Fifteen years ago, like most women in their first pregnancy I imagine, I spent a lot of time thinking about, researching and creating my birth plan. I wanted as natural a birth for my son as was possible, and I wanted to labour in water as pain management, that was a big one for me. As it turns out, no-one cared about the birth plan, at all. I’m not sure anyone even looked at it.
I was living in London at the time and was booked into Guy’s Hospital. After an initial false start I finally did get admitted and shown to a birthing suit that had a large bath, only to be told that if I was to use it I needed a midwife with me all the time and they were simply too short staffed that night to accommodate that. I sat on a birth ball in a sterile and stark room, shivering with cold, laboring through the night feeling very overwhelmed and alone while my husband (at the time) slept in the corner. I remember looking longingly at the bath, its presence but inaccessibility taunting me.
I did go on to have an epidural when extreme exhaustion set in. This was the second night I had laboured, I’m one of those people who’s contractions seem to virtually stop during daylight hours, and so after 36 hours of nothing but occasional dozing I gave in to pain relief at 4:30am. The labour stalled at sunrise again, and eventually I was told I was going to be prepped for a cesarean as I had been stuck at 8cm dilated for too long and the baby was now in distress. ‘Just give a push a try’ the doctor said on his way out. I did, and the midwife grabbed my husband by the arm and thrust him into catch position as she madly lunged for gloves. Two more pushes later he was out and the midwife was breathing sighs of relief telling us she’d never seen an actual birth so fast.
My memories of that birth were riddled with feelings of being scared, cold, alone and disempowered, so when number two came along I was determined to do things differently. We’d moved back to Sydney and I had private health cover so I hired a private midwife. I saw the same person throughout the pregnancy so she came to know me, and my values, well. I prepared a birth plan and we’d gone through it but it hadn’t really been necessary, she knew exactly what I wanted and didn’t want. Again the priorities were as natural as possible and please let me labour in water.
Again I found myself in a room with a birthing bath but unable to use it, mostly because number two arrived so fast that I had bearly time to get into the room. Again the hospital had been short staffed, but this time I had my own midwife with me and felt like I was in safe hands. Arriving at 1am I was left waiting in the hallway with another laboring with no staff to be seen. He wasn’t going to wait however, he was on his way. My midwife barged into the other room where all the other midwives were and declared she was taking me into the other suite to deliver the baby whether they liked it or not. Two came running immediately. The actual birth was fast again, this time after just a three hour labour. I was still standing near the doorway, having just made it into the room. If my midwife hadn’t been there I probably would have delivered in the hallway, or maybe the labour wouldn’t have been so fast because I didn’t feel safe and supported, I don’t know. What I do know was that it felt like the perfect birth, I’d managed to mentally master the pain and looking back it felt like an empowering experience. I felt like I had conquered the world!
This time, having dropped my private health insurance obstetrics cover long ago, I will be back to a similar situation as my first birth, rocking up at the hospital and hoping I’d come across the midwife on duty before. Even if I had a choice I don’t think I would have felt it necessary to have a private midwife, I’ve done this before and nailed it, I got this. I have a more supportive partner that I have confidence in and I’m less invested in how the baby arrives so much as that she arrives safely. Is this nonchalance because I no longer have anything to prove, or is it because I’m older and wiser? I’m not sure. Maybe it’s because at 44 (which I will be when I give birth) they tell you the risks of this and that are so much higher that I will feel blessed just to both get through this alive. Maybe it’s because my large fibroid may mean I need a cesarean anyway, and in coming to terms with that idea already I have started to practice letting go.
I know I will eventually do a birth plan because I’m that type A personality that needs to dot all the i’s and cross all the it’s in order to feel in control and reduce anxiety, but I think I’ve also matured enough to know when to let go and just go with the flow. There has to be some advantage to this older mother gig, maybe that’s it. I’m heading into the third trimester unafraid of the birth experience that is nearing, and that feels good.