My husband and I were very conscious in our approach to the birth of our son. With private health care our journey began in seeking an obstetrician. But we soon found ourselves at odds with our choice to have a hospital birth. As we started to dig deeper, inundated with a lot of very contradicting information and advice, we spent a lot of time in heated discussions, analysing our thoughts and feelings in an attempt to try and figure out what would be best for us. Ultimately, my husband was always of the mind that, in the end, it was up to me how I chose to give birth and he would support me no matter what I decided.
Still on course for a hospital birth at the Mater Mothers, attending routine check-ups with my obstetrician and completing the hospital antenatal course, I remember feeling quite overwhelmed. A myriad of pain relief was available to me upon giving birth and I was shocked that having a caesarean section was even an option and not just a procedure used in the case of an emergency. Something crucial felt lacking and, quite disconcerted, I realised that this route provided little, if next to no advice or support into natural birthing techniques. For me, so much choice and education in all that could ease my ‘pain’ during labour, only made me feel more vulnerable, less empowered and far more fearful of losing control as I birthed my baby. What all this potential ‘help’ failed to do was acknowledge my natural ability as a woman to give birth in my own right.
I was under no illusion that giving birth would be anything other than messy, challenging, unpredictable and ‘painful’. Just as life itself, I imagined it to be beautifully imperfect and as such also very exciting and empowering. I envisioned an instinctive connection to an almost primitive force within me and I trusted that this would guide me and help me to endure.
I began exploring home birth as an alternative but going in this direction felt too far the other way for my liking. I recognised that I felt comforted by a sense of security that giving birth in a hospital provided. I also held high regard for the medical advancements we have made in recent history and valued the support of a medical team around me should I find myself in need. Yet my feelings were contradicted by a fear of unnecessary intervention, particularly since I had a strong desire to give birth ‘naturally’. Was this possible in a hospital setting? And what did the term ‘natural birth’ actually mean to me? The questions kept pouring in and I came to the conclusion that what I was most afraid of was ‘not feeling’ my birth, a fear I have come to believe gave me great strength during my labour. Having carried my baby with me for nine months I wanted to experience our separation as nature had intended. I wanted to give birth vaginally and without drugs for pain relief.
Eventually seeking the support of a birth doula confirmed my decision to remain on course to give birth in hospital. Our obstetrician supported the idea and it was in fact through him that my husband and I were introduced to the wonderful Cheryl Sheriff. Her wealth of knowledge and support answered many questions for me and settled my fears, all the while making it seem possible for me to achieve the birth I had wanted. She supported my choices and guided my preparation in natural birthing techniques and when the day came I felt comforted by her presence. She worked together with my husband in emotionally supporting me throughout my labour and acted as a professional intermediary between my husband and I and the medical staff. What I valued most, however, was the faith she had in me to birth my baby and the space she created for me to do this.
My son was born after 41 weeks plus 6 days from my earliest estimated due date. There was an ambiguity of two days between my estimated dates, meaning that at the very least my son was born 13 days past his due date and at the very most 15 days past. This matters because it affected mine and my husband’s decision to go ahead with an induction that had been requested by my obstetrician at the time. Unfortunately he threatened to withdraw care at this point, unless we induced, due to the amount of time that we had already waited. To be fair though, we had managed to push him past his usual 10 day ‘late’ limit.
Deciding to induce was perhaps the toughest decision I had to make as it marked the possible beginning of a cascade of intervention, leading to my greatest fear. My husband and I knew that we could always be left wondering ‘what if we waited just one more day?’ I may have gone into spontaneous labour. Yet apposing this ‘what if one more day was one too many’ and we were faced with further complications as a result. We talked through all our options thoroughly, trying not to let fear influence our decisions. But this was no easy task. Finally, we made a call; one that we felt put the best interests of our unborn son at heart and having made the decision from a conscious place made it easier to come to terms with.
Being in such a situation enlightened me to my own ideals and human vulnerability. Despite approaching the birth with an open mind I naturally wanted everything to work out according to plan, yet I knew that my birth plan was merely a set of guidelines and that, once labour started, the only control I really had was how I chose to handle the way in which things would unfold.
A theme was definitely emerging for me; that of letting go and particularly the idea that ‘letting go’ meant I had to ‘do’ anything. I realised that our ability to let go is something that becomes us and therein the birth process unfolds.
And so it began. My waters were broken but with little action I was eventually administered Syntocinon. I can’t deny the disappointment I felt at my birth experience beginning this way, but I knew there was no room for my disappointment at this stage. I chose to acknowledge my feelings and then quickly discard them since I was determined, despite everything, to give birth as nature had intended and without drugs.
I drew upon a number of natural birthing techniques to achieve my goal. As an artist and ex-professional dancer I have learnt to tune into my body and trust in its voice. The dancer in me is skilled at manipulating and controlling my body. But I have also learned the importance in being able to let go and trust in my body’s ‘own mind’ in order to feel its movement and own its intention. I particularly likened giving birth to dance improvisation. When I would dance I would start moving until gradually my mind quietened and my body took over and it would be in these moments, of being in an unconscious trance like state that I would feel the presence of a deeper voice emerging; one that elicited a strong sense of connection to the energies inside me. It felt only natural for me to find my way to this mind body space during labour.
Affirmations such as ‘just like a dance improvisation, let your instinctual and intuitive self take over’, ‘go deeper into your body’, ‘birth is like a beautiful improvisation, it just unfolds naturally’ really helped me focus and prepare for labour. But it was essentially a form of self-hypnosis through the practice of hypnobirthing and the power of visualization that carried me through.
During my pregnancy I painted a number of canvases that reflected birth and I chose to take these with me to the hospital as I laboured. The intensity upon which I focussed on the paintings, two in particular (D, E), took me back to the point of creation whereby I was harnessed by my instincts and intuition. I fell into the very trance like state I had hoped and this became my safe place and natural form of anaesthesia.
Music also had a profound influence upon my experience, acting as a catalyst to my emotions and visionary experience. I created a playlist for labour comprising of earth ambient tunes which kept me grounded and connected to the rhythm of my body. Breathing through the music helped me remain calm and focussed whilst at the same time helping me gain back some physical control by working with my body through each contraction. By breathing into the energy of each contraction I was able to trace its shape and form, working with my body in motion, neither controlling nor feeling as though I were being controlled, all the while working toward releasing that which was within.
Rubbing and clutching clear quartz was another natural aid I used. This is crystal with a distinct ability to purify the energy around it and open the heart and mind to higher guidance. It can also be charged to amplify whatever energy or intent is programmed into it and is said to continue radiating this energy outward, accelerating ‘the fulfilment of one’s prayers’ and allowing the crystal to ‘hold a pattern of energy long enough and strongly enough for the manifestation of a goal to occur’. I specifically charged my crystal with energy from nature by burying it in the garden for weeks prior to my due date.
Feeling connected to the earth was very significant for me. I spent the first half of my labour standing up and leaning over the bed, swaying and circling my hips and it was important for me to feel the ground beneath my feet. I tried standing on a soft mat but this irritated me. I had to be standing on the hard ground in bare feet and doing so helped me remain present, focussed and connected to my core.
I also used Amethyst crystals as I laboured. This is a crystal that repels negative energy and attracts positive energy. They can also help relieve pain and swelling in the body by calming the nervous system and when used in meditation they can help relieve stress and anxiety. More so, using Amethyst can help you become more in tune with what you are feeling and ‘is thought to heighten your sense of intuition’.
I finally drew great strength from a very influential friend of mine. She was my ‘strong women figure’, wise and compassionate. She lives overseas and wasn’t with me in person but I felt her presence in the room with me as I birthed.
Most importantly, however, was the invaluable support of my husband. He was and always has been my rock. He barely left my side throughout the entire labour and together we have always been a greater force.
My son was finally born. Vaginally and drug free! He was beautifully pink and noisy and was passed straight into my arms. We locked eyes and no words could ever truly describe how I felt in that moment. It was a meeting of souls, a place of utter elation and huge relief. The look in my husband’s eyes was priceless. Awe, pride and an overwhelming love filled the room.
In conclusion I believe that perhaps we can have unrealistic expectations of the experience of birth but I think conscious preparation leaves us with little regret. My birth experience was by no means perfect but as I held pure innocence in my arms I remember thinking ‘if there were such a thing as perfection, this is it’.
Despite everything I look back upon my experience with a smile and that’s good enough for me.
Born March 2013