There’s a reason this birth story is unusual. We guarantee it will be quite unlike most you have read here on our page. There’s all sorts of reasons women are told when they are denied the chance to attempt to have a natural birth. And have you noticed how its always their bodies that are to blame? They are too fat, too thin, too old, too young, too late (when labour does not magically start on the due date); too lazy, too anxious, too invested (mums who do their own research are often discouraged), too something or the other.
This is the story of a mother who was told she was too short to have a baby naturally – aka ‘normally’ during her first pregnancy. Yes, short women have bodies that are smaller, but birth that is supported properly in a healthy mother – whether she is short, tall, skinny or wide – can always have a positive outcome. Here’s the story of a young mum – Benita Ashraf Backer, who committed to a VBAC because she was healthy, wanted to experience a natural birth, and also because she refused to be written off as a mum who could not have a great birth experience, just because she was too short. And yes, read on till the end to hear about what other expectations and unique outcomes this story holds!
During my first pregnancy I was at one of the institutions in Ernakulam city. By the time I was midway through the pregnancy I was categorically told that I would be having a C-Section because I was short – I am 4.11 – and short women will not be able to birth properly. This was three years ago, and I had no idea about accurate information about birth or anything else connected to this field. 2 weeks before my due date, my mucus plug came out, and I was immediately admitted in the hospital. It was only on the morning of the operation that I was told that it was to happen on that day – always there was minimal information given to me. But what I remember was – I was so eager to see my baby that I didn’t mind the thought of the C-section – it was at the back of my mind that this procedure was to happen anyway.
But it was much different from what I had anticipated. Even after the C-section took place in the morning, I was not with my baby till the evening of that day. They showed me the baby a couple of times, and the nurse brought him to me to be fed – but he was always taken away soon. It was after I was shifted to the room in the evening, that I finally got to really be with my baby.
The next stage was extremely difficult and challenging for me. I remember that the nurse brought a formula bottle with milk and kept it in the room. I tried to breastfeed the baby, but just could not figure out how to do it right. My mother was not able to help me figure out the technicalities of the latch – and the first few times I got a bit of input from the nurses, but when I asked again for help, I received irritated responses and remarks that insinuated that there was something wrong with me. I felt really helpless and vulnerable – totally unable to figure out how to appease my baby’s hunger, and completely without any support or help. After a few times of this,I did give him the formula that was so conveniently right there. Needless to say, the whole feeding routine was a really bad experience for me especially the initial months. The baby always preferred the bottle, but I continued to do both – to make sure that he would nurse from me at least a little bit. But he would not latch properly, and I developed mastitis, and fever. I would pump milk and feed him. But, with the little that I knew, I did my best.
However, dealing with a cranky baby, and not having the feeding routine figured out for months, meant that I had to take time out and focus on this. So I opted to take a break from my studies (I was doing my CA course at the time).
Regarding the experience, I felt cheated in a way – that all I did was have a baby and so many difficulties were placed in my way due to that. Following this I kept hearing similar stories from my friends, and my cousin in Australia – about how they were all generally herded into having C-sections and how they felt bad about it.
3 years after all this, when I conceived a second time, I consulted another careprovider at another institution. She mentioned directly to me, that being short would not impact the birth – something that was completely opposite of what the first one had told me just a few years back! My cousin from Australia in the meantime, had heard about BV and through her, I heard about this birth centre.
Meanwhile, my new careprovider told me that she would try for a normal delivery. But during the last check up things changed. After examination she told me that there was no chance for a normal delivery. She insisted that I get admitted early (almost 2 weeks before my due date). When I asked her for the reason, and suggested that I would prefer to come in when the pain started, she got irritated and asked – ‘what if you come in the middle of the night with pain – that’s not possible…if you’re that desperate to try for a normal, then get admitted on the date that I said, and we’ll induce you the next day, and go about with it.’ I had read that there was more risk of a utrerine rupture happening after a c-section if you are induced. That’s when i realized that Ii was in the wrong place.
She was not prepared to give me any chance to talk about it, or explore any other aspects. I was totally disappointed again. It would be absolutely terrible to go through the same tough experience I had gone through with my previous birth!
That night, a good friend called me. She encouraged me to at least go and check out how things would be at BV – ‘you deserve a fair chance’ she said – and these words really encouraged me to explore this option. After we discussed it, my husband also agreed to this.
When we got to Birthvillage, much to my surprise, they did not focus on any of the things that the institution had said were a dire problem. And the best thing I immediately felt about BV was the difference with which my body was handled. At all times, when Ii was in the institution’s care, all the careproviders were rough, impatient, examinations were brisk, abrupt, with annoyance if I reacted in any way, even if the reaction from me was inadvertently the result of a rough internal exam happened. But here, they were always gentle, asking my permission before every examination, before touching my body. It was a totally different experience to be treated gently, and with respect.
We decided that this was the place where we wanted to have our VBAC. We knew from our appointments that we were in capable hands. Some of my acquaintances and extended family members did feel that this was a risk I was taking by not going along with what the mainstream careprovider was instructing us to do. But my husband was completely supportive, as was my immediate family and especially my sister in law – and so we firmly proceeded on this path that we were convinced about. After my due date passed, I stopped taking phone calls from anyone. That was my way of ensuring my own safe space for my peace of mind and focus on this birth.
In the week that passed, I remember feeling a ‘periody’ kind of feeling and having nausea on and off – very often I could not keep my food down, I was kind of expecting that something was going to happen soon…that labour could be starting soon. During this time, I attended 1 Lamaze class at BV – and I remember feeling discomfort and constantly having to change my position on the floor while the class was going on. Meanwhile, at home, my 3-year-old son was down with a fever, and so altogether it was a time where I didn’t get too much rest at night.
On the 3rd of April, I felt the intensity of the feeling I was having begin to increase. Usually they would come and go, but that night the pain kept increasing. I called my midwife, who advised me to time the contractions and the intervals and let her know when they began to come closer together. I couldn’t sit, or stand in one place. Later that night, the pain increased some more and I could not stop pacing the floors. I kept reminding myself over and over again ‘’I can do this, I can do this’. You see, people had written me off as too short. In the family, everyone was viewing this step to go to BV as something foolhardy – and I was doing this based on the full conviction that I had – so there was no way I was going to take any other way out than going through this labour and experience birth the way I really wanted to experience it. Of course, all of the sentences discouraging me from doing it this way – from the careproviders and from my family – came into my mind, but I kept telling myself – ‘I Don’t have to get frightened just because people are scaring me.’
When the contractions were close enough to go to the centre, we got in the car and headed there. My water broke in the car. Now, that was quite a strange and unique feeling for me – since technically this was my first birth in which I got to experience all the things that a body does while ushering a child into the world!
When I got to BV my midwives were there to welcome me. And then began a long, long, long wait – for this child to enter the world. The baby’s heartbeat was fine, but since I was sleep deprived the previous night, I remember being very tired. And the biggest physical problem I had throughout the birth experience was that I had a really, really bad back pain throughout. My birth team advised me to seep in between the contractions, or rest – and get up when the contractions happened. Taking turns, my midwife, Bincy and my husband kept giving me back massages to help me cope with the pain. And so that long night, went into the next day, and labour continued through the day and into the next evening. I remember that when I was really at a very low energy point, I was administered glucose, and recouped after getting some sleep. I had the energy now to climb the stairs two at a time and used the birth ball to help with the contractions. Throughout this time, my biggest confusion was that after all this time of being in labour – I HAD NO URGE TO PUSH! (My midwife had told me clearly that I would get an urge to push, and that was when I needed to go to the pushing stage.)
But after all this time, that was just not happening. I began to wonder – what was this baby doing? Was it ever going to come out of me? By that night, my other midwife felt that it would be helpful for me to use the birth pool to labour in. And we did that. I have too say, I feel this is something that every woman who is in labour should be offered in Kerala. That warm water – was so so soothing, and helped me to relax and gather some more energy. One thing I really must point out here is that – even though I was beginning to feel an impatience – not a single person on my birth team was annoyed, impatient, irritated at how much time this was all taking. For me, when I used to go to an institution, there was very often the sense of being ‘moved along’ like if you took up too much time, or asked something, you were taking up their time, which was not acceptable there. But this was a totally new experience for me – and because they were always smiling, encouraging, supporting, that helped me also to be comfortable and allow my body to do this in its own time.
While I was in the pool, my midwife checked me again to see how dilated I was, and she said to me that the baby was low down now, and soon it would be time to push. To me, who felt like I had been in this labour zone for ages, with absolutely nothing happening, this was very powerful to hear! I got out of the pool, and sure enough, the next feeling was starting to come over me. My husband held me from behind, and supported me as I squatted to push. After a few pushes, my midwives encouraged me to be on all fours, with one leg slightly out at an angle. And all I remember then, is that the baby just came out!
And it felt great! The feeling that came over me – were just so amazing! I would never have experienced this rush in a C-section! You know how they say ‘bundle of joy’ – those words say it exactly – you get a whole bundle of joy bubbling over from inside you. It felt like ecstasy. I was so so happy – and completely forgot all about what the previous 48 hours had been, all of the back pain – in a second all of those were gone. I was feeling really groggy and sleepy just before this stage, but as soon as the baby came out, my sleepy feeling vanished.
The baby was a boy – who weighed 3.8kg – coming out of his ‘short’ mother who was 4.11. I had no tears. No stitches required.
Quite naturally, because of my previous breastfeeding experience – I was scared, thinking – what’s going to happen with this one? But the only thing I can say is – it just happened. There was nothing I had to do, or not to do – the baby was held close to me and he just started feeding. There was nothing more to think about, nothing to figure out and nothing to worry about! In a way I feel that this was because this baby came out when he was ready. So – he was ready to come out, he was ready to feed naturally, he was ready for all this. My first one was taken out before he had told us he was ready.
When I compare my two births – I can clearly see the difference in both the experiences. In the second one, I had so much confidence from my midwives. I had so much real and genuine information. The first time around I was just helpless – a participant who had no idea about any of it. The feeling I was constantly given was that I should try, try, try – and when things didn’t go right then it was somehow my fault. But this second birth I had information and support which gave me great confidence. In the first one, I felt completely alone, no one to talk to, no one to help me figure out the feeding part of it, no one to support me or clear my doubts – there were many people on the staff of the institution who got irritated with me, to the level that Ii was nervous to ask for more help or support. But the second time, at BV there were no unnecessary comments at all at any time. Only total support. And the difference was that people who really knew what they were talking about were the ones giving me confidence.
Thank you BV for this unforgettable experience!!