Wed 31st May: Our last day at home before we become parents…. Forever. The feeling that our lives are about to change in a way that we can only imagine. James finishing our birth plan, printing my affirmations, last minute cleaning and packing. Me making my birthing goddess necklace, feeling my women friends and family, generations of them holding me. Farmor’s ring on my finger, my maternal grandmother's watch ready for my birthing alter; the heavy, fossil crystal from Kate, affirmations and crystals from Manjit, photos and letters…my holding circle was solid. Feeling strong, a bubbling mix of anxiety and excitement. The unknown…. Knowing that anything could go down, and feeling ready for whatever cards Mama deals me. There’s nothing more we could do now; no need to paint the cot, what we were about to do was way bigger than that. It’s time, I’m ready… let's do this thing, our baby is coming!!
Left the house, had one last acupuncture in Newtown- open cervix, down baby… we’re ready; we can do it. Lunch on pako; James and I feeling relaxed; aligned, ready. Stopped at Kates for a little yoga pep talk circle with her and Ari; last minute reminders for both James and I…a beautiful Shakti mantra sung by Kate; energetic high fives; headed to the hospital with so much juice in our tanks, armed with all of the physical and energetic tools we could muster. Got to our room; checks, monitor on Marley’s heart rate; always makes me anxious- Marley not moving much… noticing my heart beat faster and breath become shallow, but knowing, trusting we are in the right place. Rosie arrives; beautiful breath of fresh air and smiling positivity… All is well. So many midwives and doctors breezing in and out. Almost time for the balloon; I need to poo! This could be my last chance! Rosie bought me 15 mins, left the room so I could relax enough to relinquish my bowels; success. Lay down, doctors arrive; lay back, legs in stirrups, don’t know how many people peering down my most intimate entry point with bright lights shining down on her; about to become a birthing canal for the first time. Me surrendering to the process; this is our choice, we are doing this for the safety of our baby. But severing any feeling association I may have developed to my cervix; I cant feel this… I’ll just be strong and make jokes about it… I’ll look the doctors in the eye; I’m not scared. Any pain is part of my marination for the birth. I got this. James by my side, sure and strong, steady and present, as always at these times.
……continued… from memory
They are ready to poke and prod; I ask them to wait, till I give them permission to enter with their cold, sterile tools. Deep breath, ok; now you may enter. Doing my best to hold onto my empowerment, my dignity. They check my cervix, 1cm dilated already, impressive, all that acupuncture must have worked! Now for the balloon…It’s cold, it’s mildly painful, they inflate the balloon with water, I’m not really present. Just squeezing James’ hand. They remove the tools, tell me I did such a good job, like a good girl I suppose… toughened up, didn’t make a sound, didn’t make a fuss. They offer pain medication, I don’t need it.. Rosie gives a final embrace, her big smile and advice to get a good nights sleep, take the pain medication if you need it.. you need sleep! James stays with me, we talk, I sway, still monitoring the heart rate; They want to know the balloon isn’t effecting the baby. We eat some dinner (?).. James says goodbye. It’s just me, on a plastic coated bed, with the painful moans of birthing women next door to put me to sleep. I put my headphones in, music usually helps. The bed is cold and uncomfortable, the pain is getting worse; I can't sleep, it’s nearing midnight and I still haven’t slept… Rosie’s words help me to surrender to the pain medication, sleep is a priority; they bring me something and I drift into a deep sleep, only to be woken at 6am to be told I need to get the IV cannula in my arm… hmm, ok, I’m too sleepy and submissive to protest. It goes in at 6.15am. The room is freezing cold and I’m shivering. James hasn’t arrived yet and a young female doctor walks in and tells me we need to start the induction drip before 8am, and it’s time to break my waters. I don’t want to birth in this room, it doesn’t feel right, and it’s so cold, there’s no way I can relax. It’s already moving too fast for me, this doctor is pushing the fear card…. ‘we need to get this moving, your baby is at risk if we wait too long’… I let her speak but I did not let her fear permeate my being, James arrives. We ask to move rooms, they don’t listen, it registers of no importance compared to hospital timeframes and agendas. It’s time to break my waters.. the young female doctor gloves up and gets to business, sometime after 7am.. she takes out the balloon and checks the dilation, 4cm..apparently very impressive. And soft, my cervix is soft, so soft the doctor with spindly arms and tiny hands is doing her best to get a handle on her with the little hook and becoming increasingly frustrated; she’s using all her might, her arm starts shaking; after what felt like at least 10 mins of trying, I ask ‘does it usually take this long? ‘Your cervix is very floppy’ she replies… floppy hey? Nobody calls my cervix floppy… ‘slippery perhaps?’ I offer ‘well, I haven’t yet emptied by bladder this morning, so I could do that, and then we could try the stirrups as well’ feeling the need to interrupt the unconscious assault on my poor cervix , and buying time to avoid the doctors impatience to start the drip. I get up, wee and get in the stirrups.. ok, now, on my watch lady… you may break my waters; done. Just in time for this weak wristed doctors end of shift, what a shame.. pressure off, dodged a bullet.
We get a midwife called (Andrea/ Ange, who starts her shift in tic toc robot mode, glances at our birth plan and has no interest in finding us another room… we start chatting, she warms up…. Maybe she can find us another room, with the wireless monitors too- miraculous! We are transferred to a room on the other side, it’s bigger, warmer and lights easily dimmed- this is where our baby will be born. Yes! We make it ours; salt lamp, oil diffuser, music, yoga props, affirmations on the walls… now we’re talking. Rosie arrives… always a breath of fresh air. Andrea loves our music, we get to know about her son, a musician.. we’re warming to each other. Rosie helps to stall the drip… we wanted a few hours post membrane rupture to find our flow and get things moving; Rosie makes sure we get at least this.. I start to find my flow, drop in, on the fitball.
We’re all chatting, relaxed. Around 10am Andrea asks are you ready? Contractions haven’t started, can we begin the drip? I’m ready. It takes at least an hour before contractions start, some very mild tightenings, Andrea has a motherly hand on my belly asking if I can feel what’s showing up on the monitor- yes, just some a pleasant tightening sensations, I’m enjoying it. James opens the snacks which I was adamant were unnecessary, and I have some crackers and dip. This is fun, like our own little birthing party. The contractions begin to intensify, just a bit; Andrea finishes her shift.. feel like I’m saying goodbye to a friend. Then we get Sarah (with the help of Rosie’s behind the scenes wizardry)… and oh my, did we hit the jackpot. Sarah turns out to be like the midwife from the Red Tent… wise, experienced, strong, empowering and a passionate lover of normal birth. Thank yoouu! This is the woman who will be present to receive our baby, and ward off the fear mongering doctors.
Contractions keep intensifying, strong tightenings, my uterus working hard in response to the syntocinon… each contraction getting more painful, but I’m still on top of it, just managing to adjust to each rise in sensation, keeping my head above water, definitely intense, but manageable… needing James on my lower back doing the pressure points for every contraction now, and the heat pack, my noises are accompanying every contraction and getting louder. Fitball is good (?), then Sarah needs to do an internal- takes 3 contractions to get me on the bed. Her face says it all, I knew it wasn’t good news according to the hospital protocol checklist, but according to my body, I knew it was great news… the baby and I were doing this, and doing it well, I knew. “You’ve done some really good work, and the baby has moved down a lot” Sarah said in her encouraging, delightful British accent, “and I know the doctor said you were 4 cm dilated this morning, but now, you are only 3cm dilated”. I think she expected me to be deflated, but I felt in no way deflated.. I had a lot of juice in my tank, and I knew enough from Rhea Dempsey to know that dilation is not always a true indicator of birthing progress. I get off the bed and get back to work, staying with my body with each contraction; James there for every one. And managing to heat the heat pack and get icypoles in the interim. I have no awareness of what’s happening in the room; I’m going in.
I find myself on the toilet; drip following. Sarah comes in ‘the doctors are happy with how you’re going, but they’d like to see some really good progress in the next hour. Are you happy for me to turn the drip up?’ ‘Yep’ I’m good, I got this. Drip goes up, the next contraction king hits me. It comes from nowhere and hijacks my entire body.. the pain takes my breath, blurs my vision and bowls me into a crisis of confidence. Fuck this, no way.. I’m out, where’s the caesarean. I try the sympathy card with James and in a voice laden with defeat, I manage ‘I can't do this babe’… he gives me a huge playful grin, and with full conviction replies, ‘yes you can’. Ok, the only way is through, fuck it, the next one is coming.. get back to work. IT takes full presence to stay with each contraction, and lots of vocalising... open the vocal cords, open the cervix. The rest in between is blissful… silent, peaceful respite from the intensity.. if Farmor can do it as a tiny 19yo birthing my dad in Copenhagen, then I can do it. I felt all the mothers before me; I harnessed that power. It wasn’t long before I felt the bum, YES! Bum, bum, bum, bum, bum! In the words of Rhea Dempsey. This baby is coming; that was so encouraging it gave me a second wind, and I knew I could keep going for much longer. I spy Rosie sitting casually on the perimeter of the room “I’m pushing’ I manage to say at the end of one contraction, not that I was really pushing, but the bowel pressure was intensifying. Rosie was completely unphased… apparently thinking I had much longer to go. I’m leaning on the bed; vaguely aware of some confusion about the heart rate monitor but not caring at all (turns out my heart rate was going down to 50 something in contractions and they were amazed)… Sarah suggests I get on the bed for some rest, she lies me on my left side, it helps to open the cervix apparently. The contractions slow down a bit, I get longer in that blissful place, and the contractions are different, the uterine pain is barely there, it’s just the bowel pressure, and that is primal and totally manageable. Now they believe me, the baby is coming. I hear them getting the trays and tools ready. Rosie keeps assuring me, your body knows what to do. At no point did they tell me to push; they said they would only do that if they were concerned about the heartbeat; I feel some impatience and push anyway.. it stings. I’m rushing, I kind of know I am, but I don’t stop it. I feel this beautiful weight coming into my vagina, I talk to the baby, ‘beautiful baby’ The head is coming, James is ready to receive our baby. My noises are primal. I think it took two contractions with pushing and our baby was here.
Ha I don’t even know where to start this!
So maybe I’ll just get right to the crux and chat to you about the good shit..
After a really long, mentally challenging wait for our little baby, I was induced 10 days over my due date. On Thursday 14th of June, after a week of heavy monitoring by my obstetricians and the Epworth Geelong Maternity team I was admitted and had a prostaglandin gel administered to get things going. After having lots of pre labour signs for the two weeks prior, my body was gagging to labour but was just struggling to get over the line.
After the gel was administered and Ben was sent home, I got set up in my ridiculously massive room (one of the reasons people have nicknamed it ‘Hotel Epworth’) and put on one of my Hypnobirthing affirmation meditations to send me to sleep.
Ben and I had taken on the incredibly lovely Rosie from Geelong Born as our birth support who also runs the Geelong Born Hypnobirthing Australia™ course which we were always keen to do. So over two Sundays a couple months prior we learnt all about acupressure points and how breathing would help me through the labour. Having had my fair share of health stuff over the past couple of years and been pushed to the highest levels of my pain threshold, I knew where I could go in handling pain and knew that I could either freak the fuck out and let it go to my head or I could calm the hell down and breath through it and get it done. Anyway, more on that later.
After cramping pretty heavily all night I had one more CTG at dawn to check the baby was happy, which it was and then at 8am I had my membranes ruptured by my wonderful obgyn Dr Emily Huning. After a few cracks to burst them (they weren’t going to pop anytime soon given their thickness) I felt a strange release and a big gush of fluid. We were on our way!
Contractions started immediately but were super manageable, so I bounced happily on my favourite thing ever and the thing that got me through the pregnancy- the exercise ball! Chatting easily in between contractions I was then given Syntocinon via a drip to really get things going and BANG! It was all on. The contractions immediately went from zero to hero and I was deep into it. I spent the next hour bouncing on the ball or leaning forward onto the bed riding the waves, whilst breathing in my aromatherapy and having my pre made music playlists guiding me through.
After an hour and a half of this things started getting really serious and without anyone really knowing, I went through the transition phase. If you don’t know what this is, it’s just before you start pushing but you don’t realise and you are flat out trying to pack your bags to leave the hospital because you just don’t want to do it anymore. My reaction was to demand where I was at and how dilated I was. Because the baby was so far down and engaged it was really hard to monitor and her heart rate was so relaxed the nurses still thought I had some time to go. Nope, in my usual style.. my body was in no mood to dick around and just wanted to get things done! After an hour in transition of me kneeling over the ball on the floor, my body started to naturally push and I went with it.. 20 minutes later as my husband continued to rub my lower back as my only form of pain control and with the midwives were around the front of me trying to get the babies heart rate he was astounded to so quickly see the head crowing and just as he looked up to let the nurses know, by the time he looked back down- the baby was lying on the towel covered floor!
It all happened so quickly that no one was prepared for it and the baby and my body were so ready, out came a tiny little baby girl much to everyone’s surprise! As she was handed up to me I was in total shock.. what amazingness just happened??
Had I really just given birth to this vernix covered little ball of baby, in 3 hours, naturally with no drugs?? Yes I bloody did.
I don’t say this proudly as a boastful thing, as I know so many of my friends and other mummas have had really tough labours but I say this because I was genuinely so shocked at how much I loved the experience. Especially because the whole pregnancy I had been freaking out that I was having a caesarean after a medium had told me I was!! Note to all mediums- don’t tell mums to be they are having a caesarean!!! A sure as hell way to destroy their confidence!! But I was chuffed to have proved her wrong and to have had such a wonderful labour.
And I did with the help and support of my incredible man, who calmly and reassuringly supported me the entire time and Rosie, who was so gentle in her support. It was with her experienced guidance she was able to stop me getting into a higher state and allowed me to sink into myself and go deep with my experience. As she knelt in front of me and Ben behind, these two wonders kept me calm and empowered.
And the result of those incredible 3 hours was our little baby girl Adelaide Lily O’Connor, weighing 7.2pounds (what, me.. give birth to a small baby?!) and 47cm long with big feet like her mumma!
The 6 days following that spent at the Epworth was a blur of no sleep, constant staring at this little bundle of magic we had created and overwhelm. Man, how overwhelming it all was. Especially the breastfeeding side of things!! Nothing prepared me for how hard this was going to be. Addie and I were learning together and we both had no idea what we were doing! I hadn’t done any classes on how to breastfeed, which in hindsight I kinda should of because I had NO idea how to get her to latch and she too, sucked.
We eventually got home and the past 5 weeks have been a roller coaster. It took 3 weeks for me to get the breastfeeding down and man, I have never been pushed into a dark corner so quickly as what I did trying to get through the pain and stress of it. But once we both finally got into the swing of it things started to settle and as she grows daily I see her starting to interact more, smiling & gurgling and our time together doing this makes all of it make sense. A big shout out to my two lactation consultants.. Donna at Epworth Geelong and Margie Neyland for when I was home. These two women saved me!
I’d be lying if I said this has come as naturally to me as I thought it would. I might be quite a maternal person but my independent soul has struggled with staying home all day and being her life line. But that’s ok. I realise that it's ok to feel like I've been slapped in the face by the experience. It is fucking hard!! And I’m proud that I don’t pretend that I’m mum of the year, I am going to keep it real because I love when other women portray their truth and not hide behind the perfection of life. So I’m gonna do the same!
I’ve really appreciated other mums who have reached out to check in to see how we are, particularly how I am. I guess they too understand how challenging and isolating this experience can be and women who stand strong for others when they stumble inspire me constantly. We have the power to change someone’s day so rather than beating them down with judgement or their own opinions on how something should be done, its been really lovely to see women simply offer support and a cooked dinner.
There is no one road, I’m learning that leads to success or a well raised, happy child. Everyone will find their own path and as rocky as it may be, its their path to walk. And how amazing the path I’m walking is and I cannot wait to lead Adelaide down it for a short while until she takes the reigns. I will empower her to see the world for the beauty and magnificence it has but most importantly showing her all the beauty and magnificence she holds within herself.
Hilary's birth story was first published on the Hilary Holmes Makeup blog page on August 7, 2018
Hilary's birth resources...
Rosie at Geelong Born www.geelongborn.com.au for birth support & the Hypnobirthing Australia™ course in Geelong & the Surf Coast.
Epworth Geelong Maternity https://www.epworthgeelong.org.au/our-services/maternity/
Geelong Maternity Group http://www.geelongmaternitygroup.com.au/