During my first pregnancy, I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes. I now understand this was a mistake as the third blood test for the glucose test was taken half an hour early, causing that result to be high.
Later, when I asked to be retested, I was told that the time difference was not an issue and that I had passed the time where retesting was possible. I was naive and trusted everything I was told. I approached my due date with a huge fear of needing to be induced. I kept being told that due to the GD, (although it was diet controlled and my baby showed to be a very average size), my baby could end up being either obese or stillborn.
Fortunately, I entered labour spontaneously. But due to all the interference I met with on labour ward, I was unable to feel relaxed which meant the birth resulted in an emergency caesarean anyway. In the months following I felt huge frustration, almost like a grief, due to the disappointment with the way Serena had been born. If I'd needed a caesarean for genuine medical reason, I'd have made my peace with it. But I couldn't shake the feeling that the birth had ended that way for no other reason than I'd been so disturbed, because my body hadn't had the chance to do what it needed to and as a result, my body and mind were left feeling incomplete and confused somehow.
When I became pregnant a second time, I knew I had to take this journey of pregnancy very differently. Instead of hoping that the people around me would give me what I need - simply the time and space to feel and relax - I went on a mission to look for people who'd be able to give me this for sure. When I met doulas Natalie and Michelle I felt they could help me. They had braveness in them which I knew would support me. I also saw a fantastic hypnotherapist who helped me to understand that pain is in the mind. I did hardly any reading or other major preparation after that. I knew that these people would help me to relax and protect me and unless any complications arose I would be able to do everything else.
Like I expected, I did not have gestational diabetes during my second pregnancy. I went into labour spontaneously one day before my due date. My sister had just given birth. I spent an hour looking at a photo of her and her baby girl and it filled my heart with so much love. My doula told me later that this probably triggered the start of my labour, as I had released lots of oxytocin through feeling love.
A few hours later, around 12.30am I went to bed and found myself feeling very uncomfortable. Around 1 am, it became clear to me that this was the first stages of labour. My husband and daughter were fast asleep, so I went to the living room so that they could sleep and get the rest they needed. In my mind I had planned to contact my doulas around 6-7am, fully expecting the contractions to progress through the night. But by 1.45am I realised that things were moving fast. I contacted my doulas at 2am, explaining that I was finding it difficult to relax and Natalie arrived at my place soon after, at 2.15am. Within 45 minutes of arriving, she said she thought it was time to go to hospital. I called my mother who lives half an hour away. My poor mother, she had only got to sleep at 2am after assisting at my sister's birth and now one hour later, was told to come and look after Serena.
As we waited for my mother, Jonathan woke up to the sound of my moans during contractions and prepared to go to the hospital. I remember clearly feeling scared at one point, when Natalie left the room, and as soon as she returned I felt safe again. I knew itwas important for me to relax and knowing she was there, keeping a gentle eye on things helped me to do that. She helped me focus and stay calm and centered. She said little, but what she said was what I needed...guidance to breath deeply, reassurance that I was listening to my body and doing everything well.
My mother arrived at 4am and stayed with Serena. Jonathan, Natalie and I walked to the car in the garage. But on getting into the car, something changed. I felt this shift, like my body needed space and I knew that it was impossible for me to be in the car. I got out and went onto all fours on the garage floor. When she saw what I was doing, my doula sorted out some blankets and a scarf so that I felt warm, safe and protected.
For the first time and to my surprise, I felt a strong need to push. This is the stage I felt I got to when in labour with Serena, moments before her heart beat dropped and I was being rushed to theatre. The difference this time was that I was able to move and follow what my body needed to do. The first time, I'd been on my back, with needles in me, straps around me and clips inside me, attached to Serena's head for monitoring. Several attempts had also been made to break my waters.
I was aware that each contraction was lasting around 3 strong deep breaths. I felt overwhelmed at first. Then I had a clear realization that I had no choice - that even dying was not an option. The only way out of this was to ride the waves. And through this understanding something in me surrendered. I did not even attempt to panic, because I somehow knew that I was working with what was happening.
Jonathan called the ambulance and patiently guided them to us whilst they asked him to monitor my progress. They arrived around 4.45am. From then on, I had no awareness of my surroundings. My eyes were closed and I was completely tuned in inside of me. I had a deep sense of surrender and felt safe. Even though I had just been lying on the garage floor and was now being rushed off to hospital, I felt very in control. My doula told me that I was doing well and that’s all I needed to know.
Initially, I had asked to be in the birth centre at Chelsea and Westminster hospital. I had several meetings with midwives and an obstetrician. But they were very clear that I was in the minority to take such a decision. I was reminded several times that me taking this decision would increase the risk to my child.
The risk was a 0.1% chance that I would experience undetectable scar tissue rupture from my previous caesarean. They said this risk would not be there if Chiara’s heart beat was constantly monitored they said, and in the birth centre this wouldn't be possible.
In the event, this was irrelevant anyway as because we'd arrived by ambulance, we had to be admitted via labour ward. As things were moving so quickly, there was no choice but to stay there. It was 5am. My doula gave the midwife my birth plan and she was wonderful, respecting my wishes perfectly. I will always be grateful for her support. Apart from once checking Chiara’s heartbeat, she left me alone. It didn't somehow matter where I was now, I just needed to feel my body and what it was asking, without interference and I instinctively knew that this is all I needed. In fact, there was no space in my mind to think otherwise.
All my energy was focused on being in tune with me and my baby. Up until now, I had been lying on my side. Natalie said it might help if I was on my knees and this felt like the right thing to do straight away. I noticed that when moving from one position to another, the anticipation and building up of courage to take that step was the hardest part. But once I did it, it was easy.
I thought I was on my knees for a few minutes, but later was told it was about 20 minutes. Time was an abstract sense of state. I felt my waters break and slide down my legs. I didn’t question it; there was no space for questioning; only noticing. Then I felt Chiara's head starting to come out and go back inside. I noticed a slight burning sensation. It did not feel like pain.
The excitement of my daughter birthing and so naturally was too strong compared to any feelings of pain. Pain did not really exist. I reached my hand down and felt Chiara's head. During the next push I felt her head come out, a warm sensation. I told Natalie, who was close by that the head was out. Then after the next push her body came out, a warm jelly like feeling sliding out of me. And at 5.50am my beautiful Chiara laid on top of my chest as I breathed out breaths of euphoria, pure satisfaction.
I felt this sense of freedom. I felt that my body went into labour with Serena in 2016 and it was not until now with the birth of Chiara, 27 months later, that my body finally felt it had giving birth. It felt satisfied. It understood that something had come out of it, the way it was designed to. I always knew in theory that there was wisdom and personal growth to be gained from a natural birth. My dream of feeling this was now a reality.
I am aware that I have placed a huge amount of emphasis on the importance of having a natural birth, and this is because it is what is important to me. I do not in any way want to undermine anyone who chooses to or ends up with a different type of birth. If the birth Chiara had ended up with needing support or interventions, as long as this was clearly needed and I felt I was making informed decisions then I could and would have accepted this.
With the birth of Serena I was unprepared and I just went with what was suggested. This was mainly to do with following the guidelines of someone who was suffering from gestational diabetes, something which I don’t think I even had. And even if I did have it, I felt perfectly healthy when birthing Serena, but I did not listen to my instincts or make informed choices which I feel caused my labour to lead to the emergency caesarean, and this is why I found it so hard to accept.
In the western world, I believe we have never been in a safer place to give birth when there are complications involved. The facilities and expertise are superb. Also, I believe we have never been in a more dangerous place where women’s’ choices and power is stripped away from them. Everyone tries their best, but it’s a fear based system.
It’s important that women like my doulas exist, as they have kept the trust. They have the courage to help women understand and make safe and informed choices that are personal to their needs.
To sum up, I now know that if you have no complications during pregnancy and if you have the right support and guidance to keep you relaxed during labour, then childbirth is actually easy and extremely satisfying!