Here at Love Mamas we share a lot as a community. With these birth stories we want to share our labour experiences, to share in the joy, awe and amazement of what women do to bring life into this world. Everyone's story is different and special.
Maria Bagnall shares her inspiring story of learning to trust her own body again after a damaging first time labour.
This birth, my second baby, could not have been more different from the first. That was an incredibly long, difficult and completely unnecessary cascade of interventions which left me with significant physical injuries and a lot of anger. I spent two years traipsing from appointment to appointment trying to get fixed, intimate exams at every one, humiliation lurking at every turn. I heard the words, "a healthy baby is all that matters", from women's health professionals on more than one occasion. Words designed to shame.
I was lucky that I met some amazing professionals on my journey to heal my body, one of them being Vic from Love Mamas. She provided me with support and experience when I was at a really low ebb. I was also lucky that I found a gynaecologist who didn't just tell me to get on with it, and after two hospital stays I eventually felt like my body was back on track.
But how could I have let this happen to me? My midwife had been so cool and laid back about things, so I had tried to be cool too. Birth plan? How uncool and controlling! I'd just go with the flow! Birth was only a tiny part of my baby's story anyhow, what did it matter? I didn't realise then that birth matters. It is one of the most important and profound events a woman can experience and you can be so vulnerable, both physically and mentally. I was ill-prepared and I paid a price for that.
But my body was not just a vessel, and I was going to decide what happened to it from now on. This second birth was going to be different. My partner Justin and I researched our options for hours on end, read books, talked, listened, and explored every option available. When I actually fell pregnant again my gut instinct immediately told me that this baby was going to be born at home. I told virtually nobody. I didn't want anything to put me off, and I knew what some people would say - "you're brave" or worse, "it's not safe". Fair enough - I used to think that too (I was wrong). I hired a doula, Sarah, who had been a midwife for thirty years previously. I trusted my intuition - I knew this baby was going to be born safely in the comfort and sanctity of our home, without negativity, stress or drama.
So 40 weeks came and went. I started to have a show at 40+6 and was so happy - things were starting to happen! I'd had Braxton Hicks for months and baby had been engaged since 36 weeks so I felt ready. My amazing community midwife contacted me on the Monday (41+1) to ask if I wanted a sweep. I'd always been very against intervening in any way to force labour, but as things had started to happen already, I decided to go for it. I'd also declined hospital induction for the time being and felt this might take away some of the pressure. The sweep was not painful at all and gave me some idea of progress - my cervix was anterior and I was 1cm dilated. I felt positive.
Later that evening I started to get mild surges, which were regular. Justin decided to go to bed just in case and I tried to stay calm and not get too excited. I knew how important rest was during the early stages, a mistake I made first time around. I went to bed with my TENS machine and tried to sleep but by morning the surges had tailed off and we carried on as normal. Over the next few days I tried really hard not to go completely crackers but it was tough! Surges came and went. I'd say going over 40 weeks is very hard, but going over 41 weeks is a special kind of torture. Well-meaning texts were sending me over the edge and Sarah decided she needed to give me a good talking to and came over, bringing cake and reassurance. We sat out in the sunshine all afternoon and talked over every possibility. "Your body knows what to do" she told me. I went to bed that night feeling back to my old self, confident, excited and happy.
On Thursday morning at 40+11 I took my son to playgroup and whilst I was there I continued to have surges. I did notice they were slightly more intense but dismissed it, not wanting to get my hopes up. In the afternoon I was at my parents' house when around 4pm I started to notice the surges were getting more intense and I kept having to go to the garden and breathe. I covertly started timing them and realised they were coming every three to four minutes and were about 40-50 seconds long. I tentatively messaged Justin telling him not to get his hopes up but to be home on time that night. At home, I phoned the birth centre at 7pm, still in denial, "I'm not sure this is it - I just need you to come over and check". I could hear the midwife laughing at this, as I kept having to breathe through surges, clearly in established labour!
There was a mad rush to get my son to bed and we took a picture of the both of us just before he went up (to bed). I will cherish it forever because I know now that these were the last precious moments together before our three became a four. The community midwives arrived around 8pm and I asked for a vaginal examination. I know of many women whose birth plan has expressly stated that they do not want examinations but psychologically I needed to know if this was it. I laboured in agony for hours the first time around with a posterior baby and was told on finally being examined that my cervix was still closed. This time I was 4cm, membranes bulging! I can't explain how happy this made me! This was the first point where I truly felt that my intuition about this birth was becoming true and that I had been right to trust myself.
Justin started filling up the birth pool and we messaged Sarah to come over. I stood and breathed through my surges. When I needed to be alone I went out into the garden, it was a gorgeously warm night and a massive orange moon was looking down. I kept repeating my hypnobirthing words, "calm" and "relax", and swayed with the surges. I felt amazing.
I moved into the pool around 9pm, it wasn't yet full but I wanted to feel the water. Oh wow - sweet relief! I'd heard about the massive pain relief water could bring and it's all true. My surges slowed down to around two every 10 minutes but I wasn't worried, I was actually enjoying myself. Justin and the midwives were doing an awesome job filling the pool and everything was relaxed and calm. Justin was massaging my back and applying pressure which felt amazing. He'd prepared so much for this birth and he knew exactly what to do. He was an absolute rock from start to finish.
The next shift of midwives arrived quietly at 10pm. The first midwife was a brown eyed angel - she read my birth decisions note and knew exactly how I wanted the birth to pan out. I think people misunderstand birth plans, I did the first time around. In my opinion the most important part of them is to facilitate informed consent. I made sure this time mine very clearly stated what I did and did not consent to. I covered all bases and did not just hope for the best. Importantly for me, I also stated that I wanted the birth to be as hands off as possible, and that I did not want to be rushed, or coached when pushing.
I continued to lounge in the pool and we laughed and joked with the midwives in between surges. I'd bought cake for them and was cajoling them to eat it. I'd asked for all checks to be done as unobtrusively as possible and I barely noticed them checking on baby in between surges. All was well and everything was going smoothly.
Around 11.30pm I started to wonder whether the surges were helping me progress, as they had slowed so much it seemed too good to be true. I asked for another examination which took place around midnight. The first midwife confirmed I was 7-8cm dilated - I couldn't believe it! It's easy for me to sit here writing this and say that I hadn't felt much pain up until this point - but it's true. I'm sure some people reading this will be thinking I'm either a) mental or b) fibbing, and to be honest with you I would have thought the same if you'd asked me after my first birth, but I can honestly say that I hardly felt any pain. The comfort of my own home and the water, the safety of the people I chose to be with me, as well as the hypnobirthing techniques, all contributed to this. Yes, I discovered, birth can be enjoyable!
Around 1am I chatted with the midwives about the possibility of gas and air but didn't really feel a desperate need so we decided to wait. Shortly after this I must have hit transition as I started to feel panicky and I demanded gas and air immediately to try and relax again. I suddenly needed the hypnobirthing track off and I couldn't get comfortable in the water. I needed to move but I didn't want to be touched and everything seemed to be bothering me. I needed to get things moving. The first midwife suggested I try sitting on the toilet and took some candles upstairs to our bathroom. Justin and I went upstairs but I just couldn't get comfortable on the toilet and so I went down onto my hands and knees on the bathroom floor. Within seconds my body started to push. I'd read about this reflex loads, it was completely involuntary and such an awe-inspiring thing to experience. The first midwife heard the sounds I was making and came to the room suggesting it was time to get back in the pool.
The water slowed things down again but I'd never experienced such power in my body and I wasn't sure how to deal with things. I kept asking the first midwife for reassurance, saying "people like this bit don't they, they say it's a relief" (I'm not sure I agreed with these people at this time!). She did a great job of being diplomatic saying that the second stage could be quite intense. I began to make sounds which didn't seem to belong to me, primal earthy roars as my body did its thing. My waters went at 1.50am and things stated to move fast. The first midwife reminded me of my hypnobirthing and breathing baby down and I began to focus again, any panic subsiding. I could do this!
I suddenly could feel my baby's head coming down and reached down to touch it - what an amazing moment! Then his head was out, my body did all the work with its pushing reflex and despite what I'd heard about crowning I honestly don't remember it being painful. Then with the next surge my beautiful baby drifted up into my arms. I looked down to see another beautiful boy.
The second midwife said "he doesn't know he's been born" as he gazed up at me.
Our beautiful baby boy, Jack, was born very gently and peacefully at home on 16 September 2016 at 2.14am, a calm and contented old soul.
After going through so much with my first birth, home birth has changed our lives forever. This time, I trusted my intuition and my body and did what was right for me and my baby.
I finally feel at peace.
— Maria Bagnall