Trigger warning: if you are pregnant or had a difficult birth this post may be distressing for you. I had planned a home birth for my first birth, which many people said was very brave of me. The way I saw it, it was braver to go to hospital given the statistics for a higher chance of having an episiotomy. The stress of a hospital birth in my opinion would be more likely to cause complications than prevent them.
I had a water bath at home, with no expectations to actually deliver in it, but I knew it would be at least helpful during labor and useful to have. It was tremendously helpful! I had no problems with the contractions and used hypnobirthing techniques to move easily through them. When baby started coming down the birth canal, that is when the issues started. The midwife and doctor present started to intervene. They did regular vaginal checks which were very uncomfortable and took me out of my natural flow. I didn’t feel as though I could object to these checks, being a first time mother. I hoped that I would still be able to give birth naturally.
After a while, they had me start pushing, even though they said they taught hypnobirthing and in hypnobirthing, you do not push; you let your natural ejection reflex push the baby out (and baby naturally slides down the canal). I know this reflex is real because many women have told me about it. Again I was coaxed into doing it their way, and I complied. I think this caused trouble for the baby because then he was coming down the canal, but going back up again! After a few times of this, and more uncomfortable vaginal checks (keep in mind I was handling the contractions themselves just fine), the doctor and midwife said I would have to go to the hospital because it was taking too long (it had been an hour of pushing and I had been in labor less than 24 hours). They insisted I went even though I didn’t want to.
At the hospital it was all about getting the baby out as fast as possible and I was treated like an emergency. They said they wanted to give me a drug to speed up my contractions again (at this point I was in resting labour, a natural part of the process where the woman’s body takes a break before the final stage of birth). I said no, but they said they had to do it (and I weakly nodded because I knew I had no choice).
Everything from then happened in about 40 minutes and was the worst experience of my life. They pushed roughly on my belly to force the baby out with the intense unnatural contractions. They “guided” his head out with the vaccuum suction, and “coached” (read: forced) me to push the baby out. I shook my head when they told me when to push because I knew it was not natural, but they said I had to do it. I weakly nodded because I had no choice and complied.
After the baby was born of course we were hugely relieved that he was okay. Everyone commented on how alert he was. You’d be alert too if you had just fought for your life and been yanked out of your mother ahead of time! He actually did have physical issues which we didn’t discover for a few weeks.
Immediately I asked if someone could help me to move the baby to my breast so I could breastfeed him. All of the nurses employed by the hospital refused my request: no one stepped forward. One nurse said confidently that babies do not breastfeed within the first hour of life. My partner and I did not buy this, we had seen hypnobirthing videos on YouTube where babies are nursing immediately. We had educated ourselves and knew how important it was for the baby to immediately bond, and I knew that it was especially important now after such a difficult birth. Luckily I had brought my own midwife and doctor with me. I asked for my midwife to help and she gently moved the baby to my breast. The baby was nursing 15 minutes after birth. It was the most blessed thing that happened and I am so grateful that this natural act saved my sanity!
After the birth I was in tremendous pain from the vagina all the way up to the pubis and barely able to walk and not able to sit properly for 2 months. For the first 3 weeks I was on pain killers and waking up at night with the pain. I didn’t know if it was because my labia was stitched or something else. The midwives and doctor just said to keep taking the pain killers and it would go away. I asked my gynocologist at my 6 weeks postpartum checkup when the pain would go away and she shrugged and said “I don’t know, maybe a few months?”.
I kept resting and was lucky to have an incredibly supportive partner to help me. The pain began improving but as the baby got bigger and I started trying to move around more the pain got worse. Finally, at 4 months postpartum the pain was too much for me, and I knew Western medicine had already failed me, so I went for acupuncture. After 3 sessions the pain was gone. Then the pain started coming back and I went to an osteopath. She found that my pelvis had been twisted, causing the pain, and corrected it. After this I still had pain, so I went to a Rolfer. After 2 sessions I had no pain again. All this time my condition was steadily improving. I went to my doctor and he said my problem was with the sacroilliac joints. My acupuncturist said I had an unstable pelvis (related to the joints and issue with the sacrum). My rolfer said there was a problem with my belly and the sacrum. It makes sense because I had to give birth on my back, with at least two nurses pushing heavily on my belly – this would have caused a lot of pressure on the sacrum and who knows what it did to my insides!
Amazingly, I am now almost pain free with a bit of discomfort in my sacrum. There are a number of things I think helped so I’m writing this for women who have also had a difficult birth in the hopes it helps them. If you’re reading this and had a difficult birth, I am so sorry that happened to you. We desperately need more respect for women’s wishes at birth.
Here’s what I found helpful:
- Somehow I managed to keep breastfeeding the baby throughout all this. If you can breastfeed, please do as it releases natural painkillers and happy hormones! KellyMom is an amazing resource and La Leche League International provides amazing support for mothers. Myself and my partner took a class about breastfeeding before the baby arrived and we found that really helpful with our persistence in breastfeeding. I also recommend reading The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding by La Leche League. A good cushion like the My Brest Friend is great for people who have difficulty feeding in normal positions.
- Have food ready for after birth. We had a lot of freezer food including things we already made that were healthy so we didn’t need to cook for a while. Oats make great nursing fuel! Make sure you have lots of liquids on hand too.
- Health food supplements. I went for Applied Kinesiology, and was prescribed special heavy strength curcumin tablets and collagen (for my joints). You might need something different. Kinesiology uses a muscle testing technique to literally figure out exactly what your individual body needs to get back to full health, and I’ve been using it for years with great success.
- Do talk to your GP/Doctor. Find a good doctor that will actually listen to you. It took a few months before I did, and was sent for an MRI. He literally said of the birth “they really don’t know what damage they are doing”.
- Look into alternative therapies. Acupunture helped me because the pelvis is a very complex area with very deep muscles. Acupuncture can stimulate deep bones and muscles to heal. Rolfing is a muscle fascia therapy that can actually move bones. It’s more gentle than going to an osteopath (an osteopath will move your bones but if your muscles are holding tension then they might as easily move back). Rolfing is definitely the most useful therapy I have ever experienced!
- Find a good physiotherapist with an open mind. It was initially only my physiotherapist who took my pain seriously. She was the one who sent me to the osteopath. Make sure you only do your pelvic floor exercises when shown how to do them by a qualified physio (you can cause further damage otherwise).
- Yoga. I went to a second physio who was also a yoga teacher and she gave me some great yoga poses to do specific to my issues. Find some good yoga poses for your pelvis and back. If you’re breastfeeding you’ll especially need this for your back!
- Diet. Goes without saying, eat well! You might be happy to know that a bit of alcohol is okay with breastfeeding. Maybe a glass of organic red wine is actually good for your stress levels at this time. I’m now vegetarian and I’m finding it really does a lot for my mood and my energy levels!
- Mental health. Find a good mental health therapist. If you’re in a relationship, it may also benefit you to have therapy with your partner. It’s a good idea to find a good mental health therapist for your entire family if you’re starting a family at this time. Be easy on yourself; society expects too much of women at this time. This will change but it’s going to take time! We have to be patient with ourselves and with the world until they listen to us!
- I recommend hiring your own experienced doula and not just a midwife. My midwife was good and did her best but she was very much focused on medicalised solutions. I would prefer a doula who is well versed in natural birthing techniques.
If you have been through a birth like this, please speak up if you can. We need more voices!