When Penny arrived at the birthing unit doors she could not have imagined that 30 minutes later she would have birthed her twin girls. Yet at 39 weeks, with her husband, trusted independent midwives and two year old daughter at her side, that is precisely what Penny did. Read the story of the gloriously uncomplicated arrival of Rosina and Lilian. Find out more...
I am entirely amazed by how my babies entered this world.
The last two months of our pregnancy - our second, and this time with twins - was hectic to say the least, as my husband and I found and bought a house big enough for our new family, moved and cleaned up our apartment with my family's help, bought a big enough car, found a real estate agent and managed to sell our apartment.
In between, I was managing gestational diabetes, doing yoga, expressing colostrum in case it was needed in hospital, and looking after my 2 year old with my mother. I also saw my osteopath regularly who helped immensely when the weight of my disproportionate belly threw out my hips and back.
Each week people would ask, "So when are you due?" and I would reply evasively "Soon. Probably in the next month." as I didn't want to enter into too many conversations about twins coming early.
I also didn't want to discuss medical ideas about what is considered term for twins (usually 37-38 weeks'), as I was quite determined not to be induced if the babies were - by these standards - "late".
I had felt Braxton-Hicks contractions since I had been 23 weeks' pregnant, and they had become progressively stronger, up until the point where, at 34 weeks I rang my midwife Robyn because I felt they were too strong and too many (a few at a time) at night. She suggested taking extra calcium and magnesium which I did and seemed to settle things down a little.
All the while part of me had been expecting the babies might still arrive at any time, since I had read somewhere that with twins you should have the hospital bag packed at 28 weeks.
At 35 1/2 weeks I had the baby capsules installed in the car and breathed a sigh of relief that if they were born now, at least I could take them home from the hospital. Also, at least by then we had moved.
At 36 weeks I said to my Osteopath (who had also had twins) "Do you think I could have them now?"
"No" she replied. "37 weeks." She knew babies born earlier could have sucking difficulties.
37 weeks' came and my husband and I cheered, and I stopped taking the calcium and magnesium. To my surprise, 38 weeks' came around and I started to do just about everything that was safe to induce labour naturally; imagery and affirmations, homeopathy, aromatherapy, sex (at this stage with difficulty!), evening primrose capsules, breastfeeding my two-year-old, osteopathy, preparing "labour-inducing" foods and curries, a glass of red wine, and finally... acupuncture and acupressure.
It came up to just before 39 weeks. We sold our apartment on the Friday night (another story in itself) and celebrated with a glass of champagne. I had a second round of acupuncture with a specialist obstetric acupuncturist on Sunday morning and the practitioner was satisfied with the outcome - I now had a tight uterus most of the time. I rang Robyn at about 10.30 on Sunday evening to say I thought I was in early labour, and to expect another phone call later that night. I was timing contractions but they were still irregular and mostly not all that strong.
Monday afternoon I began to worry that the babies - particularly the presenting baby wasn't moving enough and that the contractions were having a bad effect on the babies. I rang Robyn again and our whole family paid her a visit so we could listen with the Doppler. They were absolutely fine, and I left satisfied that the babies could be born when they chose.
Tuesday I was 39 weeks'. I had an extra ultrasound and had CTG monitoring at the hospital - two concessions to my obstetrician since I had declined being induced (now done routinely at 37 weeks' for twins). I again asked not to see the sexes of the babies and I also asked not to be told their weights, as long as they were within the normal ranges for gestational age, which, according to the ultrasound, they were. The placentas were both working well. Previously the first baby had been head down and the second baby breech. A big surprise was that both the babies were now head down! Even though I had prepared myself for a breech birth, I felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders and now I could birth these babies more easily.
I texted Robyn to let her know. "No wonder they are staying in, they are still organizing themselves!" Robyn texted. " Also- have you seen the moon, it's coming up to full.... Good time for birthing!"
We had steak and asparagus for dinner - for some reason I felt like I needed a large serving of protein and iron - and my husband Jonathan put our daughter Naomi to bed.
I was in a good mood but didn't feel overly tired. At some point I decided that the contractions felt more like I could be going into proper labour and I started timing them. Robyn had said to call if my waters broke, if contractions were less than 5 minutes apart, or if contractions were so strong I couldn't deal with them. None of these things had happened so I told Jon we should both get some sleep and if my contractions woke me up, then we would know it was real labour.
I went to bed with the contraction timer in my hand. I woke up for a couple of contractions and timed them but went back to sleep in between. They were only about half an hour apart. Then an almighty contraction hit and woke me up but it was so strong I felt like I couldn't move. I was lying on my side and I felt like a bus had hit me.
I woke up Jon. My first thought was that even if it wasn't time to go to hospital, I wanted him to be awake with me now. I called my sister Laura to come over as she would be Naomi's support person during the birth - I felt like I wanted her to be around now too. Laura arrived as I called Robyn to say I was in labour. "So the contractions are different now?" asked Robyn. "Yes" I replied, trying to work it all out. I had another contraction and had to hand the phone to Laura. "We know you have a high pain tolerance" said Robyn. "You decide if we should go into the hospital". I wasn't sure but decided that we should, especially since it was a fair journey from our new house. "Ok I'll call Jane and we'll meet you at maternity" she said. "But take your time" I said to Robyn.
I set about making sure Jon had put everything we needed into the car, including the expressed colostrum from the freezer. I had a couple more strong contractions in the middle of this and then I changed tact - "We just have to go now". The contractions were too strong. We left Laura behind to wake Naomi gently. "I haven't timed this contraction" I said to Jon whilst almost in the car. "It doesn't matter now; we're definitely going to the hospital" he replied. "Besides, the last 2 have been 3 minutes apart." "Really?" I replied, surprised and pleased.
The trip to the hospital was smooth in the middle of the night and every now and then I had a very strong contraction which took all of my concentration. I estimated there were about 4 of these during the half hour trip.
We had so much equipment for the birth in the back of the car that Jon and I quickly decided what was most important as he could only take so many things with him in one trip. The antenatal folder, medicare and health cards, and the original bag I had packed for hospital got priority.
We parked in a 15 minute drop-off zone right outside the hospital. I went in ahead as I knew I would be slow, clutching my enormous belly. "Maternity please" I said to the front desk without stopping. Someone said something about how I should have come through the the other entrance. Another person looked at me and asked if I needed a wheelchair. "Maternity. I think I could be in the second stage of labour" was all I could say. She very quickly put me into a wheelchair and started speeding through corridors to the birthing unit. Jon only just found us and caught us up.
We arrived at the birthing unit doors and I said my midwife was Jane. At the desk I thanked my chauffeur and noted it was such a smooth ride in the wheelchair I hadn't had a contraction. And then promptly had one. I said to the woman at the desk that my sister would be arriving with my daughter; I had pre-arranged this via Jane by writing a letter to the Unit Manager.
We got into the room and I immediately had another contraction, groaning to stop the pushing sensation and I had to hold onto the end of the bed almost squatting. I was trying not to push yet but at the same time I was thinking "Open, like a flower", a mantra an old friend used when she home birthed her baby in the caul. Jon left me with Jane to get another load from the car. "RUN!" Jane mouthed behind me.
Jane straight away put out a foam mat and a bean bag with a sheet on it and I gladly took an all fours position onto it. "Pants off" said Jane, luckily putting a blue plastic sheet under me, as then I pooed and pee-ed on it. "Sorry, I think I pooed" I muttered. "That's ok" said Jane. We both knew it meant the first baby would be born soon - and I had just arrived!
Jane and another midwife held monitors to my belly to try and get readings of the babies' heartbeats and the contractions. I think they gave up on the next contraction and I asked "Can I ...?" I meant to say "Can I push?" but couldn't get it out. Jane knew and replied something like "Do what your body wants to do" which was the permission I needed.
At this stage my husband Jon had returned with another load of things from the car, and my sister Laura had arrived with our two year old, Naomi. Jon had found Laura by chance in the carpark. Jane got Jon to call my other midwife, Robyn, and Jane said to Jon "Tell her I can see the head!"
Jane also got a hospital midwife to ring the backup obstetrician, Andrew. The other midwife wanted someone to have done an internal examination on me first, but Jane knew from the noises I was making that I was fully dilated. Jane had to ask me if I wanted the internal and of course I didn't; I think I muttered something like "Do I have to?" and Jane said I didn't give my consent. The thought of getting up onto the bed was ridiculous for me at that stage; I was so totally in just-about-to-give-birth land and in a perfect birthing position.
I started feeling something pushing in my vagina. "That's your bag of waters" Jane said - she had a mirror beneath me and could see it. With the next push there was a pop and out gushed the waters.
The next contraction and I could feel the first baby's head. I pushed a bit but not with 100 percent of my effort for the next couple of contractions, and could feel my perineum stretching at the end of the pushes.
It was the same sensation as when I had prepared my body with perineal massage. The head had crowned then retracted then I pushed it out again. "She's birthing nice and slowly" said Jane to another midwife; I knew this was good as I was less likely to tear.
At the same time I knew that to get the baby out I had to do some big pushing, so with the next contraction I pushed hard and the baby's head was born. I pushed again and the baby was born behind me and Jane immediately placed her between my legs. I picked her up - my baby!!!! I had birthed her! It was about 20 minutes after we had arrived.
She still had her cord attached as I wanted delayed cord clamping and she was slippery, warm, coated in blood and amniotic fluid and just wonderful! I held her to my chest and she was opening her lungs with crying, just like she was meant to. Then I looked down and noted "She's a girl!"
She kept crying and I said "I can feel another contraction coming on!" I told Jon to get his shirt off - I had prepared him to have the first baby skin-to-skin while I birthed the second. Jon sat just next to me and picked her up - she weeed on him and kept on crying loudly for a minute. "She weeed on me" Jon said in a daze. It sounded like a complaint but really he was in awe that she was doing everything right - he knew that the babies both had to wee so we knew that their kidneys and urinary tracts were working.
I felt another gush of waters and another hospital midwife asked the position of the second baby. I said "They're both head down!" I pushed and birthed part of the second baby. It felt different to the first and Jane confirmed that it was breech!
By this stage I had birthed the second baby to the abdomen and Jane and Robyn watched the baby's legs cycling to help itself out - a good sign the baby was healthy. The baby didn't come out further with the next contraction and it's feet were on the floor so Jane and then Andrew stepped in to make sure the head was born.
They turned the baby around and Andrew realised the baby was stuck because it had an arm above it's head so he first gently pulled the baby's arms out one by one then tucked the head into its chest so it could be born.
I felt all of this as a popping sensation, which may have been the legs being born, and felt some more pointy bits - probably arms or legs or Andrew helping with the arms. I thought that I could feel shoulders turning.
I made a point of talking up the discomfort when Andrew was helping as I didn't want any obstetrician's help - even to the point of saying "ouch" which is very unlike me. He did not really cause me any pain to complain about though and on reflection I am so very grateful for his skill and what he did, and for not intervening at any other point. He had taken on board all the discussions we had had at appointments about minimal intervention during the births.
Jon, Jane, Robyn and Andrew all told me to push as much as I could with the next contraction which I did with my now half-sized belly, and out came the second baby, only seven minutes after the first!
My second baby was also placed under me so I could pick her up. Both babies had their cords still attached. She was a little slow to take her first breath even though she was pink and even though I rubbed her back with my hands, so Jane put a little oxygen near her face and then she did her first wonderful cry. I looked down at her and smiled - "It's another girl!" Jon grinned too.
I concentrated on her but also looked up to Naomi and Jon and our first baby - Naomi was quiet but interested and Jon was still next to me. It was wonderful to have all our family finally together and to have experienced it together as I had hoped and planned. I got another sudden feeling and said "The placenta's coming". "Why not?" said Jane, bemused at how very quickly every stage of labour had gone.
I knew that I had to birth the placenta from a more upright position - I felt too stooped over holding the second baby to get the placenta out. "You've got to hold this beautiful baby" I told Jon. Robyn stepped in. "Do you mind if we cut the cords? They've finished pulsing." I didn't mind at all.
Naomi held the scissors with me and together we cut the second baby's cord, then Robyn offered Naomi to cut the first baby's but Naomi preferred Robyn to hold the scissors, while she looked on. Jane put a birth stool behind me and I sat on it to birth the placentas with three pushes.
I had birthed the placentas physiologically - that is, completely naturally with no synthetic oxytocin. It was about ten minutes after the second baby had been born.
I almost couldn't believe that it had all finished and was quite in awe of what, and how quickly it had all just happened. It was less than 2 hours since I had called Robyn. I went to the bathroom and did a big wee - much to my surprise I could even feel and contract my pelvic floor muscles straight away. (After Naomi's birth with a catheter and forceps it took me a long time before I could feel anything and wee). Robyn popped me into the shower while her and Jane quietly cleaned up. The babies were weighed - each baby was just over 3.3kg (7 pounds 3)!
I felt very faint getting out of the shower and had to call Robyn back to help me. Jane came in too as I felt like I could collapse, and I had to put my feet up on a chair to help my blood pressure.
Robyn helped too with a technique she had learnt which involved putting her finger under my nose in the shape of a mustache. I recovered enough to make it back to the bed.
I lay on my back and the babies breastfed together and properly now, supported by pillows on either side of me. Naomi wanted to join us on the bed and I let her come up, meet the babies and have a cuddle. It was wonderful to have all my three girls together, and I think Jon was very proud too. I noticed that everyone had left the room except my family, to give us time alone. Throughout the whole birth experience Laura made sure Naomi was having enough attention and also as a photomedia graduate, she took some amazing photos.
Eventually Jane stitched me up - after such a fast birth I had just a second degree tear - and we made preparations to go home. The pediatrician had seen the babies while I was in the shower so there was little else to do. It was morning. The hearing screening person arrived and tested both the babies just before we left, and then it was home, and under Robyn's instruction, I went straight from the car to the toilet then everyone went to bed.
A truly amazing morning.