** Trigger warning – if you’re pregnant and wishing to avoid birth stories that you may find distressing, you may wish to save this to read for later. **AT THE BIRTH CENTRE Getting into the car and then walking into the birth centre was hard. Leaving my comfortable nest at home seemed to make me feel the sensations and surges A LOT more intensely. I was also beginning to tire. I’ve never run a marathon, but if I had, I would describe my birth as being something like I imagine that would be. When I laid my eyes on that birth pool I pretty much wanted to dive in. My midwife had filled it for my arrival. Submersion in a body of warm water was indeed BLISS. So so relaxing, so much so, it slowed my surges down. After maybe 90 minutes in the pool, it was suggested that I get out and have a walk around to try to ramp things up again. I began to become acutely aware at this point that I was on the clock, and I needed to help this birth along as much as possible to deliver my baby in the birth suite. Energetically, this realisation made me feel pressured and apprehensive about not being able to perform and birth my baby within the time frames of the policy. The next four hours seemed to pass quickly. The first vaginal examination I agreed to revealed I was 6 cm dilated, stretching to 8cm. This was somewhat of a relief to hear. I felt as though the ‘work’ my body had been doing matched where my cervix was at. Strangely though, it was around the same time that it seemed my mind began to take over (even more) and cause resistance in my body. I was exhausted. The word exhaustion actually seems like such an understatement. This exhaustion and fatigue began to make me doubt I had the resilience to get through this. I started to wonder “how much longer”. Time became a thing, a focus, a concern, and something I felt I was working against. Due to my fatigue, my midwife suggested I rest for a while. I wanted to listen to some of my calm birth and hypnobirthing CD’s to see if that helped me get back in the zone, and out of me head. I recall a few things happening in my body at this time, I started to shake, felt really sick – like I wanted to vomit, and also like I needed to poo. I was able to open my bowels a little which helped, ease the heaviness I was feeling in my pelvis. It felt as though baby had shifted but that he was “stuck”. I verbalised this and was reassured there was no reason to believe this was the case. Strangely, I was having rather intense involuntary push type urges. The only way I can explain them is, it felt as though my uterus was squeezing quickly at the same time that I felt a push and made a very involuntary ‘heaving’ push sound. My body felt as though it was on the precipice of birth, but internally it felt a struggle, as though my babe was not quite in the best position, and my mind was creating resistance in my body. The next few hours until about 9pm are a bit of a blur, with no further progress or sense of birth being near, with a looming sense of disappointment that I would need to be moved onto the hospital ward my midwife had to finish her shift and there were no staff to relieve in the birthing suites. The transition to the hospital was really distressing and upsetting for me. I couldn’t express that at the time, but as I write this now, 13 months later, my heart feels heavy and sad. TRANSFER TO THE HOSPITAL AND OBSTETRIC CARE Realising I would be sent to the hospital to continue to labour, was defeating. And with no end in sight, increasing fatigue, and a sense that my baby was not in the best position to help me move along at a speed that was acceptable for the hospital standards that I knew would be applied to me was scary. Even though, up to this point, I’d already felt grief and disappointment for losing my opportunity to home birth, the move to hospital from the birth centre, was devastating. I feel like my mental capacity to continue was waning and I began to feel like a failure. It dawned on me that I would not have access to the birth pool on the hospital ward, a doctor would soon be assessing me, and my progress, and I would probably be subjected to more scrutiny and more interventions suggested to complete this birth on their clock. This realisation hit me hard. I did not feel safe. I was wheeled from the birth centre to the hospital as there was no way I had the energy to walk that distance. This was utterly uncomfortable. Sitting during labour has to be the worst position to be in, that and being on your back. There was something symbolic about being pushed into the hospital in that wheelchair. It was like it was a metaphor for me no longer being a free autonomous birthing woman, free to move as she pleases. I was now disabled by my ‘condition’ and too weak and disempowered to maintain control and independence. Before my midwife left and completed my hand over, she performed another vaginal examination. I was now 8cm. An artificial rupture of membranes was done to ‘speed things up’. A short time after being initiated to the hospital a young obstetrician was in the room demanding that I have IV antibiotics. I declined. My posture around my wishes obviously angered her, she ended up threatening that if I did not have the drugs I would end up with a dead baby, or a baby with severe retardation. When I still said no, and that I needed some time to think about what she was suggesting, she shook her head and stormed out of the room, deliberately ripping the privacy curtain off the rail on her way out. This doctor did not seem to see grey, only, black and white, nor did she have any regard for my emotional state. She was on a mission to get me to do as she said. In the space I had after she vacated the room, I felt shocked and betrayed, that another woman, could deliberately instill fear in another woman to do something she didn’t want to do. I decided that if I agreed to the antibiotics then at least they would not be likely to suggest that my baby required them. It was a strategic decision. I was also scared. The threats made by the doctor were personal for me as I did have a sister (now deceased) who was born with a severe intellectual disability. I wonder whether the doctor read my medical records which detailed this and decided that if she threw that threat in, for effect, that I would be likely to agree. Being shunted into a clinical hospital environment, having my midwife leave, and being handed over to the metaphorical witch of the west (the obstetrician) and a midwife who seemed to be barely out of uni, really threw me way out of my primal brain (needed to birth) and into logical thinking brain mode of, “how do I survive this?”. Physiologically, my body went into survival mode and I shut down, so my progress stalled. Being connected to IV lines and then told that I must have straps across my belly for fetal monitoring was another layer of freedom of movement stripped away. I still managed to either be on all fours hanging over the edge of the bed or standing and holding onto Tom for the surges, which were becoming increasingly intense, or my adrenaline was now tipped into overdrive and I was just feeling it all more. I felt huge pressure on my bladder, despite not being able to urinate. I had been given 2 bags of IV fluids (for dehydration), this apparently had nowhere to go and my legs and arms began to swell with fluid. I noticed this, but again, my voice seemed to have escaped me. I couldn’t even find it to ask why this was happening and to ask for something to be done about it. This further restricted my mobility. I was also beginning to experience sharp, and constant, pain in the middle of my back on the left hand side. At least with the surges, I had time in between to relax and be free of pain. But the back pain I now had was constant, intolerable and very uncomfortable. I don’t know why, but I assume that my baby may have been turning and was posterior. I can only speculate that making his manoeuvres with no amniotic fluid due to the rupture of membranes may have increased the difficulty as there would be no buoyancy for him to move easily. With the intensity of each surge mounting I clung to Tom, and buried my head into his chest. I was now just wishing that this whole thing was over. I hated the environment I was in. I felt alone and scared, as though I had no-one to advocate for me. Tom offered his body as protection for me from the doctor when she would march into the room, and bark whatever she had to say. I had been allocated a midwife who must have only just graduated no more than a year before, and while she was kind, she was meek and had no authority over the obstetrician. She was merely following orders and seemed to be focused on making sure I kept the fetal monitors attached to my belly, despite me periodically removing them for a break. To these care providers it seemed I was just another birthing woman who was failing to progress. I was labelled ‘high risk’ because of the length of time my membranes had been leaking and ruptured, I was slightly febrile and my GBS status was unknown. I didn’t feel high risk, I was just tired beyond belief! Further to that, it seemed that I was perceived as difficult because I had such a clear birth plan and because my intention was to home birth. I was that woman who questioned the things I was told I must do. I was that woman who thought she could do it at home without the medical establishment. Because of that, I feel that this particular doctor used an extra serve of coercion and emotional manipulation for obtaining my consent. Finally, I was told I should have an ultrasound to check my baby’s position. I agreed, as I wanted to know this more than anything. I actually wish this was one intervention that had been suggested much sooner. Having an ultrasound meant I had to lie still, on my back. Possibly the most uncomfortable position. I was ready when suddenly, an intense surge began. I needed to at least roll to my side. The doctor was in position ready to start. When I moved to accommodate the surge moving through me for comfort, she stood up abruptly, threw the ultrasound hand device at the bed, and marched out, yelling at the midwife, “let me know when she’s finished!” I was being treated like a child who was doing something wrong. When she returned the next time, I again lay ready for the ultrasound, unfortunately another surge came along, but this time, I endured it and remained still. I was too scared to move. I was ordered to “keep still” with a look that only said ‘you are being so ridiculous, and exaggerating’. The ultrasound seemed to take a very long time. She finally announced without explanation, “well the baby is not in an ideal position”. I asked what that meant exactly, “probably surgery”, was her reply. Then the doctor performed an extremely rough and painful vaginal examination on me. I nearly hit the roof, I flinched and told her she was really hurting me. She didn’t stop. A short time after, when I was standing again, I told the doctor I wanted a caesarean. I’d had enough. Enough of the pain, enough of her, and enough of the exhaustion my body was wracked by. I asked for this because I also thought that it was inevitable with the way she’d described what she saw on the ultrasound. I could barely believe I was speaking these words when I made that request. There seemed to be a hint of relief wash over the doctor when I asked for this. And she promptly left the room to go and make whatever enquiries she needed to make for the surgery. At my core, even though I asked for a c-section. I was deeply disappointed and disgusted that it had come to this. This was my ultimate, last contingency plan, that I absolutely did not want, and yet here I was asking for it! Another part of me was shaming myself for even asking for it. For giving up. For being weak. I hated what was happening. And at some level I hated myself for asking for it and not feeling I could go on. When the doctor returned she told me that the recommendation was for me to have syntoncin and an epidural. In my mind, I said no way! For this hell to continue with this witch and be paralysed from the waist down, well I couldn’t think of anything worse. I wanted this over, and to be as far away from her as possible. I believe my doula asked whether it would be possible for me to just have the epidural and rest and then resume again after. That was immediately shut down with “no, we wouldn’t do that”. I suddenly found my voice again and with all the power I could muster, I looked the doctor squarely in the eye and demanded the caesarean, telling her there was no way I was following her recommendation. She shot me an evil look, and told me I’d be waiting three hours for that to happen, then she stormed out. No more than 15 minutes passed and the head midwife on shift that evening came in, and with the kindest voice I’d encountered in that hospital room from medical staff, she said, “ok darling, we’re going to prep you for surgery now”. She obtained my consent to do a catheter. I welcomed it as my bladder must have been so full. My bladder drained, filling the bag instantly. On the way down to theatre, on my back, I had a couple of strong surges. Before we went into the theatre room, Tom was by my side, he bent forward to kiss me, with tears in his eyes. I asked if he was worried about the baby, “no – I’m worried about you”. This made me well up. The last couple of days had been so intense and emotional and it was clearly affecting him as well. I felt so sad at this point. All the dreams I had for a peaceful, safe birth at home in my birth pool were gone, and it wasn’t just affecting me. I was shaking uncontrollably from the shock. It was easier for me to check out.
Clancy Allen is a Certified Doula, Kinesiologist & Yoga teacher specialising in pre-natal yoga. Clancy provides birthing services around Newcastle & the Central Coast, NSW. Clancy is passionate about birth being experienced as a rite of passage where women experience and know their power.