I was 37 weeks and I went to stay with my Mum for a few nights so that my husband Alex could catch up on some work. Beautiful homecooked meals, long baths, sipping tea in the rocking chair overlooking the forest. It was just what I needed after a few busy weeks and it would allow me the time to really slow down and think about the birth. Mum and I had spent the entire day sewing burp cloths, using up some beautiful fabric I had bought for this exact purpose. Standing out in the sewing room all day made my feet tired. I was exhausted, but Mum and I have a habit of staying up late talking. She finally convinced me to go to bed and I did, though I couldn’t sleep. I jumped online to purchase my husband’s birthday present and it wasn’t until about 1:00am that I dozed off. At 5:30am I woke and felt a little discharge so up I popped to go to the toilet. I walked slowly to the bathroom, still half asleep. I pulled down my pyjamas to sit on the loo when suddenly a huge gush of liquid hit the floor. It was red. There must be some blood in my waters, I thought. There was so much liquid, it had splashed half a metre up every wall in the toilet. I was suddenly so excited knowing that my baby was going to be coming today. I had waited forever for this day.
I called the hospital just to double check that the red stained amniotic fluid was normal, and had decided to go back to bed. The midwife was friendly and calm, and asked me to come in to see them. What a pain, I thought. When I asked if something was wrong, she calmly told me that she just really wanted to check baby over. I phone called my Mum who was upstairs sleeping. We began driving to the hospital. By this stage I had tried calling Alex to come and meet us but received his voicemail. I left a casual message, just pop in if you can. I was certain that I was going to end up heading home to labour, and that we were in for a long day.
We arrived at the hospital around 7:00am and upon arrival it was evident that the blood in my waters was a cause for concern. There were immediate comments about a c-section birth, something that I had wanted to avoid. The obstetrician on duty came to see me and asked to do an internal. I obliged, knowing that this may be the only way for them to check that everything was okay and to stop with the c-section comments. I had hoped for a drug free vaginal birth with zero interventions. “Well, you are definitely in labour” he said. “You are 3cm dilated”. I was quite shocked; I didn’t realise I was already contracting. “Your waters are also still intact”. The room suddenly fell quiet. Midwives looking towards the ground like they knew something I didn't. This meant that the massive gush of fluid that I had just cleaned up in Mum’s toilet was blood. The obstetrician then wanted to break my waters to see if the fluid was still clear. If my waters were clear I could labour, but if they weren’t we were off to theatre to get baby out. I didn’t know this doctor, my private Ob couldn’t get there, and I had never met the midwives. I had no faith from the get go that the hospital would allow me to birth naturally and so I already had my guard up. By this stage they had given me terbutaline to slow down my contractions. Baby was doing great in response and so I asked to wait for Alex to arrive before making a decision.
Around 9:00am he arrived and we decided to break my waters. At this stage we felt it would be the only way to have a chance at a vaginal birth. The Ob did so, and confirmed that the fluid was clear. They didn’t know where the bleed was coming from, but baby was doing fine and so they allowed us to labour. This did kick things off again and by about 10:30am I could start to feel things intensify a little. I was so excited; this was actually happening. It was then that I put on the TENs machine. Due to the bleeding, I was required to be monitored for the entire labour. We moved the hospital bed to the side of the room and placed down a yoga mat and fit ball. I began bouncing on the fit ball, breathing through each wave. I felt good. My sister popped in to see me; she had been waiting 8 years for me to have a baby. Her excitement rubbed off on me.
As time progressed, doctors and midwives kept coming into the room. I was oblivious to it all, but Alex said that they kept pushing for a c-section because of the bleeding. “Is the baby okay? Is Shenae okay?” he asked. Each time he was reassured that everything was okay, but things could change very quickly and they wanted to be prepared. Thankfully my birth prepped husband fought for me to continue labouring as long as everything was okay. I was none the wiser. He was also trying to get the staff to find the portable monitor that I could wear in the shower, but apparently it wasn’t working. This meant that my hope to use water immersion as pain relief was not going to be allowed due to the constant monitoring requirements. My only tool was the TENs machine – plus the skills I had learnt through Juju Sundin’s book ‘Birth Skills’.
I continued labouring with the use of the TENs. It was late afternoon when I remember the Ob coming back to check me again. I was told that if I wasn’t at least 7cm dilated then we would be scheduled for surgery. I was gobsmacked. Thanks to Alex protecting my birth space, this was the first time I heard the word c-section since I first arrived. My heart rate rose. Baby’s heart rate rose. I was only 6cm dilated which prompted staff to encourage a c-section. There was no way in hell I was going to have major surgery if it wasn’t absolutely necessary. “I am progressing” I said. Both baby and I were doing great before I heard their c-section talk. We convinced them to allow us to continue and I had a chance to get my rhythm back. Labour soon became super intense for me. I was struggling to breathe through the contractions now. I was becoming quite overwhelmed. That TENs machine was just... beautiful. The TENs and my husband’s hands pushing on my hips were the best relief I could have ever imagined. It wasn’t until after the birth that I looked back and thought, f*ck, I never even considered other pain relief methods! Given the circumstance I was in, in my head my two options were to continue, or to go to theatre. I began vomiting, and my beautiful student midwife assured me that this meant things were progressing, that I was in transition. THANK GOD, I thought!
The Obstetrician came back after 6pm to check me again. I was fully dilated. “You have until 7pm to birth this baby or we are going to theatre”. I felt so... rushed. Pissed off. In pain. Determined. Around 6:30pm I started to feel the urge to bear down. In hindsight, I wasn’t ready to push. I should have waited until the urge was uncontrollable. I saw my student midwife go and grab a mirror and I got so excited that I was actually going to birth my baby out of my vagina! We were watching the clock. I was pushing, watching the clock, pushing. The room was filling with more people. Staff waiting, all eyes on me. I have never felt more pressured in my life. People standing over me, sharing gazes like they had a secret. My beautiful student midwife, the only member of ‘staff’ I knew and trusted, looking me in the eyes as if she was pleading with me to push this baby out before they took me to theatre. The paediatrician stood in the room with a worried face, sharing gazes with my stressed out Mum who was doing her best to show me a calm face. She wasn’t fooling me. Baby's heart rate was dropping each time I pushed and I was haemorrhaging again. I had people tugging on my arm saying that it’s time to go to theatre. I agreed. Alex had to plead with them to let me kneel on the hospital bed as they transferred me. I was asked to sign paperwork to agree to a trial of forceps and then a c-section. I think about that moment all the time. I was mid contraction, completely defeated, butt naked on the hospital bed and they wanted me to sign paperwork. “Not right now, I’m a little busy!” I said. They couldn’t wheel me off until the paperwork was signed, so I did. Theatre was bright, confronting. My memory blurs from here, but I feel as though there were at least 12 people there waiting for me. Many looked too young to be fully trained so I assumed that they had every student in the hospital there for learning purposes. My contractions were approx. 1min 30secs in length and I was having 45secs break in between, which didn’t give me much time to sit still to receive the spinal block. Ice test done, good to go. Legs in stirrups – oh yeah, I completely forgot that they would try forceps first. I was so sure this was going to end in caesarean.
I was asked to push just once, and within the next few seconds I heard my baby cry. That moment was the best moment of my life. I was so shocked! I was able to have immediate skin to skin and just take her all in. My placenta was delivered and the Ob confirmed that I had a placental abruption which was their fear all along. About 80% of the placenta was clotted, which meant that in those last few seconds Winter only had 20% oxygen access from the placenta. She was beautiful, she was absolutely perfect. Her APGAR scores were good and there were no concerns for her health or safety. The spinal block made me shake so Alex then had some bonding time with our daughter. It felt like an eternity in theatre post birth! With my legs still in stirrups I asked my student midwife what was taking so long, I desperately wanted to get out of that bright room and into a private space to show my Mum our baby daughter. With pity in her eyes, she said that I was being stitched up. “Did I tear?” I asked. “Sorry Shenae, they had to cut you”. An episiotomy was something that I had stated that I didn’t want. I suppose I had signed that paperwork and I’m assuming it was stated in there, yet I cannot help but feel so violated even to this day. Had I been asked for consent to an episiotomy I more than likely would have agreed. We were eventually wheeled back into recovery, and then finally back into our private room.
The following days were wonderful and strange and hard all at the same time. We had comments from midwives saying that it was a miracle that we were all okay. We had the chaplain visit to talk the birth through. The head of the maternity ward spoke to us as though she was trying to diffuse some type of situation. We were confused. The comments and unusual visits really made me question what actually happened during the labour and birth. In my head, given the circumstances we were in, I was stoked with how the birth unfolded! We fought for our rights to labour without too many interventions, my birth space was protected and I was able to labour without people speaking to me, our baby was doing well all the way through the labour, when her heart rate dropped and the haemorrhaging made a reappearance we made the decision to act, and we still got to have a vaginal delivery. It wasn’t until weeks later that we did our own research and fully understood the seriousness and risks of a placental abruption. It was then that the guilt set in, but also the appreciation I had for my body. My body knew something was wrong, and it was pushing my baby out three weeks early, making sure that she was safe. I was dancing with a whole bunch of emotions that I didn’t know how to deal with, but as time progressed these passed. I got so wrapped up in loving my daughter and motherhood that the birth was pushed towards the back of my brain. It was not until recently, being pregnant with my second baby, that I have had a chance to readdress my daughter’s birth. The same conclusion that I keep coming to is that birth stories matter - how women feel about their birth stories matter. Too often our feelings are swept under the rug. Society’s perception on birth is that as long as you have a healthy baby, everything is okay. Having a healthy baby is not the only thing that is important. Positive birth experiences for the mother are important too, and I only hope for a future where women are heard, coercive control does not exist in the system, and that birth is not feared by women.
Shenae is a photographer and videographer of maternity, birth and newborns from Western Australia, you can capture your journey to motherhood with her at thebirthprojectaustralia.com.au