Operation I never wanted ended up saving my life

Yael Stone labours at home with her partner, Jack.
Yael Stone labours at home with her partner, Jack. Photo: Alex Vaughan

In Greek mythology, Myrrha was so afraid to give birth she begged the gods to take pity on her and they transformed her into a tree; but life would not be held back and her son Adonis split open her trunk on arrival. There’s some very good reasons to think twice about how you want to give birth, but for some of us the choice will be out of our hands.

I always felt drawn to growing a baby. I couldn’t really picture parenting but the magic and intensity of pregnancy and birth always fascinated me. I found my body’s biological insistence to reproduce an empowering instinct. Finding blood in my undies at 13, I was impressed with myself and I felt almost the exact same way being pregnant. When people congratulated me on growing a human I’d think of all the plants I’d killed and how this baby seemed to grow itself. I was awed by my body and trusting it seemed the only meaningful thing I could do.

Naturally, I extended this feeling of wonder and trust to the birth. My partner Jack had been born at home, my friends had their babies at home and every book, article and research paper I read seemed to say to me loud and clear that giving birth at home was the best option for someone my age who was in good health, with a totally uncomplicated pregnancy. I had been a sickly kid and as an adult I had worked hard to feel strong in my body. At 33, I’d become a certified yoga and meditation teacher and giving birth without pain relief at home had unconsciously become the symbol of fully reclaiming my body’s power.

Yael Stone, far right, with her Orange is the New Black co-stars at the Screen Actors Guild Awards last year.
Yael Stone, far right, with her Orange is the New Black co-stars at the Screen Actors Guild Awards last year. Photo: Matt Sayles/Invision/AP

Obstetrician-gynaecologists didn’t support our homebirth vision. On the other side of the coin, the private midwife felt an obstetrician-gynaecologist was unnecessary in a healthy pregnancy. Working with the midwives connected to the hospital was an option but I learned our birth would have to adhere to certain progressions at certain times or face intervention. I wanted to trust my body to do its job in its own time while also having a safe experience for myself and our baby but we seemed to be at the centre of a rift between two worlds. Ultimately we had to choose one or the other and we decided to commit to the full home-birth experience.

I remember the flush of pride when the midwife arrived, doubtful we were really in active labour, and found I was 6 centimetres dilated. “You’re so relaxed I never would have thought it." All my dreams coming true; thinking quietly that, as I suspected, I was going to be good at this. I relished the next 10 or so hours, naked and strong. Choosing the music. Making the jokes. Breathing through the incredible drag and pull of mounting contractions. Sharing the power and strength of the waves with Jack, I felt a palpable love flowing back and forth between us working together for our baby.

Around 16 hours into our labor, I felt things take a turn. Jack was holding my exhausted body in the birth pool, I started talking to my body, "I know you know how to do this. I won’t stand in your way." I could hear the sounds of the words reverberating through my body and remember feeling powerful talking this way, as though I was casting a spell. I hoped this was the transition phase and now I expected a great power lying in wait in my bones that would rise up and push this baby safely to us.

At around 18 hours, I lay alone in our bathroom staring up at the heat lamps, pretending their warmth on my skin was some friendly celestial blessing. I had pushed and pushed but with no success. The midwife looked down at me with a grim disappointment discovering my cervix was not fully dilated. Something felt very wrong. Navigating a crushing sense of failure, I gave up on the homebirth, gave up on my belief in my body and asked to be taken to the hospital.

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By hour 21 of labor I was being rushed off for an emergency C section. When our beautiful daughter arrived she needed help to breathe and I needed help stay conscious. Without modern medicine and the expertise of the doctors and nurses our baby would not be here, I would not be here. Our birth experience was not what I’d wanted for but I know how lucky I am to hold my baby and feel her heart beating next to mine. I wrestle with what to do with this experience, it will take time to make peace with it. In searching for the positive I learned about the @aminatafoundation who are saving mothers and babies in Sierra Leone where you are 200 times more likely to die giving birth than in Australia, where I was lucky enough to give birth. I’m grateful to Aminata and part of my healing will be making a donation. Link to their website in my profile. Image by @alexvaughanphoto

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Things seemed to move very quickly at the hospital. We’d gone from the soft warmth of home to the blinding fluro of the hospital. From no drugs to all the drugs. From naked to gowns and hairnets. We discovered I had a pathological junction between my upper and lower uterus called a Bandl’s ring, a sign of obstructed labour, and - much worse than that - our baby was in distress. Surgery was the only option.


Many women have brilliant unassisted births without intervention of any kind. I celebrate them and their babies. For myself and our baby, I could not be more grateful to have had the option of a public hospital that was stocked with the medicine, equipment and doctors and nurses who proved so essential in meeting our precious daughter. Many women and their babies the world over are not so lucky. The latest studies, published in the Herald at the weekend show Caesarian sections remain out of reach for many in low-income countries and regions.

Personally, I would never have opted for a voluntary C-section but I wouldn’t be here if it were not for the operation.

There is a version of this story where I put myself and our baby in grave danger to prove a point, a martyr to the home birth cause. Ten minutes on Google reveals an argument with home births at one end and hospital births at the other.This chasm is putting mothers and babies at risk.

The rift seems wildly unnecessary, with obvious benefits for families if home birth midwives and hospitals could work together to create the most positive birth experience for women making choices anywhere along the birth continuum.

If we can bridge this gap, mothers and their babies will be at their best when fully supported in choosing what feels safest for them. Not having to face the fear of failure and guilt if Mother Nature chooses a different course for the child than the original birth plan, as it did in my case.

The birth I had imagined turned out to be an illusion. The parenting I had struggled to picture turns out to be the greatest revelation of all. The love that comes with our new little person is overwhelmingly beautiful. The birth will take time and energy to heal from, but the power of the life it created is much more profound, with a story that will carry us so much further than its beginning.

Yael Stone is an Australian actor. She gave birth to a baby girl in May. If you want to help women, who don’t have the same healthcare support as in Australia, give safe birth please donate to the Aminata Maternal Foundation.