Cleo’s birth story begins in the middle of a February heatwave. My husband and I had escaped our 3 children (then aged 7, 4, and 2) for a rare date night, and during dinner he leans over the table and with a cheeky grin says “So, should we have another baby?” I laugh, because we both know that the answer is yes, and the real question is when. I tell him that having spent most of the last 8 years either pregnant or breastfeeding, I am utterly depleted and need to have some time to recharge my body and mind before we do it all again.
A couple of days later I wake up, expecting my period, but it hasn’t started, and I know. I just know. A pregnancy test later that day confirms it, and I sit on the bed and sob with shock. I want another baby with all my heart – but not now! I am gutted; I had wanted to feel ready, I had wanted to want to be pregnant. It takes me months to process this new reality, and I feel heavy with guilt over my ambivalence.
Our 4 year old daughter, desperate for a sister, wanted to know the sex of the baby, and we find out at the 20-week scan that we are expecting a girl. With two boys and a girl already, both my husband and I had also been quietly hoping for another daughter, and I finally begin to feel glimmers of hope and excitement.
But anxiety lurks. On paper I’d had dream births (including two home births), ranging from 2-4.5 hours, spontaneous labours around 39 weeks, no interventions, drugs or stitches. But the birth of my third child had been very difficult for me mentally; from the outside it seemed like a gentle home water birth, but in my head I had been in a war zone against pain, unwilling and unable to lose myself into ‘labour land’. My labour had stalled in response; I felt like I had failed, and struggled with worry that I might repeat the same mistakes. My son had also had long term and traumatic breastfeeding difficulties due to an undiagnosed tongue tie, and I was terrified of the possibility of facing that all over again.
As my pregnancy progressed, I found myself feeling increasingly listless. Unable to summon up interest for movies, TV, or books, most evenings I would end up simply taking a long bath before bed. It was only there, floating in the candle lit bathroom, that I felt safe enough to allow myself to dream and hope for this baby. As the months passed, I slowly worked through my fears and in my heart of hearts I knew that I was not going to be able to let them go – I had to feel the fear and birth anyway!
I realised that I had tried to have too much control over my previous labour, and because of that my mind had not surrendered my body to birth. I decided that I would not hire a birth pool or make any plans for where or how I would labour and birth, but rather let go and allow any possibility to happen. I surrounded myself with a birth team with whom I felt truly safe. I also planned for a month of postpartum rest, which would enable me not just to recover physically, but to have the time and space to focus on breastfeeding and deal with any potential issues as early as possible.
As my due date approached, I felt myself begin to pull away from the world, inwards towards my baby. I became so sick of pregnancy that I found myself no longer caring about what my labour might be like, and a slow and patient calm descended over me like a fog. At around 37 weeks I began experiencing gentle and occasional pre-labour contractions, mainly overnight, but nothing serious.
At 39 weeks, my mother-in-law visited for a few days, which was a special time of relaxing and enjoying the older children together. On her last morning with us, we both felt the urge to clean the house – she scrubbed the shower, while I dusted like a madwoman. We dropped her off at the airport on Friday morning, joking that now she was leaving, the baby would be born and she would have to come straight back.
That night, lying in a deep, hot bath, I had a long conversation with my baby. I told her all my hopes and fears, that I was ready to do my part in the work of birth, and gave her my blessing to be born whenever she was ready. I had a few mild contractions here and there, but went to bed feeling calm and relaxed. Still, I was unable to fall asleep easily, but tried not to let it bother me, and after listening to some relaxation practices I dozed off around midnight.
I awoke to a strong contraction, far deeper than the niggles I’d been experiencing over the past few weeks. I glanced at the clock: 4:25AM. My husband wasn’t in bed next to me, and neither was his pillow; he must have gone in to be with our almost-three-year-old. I lay back down, knowing that either things would settle down and I’d go back to sleep, or that if things became more intense it was worth getting some rest while I could! It wasn’t long until I felt another strong surge, followed by another – and lying down was not feeling like a reasonable option any longer!
I quietly tiptoed in to our younger childrens’ bedroom, where I found my husband in the bottom bunk, and woke him with “I think I might need you”. At 5am I texted my friend Diana (who was acting as my student midwife and support person) to let her know that I was beginning to have some contractions that felt like they meant business, but that for the time being we’d sit tight and let her know as soon as things were really on the move.
The contractions I was experiencing were quickly evolving from irregular pains to a continuous deep cramping, which intensified in waves, some strong enough to draw my full concentration, but others that I could talk and move through. I heated a wheat bag and held it to my lower belly, which was comforting. As my husband moved quietly through the house, bringing the birth boxes and towels into our main living area, I paced the length of the house through the living room and kitchen. Back and forth, back and forth. I found that I could not stop moving – If I paused, even momentarily, the pain became unbearable.
As water had been my refuge during my pregnancy, I had imagined myself labouring in either the bath or shower. Instead, I found myself seeking the darkest and quietest corner of the house, which at that time of night happened to be the lounge room. Anything brighter than the faintest light seemed overwhelming. Pacing back and forth, the pain remained consistent, strengthening on and off irregularly, but with no real breaks or pattern. I had a sense that things were moving quickly, and that my baby was at the helm and all I had to do was hang on for the ride! The pain was strong – but I felt stronger. I knew I could handle this for as long as I needed to.
At 5:45, even though there was no real rhythm to my contractions, we decided that we should call our midwifery team, just to let them know what was happening, and see what they thought about it all. During the seven-minute call to the triage midwife I had three good strong surges, and as she listened to me work through them, she decided it was time to send backup to be with us until my primary midwife arrived. My husband called Diana just before 6am to fill her in on things and let her know to come over also.
With sunrise approaching, our other children had begun to awaken, and one by one came out to see what was happening. Our oldest son quietly brought me a fresh bottle of water and reheated my wheat bag before retreating to his dad, brother & sister in the adjacent kitchen as I continued to pace the darkened living room. The deep cramping pain between surges relented, but they became longer and more intense, and I noticed the beginning of a slight ‘pushiness’ to my vocalisations. I instinctively reached down and could feel my waters bulging – I felt that it was almost time to abandon myself to pushing, and asked my husband to lay down the oversized plastic-backed picnic rug we had bought to cover the floor.
I could feel the baby moving lower and lower and knew that it was time to gather my strength to bring her into this world.
With my eyes closed in my darkened birth space, it seemed like it was in another world that footsteps were running up our driveway… a calm and friendly voice introduced herself as Shirley… the baby’s heartbeat pulsed through the fetal monitor… and then the urge to push took over completely. As I stood in the middle of the lounge room floor, I braced my hands on my knees and began to push. My waters broke with a huge pop and mid-contraction Shirley told me that she wanted to help me on to my hands and knees. It seemed impossible to move my limbs – “How… I can’t…” I gasped as she gently took my hand and told me I needed to lower myself to the floor. It was almost insurmountably hard, but I’m so glad she made me do it – I could actually feel my pelvis opening wider as I moved down on to my knees.
As my baby’s head began to crown, Shirley reminded me to breathe gently and just allow the next contraction to do the work. I felt the familiar burning as my body was stretched to its absolute limit, but only for a moment; as soon as her head was born, the rest of her body followed with soft slippery relief. Shirley calmly unwrapped the cord from around our baby’s neck as I took off my pyjama top and reached down to bring her up to my chest, just as the other midwives walked in the door! It was 6:31am – barely two hours since I had woken up, just ten minutes from when Shirley had arrived, and sixty seconds from waters breaking to baby in my arms!
My midwives fetched blankets and helped me lean back against the couch as my husband and the older children gathered around to meet the newest member of our family. I slowly began to emerge from ‘labour land’, becoming aware again of the world around me: the morning birdsong, light beginning to creep through the windows as the sun rose, the rich loamy iron smell of birth. I looked down to the baby quietly mewling against me, truly noticing her for the first time since her had emerged, and checked – really, yes really, the girl we had dared to hope for! My husband and I looked at each other; he nodded, and I said out loud for the first time, holding her up for all to marvel at, “This is Cleo!”
I brought my brand new daughter back to my chest and, knowing exactly where she had been born to be, she bobbed her head straight for my nipple and latched herself on. She stayed there, firmly attached and suckling contentedly, for the next two hours. We sat on the lounge room floor for a while, the midwives filling out paperwork and the children happily admiring their baby sister as we all chatted about the birth, filling each other in on what had happened from our perspective. I couldn’t quite believe that our little girl was here, how quick and smooth her birth had been, or how calm I had felt the whole time; I was high on oxytocin and everything felt full of light and love.
The placenta took its time, but once it had been birthed, all there was left to do was rest and soak in the baby! My older three children had been born overnight, however Cleo’s early morning arrival gave us the whole day ahead to spend getting to know each other as a family. Cleo and I spent her entire first day skin-to-skin, lying in bed together while the older children came and went. There were cups of tea in my favourite mug, joyous phone calls to family, and a beautiful blue sky to gaze at out the window. The world could wait for a while – it wasn’t the year I had planned, but now that Cleo was in my arms, I knew that everything was going to be just fine.
Birth story and photos submitted by Nicole J.