I have found it quite difficult to write my birth story. Not because it was traumatic and I don’t want to re-live it; quite the contrary. I had a beautiful, amazing birth, and this is the reason I find it difficult to write. Because people don’t want to hear about it. It seems that, in our culture, it is fine and normal to relate negative stories of births that have not gone according to plan, but no one seems to be telling the stories of empowering, uplifting births that were what the mother was hoping and believing for. I don’t write this to skite or because I think I am better than anyone else. I don’t write this to make anyone feel badly about their own experience. I write this because everyone has a birth story, every birth story is beautiful and unique, and mine happens to be a very positive story that I believe deserves to be told.
My Braxton Hicks contractions had been getting stronger over the last few weeks of the pregnancy – about a week before the birth I thought I was in labour for sure. I even called the midwife, filled the birth pool and got the camembert out to celebrate! Well the contractions stopped before bedtime. I had to buy more camembert.
On the morning of Monday the 15th of February, my due date, I told Dan that I thought it would be soon. I just felt really tight and uncomfortable in my abdomen and I got a few contractions that were even stronger. I did my groceries that morning and picked up Reuben from his sleepover at Grandma and Grandad’s. I felt that I needed to get home quickly. That evening at about 6:00, as I was making Reuben’s dinner, I had quite a strong contraction, and I actually stopped what I was doing and said ‘woah, that was a strong one!’. They became quite regular after that and gradually stronger – about 2 or 3 minutes apart if I was standing and 6 to 8 minutes apart if I was lying down. They didn’t stop though so I knew it was happening. We got Reuben to bed by 7:00, downed some pumpkin soup for dinner (well, I had half of mine – Dan finished his in between contractions).
Very soon after that I said to Dan that I thought we should call the midwife. He said he had just been thinking the same thing. The contractions were very strong, lasting 45 seconds and consistently about 2 minutes apart, but I decided to stop timing them after that because it was becoming stressful to remember to press ‘start’ and ‘stop’. We did some tummy wiggling with the Rebozo scarf – a Mexican technique to relieve labour pain and Dan squeezed my hips through each contraction. I could actually physically feel that opening up my pelvis and the baby descending! Through each contraction I closed my eyes and focussed on the deep breathing I had been practicing during the pregnancy, also focussing on relaxing all my muscles, especially the muscles in my abdomen.
When I was in labour with Reuben, I was very vocal and made a loud ‘ahhh’ sound through each contraction, and at the time I thought it was helping me to release the pain. Looking back though, I can see how it made me tighten all of my muscles, especially the important ones (try yelling and not tensing your abdominal muscles!). That tension was working against what the contractions were trying to do in bringing the baby down, and made everything take so much longer. No wonder it was a 12 hour labour! It was also longer because I was fighting against the contractions; as I felt each one begin I would try everything to make the pain stop and I would tense up in response to the pain, rather than relaxing and embracing the contractions and working with them. In this labour, I was completely silent right up until I was pushing. I specifically focussed on relaxing those abdominal muscles. It was not as easy as it sounds, as it is natural to tense up in response to pain, but I kept reminding myself that it would bring the baby down faster, and that each contraction was one contraction closer to meeting my beautiful baby. I also kept repeating the verse in my head: “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, of love and of a sound mind”. That really helped me as well, to overcome the fear of the contractions and to keep my mind sound enough to focus on what I was doing.
During the pregnancy, I chose a birth song, and I listened to it daily during the last few weeks and practiced relaxing every muscle in my body and deep breathing. The idea of this was that because my mind had been programmed to relax and breathe deeply when it hears that song, the same would happen during labour when I listened to it. I put my earphones in at about 7:30 and listened to it on repeat. It really helped. We filled up the pool (again) and I got in as soon as I could. The water has such a nice soothing, calming effect and I believe that also helped everything go quickly. The midwife arrived soon after I got in the water, listened to the baby’s heartbeat, and then left us to ourselves, which is what we wanted.
I was still breathing and relaxing through each contraction, feeling the baby descending. Dan got into the pool with me and kept squeezing my hips through the contractions. Reuben woke up for a wee sometime during all this, so while Dan went to see to him I had to go through a few contractions on my own, with no hip squeezing. That was scary, and I could feel fear trying to creep in, but I kept repeating to myself that God has not given me a spirit of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind. It simply was mind over matter, and having this affirmation stored in my memory really helped me to keep my mind focussed.
I’m not sure what time it was, but I imagine it was just before 9:00pm that I first felt the urge to push. I could not believe I was already so far along! I told the midwife, and she made a phone call to the second midwife to come. Pushing a baby out is a strange thing; it is not easily described. It is not a conscious decision to push, and you can’t resist pushing even if you want to. It is like the body takes over and you have no say – it is going to get this baby out! Dan said it was similar to how your muscles behave when you’re vomiting; there is no choice, they surge whether you want to push or not. I was kneeling in the pool, leaning forward over the edge with my arms draped over the side, one hand clutching Mary’s. After pushing for three or four contractions I could feel the sac (my waters hadn’t broken yet), then a contraction or two later my waters broke. Dan was squeezing my hips and he felt the ‘pop’! A few minutes later the baby was crowning. It was painful, but the midwife encouraged me to pant, which helped a lot... then the head was out. Dan told me he could see its head, it was moving around and coughing under the water. The midwife told me to wait for the next contraction, I said “I can’t” and then with one more big push, the whole baby came out, into the water and into its daddy’s waiting hands. It is the biggest relief in the whole world once it is out, and suddenly, just like that, you are holding your child against you. The human life that you have carried inside of you and for nine months and felt kicking you from the inside is finally in your arms and you can finally see each other and the emotion is so overwhelming that, if you are anything like me, you feel quite numb.
We still didn’t know if we had a boy or a girl, and to me that is the most beautiful moment; picking it up and seeing for ourselves – it’s a boy!! It is such a beautiful surprise. I didn’t realise until that moment that I had subconsciously been expecting a girl, and I was quite (pleasantly) surprised that he was a boy! He gurgled and cried a bit and lifted his head up straight away and looked around – such a strong boy already!
There was a period of time right after he was born that was very special; almost sacred. It was a beautiful, quiet, peaceful time where we sat in the pool together and marvelled at the miracle that we were holding, that we now had another child, another son. It was no less surreal and difficult to take in than the first time. He was absolutely perfect and at that moment I knew that everything I had been through over the last nine months; the months of pain and discomfort in the pregnancy, the stretch marks and the varicose veins, the labour and delivery, were all completely worth it and I would do it all again in heartbeat for the sake of the miraculous little human I was holding.
The second midwife arrived then, not quite in time for the birth. I birthed the placenta a little while later, then Dan took the baby while the midwives helped me to awkwardly, ungracefully get out of the pool and settle on the couch. I started feeding him right away, and soon after that Reuben woke up, for no apparent reason. Usually when he wakes up at midnight he says ‘dada’ because Dan always gets up for him; he never wakes up at 10:00pm and he never asks for mama, but he woke up at 10:00pm, sat up in bed and started repeating ‘mama’ in a concerned voice! He knew something was going on… Dan brought him out and he got to meet his baby brother. He was pretty fascinated, and I think he understood that this ‘bubba’ was the same bubba that had been in my tummy for so long. He touched the baby’s hair and nose and tried to put his finger into his ear. Then he started telling the midwives about the mower.
Dan took him back to bed, then he cut the umbilical cord soon after. We both had showers, the midwives finished up their notes and left, we got the baby into some clothes, and then it was time for bed! We were all tucked up in bed, Bubba in the bassinet beside me, by midnight. We quickly reminisced, prayed and thanked God for a beautiful birth and a healthy baby, Dan told me how immensely proud he was of me, then we all slept like babies. Actually, I have never understood that saying because babies wake up crying every few hours with hungry tummies and dirty nappies. We all slept soundly for 6 hours. We still hadn’t named him, and we were tossing up between two names. We realised we both felt really peaceful about the name ‘Levi’. It means "harmonious" and "attached". I feel so proud of how I brought Levi into the world, strong and calm, in the beautiful peace of our home.
15th February 2016, 9:10pm