*To watch the birth video, click here*
The boys were both born on their due dates and Eliza was born at 38+3 so I just assumed this baby would be early as well. I had a feeling it would be around 37 weeks, but 37 weeks came and went. So did 38, 39
and 40 and it was officially my longest pregnancy yet! And the hardest. On top of morning sickness that was much worse than I have experienced before, I have “pelvic congestion syndrome” which means super painful varicose veins in my pelvis and leg when I am pregnant and I had to wear a plethora of compression garments all day every day just to be able to be on my feet for more than a minute at a time. I was dealing with so much physical pain and sickness and so much emotional pain and sickness as well. I had PTSD from my last pregnancy and its circumstances and it really was a struggle to get out of bed every day, knowing I had a whole day of pain and depression to survive through. Multiple times I remember thinking I don’t know if I can ever do this again. Towards the end of the pregnancy I started getting counselling and it helped SO much. I was able to function again and to actually enjoy life and even the pregnancy. As always I loved feeling the baby move inside me; there is no feeling that compares.
On Saturday 23rd May 2020 I started getting some stronger contractions just as our three kids were going to bed. I said to Dan that they felt stronger, like they could be the real deal. We watched a movie and they intensified and increased to 5-15 mins apart but they didn’t pick up any more than that so we decided to go to bed and try to sleep. I was woken by a strong contraction every half hour throughout the night, strong enough that I needed to really concentrate on breathing through them so I was definitely dilating, but so far apart I knew it was not yet active labour. I could stay dilated for days or weeks before “true” labour. From 2:00am they completely stopped so I figured that was it for the day and they had fizzled to nothing; probably prodromal labour like I had experienced with Levi. The kids woke up at 5:30am as usual and I told Dan I didn’t want to get up today (40 weeks + 4 days pregnant), I didn’t feel like maybe having more contractions and being in pain all day so I stayed in bed for a little while and he got the kids dressed. I got up just before 6am and went to the toilet and as I sat down I felt a very distinct “clunk” as the baby engaged. It was so defined I thought my waters had popped! I got a super strong contraction while I was on the toilet which I struggled to breathe through and I thought to myself “great, a whole day of this ahead”. I headed out to the kitchen to make porridge for the kids and I got a few VERY strong contractions that seemed quite close together, so I decided to start timing them just out of interest. They were less than two minutes apart! After four or five contractions I seriously could not make porridge anymore so I went and told Dan that I needed him. He put something on the TV for the kids, I showed him the contraction timer and he said “oh. Oh okay. What do you need me to do?” I asked him to finish making porridge so I could set up the bathroom. I had a list of things to do in early labour but I was straight into transition with hardly any break in between contractions already! I texted my mother-in-law to come straight away, quickly grabbed some towels out and then started cleaning the bath which the kids had gotten muddy the day before. I remember thinking “that’ll do, it’s our germs anyway; the baby can just deal with it!” and started filling it with warm water. I could hear Dan getting the kids organised as I struggled to stay in control through contractions so intense I felt like my belly was on fire. I was trying to do deep breathing and relax my stomach muscles like I have in my previous births, but it was so fast and so painful that I was really struggling to get in the zone. I felt frantic and rushed and out of control.
Dan came in a few times as he was getting things organised, took our signature “labour selfie” and I remember telling him I felt like I could start pushing soon. I couldn’t believe I was saying that already! Dan’s mum apparently arrived at around 6:30 and took over looking after the kids, and Dan finished getting things ready for the birth as per my list of instructions. I could feel the baby’s head, still inside the sac, about four centimetres in. I told Dan and he suddenly realised just how close we were. I started feeling like there was no way I could do it, so I started telling myself aloud “I can do it, I can do it”. I pushed my forehead into the side of the bath and wacked it on there a few times to try and get some relief from the pain; Dan jokingly told me not to break the bath. I told him I’d break whatever I want. I still had a bruise on my forehead three days postpartum haha. Dan brought Reuben and Levi in to watch and they sat quietly and waited and said beautiful things to me like “you can do it” and “you’re so pretty”. I asked Dan to get the rescue remedy and spray some in my mouth to try help me relax. Eliza was playing with her grandma in the living room and we could hear her yelling “MOOOO!” like a cow.
At about 6:45 I tried giving a tiny push to see how it felt, and suddenly my body took over and started pushing like crazy! Dan reminded me not to push until I couldn’t help it and I tried just breathing instead, but my body had other ideas and I couldn’t stop; couldn’t slow down. I felt the head again and it was lower during the contraction, then back up high after, but I could tell it would be coming down very soon. I was getting very overwhelmed by the amount of pain and I just wanted to escape. Dan brought the boys over to watch right next to the bath. I moved from kneeling and leaning forward to crouching back on one side with the other leg out to the side. I wasn’t planning on birthing in that position but that’s where my body put me and that’s how I stayed. I leaned my head into Dan and he put his arm around me, and I felt so comforted and supported.
I started pushing like a mad lady with the next two contractions; I knew I was out of control and pushing too hard and fast but there was nothing I could do. I needed to reach the finish line, I couldn’t do this anymore. I felt like I was being torn in half and I was very scared; I was sure there was no way the baby could fit out and I was going to be destroyed. I couldn’t stop what was happening to me, and the only way out was through. It was so, so intense. I swore, and Dan told the boys “here we go” because he knows that means the head is about to come out.
I had my hand on the baby’s head as it emerged and it felt like a cantaloupe squeezing through the opening of a balloon. I was a lot more vocal than I have been in my other births – not yelling, but panting very loudly in response to the pain. I wanted to be relaxed and tranquil; I wanted a peaceful, blissful birth but it just wasn’t happening. This birth was raw and primal and painful and brutal. There was no way the baby could fit, there was no way I could stretch that much! But somehow it did, somehow I did and suddenly the baby’s head was in my hand, still in the amniotic sac. I had a little bit of a break, Dan repositioned the boys so they could see the head, I told them it was still in the sac and then my waters squirted out as the head rotated, ready for the shoulders to come out. I couldn’t believe how much pain I was in! I yelled to Dan that I just wanted it out, he reassured me it was about to come out, then with a last almighty push that I was sure would tear me open the shoulders came out and my baby was there facing me, with the cord looped up and around the back of its neck like a necklace. I unlooped it calmly, but the baby still wasn’t completely out and I couldn’t get it out. I told Dan I couldn’t get the rest out, he grabbed my hips and moved my position a little and the rest of the baby came shooting out into my hands at around 7:00am, only an hour after I got out of bed!
I grabbed it under its slippery little armpits and tried not to be swallowed by the surreal-ness of the moment as I brought my baby up out of the water to lay on my chest. It was a beautiful red-purple colour and straight away started looking around and trying to breathe. I knew it was fine and I started saying “it’s okay, it’s alright”, more talking to myself than anyone else, reassuring myself that the baby was okay. I was so relieved. It was over. I had survived and my baby was here. Eventually it let out a gurgly cry, then took its first proper breath. The placenta detached almost immediately and let out a gush of blood into the water. I lifted the baby up and we all saw together – it’s a boy! We were so surprised! We didn’t even realise we had totally been expecting a girl. Dan out a towel around the baby and we could hear Eliza yelling “WHAT’S THAT?!” and “BABY!” from the living room.
I breathed out all my relief that it was over, then I looked down at my baby and felt… nothing. I wasn’t overwhelmed by love, I wasn’t crying, I wasn’t smothering my baby with kisses. I felt blank; I didn’t feel
anything towards him at all and then I felt guilty for not feeling anything. Dan went and got Eliza and his mum, and they came in to see the baby; tears in grandma’s eyes and Eliza fascinated. She said “hey Bubba” and kept staring at him. Grandma took the three kids out, I let the water out of the bath and then we got to birthing the placenta which came out easily within about 10 minutes and made me feel so relieved. I passed the baby to Dan while I got dressed and then we headed to bed for baby cuddles, breastfeeding and skin-to-skin time. Levi kept coming in and asking if it was time to cut the cord yet. We told the kids the name we had chosen – Jethro David – then Levi hacked the umbilical cord with his craft scissors, about two hours after the birth.
Jethro slept for most of the day while Dan cleaned up the house, the kids played outside with their grandma, and I rested and let our friends and family know the good news. We weighed Jethro on our kitchen scales, lying in a steamer basket, and measured him with a sewing tape. He was a big boy - 9lb,9oz and 54cm long!
That evening I felt like I needed to cry so I did, and I couldn’t stop. The tears just kept flowing and flowing and I wasn’t even sure why. I talked to Dan about the birth and that really helped me start to process, and I realised that despite not wanting to admit it even to myself, I was traumatised by the birth. It was so painful and scary and out of control. It happened so fast that I didn’t have time or headspace to get properly into my birthing mindset. I drifted in and out of “the zone”, but I was not in another world like Dan says I was in my other births. I was much more present and I felt everything. I am used to having a lead-up to labour so I can practice my breathing and mentally prepare as the contractions gradually get closer together, but this time they were straight to two minutes apart and I was busy getting things ready in between them, not preparing my mind and body. I also suffered from PTSD during this pregnancy due to events that were out of my control during my previous pregnancy (trauma is caused by things happening to you that are out of your control). As I got closer to giving birth I recognised that I was fearful of that out-of-control feeling I always experience during transition, and it was a huge trauma-trigger for me. I knew it was coming and there was nothing I could do about it. The fear that I felt towards birthing this time made everything so much more painful (fear/tension/pain syndrome) and that pain caused more fear, which caused more pain… it was a vicious and traumatic cycle I couldn’t escape from. I am a huge advocate of natural birth, calm birth and freebirthing and it was really difficult to accept that I had just been traumatised by one of the things I am
most passionate about. How could I feel so violated when I just had an amazing one-hour freebirth with no tearing, no complications and a beautiful healthy baby? But I did. I felt violated, and I realised I felt like it was the baby’s fault; like he had done this to me. And as I sat there writhing through the pain of another after-birth contraction that I also felt he was doing to me on purpose by breastfeeding, I had another realisation: I was disappointed that he was a boy. As I admitted this to myself and later to Dan, the tears flowed freely and I allowed myself to feel all the anger and frustration and disappointment and guilt. I went into physical shock then, and my body started shaking uncontrollably. I had unknowingly been expecting and hoping for a girl. So not only did I feel violated and traumatised by this baby and what it had just done and continued to do to my body, I also didn’t get the reward of the little girl I had so desperately hoped for without even realising. I know this may seem ridiculous and so ungrateful, especially when so many women would give anything to be able to conceive and birth a child at all… but these feelings are mine, they are real and they are valid. That is why I felt nothing when I met my baby and why I still struggle to feel love towards him now. But I also know that that’s okay and that our bond will grow gradually.
Mothers and mothers-to-be; please know that it is okay if you don’t feel love towards your baby straight away. People will probably tell you that you will be overwhelmed with love the moment you meet your baby, but that isn’t always the case. Sometimes the bonding happens gradually over days, weeks, months and even years and that is okay. You are not a bad mother. I am six days postpartum as I write this, and I told Jethro I love him for the first time last night. As I realised I hadn’t told him before that, the tears flowed again and then they kept flowing because I also realised that I am beginning to love him.
I am so thankful I birthed the way I did and I wouldn’t change anything other than somehow getting in “the zone” more. It was a beautiful, amazing, empowering birth and I never once wished I was in hospital or anywhere else or with anyone else. I am so thankful for Dan’s strength and calm and support and I am forever grateful that my sons got to witness such an amazing, yet totally normal miracle. I still completely believe in and advocate for the power of women’s bodies and our innate ability to birth our babies on our own terms. I know the emotional and physical issues I’ve been dealing with for years and the trauma from this birth will take time to heal from, but that’s okay. I will heal and I will grow and I will be stronger.
Jethro 24th May 2020, 7:00am 9lb,9oz, 54cm