By Alice Koller, Empowered Birthing
Six years ago today my first son was born. His birth not only gave me the honour of becoming a mother but it also triggered the series of events that have led me to where I am today: Empowered Birthing.
My business was born out of a need to find out more and to not settle for less and is shaped by my own experiences of pregnancy, birth, and labour.
My son was born in Maryland, USA. I had a fantastic pregnancy, I was under the care of an OB, and I was ‘delivered’ of a son in hospital. I had excellent care, I got to briefly meet every OB in the practice, I went for all the testing (way more than you would get in Canada), I went to my childbirth classes and my breastfeeding classes. I feared nothing about birth itself. I was hugely optimistic throughout my pregnancy, joked that I was going to birth my son by sneezing, just like Brooklyn Decker in the movie ‘What to Expect When You Are Expecting’. When the day came to have my son, I also jokingly told my OB that I would like him by tea time, being British, this is a hugely important time of the day.
My labour had started the morning of the 10th September by feeling a squirt of water down my leg. I remembered reading (in the only pregnancy book I read at the time - What to Expect When You Are Expecting) that if you think your waters have broken, squeeze your pelvic muscles and see if it stops. If it does, then you are just peeing yourself. Lovely. I tried squeezing, and it partly stopped. Now I was confused haha. It was about 8 in the morning, so I rang my OB who said I should come into hospital to be checked. After finally reaching my husband, we got into the hospital around 9.30. I was 37.5 weeks pregnant and so neither of use were quite prepared as my due date was not for another 2 week and a bit weeks and baby’s come on their due dates don’t they!? Oh blissful ignorance of a first time mum that only read one book and watched a movie of that book.
Did I Just Have Week Pelvic Muscles?!
We got to the hospital and there had been no more ‘spurts’. I was checked by the nurses and it had been my waters ‘tearing’ (so only partially breaking). I should also add that I wasn’t having any contractions at this point. The OB came in and said they could break my waters and I honestly don’t remember it being explained to me about the risks if they did, but they told me the benefits - it will help speed up labour (which is music to anyone's ears), but there was no ‘but it will also increase your chance of infection and if you do not start labour naturally within 24hrs then we will need to start it by medical means, or you may have more intense contractions…’ I naively said yes (and now after both my second and third labours starting entirely naturally with my waters breaking by themselves, I wish I had said no and just gone back home).
Admitted to Hospital
I was now admitted to hospital and given a room on the labour ward, an IV and a drip, and access to ice chips and clear soup. In order to get things moving I pushed my IV round and round the corridors until it ran out of battery and then I got into bed. It was now around lunchtime and contractions had started to happen (you could see them on the screen as I was now also hooked up to the Electronic Fetal Monitor), and I was hungry so I drank my clear soup and watched TV with my husband.
Finally I couldn’t stay in bed any longer and the contractions had started to get stronger. I threw up my soup (active labour always starts with me throwing up I know now and active labour is around 5 or 6cm dilated) and started having to ‘endure’ the pain of contractions. I literally dreaded each one. I moved around the room and was thoroughly miserable. I tried the hugely complicated breathing pattern that I had learnt in my childbirth class, it didn’t stop the pain as I thought it was meant to so I stopped using it. I was determined to have a natural birth, you may say it is bravery but honestly I hate needles so in my case it is cowardice.
Eventually though I asked for an epidural, I was scared, repeating that I couldn’t do it and having a crisis of confidence. I waited FOREVER for the anesthesiologist to arrive. They explained to me all about having an epidural all while my mind was fogged by pain and I signed a ton of stuff giving my consent to god knows what. They then sent my husband, my one source of comfort, out of the room and told me to sit on the bed, lean forward and stay still. I still laugh. How on earth are you meant to stay still, lean over your contorting belly as you have back to back contractions?! And why did no one mention what I was experiencing was my transitioning from active labour to the pushing phase!?!
A simple, ‘hey you are in transition, that means you are about to enter the pushing phase’ would have given me a huge burst of renewed determination and confidence that I was soon to meet my baby. But no one did, and due to shift changes the nurses wouldn’t have known anyway. How could they have known I was in transition? By my back to back contractions and crisis of confidence which is caused by the surge of adrenaline as the uterus changes from dilating and opening to pushing. Anyway, I couldn’t sit still for the epidural as I felt a lot of pressure in my pelvis, so they stopped trying to give it to me and checked me instead.
Ready to Push
10cm and ready to push. Back out they all cleared, no epidural, my husband was called back in a panic, and then I was told to push and yelled at to push. I was pushing lying on my back and I remember saying. “I can’t do it” because that is what I feel like I was meant to say. That is what they say in the movies, isn't it? Well I know I can do it as I have done it perfectly beautifully without even actively pushing two more times. Looking back I hate that me for doubting myself. But anyway, I pushed really hard, burst all the blood vessels in my face and my son was delivered with the help of a vacuum… at 4.33pm just in time for tea. 5lbs 10oz. I didn’t sneeze but I only pushed for about 30 minutes.
It was a very short labour and I felt amazing afterwards and I was so proud of myself. I feel that my optimism and fearlessness unknowing paved the way for how quick and very straightforward my birth was. But looking back with my doula hat on I wish it had been so different. I wish I had gone home and not had my waters broken. I wish I had been with a midwife and had a homebirth or birthed in a birth center, away from the medicalisation of birth, away from the IVs and clear soups and constant rotating nurses whom don’t know anything about you other than what is written on your chart, away from hospital protocols, and birthing on your back. I wish I had had a doula to help guide me and bolster my confidence, and gently navigate us through birth, I wish I had had hypnobirthing. I could go on and on about various aspects on my pregnancy, birth, and postpartum period and how I believe they were influenced or affected as a result of the care I received. That is the beauty of hindsight. But at the time I knew no differently and hey I had a healthy baby so what is the problem?
As a birthing mother, we are allowed to want more. As a person, we are allowed to want more and in a lot of cases it is out right to have more.
We get our hair cut, and come away not liking the style or the experience. We go somewhere new next time. We go out to dinner and the food and service are horrible, so we don’t go there again. Why not with birth? We go back to the same birth again if you don’t have to?
Taking Charge of My Birth
A year and a half later I was pregnant with my second child and I began to reflect upon my first birth. It was an amazing birth but filled with the confidence of having done it once and being away from the privatization of the US healthcare system back in Canada I decided I wanted a Midwife. I had brought up the suggestion of a Midwife with my first son but being new to babies and pregnancy and away from a healthcare system we understood my husband said that he felt more comfortable having the baby in a hospital because after all it is a medical event and ‘what if something went wrong’. I am not blaming him, as I agreed too but it is often wrongly a reason you hear for choosing a hospital birth and one without merit.
How wrong we were! Birth, in most cases, is not a medical event. In the majority of cases what initiates pregnancy is not a medical event, but something done intimately in private between a man and a woman, so why is it believed that the end event of giving birth has to be medically managed? In some cases of course medical help is needed or wanted and we are lucky to have the care there, but in the majority of cases if birth was just left alone then it could be done entirely naturally. It’s all down to education and what we are taught to believe through the media. There I was at 26 years old, believing that pregnancy and birth was a sickness and only the doctors could help cure me. I was a patient of the hospital. I can see myself now not even questioning, believing that of course doctors knew best, that there was no agenda and not even having the foresight to ask ‘do I need that?’; ‘why are you doing this?’; ‘do I have any other options?’.
Pregnant with my second and under the care of the Ottawa Valley Midwives, my whole experience of pregnancy and birth changed. I read and researched and educated myself to no end. I found hypnobirthing and my entire experience and perception of birth changed. The Midwives were amazing, empowering, confidence building, and they felt like my best friends. I would come away from my appointments feeling energised and almost euphoric, I talked through what I had researched and discovered and slowly I began to understand the nibbling dissatisfaction I had been feeling over my first birth. Please don’t get me wrong, it was a great birth, but I could have been better: better prepared, better informed, better supported and I made those changes, and I made them again with my third birth and now I am a doula and hypnobirthing instructor trying to give women a better birth from the beginning.
I will be sharing the account of my beautifully empowering birth story of my second son in November on his birthday but you can read about my third birth on my blog already.