Louie’s Birth Story
*TRIGGER WARNING* (This birth could be perceived as traumatic).
This amazing birth story was sent to me by my gorgeous friend and colleague for birth trauma week. Hattie was an absolute BOSS to get through the twists and turns that this birth threw at her and she even feels quite positive about this birth. Hypnobirthing in the true sense of the word, 'I will calmly meet any turn my birthing may take.' Hattie - you, Tom and Louie are total superstars. Thank you for sharing your birth story.
I’m writing this down while my gorgeous, sunny 5-month old babe naps peacefully beside me.
His chest gently rising and falling, making little squeaks and smiling in his milky dreams - lordy
it’s enough to make a newly-minted mama clucky again already (settle down, ovaries!)
The journey to Louie was not especially straightforward - in fact, in some moments, it was
downright life-threatening - yet reflecting on this once-in-a-lifetime experience, I feel stronger
and more powerful than I ever could have imagined.
Ok. So. It took over a year of trying for me to get up the duff. I wouldn’t say patience is one of
my greatest virtues... so this hiccup was not on the agenda! We were a few months into fertility
treatments to get this whole baby-show on the road when we went to France for our friends’
wedding. In the first week of our trip I got my period. Drats. ‘Just RELAX... It’ll happen when it
happens... stop trying so hard... Drink more...’ If you’ve been trying for a while, chances are
you’ve gotten this sort of advice from well-meaning individuals. Wildly unhelpful. But... for us, it
worked! In amongst the glorious French countryside with wonderful wine flowing and soft
cheeses galore - all of which I had been avoiding for months, mind you - Louie nestled in for the
next 9 months.
We were living in Darwin where I was working as a midwife at the public hospital. My colleagues
knew I was pregnant very early on: ‘you look green, Hattie – is it contagious? No? Well,
congratulations!’ Whilst in Darwin, I was cared for antenatally by my beautiful friends at RDH,
including Nic – lucky me! Since becoming a midwife, I had seen some of the most incredible,
natural births which all had one thing in common: Hypnobirthing. Tom and I booked in and had
our class with Nic at around 24 weeks. For me, I found it super beneficial to take my focus away
from birth being ‘work’ and to help get into a positive mindset, but for Tom it was much, much
more. He was so taken by the program that when we left the last session, he told me how he
was so excited about all things ‘birth’ that he wished he was able to have the baby! The guy is a
serious birth nerd and I love it!
We decided to head home to Melbourne to have our baby, so we were close to our family. We
also decided we wanted to have a homebirth but unlike in Darwin, homebirth isn’t publicly
funded in our Melburnian neck of the woods, so we made the call to invest in private midwives.
If your ever find yourself pregnant in Melbourne I cannot recommend the Yarra Valley Midwives
highly enough. Private midwives are pricey (enormous insurance requirements courtesy of a
lack of government support, though I’m hopeful this will change in the coming years) but Tom
and I both agree that this was an incredible investment that we’d make every time, even with the
hindsight of how our birth eventually went down... but I digress!
We arrived home to Melbourne when I was around 33 weeks pregnant. A couple of weeks after
we got back, it was announced that we were in a global pandemic and we would be going into
lockdown – quite the blow to a heavily pregnant mama-to-be to put it lightly, but it gave me the
opportunity go inward and practice my mindfulness, rest and get in ‘the zone’. We set up a room
in our house to be the birth room - it was simply beautiful. I painted affirmations, stuck pictures
on the wall, had candles, fairy lights, a diffuser, a big birth pool and moved a mattress in there
too. The perfect set up. We spent the dreamiest evening in there a few days before I went into
labour, eating ice cream, laughing and listening to music together in the warm birth pool – such
I went into early labour on Sunday night. The surges were strong pretty much from the get-go,
but they were very manageable if I was upright. Annoyingly though, the minute I laid down in
bed they'd be on top of each other and too painful for me to sleep. Because of the strength of
the surges I told myself I’d likely crack on and have a baby within 24 hours – HAH!
Tom went to bed with assurances that I’d wake him soon, whilst I stayed up watching comedies,
breathing, swaying and I even baked a cake in between pains at 3am – this should have been a
sign that I wasn’t in established labour yet, but my midwife brain was clearly not on duty!
We spent Monday together, walking in the bush near our place while I was contracting,
bouncing on the ball, using my TENS machine (absolute necessity), meditating, getting
massages (well, me getting, Tom giving), listening to hypno tracks and my birth playlist and
getting excited that we'd probably have our baby that night..... By Wednesday night I was still
contracting strongly, about 2-3 in 10 mins if I was sitting or standing but 4 or more
overwhelmingly strong if I was in bed. Baby was not interested in mama laying down! I was
losing my calm, peaceful state of mind that I’d worked so hard to achieve. I told Tom to get
some rest early because we'd SURELY have a baby tonight. I abruptly woke him up at 11pm
and told him I was done. Absolutely f*#&ing over it. Exhausted beyond belief after not sleeping
since Sunday and mentally spent. I wanted to throw it all in and go to the hospital and an
epidural for some rest. DONE.
He was expecting this ‘crisis of confidence’ to happen after reading Rhea Dempsey’s Birth With
Confidence and knew it would come to a point that I'd lose my shit and say I couldn't do it, but
that was a good sign and meant I was getting close. So, he kindly (but firmly) reminded me that
I didn't really want an epidural (true) and I was doing so well (hmm) and being home was what I
really wanted (also true). Shit. I realised I had trained him far too well as an honorary midwife!
At this point I attempted my own vaginal examination (lol, midwife here) to see just how close
the baby really was. I was about 4cm dilated which was fine but it felt as though half of the
cervix was thinned out while the other was thick. I could easily get my finger underneath his
head on the thicker side which meant that his head wasn't well applied and I presumed he was
asynclitic and judging from the spurious labour, probably OP (his head in a funny position). I
knew at this point I had a LONG way to go. The fear of a caesarean for ‘failure to progress’
(yuck, I hate this term) started to creep in.
I tried to explain to Tom what this all meant but, bless him, he stuck to the script we’d practiced
and reassured me I could do it and that I ‘wanted to stay at home’. Damn, he’s good! So, for the
next 4 or so hours I contracted and cried and yelled and looked NOTHING like the hypnobirthing
goddesses you see in the videos. I told him he needed to leave me alone because any time he
came close and kissed or touched me (like I had asked him to!) I got a big rush of oxytocin
which meant I'd contract more when all I wanted was SLEEP. ‘I love you so, so much, Tom, but
please, F*$K OFF!’
He had been talking to our gorgeous midwife, Lisa, over the course of the night, being guided in
how to manage his progressively sassier wife. She came at around 6ish that morning and I
finally lost my shit. She got me into the birth pool (even though I grouchily told her it would stall
my labour so was an utterly terrible idea – see what I mean about the sass?) and did the
necessary checks on me and the babe, all of which were in perfect order. I asked for a vaginal
examination. I was largely unchanged. I knew if a vaginal birth was still on the cards for me, I'd
be working hard for many more hours and I hadn't slept for 4 days. I was beside myself. A hot,
naked mess. Something had changed and I no longer felt safe in the beautiful birth space I had
created for us. I sobbed deeply while I told Lisa and Tom how I felt trapped, terrified and
traumatized. On hearing me verbalize this raw emotion, Lisa agreed that home was no longer
the right place for me, I needed to make a change if I was going to get back to a place where I
was relaxed enough to be able to open and eventually have the strength to birth my babe.
When it was agreed that I would transfer, I felt a mix of sweet relief and profound
disappointment. Not only was I deviating from the ‘perfect birth’ I had imagined for months,
because of Covid (seriously, f*#k you ‘Rona!) I wouldn’t be allowed to have Lisa or my mum
present for the birth. I felt I had robbed my mum of this experience that we were both so excited
to share and my heart was broken. We hopped in the car and headed off to the hospital. I called
mum on the way to confess that I ‘wasn’t tough enough’ to birth at home, which, of course, she
replied was absolutely ridiculous and all that mattered to her was that the baby and I were safe.
She meant it. As an aside, surges in a seatbelt are wildly unpleasant. We caught every bloody
red light too.
We got to the hospital within 20 minutes to find a line of staff out the door waiting to get their
temperatures checked before starting their shifts, #covid. I was pushed to the front of the line
and got lots of sympathetic stares and knowing looks as I surged whilst getting my temperature
taken – just what I needed, an audience. When we walked into the Birth Suite, we were greeted
by a midwife I worked with up in Darwin, Ellie. What a stroke of luck! I took that as a sign that
this really was the right decision for us. Although I couldn’t have my ‘continuity of carer’ or more
than one support person as planned, I had a friend caring for me which was an enormous relief
and a huge boost to the spirits.
I got the CTG monitoring strapped on and within an hour, I had an epidural inserted. The
anaesthetist seemed like a real twat by the way he was speaking to both Ellie and I but at that
point, I didn't care - I just wanted a god damned REST!
Oh. My. God. For the first time in 4 days I was comfortable. I felt the fear, tension and pain that
had built in my body over the past day just drift away. I texted my mum and Lisa to tell them I
felt ‘a million bucks’ and that I knew then that this is what my body needed to give myself the
best chance of avoiding a caesarean. In that moment, I was a new woman!
The block worked well for about 6 hours during which time I was able to grab a few zzz’s
between midwifery checks. Though my body continued to surge, the contractions eased off a bit
(which often happens with epidurals, so I was expecting it) so after a discussion with Tom about
the risks and benefits, I consented to having my water broken and augmentation with oxytocin.
Things were going well. After shift change at around 1pm, I got heaps of pain back in a rush and
started feeling unwell so the anaesthetist topped up my epidural and I was back. Despite a
decent amount of strong contractions, I wasn't progressing especially well and stayed at 6cm for
a LONG time. I rested, I laughed, I ate a couple of woeful hospital meals and contorted myself
(and the birthing bed) into whatever wacky position my heavy legs would allow in order to
maneuver my babe into a more conducive position for birth.
The night shift team arrived and another twist of fate occurred - the registrar on shift, Carly, was
a friend and colleague of mine from Darwin! What’s more, Tom had even met her early in the
pregnancy when I’d had some bleeding that needed to be investigated. The universe works in
mysterious ways! She checked me and I had progressed a bit further so that was reassuring,
but a little while later I could hear staff discussing my case outside my room (paper thins walls in
birth suite seems like a poor design choice, really) and it looked like due to my slow progress I
was likely going to need a caesarean for FTP. F*#k. Carly told me after the birth that the
consultant had asked her whether she really thought I’d be able to birth this kid vaginally to
which she told her boss she was confident I could, I just needed time – god bless that woman!!!
Thankfully for me, the unit was extremely busy that night so rather than being in and out
frequently to check on my ‘progress’ the doctors were held up with other women, so against all
odds with this extra time the baby did a big wriggle and got into the optimal position! I was
checked again after midnight, I was 9 centimetres dilated, hallelujah! It was finally about to
Over the course of the next couple of hours the pain came back and I was reviewed by the
anaesthetist 3 more times and given more fentanyl top ups and encouraged to mash my PCA
button more frequently. He performed the dermatome test but not once was the site of the
epidural checked. After the last top up, I started to lose the plot. The room was spinning. I had
zero pain relief - I could feel everything again and had full control over my legs. The anaesthetist
looked at me pitifully and told me that it was probably just the sensation of the baby moving into
the pelvis and it was normal to feel that, even with an epidural. ‘This is just what birth feels like,
Hattie’ said the young male doctor...
Wait so, if this is normal am I just acopic? Is my pain threshold just sub-par? Am I weak? Am I
going to be the laughing stock of birth suite? No. Just no. The pain I was experiencing was
absolutely not normal for a working epidural - I’ve seen a LOT of these over the past few years
and never had I seen a woman in the state I found myself. I was drugged out of my mind,
screaming and clawing at my face, and banging my head against the bed rails. I was begging
the staff for help. I was imploring someone, anyone to listen to me. I had a horrible sense of
impending doom, I was convinced I was dying. They had no idea what was happening to me. At
around the same time that I descended into hysterics, the baby’s heart rate began to show signs
of distress. It was getting tired. I was fully dilated and it was time to push. Hold on - were they
f#*&ing insane? How could I possibly push in this state? I was using every ounce of energy just
to hang on to my consciousness
The midwife-in-charge came in to my room to assist the poor midwife assigned to me as she
was having no luck in trying to bring me back into calm enough frame of mind to get the job
done. She whispered to Tom that she was going to play the bad cop to which I replied ‘good
luck with that’ (the sass was peaking!) Eventually, they got my legs in stirrups, after much
protest from me, mind you. The room was spinning, I couldn’t concentrate on Tom’s face, I
vomited. I was begging for Carly to come and save me. I wanted her to pull him out with the
ventouse or forceps and for this whole nightmare to be over. Just as the staff paged her to
review me, the emergency buzzer went off in the unit and over the loudspeaker I heard a
category 1 emergency caesarean was called. That meant Carly was going to theatre. She was
leaving to save a baby’s life. I wanted her to save me. I howled.
For just over an hour (aka an eternity) I languished in this horrific, drugged state, moaning and
thrashing and - this bit is especially hard to put onto paper – willing myself dead. Gradually I
began to claw my way out of the fog and regained some semblance of clarity. No one was going
to do this for me. I had to do it myself. I started pushing effectively and the midwives remarked
how well the head was coming down with each effort (there was still plenty of sass spouting
from me here - along the lines of ‘bullshit, that’s not head that just caput, you’re lying to me!’ ...
You get the picture).
Carly came back from the operation and I felt a wave of relief seeing her face and reached out
to hold her hand. It really does make the world of difference being cared for by someone you
know and trust. She told me she could see lots of head and that I absolutely didn’t need her
help because I was strong and could do it alone. I felt a state of calm wash over me. With great
control, I slowly birthed the head. The sensation was intense but it wasn’t pain, it was power. I
was doing it.
With my baby between two worlds, we waited for the next surge. It wasn’t coming. The midwife
in charge was firmly rubbing my belly to stimulate a contraction while I tried to push without the
strength of the surge behind me, to no avail. After a few long minutes of waiting, panic was
palpable in the room. The emergency buzzer was pushed and an obstetric emergency was
called. Shoulder dystocia, they said. ‘Wait, really? I just haven’t had a surge!’ Unnamed people
poured into the room. My legs were pushed into McRoberts position (knees to nipples, ouch). I
pushed with all of my might as one last big contraction surged through my body. My baby was
born onto my chest, a boy! Louie Wallace.
Over the loudspeaker, I heard a neonatal code blue called. More people spewed into the room
as I gripped onto the tiny, floppy babe in my arms - ‘he’s entitled to a minute’ I growled as I
tickled his feet and blew on his face, willing him to take a big breath but I quickly realised his
cord had been cut, so he wasn’t getting any oxygen-rich blood from the placenta and wasn’t
breathing himself. I released his precious body to the paediatric team so that they could breathe
life into him. I remember seeing Tom’s face, white as a ghost with wild eyes and tears of fear
streaming down his cheeks. I held him and whispered that our boy would be ok. His apgars
were 2 and 5 (aka rubbish) but after 7 or so minutes on the resuscitaire getting breathing
support, he was pink and screaming. He came back to me for a minute of sweet cuddles before
being whisked away to the special care nursery for observation due to the low apgars and
resus. Tom went with him and the room was quiet. The boys were both away from me for just
less than two hours, during which time I rested and recovered from the drugged state. He
latched on to the breast like a pro and everything felt right in the world.
When I got up for my shower, Ellie (who had come back on for another morning shift, 24 hours
post when we first saw her!) noticed that the epidural catheter had been completely dislodged
and was hanging out of my back. It all made sense. We were discharged at 6 hours post birth
(on my request, with our private midwife visiting us at home that afternoon) but not before
having a frank discussion and debrief about what had happened with birth suite manager and a
senior anaesthetist. Instead of being in the epidural space and providing a block to my lower
body, the catheter had likely slipped out of position and had given me an almighty dose of
fentanyl to be absorbed by my tissues, causing my drugged symptoms, the sense of impending
doom, erratic behaviour and respiratory depression in our baby at birth. The anaesthetist and
manager apologised for this accident and assured us that they would investigate the matter to
ensure other women weren’t subjected to this trauma.
We went home as a brand-new family of three and fell madly, deeply in love with our fresh boy.
Breastfeeding came naturally for Louie and I and despite the lockdown continuing in Melbourne,
living in our postpartum bubble has been utter bliss. Around two weeks after the birth, our
midwives organised for us to have a ‘rebirth’ where we spent the morning in the birth pool with
Louie – the room was set up just how I had imagined it, candles burning and our birth playlist
softly playing in the background as we admired our perfect son, peacefully feeding and napping
in the warm water. It was healing. My days are full of joy and wonder and in this perfect moment
in time, I feel entirely fulfilled.
That hour of madness was pure hell. I won’t lie, I have flashbacks and nightmares where I am
taken right back to the state of desperation, and I grieve not being fully present for my son’s
birth. I will carry the weight of the trauma of feeling so completely out of control for many years
to come, maybe forever. Yet, despite the fact that Louie’s birth deviated so extraordinarily from
our plan, I can honestly say I have never been prouder of myself. Through adversity, I was able
to muster a deep strength that I never knew I possessed and now, I can do f*&king ANYTHING!
Oh, and I didn’t even need any stitches!