My watch stopped at 6.15am on Friday 8th March 2013, at the same moment my body told me that it was moving into the first stages of labour; the show felt like a plug suddenly unblocking. I hoped for an active VBAC home-birth with my independent midwife supporting me, after a traumatic first labour almost three years earlier. This had resulted in an emergency caesarian under general anaesthetic and complications afterwards for me. I was emotionally and physically ready for labour this time, vowing to stay clear of the hospital unless there was simply no alternative.
The morning passed peacefully as my surges gradually increased in intensity. I vividly remember nursing my 33-month-old son Ewan in bed around lunchtime. I cried silently as he suckled, treasuring this moment as I knew it would be his last feed as a single nursling. He gripped on for dear life, as if sensing a sudden catastrophic change was about to take place. When my surges became too much due to the suckling, I gently unlatched him. He cried and cried as if he knew.
At lunch-time I alternated between eating and rocking on the birthing ball to ease my strengthening surges, which were coming around every five minutes or so by now. Ewan bounced in and out of the birthing pool his Daddy was preparing, delighted we had a large paddling pool in the dining area! Feeling it was time for quiet, I hugged Ewan tightly, feeling a sense of loss as my parents took him and our Labrador Hector to their house.
As an early March dusk settled on the chill world outside, I prepared the lounge, lighting candles and putting on meditative music. This was my birthing space. I rocked from side to side on the birthing ball, quietly accepting each surge, resting between them, feeling that this was the beginning of a long but exciting road ahead.
My husband and I ate supper quietly, both feeling a little apprehensive. The thought of a caesarian still lurked somewhere in my mind, even though I was fit, healthy and emotionally prepared. Thoughts that I had developed a close relationship with my midwife over the previous eight months calmed me. I had seen Rachel regularly and established a level of trust with her which ensured I felt comfortable in her presence and interventions at this crucial time.
As the evening wore on, Rich and I rested in the living room; I lay on the floor or rocked almost meditatively on the birthing ball as he slept lightly on the couch. On this beautiful night I laboured quietly in familiar surroundings, calm and ready. As the space between each surge lengthened, the pain developed in intensity and moved into my lower back. It was then my suspicions of a posterior labour took hold. If my baby was back-to-back, as Ewan had been, my labour would be longer and more intense.
Rachel arrived in the early hours of the morning, examining me at 4cm dilated and encouraging me to be active to help labour become more established. I walked up and down the stairs and around the house, rubbing a labour blend of rose, jasmine and lavender on my skin between surges. My vocalisations rose, then fell, with the arrival and dissipation of each surge. My tuneful humming was an instinctive and necessary reaction to the tightening surges in my body, arriving unselfconsciously and drifting away as the pain faded. Rachel periodically and unobtrusively examined me as I laboured, a fact I had accepted as necessary due to my previous caesarian. These examinations did not cease the flow of my labour, in stark contrast to the electric foetal monitoring of my previous labour. Rachel’s knowledge and experience of home-birth proved invaluable.
I focused all my efforts on moving baby downwards, talking quietly yet powerfully to baby to move ‘down‘. I had developed a conversation over the past few months with baby, so communion came naturally. Our most intense conversations took place whilst in meditation a few weeks previously, as I willed baby to move from a breech to an anterior position.
As the snow started to fall softly outside, I moved around the house on all fours as Rich prepared the birthing pool. My body rested in the warm water, but the peace of this space slowed my surges down. I fixed my gaze out of the window, following the snowflakes falling softly to the ground as the pain intensified. A vision suddenly materialised of my toddler son laughing, running up and down the garden path, his hair bright blonde against the blueness of the sky. I reminded myself I was labouring now in order to ensure our son would have a companion by his side in this very garden. This striking image eased the pain somewhat, as did the hands and calm words of the second midwife, who had just arrived. As Nicky poured water over my aching back I relaxed, her presence comforting. It was now midday; my labour had slowed down, so I left the birthing pool, managing to eat and drink a little after touching dry ground.
I walked up and down the stairs, I rocked, I hummed loudly. I was shown positions to help baby rotate, preferring a position squatting holding onto the wall as Rich firmly pressed into my hips. I felt baby rotate slightly and the surges intensify more and more, my voice rising to match the pain. My baby and I worked in synchrony, moving together. By 4pm I was fully dilated and ‘in the zone‘. I entered the pool again, my vocalisations two different musical tones as I rocked and involuntarily pushed at the peak of the surges, urging baby to move downwards as my hands also pushed downwards.
An hour later I left the pool and entered transition. This was simply the most intense pain I had ever experienced, beyond words and any past feeling. I asked for Entonox, feeling a failure for requesting drugs, but also shaky from the huge intensity of the pain, unsure how else to progress. Vaguely aware of talk of hospital, nightmarish thoughts flooded my mind of bright lights flashing, loud machines, strict procedures, cold clinicians and ultimately another caesarian. This instantly halted any feeling of surrender, of giving in. Instead I rose above it, riding above wave after wave of pain. I did not hit the wall; I believed I could achieve a natural birth, every inch of my being willing me to.
Nicky massaged my lower back as I continued to squat, nibbling toast and honey in order to boost my energy reserves so I could progress to the active pushing stage. I willed baby earth-side, aware this stage was taking an age whilst pushing away fears of an ambulance whizzing me to hospital or worse than that, death for me with baby stuck in the birth canal.
I moved from a squatting to a kneeling position and back again as I pushed and pushed, vocalising loudly, directing baby ‘down‘. I heard Nicky encouraging me to talk to baby, for its head was almost born. Rachel lay a mirror on the floor and saw baby’s head emerge, then slide back. A feeling of near triumph entered my consciousness as I was informed of this.
It was 7pm; I was utterly beyond any exhaustion ever experienced, beyond fear, beyond my own life, I was something else; I was giving birth, in all its splendour, beauty, mystery, purity, pleasure and utter pain, in its untidiness, its physicality, its animalism and its plane beyond normal living, in its raw reality and ultimately its life giving joy. I had deeply grieved the loss of this with my first birth and had visualised this moment for months. Now it was really happening.
The darkness of a second night of labouring enveloped me and my helpers, who had become my saviours. We all worked together for this the final push. I was squatting with my feet firmly on the lounge floor when with total amazement I birthed my baby; the head was born, then the body was ejected from my body. My baby lay whole and very much alive on a blanket on the carpet. I shook uncontrollably, totally spent, knowing I was unable to birth the placenta naturally. Assuming my newborn child was another boy, I glanced down to see the umbilical cord. Rachel asked if I wanted to sex my baby. I was even more amazed when I discovered our baby was in fact a girl. Unconditional love suddenly overwhelmed me as I gazed at the tiny purple human being lying below me. Was she really mine? Our daughter, Tessa Rose, arrived earth-side at 7.17pm on 9th March.
Still shaking, I was helped up to the sofa, where I scoffed a pile of biscuits and drank for England, craving fluid and sweetness after the most exhilarating, exhausting day of my life. I was so tired I could hardly hold my daughter, let alone feed her. My visions of lying in maternal bliss and biological nursing were forgotten in the reality of the moment, as felt a haze of unreality surround me. When Nicky announced she had a ball to go to, I gasped, unable to comprehend anything beyond these four walls. My life for the next week was a nest in my bedroom, as the snow continued to fall in the unseasonably cold March temperatures outside.
Ewan arrived the afternoon after his sister was born, instantly nursing, his only way of dealing with the massive change we had brought into his life. People came and went as I lay upstairs, learning my daughter as she learnt me. Three days after the birth, my daughter lay blissfully asleep in my arms having just fed, her tiny head on my breast. Surging through my whole body was the thought this was where she and I were meant to be. It was as if the world had suddenly shifted beneath my feet. I willed myself to etch this moment securely into my consciousness. Two and a half years later the image of my newborn daughter lying in my arms has remained as tangible as if it had just happened, for she is lying there still, in my arms to sleep after a feed. Long may that remain.