I call them my ‘birth team’ as that is what they signed up for. But I definitely put them through their paces, far beyond their comfort zone and possibly to their limits…
I think I am very fortunate, and possibly quite unique as a single mother, that I had this ‘A-team’ in place even before I was pregnant. I also believe that the support I had from these two incredible women was possibly better than that offered by the majority of partners.
First in the team is my sister, Sara, who has already made numerous appearances throughout this blog. Mother of two and all-round pregnancy and baby guru, Sara has spent five years teaching antenatal classes and she really knows her stuff. Both of Sara’s pregnancies were fairly straightforward. A spot of morning sickness here and a bit of carpel tunnel there. But Esta’s birth story (Sara’s first child) was…not the one that Sara had hoped for! It was this that led her to train to become an antenatal teacher. Sara feels passionately that every woman deserves a positive birth journey – one where they are informed about the choices they are making during both pregnancy and labour.
The second member of my team is Cheryl, a private midwife. Cheryl and Sara had met 3 years before when Sara had opted to have a private midwife for her second pregnancy and birth. With Cheryl’s support, Sara had gone into labour naturally at 16 days postdates (2 weeks and 2 days after her due date) and had the home birth she wished for.
I had met Cheryl twice before. The first time was about an hour before my nephew Timothy, Sara’s second child, was born. I made her a cup of coffee which she nearly didn’t have time to drink! The second time was a year later at his first birthday party. These two occasions, plus my sister’s glowing report of how wonderful Cheryl’s support had been during her pregnancy and birth, was all I needed to know that I should have Cheryl in my birth team.
The beauty of having a private midwife is that they know you personally, understand what you want and act as an advocate. They support your decisions, whatever they may be. Additionally, the one-to-one support that you get covers the whole journey from antenatal to postnatal. Cheryl helped me with all sorts other than the obvious, including tailoring my birth plan, offering nutritional advice and breastfeeding support. She even gave Mia her first hair wash in the kitchen sink!
In addition to being sensitive and nurturing towards me, Cheryl also played an important and essential role in supporting my wider family. My Dad in particular, on more than one occasion, was extremely relieved to know that Cheryl was going to be with Sara and me at the next hospital appointment. He knew that she would listen, prepare and then guide me through whatever the next stage of my eventful pregnancy might entail.
Between 12th April and 25th July Sara and Cheryl between them attended countless scans, two amnio-reductions and one 25-hour-long induced labour and forceps delivery birth (more about this another time).
I found the whole process time consuming and draining, both emotionally and physically painful. However, the thing that saved me from complete exhaustion was that at the end of each day I could retire to my sofa, put up my feet and watch yet more Netflix.
Sara, on the other hand, still had to put on a brave face when she left me and walked through the door at home and continue to be an amazing mummy and wife. Whilst Cheryl had to juggle me between a full case load of other pregnant women plus be there for her son and partner.
Before my pregnancy, I really had spent very little time in hospitals. After the 20-week scan this changed A LOT! Most weeks from 20 weeks through to when I gave birth at 38 weeks and 6 days, I was visiting a hospital for one reason or another. In April, my antenatal maternity care started to be split between Stoke Mandeville, my local hospital in Aylesbury, and the John Radcliffe (JR) in Oxford, which is the specialist hospital where Mia needed to be born.
As we started to visit both of these hospitals on a monthly, then fortnightly, then weekly and finally, for Sara, daily basis, we soon got into a groove of which were the routes favoured by Google Maps, where the best parking spots could be found and, most importantly, where to get the best cup of tea and a croissant! Although these things may sound trivial, focusing on them gave these frequent hospital visits a sense of calm and normality.
Although I had the opportunity to select Sara and Cheryl as my ‘core birth team’, due to the complications of Mia needing surgery when she was born we soon had to accept that the wider birth team would include an abundance of specialist consultants, doctors, nurses, surgeons and midwives. All of these people did their job well, but it is important I acknowledge the huge benefits to me of having my A-team in place. I really believe that without the support of Sara and Cheryl continuously asking questions, seeking clarity, knowing what I wanted and fighting for me to have my voice heard, I would have struggled to achieve a full term pregnancy. I would not have managed to breast feed and, ultimately, Mia would not be as healthy as she is today.
So, to these two ladies I say a MASSIVE thank you. I also hope that by sharing this part of my story it helps encourage anyone who is pregnant to really think about who they have in their birth team, because every woman deserves a positive birth journey.