My journey started 8 years ago in the UK, with a C-section after a long labour that stalled. I was induced with a stretch and sweep. After 20 hours of labour, I stalled at 6cm. It was thought that my petite frame and hence pelvis couldn’t accommodate my baby. And so my first baby was born at 40 weeks weighing 4.34kg, and 57cm long. I rejoiced at his safe entrance into the world, but my heart ached that I had failed to do what I so longed for.
A move back to South Africa and another pregnancy 3 years later, left me with what we thought at the time was no choice but a RCS (repeat caesarean section). My gynecologist was not open to a VBAC citing uterine rupture as her reason, which frightened me.
I was unaware of the statistics and information at the time, so I couldn’t fight for it. I remember lying in the hospital trolley waiting to go into theatre, talking myself out of jumping off and making a dash for it out of the hospital!! My girlie was born at 38w4days weighing 3.74kg, 52cm long. My heart was stolen for the second time, but I still ached for a natural birth, an opportunity to prove that my body was not ill designed, and that I am by God’s design capable of birthing my babies His way. I wanted to give my babies their best birth too and whereas I am grateful for medical intervention when necessary, I refused to believe that my body was too small for my babies.
Another child wasn’t considered for lack of medical aid, believing that our only option going forward was always going to be a RCS.
My VBAC preparation:
We moved to the beautiful town of Hermanus and it was there in our Homeschooling adventures that I met my midwife. I asked her one day about the chance of a normal birth, knowingly starting my journey in my heart. I’ll never forget her response, she said YES!! She said all woman deserve that opportunity, but that I would need to own my own story, and not be passively involved in someone else’s hands. I had to be determined beyond determined; I held onto this advice and 5 years after my 2nd, our 3rd baby was on the way: and I wanted a natural birth!!!
I knew being a VBA2C my options would be small. I began researching the VBAC situation and digested a wealth of facts. I realised that in order for it to be successful would depend entirely on me. I needed to indulge informatively in the physiology of birth so I would not leave anything to chance again. I became a walking encyclopedia on all things VBAC and started indoctrinating my husband! I worked through the exact type of birth I wanted to ensure the best chance of success, and realised that the birth environment and position is paramount. We need to feel safe, protected, in control and be given freedom to move and choose our best birthing position. And so home birth was the best choice for us. My midwife would be my facilitator, the protector of the space at the birth, BUT I needed to prepare! I got on board with a healthy diet, exercise and fitness and armed myself with research, and put my trust in my Heavenly Father to preserve me in childbirth. I fought off negativity, defended against fear mongering in the medical world and held fast onto the promises given to me in His Word. It was a daily battle, but I was SO determined!!! Family members thought I was taking a huge risk, but I’d done my homework, and I knew we were safe.
I’m forever grateful to my midwife for giving me that opportunity.
My best birthday gift:
Eventually the day drew near, it came, it went and we waited…. I didn’t want any induction of any kind, I wanted the day and hour to be the Lord’s will, and my midwife lovingly respected that, and gifted me with time, something immeasurable in a VBAC.
I’d been given a plethora of dates from various medical professionals, but we said we’d know her due date when she came!! I started with what seemed to be Prodromal labour from the 4th of July, my due date according to my cycle. Every night after falling asleep I’d start with intense Braxton style contractions which increased in intensity and pain, but would dissipate by morning. This was a real test. By the 19th of July I was really ready!!! I realized that stress and anxiety was standing in the way, and being a VBAC, I had a lot to work through:
*would this baby be too big
*would my body fail again
*was I too small
*would I dilate past 6cm
*was I being reckless and selfish hoping for a HBAC….
*would I actually go into labour
All the negativity from my scan appointments (fearmongering upon hearing that I was attempting a VBA2C) haunted me, I had to stand fast in what I believed was the Lords will and what the research showed was a safe option.
My midwife insisted I relax, and just let go, and trust myself & the Lord… I did. I took my kids for an ice cream, a friend gifted me with a massage and that evening, my world changed forever! At 19:30, on the 19th July, the day before my own birthday, my waters broke!! Miracle #1!! I was elated!!! At first I only felt low grade period type pain. My water kept flowing. This was the real deal! Everything I had worked for. Miracle #2: go into labour!!! I kept busy, friends were around for dinner, we laughed, ate cake!! Contractions really kicked off at 21:30, they were close at 2 1/2 minutes apart, really intense and I needed to concentrate. My friends left, my midwife arrived. I appreciated the confidence and calm she brought. My doula arrived with a huge chocolate in hand (I’d been so disciplined with my diet!!!). The two of them are a real dream team!! My husband kept the fort and I felt so protected and comforted by the presence of all three together. I was checked and found to be 2 cm dilated. My contractions were 2 minutes apart, and getting stronger. I doubted myself for a second, only 2 cm!?? Would I go the distance this time? I had my playlist music playing, and sitting on a ball at the foot of my bed, with just the hallway light on. I let my body do what is was designed to do. It went so fast, it felt like only an hour! I’d been power walking every day, worked very hard and it was paying off!! At 11 I moved to the pool and this was an instant relief. In between contractions as I leaned on the edge I could totally relax my body, and let it float. My doula coached me on the correct way to breathe and ‘groan’ and it helped tremendously! Her quiet affirmations gave me the confidence to trust myself and to rely on my own body to do what is so normal. There is no way to describe the way your body takes over; I could feel my baby passing through my pelvis with each contraction. I had not experienced it with my first child, and the only way to cope is to let go and allow your body to do what it’s supposed to. I knew if I was tense or afraid at this point, I’d make my labour longer, so I listened to my doulas encouragement and just trusted my body. The water really helped!! At about midnight my midwife checked me again, I was fully dilated!! Another miracle!!! At this point my body took over completely pushing my baby through my small petite pelvis…. I kept checking the time, willing her to stay in long enough to be born on my birthday. It was crucial to me at this stage to be able to choose the position that was most comfortable and effective. With each contraction I praised the Lord, it was like nothing I’d experienced before!! Having my support team’s experience and the freedom they gave me to move and just be completely natural was important. I was aware that I was home, safe, with no strangers, only friends in whom I could trust. At 1am, we moved to my tiny bathroom to relieve my bladder and it was then that she came!! Standing, hanging onto my husband and doula for dear life, I pushed!! I remember panicking thinking she might get stuck at the last minute, but I took comfort in knowing that I had experts there to help!! Miracle #4 & 5, she made it through my pelvis and I pushed my baby out!! At 1:23 Taetum Grace Parker was born, in my own home!! Taetum means ‘brings joy’ and that is what she brought!! It felt surreal, I couldn’t quite believe I had done it!! All the months of physical, mental and spiritual preparation culminated into this beautiful moment, and I felt completely healed and restored. I am still on a high!!!! All the fear that had weighed on me, all the negativity, was instantly transformed into awe and belief both in myself and in the Lord. This was my moment when I believed what I had believed 8 years ago: The babies I was given; I was also made to birth!! No I wasn’t too small!!! Oh what joy!!!!
The moment of truth was when we weighed her!! I’d worked hard to eat a balanced, healthy sugar free diet… my baby was 4.13kg, 57 cm long!!!!! We couldn’t believe it!!!! I wasn’t too small, and my ‘failed’ diet became a victory!!! I did it!!!!!
I did tear, and had to have stitches, but I recovered quickly under the care of my midwife.
A heart of gratitude:
I’m forever grateful to my husband who got on board and supported my choice, served me during my pregnancy and birth. To the team that supported me in birth, and most importantly, my God who affirmed me through His Word over and over again that He would keep me through it all!
The magical experience ended with all of us eating birthday cake at 3am, celebrating my little girl’s birthday on my own birthday – what a gift!!!!!
To all the hopeful woman:
My birth was wonderful, but it did not happen by accident. I did not spend my entire pregnancy leaving it to chance and hoping with fingers crossed it would happen. I had to fight, and it takes a determination, a tenacity to ensure you have the best possible chance at success. I realised early on in my pregnancy that it would be my efforts that would determine the outcome. I made sure I knew everything I needed to know about VBAC’ing, I kept fit and was religious about exercising, I changed my diet radically and prepared myself mentally for both success and failure. My husband was a fantastic support, but it was my body and my mind that had to overcome the fears of failing again. I needed to trust myself and my own body. I spoke to my baby daily, to prepare her. My children became little activists for natural birth too. I attended an antenatal class. It wasn’t all roses, I had to face adversity from experts who put fear into the whole process. I had done my research so when I was posed with the classic fear mongering tactics, ‘you’re too small’, ‘you and your baby could die’, ‘you must not have one contraction, not one’, ‘you will lose your pelvic floor’, ‘your baby is macrosomic (over 4kg)’ and other classics, I politely stood my ground and never gave in because I was empowered with the facts!! You have to be resolute, you have to want it with all your heart!!!!! I did have a choice!! Now what I have learnt about myself is beyond measure. I am glad I stayed the course and finished this race. Had I ended up with a C-section again, I would know that I had earned it, for trying my absolute best. You might say I have experienced all forms of birth, but I can honestly say that natural and home birth has proven to me to be the best that I could’ve given to my child. I realise now that in my first child’s birth, I was ill equipped to handle it. I did not have enough information, I could not own that story, I was naive and left it to someone else. In my HBAC I had to wade through a whole lot of fears. It kept me up at night, and I’m sure it contributed to a delayed onset of labour. But it’s normal to be afraid, and it’s also normal to let your body do what it’s made for. Arm yourself with knowledge, find the right support team and prepare yourself in all aspects of your birth, you deserve it.
“And He said, “O man, greatly beloved, fear not, be strong, yes be strong” Daniel 10:18-19
I can honestly say I have experienced all forms of birth, yet my experience with my midwife, Debby Engelbrecht remains the most normal, natural and empowering. I sought a midwife because I knew this time I had to be cared for by a care provider that not only understood the natural process of birth, but that also respected my role in it. From the onset I found a space with Debby where I was at liberty to express my fears, my deepest birth desires and I was never rushed or pushed into any direction. I felt respected, nurtured and most appreciatively I got educated on what I needed to make my birth a success. I cherished the pre-natal appointments for what I came away with: love and genuine care. I miss my pre-natal appointments!!!!
Debby was at all times not only professional in her care and manner, but went the extra mile to provide me with love and supporting what was a specialised case, and furnished me with information, empowering me with education on all things birth and VBAC. I felt that we working together as a team, and I never felt like I was out of control, unlike my previous experiences. I was not only invited to be part of the process, but encouraged to take control and trust myself and my body.
Debby created a ‘space’ where I was loved, valued, respected and encouraged which I felt I had not experienced at all in my previous births. This birth was the way I felt it should be, for me and for every woman.
At each appointment I never felt rushed, I felt that Debby took the time necessary to attend to me and it was a great opportunity to explore the type of birth we were pursuing and to build a solid foundation of trust. This is an important element to maternal care compared to my previous birth journeys. It was important to have these building blocks so that the actual birth was an environment with someone I trusted, and it facilitated the entire natural process beautifully.
I attended her antenatal classes as well and left with an appreciation not only of her passion for women and their individual stories, but am forever equipped with empowering information that has improved my knowledge and appreciation of childbirth. For me it was hugely important and I am so glad I did it.
In the lead up to the birth of my baby, Debby was always respectful of my wishes, although she was careful to keep me and baby safe. When baby was late in coming she took the necessary precautions all the while maintaining my dignity and choice in my choice of birth. I wanted to go into labour spontaneously, and this was respected but I never felt in danger as Debby attended to me and had a plan should baby be too late. In the end baby came when she was ready without the need for any type of natural induction and for this I was grateful.
On the night of my baby’s birth, I took great comfort in being able to birth at home. Debby arrived and both her calmness and demeanour put me at ease: she really is a natural facilitator of birth!! I felt safe, I felt at peace knowing that I had an expert at hand should anything go awry. Debby’s hand in it all was the perfect balance of intervention and respect of the naturalness of the process. I did not feel unnecessarily poked or prodded, but rather guided and hedged in, protected and safe. I needed the assurance that all was going as it should and I felt that confidence from her. She also knew intuitively when to allow me to labour on my own. Her manner was professional at all times. We had a successful homebirth and I feel hugely grateful to Debby for what I have always longed for. Following the birth, I never felt as though Debby had left my side, instead she went beyond the call of duty and stayed on the couch all night to attend to me and baby. I felt hugely reassured by this and it made me more relaxed to know that she was there. Having her attend to me after the birth in the weeks that followed is again a stark reminder of the differences between common maternal practice today and private midwifery led care. Having these checks in my own home is far more relaxing in the first few critical weeks of bonding. I highly recommend not only midwifery led care, but Debby as a midwife to anyone pregnant or considering having a baby. Thank you Debby for my birth journey, I am eternally grateful.