Prepare for a positive birth experience with our new book

Episode 276


In today’s episode, I interview Leah Williams about her third birth; an unplanned home birth. Leah shared her first two births in episode 162 and I highly recommend listening as she details her infertility and IVF experience as well as her traumatic second birth which led to a PTSD diagnosis. For her third pregnancy, she consciously immersed herself in birth preparation, embraced lessons from The Birth Class and repeated the word ‘surrender’ whenever she felt doubt. She was also enrolled in Canterbury Hospital’s brilliant new care model, Canterbury Antenatal and Postnatal Services (CAPS) where all of her appointments were at home with a known midwife. Leah speaks at length about the mental strategies and proactive steps she took to prepare for birth after birth trauma.

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“My psychologist recommended I try Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy which ultimately makes you less sensitive to memories. It’s strange but you have to trust the process and go with it. The first few sessions were horrendous because you take yourself back to the trauma but then my symptoms started changing; I stopped having nightmares, my general anxiety stopped and I noticed that I was able to start talking about the birth without having a panic attack.”

After conceiving her first two children via IVF (and with a few embryos still frozen and waiting), Leah fell pregnant with baby Rosie naturally. After her second birth and the trauma she carried into postpartum, she had separated herself from the concept of positive, joyous birth. She knew she had to do the work to get back to a place where she could learn about birth, prepare for it and believe that it was possible to have a positive experience.

“I went to my GP and outlined that I wanted to go to Canterbury Hospital even though it was out of my zone and he promised me that he would do what he could to get me. By that afternoon I had spoken to one of the head midwives and I was under the care of the Canterbury Antenatal Postnatal Services (CAPS) team which is an amazing example of what standard care should be. Basically you have the same midwife for all your antenatal and postpartum appointments but they’re not necessarily at your birth. It is so good and it works so well for midwives, especially those who can’t be on call for birth because of family commitments. This is an opportunity for them to give more women continuity of care and one of the best things is they come to your home, I only ever had to go to hospital for my blood and glucose tests.

“I was also assigned a student midwife – who was only three months away from graduating – who would follow my pregnancy and be at my birth. I felt so supported from the very beginning. I wanted to be able to tell my story to one person and then move on from it; I had a lot of work to do to get into a really positive mindset for birth. I started listening to the podcast again, just to get back into the birth zone.

“I think especially if it’s your third pregnancy, The Birth Class is perfect because you often don’t have time to do in-person classes. Colin and I listened to it together and we found episode 1 with Rhea Dempsey and episode 4 with Jodi most helpful; we honestly learnt so much from them and there were so many things we took into our birth.”

Leah was incredibly sick during her entire pregnancy and at 10 weeks, opted to take medication to alleviate some of her symptoms. She realised early on that all she really could do was surrender to the experience; she had no control over how her pregnancy was unfolding nor how she was feeling. She just needed to accept her experience.

“My word was surrender, I just had to surrender to the sickness. There was nothing I could do so I just had to ride the wave. I used that same concept for birth, too.”

Covid lockdowns hit at the very end of her pregnancy so she consciously placed herself in a bubble so she wasn’t distracted or upset by online comments or news updates. She accepted that she would most probably go well past her estimated due date and so she continued to repeat the word surrender to remind herself that it was a circumstance beyond her control.

“With my first two pregnancies I tried every known natural induction technique and felt so disappointed when none of them worked. This time I did nothing, I just wanted her to come when she was ready, but I had lingering thoughts about the induction date. My midwives were just amazing, they told me that they would explain the induction to me and I had a choice to accept or decline their offer. The hospital wanted me to have a managed third stage considering my postpartum hemorrhage with August but my midwives listened to my intentions to have a physiological third stage and they sought approval from the hospital to have that plan in place.

“When you go through birth trauma, you just want to feel heard, you want to feel seen and you don’t want people to say that a healthy baby is all that matters, because it’s not. Your experience and what happened and the way you felt…you carry it for the rest of your life. When you hear people say ‘healthy mum, healthy baby’ you feel so invalidated and it makes the experience so much worse.

“I got to 40+5 and I suggested a stretch and sweep; it was the only thing I would do to prompt spontaneous labour. My midwife came to my house and we went into my bedroom and she gave me the stretch and sweep. It was so incredible having my appointments at home. We went out for lunch with the kids and that evening I started losing my mucous plug. I was so far into the surrendering thing that I was probably a bit too casual about the obvious signs. On Sunday the contractions continued to grow stronger throughout the day and at 10:30pm I was confident that it was on. I called my midwife and told her I was going to bed to get a bit of rest in. By 12:30am I was in the shower but I couldn’t get comfortable so I went downstairs and listened to music and swayed and looked at photos of my kids and that lasted about two hours.

“I was timing the contractions but they were still quite irregular. I was feeling all this downward pressure but my midwife could hear that I was still talking through things and obviously wasn’t really close to birthing. I didn’t want to go to the hospital too early but I also didn’t want to leave it too late. I had a fear of being at home and I felt like I would be more comfortable once I was at the hospital in my birth space. I went back to bed at 2:30pm and listened to my birth playlist. About 3:45pm I started humming and I was having to really breathe through my contractions, I woke Colin up and he suggested we go to hospital. I called my doula and she listened to me for twenty minutes and she thought it best that we get ready to go to the hospital. But then I started bearing down, that involuntary pushing experience. My contractions were still so irregular. We got up and got dressed and then we made our way down the hallway, mum helped me down the stairs. We got halfway down and I said something’s happening. The baby’s coming out.

“I got two steps down and started pushing and I stopped and said; there’s something between my legs. I walked into the laundry and sat on the toilet and put my hand in between my legs but I couldn’t feel her head. Her amniotic sac was bulging out. Colin ca
lled 000 and he supported the sac with his hands while Rosie’s head came down into the sac. There was this amazing moment where he held her head and I was making the loudest cow noises ever and then she was half in, half out and then Colin lifted her up and put her inside his jacket to keep her warm. There were a few seconds where there were no sounds and they felt so long because you don’t have a health professional telling you that it’s ok. Time stood still for us then. Then she cried and then we both sighed with relief.

“It didn’t look or feel like I was losing a lot of blood. I felt fine and didn’t have that nauseous feeling of dread. We sat down and chatted to the operator while we waited for the ambulance to come. Two teams of paramedics came and they were so good. It was a lovely atmosphere; they were really excited to be there. They encouraged me to have the syntocinon injection but I declined and told them that I was happy to have it if I started bleeding but I wanted to try and birth it naturally.

“Birthing my baby, I felt like she was the one in control, she was driving, and I was the passenger along for the ride. I didn’t really have to do much; it was her doing all the work. In my other births, I really had to get my head and my body to work together to focus and push the baby out. But this time, it was like my body and baby and I were one vessel and it was working together in unison and working so beautifully together to do the job that we needed to do.

“I went in the ambulance and they were so great at honouring my wishes. Rosie stayed on me for three hours after birth – she stayed with me all through the ambulance ride and into the hospital. Even though the birth was not what I had planned, everyone was listening to me and honouring what was important to me. By 2pm we were back at home and snuggled up on the couch watching a movie together. It was definitely not the birth that I had planned but it was an amazing thing for Colin and I to do together.”

Topics Discussed

Unplanned home birth, Infertility, Birth trauma, EMDR, Three vaginal births, IVF


You can connect with Leah over at @the.dearest.days

Episode Sponsor

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