The story of Stella’s journey into the world really begins with her big sister’s.
Florence was born via emergency caesarean following a cascade of interventions after an unnecessary and unwanted induction. I started researching VBAC before I’d even left the hospital. After the educational journey I went on, the idea of going to hospital as a healthy woman with a healthy baby to give birth seemed insane and I knew I wanted a HBAC.
The evening of 41 weeks, after five weeks of relatively painless prodromal labour, I had my first painful contraction. Another followed within about five minutes, and it was on. Over the next few hours, I set up my birth space while bouncing on a ball, TENS machine on and vocalising strongly with the help of my doula.
I laboured about six hours before hitting a wall. My contractions had been feeling good and productive, but a new pain had developed like a thin, tight band pulling from my pelvic bone. I knew instinctively it wasn’t an emergency - just a signal that labour wasn’t progressing as well as it could. I pushed through, moving from the pool, to the toilet, to the lounge room. I couldn’t get relief from the intensity of that band no matter what I tried. After a strong and productive start to labour, I’d felt sure I’d be having a baby before sunrise, so as I noticed the sky lightening through the curtains, my resolve was faltering.
My midwife arrived around 7am (my doula and photographer had arrived earlier in the night) and the sound of her keys jangling in her hand as she walked up to the front door made my heart swell with relief. She sat quietly next to me, spoke gently and watched me for a while. I decided on a vaginal exam, hoping to discover why I was stagnating. I was dilated to 7cm, but baby was quite high. My midwife kept her hand still while I had a contraction and informed me that I had a huge bag of waters that was going rock solid when I contracted, which was possibly why baby wasn’t able to descend. She also noticed that bub was pushing against the top of my pelvic bone during a contraction, explaining the tight band of pain I’d been experiencing.
I was exhausted, but had a renewed energy with my midwife there and an explanation for how my labour was feeling. We tried a forward leaning inversion, followed by Walcher’s position and something to eat and drink before resting a while. I slept as best I could for a couple of hours, and then treated my neighbours to a show as I trudged the hill down our street in a short house dress, TENS machine wires poking out from behind my bum, adult nappy on to catch the bloody show that was still seeping out of me, mooing with each contraction, and doing abdominal lift and tucks with a rebozo with each surge.
Despite everything, my contractions spaced out further as the day went on. I had a hail mary visit to the chiro in the late afternoon before surrendering to a hospital transfer with contractions now fifteen minutes apart.
We were fortunate to be allowed two support people, I’m not sure how I would have managed otherwise. Having my midwife felt like having a shield against the system, and we were lucky to be treated with respect and kindness.
When we were taken into our birth suite, I appreciated the hospital midwife’s hands-off approach. We requested an artificial rupture of membranes, which hadn’t been safe to do at home but which we hoped would clear the path for my baby’s head to descend.
The exam preceding the AROM was awful. The emotional exhaustion was catching me up and I was having to face the reality of the hospital transfer and all that comes with it. I sobbed my way through the VE, tears running down my face as my dear midwife gripped my hand and held her other hand to my cheek and my husband stroked my hair. The hospital midwife broke the waters and she felt the head descend slightly.
I laboured for another couple of hours: sitting on the bed, standing and leaning on the bed, even in the shower. I was so exhausted that my legs were barely holding me up any more, but my contractions were so intense that I couldn’t sit through them. I was losing energy to vocalise, which was the only thing keeping me grounded. As strong as they were, they were still ten minutes apart. At twenty-six hours in, and the prospect of labouring for still many more hours, my desperation was mounting. I knew there was a real chance of a repeat caesarean now, and I asked for an epidural, hoping it would relax my body and allow me rest so that I could still give birth to my baby vaginally. I cried as I told my midwife and husband that I couldn’t keep going. I was sad, disappointed, scared and confused. I’d worked so hard for so long with all the confidence that my body and baby knew what they were doing and I just needed to work with them and power through it. Now, I was unravelling alongside my plan for a natural, peaceful water birth at home.
Within the hour of getting an epidural, we were recommended a repeat caesarean. The doctor was lovely and respectful. After a frank conversation with my midwife discussing the risks, benefits, and the reality of our situation, I knew the right call was to go to surgery.
I watched my delicious, gooey, chunky baby pulled out of my body and flopped straight onto my chest, and I moved her luscious, twisty cord to joyfully confirm my suspicions that she was a girl. We spent a few nights in hospital before returning home and reuniting with my eldest.
I’m not alone in reconciling the complexity of a homebirth transfer and caesarean, and to all of us out there, know this: giving birth to a baby at home is not what makes you a homebirther. Our belief in the rite of passage of birth, and the respect for our right to bodily autonomy and informed decision making are what make us homebirthers. I believed so completely in my ability to have my baby at home, processing the fact that I didn’t has been a challenge. One of the hardest parts to accept is that I will never know why she didn’t descend. While I can speculate until the cows come home, I will never know.
If I had another baby, I’d plan a HBA2C. I couldn’t walk into a hospital as a healthy woman with a healthy baby to have major abdominal surgery purely because of a couple of scars on my uterus. Plus, I reflect with such fondness on the relationships I developed with my birth team, and the care that they took with my family and me. My eldest still talks about “her friends” and plays midwife with her doctor’s kit. These women have left a lasting impression on us, and I will be forever grateful to them for empowering my journey to becoming a parent for the second time.
I’m a married mum of two beautiful girls, Florence and Stella, living in Western Sydney. I used to be a person who said “I love the idea of a homebirth but it’s not for me” until after the birth of my first child when I experienced the maternal health care system and witnessed the way guidelines and policy fly in the face of evidence, and care providers are both inexperienced in assisting with and afraid of physiological birth. My subsequent educational journey has made me an aspiring birth worker and homebirth advocate. I am particularly passionate about supporting women in navigating their next birth after caesarean, and desire for every woman to be empowered with properly informed decision making in their pregnancy, birth, and postpartum. I have since trained as a doula and released a birth after caesarean mentoring program. You can find me at @thenbacguide on instagram or katelynthedoula.com.au
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