Birth Story from Brisbane

This isn’t a topic I’d usually mention, but yesterday I had a powerful experience that I can’t not share with you all.  This is not sewing, this is birthing.  If that’s not your cup of tea, check back in a few days because I’m fielding email sewing questions.  (Do email me some more questions, too!)
Picture 4

Several years ago, I met Enid when I taught her to sew.   Once she got the basics down, I saw Enid again many times as she came to me to help alter her wedding dress and make a silk 1950’s reception gown.  That’s right, Vogue 1140 was her second make after beginner’s pajamas!   We built a friendship over the years, both of us strong and somewhat domineering women with small children and a shared sense of disconnect as immigrants far from home.  She’s English and I’m from Texas.

Last year, she became pregnant with her second baby and asked me to be her support person for the birth.  I said yes- for some friends that is the only possible answer.  Her first birth had been somewhat traumatic, with her baby being taken away for extra care and observation for several hours after a difficult ordeal.  This time around, she worked hard on learning breathing and pain management, educating herself about active labor to prepare for a positive birthing experience.  Enid is the type of person who knows what she wants and works hard to achieve it.  She balances that with an open-minded attitude, accepting that sometimes nothing goes to plan.
Picture 5

I got a series of calls and texts from her first thing in the morning Sunday- the baby was coming, two weeks early!  I was down the coast for the weekend, but we packed up the car and hurried back to The ‘Bane.  When I arrived at the hospital a few hours later, I found her quietly timing contractions in a Birth suite Centre at Royal Brisbane Women’s Hospital.

Picture 6

We spent the entire day together in the Birth Centre, in a place outside time and reality.  It’s a large room with an oversized recliner, a fold out couch, a table, a homey bed, a shower, beanbags, a deep birthing pool and other special touches like an aromatherapy nebulizer (clary sage!) and a selection of soothing music.  It was dark and quiet.  In the time between contractions, I did my best to keep her calm and make her laugh.  (Sometimes I have a bawdy sense of humor, which seemed to work given our situation!)  We had a great time, riding the waves of pain that steadily increased in frequency and relaxing between.  Is it just me, or is labor and birth very different than TV and movies lead us to believe?

 She was very British about the pain, breathing strongly but barely moaning.
blue ball

At one point in the late afternoon, the contractions stalled and become erratic so we turned to Twitter for advice.  We’re both Millinneals, you see, so it’s second nature.  The first suggestion was an exercise ball, and our beautifully stocked room had one!  The ball radically changed the tempo and the speed of the labor as she gently rocked and we breathed through the pain.  In between, we managed quite a few adolescent jokes about blue balls, cackling mischievously.

this was before we filled it, early in the day.

this was before we filled it, early in the day.

The midwife and I filled up the birthing tub and waited for the right time to help Enid into the water.  She had been maintaining her “stiff upper lip” as the time between the contractions lessened and the duration increased.  She was desperate to get into the tub.  Something incredible happened when she slipped into the water, something unexpected that I will never forget for the rest of my life.

She sang.  Not a song, no words, but a strong sweet soprano sound tinged with pain that raises the hairs on my arms when I recall it.  It wasn’t a shriek, or a howl, or a scream, but a pure sound.  I held her, stroked her back and breathed with her through the sound and the pain and the occasional silences for maybe 40 minutes while she finished the journey all mothers must make in their own way.  I didn’t see her face the entire time, her head dropped and she focused on laboring.  Suddenly, at the end of a very strong contraction she jerked upright with brilliant eyes and suddenly I saw a perfect tiny baby girl in her arms, breaking through the surface of the bath.  Just like that, little G joined us.  We were in semi darkness, it was warm and quiet as she took her first breaths and blinked up at her mother.  I stood there sobbing and laughing at the same time for a minute or two before I had the presence of mind to document the moment for Enid through my lens.

E and G

She held her little girl close and without prompting this pushy, tiny female found her mother’s nipple and latched on.  She knew what she wanted and went for it!  Just like her mom.   The midwife and I helped Enid out of the water and into a recovery position, where she held her new baby close and the rest of the world melted away around them.  She cut the cord herself.  Our bodies truly do amazing things!

My own daughter was born down the hall from little G, five years ago.   As I was then, I’m moved by the consideration shown laboring women at Royal Brisbane Women’s Hospital.  They understand labor.   They know births are unpredictable and unique.  They support the individual’s laboring choices while keeping a very sharp lookout for the health of both mother and child.  They are strong and kind, with clear voices and sensible grippy ballet flat shoes.

I really can’t say enough good things about the quality of care and what a beautiful experience this was.  That’s why I’m writing this with Enid’s blessing and encouragement- because it’s important to talk about good things.  We’re both grateful, as mothers and as transplants, and wanted to share.

You know what else?  That room, that birth, her pre-natal physical therapy appointments and the post-natal home visits are provided by Queensland as a matter of course.  I couldn’t believe it when I had my own child, I kept expecting to receive a massive unpayable bill but none ever came.   Public health is a priority here, I think it is an admirable attitude- the health of Queenslanders is provided for by Queenslanders.

There’s a special dignity to the concept of running a labor ward not for profit but as a service to the community.  It eliminates a great deal of anxiety from pivotal moments like these so it’s easier to focus on what’s important.  It’s not a perfect system, but I think it’s pretty remarkable.   Thank you, Queensland, for looking out for birthing mothers and their babies.

What are you grateful for?


66 comments

  1. What a beautiful story to read upon waking this morning. Tears from remembering my own births that were long and difficult, but handled in a similarly considerate way.

  2. Hey Steph, LOVED reading your story of your friend’s birth! (You know a post with “birth” in the title will catch my eye!). SO wonderful to hear of a mumma having a positive, supported experience, especially after a previously traumatic experience. Wonderful.

    It looks like your friend was in the RBWH Birth Centre (not their regular Birth Suites). Unfortunately very few women in Qld are able to access Birth Centre care – there are only four in the whole state and they have strict catchments – one in Brisbane (only available to those who live north of the Brisbane river), Gold Coast, Mackay & Townsville. They have limited capacity and women only get in via a ballot or “first-in, first-served”. I first got involved in trying to increase women’s birthing options like more birth centres through consumer group Friends of the Birth Centre (www.fbc.org.au – you should contact them, they would love to read your post!). Nine years ago there were only 2 BCs in Qld – in Brisbane & Mackay. So we’ve doubled that number and now have Midwifery Group Practices in several hospitals (similar care from midwives but not in a home-like environment and rarely access to waterbirth) – but I also understand the birth rate has gone up!

    It’s so important that if women care about this issue, they write to their State MP and their local hospital. And come get involved with Maternity Coalition, Australia’s umbrella maternity consumer organisation! http://www.materntycoalition.org.au

    If women have experienced a previously traumatic or disappointing birth, I also highly recommend they visit Birthtalk’s website, an amazing organisation here in Brisbane who help women heal and work towards positive future births: http://birthtalk.org/

    • Yes! I did think you might chime in, Melissa. Thanks for the extra info and the links, that’s exactly the kind of information I don’t have. I hadn’t realized how rare these Birth Centres were, but they’re *wonderful.* I was in a birth suite, myself, so no waterbath or anything but the care from the MWs was just extraordinary.

  3. I too have tears as I read this beautifully written blog. Yes, thank-you for sharing Steph. How lucky we are to live in this beautiful part of the world and to have such wonderful care. Enid and her little G are very fortunate to have not only QLD Health looking after them but to have you as a friend by their side during this most wonderful of occasions.

  4. Beautiful story. Thanks. I too birthed my son at the RBWH, as it happens 9 years ago this Wednesday and I and my 4 sisters were all born there too. It was the Birth Centre like Melissa mentions above… I was not lucky enough to get into it and the large bath in the birthing ward was not allowed to be filled.. so it’s there but had to stay empty because of OHS issues (maybe that has changed now??). I had to have an emergency caesarian after 8 hours of labour and obviously went well. All my pre natal care was provided by the public hospital system. The sentiments about the free, provided by the state medical care are the same for me. I don’t believe in medical insurance. I believe in a wealthy, civilised nation, medical care should be provided. We have a wonderful (albeit, flawed at times) system and I have never been let down. My father had throat cancer 10 years ago and he got the BEST of care and has survived to see his three grandsons born a few years later.. one of my younger sisters was hit by a truck 25 years ago – she suffered a broken neck with horrific injuries and was in a coma for 4 months, had multiple operations, rehabilitation and was an in patient for 18 months, was an out patient 5 days a week for 5 years and it was all free. I am eternally grateful and proud that we provide this for our citizens and that it really is of a great standard. Thanks Steph.. sometimes we forget how lucky we are and take for granted that no matter what you have or don’t have; you still have the privilege of world class medical attention.

    • Oh wow!

      I was in one of the rooms with the unfillable baths a few years ago, I suppose that worked out ok because I couldn’t have gotten in anyway.

      Isn’t it good though- even when things didn’t go to plan you could relax in the knowledge you were being taken care of… It’s such a huge thing, really, to be freed from that worry. And I agree with you about a wealthy, civilized nation having a duty of care to the people within its borders. Absolutely. Health care for profit and everything that goes along with it is rather gross.

      I’ve had a few brushes with the health system here besides childbirth, too. When Lila was very small, she had a fever late on a stormy night and I was all new mother terrified. I called the 24 hour nurse line, and was connected to someone who sent a doctor to my house to check out baby Lila. Really exemplary care. The mental health system, too.

      • Oh Steph, that is so true, I just knew that if anything went wrong I had everything available to me.. and it was.. my son did the merconium in the womb and I had to get to the operating theatre immediately.. and within 2 minutes (I kid you not… 2 contractions.. between these I had – sign the form and next contraction – don’t breath – a spinal block. Next I’m on the table feeling nothing and a few minutes later my son was cleaned up! My girlfriend who is a GP said you are better having a baby in the public ward as if anything goes wrong, there is everything immediately available. In Private, should something go wrong, they have to take you to the public anyway and then you pay for it too.

        I must tell you then about the Family Care Medical Centres that you can join up with and after 5 pm if your child (or you) are sick you call and they come to the house. Children are bulk billed and you too if you have pension card and they will send the info to your doctor (as long as they are associated too) for the next morning so if you need follow up care, your personal doctor knows what they’ve done and prescribed. It is really scary and draining if you have to bundle your little one up to take to hospital in the middle of the night. And we all know it hits 5.30pm and that’s when they tell you their ears are hurting and you don’t want to wait another 9 hours before you might get into a private GP. There are a few companies around now that do it and I say thank you to them .. I’ve used them numerous times, for my boy, me and my elderly parents. Go medical care in Qld and Australia!

  5. What a breathtaking and beautifully written story! I am really touched, reading this and had to read the story again, some hours later because it is so heartwarming to read this :)
    I wish little G and Enid only the best! And what a special day you went through as well…
    Thanks for sharing the story!

  6. thank you for sharing such a positive and moving story! i find it particularly heart-warming as i’m 5 weeks away from my due date (and am getting more nervous by the day). while our hospital premises aren’t nearly as lovely, we are fortunate to have the option of choosing fully funded midwife care, complete with home visits post-partum. it’s fantastic that our ‘western’ medical systems are evolving to a more natural, less invasive, and, most importantly, more patient-driven model of care.
    and i’m so happy that enid had a beautfiul birth experience this time around :)

    • You’ll be fine! Try not to stress, remember we’re blessed to live in 2013 and you’ll have great care I’m sure. You’re probably already doing this, but read up and educate yourself and that goes a long way towards removing the Fear. I found one of the best things I picked up was that the pain isn’t from something bad happening, but a part of the body’s process… Patient driven model of care is so important for something like a birth, definitely.

      I’m really happy for her, too. It was really incredible.

  7. Thank you for this beautiful story! You asked what we are grateful for (which is a beautiful question!): I am grateful that there are shining examples, such as this, to encourage us to see what is possible for birthing. I am also grateful to the Kennedy family for privately funding research into lung development in premature infants (this was back in the 1950s) which made possible the life of my own precious daughter.

  8. What a beautiful story — congrats to Enid and thank you so much for allowing Steph to share your experience with us! At the moment, even though I’ll never experience them firsthand, I am feeling very grateful for the Queensland birthing facilities on behalf of all the women who will use them!

    • Yeah! I think it’s important to find ways to improve birth care for women, regardless of where they are… I think the RBWH Birth Centres set a high bar, but there’s always something to do in our own hometowns to help support women… My mom does a lot of family care type work with immigrant women in Houston, helping women get to doctor’s appointments and learning how to live in a new country, teaching new mothers how to take care of infants, etc. :)

  9. Congratulations to your friend! What a darling girl she now has. My brother and sister-in-law also used a midwife. I was not as brave as you and waited outside during it all, but the after experience was also fabulous! :)

    • Hehehe. Brave never occured to me… Really, mostly it was like hanging out on a lazy Sunday afternoon in a comfortable room cracking jokes with my buddy who would sort of fade into controlled breathing every few minutes. I guess it sounds silly but we really had a nice day, no stress or fear. :)

  10. What an amazing friendship you two share! I’m grateful for my happy and healthy baby girl and for my wonderful husband who takes care of us both. :)

  11. What a wonderful birth story. I’ve always heard Australia had awesome labor, delivery, and after. And your pictures prove it.

    • They really do! I know I have a lot of American readers and this might rub the wrong way, but the excellent support doesn’t stop there… There’s a “baby bonus” of $5,000 to be used to extend maternity leave, provide paternity leave, or to be spent at the parent’s discretion. It’s really useful, I know some people go buy TVs or something but it seems to me in practice it genuinely goes to provide for the family…. And there’s benefits to help offset the costs of raising a child, and to help make it easier for a parent to look after a child… To relieve some financial stress so it’s possible to actually spend the early years looking after one’s child…

      To me, it sends a very clear message about the importance of parental care for a child to the society. Perfect system? No. Do people game it? Yes, I am sure. But I think more people are empowered and supported as parents than who bilk the system…

      France is quite excellent at child benefits, I understand…

  12. This is such a beautiful post. Being from the U.S., I’ve never actually known anyone who gave birth outside of a hospital (except by accident, on the way to the hospital), and I know very few people who gave birth without some kind of drug(s) and whose baby was not taken away to be weighed, cleaned, measured, etc., before the mother even held it. The American birth experience seems to be far different from that in Australia, and what you write in this post sounds like an absolute dream of an experience. Congratulations to your friend!

    • Really? I’m so interested to know your age, if you don’t mind me asking…

      Skin to skin contact with the mother/father right after birth has been shown to improve a newborn’s wellness.. Check it out here: http://www.nbci.ca/index.php?option=com_content&id=82:the-importance-of-skin-to-skin-contact-&Itemid=17 If nothing else, I can’t help but imagine birth must be a very trying process for a tiny little baby, not to mention the transition from a warm, dark, safe womb to the bright cold world… :) That’s what I kept thinking the first few months of my baby’s life… I think the attitudes towards mothers and babies has changed from what it used to be, too…

      You know, I am really glad I had my daughter here and not back home… I was in labor for a very long time, labor that didn’t progress. When I recapped it to my mother later, she told me that they would never let me labor that long in a US hospital, that I’d have to have a caesar. As it was, I labored hard for a very long time while they carefully monitored Lila’s vitals. She was never in any distress and came when she saw fit. I’m glad that was left to me and Lila….

  13. I am grateful for a free market system that values my labors and productivity and does not look at it as a collective right. Different strokes, different folks.

  14. Thanks for a lovely story which reminded me of my own experience over 20 years ago in Melbourne. The hardest day’s work I have ever done and the most rewarding, made possible by the low-tech safe environment of a birthing centre and the support of my partner and our lovely midwife, Melissa, whose calm expertise was hugely important All good wishes to Enid and her baby.

    • Yes, indeed! And thank you. They are doing well, little G is being monitored because she was a bit early but it should be just fine.

  15. As a QHealth employee, it’s nice to here someone comment on the good aspects of the system instead of the negative. As a mother, it’s nice to here someone share the positives of birthing instead of horror stories. Thanks for sharing.

    • Yes, people do seem to like to whinge about the healthcare, don’t they? When I hear it, I think “I wish I could send you to Texas for a while and see how you like it…”

      And yes- positive birthing stories… There’s so much that can go wrong, I thought it would be good to write about birth and positivity.. :)

  16. It’s late at night, the house is dark, everyone is asleep and I’m trawling the blogosphere, skipping from blog to blog to new blog (I know I should go to bed, but its so peaceful and I have blessed freedom!).

    And then! Birth story from RBWH! It was beautiful and moving – and as many women have said, it brings it all washing back. I think I was in that very same room just two and a half years ago. Snap! And what a sweet little creature in your friends arms.

    You’re right, we Brisvegans are very lucky, aren’t we?

    Thank you. I think I might head to bed soon after all and cuddle my littlie close.

  17. A lovely story, and beautifully described.
    As an NHS nurse myself, I am strongly in favour of a public health system that is free at the point of use. It should be a priority for any developed country.
    The NHS comes in for a lot of criticism, especially currently, and I guess there are bad apples in every barrel, but I can honestly say that in 34 years service I have only witnessed dedication to hard work and a determination to provide excellence.

    • I could not agree more, especially as someone who had her credit ruined at the ripe old age of 18 by a freak accident that happened when I was an uninsured student. The healthcare for profit system is sick and only seems to serve one type of person well. (hint: it’s usually the type of person who looks upon poverty as a disease or a deep moral failing…)

      Yes- I think criticism is two fold… 1- it’s good to constructively criticize, in order to improve the system, right? And it speaks well of a system that can be criticized and improved by the people who fund/built it. 2- I don’t know about the UK (well, I do a bit) but here most of the gripes I hear are so delightfully entitled… It’s good. Not complaining about being left to die in an emergency room or about being attended by zombie doctors on call for 40 hours, but maybe complaining about having to share a hospital room… That kind of thing… :)

  18. I’m grateful for the wonderful care at Mater Mother’s where both my boys were born. They say they can tell when a lady is close to delivery due to her sounds. Nature is so wonderful. Susan

    • The sound definitely, definitely changed. I wonder what it’s like to be a MW and to see all those variations of the theme? Must be interesting…

  19. This is a beautiful, poetic story. It captured my eye today. The singing, oh I can imagine how lovely and heightened it all must have felt. Congrats to your friend :). I have several pregnant and recently post-natal friends who have had some positive birthing experiences in Austin. I have been happy to learn that there is a non-profit birthing center here with lovely suites, baths and midwives especially catering those who have no health insurance. But post-home care would be really wonderful!

  20. Thank you for such a beautiful birthing story! The words, ‘Something incredible happened when she slipped into the water, something unexpected that I will never forget for the rest of my life. She sang.’, brought tears and incredibly strong memories (mental & body) for my 2 water births in the birth centre also.

    The midwives at the RBWH Birth Centre are simply incredible women & allow us to be the same.

  21. The joy of child birth is always wonderful – and so are vintage patterns. I’ve done a quick google and can’t find Vogue 1140 as a beautiful dress. So it must be out of print :(


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