This incredible birth story is told by Siobhan, Mama of baby Wulfric, who just blew me away with her strength and determination. Enjoy this story and keep the tissues close by!!!!
To tell the story of the birth of my son I absolutely have to include the story of the birth of my daughter, six and a half years earlier…
The decisions I made in my second pregnancy were a direct result of the events that took place in that first experience of childbirth. It took some months to make a decision, during what was a very difficult second pregnancy, but the decision to hire a doula became a gamechanger for me because during that pregnancy I was in a state of complete terror and I had become quite mentally unwell in that state of fear. I held an unwavering conviction that I was going to die during childbirth because 6 years prior I had experienced a heamorage just after delivery that had been very traumatic. I was frozen in my fear because I had been sexually assaulted by an obstetrician during that labor. I was terrified of experiencing maltreatment in labour again and wanted to avoid medical intervention of any kind and yet being so terrified of having another heamorage and not being in a hospital was triggering regular panic attacks. I felt stuck. I was stuck. The PTSD from those first childbirth experiences was upon me again and although the pregnancy was difficult we were both healthy and, day by day, I was getting closer to birthing again.
There were decisions that needed to be made and things I needed to face. I was cautious with input from medical staff but I was sick and tired of false starts, pain, ongoing nausea and ofcourse my unstable mental state.
The labour started two days after I decided to start the induction process with a 'stretch and sweep' at 37 weeks. I was fully aware that this proceedure may not induce anything and after feeling so completely violated during my first birth experience this was a big decision to make. At times I was so impatient with my Doula Sandy that I am certain she was just as nervous about the birth as I was. She was enormously patient, I was not easy but she pressed on in trying to remind me of my agency in each decison with obstetric staff. There was a period of time during the pregnancy when I wanted to have an elective cesarean but after spending the last two weeks watching up to ten birth videos a day, from homebirths to cesareans and everything inbetween, I suddenly came to a point where I felt ready to face my fears.
Pregnancy is a funny thing, I am quite certain the mind prepares for birth just as the body does. The pregnancy had been such a trying time in my life, with daily insulin shots for gestational diabetes, nine months of nausea that kept me mostly bed-ridden, not to mention the declining mental health... and yet at 35 weeks something did click mentally... body and mind relaxed and started to get ready! I had a support team, the hospital were squared-away with the details of my first birth and a promise from Sandy that she would be with me every step of the way.
One of the most profound feelings I had during the first experience of birth was, during and after the haemorrhage, that Death 'in the room' and feeling so frightened. I have heard other women and Sandy herself say it can indeed be felt but it doesn't necessarily have to be feared; new life is coming in, it is palpable and moves everyone involved but birth is a wild animal action! When I had this experience the first time around, I could physically feel myself falling backwards whilst slipping into a mental space of pure fear. I had quickly lost a litre of blood and the thing my spirit needed the most were hands on me, holding me, reminding me 'we've got you!' Those hands were not there! There were people in the room who loved me, people who would also be traumatized by the physically and vocally forceful actions of an obstetrician and midwife. There were things done to my body without my consent... there were people in the room who were not welcome and my baby was taken from me and away from me for over 5 hours. But there were good midwives in that room too. One who came up to me after a long-awaited epidural set in and encouraged me to complain to the hospital the assault that had taken place and another midwife called Kira who had held my face telling me I was safe and that the blood had stopped and the drugs had started. There are so many details of that first birth that break my heart and so I don't go into it all 'blow-by-blow!' But there are so many details of the second birth that are lost to me too... but that time, for all the RIGHT reasons! During labor all the right things were happening and all the good hormones were flowing and I was aloud to Be in that space.
It was a truly transformative and healing experience! I am deeply changed because of it. Breathing techniques took me into a deep trance as the intensity of the contractions came and went. It all felt so BIG... the contractions reminding me that my womb was working hard to get itself into position to push from the inside.
Inbetween contractions I tried to rest as deeply as I could, reminding myself that I just had to allow my body to do what it already knows how to do.
I moved around alot in labour, even just swinging my hips when I couldn't move anything else... it felt natural... to move into it. We are not taught to move 'into pain' in our culture. But pain as we know it and those intense surges in childbirth are NOT the same thing. Moving increased the intensity but the more I moved the more I felt my womb and pelvis do what they needed to do.
Sadness swept over me twice during this second labour... it was a grief from the first time that poured out and once it did I felt clear again. Sandy was the one who could see that some greif was coming. It helped me ENORMOUSLY mentally to let it flow at that time. I had been so afraid that the first birth creeping into the second would be triggering and even scary and I think eveyone was bracing a little incase I mentally panicked but reflecting back on it now, of course it would come up...during that unique experience... memories and sadness of the time before. And instead of panic setting in Sandy helped me to let it flow out and it didn't get in the way at all... I just got back to work.
Sandy helped me fashion a kind of pully-system with her Rebozo to the top of the hospital bed - The Rebozo is a very long, woven scarf with traditions of using the Rebozo handed down from mother to daughter and midwife to midwife. One of the many uses of the Rebozo is relaxing and repositioning mothers in childbirth.
When active labor kicked off about 15 hours after my water had broke I mainly stuck to the bed in the birthing room. Using the Raboza tied to the top of the bed I stood and kneeled, bending over and repeatly squatting. The hormones sustained such an active state during labour, after 9 months in bed I was hardly fit enough to take it on without them. The recovery from this labor was intense, every single muscle had been worked during that labour, the hormones fueling the whole thing. I did have to face triggering things birthing back in a hospital. I had two lines put into the back of my hands for if a heamorage was to happen. They got in the way and they hurt. There were regular antibiotics that I agreed to take after it had been 18 hours on from my water breaking. There was some tedious consultation every couple of hours but all up I had a major stroke of luck with who was on staff. My primary midwife Allison and my Doula Sandy knew eachother and Allison worked so hard for me to labour in any way I needed to. She held monitors to me untill her arms ached instead of strapping them to me. She turned all the lights off and used a torch when needed. She never mentioned time or examinations, she spoke to my partner and Sandy and didn't disturb me unless she really had to, she cheered me on. Afterwards Alison removed the cannulas from hands and we shared some stories. That was a big moment for me after spending the first night in the ER and 5 days on IV antibiotics after my first birth experience. There was a certain point when Sandy and Allison seemed to expect to see the labor get to the pointy end of things and the baby just wasn't moving down. I was squatting down so deep and roaring for some time that I recall Sandy and Allison saying 'it won't be long now!' This is the point my partner said he felt a little panicked... if baby wasn't coming, was this the point that I might panic and obstetricians take over. Sandy and Allison just let it be... I laboured on my back for a while and rested and then Sandy recommended the shower. Then she recommended the toilet in the hope that years of conditioning myself to 'open' may be helpful. It was! I felt my son's head come down the birth canal SO quickly it was almost with a CLUNK! I screamed 'BABY!' and hit all-fours on the bathroom floor. There were additional midvies called and Allison and Sandy tried so hard to coach me through slowing things down but I honestly felt my womb chuck that baby outta of me. The video that Sandy was so mindful to capture shows a slower process but it felt almost immediate after diving off the loo. It was THE GREATEST MOMENT, feeling the head of my child, solid in my pelvis... it was the moment I felt us as separate after 37 weeks together. I tried to hold him there and slow things down but my womb contracted and my vaginal muscles were no match for that force!
When people hear a woman speak of the mystical experience that can take place in glorious childbirth they probably don't think of a woman with two lines in her hands giving birth on the toilet floor of a public hospital, but Spiritual it was, glorious it was! IT WAS THE VERY BEST THING I HAVE EVER DONE! There are moments during my short stay in the hospital after the birth where a midwife would find me crying and ask if I was ok and I would answer back: 'I'm fine... I'm amazing... it was amazing!' It was and I was in awe of myself, I still am! I am also now capable of being in awe of a much younger me going into childbirth totaly green and then enduring the unthinkable. I thought it had practically destoryed me but the second birth revealed to me there was magic in the first birth too. I would never wish a woman to experience what I experienced but in spite of it all, the majesty of the second birth has helped me see something so life-affirming... that woman have the most extraordinary ability as the people who grow and bring forth life, that in spite of it all... I still did what I thought I could never do!
There is a photo from just after my son's birth that I think tells my story so clearly. In the photo I am exhaling and crying with the sweetest relief after Allison is telling me that, although I had torn from a speedy delivery and there was blood, there was no heamorage. I will always remember the sound I made when I learned I was safe. But there is another detail in this photograph which makes me cry even now... there are two hands... one on each of my shoulders... one is my partner's hand, my son's father... the other hand belongs to Sandy.
I had asked her to not let go the whole time she was with me... and she didn't... not once... from the moment she arrived by my side to support me, until the moment I was ready to let go, she was with me... 'I've got you!'
Sandy supported me physically and emotionally. She was practical in her support, often one step ahead, and she was pragmatic, keeping me in the zone I needed to be in to get the job done. She is a mother and a Doula, she knows birth... I believe this is VITAL in the birthing room. But the best part about Sandy being with me, was having her cheer me on! It was having a woman who loves women, a woman who respects the process of labor and majesty of birth stand along side me and yell out 'you did it Siobhán, you did it' as my son was being passed under me, between my legs. There was amazing relief and awe and peace and then there was Sandy's voice reminding what this was... a celebration!