I started seeing Heather following an appointment with an OB/GYN regarding break-through on the pill, which I had been enduring for over 2 years, and having tried every pill available, this was the next option.
During this appointment, he had told me to make an appointment with the private hospital for a laparoscopy as he thought I had endometriosis. He advised me that whilst this procedure would diagnose and deal with the immediate effects of endometriosis, I would need repeat treatments and when the time came for my husband and I to start trying for a family, we would need IVF (note that he did not say that we may not need IVF – it was a given).
I took the referral and put it in my bedside drawer, not sure what to do with it. I could not accept that there is a problem with my body for which there is no cause, and no apparent cure. People deal with this type of diagnosis all the time; however I was not prepared in this instance to undergo invasive surgery when it was not going to fix the problem – it was not life threatening in any event. Not to mention that I had recently had a week off work for dental surgery, so was not keen on taking another week off and having to explain it was for “private women’s business”.
I discussed the issues with my husband who was a bit bewildered by the whole thing (being a man and all), but was supportive (as usual) of whatever I thought I needed to do – if only I knew! One thing we had decided was that having children was not that important to us that we needed to invest thousands of dollars and heartache into IVF, and that if it came to this, we would not have kids, and would find another way to fulfil our lives. Looking back now with our baby boy in the picture, this seems a bit naive, and probably was; but it was how we felt about it at the time.
I booked a holiday to Thailand for my husband and I as a Christmas present, and we flew out 2 months later. For the 2 weeks that we were away, we relaxed by the pool, enjoyed each others’ company and about 8 days into the holiday I realised that I had not had any of the usual spotting. I was reasonably certain that I was not pregnant as I had been on the pill for 9 years and had never had a pregnancy scare during this time. This made me question even more the acceptance of the probable diagnosis by the OB/GYN and the need for invasive surgery.
I have always been very healthy, and excepting when I had my wisdom teeth out, had neve even been on a course of antibiotics. This in itself was a bad experience having had an allergic reaction to them. I have friends that are borderline hypochondriac with their self-diagnosis and constant visits to the GP. Having always been healthy, I have never understood this and the role that people give their GP in their lives – it seems that living a healthy life is not part of the scheme for them; even though the GP is not generally able to fix anything, and can only address their concerns in a 10 to 20 minute session.
Using Natural Therapies
When we came home from our holiday, I decided I would seek out a naturopath. Having been to one a couple of years earlier for my skin conditions and sinusitis, I knew I needed to find someone else, but wasn’t sure where to start. Heather Bruce had set up a clinic at Hawthorne, which was where we were living, and I drove past every day. One day it got the better of me and I made an appointment. I figured that I had nothing to lose on the reproductive front, and everything to gain if she could help with my sinusitis and skin conditions.
My first appointment went for 2 hours and Heather was in no hurry – unlike any other health professional I had seen. In addition to this, Heather presented a solution for each of the issues I had and was prepared to start treatment immediately to address them. To start, Heather put me on a multivitamin, zinc drink and Chinese herbs to address weak blood energy which Heather attributed to my skin problems, allergies and issues with my periods. We also started acupuncture that night – I’m sure that if I had gone away to come back and start acupuncture the next session, that I would have chickened out; but caught in the moment, I went with it, and have not looked back!
Heather was unfazed by the fact that I was on the Pill, and wanted to stay that way for the time being. Aside from being told that I may not be able to have children, my husband and I had decided that if we were going to start, it would be another 12 months before we would consider trying.
I started to feel the effects of what Heather was doing almost immediately, and with fortnightly acupuncture treatments, herbs and continued use of the multivitamin and zinc, I started to look forward to the visits. After a number of visits and many discussions, it became apparent to me that in order to get the full benefit of Heather’s treatments, I would be better off without the Pill. This was a big step for my husband and I as we have been using this method of contraception almost the whole time we have been together (we have been together since high school) and had no desire to go back to condoms. We agreed that we would give it a go and see whether coming off the Pill made a difference.
Keeping in mind that I lacked confidence in my reproductive system to do what it was put there to do, and the issues I had experienced to date, I took some measure of comfort from the ‘fact’ that I could not fall pregnant easily or at least not in the first few months after I came off the Pill. This was despite Heather’s insistence that everything apparently ‘wrong’ with me was a matter of degree and could be remedied with treatment and lifestyle changes.
As it turns out, the most immediately obvious difference was in my libido, which had never been lacking, but still managed to increase substantially. We could not keep our hands off each other…this combined with unwillingness on both our parts to use condoms led to the inevitable…
The first 4-6 weeks of what turned out to be a pregnancy passed uneventfully as I was not really expecting a period to be regular. I did notice however that it was taking a long time to come around. At around 6 weeks, I went off coffee and had intense cravings for pawpaw, which I have loathed since I was young. I started to get suspicious…
I had a visit with Heather at around 6 weeks and neither of us mentioned anything untoward. By the time of my next visit two weeks later, I had done a home pregnancy test which was confirmed by my GP. Heather had of course worked it out last time she saw me, but had kept it to herself.
The first thing the GP asked was whether I had private health insurance, which we do but only for tax minimisation purposes and it does not cover pregnancy to the level implied in the GP’s question. I told her this and she gasped and told me that was extremely unfortunate and that I would have to pay for it privately. Heather and I had had many conversations about the practice of obstetrics during my visits and I immediately told the GP that I would prefer a referral to the hospital near Mum’s place as it was not in the city and I understood that they had a good birthing unit from friends and relatives that had birthed there. The GP was gobsmacked that I was a reasonably well off and educated woman that did not want an obstetrician, but I assured her that I was confident that I could get the care I needed from the midwives at the hospital.
My experiences with obstetricians had been the man that ‘diagnosed’ endometriosis – and what faith could I possibly have in that now that I was pregnant so easily?
Everywhere I went, all people wanted to know was who my obstetrician was and where I was having my baby ‘delivered’ – if only the stork could deliver it and save me the trouble!! When I told people that I didn’t have an obstetrician, they looked at me sadly or questioned how I could leave something like this to a midwife… it made more sense to me to leave it to a woman than it did to leave it to a man – what man has ever experienced childbirth? It seems a ridiculous question and perhaps a bit naive, but quite simply it was a fundamental issue for me.
I am a long way from being an extreme feminist, but just could not see how a man was going to help me get through this experience! There was nothing scientific about it – as far as I could see, I needed other peoples’ experience to guide me through the process. Even a female obstetrician was not what I wanted as I did not want to complicate the process. It is difficult to comprehend how a woman’s body can be designed to do what we ask of it, but I found that I needed to have confidence in my body’s natural ability and my strength of conviction in what I was doing and why – this stopped being about me the minute I fell pregnant. Things were now all about my baby, and the best thing for my baby was to have a natural and peaceful birth, without intervention if possible.
With regular visits with Heather, herbs, vitamins, acupuncture and a powdered Magnesium supplement, the pregnancy went very smoothly. I had Heather’s book, “What Dad’s Can Do” by the bed, and whenever I needed some information, validation or reassurance, I had a look. If I wanted more detail, I made sure I followed up with Heather at my next session. My husband and I took some getting used to the idea, and I don’t think either of us believed that it was happening until I reached 6 months or so. It was after this that we started to get serious and realise that things were about to change in a big way.
I was going out to the hospital for the monthly checkups, but more often than not, walked away disappointed as they had cut me down as how would I know being a first time mother, or challenged my resolve to have a natural birth. On the other hand, I was speaking to Heather who had convinced me that the only two people needed to make this work were my baby and I. My husband would also be a big part of the picture, but ultimately it was baby and I that had to make it happen. Heather had put me in touch with a woman she preferred as a doula, and after a couple of hours at the first meeting with her, my husband and I immediately asked her to help us with our birth.
Heather and my doula constantly reinforced how I would be able to birth my baby. Not once was I made to feel like a stupid little girl as I was at the hospital.
At around 7 months, and after two sessions with my doula, I was confident enough in the process and so frustrated with the hospital that I had accepted the concept of homebirth in principle. I guess you could say that had an open mind about the birth and where it took place, but made no firm plans either way. I didn’t broach the subject of staying at home with my husband as he was struggling enough with the concept of birth anywhere – I figured he didn’t need to deal with something that might not happen as I was still going for the hospital checkups as well.
Over the Australia Day long weekend (around 8 months) I discovered more stretch marks. I had already been suffering from a confidence hit, having lost my waist and not being able to walk as much as I would like because of a stitch-like sensation which must have resulted from where the baby was sitting. I tried yoga and at the end of the day, was just tired and lazy and lost interest in exercise. I had 2 more weeks of work, and was buoyed only by the fact that the birth could happen any day now… little did I know.
After a visit together with Heather, John and I were well into the moxa and massage a couple of times a week. John would put the same CD on each time, and oil me up for what could have passed for torture. (Funnily enough, it is this same CD that now brings Jacob back down to earth if he is uptight or upset in the car – the moxa and its effects on me must have been greater than we thought at the time for him to have this reaction to the music.) My backside was a series of bruises, but at the same time, as the weeks passed, the pain lessened and each massage was teaching me more about my body, pain thresholds and how to manage. We used ‘What Dad’s Can Do’ as our point of reference for everything, particularly as by this stage, I was fairly preoccupied with the concept of labour – what would it be like? How was it possible and is it ever going to happen?
I finished work and the following week went completely bananas. The anticipation was incredibly frustrating, and as a very independent person, being stuck at home on my own without a car was depressing – I still couldn’t walk any more than 100-200 metres without the incredible stitch-like pain. Heather had me sucking down powdered Magnesium like it was going out of fashion, and the hospital had told me to keep up the Raspberry Leaf tea. I phoned my doula at one stage to ask her how I was supposed to drink 6 of each every day – I was spending my life on the toilet anyway it seemed! I was struggling at this point between whom to phone – Heather or my doula when I had a question. They were both available to answer questions, and always had the answers, and so I started to write my questions down.
Waiting, Waiting, Waiting . ..
My doula had suggested that I do some cooking. First of all, chicken broth using the whole chicken, some vegies and soup mix – nice and plain and full of goodness. I also made some hummus to spread on rice crackers – all good things for during labour and after the birth. Both of these things proved to be fantastic. She also asked me to have some eggs in the fridge in the event that we were around for breakfast after the birth.
Another week and my due date went by and still no movement other than the constant iterations of my child who seemed to be having a party on the inside with no inclination to come out and meet the rest of us. The phone calls and constant questions from family and friends were also distressing me as thy all asked the same thing, made fun and I had lost interest. I didn’t want to talk about it anymore and stopped answering the phone unless it was a select few callers.
Heather had told me that the date the GP and hospital had given me was likely to be up to 3 weeks out from when my baby actually decided to make an entrance, yet most of the people in my sphere accepted the medical line and couldn’t understand why I was resisting induction – mainly because I believed that my baby would come when ready, and I had an incredible resolve against caesarean, or any other form of interference.
By this stage I was seeing Heather every couple of days. My frustration was intense but no more so than my resolve and under Heather’s guidance I knew that it would happen eventually. Heather had also started treatments to entice the baby along.
I had called my husband at work on the way home from Heather’s on the Wednesday prior as I felt like something was happening, and I just wanted him to be with me. I was sick of being on my own, and wanted to be with him. As it turns out, I had jumped the gun, but all the same it was a special few days of just being two before there were three!
Twelve days after my due date, it was Sunday afternoon and we were playing Trivial Pursuit with my cousin at home. I had spent the afternoon on the fit ball as a result and finished the night with massage and moxa. I waddled off to the shower about 8.30pm and by the time I got out I had a period-like sensation in my lower back. This of course got me excited. The pains were regular, and I spent the remainder of the night drinking powdered Magnesium and Chinese herbs, watching the clock, dozing and writing down times. At 1am, it got the better of me and I phoned my doula, who, as it turns out was on her way to another birth.
I was a bit distressed as nothing seemed to be happening. I could speak through the pains, so I figured that it had to get a whole lot worse yet, but it was just taking so long! My husband dozed next to me while this was happening, doing whatever I asked and hoping all the while that something was finally happening – the suspense was killing us!
The night wore on, and still there was no sign of movement, just pains which continued to intensify. My husband was maintaining a pretty calm exterior, but it did get the better of him halfway through the morning when he wanted to know when we would go to the hospital. I told him that I had no idea, and that we would know when the time was right; besides, we needed my doula before we would make any decisions – how would we know as this is the first time we had done anything like this!!
He continued diligently to help me through the pains that were like clockwork and intensifying constantly. At about 1pm (about 17 hours after they started), I had not slept properly and was over it, so went to have a shower and feel sorry for myself! My doula had said earlier in the morning that she would come over mid-late afternoon – this was a bit disheartening as I wanted things to move faster than they were…
I got out of the shower and the pain was so intense that I couldn’t move except to lean over the vanity. At this moment (about 2pm), my doula walked into the ensuite, took one look at me and announced that I was in labour – it was about time!!! The relief was palpable at least until the next contraction.
The next 4 hours became a monotony of intense pains, a bit of food here and there, lots of water, powdered Magnesium, herbs and frustration. This process just seemed to go on and on. Looking back, I do not ever remember wanting to go to the hospital, have pain relief, or want someone peering around inside. I knew that with my doula and John’s help, my baby and I could do it. Admittedly I had not bargained on the intensity of the pain, but the overriding thought I had was that this was one day in my whole life, and tomorrow it would be over and I would have jumped the hurdle…
By 6pm, I was losing faith and the baby seemed to have stopped moving as much. This worried me, and I was sensing that John was worried. His neck had been out for a couple of weeks, and being triggered by stress, he was in his own world of pain as well as trying to help and support me. He had had as little sleep as I had, as well as feeling a bit lost and bewildered by the process. My doula was wonderful at keeping us both on track, and sent John off for a sleep.
I hadn’t realised, but all this time, the lights had been out and John had lit candles everywhere. Beautiful flickering light bathed the unit and with my doula being so calm, the place had a very comfortable and lovely feel – even as I look back on it now.
I was having incredible back pain during each contraction, but no back pain in between. I was convinced that the baby was not in the right spot, and decided that maybe a warm bath would “float” the baby so it would shift to where it needed to be – my visions of this were like a ship that has run aground and needs the tide to come in so it can move.
I have no idea how long I was in the bath – keeping in mind that this was a standard size bath with me on my side – I must have looked like a distended sardine – but the contractions just kept on coming. My doula was feeding me small amounts of soup and keeping the water warm, and John rested in the other room – oh what I would have given to be there with him on the other side of this experience!
The contractions suddenly changed and I knew I had to get out of the bath. My doula told me that I had gone into transition, and between contractions helped me out of the bath. At this point, John came back and wanted to know if we were heading to the hospital. I have no idea how he got the message that a 25 minute ride to the hospital was not on my radar, probably my doula…
My doula had made up our bed as a ‘nest’ for me to birth my baby, but having clambered out of the bath onto the tiles (which were covered in towels so I would not take on any cold energy), I knew could not go any further. It came to me that I would be birthing my baby on the bathroom floor – just as I had flippantly said I could just a few weeks ago!
My doula and John transferred all of the towels from the bed to the bathroom and after a number of contractions Jacob arrived.
We had the most wonderful birth – John and I were both so proud of ourselves. With the help of my doula, we had just bought our beautiful little baby into the world – with all 10 fingers and 10 toes! As we sat on the floor with our baby resting against my breast in the minutes after he was born, all we could do was look at him, then each other – it was probably 10 minutes before we thought to look to see whether he was a boy or girl. The candles were still flickering and the room was so quiet when I looked down. When I announced gently to John that we had a boy, I think he nearly burst with pride.
After a while, I had to get up as I was still crouched on my legs which were starting to cramp up. Jacob had a very short cord, so with help from John and my doula I got up on to the toilet to wait for the placenta (My doula had given me homeopathics to make it release). I continued to hold my baby close and he started to suck gently. John sat on the edge of the bath opposite me and we just stared at each other and our baby and realised that we didn’t know what to call him. This was such a peaceful time, and every time I give Jacob a bath in there now, I have memories of that beautiful night.
Most homebirth stories are not those of a woman’s first child, but John and I are now both firm proponents of people not only having this choice, but recognising that they have it. It is too easy for the medical profession to push women down a path and not tell them all of the options, and had I not been seeing Heather I would not have known about it either.
I thought homebirth was for hippies and didn’t realise that it is simply another choice available. Women do not have to have their babies at home like I did, but they can choose how they have their baby. We didn’t plan or organise for Jacob’s birth to be this way, but subconsciously I think I had decided that I liked the idea – certainly much better than the idea of some cold sterile hospital room with people judging me and telling me what to do. Our birth experience was about my baby and I, and with the help of John and my doula, we did it.
The cord finally stopped pulsating and a while after that, my doula helped John to cut it so that John could take Jacob in his arms for the first time, and I could get cleaned up. I was also still waiting for the placenta while sitting on the toilet which meant that my legs were still cramping and I had pins and needles.
John wrapped Jacob (whom we were still calling “wee man” or “little man”) and took him into the next room with the help of my doula to have some bare skin cuddles and get to know his son. Once she came back, I transferred back to the bath with the shower going to see what we could do about the placenta. I had read some horror stories about haemorrhaging, so was hesitant to pull at it too hard. Eventually it came free, and I could then get cleaned up properly.
I got out of the shower and fainted on my way back to our bedroom. I had not lost much blood, but my doula caught me, and helped me back to bed. John bought Jacob in and the three of us got into bed together. It was 1.30am. She started to clean up and ended up staying the night. I’m not sure that John or I slept much…
We must have dozed until 6.30am when we started the phone calls to our families. My doula was still with us, and had made breakfast and met excited family members at the door. As they started to arrive, they were amazed that I had just birthed my baby at home. John was receiving instructions from my doula as the washing machine kept going in the background. Jacob and I just stayed in our bed – when he wasn’t being cuddled by one of his grandmothers!
John had such an intense sense of ownership, pride and compassion. My every whim and even whims I didn’t know I had were catered to. He was ensuring that I was eating properly, and most importantly was not leaving the bed unless it was for the toilet or shower. Visitors came and went and if I even looked like venturing out of the bedroom I was ordered back.
My milk arrived 48 hours after the birth, but my breasts were so engorged that Jacob didn’t have a hope of latching on. My aunt happened to be visiting that day, and as a nurse, I figured she would be able to help me. My second biggest fear after intervention was not being able to breastfeed. We ended up calling my doula in the afternoon as we had not managed to get Jacob latched on, and she arrived within the hour. By the time she left a couple of hours later, Jacob had remembered what to do – oh the relief – physically and mentally!
Another week passed by and I bought a breast pump. If I was going to go back to work within 3 months, I would need to get Jacob on bottles as well as the breast, and in addition to this, I needed to get him on bottles so I could get out of the house for some sanity occasionally.
Two days after I started to use the pump, (2 weeks after the birth) I woke up with a painful left breast. This quickly degenerated into intense pain and a fever. My mum happened to be there, and realised it was mastitis. I phoned my doula in the morning, and she sent John off to the organic store down the road for Pokeroot. I couldn’t contemplate letting Jacob latch on; even though I knew I had to if I was going to make this go away. I had been functioning on about 2 hour’s sleep a night – and even that seemed to be interrupted. The cause of my bout of mastitis was very clear! I had just hoped that it would not happen to me! By lunchtime, I phoned Heather who told me to come straight down. I was teary, frustrated and in pain. Jacob was crying every 1-2 hours and the only way I knew to keep him quiet was to feed him – I had nothing left.
I walked out of Heather’s 2 hours later with herbs, tinctures and a range of instructions. I started taking them all and had started to feel better. When I got down to the car, John didn’t look happy – Jacob had been crying for most of the time I was away. Thank god for Mum who had stayed with John while I was gone as she was trying her level best to keep both boys calm. I had turned the corner on both the mastitis and the exhaustion having had some time out with Heather, and was able to face him again.
The herbs and tincture were to be used as a preventative as well as a treatment, so whenever my breasts started to feel a bit sensitive over the coming weeks, I took some more, and it cleared up.
The weeks went by, and Jacob’s sleeping habits ebbed and flowed. He would have a run of nights where he would sleep 7 hours or longer and then suddenly went to 11 hours. Oh what a night!!! I got into a routine which meant that every night before bed I would pump my breasts to avoid puddles in bed in the morning. This also meant that John could give Jacob a bottle every day – both of them liked this, and I really enjoyed not being in demand all of the time.
Heather told me to keep up the protein to keep him sleeping longer and better. I took this to mean all types of protein, so was having lots of legumes thinking that this would avoid weight gain (mine). Jacob’s sleeping habits still seemed to ebb and flow anywhere from 6 to 12 hours. When I spoke to Heather about this, she confirmed that I should have been having 5-6 serves of animal-derived protein – not vegetable based. Well, what a difference 2 days makes – all of a sudden he was back to 8 to 12 hours sleeps at night.
I have found that none of this information is readily available. Friends with kids just accept sleepless nights, cracked nipples and the use of kids Panadol as a given – even a blessing. John and I have managed to avoid all of these things with good advice and a willingness to listen and change the way we do things.
The advice that Heather has given us has been logical and without risk. It all comes down to changing personal point of reference, and I would go so far as to question why a person would go to someone for natural therapies if they were not prepared to challenge the western medical line. Natural therapies are a well considered, logical and holistic lifestyle choice. I have found that western medicine, although it also has a place, is more topical and symptom-based instead of preventative.
Western medicine does not inspire a person to change their lifestyle as it consists of threats and drugs. This does not change behaviours in the long term. Apart from my initial willingness in any case, acceptance of natural therapies and Chinese medicine was easier in the long term as it had solutions, recognises triggers and preventative measures and is not invasive. And it worked!!!!