First published in Thrive Global 12 February 2020

I always knew I wanted to have children. I thought I would have them when I was in my 20’s and I wanted the pigeon pair, a boy and a girl, or maybe even three. Life doesn’t always go to plan, however, and everything has its own timing. You don’t ever meet your perfect partner at the ‘right’ time. Sometimes, you don’t meet them at all… Deciding to go it alone is a whole different ball game and not one that anyone would take on lightly. Myself included.

It took me three years to conceive and once I fell pregnant instead of feeling excited and overjoyed, I was gripped by sheer panic.

What if I had to have a C-section?

I wanted to give birth naturally and went down a holistic route, foregoing prenatal classes for hypnobirthing. I had considered what I wanted, had worked out my birthing plan, and I was clear about how I wanted the birth to unfold. And, as we all know, the best-laid plans go astray. What I hadn’t counted on was the total lack of support from the OBGYN: A male doctor in his late 50’s. As my waters had already broken some hours before he was insisting on a C-section. I hadn’t gone into the hospital when my waters broke as I had been told not to go to the hospital until I was having contractions, which at that stage, I still wasn’t having. And now, the doctor was talking cesarian…

You can imagine my horror. I countered with my birth plan and how it involved NO drugs, whatsoever! And, I told him I was going to do this naturally. He then informed me that the health of the child was his primary concern (like it wasn’t mine) and, that not have a C-section was putting my unborn child at risk. The doctor then informed me I had 4 hours to dilate to a suitable level and give birth naturally. To my desire to do it without drugs, he curtly replied:

“That’s what they ALL say!”

That wasn’t exactly what I was expecting to hear. It almost felt like the doctor was challenging me, and he was the one I had chosen to help bring my son into the world. Fortunately, the midwife was in the room also and she listened to what my intentions were. And she, set about empowering me around that.

It’s pretty standard, at least in Australia, to be offered gas as part of pain management when you’re giving birth. In line with that, the midwife offered me gas, which I refused. I was determined to do this on my own.

I’m a bit like that.

The uterus is a muscle that remains unused until the birthing process is underway; at that point, it becomes activated. The pain is pretty intense and what made it manageable was it ebbed and flowed in intensity much like a wave. All I had to do was ride the wave and then recover, ready for the next wave. Of course, as the time between contractions lessens the intensity of the pain ramps up. The time to recover and brace yourself for the next bout of pain reduces too. “That’s what they all say!” The OGGYN’s words were ringing in my ears. I’d been in delivery for some hours now, and the pain was getting the better of me. I was also at the point where even if I had wanted an epidural, it would no longer work. That ship has long sailed.

I found myself in a bind between what I was committed to – a natural birth – and caving in. It was at that point that the midwife, my birthing partner, took me by the hand, held my gaze and said. “You’re doing really well, and you’re almost there. You can do this”.

Did it lessen the pain?

No. After all, no one would have blamed me if I had given up on my birthing plan. Not even me. What it did do, in a moment where I could easily have given up was spur me on. The kind and supportive words of a woman who was in truth, a stranger, involved in one of the most intimate of life’s experiences, held the space for me.

Why? Because that wasn’t what I wanted. Unlike the doctor who had already made up his mind about who I was, what I was capable of and how things were going to play out, the midwife supported me and empowered me when I no longer could.

She stood for me and what I wanted. She allowed me to borrow her belief and gave me heart.

It was her words and her words alone that made all the difference to me when I was ready to throw in the towel. I went on to give birth to my son, drug-free. The gift of holding the space is what the midwife gave me is one I will never forget and pay forward whenever the opportunity presents itself.