Do you love stories? My children and I do. Every night, as part of our night-time ritual, we would tell stories or read tales of different kinds. And each night, the children would always be fascinated with the storytelling, even when it’s the same thing over and over. Over the years, I’ve come to notice that my daughters seem to love stories about our real past experiences: ones that tell about our own childhood, our experiences growing up, and even the times when it was just me and her dad, then mostly, of stories about her as a baby. Wouldn’t you know it? As we grow older, the same thing applies. According to psychological research, people remember stories far more easily than data and facts. It isn’t any wonder therefore that in our learning, people especially remember stories shared by mothers and fathers who have already experienced what it is like to give birth. Scientific and research-based facts are important indeed, but stories seem to work their way into their minds as well as their hearts.
So in this series, I’d like to share with you wonderful stories from mothers who have been through what you are about to go through. These are real-life stories about strength, resilience, and faith in one’s self.
Watch the video or read the text. Eitherway, be inspired.
Meet Mommy Anne Roblas, wife to Ivan and a mother to three wonderful children.
Anne and Ivan had their first baby in 2015, when Anne was in her mid-thirties. Like many first time parents, she wanted to plan and be ready for their child. So she read extensively and found that at 36 years old, she was already considered to be at an advanced maternal age. In her research, she read that this put her at risk for a lot of complications.
But Anne had high hopes. After all, she got pregnant even when it was hard to conceive for the first time at her age. She knew the challenges she would be facing, but it was their first child and she was willing to put in the work.
Placenta Previa, First Birth with Cesarean Around her fifth month of pregnancy, Anne was diagnosed with placenta previa. Placenta previa is a condition when a baby’s placenta partially or totally covers the mother’s cervix (where the baby is supposed to be delivered through). This may cause bleeding all throughout the pregnancy. But while she had already come across the possibility of this in her research, Anne did not know much about the condition and they were praying that the previa would eventually resolve on its own.
At first, Anne’s OB-Gyn recommended that she take two weeks time off from work, hoping the baby and her placenta would move into a better position and the previa would self-resolve. However, even without other symptoms and movement kept at the minimum, she would bleed. So the doctor kept on extending her time off, to relieve her body from undue stress. Before they knew it, two weeks turned into two months and by then, she was already on her 32nd week.
With nothing to do on her time off, Anne kept reading about placenta previa. She read about other women who had the same issues in their pregnancy – some of them good, others bad. But she decided to focus on the good: on the successful deliveries and positive birth stories. She knew how important it was to stay strong.
Anne shares, “Wala ka nama’ng kakampi. Ikaw dapat ang mas malakas ang loob. Ikaw ang nagdadala ng bata. Iniwasan kong mag-dwell sa negative. Unang-una, kailangan kong tibayan ang loob ko, kasi ito na nga yung nararanasan ko, ganito ang edad mo tapos hindi mo pa lalakasan ang loob mo?”
(You had no ally. You had to have strength of resolve; you were the one who was carrying the child. I had to avoid dwelling on the negative. First of all, I needed to be strong; I was already going through something, and I was at this age, how can you not be strong?)
What gave her strength, according to Anne, were the birth stories from many different women with the same condition. It was also through these stories that she found out about doulas.
With all the challenges Anne had to go through during her pregnancy, she was still able to have a gentle C-section birth. She felt very well taken care of and she was even able to extend her pregnancy to almost 39 weeks, surprising her OB-Gyne who was supposed to induce her labor two weeks earlier. Placenta previa is a very valid reason for a C-Section delivery, because massive bleeding was possible, and the baby had to be born first before the placenta.
The Dream of a VBAC
Still, a natural birth was on her mind. She even asked her anesthesiologist if the procedure would affect her chances for a Vaginal Birth after Caesarean (VBAC). Even though her husband Ivan wasn’t even thinking about having another child at that point, Anne had her heart set on experiencing a natural birth.
Before their eldest turned two, Anne and Ivan started trying to conceive. They offered novenas and prayers, but it was taking a while. Anne had almost given up, giving away all of her maternity dresses and baby clothes. But two months after she gave them away, she found out she was pregnant.
“Na-feel ko talaga na, yun pa lang nalaman ko na buntis ako for the second (time), ‘Wow, clean slate talaga ito,’”Anne recalls fondly. “Bago talaga ito, sabi ko. Gusto talaga siguro ng Diyos na bago ‘to lahat. Parang bitawan natin ‘yung nakaraan.” (I really felt like, when I got pregnant for the second time, ‘Wow, this is a clean slate! This is really new, I said. God really wants this to be new. It was like, we need to let go of the past.)
Come her fifth month of the second pregnancy, as she went through her ultrasound, she expected to be told that she had placenta previa again. Imagine her and her husband’s surprise when they found out that everything was going well with the pregnancy and she did not have placenta previa this time around. She went through all her journal entries during her first pregnancy, and that was when she remembered how much she longed for a VBAC.
But when she brought up her wishes to her OB-Gyne, she was told that they had to wait for six years after the first delivery before a VBAC could be possible. Disappointed, but not disheartened, she remembered what all her research revealed: With all it entails, handling a VBAC birth was actually a competence that your current doctor may or may not possess. She should not get angry if the OB-Gyne refused, and more importantly, she remembered that as a client, she has the freedom to choose who will help her give birth.
During her first pregnancy, Anne wanted to take birthing classes but was dissuaded during sign-up. On her second pregnancy, she was decided on not getting caught off guard so she attended Binhi Childbirth Preparation Class, Pinay Doula Collective’s birthing class, with her husband. It was in this class when I first met her.
I could tell from that first meeting that Anne had a goal. She had a fire in her eyes and a willingness to take in all the information that we were also ready to share. This is a very important characteristic of a mother who wants a gentle birth, with VBAC being a secondary goal.
For her second pregnancy, Anne decided on a doctor and a doula to form her birth team. Dra. Bev Ferrer from Bacoor, Cavite became her new OB-Gyne and she also signed me on as her doula. At first, both she and her husband were on the fence in shifting healthcare providers. But in the end, they realized that as the client, it is their right to choose who they want on their team when they welcome their child into the world.
Here Comes Birth Because she had placenta previa in her previous pregnancy and never experienced labor, it was not really clear to Anne what signs of labor to look out for. On her 40th week, she had a very full day shuffling back and forth: from an ultrasound in Bacoor, a checkup in Makati to a prayer meeting and a heavy dinner afterwards, she was hardly expecting anything that day but a good rest.
The discomfort she was feeling towards the end of the day lasted all through the night. She was finally able to sleep at 5 AM the following day, with occasional contractions. When she woke up, she went through her usual routine to take her mind off the contractions, readying her hospital bags and downloading a contraction timer. She even went through the usual chores at home, thinking it may be the last time she’s able to do anything before the baby arrives.
At 2 AM the following day, after another restless night, Anne and Ivan finally decided to head on to Mother and Child Cradle of Health, where Dra. Bev handles patients in Bacoor. When they arrived, she was already in active labor, but Anne realized that she was not yet ready to push. The tub was prepared and once Anne submerged on the tub, the warmth of the water seemed to relax her body. It was natural, since she had been so tired the whole day before.
While Daddy Ivan was supporting Anne during her contractions, I spent time with their little boy in the same room with stories and food, while also keeping an eye on them. That is one of the beauties of a doula’s job; we go where we are needed.
Near noontime the following day, after hugs, kisses, and songs from both Daddy Ivan and their eldest, all it took was a sideways move coached by Doc Bev, and then we welcomed their new daughter into the world. Anne felt beautiful, despite the long days leading to Carmeli’s birth. She also appreciated how much the birth plan we created during our early days of preparation helped her express her wishes to both her doctor and me, as well as her husband.
Third Pregnancy, Covid-Time
As if her two previous pregnancies were not eventful enough, Anne’s third pregnancy came just before their second child’s first birthday. It was just as the Covid-19 pandemic was rapidly spreading. Her last face-to-face checkup with Doc Bev was January 2020, right before Taal Volcano erupted. Her estimated delivery date was on the first week of May, just as the whole country was put on Enhanced Community Quarantine. She worried about transportation and the possibility of not being able to cross check points.
Looking back, Anne said that many things she had learned from her previous pregnancies helped her prepare for their third child. “You need to come to terms with the realities,” she said. She made sure that she was fully aware of the health and safety protocols, as well as what to do especially if she had to give birth on her own. She spent most of her pregnancy with no updates as to the condition of her placenta, but with prayer and courage, she pushed through.
Anne kept in mind all the birth wishes she had written during her second pregnancy. “Ito ang birth plan ko, ito ang desires ko. Kailangan pa rin paghandaan,” she said. (This is my birth plan, these are my desires. We still need to prepare.)
In the end, even when they considered giving birth someplace else, Anne was able to give birth at Doc Bev’s again in Bacoor. Her third delivery was fortunately quick and smooth. With the second wave of contractions, her youngest child came out in the water.
She considered it a blessing: the familiarity of the place and the people. Her family was able to be there with her in the birthing room. She only prayed for the safe delivery of her baby, whether it is at the hospital, at home, or wherever. She thought that there was no way to have her birth wishes fulfilled this time around.
“Ang bait ng Diyos, He paved the way for everything to happen na maging gentle ang birth even in the midst of uncertainty. And sabi ko kahit wala si Doula Ros noon dahil bawal, naririnig ko pa rin ang boses niya sa aking brain.” (God is good, He paved the way for everything to happen, for a gentle birth even in the midst of uncertainty. Even if Doula Ros was not around due to restrictions, I could still hear her voice inside my head. I could hear her in my brain.)
In the end, Anne had this to say to all the women who are eagerly awaiting the birth of their child:
“Own your birth. Hindi mo iyan maipa-pattern sa ibang tao. It is your birth, your story, your body. Ibig sabihin may kakayanan kang matutunan kung ano ang kailangan mong matutunan para sa gusto mo na birth. May kakayanan ka ring pumili ng mga tao na gusto mong kasama para mapagtagumpayan o para ma-attain yung goal mo, kung ano yung gusto mong kind of birth. And lastly, yung intindihin kung ano yung mga daranasin mo. Yung parang, maghihirap ka pero alam mo e, maganda yung alam mo ang kakaharapin mo. Gusto mo’ng mag-epidural? Okay, dapat alam mo yung kakaharapin mo. At dapat i-own mo yun. You need to equip yourself as a person, as a mom, as a woman. You are not doing this (for) your baby or anyone else. You are doing it para sa sarili mo. Kasi at the end of the day, babae ka, nanay ka, may mga needs ka at may mga desires ka pa rin after birth, so it is good to own yung mga decisions mo. Kasi pagdating sa dulo, siguro kung ano man ang kahinatnan, meron talagang joy of fulfillment after everything, regardless of whatever happens. Dahil gusto mo yun, pag-aralan mo. You seek advice, you assess yung sarili mo, kaya mo ba. At hinaharap mo yung realities.”