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Laura’s story is unforgettable as she describes the healing power of birth with honesty and grace. She came to pregnancy with a history of mental health concerns, including depression, anxiety, PTSD and eating disorders that stemmed from childhood and adolescent sexual abuse. She has worked closely with her psychologist to work through her trauma but she admits that the final part of her journey was labour and birth; she considered it a powerful way to heal and connect with her body. She surrounded herself with supportive care providers, embraced birth education via The Birth Class and laboured beautifully at home before going to hospital and birthing her baby boy. As she says with immense gratitude: “It was a birth and a rebirth for me.”
“I was on implanon and I had that taken out in December 2020. In 2021 we got married and we were in a phase of not trying but not not trying. We actively started trying in early 2022 and I conceived in April and I was quite anxious because I have a history of PTSD, anxiety and depression. I also have a history of eating disorders and I know that being a low weight for a long time can affect my fertility. I went to my GP to check my fertility and a blood test showed I wasn’t ovulating so I was preparing to look further into that but then I fell pregnant that month; I couldn’t believe it.
“I had weaned myself off my mental health medication and I’d been doing Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy with my psychologist and it helped me immensely. I experienced sexual abuse in childhood and adolescence and it was a concern for me going into labour. That said, I honestly felt like my labour and birth would be the final puzzle piece of my healing and that connection back to my body because it feels so primal and connected…and it was.
“I had a great GP who was amazing on my mental health journey and she referred me straight to King Edwards which was the primary maternity hospital in Western Australia. It was only through listening to the podcast that I learnt about Midwifery Group Practice (MGP). I was too late to access the family birth centre but I managed to get into MGP at 16 weeks. I was very upfront about my history and they were very understanding which was lovely.
“I met my beautiful midwife Paula and when I was in my third trimester I spoke to her about my hesitation with internal examinations. She communicated that she always approaches vaginal examinations with kindness and care and only with informed consent. There was underlying anxiety but I felt comfortable with her and where I was at. I also had a student midwife – Robyn – and she was with me all the way; she was a vibe, I loved her. I loved the idea of continuity of care and having a student midwife meant I could have that even if my midwife wasn’t with me on the day.
“I was very intent on having a physiological birth and the hospital birth classes were great; they really went through birth skills that reinforced everything we learnt in The Birth Class. We listened to it on two long road trips and my husband really got into it.
“I don’t have words for how my changing body felt considering my history of eating disorders. It was really, really challenging. My GP weighed me and even though she knew my history, she told me that I shouldn’t gain more than 10kg. That clicked my brain in a way I wish it hadn’t. A medical professional had given me a limit on my weight and I thought if I gained more than that I would be failing my pregnancy; it was there and it was loud. My changing body was hard at first; I didn’t show till late in the second trimester but I felt my body filling out. But then as I felt him move, that connection was unreal; I can’t ever remember loving or caring for or wanting to nurture my body more. It was phenomenal.
“I went into spontaneous labour; I woke up at 3:30am and had period pain. After a while I went on my morning walk and was halfway through when I thought it was just braxton hicks but then I had another distinct pull so I went home and let my husband know that labour may be on. I had my first real contraction at 11:30 am where I couldn’t sit down and I had to pace the living room. I was bouncing on the birth ball, watching tv and by 1pm the contractions were coming frequently and that’s when I decided to go upstairs to my bedroom and watch Four in the Bed; a UK show about couples who test out airbnbs. I think there was comfort in hearing the English accents.
“I put the TENS machine on and kept pacing and breathing through contractions. I was very vocal, breathing and groaning through them. My mum showed up at about 3pm and I remember telling her that this may be false labour but she just looked at me and told me she thought I’d have a baby today or tomorrow.
“At about 4:30 pm the contraction timer app told me to go to the hospital eight times but I was stubborn and I trusted my body. At the encouragement of my husband I called my midwife and told her my contractions were 3-4 minutes apart and lasting for about a minute. I kept labouring at home but by 5:30 pm my husband and my mum really felt like it was time to go to hospital even though there was still a part of my brain that doubted I was in real labour.
“I had an eye mask on which definitely eased my anxiety and we got to the hospital quite quickly. I had about four contractions in the reception area. Millie, my midwife, arrived and we went into a room. Millie asked me if I wanted a check and I paused at that stage; she reiterated that she had read my birth plan and she understood everything and she was happy to wait for me to choose. That eased my anxiety immediately. My mum reminded me that I was happy to be checked but I didn’t want to know the number. I wanted reassurance that everything was progressing well but when she did it, I had never tensed so much in my life, even though I felt safe, it did bring a big wave of emotion. I have my notes now and I now know that I was 4 cm but if I had known that, it would have completely changed my headspace and my labour would have panned out very differently. I definitely advocate for not knowing the number.
“Once I was in the birthing suite I felt a bit lost; I sat on a birth ball, sat on the edge of the bed and I tried side-lying but it made my contractions so much worse. I asked my husband to bring his hot pink budgie smugglers for comedic relief and he wore them in the shower; he was holding me and I loved having the water on my back. I didn’t consider how disjointed time would be in labour; the time between contractions felt like it lasted a really long time but also, no time at all.
“I felt the urge to bear down and I had another check then and Millie just told me I was progressing really well. I now know I was 7-8 cm in that check and again, I’m so glad I didn’t know that then. I felt an urge to open my bowels so I went to the toilet and then about 15 minutes later I felt a huge urge to push. My labia had started to part and I had bulging membranes and Millie asked if I wanted to stay in the bathroom or move to the bed.
“I had envisioned birthing on the bed, on all fours. My student midwife was there too and she kept reinforcing my wishes, she was supporting me with encouraging words. I had a pushing stage of about 20 minutes. I birthed his head and then two minutes later he was born; I pulled him between my legs and up to my chest. It was a birth and a rebirth for me. One of the first things I said to Avery was: thank you and I love you. I was so grateful for our birth journey…he’d already done so much to heal me.”
Anxiety, Eating disorder, MGP, One baby, Physiological birth, PTSD, sexual abuse, Spontaneous labour, The Birth Class
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