I gave birth to my daughter Orlagh on 18th June at 11:24pm just outside the security hut at The Coombe Hospital. By the time the midwives arrived out to us I was sitting on the ground cradling her in my arms proclaiming “it’s a girl’! In lots and lots of ways the birth was everything I had hoped for; natural, free of any interventions, and incredibly empowering, not least because I did it myself. I actually delivered my own baby and was the first person to touch and hold her. To me that is precious. She’s my third child and I did more preparation for her birth than I did for the previous two. In addition to pregnancy yoga I downloaded the GentleBirth hospital birth CD and listened to it quite a bit towards the end of the pregnancy, in particular the positive affirmations and the third stage of labour tracks.
I gave a lot of consideration to the birth. I put together detailed birth preferences and had them approved by my midwife. I insisted on attending the midwives’ clinic at The Coombe. Technically I wouldn’t have qualified as I am 41 and above the cut off point of 40, but given that I was healthy and had no previous complications the hospital agreed to let me attend it. I found the midwives there to be amazingly supportive of my desire to have a natural birth. I always used to feel very positive and confident after a visit with my midwife Susanne Daly. I really don’t think I would have had such a positive attitude to the birth of my baby had I not attended the clinic and had midwife-led care.
I had a really good pregnancy, but towards the end I felt very tired and would nap whenever I got the chance. The baby’s head was engaged from about 35 weeks so I felt very heavy and was walking around like I had been riding a horse for 5 hours. However, on Tuesday 18th June, 4 days before Orlagh’s due date, I felt a different kind of energy. It was one of those days that I just didn’t stop. I mopped floors, did ironing, hung clothes out to dry, hoovered the stairs, cleaned out the car, watered flowers, cooked dinner, and packed my hospital bag. I also did a lot of deep squats and lunges during the day, just because instinctively it felt right. But at no time did I think “this might be the day”.
I had intended to have a physiological third stage…but I decided that I would have the injection. I had started to shake, perhaps delayed shock setting in after the speed of the birth – from beginning to end it was less than an hour and a half – and in that moment honestly didn’t care how I birthed the placenta. But it was an informed decision, and that’s what matters most to me.
It was about 10pm by the time my husband Ronan and myself sat down to watch some TV. And almost as soon as I parked myself in the sofa I started to feel a strong pressure in my lower abdomen. I didn’t pay too much attention to it, but within 15 minutes this strong wave of pressure seemed to be coming around every 5 minutes. On some level I think I knew the birth was imminent, but the thinking part of my brain refused to believe it. I had intended labouring at home for as long as possible, so in accordance with that plan I got my husband to run a bath for me as I figured it would help me to relax. But after only a few minutes in the bath the waves of intense pressure were coming every minute – they didn’t feel like contractions, the feeling was very low, as if it was my baby’s head moving into the birth canal.
We decided at this point to head for the hospital. My husband gathered up my hospital bag and got my next door neighbour to come in and babysit while I got myself dressed. The feeling of pressure was intense and constant at this stage. I could barely walk and needed help getting down the stairs and into the car. I had also started to make that sound that can only come from a woman about to give birth. It was a loud, primal, intense moan and it came out of me the whole way from Churchtown to The Coombe. Making this sound felt very instinctive and natural, and it definitely helped me to cope with the intensity of what I was feeling in my body. What also helped was playing the GentleBirth positive affirmations track (barely audible above my moans), but I do remember being reminded that “your body is amazing”, “you can do this”, “your baby is the perfect size for your body” etc and it helped to keep me calm and confident. At no point did I feel panicky.
My waters broke in Terenure. We were almost going to pull over but my husband just kept driving until we got to The Coombe. He parked the car beside the security hut and jumped out and asked the security guard to get someone. He then helped me out of the car. We started making for the door of the hospital but had only taken a few steps when I proclaimed “the baby is coming!”. With that I felt Orlagh’s head emerge, so I got down onto my knees and got my husband to help me pull my stretchy yoga pants down. We just about managed to get them half way down when my baby pretty much shot out into them! It’s a good thing they were so stretchy 😉 I lifted Orlagh up into my arms and felt so calm and joyful. I’m not sure how long we were there, but by the time the midwives and hospital porter arrived Orlagh’s cord had stopped pulsating (delayed cord clamping – tick!). One of the midwives cut the cord and gave me a couple of blankets to wrap Orlagh up in. They got us into a wheelchair and brought us up to a delivery suite. I still had to deliver the placenta. I had intended to have a physiological third stage (ie not have syntocinin and deliver the placenta naturally), but I decided that I would have the injection. I had started to shake, perhaps delayed shock setting in after the speed of the birth – from beginning to end it was less than an hour and a half – and in that moment honestly didn’t care how I birthed the placenta. But it was an informed decision, and that’s what matters most to me.
After the placenta was delivered the midwives gave us a couple of hours alone and had tea and toast sent into us. I just enjoyed skin to skin with Orlagh and she latched and fed within half an hour. It was wonderful to be able to hold her from the moment of her birth to the point when she started to feed without any interruptions. It was only after about an hour an a half that one of the midwives asked if she could weigh and examine Orlagh, and I was happy to hand her over for a couple of minutes at that stage.
I never imagined that Orlagh’s birth would be so fast. I had intended staying at home for as long as possible and then labouring in the birth pool when I got to the hospital. In the few days after the birth I did experience some delayed shock. I found myself replaying the experience in my head over and over again and mentally trying to slow it down. But all in all, the pregnancy and the birth were immensely positive. The staff in the Coombe were fantastic. We ended up having to stay in for 6 days as Orlagh had some fluid on her lungs (due to the fast nature of her birth – during a normal delivery the chest is compressed and excess fluid is squeezed out), but I actually really enjoyed it thanks to the lovely staff in St Patrick’s Ward and in the Neonatal Unit. And I have to say, even the food was great!
My first birth was traumatic and it took me a couple of years to get over, so having a positive experience second and third time around really mattered to me. I don’t subscribe to the point of view that all that matters is a healthy baby. How you give birth matters too. Having a positive experience is possible and in my case the things that helped me to have that experience were midwife-led care, yoga, being informed about informed refusal and consent (thanks to the AIMS website), hypnobirthing, being assertive, reading ‘Birth and Breastfeeding’ by Michel Odent, and connecting on Facebook (eg Irish Positive Birth Group) with others interested in having/facilitating positive birth experiences.
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