First published in The Mother magazine, Issue 72, Winter 2016
My watch stopped at 6.15am on 8th March 2013, at the same moment my body told me 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, after a traumatic first labour almost three years earlier, resulting in an emergency caesarian under general anaesthetic. I was emotionally and physically ready for labour, vowing to stay out of hospital at almost all costs.
The morning passed peacefully as my surges gradually intensified. I vividly remember nursing my 33-month-old son Ewan, crying silently as he suckled, treasuring this moment knowing it would be his last feed as a single nursling. When my surges became too much, I gently unlatched him. He cried and cried as if sensing a sudden catastrophic change was about to take place.
At lunch-time I rocked on the birthing ball as Ewan bounced in and out of the birthing pool, delighted we had a large paddling pool in the lounge! Needing quiet, I hugged him tightly goodbye as my parents took him to their house, the sense of loss almost overwhelming. As an early March dusk settled on the chill world outside, I lit candles and put on meditative music, preparing my birthing space. I quietly accepted each surge like a wave rising, crashing and falling, feeling this was the beginning of a long but exciting road ahead.
My husband and I ate supper quietly, feeling a little apprehensive. The knowledge I had developed a close, trusting relationship with my midwife over the past eight months calmed me whenever thoughts of hospital lurked in my mind. As the evening wore on, we rested in the living room; I rocked almost meditatively on the birthing ball as Rich slept on the couch. On this beautiful night I laboured quietly in familiar surroundings, at peace, ready. The pain developed in intensity and moved into my lower back as the night wore on. I worried about another posterior labour, which signalled a longer and more intense labour.
Rachel arrived in the early hours, examining me at 4cm dilated. I walked up and down the stairs and around the house, my vocalisations rising, then falling, with the arrival and dissipation of each surge. My tuneful humming was an instinctive, necessary reaction to the tightening surges in my lower abdomen, arriving unselfconsciously and drifting away as the pain faded. Rachel unobtrusively examined me as I laboured. Her interventions did not cease the flow of my labour, in stark contrast to the electric foetal monitoring of last time.
I talked powerfully to baby to move ‘down’, focusing all my efforts on this. As the snow fell silently outside, I moved around the house on all fours, before resting in the warm water of the birthing pool. I fixed my gaze out of the window, where a sudden vision materialised of my toddler son laughing, running up and down the garden path, hair blonde against the blueness of the sky. Nicky, the second midwife, arrived and poured water over my aching back, her presence comforting. However, by midday my labour had slowed, so I left the birthing pool and touched dry ground.
I walked up and down the stairs, I rocked, I hummed loudly and was shown positions to help baby rotate. I preferred a position squatting, holding onto the wall as Rich firmly pressed into my hips. My voice rose to match the powerful sensations as baby rotated; we worked and moved in synchrony, my baby and I. By 4pm I was fully dilated and ‘in the zone‘, my vocalisations two different musical tones as I rocked and involuntarily pushed at the peak of surges.
An hour later I entered transition, the pain so intense it was beyond words and any past feeling. Shaking, I felt a failure when I requested Entonox, but was unsure how else to progress. Nightmarish thoughts flooded my mind of another caesarian, of bright lights flashing, of machines and procedures and clinicians. I refused to surrender, choosing instead to ride above wave after wave of pain. Every inch of my being willed me to achieve a natural birth.
Nicky massaged my lower back as I continued to squat before moving into a kneeling position and back again, willing baby earth-side, vocalising loudly as I pushed and pushed, directing baby ‘down‘. Nicky encouraged me to talk to baby, for its head was almost born. Rachel lay a mirror on the floor, seeing baby’s head emerge, then slide back. It was 7pm; I was beyond any exhaustion or fear ever experienced, beyond my own life; I was something else. I was giving birth, in all its splendour, beauty, mystery, pleasure and pain, in its untidiness, physicality, its raw reality and ultimately its life giving joy. I had deeply grieved the loss of this with my first birth. I had visualised this moment for months. Now it was really happening.
The darkness of a second night of labouring enveloped me. My assistants become my saviours; we worked together for the final push. I was squatting with my feet firmly on the lounge floor when with total amazement my baby’s head was born, then the body was ejected from my body. My baby lay whole and very much alive. I shook uncontrollably, totally spent, knowing I was unable to birth the placenta naturally. Rachel asked if I wanted to sex my baby. I was surprised to discover our baby was in fact a girl. Unconditional love overwhelmed me as I gazed at the tiny 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 onto the sofa, where I scoffed a pile of biscuits, craving sweetness after the most exhilarating, exhausting day of my life. I was so tired I could hardly hold Tessa, let alone feed her. Visions of lying in maternal bliss were forgotten in the reality of the moment, as I felt a haze of unreality surround me. My life for the next week was a nest in my bedroom, as the snow continued to snow outside.
Ewan arrived the afternoon after his sister was born, instantly nursing. People came and went as I lay upstairs, learning my daughter as she learnt me. Three days after the birth, Tessa 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 into my consciousness. Two and a half years later the image of newborn Tessa lying in my arms has remained as tangible as if it had just happened. She is lying there still, in my arms to sleep after a feed. Long may that remain.