For a long time after the birth of my son I couldn’t even have contemplated having another child, let alone have been brave enough to think about the pregnancy and birth that I would have to face to make it possible, but slowly and surely a number of amazing things put themselves in my path to allow me to be at the stage where I am today – excitedly expecting!
N I Postive Birth Conference
Aside from the counseling and the medication, one of the biggest game changers for me came in the shape of the inaugural “Positive Birth Conference” in Belfast. You can find out more about it on their website www.positivebirthconference.co.uk/ I would highly recommend it!
This, first of its kind, conference took place in Belfast in September 2018. It is running again this September, 2019 and will hopefully continue to run for years to come. When I first heard about it I wasn’t sure whether I should go or not as, at this stage, I was still unsure whether or not I really wanted to put myself and my family through another pregnancy and birth and the difficulties that might come with it. As it turns out though, my decision to attend the conference was transformative and the first step in my journey towards a positive, empowering pregnancy and birth this time around.
I listened to the birth stories of other mothers, I cried big ugly snotty tears for my pain and theirs. I heard mothers speak of their traumatic first, second and even third births but how with the right knowledge and support their subsequent birth experiences had been amazing, empowering, healing even. I thought to myself, I want a piece of that! I heard midwives, doulas and obstetricians speaking about informed consent, listening to and valuing women, supporting women’s choices, in fact even just giving them choices! I heard them talking about breech birth as being just a variation of normal. I heard about the importance of oxytocin and birth environment and how this impacted on progresssion of labour and non medicalised births.
As I sat there listening, inspired, I also felt a deep sadness tinged with anger. I realised just what I had been robbed of and how this could potentially have been avoidable. I realised that my experience could have been so different, and that hurt.
I realised that so many things could have been different. I already knew, of course, that if I had been listened to when I kept telling the midwife that my baby was breech that he may have been able to turn before he got too big and had no space. I now knew that I should have been offered the option of a breech vaginal birth or at least a trial of labour. I knew now that infact my requests for a gentle cesearean should have been respected rather than instantly dismissed as not being standard practice. I now knew that when I asked for longer to try to get baby to turn, and if not, then to mentally prepare myself for the cesarean. My wishes should have been respected rather than me only being “allowed” to put off the surgery by a maximum of 5 days as they wouldnt “let me” go over 40 weeks.
After that conference I decided that if we were lucky enough to be given another chance at this, then things were going to be different this time around. I knew that I should expect better and I knew that better was my right.
Northern Ireland Home Birthers and Hopefuls
Before I even became pregnant (which was only just 3 short months after the conference!) I began researching what my options were and immediately decided that for me a homebirth would be my first preference. This decision in itself was the second major influence on my journey to feeling empowered and confident this pregnanacy as it introduced me to the Northern Ireland Home Birthers and Hopefuls Facebook group www.facebook.com/groups/249585638493256/
Through this group I was inspired and reassured that the decision to plan a homebirth was absolutely the right choice for me. I read other women’s birth stories and tapped into a wealth of knowledge on how to navigate a health care system which is often not well equipped to support women in their choices. I did hear of women who have faced difficulties on their paths to achieving the birth they hoped for, but these serve as a valuable learning resource to those who follow. The group is made up of mums who, as the name might suggest, have either already given birth at home, have planned to or would like to in the future. Amongst them, there are also some medical professionals and between them all they can help women navigate any obstacles or allay any fears and ease the path towards their postive birth experience what ever that may look like for their own individual circumstance.
Although bolstered by this wonderful resource and community of women, my journey towards my birth plan has not been straightforward. A final kick in the teeth from my previous birth experience now hangs over me like a cruel specter, continuing to inflict punishment on me for mistakes made by others. I am now, due to my previous cesarean, classed as “high risk” (in fact this risk is less than 1%). This does not automatically mean that I can not have a home birth, but it does mean that I will be continually discouraged from doing so!
This is where the next phase of my journey unfolds.
Birthwise is a brand new, Northern Ireland based, charity. It is a grassroots movement of expectant and new parents and those who support them. Their aim is to connect, empower, inform, and support new parents; and campaign for continuous improvements in maternity care and other relevant services. Now, that’s something that I’m sure everyone would agree is a worthwhile objective.
I contacted one of their volunteers and spoke with her of my previous birth experience and of my hopes and fears for my second time around. I began that phone conversation anxious, fearful and unsure if having another baby was even a good idea (although I was already 8 weeks pregnant by this stage so it was happening wether I liked it or not!). I finished that conversation confident, sure of what I wanted and how I could achieve it and dare I say even a bit excited! Wow, what a turn around!
I continued to be in contact with Birthwise, they signposted me to where I could find more information and could find answers to my questions so that I could make my own evidence based decisions around what I wanted for my birth. I became more and more passionate about what an amazing service they were providing. At one point in a conversation I was asked if I would like to become a volunteer. I felt illequipped, I didn’t know what I could possibly offer (I still don’t!) but I didn’t hesitate, because if there is any way I can help other parents avoid what I’ve been through and help them to achieve better then that is something I definitely want to be part of.
My Current Birth Plan(s!)
This time around my plan, as before, is for as natural a birth as possible. The difference this time is that I feel more informed and in control.
I think my biggest trauma from my last birth was that loss of control. My wishes weren’t respected and I felt bullied into a lot of the decisions around my son’s cesarean birth. I know now that the missing link in avoiding that feeling of loss is informed consent. I realise now that that is what I lacked last time. I, in theory, consented to what was done to me, but really I was coerced. I felt that the only option, as was presented to me, was to agree with what was being suggested, otherwise I’d be putting the lives of myself and my baby at risk. I now know that that was not the case. My consent was definitely not informed as I was given no other options or alternatives. I didn’t realise I could say no, and when I tried to delay or try alternatives I was made to feel like I was being ridiculous, selfish and irresponsible.
This time around I’m so much more informed, about everything, about all possible scenarios. I’ve been reading and researching everything because I want to be in charge of any decisions being made and in order to do that I need to know the facts. Thanks to the Facebook groups and websites I’ve been directed to I am now truly able to make informed decisions and have confidence in talking to healthcare professionals about those decisions.
With all that has happened and with all that I have learnt I am currently in the process of drawing up my birth plan, or plans to be more precise! After learning about the role of Oxytocin in labour progress I am certain that the place where I am most likely to achieve a natural, intervention free birth is at home, so that is my plan A.
For some people planning a home birth they find it best not to think about the ‘what ifs’ as that will take away from their positive affirmations about their home birth, kind of like admitting defeat and risking a self fulfilling prophecy. However, due to how I feel about being in control I feel it is important for me that I have a back up plan in place should things change. I am also planning for plan B, C, D, E and F! Once these are in place though, they’ll be filed away knowing that I don’t ever need to think about them again unless circumstances change and necessitate them.
My plan A is for an uncomplicated, empowering natural water birth at home using hypnobirthing and having support from a doula. My plan B is for an uncomplicated, empowering natural water birth at a midwife led unit using hypnobirthing and having support from a doula. My plans C, D, E, F and onwards will be dependent upon circumstances, but for all eventualities I hope they will continue to be empowering, as natural as possible, using hypnobirthing and having support from a doula.
Examples of this type of situation might include if myself or baby are having difficulties, or if this baby also remains breech etc. In these scenarios I may have to transfer to the labour ward and I will include my birth plans for these scenarios, so that even though I may need extra monitoring or medical interventions I can still keep things as natural and relaxed as possible. I’m also in the process of making plans for a vaginal breech delivery, if necessary and also for a gentle cesarean section, should it come to that.
I think that for me, in order to avoid another traumatic experience of birth I need to research and carefully plan for all possible scenarios, so that regardless of what path my pregnancy, labour and birth take I can feel in control and be sure that all the decisions taken are made by me and that I have the knowledge required to make truly informed decisions at what might be very short notice.
Who knows what my birth will look like in the end, but I know that it will be the best birth possible, and the birth that is right for me and my baby. Between the two of us we’ll do this! We’ll have a positive experience regardless of what that might look like.
I hope to share my birth story in the next few months, along with everything I have learnt in order to help others plan for a positive birth!
Don’t forget to follow me on Instagram @life_hack_mum_
Here are some links which I have found helpful on this journey:
AIMS – Association for Improvements in the Maternity Services //www.aims.org.uk/
Birth Rights – Protecting Human Rights in Child Birth http://www.birthrights.org.uk/
The Positive Birth Movement www.positivebirthmovement.org/
Northern Irish Websites/Groups:
The Northern Ireland Positive Birth Conference www.positivebirthconference.co.uk/
The Facebook group for those who have had or wish to have a homebirth in Northern Ireland www.facebook.com/groups/249585638493256/
Northern Ireland Maternity Forum Facebook group www.facebook.com/groups/NIMaternityForum/
Nothern Ireland Positive Birth Facebook Group www.facebook.com/groups/nipositivebirth/