I grew up hearing many horror birth stories, including my mother’s, and had little trust in my body or the birth process. I grew up thinking that once I was pregnant, I would see an obstetrician and I assumed he would tell me that I was like my mother and my pelvis was just not the right shape for babies, and I would have to have my babies via caesarean. And I was okay with that. It sounded much easier and much less scary than the stories I had heard. And to tell you the truth, I don’t think I even knew what a midwife was. My mother’s first birth story was particularly horrific and as I got older, I did wonder if there was a better way, as 30 years on, she is still traumatised by that experience and is still emotional about the fact that she was not able to birth her babies naturally.
When my sister became pregnant, she chose midwifery care and a whole new world was opened to me. She educated me on the birth process and how amazing a woman’s body is and most importantly made me realise that I had choices when my time came. Although my husband and I were not ready for children yet, I started reading all about pregnancy and birth to prepare myself for whenever that time did come. I read a lot about common birth interventions and their possible side effects on myself, the baby and on the birth process itself. I gained a different perspective on birth. I started seeing it as a normal, healthy time in a woman’s life and realised that it was not an illness or a disaster waiting to happen.
When I became pregnant, there was no question about the type of care my husband and I would choose for this special time. At first, choosing midwifery care was about reducing my risk of unnecessary intervention and I knew that midwife meant “with woman”, and I liked the thought of a female companion through birth. However I wouldn’t fully comprehend how important that was until labour began. I also liked the idea of “woman-centred” care, but again, wouldn’t fully comprehend that or its importance until later on.
I’d met Hannah at a pregnancy and parenting network that I had been to with my sister. As she introduced herself to the group, I thought she seemed like such a warm, lovely, maternal person and thought it would be lovely to have her by my side when the time came. As soon as those two lines showed up on the test, I knew I had to call her.
Although she had no idea who I was when I called, you wouldn’t have known by our conversation. That first discussion with Hannah was like calling a dear friend, an aunt, a cousin or a sister to discuss your new pregnancy. She was excited for me and said congratulations. She asked me how I was feeling. She told me that although there were lots of decisions to make, there was absolutely no rush to make them straight away. She was calm and lovely and sounded so empathetic and caring. I knew we had made the right choice.
During my pregnancy, I realised the importance of continuity of care. I didn’t have to introduce myself and repeat myself at every visit. Our midwives, Hannah and Melanie, were getting to know us (as we were getting to know them) and we could just pick up where we left off every visit. Our visits began with a hug and a smile and a cup of tea. I looked forward to our appointments so much. It was like catching up with a friend.
I also realised that my antenatal care was about more than being physically pregnant, how my baby was growing and how my body was coping with these changes according to blood and urine tests. These things were, of course, important (and checking on the baby was very exciting!). But of equal importance was how I was feeling and how my husband and I were coping mentally and emotionally with the pregnancy and impending parenthood. Our conversations with Hannah and Melanie were crucial to my building confidence in my ability to birth and to become a happy, confident mother to that child.
In the care of these amazing women, I felt like I was being guided through my pregnancy. I felt in control. I was given the books to read and pointed in the direction of other resources. I was given the support, the time and ultimately the respect to educate myself and make informed decisions regarding my care. In their care, I knew I could voice all of my fears, uncertainties or concerns and they would calm the anxiety. They would explain things clearly and no question was silly or insignificant. They understood that the other things going on in my life were important to the way I was dealing with my pregnancy. They were a shoulder to cry on and I knew I could tell them anything.
I didn’t realise it at the time, but this antenatal care was the preparation for my personal Everest climb. We were standing at the foot of the mountain and my Sherpas were gathering supplies and giving me the tools I needed to make the journey.
When labour began, I was excited, prepared, confident and calm. And I finally understood the importance of midwives being “with” women. Having my husband there was fantastic and he was an incredible support, but I needed the companionship of those women. I needed to hear Hannah’s calm voice and to feel her soft hands. I needed her reassurance and encouragement and her presence, along with Melanie’s, would remind me that I was capable and ready.
When Hannah arrived, she came in so quietly and waited until my contraction passed before she knelt down beside me and whispered, “Hello beautiful woman” in my ear. At that moment, I felt like everything was in its right place. I still get emotional thinking about that moment.
As it turned out, my labour was long and difficult, and it further confirmed the fact that the care of midwives was the right choice for us. Labour, for me, spanned a weekend, however at no point did I feel pressured to hurry up, or to get to certain points at certain times and I didn’t feel like anyone was clock watching. Our midwives kept everything calm and were simply “with” me. They guided me through the rough terrain, suggesting positions that might be comfortable and effective and telling me that I was doing a great job. And importantly, they explained everything. There were no question marks over what was happening or what they were doing (or what they weren’t doing!) If they were sitting in the corner knitting, I was reassured that everything was going smoothly and we just needed patience. And I still made all of the choices. How empowering to have a final say over what you can eat and drink, how and when you can move, and when and how you are touched.
We had developed such a bond with Hannah and Melanie that when they did suggest we might require some minor intervention, we knew that it was necessary and we trusted them implicitly.
In the end, I gave birth to a beautiful baby boy, drug free and upright with my midwives kneeling beside me, after roughly 40 hours of labour. I did it. I gave birth. And if had not have been for those amazing women believing in me, cheering me on, and advocating for me, I may not have had the confidence, the courage or the energy to do so. I reached the top of my Everest on a high, feeling like I could take on the world. And I had these magnificent, dedicated women there with me, congratulating me and hugging me and making me feel like I was entitled to be downright proud of myself!
Their support and nurturing continued postnatally, where they helped me to establish an excellent breastfeeding relationship with my son and they helped me to find my footing as a new mother. They were there to assure me that all of the things that were happening in this new world were normal and that I was doing a good job.
Our final postnatal visits were emotional. It felt like having a good friend move overseas. You know you might still have contact with them, but it wont be the same. We were going to miss them dearly. I now look forward to going on the pregnancy and birth journey with them again… whenever that may be!