Olivia's breech birth story

By Bronwyn Kunhardt

Olivia is Bronwyn's first baby, and she was born at home, naturally and breech, on 9 April 2001.

I became a woman the day I found out I was pregnant.

Going to the doctor's surgery on that day made me realise how invisible I felt and I was angry at being just another woman on the waiting-room bench, closed-faced and tense. And as I wept my way home, I realised how futile my efforts had been to become my father. I had great coping strategies for conflict situations at work, but I had none, not even a small one, to cope with the fact I was carrying a baby. I had just never expected it to happen to me.

Then I started to read.

I began with Adrienne Rich and moved on to Louise Erdrich and I filled myself with their words. As the baby was growing so was my underdeveloped femininity. These women were powerful and I was awe-struck. Perhaps, I began to wonder, I could be a role-model to my child as these women were, perhaps mothering didn't have to be a heart-breaking experience in which your children wear you down and then leave you behind.

Then I met the midwives.

I had been present at a home birth two year's previously. I was my sister's birthing partner and had risen well to the role of surrogate father. Watching my little sister heave and fight her way through the birth touched the terrified potential mother inside and when my time came, I wanted to be safe in my home.

I also desperately wanted to be important to someone who cared about this pregnancy thing. And I got everything I wanted. My independent midwives cared for me during early and mid-pregnancy with great grace and wisdom. It was they who insisted I start cutting down on work, they who looked me in the eye and said "sometimes you will just never know". And I wanted so much to be like them and I felt so ashamed of how immature I was as a woman. But I took one day at a time, stopped and smelled the roses, and counted my blessings. And in the clichés lay so much sanity.

The birth

I was now enormous (to my eyes) and was totally absorbed in the stretching skin and heaviness of my belly. I couldn't sleep that Sunday night and managed to persuade my partner to have sex (no mean feat, he was a little wary of pregnant women being sexual beings). True to form, this sent me straight to sleep.
The next morning, at 6am, I got up to make tea for us all. And then my waters broke. I remember waddling down the hallway trailing droplets. When I climbed back into bed I was seized with intense excitement. The baby was coming, and it was then I realised that I was truly having a baby, that this was not some trial sent to test my sanity, this wasn't a project to be successfully or badly completed, there were no scores for this. I couldn't wait to get going.

By mid-morning the contractions were getting painful, but still I felt in control. I even phoned my sister and told her not to bother coming over, I would be fine. Thankfully she ignored me.

By lunchtime I was in a total state,,: I wasn't dealing with the pain, the contractions were bloody powerful and I blamed the jasmine oil I rubbed over my belly earlier. My midwife arrived and told me to relax my shoulders, stop controlling the pain, go with it. I didn't know what she was talking about, it sounded like alien words: let go, breathe with it. What about fighting it? I wanted to bash this pain into the ground and spit in its eye. But that just made everything hurt more.

By the time she returned at about 6ish, I was really having some monster contractions and I wanted to push. I knew that this wasn't quite right but didn't have the wherewithal to mention it. The lovely midwife gave me some gas and air to help get through not pushing. I've never knowingly gone against nature before, it was exhausting. Now I had a lip and had to slow down even more, I had stopped saying anything at all at this point, I just kept thinking: this pain is unnecessary, totally unnecessary.

I was in that dark pit, which now I know was probably transition for what seemed like hours. However at about 9ish, I was given the go-ahead to start pushing. I suddenly became more alert, I knew that the urges to push had almost subsided, but I didn't want to tell the midwives, somewhere inside I had decided that enough was enough.

By this time my midwives (there were three present by now) knew I was having a breech baby. I didn't know until one huge push expelled a curly line of meconium from the baby's bottom. By then I didn't care and declared that no one was moving me to a hospital. I kept pushing and the baby's bottom would appear and then I'd relax and she'd spring back inside. Fortunately I couldn't see all this, all I was interested in was where my glass of water was and how cold or hot I was getting. I ordered everyone around and then apologised profusely for being rude.

Eventually, at about 10:30 I got up and put one foot higher than the other. The midwives thought the baby had her foot trapped over my pubic bone and I'd moved to lean on the bed now, in a standing position. Now I was getting angry again, it burnt so much and nothing was alleviating the pain. Then I felt this huge bucking inside me and I really howled. I knew it wasn't me, it wasn't a contraction or a pushing urge, it was her, it was the baby. She was making her own way out. My daughter and I were doing it together.

Then with one push her knees popped out and her little legs dangled like a puppet, jerking and kicking. I pleaded and pleaded with my midwives to pull her out by her feet, but they just smiled and told me to keep going.

Then with a few more pushes her elbows flopped out. Now it was just the head, she had slipped out up to her forehead and was staring at everyone with big dark eyes, blowing bubbles with her mouth, suspended in the air. One big suck of air and out she came. The relief was religious..

While I waited for the placenta to come, I was handed my little girl and she started suckling straight away. I remember asking my partner to photograph my legs; they were covered in red, blue, black, purple and yellow stripes and they seemed to paint the story of my labour. I had a beautiful candle-lit bath and came back to bed with Olivia tucked up on my chest. I felt utterly clean, purged from inside out. There were no words for this moment, it was just, well, perfect and pure.

Since her birth Olivia has continued to plump me up with love. Giving birth was the most profound action of my life. The fact that she was breech was neither here nor there. I'm glad she was misdiagnosed; I would have wanted to have her at home but would have been very susceptible to medical establishment scaremongering. I trusted in my midwives implicitly and they respected my fears and insecurities. Olivia was not the only one to be born on that day, and my rebirth required just as much careful handling and loving care.

I am still frightened of the pain of motherhood, of being at the mercy of this little creature. But I am doing all that I can to just be there for her, and so far she seems happy and thriving. As someone who understands the act of mothering a lot better than I do once said "I am the rock in her garden and she is the bloom in mine".


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