A maternal-assisted caesarean is not something every woman can say she has experienced, but being involved in delivering your own baby can give a great feeling of empowerment.
Grapeviner Mum Tenae was lucky enough to experience a maternal-assisted caesarean and she shares her story with us.
Eloping at sunrise
In 2017, high school sweethearts Tenae and Cameron’s love story grow into an engagement on Cameron’s birthday. A year later, they celebrated their anniversary by eloping at sunrise, with their two closest friends as witnesses.
Though they had always envisioned a future filled with children, they temporarily placed their aspirations for a family on hold, while they prioritised their professional goals. However, when Tenae received news of her low egg count, she was forced to confront the reality of her biological clock.
‘I was sure I didn’t ovulate’
“The month we fell pregnant with our little boy we happened to have bought a house, and the very week we moved in was the week I was due my period. Given the craziness of this plus working 120-hour fortnights – some day shifts, some nights and some evenings AND while studying full time for my final paediatric physician exams, I was slightly distracted and the days slipped by!
“It was the night before my period was due when something triggered my memory. This was the first month I hadn’t looked at a pregnancy test for the previous seven days in a row. I hadn’t taken each test to the bedroom window every morning to see if I could make out a faint line under the morning sun. I hadn’t examined my every feeling, emotion or bodily sensation for any early clue that maybe this month was the month.
“Only in retrospect do I now realise I actually had the beginnings of some soon-to-be horrendous reflux. Each box I would bend over to pack would elicit this fiery hell on my oesophagus, I had just assumed it was because of the late-night snacking to help get us through the moving process and lack of sleep!”
“It was about 9pm at night, the new house was a mess but already it felt like home. I had to dig around many boxes to find the one with the pregnancy tests inside. I was so certain this wasn’t the month, not only did my ovulation sticks never light up with that happy yet alarming little smiley face this month, but I was also on night shifts over the few days which I had assumed the little anxiety sticks were incorrect and I would have been ovulating.”
“As I covered the pregnancy test I told my husband, Cameron, that we just hadn’t ‘seen’ each other enough this month because of my night shifts and I was pretty certain I didn’t ovulate, so to expect a negative result. three minutes passed. Honestly, those three minutes feel like at least an hour. We were in the kitchen holding hands when the timer went off, I looked at Cameron and ripped off the little piece of paper hiding the result of our future. It was positive!”
“Shock, excitement and utter disbelief waved over my body as my hand sprung to cover my open mouth. I don’t think I’ve ever seen my husband’s eyebrows rise so high on his forehead before. We hugged so deeply and then I whipped around to actually pick up the test and ensure I wasn’t experiencing an eyeball malfunction and that those two deeply pink lines were in fact truly there!
“The tears then rolled down my eyes, our baby was teeny and tiny and so freshly created, but was there and growing inside my ready and longing womb. I have always wanted to be a mother more than anything else. I have dedicated the last decade of my life to my career and with every passing year the little whispers in my head grew louder. Whispers that I would never forgive myself if I continued to put my career before having a family and it somehow meant I had lost my chance.”
‘The nausea hit hard’
In the days that followed that positive pregnancy test, Tenae felt so excited. Unable to contain her herself and needing to let someone else know, Tenae mentioned it to a supermarket worker while she was shopping.
“Initially, my first sign of pregnancy was intensely sensitive nipples and breasts, even the wind on my shirt would hurt and I remember constantly having to slide my seatbelt down so no part of it touched my chest! Then hit the nausea and vomiting and good lord did it hit hard! For most of my adult life I have suffered from emetophobia, a wildly intense fear of vomiting likely fostered from a previous eating disorder. Within a couple of days, I went from constantly feeling nauseous to having vomit fly from my nose holes as I tried to catch my breath between ‘attacks’. This nausea and vomiting didn’t ease until I was 28 weeks pregnant… and then came back at 32 weeks with a vengeance.
“I quickly grew to acknowledge its presence and stop denying that my stomach contents would be resurfacing and fashioned a list of foods that either mostly stayed down or were easiest to vomit back up. Maccas hot chippies, pickle and cheese toasties, sour zooper doopers and mi goreng noodles with a side of fresh cucumber were my top picks. For a good week at one point my only form of hydration was a zooper dooper ice block because water was apparently lava.”
A potential miscarriage
A bleed in the first trimester brought forth a scare for Tenae and Cameron. Having experienced a miscarriage before, Tenae was certain that it was happening again. The bleeding was coupled with an ease in the nausea she had been experiencing. While a break in vomiting was a relief to her oesophagus, it was further solidifying Tenae’s certainty that this was the beginning of a miscarriage.
“We headed into the Women’s Assessment Service at our local hospital and the very second the ultrasound probe was placed on my lower abdomen the beautifully rapid ‘lub-dub’ of a heartbeat could be heard. That was the first time we heard his heart beat and the poor doctor then had trouble keeping the probe on the correct spot because I was sobbing so hard my abdomen was violently shaking.”
‘We decided not to find out gender’
“As my belly grew rounder I wasn’t yet sure if it was because of the hot chippies or the baby but my love for this little unborn creature already felt visceral. We decided not to find out the gender and to keep it a surprise until the delivery room! An experience I had personally seen many times when going to deliveries as the baby doctor and I loved the added anticipation and festive announcement. We had been looked after by our wonderful GP thus far but as the second trimester rolled around I transferred my care to Dr Jordana Scharnberg at Woman Kind.
“The little baby kicks absolutely melt me. I first felt a little ‘bubble’ sensation at 15 weeks and five days, super early! But I knew it was him and as the kicks got stronger I fell in love with our little daily connections. The 20-week morphology scan was an experience. I think having knowledge in the field of babies both has its benefits and detriments. I started off by asking the sonographer if our baby had 10 fingers and 10 toes…. two kidneys? No dilated renal pelvis? What about the heart chambers? Is my umbilical artery flow ok?! The poor lady. Lucky to our great relief absolutely every was perfect with our growing little human.”
‘I felt guilt’
When it was time to take the glucose tolerance test, Tenae found she wasn’t able to keep it down.
“We decided the next best thing would be to ensure we didn’t have a massive baby on board by getting growth scans. The 20-week morphology scan had our baby sitting around the 60th percentile. At this point, we thought it was an appropriate, just above normal, size to very much consider a vaginal birth. My hesitations arose at the next scan. I have autoimmune arthritis and my spine, hips, pelvis, ankles and jaw are affected and it would very likely impede my body’s ability to accommodate even a normal-sized baby given my multiple areas of fusion.
“The 32 week scan had our baby’s overall size sitting around the 95th percentile and the 36 week scan around the 98th with a head circumference greater than the 99th percentile! This cheeky little chubba was also breech right up until around 34 weeks and then had the most ‘unstable lie’ where he kept flipping between being cephalic (head down) and transverse (sideways) every few days.”
“The guilt I felt about deciding between trying a vaginal birth or booking an elective caesarean was insane! Society had me thinking my body ‘was made to birth a baby’ and that a vaginal birth was the best and only outcome I should be considering. I had tears pouring from my eyes on multiple occasions when discussing the options with my husband. Our beautiful obstetrician was so incredibly supportive of each and every kind of birth I wanted to explore and didn’t push me in any way. I almost wish she had just made the decision for me but in retrospect, it was so empowering to know I had control over the final verdict.
“I think having been to hundreds of deliveries really helped put things into perspective – I had been to some absolutely beautiful and uncomplicated vaginal and caesarean births, but I had also been to vaginal births where the mother had torn horribly or needed to be rushed to theatre, failed inductions, shoulder dystocia’s or elective sections that surprisingly weren’t simple and I needed to preform CPR on the baby. There is a massive spectrum of birth experiences and at the end of the day I had to think about it logically – I had a massive baby who kept flipping around like a fish undecided if he wanted to actually stay head down, with a dodgy pelvis that might not actually even be able to open up enough and the only thing I really didn’t want in my birth journey was a caesarean under general anaesthesia.”
A maternal-assisted caesarean
“To ensure the safety of both myself and baby we decided on an elective caesarean. To plan appropriately given my arthritis I had an MRI to review the extent of the damage in my spine. I was told it was about a 50:50 chance that the anaesthetist could even get the spinal in versus me needing to go under for my caesarean. That scared me down to my arthritic ridden bones. I really wanted to be awake for the birth of my baby. However, I did like the idea of the anaesthetist being able to insert my spinal under zero pressure, with as much time as they needed rather than under emergency circumstances if a vaginal birth was going poorly.
“We told Dr Scharnberg that we had decided on an elective section and my husband jokingly said that I had assisted in theatre for many caesareans before getting into paediatrics and that I could ‘give her a hand’ if she needed. She then, to my surprise, promptly ran with it and asked if in fact, I wanted to be scrubbed into theatre and help her! I had heard of maternal assisted caesareans but I didn’t even know if they were an option in South Australia and in the heat of everything going on I didn’t even think to ask if I could do it. Massive dad points to my husband for knowing I would absolutely LOVE the opportunity!
“From there we discussed all the specifics on how it would actually work – sterilising my hands, wearing the special gown, how I would reach in and pull my own baby out etc. etc. It was an instant yes from me! I couldn’t think of a better way to be the most involved in my planned caesarean and could not wait!”
‘My pelvis wasn’t coping’
“During my pregnancy I had sat my written paediatric exams and at 34 weeks pregnant I flew (with my husband, just in case) to Melbourne to sit my clinical paediatric exams. I am so glad I attempted both of the exams because even with my ‘baby brain’ I passed but, wow, getting up and down to examine multiple children under exam conditions while THAT pregnant was a real struggle! The day of the exam actually was the first time this baby boy flipped from breech to cephalic! That was definitely an experience I wouldn’t wish on anyone with a baby that big! I am assuming it was the massive physical component of the exam that encouraged him to flip-flop around
“By the end of my pregnancy I was hot and sweaty even though it was winter, extremely swollen, my arthritis had taken a hit and my pelvis just wasn’t coping, I had bilateral severe carpel tunnel and couldn’t even hold my phone at times, I couldn’t sleep unless sitting up because of the reflux but also had intense pregnancy insomnia and the waddle/limp was real. Plus, vomiting with a massive pregnant belly really hurts! I was beyond ready to meet this little baby and to be finished with being pregnant!”
‘It was so surreal’
“The day I became a mother simply started like any other Friday. I woke up, had a light breakfast and a coffee and pottered around the house. Cameron had obviously taken the day off work but our caesarean wasn’t booked until 6pm, so we finished packing our things and then actually went on a tour of the childcare centre we loved the look of. One of the educators asked me when I was due – ‘in exactly 8 hours’ I responded. We then went out for lunch to our favourite Vietnamese restaurant and met our best friends at the movies (who were 35 weeks pregnant also!). I couldn’t even tell you what we watched that day, I spent the entire time way too excited about what was about to happen, and kept looking at the time as if I would accidentally miss my own caesarean!
“We came home, packed the car with the final little things, took some last minute ‘this is the last time we are home and pregnant’ photos, and headed to Burnside Hospital. That car ride was surreal. There was an empty little car seat in the back for the very last time. It was the last time Cam and I would sit holding hands listening to the radio as just us two. It was also the last time (for this pregnancy anyway) I would grunt and groan when trying to swivel myself into the car with this beautiful big baby bump.
“We got to the hospital and our wonderful midwife was waiting for us. She swiftly put on the CTG to triple check baby was doing well, got me to change into a gown, took a blood test and gave Cameron his set of surgical scrubs. Cameron went around and unpacked our hospital bags and made the room feel cosy and tranquil. I had my fan set up, phone chargers plugged in, colostrum in the fridge and baby’s little first outfits and swaddles all ready to go. There was a moment when the midwife had stepped out that I just looked at Cameron and the empty little bassinet in our room and teared up. We were SO close to meeting our baby and it had felt like a lifetime that I had been waiting for this exact moment, with this exact man and I could have just pinched myself with how unreal and special it all felt.”
‘I lost movement in my legs’
“Dr Scharnberg came into our room early just to chat (and I think to settle my nerves!). She had said everything was ready to go but we had a slight change of plans with the anaesthetist. My planned anaesthetist whom I had my appointments and who had organised the MRI to visualise what spinal space to use etc was going to be stuck in theatre for another few hours. She had sent her colleague in, which rattled me slightly, to be honest, but he turned out to be absolutely lovely and I had all the confidence in him even prior to heading into theatre.
“The time came for us to head upstairs! I felt like was watching it all unfold from an outsiders perspective, just following my midwife’s instructions, watching Cameron push our baby’s bassinet to theatre full of his or her little blanket and beanie and birth paperwork. We briefly sat in a clinic room and I answered some pre-operative questions while holding Cameron’s hand and trying to remain as calm as physically possible before heading into major abdominal surgery…. while awake…. that I was participating in! I was wheeled around into theatre and then wobbled over to the operating bed, sat on the edge and crossed my fingers. This was the moment I was dreading. The anaesthetist would either get the spinal in and I would get this incredible birth experience, or he wouldn’t and I would be put to sleep and miss the birth of my first child.
“I felt the cold anaesthetic solution painted across my back, I ‘rounded like a cat’, which was so incredibly hard to do with a massive baby still inside my abdomen, and I felt the sting of the spinal needle followed by a wave of warmth running up my legs! It hurt, I won’t lie, it was like sciatica pains on steroids. But I KNEW that warm feeling must have meant the spinal was in! I was told to lay down and very quickly I lost movement of my legs.
“What a strange phenomenon – to see the theatre staff literally lifting up my legs and having a vague sensation that they were touching me, but not actually being able to really feel it or even remotely move a little toe! All of a sudden I felt like I could allow myself to be present. I could relax. The spinal was in. I was going to be awake and have this incredibly major role in my baby’s birth.”
Gloved and gowned
“They sat Cameron in a chair at my head end and instructed him not to touch anything blue (sterile). He ran his fingers through my hair and kissed my forehead. I could feel his radiating love and could tell he also was incredibly relieved the spinal worked. He began massaging my head as he was chatting to me about what was going on around me and it was the most soothing and perfect thing he could have done.
“Dr Scharnberg began prepping her surgical site by painting my abdomen with an antiseptic preparation. She then prepped my hands with the same liquid and we waited for it all to dry. She was already ‘gloved and gowned’ which meant she was sterile and ready to operate. She did the same thing to me, put my gown on followed by my surgical gloves. I have put my own surgical gloves on numerous times before and it was a peculiar feeling for someone else to be putting them on for me. Once they were half on I took over and fixed the gloves up myself.
“They kept to drape down and began my surgery. Unfortunately, the nausea and vomiting wanted one last hurrah but my anaesthetist was quick on the anti-nausea meds and I successfully vomited with my head completely sideways without ruining the sterile surgical field! I remember feeling very short of breathe. It’s an odd thing to be paralysed to your chest and not be able to take a deep breathe in. Dr Scharnberg described a caesarean perfectly, ‘it’s like you can feel someone doing the dishes in your abdomen’. That is exactly what it felt like. Not painful in the slightest, but this bizarre pressure and stretching and open type feeling. These sensations evoked some anxiety which in turn made me want to, ineffectively, hyperventilate even more. Cameron’s calming voice, his ‘I am right here, baby’, ‘you are doing such a good job’, ‘I am so proud of you’, was the only thing keeping me centered at that point and I just closed my eyes and focused on the sound of his voice and the soft touch of his fingers on my scalp.”
‘Something switched inside me’
“I heard Cameron gasp and voice ‘ooohhh!!!’. He could see our babies head! Little did I know that at this point our baby was so stuck that Dr Scharnberg had to use forceps that almost didn’t fit around his ginormous head and that his umbilical cord was tightly wrapped around his little neck. I lifted my head and peered over my bump. I could also see his head! I could see these two little scrunched up eyes, chubby cheeks and his dark brown sleeked back hair! Jordy instructed me to reach down and my hands met hers. She placed my fingers up and under his shoulders and instructed me to lift him out. It felt so natural. I did exactly what she said and lifted my very own baby out of my abdomen. I then had this scrumptious, BIG, borderline oedematous baby in my own hands and finally on the outside world. My very own lion king moment transpired as I straightened out my arms to truly see my baby for the very first time. Cameron excitedly burst out with an ‘ohhhh, Happy Birthday!’ and I placed him straight on my chest.
“Unfortunately, something then switched inside me and I very much turned back into a paediatric doctor. He wasn’t yet breathing, he was grey, flat and lifeless. I promptly began vigorous stimulation by rubbing his back hard! I willed my baby to breathe. I looked up at the paediatrician who was there ready to take him if needed. I kept the stimulation going and moved his head to the side so to open up his airway. To our somewhat relief we heard this little grunt and attempt to cry.
“He began moving a limb and I again lifted him up to re-assess the situation. At this point both my husband and I, at the exact same time, called out ‘it’s a boy!’. I think we had forgotten in the heat of it all that we actually didn’t know who he was just yet. I was offered to cut his cord, the last connection between me and him, but I wanted him to be swiftly given to our paediatrician so asked for Dr Scharnberg to cut it instead.”
“I continued the enthusiastic stimulation and then passed our beautiful BOY over to our skilled paediatrician to continue his resuscitation. About 60 seconds passed and I honestly thought my very own heart had stopped beating. Then, I heard this almighty cry and I could breathe once again. Thank god. What a beautiful sound to hear, he was going to be OK. The tears came rolling, my baby was here and safe and I got to deliver him. It all felt so surreal. Cam then went over to the resuscitation area and all I could see was our baby’s little foot wriggling around and Cameron holding his hand.
“Cam successfully completed his first job as a dad and cut/trimmed his cord, I took my gloves and gown off and our baby was swiftly passed back to me for our first magical skin-to-skin cuddle. ‘This is our baby!’ I said to Cam as soon as he was placed on my bare chest. Almost in disbelief but mostly in utter relief. He and all his cheeks, his perfectly formed button nose and scrumptiously big lips. He and his perfectly beating heart and now working lungs.”
‘The best decision ever made’
“He was and is a divine little soul. That was a wildly beautiful, empowering and exhilarating experience. And how lucky are we to be gifted this wonderful opportunity to be his parents and finally experience unconditional love.
“We were fortunate enough to film the whole birth and I absolutely adore one part right before our baby entered the world where Cameron looked at me, still massaging my head, and said ‘this is the best decision we have ever made’. I could not agree more. My heart is happy like it has never been before and my world feels all of a sudden complete. Cedric, you are pure perfection and are more than I could have ever hoped for.”
It fills our hearts with happiness to know that Tenae and Cameron have achieved their dream of becoming parents and we wish this beautiful family of three all the very best with their future.
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 was bleeding for my entire first trimester’
- Birth Story: ‘I delivered our baby, against all odds of another c section’
- Birth Story: ‘My beautiful twins were born on my birthday’
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