Tristan Luke O’Reilly’s Birth Story:
Tristan’s predicted date of birth was the 28th of July 2014, on a new moon, but it was almost two weeks later when the glow of a full, orange supermoon slipped above the clouds as the sun set over Korinderie Ridge. Gentle contractions had begun not long after we went to bed the night before, and had continued to remain regular, and slightly stronger throughout the day, so Kieran and I had packed our car with all of the things on our ‘birthing list; soft blankets, candles, cans of coconut water, baby clothes, a dressing gown and music for the occasion. We lay by the community shed on the grass on our large sheepy, watching the big moon rise over the ocean, feeling the contractions growing slowly stronger. It was time to go and get comfortable in the Birth House before the night set in. Our baby was on his way, that much was for sure. Kieran put the sheepy down on my seat with cushions so that I could travel in comfort to Lismore, 40 minutes away from our home. Of course Bron was expecting us, and showed us to our bedroom where we quickly lay down to rest, after a plate of butter chicken curry. We slept a little, however it did not take long for my contractions to grow in strength to the point I could no longer lie down. We had called our lovely doula, Anita to let her know things were happening, and when I went into the birthing room, she was there, sleeping on the futon (Anita had witnessed births before and knew how precious every moment of sleep now would be, -we, however had quite no idea how long it would be before we lay down our heads to sleep again…).
We played some gentle music, and the birth room was lit gently. Kieran soon rose to join us, and we remained closely connected throughout the birth, feeling deeply that we were very much in this together as we brought our little son into the world.
After a time, Kieran and I sat in the birth pool, drifting in to a half-sleep between waves, which, although growing in strength, were not becoming regular, slowing down, then having bursts of regular ones before slowing down again. With gentle reminders from Kieran, I practiced my calm birth breaths (different ones for the waves, and between the waves), however as the contractions (or waves) built further in intensity, during each I started to release a low moan, which really helped me go deeper into my experience, relieving the intensity somewhat. At some point I threw up, and it quickly became very difficult to keep any fluids down.
Kieran and Anita supported each of my arms as we took a longer walk in the park across the road. This time I kept walking through the contractions, breathing consciously, going deeper and deeper into the birthing experience. Although it was intense, I felt good, and excited to meet our baby boy (which had to happen soon!).
After I’d been in labour for about 12 hours, Bron suggested a vaginal examination (VE) to see how open my cervix was. I was keen to find out, -this revealed that I was dilated by 3cm, which is still technically not Labour, however it had certainly felt like labour since 2am that morning!! With my blessing, Bron carried out a finger sweep, and broke my waters for me. We were relieved to find the waters still clear, with no meconium present, yet. I expected that my labour would now progress, which it did, with waves increasing in intensity and frequency. I went for another walk up the street with Anita, Bron and Nat, to be joined by Bree, our third midwife.
It was suggested that perhaps I could welcome the contractions as I visualised my cervix opening. “Welcome! Thankyou! Opening!” I repeated as each wave washed through me. Before long, waves were coming about a minute apart. Some time after it had grown dark, I got back in the pool, whilst Kieran, understandably exhausted, tried to have some rest on the futon. Anita stepped in fully, locking eyes with me and helping to remind me the best breaths to take to help the process along. After timeless floating in the warm water, the waves grew stronger still until finally I felt the urge to push. Bron shone a light into the water and reassured me that I was showing all of the external signs that the baby was starting to make his way down. Anita, who was resting on the side of the pool, continued to lock eyes with me, breathing each breath with me as the intensity increased further… puff-puff blow, puff-puff blow- at this point I needed to be reminded of every breath. Kieran was behind me, supporting my hips and putting pressure on my back as each intense wave moved through me. I looked past Anita and around the room, to see Bron, Nat and Bree’s encouraging eyes staring back at me. They asked if I could feel the babies’ head, and I was not sure, but there was something there that had not been there before, although rather soft, “perhaps”, I said. I was convinced that it would not be long now, as I visualised my boy flying through a tube, bursting into the world easily and gently, with the sun shining brightly. I pictured him in my arms, knowing that it could not (possibly) be long now.
Bron shone the light again, and put down a mirror into the water. I felt again, now less certain that it was a baby’s head I could feel. The contractions had eased off again, and for the first time, I could make out some concern on Bron’s face as she suggested another VE. The news struck me hard – after 24 hours of strong contractions, I was 5cm dilated. All of the encouraging thoughts, visualisation and affirmations could not hide the fact that I was still a long way to go on this birth journey, and my cervix had become swollen on one side. The midwives left the room for a few minutes. I tried to stop pushing, but it was impossible, and now I was fighting it, it became incredibly painful. Kieran and Anita tried their best to calm me, but as I pushed myself up suddenly to go to the bathroom and twisted my back, I cried out in pain and fell back on to the bed.
“I have to go to the hospital now”, I said. I could no longer support my own weight, let alone push a baby out!
It was about 2am. Within 15 minutes we were at the front of the hospital, a one minute drive down the road. Kieran pushed me through to the maternity ward in a wheelchair, straight to a birthing room where we were received by friendly but concerned staff. At this point I was in a lot of pain, all calm-birthing breaths were pretty much out the window as I continued to try to hold back my urges to push, each contraction sending my back further into agonising spasms. The beeping machines and bright lights were a huge change from the Birth House, but the midwives did their best to help us feel comfortable.
Bron explained our situation to the staff, although we later learned that she had been keeping them up to date with my progress for most of the day before. Despite initially being warned that it could take a long time for the anaesthetist to arrive, within a further 20 minutes I was hooked up to a drip, epidural and a machine that monitored the contractions, and our baby’s heartbeat. Bron found a short mattress upon which Kieran and Anita took in turns to grab some sleep in the corner of the room.
The obstetrician, from Bournemouth in the UK was called Bec. Once the epidural had kicked in and I was filled with a sleepy peace, I quite warmed to her, and really appreciated how she approached our situation, keeping us well informed, warmly and respectfully involving us in each decision that had to be made. To open my cervix I was put on a syntocinon drip, with the dose being gradually increased following each VE. Dr Bec’s motto was ‘cautiously optimistic’, even after discovering I had opened one more whole cm in the first three hours on Syntocinon. I had been asked whether I wanted this VE, so Bec could have a clear idea of where I was at prior to the end of her shift. She left the room briefly and I decided that at this point, I too would rather know if it was working, how much, and whether my dose needed increasing. I also liked and trusted her judgement, and we told the midwife as much. She must have passed this on to Bec, as to our surprise she did not go home, instead she decided to stay to see our birth through, sleeping in a room close by and returning at around mid-day to check on us again. Fortunately, our baby’s heart rate remained fairly constant throughout the birth, at around 115-120bpm, earning himself the nickname “Cruise”.
I drifted in and out of sleep, whilst Kieran and Anita took it in turns to sit by my bedside. Kieran’s eyes barely left the printout coming from the heart monitor. Even with the syntocinon, my contractions took a very long time to become established. There were a couple of occasions following which our baby’s heart rate began to drop after contractions, and I was warned that if that continued, a c-section was likely (well, it was still very much a possibility that I kept my fingers crossed would not become a reality). We all knew that in addition to impacts on the baby, it would also mean a much longer recovery (and months more out of the ocean). Several midwives changed shifts, but I most remember Marg who was there for the birth.
By 2.30pm, I was finally fully dilated, but baby was still too high so I was given another hour to help him descend. I tried to prop myself up and let gravity help him down. It didn’t, but Bec let me try to push him down anyway, cautiously optimistic. She showed me the best position to take and talked me through the breaths for each contraction, one to push him down, a second to hold him there, and a third (or fourth) to push him down further. Once more I tried to visualise my baby flying headfirst through a barrel, bursting out into the sunlight. It felt like no time at all before we could see his head appearing, and soon he was crowning. It burned like hell despite the epidural, but slowly he eased through until he burst into Kieran’s hands, with meconium streaming from his nose. Kieran quickly cut the cord with the scissors that had been thrust into his hand as the room filled with medical staff. After an injection of syntocinon, the placenta was delivered immediately.
As a number of paediatricians took our baby to the resuscitation table behind me, I realised that I had lost a lot of blood and there were several medical staff by my bedside as well. I watched their eyes closely, including Bron and Anita to guage how our baby was faring. Anita continued to hold eye contact with me, maintaining a peaceful smile on her face. I felt fear creeping in but allowed it to wash past me, holding onto a deeper sense of knowing that soon our baby would be in my arms.
And he was –Kieran carried him over to me, all purple and green with very white hands and arms. But healthy, and breathing, and, finally, we were parents to a beautiful baby boy. Needless to say, we were all crying with joy, and relief.
We stayed there together for a few hours before we decided that yes, our little man was definitely a Tristan, a Tristan, Luke O’Reilly, born at 4.11pm on Tuesday 12th August 2014.
Our other friend and Doula, Bec delivered us a hearty chicken soup, and as I wolfed it down, (my first food since Sunday evening) food had never tasted so good!
Although our birth experience was indeed neither short, easy nor simple, and despite my body feeling pretty wrecked in the days that followed, I still came away feeling empowered, joyful and at peace with Tristan’s birth. Bron, along with Nat and Brie were a huge support before, during and after the birth. Bec was a wonderful doctor who we are forever grateful to, for how she interacted with us and helped us to have the best possible outcome. The midwives in the hospital were great, and Anita was a shining star at every step. As for Kieran… he is the most incredible partner, and indeed birth partner that I could possibly wish for. He was right there with me, giving me so much love, helping me to reach inside myself, surprised to find deeper and deeper reserves of strength to keep going, to keep positive and happy throughout my labour, throughout our birth.
After one night under observation in Lismore Base Hospital, we were happy to spend the second at the Birth House, which somehow rounded off our experience, and it was really good to have Bron at hand, and we did end up calling her at 3am as Tristan was really unsettled and did not appear to be breathing very well as (it later became apparent that) he was full of mucous. Bron also supported us to get breastfeeding going, and through some considerable challenges, getting Tristan to feed in the first few days, and providing us with excellent advice in the weeks and months that followed.