The Weeks before Birth
I had been having sensations from 35 weeks. I was secretly worried I would go into early labour! So by week 39 (officially past 38+6 weeks gestation I’d had for my daughter and first VBAC) I was thinking why the hell hadn’t stuff started yet? I had been having strong on and off surges for a good few weeks. So much so that I had put my mum, and my doula Hannah Abbey on hold several times. Messaging them saying “Yes I think it will be tonight”. Then waking up fresh and undisturbed in the morning, whilst they tossed and turned in anticipation. Sorry mum!
I went to my default birth solution. I had a bath. I put on my fear release mp3 and told my baby I was ready. I repeated my favourite visualisation in my mind. Then I realised a thought was blocking me. I would miss being pregnant. All these part acknowledge thoughts crowded my mind. Knowing my husband would be quite happy never to have another child I asked myself “Would I ever be pregnant again”? “Would this be the last bath we would have together with my baby inside?” “Will I never have the feeling of being pregnant again?” The thoughts brought me to tears.
I knew it was a block. I felt that my body was ready. But my mind wasn’t ready. I wanted to see and meet my baby to start this new adventure. But I wasn’t ready to let the current adventure end.
So I opted for the coward’s response and text Ben whilst he was at work the next day. I just needed to know that this would not be our last child for certain. I know it maybe out last child, but I needed to know that it maybe not our last. That it was an open ending. That it maybe or it maybe not – but that it may be.
That night I woke up as my boy climbed into my bed for a cuddle. I had two big surges at I lay snuggled and I knew it would be today. I did a calculation in my head. My baby would be born Wednesday 5th October 2016.
The Early Hours of the Morning
After trying to go back to sleep but only succeeding in dozing, only just managing to not wake Ben and Rowan up by my repeated trips to the toilet (where I had the smallest bits of plug coming away, but that had happened for a few days) I went downstairs to have some toast.
Then Juliet woke up and took a long time to settle back down. My surges were coming strong but irregularly. It was uncomfortable when I lay down next to her. Trying to relax and will her back to sleep. After being up and down I let her stay up with me from about 4am. Somehow it felt right to have my girl up and with me during a very female time.
I knew that all births are different but I was still surprised at how strong my surges were. With Juliet they started really small and didn’t feel super powerful till right at the end. My surges were strong and powerful right from the beginning. (Perhaps from holding on for a few weeks as my mind wasn’t ready before.) The strength of my surges made me worry that maybe things would happen quickly so I wanted Hannah Abbey, my doula, to be here. At 3.30AM I called her out of bed. Telling her not to rush but with excited energy I told her it was time. And that this time it really really was time.
Me and Juliet sat, cuddled, played and I bounced on the birth ball as I surged. It felt right for her to be here, for this transition. She was my baby. The baby of the family. So much so that we still call her ‘the baby’ and we are still correcting ourselves as it just confuses people as to who we are talking about. Once Hannah Abbey was here I woke my husband. My biggest worry was that we wouldn’t have enough time to get the pool up.
I waited till seven to call my mum as she was to have the kids for the day.
The sun soon rose into the day my child would be born. In my visualisation I imagined my baby born at night. But it was a beautiful clear day with the slight chill of October. The light was long beautiful and autumnal. It would be today. I didn’t know when to call the midwives but they had advised me to call as soon as I knew, just to make them aware. I called and Emma was sent. Immediately I knew I was in safe respectful hands. She made herself at home on the kitchen table in the adjoining room.
The kitchen was the midwives’ hub and I birthed in the living room. She was in no rush to examine me. I gave her my birth plan and told her my plans to be as hands off as possible. Then my mum turned up and took the children on their own adventure for the day. I missed the children as I had imagined them being asleep in their beds and waking once I had birthed. Yet I relished the calm. I started to focus inward. Concentrating purely on this new life.
I walked around. The pool was filling up and the surges were coming strong long but not very close together. She asked if she could check me just to know how far I was and therefore know when to call another midwife. We all knew that before I had birthed very quickly, so wanted to be on the lookout this time.
We went upstairs and the midwife checked my cervix. I was three cm and a bit disappointed but not disheartened as she said my cervix was very soft. I knew I had dilated quickly before and that it wasn’t an indication of how long this birth would be. The exam seemed to start things off a little and I had a good few strong surges close together.
Sitting or kneeling was uncomfortable so I paced the floor. Stopping and breathing with a surge. I tried the pool but it felt too hot so I got out. I then continued walking, chatting, and laughing between surges. I got in the pool but felt too hot so soon got out again.
Around this time Karen the second midwife came over. They sat in the kitchen whilst I birthed in the sitting room. Only coming in every so often to check the baby’s heartbeat, and baby was definitely moving down as they had to move the Doppler lower to find the heartbeat each time. This was always in the position I was in already, between my surges, and they always asked. Through the surges I clung to Ben or Hannah and voiced my way through each wave. There is no getting away from this fact. My surges peaked and that peak hurt. It was intense powerful and painful. I needed someone to cling to. To hold as I started to instinctively bend my knees and focus the energy downwards. It felt raw. I felt full of birth. By this point I didn’t really want to chat a lot. I sipped lemonade and paced the floor. Leaning and squatting, and clinging on through the surges as I made guttural birth noises. It was not the calm and relaxed hypnobirthing I had seen on videos but it felt right. I didn’t feel I was being tortured. I felt respected. I felt of my body. I didn’t feel out of control. It felt intense. I was brimming with birth. Brimming with birthing and I couldn’t overflow because my body could handle the enormity of the task. I was consumed by birth but the eating didn’t it use up. It was from my body and grew and retracted as needed. I will never shy away from the raw power my body showed me that day. I will not be ashamed of that vulnerability. My body didn’t withstand the strength of birth but created it. Of the noises they were raw and real and as far as I recall not too far removed from the noises which started this whole process. It was a private environment where I didn’t have to feel ashamed for the noise. A shame no woman should have to feel.
I tried the pool again and it was wonderfully relaxing. I think I fell asleep for fifteen minutes using a towel as a pillow at the side of the pool. I had been in about an hour and barely had maybe one or two surges. The midwife offered to check me again as she said they would like me to be progressing more and that the water had slowed me down. She checked me whilst I was in the water and I was four cm dilated. So I got out and the surges were quickly very strong again.
Somewhere around this time they asked if I’d mind a student coming round and I said I didn’t mind her coming. I’m really glad I agreed as it felt great that this woman’s first day of practical midwifery was seeing a homebirth.
Moving into Transition
Surges came now thick and fast and I cannot remember how long for. I took to kneeling on the floor, leaning over the seat of my sofa. I had a few drops of fresh red blood but was reassured by my doula that the midwives were not concerned as there was not a lot. They monitored me a little more as one of the midwives had to go. I really feel for her as she had stayed for hours after her shift but had to go because of childcare. I’m so thankful for her.
It started to be harder to cope as the surges felt so close together. It was a relief once each had subsided. I buried my head in the pillows to relax and rest until the next one. When I had a surge I called to Ben and held his hands. Knowing he was there was a great comfort. I knew things were coming along as I started to swear when it reached a peak of the surge. Then I started to cry.
I knew by the fact that I was crying I was in transition. I was knelt on the floor with Hannah sitting on the sofa next to me and Ben on my other side. Yet I cried. Then I knew I was in transition because I was perfectly happy. With my second birth and first VBAC I got out of the bath at home, got onto the bed and cried as I didn’t want to go back into hospital. I’d had a reason to cry. But this time the absurdity of it made me laugh. I knew I would birth soon.
I continued to kneel for what seemed like a long time with the surges within me crashing one after another now. I needed a wee and it felt like I needed a poo too. During a surge I had this feeling in my bottom like someone running a finger along the inner wall of my bum. I weed onto a mat as I wouldn’t make it to the toilet which helped relieve pressure. I was feeling sleepy by this point. I wanted it to happen and I remember saying “I’m ready now. I want baby to come now”. I drunk something even though I didn’t feel like it, but felt I needed more energy. Hannah asked if I’d like to lay down to rest and it felt lovely to just lay for a moment. What felt like literally a second of getting comfortable a huge surge started and it rocked my whole body. I needed to get up. I shouted for Ben to help pull me up. I didn’t care about the drink my husband had spilt as he jumped out of his chair. I wanted his hand. I needed to move back to my knees. I felt the baby coming. Even if I had never had a baby before I knew this was baby’s head. I remember the midwife saying I must turn around as I had my back to the sofa on my knees. She looked once I had turned and said she couldn’t see anything. Someone asked if I wanted to get into the pool. I lifted one leg to get in, then my body moved again. Movement from inside me. My husband and Hannah held me as I went to my knees.
I felt that unmissable, unforgettable sensation of my baby moving down and then crowning, which seems to be one motion for me. I tried to breathe and relax through the burning as the head put pressure on the opening to my vagina. Remembering this pain from Juliet’s birth. Then Hannah reminded me that I wanted to feel the head. As soon as my hand was on his head the pain stopped. It was amazing. I felt my baby. The head right there ready. And it didn’t hurt anymore. Not a bit. Without any conscious effort or breathing I could feel the head and next felt my vagina open, unfold outwards and baby’s head was born. I felt the midwife fiddling and told her it hurt as the pulling was not pleasant. She said she had to unloop the cord from around the baby’s neck (something I knew wasn’t as serious as is always made out to be, so wasn’t too concerned). She asked me to push so she had more cord. With one conscious push (which was more like the will to wee in the way that my body was ready to expel) with the smallest effort baby was fully born.
They passed baby through my legs and asked if I knew the sex yet. He was a boy. A boy. My boy. Now a real person. I held him to me. I don’t know if I cried but I remember the joy. The joy of holding him there on my floor. Empty yet full.
Apparently everyone cried. I don’t know if I did. I remember clutching, and kissing and holding him. And hearing him cry. Hearing him for the first time. Those moment not needing to be catalogued or clung too as they will be imprinted on my consciousness for as long as my memories exist to be remembered. My boy.
After a while I sat up and lent my back against the sofa. The cord pulsated against my belly still joining us. Ben and Hannah felt it too. It was amazing. That still beating connection. He lay on my chest ruffled in a clean old towel some relative had dug out of their cupboard when we first moved out as teenagers – little knowing that one day it would be wrapped around our newborn son. We put on the cute bunny cord tie from heartstrings, and cut the cord once it was no longer pulsating and had gone white. He was ready to be his own. One of the first of so many small separations that will add up to the sum of man. I moved and out came the placenta, barely caught by the midwife. After showing me my placenta and explaining it to me (they are amazing BTW) they put it into the Tupperware I had sterilised ready for it to be encapsulated by Placenta UK. I was surprised to find it barely filled half the box. I was worried the Tupperware would be too small. I don’t know how big I thought my placenta would be!
I lay down on the sofa. No longer tired. Full of life. And shaking not from cold but through the changes in my body. As I lay with him I still felt my head within that birth place not in this world. A different place beyond everyday existence. I was brought tea and I asked for toast.
I remember the room was full. The pool took up half the space. There were midwives and all the birth stuff on sheets on the floor. A midwife did the first checks and I saw his little body in full. All I’d had was a glimpse at the business end to see if he was a boy or a girl. I even loved his cry. To hear his voice. That new born sound, and the sound of your own too is a link to your heart. There was a click in his hip so they put us for a scan (which we went for a week later and he is all well). They asked his name and, even though we had a name already, it felt strange to name him so soon. Hugh Alexander weighing in at 7lb 15oz the smallest of my children. Then we were tucked up on the sofa. Me and him. Where I fed him and he fed happily. He slept as being birthed is a tiring process. Between snippets of conversations. Between tea. Between midwives and talking to ben and Hannah about how fucking amazing it all was. I was drunk in love. Dazed with emotion. The room was filled with a fog. A miasma of creation. Of raw beauty. Less of a dream world. More of a base. This world. Nose firmly in this world. Cut off from the mundane brought to the ordinary. The raw basics of life. The moments of birth and after birth are the raw beauty of life.
Then everyone went. We ordered pizza and watched The Great British Bake Off.
My mum brought the children home and they met their little brother. And began to smother him with kisses and this novelty six weeks later has yet to wear off.
My mum held Hugh. Her sixth grandchild (in working this out I’ve just realised I now represent half of her grandchildren).
That night. I went to bed. In my own bed. With my son. My darling son. Cuddled up co-sleeping from that very first night. Filled with a love that is beyond words.
During my first outing into internet land to post the obligatory new born picture I saw my Facebook discussion group Calm & Relaxed VBAC Group. It struck me instantly that my birth wasn’t calm or relaxed. It was raw, instinctive and powerful and that’s ok too. So I feel a name change coming on. Here is my new Facebook group – sound of virtual ribbon cut: How to Have a VBAC. Named after the feeling I had when I was pregnant again after my caesarean. I just wanted to know how to birth. I wanted to share my feelings with people that would understand my visceral desire to birth and my huge fear, without feeling silly, and talk to women who believed I could have a positive birth experience too. If this echos a little of how you feel then do join us, we’d love to have you in the group, even if you are not quite pregnant yet.