Seren’s Birth Story really begins with her sister Clara’s, who was born two years earlier by emergency Caesarean section after a classic cascade of interventions; overdue induction, epidural, failure to progress, and ultimately surgery.
After three days and nights lying on my back being constantly monitored; feeling lonely, scared and isolated as my husband wasn’t allowed to stay with me at night; desparately hungry and weak because I'd been advised not to eat or drink… surgery seemed the only option. Through the numbness I felt terribly grateful to the hospital for saving my baby from her failed mother’s body. Yes, I felt I'd failed and I wasn't ready to process my disappointment, or the shock and trauma. I didn't even recognise that it was trauma for some time. It lay buried beneath the joy and relief of finally holding our beautiful baby daughter.
The surgeon found me on the ward afterwards to tell me that 75% of women who have Caesareans go on to give birth naturally - the first time I heard the term VBAC. “Why are you telling me this?” was all I could think. Reeling from major surgery and a mother for a matter of hours, another baby was not on my horizon, let alone her manner of birth.
But her words stayed with me and I became grateful for this snatched 20-second conversation that she had bothered to come back and have with me.
Fast forward a year and a half, and my husband and I are sitting in the hospital coffee shop after our 12 week scan. Seren is officially on the horizon. I am explaining to him with some force - people are looking - that I plan to do things differently this time. That there is no question I’ll be having a Caesarean or coming near this place again. He looks bewildered. His belief was, and to some extent remains, that the doctors saved our baby.
I am surprised myself by the force of my conviction. It is coming from deep inside me.
I get home and start Googling. I found an article about a beautiful home birth helping to heal the scars of a traumatic first birth and I just begin to cry and I don’t stop for some time. This is me beginning to understand. You see, I didn’t even realise I had experienced that hospitalisation as traumatic. It’s something I unpack over the six months that follow.
I throw myself into preparing for this birth in a very different way. I stand my ground when a consultant tells me “It would be safer if all babies were born by Caesarean”, that I am selfishly thinking of my own experience at the expense of my baby’s, and as a parting shot, “Well, I’m the one who sees women coming back with bladder problems in their fifties.” At the time I feel frightened to death that she might be right. She is the expert, isn’t she?
At this point, with terror dominating my experience I discover the work of Charlotte Kanyi whom I'd met recently at a baby signing class. I was inspired by how she birthed her two boys (three at the time of editing!) at home, the second without assistance as he came so fast and booked her Birth Confidence Package to unpick in depth what had gone wrong. She takes me on a deep dive and helps me to acknowledge and clear past experiences and welcome in new ones. I clear the all consuming fear, the trauma, and the underlying imprints and patterns that were actively preventing me from believing in myself and my body. I change my care providers, my birth place and I hire a doula, Jane Jennings. She listens with skill and without judgment to mine and my husbands very differing viewpoints. It helps - we’ve been at loggerheads for weeks with no progress. He now feels heard, and we realise we both want the same thing fundamentally.
On the advice of Charlotte and Jane, I surround myself with positive birth stories. I take up meditation. I read Ina May Gaskin. I eat healthily, borrow a birth pool, and arrange to go to the local midwife-led centre, Serenity, whose hands-off approach I am eternally grateful for.
On Seren’s due date, the day I expected her least, I laboured at home in the pool with the sunlight streaming in through the sunflowers on the table. Jane turned my occipital posterior baby with a Rebozo shawl in under a minute. I felt Seren turn, I could suddenly walk more easily, and the contractions changed. There was a pause while I breastfed my two year old in the pool - she still refers to this with a big smile.
Seren was keen to be born at home - I could feel her head before we embarked on the car journey to the midwife centre. I held her back till we got to Serenity and they filled a pool there. She was born seconds after I stepped in. The cord was wrapped twice around her neck, and was unhooked without drama. We were able to rest at Serenity before journeying home to be reunited with her sister, our now expanded family complete and feeling whole.
Seren’s birth has left me feeling not only healed but empowered. I hear and trust my instincts so much more. I realise that the meditation, breathing and being in the now exercises I used during birth, are vital to me in the daily challenge of parenting a toddler and newborn. I have tools including The NPA Process which I can use whenever I feel out of sorts, blocked or frightened. I feel less scared of dying. Some part of me has understood and confronted a place of inner strength where birth and death happens. This was without question the most wonderful experience of my life and taught me precious life lessons.
It makes me sad beyond words that this opportunity is becoming so hard to come by. As I reflect on why this is. I feel that our medical system is beyond wonderful when birth goes wrong, but it mostly runs on a model of intervention, and sometimes causes the emergencies it solves. I have seen so many women have similar experiences to me resulting in undermining of already fragile confidence; midwives measure bumps big, growth scans follow giving a “diagnosis” of a big baby. The seed of fear is sown, and often the woman is already well on her way to a Caesarean, believing she can’t possibly give birth to such a monster. Often there is much surprise when the enormous baby is born weighing a very average 7lb. Rather than encouragement and positivity at the moment she needs it most, a woman starts to encounter fear and an institution more concerned with covering its back than with helping her bring her baby into the world in the best possible way. “Safety” statistics don't even start to take into consideration effects on mother and baby, PND, delayed trauma, interrupted bonding, lack of transfer of beneficial bacteria and flora, and breastfeeding problems, caused by interfering with the process of birth.
For myself I needed a lot of support and education to overcome the fear and trauma from the first time, and to reassure me that it was safe to ignore the “experts” without being a potential baby murderer. I put a lot of resources into birth preparation, to clear the trauma and the roots of the imprinting and patterns that had led to me experiencing a very disemowering birth where I felt out of control and ignored, isolated and not able to voice my own desires. I also hired a doula. The healing experience of my second child has transformed me in a deep and long lasting way and I wish that all women would take heart and inspiration from this story and find their own inner strength and joyful place.
Zoe Challenor is a mother with many hats. She is also a workshop leader for Welsh National Opera, An Artist in Residence af Ark Schools, Founder and Director Of B'Opera Baby Opera which makes beautiful music for tiny ears.
You can catch up with her on Facebook at Zoe Challenor singing and Alexander Technique and B'opera.