“Whenever and however you give birth, your experience will impact your emotions, your mind, your body, and your spirit for the rest of your life.” Ina May Gaskin.
By Alison Sharma, Australia
They knew, what I did not know then, that the outcome of this first birth would affect all my future births….
While I wasn’t initially sold on the idea of homebirth, I was definitely sold on the midwife! Mo (my midwife) told me straight out that she believed in natural birth and during that first meeting she said phrases I hadn’t heard before like ‘undisturbed labour’, ‘skin to skin contact’, and ‘following me through my birthing journey’. She was the first health professional I had met during my pregnancy that planted the seeds of confidence and trust in my body. It was our first meeting and I could never have known that this particular midwife would be part of a journey spanning many years, that her support, beliefs and extensive experience would influence my future choices surrounding birth and inspire me to overcome my fears and experience birth as something to be embraced and celebrated. I was terrified of birth, and even more scared of invasive interventions. Over the course of that first meeting with Mo it became clear to me that if I wanted to give my body the best shot of a natural birth; then this woman would be the one to support me, and if I wanted to avoid interventions; then being at home was my best chance.
A few days later, I signed up for a homebirth. Mo’s visits took place in my home, almost always over a cup of tea. We often found ourselves returning to previous conversations as I thought of some new questions or needed extra information. Mo answered me honestly and thoughtfully and the decisions were always mine to make. Trust grew as we slowly developed an understanding of each other and our hopes for this birth. During a visit Mo observed that my baby had spun into breech positions. I was 37 weeks pregnant. She assured me the baby could still turn back, and encouraged me to try a few different techniques, which I did. I went about my week, flippantly telling people I was trying to turn a breech baby and I was surprised to be met with the words ‘caesarean section’ over and over again. But Mo had told me that my baby could still turn, and at 38 weeks she did (my sonographer at my ultra sound almost fell over with disbelief!).
This birth, my first birth, was long and arduous. I laboured at home with my husband Suresh, my friend Tammy, and Mo for 16 hours before asking to transfer to hospital when I was exhausted, dehydrated and wanted a change. Under the bright hospital lights, a doctor broke my waters, and began talking about time frames and a possible caesarean section. Mo and my second midwife Meryl stayed right beside me, advocating for me to have a vaginal birth and buying me more time. Everything had changed now, I wanted pain relief badly and after trying gas, I requested an epidural. My midwives made sure I understood the implications of my decision, that it would give me the rest I desired, but my labour could slow down and I would have to be on my back which would effect my ability to push, therefore it would most likely lead to further interventions. On the other hand, they suggested that given my level of exhaustion, an epidural could buy me more time to birth vaginally. Many more hours later, after sentocin and a speedy vontouse (vacuum) delivery (which caused a serious tear and a post partum haemorrhage), my first baby girl was, in fact, born.
It was incredible to meet my beautiful daughter Jyoti and feel so much love after such an exhausting, invasive, and in many ways, traumatic birth. I have since come to view this first ‘difficult’ birth with gratitude to Mo and Meryl who advocated strongly in hospital for me to birth vaginally. They knew, what I did not know then, that the outcome of this first birth would affect all my future births.
In the lead up to the birth of my second daughter, I found myself still lacking trust in my body and the birth process. I requested Mo to be my midwife again and during her visits we went over the events of my first birth as I still had a lot of questions. I was touched by the detail she remembered of the birth as we talked, and then talked more about it. I expressed my disappointment in my body, and my fears for this birth openly. More than before, I had a passionate desire to birth at home and to be free of intervention – but I was still unsure if my body could do it. Over the course of this second pregnancy, with Mo’s support, I was able to put the experiences of my first birth to rest. I went into that second labour feeling open to the new experiences that the birth would bring.
To my delightful surprise my second daughter Bodhi was born in water at home in a natural and straightforward birth of 6 hours. It was a quiet early morning birth with my husband, mother and midwives by my side. This time Mo was not needed as an advocate, but was a source of encouragement and support. The birth left me proud, elated, and overflowing with love for my new baby girl and my support team. In my state of euphoria I couldn’t stop talking to my midwives Mo and Meryl about my two very different birthing journeys that they had been part of, and how grateful I was that my first birth, with its difficulties, had led me to this euphoric, healing, powerful experience.
My third pregnancy led Mo and I into yet another very different experience. I now had confidence and trust in my body, and I had arrived at a place of acceptance of the unpredictable nature of birth. I understood that I could control aspects of birth, such as choosing Mo as my midwife again, and planning to birth at home, and that these choices could influence the outcome of the birth, but ultimately I knew I was able to accept whatever journey this birth would take. Being able to free myself of expectation meant that this birth could be less about ‘me’ and more about my family. It was very important to me that my two daughters aged 2.5 and 4 years might grow up knowing about birth and feeling confident in their own bodies, so I planned to have them at the birth with my mother caring for them. They were very interested in my growing belly and extremely fond of Mo and her baby doll she carries around in her bag. They also knew that Mo had been there at their own births, and loved hearing the story of their birth day and what Mo had said and done. During the course of Mo’s visits, my children ran around in their undies, ate snacks, played their games, had tantrums and pretended to be midwives or pregnant ladies. Pregnancy and birth became a familiar and everyday topic to them.
My third daughter Mira was born mid afternoon, at home in our lounge room with her father, sisters, nana and Midwives welcoming her. It was a fast and strong birth of 3 hours. In the final stages I felt my baby was stuck and my midwives shook my legs vigorously to help reposition her. She responded and then started to make her journey into the world. Intuitively my daughters left their craft, watermelon and story books behind, and settled them selves in to watch the birth of their sister. It was fast and strong as baby’s head emerged. From behind me I heard a little voice call out “Be brave Mummy”, warming my heart and giving me a boost of strength.
My young daughters squealed with delight as they saw Mira’s head emerge. I heard them calling out “The baby is here, the baby is HERE!” While for me Mira’s birth is best described as speedy and powerful, its’ joy lies in the fact that I was able to share it so fully with my husband, Mo, my mother and my 2 small daughters who felt safe and confident, and were full of excitement and joy. My last postnatal visit with Mo, when Mira was 6 weeks old, was a teary one. Maybe, just maybe, Mira would be my last baby and my birthing journey was … (oh no, I can’t say that word, not just yet!) Mo had been present at the most important times of my life! She’d seen me through extreme physical and emotion challenges and supported me through transformative personal change as I entered motherhood. I was reflective of how Mo had influenced my birthing journey beyond what I could have ever imagined with her beliefs in natural birth and homebirth, and she had inspired me to aim for the birth I dreamt of, and then supported me to achieve it. Mo had helped me overcome feelings of disappointment and fear and celebrated with my family and I in times of joyous elation. Her relationship with my daughters made it possible for them to watch their sister being born with absolute trust in the birthing process, in me, their dad, and in their midwife. I am so lucky to have met Mo in those early weeks of my first pregnancy, and even more fortunate to have experienced her care 3 times over. I can’t even begin to imagine what shape my birthing journey would have taken without Mo. I’m glad she was there. I wouldn’t want it any other way.