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The Birth that Created ThePowerOfBirth

Updated: Jan 23

By Amber-lee Buendicho





Five years ago this month, the course of my life took a profound turn as I welcomed my first baby into the world. Little did I know, this transformative experience would not only shape the trajectory of my life both personally and professionally, but it ignited a passion within me to talk about it and share others' experiences. And with that, thepowerofbirth was born (2020).


As I reflect on my first birth, I became motivated by a desire to understand the intricacies of our system, I embarked on a journey that involved extensive reading, interviews with diverse perspectives, and a critical exploration of our birthing culture. I even completed a psychology Honours thesis on birth trauma. This effort was more than a personal endeavor; it was a deep dive into our "herstory," an exploration of the herstorical roots that have shaped the contemporary landscape of childbirth. I wanted answers for not only myself but for so many women who blamed themselves for their birth outcomes.


What unraveled before me was a revelation — a disconnection between our modern birthing practices and the foundations of well-researched, evidence-based care. The prevailing norms, it seemed, were hardly grounded in the robust research they claimed. But let's save the intricacies of that discussion for another time (or there's plenty to explore on the podcast ;)). Today, I invite you to share in the intimate details of my first birthing experience which I wrote some years ago. As you read through, you'll notice my added commentary. It's a deliberate choice, driven by a conviction to challenge the normalisation of certain aspects of my journey - isn't hindsight a wonderful thing? I believe that sharing my story this way will help others.


If you experienced a traumatic birth, I am sending you all my love. There are so many amazing organisations and people who can help you (see below). Writing your birth story has also been shown to improve your mental wellbeing and if you feel ready, I encourage you to write. You can also write to thepowerofbirth.net and share your story with the world if that feels right too. There are plenty of birth stories on the podcast, blog and instagram account if you wish to read others.


My first birth story...

"On the 10th Jan 2019 I woke at 3am busting for the loo, as usual, but this time I was back and forth for about an hour and a half so at this point I started thinking maybe something was happening. I was 39 weeks pregnant and had suffered through Hyperemesis Gravidarum (HG) so really wanted this baby out. As I lay in bed unable to go back to sleep I could feel mild back pain and cramping so I woke my husband and said, "I think something's happening!" Of course, he was excited but then started to madly pack our hospital bags, arrange the house, and throw the car seat in the car, we were not expecting this baby to come so soon.


(Commentary: It is crucial to note that my pregnancy was marked by the challenging condition of Hyperemesis Gravidarum, characterized by chronic and severe nausea and vomiting. This condition significantly impacted my ability to engage in traditional birth preparation activities. Basic tasks such as showering, eating, and even moving around the house proved to be exceptionally difficult for a substantial portion of my pregnancy. The intensity of Hyperemesis Gravidarum not only posed physical challenges but also limited the opportunity for typical birth readiness rituals during the lead-up to the delivery.)


By 6.30am I was having full-blown contractions every 7 minutes, we wrote everything down trying to keep track. I was lucky enough to be part of the private midwife program (MGP) at our local hospital, so we called my midwife to let her know I was in labour. At this point, I found it was far too painful to sit or lay down so I was up swaying and breathing through every contraction while VJ (husband) massaged my lower back. We did this for 6 hours. I tried to get in the shower but wasn't loving it so we tried the bath but again, sitting or lying down was still painful and not an option. 


(Commentary: You'll notice I focus on how painful birth was throughout my story. This was a huge fear of mine in the lead-up and I would say I have never had a very high pain threshold. The way I anticipated and felt about pain influenced the decisions I made during labour. In light of this, I have since discovered individuals and resources that offer insights into the role of pain in labour. These valuable outlets have provided guidance on how to diminish fears surrounding childbirth and embrace the primal nature of the experience, fostering a sense of surrender and empowerment - see resources below. I'll leave you with the affirmation; "there is no way out, but through").


By 4.30pm my contractions were 4 minutes apart and more intense so my midwife came by and I had a vaginal examination to check dilation (Commentary: It is important to acknowledge that determining the duration of labour based solely on dilation is highly uncertain; "there is no way of knowing if labour will result in a baby in 30 minutes or 24 hours" no matter how dialated you are [see references]. Relying on this measure as a prerequisite for admission to a hospital is a form of intervention that can potentially disrupt the natural physiological process of childbirth. Despite the inherent unpredictability of labour outcomes, many hospitals adhere to a policy mandating a minimum dilation of 4cm for admission, effectively normalising and even enforcing this practice).


She asked what I wanted to do, keep going at home or go to the hospital but I needed a change of scenery so we went to the hospital (something I deeply regret now). That car ride was THE WORST thing I had ever experienced. I was on all fours in the back of my little Mitsubishi Mirage dying because I couldn't stand up. We arrived at about 5.30pm and had a long walk to the birthing suite and I remember feeling angry that the hospital was not designed for labouring women haha. I stopped every few minutes to get through a contraction with loads of people watching me and even trying to talk to me!


We finally get into the birthing suite and we both get into the shower, one shower head on my back and one on my belly with the water piping hot to keep my mind off the contractions. VJ was singing and counting and tapping and trying to work me through the pain, he was amazing! We definitely bonded in that moment. I finally asked for the gas which helped immensely! It sent me to a different place. We slowly turned it up over 2 hours, this helped me focus on breathing until my legs and feet could not take standing any longer, I was getting very tired and felt exhausted. My midwife gave me another vaginal examination (uh so many frustrations looking back), it was now 9:30pm and I apparently had not progressed much at all. I felt so defeated. She asked me if I wanted to have my waters broken to speed things up (Commentary: having an artificial rupture of membranes [ARM] does not speed up labour and comes with significant risks if you want a physiological birth - see references for more info). I said yes to having an ARM relying on the "speed up" part of what she said. That part was not painful but the fact I had to be lying on a bed made the contractions so much worse.


As she broke my waters, she told me the baby had passed his bowels in the womb which is a sign of distress and so the water birth I was hoping for now was not an option. (Commentary: this is a myth and I can't help but wonder how different things would be if I could get in the water. Roughly 20% of babies are born with meconium-stained waters and we have no evidence that proves this theory of distress. Most babies who are born in poor condition do not have meconium-stained waters and most babies with meconium-stained waters are born in good condition [Dr Rachel Reed]. See references).


So I thought if I can't get in the water, I want an epidural because I was so done. Just the thought of having to be on my feet any longer doing the same thing for hours exhausted me. The midwife left to arrange the epidural and I stayed on the bed having hard contractions. Unfortunately, the rhythm we had going was lost and I felt like I had lost control of the situation and the pain was getting the better of me. (Commentary: Finding your rhythm and flow during labour is really important and should be protected, supported, and encouraged). Things stayed this way for another 3 hours. I tried different positions and just screamed like a T Rex for hours. It got so bad I bit VJ when he put his arm in front of me which we can laugh about now but talk about instinct! Finally, around midnight the anesthetist came and set me up and it was all over in a minute. I am terrified of needles but that experience was pleasant. When he told me it would take 15 minutes to kick in, I cried. Luckily it only took about 5 minutes and things went from out of control to calm, relaxed, and apologetic. (Commentary: I was informed of the risks of an epidural but was never informed of the way an epidural messes with your birth physiology which can lead to a cascade of interventions ie instrumental births - see references. That is not something we should be finding out while in labour, this information should be available to you in birth education and preparation).


I had pressure but no pain and could still move around a little but I stayed on the bed, watched VJ fall asleep in a chair, and just breathed through the contractions alone. The midwife came in and told me I could start pushing (Commentary: because I had an epidural, my birth was no longer physiological, and so I was not going to feel spontaneous pushing [utero pituitary reflex]. However, if you are having a physiological birth, directed pushing does not support your physiology, yet is still widely practiced. The number of women I have spoken to whose bodies are spontaneously pushing their baby out but midwives are telling them it's too soon and to hold the baby in makes me want to bang my head against a wall. See references).


The midwife and VJ were holding up my legs, and I started pushing while lying on my back watching the mirror below so I could see my progress. (Commentary: if you have an epidural you will almost always be birthing in your back. If you don't have an epidural, it is much better to follow your instinctual positioning). The baby was crowning and I was close. I pushed for 40 minutes before the midwife suddenly left the room. When she came back, she kept encouraging me to push, telling me I could do it. As I was trying, a bunch of doctors entered the room with bright lights and wheeling in tables. They told me my baby's heart rate had dropped to a scary low level and they couldn't wait for me any longer, they had to intervene (Commentary: I didn't know that epidurals are frequently associated with fetal heart rate abnormalities [see references] and so this can lead to further interventions). I didn't want them to intervene so they watched me push a few more times before saying they didn't want to wait...


They gave me the option for a vacuum, forceps or it would have to be an emergency c-section. I had no power left and asked them what they would do and they said the forceps would be the most appropriate because it would be the fastest. So with that, they gave me an episiotomy and inserted forceps, they inserted one at a time, rotated them - which I could feel and screamed so loud - and with a few pushes they pulled him out. At this point, I was completely overwhelmed, exhausted, angry, confused, sad, and just wanted this all to be over. As they pulled him out, I felt scared. I felt myself lose consciousness - that was a hard sight to see, my babys head between these scary forceps. It shook me. Next thing I know the baby is on top of me crying. He was finally born at 2:44am on the 11th Jan 2019 - I had been in labour for nearly 24 hours. I was so out of it I kept asking them to take him, I had no energy, was still dazed and shocked, and I felt he would just slip right off me. They quickly cut the cord and gave him to VJ for skin-to-skin which I thought was so special.


(Commentary: as I read this section I remember the feeling of powerlessness. Throughout most of my birth, I was looking to the midwife for answers in my desperate, exhausted, and vulnerable state. I don't have ill feelings towards my midwife, I understand working in a hospital system is challenging. However, upon reflection, I recognise numerous opportunities during my birth where actions could have reinforced my sense of empowerment and provided much-needed support. An empowering shift occurs when questions like, "What do you feel you need right now?" and "What is your body telling you?" are posed. This simple yet profound shift brings the mother back into an intimate connection with her own body, allowing her to tap into her instincts, desires, and needs. Instead of being instructed on what she needs, she becomes the author of her experience, standing firmly in her power).


The doctors then told me the forceps had resulted in a 3rd degree tear and significant blood loss (900ml) and I needed to go to surgery. I quickly tried to breastfeed but eventually was taken into theatre and was in surgery for 1.5 hours. I hated this so much because of the bright lights, 10 random people all seeing me naked, shaking, and vulnerable. I felt so alone and humiliated. I ended up just closing my eyes and falling asleep.


(Commentary: I hated being away from VJ at this point. It is still a sore spot with me and my birth. This is why trauma-informed care is so important. I also had a lot of professionals visit me in the hospital to discuss my birth injury and pelvic floor which I am so grateful for. I was so shocked at how butchered my body was and the recovery was incredibly difficult. I was later told that I was one of two women in the MGP program who had severe tearing that year [2019], and mine was the worst one - 3B tear. That was both good and hurtful to hear, I was glad it had not happened to anyone else but I grieved for my body).


By 8am I was back with VJ and baby and we named him Romeo Danilo Buendicho. Birth was an intense and traumatic experience and the recovery from a 3B tear was long and hard. I couldn't get up to feed the baby or shower for a day because my vagina and bum were so painful and swollen. I ended up soiling the bed and had such difficulty showering trying to clean myself because of how bruised, sore, and swollen I was. I stayed in the hospital for 3 days before going home but I still needed so much help, I couldn't sit down or stand up for too long, it was really hard for a long time. I am pregnant again and still very afraid to do it all again but I know I just need to get out of my head. I'm trying, believe me".

End story.


I was traumatised without really understanding the severity of what that meant and it cost me in postpartum and in my second pregnancy which was 6 months later. I have lots of emotions as I reflect on my first birth but I acknowledge that I was a completely different person then to who I am now and that is a really important consideration for myself as I reflect on that time.  She did the best she could with the little knowledge she had - we shouldn't be expected to get a midwifery degree in preparation for birth, plus, if you have never done it before how do you even know where to start? I have lots of self compassion for my past self.


I hope you show yourself the same kindness.


Warmly,

Amber-lee Buendicho





Resources & References:


If you have suffered a traumatic birth experience there are some great resources out there to help you. I would also recommend finding a therapist that specialises in perinatal mental health or reach out to organisations:


References:

(You'll notice I have a lot of Dr Reed's work here. That is because she promotes physiological birth and cuts through the bullsh*t, which I love)

Vaginal Examinations:

Amniotic Sac & Speed of Labour:

Meconium Stained Waters:

Spontaneous Pushing:



Epidurals:





Resources:

Check out Can We Talk About This podcast where I have many discussions relating to pregnancy, birth, postpartum and modern motherhood weaving lived experiences and expert knowledge together: https://podcasts.apple.com/au/podcast/can-we-talk-about-this/id1572162194


Some other birth podcasts I love include

Positive Birth Stories Podcast - https://www.thepositivebirthstorypodcast.com/


I have also created a free Birth Toolbox & Postpartum Toolbox to help you prepare for your birth and support you postpartum. The Birth Toolbox includes many birth resources! Check it out here: https://www.thepowerofbirth.net/printable-pdfs


One of my absolute FAVOURITE resources in preparing for birth is The Birth Map: https://birthmap.life/the-book/


If you are looking for childbirth education my go to's are:

Dr Rachel Reed Childbirth Physiology Course: https://www.rachelreed.website/childbirth-physiology-course

CoreandFloor Restore FREE Antenatal Classes: https://coreandfloor.com.au/products/antenatal-classes



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