I spent my pregnancy, like so many other women, visualising a very specific birth. I constantly focused on doing things ‘naturally’, with no drugs and little medical assistance. I thought that childbirth would be a simple, spiritual encounter, and it was spiritual to a certain extent, but in a very different way to I had originally imagined.
I loved being pregnant. I totally threw myself into it. I read the books. I did the courses. I dedicated myself to eating and sleeping well. I followed a daily yoga routine. I recited affirmations. I practiced my hypnobirthing techniques daily. I listened to birthing podcasts. I fundraised for the local midwife unit where I planned to give birth, in order to spread the word about how great unassisted birth could be. I didn’t sit on anything that wasn’t my exercise ball. I didn’t even consider any alternative outcome. I couldn’t wait to push. I was obsessed, I was excited, I felt in control.
As I reached 35 weeks, however, I was struck by a sudden realisation that, no matter how much you plan, no matter how many classes you take, it’s your baby, not you, that will set the pace for his birth. Discovering our little boy was breech was a lot to take in, mainly because, if he didn’t get head down in the next few weeks, it didn’t necessarily mean that I had to opt for an elective (planned) c-section (which I was reluctant to do) and I would have an important decision to make. My local hospital and its midwifery team gave me lots of information on why a vaginal breech birth is today rare but can in certain circumstances be equally as safe as surgery, especially in my case with no other complications and a perfectly-growing baby who was in an extended position (his bum virtually ‘engaged’ in my pelvis already). We discussed all of the research that was available, its reliability and how it related to my personal circumstance, approaching my eventual decision with my current specifics in mind – this is very important when discussing any birth plan, as no matter what any general statistics might say, you have to look at the individual case, as all women – their medical histories, their pregnancies, their babies and their specific and realistic risks – are different. As a breech baby myself, I also had first-hand anecdotes from my own mum and dad about how a vaginal breech birth could be as safe as any other birth, as well as a ton of information from other breech birth stories online, mainly from midwives keen to ensure the skills around supporting women to attempt a safe breech birth are kept alive. There was a lot to read, a lot to discuss, and a lot to think about.
Before properly considering my options, I tried everything to flip our baby. Acupuncture, moxibustion, inversion postures, yoga, aromatherapy, ball exercises, visualisation, meditation and two ECVs (where a medical professional tries to manually turn your baby from the outside using their hands)… you name it, I tried it. Baby boy was going nowhere. He had been sitting in the same butt-down position for my entire third trimester and didn’t want to budge.
Exhausted, confused and anxious about my birth plan slipping away, at 37 weeks I then reached a huge turning point. I stood in my kitchen in tears, looked down and took a deep breath. I calmly apologised to my bump for being so forceful with him over the last few weeks. If he wanted to arrive in a breech position, and he clearly did, I’d support him. Learning that only 3% of babies are breech by full-term, I whispered to him: “it’s OK, babe, we can be the 3%… we’re not like everyone else and that’s absolutely fine. I’m sorry for keep trying to make you be otherwise. I’ll let go of it now, I promise.” And I knew I had to do just that – I had to let go, and at the same time make myself feel relaxed and in control. At 38 weeks and 1 day, my husband and I sat down together and promised to move forward with our situation. I’d already done A LOT of research (I must have read every breech birth story on the internet) and now I needed put it all out of my mind.
We put a few things into place. We wrote a birth plan on how we’d attempt a vaginal birth but knew we would be open to changes and advice on the day. We packed our hospital bag. We scheduled some appointments – we planned to meet a handful of particular midwives at our hospital that following week, including a breech enthusiast called Jane who was kindly going to give up her time to talk to us about how we could approach the challenge safely, with all the right information. Knowing that we wanted to attempt a (rare but potentially do-able) vaginal breech birth, our hospital’s midwifery team assembled (queue Avengers’ theme tune music) some meetings for us for the following week. We felt safe, calm and supported, so lastly, we vowed to do nothing from now on but relax. That night, we sat down together, wrote our fears down on paper and tore them up. We could finally let go.
The next day, I went into labour. I mean – the power of the mind, right?
Despite not having had some of those conversations yet with our local hospital, we had definitely made a good start and felt fully guided (and adequately monitored) to attempt our new birth plan. Talk about things happening the way they were meant to, the midwife Jane I was due to meet that week had just begun her shift as we rocked up at that night. She ran through her thoughts on how we could safely approach our birth – it identically matched my own desires. We were ready to do this.
13 hours later (20 since my contractions had started), I’d given it my best shot. Thanks to staying calm through focus and breathing, I’d dilated quickly. I’d spent time in the birthing pool, I’d retreated within, I’d felt my contractions get stronger and stronger. I’d had the chance to experience the first stages of labour and loved every second, but a few hours after reaching full dilation, I knew I had to call it a day. I wasn’t feeling my baby descend past a certain point, my contractions weakened and I just wasn’t feeling any urge to push whatsoever. Baby boy didn’t want to come down – he wasn’t distressed but just wasn’t moving – and not being in a traditional head-down position, I didn’t want to force him… I’d decided before I went into labour (based on all the heaps of reading I’d done about birthing breech safely) that this had to happen quickly, easily and naturally, or not at all. Just like I had in my kitchen those weeks ago, I sent a message down to my belly: “it’s OK, if you don’t want to be born like this, that’s fine, I won’t force you. I can let go.”
Right then, I wanted nothing more than to be whisked off for an emergency c-section. In this moment, I didn’t feel like I was letting go, actually, but using all my knowledge, advice and guidance to take control. After discussing my options with the amazingly supportive and patient medical professionals around me, I was calmly and efficiently prepped for surgery. At 13:12 on 5th February 2019, Jaxon was lifted out of my belly and I saw his little crying face peer over a surgical cover. I’ll remember that magical moment forever.
Through the entire labour, he hadn’t been distressed once, and didn’t encounter any problems after his belly birth. I was so proud of him. My boy had been stubborn through this journey, yes, but by listening to him (and my gut) and letting him decide how he wanted to be born, he was happy, healthy, chilled and meeting him for the first time was indescribable.
To be supported to give vaginal breech birth a good go, and then to also demand sudden access to potentially life-saving surgery was an amazing opportunity, and I am still in awe at our health system and all the people who supported me during pregnancy, birth and beyond. In the moments after emergency surgery, during which I personally could have been freaking-out, I was absolutely elated, beaming ear-to-ear at what had just occurred. As someone who wanted to control every element of her birth, her baby and her body, I had been so terrified of having a c-section, but in the moment, it felt like 100% the right thing to do for my and my son, and I will be eternally grateful for the entire experience.
Childbirth for me has been about the power and importance of being given access to opportunity. I wanted and did have the chance to discuss my birth options and ultimately attempt to experience a natural birth. The outcome didn’t matter – it didn’t matter that my baby had other plans and was delivered abdominally in the end anyway, what mattered was that I was given the opportunity to try. I had the opportunity to do as much research as possible in order to make the best decision for us as a family. Despite talking so much here about letting go, I was actually consistently given the opportunity to be in control, and for any strong, independent, well-informed woman bringing a child into the world, this means more to us than we can put into words. My strong, independent son wanted the flexibility to grow in whatever position he wanted to, even if some may call it the ‘wrong’ one. He wanted the opportunity to arrive in his own way, to make his own mind up, just like his mother. We had so much opportunity and for that we are very thankful.
I wouldn’t have had this entire story turn out any other way. Learning how to let go has been completely liberating, it ironically has taught me how to take control when necessary. As someone who so desperately wanted a drug-free, vaginal birth (now, I always hesitate to stigmatise cesarean sections by not labelling them as natural), I made the decision post-natally to do nothing other than vehemently view my birth story as positive – emergency c-section mums, ALL mums, have enough to suddenly deal with, and burdening myself with regret wasn’t going to help anyone.
The other day, after seeing I had a baby, a woman serving me in a shop asked if I’d had a natural birth and I replied with a smile: “yes – a long labour and then a cesarean section.” She winced and said: “oh no, I’m sorry.” No, don’t feel sorry for me or tell me you are “sorry” for my birth. Women who have had emergency c-sections have likely gone through all sorts of mental motions, thrown themselves from grief to joy, from guilt to gratitude, from regret to peace and back again, trying to arrive at a place of calm after everything that’s happened, especially if it happened quickly and unplanned – this all on top of long and hard recovery.
My own journey has made me realise that we must encourage all birthers to seize positivity and OWN their unique birth story, look back on their journey with a smile and feel euphoric accomplishment for everything they’ve put their mind and body through. Onlookers, don’t say “yikes” at the gory details, just tell us that what we did and what we went through and GOT through was amazing. Every birth is beautiful. Every birth is natural. Once she’s done healing and processing, if all ended well, every woman needs to be encouraged to see her scar as her proud warrior-woman wound, her birth as wonderful, and not be shamed into feeling she was robbed of the better experience. If, like me, she feels completely informed to make the best possible decisions before and during labour, feels completely in control of her birth no matter what complications arise, she deserves to feel nothing but pride. And I am proud, to own every single element of this journey and truly submit to the person, the mum, it has allowed me to become. For the first time in my life, I truly surrendered, to my instincts, to fate, and more than anything, to my son.
When I first found out I was pregnant, I wrote my unborn child a letter. On two sides of A4, I told him that he could be whoever he wanted to be in his life, that I would never force any expectations upon him. He was free to creatively design himself and his entire life, in any way he pleased. He didn’t have to follow one educational path, or do a certain type of job, have certain interests, or fall in love with a certain type of person. I would set him zero restrictions and encourage him to challenge the pre-conceptions and expectations of the modern world around him. Our family motto – question everything. Despite being the size of a peanut at the time, he really listened to my letter. He has already started writing the rules for our life together and for that, I am so proud of him and so happy that he’s choosing to do things his way. This journey has been nothing short of an amazing learning experience which has resulted in my falling absolutely head over heels in love with this awesome little human who has truly taken control of his own life already.
Of course, I’ll always have his best interests, health and safety and heart, and it will always be mine and his father’s job to make those decisions for him in absence of his ability to make fully-formed choices yet. But, no matter what his age, I want to continue listening to him and letting him lead the way. I want him to lead me, to lead us. I want him to continue challenging me and challenging pre-conceptions. In just the last nine months he has taught me so much, about pregnancy, birth and the aftermath, about my own body and mind – he has made me throw all my original conceptions out of the window and see all of this in a completely different light. He has shown me that it’s OK to let go. That it’s OK to not tread the path you originally imagined. That it’s OK to be in the 3%.
And if he has done all of that whilst just a few days old, I can’t wait to see what he will go on to do in the years that follow.
By Rebecca Rimmer Givens