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Episode 364


In this episode I chat to Ariel from Bliss Birth about her two birth experiences. A passionate advocate for TENS machines (she now has 1000 in circulation through her business), she explains how popular they are and how they help women navigate labour to achieve the births they want. In her first pregnancy she opted for continuity of care with her beloved midwife who advocated for her every step of the way. After a very long posterior labour, Ariel birthed her baby boy vaginally and despite a rocky start to breastfeeding, the nipple shield really worked for her. In her second birth she was introduced to the TENS machine and used it throughout to achieve a joyous physiological birth.

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“I was married at 21 and Tim really wanted to be a dad. We weren’t consciously trying but we weren’t using contraception for a year so I started to get nervous and wondered if we should start looking into it…but then along came Levi. I remember lying in bed one night and had the strongest feeling that I was pregnant. I did the test the next day and I was so happy.

“When I went to my first appointment at the hospital they mentioned MGP and I’m a social worker so I knew the power of continuity of care. I immediately knew I wanted to be in that program so I emailed them to express my interest in being in MGP – I really advocated for myself – and I ended up with a caseload midwife named Karina and she was such a significant part of my birth. She was really curvy, like me, and she really reassured me that my higher BMI was not going to dictate my birthing options or ability. She also did my antenatal appointments at home which was so lovely.

“In 2015 it was a lot harder to get birthing information so Karina was my main educator. She told me about the cascade of intervention and I knew that I wanted to have the least amount of intervention possible. She really advocated for me along the way which really helped and she just gave me confidence in my own body.

“I have a history of disordered eating and my GP has always approached it really kindly so for instance if I was ever weighed she would never tell me the number. Interestingly I lost weight in both my pregnancies and I never felt the need to eat more. Overall I felt very shielded by my caregivers about any judgment or criticism of my weight.

“I was 40+6 and it’s such a mental challenge going past my due date. I remember I was getting waves of period-like pains and I thought it may be the beginning. I called my sister and my mum and they came over but I had very light contractions all day. At 10pm I called Karina and she encouraged me to go to bed and rest. I had the worst night’s sleep and after crying to my mum at 5am, she stroked my back and I got about three hours of sleep.

“The day passed and I was contracting enough that I felt like I needed to go to hospital. As soon as I got there my contractions slowed down. I was devastated to learn that I was only 4 cm so I got in the shower and really needed my husband or sister placing really firm pressure on my lower back. Levi was posterior so it all made sense but at the time I didn’t really get it. After five hours in the shower I was shivering so Karina got me a warm blanket and I got into bed, lay on my side and wept. I couldn’t do it for one more minute. Tim was lying next to me and he read me my favorite Pablo Neruda poem and I was sobbing and it really did do something; I had a rush of oxytocin and felt really taken care of. I hopped up and in hindsight I was transitioning but I didn’t know that at the time. I went from the toilet to the bed but I just couldn’t get comfortable because my lower back pain was so intense.

“I asked Karina to check me again and I was 8cm and then I was pissed off again. She broke my waters and there was meconium and I could read on Karina’s face that things had changed. While I was transitioning she was organising for me to move from the birthing centre to the clinical birthing suite to be monitored. By this point I was so exhausted that I couldn’t even get on the bed without help. This is when Karina’s trust in my body’s ability to birth really kicked in. I lay on my side and I got my sister and mum held my leg up in the air. I really liked pushing, it felt a lot better. I pushed for an hour and forty five minutes. I know now that’s quite a long time but I didn’t then.

“I remember them putting Levi on my chest and I remember an overwhelming sense of admiration – for myself. I felt a huge rush of power and then I looked at him and thought he looked big and he was. They took him for a few minutes to clear his airways and then he came straight back to me. I had a second-degree tear because Levi had his hand up next to his face but the recovery was really easy.

“When Levi first latched, that’s when I really bonded with him. This came after days of the midwives giving him formula and him not being interested in latching. I actually had to sign a form that prevented the midwives from giving him formula. I ended up breastfeeding for 10 months with a nipple shield and it was wonderful; it worked!

“When I fell pregnant again Karina put me on her books straight away. She suggested getting a TENS machine which meant I could labour at home for longer. I ended up getting my hands on an obstetric TENS and was willing to give it a go, even though I knew no-one who had used one. I doubted how much it could help me but I also remembered the severe back labour.

“I was 41+5 with Isla and I really wanted to avoid an induction because I knew about the cascade of intervention. I just wanted to let my body labour naturally. That said, I was incredibly anxious – especially after 41 weeks – and it was a struggle to get through the days. Karina booked an induction at 41+5 even though hospital policy was 41+3. On the morning of my induction I messaged Karina to tell her I was in labour and I was just so grateful and relieved.

“I made it through the morning and I liked the sensation; it’s like a tingling massage through your lower back. I found it quite comforting. I painted and had my headphones on and really protected my mental space. I felt calm and in control and that I wasn’t so close to an inability to cope. I got to 6pm and I called Karina and expressed that I didn’t want to do a night of on and off contractions. She told me to come in and she told me I was close to 4cm and I could stay. I was so overdue and ready to have my baby.

“I laboured with the TENS for a few hours but I wasn’t progressing. I got into the shower for five hours and then I got to the point where I started to feel dehydrated and I also couldn’t wee; nothing was coming out. I ended up having a rest and then Karina broke my waters and the contractions were really intense. I had my weepy moment lying in the bed and I told Karina that I was going to get up and dance and my contractions continued. I remember feeling safe and held and then the contractions got so much more intense than I’d ever felt. I begged for the pethidine and that’s when Karina left the room because she knew I was in transition and she knew I could get through it with Tim and my sister’s support. Three contractions later I went deep into the zone and then I just started mooing like a cow; it came out involuntarily.

“Karina came back into the room and I gave birth to Isla in about four contractions. My body was just overtaken by the fetal ejection reflex. It was so powerful! They placed Isla on my chest and it was beautiful. She latched straight away and I was just so happy.

“About an hour and a half later I had a postpartum hemorrhage. I started getting severe after pains and the new midwife on shift just reassured me but my sister – who was an acute care nurse at the time – knew something wasn’t right. So my sister gloves up and started weighing the bluey – the absorbent material under me. Heaps of people rushed into the room and they were pushing on my belly and it was so painful. They couldn’t get a cannula into my arm and it all felt like a crisis. They were discussing whether or not to take me to theatre and one of the obstetricians was doing manual extractions – he was reaching up into my uterus to pull stuff out. Tim is not an anxious kind of guy but when I looked at him I could tell he was really scared. The bleeding eased and then stopped and everyone left the room and I started feeling a lot better. Within 20 minutes I was on the maternity ward with Isla.”

You can connect with Ariel and learn more about the power of the TENS machine over at Bliss Birth

Topics Discussed

disordered eating, high BMI, MGP, Nipple shield, Physiological birth, Postpartum Hemorrhage, PPH, TENS machine, Two Vaginal Births

Episode Sponsor

Today’s episode is brought to you by my new book The Complete Australian Guide to Pregnancy and Birth.

‘I wish someone had told me!’ – it’s a phrase uttered by countless women after they give birth for the first time.

The Complete Australian Guide to Pregnancy and Birth draws on the expertise of dozens of doctors, midwives and other health specialists to offer the most comprehensive and up-to-date information about pregnancy, labour, birth and early postpartum in Australia.

Pre-order your copy here

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