[Birth Story] Birth: Not as Bad as Hiking the Machu Picchu Trail

Shelley Wylie shares with Adriana how marvelous it can be to see your partner really have your back and tell the nurse to wait until your contraction is over, how birth is not as horrendous as the Machu Picchu trail, and how you can absolutely have a lovely birth, even if you have to come undone and regather yourself in the process. She also highly recommends that if you hate the tub, try the shower!  

 

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[Birth Story] Birth: Not as Bad as Hiking Machu Picchu

Adriana Lozada: Hey, Mighty One! You’re probably aware by now that we are taking a break from our usual series until September, and in the meantime, we are sharing some of our favorite birth stories that you probably haven’t heard yet! 

Today’s story is from Shelley Wylie, and it’s filled with so many fantastic insights, like how when her partner spoke up to the nurse made her feel so safe that she was able to truly dive into the process, or how she had put so much power in using the tub, and once there she hated, but then was able to pivot and find that the shower was beyond amazing for her. So yeah, as I relistened to this story, I just couldn’t wait to share it with all of you, so here we go. Enjoy! 

Adriana: Welcome to the Birthful Podcast. I’m Adriana Lozada and we continue with our birth stories for the summer series. Today’s story comes from Shelley Wiley, who shares how the shower beats the tub, how birth is not as horrendous as the Machu Picchu trail, and how you can absolutely have a lovely birth, even if you have to come undone and regather yourself in the process.

Stay tuned. The Birthful Podcast, talking to maternity pros to inform your intuition.

Hello, Mighty Mamas and Mamas-to-Be and Mighty Dads and Dads-to-Be. Thanks again for all the love you give the show. And if you like what you hear, then please, please subscribe and leave a review, especially in iTunes, even if that’s not how you usually listen to it. I truly appreciate it. And it really helps.

All right. Today we continue with our birth stories for the summer series. Let’s hear then what Shelley Wiley’s birth story is all about. 

Shelley, welcome to the show! I am so happy to have you here today. 

Shelley Wylie: Happy to be here! Very excited. 

Adriana: Yeah! And for joining us all the way from Australia and coordinating that time difference– I appreciate it so much.

Shelley: No worries! No, I had a little power nap, so now I’m ready to go. 

Adriana: Fantastic! So your birth story, before we get into it, I always like to ask a little bit about what was happening during pregnancy. Like: What were your wishes for your birth? Let’s start with that. 

Shelley: I really wanted a birth that I could be proud of, in a very general sense, that it was something… There’s no easy way to have birth, I know, but in my own books of what was easy and what was sort of true to the type of woman that I thought I was, it was going to be very much a birth like that.

So it was going to be under my control and I’m a very… I’m quite a leadership person in my own life and in my roles at work, so I wasn’t comfortable with other people being in control, or other people dictating the speed that something happened or where something happened. So, while I admit I’m not an expert in any field relating to birth, I wanted to remain the leader of my birth– I think that would be a good way to summarize it!

Adriana: And so, as you were pregnant and set out to figure out how to do that– to have a labor experience that you were proud of– what did you do during pregnancy in order to prepare?

Shelley: I did everything that came up! So I was first introduced to Birthful and I started from the beginning and worked my way through. And if there was an article that was mentioned, I read that. And if there was a book, I read a specific chapter or a portion of the book, or the whole book. I listened. I joined mailing websites. I joined a course that was developed here in Australia called She Births. And I only managed to join the correspondence course because I live about five hours from the nearest large city, but even that was fantastic. I really, really enjoyed She Births, and they provided a number of resources and I followed all their resources. And if they said “do this once a day, every week,” I would do it once a day, every week, and then twice on Sunday! That was really gung-ho. 

I eventually worked out where things may… where I could sort of lean back or push forward on certain things, but I did everything that was recommended to me and that I understood to be worthwhile in my life and in my scenario. I developed a bit of a mindset very early on.

I developed a picture in my head of what woman I wanted to be in the birth, in the moment. And I had this sort of juxtaposing image of an Amazon woman and the woman that you see in justice statues– I call her “Lady Justice,” she’s sort of holding the scales. And to me, both of those women really represented strength, you know? Strength of mind and strength of body.

And I’d always had… In my adolescence, I’d gone through most of what every (I think!) every woman goes through in adolescence, of that trying time and that displeasure with your body. But I’d also done a lot of competitive sport and a lot of sport training. I did horse riding. I did competitive ballet and dancing. And, I mean, I played on the rugby union team and the netball team and the volley team. So I’d always had a really confident body and a body that I could have faith in, that, in a physical aspect, my body would not let me down. And that developed as I got older and I’ve always drawn on those experiences, as you know well, “You did this so clearly, you’ll be able to do this next thing,” and and specifically for birth, I kept thinking of Machu Picchu. I walked the Machu Picchu trail with my partner a few years ago, and that was just horrendous. I could not fathom just how much!

Adriana:  I’ve never heard that being described as “horrendous”! 

Shelley: For me, it was horrendous because I wasn’t… I was the last one on the trail. I was the last! There was all these young fit girls on there. And then I was also traveling with my partner and his best friend and his wife, and they were very fit. They were both playing for sports teams at the time and I was the last one, and that was really debilitating for me. But I did it. I got there. And that’s how I felt about my body– it might go one way or the other, but I can do it. I can get there eventually. 

Adriana: Well, there you go! And I’m wondering, because you mentioned that you were so athletic before, and you… that you looked at a lot of resources, did you get a chance… Was the Rhea Dempsey’s book on– and now I can’t remember the name of her book, birthing, something “birthing.” Rhea… she’s gonna call me!

Shelley: My big downfall in life is I, for the life of me– and this is when I talk to other people about my birth, this always comes up– I can’t remember names and books and websites, but I can always say to someone “I read this great article!” 

Adriana: Now I’m going to have to look it up! Looking it up, people! I did a podcast with her and it was about pain during birth and the purpose of pain during birth. It was Birth with Confidence. Yep, I remember that now: Birth with Confidence: Savvy Choices for Normal Birth.

Shelley: I clearly actually remember that podcast! I can’t remember if I did go back and do some reading, but I did… I loved that podcast! I think in a moment she briefly mentioned you wouldn’t rock up to a marathon race without training, and that labor is a bit of a marathon and that you do need to train and prepare for that event. And that spoke so true to me. I used to have a horse riding instructor who would say, “You win your ribbons at home, in the paddock at home. You win your ribbons every time that you turn out to go for a ride at home. You don’t win the ribbon on the day.”

And I feel like that’s something I sort of have carried through my life. And I think that, for me, that’s what she was saying– you don’t birth on the day, in that moment. Even though you physically do,  you can do so much of your birth on that day in preparation beforehand.

Adriana: I love that– that early, early, early labor that is pregnancy.

So you’ve prepared, you’ve done… you’ve read all the books, you’ve done everything and twice on Sunday, and then comes the day. How did you know you were in labor? 

Shelley: I… Well, I didn’t have the early labor signs that I really expected. It was so many of my girlfriends and everything that I’d read had talked about first time mothers having a longer labor and I expected there to be… I’d done lots and lots of visualizations, and in my visualizations, it was slow and steady. I was going to have time to go for a dog walk and I was going to go and have a nice breakfast and that there’d be a fair bit of downtime before anything started. But on my due date, actually, I was outside with my partner. He was mowing the lawn and he had a joke and he said, “Oh, this might be the last time I do this!”

And we thought, “Oh, haha, very funny!” And I stood up quickly and felt something drop inside me like a sack of marbles and sprinted off to the toilet. And he saw it and I saw it, but I, you know, I didn’t think any of it. Because I knew that the likelihood that anything was going to happen that day was very slim.

And then again, at seven o’clock that night, I had a little bit of blood when I went to the toilet. And I told my partner, but I came out again and I said, “You know, this doesn’t mean anything. It could still happen at the end of the week. It could happen tomorrow. Let’s not get… you know. Don’t get excited. Don’t jinx it! Don’t say anything. Don’t think about anything. Don’t say anything or you’ll jinx it.” 

And within an hour, so by about 8:00 p.m. that night, I’d gone from mild, mild contractions to mild, mild cramps– sorry, to something that more closely resembled a contraction. And I told my partner and I started moving around the house, cleaning up and just very much got the sensation that something was actually happening. And then I cleaned up my dinner and put that away. 

And I remember putting socks away… just, I’m a very organized person and I just needed the space to sort of be empty and, and not have any of that clutter in my mind. And by about 10:00 p.m., I was– and these times are very rough and they’re times that I’ve sort of gathered from going back and listening to my partner’s version of the story and whatnot. I wouldn’t want anyone to think that any of the times that I list are very specific! 

Adriana: Yeah, you weren’t looking at the clock and writing things down.

Shelley: Yeah, and I specifically wasn’t looking at the clock as well because I didn’t want my birth to go like that. So much so that I didn’t have any app for timing contractions and I hadn’t even spoken to my partner about it. It was just a non-issue for me. But, yeah, by about 10:00 p.m. there were definitely contractions. And we were timing them because I just thought “this is so fast”– much faster than anything that I planned for, but I was feeling really good about it. I was feeling pretty good. I was… I’d already started doing this sort of swaying, you know, silent mambo in my head, and that was really working really nicely for me. But as we approached midnight, I just didn’t feel right about being at home anymore.

As much as I had planned to stay home as long as possible and we only live five minutes from the hospital, so that was not an issue at all, but it was just moving far too fast for my liking. And I asked my partner to ring the hospital and they said, “sure, come on in,” which was not the answer that I had expected at all.

And I was convinced that they were going to tell us to go home. So we packed into the car, but we didn’t even take my hospital bags, which is, you know, ta-da, the big moment. We really didn’t think we’d be staying. It just seemed ridiculous to go from, you know, four hours of being at home under these conditions, it just seems so silly.

And even when I arrived at the hospital, of course, my contractions eased right back and I thought, “oh God,” you know, I’ve done that thing. I didn’t want to do this. I didn’t. It wasn’t in my visualization to come to the hospital at this point, but here I was. And we got shown into a room, had a greeting by a lovely midwife named Nicole and she did a vaginal examination, at my request, although I asked her not to tell me how dilated I was.

I just wanted to know “Should we stay? Should we go home?” And she… I think her exact words were “You’re fully effaced and everything’s ready to go.” And I felt very confident about my ability to interpret that as “you’re not dilated at all.” And we’re still at the start of a very long journey, which is a bit… it wasn’t hard information to take. It was hard information to act on, because I definitely was confident about how quickly things were progressing. But I was just as confident that, oh, just as confident that I should stay at home for absolutely as long as possible. And I was tossing up in my mind whether I’d actually done that or not. Had I reached some sort of limit that I could withstand at home or had I just caved into early anxiety and early sort of frustration and fear? And I didn’t know what to do with it, but my partner took charge at that point. And he said, “Let’s stay,” you know, “It’s nice here. We’ve got a room. We’ve got a room with a bath.” 

And that was a big thing for me! Not every one of the birthing suites has a bath, so he was like, “Look!” Try to, you know, play that angle of the things that I wanted for my birth, so “We’ll stay here. We’ll keep the room. We’ll keep the bath. It’s much easier than going home.”

Adriana: So I have a question there– I’m gonna interrupt you as things pop up in my head.

When your partner… When you were checked and you didn’t want to know what the dilation was, did your partner get to know? Or they didn’t get to know either?

Shelley: Yeah, so at some point, she must’ve grabbed him in the hallway and she said that I was one centimeter– so one centimeter at midnight and fully effaced.

Adriana: Okay. So I’m just curious, since he took charge and it was kind of saying what to do. And I was just curious to see if he had that… some insider information for that, yeah. 

Shelley: And I wonder what made him! And it could have also been the sort of the time of day, you know? It was midnight. We don’t want to be, you know, schlepping back and forth through the town at midnight.

Again, in my visualization, I could have literally walked to the hospital, and I had thought about that too. I was like, “You know, that would be a great way to help my labor,” and to really visually see a metaphor of stepping and walking and getting closer to the hospital and closer to my birth. As I went, I had to pause and go through each contraction. We live that close. I can see the hospital from my bedroom window. And I have always had really positive associations with hospitals. And it’s a brand new hospital with a beautiful new maternity ward. And I’ve been so excited to do a tour. So the idea of staying wasn’t unpleasant at all, although I was of the understanding that it potentially did increase my chances of interventive birthing strategies later on. But that didn’t come to mind when I agreed, my partner and I agreed that we would stay there. We were happy with that decision. 

Adriana: Cool. So then what happened?

Shelley: So well, then we had my partner– he’s a quiet man. When you first meet him, he’s a big man, quite stoic, reserved, until you get to know him.

And I had had worries that I had said to him, “My biggest worry is that you will cave into some sort of pressure that might be placed on you in an emergency. Because you are confident in your own opinion, and I will be obviously too engaged with labor to strongly voice my opinion.” And that was my big fear and I’d made him promise, you know, “I really need to have confidence that you are going to do what I want to do in those situations.”

And that was a big thing for us, in deciding to stay at the hospital. I’d been happy with that decision and with him for making it. And then the next step was a nurse who came in to give me a cannula because I needed antibiotics. I had… I can’t remember this strep. 

Adriana: The Group B Strep– 

Shelley: Yeah, I had that sort of– 

Adriana: –positive.

Shelley: Yep, and positive. And when she came in, she attempted to put the cannula in mid-contraction. And my partner actually stopped her and said, “She’s having a contraction. Can you not do that?” And, the woman had some coy remark and said something along the lines of, “You know, you need to stand still for me to put this in.” And my partner said, “She can’t stand still!” Because for every contraction to begin with at home, I was on my knees in the contractions, but as they built, I needed to be standing and I needed to be swaying and dancing and sort of hunched over a bed. And just him prioritizing me like that and telling this professional that what she was doing wasn’t good for me was such a beautiful… it literally got me mid-contraction.

I turned and looked at him and my heart pulled out of my throat. Because I just… It was so filling for me and from that point forward, I didn’t have any more fears about my partner and what he would do in the progressing labor. He had me. 

Adriana: Yeah, he had your back! You can clearly tell. That’s fantastic that you had that moment. 

Shelley: Yeah. And when she left, it was all said and done, I sort of turned to him and I said, “You know, she comes back…” and he said, “Don’t worry. If she comes back, I’ll tell her to leave.” So the cannula is in, and that was fine. And he and the midwife, Nicole, made a bit of a pillow castle for me so that when I did sit down, I could rest against a pillow castle. And he was very, very good at– I needed to be standing before the contraction came and I sort of needed to sway my way out of it as well, and he was very good at holding my body, helping my body to get up and down each contraction. 

So he started off the night very well! That went on until about 2:30 a.m. I had I put my TENS machine on before we left the hospital, which was perhaps my best investment. I had a few girlfriends who’d used it, and so I was very keen on using the TENS machine, and it worked really well for us. 

Adriana: Can you describe a little bit more about what the TENS machine is? Because I don’t think we talk about… I haven’t done a podcast about the TENS machine and I don’t think it’s a tool that gets as much use or attention as it should, because I’ve never heard anybody say when they’ve used the TENS machine that it wasn’t helpful for them. But at the same time, it’s like this little secret that just gets passed by. You wouldn’t mind explaining about it?

Shelley: Yeah. So it’s the same here. I’d only found out about it from people who’d had success from it. And I, the hospital too– I’d asked the midwife if I was able to use one in the hospital. She said, “I don’t know what it is.” So I’ve had the same experience.

 So I’m not sure what it is for everyone, but for me, it was a company in a major city who hired it out. It was a little battery pack about the size of your phone that you could insert batteries in and you could put that on an armband or a waistband, and four pads, sticky self-adhesive pads that you put either side of your spine, as well as a little handheld trigger. And it would send these little electronic impulses into your body all the time. And then as a contraction came, I would press the little trigger in my hand and it would jump up– I don’t know what the correct word is– the sort of electric intensity.

The intensity would jump up for the period of the contraction. And then as the contraction eased, I’ve pressed the trigger and it would jump back down. It’s electricity, small amounts of electricity, being passed through your body and it was just… it’s a diversion, really, and a sensation that was not painful, but equal to the sensation of the contractions. It’s very, it’s very hard to describe. And I think, you know, a lot of people probably see the TENS machine– well, my exposure to the TENS machine certainly was those videos that you see on Facebook of men experiencing labor, and they put the pads on their belly. And I’m sure that their partners send the level of electricity right up through the roof, and that seems all very painful and unhelpful. But when you have those electric impulses with the contraction, they sort of pardon each other out. It’s like a big cancellation. 

Adriana: Yeah. And you can control it yourself, and you can, you know, move the intensity to different bits. So I like that it’s very self-directed. It’s not the same thing, if you’re just bracing for this thing, like in the videos… that are going to come… it’s something that you, yeah, control. Awesome! 

Shelley: And it… I think it is probably important that you do actually self-direct. It would… it might be potentially… it might occur to someone to let someone else hold the trigger.

But, for an example, specifically my partner and I had played around with it the day before, and that was a big hoot. But he had reached some level– of say, 30 or 40– and it had been overwhelming for him. But by the time I was about at that stage, about six hours into contractions and they were coming at least every four or three minutes, I was at 40 and beyond and they didn’t feel painful for me at all.

So in that circumstance, how do I have… let my partner control it? He would look at it and go, “Wow, well, 40– that’s incredibly painful!” But for me, that wasn’t painful. That was… it was beautiful. 

Adriana: And it goes back to the same thing, like, I know when people are having back pain, it’s really helpful to have counterpressure in that lower back and you’ve got to really lean into it. Like I put, as a doula, I put my whole weight in and I tell partners, like, “Really go into it more than you think because Mom will tell you if it’s too much.” But I’ve hardly ever had anybody say it was too much. Yeah, to balance out the contractions can require sort of that level of intensity.

Shelley: Yeah, for me it was $60, it’s for a six week hire. And you know, if you think about all the paraphernalia that you might buy in preparation for birth and the cost of hospital and insurance and whatever else goes into it, it’s such a small amount to take a risk on, personally.

Adriana: Yeah. So we’re going to… I’m going to interrupt you… And you’re going to… Well, I can’t talk! We’re going to take a quick break, but we will be right back, ’cause I am dying to hear– well, I’ve seen the pictures, so I know what’s coming! So yeah, dying to hear! We’ll be right back. 

And we are back listening to Shelley’s birth story. And so we were just talking about the TENS machine, how that was helpful. You were around 2:30 in the morning and contractions were coming about, you said every three to four minutes, so things were intense. You were cranking up that TENS machine, you were being extremely supported by your partner, and had gotten into a rhythm of swaying and going in and out of these… this pillow fort, I love the “pillow castle,”  that you called it. So then, yeah, get us back to that.

Shelley: Well, at this point the bath that I had wanted, that I had been… I had this cannula in my hand and I’d been looking longingly at the bath and I knew I wasn’t allowed to get in the bath until I had sort of gotten a certain way through my labor, and I attentively asked and the midwife said, “Yeah, sure, let’s get in.”

And so that was really great, because not only was I going to be let in the bath, but I knew I must have been doing the journey and must have been really progressing if she would let me in the bath. And the bath and it was horrible! [Laughs.] I pegged so much on this bath. I really thought it was going to be the end to all my woes. But as soon as I got in and I didn’t have something under my feet, I didn’t… sort of like we were talking about counterpressure a moment ago, it was sort of like the ground was a counterpressure for me and I needed that under my feet.

And I was lying on my side, completely submerged in the water, and I was kicking this bathtub. I thought I wouldn’t have been surprised if it broke. I know it wouldn’t. I know it wasn’t going to break. It was the bathtub and I’m just a person, but I felt like I was kicking it down and there was water going everywhere and my partner was like, “Oh!” you know, “Take it easy!” And the midwife had to say, “No, she’s fine! Kick, do what you need to do.” 

I must’ve been in there for maybe a handful or so of contractions, before my temperature became too much– it was too high. And I’d been sick as well and it was just horrible. Oh, I can’t believe how horrible it was, because it was such a godsend in my head. And I was out of the bath. 

Adriana: And I think it’s really good to point that out because we know how so many things are great, can be really good help, and the water can be a fantastic help, but not everybody loves that. And you had your rhythm and standing and swaying was a really… being grounded, like you said, was a really big part of it. So I can see how the water and if it gets to a point where if you’re really overwhelmed, sometimes it can help, but sometimes it’s like you’re at a point where nothing really is… just nothing helps except time, except things moving along. 

Shelley: Definitely! Well, and then I was able to get in the shower and I had one shower head pointing on my back and one shower head pointing at my pelvis from the front, and that was a beautiful sort of combination of the both. I’d been really hesitant about the shower– and I thought that the shower was potentially the poor man’s option– but once I was in it, it was a beautiful, lovely place to be. And it was also, what’s the word? It created a boundary. If anyone wanted to get near me, they had to get wet! And that dull padding of the water, that sound, that water sound? I love that. And so it became a little microcosm, and I felt really, really safe in the water. 

And it was at this point that my partner… We had planned for my sister to be a birth support person, but of course the plan was that my sister would have joined us at home because we would’ve stayed at home a lot longer. And it occurred to him at this point that– oh! I forgot a really cool little part, actually. As we were getting out of the bath, the nurse who was administering the antibiotics came in and asked our midwife whether I would need the next dose. I think they give them out on a six-hourly, something about that, there was another dose that was meant to come. 

 

And my partner and I both heard the midwife say something like, “This baby will be out by 6:00!” And again, it was that thing of “don’t make eye contact,” because if you make eye contact, you’ll jinx it, you know, it’s not going to happen. And we both heard her clearly state, but we didn’t say anything, but I think it both, you know, sort of shot through us like electricity, like, “Okay, yeah, this is actually really going… This is happening.”

So we’re in the shower and my partner has to call my sister. And she’s also an amateur photographer and we wanted those photos. That was a big thing for me; I really wanted the photos. And it was at that point that my sister had arrived. I was in the shower, my partner had stepped outside to greet my sister, and I felt something move through me with such force and weight. And I thought it was the head. And I was screaming out from the shower “The head’s come! The head’s come!” And it wasn’t, it was… Wouldn’t that have been lovely? It was the sac. The sac had come out and was still hanging between my legs in sort of a “very heavy shopping bag between my legs.” 

Adriana: ‘Cause it was still intact, right? Filled? It was just like, yeah, a little like… oh, not little, but like a water balloon, filled– 

Shelley: Yeah, yeah! 

Adriana: –filled water balloon between your legs, yeah. 

Shelley: And of course if you’ve never had, you know, a sac hanging between your legs, you might be forgiven for thinking that it was head– 

Adriana: For sure, yeah! 

Shelley: –and it definitely wasn’t. And the midwife nicked it. And at that point, I was starting to– in the bath also, where I’d been uncomfortable, but certainly in the shower– I was starting to lose control in some of the contractions. And you know, and I use the word “control” very vaguely, but I was starting… I wasn’t able to focus through them.

My partner was really good about reminding me to breathe, and saying “Every time that you lose focus, you’re not breathing. That’s what happens.” And really reminding me that that “inhale” breath was so important and that I needed to prepare for each… I couldn’t take a break from preparing for the next contraction. I needed to be on my game. And he was so good at reminding me of that, but I look back now and I can see that I was actually in transition in the shower, because this tiny little voice in the back of my head… 

And a part of me doesn’t want to admit it. I don’t want to admit that I had this thought, but it is the truth. And I think that’s important to say that no matter how strong and brave you think you are, you have to admit that you might’ve had a weak moment or a failing moment. But I was thinking “epidural” in the back of my head, going “I can’t do this now. I’ve reached the limit of what I can control and what I can breathe through.” And it was almost like I have a contraction and my brain would seize up, and my brain would go “epidural, epidural, epidural.” And then in-between the contraction, I’d go “No! There’s something else? What else is there? There’s other things.” And then the contraction would come again. 

And so it took me a little while to remember that I had gas as an option, and as something that I was happy to use. And, you know, a big round of applause to the midwife! She had done exactly what my birth plan said. She had not offered me drugs or anything at this stage. And when I said, “Could I have some gas?” She said, “Yeah, sure! I’ve got the machine just… Yeah, it’s ready for you.” And that was great. 

I mean, I didn’t realize it at the moment, but looking back now, I can see she followed my birth plan. She had not said one moment about any other medication until I’d asked for it. And I was told later on that I hadn’t used it properly, but I got something out of it. It might’ve just been placebo, but I felt better. So yeah, that question in my head: “Did I use the gas? Did I not use the gas?” I’m not sure.  

Adriana: See, and that’s one thing that, it’s starting to show up in the U.S.,  but we don’t really have it available. I know it’s something in the U.K. and Australia and that has… I mean, I think it’s slowly coming around and it can be really great help and beneficial, because it’s another one of those things that it’s very short-lived, and the mom can control it and take it up or down specifically to her needs.. 

Shelley: Yeah. And from that point too, I think it gave me a bit of a bit of clarity to just reset in my head, because it was at this point as well that the midwife was sort of saying, “Do you need to push? Do you need to push?” And I was, “No!” I didn’t feel the need to push yet.

And I, for one, I don’t know how it happened, but I was being led back out to the bed, and I remember screaming, “I don’t want to push! I don’t want to push!” And that was, again… I don’t want to admit to having my weak moment, but I definitely had my weak moment, because I realized that at this point, the contractions, for want of better description, the contractions had been happening to me, but now I was at this precipice where I act, if I was going to push, I had to engage.

I couldn’t just be on the receiving end of the contraction. I had to be working with the contraction. So that was really scary for a moment. And I think the gas gave me a pause that I needed to just digest that idea that now I was coming into that pushing phase, and I needed to dig into some extra energy and extra conviction to begin this new phase. So I got on the bed and I was kneeling, sort of folded underneath me, sort of– to me, it felt like I had this huge amphitheater, I’ve created this huge amphitheater of space between my vagina and the bed– but again, the photos are so useful because I look back and I can see now the midwives were, and my partner, they’re all trying to move me. I was really comfortable, but there wasn’t any room to work! 

I was planted dead against the bed, and even though I was on the bed and even though I was on my knees, I just had the sensation again of wanting to be really grounded, getting as close to the surface that was under me as I possibly could, and making myself as small as I possibly could, and really physically feeling that need to go inside myself. I had my chin pressed to my chest and I wasn’t looking at anyone or anything else. But it was a bad position for the people who had to do work around me. 

There’s a photo of the midwife, and she must have been in a squatting position for a good hour at one point, oh my God! That’s just…  so in debt to that sort of physical determination on her behalf. And this was about, getting to about 3:00-4:00 o’clock in the morning now, and once I tapped into that desire to push, you know, the contractions took on a whole new feeling, they no longer hurt. It was like in the same way that I’d been scared of actually engaging and grappling with these contractions– once I did, I felt far more in control. I felt far more like my efforts were not in vain, like the pain was energy, rather than pain. So once I got into it, it felt fantastic to actually be doing something. I’m sure lots of people say this– and I’ve heard people say this– like, once I started pushing, it felt fantastic.

And we were joined by our second attending midwife. She was so comforting and so maternal and so protective. She was slightly older; she was about my mom’s age, actually, which probably had a bit to do with it. And if she had been whispering in my ear and cuddling me, I would not have thought it odd! She was just so loving and she spoke so gently and so slowly. And she used her finger on my spine to sort of talk about how I was pushing that baby down and how I was breathing down into that space and just her hand, I can remember her hand stroking my spine. Oh, she was wonderful too!

I was very fortunate to have two really wonderful midwives helping me that also seemed to really get on. Their disposition seemed to really suit my partner and I. They put me in another position off the bed where I was leaning with my elbows and forearms on the bed and kneeling on the ground, and that was okay. And it was not a bad position for me to rest a little bit in, because my partner could take the weight of my arms and pull against me as I push down and create more of that counterbalance. But I wasn’t comfortable still. And the midwife still was legs flat out on the floor, trying to get in and see– you know, they had a mirror there!

And I remember thinking, “I don’t need a mirror!” That mirror was not for me, but of course, it wasn’t for me. It was for them to see, because they couldn’t get any space between me and the ground. So we tried the toilet and I immediately hated that. And then we were back on the bed in the first position and it must’ve just been a little bit more rearranging and a little bit more using the electronic heights of the bed, but that seemed to be a little bit better for everyone involved. And that’s when we got into the business of pushing the head out.

And the midwife saying to me, you know, “Expect a little bit of stinging, a little bit of stinging”. And I’d really sort of gathered my momentum at this point, and I was feeling really good about the position I was in.

And a little part of me was like, “Oh, I’m going to bear this stinging. I’m going to have this… this is going to be my warrior wound”. And I was ready for it. And I braced myself not to hesitate when I felt it, but I didn’t feel it. And I later learned that I didn’t tear.

And the midwife sort of spoke about and said that, you know, that was because we’d had this rhythm of pushing slowly a little bit at a time. I think you once referred to it as the “baby cha cha.” She said “You did a really good job of enduring that, and going with that and not fighting that, you know, two steps forward, one step back feeling.”

And she said, “You were really prepared!” So– and look, and it could have just been my body. I also did a lot of vaginal stretching just with olive oil at home in the lead up to my labor. And so, part baby’s head, part me, part the labor, whatever you put it down to. I didn’t tear. 

Adriana: That, well… It doesn’t matter, right? You didn’t tear. 

Shelley: Yeah. Who cares how it happened? 

Adriana: Yeah. No, and it is… I find that, you know, there’s “the head is crowning and coming out and going back in.” And then when it stays, it doesn’t move back, but that can be stressful. So it seems like you were really… You had good control in terms of just letting the head slowly, slowly, instead of just going like, “Oh, I want to be done!”

Shelley: Yeah. And it could be so easy. I can imagine how people would just want to push as quickly and forcefully as possible. It’s definitely a sensation that’s not easy to sit with, because you can’t sit. You physically can’t bear it. But the head to me was a really obvious sensation, but I hadn’t even considered the fact that the shoulders felt really weird. I guess that information that we get from movies and whatnot, you think the head comes out and then everything else comes out. And I guess in some cases it does, but for me, the shoulders– I’ve got another great photo of the midwife with her hands trying to navigate the shoulders out and you can see her face, you can see how much effort she’s putting into helping my son’s (I knew I was having a son) helping my son’s shoulders come out. 

And then he was out and every– ah, I can still feel it! Ah, it was fantastic! And the midwife had already come around to the front and I was… It was summer in Australia, so through the birth I had just been wearing… I had come to the hospital with a skirt and a bikini top and the skirt had been ditched long ago, but she quickly unraveled the bikini top, and they passed him through and under my legs and onto my chest. 

And I remember standing there, and everyone was putting their arms out to me, helping me, wanting to help me turn around and sit down. And I clear as day remember thinking, “I don’t need anyone’s help. I just birthed this baby. I can turn around and sit down by myself. I didn’t want to take anyone’s hand.” Maybe I looked like I needed it for safety protocol, but I turned around and sat down by myself because I was so chuffed and so proud and so relieved and euphoric.

I didn’t need anyone’s help, but I just remember that sense of pride and accomplishment that I finally had him in my arms and I turned around and laid down and had him on my chest. I had originally wanted a physiological third stage, but I had low platelets. And so I had agreed to have some Pitocin.

The Pitocin was put into my thigh, and somewhere at that point I hemorrhaged. I remember feeling the liquid around my ankles. I was lying down, with my legs up, my ankles near my buttocks, but I didn’t care. I didn’t even… didn’t faze me one bit. I just… I actually thought it was the placenta.

But my partner had been told (been advised) by a friend of ours you’ve got to watch the midwives’ faces, because they don’t always tell you what’s going on, but you can see on their faces what’s happening. And he had seen that something was happening and there was a button pressed on the wall behind me and another person entered the room, but I just felt I was tired.

I had my eyes closed. I wasn’t looking at anyone. I was just sort of feeling my son. But I’m amazed at how quickly I was thinking to myself, “It’s okay, because he’s here and he’s healthy and they’re not taking him away from me and they haven’t said anything about him not being healthy. And I’m a full grown woman and if they need to cut me away and do a surgery on me, that’s fine. I’ve just done this birth. Whatever else they need to do to me, me, afterthought,” and I just felt like it was okay. I had already done the hard yards; whatever else came was fine. I didn’t get worried about it at all. Except at one point they did take my son off me and give him to my sister.

And I just briefly remember saying to my partner, “Don’t let them feed him formula, and make sure you do skin-to-skin!” And what was happening was the hemorrhage had come and gone basically. There’d been about a liter of blood, but it seemed to resolve on its own and then the placenta wouldn’t come out. And there was some back-and-forth about this placenta and eventually the contractions came full-force, so painful. 

And I don’t know if that’s the general experience or if that was the Pitocin, but I felt like they were far more painful than what I’d experienced in labor, or maybe it was just that there was no baby there for them to… they were incredible, oh my gosh. And I had one midwife sort of pulling on the placenta, trying to get it out, and I had the other midwife kneading in my stomach and she’s saying, “I’m sorry! I’m sorry it hurts.” And I’m saying, “No, do it. Do it!” you know, get it out. And it came out in one full piece, about 40 minutes later. 

As much as I’d wanted a physiological, as much as I’d had this Pitocin, I was kind of a little bit spitefully happy that it had taken a bit longer, because coming out of the mouth of someone who can look back in retrospect and say that I had had, as far as I was concerned, my body delivered that placenta when my body was ready. And I was still very happy with how that happened. 

And then, you know, it’s, my Alistair– that’s my son’s name– he was born at 5:04 a.m., and by about 6:15 a.m. I was looking out the window onto a town on my street. And I love the mornings, you know, sunrise is the best time of day. And just remember thinking, looking down– there were some construction workers outside– and thinking, “Those guys have no idea what I’ve done tonight. They have no idea how special this morning has been.” And that I’m an English teacher by trade, so I guess, you know, I was thinking all metaphorical and, you know, T. S. Eliot and different perspectives in the same moment. But I just… I was flabbergasted! Here I was, I’d given birth, I’d come in at nighttime in one physical state and here in the new day, I was in a completely different physical state, and yet the world was sort of churning outside. It was really cool. I really… I loved seeing that new day like that. 

Adriana: Yeah, you had that time to reflect on it and how you changed, but the world just keeps on doing its mundane thing around. 

Shelley: Yeah. So that’s what happened!

Adriana: Lovely story! Lovely story. And I think you mentioned here and there where things were different, but… And what was most challenging? Can you… Do you think that the most challenging part was that sort of working through with your, with the voice in your head and feeling like you weren’t…? What was more challenging? Let me not put things in your mind. 

Shelley: I think that the challenging part was what I hadn’t expected, was the need to renew and readjust. As much as I had prepared myself, when new things happened and you would have to go “Well, this new scenario has presented itself and it might not line up with my birth plan or it might not line up with how I thought things would go, or how I envisaged that I would react.” And I just always needed a moment to process that and go, as I was saying, that there were moments where I felt that I had come undone or that I was weak or that I had caved into some lesser strength. I wasn’t an Amazon woman and I wasn’t this wealth of strength. And processing that was really important.

I guess if I didn’t sort of look at that and go, “It’s okay! It’s okay. This is different, but it’s still okay. And you can do it again. You have a re-do. There’s another contraction going ‘You can try again!'” And just sort of like in sport and like life, you know, you often get a chance at a re-do and a second chance, and really holding on to that idea rather than to holding on to what I had done wrong, or what I’d lost or what was not the scenario, and going “Well, this is my new direction and I can do the new direction really well as well.” 

Adriana: And that doesn’t take away anything from your Amazonian Justice League Super– it’s that, what is that saying? We can be, you know, being brave, because it doesn’t mean you’re not afraid, it doesn’t mean… you’re still doing it in the face of difficulty and the fear.  

Shelley: “Do it afraid.”

Adriana: Yeah. Do it afraid. 

Shelley: You can be afraid and still go skydiving. You can do both of them. Yeah, that’s exactly what it is. 

Adriana: And we do it all the time! And it’s funny, because you just described those moments that were challenging, that you just described, it reminds me again of Rhea Dempsey’s book because she calls them… she says that during birth and just like you would at sports events, you get to points where you have “crisis of confidence.” And that there are many throughout and they can happen during pregnancy. And then it’s about that your confidence sort of waives. And you have to figure out how to readjust and get past those moments of crisis of confidence.

Shelley: Yeah. And: Do you succumb to them? Succumbing to them doesn’t… I mean you have to give into this moment of failure, but you don’t have to stay in that place. You can get back out of it again. 

Adriana: Yeah. And finding those mechanisms and that space of saying, “This is not the end. This is not like I can’t keep going. Let me just gather… Give me a minute.” 

Shelley: Yeah. And I think, too, that was another thing that that very lovely maternal midwife… She didn’t ask me to, and I– this is my only birth and I don’t know what is and isn’t standard– but she didn’t ask me to push on every contraction. I felt that was really great. She allowed me breathing space and she allowed me thinking space and I’d miss a contraction and she’d go, “That’s okay. You’d be ready for the next one.” So that was really good too. 

Adriana: Mhm, I love that. That is fantastic. So, Shelley, is there anything you would do differently? Is there anything else you want to share that we’ve left out? 

Shelley: Differently? Not again! I was fortunate, whether it was my body or the baby or the preparation or just the midwives I happened to have, I feel really good about my birth and what happened. And so I’m able to say that there’s not much that I’d do differently.

I’d probably remember to take the hospital bags, because I didn’t end up using any of my tools, my equipment. I had lots of things sort of– you know, I had a rebozo in that bag and that would be the only thing different. But then again, had I have used the bag, I might have a very different birth story.

I definitely would encourage other people… I found the photos that I was able to look back on later so incredibly cathartic. And even though my birth went the way that many people would happily have their own birth go, the first time I looked at the photos, I cried and I cried and I cried, ’cause I could see everything that had happened.

And I could see the pain in my face and I could see how tired I was, and I could see my body straining. And the second time I looked at them I cried and cried and cried, and it wasn’t until maybe the fifth time I looked at them I was able to look at them and enjoy them. And they became a real source of reflection because I could look and I could go, “Oh yeah, look, you know, there was that thing there… and that midwife was really close to me and she… and there’s my partner’s hand, look how often he was holding my hand…” you know, things that I didn’t see or didn’t feel or remember at the time I was able to look back on. And I can only imagine that if someone had had– or if I had had– a more traumatic experience, that while those photos might have been initially traumatic to look at, they would have potentially offered the same resource for reflection and for healing. So for me, those photos are invaluable. I love them. I love looking at them. 

And then the other thing that I feel is really important to sort of share with women I know who are pregnant is that, you know, your pregnancy is not a time to be polite. I found myself being very defensive and very aggressive through my pregnancy. I found I had to be, I had to be defensive about what people wanted to share with me and what issues from their own life and from our culture they wanted to project onto me. You know, I had multiple people say, “Oh, you know, when you get those contractions up and going, you’re going to be begging for the epidural.” And that just wasn’t the case at all. 

That wasn’t even close to the case. And I had to be really assertive and say to people, you know, “That’s not me. Who do you think I am?” Like, do I strike you… Do you look at me and think that I’m going to fail, from the ep– well, I apologize for using that word, sorry. An epidural is not a “fail,” but it wasn’t what I wanted. And do you think that I’m not going to get what I want? Why would you put that on me? Absolutely, epidural is not a “fail,” at all. 

Adriana: And I think it was more the point got across, in that it’s more about them trying to put something on you that might color your experience not what…  It’s not authentic to you. 

Shelley: Yeah, exactly. 

Adriana: I like the idea of not being polite, absolutely. 

Shelley: Don’t be polite, and be impolite and be aggressive about what you want to know and what you want to do, because you are bound to find yourself in situations where… like me, I was… We went to our antenatal class and I just happened to be in a room of people who, you know, through choice or circumstance weren’t as engaged with their birth as I wanted to be. And I had a page– I had two A4 pages of questions. And I could see other people were getting annoyed and potentially a bit bored. And I just kept asking questions and questions, but I don’t care. And I didn’t care and no one else should care either. If you want to know something, if you want to inconvenience your doctor, if you want them to stay five more minutes and answer your questions, you should do that. 

I, at one point, had a doctor do a quick ultrasound at about the 20 week mark. And I said, “Go on, tell me the gender.” I had wanted to find out the gender. And she said, “Oh, it’s a boy.” And then she put it all away. And I really, really wanted a girl. I definitely had gender disappointment, and I went home crying and I was crying and thinking horrible things and having really dark thoughts for a little while after that. And in retrospect, I should have been more aggressive in saying, “No, I want to see. Show me.” Because it was obviously something that I needed– what a huge thing, to find out the gender of your child! And yet it was done so matter-of-factly. And in retrospect, that was a time when I should have been really aggressive in what I needed, and I wasn’t, and I let myself down.

Adriana: I find that the whole process of pregnancy and birth and motherhood and parenthood, it’s all a lot of that of thinking of learning experiences and figuring out, you know, it’s all new. So you have new challenges, new opportunities. And being in a mindset where you can actually take the time afterwards to reflect and consider what we’re talking about right now. You’re thinking, “That was really hard for me. And, I should have done this instead.” Well, then you’ve gone, and that experience means something in the sense that next time you’ll do it differently, or you’ve learned something about yourself or you figure out a coping mechanism or things that are valuable and important to you.

So it’s so much deeper than, just like you’re saying, the world going on and some random construction workers doing their thing, and… yeah, there’s a lot more there. 

Shelley: Yeah. Definitely. And your experience is incredibly valid. Everyone’s experience on the planet is incredibly valid.

But I think you sometimes have to pause and remind yourself about what you’re actually doing. I was just having a chat with a girlfriend before and we’re both of the opinion that people who go through birth or go through pregnancy, we need medals! We should be given little medals that we can wear, that we can walk around with because yeah, you’re not just pregnant, it’s more than that. 

And sometimes you need to be reminded, yeah. And regardless of how it happened or how long it took or where it happened, you showed up, you were in the game. And you should feel validated for that. And if you try, I guess, try to carry that around with you, it might help you to think, “No, I will ask the doctor for five more minutes of his time,” or “I will insist that, you know, my birth plan be respected.” And then who knows how much better your experience might be by being assertive like that?

Adriana: I love that! Shelley, thank you so, so much for being on the show, telling your story […] And, maybe you want to mention it, about how this was becoming a full circle for you? I love that. 

Shelley: Yeah. Yeah. So very early on I had a girlfriend, who was then training to be a doula, mention Birthful. And it was March last year and it was a lovely autumn time and I’d go walking every day with my dogs in the bushland. And I’d listen to Birthful podcasts and I’d, you know, sometimes walk two hours just listening to one episode after the other.

And I remember listening to the summer stories, the summer birth stories and thinking, “I wonder what, you know, what is my story going to be one day? What will I say about my story?” And then when all the dust had settled, I thought, “Yeah, I’m gonna reach out and tell my story. Because I’m back in that moment again, it’s autumn again and I’m in the same world and the same season, but I’m a completely different person and I’ve got this new story.”

Adriana: Yeah. And you’re here now sharing it, yay! Thank you so, so much. It’s been lovely having you! 

Shelley: It was a pleasure! Thank you.  

Adriana: Mighty Ones, I love to hear from you– so share with me your thoughts. And if there’s a certain topic you’d like to know more about, let me know. Go to birthful.com, where you can learn more about me, about the show, send me messages and more.

This episode was produced by me and made possible by you. The title song for this podcast is By The Ace by Kevin McLeod and the sponsorship song is Air Hockey Saloon by Chris Zabriskie. Find them both at freemusicarchive.org. I’m Adriana Lozada. Please join me next week here at The Birthful Podcast.

Thanks so much for listening!

CITATION: 

Lozada, Adriana, host. “[Birth Story] Birth: Not as Bad as Hiking Machu Picchu.” Birthful, Birthful. August 9, 2023. Birthful.com.


 

Shelley Wiley, a light-skinned Aboriginal Australian-Irish Australian multiracial woman with long brown hair, is posing casually in a wooded area, wearing necklaces and cool-toned top that is split to show her pregnant belly

Image description: Shelley Wiley, a light-skinned Aboriginal Australian-Irish Australian multiracial woman with long brown hair, is posing casually in a wooded area, wearing necklaces and cool-toned top that is split to show her pregnant belly

About Shelley Wiley

Shelley Wiley is now a mother to three, considering herself fortunate to have had a further two lovely births of “heavy little ladies (4.5 and 4.8kg),” both of whom had shoulder dystocia in a hospital settings, one born during the pandemic. Inspired by her first birth, she moved into the world of doula-ing and has had the joy of supporting families through this transformative experience. She is still incredibly grateful for the knowledge gained from Birthful and loves using that knowledge to support pregnant people and mothers in her life. Shelley lives on the unceded lands of the Awabakal people, in Australia.

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