature student, at the grand old age of 23 ( and to think I actually felt old then!!!! HA!!!!). Here I chose and was interested in women’s issues, while studying Sociology and History. While in college I became interested in birth from an academic standpoint. In both my Sociology and History dissertations I looked at reproductive rights and the medicalisation of childbirth. It was a fascinating subject in a very abstract way. I didn’t think I wanted children at this stage so while the subject drew me in it was not through personal experience.

When I became pregnant in 2006 suddenly it was not so abstract. We had decided to try and have children and see what happened, but even still it was a suprise. I was thrilled at first, but then the fear set in. I suffer from panic attacks intermittantly, but when I became pregnant they began to escalate and take over my life. I couldn’t enjoy my pregnancy because I was so fearful of the birth. Of course the general public didn’t help. I wanted a home birth and ideally a natural birth (I was just as afraid of hospitals and operations as I was of birth), but people began telling me their horror stories of either their own births or a friends. (Seriously people, think before you tell a pregnant woman a birth horror story please – it does not help them at all).

As this was my first pregnancy I wasn’t aware at first of how judgemental and opinionated people become over your birth preferences, but boy did I learn! Everyone had an opinion. Everyone was an expert. ‘I would need a epidural’ seemed to be the general theme. Just wait until you are in labour was bandied around a lot. In an effort to educate myself I went to natural childbirth classes (I found out later that they were Birthing From Within classes). They were very informative and gave us lots of useful information to mull over. They also offered us some coping techniques that unfortunately did nothing to help me and my fears.  As I did not find them useful my fears actually grew.  I thought – if I can’t manage to use these coping techniques now, how will i manage during my labour.

We also got to watch videos of women in labour. Amazing women having babies in hospital or at home, some gave birth in birth pools, others laboured in bed. All were having natural births. They completely and totally freaked me out! Mostly these women were doing fine until transition and then would lose the plot. I watched these videos – of women screaming to get the baby out, to bring them to the hospital so that they could get drugs, that they couldn’t do this anymore etc. They then went on to have a beautiful baby and seemed ecstatic. But i didn’t focus on that. No – I focused on the screaming and meltdowns of these women and left that class as white as a ghost, feeling even more terrified than I did before.

Interestingly everyone else loved the videos – for them they were powerful and encouraging. So it just goes to show everyone is different and different coping mechanisms and birth workshops can suit different people. I would never knock Birthing from Within – one of the women who took the class with me went on to have a fantastic birth experience and I have a number of friends how have found it helpful (one even trained and became an instructor in it), it was also great from a childbirth education standpoint for me.  I learned a lot about birth from it. It just didn’t help with my fears, perhaps because of the panic attacks, and in fact made them worse for a while.

After the class I considered a C-Section, I really thought it might be more manageable than having a natural birth. I knew myself. I am a strong person but I do have a tendency to quit something just before the end when it is hardest. How was a I going to manage birth, especially transition,  as there was no quitting there! My fears intensified and it felt like they were taking over my pregnancy. I was not enjoying it anymore as I couldn’t focus on anything apart from the birth and how I would cope with it.

Thankfully a close friend who is a midwife mentioned she knew someone in Dublin teaching hypnobirthing classes. She wasn’t sure exactly what they were but they did look at fear in birth and help with that. So I contacted Tracy Donegan and made arrangements to take her workshop. My husband was not impressed. Another birth class – he had done one already! Still he knew how scared I was and so agreed to travel up to take the workshop with Tracy.

The workshop was amazing and a turning point in my pregnancy. Over the weekend I learned how my body knew how to have a baby, how well equipped it was with fantastic hormones to help me through the labour. I was shown ways to help those hormones show up during labour and how fear affects them. I was shown videos of women calmly birthing their babies while listening to lovely affirmations and David was given tools to help me throughout my labour. This all made sense to both of us. This was something I suddenly felt I could do. It didn’t promise pain free, but it did say that listening to the CD’s would help with my fear of labour and less fear going into labour could also result in less pain. I was told stories of other women who had positive birth experiences. We also did some hypnosis sessions at the workshop and I found them so relaxing.

I left the workshop feeling so much more confident and so relieved. I felt I could manage labour, that it wasn’t this overwhelmingly scary event. That my body could do it, that I would reach the finish line. It was an incredible feeling. Suddenly I was feeling excited about the upcoming birth.

Over the next few weeks I listened diligently to the CD’s and read the workbook. There were a number of different tracks but I focused on the main 2 – the affirmations and the main birth track. I listened to them every day. This was my first baby so I had time to do that which was great. I loved them, they helped me connect in with my baby, feel relaxed about the birth and so positive about it.

From time to time I would have fears – thoughts would creep in. My scathing inner voice would ask me how listening to a CD would help me have a positive birth experience when everyone else I had met who had experienced labour had nothing good to say about it. My thoughts would remind me of those women in labour screaming uncontrollably and ask how listening to a CD could help me avoid that!!! However, once I put on my tracks I would feel positive again and if the fears got too much there was a Fear Release track I could listen to which also helped me .

I am so grateful I found the workshop, as I do think my fears would have impacted on my labour hugely. I was now able to enjoy my pregnancy. I was able to ignore the naysayers and go into a lovely pregnancy bubble and I am so glad I have those lovely memories of my first pregnancy to look back on.

I had a very easy pregnancy. I had such a small bump, I never got breathless, I felt very fit and healthy ( I was probably the fittest I have ever been in my life before I conceived my first), I had very few pregnancy complaints so now that the fear was no longer such an issue I was able to just enjoy the feeling of growing a baby, and the fuss and excitement that goes with being pregnant on your first baby. It was a fantastic time.

When I finally went into labour I felt excited rather than scared and I did go on to have a very positive birth experience…..but that is a story for another time!

Pregnant on Sadbh Feb 2006

How did you feel when you were pregnant for the first time? Did you find something useful to help you deal with your fears around childbirth if you had any? What worked for you?

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