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Introducing Anna Jan: A Positive & Healing Birth Story

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Last Thursday morning, we welcomed our precious Anna into the world. We had a natural and peaceful hospital birth, thanks to the support of our Doula, Hypnobirthing and the Bradley Method.

As I write this, my sweet daughter Anna is sleeping softly next to me, four days old. She was born on a sunny spring October morning at our local hospital at 42 weeks, after 17 days of latent labour that tested my trust, patience and maternal instincts in a profound way.

After the long build-up, she slipped into the world peacefully and swiftly, with no complications or interventions. It was the birth that I had dreamed of but didn’t dare to expect.

Finding out I was pregnant with our second child felt like a prayer answered. I was overjoyed, but also quickly became aware that I needed to approach this pregnancy with a lot of care and intention. Two years previous, I gave birth to my son, Massimo, at home, in a positive and empowering way. But things took a scary turn when my placenta didn’t detach and I started to severely hemorrhage.

It was during a COVID lockdown, so I had to be separated from my baby, my husband and my birth team and transferred to the hospital. There, they had to manually remove my placenta without any pain relief as there wasn’t enough time to get to the theatre.

I was amazed by what my body could do when birthing my son, but I also felt so alone and scared surrounded by what felt like a dozen people in masks. I had a very clear and lucid moment as I was losing so much blood so fast where I thought “So this is what it is to die” and my heart filled with a deep sadness for all I was about to leave behind and for not being able to mother the beautiful baby boy I had only held for 10 minutes.

I was in very good hands and stabilised. Thanks to a blood transfusion and the love and care of my family, midwives and doula, I made a slow and steady recovery.

While I was deeply grateful for the medical care I received, the experience left a lasting impression on me. I waded through early motherhood working through some classic PTSD symptoms: intrusive flashbacks, complete dissociation from my body if my stress levels reached a certain threshold accompanied by an unshakeable sense that something terrible was about to happen.

But over time, and with the support of an excellent therapist, these symptoms loosened their grip on me and faded into the background. What came to the foreground was the blessing of perspective: how beautiful it is to be alive and what an incredibly privileged undertaking motherhood really is.

This time around, we decided to give birth at our local hospital, where we would have the safety and security of medical support if needed. I was afraid of having to transfer to the hospital at the last minute, like I did with my son. I felt more grounded and calm knowing that this was where I would give birth, and there would be no separations from my support team.

At 12 weeks I hired our beautiful doula, Mary Giordano. I knew that having continuity of care was the gold standard of maternity care, and since I couldn’t access that through the hospital, I created my own version by having an experienced birth worker on my team.

I also threw myself into natural childbirth education that focused on the hospital setting, as all my previous experience was grounded in homebirth preparation. The two most influential books and practices I used were “Mindful Hypnobirthing” by Sophie Fletcher and “Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way” by Susan McCutcheon, Every day from week 20 onwards I practised the deep relaxation exercises from both books, and I believe they made all the difference.

My pregnancy was smooth and healthy, with no complications or issues. I had some nausea from week 6 to week 12, and I only vomited three times. This was a big contrast to my first pregnancy, where I had severe nausea from week six to week 20, and I would throw up three times a day.

I deepened my love for ancestral nutrition and traditional cooking methods, and I found Lily Nichols’ book Real Food for Pregnancy a wonderful guide that resonated with my naturopathic heart. Throughout the pregnancy, I consumed lots of bone broths, locally sourced meats, veggies from the garden, healthy fats, and fermented foods, and I finally made the leap to making all of our own sourdough.

Every test and scan along the way showed a healthy and uncomplicated pregnancy. The only risk factor I had was a history of severe postpartum hemorrhage.

My hope for this birth was to give birth calmly, confidently and peacefully in the hospital system. I wanted to have my choices respected and not have to fight for them. But as anyone who has had a traumatic past birth experience would know, there were layers of fear that I had to work through leading up to this birth.

Three days before my due date, I woke up at 2 a.m. with low-grade contractions. I used a hot water bottle and some deep relaxation exercises from my hypnobirthing practice, and I managed to fall back asleep after a while.

This was the start of a 17-day process of being woken up at 2 a.m. with some form of tightening or contractions. Some nights were more intense than others, and some mornings would take on a rhythm of gentle contractions, but would stall out by 9 a.m.

This was such a different experience from what I had before. With my first, these types of contractions led to having a baby 12 hours later. This time, it was an absolute mind game to be prepared every day that I might go into labour, but to be relaxed and open enough to accept that this might just be what my body was doing to warm up.

Now, with the benefit of hindsight, I can see that this long latent labour was an incredibly wise way for my body to prepare me for birth, physically and psychologically.

Over those 17 days, I faced all those emotions of fear and worry that had taken a backseat, but now needed to be fully seen and understood to be let go of. I also experienced a lot of calm, confidence and assurance. I felt my power to make the right decisions, to do the right research, to ask the right questions of my care providers and to navigate the terrain of this in-between space with mindfulness.

As I reached 41 weeks and had no baby, I decided with my care providers that it would be wise to come in for regular monitoring to ensure baby and I were still healthy and well. Orlando was already off work, so the three of us would head to the hospital after Massimo’s nap to check in on baby.

The staff were respectful of my desire to go into labour naturally, as long as the baby and I were healthy and well. They offered me an induction, as it was their policy to do so at 41 weeks, I knew that it was just an option. From my research and understanding, I knew that it would be an elective induction, not a medically indicated one, and I was happy to wait and let nature unfold.

Throughout this long 17 days, I was so thankful that I had chosen to have a beautiful doula. Having someone who understood and trusted in birth, who checked in with me every day throughout those long 17 days, was integral for me to stay grounded, calm and centred. If we hadn’t had her on our team, I think I would have been more stressed out by the uncertainties and mounting pressures of waiting.

The day before I went into labour, I had a last-minute appointment with my acupuncturist, Lauren Pegoli, whom I had been working with throughout the pregnancy. She helped me to keep my nervous system grounded, to help my body feel safe and centred, and to be in the ideal space to let labour unfold naturally without forcing it. I just breathed and surrendered on the table to the spring rainscape. I felt the most profound sense of calm, like a blanket that muffled out all the external voices and opinions, and all I heard was my own quiet inner voice, she’s almost here, just stay patient.

I spent the rest of the afternoon and the day after pottering about the house. I knitted, listened to an audiobook, weeded the garden, snuggled Massimo, drank tea, baked bread and lactation cookies.

By the afternoon, I hardly noticed that my contractions had restarted from about 1 p.m. I was just going about my day. I made dinner, gave Massimo a bath and tucked him into bed. Contractions began to pick up to another level.

I thought I would continue to distract myself, as distraction had proven to be the most effective method of encouraging them. So I tidied up the house, gave our bedroom a fresh set of sheets and cleaned our bathroom until it sparkled.

At 8:30 p.m., I decided to start timing the contractions. I rolled out my yoga mat, got out my breast pump, did a half-hour Spinning Babies yoga class and noticed that they were steadily picking up over that half an hour.

I did some antenatal expressing with my breast pump and they clicked into another gear. At 9:30 p.m., I messaged my doula and sent her a copy of my contraction timer. She said she would get dressed in her regular clothes and hop into bed to get some sleep in, and would be at the ready.

Orlando woke up a very snoozy Massimo and took him over to our friend’s house around the corner. While he was gone, the contractions grew in their intensity and I could no longer ignore them. By 10 pm I got myself in my Bradley method relaxation position in bed, downloaded the Freya App, and started the process of deeper labour.

The Bradley method is something I came across in my research for having a natural birth in the hospital, and the testimonials from folks who had used it were very compelling. It complimented hypnobirthing perfectly. It teaches you to train your mind and body to relax in a specific position deeply. The more you relax and open, the more the energy of birth can move through you and allow labour to naturally unfold. When you resist pain, you tense up, which can make the pain worse (the fear > tension > pain cycle). But if you’re able to drop into the intensity of the pressure and power of the contractions, the more quickly you dilate and the more effective the contractions can become.

Orlando came home from dropping off Massimo, he got into bed with me and we just lay there, breathing together through the contractions. We continued to do this for a couple of hours and I feel I drifted into another dimension. The contractions weren’t painful, just intense, and in the spaces in between, I floated.

At 1:30 a.m., I got up to go to the bathroom and the contractions started coming on top of one another. I could feel her head pressing on my cervix, and when I checked I could feel her. She was sitting up high, but I knew we needed to get ourselves to the hospital.

I called the hospital and told them that we were coming in. Orlando told Mary to go directly to the hospital to meet us there. Orlando then went about getting all the last-minute things we needed, that I had written on a post-it note and attached to our birth plan documents. He got the car all set up, complete with LED candle lights, put on my hypnobirthing track, and had the car seat warmed up with a hot water bottle and pillows.

The 40-minute drive only took 30 minutes, as it was 2 a.m. – the time of night that I had been woken up by these contractions for 17 days. It felt fitting.

A large orange, waning gibbous moon was rising in the sky as we drove down the highway. There was a calmness in the air. We put on the 25-minute hypnobirthing track that I had listened to every day since I was 20 weeks pregnant. It was the perfect transition to the hospital, even though sitting up made the contractions very uncomfortable and nearly impossible to relax through.

We arrived at the hospital at 2:30 p.m. and had to enter through the emergency department. I had to stop twice in the 30-meter walk to the entrance, to hold onto a fence and breathe and sway through huge waves of contractions.

We didn’t have to wait or be triaged. The staff took one look at me and took us straight to our room, which was ready for us and we were greeted by our assigned midwife, Emma, who was excited that I wanted to have an unmedicated natural birth. Mary arrived shortly after and we went through my birth plan all together in between contractions. Within minutes the room was transformed into a quiet, cosy sanctuary with lights off, fairy lights strung up, a diffuser of essential oils bubbling away and a soothing soundtrack.

Mary helped me get settled in bed in my Bradley relaxation position. I wanted to slow the contractions back down and regain my calm. With the space being set up so perfectly and the relief of having a midwife who was shiny with excitement for an (intended) natural birth, I was able to recenter myself and relax through them despite their new level of intensity. Mary stroked my back in between contractions and squeezed my leg during them. It felt like the perfect way to be held.

Then, all of a sudden, everything went quiet. The contractions died down and I just rested and slept, for how long, I cannot say. I had read about this happening, sometimes referred to as “The Quiescence”. It’s a beautiful gift of physiology, a rest after transition. I was so thankful that I had a midwife who was pro-natural childbirth and understood this as not a sign of labour stalling, but a sign of labour progressing.

During this time of rest, Mary popped out to have a snack, and Orlando took over and just sat next to me with a steady hand in mine. After a while, he reminded me to use the bathroom (having an empty bladder is so important for birth and I had asked him to remind me often beforehand). He helped me get up, and in the seven steps it took from the bed to the bathroom I had two huge contractions.

I went to the bathroom and there was an almighty pop. My waters broke and I saw my mucus plug fall out in one big plop. I felt a wave of energy infuse me. I was so ready to meet this baby. We decided to get the shower going and the hot water felt absolutely glorious. The shower is one of my favourite places to be in the world and it felt so right to be in there as labour kicked into a whole new gear.

I could feel the pressure mounting but I still didn’t have any urge to push. I instinctively got on my hands and knees and went between wide-kneed child’s pose and all fours through contractions. I was able to hold the railings in the shower to squat, sway my pelvis and put everything into practice that I had learned through my prenatal yoga classes. I visualized my pelvis opening and softening and felt her head descend down into my birth canal. I allowed my body to move intuitively and instinctively, to help her come down.

At one point I asked Mary and Emma if they could suggest any other position. They both encouraged me to continue doing exactly what I was doing because it was working.

As the next contraction started, I squatted, holding the bathroom rail, and I could feel my body bear down and start pushing without any conscious effort on my behalf. It felt like I had three contractions one after the other, tag teaming one another without pause: I felt her drop, then the ring of fire, and next her head come out. quickly followed by her body.

At 6:04 am Orlando caught her and passed her up through my legs. She was perfect and so calm. Although she didn’t cry, she started pink-ing up straightaway.

The joy was immense but I did not feel relief yet, as this was the part of the story last time where things went wrong. I could feel myself being very alert and aware that my work was not over yet.

We followed the third-stage management plan I had co-created with my doctors. Emma gave me a dose of Syntometrine in my thigh, and Mary passed me a cup of pre-prepared placenta release and anti-haemorrhagic herbs. I lay with my baby skin on skin, beginning breastfeeding. But the position I was in on the shower floor wasn’t ideal for being able to push the placenta out.

It was clear that it had detached but it was just sitting in my birth canal and we needed to get it out before my cervix clamped down on it. My midwife offered me cord traction, but it felt important for me to push the placenta out on my own. After the cord stopped pulsing, it was clamped and cut. I told Orlando to take his shirt off and take our baby girl.

I then got into a deep squat, braced myself and pushed twice. My placenta gently came out in front of me. That is when I felt the first wave of relief. I was back on shore, whole with my baby girl safe.

Tender hands draped my robe around my shoulders guided me back to bed and covered me with blankets. Orlando placed our baby girl on my chest and she fed for 90 minutes as I watched the sun rise over the hills and houses of Bendigo. I was brought sweet tea and sandwiches as Orlando called our mothers and sisters to share the news. It was a moment that I couldn’t have with my son, which was filled with blood, blacking out, ambulances, pain, fear and shock. This moment felt so redeeming and touched by an almost otherworldly presence.

I felt the biggest wave of gratitude for my birth team: Orlando for protecting every aspect of the birth process and space so I felt safe to surrender and unfold, Mary for holding me with intuitive hands and words that kept me centred and Emma for being so respectful of my birth plan and all my wishes to have a natural, unmedicated birth in the hospital. Before Emma finished her shift I thanked her, and she said “I didn’t do anything at all – it was all you”.

I’m writing this four days after Anna;’s birth, as she lies on me snuggled up, making those glorious newborn snuffles. Anna’s birth has deepened my faith in the wisdom of my body. I learned that the medical system isn’t always trigger-happy to intervene when you are making reasonable, balanced and informed decisions. As Ina May Gaskin says: “You, as the birthing person, are the most vulnerable but also the most powerful person in the room”.

Welcome to the world, our beautiful Anna.


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