The Birth of Lavender- Healing Intergenerational Trauma through Birth
I fell pregnant with my first baby during the pandemic, aged 27. I had grown up hearing my birth story often, I knew it inside out. I suppose I was kind of weirdly fascinated by the drama of it all, like the kind of awful birth you see in the soaps. My mum was in the hospital for three weeks before I was born prematurely, she had pre-eclampsia like her mother, and my birth was long and dramatic. My mum endured hours of labour, a failed epidural and a blood transfusion and was left traumatised. I was delivered by ventouse (a vacuum device to assist in delivery) in the end, but instead of being placed on my head, it was put over my eye. I was born with a huge, swollen and bruised face. Doctors told my 24-year-old mum I was brain-damaged and physically deformed.
When I fell pregnant, I accepted that my delivery would be awful. I knew just how bad childbirth could be and I accepted this as my fate. My maternal grandma and my mum both suffered immensely in childbirth and so I felt sure the same experience lay ahead for me. I was cynical about hypnobirthing, prepared for an episiotomy (a surgical cut made at the opening of the vagina intended to aid childbirth) and convinced I would accept absolutely any pain relief I could get my hands on. I didn’t even consider home birth as an option for me and I certainly wanted to be surrounded by as many health care professionals as possible. I was convinced that my baby would be born prematurely like I was, and I was terrified of inevitably being alone in the hospital with the baby for weeks after birth.
My pregnancy was lonely but straightforward. I hated being away from my mum, sister and grandma but I knew we had to put the safety of the baby first. I had extra monitoring due to my family history of pre-eclampsia and my sister being Type 1 diabetic, but other than the baby is a little on the small side, everything was perfect.
I have never been nervous about medical settings, but I hated attending my antenatal appointments alone. My boyfriend drove me to every appointment and waited patiently in the car, unable to join me, other than for 2 out of 6 scans. Being under consultant care even though there was nothing abnormal or problematic taking place just heightened my sense of worry and dread. I assumed that being under consultant-led care meant I would have to give birth on the delivery suite, ready for the inevitable drama to unfold.
At 40 weeks there was no sign of any action, so I began to anticipate days of induction and maybe even Caesarian birth. The worst-case scenarios had always been my point of reference. I had an emergency growth scan at 40 weeks as my community midwife was concerned about my fundal height (a measure of the uterus to estimate the size of the baby’s growth in pregnancy), but all was well with my little baby.
After my second cervical sweep to start labour, I woke up at 3 am to what felt like period pains. I knew straight away this was it but felt strangely calm and excited. I ran myself a bath whilst my boyfriend stayed in bed. I wanted him to rest before the long days ahead. I then used the Freya app to count contractions and control my breathing. At 7 am my Mum came to join us. We all sat in my bedroom laughing, talking and getting excited about the baby’s arrival. My sister came too, and whilst I knelt next to my bed, they all kept me calm and talking. They rubbed my back, fed me snacks and I felt so well supported. As things began to progress, I asked my mum and sister to get me in the shower and help me wash my hair. I felt certain that days in the hospital lay ahead and I didn’t want to have greasy hair. They supported me in the shower through my contractions and my sister even blow-dried my hair for me.
I called the hospital and got through at about 11:45 AM, but by now I was finding it hard to talk through my contractions. They advised me to head in, a 30-minute drive. As my sister was helping me down the stairs I felt an intense pressure – which I now understand was my body trying to push.
We arrived at the hospital at about 12:45 PM. I was mortified to have to walk past the coffee shop, the convenience store… but I made it supported by my boyfriend who was also carrying the excessive amount of hospital bags I had packed. We were shown to a midwife-led delivery suite and were told a midwife would be with us shortly.
When a midwife joined us, my boyfriend asked when my mum could be there. Due to Covid, second birth partners could only join during “active labour”. We thought this would be in a few hours, but the midwife said that mum could join us now.
The midwife asked if she could examine me and if I had thought about what pain relief I would like. I said “anything, everything” but she didn’t really respond. Turns out there wasn’t any time for any pain relief at all.
Whilst examining me for the first time the midwife said “I’m just making sure it’s all gone” – I couldn’t believe I was fully dilated. I was laying on my side, with my mum holding my left leg up, my boyfriend holding my hand. The midwife said to me “Cader, I want you to listen to your body and do what it’s telling you”.
Despite being a very dramatic, highly strung and nervous person my whole life, I felt no fear. I don’t even really remember pushing as they do on TV. Within a few moments, my daughter’s head had been born and my waters had burst with her. The soaking wet midwife told me to concentrate because the baby’s heart rate was slowing down and she needed to be born as soon as possible. My mum told me it might help to put my chin on my chest, I did and within seconds she was born.
I couldn’t believe it. I was completely in shock and awe. My perfect little daughter was placed on my chest and I finally let out a yelp after being mostly silent. The midwife asked my partner to press the red button on the wall and another midwife arrived to support her. My partner cut the cord once it had stopped pulsing and I removed my clothes to have skin to skin with my baby. She was here safely and everything was perfect.
Once Lavender, my daughter, had been born I was able to have gas and air for my stitches. I had been terrified of tearing, and I didn’t even know it had happened. I had a second-degree tear and was able to stay beside my daughter for my stitches, and I must say the gas and air was lovely! We were both discharged from the hospital 6 hours after she was born, and went home for a McDonald’s with our family.
Every day I think about Lavender’s birth and I am grateful for how lucky we both were that it was easy and we were both safe. I know that is not always the case. Whilst you cannot control the vast majority of your birth experience, what I now realise is that you absolutely can control and manage your expectations. With the beauty of hindsight, I realise that I was wrong to assume history would repeat itself when my baby was born and that this only limited my ability to prepare for any other alternatives. When other mothers I knew were writing lovely, idealistic birth plans, I scoffed to myself thinking I needn’t bother as my fate was already sealed and it was going to be horrific.
Now, I want to have more children so that I can have them at home and really enjoy their births. I want to have my family around me, I want my daughter to see that childbirth can be amazing, empowering and beautiful. When labour started I remember thinking that I would wait for things to get really bad before I took paracetamol. Now I realise that my boyfriend, my mum and my sister were all the pain relief I needed. Having them beside me really made all the difference, especially at a time when Covid had made pregnancy and birth so lonely for so many.