Finding out I was pregnant was just as amazing the second time around. But, for a brief moment, I thought of the heartache I went through with my first birthing experience. I was determined to make this time different.
With my first child, Eli, I had an emergency caesarean. I was diagnosed with placenta previa at my 40-week check up and was taken straight to hospital. My beautiful healthy, baby boy arrived within the hour.
Not able to birth my own baby, I felt something had been taken from me as a woman. Then, not to have the baby bonding process start until I was out of recovery an hour later didn’t seem right.
I wasn’t going to go through that again!
So, I started researching vaginal births after caesarean (VBAC) and talked to my obstetrician. He was open to the idea, but it was made plain to me from other hospital members, that hospital protocol, insurance, indemnity and bureaucracy, would basically take over.
As much as they said they’d let me try to have a VBAC, it was eventually decided that I would have a caesarean (especially with my pregnancies being so close together).
I decided to be pro-active and take control of my birthing experience. Accepting that I had to have a caesarean didn’t mean I had to leave all the decisions in the hands of the doctors.
There were three things I wanted to be part of the birth:
- I wanted to be able to reach down and pull my baby out once the head and shoulders were clear
- Bring the baby on to my chest
- Have the baby in recovery with me
After coming up with the idea of helping birth my own caesarean, I found a doctor in the UK – Dr Chris Griffin – who had assisted several mothers with this procedure and put him in contact with my OB Dr Gary Swift.
Of most importance to my OB was the health and safety of my baby and I. Once he had communicated this to Dr Griffin and his questions were answered, he didn’t feel there to be a higher level of risk with me being involved. This was to be the first (documented) time in Australia that a mother would assist in the caesarean birthing of her own child. I’m sure my doctor thought I was mad.
We had a meeting the week leading up to the birth where I even got a brief measure up for gloves (to make sure they had some that would fit) and we went through the process and how we thought it would take place.
I had a back-up strategy, as I had first-hand experience that not everything goes to plan.
- If I was unable to move from the spinal block, I still wanted my baby to be placed on my chest straight away.
- If the baby was unwell and needed to be looked at, I wanted him back on my chest skin-to-skin after being checked.
- If I was unable to be with him (for one reason or another), I wanted him wrapped in the bunny rug that I supplied (I’d slept with it for the previous two nights and it had my scent on it), so he had something familiar when coming into this big world.
The health of my baby was the most important thing to me, then my health and staying sterile so I could assist.
On the morning of the January 18, 2005 we had to be at the hospital at 5.30am. After the admitting process the anaesthetist came to do his bit (he had been informed on what would be happening and I could see he was also excited). We talked about repositioning the drip so it wouldn’t interfere with my movement when it came time to assist. It was at that precise moment that it hit me; I was actually going to make this happen!
Being wheeled down the corridors brought back bad memories, but when I got to the theatre and started speaking to staff, they all knew what was about to take place and everyone was keyed up. I could also sense a bit of uncertainty though, after all this was something they had never heard of.
The head theatre nurse went through what we were to do with the hospital gown (apart from throwing it away as I suggested). It was important that I kept warm and once the baby was on his way out, she would remove the gown from my chest so we would have immediate skin-to-skin contact. I could hear Dr Swift inside the theatre briefing everyone, it was moments away. I was eager, yet nervous.
As I was wheeled in, the starkness of the operating room made me feel uneasy, but seeing Dr Swift and him asking if I was ready for this, put every other feeling aside. Once the spinal block was in place, I was asked to hold my arms in the air palms down, while an alcohol rub was wiped over my arms. Dr Swift then placed long gloves over my hands (my drip had been re-positioned just below my elbow, which was then covered by my gloves) and my belly was rubbed down and sterile green drapes where placed across my stomach and chest. I was then directed to put my folded arms on these, while they were covered in a special sterile plastic to ensure I stayed germ-free. The importance of staying sterile was really drilled in to me, just in case I came into contact with my womb. There was no way I was going to move unless I was told to.
For those of you who’ve not experienced a c-section, let me enlighten you. A green piece of material is placed in front of you as a screen and you can’t see anything apart from what is around your head and the screen. Once your baby is born you have to try with all your strength to look over the top of the screen to see your baby being held up and shown to you like a trophy. You get one touch of the baby with your hand, then he is whisked away, brought back to you for a moment, unrecognisable as he is wrapped in so much material all you can see is this tiny face, then taken, not to be seen again until you are out of recovery.
I requested that no screen be placed in front of me, only one to lay across my stomach with a hole that would allow them access to the baby. Having such a big belly, I couldn’t see any cutting (nor did I want to).
It had started, I heard Dr Swift say ‘oh no, hang on’ (my heart skipped a beat), the cord was around the baby’s neck, but he managed to slide this over. Soon he was saying to me, ‘OK, are you ready, here come the head and the shoulders, now reach down.’
I reached down and linked my thumb and fingers around my baby’s shoulders and lifted him onto my chest. The nurse had removed my hospital gown and my baby and I lay together, skin touching, for the first time. He was so soft and flexible and curled straight back into a little ball.
As he lay on my chest, the warmth in my heart was unbelievable, everything seemed so surreal (it all happened so fast I wanted to pause time) and I just lay there thinking and going over what had just happened.
He had not let out a very big cry and I could see that he was breathing but struggling a little, so my motherly instinct kicked in and I blew in his face. He took a deep breath and cried, the paediatrician then advised me that he could see that my baby needed some assistance with mucus removal and breathing and lifted little Oliver John Beckton from my chest.
As much as I wanted our close contact to remain, I was well aware of the importance of medical procedure overriding my wishes. Within a few moments he was returned to me in my bunny rug, I was able to unwrap him and have skin-to-skin contact again while they stitched me up.
After a while Oliver needed some more checking and was taken to the nursery. I was only in recovery for a short period, compared to last time, and I had so much going around in my head that it passed very quickly. Although, I really wanted to see little Oliver, hold him, kiss him, tell him how much I love him and reassure him with my voice and the body that carried him for 9 months. It was time for the bonding to begin.
As soon as I was back in my room, I took our clothes off and we remained together (like that) for 24 hours. I had also done this with my first son, because with a caesarean the bonding process is interrupted and delayed and it was important to me to have this contact.
Well, no more, as I have shown, that need not be the case. I helped birth my own baby through my caesarean! I have managed to change what is called ‘normal’ procedure and I added a personal touch, a soft, loving moment to the birth of my child.
The rate of caesarean born babies has dramatically increased. Up until the 1970s the caesarean rate worldwide was around 5 per cent. The rate now surpasses 20/25 per cent. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends a caesarean rate of 15 per cent, which we are currently exceeding.
In Australia one in every four babies are born via a c-section. I’m hoping that in reading my story and the process I went through, that it could help change their birthing situation and make it a more pleasurable experience for all.
Many women are no longer given a birthing option due to medical reasons or (sadly) public insurance/indemnity and are booked in for a caesarean delivery from 6 months gestation. For the amount of woman that are now having caesarean births without choice, it is important that they too know they can still take control of their situation and feel a part of ‘bringing their baby into the world’. I know that for me and my family, self-birthing Oliver was not only the most natural option afforded to us, but also the most tender.
It is most important that expectant mums who want to be able to experience this have a path to follow as that was my most difficult part in the beginning. Dr Drew Moffrey is a modern doctor adding a fresh face to the birthing world. Visit www.drdrewmoffrey.com.au