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The Good

Picture this: you plan, visualise, read, rehearse and even learn to meditate – all to birth this little person growing inside. Everything you do throughout your entire pregnancy is focused around meeting your baby.

This is certainly how I spent 2015. It took five years to get here, so I did everything in my power to ensure this baby was going to make it, safe and sound. When I discovered that my private healthcare did not cover childbirth, I turned to my neighbour who had recently become a mumma, to ask what was the ‘best’ care in the public system.

I was introduced to the local Midwifery Group Practice (MGP). They offer a team of two midwives to care for you throughout the pregnancy, “normal” labour, early discharge from hospital, and 2 weeks of at home support, post birth.

To me this sounded like a no-brainer, as I’d had a negative history with hospitals when undergoing chemotherapy for cancer. I was frustrated with having to retell my story to every new doctor that came through. I also liked the idea of not being in a hospital any longer than I had to

I mean, who wouldn’t want a team to care for you, and have 9 months to build trust?

I also knew these women had to be very experienced and knowledgeable to be part of such a specialist team. This was reassuring to this nervous nelly mumma.

From the beginning it was made very clear that being part of the MGP program was a privilege. I was one of the lucky women who had access to this level of care and support. At the time I was perplexed as to why we all couldn’t have this access. If it was the “gold standard of care”, then why can’t all women access it?

So, I always had it in the back of my mind to be a good patient and to not lose my place in the program. I thought being a good patient meant arriving early to appointments, listening intently and doing everything they say. I enrolled in the private birthing classes they suggested, I packed my hospital bag with everything they said, and even put into practice “If you think you’re in labour – bake a cake”.

On Monday 19th October I phoned my husband to say I was baking a cake. It took him a few moments to realise what this really meant. He came home straight away. Things moved slowly, so I did everything I’d learned. Kept active on the yoga ball, breathed and meditated my way through the “surges”. Oh yes, they were not allowed to be called contractions – they were “surges”.

Being first time parents, we were so excited to be meeting our baby. We went into the hospital later that afternoon thinking this was IT. Being told I was only 1 cm dilated and sent home was disappointing. I wanted to stay in the birthing suite where I was surrounded by my team and felt safe.

Going home left me wondering if I knew what the heck I was doing. I thought my cake baking and yoga bouncing meant my baby was coming. Learning I wasn’t even close made me think I had no clue what I was doing.

The fear of the unknown bubbled to the surface. All the while I’m thinking I need to be a good patient. There were times in the antenatal care I would ask about a caesarean birth or pain medication, but I was dismissed and shut down. These actual words were told to me; “if you trust your body, your vagina will open like a lotus flower and the baby will be breathed down”.

Sounded easy.

So, I did exactly that. We made a playlist, packed snacks, purchased our favourite scented oils – I was going to breathe this baby down.

The Bad

If my vagina had opened like a lotus flower, I wouldn’t be here sharing our journey. 

The decision to talk about my birth is not an easy one. It’s a complex situation, I don’t want to scare women, but I wish I had been more informed. It would’ve likely dampened my fear throughout the 29-hour ordeal and helped me make decisions more suitable for my baby and I.

It was only afterwards that I learned much of my experience, trauma and damage could have been avoided. I left the hospital the next day with a destroyed birthing plan and a destroyed pelvic floor.

Nowhere in my birthing plan did it mention a stuck posterior baby, three layers of stitches front to back, or an inability to sit for weeks. Nowhere did it mention that I am okay with amputating my levator ani muscles off the pelvic bone, or losing my ability to walk or stand for longer than 10 minutes.

The Truth

I was shocked to learn that what happened is common.

What we went through in that delivery room happens on a daily basis – but no one talks about it. It’s like half the text book on birthing is missing. My midwife told me my birth was normal. She had believed that me being wheeled out in a wheelchair was normal. Going home the next day with faecal incontinence was normal. Being left with significant pelvic organ prolapse was normal.

Many fail to understand that there’s a difference between what’s common and what’s normal.

What happened to my body isn’t normal, but it is common. Up to one in two women will experience pelvic organ prolapse within their lifetime. With different grades and types of prolapse, and a range of symptoms and side effects.

There’s also a range of risk factors that contribute to prolapse. For me it was the use of forceps to get my baby out. After 29 hours it was sold to me like the ONLY option – that there was no choice. There was never a thought about what could happen to me, nor were there any conversations about a caesarean and any complications were dismissed.

I was made to feel that I failed “natural” childbirth. Like I didn’t visualise or meditate enough, or follow the birth plan enough. It’s time for this to change.

How We Can Make it Better for Mummas

I will never pretend to have all the answers to this complex and unfortunately political event. When it comes to birthing, I feel we are not focusing on the people that need us most – a healthy baby, AND a healthy mumma.

Here is what I wish had known and explored leading up to my common experience.

1. Antenatal classes commence from the time you find out you’re pregnant.
2. Explore unbiased information about all types of antenatal care to find what’s best for you.
3. Meet the different professionals who could be involved – obstetricians, midwives, doulas etc.
4. Understand the different places to birth; free-birth, home-birth, birthing centre, public or private hospital.
5. Be aware of birthing methods – free, water, vaginal unassisted and unmedicated, vaginal assisted, caesarean, vaginal birth after a caesarean (VBAC) and gentle caesarean.
6. Explore opportunities to work through any fears with professional counselling.
7. See a women’s health pelvic floor physiotherapist prior to and following birth.
8. Identify if you need additional support post birth at a mums and bubs unit.

Let’s stop treating women like they are not able to cope with all the aspects of pregnancy and childbirth. It’s not protection, it only makes things worse and takes respect and choice out of the experience. When you’re at your most vulnerable, it’s better to be fully informed and scared, than scared and unaware. 

Stephanie Thompson, Author, Advocate and Change-Maker

Stephanie Thompson is the author of The Day My Vagina Broke and chief Bravemumma. In 2015, Stephanie suffered a traumatic childbirth injury that changed her body and life forever. Stephanie is now on a mission to share her story and start conversations about how we view childbirth. She wants to do everything that she can to stop anything like this from happening to her daughter, Elsie. You can find her on Instagram and Facebook at Bravemumma.