Below is the story of Archie's birth by the lovely Chrissy. I had the great honour of supporting Chrissy and Dan for an attempted vaginal breech birth under the care of the midwives and Dr Bisits at the Royal Hospital for Women in Randwick.
I'm very grateful to call Chrissy a friend these days. She came for lunch recently at my home and we talked about some questions and doubts that had emerged for her through writing her birth story. We can't control our circumstances but we can control the way we respond to them, and Chrissy showed such strength and grace throughout the challenging final weeks of her pregnancy, on her birthing day and during a difficult 'fourth trimester' establishing breastfeeding. She was a true birthing goddess - so calm, open and centred. She gave her all and brought her little boy into the world with such love.
Her decision to transfer to The Royal for a vaginal breech birth was made after much conisderation and research. Even though he was ultimately born via c-section, Chrissy and baby Archie benefited physiologcally from the natural onset and experience of labour - see Dr Sarah Buckley's report on the Hormonal Phyisology of Childbearing (at least the Executive Summary as it is extensive :)). You can see from the photos it was also a really beautiful, loving day - a positive experience to cherish.
For more information on vaginal breech birth you could start with:
a list of caregivers who support breech birth across Australia
"I had a text book, no complications, pregnancy. So we thought!
As my pregnancy progressed it was becoming clear that my husband, Dan, was experiencing some very natural anxieties about the birth. We had a less than desirable experience with the regular prenatal classes at the hospital, finding them all very dry and medically focused. I had booked into a Hypnobirthing Australia™ course early on, and we thoroughly enjoyed the weekends with Pru, our teacher, especially after our hospital classes. We felt much more connected to the whole birth experience following these, and Dan really felt enabled to provide me with whatever I might need on the day.
To give myself and Dan some support on labour day I had done some research about Doulas. Dan had reservations about needing another person in the room, but as we got closer to the day and nerves started to peak, we both decided it was a good idea. I got in touch with Kathryn, and she responded the next day and we had the most comfortable, long lost friend, conversation on the phone. I knew immediately that Kathryn was our lady! That afternoon I had a call from the hospital (Royal North Shore) offering me a place in the Midwife Group Practice (MGP) program, as I had missed out at the beginning. It felt like everything was falling place. I had a team of strong women (and Dan!) around me, and I really felt that I had the support I needed. I was 30 weeks.
Everything had gone incredibly smoothly until our 36-week appointment with our midwife, Chantel. She felt my bump with a little more curiosity than usual. After a quick ultrasound it became clear that the big bump we thought was a bum, was actually a head! Our little man was breech. My first thought was concern for getting kicked out of MGP, as they don’t deal with high risk births, and my second thought was ‘oh no, there goes that perfect birth I was going to have. You’re challenging me already little one!’.
We were sent for an ultrasound to confirm and had to see the Obstetrician to discuss our options. He gave us three: book in for a 39-week caesarean, try an external cephalic version (ECV) where they physically turn bub around from the outside, or go and talk to Dr. Bisits who works out of The Royal in Randwick, who is a leading expert in natural breech deliveries. I had Chantel shaking her head in the background, which encouraged me to push for what I wanted, and that wasn’t booking in for a caesarean! I reluctantly scheduled the ECV for a week later, hoping to buy us some time, and set about trying everything else I could possible manage to turn the baby.
I had acupuncture and osteopathy, I burned moxa sticks near my pinky toes which stimulated the uterus, I lay with my hips raised whilst meditating, it was a busy week! But nothing took. Kathryn was a great support for us through this time. I called her often, just needing a sounding board for all my concerns and fears that were coming up as I considered the options in front of me. She encouraged me greatly to go for a natural birth, which would require moving hospitals at 38 weeks, and losing Chantel.
We went for the ECV and Chantel was there for us throughout the whole thing, exceeding the care I was expecting considering the complications. We showed up for the ECV feeling a mix of emotions; anxiety was high, but my Hypnobirthing practises really kept me calm and focused. Chantel administered a muscle relaxant, designed to soften your belly for them to have the best chance of turning the baby. The Doctor, who was much more senior than the previous one we saw and had a much nicer bed side manner, gave me a list of reasons why this probably wasn’t going to work, and I appreciated the honesty. I was fit so my core muscles were working against me, my bump was tiny with not a lot of surrounding fluid, and I was 38 weeks, which is a few weeks later than they usually try an ECV. He gave two very big pushes and knew immediately we were out of luck. This was the final effort for us to stay at this hospital, with the care and facilities I had become used to, I felt a little defeated, to say the least! The Doctor suggested I go and talk to Doctor Bisits before booking in for a caesarean, which was encouraging. Chantel wrote us a referral to The Royal, and we said our goodbyes. She was to come after the birth to do our home visits, and I was really glad that I would see her again soon enough. After a long debrief with Kathryn my spirits lifted and I felt a huge release of acceptance. This is how I’m going to birth now. Yes, he’s upside down. Yes, we are at a different hospital. Yes, we won’t know the midwives. But we will have each other, and Kathryn, and the end goal is still the same, a healthy baby.
My husband was due to go on leave Wednesday 9 February, 2 days before my due date. We had met with both Doctor Bisits and Kathryn on the Monday, and we knew next time we would see them all was labour day! I hoped I had a week or so to go, to have some time to connect with Dan before the baby arrived, but Doctor Bisits wasn’t convinced. He said ‘see you Thursday’ (with a smirk on his face!) as we walked out of our appointment.
I woke up at 6.50am Wednesday morning with fairly decent cramps, right down in the pit of my belly. It was Dan’s first day off work. I lay there looking out the window till Dan woke, announcing he’d like to head to the pool for a swim, and would grab some food on the way home for lunch. I didn’t say anything, as I wasn’t convinced this was the real deal; you hear so many women whose labors start and stop. By the time Dan got back around midday, I was starting to admit that this was the real deal. I was already pausing to focus on the surges, and Dan knew the second he got home what was going on. ‘Are you ok?’. ‘I’m not sure’ was my answer. We ate lunch, whilst I downloaded a contraction timer to my phone, and started counting the minutes. I was already down below 10 mins, and lasting 45 seconds or so. Dan called Kathryn, who answered the phone very quickly, and with anticipation and excitement in her voice, she wasn’t expecting this call today! She said to call the hospital given they had asked me to come in much earlier than you might for a low risk birth just to keep an eye on bub for any additional stress. So, after a quick check with Doctor Bisits it was time to head to the hospital. I had yet to pack my hospital bag (one of those things I was going to do this week), so we threw some things together for the both of us and let Kathryn know we were on our way.
We arrived at 4.30pm with Kathryn not far behind us. After an initial exam told us I was 3cm the midwife left us alone which allowed us to settle in. We had a balcony off our room, so I spent some time outside in the warm afternoon sun which was lovely. There was a shift change at 7.00pm and we got to meet Laura, our midwife for the night, who was great. She explained that due to the breech position I would need to have the monitors strapped on all the time once I was in established labour. She underestimated that I was 4cm, so she could leave me be for the time being. She popped in every hour or so, but I didn’t really take much notice, she checked vitals and listened to bub and snuck out again. She was really respectful of our space and the calm we were trying to maintain. I jumped in the shower to get some heat on my back to help with the deep aches during contractions and stayed for a very long time. We all took the chance to get some rest while things were quiet, and Dan and Kathryn curled up on the floor while I took to the bed.
At 11.30pm my waters broke and Laura said I now had to be monitored, and she found us a set of wireless monitors so I could continue moving around the room and jump in the shower again if needed. I was still only 5cm, but effacing well, so we were still positive. At 3am I made my way back to the shower as contractions were getting intense and the pressure in my lower back was starting to overwhelm me, even with Dan or Kathryn pressing hard against it each contraction. My contractions were starting to merge one into the next, giving me no rest between, often lasting more than two minutes. I hadn’t spoken very much at all, and I remember saying to Dan that I wasn’t sure how much longer I could last. He encouraged me and really helped in any way that he could. Kathryn was feeding me snacks and getting me to sip on hydrolyte to keep my energy up, having not eaten anything since lunch the day before!
At 6.00am Laura came in to do her last check before the end of her shift, and I could tell there was some concern, although she didn’t give it away. I looked at Dan and simply said ‘It’s time to meet our little man’. I was tired, not progressing, and I could just tell that the baby wasn’t descending as he should have been, his little soft bum wasn’t enough to encourage dilation. Doctor Bisits arrived at 7.00am and after an exam showed I was still only 6cm, he confirmed that it was time for a caesarean. He seemed so apologetic, and you could tell he really wanted a different path for us, but I trusted his opinion, and had already come to the same conclusion.
I felt empowered that I had made the choice, trusting the knowledge of my body and accepting its limitations. For an attempt at a natural breech delivery they aren’t keen on epidurals as it decreases the ability to push with full intent, and this can be risky for bub, and it never crossed my mind to ask for any other drugs, only hindsight has made me realise this option! With the 7.00am shift change slowing us down, and there being no evidence of distress we got bumped down the line a little and didn’t end up in surgery till 10.00am. My contractions had slowed right down, now that I didn’t need them so much, and they dropped back to every 5-6mins. The power of the mind is so strong in birth, made very clear by this slower pace taking over. I was trying to keep as much control as possible still, and when they asked if I’d like a wheelchair to take me to theatre I defiantly declined and said I’d walk. The hallway felt 1000 meters long, and I kept stopping to lean against the wall during contractions.
Adrenaline had kicked in big time and I was shaking intensely all over, which was a challenge to keep under control while they came at me with the epidural needle, in between contractions. Maintaining my calm was hard in a sterile, overly bright environment, but Dan held my hand the whole time, giving me something to ground back to, my stability; I kept my eyes closed and tried to focus. Surgery was smooth, although uncomfortable, and our little boy was presented to us, screaming and healthy. It was a surreal experience to see him with his dad in the next room; while they did his checks and stitched me back up, tears slid down my cheeks. It was confirmed that he was indeed tiny, weighing in at only 2.9kg. They brought him over to me briefly before whisking him off to our room, while I went to the post-op ward for some checks. There were a few things that slowed this process down, and I didn’t end up seeing them both till 12.15pm, despite him being born at 10.25am. But Dan had Kathryn, who had waited in our room during surgery, taking all our bags from the birthing suite to the maternity ward. Dan had some skin on skin time as soon as they got back to the room, and Kathryn took my favourite photo of the whole experience.
It was time to attempt feeding and to get some skin on skin time for me. I remember finding it all a bit confusing, if I’m honest. People fussing around, while you try to do something you’ve never done before, whilst getting to know each other. We ended up in hospital for 4 nights due to the cesarean, and despite originally wanting to get out of there as soon as possible if all went smoothly, we ended up really cherishing our time in that little room. It was us figuring out our new life as a family, and we really enjoyed the whole experience. It took us a few days to settle on the name, trying out a few of our top picks each day. In the end we went with Archie, it just felt right. Kathryn came back to visit in hospital a few days later, as she had to attend to another birth the next day, it was a big week for her! I really valued having the time to see her and debrief the experience. Once we were settled at home, Chantel (our original midwife) came to check in for the first few weeks and everything was going smoothly, despite feeding issues. Kathryn visited also, bringing a delicious curry to nourish us over the coming days. If you’re not sure what to take a new mum as a gift, take food that she doesn’t have to cook! It’s a blessing, it truly is.
Kathryn was invaluable over the next few weeks, and I would call her to chat through the big things that I was going through as a new mum. Once my birthing hormones dropped away, I felt raw and exposed. The responsibility of caring for Archie became real all of a sudden and there were big emotions to process. Having an impartial and understanding person to listen and provide encouraging words was vital. I truly cherish the relationship we, as a family, have with Kathryn."