Three and a half weeks overdue…Our second baby’s birth… 43.5 weeks gestation

Julie’s Birth Story of baby Ryan

I felt the urge calling to have another baby. That was in July. With Spring came the first signs of feeling quite off colour and very tender breasts. I bought a pregnancy testing kit and next morning with a very early (4am) desire to urinate did the test. Having to wait a little while I made a cup of tea, and with a feeling of uncertainty went to check the test.

My eyes blinked in genuine surprise – I thought “Oh dear I shouldn’t have left Geoff out of this” so I quickly went and woke him up and he obligingly dragged himself out of bed to the bathroom door. I showed him the test. “That can’t be right …we only did it once!” I made him a cup of tea. Well once is enough obviously and we were travelling the road of our second pregnancy.

Without hesitation I rang and booked the same Doctor I’d had previously, eagerly looking forward to seeing him again, and excitedly booked the birth centre.

The first trimester was spent with me nauseated. I was working in my brother’s baby retail shop to help him out and very often had to slip out the back to the loo to throw up between customers. One day my brother was foolish enough to stand in the way … I couldn’t actually speak…he could see the terror in my eyes and stepped aside really quickly. I just made it.

Mum had said that she wasn’t sick with her second one and so this bout of morning sickness (all day really) came as a very unpleasant shock for me and is a little memory that still causes me to hesitate just a little over another pregnancy.

Well, once it lifted, by the second trimester, I felt really terrific. My tummy began to bulge (more than usual!), and I was quite proud to be pregnant. I felt much more energetic. The baby began to kick and move noticeably and I felt myself bonding to this new little buddy in my tummy. I like the word buddy to describe it, reminds me of a flower at the new bud stage. I also began to be more concerned about the forthcoming birth and realised my strong anxiety about tearing again this time during 2nd stage, the pushing phase of birthing.

I also wondered about the things I wanted to be different this time. I was pretty certain that it would be quicker – after all everyone is quicker with their second aren’t they? and that thought was comforting. When planning for this birth much of my ideas were about correcting what “went wrong” last time. Of course, with hindsight now I realise that things didn’t go “wrong” first time, it was simply the first time I gave birth. Each birth experience deserves to be respected for what is was. Not “good” or “bad”. Simply, the way my body and that particular baby worked together towards the moment of birth.

In the aftermath, I had feelings of how I would have liked things to have been different. It was with this in mind that I began mentally preparing for the second baby’s birth.

We went in too early first time – don’t want to do that again.

I was too anxious at the start of labour when I realised I was actually in labour – don’t want to do that again. Was I assertive enough? – not sure, at times yes – but I’ll be especially careful to be quite assertive this time – Got out of the shower too quickly last time – stay in longer this time.

Wasn’t relaxed enough to enable anyone to massage me much last time – be more relaxed this time.

Didn’t use many of the labour comfort measures at all that we’d packed last time – better unpack them when we get there this time!

Worried about being able to get a room in the chosen Birth Centre – Ah but we got it last time, can’t be pessimistic, we’ll get it again…I hope… but what if we don’t… a long worried sigh… and last time I was doing really well in the bath at the beginning of second stage, but in 1986 it was not okay to birth in the water so I had to get out. I had been progressing extremely well and even as I think back now I remember actually feeling really tired, yet very strong and confident as I began my pushing. I distinctly remember feeling really good in the water. I wonder if they’ll let me stay in the water this time if I want to. I rang and asked ….”I’m not actively seeking a water birth but, if I’m in the water and doing well and choose to stay there will you respect my choice?” NO.

It took me a couple more hours after being removed from the water to push him out. A 4 hour second stage, it seems now to have been so unnecessary, considering that it probably would have been over in a half an hour with the rate I was going, and there may have been less tearing. Also having learnt and read such a lot of the benefit of underwater birth through Michel Odent’s books it seemed silly to ignore what I had learnt and what I had already proven to myself.

Oh Oh … What to do?

The next couple of weeks spent very anxiously persisting.

Then lots of self-questioning.

As my pregnant tummy and baby got bigger I began to feel even more bonded to the baby and even more protective of it and myself. I dwelt on that feeling of protectivness.

Then finally one of the midwives said “Why on earth don’t you have a homebirth?”
“With all that you’ve learnt and know…”

I pondered…”Me? a homebirth? Gosh? gee…well I don’t know…it’s a big step…I’m not at all sure Geoff would go for it…have to see what he has to say first”

What a ridiculously patriachal attitude that was for me…luckily my feeling of protectiveness for the baby and myself finally broke that silly old attitude down, of turning to my husband for his permission.

Then I looked for another way out and organised my own independent midwife to attend me at the Birth Centre.

She said fine and reminded me that there would only be access to the bath I desired if a/ someone wasn’t already in it and b/ if I got a room at the birth centre at all (would have to transfer over to the labour ward if the birth centre was full)
Hmmm…complications setting in already and I wasn’t even in labour yet!

More weeks travelled along until finally after I’d thought it through realised that I would have all that I wanted, if I set it all up at home, took responsibility for it myself and hurried up and got organised. I wrote myself a list of things to do and worked through it in plenty of time. For the first time in many, many weeks I felt free of the anxiety. I wasn’t worried about my ability to birth because I’d already done that. In fact first time around I remember being quite confident that my body could birth – just concerned about the pain. One attitude that I’d gained from one of the very many books I’d read was

“Just as my body knew how to grow the baby, it also can be trusted to kown how to birth the baby, I just need to be careful not to let intellect get in the way and prevent it or slow it down”.

I spoke with Geoff at length on many occasions and when he knew that it mean’t a lot to me, he finally agreed. This highlighted a point of growth for me within our relationship. I realised that Geoff had a lot of respect for me when he agreed to having a homebirth. After meeting Maggie, my chosen midwife, he felt a lot more confident in his decision too. I also expressed to Geoff that if something happened to me or the baby that he had to accept partial responsibility with me and not turn on me and blame me. It was important to me to clear that between us first. He was fine with it. We discussed risks with Maggie and also the equipment that she would bring with her (she was well stocked and actually carried in something like 3 bags at the time).

When I explained to the manager of the Birth Centre, about my decision to have a homebirth she greeted the news warmly and exclaimed that I’d chosen the best available midwife for my care. That meant a lot to me because the manager had caught my first baby and I did feel a special bond with her that has lasted many years.

Somewhere between 32 and 35 weeks the baby was in the breech position which didn’t bother Maggie at all, she was still quite happy for a homebirth but it was a challenge for me. I then remembered a tale I had once heard that Breech babies present with their genitals first as if to assert their sex, to parents who were hoping for another sex. I thought about it for a while and realised that this was a boy. I considered what that meant to me and set about resolving it within me. I had been fully expecting a girl, and now it became clear we had better decide on a boy’s name too, and be comfortable with the idea of a boy. I worked on it and he turned.

Then I spoke at length with Mum, I talked and she listened. I explained my reasoning and asked her to support me in my decision and to also come to the birth and look after our little 3 year old and be really positive for him. I remember the look on her face, I think I could have pushed poor mum over with a feather…it was a big ask. She agreed. I said that it was very important to me and that Maggie was well qualified and very experienced. I also reminded Mum of the tale she told me of how much she had enjoyed her bath when she was in labour with me. She remembered the importance of the bath to her and how she too had been reluctantly removed from it and then driven to hospital, where she had to climb a flight of stairs whilst bearing down and then ordered to wait for the Doctor, whom she respected very much and did her best to wait for. If only she could have stayed in the bath at home

I gave mum the video “Labour of Love” to watch so she could see what Maggie was like. Mum was impressed with seeing how caring Maggie was but also with Ruth Cracknell’s opening words,

“I began to watch this with my prejudices at the ready and finished with a sense a celebration …”

It felt really good to have mum involved, not just a sense of family endorsement of my choice of birth place but also a statement of how our relationship had changed and matured now I was a mum. It felt very special.

I didn’t have a comfortable attitude about having mum around for the first birth, but having a child helped me to relate to mum, more on a woman to woman basis. I felt grown up now and I believe she regarded me as a woman.

When I was 35 weeks pregnant, ABC TV Channel 2 rang Maggie asking if she had someone due to give birth soon that would agree to have it filmed for the soon to be released homebirth statistics.

They wanted some footage to go with the story on the news or 7.30 Report. I agreed to do it and then next few weeks had a slightly anxious film crew and reporter on standby. They rang a couple of times to see if all was okay and tried not to bug me except for one ‘phone call when the reporter suggested an induction. I’ll leave you to imagine my reply.

The release of the statistics occurred and the ABC didn’t have anything to film, but the Sydney Morning Herald came and photographed us for the article. Funny thing, I got all dressed up and did my hair etc. but they only wanted us to pretend we were in labour. We reluctantly agreed, but the poor naive photographer wanted me to lie on my back and pretend I was in labour! He survived a quick course in active birth! We comprised with me leaning heavily on Geoff. We didn’t know it was intended for the front page of the Sydney Morning Herald…truly we didn’t… My father is a paper truck driver for the Sydney Morning Herald. Imagine his surprise when he turned up for work that morning only to find his daughter and son-in-law on the front page!

What’s more the general population of Herald readers truly thought we were in labour when the photo was taken and the Herald was flooded with ‘phone calls asking

“Well…what did she have a Boy or a Girl?”

So the nice gentleman from column 8 ‘phoned up from time to time, over the next couple of weeks, ’till we had the baby so they could satisfy their readers curiosity.

Maggie, my midwife, had already explained to me at our first visit that she had a conference to go to in South Australia just after my due date, I laughed and said “Oh that’s the least of my worries, I have no intention of going overdue, in fact I really think that this time I might even be early!”

We borrowed a birth pool from Maggie and came home and set it up about 3 weeks before the due date. I remembered hoping we would get it all done in time. I converted the large room under our home into a magnificent birthing room. Desks and bookcases were draped with clean sheets, everything was washed, posters removed from the walls, everything rearranged so that it was perfectly suited to birth in. We had sterilised sheets and towels, new clean buckets, somewhere to sit or kneel or lean, a new tarp on the floor in case of water spillage from the pool.
The list was endless, but it didn’t feel like a chore to prepare the room, it was exciting.

Well my due date came and went…Maggie was concerned about going away, and another mum-to-be who was also overdue was upset, but I felt quite genuinely calm in saying to her

“Off you go and enjoy the conference, it’s not up to you to birth this baby, it’s totally up to me… and anyway there may be something that you learn at the conference that you’ll be able to bring back and use at the birth!”

Maggie was gone a few days and we arranged a consultation with our 2nd choice midwife who was also very reassuring and actually lived a bit closer anyway, which I was glad about.

Maggie came back and still no baby. I was 2 weeks overdue. Maggie suggested external fetal monitoring at the Royal Hospital for Women at Paddington, Sydney every 2nd day and to keep a kick chart. The midwife who did the traces was very caring and positive, had met Maggie through lectures and was confident I was in good hands.

Maggie and I went through the list of what to do when you go overdue…it’s an extensive list even for a list person like me. Tried everything else…now for acupuncture… There are very few people I’ve met that have been traumatised by acupuncture but that was my experience of it. There was no way I could have laboured after that. I actually came home, got into a hot bath, cried and said “I don’t want to go into labour now”.
What a sook!

Another week went by…I was 43 weeks pregnant…when I went to visit the RHW again I bumped into an Obstetrician I knew, with whom I’d shared the sad experience of a women I once supported who was 3 weeks overdue and whose baby died of meconium aspiration.

We were in the lift together and naturally he looked at my stomach and I said

“You’re not going to believe this but I’ve now gone 3 weeks overdue”,

he was very thoughtful and kindly reassured me that I’d be fine.

One night, late, at 43 and a half weeks Maggie rang and we talked at length about what I wanted. She guided me through an idea, something akin to a “wish-list” and she suggested I write a brief description of what I expect will happen when I go into labour. She said she’d ring me back tomorrow morning to hear it, if we didn’t see each other in the meantime. Well I’d already made up very extensive birth plans and all that sort of thing…everyone had a copy…everyone knew their role etc. But this was different and I wrote that I would wake in the early hours realise I was in labour, wake Geoff, he would ring Maggie, and then organise the filling of the pool, Maggie would not get caught in traffic but have a straight run down from Killara, when Maggie arrived she would find me labouring and coping well, examine me, I’d be 5cms dilated, she’d then ring Sue, my friend and mum and they would come quickly, and also the ABC. After examination I would dilate quickly and have a slow controlled 2nd stage, placenta delivery all okay and first breastfeed and bonding etc to flow smoothly.

And that is pretty much well how it happened. Well nearly…

I woke with the tell-tale desire to urinate, went to the toilet in a drowsy state, realised I was having contractions and woke Geoff. He rang Maggie, who seemed to appear in a flash, she examined me and yes I was 5cms dilated. I handed her the “wish-list”, after reading it she raced to the ‘phone and rang everyone and came straight back to me.

I was progressing ever so rapidly!

We walked together from my bedroom to the top of the stairs, paused between contractions which were triple peaking contractions, and then we galloped down the stairs. (I giggle about it now when I remember it). I felt so relieved to be down in the birthing room, Geoff was organising water for the pool, Maggie rubbed my back and placed a hot pack on my tummy. Pool was ready but I delayed getting in, they couldn’t understand why, but I still had my socks on. I couldn’t reach my feet and had to ask them to take my socks off for me between contractions.

Finally, Mum arrived and asked if anyone would like a cup of tea!!! (Mum’s priceless)

“Go and get Ken (3) please Mum” and like the wonderful Nanny that she is got him out of bed and into dressing gown and slippers on that cool wintry morning and downstairs just in time! Sue came in and we said grab the cameras.
In the wonderfully warm water as soon as I got in, I just relaxed totally… I felt an absolutely overwhelming, urge to push and then felt a massive whoosh within my deepest core, then a searing, stinging sensation…”Maggie I think the head is there!” “No it will just be the pressure from the amniotic membranes bulging” said Maggie, “Lean back and let me have a look”

I had been on my knees and I lifted one knee and an increase in stinging. I hesitated and automatically reached down to feel, as I did, I thought “If that’s just the membranes then, by the way it feels, I’m in awfully big trouble when the baby’s head comes down!”

Ken was standing outside the pool with Nanny and after a 2nd stage groan from me we saw concern in his face. Geoff reassured him “It’s okay matey, mummy’s just having the baby now”

Ken smiled in reply. (Such a dear sweet little face).

Next pushing urge and the baby’s head was completely out with the membranes still intact over his head. Rather like Casper. On his way out he broke the membranes with his shoulders. Maggie told us later that it was an amazing moment for her to see his face looking for his mother through the membrane as she gently peeled it back over his head. Maggie guided him onto my tummy, which after the birth made a wonderful soft cradle for him and that’s when we saw that he was a boy. With Maggie’s guidance we carefully kept his body in the water to keep him warm and mum and Sue took some quick photos. There was such a wonderful moment of excitement as we all shed tears. We hopped out of the birthing pool for the delivery of the placenta. Maggie pointed out to me that I was having a bit of a bleed and to stop. Very soon after it stopped. Mum and Sue wrapped me in a big clean sheet and Maggie responded to Ryan who was crying very loudly. She laid him down on clean towels between her legs on the floor, gently dried him, dressed him, swaddled him and talked to him soothingly until he was calmed.

Sue later told me she was amazed with the way Ryan looked at Maggie and responded to her so well.

A photographer and journalist from the ABCTV eventually turned up and filmed Ryan’s first breastfeed. They had taken a long time to come because the ABC wouldn’t let them take equipment home to be available to come directly from their homes. So instead they had had to go to Gore Hill first and then come here; no chance to make it.

The footage was never used on TV but it has special significance for us because it shows the first time Ken held and cuddled Ryan and chirped about taking him to kindy for “show and tell” and him wondering whether Ryan would fit on the show and tell shelf. We watch it and see their two lovely little faces.

For another baby it would certainly be another homebirth, rich with experience and the involvement of family and friends.

With the wisdom that comes from having some time to reflect I remember that time in our lives that taught me so much about myself and my relationship with my husband and my family, with great fondness.