About halfway through my pregnancy I became uncomfortable with my obstetrician. Her methods and her bedside manner were very pushy and rough. I was concerned that when the time for the birth came she would take over and bully me, and I would end up with lots of medical intervention that I neither wanted nor needed.
I really wanted my baby boy to experience a gentle birth, so I made some enquiries with the Midwifery Association and ended up hiring a private doula, also known as a birth assistant. ‘Doula’ is an ancient Greek word and it means ‘slave to woman’. It’s a word that still evokes a sense of peace in me.
Over a series of meetings she and I became well-acquainted and talked a lot about the kind of birth I wanted for my baby and for me. At that time, she had assisted with around 150 births (about 50 of them at the Mater Hospital) and she is a diplomatic person, who knows hospital policy.
I felt protected and nurtured by her, which is exactly what I needed. Mike and I still intended to have our baby at the Mater Hospital, but I wanted to labor at home for as long as possible and forgo all the common medical interventions, including the epidural procedure.
She even provided a birthing pool to labor in at home. At first Mike was a little put out by my need to have an extra support person with us for the birth, but I explained to him that I needed someone who was experienced and comfortable being with the pain of natural childbirth, and who also would be extremely well-equipped to stand up to the hospital staff on our behalf, if necessary. She is also trained in acupressure, aromatherapy and optimal maternal delivery positioning, amongst other things.
Mike and I both agree that hiring her turned out to be an excellent decision. My daughter, Sophie, was born twelve days overdue and I went overdue with Finlay too. As my due date came and went, and then the days started clicking by, my obstetrician (and her partners) started pressuring me to have my labor induced. By the time I got to day 10 or 11 they were telling me I was potentially putting myself and my baby at risk. My obstetrician actually got on the phone with me and stated that I am “likely to wake up with a dead baby inside me”.
This is a statement that, based on information from my doula and Heather, is just plain false. It’s also a horrible thing to say to a woman who is about to birth her baby! My anxiety level spiked, despite the fact that I knew the obstetrician’s statement to be wrong. I was very unhappy and nervous about being forced to wrestle with the hostility I felt from my obstetrician, so I fired her! I informed the Mater that she was not to come near me at any time during or after my labor.
This meant that if I had my baby at the Mater, as planned, I would have no idea which obstetrician would be attending me…but it was sure to be a stranger. I had a late ultrasound and heart tracing just to make sure everything was OK, which it was. I knew that Finlay would come when he was ready. My doula supported us in waiting for labor to start on its own.
On the morning of overdue day number thirteen, I stood in front of the mirror, took a deep breath and told Finlay, “It’s OK, you can come out now. Mommy’s not scared and you don’t need to be either”. Our social calendar was full that day, so Sophie, and I headed off to visit some friends for a play date. While we were visiting, at about 11:00am, I started to feel mild contractions and they seemed to be around 5-6 minutes apart. I didn’t get too excited, because I had been having contractions on and off for a month, so I didn’t know whether I was going into labor or not. I put Mike on alert, but told him to just continue on as normal and stay at work. After the play date was over we passed a white pick-up truck, parked on the side of the road. It had a big sticker on the back window of the cab that said, no joke, ‘The Uterus’!
We headed to a bookshop to meet my doula for lunch. I continued having contractions during lunch. By this time I had started to think I really was going into labor, but I didn’t focus on it, because I wanted to stay relaxed and just let things happen.
We parted ways, with her telling me to call her as soon as things really started happening. Sophie and I went for a little walk down to our other favorite book hangout, (which has a bathroom that is easy to access with a stroller). I noticed I had a bloody show in the bathroom at the shop, which was exciting.
Sophie and I were still hungry, so we ordered more food and my contractions increased in intensity and frequency during our meal. At about this time Mike sent me a text that simply said, “talk to me”. I told him the contractions were starting to hurt more and that he might want to head home. Sophie and I got home at around 3:30pm, right before Mike arrived, and he walked in to find me leaning on the kitchen counter having a contraction.
I still thought I had a long way to go, but my doula was over an hour away, so Mike called her to ask her to come. The contractions were only 2-3 minutes apart and they were strong enough to make me pretty noisy. I got on the couch on all fours and draped my upper body over the end of the couch. A couple of times Sophie burst into tears right as I was going into a contraction. Mike held her and she settled down, then he took her to a friend’s house for the night. I went through about five contractions on my own, wrapped in silence. I remember thinking that I should have been scared, but I wasn’t. I felt strong and empowered. Being left alone with my own thoughts helped me to focus and calm myself. I remember telling myself, “I’m not scared, I’m OK”. It was during this alone time that I found a rhythm to help me ride out the contractions. I was still draped over the end of the couch and I would grasp the footstool that happened to be there, and bang it hard against the floor during the contractions. It really helped.
Mike returned and started filling up the birthing pool. I still didn’t realize how progressed my labor was. At about 6:00pm she arrived. She was somewhat surprised to find me so advanced. I remember her putting her hands on my back, which felt really comforting and calming.
She said, “Darlin’, you are in hard labor. This is as intense as it is going to get. You are going to have this baby tonight”. I thought she just meant I might have my baby before midnight. By this time the contractions were right on top of each other and I was feeling an urge to push. I actually felt the head start to push through the cervix at this time. During Sophie’s birth this was the moment in which I begged for an epidural.
I wanted to feel the warmth of the water in the pool, so I stripped off my clothes and climbed into the birthing pool. My doula used acupressure on my lower back and poured warm water over me. It felt wonderful. When she left to get some oils, Mike saw the red marks where her thumbs had been and he took over, which really helped.
I only went through a few contractions in the pool, before she asked me if I wanted to stay home or go to the hospital. She could see we didn’t have long to go. I thought about it and said I wanted to go to the hospital. I guess I was afraid to stay home, but also afraid to go to the hospital! I had trouble making up my mind.
I got out of the birthing pool, immediately had a contraction and ran for my ‘happy place’ on the couch. Everything I did, I had to do quickly, because the contractions were right on top of each other and it was impossible for me to stay on my feet through them. Although, I was surprisingly mobile for being almost fully dilated!
They wrapped me in a towel and a big robe. I had another contraction as I was climbing into the front seat of Mike’s Toyota Yaris. I couldn’t get into the back seat, because the car is a two-door vehicle and it would have required some climbing on my part. She climbed into the back seat and Mike drove. I stayed on my knees facing the back of the car. I was clinging to the back of the seat and the headrest during the contractions.
We only got a little way down the road when she made Mike stop the car, in Friday night traffic, so she could run around and jump in the front seat behind me. Mike was wondering if we were going to be stopping and birthing our baby right in the middle of traffic on busy Wynnum Road!
She asked Mike to drive a little further and find a good spot to pull over. He pulled off on Bennetts Road and got out to switch places with her. Mike kneeled down on the curb so he could lean in behind me in the front passenger seat. She climbed in the driver’s seat to help.
I couldn’t believe it when I felt Finlay’s head coming down the birth canal – it was really happening! I remember giving a play-by-play of the physical things I could feel during the progression of the birth. I was screaming loudly and calling out what was happening. Some local people must have heard me, because a lady came to the car with a stack of towels. Our doula accepted the towels and politely refused any further help (including an ambulance).
I definitely didn’t want an ambulance – I just wanted Mike and my doula! I remember the warm feeling of the waters breaking and the burning and pressure of the head crowning. They were being very encouraging, but I stopped and cried at one point. She kissed me on the head and said, “You can’t cry now. You have to focus on pushing your baby out”. Mike did an incredible job of remaining very calm and his voice was a huge comfort for me.
Once Finlay’s head was out, I could tell her voice became more urgent. Finlay was trying to breathe, which meant that his cord was getting compressed by the birth canal. I needed to push the shoulders out within 4-5 contractions.
At one point a shoulder came out and went back in. I was having trouble getting my knees far enough apart, because I was kneeling in a bucket seat! Afterwards my left knee was bruised from being pushed up against the belt buckle. She apologized in advance, for potentially causing me to tear, and then very gently used one finger to unhook Finlay’s posterior shoulder.
Finlay Michael was born into the arms of his loving father, under the soft glow of a dome light, on the side of a dark road, next to a picturesque, peaceful graveyard, at 6:50pm on Friday, June 27th 2008. Everything was perfect.
They made sure Finlay was breathing and then passed him through my legs and into my arms. I turned around and sat down for the drive to the hospital. As Mike turned the car around we realized there were three people standing on the balcony of a house, watching us with concerned looks on their faces! They looked as if they couldn’t believe that we were going to have a baby right in front of their house and then just drive off without saying anything – fair enough I guess!
Mike wound down his window and called out, “It’s a boy!” and they all clapped and cheered. Finlay alternated between breastfeeding and crying on the way to the hospital. What a surreal drive that was. I couldn’t believe it had happened so fast. I couldn’t believe it had happened in the car. I couldn’t believe I was sitting there holding my newborn son! He was beautiful, with a head of ginger-brown hair.
Later, at the hospital, I asked the obstetrician on call how long she judged my labor to be. She said you start counting time from the moment the contractions become hard to walk or talk through. That put the length of my labor at just under three hours! I never expected to have such a short labor after experiencing a 21 hour, epidural-soaked labor with Sophie.
When we arrived at the hospital the midwife, who had been alerted by a phone call from our doula, and was waiting for us, had given up and gone back inside. Our doula went inside to get somebody and came back with a lovely midwife. I climbed out of the car and into the wheelchair, still holding Finlay, who was still attached to me by his umbilical cord. Kate piled blankets on me, probably partly to hide the bloody mess I was covered in! When we got into the birthing suite, I climbed onto the bed and the staff checked us out, but there wasn’t much left for them to do. We were both fine!
The staff offered me an injection of Syntocinon to help deliver the placenta, but I refused it. I had just experienced drug-free childbirth – I wasn’t about to start getting shots now! I birthed the placenta, naturally, in the birthing suite, 37 minutes after Finlay was born. I had two small first degree tears in my perineum. The obstetrician on call said that sutures were not necessary, but “would I like them anyway, just to aid with healing”.
I looked at my doula, who stated that it might be better to just leave me to heal on my own. I asked about the time it would take to resume sex, with sutures versus without sutures, and the obstetrician condescendingly stated that I “didn’t need to worry about that for a long time”. I took my doula’s advice, healed very quickly and was joyfully engaging in sex again inside of two and a half weeks.
Finlay was a healthy 8lbs. 12oz., 53 cm long and his head circumference was 35cm.
Mike and I admired our beautiful new baby boy, while my doula gave me a foot massage and rinsed the towels and my robe. She also went out to Mike’s car and cleaned it up. Then she helped me take a shower and put some lovely, warm calendula on me. When we left the birthing suite to head up to our room, my doula said good-bye and started to walk away from us.
I had a sudden, strong urge to burst into tears and run after her and hug her really tight. I wasn’t ready for her to go yet. I refrained from running after her, because I didn’t want to scare the hospital staff by leaping up out of the wheelchair they required me to sit in. I wish I had chased her down that hall now. In some of the dreams I’ve had since, I have executed a glorious, exhilarating post-natal sprint down that hall, straight into her nurturing arms. I was so thankful to her and to Mike for supporting me through the birth I wanted. I was also very grateful that both my birthing support people believed in my ability to manage a drug-free birth.
I realize now that, although I didn’t consciously intend to have Finlay in the car, I was anxious about being in a hospital environment, but unable to commit to a homebirth, due to the emotional drain of fighting off the scaremongering that comes screaming at pregnant women from mainstream obstetrics.
Location, Location, Location . . . . . .
I was sub-consciously avoiding all the evils I possibly could. The car, parked in neutral territory, somehow ended up presenting itself to me as the most logical place to birth my baby! I subconsciously reasoned, “I refuse to surrender my sense of empowerment or subject my baby and myself to unnecessary medical intervention, but if anything does go wrong, at least I can tell myself and my critics that I was on my way to the hospital”. I was scared to have Finlay in the hospital, but I still couldn’t bring myself to have Finlay at home, because there was that little nagging piece of me that was terrified something would go wrong, as predicted by my cold, unsupportive obstetrician. It’s a sad state of affairs when a woman feels safer birthing her baby in a little car on the side of the road than in a brand new, state-of-the-art hospital birthing suite!
My Ob and Me
The morning after I birthed Finlay, not long before we went home, I was paid a visit by the obstetrician who was on call when we arrived at the Mater the night before. She waited until I was on my own with my blissfully warm, sleepy baby (Mike and Sophie had stepped out for a while).
She didn’t lay her hands on me at all. There was no physical examination of any kind.
She stood in my room and lectured me! She treated me as if I had Finlay in the car on purpose (it turns out that she may have been somewhat right about that). She said anything could have gone wrong and that he could have ended up with cerebral palsy and then grown up and sued me for my actions!! She also made it very clear that she “did NOT believe” that a doula was qualified to deliver my baby.
By this time she had raised her voice and I was trying desperately to hold onto the delicious, heady maternal euphoria I had been languidly swimming in. I managed to hold onto my happy state of mind and I didn’t waste much time dwelling on anything she said that day, but I do recall that the last thing she said to me before she walked out of the room was, “You know, Clare, I’ve had four children and I had an epidural with each and every one. I take my hat off to you – I don’t know HOW you did it with no epidural or drugs of any kind”!
I immediately recognized that she was envious! After she stomped out of the room, I thought, “…and THAT’S why I couldn’t birth Finlay with you! You didn’t believe in my ability to birth this baby”. I needed someone who was truly comfortable being with me while I was in pain and who didn’t feel any pressure to take that pain away.
It was MY pain and I needed to feel it. I still turn it over in my mind and thank the universe that I was fortunate enough to really FEEL my baby being born. For both Mike and me, it feels as though the birth happened exactly the way it was supposed to happen.