I am the mother of two children. My daughter Mathilda was born six years ago, my son Jakob just last February!
During my first pregnancy I was very frightened, especially from the seventh month. It just seemed impossible that a baby would be able to enter the world through my vagina. The birth of my daughter ended after 32 hours of labour. Physically the birth was relatively uncomplicated, but mentally I found it very stressful. Because of my baby’s stressed heartbeat and a lack of progress in the birth process, delivery was by an emergency C-section. Although it had turned into an unpredictable emergency situation, I believe that it was because of my fears that I failed to have the best birth experience possible.
After the C-section I was ill and for fully six weeks not able to really leave the bed. The lack of activity gave me plenty of opportunity for worrying thoughts developing into panic attacks and post-natal depression.
When my body healed and I was able to fully care for my beautiful daughter the panic attacks stopped. I remember promising myself that if I ever had another child – and better support – I would have a natural birth…
My very recent second pregnancy was unexpected. Everything seemed easier this time. In the second trimester I travelled through China with five-year old Mathilda, and it was only after returning to Australia in week 24, that I started to think about giving birth.
I soon realised that having had a previous C-section put limits on my birth options. The hospital’s risk prevention policy would not let me to have the birth experience I was longing for.
At this stage I was lacking information about alternatives. For some weeks I felt confused and scared, not able to trust my own body and its ability to give birth, distrusting the health system, and not knowing what to do or where to get help and advice.
It was then that I learned about “Doulas” and their support for women, before, during and after labour. I was fortunate to meet a very knowledgeable and warm local Doula. She talked to me about my fears and worries. Interestingly, she questioned me about the birth experience of my mother and helped me realise that a possible reason for my overwhelming fear was the fact that my mother experienced a difficult birth when I was born which had confronted me with her birth experience when very young. It made me grow up believing that giving birth is the most painful experience in one’s life.
I came to understand that first I had to overcome my own birth experience and accept that just because my mother had a very difficult birth with me 30 years ago, in the unsupportive, squalid environment of a hospital in former East Germany, it did not mean that I needed to suffer the same.
After identifying my needs it was the Doula who recommended that I should get a private midwife. I also realised the importance of more support and education for myself and the need to listen to beautiful birth stories and learn more about the birth process so that I would be able to trust my body to do its job.
I felt I was on the right path, stopped surfing the internet, stopped women who wanted to tell me complicated birth stories. I was introduced to Hypnobirthing and learned about the many alternative approaches to giving birth. I listened to interviews with midwives and read amazing stories of women giving birth by themselves. I learned that contractions do not need to be experienced as pain but intensive tightenings or pressure. I read that “giving birth should be your greatest achievement, not your greatest fear.” – Jane Fraser (Weideman). There were days when I felt really excited and curious rather than scared.
Meeting a private midwife made the journey even clearer. Interestingly, he was male, and in the beginning this made me sceptical. However, his positive, grounded and reassuring nature – full of admiration and trust in female bodies – very soon made me feel comfortable. Furthermore, he was optimistic that I would be able to have a natural birth. I was able to trust him and to trust my body. In his care I felt I could ask anything and all my worries were taken seriously.
We talked about different scenarios and he helped me to define my own birth wishes. He taught me much about birth and its possible interventions. To be taken seriously, to be educated and to always be reminded of the wonder I was experiencing was very helpful in overcoming my fear, to connect with my baby and to get excited about giving birth. When we went for checks he would also include my daughter and let her do some tests which was extremely beautiful for her and me alike.
The birth of my second child turned out to be a beautiful and healing experience. I had planned to be as busy as possible prior to labour so that I would not have time to worry. Until the very last days I would go for bike rides with my daughter, visit friends go for long walks…
On the day a loud noise woke me at five o’clock in the morning I did not believe that my waters had broken. But when I called my midwife I was sure about it, and slowly got excited. I took a very long shower, called my partner and at seven o’clock we had a big family breakfast with my daughter, my parents, my partner, my mother-in-law from my previous marriage – and my four-minute mild contractions. We laughed a lot. Then three of us took my daughter to school and when we finally got there we realised we had not taken her school bag which for some reason struck us as very funny. Then my partner and I went to the hospital. The plan was to go there to get my birth preference paper signed, check the baby’s heartbeats and return home…
I remember the car ride to the hospital as amusing; the contractions were mild but steady, we told jokes and laughed. At the hospital we met my private midwife. Baby’s heartbeats got checked. All was fine and we could go home. But just as we were contemplating to leave, the contractions changed and got more intensive. All of a sudden I was in established labour.
We moved to a pleasant birth room with a pool and a view of trees. I was delighted as I had expected to be in a windowless delivery room because of the extra risks caused by my previous C-section, but all these were full.
It was a beautiful, blue-sky day. I felt everything was falling into place. Quite soon my contractions became much more intense. My partner was sitting with me on the birth mat and I was holding on to him. We did not speak, but his presence was very helpful. During my tightenings I told my body to open. I had read about affirmations but had not thought they would be helpful for me. I was surprised how empowering these thoughts were during my body’s intense urges. I remained totally aware of what I was doing: I was giving birth, I was in an active process, the contractions were not overcoming me and I was not helpless.
After some time a second midwife arrived and stayed with us. Her presence was a comfort. She was with us, but spoke little. She left me in my space. There was no banality or small talk. She filled the birth pool and as I was feeling cold, the warm water brought some relief. Being in the warm water helped me to visualise powerful images that helped me deal with the tightenings.
I remember during one tightening seeing myself within gigantic waves in a very blue and deep ocean. The waves made me crash onto cliffs to the left and right. The water pulled me down just before I would crash again and during these images I felt strangely peaceful. It was okay to be crashed onto cliffs.
While I was comfortable in the water my midwife had trouble hearing the baby’s heartbeat so she asked me to leave the bath and if I agreed, to be examined. We were all surprised to find that I was fully dilated, after only three hours of active labour.
After another hour of mild pushing the baby did not settle in the perfect birth position and his heartbeats were not