The Birth Story of Florence Stella
Trigger warning: Whilst my story is a positive one please note I discuss risks associated with uterine variance including pregnancy loss, and experienced a postpartum haemorrhage following the birth of Florence.
I’ve been deliberating for sometime whether to share the full story of how I came to be so passionate about positive birth and overcoming fear of birth. For a long time my story was one that I was ashamed or embarrassed by, feeling somehow that my body was broken. I’ve worried that perhaps it is an overshare, or that people wouldn’t be interested. However I’ve decided to share it not only to give context to my personal birth choices, but also to share a positive birth story with my condition, as I know from preparing for my own births that they are extremely hard to find. I hope that by sharing this part of my life that it helps another woman to have confidence in her own body, and to know that it is possible to birth positively with extra medical considerations or intervention.
After many years of issues surrounding my menstrual cycle it was discovered when I was nineteen that I have a condition called uterus didelphys. This is a congenital uterine variance that means I was born with essentially two uterus and two cervix, although my variation means there is a small ‘gap’ just above the cervix where the two sides are joined.
While uterine variances aren’t completely uncommon, this particular variation is fairly rare and there’s often not good evidence around outcomes. Theoretically this uterine variance gives an increased risk of miscarriage, spontaneous abortion, cervical incompetence, premature labour, malpositioned presentation, retained placenta, fetal growth restriction and caesarean section. The way these risks were communicated to me by the specialist I saw at the time left me frankly traumatised and were one contributing factor to my experience of anxiety disorder for the next twelve months. He basically informed me I would be lucky to carry a live child to term, would probably experience multiple losses and would require a caesarean if I were to birth a baby. Whilst I’m sure he felt he was doing his job, in my opinion he didn’t approach it sensitively enough for the young nineteen year old woman sitting in front of him who always assumed she would be a mother.
When the time came to considering starting a family I felt that I wanted to develop a relationship of trust with a care provider prior to conception, and I fortunate enough to click with the first obstetrician that I decided to meet. He made me feel calm, supported and heard, and whilst he cautioned that pregnancy and birth would both require more monitoring, saw no reason that I couldn’t assume the best and attempt a vaginal birth if all went well. I felt that I was both reassured, but that my concerns were valid and received.
I have been so fortunate to conceive both my girls with ease, and I do not at all take this for granted. I feel incredibly lucky not to have experienced any of the complications that this condition increases my risk for. I have carried two very healthy baby girls to term in the right side of my uterus, although my first daughter was induced for suspected growth restriction at 39 + 3, and have experienced two very positive vaginal births.
As you can imagine before Elodie was born I had an intense fear and anxiety surrounding pregnancy and birth. This fear led me to discover hypnobirthing, which has been an invaluable tool for overcoming fear, trusting my body and experiencing positive birth. I have written before about my first birth experience of Elodie here. Heading into the birth of Florence, I always sort of assumed that my experience of birth and the way I would manage would be similar. How wrong I was… and what a wonderful reminder that each birth, and each baby are truly unique and come with their own set of circumstances. Whilst the hypnobirths of both my girls were positive and empowering, they couldn’t be more wildly different.
The first seven months of my pregnancy absolutely flew by in a whirlwind of juggling a business, a part time job, a husband who sporadically travels for work, family commitments and a busy toddler. It really wasn’t until after I took maternity leave and a holiday at 33 weeks that I was able to really slow down, appreciate this pregnancy and commit to the practices that not only feel good but that I feel strongly help prepare me for birth. Whilst I had been teaching and practising prenatal yoga and hypnobirthing throughout the entire pregnancy, I was pleased to have this extra time at the end to really focus on supporting myself as passionately as I support other expecting mums.
Throughout this pregnancy one of my fears and irrational beliefs was that I had somehow used up all my ‘luck’ with my first experience. I was scared that what would potentially be my last experience of birth would not feel empowering or joyful like my first birth had. Knowing that fear could inhibit the natural birthing process, as well as my ability to enjoy my pregnancy I diligently used all my hypnobirthing tools to calmly prepare for any path that birth may take. I trained my mind to control what I could control, to release the rest, and to surrender to the path of pregnancy and birth.
Whilst Elodie was an induced birth due to suspected growth restriction, I had a really strong desire to experience spontaneous labour this time around if possible. Unless there was a medical necessity, I wanted less monitoring, more mobility and a ‘hands off my vagina’ approach to birth. From 36 weeks on I began experiencing a lot of pre-labour signs and sporadic period style cramping each evening, making me wonder if birth was close as these had been early labour signs with Elodie the night before my induction. The first time it happened with Florence I texted my mother in law and one of my best friends who is a midwife to be on standby (my husband was still on his way home from far north queensland), but each morning it was gone. In this time I became incredibly introverted and really retreated into the ‘birthing zone’, spending my days napping after been up all night, cooking and preparing for postpartum, going to appointments, acupuncture, osteopathy and practising my hypnobirthing and prenatal yoga.
At 39 weeks on the night of a full moon I finally thought that the prelabour was turning into active labour when I had over 3 hours of regular, though not rhythmic, contractions. They began to become uncomfortable enough that I got out of bed and circled on the fitball in front of the fire. It turned out that it was an evening of spurious labour, and not the evening that I was to meet our baby girl. At this point I started to feel a little deflated as I knew I had an appointment the following week with one of the hospital obstetricians to discuss plans for induction. Unfortunately due to some changes out of my control, my own choice of obstetrician was unable to attend the birth, though I continued to have shared care with him. Although I was not yet at my expected due date, I knew the conversations would begin soon after as having uterus didelphys tends to make my care providers more nervous about post date pregnancy. I had already pushed for that appointment to be at 40 + 2, rather than 39 + 2 but the appointment was looming in my mind. By this point I was trying everything in the book to encourage labour to begin spontaneously.
On my expected due date I had an appointment with my own obstetrician and I requested a membrane sweep with the caveat that if I was finding it too uncomfortable I was going to ask him to stop. The process was completely fine for me and it was really reassuring to hear that I was already 3-4cm dilated and he could feel the head easily. I felt reassured that I would be meeting my baby soon and was likely to be able to avoid an induction and synthetic oxytocin. I actually thought perhaps I would go into labour that evening once my daughter was in bed and I fully relaxed.
Waking up Tuesday morning at 40 + 1 after not a single sensation of tightening all night again left me feeling a little deflated as I knew my appointment was the next day, and I still did not want to go. I felt excessively emotional and had a little cry at breakfast saying to my husband irrationally “she’s never going to come out” – in hindsight my hormones were really ramping up at this stage and I just didn’t realise yet. I felt a little ‘off’ and was beginning to get more of what I call period style cramping. Thinking nothing of it I asked if Jase could do the daycare dropoff on his way to work as I just didn’t have it in me, this was around 7.30am. Once he left I headed for a hot shower and I started to get regular and rhythmic sensation that had me rocking and swaying under the water. I texted Jase to let him know, but that it was probably nothing and to just head into work. Within half an hour or so I had a few more surges of increasing intensity that made me get out the birth ball and rock through them on my knees. It wasn’t long after that I texted him to say I think it might perhaps be labour, and to come home and help me put the tens machine on. By this point the surges were about 7 minutes apart so I also rang the hospital to tell them that I might be in labour but that I would call again later when we were heading in if it progressed. I was still slightly in denial despite the regularity and strength of my surges, and I think I was trying to protect myself from my own disappointment if it turned out to be more pre-labour.
Once Jase got home at about 9am he helped me stick the tens machine pads to my back, and made the nursery where I had chosen to labour dark and cosy with essential oils and my Hypnobirthing Australia tracks. By 9.30am things were progressing quickly with surges getting stronger and closer together. Although it hadn’t been long, I had a feeling that I just wanted to head into hospital, personally I am quite comfortable in hospitals, having worked in them myself before. I also wanted to make the transition while I was still somewhat comfortable, knowing that I wouldn’t be able to be leaning forwards or kneeling which are my preferred labour positions. I put my earphones in and wore an eyemask during the drive so that I could stay in my zone whilst surging in the car.
My surges continued to come regularly on the drive to hospital, at the front door and in the elevator. Once we arrived at the maternity ward I was pleased to see the friendly face of the same midwife who completed my booking in appointment. I immediately felt comfortable when she also remembered me and started explaining how she had read my birth preferences, and whilst a birth pool wasn’t available yet it would be soon, and that we could then transition to that room. I reassured her I was happy to stay in the room we were in because I was loving the tens machine and was unlikely to take it off to get into the water. I agreed to a vaginal examination and decided that I did want to know how dilated I was, my midwife informed me I had progressed and was at 5cm, which in my mind still meant I had a long way to go, though I felt ok with that at the time.
We got the birth ball set up and Jase dutifully made the room dim, set up the music and started looking for soft things to put on the floor as he knew I wanted to be on all fours on the floor and kneeling against the ball. We ended up taking the padded seats off the bench under the window to use as cushioning for my knees as I was adamant I would not be getting on the bed to birth, and for the next two hours or so I alternated between kneeling slumped on the ball and walking around. I concentrated on allowing my entire body be loose and limp as I had in my first labour, but also felt the need to walk, stand, circle my hips, sway and lean over the elevated bed for surges. I felt the urge to move so much more in this labour, and really leant into the instinctive motions of my body. As well as been so much more active this time as my mobility wasn’t limited by the drip and continuous monitoring, I was much noisier. I moaned and groaned through each surge, though the noises were still deep and primal and productive, rather than fearful or high pitched.
I was staying hydrated with coconut water and tried to eat a jelly to keep my energy up but I started to get nauseas, hot and was starting to doubt my ability to manage the intensity of the surges that were now coming thick and fast. My midwife and Jase recognised the signs of transition but I got frustrated at them when I saw them setting up everything for the birth as in my own mind I still had a long way to go, and my membranes still hadn’t released. Typical of transition I started to think perhaps I wanted an epidural as I wasn’t sure I could sustain this intensity for much longer. Of course they had recognised the signs correctly… and suddenly I felt the need to start taking off my clothes and to kneel at the birth ball.
At this point I asked for the gas and had the tens machine set pretty high, both these tools as well as vocalisation were helping me manage. My membranes finally released and as I felt the urge to bear down I followed the natural impulses of my body, though I didn’t get the same super strong expulsive reflex as I had with Elodie. I found the gas useful for taking the edge off, though in hindsight it confused my breathing techniques a little, and I wasn’t breathing the same way as I had with Elodie’s birth when I didn’t use gas. This stage of labour also demanded more of me physically with Florence than it had with Elodie, who came out very quickly. Floss made me work for it, and when I was told her heartrate started to drop a little it gave me a boost of adrenalin and suddenly, I had the energy to really bear down. My mama bear instincts also kicked in fiercely as I snapped at the obstetrician (who I did actually like) to “get your hands out of me”, I was determined to do this myself without been touched. I was respected and everyone backed off a bit as I birthed my beautiful girl.
At 1:14pm, around five hours from when I began to think I might be experiencing labour, Florence Stella was born and passed up to my chest. I felt the immediate joy and rush of oxytocin that I had experienced with Elodie, and with an immense sense of relief one of the first things I said was “I got her out!” At 3.6kg, a whole 600g bigger than her sister, her birth was equally intense but in a completely different way to my first induced birth.
We enjoyed skin to skin and delayed cord clamping, and I had consented to receiving an injection of synthetic oxytocin in the thigh after cord clamping for the birth of the placenta. During my pregnancy I had considered opting for a physiological third stage, though my intuition had led me to make the decision of active management knowing that I have a theoretical increased risk of retained placenta with my uterine variance.
Unfortunately, this is the point in my birth story where things didn’t go as smoothly as we had hoped, though a key component of the Hypnobirthing Australia program I teach is that we calmly prepare for any turn birth may take. My placenta took a little longer to birth this time around, and I was unlucky enough to develop clots in the cervix that caused a postpartum haemorrhage. My midwife and the obstetrician were both fantastic, though the process of removing the clots and stopping the bleeding was intensely uncomfortable.
Whilst it took me a few days to feel ‘normal’ after the experience of the haemorrhage and I was a little shaky, I am still blown away by how well you can feel after a positive birth experience. Our bodies are truly amazing, and I have taken lots of care to support my postpartum healing with warmth, rest, support and the principles of traditional Chinese medicine this time around.
Nearly a month on and I am feeling well, happy and completely in love with my beautiful daughter. Reflecting on both birth experiences I believe more than ever that each birth, like each experience of our life, teaches us something new. Elodie’s birth revealed to me my own inner strength and power, it showed me that my body is not broken as I had believed for many years. Florence’s birth taught me patience and trust, it urged me to dig deep into the faith I had in myself, to trust the birth process and to trust my care providers when birth took an unexpected path.
I am so truly grateful for these experiences and the way they have shaped me as a mother. x