A Doula discusses her birth using TENS

I was 39 + 2 days and had peacefully come to the acceptance that after weeks of Braxton hicks, the loss of mucous plug around 38 weeks and very swollen feet, that it could still be another 3 weeks before we met our bub. Life went on as usual, and this Sunday afternoon we decided to head to Avoca Beach with my parents for an afternoon swim & fish and chips.

I waddled down to the waters edge with Billie and Phil and felt my first tightening around 4pm. I ignored it and we went about swimming in the water and enjoying the waves. We ordered dinner and I felt that I couldn’t really eat much of it as the tightenings were becoming a little stronger, requiring me to close my eyes and breath through. My dad looked at me wearily….’are you okay darls?!’…. yes…I’m fine, continue on!

At about 6:30pm, we began packing up to head home and the tightenings were continuing. I joked with mum to be on standby tonight, and that she might need to keep her phone on loud in case we rang!

The drive home was uncomfortable, and once we got home and got Billie into bed, we began to pack our things up as my hospital bag was still lying open and half packed! Phil kept asking me “are we on?!” and I told him to just get his shit together and I’d let him know!!

I text my doula Jenna to let her know that I thought things were in their early stages and got a phone call back straight away. Jenna broke the news that she was attending a homebirth in Newcastle and may not be available by the time I needed her. I won’t lie, as much as I know you can’t plan births and that double ups are always a possibility, my heart sank a little bit… whyyyy must this happen to me?!

We hopped in to bed, but I couldn’t sleep at all. I listened to my birth playlist full of good tunes, and about 10pm decided to put the TENS machine on. I lay in bed with the setting on low, boosting as each surge came and went. By midnight, I could no longer lie down, and it felt more comfortable to be upright against the doorway to the wardrobe. Once standing, the surges came quickly and by 2:30am, I called my parents and confirmed to Phil…we are most definitely “on”.

My parents arrived and came into the bedroom around 3:30am. They asked what they could do and I might have snapped ever so lovingly “just sit down or something!” I just wanted them to be around, and my dad lay on the floor with my dog Betty, and mum sat on the banquet seat with Phil on the bed. It was such a calm environment, and I felt really loved in that moment knowing my family was with me and holding such beautiful space for me.

Having felt relief that Jenna had called her backup doula Gemma to be on standby for me, I knew that when things ramped up, I could call her at any moment. Surges were coming regularly every 2-3 minutes and lasting around a 1-1.5 minutes at a time and the TENS was incredible for giving me something to concentrate on and distracting my mind.

I remember hearing the Kookaburras outside and could tell the sun was not far off. I got Phil to call Gemma, and she was around in no time at all. It had been just me, music and the TENS for 8 hours and I was bloody happy to see Gem, I burst into tears straight away.

We decided around 6:30am to head in to the hospital. I popped on my eye mask, grabbed my pillow and jumped in the car. It was uncomfortable, but I only had 2 or 3 surges in the car. However, once I stood up in the carpark, it was instant and the walk up to the birth suite felt like forever between constant surges.

We entered the birth suite, and although I was in the MGP, the only familiar face I saw was that of my student midwife. Having said this, I was greeted by a midwife who made an effort to let me know she’d read my birth plan and was so on board with ALL my wishes, and it made me feel instantly at ease. I was so grateful for her and the team that was there.

I didn’t want to sit again, so I kept my position of choice and stood over the bed, continuing to listen to my music and pedaling my feet during each surge while Phil and Gemma set the room up for me.

After a few hours, I knew I needed to switch things up. I made the mental shift to take the TENS off and hop in the shower, promising if I hated it I could jump out quicky. Once I hopped under the hot water, I experienced my first (of many) crisis of confidence.

Phil and Gemma were both holding a shower head on my back while I swayed and breathed through each surge. I looked into Gemma’s eyes and asked the number 1 question of birth….how much longer is this going to take?! I cried from frustration, annoyed at myself for not having the ‘quick 2nd labour’ I had been promised by literally everyone. I tested the waters by telling Gemma that I couldn’t do it anymore, and she reminded me that I was doing it, and that I was making amazing progress, and that that nonsense wasn’t going to fly!

I jumped out of the shower and into the bath which felt amazing at the time, however, once I got comfortable, everything slowed down. I had a rest for what felt like hours although it was probably 10-15 minutes. Whilst part of me hoped it was my ‘rest and be thankful phase’ before transition, deep down, I knew that I was not far enough along. I tried to physically check myself, however could feel nothing at all. Cue more frustrated tears….

I asked for a vaginal exam, even though I know rationally these are not an indicator of progress. However, I felt something was “off” and really wanted to be able to work in the right direction. I requested to have the VE, but for the midwife to tell Gemma the number, as I knew finding out would derail me.

I hopped out of the bath, had the exam, and then jumped straight back in the shower. Gemma came in and told me “we have a little way to go, so we’re going to use gravity to help us get bub in the right position”. This information was a confirmation of what I felt in my own body, and although it was a blow, I knew I wouldn’t get in the bath again and that I needed to work with bub to help her get onto the cervix properly to help me further dilate.

I stayed in the shower, trying some deep squats, swaying left and right and using sound to move through each surge. I needed to switch it up again, and came out to the bed, this time, trying to side lie with the peanut ball. It was so intense that I only lasted 1 surge in that position. I then kneeled over the back of the bed and things intensified quickly.

It was at this moment that I felt a total crisis. I just could not do it anymore, and I asked for an epidural. I was looking for something to save me as each surge totally took over my body and my mind. My birth team were so in tune with my birth preferences that they knew that this was a crisis in confidence and not a true reflection of my birth wishes. My student midwife offered me gas which I declined, then morphine, which I declined, then sterile water injections, which I declined. I just wanted the epidural. NOW.

After much back and forth, the midwives came back to tell me that the anesthetist had been requested, but was in an emergency C section and may be a while. I was devastated. I then agreed that if I was going to wait, I would have the gas, and my goodness WHY did I wait as long as I did?! Between the gas and the TENS it really did take the edge off for a good hour. However, there was still no sign of the epidural.

Woman labours in a hospital bed with tens machine in hand

Every surge felt like it was completely taking over my body. I had a good rhythm going between squeezing Gemma’s hand, inhaling the gas an Phil boosting the TENS, but there was no beautiful swaying, low noises and breathing. It was guttural, primal, desperate.

When the anesthetist turned up (1.5 hours after I requested it and 2 hours after the VE), she tried to talk me through the risks but I couldn’t concentrate. She asked me if I would be able to stay still enough for the insertion of the anesthetic, and had concerns that it may not be possible given the quick succession of my surges.

After what felt like lots of discussion back and forth between her and midwives, I saw her take off her gloves and say “we’re not doing this today”. I was distraught…. “Where are you going?!!!!”

At this moment my student midwife asked me to feel down, and told me there was my baby’s head. I reached down and felt an overwhelming sense of relief. She’s coming, I can do this on my own.

With the next surge my body beared down and I sent all the energy I could down through my body. I felt the ring of fire but, believe it or not, it was an incredible sensation as I knew the head was crowning. Suddenly, it was out and I knew in the next surge, I would have our baby in my arms.

The midwife asked who would catch the baby and suggested Phil…. HA you’ve got to be joking, I thought, this is my moment, I will be the one catching the baby!!! we waited and waited and all of a sudden, my body took over. Another surge came and I reached down and was passed our beautiful bub.

I was in TOTAL shock at this point. I remember looking down and seeing her big eyes looking at me, her hands grabbing at my chest and thinking “there you are”. The midwife immediately came up to rub and shake her for a cry to which I strongly declined. Within a few moments, Lola had taken her first big breath all on her own, and let out a nice strong cry to clear her lungs.

I requested that nobody touch the cord, or give me a fundus massage while we waited for the placenta to detach on it’s own. Within 20 minutes, I felt another surge and beared down with it. In one push, the placenta was birthed and my goodness, this was the second best feeling in the word (just behind crowning!).

I finally felt back to myself again. It really is true what they say…you do leave your body and come back to earth with your bub in your arms. I was checked for any tears and had none, although was quite swollen thanks to Lola’s brow presentation and hand by her face.

It was Lola’s positioning on the cervix that meant I wasn’t dilating as quickly as I’d hoped, and I now know that during that VE, I was just 4cm. However, thanks to a new position and adjustments, in just over two hours, she was in my arms.

I was so looking forward to the after birth shower, it was my FAVOURITE part of Billie’s birth (aside from her being actually born obviously), and this time I had packed my big fluffy towel, face cleanser and face oil and was so ready to freshen up before heading home with an early discharge. However, you can’t plan birth and this wasn’t meant to be.

I sat up on the side of the bed, and the midwife checked my blood pressure which looked normal. I got up and walked over to the shower and the hot water was switched on. The next thing I remember is sitting in the chair in the shower having cold water sprayed on my face: “welcome back Alice, we missed you there!!” I had lost consciousness and quick thinking from Phil and the midwives meant I was caught by the chair. However, seconds later, I lost consciousness again and this time ended up on the floor.

The emergency button was pressed and the bathroom filled with midwives. Thankfully, Gemma was still around and was able to be with Lola while Phil supported me in the bathroom. I was given an IV of fluids, and stayed on the floor for a few hours to get my blood pressure back. The vasovagals were caused purely by exhaustion and dehydration, after all, I hadn’t slept all night and really hadn’t eaten a lot. I also think having been in the hot shower steam for so long contributed to this.

After 2 hours, I was able to get myself back onto the bed, and Lola and I finally had our first feed. It was agreed that I would stay in hospital overnight for monitoring and a supervised shower in the morning.

I’ve grappled a lot in the last two weeks with my birth story and how I feel about it. Whilst I know inherently that I’m a powerhouse warrior for birthing my baby, I haven’t felt like it. I had given birth before, but I’d never felt those powerful sensations of bub moving down the birth canal in all their glory, and I surprised myself with how I expressed these sensations. I am so grateful to have had the support I did on the day, and that nobody judged me for my tears, my lack of confidence at points, my noises, my frustrations, my complaints.

Birth can teach us a lot, but we have to dig deep in often uncomfortable places to find the meanings. Birth can reflect parts of us that we weren’t expecting it to, and I’ve realised that I’ve been judging myself harshly for how I expressed myself. I can’t change it, but I’m working really hard to accept it, and be so proud of myself for not just birthing but growing and raising two beautiful girls.

Alice shows suprise and exhaustion as she births her baby

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