My birth story Part 2: Birthing Breech Naturally
Updated: Feb 6, 2021
On Sunday morning at about 2am I woke up from what felt like a contraction. I had never had a contraction before so I didn't really know if it was one. It felt like sharp period pain, I laid in bed waiting to see if it would happen again and it did, about every 7 minutes I had one. After the 4th one I woke my husband up and told him, I was so excited that it was finally happening, but he quickly burst my bubble - he didn't believe me! He finally got on board that it was happening but still didn't want to call the doctor as it was so early in the morning. 'Are you sure its contractions, maybe we should just wait' he said.
Throughout the entire pregnancy we were told by the midwives that you don't come into hospital until you are in active labour, contracting about very 1-2 minutes as you pre-labour better at home making you less likely to stall or need intervention. So since this had been drilled into our heads my husband was hesitant to call the Doctor. However Dr Bisits had explicitly told me to call as soon as I felt a contraction as we lived so far from the hospital and because I was breech - so I had to beg him to call the doc!! As I expected he told us to calmly come into hospital. It was the perfect time to travel all the way across town, in the peaceful dawn with no traffic at all.
As my care had been transferred to a different hospital my midwife Lucy would no longer be at the birth, but she asked if she could come anyway as it's not often you get to see a breech birth. Her boss explained that she would have to come as my support person and not a midwife as she wasn't insured or allowed to work under the hospital I was at. After all she had done for me, she then wanted to come and spend her Sunday with us, essentially doing unpaid work! I was so taken back that I of course wanted her there.
When I arrived everyone knew I was coming and had everything all set up for me from the hospital reception to the birthing unit, they all knew me as the Breech girl and had everything ready so all I had to do was walk straight through to my room. It was incredible service.
From my Calm Birth course I had learnt the importance for setting the room up right for labour - one that made me feel relaxed and safe. So my husband strung up fairy lights all around the room and turned to main lights off, he set up my oil infuser and hooked up my music. We had used some essential oils in an infuser for months each night leading up to my birth so that in hospital the smell would remind me of home and relaxation - a top tip we got from our course. I had also searched labour playlists in Spotify beforehand to get some good music, I found one called 'Fuck I'm in labour!' and had to check it out as the name was too good, turns out the music was right up my alley and we used that the whole way through labour! (To whoever made that list - thank you, it was the best and even all the medical staff commented on how good the music was!!)
We had a sign on the door stating it was a calm birth and to please knock before entering and to not turn on the lights. All tricks we had learnt from our course. We also had printed out all the methods to help with pain relief for my husband to refer to if things got hairy and didn't know what to do, as well as our preferences of cord clamping, skin on skin and injections. I highly recommend having what you want printed out as I had 3 different midwives over the time I was in labour and I didn't need to explain a single thing to them, they all saw it in my file and knew what we wanted.
As I had been warned all long, my contractions slowed down after arriving at hospital, they went from been consistently every 7 minutes to more like 20 to 30 minutes apart. The midwife suggested that we go walk the fire exit stairs as that helps keeps the contractions moving along. The problem was that I got way too into stair climbing (like I was in a boot camp session!) and totally wore myself out which only slowed down my contractions even more... my body was probably thinking 'What the hell are you doing!!'. So we went back to our room and decided to turn on Netflix and watch a show on my laptop, the only problem was that we were in the middle of watching the series Dirty John, which in hindsight really isn't the most pleasant vibe for labour! The midwife came in and said that my contractions are not progressing and they no longer have any more spare rooms, so if someone else comes in I may have to be sent home.
The thought of going home was horrible, I knew it would majorly disrupt my labour and then having to come all the way back in again later would be stressful. This really gave me a wake up call to get focused and get my labour back on track. It was time to use everything I had learnt in my course to keep my contractions progressing. We turned off Dirty John, put on some music, and did soft touch massage and calm breathing. Before we knew it my contractions we back on track and continuing to speed up. By this point the midwife came back in to let me know she spoke with the doctor, he would be in soon and insisted that I keep my room, this was a relief.
By about 11am the contractions started to be quite strong and I was using a rotation of heat packs on my lower back that Chris was warming up for me. I was moving between the bed, the bouncy ball and various chairs to find a comfortable position, but the thing with labour is that nothing is comfortable! Dr Bisits had came into the room and was really loving the calm vibe we had created, in all his years he had never seen anything like it and thought it was great. He wanted to check how dilated I was but first took so much time to explain why he wanted to check, what he would do and asked for my consent. He did this every single time - the most respectful and kindest doctor I have come across. He told me to keep doing that I was doing and that everything was tracking perfectly. It was music to my ears to hear that all as going well with bub and that I was slowly getting somewhere, it gave me the boost to keep at it.
Sometime in the afternoon Lucy turned up, we had a good few hours of getting to know her talking about all sorts of things, where I would have moments where I went quiet and distracted during a contraction then be back to listening to the conversation. She knew I was a while off as I was still able to smile and talk between contractions!! Chris brought his camera and Lucy offered to be the photographer, so Chris gave her a crash course in how to use his camera! I always thought I never wanted to photograph or film my labour but now that I have these images, I am so glad that we did. Of course I will never show most of these pictures to anyone, but there was so much of the birth that I didn't see so been able to view these images was really lovely.
By about 3pm I hooked up the TENS machine as the contractions started to feel like someone was trying snap my back in half like you would a stick and the heat packs weren't cutting it anymore. The TENS machine has a base setting and a contraction setting so when you click the button for a contraction the strength goes up until you click it again when the contraction is over. This thing was literately the best thing I had in labour, there is no way I could have done it completely drug free without it. What was also great about it was that everyone in the room could see when I was contracting without me having to say a word. You may have heard how having your baby in the posterior position (their spine is against yours) is not as common and far more painful. My bub was not only breech but spine to spine with me so the back pain was out of this world!
Here is me during and after a contraction....!!!
My contractions got so powerful that all of a sudden I had a really intense one when I was standing by the bed and I couldn't help but yell, at that point my water broke! It was the biggest relief as there was so much pressure building up. I didn't care that water just hit the ground and went everywhere, I felt so much better!! The midwife then swiftly cleaned it up, took off my underwear and put on what was essentially an adult nappy!
It was about 6pm where my contractions where back to back, I was barely talking, I was standing hanging over the bed in just my adult nappy! It was hot and hard work. Dr Bisits came in to check on me, did an examination and excitingly told me that everything was tracking nicely, the baby was happy and that I had now just entered active labour! I was like wait....it's only active labour now?!!! Chris and I had just been looking at the clock and thought he would be born at about 8pm. But now that I knew active labour has just only started I had more like 5 hours to go, oh god!
At 7pm another change over of midwives happened, this was my third one since I had arrived. I remember been in a world of pain, I had my eyes shut and they stayed that way pretty much until it was all over. So I only saw her maybe once or twice before my son was born! I remember she was so lovely introducing herself, asking a bunch of questions and asking if she could remove my adult nappy, I couldn't care less, so from here on out I was completely naked with a bunch of people in a room with me. If you would have said that I would be undressed (which in the classes Janine said I would be) I really didn't believe it, I am a very shy person, and I am also not a happy to be nude kind of person - I like clothes! So if you too cant imagine to be completely naked in a room full of clothed people and someone taking photos of you, then I am proof that you never know!
I was so in another world, I had no idea who was in or out of the room, what people were or weren't looking at. I could just acutely hear everything and everyone, so what people said was very important. I am very lucky to have had such a great midwife for the back end of my labour, she was so kind, respectful and positive. She was also a MGP midwife at this hospital, so we were aligned in how we wanted things to go. I had learnt in classes that getting your partner to squeeze the side of your hips helped with pain when contracting as it opens up your hips. As this point I had Chris doing this for me for every single contraction, as when he didn't do it I was in unbearable pain! So while I was the one in labour, no one worked as hard as Chris in that room. The poor guy had to squeeze my hips so hard back to back for 4 hours and also count my breathing of 4 in and 4 out for every single contraction, such a super star! I couldn't help but hold my breath during a contraction but that is the exact thing you shouldn't do, getting Chris to count for me made sure I did my breathing and helped so incredibly much. Lucy was also working so hard for me, constantly swapping out cold cloths on my head and neck, giving me water, and looking after Chris since he couldn't even leave me for a minute.
By about 9pm I started to involuntary push when contracting and along with it the involuntary screaming and yelling began!! Again, I am not someone who screams or yells at anything so I never thought I would be one of these labourers.. but here I was! Losing my voice by the second!! I remember I could hear the woman in the next room screaming and Chris joked with the midwife that it was a tennis match and I was Sharapova! Chris made a lot of jokes through labour which I actually really enjoyed inwardly but on the outside I honestly could even crack a smile let alone a response or laugh! Chris and the midwives even started work shopping our boy's first nickname and came up with 'cannonball' which they thought was too funny for little mr 'bum first' ! He assumed I didn't even hear any of this banter, but you really do hear everything around you vividly.
At some point after pushing began, Dr Bisits was back in the room. They got me moving to different positions to see which would be best for pushing, on the bed, off the bed, on the floor on all fours, on the birthing stool. Every time they asked me to move I dreaded it, the contractions were so, so close and so intense that it made moving around horrible. It had been a hour of pushing and I remember feeling like I couldn't do this anymore and I remembered from my classes that when you feel like that, that you are close so it did help me to carry on knowing it wasn't long to go.
I had also learnt in classes that you shouldn't feel embarrassed if you poo as all women do and midwives like it as its a sign that the baby is coming soon. I was standing, hanging over the bed and I had felt like I had pooed a little, I said to Chris, I know it's ok that I have pooed, but can you please get rid of it, I can feel it there and its gross!!! Then the midwife removed it and told me, 'that is your sons poo, not yours!!!' I couldn't believe it!! It felt horrible!! Because he was breech and his little bum was right there, the contractions were squeezing his poo out!!! What!!!!
I then started to feel like I really cant keep doing this any longer, I felt like jumping out of my skin. The best way I can describe it was the same feeling you have just before you vomit, that moment you know you need to, and you know that once you do you will feel better but you have that horrible wait until it happens. I had asked the whole room a number of times is anything coming out as each push felt like he was coming out, and no one was answering me. So I said to Chris can you please tell me and he said, nothing has come out yet. I was so disappointed! I felt like everything had stalled at the most unbearable moment. The Dr said to me "remember when I explained to you how he will come out and there is a point of him going in and out, not making progress for a little while, this is where we are at". Ok, this made me feel better as I remember him showing me with a doll and pelvis model how a breech baby comes out, and there is this 'one step forward, one step back' point.
Another half hour or so goes by and we still aren't there, I hear someone mention that I seem to have stalled and should we intervene and the Dr said no she just needs some more time, she is close. I was so grateful for Dr Bisits who unlike many doctors was willing to wait and trust in me before using intervention. Not long after he told me that I am ready and to get on the birthing stool (he had previously told me it was the best way to deliver breech). He was kneeling on the floor in front of me and told me to push my foot into his chest!! He then asked the other midwife to get down on the other side and told me to push my other foot into her. He isn't a young guy and I felt so horrible pushing my foot into him as he kept telling me 'harder'!! I honestly have never heard of such a hands on doctor!!
I had learnt that you have a number of sphincters in your body and they are linked so its important to open your mouth and yell to open your sphincter both in your throat and down at the birthing end. When I got to the real pushing it came from such a deep and strange place inside of me, I sounded like a weird wild animal but this pushing didn't hurt anywhere as much as the last couple of hours as it was productive pushing - but it was seriously hard work! In my course we also spoke about mantras we can say, and we laughed about the mantra 'I am huge' for when the baby is coming out in order to help open up, relax and avoid too much tearing. I remember that this was the only thing going through my head a this point!!
After a few big pushes his bum came out and soon after his legs flipped out. He then told me to hug me knees in like a ball and squeeze tight when pushing, that was some really tough pushes that hurt quite a bit. I thought oh yes, he is out - that was the head and took a sigh of relief that it was over. Then I heard the Dr say quietly to his trainee doctor 'okay good job with the shoulders and arms now we just have the head' What?!!! We still have the head to go???!!!!! Before I could think about it they are yelling at me to do a final push and out he came... yep that was the head, that hurt a hell of a lot more!!
I was just so happy that I did it and it was over that I hadn't moved or opened my eyes. The Dr said 'Andrea! open your eyes, look at your son!' And there he was lying on the floor with his hands above his head looking so long, the first thing I could think was wow, he is so long, how did he fit in there!!! The Dr wanted to clamp the cord straight away to shock him into breathing but my husband asked that we give him time as it was important to us to wait for the cord to stop pumping before we clamped it. So the nurses instead rubbed him quiet strongly with a towel to shock him into taking his first breath and he did, they popped him straight onto me and he did his first big cry (this exact moment caught on camera with my cover image above!), everyone was relieved. It was explained to me that with a head first birth their lungs are compressed on the way out that helps them to take their first breath, with breech they cant take their first breath until the head is out so they do need a little more help to realise that they need to do it. After a couple of minutes they clamped the cord and told me its time to birth the placenta. Surprisingly it was easy and done in no time, I really don't have much memory of it. They checked me and said I barely lost any blood and that I had the tinniest tear and I didn't need any stitches - they were amazed, I guess all that work the midwife told me to do paid off!
As none of the other midwives or doctors knew that Lucy was a midwife (they thought she was a friend), they said to me at the end that my friend was so helpful and knew exactly what to do, not to mention knew all the best photo angles!! I then let them know the story of how she was my midwife! They confirmed that I was so lucky to have her.
I had my boy with me skin on skin for hours. It was magic and just what we both needed.
He was born at 11.17pm so by the time we were both cleaned up it was about 2am that we were told we could sleep in the birthing unit rather than move to the maternity ward. My husband slept on the floor with our little boy between us in his cot.
The next morning we had to get ready to go to the maternity ward to get all the sign off and checks that we needed before we could head home, as I could continue my care with my midwife at home. I felt so faint standing up that I had to get a wheel chair to get to the other ward! I went into this birth quite fit and strong but that was a serious workout. Every muscle in my body hurt for days, even down the tinny muscles in my forearms. I learnt that active labour for me was really active! Everyone in the birthing ward knew me as the breech girl who didn't use any medication, they were all so proud of me and it did feel nice that I was able to achieve what I wanted to thanks to so many people helping me. I had joined the club of billions women before me that experienced child birth.
It took most of the next day to do all the things I needed to check off such as my sons hearing test and the pediatrician check over. In that time I went to the breastfeeding drop in to get help with it as I was struggling to get him to latch and had to express into a syringe to feed him up until that point. They were incredible at teaching both of us on how to do it that I felt comfortable going home now that we could breastfeed properly. At the time I didn't realise that most other hospitals don't operate this way. The Royal Hospital for Women was a registered breastfeeding hospital, so they helped you to breastfeed at all costs and you are always with your baby 24hrs. I didn't know that all other hospitals that are not registered will give your baby formula if you cant breastfeed straight away instead of helping you express and then feed to your baby via cup feeding. I feel so lucky to have been at a hospital that took the time to help me get it right and give me confidence that I can do it and help my milk come through. By 5pm that day I was on my way home. MGP Aftercare was incredible. My midwife came over every day at a time that best suited me, sometimes to watch me feed and help me with it, or to do my first bath with him, we even had her stay over for lunch and we are now actually friends! She would stay as long as I needed and really helped me adjust to my new life and answer my billion questions! It was so good to get into a routine in my own home and still have 24hr support from my midwife.
I guess if I had to sum up how labour was for me I would say yes, it was incredibly hard at points - mentally more than anything. My body was designed to do it, my mind had to accept the challenge and rise to the occasion. But with having the right information and the right tools to guide me through it, it was the most empowering and amazing thing I have ever done. In a world where we are constantly trying to separate ourselves from nature, it is humbling, grounding and purifying to be able to birth your own baby your way.
I feel just so incredibly lucky to have had the birth experience that I did. To have a healthy baby without any intervention or medication as I wanted is a blessing. If it wasn't for my friend telling about calm birth, Janine from calm birth, the MGP program, my midwife Lucy, and Dr Bisits all being there at the right time giving the right advise and support it wouldn't have happened this way.
The main reason I wanted to write this story is for more information to be out there that vaginal breech births can be perfectly safe and we need more doctors trained in it in order to give more women choice. In a 2015 Australian report on birthing it found that 'almost 9 in 10 babies (87%) presenting in breech position were delivered via caesarean section, with only 13% delivered by vaginal birth.' I could have so easily been in the 87% and that is worrying to me. An orgainsation called Breech Without Borders is trying to change this statistic by having these two main goals as their mission:
Ensure that every birth attendant can safely and confidently attend a breech birth, knowing when to be hands-off and when to assist with maneuvers, with the mother in the birth position of her choice.
Ensure that every woman, everywhere, has the option of birthing her breech baby vaginally.
I couldn't agree more with this mission. Even if we put aside the importance of choice, there are undiagnosed breeches coming in for labour in hospitals around the country where its too late to do a C section and no one knows what to do. With a head first birth once the head comes out the rest of the body follows easily. With breech the baby comes out in stages where its important to allow time for the baby to make a series of rotations at each point to come out safely. Our professionals should all be trained in how to deliver breech as its important that no instruments are used and the baby is only guided when needed.
I honestly have zero judgment to how anyone births their baby, I know what is right for me isn't and shouldn't be right for everyone else. I just hope other women can not only have all the relevant information available to them in order to make the choices that suits them but also to have care from people who listen and respect them the way I did. As these key things allow me to look back at my birth experience with so much joy and happiness and that feeling - it’s really important and empowering for women.