Ffyona McKeating, 41, from Lancashire, is mum to Lara, two and Darcy, eight months. After years of infertility issues, Ffyona delivered both her much-longed-for babies by C-section - but Darcy's birth was by rarely performed 'natural C-section'.
In a natural caesarean section the baby is born via a small incision made in the abdomen. In a traditional C-section the baby is lifted out manually. But in a natural C-section the mother is injected with a drug called Syntometrine to stimulate 'labour'. The drug mimics oxytocin, a natural hormone released through the pituitary gland towards the end of pregnancy to stimulate the uterus to contract during labour and push the baby through the birth canal. In a natural C-section, the baby is pushed directly out of the incision in the uterus.
When did you first realise that having a baby wasn't going to be straightforward?
When I was 36, I got pregnant for the first time really easily, but our 12-week scan revealed our baby had died. I was shocked and devastated. After two more miscarriages before 12 weeks we decided to investigate and underwent a barrage of tests (my husband Grant is an NHS consultant) and were told that we were both totally normal reproductively.
What happened then?
Two more babies died in my womb, and I had to deliver them after 12 weeks and experience labour. They were dark days.
At this point, further blood tests finally revealed an issue, a 'HLA DQ Alpha match'which meant my husband and I were too genetically similar - and at least 25% of any children we made would only have a fighting chance if my immune system was seriously suppressed by a rigorous drug regime.
I felt so relieved it wasn't my fault: it was a joint issue, and drew us even closer together. Then I fell pregnant again - with our eldest daughter, Lara.
When did you find out about the option of a 'natural C-section'?
After two traumatic labours, I didn't feel that I was mentally equipped to go through another. Our consultant advised an elective C-section with Lara. We made it to just before 36 weeks when, despite planning the C-section early, I went into labour and delivered our beautiful Lara by emergency Caesarean.
As with most C-section babies, Lara was very 'snuffly' and her stomach and respiratory tract were congested with mucus. It meant breastfeeding was very difficult in those first few days.
When I was about 34 weeks pregnant with Darcy, my consultant asked if I had heard of a natural C-section. Although delivering a baby vaginally may seem at first sight to be a bit of a tall order for a woman's body, it is actually a brilliant way of squeezing all the amniotic fluid from the baby's lungs, throat and stomach. One of the disadvantages of a C-section, is that this 'wringing' doesn't occur, given that the baby is 'lifted' and not squeezed out.
How did the birth go?
At 39 weeks I went into hospital to deliver Darcy. The first part of the procedure, administering the spinal block, was exactly the same as with Lara. I told the surgeon that I didn't want to see the incision being made, but I did want to see everything after that.
With the view temporarily obstructed, I realised that they were cutting me open, and indeed the next moment I heard suction as I realised they had opened the amniotic sac. My waters spilled out over the table.The surgeon said, 'Ok, we're ready to go - want to see now?', and I nodded slowly.
The drape was lowered, and I heard a gargled cry and saw a small, white waxy head poking out of my open abdomen, spluttering fluid. I was instantly overwhelmed.
The anaesthetist told me to watch carefully for the magic to begin, and she injected Syntometrine into the cannula in my hand to make my uterus strongly contract.
Of course, I could feel nothing but the reaction was instantaneous. It was as if a guiding hand from underneath the baby pushed her slowly up and out – and she made her way out of my womb all by herself.
It was one of the most spectacular things I have ever seen. I was watching her from behind and could see this long vernix-covered back and arms make their way out of me unassisted, under the stark theatre lights, only a foot from my face. They eventually lifted her up, but I had yet to see her face properly and was twitching to get a first clear glimpse of our baby girl.
By now she was crying healthily and loudly, and relief flooded over me. We kissed and cuddled and cried, as little Darcy was cleaned up, and given back to us before snuggling into me. She weighed 7lbs 4oz.
We couldn't believe how warm and immaculate she was, and I put my cheek to her tiny face to smell all that brand newness. I was astonished at this tiny second little life we had made.
Looking back, how did the two births differ?
I felt a lot calmer when I delivered Darcy. There is something quite beautiful about watching your own child be born in such a serene manner, whilst being totally pain free. Feeding Darcy was far easier in the early days, and we are still enjoying breastfeeding now.
How are things for you now?
We feel so blessed and it makes us want to do all we can to help other couples feel that same joy.
Without our medical backgrounds, we would never have been able to discover and research all we did. So we decided to start our own non-profit website, Fertility Fighters, using our qualifications and experiences, along with an equally altruistically motivated team of doctors, qualified nurses, midwives, doulas and other health professionals to help moderate the boards and give support and advice.
The response we have had has been nothing short of amazing, and we have had some head-spinning success stories. It's been a rollercoaster, but this makes it all worthwhile.
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