From Lisa J. - 38 years
When I reflect on my own positive birth experience, I see how important it was to surround myself with a support team of people who each gave me the confidence and self-belief to birth calmly and naturally. While I chose to birth in a private hospital for medical assurance if required, I aimed for a drug-free and non-intervention natural birth.
My support team included a doula, who I bonded with during my pregnancy in her prenatal yoga classes. She was present with my husband and I during the birth, acting as our guardian and supporting our personal wishes. A lactation consultant, who was also an experienced homebirth midwife, provided invaluable post-birth support with breastfeeding. A mutual friend introduced me to Mary O’Dwyer. Her indispensable book, Hold it Mama, shares a physiotherapist’s understanding of birth and the body beyond, particularly in relation to the importance of the pelvic floor. During my pregnancy, I also surrounded myself with women who had birthed naturally and positively.
My labour was 10.5 hours, beginning when my waters broke at 9am. Contractions progressed smoothly, ramping up consistently throughout the day. My husband and I laboured solo at home for 7 hours until contractions were about 3 minutes apart and lasted 1 min 20 seconds. We then left for hospital where we met our doula and the hospital midwives. In the delivery suite, we dimmed the lights, played our own music and set up a haven for birth.
While contractions reached a deep intensity in the final few hours, the rest periods between contractions were so sublime, it seemed like I wasn’t labouring at all. My doula worked with me in active birth positions, meditation and yogic breathing throughout, encouraging me into a state of deep rest and relaxation between contractions. At no time did I feel I needed the additional support of drugs or intervention. Overall, my labour felt very manageable and calm, and seemed to pass quickly.
I birthed on all fours, encouraging the baby’s descent and alleviating pressure on my perineum. It took a few very strong pushes over 8 minutes to release all 53cm length of our bub, but overall it was a quick and trouble-free delivery. In the end, the midwives delivered our bub solo, before my obstetrician had time to arrive. Delivering calmly into the hands of a gathered ‘tribe’ of women felt blissful. My husband watched our baby coming into the world, followed soon after by the placenta. By this time our obstetrician had arrived to oversee the final processes. My husband made sure that the birthed placenta released as much blood and nourishment into our baby before he cut the cord.
I was thrilled to deliver with my perineum intact, without tearing or needing stitches. This was amazing, considering my baby was almost 9 pounds (34 cm head diameter) and was born with both hands resting on his cheeks, and I am small-framed. In the weeks prior to birth, I had used an Epi-No device with great success. It enabled me to gently stretch the perineum, gain a greater awareness of how my perineum works and feel the deep bowel pressure sensation when birthing a baby. So the crowning of my baby’s head didn’t alarm me and I was able to surrender and focus on allowing my body to open without fear or resistance.
The daily discipline of pelvic floor exercises during pregnancy paid off in generating the final strength needed to birth my baby. And continuing pelvic floor exercises post-birth also aided a super fast recovery. A drug-free birth meant that my body returned to its pre-pregnancy state in around 7 days from birth – including an almost flat tummy. The typical bruising and swelling in my pelvic region subsided within a few days. While a drug-free birth is no guarantee of this rapid healing, I certainly feel it was a huge contributor in my case.
Seeing our baby for the first time was euphoric, and birthing him as nature intended, and in the way my body was designed, was the greatest empowered gift. The hospital staff left us alone to bond skin-to-skin and introduce him to breastfeeding. We were all reeling with excitement about how well the birth had gone and how perfectly formed this new human being was.
My genuine desire to birth naturally gave me the determination and the willpower to focus through the intensity of the experience, which is easily the most thrilling and rewarding experience of my lifetime.
From Kate - 35 years
My name is Kate. I’m a clinical psychologist and was 33 when I gave birth to my son Harry, who is now over two. My pregnancy went well other than all day sickness (morning sickness is a myth). I planned well for my son’s delivery by reading books about active birthing techniques. I also hired a TENS machine. All together I felt I had an arsenal of strategies to use.
I enjoyed the first stage of my labor and found the vocalizations and other strategies I used extremely helpful and they gave me a sense of control and excitement. My second stage of labor was quite long, lasting 4.5 – 5 hours. It was exhausting and frustrating. I tried many birthing positions during those 4-5 hours. Eventually the OBGYN was called and he uncovered the problem. I had been pushing for 4-5 hours with a full bladder!! No wonder my little son was taking so long to be born. He had a stop sign pushed up hard against his head.
No one had told me to empty my bladder. I didn’t know this was so crucial for Harry and for me. I didn’t feel like I had to empty my bladder and was focused on delivering my son. A catheter was used to empty my bladder and my son was born with the help of a ventouse in one contraction. He came rocketing out to the point that the midwife yelled “stop pushing so hard he’s coming too quickly!” I often reflect on this and wonder “…if I had emptied my bladder when I started second stage, would my son have been delivered more easily? Would I be struggling with incontinence at the age of 36 years like I do now??”
I didn’t realize I had so much damage to my pelvic floor muscles after my son was born. I thought the weakness, numbness and inability to hold farts in was normal after vaginal births. As the months passed and my other friends with babies went back to the gym to run on the treadmills, I realized that I had a bigger problem. Prior to my son’s delivery I had been a very fit, active woman and took my body for granted. Aware of its defectiveness, I began to feel dirty and despondent. My body was failing me before my eyes. The lowest point for me was an incident where I had wet my pants while walking with a friend. The inner thighs of my sports shorts were wet to the knee. I hadn’t even felt like I was leaking until I felt the wetness on my thighs. Depression began to creep in. I stopped exercising, as I was scared of having another embarrassing accident. I started to take packs of Poise pads and spare undies with me everywhere. I had them stashed in my draw at work, in the car and my son’s nappy bag. It wasn’t only my son in our household who peed their pants.
I also noticed that my sexuality was on a downward slide. My vagina was numb and it seemed like I could park a mini minor in there and not know. My orgasms had packed their bags and taken a vacation. Sex was no longer as enjoyable in terms of stimulation.
Determined to fix it (because we psychologists think we need to fix everything – kinda like mechanics) I began to devour as much information as I could find about PF rehabilitation after birth. I bought a PF trainer and started to use that. I went to my GP and asked him to have a really good look at my wa wa (vagina) and tell me how broken it was. I wanted to know how much damage I was dealing with so I could plan my recovery.
I underwent urodynamic studies with the Urologist to make sure the bladder was not damaged from Harry’s head banging on it for so long. It wasn’t. The Urologist told me to squeeze my PF like I am “trying to hold a fart in”, eat more fiber, and poo every day. Sounded simple enough. Four months later there was still no improvement.
I then trialed the use of a magnetic wave chair at my OBGYN’s office. This device stimulated strong contractions of the PF muscles. It claimed to cure up to 82% of women who have incontinence. I was hopeful and confident it would work. I completed 12 sessions of this and still found no change. I was desperate and becoming more depressed. My OBGYN said that surgery was my only other option.
My depression was beginning to affect my marriage and my social networks. I knew what the signs and symptoms of depression were. I am the one who usually treats people for this and now I was living with it every day. I knew that the best remedy for my depression was to improve my PF function so that I could keep my undies dry. I was tired of not being able to walk up stairs, push a full trolley, lift my son, sneeze, laugh, cough or run without peeing my pants. Most of all I was incredibly sad that I had not become the active mother I always dreamed of being. I had become the mum who sat on the bench and watched all the other mums run after their kids, chasing them as they ran. I knew I couldn’t do what they did without leakage.
I confided in my sister (who is a physiotherapist) and she told me about Mary O’Dwyer. She was the first person to give me a thorough examination and explain exactly how my wa wa was broken. She discovered I was recruiting my PF incorrectly and the muscles were incredibly weak and lacked endurance. She showed me how to correct my slumped posture to keep my pelvic floor and core muscles active. Mary taught me how to use my PFMs correctly and how to use them effectively using her ‘Find It, Control It, Train It’ program. The exercises were easy enough once I had learnt them. I diligently did my program every day for I feared the surgeon’s knife was next if I didn’t. Within one month I had managed to see improvements. I was able to sneeze, cough and laugh without leaking because I was now contracting the PF properly and at the right time. My program progressed to strengthening my PF. After a few months of this I was able to stop using Poise panty liners as I was confident that I could stay dry so long as I didn’t run. I began using a treadmill to walk regularly. My confidence lifted and my mood improved once I was able to do this without leaking. My vagina also began to return to its former self. I enjoyed the return of sensation and welcomed my long lost friend “the orgasm” back into my life. Finally, my life was beginning to heal.
My goal now is to continue improving the strength and endurance of my PF and see what happens over time. I may never be able to run 10km again without problems, however being able to walk, lift my son, do a grocery shop and laugh with friends (and indulge in an orgasm or two) is wonderful. It scares me to think that if I had not met Mary I would have ended up at a surgeon’s door. It also bothers me to think that other young, vibrant women are walking in my shoes. If you are, my advice is – have the courage to get familiar with your PF, how it works and how to use it well. See a women’s health physio and your life just might end up a hell of a lot better as a result.
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