I’ve taken my time writing this post, but at last after a year to the day, I have Helen’s birth story to share with you. It’s a long and detailed one so best to grab yourself a cuppa before diving in. I wanted to include as many details as I can remember because I know that while pregnant I loved reading other women’s birth stories, especially those that had been able to experience a VBAC (vaginal birth after caesarean). All of these stories gave me strength and I hope to offer the same to you as I share my own experience of having a VBAC.
So here goes…
Six and a half years ago I delivered my eldest daughter, Yara by emergency c-section after complications due to pre-eclampsia at 37 weeks pregnant. Thankfully she was delivered safely and we were both well, apart from me having a challenging time on many levels recovering from the birth.
With my second pregnancy I was determined to do everything that I could to have a chance of trying for a VBAC . I did tons of research, read as many books as I could get my hands on, spoke to as many people as I could and both taught and practiced a lot of yoga. We were living in Turks & Caicos and despite having stable blood pressure at the start of the pregnancy, I knew that the hospital on the island would not support my wishes to try for a VBAC and would instead insist on an elective caesarean.
We made the decision for me to return to the UK, where I had delivered Yara, and knew that I would be given a fair chance of trying for a VBAC. With the incredible support of my birth partners (my husband, Edward, and my mother) and all of the hospital staff, 1 year ago today I was given my fair chance and I’m so grateful to have been able to experience Helen coming into the work with a VBAC.
32 Weeks Pregnant
We travelled back to the UK early because it was the summer holidays and we had weddings to attend in Lebanon and Italy. This baby was already becoming a seasoned traveller! From about 32 weeks pregnant I started going to LushTums yoga classes in Brighton and these were hugely helpful for providing a safe space to share my pregnancy symptoms and concerns amongst other pregnant women as well as learning techniques that were massively helpful for the birthing experience. The ‘oooing’ was top on the list!
35 Weeks Pregnant – Hypertension
At 35 weeks pregnant my blood pressure started to creep up beyond 140/90, which was the ceiling the doctors had set for me. This was the same time that my blood pressure had risen in my first pregnancy and I was gutted that despite all of my efforts to live a more healthy and active life style this time around, my blood pressure was still on the rise. The doctors put me on 200mg of Labetalol twice a day with twice weekly appointments at the clinic to check my BP and urine for any traces of protein. Once every two weeks I had to go to the hospital to see the consultant. At first the medication made me feel really groggy, as it had during the first pregnancy, but after a couple of days my body adjusted.
I started swimming 3 times a week for half an hour and I found that this really helped with my blood pressure readings. It was a great way to gently get some cardio to increase my heart rate.
I delivered Yara at The Royal Sussex in Brighton and knew that I didn’t want a repeat of the high volume of people in this hospital, so I made the decision to do the 30 minute drive from Hove into the countryside to deliver at the Princess Royal Hospital in Haywards Heath. The only part about this decision that concerned me was what the 30 minute drive to the hospital would be like with me in heavy labour
40 weeks – 24th October Due Date
I was convinced that I was going to have the baby early since my first pregnancy had ended at 37 weeks. On my insistence, Edward arrived from Turks & Caicos on the 12th October, but by my due date on the 24th October I was surprised to still be waiting. The consultant had given me until the 3rd of November, provided that my blood pressure stayed under control, before they would perform a sweep to naturally induce my labour if nothing had happened by this time. Since I had a history of a c-section, this was the only induction method that could be performed as anything stronger could put the uterus under too much pressure and there would be a risk of uterine rupture.
I knew that we only had Edward around for about 4-5 weeks in total so I was very keen for the baby to come. I should have known better because babies very rarely do what we think they will… I tried everything in the book to get this baby to consider entering the world…. spicy curries, long walks, sex, acupuncture to induce labour (only allowed after the due date), African dancing to live music at a gig…but nothing was shifting things apart from a few Braxton hicks.
40 weeks and 6 days – 31st October
On Monday, 31st October I woke up before sunrise and sat on the sofa journaling about my dreams the night before which had been about death, dying and mortality. The day before had been a new moon and I had wondered whether the energy of the new moon would shift things along. It hadn’t. I had researched patterns of babies birth and the moon and funnily enough some women birthed their babies on exactly the same moon cycle day. I looked up my Yara’s birth date and it was the day after new moon so I was hopeful that this day would bring something.
I had my fortnightly appointment at the hospital that morning at 11:30am, so I packed my hospital bag and went with Edward and my mother. I was convinced that I would be coming home that day as I still had 2 more days until Wednesday when they wanted to intervene with the sweep. I should have known better… I was aware of my blood pressure rising over the weekend so when the midwife confirmed that it was 160/100, they were not happy with the reading. I was prescribed a sweep there and then and told that I wasn’t leaving the hospital without my baby.
Sweep & early labour
The sweep was not very pleasant, though thankfully a short experience. The midwife inserted a couple of fingers into my vagina (we’re getting graphic now!) and literally did a ‘sweep’ around the cervix opening to help loosen the membranes. The good news was that the midwife could stretch my cervix to 2cm so I knew that all of my Braxton hicks and cervix softening visualisations had been doing some good. I was unprepared for the sweep and had a show of blood immediately (a bit like a period unexpectedly happening) so having a sanitary pad handy would have been useful (note to self). They sent me up to the postnatal ward, which didn’t last long because the sweep had triggered my contractions and my blood pressure was on the rise despite more medication, so they transferred me to the delivery ward.
We had been warned that a sweep can have no luck in triggering labour, however once up on the delivery ward when the midwives figured out who had performed my sweep they confirmed that she had a very good response rate because she was very thorough – no shit!
At this point my mother went to go do the school pick up for Yara and organise her Halloween costume for the party in the woods that afternoon. She had been so excited for weeks about the party, so at least her world was staying reasonably in tact!
In the delivery ward they were able to monitor my blood pressure every 10 minutes and prescribe me more Labetalol as well as a nifedipine tablet to help drop the blood pressure rapidly. I had been prescribed nifedipine with my first pregnancy and was familiar with the side effect of a horrendous headache, so I braced myself for what was to come. Once they could see that the blood pressure was starting to stabilise on the medication they agreed to give my husband and I a couple of hours to relax in order to try to get the labour to progress before they wanted to intervene again by breaking the waters. We knew that this time was precious and I was so grateful to have a quiet moment to get my head around what was actually happening.
We dimmed the lights, turned on our electric candles, powered up the diffuser with essential oils and started playing my birth playlist. I snacked on energy bars and a hospital sandwich while Edward performed some acupressure points to stimulate labour. It definitely help’s having a husband that’s an acupuncturist! I had a huge desire to keep opening up my bowels so was very grateful for the en-suite shower room in the delivery room. I went for a shower (with one hand wrapped in a plastic bag because of the cannula that had been inserted in case of emergency) and it was at this point that I really felt the force of my contractions start to kick in.
Breaking the waters
After a couple of hours of being in the delivery ward, they broke my waters around 5pm. This involved me on the bed with my legs in stirrups and a sort of hook inserted into my vagina in order to rupture the membranes. Before starting they offered me gas and air, which made me realise this may not be such a breeze in the park, but I opted to breath my way through it. It wasn’t any more unpleasant than the sweep. I was expecting a huge gush of water to pour out and was surprised to find nothing. The midwife informed us that the baby’s head was so properly engaged that it was most likely forming a plug for the fluid which would most likely gush out after delivery. The midwife was able to stretch me to 4-5cm so I remained hopeful of my VBAC. They also told me that my high blood pressure could work in my favour because it tends to create faster labours. It’s as if the body knows that it just needs to get the baby out in order to return the blood pressure to normal so it speeds things up.
The procedure worked because the contractions started to intensify at the same time as my headache really kicked in. Through out all of this they were checking my BP every 10 minutes and they also had me hooked up to a foetal monitoring machine. In my birthing preparation I had imagined myself gently on all 4s ‘ooooowing’ my way through each contraction, but the reality was that the canula in my hand was preventing me from bending my wrists and also it isn’t very practical to keep the foetal monitor connected to the lower belly in this position, unless someone is constantly holding it in place. Instead I opted to roll around while seated on a ball and do my ‘ooowing’ while listening to my Dr Gowri birth visualiton. My head was in so much pain from the medication so I got a wet towel and wrapped it around my head like a turban, which offered some relief.
Stronger labour & headache
These next few hours are a bit of a blur to me. We had reached a point where the hospital team were changing over for the night shift so there was lots of goodbyes and hellos. I remember different doctors coming into the room trying to talk to me during my contractions, expressing their concern about my blood pressure. Some were on board with supporting me with my desire for a VBAC and others were in favour of doing a c-section. As the contractions intensified I found myself collapsed on a heap on the mat on the floor not really sure whether I could go on any further. I was concerned for my health, the pain level was intensifying and with my restricted mobility along with all of the interruptions, it was making it really difficult to slip into a quiet space internally. I was starting to give up hope.
I remember a moment of being on the floor with the midwife desperately trying to press the foetal monitor onto my belly to get a reading during a contraction and the doctor telling me that it was time now to have the c-section because they felt it wasn’t safe for me to continue. The midwife was telling me that my labour could go on for another 6 or 12 hours and we couldn’t go on like this. I felt deflated. Frustrated with my body’s response. I couldn’t believe that this was it. After all of my efforts to try for a VBAC, I was actually going to give in now and have a c-section. I started to try and go there with my mind of entering the operating theatre and going through with the procedure, but not a single cell in my body could accept it. I just couldn’t see how I was physically going to get from the floor to that operating theatre.
My mother had returned to the hospital by this point and had been sitting quietly in the corner observing everything going on. Thanks to her, Yara had safely made it to her Halloween party in the woods, returned home, been bathed and fed and was ready for bedtime with my father. As part of my birth preparation I had a blessingway ceremony (I will write a blog post on that in the future) with some close female friends of mine and we had all tied a red string around our wrists, which we would cut when I informed everyone that I was in labour. The energy of the cutting was to help support the baby and I through our birth journey together. I had already let everyone know it was time to cut their strings, but I hadn’t cut mine yet because I didn’t have a pair of scissors on me. When my mum let me know that she had cut my sister’s and Yara’s strings I shared with her my predicament. She immediately grabbed hold of the string and snapped it with such great force – no need for scissors!
Something inside of me knew that I needed to ask the midwife to check my dilation one last time before I gave up hope of my VBAC. I had felt so much movement in those last few contractions. Thankfully she agreed and told me that I needed to get back up onto the bed. So in the space between my next contraction I managed to find the energy to hobble my way up onto the bed and sure enough, when she checked, I was 8cm.
I remember the sense of strength that returned to me and the positive shift of energy in the room. It felt like the medical team were now all on my side and committed to helping me do this. They suggested a walking epidural, which we were initially reluctant of because I feared that the epidural was just the next step towards having a c-section, however they informed us that the effect of the procedure would actually help to drop my blood pressure. It would be a low enough dose that I could still move around, which I knew I needed to do in order to let gravity help the process. Once the epidural was in place I had hoped to get some relief from the contractions, but there wasn’t really much. They had put another cannula into the other wrist so I couldn’t even find the strength to get off the bed with both wrist now hurting, so the best I could do was to sit up.
The hardest bit
These next few hours were the hardest. The contractions were so powerful at this point that it took every single fibre in me to ride these waves. I thought I couldn’t continue and I knew I needed to go somewhere with my mind, but I didn’t know where. Suddenly the idea of dedicating each contraction to these powerful women that had been supporting me came to me. So with each contraction that arrived I connected my energy to one of them. It felt as if the strength of the contraction was being channeled at them and they too were channeling their energy to me, helping my body to do what it knows how to do. My mother and Edward took it in turns supporting me – stroking my arm or leg, rubbing my back and at moments they were both there supporting me. It was the most magical experience. Pressure on my lower back felt so good.
My blood pressure started to rise again. There were no more options left except an injection (I can’t remember what was in it), which immediately felt like fire entering my veins on the arm where it had been inserted through the cannula. The sensation immediately travelled to the next arm and then through my entire body. It felt like being on fire. They were checking my vital signs at this point – banging on my knee for a response and I thought my responses were fine, but my mum later told me that everything was erratic.
Whatever it was, it worked because my BP stabalised and I remember letting out an animalistic roar on a contraction that seemed to go on forever. The power of it sent me onto my side and from this position the midwife checked me again and told me it was time. She told me to get onto my knees and lean over the head of the bed, which they had propped up. I was so grateful that she told me to do this because by this point I didn’t know what position I needed to be in to birth the baby.
The final leg – 3rd stage of labour
In the space between my next contractions I quickly hobbled into position on my knees ready to meet the next wave. I was grateful to have brought in an extra big cushion to bury my elbows and head into during the contractions. I wasn’t quite sure what to do or expect. The first contraction came and passed with nothing much happening so the midwife told me that I really needed to use the energy of each one to send right down into my bottom. Someone told me that the time was 23:50, we were almost at the 1st of November so there was still time for this baby to be a little pumpkin on Halloween.
The next bit was the best part of the whole process and felt most natural. Each contraction was intense, but it felt like my body and the baby knew exactly what to do. Before I knew it, the head had popped out and shortly after that on the next contraction, Helen made her way into the midwife and student midwife’s hands. She was born at 23:59 and 15 seconds, just 45 seconds left on the 31st October, 2016. 3.6kg of absolute love.
Skin to Skin & Haemorrhage
While I was still on my knees, Edward announced that she was a girl. I laughed because everyone was convinced that she was a boy. She fooled us all. They started to clamp the cord ready to cut it and I reminded them that we wanted to do a half lotus birth where the cord is left connected to the placenta until it has been delivered. This creates a more gentle transition for the baby into the world. The medical team were amazing and very quickly adjusted the plan. They were concerned about the amount of blood coming out of me. I thought it was the amniotic fluid, but apparently it was more than that. I turned over and sat on the bed and was given Helen in my arms. I was euphoric! It was at this point that they confirmed that I was haemorrhaging, yet none of this bothered me because my baby was safely here in my arms and I had done it – I had just delivered a baby through my vagina!!
Helen’s instinct was to suckle so I held her in my arms and placed her to my breast. A really painful injection was given to me to release the placenta. The medical team were trying to stop the bleeding and eventually had to resort to bi manual compression of the uterus. It basically means that a WHOLE fist is inserted into the vagina to compress the uterus from below while the other hand pressed down on the top of the uterus from the outside. In my case the midwife was kneeling on the bed between my legs carrying out the procedure. I remember looking down at her and thinking to myself, ‘she’s just put her whole fist up my vagina’ and being amazed at how easily it had been done. I suppose I had just delivered a baby! She was hugely apologetic about the whole thing and I told her not to worry because I knew she was helping to save my life
The medical team told me that they needed to take me to the operating theatre to stop the haemorrhage so I would have to give Helen to Edward. He took off his shirt so that we could continue to do skin to skin with her and the placenta was still connected and resting in a metal bowl beside them.
They wheeled my bed out, with the midwife still between my legs, into the corridor. As luck would have it, I was the only woman on the entire labour ward that evening. A miracle in itself as it meant we had the entire team there to help us.
Once inside the theatre I had to sign a form of consent for a procedure where the worst case scenario would be a complete hysterectomy. I was not prepared for this bit and panicked at the thought of the consequence of such a procedure. I thought to myself, I have my two babies, what’s important is that I’m safe to raise them so I signed the form. I asked if my mum could join me and I was so grateful that they agreed and called her in to get her scrubs on.
They transferred us (me and the midwife, whose fist was still in place) onto the operating table and began a procedure to stop the haemorrhage. It involved putting a balloon inside the vagina that was filled with water to compress the uterus closed. The epidural was already in place so administering the aesthetic was easy. They also had to put in one stitch to my inner labia where Helen’s finger nail had created a slight tear on the way out because she had her hands by her mouth.
The next hour was probably the most traumatic experience for me and I was so grateful to have my mother by my side gently stroking my head, telling me everything was going to be ok. I wondered what was happening to my body. Questioned if I would make it through the procedure and be reunited with my baby who I had only held for less than 5 minutes. When the procedure was over and they reassured me that it had been a success with no need for a hysterectomy the full effect of my euphoria returned.
Reunited with Helen
Returning to the delivery room and Helen was the most magical experience. She was happily tucked into Edward’s arms, wrapped in a blanket and sporting an adorable hand knitted orange pumpkin hat that had been made by the midwife for all of the Halloween babies. Once she was in my arms again we had another try at breast feeding and I got to experience that magical newborn stare.
My blood pressure was really low at his point and the effects of the anesthetic were fading leaving my feet feeling frozen. I still had the catheter inside and had to remain lying down for a good part of the next day before they were able to remove the water from the balloon in stages to make sure that the bleeding had stopped. I had luckily only lost about 1 litre of blood so there was no need for a transfusion.
I didn’t sleep the rest of the night. I was high on the process of the birth, the delicious concoction of hormones pumping through my blood and in awe of this little soul that had joined our family. I sipped the raspberry leaf tea that my mother had bought in a flask and devoured the hospital toast with jam. I watched the sun rise over the autumn fields and was grateful for my life and the chance to raise my two precious girls.
Later that morning, my parents brought Yara into the hospital to meet her little sister. She didn’t know she had a sister until she came into the room and we opened Helen’s nappy. We wanted to save that surprise for her arrival. She was delighted as that had been her request – to have a little sister. Phew!
Late that evening once they had removed the balloon successfully we were moved from the delivery ward to the postnatal room. Thankfully they allowed Edward to stay with us in the hospital so my fears of being left alone in the hospital never came to fruition. Around 11:30am the next morning (Wednesday) they discharged us once they had seen that my blood pressure had stabilised on the new dose of medication. It was the most amazing feeling driving home in the autumn colours with our little bundle of joy in the car. I couldn’t believe how amazing my body was feeling considering I had just given birth only two days previously. The contrast to how I felt two days after a c-section was like night and day.
Day 3 – Healing Massage & Placenta Pills
When I got home from the hospital my mother had arranged to have my placenta picked up by Sally Cropper who had lovingly dehydrated it into capsules for me to consume. I took the first pill and couldn’t believe the power of it. One tablet alone felt so packed with the energy that my body needed to heal and recover. I was extremely pale from the haemorrhage and this felt like exactly what I needed to be taking. I highly recommend doing this and will be writing another post in more detail on this.
On Day 3 my milk came in and my dear friend Dot came to the house to give me a healing ayurvedic massage. This was the most amazing gift anyone could give me and it is something I think absolutely every single mother should experience. It felt like she was literally putting me back together and giving my body an opportunity to release the tension, holding and trauma from the birth experience. A chance for me to be held in a beautifully supportive feminine energy space and be able to release through tears.
Day 6 – Readmitted to hospital
My postpartum bliss bubble and family bonding time were interrupted on Day 6 after a midwife home visit when she suggested that we go back to the hospital because my blood pressure was dangerously high and not responding to the dose of Labetalol that I had been discharged on. It was my worst nightmare. As it was a Sunday night and the Princess Royal was full we had to go to the Royal Sussex hospital in Brighton, the one place I didn’t want to go back to with my tiny little baby. The only saving grace was that because it was so soon after I had been discharged from another hospital we had to be isolated from the other patients, so we weren’t allowed to go into a public ward. It meant we got to have a private room where I could at least attempt to create a peaceful sanctuary for us with essential oils and soft lighting amongst the madness of the hospital.
We spent a scary 2 nights in hospital with my blood pressure all over the place, partly because of some hospital negligence of me not being monitored closely enough, until eventually the blood pressure stabilised and I was sent home on 10mg of Amplodipine, the same medication I took for two years after having Yara. For the second time in a week I thought I may not live to see my babies grow up. It was an experience that left me humbled, grateful for life and all that I have been blessed with and grateful for the amazing people that supported us on our journey of welcoming Helen.
1 year later
For those that are interested in my blood pressure, I’ve reduced my dose of Amlodipine to 5mg a day and my blood pressure is stable. I’m actively working to come off the medication through healthy eating and movement and if things continue to progress like they did after Yara, I should be able to come off the medication within the next year.
I hope that this story has inspired you. If you would like to reach out to me with any specific questions in the comments section below or by email I’d be more than happy to support you on your journey.