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  • Writer's pictureCaterina Sullivan

My One Piece of Advice for Your Birth Plan

On the morning of Sunday, 31 July, 2022, I sat in the Canberra Centenary Hospital for Women and Children, overwhelmed with excitement for the birth of John and my first child.

At this stage, I had been in labour for about 39 hours. For whatever reason, my contractions had taken that long to get close enough together to warrant a trip to the hospital.

I hadn’t slept in 48 hours, but that didn’t matter. The moment I had been waiting my entire life was almost here - I would meet my sweet baby son in the flesh.

John pulled out his camera and started taking photos of us between contractions, smiling, hugging, laughing. Mum, John and I sat in the low-lit room with delicate floral wallpaper and salt lamps, enjoying these moments.

What I didn’t realise was about to come next was the most harrowing, intense and emotionally traumatic medical experiences of my life.

I was sent home shortly after these hope-filled selfies were snapped as I hadn’t dilated anywhere near enough - 1cm in 39 hours.

Upon my return home, my contractions increased in intensity over the 12 hours before I returned again to the hospital - before what was agreed by my midwives - because I felt like I had now entered medical emergency territory.

I had written a very detailed birth plan. It included what music I wanted to be played, what snacks I wanted to have… and of course, all the preferences I had when it came to medical intervention.

I wanted to follow my birth plan to the letter. So each line about interventions I didn’t want to have included “… unless medically required.” That way, I could feel like I was in control at every step of the process.

Returning to the hospital the second time meant that I had now been in labour for 51 hours. I was in excruciating pain. My back was sore above all else.

For someone with a high pain threshold, I was really not coping. John and I have been together for two and a half years and have known each other for three. He’s seen me through stroke recovery, brain surgery and pregnancy. But he’d never seen me in pain like this.

At this stage, I was still determined to give birth naturally for one main reason - I hadn’t been told I couldn’t otherwise. The midwives were still working towards giving me a natural birth.

Despite not really wanting any medical intervention at all, over the next 6 hours, I had my waters manually broken, nitrous gas, morphine, an epidural and terbutaline. None of it worked. We lost Artie’s heart rate four times once we had connected a FSE (foetal scalp electrode).

It was after 57 hours of labour that it was finally decided I needed an emergency c-section. I’m not someone who copes very well with any kind of medication - I am usually the one to get the ‘one in a million' side effects, which is why I stay away from pharmaceutical interventions. After all the drugs in my system, I was a little out of it, to say the least. I had been hallucinating for at least three of those hours that everything was made of cheese while speaking in different languages.

But when I was finally wheeled into that corridor and the bright lights hit me along with the realisation of what was actually happening, I sobered up pretty quickly.

How my labour went so off track, I have no idea. All I am grateful for now is that our boy was born strong and healthy and, despite his traumatic entrance into the world, has been a really good baby thus far.

When asking the midwives how everything got so out of hand, they explained that they wanted to do their best to honour my birth preferences as much as they could.

As a first-time mum, I didn’t know what I was in for. I didn’t realise 58 hours of labour wasn’t normal. I didn’t know at what point I should have opted for a c-section. I didn’t know how risky not having a c-section was for my baby. I knew nothing.

But I was still the main decision-maker in the room, right up until I handed my medical rights to the giant talking slice of pecorino in the room (AKA John).

Nowhere in my birthing classes, within the 30 birth plan templates I read, the 5 different podcasts I listened to or the hours of YouTube videos I watched did anyone tell me to include my maximum time for labour in my birth plan. But I wish I had.

In hindsight, I would have given myself 48 hours to try to labour and give birth naturally before calling it quits and opting for a c-section.

I cannot stress this inclusion in your birth plan enough. If I were to attempt natural birth again (which at this stage, I won’t be doing), I would give myself 36 hours for subsequent children after Artie.

It wasn’t until I started sharing my story with other parents that I found many people had similar stories - hours and hours of a labour that was never going to result in natural birth because as first-time mums, they just didn’t have the lived experience to make that informed decision.

This article isn’t to replace medical advice - it’s to share my experiences and encourage you to have a conversation with your obstetrician or midwife about how long you are comfortable labouring before opting for a c-section. As with any birth plan, it isn’t something you have to stick to, but it’s a good guideline to keep in the back of your mind if you find yourself in a situation where you can’t make rational decisions.

Our whole ordeal has taken time for John and me to process and come to terms with. Some days, I still catch myself tearing up looking at Artie, thinking of how close we were to losing him. It isn’t an experience any parent wants to go through.

John and I are just grateful we know for next time - if there is a next time. We are also grateful we can share these stories and experiences with other parents to allow them to plan for ‘just in case’.


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