MY POSITIVE HOSPITAL BIRTh with doula support
I was in a completely different place physically and emotionally during my second pregnancy. I spent months learning about my options and preparing for the birth of my baby. My first child was born when I was sixteen years old and given the eight year age gap, I had grown up a lot myself and knew there were many things I could do to facilitate a more positive experience.
Ultimately, what I really desired was a gentle home birth (meaning no interventions), however, my husband was not comfortable with the idea. He would have been much more anxious than me, as this was his first baby. After going back and forth for a bit and after he understood WHY I wanted an experience different than my first birth, we compromised. I agreed to a hospital birth only if we could hire a doula to support us both. I knew the statistics of hiring a doula and felt that we both really needed the extra support.
Our doula, Jade, was amazing. She was actually an old school friend (and now one of my closest friends!) which made her incredibly easy to talk to and trust. I appreciated her honesty, really valued her experience and knowledge base. I also knew she would support us no matter what our decisions were. My husband and I had the opportunity to discuss our fears, I told her about my first birth experience (which I considered negative) and she was the first person I reached out to when my doctor completely violated my trust.
I had an antenatal appointment one day before my daughter's estimated birth date. The medical staff assumed that I would consent to an induction without medical indication in a few day’s time, which I declined. It was at that final antenatal visit that my obstetrician did a membrane sweep without my consent. You can read more about that here. I felt violated and abused, with that experience triggering feelings from my past sexual assaults.
The membrane sweep wasn't effective at starting labour, which is no surprise. Who is going to go into labour after feeling assaulted? If anything, I felt like the sweep spiked my stress hormones enough to discourage labour! I went into labour six days past my daughter's estimated birth date after grieving for days and becoming increasing stressed because of my doctor's actions.
Labour began on a Thursday evening, just after 6 pm. I called my parents who were planning to mind my son. My father came to our home and collected him and I was happy my husband and I were alone. I tried to remain comfortable when the surges started to become more intense. Our doula arrived shortly after 9 pm, she asked me a few questions and then gently suggested I get out of bed. This was wonderful and actually eased some of the intensity I was feeling in my lower back. I spent the next three hours at home going from the kitchen to the bathroom and into the shower- pacing all over! I learned a range of different positions for labour during pregnancy but honestly, the best feeling was standing! I would lean over the kitchen counter while my husband and Jade took turns rubbing my lower back. My doula also reminded me to eat and brought water to my lips so I could drink regularly. I wasn't focused on staying hydrated otherwise, so this really helped! I created space for myself when I needed it by taking a warm shower and visualising my baby moving downward into my pelvis, just as the water from the shower flowed down my body. I also sat on the toilet aka the "dilation station" for awhile because that eased the intensity of my surges and opened up my pelvis in a different way.
My doula gave me prompts during and between contractions, which I appreciated. I remember her saying at one point "breathe your baby down," which I ended up repeating to myself throughout the rest of my labour! Near midnight my husband suggested we go to hospital a few times. There was a snow storm brewing outside and we knew it would take longer than usual to get to the hospital. I put my husband off for awhile saying "just a few more, just a few more" contractions because while they were intense, I didn't find them painful! I remember feeling annoyed by his suggestions to leave because I did not feel ready. I received the pitocin drip during my first labour and these contractions felt much more manageable in comparison. I had no idea how far along in labour I was but there was one thing I did know- I DID NOT want to go to the hospital too soon! One of the ways I intended to avoid unnecessary interventions was to remain comfortable at home as long as possible, which I did.
We left for hospital and it took almost an hour to get there- double what it usually did! There was so much snow on the roads and we were stuck behind multiple snow plows! It was the most uncomfortable car ride of my life and later Jade told me she thought I was definitely in transition on the way! She actually feared I would give birth in her car!
When we got to hospital I was assessed and delighted to be 9 cm with "bulging waters" as the staff told me. I couldn't believe it because again, the contractions were no where near as painful as those brought on by pitocin last time! The nurses said I could not go into the hospital’s labour pool because I was too close to having my baby. I was thoroughly annoyed but went with it. I was still able to take a shower, walk the halls and be upright, which was important to me. I consented to intermittent monitoring versus continuous but found even sitting on the bed to do this very uncomfortable and annoying. There were no birth balls (aka exercise balls) available years ago. I also found the staff wanted to keep checking on me, which I understand, but I really felt a sense of pressure from them. My husband tried to act as my gatekeeper, coming into the shower saying "they want to check you again," to which I responded I would be out when I was ready. I was trying to remain “in the zone” as much as I could but found it difficult. I did my best to relax, although I think the transfer from home to hospital significantly increased my anxiety. It also didn't help that my non-consensual membrane sweep happened in that hospital and I was now paranoid that my boundary-crossing doctor would be the one on-call for the evening. I never wanted to see him again!
The worst part of my labour? When dilation stalled. I spent FOUR HOURS at 9 cm dilated with contractions coming fast and heavy. During the entire four hours I was never permitted into the pool. I did get through them one at a time and tried not to focus on how much longer it would be until I met our baby. My husband or doula would rub my lower back, cheer me on, tell me how well I was doing and most importantly... they kept me motivated when I started to get discouraged. There were times when I felt like my baby was not working with me. I was able to voice this without shame or guilt to both of them. Jade reminded me of how strong I was and that I would meet my baby soon. I cannot thank her enough.
Deep down, I knew I needed something to get labour moving. I consented to the artificial rupture of my membranes aka breaking my waters with an amnihook. It was completely painless, however, there was meconium. My baby had pooed while still in my womb, which may be a sign of foetal distress. I was told by the doctor and nurses that the paediatric team would need to come into the labour room and that my baby would need to be accessed to ensure she didn't aspirate any of her meconium. Within minutes of my waters being broken (the doctor hadn’t even left the room!) I had the incredibly overwhelming sensation that I needed to push! I became very vocal and although I wanted to birth on all fours, kneeling or on my side, I was encouraged to get onto my back.
During my labour both the on-call doctor and nurses said "oh wow! You're definitely having a big baby!" while they looked at my bump. Un.help.ful. The medical staff encouraged me to do coached pushing but I did my own thing. This baby was coming and FAST! She wanted to be born NOW and there was no way I could hold back. For a larger baby weighing in at 9 lb 12 oz, she was out in three pushes. I remember right before that final push I felt so damn tired. My husband whispered some sweet nothings into my ear that gave me the last bit of strength I needed to meet our daughter. I was delighted when she was placed onto my chest briefly before being taken away for assessment. I'm not going to lie... she is the only baby who was taken from my arms shortly after birth and I hated every second of it. I understood the need for her to be assessed and they did remove some meconium from her little tummy, but she did not aspirate any of it. She was returned to me within minutes so I could kiss, cuddle and smell her sweet baby scent. My doula congratulated our family and took some amazing pictures. She helped me establish breastfeeding for the first time and made sure all of us were comfortable before leaving.
I remember feeling so proud and strong after I had a chance to settle in with our daughter. I’m not going to lie- there were times when I doubted my ability and I was the queen of trying to compare my first labour to this one. The fear of the unknown was my biggest hurdle and I cleared it! My first baby was 6 lbs and this girl was almost 10! The nurses kept telling me I had a baby and a half which made me laugh! The birth was much more positive than my first and I did it without pain relief just as I had hoped. Breastfeeding was going well and I melted at the sight of my husband holding our daughter. Although she was born at almost 10 lbs that didn’t stop everyone from commenting on how tiny she was!
While this birth experience was much, much more positive than my first, it was also my last birth in hospital. What I learned is that personally, labouring in a hospital simply isn't for me, if I can help it. The medicalised model of care with bright lights, regular beeps, more people in my birth space, medical equipment everywhere and the consistent pressure to “move things along” that I felt from the medical staff were not helpful for labour progression. I don't think it's a coincidence that my labour was going so smoothly at home and than BAM! I got to hospital and all progression stalled for hours. How did my husband feel about everything? A few weeks postpartum he said “I won’t ever ask you to give birth in hospital again.” I think every expectant parent should have the opportunity to choose where they feel most comfortable giving birth and for us, that's at home.
To my beautiful baby girl born in hospital... I love you and happy 7th birthday!