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Episode 173

Holly McCauley

In this week’s episode I chat to Holly McCauley about her two natural births that were, in almost every way, polar opposites. She journeyed towards her first birth, with daughter Della, believing that her body would do the job and relying on relating breathing techniques. Subsequently, she experienced a smooth and joyous water birth. Three years on and she was told by almost everyone that her second birth would be quick and easy, especially considering her experience the first time around. However, Holly endured a long, challenging labour that pushed her to her limits and proved that birth expectations can be deceiving.

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Holly and her partner Nick were living in Sydney when they decided to try for a baby. On the day they purchased their first home in the Byron Bay Hinterland they also found out they were pregnant. They spent the first half of the pregnancy living apart while Holly finished up a work stint in Sydney and while she knew there was an end date, she believes it contributed to her physical discomfort and emotional unease.

Upon moving to Byron and settling into their new home, Holly admits that she didn’t know where to start when it came to her birth options. She ended up calling the local birth centre and booked in with the midwifery team. “The midwife model of care suited Nick and I and it really was just luck that we fell into it. It’s a small town birth centre with a limited caseload and I ended up getting the very last place available,” she says. Whilst she saw one midwife throughout her pregnancy, there were two backup midwives available for her birth if her assigned midwife wasn’t available.

Holly was heavily pregnant with both her babies during summer and she loved nothing more than basking in the balmy weather, floating in the ocean and wearing next to nothing. Upon recommendation from a few friends, Holly and Nick decided to do a Calmbirth course over a few weekends and it ended up being the best possible preparation for them. Holly admits that they almost didn’t do it because of the cost and time involved and yet it ended up being priceless; a wonderful mix of anatomical knowledge and breathing skills that would carry her through labour and into a smooth and joy filled birth experience.

“It was so nice to take that time out, spend it together and mentally prepare for what’s going to happen,” she says. “I ended up going nine days past my due date and any little niggly feeling had me both anxious and excited. I was going into the birth thinking that whatever happens, happens. I loved the idea of a water birth but didn’t have too many attachments to it an the fact that there were no pain relief options at the birth centre was something I really liked…because if it wasn’t there, I couldn’t ask for it.”

Holly’s waters broke as soon as she got out of bed one morning and she spent the rest of the day with Nick; hanging at home, walking on the beach and generally relishing their last day together. She firmly believes it was an ideal start to labour and really placed her in a happy, positive mindset. Come late afternoon, Nick went out and Holly was home alone so she set up a mattress in the living room, turned off the lights and fell into the rhythmic breathing (in for five counts, out for six) that she had learned through Calmbirth. “i snowy got into the birthing zone and before long I was in a really meditative state and it really helped labour progress. We stayed in touch with our midwife, she listened to me during contractions and by about 9:30pm she asked us to come in.”

Holly admits that she doesn’t remember the 10minute car journey to the hospital. By 10pm they reached the birthing suite and her midwife left them alone and allowed her to labour in the dimly lit room. “I wasn’t really there, I felt like I’d almost left my body…I’d prepared to be in labour for a lot longer than I was….it ended up being an amazing labour and I was so surprised. I really thought it was going to be a lot tougher than it was. It was because I was in the right headspace, it progressed really nicely, it was intense but my body and baby were working together and my mind had almost left, like it was taking a little holiday. I could actually see myself in the room and I just let my body take over. This isn’t to say that it wasn’t intense, it was, but it was also amazing. It happened without me having to do too much.”

Holly laboured beautifully, using the support of the Swiss ball before moving into the bath. Della was born in the water and Holly’s first thought was Is she ok? “She was totally fine but I’d just gone through this experience and now I’ve got this baby and…there she was! I stayed in the bath for a while, gathering my thoughts, staring in awe at her and I feel like that’s when my rational brain came back.”

Holly delivered the placenta over the toilet and she experienced a profound sense of relief once it was out, which wasn’t something she had heard women talk about previously. She then settled onto the bed with Della and stayed till the morning, high on oxytocin and love. “Nothing beats just being there with your newborn on your chest. I’ve really got no words for it.”

Holly and Nick celebrated their wedding shortly after Della turned two and within a few months they were pregnant with baby Posey. Once again, Holly enjoyed a relatively symptom-free pregnancy and prepared for a big-bellied summer. In the weeks leading up to Posey’s birth, bushfires were raging across NSW and everyone was talking about climate change. “I was thinking about whether it was the right thing to bring another child into the world…I was having lots of existential musings and then I went past my due date and was generally quite anxious and impatient,” she says.

“I saw the same midwife through the same birth centre and I felt like I knew what I was doing but I shot myself in the foot, especially when it came to the birth. The whole nine months I was really thinking it would be quick, I had these expectations of how the birth was going to go, the pregnancies were so similar so I had in my head that the birth was going to be the same…and it wasn’t.”

Holly was in early labour for 4-5 days, had three stretch and sweeps and yet any contractions she did have just fizzled out. “I woke up one morning at 4am with cramping and I felt like I should get ready because everyone had told me that it was going to be really quick. At 7am I knew it wasn’t a tease so we dropped Della at my mums, called my midwife, and went to the birth centre at 9am. I was breathing through contractions, I remember walking into the birth suite and being so aware of everything so it was the complete opposite of my first experience. I was so there and so present and so not in that primal state but still having contractions that made me think I was going to have a baby soon. It was a full on labour but I’d told my midwife that I didn’t want to get checked, just because I’d done it before and it was smooth and I wanted to do the same thing again.”

Holly was genuinely shocked by the intensity of the labour and by midday her midwife checked her and she was 5cm. “I felt like I was so close to birth and yet I was only halfway and that’s when I felt like something wasn’t right. The contractions ramped up so much that…I can’t even describe it, it felt like I was ripping in half and there was only 10 seconds between each one.”

While Holly was starting to feel scared, she was comforted by the fact that Posey’s heartbeat remained strong and steady throughout the entire labour. Her midwife felt like Posey’s head was in a strange position – face first instead of head first – and as a result she wasn’t pressing down on the cervix enough to dilate it. As a last resort before hospital transfer, they did a technique called rebozo where Holly lay on a sheet and two midwives rolled her from side to side on a sheet. “It was hell, the very worst feeling but Nick said he saw my tummy spin and roll and from then it was on, she was finally in the right spot.”

The contractions remained as intense, but they got closer together, and I just lay on my side and breathed through them without making too much of a fuss. I got into the meditative zone, finally, and I feel like in that 45minutes of laying down and breathing through them, I got closer to birthing. I felt like I was dealing with the labour better and I think that helped everything.”

I eventually got in the bath and felt the urge to push and within a few pushes she was born. I grabbed her myself without the midwives touching her. It was amazing…the feeling of being able to push her out and hold her and bring her up to my face. She was born in en caul and the sac broke as I brought her up…she just looked at me and she was just staring at me. She was totally fine the whole time! The cord was wrapped around her arm a bit, so the midwife thought it may have been anchoring her up higher which prevented her from dropping onto the cervix.”

Holly says Posey’s birth was more like a marathon than the spiritual experience she had with Della and she encourages all mums, but especially those preparing for their second birth, to let go of any expectations. “Every birth is different and I really believed what everyone told me about second births being quick and easy…I’m fine with it now but straight after the birth I was really shocked by how much I struggled.

Topics Discussed

Two vaginal calm births, Midwifery care

Episode Sponsor

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