This is a real birth story, I have not curated or sugar coated anything. I am sharing every little bit I remember here, mostly so that I can read it back and remember as much as possible of what was one of the most amazing experiences of my life: the birth of my second son, 5 years after my first pregnancy ended with a traumatic emergency c-section.
The other main reason I am sharing this with the world is that a lot of mums voted in my stories Instagram poll for it. Others personally messaged me asking me to share the positive experience I had. I agree that we all need to hear more positive birth stories!
So here it is. Grab yourself a cuppa...I do get into the fine details ;)
On the 2nd June 2021, at 39 w + 2 pregnant with Levi, I started to feel period-like pain during the day. I went on with the day and went out for lunch with Dylan and my mum. When we were leaving the cafe we had lunch at, the owner told me:
‘Madame, go home and get ready!’. I laughed, and said: ‘Yes, next time you see me, I will have the baby outside’.
In the afternoon we did a barbecue in the garden. My husband cooked a whole lot of vegetables and we made a Spanish potato salad. We all enjoyed a beautiful outdoor dinner that night: Dylan, my husband, my mum and I. The contractions kept being there, and getting more noticeable and hard to ignore, but I was trying not to pay too much attention to them.
I updated Laura, my doula, about this, just to give her a heads up in case that we were up to something soon, without really knowing if this was the real thing or not. She advised me to get rest, and go to bed as usual, because even though it was very exciting, things could slow or stop at any moment.
I went to bed as early as I could and tried to get some rest. But the pains were coming quite often and it was impossible to rest. After an hour or so in bed, I decided to take a warm bath and observe the waves. Danny was by my side, timing the waves while I was relaxing as much as I could. He noticed they were quite regular: first about 5 mins a part, and then about 3 mins a part. I could see that things were not going to stop, so I asked Danny to call the home birth midwives and see what they said.
Danny rang the home birth midwives and they asked if I would like them to come over. I wasn’t 100% confident that I was in labour, so I decided to wait a bit longer. We waited half an hour and seeing as things continued the same way, I did ask them to come over, and Danny also updated Laura.
I then remember being in the bathtub, with the bathroom light off (just the corridor light on) and the midwives coming over to introduce themselves. I was hoping not to be wasting their time by making them come over. They were very respectful of my birth plan and wishes, so they didn’t to a VE (vaginal examination) on arrival. Instead, they allowed me to continue doing my thing and focusing on my body for a while until I felt I was ready to have a VE. They said they would basically get settled and hang out downstairs, in the living room, while I was labouring. They would just come every 15 mins to check on babies heartbeat + one random heart beat check outside the 15 mins slots as per the guidelines.
Laura arrived shortly after, and went back to her place to pick up a pool liner, because the pool liner I ordered was not fitting the inflatable birth pool correctly! So she came back after about half an hour, and I was still in the bathtub, listening to the Freya App meditations with a Spotify birth playlist in the background. I had been listening to loads of hypnobirthing tracks & affirmations during pregnancy, and they really helped keeping my mind at peace during this stage.
The bathtub started to get a bit uncomfortable, because it is a bit narrow, slippery and the tap would hit my back every time I changed position from all fours to my back. I felt the need to move around a bit. With my first labour, things never progressed too far. I think it was partly because I was scared, didn’t know what to do, and also because I was just laying in bed and trying to avoid the pain rather than letting things unfold. This time I didn’t want to make the same mistake. I had requested a water birth, I wanted to dilate in the birth pool. I asked Danny and Laura to please prepare the birth pool so I could move there from the bathtub. However, the midwives said that I needed to be in active labour -dilated at least 3cm- before I could go into the pool. Their policy is that in the latent phase (less than 3cm dilated) the birth pool may slow down things rather than help progress.
I then agreed to have a VE to see where things were, as the contractions felt quite strong and close enough in time to me, but we had no idea at this point of where labour was. The midwives did a VE and told me that my cervix was very nice and soft (good effacement), and I was 1cm dilated. They asked me to wait until active labour to get in the birth pool, which I didn’t take very well because the pain was starting to get to me already. I wasn’t sure how I would get to 10cm if I was already struggling to manage the peak of the waves.
At this point I mentioned to my doula that I would rather move to hospital early on and get an epidural than staying at home and get too exhausted. All the ghosts from my first birth were playing around. On my previous birth, I never dilated more than 1cm and I was deemed ‘failure to progress'. Luckily, this time, I had done my research and was aware of a couple of important things:
- 1) 'Failure to progress' is just a term that doesn’t define your bodies capacity to birth. It’s just assigned by hospitals when your labour doesn’t progress according to a timeline that was arbitrarily established many years ago. I knew that 1cm was just one part of the puzzle but not the only sign of progress.
- 2) Effacement is as important as dilation, and at least my cervix was very close to being fully effaced. From listening to dozens of positive birth stories in youtube, I learned that some people can dilate from 1 to X cm in no time if they are in the right environment, feel safe and relaxed.
I chose to stick to those two thoughts and to believe in my body… The only problem was, the midwives wouldn’t let me get in the pool, and I needed warm water as this was my main pain relief. I felt very intense peaks of waves, so I requested gas and air to see if it helped me get through them and it seemed to help a bit- I pretty much used it for the rest of labour until the second stage.
The bathtub was no longer comfy, so I moved into the shower - not the most water saving birth, I know!. I kept running the hot shower while I was alternating between two positions, keeping movement going and using gravity, hoping dilation would do some progress.
I remembered a friend who lives in the Netherlands told me that home birth is the standard procedure for pregnant women under 35. She had her two births at home, dilating in the shower, on all 4s etc. So I remembered her tips and pointed the water down towards my womb while standing up. Every few waves I would changed it up and got on all fours, with the hand shower placed upwards and pointing to my womb. I made sure my hip positioning was opening the birth canal and not closing it. I also tried to labour without warm water, on my birth ball, but it was too painful for me. At a couple of points during the dilation, my lovely doula did some side stretches which helped relief tension on my hips and back, and I literally almost fell asleep while she was doing them. This allowed me to recharge some mental and physical energy.
When it was finally time for another VE -I think around 3 am-, we were all a bit tensed to see if there had been any progress or not. I was so scared to hear that I was still 1cm. The VE was done and we had great news: I was now dilated at 4cm!! More than I had even been before!! And my cervix was pretty much effaced which was also amazing news and great signs of progress. This had been the longest part of my labour, taking all this time to go from 1 to 4 cm dilated.
The midwives then agreed to let me into the birth pool, which they had all set up in the living room. Getting in the pool was the best feeling ever, especially after feeling slightly tortured not being able to use it for a while. I felt instantly relaxed in the warm water and being able to move around following my body was so liberating. I made sure things wouldn’t slow down by continuing to move using gravity and open positions for each wave: football lunges, all fours, squats, etc. I had practised all these positions during pregnancy, with and without the birth ball, hoping that during labour they would come naturally to me as needed. And they did.
Things got more intense, but I wouldn’t say a lot more intense though, because there was still a nice pause between contractions during which I could rest and relax. The contractions just seemed to be more edgy and required more energy to manage. After a while, I started to feel a little deflated, unsure of how long it all would last and whether my body would be able to handle it. I told Danny: ‘I have been dilating for so long and we don’t know how much longer I have to go’. He did look at me with a little bit of pity and said: ‘You have been going at it for a long time’. I was wondering wether I could make it. Wondering if the midwives were concerned about my progress and maybe they had been talking about transferring me to hospital. Fears started to creep in.
Danny kept offering me sips of coconut water, as well as nut & date bars of which I had one bite at a time, to ensure my body had enough energy to do its thing. My body was going with each wave, but I was needing to hold Danny’s hands and breathe the gas in order to handle each of them. Between one and the next, I relaxed my mind, dipped my ears into the pool which made me feel as if I was in the ocean just floating. I had watched lots of Youtube videos of different births and saw a few very quiet birthing mamas. I remember thinking I would be so calm and collected, just like them. The reality is, I was howling like a wolf at each wave! I couldn’t really care less…the vocalisations were needed for me to get through the peaks of the waves.
At this point I realised I might be transitioning or close to it, because I was feeling insecure and I had heard that at this point most birthing women feel fearful, ask for epidural, etc. So I was hoping that was the reason for my mind shift. I remember saying: ‘My body is broken, I need some encouragement’. The midwives said they had been hands off as my birth plan asked for an undisturbed birth. But they understood my need, and started to hang around the pool and cheer me up between contractions. Those little things did make a difference to me. It’s like a soccer match where you are being beaten up and you need your audience to show they still have faith in you so that you can continue giving your best and beat the odds.
It was then 7am. The two midwives that had been with us all night long were finishing their shift. I remember one of them saying to me: ‘We have to go now. The new midwives will get to see the best part. You are probably in transition now, and baby will be here soon’. This reassured me about the fact that I was indeed progressing.
The two new midwives walked in. They looked quite smiley and relaxed and they made me feel at ease. I remember saying to one of them named Zoe: ‘You look so fresh’ haha!! As we all had been up all night and were a bit exhausted by then. They were a breeze of fresh air and made me little reminders to relax the shoulders, or cheered me up between contractions which really helped me feel empowered again.
At this point, I started to make slightly different noises with contractions - the noises were not something I was consciously doing, it was all instinctive. They sounded more like bearing down, so I think there had been a shift, and I was ready to start pushing. I felt a lot of pressure similar to needing to pee, I told Laura that I had to pee.
When it was time again to get me out of the pool for a VE, the midwives suggested breaking my waters if the result was that I was dilated less than 8cm, to which I agreed. The VE said my cervix was fully effaced, and I was 7cm dilated, which was good news for the most part!
The suggested plan of action was: go upstairs, try to pee in the toilet to clear the bladder and make room for baby, labour in the toilet for a little while and then break the waters to help things move faster. Getting out of the pool for me was hard work as it was my comfort zone, but it had to be done. Once outside, we also used an in-out catheter to make sure my bladder was empty - I had heard a few birth stories where the bladder was full and this was the reason for slowing down the pushing stage, so I was keen to make sure it was empty. Like Laura said though, that pressure I felt was probably the bag of waters pushing against my cervix, because baby was getting closer and closer.
After finishing up in the toilet, the midwives asked where they could break my waters, and they pointed at my bedroom: ‘I just put fresh bedsheets yesterday... I don't do that every day, I think I was nesting!!’ - I said. We laughed, and they said they would put waterproof sheets to make sure it didn’t all get messed up. I don’t remember feeling a huge gush of water at all. I couldn’t wait to get back in the pool though. Once back in the pool, things just flowed so smoothly. Like Laura said, there was nothing between the baby’s head and me now.
I continued to labour in the pool, hoping to feel the baby’s head, but couldn’t quite feel it yet. I was a bit disheartened, not sure of how long it would take for it to come down (patience is key!!). At the heartbeat check, they struggled to find the heartbeat, but it was only because baby was just so, so low, that he was nearly there! So I kept going, one wave at a time. What right now feels like very shortly after, I started to feel baby’s head crowning. I had heard about 'the ring of fire’ and how much of a burning sensation it can be,. But I felt none of that, other than pure joy. I screamed: ‘I can do this!!!!’. I knew baby was nearly there, finally. We all started cheering in excitement.
The pushing was being driven by my body. At this stage, I had completely let go and my body was doing everything for me. ‘It’s just like taking a poop!' I remember saying. With one of the pushes, some blood came out and the midwives kindly asked me to get out of the pool as they had to confirm that the bleeding was not due to anything serious. I laid down on our sofa which they had already prepared to receive the baby in it. They checked, and they thought the bleeding was probably due to some tearing as the head was crowning. My body kept pushing, and Zoe, the midwife guided me through the pushes.
In what I remember as just a few more pushes, my husband Danny said 'The head is out!!’. After one or two more pushes, I felt Levi's body leaving mine. Little Levi was placed on my chest at 12:55pm on the 3rd of June 2021.
I was offered the Oxytocin injection to be on the safe side in case of further bleeding, and I gladly accepted it. I don’t even remember any sensation when it was given to me. Baby Levi was placed on my chest straight away for skin to skin contact, while we waited for his cord to stop pulsing. I was in disbelief that it was all over, and he was here safely. I remember Danny crying of joy, kneeling by my side on the edge of the sofa, and my mother standing up nearby and crying of joy saying: ‘You are a champion!'. My 5 year old son Dylan was not too impressed to see his little brother covered in vernix and blood, but I was so happy to see my little baby just as he came out of my womb.
We did need transferring to hospital for my perineal stitching. I took a very quick shower to wash off the blood and the meconium that baby did on my stomach straight after being born. I put on the first clothes I found, and we waited for the ambulance to transfer us. It was all far from dramatic though: pizzas had arrived right on time to feed Laura, Danny (they had been by my side all night long!) and the midwives. I gulped down a few bites of pizza before heading to hospital, with two very friendly ambulance drivers. I was so elated, literally high in hormones. Transferring didn’t bother me at all and I was just glad everything else went so well.
While the latent phase of labour seemed eternal and lasted a whole night, I was only in active labour for 6 hours. Why this matters is because nobody should be discouraged or put under pressure to ‘progress’ faster when the first stages are a bit slow. When the body and mind are in the right environment, with the right physical and mental support, the hormones are allowed to flow and birth can unfold as it’s meant to.
I finish writing this 15 days after the birth. Looking back, I have absolutely no regrets about my choices and I will always remember Levi’s birth as one of the most wonderful and empowering experiences of my life.
Where I was going to birth was a mystery until the moment arrived; the best advice Laura gave me was to accept the organic nature of birth and go with the flow. With her, I had prepared a detailed hospital birth plan which I had discussed face to face with both hospital lead midwives & obstetrician, to make sure we were on the same page and my preferences respected should I go to the hospital. At the same time, we also allowed the possibility of birth unfolding at home by registering for a home birth and preparing all the assets.
I will be writing another blog post about how/why I ended up having a home birth, and also sharing some of the things I did to prepare for it. I do know, it was not just pure coincidence that things unfolded well. I think the key to a positive birth (especially after a traumatic one) is having a good support team, basic physical preparation and mostly making informed choices, research & mental preparation.
A special thanks to Laura, our doula,
for kindly capturing all these images (and more amazing pictures which I am not quite sharing here :D). They came to us as an amazing surprise and it's just so special being able to look straight back into these precious moments.