Ashley always knew she wanted to have kids one day. But unlike many other women, she knew her journey toward pregnancy and birth would look a little different, as someone who lives with a disability.
Here, she shares her incredible and inspiring birth story with Mum’s Grapevine.
“I have cerebral palsy, spastic quadriplegia. I am able to walk independently. It affects all four limbs, mostly my left leg and right arm. I’m always in pain, even before pregnancy,” Ashley says.
“My husband and I met in 2006 and we were friends for 8 years. We started a relationship in 2014 and were married in 2017. We discussed having children before we got together. If he didn’t want children it would have been a deal breaker for me, so I was very happy when I heard that he was happy to have them.
“In order to have children, I had to prepare my body physically. I started preparing in 2016 – this involved regular visits to a physiotherapist, exercise physiologist, neurologist, GP, and gynecologist.
“We started trying six months before we were married, but I didn’t fall pregnant until a month after our honeymoon. At 37 weeks, I went into spontaneous labour. There was not enough information out there, regarding childbirth in the body of someone with my medical condition. It was agreed due to the risks that a c-section would be the safest option.
“Aubrey was born 3 weeks early in October 2017. When she was born, she had low oxygenation and had to go into NICU for the first two weeks of her life. This was obviously hard.”
After a rough start to motherhood, Ashley sadly developed postnatal depression as she battled through the fourth trimester. But with the support of her husband she got through it and two years later, she was ready to give Aubrey a sibling.
A Christmas miracle
“We weren’t having any success, so my husband had some tests done to see if we’d just gotten lucky with Aubrey. We also turned to IVF and ended up doing five unsuccessful rounds. Two of these were miscarriages.
“It was coming up to Christmas 2022 and we were discussing whether we do another round. The previous Christmas had been extremely difficult, as I miscarried Christmas Day, my 2nd miscarriage was in October 2022, so my husband insisted we take a break from IVF. To our complete and utter shock, I fell pregnant naturally In November 2022 and found out at Christmas time. I didn’t even realise I was late because my periods were never regular. It was such a surprise.
“I did a lot of research into VBAC and searched for an OB that was happy to support it with the extra complication of Cerebral Palsy.
“My team consisted of a physio, an exercise physiologist, a female health physio, and a doula. I got in contact with the Cerebral Palsy Alliance US and UK, and reached out to find anyone with my condition that has had children and if they were able to deliver naturally. I spoke to four women, all of whom had a c-section for the first child and VBAC for the second. One had issues as she had an epidural and her legs locked up, causing torn ligaments, and requiring her to be in a wheelchair for six weeks. I empowered myself through education and determination.
“My body didn’t like being pregnant, it was extremely challenging and my pain increased. My back and hips started to get extremely sore at around 18 weeks. At 33 weeks we found out my right hip, leg, and ankle were out of alignment, as she was favouring the right side. It was a very painful pregnancy, especially when I laid down in bed. Towards the end of my pregnancy, I had a lot of fluid retention in my feet and struggled to put shoes on. It was hard to walk. But it was my choice to not have any pain medication. I persevered and got to 39 weeks and 4 days.
‘My midwife was amazing’
When Ashley visited her obstetrician for her next routine check-up, she requested a vaginal examination and was elated to find out she was already 2cm dilated! She was given the all-clear to go home and wait for labour to start.
“I had been having contractions on and off for the past day. On the Saturday, small contractions were happening, but not worth going to the hospital. We went for a walk around the block. By lunchtime, the contractions were getting stronger, so headed for the hospital.
“My midwife was amazing from the start, she read my birth plan and was extremely supportive and ready to guide me to achieve my goal. We settled into the birthing suite, played music, bounced on the ball, and took a hot shower with the wire-free baby heart and contraction monitors. We called the doula in to help us out.
“By 16:45, the contractions started getting nice and strong after a warm shower and some toilet time. With the pain getting stronger, I requested another vaginal examination – 7cm dilated and waters bulging. I requested my waters to be broken as I was eager to meet my baby. After that, my ability to make decisions was lowering, so we moved from the toilet to the bed.
“I was offered pain relief and I declined as I wanted to do a drug-free birth. I was on all fours hanging over the top of the bed, babies head started to show at 17:37. At 17:41, her head was out. She was born at 17:43, 3.5kg, 51cm. My OB turned up about 5 minutes later. Things then escalated quite quickly, the umbilical cord was short, so when it stretched, a hole started spitting blood, and the midwife clamped it and my husband cut it. I turned over and baby was placed on my chest, where she stayed for the next hour. OB delivered the placenta, checked it out then put a couple of stitches on a small internal second-degree tear.
“The only thing I didn’t get that was in my birth plan was delayed cord clamping, but as I’ve explained above, there was a reason for that. Molly was born at 39 weeks and six days.”
‘A very healing experience’
Thankfully, Ashley’s postpartum recovery this time around has been much easier – both physically and mentally.
“I am more positive and I have a much better mindset after having a natural, drug-free birth. A very healing experience. I felt heard by the hospital staff. Everybody was more supportive. I am more confident than I was when Aubrey was born.
“My hip, knee and ankle went back into its correct position within a couple of days. I was able to get around straight away and have Molly with me. (I wasn’t able to hold Aubrey for 3 days). I have been cleared by all my doctors and support team.
“I’ve been breastfeeding her every 3 hours and recently 4 hours overnight which has been nice to get a few extra hours of sleep.
“I returned to physiotherapy and exercise physiology around 5 weeks and I have been getting stronger. The pain I always feel in my back has increased due to the way my posture is when carrying Molly. And also running around after Aubrey. I have had a few days that I don’t feel like I’m doing a good job because of my limitations however, I never let anyone tell me I can’t do something.
‘Our family is complete’
“Over the weekend, my husband and I went to Monash IVF clinic and collected our remaining embryos, we have planted a pot with some beautiful flowers. Our family is complete. I am beyond happy.
Wow, what a beautiful birth story! We wish Ashley and her new family-of-four all the best.
Got your own birth story you’re itching to tell? We’re always on the lookout for new stories to feature. Submit your birth story.
More birth stories from the Grapeviners…
- Birth Story: ‘ I participated in a maternal assisted C-section’
- Birth Story: ‘I was bleeding for my entire first trimester’
- Birth Story: ‘I delivered our baby, against all odds’
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