The birth of Coco - a great VBAC story!
At 4.30am on Sunday morning, I was dreaming about my 10 year old daughter playing the harp with a child from her school. It was a pretty good dream, and when it kept getting disturbed by some fairly strong contractions I was sleepily annoyed. After all, I had had a lot of practice contractions over the last month which didn't end up going anywhere, and I didn't think these were any different.
"I wish these would just go away," I thought. "I want to finish the dream."
They didn't, however, and in fact, as they got more and more painful, I began to really wake up. After four fairly strong contractions, I wondered what would happen if I got out of bed and walked around. I sorted a basket load of washing downstairs, trying not to wake anyone up, and then thought, "I might just call Fiona, our midwife friend, and see what she thinks."
Fiona listened to me get through one contraction on the phone and said, "Call me at 6, and we'll see what's happening." (She then apparently got straight out of bed, into the shower and then into her car and drove the hour and twenty minutes to our place.) AP woke up at this point and came downstairs to find out what was going on.
I had had enough of housework and thought that if I lay down again on the couch and practiced my relaxation techniques that the contractions might either go away or be a little easier to manage, so I visualised being a jellyfish floating on a big wave for a while until about 5.30.
"Call the babysitters," I croaked out to AP when things started to get a little rough. "I think this is really going to happen." I could hear the children stirring as light started appearing in the windows and they realised that there was some action going on downstairs.
Our kind friends arrived before 6, the boys woke up and I retreated into the dark of the loungeroom where I lay down, again relaxing my whole body through the contractions and practicing saying, "Yes, yes, yes" and "Open up" to my cervix.
Soon, Fiona arrived. I'd realised she was on her way when I made Andrew call her after 5 and tell her that I felt really panicky and scared. "It's ok," she said. "Your body has a memory of the previous births, but your mind is going to do this one differently. And I'm 30 minutes away." When I saw her sitting on the sofa behind me, I turned to her, grasped her hand and said, "Oh! You're here!" It was so reassuring to see her. Everything was going to be alright now.
"We've got to make a decision," she said. "Things are going to ramp up before we're done, and you've got to be active to make it happen, so we can stay here for a while, or we can go to the hospital."
I didn't want to scare the boys with labour noises, and I also didn't want them to see me there, but not be able to talk to me if they wanted to, so I said, "Let's go to hospital."
AP woke up our 10 year old daughter who was sick with a cold, told her what was going on and suggested that she was too sick to come with us. We'd previously asked her if she wanted to be part of it, and she had said yes. She'd bring a book and a doona and come in for the bits she wanted to see. Fiona said, "Of course she can come!" and arranged to take her in her own car.
I got through the car ride by thinking, "In a 25 minute car trip, I'm only likely to have to deal with 10 contractions. I think I can do that." It was a bit hard, but kind of exciting too, because I never had the rush to the hospital in previous births. I started to groan through the contractions, which helped, and leaned over the back seat of the car for each one.
AP knew to go through the emergency entrance to the hospital and pulled up just outside. I got through one contraction, and walked into emergency myself. As I got to the desk, I had to put my head down and get through another one, groaning like mad.
I figured the woman behind the desk would have figured out what was going on, seeing a massively pregnant woman walk into a room and then have a contraction, but she had to ask me, "What's the matter love?"
"What a stupid question," I thought in my head, and I gritted my teeth and said through the groans, "I'm having a baby!"
It took her about two seconds to call through to the midwives and say she thought I was going to give birth then and there on the floor. They came running with their equipment and were quite relieved when they saw that I was just having a contraction after all. Instead they grabbed a wheelchair and took me around to the maternity ward where we met Fiona and JJ. It was 7am by now.
I was able to walk in to the room and take in what was going on. My eyes glanced towards the armchair but Fiona said, "Don't even think about sitting in that," and another contraction hit, so I put my head down on the bed and started to groan again.
So far, everything had pretty much felt like it had in previous labours. But this is where it became different. Fiona began to coach me through each contraction, showing me how to groan more deeply, bend my legs, rock my pelvis and "let my bottom be the heaviest part". It felt different - much more pressure in the pelvis, which was kind of scary. I had to really focus on allowing the baby to come down and through.
At one point, I began to push because it felt like I could make the contraction stop that way. She could see what I was doing and said, "Don't push against it - let it come down." Every time I had a contraction, she helped me through it, positioning me correctly and reminding me to let everything else go.
Between contractions, she helped me remember to relax instead of hanging on to the tension. This worked amazingly well. Before, in previous labours, I had had intense radiating pain between contractions and had felt like my whole body was on fire. This time, there was contraction and then recovery before the next one.
Having someone who was confident and calm and positive, knowing what they were doing, made the difference between being 3cm dilated at the first check, half an hour after getting into the hospital, and then being 9cm at the second one. In that hour, she helped me put first one foot and then the other on a stool to help everything open up and did something with a towel around my tummy to help support the baby come down. She also made sure I drank between every contraction, kept my bladder empty and periodically nibbled on the most revolting biscuit in the whole world.
After the first check, I was disappointed with only being 3cm and AP could see it on my face. He grabbed JJ and they went into the bathroom to pray for quick dilation. The prayers certainly worked.
When they wanted to check me the second time, I was feeling hopeless and ready to give up, because in previous labours I had never dilated quickly and was always disappointed with how things were going. "I'm going to be 4cm," I said in my head, so I was absolutely elated when they told me that I was just about done.
I had about three or four times when I wanted to quit, call surrender and get the epidural. "It won't be defeat if I do it now" I tried to convince myself. But then I would look around the room, see Fiona who believed in me, see the midwife who was doing her utmost best to accommodate all the requests I had made in the leadup to the delivery, and see my daughter sitting there watching, and I would think, "I can't give up because I'm too proud! Can't quit now and see everyone's disappointment!" Instead, I would yell out, "I need more strength," to AP and JJ, and they would pray for additional courage and energy.
Fiona said, "You're doing great. You're doing really well," and I said, "Oh, I bet you say that to everyone!"
Once or twice I asked to get into the bath, but both Fiona and the midwife said no as it may have slowed things down, and they didn't want me to get stuck before 5cm or so. They offered the shower, but I felt instinctively that it might make me dehydrated, as had happened first time, plus I was on a roll in the current position and moving seemed too hard. I did put my head up and look longingly at the gas at one stage, but I was too exhausted to do anything about asking for it, and I figured if I'd come this far without anything, I could go a little further.
After the second check, I could feel my body really wanting to start to push properly, and I gurgled some pretty deep groans. Over my head I was aware of Fiona and the hospital midwife looking at each other. "Did you hear that?" asked one. "Yep, I heard that," the other said. They could tell from the change in my voice that real pushing was beginning. I said I needed to go to the toilet and got there, but I could see Fiona looking a bit worried. "You can't stay there. I need you to get off the toilet," she said as I did some more bearing down over the loo.
I waddled back to the bed and realised that they were whisking out a gym mat for me to kneel on, as well as adjusting the bed height.
"You're at the end," Fiona said. "You've made it." I could hardly believe it, but I didn't have time to think about it because the pushing - on my knees, head resting on the bed - began in earnest then.
It was so different from pushing a baby out with an epidural in my body. It was impossible not to do it, and all my fear about doing a poo at the same time just disappeared out the window because there was no other way to do anything except what my body was telling me to do.
The whole pushing period was only 15 minutes. Fiona was in my ear, telling me exactly how hard to push and when to leave off. I felt "the ring of fire" and thought, "Yeowch - that's going to hurt" but I said, "The only way is through," and pushed on regardless.
The baby's head was born, but I didn't realise it and had to ask what seemed the most obvious question to everyone else in the room. "Is the head out?" They almost laughed. It took a little bit of repositioning one leg and a bit of extra coaching from Fiona in my ear to birth the rest of the baby, but then, out she came. It was 9.56 - just three hours after we arrived at the hospital.
I was in a whirl. I looked down to the side to see a slippery, purple baby at my feet, entirely out of me. I could hardly process it. "Me - I've given birth. I did it!" was the only thought that went through my mind. I was absolutely wide-eyed with astonishment. I hardly know what happened from there - they cut the cord, they pinked her up and they passed her to AP and JJ. "I've had a baby," I thought, but I still more impressed that I'd done it, rather than realise that she was my baby!
The placenta took a little while to come out, and it was a bit uncomfortable, so I didn't really relax and have a proper cuddle until that was done, but I was so happy. It was such an elating experience, and the baby was so beautiful. She lay happy and still for about an hour until she felt ready to have a feed. And from that point, she hasn't really stopped feeding!
I felt triumphant, excited, empowered and courageous. With the right help and strength, I did it - the old fashioned way.
Things that helped:
Fiona - obviously. Having a guide all the way through who was knowledgeable, experienced and constantly there for me was a huge boon, and it would have been almost impossible without her.
Remembering that in any labour, more time is spent resting from contractions than going through them. And reminding myself to take one at a time and not get hung up on thinking how long it was all going to take.
It was inspirational to have my daughter there. I wanted to show her how birth could be done and give her a positive experience to carry with her into her grown up life. She was key in the fact that I didn't/couldn't give up.
Learning relaxation techniques beforehand helped me know how to release the tension when I was reminded by Fiona.
Three sessions of acupuncture in the weeks leading up to the labour may have helped. They certainly gave me lots of Braxton Hicks after each session, which all help tone the uterus.
Being very clear about what I wanted helped me a great deal. I had a lot of knowledge going into the labour.
Reading hundreds of positive birth stories in the months previous also helped.
I held on to the messages from the funny dreams that I had leading up to the birth and remembered that 'I can do everything through him who strengthens me'.