“You still have an anterior lip of cervix.”
Well that was it, wasn’t it? My progress had been slow, they had been so generous with me. It was over.
But surprisingly, even though I was disappointed, I was accepting. This was my journey. This was baby’s journey. We would be snuggled up together soon and it would all be okay. I had laboured. I had almost got to 10cm dilated. I would be a good candidate for a VBAC next time around. It was okay. I was okay.
Dr Bisits entered the room and Sally told him what she had found. He nodded and came over to me. He was always so calm. Anyone who has been in labour before knows how important it is for the people around them to be calm.
“Georgina, is it okay if I examine you as well? Because this is a really important examination, as it will determine what we’re going to do.”
I consented. Why not, right? It couldn’t do any harm at this point (except for the fact that lying on my back made me feel like I was literally breaking in half every time a contraction crashed into me).
As he examined me, a frown crossed his face.
“I feel membranes” he said, which was puzzling because I had been leaking fluid continuously since I arrived at the hospital, “can someone grab me an amni-hook?"
Sally handed Dr Bisits an amni-hook and I suddenly felt another pop, followed by a huge gush of fluids.
“It must have been a hind-water leak” he explained, “your forewaters were still intact… Let’s give it another half an hour and see what happens. Baby is happy, the trace is perfect.”
MORE TIME! I could not believe it! I was actually being given more time!
Hubby helped me up off the bed. I stood up, warm fluid rushing onto the pad I held between my legs.
A contraction crept up on me and HOLY SHIT! Labour suddenly ramped up to a whole different level and I fell to my hands and knees onto the mat on the floor. I remember distinctly that this was the part when I wanted to leave. When my brain suggested to me: “hey, here’s an idea. Screw this shit, let’s just go home.”
“Fuck this, I don’t want to do this, I’m leaving” I muttered, trying to get to my feet. Everyone laughed gently, sympathetically, at the crazy lady who was deep in transition. Or maybe not... because suddenly I was groaning deeply and my body was pushing with an intensity that definitely hadn’t been there before.
“Oh god, I’m really pushing” I moaned, as hubby rubbed my back.
Sally and Sheryl both encouraged me to push, but I didn’t want to. What if I still wasn’t fully dilated? What if my cervix was still in the way?
“Examine me again!” I demanded, lying on the floor. Sally did, and confirmed that I was finally fully dilated.
It was now close to 7am… Let’s get this party started!!
Except that it wasn’t a party. It was bloody horrible. I gripped my gas and held it to my mouth. Sheryl reached up and tried to pry it from my hand.
“Now darling, as a midwife, what do we normally do with the gas in second stage?” She asked me, an amused grin on her face when she realised I didn’t want to let go. She managed to get it off me though, god dammit, so with my trusty crutch gone, I had nothing else to focus on by the searing pain radiating throughout my body.
“You all told me pushing would hurt less!” I cried, feeling like my team had completely betrayed me by promising me during transition that things would be better once I started pushing.
It was the complete opposite. It hurt WAY MORE. It felt like a flaming-hot, razor-sharp melon was coming out of my butt. Seriously. I’m not going to dress it up, that’s exactly what it felt like and I didn’t enjoy it one bit.
From here, I descended into total primal-mode. I didn’t even recognise the noises and sounds coming out of my mouth and my memory of this entire time is completely hazy.
What I can remember is going from the birth stool, to my hands and knees on the floor, to the bed, and back to the birth stool. All the while, not wanting to push because it REALLY HURT and my team cheering me on, telling me I could do it, that I WAS doing it, even though I felt like I was getting no where.
It wasn’t until someone held a mirror up for me and I could see a glimpse of baby’s little bum while I pushed, that I realised that yes, I WAS doing it. And I could do it!
Finally, some reward for all the hard work!
At 7.30am, while I was on the birth stool, there was a knock at the door and two new midwives from the morning shift came in - a young girl called Mia and the Midwifery Educator Jackie. I had a fleeting moment of panic when I realised Sally’s shift had come to an end, but bless her heart, she wasn’t going anywhere. She had been with me all night and she wasn’t about to leave right before the grand finale.
Another knock and in came the night registrar with the day registrar. Both came up to me and said hello.
It was funny actually - one of my biggest reasons for wanting to have a homebirth was that I didn’t like the idea of having an audience while I gave birth. I wanted minimal people around me, I wanted privacy.
But in that moment, I had 4 midwives, 2 doctors and my husband, all staring at me. And I didn’t care one bit. In fact, their combined energy lifted me up and gave me the encouragement to keep going even though I was completely exhausted, after 12 hours of active labour. I knew they all wanted me to succeed. They weren’t all there to gawk at me. They were there to cheer for me.
I kept pushing, while my cheer-squad said all the right things - you’re doing amazing, keep going, don’t stop, you’re so close!
Sheryl looked straight into my eyes at one point and said: “you’re doing it honey. You’re a primip and you’re going to push out a breech baby!” In that moment, those were the exact words I needed to hear.
Throughout all this, I had no concept of time, so of course I wasn’t able to comprehend that the clock was ticking and I was on a time limit. And when Dr Bisits appeared at my side, I literally had no idea that he was about to drop a total bomb-shell on me.
I still remember his exact words, I don’t think I’ll ever forget them. Just thinking about them brings all the emotion of that single moment crashing back onto me…
He said, his manner as calm as always:
“Georgina, you have been pushing for an hour and we aren’t really seeing that much progress… So at this point I think we’re going to go for a very relaxed caesarean section.”
I couldn’t believe it. Caesarean section? NOW?! We could see her bum. I was pushing her out! We were so close! No, it couldn’t be over, it just couldn’t be. Not now…
There is nothing more deflating than seeing the finish line and then falling flat on your face. I felt like a balloon and someone had jabbed me with a pin. In fact, the whole energy in the room came crashing down in that moment. I looked around at the faces surrounding me - all of them were devastated.
But what could I say? I had gone into this promising myself that I would be compliant because my baby’s safety was paramount. I wasn’t going to put baby at risk just to get my vaginal birth.
So I nodded and tried to hold back my tears.
But I still couldn’t believe it.
Dr Bisits silently left the room to phone theatres and I looked at my husband and Sheryl.
“I don’t want a caesarean” I whimpered to them.
Hubby looked at Sheryl, and Sheryl looked over at Jackie the educator. Both of them shook their heads.
“Nope” they both said, “you can do this. We can SEE the baby. You’re going to push baby out.”
I couldn’t believe what they were telling me. They really thought I could do it? Even though theatres were literally being assembled as we spoke.
“Can I though? Can I do this?” I asked.
“Yes. You can do it.”
And as soon as they said this, I felt a new energy fill me. It suddenly dawned on me that there was no more time to screw around. No more time for screaming and carrying on like a dying swan. It was time to bloody well push this baby out. Fuck the pain, fuck all of it, I could do this.
I looked over at Jackie as she walked over to the bed.
“Right” she said, “we’re going to do something a little bit unconventional in midwifery… We’re going to put you in lithotomy. It’s the only position we haven’t tried.”
(Lithotomy is basically having your legs up in stirrups - every hardcore, hippy midwife’s worst nightmare.)
I got straight to my feet. Yep, let’s do this, I thought, and climbed up onto the bed.
I didn’t care anymore how I pushed baby out, I just wanted to do it and I wanted to do it ASAP.
I put my feet up in the stirrups and all of a sudden my cheer-squad exploded. It was on!
I pushed like crazy.
Yes, it was the worst pain I had ever experienced in my life. Yes, it felt like I was being ripped in two, but I didn’t care anymore. I pushed past that. My mind was squarely on the prize now - this baby was coming out, and it wasn’t coming out of a surgical incision in my belly.
While I was lost in my world of pain, desperately pushing, trying to move this baby down, Jackie apparently ran out of the room and shouted at Dr Bisits: “cancel the caesarean! She’s going to push this baby out!”
And before I knew it, Dr Bisits was back and he was standing at my feet, and everyone was suddenly yelling at me that I was doing it and that my baby was coming.
The pain intensified as I felt baby coming closer and Dr Bisits put his hand on mine.
“Georgina” he said, “your baby is coming. Now, if you’re going to stay on this bed, I think I’m going to have to give you an episiotomy… or you can get up and go back to the birth stool. What do you want to do?”
Was he serious? All I could think was: I’m not getting off this fucking bed.
I didn’t care what bloody position I was in, I didn’t care what he had to do, I just wanted baby out now. The fun was over, let’s just finish this and finish it fast.
“I’m not getting off this bed” I announced, “just do whatever, I don’t care, just do it!”
So he gave me some local anaesthetic (ouch!) and then the episiotomy (HOLY OUCH!) But you know what? I didn’t really have a whole lot of time to dwell on that pain because it was rapidly replaced with the pain of, oh you know, a reverse-baby coming out of my vagina.
You know what’s really unfair about a breech? When you have a head-down baby you push, push, push, and the head comes out. Then you give another big push and out come the shoulders and then body just slides out.
Not so with a breech.
You have to push the bum out, THEN the legs flick out (OUCH x2), then you have to push out the body. And you still haven’t reached the important part - the head!
After baby’s body was out, Sally reached in to flick out baby’s arms and I screamed, then looked over at Sheryl.
“Sheryl, I’m so scared” I said, and I was. I was literally terrified. Was my body going to be permanently damaged? Was I going to die? Was baby going to die?
Sheryl smiled at me and said:
“Look at your husband.”
I looked over at him. He had tears streaming down his face, but he was smiling, and it just made me realise how close we were - how close we were to meeting our baby. After all those hours, after all the pain, we were so close. I just had to keep going. Just a few more pushes and it would all be over.
Someone, somewhere in the room announced that the body was out, now we just needed to get baby’s head out.
“Okay, just wait for the next contraction” Sally said to me, but Dr Bisits cut in:
I was completely exhausted at that stage. I felt like I didn’t have anything left in me, but I knew how important this was. This was literally my baby’s life on the line here. I couldn’t give up. Now more than ever, I had to give it my everything.
So I pushed with everything I had left in me, one final moment of excruciating agony and then… Relief. Done. Baby was out. It was over.
I immediately looked at Sheryl.
“Is baby okay?” I demanded. She had tears in her eyes and huge smile on her face.
“Look down” she told me. And I did. And there was my baby - pink, moving, perfect.
And then it hit me - the high. It was like a shot of morphine straight into my veins and all the pain, everything just melted away and I felt myself start to float. They held baby up for us so we could see what we got and… “Oh my god, it’s a girl!”
Nothing can compare to that feeling - the feeling not only of meeting your baby for the first time, but the feeling of achieving something that you wanted so badly and proving to yourself that you can do it.
It was truly the most empowering and transformative experience of my life.
No, it wasn’t my home waterbirth. But ask anyone who knows me, anyone who I shared this story with in the days, weeks and months that followed - I wouldn’t have traded this birth for anything. Not even for a peaceful homebirth. This was my daughter’s birth, this was our story. This, for whatever reason, was the birth I needed to have to become the mother that I am today.
Our story taught me so many things about myself that I never knew. It taught me how strong I am and how far determination can take me.
But perhaps most importantly, it taught me how to surrender.
Pregnancy, labour, birth - so many factors related to these experiences are out of our control. It's hard to accept this, but we can only do so much to influence the outcome. We can educate ourselves, read all the right books, do all the right courses and surround ourselves will all the right people, in exactly the right environment... and yet there's still so much of it that is entirely up to chance. Up to the forces of nature.
I think it's important to recognise that one of the greatest aspects of this process that you can influence, the one you have total power over when it comes to your birth, is how you take on the experience that is given to you. Whether that is the home water birth, or the emergency caesarean section. It may be that you don't get much of a choice in how it plays out, but you do get a choice in how you let your story affect you moving forward.
So that is where surrender really came into it for me. The lesson of surrendering not just to my body and to nature, but also to all the things in my life that are out of my control. I truly believe that this is one of the keys to enjoying the journey of parenthood.
Our sweet baby girl was born into the world at 8.22am on Monday the 15th of December, bum first. At the same time, I was born into the world as a mother.
And every day I am not only grateful for her, and the light and joy she has brought into my life, but also for the experience and lessons that her birth brought me.
(And in case you are wondering, I did end up getting my homebirth the second time around. Yes it was wonderful and transformative, though it didn't quite go to plan either... But that's another story for another time.)
Georgina Dowden is a mother, midwife and lactation consultant (IBCLC).
In her day to day life, she looks after her two beautiful children and also supports other families on their parenting journey.
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Home visits for breastfeeding support available if you live in the Northern Rivers of NSW.