When you live remote giving birth is quite an ordeal and a little backwards with the times. There are no birthing facilities this far north despite the significant rise in birth statistics and the need to 'close the gap' in remote Indigenous communities. Needless to say this story starts when I am 38 weeks pregnant and had to leave the comfort of my home with my family in Cape York to travel 400km south to be closer to a hospital. Unlike many other Cape York women I was fortunate enough to have our River Nest and the comfort (well kind of) of our Top Shed while we waited, and waited.... and waited for our wee one to arrive.
Rewind three and a half years to the birth of my first child Ba'il. Having just moved into our very own little cottage in civilisation after living in the remote Indigenous community of Lockhart River for years, we decided that homebirthing our first child would be our most ideal situation for a number of reasons. The main reason being that I did not have a continual caregiver during my pregnancy as different doctors fly in and out on a weekly basis when you live remote. We felt that a private midwife and a homebirth would provide us with the best possible care. After two days of an extremely slow, irregular, non progressing labor I left the cocoon of our home and transferred to a major hospital. I remember my husband's face as we walked into the birth suite. He turned and said "don't freak out, it's nothing like home." It was white, bright, sterile and cold compared to my dark, warm, safe home. I was given pitocin to help progress my labor and naturally was forced to have an epidural to follow. After a few hours of laying there helplessly and having a bad reaction to the epidural, Ba'il's heartbeat dropped significantly and I was rushed to theatre to have an emergency caesarean. The biggest shock was yet to come, when I was given the prick test in theatre and found out that the epidural hadn't actually worked. Without notice a gas mask was shoved over my face and before I could fight, I drifted peacefully off to sleep and woke to a male nurse telling me I had a healthy baby boy. After nine months of waiting to find out the gender of my baby, I did not want some complete stranger telling me while I was drifting in and out of consciousness. The birth of my 9.5 pounder first child was far from my dream of a nice cosy home birth.
Fast forward back to the Top Shed where the waiting game was making me extremely anxious. Every night I would go to sleep and wake from nightmares of my first birthing experience. Where the thought of having a caesarean scared me so much that I wished I didn't have to give birth. With each day that passed and each doctors appointment I attended, I became more an more worried. I was sure that I would have another caesarean. I chose to birth at a rural hospital instead of a major city hospital because I thought I would have more support from staff and a greater chance of a VBAC. As a remote patient, I didn't have the luxury of meeting my caregivers at the hospital. I wasn't allocated a team of midwives or a specific OB because us remote mothers simply get transferred 2-3 weeks before our due date and therefore have limited opportunity to build a relationship with the hospital or birthing unit we choose. I had to leave my amazing midwife in Cooktown, the woman who had monitored my whole pregnancy. The woman I fell so fond of because her endless support and faith she had in me. Now I endured each visit to the hospital so disheartened as I was made to rework my very strict birth plan and told more about their procedures for a caesarean then the support they would give me to try for a natural birth. I was told how I would have to receive continual monitoring during labor and that I would need an IV line put in upon my arrival. They told me I wouldn't be allowed to shower because of the need to monitor of me. I was high risk, I had a scar on my uterus. I was told that I had more chance of a normal birth at home or in another hospital that was 100Km away. I was told that I would have to fight for a VBAC and that I had 40% chance of a natural delivery. I began to crumble. An elected caesarean was looking good - at least I knew it would be the 'calm' birth I had hoped for. In my mind, I began to surrender and finally let go of my expectations. What would be - will be. From then on I went to bed with headphones on listening to my hypno birthing meditations and visualisations. My self taught hypno birthing practices saved me from insanity.
On Monday the 14th of October, I just couldn't handle it any longer. The heat, the lack of comfort in the Top Shed, and the wait all just got too much for me. Caleb took the day off work (as he was working temporarily from another National Park office while we waited). We packed a picnic, put Ba'il and the dogs in the car and headed up river along a serious 4wd track to a beautiful waterfall. As I was floating, I remembered what the Old Girls (Aboriginal Elders) of Lockhart River told me when I was pregnant with Ba'il. They said if I wanted to help go into labor I needed to sit in the waves at the beach or sit in a waterfall and let the water crash on my belly. So I did exactly that. I found the perfect rock pool and let the rolling water cover my blossoming belly. I closed my eyes and told the baby I was ready for whatever birth it needed. I let go. That night we were exhausted from a big day in the sun and water so we went to bed early. I woke six times during the night to go to the toilet (bush style because the drop dunny was just too far away to walk during the night). I didn't think much of it and in the morning we woke as usual.
Just as Caleb was hoping in the car to go to work, I told him that I had some tightening in my belly but there was no way I would go into labor today. Straight after Caleb left for work Ba'il and I decided to go for a shower while the donkey (a bush hot water system heated by an open fire) was still hot. For some reason the hot water pipe wasn't working and by this stage my tightening had become so regular that I was sure I was in labor. I needed hot water and I needed it now. I remember breathing deeply and thinking 'wow, please slow down'. I packed a bag of clothes and snacks and walked bare foot along the dusty hot road through our property and down to our River House. Hand in hand with Ba'il I stopped every four minutes for a contraction. Wow. I was finally in labor. How exciting.
At the house I went for a shower while Ba'il played. I had something to drink and chatted with Mon (Caleb's stepmum). I tried to get comfortable but I couldn't. I decided it was time to phone Caleb to tell him I was in labor. He had only been at work for two hours! About an hour later Caleb returned home with caramel tarts and lamingtons for morning tea. Totally sweet of him but I told him that going back to the Top Shed and packing the car would probably be more important.
Up at the Top Shed Caleb worked through my list of instructions that I had written in a yellow moleskin. My little moleskin had packing lists, homeopathic dose instructions, aromatherapy instructions and other wishes for my birth. You've got to be organised when you travel away from home to birth. By this stage I was on all fours on our bed trying to breathe through each wave. Caleb and Ba'il began to bicker over something so I got off the bed to try and calm Ba'il down. I was then leaning over the kitchen bench trying to support myself through the next set of contractions that seemed to be speeding up. Fast. To my relief a car pulled up and it was Caleb's brother and his wife (who live next door to our River Nest). Beau put Ba'il in his car while Jasmine rubbed my back and timed my contractions. They were one minute apart already! I wanted it to slow down. I wanted it to be calm. Somebody get me some lavender oil! We decided to drive to my sister's house in town just to be sure that we weren't presenting at the hospital too soon. We wanted to avoid hospital intervention as much as possible. I really had to start focusing on my breath. How on earth was I going to possibly sit in the car feeling like this for over half an hour and down two mountain ranges? Caleb and I began the long steady drive into town while Ba'il stayed at home with family.
Arriving at my sisters house was such a relief. She had lit candles and was burning oils. I went straight into her 'real' bathroom and stood in the shower. After I had used up all her hot water, I moved onto her bed but then I really wanted to be back under the shower. Caleb and Stef were amazing and kept telling me that I was doing wonderful. Caleb kept me focused on my hypno birthing breathing that I had been practicing. I was really starting to moan and breathe deep into the long contractions. I started squatting with each contraction and while I was in the shower my waters broke. Stef and I looked down and at the same time said "Eeewwww"... then burst out into fits of laughter in between the contractions. Things sped up faster than I could ever imagine. I kept wondering if it was meant to feel like this or was my uterus tearing just like the doctors said it might? I kept bringing myself back to my breath. All I wanted was for things to slow down. Caleb and I decided it was time to go to the hospital. I had two big contractions in my sister's hallway, much to the shock of her housemate who had never seen a woman in labor. I had three long contractions in the front of the hospital before they put me in a wheel chair and ran me down to the maternity ward. I had a little chuckle to myself. Just like the movies.
As I was wheeled into the birthing suite (there are only 2 in this little hospital). There was a team of doctors and midwives sitting around the bed discussing my birth plan. Then I met my midwife, who I had never met before. Her name was Pam and she looked as though she was in her late 60's, she was a tiny little lady with kind eyes. She said very little to me and let me get comfortable. I felt anxious - here we go. I need my hypnobirthing skills now more then ever before. I went inwards and blocked out my surroundings. It was just Caleb and I and no one else mattered. As Pam continued to read my birth plan I took the opportunity to jump in the shower before they 'hooked me up for good'. In the shower my contractions changed and I started to feel the urge to breathe down. Caleb was reciting our hypnobirthing script and kept on saying "vision a blossoming white orchid" - and I kept on saying "Ssshhh the thought of a blossoming white orchid is going to make me vomit". At this stage I said to Caleb that I wanted to know how far dilated I was (in my birthplan I had strictly said that they were never to tell me). I told Caleb that if I was around 3-4cms I will ask for a caesarean because I can't handle spending hours like this. He told me to stop being so silly, reminded me of my breath and then dosed me up on Sepia 200c.
Pam whispered to Caleb how far dilated I was (because my birthplan stated that midwives and doctors had to speak to me through my husband) and I demanded to know. 9cm! Oh my goodness. The lights were kept low and the room quiet as the doctor put an IV line in (incase of an emergency) and Pam very unobtrusively connected up the monitors. All the staff were so considerate of my birth plan. I had about one metre from the monitor to move around so I made myself comfortable standing and squatting while I held onto the end of the bed. I then began to breath down deeply. The change in the contractions was a relief, the pushing felt good. For twenty minutes I rode each contraction smoothly with my breath. Breathing down further than I ever have before in my life. My midwife was having trouble seeing as it was difficult for her to get down on the floor. Caleb asked me if I could move onto the bed to make it easier for Pam. I couldn't even take a step little only move onto the bed. Suddenly our music playlist changed from Deva Premal mantras to Gurrumul and smoothly and swiftly in three last deep breaths down, our wee one came earthside at 4:37pm.
Up through my legs and placed in front of me on the end of the bed was my baby who I had birthed naturally with no drugs. I couldn't believe it. Just like that. I scanned over the tiny body making sure everything was in perfect place. Then I opened her legs to find out that she was a wee little girl. Caleb and I were high on life. Through the doors came big brother Ba'il with Beau. I will never forget Ba'il's beaming face. The first thing he asked was "what colour is her hair?" He said throughout my pregnancy that we were having a little girl with rainbow hair.
The next few hours were full of hugs, kisses, smiles, and tears of joy shared between our immediate family. I still couldn't believe what had just happened. I had done it. High five. I was awake to see my baby be born. I was awake to hear her first cry. I was awake to hear the first words said to her. I did what doctors doubted I could do. I did what I doubted I could do.
After a few nights in hospital we took our little Milinh girl back to the river. We stayed in the comfort of Beau and Jasmine's home instead of the dusty old Top Shed. In the afternoon light under the rising full moon we planted a sweet lychee tree on top of her placenta. We chose a lychee because it was our midwife's favourite fruit. A sweet fruit for a sweet girl. All the placentas of the children in our immediate family lay in a row, in the fruit orchard, in Beau's garden. All the children have their own fruit trees that are special to their story. That evening Beau killed a chicken and we celebrated with a roast, homegrown salad and a bottle of champagne. We slept soundly by the river for a few nights and then made the journey down the coast to Cairns where we stayed in my parents home. And on Sunday like good Italians do, we celebrated. With the whole family who travelled far and wide and of course endless food that my parents lovingly prepared.
Caleb and Ba'il then started the long drive home with big smiles on their faces. It had been over a month since we had been home. A month of no routine and no 'normal' is a long time for a 3.5 year old. We were all so excited to be homeward bound. I on the other hand braved the shopping Centre with Milinh wrapped tightly against my chest in a sling. I quickly pushed a trolley through the supermarket filling it with delicious fresh food to take home with me. What a treat. I'll do a post about the variety of a remote supermarket another time. Milinh and I then waved a teary goodbye to my mum as we boarded the 12 seater plane and flew over the Great Barrier Reef and the stunning Cape York coastline to our home. My little air sign baby already in the air. She slept the whole way.
Home sweet home. No words could describe our delight. Home, happy, healthy, just the four of us. Our new little family. Perfection.
No birth story is a short birth story. No matter how quick the birth was. I laboured for five hours, a big difference to my Ba'il boy's labour. I wanted to write this for Milinh and myself. So we can look back on our first meeting when we are both older. I also wanted to write this for any mother who is doubting her ability to birth the way she dreams her birth to be. Nothing is more powerful than your will and your vision. Believe in yourself because you a stronger, braver and wiser than you think. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Let go and let be. I wanted to write this for mothers who had to endure a caesarean birth when they had no choice. A caesarean birth makes you no less of a mother, it took a natural birth for me to realise that. In fact now I think it makes you even more amazing. If you wish to have a natural birth next time around, believe and breathe. Nothing is impossible.
A special thanks to my incredible husband who walked beside me on this whole journey. There is no way I could have done this without him. Naturally. Biggest hugs to big brother Ba'il who endured what most big brothers will never - travelling incredibly long distances and having your 'normal' thrown out the window while we waited and welcomed your little sister. Your the best big brother ever.
We are complete.