Wednesday, 16 December 2015

The peaceful unassisted birth of Annabelle... Part 2: Annabelle's birth story

I had been having the odd cramp/contraction on Sunday evening, not quite braxton hicks but not regular enough to think about timing. Sophie had had a tummy bug (her and Charlotte were spending the night at my parents’ house, to keep the tummy bug out of our house) and I wasn't sure if maybe I had picked that up. I stayed up until 11:30 that night, reading Ina May Gaskin's Spiritual Midwifery. I kept thinking I needed to switch my light off and get some sleep but I figured I could nap the next day.

I woke up just before 1am needing to wee and soon realised that I was having very mild contractions, 8 - 10 minutes apart. I lay down to rest a bit more, hoping to get a bit more sleep and messaged my doula Leigh at around 2 to let her know that things had started but I was still resting.

I soon realised that I wasn't going to get any more sleep and was more comfortable moving around than lying down, so around 2:30 I went through to the lounge, lit a couple of candles for light and put on some worship music. I swayed and squatted my way through contractions, rubbing my belly and talking to baby through each surge. In between, I soaked in the glittering golden lights of Pietermaritzburg below us, and wallowed in the utter peace of the moment.

At some point I messaged my mom and sister to let them know things were slowly starting, and at around 3 I let Leigh know I was up and things were progressing, and she said she would start making her way over. She lives in Westville, and was bringing a doula friend with, so I knew she would take some time to get to me. Contractions were getting close to 5 minutes apart and a minute long, but they were still very manageable and I continued moving as I felt comfortable during each one. They were intense rather than painful, and I was very aware of my body and what worked best in each moment.

After messaging Leigh, I went to shower and I checked myself at the same time - almost fully effaced but not dilating at all. This wasn't entirely unexpected, as I had taken 21 hours of labour to reach 3cm during Charlotte's birth, and then another hour to fully dilate. So I kind of expected another slow start - plus everything was still so manageable and easy and I was so enjoying being in labour!

After my shower I went through to the lounge again and started falling asleep. I was so tired! Leigh messaged to say she would be arriving at about 5, and at about 4:30 I went through to the bedroom to lie down next to Noel. Contractions spaced out from 3 or 4 minutes apart and I had 2 in the 20-odd minutes that I was lying there, dozing off in between.

When Leigh and Shelley arrived, I got up again and they became a bit closer, but still much further apart than they had been. Swaying wasn't helping as much anymore and Leigh applied counter-pressure through a couple of contractions (which could finally be described as painful) while Shelley made me a batch of lemon labour aide. Yum!! Leigh also lifted and brought my belly in through a couple of contractions to help get Bubby in a better position.
Leigh helping me with one of the 2 or 3 lift and tucks we managed to fit in
I messaged Arlen, and she said she had aqua classes until 10... so I figured we would go out walking at around 10 to get things moving, and hopefully we could have a baby in the early afternoon. We had discussed an enema a couple of weeks back and it had worked great for me during C's birth. I know others feel differently, but I liked knowing that when I had to push, it was definitely a baby (and that there weren't likely to be any surprises coming out at the same time as baby!) Arlen suggested I use it then, so I went off around 6:20.

Noel joined Leigh and Shelley in the kitchen - I heard later they were making tea and toast, and Noel started washing dishes (always practical!). In the meanwhile, my body cleaned itself out and I carried on labouring on the toilet, even having a bloody show. There were 2 contractions that felt intense enough to be active labour, I gripped onto the burglar guards and bathroom cabinet through these. But I would still describe them as intense rather than painful and I still felt so so peaceful.

I finished cleaning out, but still felt like I needed to push... it took a while to realise that it was now baby ;) I flushed the toilet and washed my hands, and tried squatting through a contraction, but it wasn't very helpful and I found myself sitting back on the toilet again. I sat there a while, giving a big push at one point, and started realising that I was going to have my baby in there, and pretty soon. I tried shouting for Leigh or Noel, and even tried throwing things at the bathroom wall (the lounge borders on our en-suite bathroom). My phone was charging in the kitchen and I had no way of letting Arlen know. I wasn't afraid, but it was just what I was supposed to do.

I felt baby's head move down my pelvis and rotate around - it was totally surreal! Soon after I felt to see how far baby was, and I could feel a bulge probably 4cm in. That suddenly made it real! I was having my baby in the bathroom, all on my own.

It still wasn't scary though - I was totally at peace and my body was doing exactly what it was supposed to.

The next contraction, I felt baby move down to 1.5 cm in, and realised that it was too squishy to be a head. Just after that, I heard a pop as my water burst all over the toilet, my legs and the floor. Kind of like in the movies J I felt again and baby was roughly 3cm in. I could feel my perineum bulging out and was very aware that sitting on the toilet was probably a very bad position to give birth in, because the weight of the baby (which was about to come out!) was too far back, and I needed to be leaning forward. I needed to move onto the floor, but I could not persuade any part of my body to move. I guess by that stage, every part of your body is focused on the area involved in giving birth, so there is no spare brain function to tell your legs to move ;)

Thankfully, just after that (probably 10 minutes after the show, and 5 minutes after my waters had broken) there was a gentle knock on the door and Leigh gently called out, "are you ok in there?" I called to her to call Arlen, the baby was coming. She rushed off to call Noel and Shelley, and while Noel phoned Arlen she helped me onto my hands and knees on the floor and found a towel for me to kneel on and a pillow for me to rest my head on (on the edge of the bath) in between contractions. Shelley came in and prayed for me in between taking photos, and someone found me a glass of water to sip on. Almost straight away, I could feel the infamous ring of fire and I told Leigh. She was so calm through this time and she was very good at reminding me to pant through contractions at this time, rather than push. I tried. I really did. But I just couldn't hold myself back all the time, and pushed a few times.

Leigh reminding me to breathe through contractions in the 10 minutes she was with me just before Bubby was born

Noel checked in with us after talking to Arlen, and asked if I wanted him to fill up the bath. I just grunted, "no time" back at him, and it occurred to me that maybe he would be able to catch our baby. Arlen had mentioned a couple of weeks before, that catching their own babies had made a major impact on a number of dads, and I thought how much I would love him to be able to have that gift.

As quickly as it came to me though, he disappeared again, and just a minute or so later, a little head popped out with the next surge. There was a brief pause, but no time to think before the shoulders and rest if the body followed, and I instinctively reached out to grab my baby as I focused on not letting her fall.
As I caught my very slippery little baby! You can see that she was already crying!
Before she was fully out she was crying, loudly announcing her entrance. Her cord was around the back of her neck, and I registered this and was aware that I needed to do something before I could lift her up, but my brain was still too slow to figure out what that something was. Leigh checked with me first, then unhooked it, and I raised my newest baby to my chest. At the same time, I caught a glimpse and vaguely registered that we had another daughter, but it was only a couple of minutes later when someone asked, that I had a proper look to see.



Falling in love with my little newborn. For some reason, this photo will NOT stay the right way around. I was standing up by this point though ;)

Someone called Noel, and he came in to meet our baby (I think slightly stunned at how fast it had gone). We hung out between the bathroom and the bed for a while - I liked the idea of hopping into bed with baby, but also wanted to stay upright to encourage my placenta to come out, and soon afterwards she started rooting and latched on beautifully.

Arlen arrived about 20 minutes after the birth, and ran a hot bath for me and baby to warm up in (it was cold!). At the same time, the bed was warmed up and the heater switched on, so when we got out of the bath we could snuggle up together in a warm bed. Through this whole time, our precious Bubby was just staring at me with her beautiful luminous violet eyes.

She weighed 3.26kg, a full 500g more than my back- up gynae had estimated, and 300g more than Charlotte had weighed at birth. I had so badly wanted a 3kg baby, and finally I had one! I messaged my mom and sister again to let them know that Bubby was here.

It took a while for my placenta to come out (which I left attached until the following day in a partial lotus birth, then planted in a pot with a beautiful pink flower above), and then Arlen checked for tearing. I was hoping for a small tear that we wouldn't have to stitch, but unfortunately there was quite significant internal and external tearing (because of the speed in which she descended, mostly because of the position I was in, as well as from the times I pushed really hard). There was a lot of swelling and bruising, and the local anaesthetic she gave me to numb the area before stitching up didn't take everywhere, so there were 4 or 5 stitches without anaesthetic. I had some Rescue drops and a couple of panados, and then squeezed Leigh's hand through those, literally screaming through the last couple. Poor Arlen missing the fun of the birth and just arriving to do the horrible part! That was agonising.

In the midst of this, my mom arrived with S and C. I didn't want them in while I was being stitched up, so S played (C had fallen asleep on the way over) until we were done and then they came in to meet our still unnamed baby. We had decided on a boy name, but I couldn't choose between the 2 girl names I liked. Sophie climbed up onto the bed with me (baby was lying right next to me), and she simply stared at her. After 2 hours of being very alert after her birth, she had finally fallen asleep just as I was being stitched, and was snuggled up next to me on the bed. Sophie was in awe of this tiny miracle, and it was so special to see them together.

Sophie meeting her baby sister for the first time. We kept the placenta covered in salt and wrapped in a towelling nappy, and it was in a paper bag at that point. I transferred it to a proper wetbag a bit later, so it was easier to move around. 

Proud big sister! She was so looking forward to being at Bubby's birth, and we had watched many birth videos together in anticipation of her being there.


A little later, after Leigh, Shelley and Arlen had left,  I asked Sophie which of the 2 girl names she preferred, and she chose Annabelle. Our Bubby finally had a name!

Annabelle is now 6 weeks old, and I still feel a rush of emotion when I go into our bathroom, put on the shirt I wore when I gave birth to her or look out of the lounge windows on a clear night.
Smiling at her 'newborn' shoot (at 4 weeks old)
I caught my baby. On my own.  My body knew what to do, and it did it - and because of that, my Annabelle was born at home, straight into my arms, where she is still most comfortable today. The first face she saw, her first experience of touch, the first voice she heard - all mine. As it should be. She came when she was ready, even though this was 9 days past when most SA gynaes would have allowed me to wait, and a full 3 weeks after she would have been born had I consented to a repeat csection. And for that, I have a healthy baby who eats and sleeps beautifully. She only lost 80g in the days following her birth, and was up to 3.52kg by 10 days old. No sign of colic, no allergies, just a happy calm baby.

As for me, I still can't believe I had an unassisted birth!

Interestingly enough, the times when I was on my own was when everything seemed easier, no pain and I was calmer and knew better what to do within myself. When I was with Noel or Leigh (despite them both being people I feel safe with and trust) is when I felt pain. Not overwhelming and I am grateful for them being there, but still pain nonetheless.

I really enjoyed my labour and birth – it was intense more than painful, and so so incredibly peaceful. Candles, a beautiful view, worship music, the tangible presence of God and an almost supernatural understanding of what my body and baby needed through my labour… does it get better than this?! I was in complete control of my body and it was simply a dance between Annabelle and I as we both did what we were created to do in the miracle of birth.

God has blessed me now with 2 amazing births (and 3 amazing daughters), and all I can think is, what a privilege it is to be a woman - to carry these babes for months as they grow, to go through labour, to birth them into the world, and then to nurture them in the months that follow. Each process a small miracle in its own right.
Annabelle, Charlotte and Sophie - I am a very blessed mama!

Annabelle and I

The peaceful unassisted birth of Annabelle... Part 1: background

From the moment my head cleared after the euphoria of Charlotte's birth, I had known that I wanted a home birth for my next baby. I had planned where I wanted the pool to go, and had my heart set on S and C being there to witness their younger sibling's birth. When we got a surprise second line on a home pregnancy test, I was a little nervous but excited to start my journey all over again.

From the beginning, I knew I needed to do things slightly differently to last time. I hoped for the same back up gynae, and I know she is only comfortable going to 40 weeks, so I had to fudge my last period date. I also didn't want so many ante-natal visits with a gynae - there are very valid concerns about the safety of ultrasound scans, and I didn't want to expose my child to questionable practices that have somehow become standard in South Africa. So my first gynae visit was at 20 weeks after seeing my midwife at 16 weeks. (I did pop into our local pharmacy for blood pressure and urine tests at around 13 weeks).

I also discovered a couple of UC (unassisted childbirth) facebook groups and the more I read, the more they resonated with me. UC moms take full responsibility for their births and so tend to be very educated on both pregnancy and birth (including emergency situations and reasons where a transfer to hospital may be necessary).

There was a fascinating research study done a few months back, and preliminary conclusions show that UC can be significantly safer than hospital birth, and with a major decrease in the number of csections required - my gut feeling on this is that it is because each woman has taken on the responsibility to keep herself and her baby safe, and is more in tune with her body and baby than she would likely be if she was trusting a doctor to keep her safe. I feel like there is a lesson to be learned here, even for those who prefer prenatal care and hospital births.

My 2 dream birth scenarios were very different - one had S and C with Noel just outside the pool watching as their younger sib was born, and the second was an unassisted birth. The only issue with that was that I thought I may need my doula to get through each contraction again, and if she was there I needed to have a midwife present. Plus I have the most amazing midwife, and genuinely wanted her there for who she is, not just for her knowledge and experience. As it happened, we didn't have too much choice in the matter!


Quick update...

So there's been a couple of changes around here since Charlotte's wonderful waterbirth almost 2 years ago. Well, one big change to be more precise. We had another little person join our family 6 weeks ago. This was our announcement photo:

And I loved this one of Sophie and Charlotte too. It was tough to choose between the 2!

Annabelle's birth story coming up next.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

A photo post :-)

Some photos from my vbac:

Christmas day - 40 weeks pregnant exactly

In the birthing pool

My darling husband holding me up

Meeting our baby girl for the first time...

... and then suddenly realising what I had just done. Such a blurry photo, but I love the pure emotion captured here!

My beautiful vbac baby, 9 days old!

Happy family

To midwife or not to midwife... and the truth about interventions

So the default childbirth 'attendant' in South Africa, even for a low-risk pregnancy and birth is a gynae (technically an obstetrician, since they are there in an obstetric role, but we all call them gynaes anyway). Why would we need a doctor when we are pregnant? We treat pregnancy as some kind of disease, as a medical problem to be fixed, and yet we are often healthier pregnant than at any other time in our lives, barring those with true medical conditions.

In a low-risk normal delivery, a gynae is called by the hospital midwives when you arrive to give birth, and is then periodically updated until they decide a C-section is 'required' or you are ready to begin pushing and they arrive to catch the baby. A hospital midwife is usually allocated to you while you are in labour, but will leave when her shift ends and another midwife comes on duty. Before you go into labour, you see your gynae every so often for 10 - 15 minutes at a time for a quick scan, and to get your urine and blood pressure tested.

In contrast, you see your midwife for an hour at a time before giving birth, she meets you at the hospital when you arrive (assuming you're having a hospital delivery - but at least you have the option of giving birth at home with a midwife), spends as long as necessary with you and you will only see her during your labour. By then you know her and trust her, as you have spent so much time with her, and she is able to encourage you in a way that is meaningful to YOU!

The contrast between the amount of time spent and the amount of money you pay for each boggles my mind! My entire hospital vbac birth (hospital stay, midwife, paediatrician and lab tests to check if C had jaundice) cost almost as much as the gynae bill alone of a friend who gave birth a couple of months before me.

But what if something goes wrong?

Firstly, something is a lot less likely to go wrong if you leave your body to birth naturally. No induction, no augmentation (to strengthen contractions or speed up labour), no pain medication. Yes an epidural is a wonderful invention - but its also likely to slow your labour down at best and can possibly stall it altogether, especially if you get it too early. Gynaes generally have much less experience in natural, normal birth than a midwife, and so tend to not trust the birth process quite as much. They get nervous when a birth isn't happening quite fast enough, or when fetal heartrate decelerates (totally normal during a contraction).

Unfortunately, one intervention tends to lead to another. You get induced because at 39-odd weeks you think you've been pregnant long enough (because, of course, pregnancy only lasts 40 weeks at most. If you are pregnant longer than your due date there must be something wrong with your body). The Pitocin you are given comes continuously, unlike the bursts of oxytocin that your body naturally produces, which causes extra-strong and extra-long contractions and your baby may struggle to recover in between contractions (usually a C-section will be recommended). Pitocin may cause placental abruption, uterine rupture, laceration of the cervix and hemorrage after giving birth, and also causes more painful contractions, so you ask for an epidural.

The epidural inhibits the production of a number of key labour hormones, increases the length of your labour (by up to 7.8 hours), increases your risk of a C-section by 2.5 times and increases the risk of pelvic floor problems (urinary, anal and sexual) after birth. Women who have been given an epidural are often confined to bed, instead of allowed to labour in the position most comfortable to them. Since they are lying on their back, their baby is 4 times more likely to turn posterior, decreasing the chance of a natural birth. Epidurals also cause immune suppression and decreased  heart rate, blood and oxygen flow in babies, and can be present for up to 36 hours after birth (similar results are seen after a C-section, often leading to sleepy babies and breastfeeding problems). Babies who are exposed to anaesthesia may also be less alert and active for up to a month after birth.

All of this is much more likely if you are giving birth with a gynae.

Midwives have seen natural births so often - they know that you can do it! And because they know what a normal birth is supposed to look like, they also know what its not supposed to look like, and will be able to identify a (true) problem quicker and more accurately than a gynae. Gynaes spend much more time practicing their operating techniques than observing natural births, and are so adept at 'picking up problems' that they often anticipate them before they even occur, leading to the interventions that so often cause more problems than they solve.

And if something does go wrong, your midwife would call your back-up doctor (or the on-call doctor if its in the middle of the night). Just like the hospital midwives would call your gynae if something goes wrong during your gynae-assisted birth. My back-up doctor knew when I was in labour, and phoned my midwife every so often just to check on how things were going - if I had a problem, she would have been there just as fast as if I had been her own patient.

I understand that in higher-risk pregnancies, more specialised medical observation is required, but a normal run-of-the-mill pregnancy is best handled by the people who specialise in normal, natural births - a midwife! She's cheaper, spends more time with you and is more experienced - its a win-win situation all around!

Thursday, 30 January 2014

It's hard not to compare...

Its been a month today and its so hard to not compare...

Last time at a month in, I was still recovering. My scar twinged when I stood up, and hurt when Sophie kicked me. Obviously! My back was killing me. I had a colicky, miserable baby with a bad dairy allergy that hadn't yet been diagnosed. Because of that, she hardly slept, and only ever on me - so I was getting 2 or 3 hours of broken sleep a night. I was still hurting at the fact that my birth plan had gone so horribly wrong and struggling with the baby blues. I adored my baby, but didn't yet feel like she was MINE. I didn't know how I was ever going to go through that again, although I have always known that I wanted at least 2, preferably 3 children. I didn't want to see people and I was hiding out in my house for a while to come still. When I did see people, I felt disconnected from them and battled to make conversation.

This time, I have no pain (my tear took a couple of weeks to feel 100% again, but nothing compared to a C-section incision). I can cuddle my baby and toddler without any fear of being kicked anywhere. Charlotte is a peaceful, content baby with no allergies and wakes once or twice a night - I cannot say that is definitely from her birth, but babies born naturally are less likely to have allergies. Even with 2 kids under 2, I am still getting far more sleep this time around. I have had the odd day when I felt a bit down, but on the whole I am still on an absolute high from my amazing birth experience. Charlotte has felt like MINE since the moment she was born, and it has been such a joy to bond instantly with her. I was ready to go through pregnancy and labour again from when she  was only a couple of days old (As my doula says, a good birth experience is addictive). And I've been out and about since the day after I had her, just a few hours after arriving home from hospital. I've really enjoyed spending time with friends.

I can't help but feel that her peaceful birth - in water with very dim lighting while I was surrounded by people that I knew and trusted, feeling emotionally and physically safe - has contributed to her peaceful nature. I don't know, but I can't help but compare.

Friday, 10 January 2014

Charlotte's birth story ... my very long vbac story

Charlotte (or Bean, as we had been calling her for the past 8 months since I found out I was pregnant) was due on Christmas day, but I wasn’t expecting to have her anytime early or too close to my due date since my body so clearly wasn’t ready to give birth when I was induced at 39+1 with Sophie. I had a healthy pregnancy and had really enjoyed being pregnant this time, and was in no hurry to have her out – plus I was hoping for a January baby (just so that she’d be one of the oldest children in her class once she starts school, rather than the youngest, and also so that her birthday was further away from the hype of Christmas) but like any pregnant woman, by the time my due date arrived I was just so excited to meet her and I went to bed each night wondering if tomorrow would be the day I woke up in labour.

A couple of days past Christmas I found out that the people we had arranged to look after Sophie when I was in labour were now going camping in the Berg for 5 days (without so much as an apology or explanation), which left me bitterly disappointed and stressed about what we were going to do with her, since I really wanted my mom at the hospital with me. My positive, calm state of mind was totally broken and I spent a couple of days worried and in tears. Thankfully a long phone call to my sister helped me to put things in perspective, and I realised that there was no point in worrying about what could not be fixed or planned for. I planned to speak to a couple of people the next day about being a back-up plan for us depending on when and what time I went into labour.

The next morning, Sophie woke up wanting a bottle at 3:40am. I could feel from as soon as I woke up that something was different - I was feeling contractions! They definitely weren't braxton hicks as I felt some pain, but they were still quite manageable. I rested for a while after that but Soph woke up again half an hour later, and then as soon as she settled the alarm went off, so no more sleep! I didn’t want to make a big fuss over them as I was terrified that they were going to fizzle out, so I just stayed as quiet as I could for a while and tried to see if they were regular but without timing them.

I started timing them soon after 5 and they were about 10 min apart, so I messaged Leigh (my doula) to let her know soon after 6. They were getting a bit closer together and more intense but I was still quite comfortable, so we went to church (where they spaced out a bit) and I just told Noel that there was no way we were staying for tea afterwards as I didn’t want to talk to anyone! I was trying to keep my day as normal as possible, and keep my expectations low, although I was SO excited that *just maybe* my baby was on her way. We went shopping after church and had a quick brunch together. After I mentioned to Noel how afraid I was that they might space out further and stop, he asked if we could invite friends over that evening for a visit… He got in a bit of trouble for even thinking about it! 

Once we got home, they started becoming slowly more intense and closer together again, but still quite manageable. I finished sewing some letters for her room (realising that I might never do them if I didn’t finish them then!) and checked that our bags were all packed. At some point I let my midwife, Arlen, know that things had started  and through it all, I kept messaging Leigh. During the morning, she sent me a very encouraging message about how I had fought so hard for so long to be allowed a trial of labour, but now I didn’t need to fight any more – I had my team around me, and they were there to support me. Much later I decided to go down to see Arlen and get checked so that I knew how I was going - I still hadn't asked Leigh to come because I was coping fine although I had started having some that were almost a minute long and I had to vocalise (like breathing really loudly) through them.

When I saw Arlen at about 4:30/5pm, she confirmed that baby was lying nicely (not pushing on my scar at all) and her heart rate and my blood pressure were fine, and then she checked me - only 1cm, but fully effaced. I was a bit disappointed because the contractions were fairly intense and it had already been quite a long day so I was hoping I would be further.

She told me to go home and start power walking, and go to the hospital when my contractions were 5 minutes apart and 1 minute long for at least an hour. So I messaged Leigh on our way back, and she came and joined us at home. We walked around the neighbourhood until it got dark. That made the contractions quite a bit more intense, and Leigh was worth 10 times more than what we paid her in rubbing my back, helping me breathe more effectively and suggesting different positions to cope with the pain and to help baby drop a bit more.

My mom had cooked supper (her and my dad had been there all day and they were staying the night so that they could watch Soph when we went to hospital), so we all ate and then started timing contractions again around 8:30. By the time we'd done half an hour of timing it was very clear that they were closer to 3 min apart on average, and some even as long as 90 seconds, and getting really painful. I relied on Leigh a huge amount to get through each of them. So we packed the bags in the car, phoned Arlen and headed off to the hospital.

The contractions were coming every 2 minutes during the drive - that was horrible! They were much easier when I could move a bit to ease them. So I was very relieved when we arrived at the hospital, and after having 2 contractions outside before we even made it into the building (with 2 teenage girls watching – I’m sure I scared them from ever having children!), we made it inside. It was about 10:30 by the time we made it into the delivery room and Arlen hooked me up to the monitor to check on Bean’s heartrate and to do an internal. I was 2cm.

It was tough. I was exhausted after such a long day, the contractions were very intense and I didn't know how I would cope if they kept getting worse - and if I had to do this through the night as well! Logically, I had at least 8 – 10 hours left. Leigh kept me focussed though, and we had a bit to do like monitoring the baby through some contractions to check she was responding ok (not too good when I was on my back, but when I lay on my side or sat up she was fine), then Arlen gave me an enema (such a relief, because I kept feeling like I needed to go but there wasn't too much time between the contractions and I didn't really feel like pushing).

I then decided that we needed to do something, and it felt like maybe she was in a bad position and that's why things were taking so long. So I did some research on spinning babies to hurry up a slow labour and found what they call the roll-over
. The roll-over is 8 different positions which you have to hold for 3 contractions each, which gradually rolls you over – and in the process allows baby to move around – out of a bad position if need be, or simply to explore different positions that may make descending easier.

At 12:30 Arlen spoke to my back-up doctor (who had been busy in theatre at another hospital) and she wanted to know how dilated I was. So Arlen checked again, and I was now at 3cm. Making progress, but still so far from where I needed to get to.

Leigh and I then started doing the roll-over. We had done 1 position on the floor using the birthing ball, and 2 on the bed on my side when I started to fall asleep between contractions and the contractions really slowed down. In my memory, it feels like they had spaced out to about 15 minutes apart, although Leigh later said she thought it was more like 5 minutes apart. I vaguely remember Leigh asking me if I wanted to go on to the next position and I said no (because I wanted to rest a bit more). The whole time, she was helping me through each contraction by pushing on a spot in my lower back, or by rubbing down my back - you cannot believe the difference it made!

At some point I remember her taking her hand off my back and I think she turned to speak to Arlen, and as she released her pressure I felt a contraction hit like I was in a head-on collision. That woke me up pretty quickly! I shouted and she whipped her hand back pretty quickly, but that was the most intense contraction yet. Then as it was tapering off, I suddenly felt like I HAD to go to the toilet, and I needed to push right then, lying on the bed. I assumed the enema was having a delayed effect and I hadn't yet got rid of everything

Arlen and Leigh looked at each other, and I could see they were a bit confused. I know that you get an urge to push at the end, but I really thought my body was totally messed up and was trying to get me to push when I was only 3cm (maybe 4 at best). Arlen checked me again, and as she was checking she said, 'if you're a good 6cm, then you can get in the tub'.

I didn't watch her, because every other time she had checked it had been bad news, but Leigh said you could see her reach in, and feel a bit, and then she stopped. And then she tried feeling all around. Eventually she pulled out and she looked at me. 'Well', she said, 'I think we need to phone the doctor’. My heart sank.

... and then she carried on, 'because I think we need to tell her to come watch a water birth'

I looked at her, very confused!

'You're 10cm', she said. 'You need to get in the tub'

As she said that, another contraction hit, and I pushed on the bed some more. It totally took over my body, so that I don't think I could possibly NOT have pushed!

As soon as that contraction stopped, I got off the bed as fast as I could (with help from Arlen and Leigh), stripped off (I had bought a costume top to wear, but at that stage I was quite happy to not put it on - thankfully between Noel, Arlen and Leigh they found it and put it on me) and managed to get into the pool with only 1 more time of pushing (standing on the floor in the middle of the delivery room - I half expected my baby to just pop out!)

My first photo in the pool was at 1:30, so it was less than an hour from 3 to 10cm.

Through most of the time we’d been at the hospital, Noel had been staying out of the way, sitting on the floor and talking every now and again but not too involved. He was exhausted though, so at about 12:30 someone suggested to him that he go have a nap in my hospital room (there was no one else in there at the time). He spent the next (almost) hour taking bags backwards and forwards, to try sort out my things, and was just about to go to rest when I started wanting to push and we discovered I was 10cm. Thankfully he was still there, I don't know how I would have been ok without Leigh for long enough for her to go call him

Once in the pool, I struggled to find a comfortable position for a while. The water took away all of the pain of a contraction, but the pressure felt overwhelming. I have seen photographs of women kneeling upright, but that just felt all wrong to me, so eventually I realised that I was most comfortable almost lying down, floating in the water. I couldn't stand if my sacrum touched the bottom of the pool though, so Leigh called Noel in to hold my arms and support me. He was an absolute rock through this time, kneeling on the floor next to the pool and holding me up the entire time. I could hear him panting with the exertion every so often, but he never complained and kept telling me how well I was doing (and ended up with a bruised chest the next day, for his efforts).

The contractions came very close together at this point, and in each one I would have the urge to push about 3 times. I wasn't sure how to push though, so I'd push a short while and then stop as soon as the urge stopped. Leigh then stepped out of the way, and took my camera from Noel (we discovered that I had left the SD card at home though, so we could only get a maximum of about 20 photos – ironically I had 2 sets of spare batteries packed!), and Arlen came and knelt in front of me.

After a while of me trying to push, I realised I wasn't getting too far on my own (I think I also expected her to come out much quicker, without realising that she still had to be pushed all the way down the birth canal – for someone who had done so much research before the birth, I really wasn’t thinking while it was all happening), so I asked Arlen to talk me through how to push more effectively. That was a lot harder, but it wasn't too long and I could feel her crowning. Ouch!! Each push, I could feel her pushing out and the skin stretching, and then she would go back in again. Again, I felt like I wasn't doing something right, as if she should somehow just pop out - actually, doing that part slower can be a very good thing, because it gives the skin time to stretch and makes it less likely to tear.

The pushing was the most incredible work though, and it really took every second in between to try recover and build up strength for the next one. Serious puffing and panting to get some oxygen back in my system! Soon after 2am, I was doubting whether I was ever going to get her out - I asked Leigh how long it was going to take, and I checked with Arlen that it was now definitely too late for a caesar - I want to laugh when I think about it now!

I remember her head coming out about 3 or 4cm, and then slowly going back in between pushes. Then I asked Arlen how many contractions it would probably still be, and she thought 2. Well the very next one, I could feel her head coming, and Arlen just kept telling me to push, and eventually I just felt this whole warm soft squishy head pop out - at that stage there was absolutely no pain, it was just a pleasant, warm, gentle feeling. The next pushing urge came soon after, and Arlen again was telling me to just keep pushing, and suddenly her shoulders were out and then Arlen handed her to me and I had a baby. Charlotte Elizabeth Noelle was born at 2:10am, exactly 22 and a half hours after labour began.

It took a couple of seconds to register, and then I started laughing/crying - it was just the most incredible feeling to meet her after such a long, difficult day and all the effort that it had taken…

And then I realised - I did it!!! I fought so hard for my vbac, and I really did it! That triumph was mind-blowing!

We lay in the pool for about 45 min (Arlen had another birth in the room next door), Noel cuddled her but no one took her away from me. I just stared at her and soaked in the moment. From the very first moment, she felt like mine – that bond that I had expected when Sophie was born came instantly this time around.

When Arlen came back she realised I was bleeding quite badly, so we clamped the cord (which had stopped pulsing by then), and then I got out so she could see how bad my tear was and stitch it up. I latched Charlotte then, while she was doing that.

The stitches were horrible, because it felt like I'd done all the hard work already and it was unfair to add more pain in after what I'd just been through, but I was still able to walk straight away after giving birth – after having a shower I took a walk to the nursery to see Charlotte. And I drove the next day, soon after we got home from hospital. So even though it was sore, it was nothing like the pain of a caesar.

Thankfully, through the entire day, I felt no scar pain (I sort of expected to feel something, since I had felt pain at times during my pregnancy – which is apparently quite normal due to the scar tissue stretching), and I honestly didn’t even think or worry about my scar once. I had read that mom’s intuition is often the most obvious indicator of a uterine rupture and I had been convinced that I would be concerned about a UR during labour, but it didn’t cross my mind at all.

The whole experience was a journey – physically, emotionally and spiritually. It was so much bigger than me, and it took over my entire being. What a privilege to go from a cold, emotionless, matter-of-fact, ‘first you are pregnant, then you have a baby’ first time around, to a whole-body experience this time.

Without a doubt, Charlotte’s birth has been the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. And yet also the most rewarding, healing, empowering, amazing experience of my life. I cannot adequately describe either the intensity of labour or the incredible euphoria of birthing her, and I am just so grateful for the confidence and support of Noel, Arlen, Leigh, my family and a couple of close friends. God has blessed me with so much, but right now this feels like the biggest blessing of all – to bring Charlotte into this world in the way He intended, the way her and I were born to.