Laura has been a Natal teacher since 2013 and the reason why we’re talking to Laura today is because we want to know how being a Natal teacher has influenced her personal choices around birth and parenting, and in particular for the birth of her second daughter.
Laura’s first daughter was born by emergency C-section, but having trained with The Natal Family before falling pregnant the second time round, Laura decided quite early on during her second pregnancy that she wanted a VBAC (1).
So we started off by asking Laura to tell us a little bit more about her experience with an emergency C-section…
Laura: “At the time I completely panicked. My baby’s heart rate was dropping, a lot of people suddenly rushed into the hospital room, and I was whisked away pretty quickly!”
Q.: “Did you feel that you had the time and opportunity to make choices and consider options?”
Laura: “No, it was a huge rush. I had been flipped on all sides after my waters had broken with meconium (2) in them, as the midwives were trying to get our baby in a happier position, but nothing improved her heart rate. I was told that I was only 5cm dilated, and my baby needed out!
Q.: “Did you feel supported in the decision to have a C-section?”
Laura: “In all honesty – I didn’t question anything. I was so scared that my baby wouldn’t be ok that I just nodded and agreed with what was being suggested. The student midwife in the room was great though – she explained things well and supported me when I was having a ‘meltdown’”.
Q.: “How did you feel about your C-section at the time and afterwards?”
Laura: “Immediately afterwards I felt ok, and I recovered well, but as time went on I started to feel guilty. I remember quite specifically being asked by a friend if I had decided to have a C-section ‘because I got tired’, and that really niggled me, as it felt like it was being suggested that I made that choice because I didn’t want to go through with a natural labour and birth.
After my training with the Natal family, when I started to learn about the ‘cascade of intervention’ (3), I started questioning whether the membrane sweep (4) and the artificial water rupture I had accepted could have caused our baby to become distressed.
I also started to wonder and question the necessity of my caesarean and felt I needed closure on this to be able move forwards. When I was pregnant with my second daughter, at our VBAC appointment, my partner and I were taken through my labour notes, and this really helped me accept her birth and see it as an experience which was separate from the experience I could have in my second pregnancy. They showed us the heart rate trace, and it showed really clearly that our daughter had been in distress, and having an emergency C-section was the right thing for us to do at that point in time!”
Q.: “What made you decide to opt for a VBAC for the birth of your second child?”
Laura: “I was determined to prove to myself that I could go through with natural childbirth. When I accepted the membrane sweep and had my waters artificially broken during my first labour, I did not feel that I had made informed choices and considered alternatives and options. This time I was determined to make informed choices all the way through!”
Q.: “How do you think that being part of The Natal Family influenced your decisions and choices for the birth of your second baby?”
Laura: “After my training I became so much more aware of my options and of the fact that I DID have a choice. I learned that it was mine and my partner’s responsibility to question the things being offered to me, even those that perhaps were presented to me as ‘non-negotiable choices’. Like I said, I had no prior understanding of the ‘cascade of intervention’ and of the snowball effect that can cause one intervention to lead to the next etc. I had not considered the fact that there are ALWAYS options.
Q.: “Do you think that you would have made the same choices that you made, had you not become a Natal teacher?”
Laura: “Not at all! The support I had from The Natal Family co-founder Steph and the teachers on The Natal Family Practitioner’s Forum was invaluable, and it opened my eyes to so much! Perhaps I would have still tried for a VBAC, as I feel that that’s what I wanted, but I certainly wouldn’t have known so much about what my options were, and to arm myself with information to be able to ask the right questions and be given alternatives with their relative pro’s and con’s.
For example, when I went for my 38 week appointment with the Consultant, they said they would give me a sweep there and then and book me for induction. Had I not known that I could push back on this, if I felt fine and my baby’s movements were regular and following their most usual pattern, I would have probably just gone along with it, instead of deciding to wait a little longer to see if labour would start on its own accord (which it did). I remember going home after the appointment and asking for advice and support on the Natal Forum.”
Q.: “What was the most positive aspect for you in achieving the birth you wanted?”
Laura: “There were a few up’s and down’s along the way, but in the end I achieved the VBAC I wanted just with gas and air (Entonox) – this was my aim, and I showed myself that I was strong enough to do it! This is coming from the girl who used to black out whenever there was a birth scene on TV or I had a tooth pulled out! I never thought I would be able to have a baby the ‘traditional way’, and I was SO proud of myself for overcoming my fears and actually doing it!”
Q.: “What would you say now to a friend or an expectant mum in the same position as you were if they came to you telling you that they had been told that they ‘have to’ have a C-section because they had one (or more) before, and the hospital advised them against a VBAC?”
Laura: “I would tell them to go back to their midwife and talk it through, do their research. The odds of problems arising are very low and should be evaluated against the risks for a first time birth (with no previous C-section) and with the risk (on further pregnancies and births for example) of having another C-section. At the end of the day, the option to have a C-section is there right up to being in labour, so I think it’s worth exploring all choices up until the end – you can always opt for a C-section at the very end but why not explore other options as well?
I think it’s very much about your state of mind – I wanted the VBAC for personal reasons. I wanted to achieve a natural birth. I wanted to go through that ‘rite of passage’, almost to get myself some closure on the experience I had before and the choices I made before. So I would say to a mum in a similar situation to really think about what they want – there are always options. The hospital cannot force a pregnant mum with a previous C-section to have another one – they can only advise about the pro’s and con’s, and the evidence for the positive outcomes of VBACs is definitely mounting up, so I would strongly advise someone to look into it, before deciding to opt for the C-section, if that is what they want to do.”
Q.: “This was really eye-opening Laura, thank you for your honesty! One final question from us – do you think that being part of The Natal Family has affected your life in any other way?”
Laura: “I almost feel like being part of The Natal Family has opened my eyes to a whole different world. I think that in the past I had been quite judgmental (albeit not in a confrontational or disrespectful way), but the training with Steph and Dean Beaumont, and the work I have been doing with reflective practice as a teacher have definitely helped me to become more aware of it. Now I’m able to understand people who are different to me a lot better, show more empathy, and accept that people make different choices because they have to make choices that are right for them. I feel more ‘at peace’ because of that.
Also, I feel that The Natal Family team is made up of the kindest, most compassionate people I have ever met – the support I feel from everyone (even though we’re scattered all over the country and only meet occasionally) is just amazing, more so, in some ways, than that my local friends are able to offer me. It really is like a big family, and I feel like I belong, which is a great feeling!
And there is more! Being part of The Natal Family has helped me enormously with being a mum to my second little girl. I’ve really found that I personally struggled with her sleep pattern, and like many parents I have felt at the end of my tether with exhaustion, but 80% of the time I’m just accepting of it. My training has taught me how all children are different and doing what feels right is what I should do. For us, this has meant allowing our little girl to have those night time feeds that she still seems to want. I’m completely shattered most of the time, but I do feel that it gives me strength to just go with my instincts, rather than worrying about what everyone else is doing. I can’t say I manage this 100% of the time, but I’m doing it so much more and so much better than I would have done before my training!
My training with MummyNatal has also given me so many wonderful tools for managing my children! The breathing practice especially has been amazing, and my eldest daughter does this now! When she gets upset, I’ve been teaching her to take a few deep breaths to calm down and it works!!! She tells me she’s going to do it, which is fab! ‘Mummy, I’ll take a couple of deep breaths and I’ll calm down, ok?’. She’s little MummyNatal teacher in training!”
Isn’t this just so informative and refreshing? On behalf of everyone at The Natal Family, we would like to thank Laura for being such an important, active and supportive member of our family, and we hope Laura’s story can help any expectant mums- and dads-to-be to understand the role that information and choice can play in achieving an empowering birth experience that truly feels your own.
If you would like more information about any of the aspects mentioned in this article, please contact your local MummyNatal teacher.
(1) VBAC = vaginal birth after cesarian.
(2) Meconium in the waters: this means that the baby has had a bowel movement before or during labour, and it is a sign that the baby possibly is, or has been, in distress, or that the baby’s gut is mature. Unfortunately it can be hard to tell which reason applies, which is why standard practice is to be cautious if meconium is present (source: http://www.homebirth.org.uk/meconium.htm).
(3) A membrane sweep is a procedure carried out by your midwife of doctor whereby they will try and separate your amniotic sac from the cervix itself, in at attempt to bring on labour. This is generally the first step that your health care professional offers to get your labour going, before other methods of induction are considered.
(4) Cascade of intervention in childbirth refers to the chain of events initiated by the fact that any procedure or intervention that is carried out during pregnancy and labour can change the course of a woman’s labour quite significantly and create unintended and unplanned side effects. Such effects may need further intervention to be ‘solved’, which in turn can create even more problems. These practices disrupt the normal phisiology of pregnancy, labour and birth in many ways.