My first two children were born in London. Freddie was breech and I had an elective caesarean (reluctantly) in 2011. I attempted a VBAC with Alexander in 2014, which ended with a second caesarean. Maggie, our third baby, was born in Melbourne in 2017 and I had an amazing, successful VBA2C. You can read Maggie’s birth story here.
I was fortunate enough to have an enjoyable, straight forward pregnancy with Henry, our fourth baby.
There weren’t really any decisions to make about my pregnancy care – we had had such a positive experience with Dr Lionel Steinberg for Maggie’s birth, that it was a given we would choose him and our independent midwife Jan Ireland (at MAMA) again. We had considered the risks very carefully with my VBA2C for Maggie and Lionel reassured me that the statistics were very similar for a second VBA2C, although the sample size was small! I felt more confident going into this birth, because I knew my body could birth vaginally.
I attended Rhea Dempsey’s Birth Preparation course for a second time and also did a hypnobirthing course, as I had always been curious and am really a big birth nerd. I was making the most of my last pregnancy to review all things birth. Throughout my pregnancy, I enjoyed pregnancy massage, acupuncture, and naturopathy. The nurturing care that these options offer was so important to me. Life with three young children and part-time study was pretty hectic, so I loved the opportunity to stop and enjoy my pregnancy and soak up the wisdom and support at Fertile Ground.
My blood pressure was slightly elevated but didn’t require any intervention.
My due date came and went. I was starting to feel a little anxious – “would this baby ever come”, but Lionel was matter of fact as always and happy to support my decision and wait for labour to start naturally. I had monitoring twice a week at 40 weeks and again at 41 weeks. The baby was completely fine.
The baby was measuring big toward the end of pregnancy, but as Maggie had been 4.3kg, I wasn’t expecting a small baby.
On Monday, at 40+8, Lionel and I discussed a stretch and sweep and I opted to have one – I was already 3cm dilated! On Wednesday morning I woke up with some regular contractions that lasted a couple of hours – I phoned Jan and we made a plan for the day, but the contractions disappeared once I got up. I went about my day, walked down the street for a coffee and had another induction massage in the afternoon. As I was driving home, I had a few contractions and they got stronger as the evening progressed. I phoned Keren in Lionel’s rooms at 5pm and let her know that things were progressing. I’d arranged for the children to stay at Mum and Dad’s for the night, so we finally got them packed and off and ordered some sushi for dinner.
By this stage, I had my TENS on and was needing to stop and breath through my contractions. Jan came over at about 9pm. My contractions were about 60 seconds long and averaging 8-9 minutes apart. We all went to bed and tried to get some rest, but as soon as I lay down, my contractions ramped up. I laboured on the fit ball, using my TENS for a couple of hours. By 1am the contractions were about 90 seconds long and every 5 minutes. Simon woke Jan and she did a VE and I was 5 cm dilated. She thought things were progressing quickly and that we should head into St Vincent’s Private.
I had a few contractions on the 10 minute trip to hospital but they were manageable and we walked into birth suite about 1.30am.
We set up the room with fairy lights and candles, music, essential oils and the fit ball. I got into a rhythm standing, leaning and rocking on a bench during a contraction and then sitting and resting on the ball in between contractions. Simon did some light touch massage on my arms and some counter pressure on my lower back and pelvis. I was vocalising (or “singing the song of the cervix” as Rhea says) through contractions and using the TENS which I found so helpful. Hot packs on my lower back were also very helpful.
At 5am I was starting to struggle with the intensity of the contractions and decided to get in the shower. The hot water was wonderful and I stayed in the shower for about an hour. I was asking to see Lionel at this point and I really wanted to see if we could rupture my membranes to help progress my labour. I started using the gas at this point and it was helpful to have something that focused my breathing and calmed me down a little. It felt like things had plateaued and I wasn’t progressing. Lionel did a VE at about 6.30am and I was still 5 cm dilated. Five and a half hours of intense labour and no progress! I felt pretty disappointed at this stage – it was really hard work and felt much more intense and all consuming than my previous labour with Maggie.
Lionel ruptured my membranes at my request and we kept working. A new midwife had started her shift – Lisa took over from the night shift and was an incredible support to me, along with Jan. I was starting to lose myself at this point and started doubting if I could do it. I was getting panicky and started to feel overwhelmed by the strength of the contractions and not being able to regain my control in between contractions. I asked Jan and Lisa about an epidural. Jan knew that I didn’t want an epidural and also knew that an epidural would likely make it harder to push and more likely to lead to other interventions. She could see that I was working very hard from my pulse and blood pressure readings and also that I was starting to lose myself. She suggested I have an injection of morphine to take the edge off the pain and enable me to come back into myself and gain control again. This was not in my birth plan (in fact I specifically said I didn’t want Morphine because I didn’t want to feel woozy or foggy) but I needed something to keep me going at that point and I knew Jan wouldn’t suggest pain medication lightly.
I spent some time in left side lying, with the gas and TENS, hoping that a change of position would help the baby move down. Once I had centred myself and was in control, I got up and went back to standing, rocking and leaning on the bench and the ball. I remember Jan asking me where I was feeling the contraction and me saying “all over” and gesturing to my front and back and pelvis – everywhere! I got up onto the bed on all fours, leaning over the upright head of the bed. The baby was still sitting quite high up and it wasn’t until I rolled over onto my back, in a semi-reclined position, that he moved down and I finally felt the urge to push at about 10.10am.
Pushing was much easier than Maggie’s birth. I could feel the baby moving down with each push and it didn’t feel as though he slipped back in between pushes. Lionel had been back a few times to check on me throughout the morning and he and Lisa now set up for the baby to be born. I remember Lionel telling me “the baby is almost here – reach down and feel” but I couldn’t – the movement required to bend my trunk even a cm to reach down was not possible in that moment. I can’t articulate the feeling of the baby moving through my pelvis and my pelvis expanding – just very very intense! The baby’s head was crowning, but I didn’t have the same burning sensation I remember with Maggie. I pushed out his shoulders with the next contraction and Lionel told me to “grab my baby” and I pulled him gently up on to my chest. Simon exclaimed “another boy” and we welcomed Henry Jamie Campbell Holt to the world at 10.44am.
I was so relieved that he had arrived and was healthy. I felt pretty exhausted and although I was so happy and relieved, I didn’t have the same incredible euphoria I had after Maggie was born. After a couple of minutes he had a brief moment of being quite floppy, but he responded quickly to some vigorous rubbing with a towel. We had skin to skin and Lisa did all of Henry’s observations with him on my chest. I birthed the placenta in a managed third stage, Lionel pressed on my tummy and I gave a few strong pushes.
Henry had his first breastfeed and then we weighed him.
Henry was 5065g or 11lb 3oz!
A big baby! My perineum was completely intact and I felt amazing. Very tired and a bit foggy in the head, but so so happy. There was much exclamation from everyone at his weight and I felt some justification as to why it had been so much harder than Maggie’s birth.
Our independent midwife Jan, who acted as a support person during labour, was amazing. I couldn’t have done it without her. She was literally by my side for ten hours, quietly and calmly supporting and encouraging me.I’m also so grateful for Simon’s support. He never doubted my decision to have a VBA2C. Never questioned having an independent midwife or worried that he might be pushed out of the way.
At about 3 pm we walked to the ward and settled into our lovely double room. Simon hopped into bed and fell straight to sleep. I tried to sleep but still couldn’t. I felt so good physically – the recovery from a vaginal birth is so so much easier than a caesarean. I lay on my tummy and had a good stretch – such a good feeling!
The next morning we got the wonderful news that the hotel was still open and we had a room! This was super exciting, as we had missed out on the hotel with Maggie because she was born over Easter and the hotel had been closed. We had the Physio, the Audiologist and the Lactation Consultant all come and visit and then we were all set to transfer to the Park Hyatt! Such an amazing service. The first afternoon it was just Simon and me – we ordered the BEST club sandwiches ever and watched the Australian Open on TV and had a nap. The kids came in and had a spa bath (while watching TV – high excitement) and then we all ordered room service – such fun!
Our family is now complete and it’s bittersweet enjoying these blissful newborn weeks, knowing Henry is our last baby. We are so grateful to all the people who cared for us throughout pregnancy and birth. We found an amazing team and it was a privilege to work with such passionate people in the birth world.