I spent my last week at work, my 37th week of pregnancy, revelling in the gentle tightening of my belly from Braxton Hicks and although I was so ready to meet you, I was hopeful that I would have a week of maternity leave to finish preparing our home before you arrived.
Of course, it turned out to be many more weeks before you made your way into my waiting arms. I went on a nesting spree; scrubbing the walls and very steep stairs to the loft and then washing and sorting your tiny clothes. On the last days with you in my belly, I drank raspberry leaf tea in the room where you were to be born and watched a pair of Sri Lankan turtle doves build a nest in our backyard. I wondered if they chose our backyard because I was also building a nest and whether I would see their babies before I saw you.
As the end of my 41st week of pregnancy approached I was tired, swollen and frustrated. After weeks of signs that labour was imminent, I still woke up each morning without you in my arms. I saw our osteopath for a massage and our midwife G reminded me that you would come to meet us when you were ready to. It turned out to be her last visit before you were born.
On a Friday night, your Dad cooked a delicious prawn and banana flower salad for dinner. We relaxed together and climbed into bed just before midnight. I was giggly and full of energy for the first time in days and your poor dad was exhausted and tried in vain to go to sleep as I chatted excitedly to him. I eventually wound down and started to fall asleep but felt a huge surge of energy and pressure that woke me up completely. Confused, I got out of bed for a few minutes and wondered if the chilli-laden dinner was giving me the worst reflux of my life. The feeling passed so I returned to bed and it happened again; I checked the time, 12:15am.
Then again, now 12:23am.
Ah! This is it. Unmistakable. Labour! Finally!
Your dad stirred. I told him you were on your way and to keep sleeping, that I’d wake him when I needed him. I knew it was early and that I needed to sleep and conserve my energy. I fell asleep with my hand on my belly, feeling your little body curled up inside mine. I woke every 8 minutes throughout the night, breathing deeply and sometimes needing to get up and rock on my hands and knees.
I got out of bed as the sun rose, and dozed on the couch in between surges. When I couldn’t sleep any more, I talked to you about what lay ahead. Your dad woke, we had some breakfast, I had a long shower and your dad ducked out to pick up some last minute things. I did a final load of washing which took me an hour to hang out, having to stop every few minutes to breathe and rock my hips.
I sent a text to G at 11:31am to let her know what was happening and that we would need her in the coming hours. Her reply, ‘lovely, stay in touch. Talk soon x’ made me smile and filled me with confidence – everything was so normal.
An hour later a message came out of the blue from a friend, ‘thinking of you xxx’. I nervously replied and she sent her love and perfect words of support – ‘you gorgeous thing – do what you know you can.’ I had a massive adrenalin rush; I’ve declared it, this really is happening! The waiting is over and I’m going to meet my baby.
By this point, surges were about 6 minutes apart and had been happening regularly for just over 12 hours. I say surges and not contractions because that’s exactly what they were – surges of warmth and energy that took me deeper into myself. Each one expanded my mind, my heart and my body. They left me feeling hazy and blissful as they ended. Like afterglow.
The sun soon started to set and your dad got busy cooking batches of vegie lasagne; some for dinner and some to share with our midwives after your birth. I sat on a fit ball and listened to Antony and The Johnsons, circling my hips and singing to you, focused inwards.
Yearning for more than a blue day
I enter your new life for me
Burning for the true day
I welcome your new life for me
Forgive me, Let live me
Set my spirit free
Losing, it comes in a cold wave
Of guilt and shame all over me
Child has arrived in the darkness
The hollow triumph of a tree
Forgive me, Let live me
Kiss my falling knee
Forgive me, Let live me
Bless my destiny
Forgive me, Let live me
Set my spirit free
Weakness sown, Overgrown
Man is the baby
Your dad and I shared our last meal as just the two of us and tried to watch a movie together. I needed rest but had to get up and move each time my belly tightened and released. We set up a pillow mountain for me to drape myself over and rest in between surges, getting up to rock on my hands and knees when they coursed through me. It approached midnight and I sent your dad to bed. I smiled in the quiet darkness, loving feeling us work together. I rested my hands on my belly and thanked you for teaching me to love and appreciate my body. I told you I would miss feeling you move in my belly and you kicked my hands.
Surges became stronger and closer together after that moment.
I realised I had started vocalising through them and was keeping my head down and eyes closed, trance-like. Too excited to be away, your dad returned to me after only a couple of hours of sleep and held heat packs on my back. It was his birthday now! I wished him Happy Birthday and we laughed that you better be born today because I hadn’t organised a gift for him.
Exhaustion started to set in and I decided I needed some extra support. I asked your dad to call G who came straight away, arriving just after 3am. She sat with me through a few surges, massaging my back and watching me. She gently encouraged me to make low sounds and reminded me to relax my shoulders and relax my jaw. Her presence gave me the reassurance and fresh energy I so needed. She told me we were doing wonderfully and sent us to bed. I managed to sleep in between 5 minute surges for a few hours and woke after another sunrise (I never expected that I’d labour through more than one) feeling well rested.
I had a long shower, savouring the hot water and how it lessened the intensity of the surges. When I came out, G told me she could tell from my voice that we were making good progress. I asked if we could get the pool ready and she suggested holding out for a bit longer. I kept moving – walking the hallway, rocking on the fit ball, climbing the stairs. When my belly tightened and released, I closed my eyes, breathed and moaned. The surges were longer and closer together, and their centre much deeper in my pelvis than before. Your body had noticeably descended.
G asked if she could listen to your heart. During her last visit, G accidentally dropped and broke her doppler so was now using one she had borrowed from another midwife. She gently put the doppler on my belly and I waited to hear your heartbeat. No sound. I could feel myself start to panic as G adjusted some buttons and tapped on the doppler to check it was working. She tried again to find your little heartbeat again but still no sound. Hot tears started to fill my eyes and your Dad squeezed my hand. G pressed some more buttons and tried again. Oh, there you are! Your strong little heart beating in perfect rhythm, like racehorses galloping under the sea. I asked if you were okay and G smiled and replied, ‘of course, darling! You knew that.’ She was right – I did. I asked if I could get in the pool now, and she agreed that sounded that like a great idea. Your dad went to fill it up and I stayed in our bedroom with G, working through surges with her at my side reminding me to breathe deep. Relax my shoulders, relax my jaw.
Just as I started feeling a bit sorry for myself and thinking I’d love a little break from all of this work, your dad came to tell me the pool was ready. I waddled into the lounge room, undressed and submerged myself in the warm water. Your Dad fed me watermelon. I floated on my back, finally weightless and able to rest my swollen, aching body. Each time a surge started to wash over me, I flipped over to my hands and knees and your Dad and G took turns pouring water over my back. After each one, I rested my head on the edge of the pool and slept until the next one woke me. I remember thinking this was blissful and easy, saying ‘I could do this for days,’ out loud. Your weary Dad didn’t look impressed and asked G if she thought we’d see our baby today. She smiled and said, ‘wouldn’t that be nice!’
I spent hours in the pool and eventually needed to get out to go to the bathroom. Giggling at my prune-like waterlogged fingers was cut short when the intensity of a surge doubled me over and left me breathless. I’d been feeling like a serene birthing goddess in the pool and now that I was out on land, I could feel my shoulders and thighs tense as I felt a surge beginning, bracing myself for the pain.
Pain. For the first time I felt pain rather than energy, pressure and intensity.
Although I was desperate to get back in the pool, G encouraged me to take the opportunity to move and create some more space in my pelvis. I climbed stairs and did sideways lunges with one foot up on the stairs. I was scared of the pain and tensed up, trying to escape it. My legs shook and I whimpered and complained like a petulant child. G spoke to me about how this hard work was helping to make room for you to move down and to not be afraid. She massaged my thighs, wobbled my hips (she called it ‘shaking apples’) and soothed me with reassuring words. I found my groove again and started to enjoy doing those lunges. I felt stronger and more powerful than I ever thought I could be and loved feeling my body being so productive. The more I relaxed into it, the more the pain dissipated.
When my legs started to falter under my weight, I climbed back into the pool and promptly vomited over the side and across the room. Surges were much more intense than before all of those lunges and despite the weightlessness I struggled to get comfortable.
It must have been close to 4:00pm when G said she was going to call the second midwife, M, to come and help. Shortly after there was a knock at the door and as your Dad answered, I moaned loudly through a long, powerful surge. Your Dad returned alone and I asked where M was. Your Dad told us it was a raffle ticket salesman who looked confused and distressed by the sounds coming from inside the house and quickly apologised and left. In my oxytocin haze, I laughed and wondered what he thought was happening.
M arrived shortly after – I felt her presence in the room and looked up to see her wide-eyed and smiling at me while I worked through a formidable surge.
I climbed out of the pool again, exhausted and uncomfortable. The pressure on my cervix was immense and it was incredibly difficult to walk. Your Dad and I spent some time alone in our room, working through surges together. He was such an incredible support – reassuring me, holding me and also understanding my need for space at the right moments. I was frustrated that you weren’t here yet and felt stuck – like I’d been in the same place for hours and that we weren’t getting any closer to meeting you. I started to wonder whether I could labour for much longer and told your Dad I was going to ask G to check my cervix.
Your Dad was so smart and wonderful. He knew that I didn’t want any exams and that G rarely did them. He asked me why I felt I needed it and how I would feel if the exam told us something I didn’t want to hear. After day and a half of labour, very little sleep and me voicing my fear that I was stuck and ready for this to be over, your Dad was still so patient and wise, trusting my body and trusting you.
G came in the room and I asked her if she would do an examination. She said she could, but that I was progressing wonderfully and that you would be born regardless of an exam. She asked me the same questions as your Dad. I was so grateful for my support people – they understood and respected my wishes and had such faith in you and I. I considered it for a few minutes and insisted that yes, I did want G to check.
She was so gentle but having to lie on my back, even just for a few minutes, was unbearable. Your Dad lay beside me and held my hand while I tried in vain to relax. G told me that my cervix was fully dilated on one side and about 7cm on the other side – you hadn’t fully rotated your little body just yet. She told me that if I wanted to help you rotate and descend the most useful thing to do would be to lie on my left side with my right leg slung across my body and to stay there for about 40 minutes. She warned me that it would be difficult. It seemed impossible.
I tried to get comfortable, your Dad spooning me and G sitting at my feet. A surge began and as it peaked, I screamed. It felt so counterintuitive – having to lie still when I desperately needed to get up and move. The next surge I shouted that I couldn’t do it. Your Dad held me tight and G massaged my feet and ankles and it was soon over. After a few more, I finally found a rhythm and was able to get through each surge. We all slept in between each one. It felt like only 15 minutes later when I was sure I was about to wet myself. I asked for help to get up and was shocked when G told me an hour had passed. The downwards pressure in my pelvis was unbelievable and I waddled as quickly as I could to the bathroom, hoping to avoid any surges while I was there. As soon as I sat down, I feel sick and yelled out for your Dad. Before he could get to me, I vomited across the floor and heard an audible pop. Your protective bag of water had finally released. I shouted out to G and M, ‘uhh…I think my waters broke.’ G shouted back from the lounge room, ‘I know! We heard it!’ It was 6:47pm on Sunday.
I tried to bounce on the fit ball but felt unsteady and wrong. I vomited again. Surges were coming over the top of each other and I could barely catch my breath between them. I wanted to get back in the pool but the water was now cold. M set about re-heating it and I returned to the bedroom. I was exhausted and started to panic. I cried and told your Dad I couldn’t do this. I was just a little girl. Not ready to grow up. Not strong enough for this. Not ready for a baby. Not ready to move forward. I told them you were never coming and that I wanted a caesarean. G told me that when I said that, she knew I was very close to meeting my baby. The logical part of my brain understood that this meant I was transitioning, but I still didn’t believe her. I growled again that I wanted a caesarean. Your Dad told me I was doing beautifully. G told me to surrender. To trust my body and go with it. That you were close. That birth is like making love.
Just surrender. Let go.
I whimpered and insisted again that you were never coming. I asked again for a caesarean. Your Dad told me I was doing it and that the pool was almost ready for me.
And then I focused and decided it was time to move forward. Time to claim this birth and time to be independent. Time to grow up. Time to be a woman.
I called out to you, ‘come on baby!!’
Almost immediately, I felt a huge rush of energy, as though I’d just woken up from a long sleep. Your head dropped through my cervix and started to descend.
‘Oh wow the baby’s coming! I can feel it moving down.’
I dropped down on my hands and knees, my hips low to the floor. I roared. Roared like a lioness. I had imagined a gentle, quiet birth, breathing my baby out but instead was primal and animal and LOUD. Instinct took over and my body involuntarily pushed with each surge. After existing in a hormone fog for days, I was now completely lucid. I could feel your every move and was captivated by how powerful we were. Awesome doesn’t come close to describing how I felt. This was our beginning.
I touched the top of your head, almost ready to be born. I heard M’s voice saying the pool was ready. I got up onto my feet, power walked to the lounge room and climbed into the pool – faster than I had moved in months. I kneeled and leaned over the side of the pool, reaching down to stroke your head, about to emerge. I felt the next surge build, squeezed your Dad’s hands and roared. I heard G remind me to breathe, to slow down. Another surge started and as it peaked, I thought my pelvis would split in half but then immediately came sweet relief. G told me your head was born, that your shoulders were rotating and with the next one, your body would be born.
I breathed, waiting for the next rush. One final roar and I felt your slippery little body wriggle through mine. I turned over to see you under the water.
You were white, with your eyes closed and arms outstretched with long fingers extended.
Time stood still for a moment as I realised the enormity of what had just happened.
I scooped you out of the water and brought you up to my chest. Your Dad wrapped his arms around me and I heard him crying as he gazed at you. I said hello to you and told you we had been waiting so long for you. You opened your eyes and looked up at me but hadn’t yet taken a breath. I kept saying hello as I rubbed your little chest and tickled your tiny feet, calling you in. I blew gently on your face and you woke up. You took your first breath and let out a big cry.
I asked if it was still your Dad’s birthday – it was! 8:55pm on Sunday the 20th of November, 2011.
I kissed your Dad and told him I wanted to do it again.
We marvelled at your beautiful dark hair and long toes. We giggled that your umbilical cord was wrapped around your little ankle. Realising we didn’t know your sex, I unlooped your cord and moved it aside.
A little boy! Wow! Our baby boy.
Welcome Earthside, baby.
We started to get cool in the water so climbed out and sat on the couch. You looked for my breast and attached easily. I immediately fell in love with breastfeeding you. We drank tea and ate the vegie lasagne your Dad made while I laboured with you.
You were born with your right fist tucked under your chin and your head deflexed. It was the same hand you were holding up in the only ultrasound we had, and the same hand that you insisted on having free from your swaddling in your first few months of life.
After about an hour, I felt your placenta separate. It felt heavy and disconcerting inside me but I was too interested in you to make any effort to birth it. G helped me wiggle forward on the couch and with one push, it was out. G and M checked it over and showed us the different parts, explaining how it nourished you for the 42 weeks you spent in my belly. It had an extra node and G asked if she could take some photos to show her students. We buried it under a bay tree on my first Mother’s Day.
Our midwives tidied up and prepared our bed. I wanted to shower and get into bed and asked if we could cut your umbilical cord. G made sure we didn’t want to have a lotus birth then explained to you that she was going to clamp your cord and then your Dad would cut it. She reassured you that it wouldn’t hurt. I will always remember her explaining what she was going to do before she touched you. I will always be grateful that the only person to touch you in the first hours after your birth apart from your Dad and I showed you respect, reverence and love. G was a true ‘with woman’ midwife and such a blessing to us.
I showered while you and your Dad cuddled, skin-to-skin. We climbed in to our bed together and our midwives tucked us in, leaving just after midnight.
Your Dad and I smiled at each other, kissed you goodnight and fell asleep.
Your birth changed me forever; it made me a Mama. It also forced me to see and accept my strength and my vulnerability. I worked hard to birth you. It was blissful, rewarding work. More rewarding than I ever could have imagined.
And yet, while life changing and transcendental and blissful, your birth was also perfectly ordinary, normal and uneventful. You were in my arms and it was like you had always been here. Sometimes I find it hard to remember what life was like before you were born.
A year on, you have spoken your first word in the same bed where you first slept and you have taken your first steps on the same floorboards I kneeled on when you were born. We will leave this memory-filled home one day, probably before you will be old enough to remember living in it. You have filled my life with joy and laughter and you have taught me so much about love, life and myself. Thank you for being so generous and thank you for being here.
[Us sitting on the spot where you were born on the day we moved out of that home]