By Zahra Sulliman
I spent my pregnancy planning to give birth to mine and Ibrahim’s baby naturally, with minimal or no medical interventions. Deep down, however, I didn’t actually believe that I would. I was certainly adamant to give it my best shot, but having never given birth before, I was completely open to the idea of having any (and all!) forms of pain relief available. Why? Because in my head, women weren’t really capable of tolerating that kind of pain. If they did, then they were some kind of superhuman. “I will have already carried her for 9 months, I don’t need to be a hero” I often told myself and others.
After my first GP visit to confirm my pregnancy and talk about next steps, it was proposed that I’d have my antenatal appointments at Ryde’s birthing unit and deliver at Royal North Shore Hospital. We didn’t think twice. We were invited to an initial ‘booking’ appointment at Ryde a couple of months later, which was the first time that the midwifery group practice model was explained to us.
The idea of being allocated one midwife who would take over my antenatal care, be there for the labour and delivery, and visit us at home after Bub was born sounded fantastic! The bit about there being no interventions – no medication, no epidural, no c-section – and also being home after 4 hours of delivery terrified me. I wasn’t sold, but after much deliberation I convinced myself to go ahead with it. I knew that if ever there were any concerns about mine or the baby’s health during the pregnancy or labour, the option to deliver at RNSH was always there.
I was blessed with an easy pregnancy – I barely even had morning sickness! Ali was my midwife, and both baby and I were doing great at each visit. As well as getting to hear our baby’s heartbeat (which was always such a treat, especially when a tiny foot would kick the probe away!), Ali took her time to discuss various antenatal and postnatal topics. I slowly became more comfortable with the idea of a natural birth at Ryde. Ali’s message throughout our time together was simple: my body was designed to do this and my instincts would take over, both in regards to both labour and parenting. It was hard to realise at the time, but she was spot on!
A turning point for me was attending the ‘Meet the Midwives’ session when I was about 30 weeks pregnant. The midwives talked through and simulated what to expect when giving birth at Ryde. At least 4 or 5 midwives were present that evening too, all of whom were extremely warm, approachable and knowledgeable, and basically the kind of people you would trust with safely delivering your precious bundle! I went home that evening feeling so much more comfortable with our decision; I’d even go as far to say that I was looking forward to it.
My waters spontaneously broke at 37+4 weeks on Saturday 19th August at 8pm. Not expecting any of her women to deliver during this time, Ali was on leave. My call to her got diverted to Lorraine, who met us at the hospital within the hour. Lorraine took her time to monitor our baby’s health, and her observations indicated that contractions had started (although I couldn’t yet feel them). The plan was for us all to go home and rest until contractions were 2-3 minutes apart and I couldn’t speak through them, at which point I should call Lorraine. She also gave me a TENS machine to help in relieving the pain as I laboured at home.
The pain started as soon as we reached home (of course), and steadily increased. By 2am I was leaning over the coffee table with Ibrahim by my side, completely convinced that I couldn’t carry on without some sort of intervention. Although my contractions were still only 4 to 7 minutes apart, we called Lorraine. She stayed on the phone with me until I got another contraction, and after coaching me through it, we planned to meet at the birthing unit as soon as possible.
The thought of seeing Lorraine (who I’d only met for the first time a few hours ago – hormones!) got me through the next contractions until it was time to leave home. The birthing room was ready and ambient by the time we arrived, complete with dim lights, aromatic candles, relaxation music, and the birthing pool waiting to be filled. Another contraction came almost immediately, and Lorraine breathed deeply with me and rubbed my back. I distinctly remember exclaiming at this point ‘I think I need to push’, prompting Lorraine to check how dilated I was. Taking us all by surprise, she could see the baby’s head! She filled the pool with water (kept at 38 degrees throughout to mimic the temperature inside the womb), and I wasted no time getting in. The pain relief was instant and magical.
As two midwifes are present at every birth, Lorraine was shortly joined by our second midwife, Anna. I was in ‘active labour’ for the next 2 and a half hours, knelt in the pool with my arms hanging over the edge, and squeezing Ibrahim’s hands with each contraction. Lorraine and Anna were there the whole time, monitoring our baby with a water-proof probe to listen to the heartbeat, and using a mirror and torch to monitor how labour was progressing. Not once did they tell me to push; instead, they told me to listen to my body and push when I felt I needed to. Even when I felt defeated that the head was never coming out, they assured me that everything was going perfectly – and it did.
Our precious daughter, Aliyah, swam her way into the world at 5:49am on Sunday 20th August, eyes wide open. Having just calmly explained what would happen next, Lorraine caught our little girl and passed her through my legs and onto my chest for an unbelievable first cuddle. Aliyah and I spent the next few moments staring into each others’ eyes, with Ibrahim right by our side. Time had stopped, and the midwives let us climb out of the pool when we were ready. We were very much happy to bring Aliyah home by 11am, and for the next 3 weeks (including that very afternoon), the Ryde midwives came home to guide us through everything from feeding, sleep, bathing, and recovery for mum.
Labour and delivery frightened me, to the point that I refused to think about it until it happened. In hindsight, it never got as bad as I thought it would. It’s been almost 15 weeks now, and whenever Saturday evening rolls around, I can’t help but re-live the entire thing in my head. I would honestly do it again in a heartbeat, and can only thank the amazing midwives at Ryde for allowing me a beautiful experience of birth that I couldn’t possibly forget – for all of right reasons.