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  • Writer's pictureJen Curtis

My Birth Story: From Home Birth to C-Section.

My Birth Story: From Home Birth to C-Section.

I’m currently pregnant with my third, and it’s got me thinking about my first pregnancy and birth with my eldest son. I don't think I've ever told the story in full, (and how I so royally fucked it up), so here it is.

In a word: it was a shit-show. I was totally inflexible about my "birth plan", and things went fully tits up.

Part One: Leading up to the birth

I was dead set on a blissful home birth with zero medical intervention, like with the whole shebang: water-birth, indian pipe music in the background and people rubbing my feet. I wanted nothing to do with hospitals.

If you're thinking "that doesn't sound like Jen", you know me well. It doesn't. I was completely possessed.

I wish I could blame the hormones, but I was completely enamored with the deep depths of the natural birth industry and the conspiracy theories that doctors just want to make your life a misery.

I still to this day don’t fully understand where that came from, since I am a pretty rational and logical person who believes in science and evidence-based everything, and I pride myself on having a solid grasp on cognitive biases and logical fallacies - but this all seemed to entirely escape me during my first pregnancy.

My entire birth experience was a huge life lesson for me in how I myself can still be swept away by enticing narratives and has been a pivotal experience for me.


I got to week 41 + 5 and hadn't had so much as a Braxton Hicks contraction. I had done the obligatory acupuncture, raspberry leaf tea and essential oils, none of it worked (obviously) and I had switched hospitals to go to one that was more encouraging (in hindsight, I would say “militant”) of natural birth so they wouldn't "pressure me" until week 42. I had to drive daily to a hospital that was over an hour away, rather than the one that was right on my doorstep.

For some godforsaken reason I thought it would be a good idea to take castor oil - I was actually encouraged to do so by the home midwife that I had hired to support me through my birth. At almost 42 weeks she encouraged me to ignore the advice of the hospitals and take castor oil, which can cause diarrhoea and stomach issues and is not recommended as a safe substance to induce labour (I didn't realise this until afterwards, and had fully believed the midwife when she made out that it was just doctor's skepticism of "alternative" remedies).

My waters broke a few hours later. Was it because of that? I guess we'll never know.

I still had no contractions - but now I wasn't sure if I was feeling movements. At this point, I got perhaps the first bit of good advice yet from my doula (who had also been encouraging me to dismiss advice from medical staff) - “Go to the hospital”

There I had a bad monitor with no variability, and my placenta was looking like an old lady. I was now me pushing on 10 months of pregnancy.

My homebirth midwife still made out that this was a ploy by the medical establishment to thwart my homebirth.

But at this point it didn’t matter - you feel a big shift from when the doctors are like "this is what we recommend, but you still have time" to "if you don't do this now you have to sign this form to say you are refusing medical treatment. Please don’t die here".

At 41 + 5 weeks, my home birth is now over. The natural birth room is also not going to happen. And now I needed to be induced.

But I was still dead set on the "no medical intervention" thing - or as little as possible.

I didn't sign the forms and they induced me.

Part Two: The Pitocin Party

Pitocin was one of the worst experiences of my life.

Long story short: I refused an epidural for 24 hours or so, despite the various midwives insisting that I took it. Most of that time I had short, painful contractions every 3 minutes, so I couldn't rest in between, and didn't sleep for 2 nights in a row.

My doula didn’t show up (mostly due to a miscommunication) my husband fell asleep (he hadn’t slept the previous night, and neither had I) and the midwives had 4 other women who all seemed to be giving birth at the same bloody time, so I was on my own for most of it.

I had awful midwives that were nothing more than technicians who matronized me and dismissed my requests or needs. They scolded me constantly for “moving around” because it was interrupting the monitor reading and told me to “lie down and stay still” - I just could not fathom this - every birth course I did (I took about 10 of them) was all about moving through the contractions, and I didn’t see how it was possible to get through even a single contraction lying on my back. They rolled their eyes at me and told me I just needed to get an epidural.

Around the 16 hour mark, I was ready to “give in” and take the drugs - but a new midwife came on the scene. My homebirth midwife had pulled some strings and got one of her colleagues (apparently the only one in this hospital) who also believed in “doing it naturally” - she told me I didn’t have to take the epidural if I didn’t want it, and was the first one who actually listened to my request for a wireless monitor, and even let me off it for a bit to get in the shower. This gave me a second wind, and I decided to keep going.

At this point in time, and for a while after the birth I was convinced that this had been a good thing - but on reflection years later, I think this was a mistake. Despite her best intentions, she also couldn’t stick around and I trudged through eight more hours of unbearable pain and suffering, mostly alone. Now, recalling that experience, that room feels like it was a torture chamber. Probably the single most harrowing experience of my life.

Part Three: The Epidural

After about 24 hours of this shit, I was still only 1 cm dilated, and the baby hadn’t descended at all. So I gave in - I was so tired and weak, I decided to take the epidural.

The aim was to let me rest so that I could cope with the rest of the birth.

I slept for about 4 hours, but woke with anxiety that was through the roof, and so weak I could hardly speak. I remember my husband feeding me Sprite through a straw. I couldn’t raise my arm to hold the can or keep my lips together as I drank, and the Sprite leaked out of my closed lips.

I wasn't even 2cm dilated yet. My contractions had stopped. He hadn’t moved down even slightly. There was a lot of meconium.

At this point, 4 doctors and 2 nurses came into the room. I knew it was game over. I asked for a c-section before they suggested it.

You know when they come in a group, they are worried.

In any case, I knew that even if I DID dilate, there was no way I was pushing him out, I was too weak. I’d end up with a vacuum or forceps delivery, without me helping to push him out. I knew that wasn’t good news for my pelvic floor.

They side-glanced each other as if to say "get the fucking forms quick before she changes her mind" and 15 minutes later I was on the operating table.

Part Four: The Birth

Lying on the operating table was the calmest I had felt the whole birth. I knew I was ok, that he was ok, that we were going to meet him soon.

I remember hearing that first cry - me and my husband looked at each other and both burst into tears. I think we all remember that moment.

He wasn't in great shape when he came out, and needed some help. I think my decisions were to blame for that.

I started to "feel" something as they were sewing me back up. The anaesthetist came into my peripheral vision and I woke up in the recovery room.

The next day was a blur. The mixture of opioids, extreme exhaustion and physically recovering from emergency c-section made everything fuzzy.

I remember my husband bringing him to me and me thinking "oh look there's a baby" - but nothing more profound than that.

Part five: Postpartum

I was a classic case of someone sooooo focused on the birth experience that I had no fucking idea what I would actually do with a baby. No postpartum plan.

Amidst the usual haze of figuring out how your boobs work, trying to hobble 5m down the corridor and re-learning how to do a poo there were blissful moments of awe and wonder - juxtaposed with moments of "fuck, what have we done?!"

Unfortunately, the thing that most marked my first week as a new mum was breastfeeding not going to plan. I had hired a breastfeeding consultant ahead of time, but what I didn’t know when I hired her (I didn’t even know that this was a thing) is that she was absolutely militant about exclusive breastfeeding and would not sway. Despite my low supply and obvious suffering, she was relentless in her insistance that I not give a bottle.

In fact, on the first day, when I was so weak, exhausted and overwhelmed by the whole experience, in between breastfeeding attempts, I happily and naively watched my husband feed him formula - all went well, he ate, burped, pooped and dutifully fell asleep. When the lactation consultant came in later, she guilt tripped us both for giving a bottle “oh no, you shouldn’t have done that. It will ruin breastfeeding, he won’t want the boob, he’ll get nipple confusion".

I dutifully committed to exclusively breastfeeding, which meant the next 3 days consisted of sore nipples, engorgement, and a hungry, unsettled baby who was attached to me 24/7 - I thought I was going mad, spent all day crying - mostly because of sleep deprivation and sensory overload. She reassured me this was normal, and that I should keep going.

It took a conversation with a friend on the phone for me to give in and relax - she told me that she fought for 6 months because of advice from a lactation consultant like this and her son was seriously underweight, that it’s ok to give a bottle and that nothing in breastmilk is more important than my mental health.

Simultaneously, my husband had had enough - he saw that I was not ok, and in serious risk of getting postpartum depression, anxiety and probably psychosis at this rate - he took control of the situation, kicked the lactation consultant out of our house (and told her where to shove the latest “herbs” she had recommended I take), he told me we’re not doing this, the baby needs to eat and I need to rest - he fed him a bottle and balance was restored to our home.

That night (6 days postpartum) I slept outside, on the sofa on our porch while my husband slept in the room with our newborn. He told me to sleep, and that he would feed the baby. I had to do about 2 hours of guided meditation before I could relax enough to fall asleep. I only slept about 6 hours, but that was the most I had had in about 8 days - I woke up at 5am feeling strangely refreshed, a bit wired, but calm, and like I could actually face the next day, and my baby, without all the spontaneous crying. My boobs were actually full for the first time, and an hour later I could feed my baby.

Ironically, over the following week, we developed our own method of combo feeding (which I will share in a different post) and my supply went steadily up, he gained weight, and we all slept. By the end of week 3, I was exclusively breastfeeding, despite being told that giving a bottle would permanently ruin the breastfeeding relationship - however, I continued to give a “tactical” bottle of formula once a day until the end of our breastfeeding journey together, because I heard so many stories of babies refusing to take the bottle later on down the line.

Another unexpected challenge of the postpartum period was being told by a number of people all the reasons why I ended up in a c-section, and how it could have been prevented: I should have tried this specific move, it was because I was too stressed, it was because I gave into pressure, had I just waited a few more days, or weeks, labour would have started on its own and I would have been fine. Everyone's a fucking genius in hindsight. I was really taken aback at these comments - it seemed to place the blame on me, and made out as though there's a way to control outcomes. It took me a long time to let go of this guilt and realise that no matter how confident they sound in their delivery, nobody really knows what the fuck they are talking about.

Part six: Lessons Learnt

The birth of my son and early postpartum experience was an absolute train wreck - partly because of terrible advice I was given, brainwashing from the natural birth machine and awful decision making on my part. I’ve found that being totally transparent and real about the realities of these things has been positive overall - for anyone who’s had a similar experience, it may be comforting to know that you’re not the only one, and that things can still turn out well overall, even if you get off to a rocky start.

But mostly, I feel like Charlie’s birth completely changed me as a person. I drew some really important lessons from the whole experience that have hugely enriched my life - here they are:

You can’t control everything.

I did about 4 different birth courses, I read all the books, I prepared meticulously for my natural birth, I listened to my hypnobirthing track every day and I was (still am) a pre- and post-natal exercise specialist. I genuinely believed (and was quite insufferable) that I was going to have a really empowering, “perfect” birth and that this was genuinely an outcome that I could control. Learning that I can’t control everything has been such an important lesson for me in becoming a mum - there’s so much about being a parent that you can’t control. We’re the ones that fire the arrow, but we can’t control it’s trajectory. I think I would have been a very different mother had I not learnt this lesson.

The medical establishment is not trying to hurt you

Getting a baby out of a human body is difficult. Birth is dangerous and many women and babies died for centuries before modern medicine. Yes, it can go too far the other way sometimes, and yes the system is imperfect, but the goal is to get a healthy baby and mother at the end of the day.

I recently received a message from someone saying “2 in 5 women in Israel describe their births as “traumatic” - we need to change this!” - perhaps this is the case because birth is dangerous and really harrowing, and not because of the medical establishment. Western medicine is amazing. Not perfect, but a fuck of a lot better than romantisiced ideas of squatting in a field.

Alternative therapies aren’t better.

The whole experience taught me that the road to hell is often paved with good intentions. I know the professionals I had hired were genuinely doing what they believed was best for me, but they made things so much worse than they could otherwise be. This has given me a much healthier skepticism of all sorts of alternative therapies and treatments and overzealous, black-and-white claims about nutrition, training and health. The “Appeal to Nature” fallacy is rife on social media.

Your “birth experience” doesn’t matter as much as having a healthy baby in your arms

I used to think this was such an awful claim - of course your birth experience matters!! But almost 5 years on, despite having a very traumatic birth experience that consumed me early on, you do recover and heal, and now I rarely think about my “birth experience” - but every day I enjoy my healthy, happy son.

There’s nothing in breastmilk more important than your mental health.

My friend said this to me on the phone and it has stuck with me ever since. Again, looking at my almost 5 year old, it’s so utterly irrelevant how I fed him in those early months, despite the claims made by breastfeeding zealots. It’s a mantra that’s stuck with me in many other areas of my life - while there are many things that are important and nice to have, mental health comes first, and nobody thrives in a home with a mother (or father) with mental health issues.

Listen to what your husband has to say. He might just keep you sane. And it’s his child too.

We women can get fucking crazy after having a baby, the hormones, the pain, the fear… it’s a lot to take. Sometimes we feel like it’s 100% up to us how we feed our babies and children and how we raise them - but our husbands should have a say too. My postpartum experience made me realise that if I have a very different opinion to my husband, I shouldn’t dismiss it - I should take it seriously, because he might just be rational and sane and I might be completely wrong - I can use him as a litmus test for my own sanity. Of course, he’s not always right, and I don’t take everything he says as gospel or blindly accept his opinion, but they can really keep us sane.


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