We re-emerged into the air from the hospital. It had been another long morning. Another CTG, another consult with the obstetrician, another scan and just like the other times, my baby was healthy and I was healthy. But that, we had learnt, was not the point – the point was that I was 41 weeks and 4 days and had not gone into labour. I was outside the comfort zone of my care providers. And in this territory came the fear talk. ‘You are past your “due date”‘. ‘The longer you go over term the higher the risk.’ ‘The higher the chances of death.’ ‘The higher the chances of your placenta failing.’ ‘The higher the chance of shoulder dystocia.’ ‘You should be induced now.’ ‘Your baby is BIG.’ ‘Homebirth is no longer a good option.’ ‘If I were in the ward with you I would be sitting watching with my buzzer in hand. When that baby gets stuck you have 3 seconds and you need three people to assist.’ ‘Oh and go have a blood test for gestational diabetes.’
After the scan I asked: How does the baby look? ‘Fine’. How was the CTG? (Cardiotocography, fetal heart beat monitoring) ‘Good’. How is my blood pressure? ‘Fine’.
My body was big and slow. Holding my three-year-old son’s hand, walking to the car, I breathed deep. Observing the bright resonance of the now afternoon light shining through the green of a tree. It had rained in the morning and still felt fresh. I walked away from that building, away from the noise and all of the words; it wasn’t personal and it wasn’t my story. I knew what I wanted and would do – I didn’t know how, but I could feel my body and my baby in my body and I knew, and the tests confirmed, that we were healthy. Soon we would be ready, but it would be in our time, my baby’s time. Not the medical world’s, who according to my doctor, ‘Are now trying to achieve aviation risk statistics.’ I may be beautifully big and heavy, but I wasn’t a fucking Boeing 737.
As we drove out of the hospital parking lot I felt my first contraction or surge. I didn’t mention it, we had been waiting so long, but I did turn gentle attention to it. We stopped off to buy lunch and our favourite muffins and then headed for Silvermine Dam. The contractions continued to come regularly, gently and far apart.
The dam was still and quiet in the cool weekday afternoon. Mist laced the mountains surrounding it. I stripped off to my bra and panties, not caring what a wondrously alarming sight my scantily clad, heavily pregnant being might be to the two park attendants and one other swimmer. I slowly let myself into the water, its silkiness enfolded me, and I swam and swam and floated and swam. Washing the long pushy morning and more from my skin. I had found that after 40 weeks pregnant there was a lot more pressure, and it wasn’t just gravity. I listened and felt my family’s and friends’ well-intentioned concern and anticipation, my own great longing hounded me as I found yet another dusty corner of the house to clean, and I watched my care providers frown lines deepen as I became more of a concern for them. Nature and water was a powerful antidote. After our swim we walked around the dam, pausing to look at the open water lilies, their many layered petals encircling a golden centre.
It was Tuesday afternoon. Later we received the midwife’s recommendation (after she had consulted with the obstetrician); induction in hospital with prostaglandin gel on Wednesday or latest Thursday evening. Or wait and if spontaneous labour not achieved – elective caesarean Friday. The three days before I would be 42 weeks laid out before me. And my midwife was no longer sure that she was comfortable with home birth given the scan’s evaluation of my baby’s size. Three days before 42 weeks. 42 weeks which is recognised as normal term to carry a baby in your body. I knew that after Friday my doctor was going on holiday. I knew that hospitals don’t like to schedule anything on the weekend. I knew that my midwife needed to protect her relationship with her back-up obstetrician. I knew that when my midwife said I had ‘not gone into labour within the usual physiological time frame’, it was her point of view but not what evidence and research show, and just as importantly, not what my body was showing us. I knew that when she suggested my body was in ‘pathology’ because I was outside of a ‘due date’ and ‘highlighting an issue’, that that again was her point of view but not what my body or baby was telling me – nor the multiple tests I had undergone at my care providers’ request. When my midwife wrote that the ‘body only has two languages – pain and pathology’, I knew that not to be true for me – my body has many languages and I was ready to set down the burden of others’ interpretations. I was also done with soothing anyone else’s anxiety.
That evening we spoke to those whose voices we needed to hear, who shored us up. Voices that spoke without fear or projection, that lead us back towards ourselves and our own trust and knowing and voices who respected that trust and knowing.
My contractions had gently continued throughout the day. We ate and went to bed leaving the house untidy for the first time in weeks, and I left some impepho burning in the fireplace.
I woke around 3 am, that magic hour, no longer able to sleep through the contractions and knowing that soon I would need to start toning. (I had discovered toning spontaneously in Luca’s labour as a miraculous way of channeling the intensity of each surge. I recommend it to any woman preparing for birth although in my experience it’s not something you have to practice but just allow yourself to get in touch with naturally). Not wanting to wake Tristan yet, I went for a pee and saw my mucus plug was starting to come away. At last I let a shock wave of excitement filter through my body. I woke Tristan and we set about cleaning the kitchen with me leaning on the counter every so often and toning through a surge. I had opened the back door and bit Tristan’s head off when he tried to close it (perhaps as consideration for the neighbours). I needed the outside to flow in. I leant on the stable door of the kitchen, half my body in the night, and toned. The duck and her ducklings in our back garden twittered at me as they slept alongside the back step. So beautiful and rich the night. Tristan phoned Lana, our doula, and our midwife and let them know I was in labour and that we would call them when we needed them.
I had wanted to labour mostly on my own and to stay grounded and doing – part of it was practical, I was a mum to a three-year-old this time, and part of it was a need not to feel that my life was “interrupted”. Today I smile at my three-month-younger self – I have quickly learnt that that was futile. A baby will always be a beautiful, loud interruption, although the second I am finding easier, but that is a longer story for another day.
My surges paused for 15 minutes or so and we dozed on the couch. Luca woke early and found us and we all cuddled. I knew it would be our last morning cuddle as a family of three. ‘Luca, the baby is coming today,’ I said. He pouted and then wiggled his body in his way when expressing excitement.
The dawn was arriving and my perception of time loosening. I knew I wouldn’t be timing any of the surges, checking the time or messages – just staying with the experience. Having breakfast, feeding Luca, getting up to tone and lean on something. Then going to have an outside shower, feeling held by the water, the chickens, ducks and garden, the house. This is what homebirth is; the environment that you know that you love, that loves you, partners with you too, the living things delighting in the moment with you.
We had prepared Luca as much as we could, we had let him know that he could be with us at home during the labour – he had an idea from books and videos what that may look like – or that he could go and be with his grannies. He told us in no uncertain terms that he wanted to go to his granny’s house. We called my mum and then Lana, asking her to please come.
I wanted to see Luca off and stood by the gate toning and hanging on the fence through contractions. During some I envisaged that lily on the dam with its open petals and golden centre, thinking of my cervix opening with each surge. Each really did bring me closer to birth, closer to my baby, closer to love. So with this perspective it is easy to welcome each one, with willingness and a preparedness. If I had been induced, would it have been as easy to access this? I’m not sure. It felt like I had got to stand on the shore, then enter the water, then ride these waves, I didn’t get pulled into the waves by a jet ski. Our neighbours drove past and gave us big grins and thumbs up.
My mum arrived and loaded Luca into his car seat, while Tris ran off to use the loo – poor man had been running around all morning.
Tristan began to pump up the pool. I roamed around the garden toning and hanging off trees or leaning on branches. Lana arrived and after checking on me went to help Tristan with filling the pool. I came inside feeling ready to enter a cave-like space. We drew the curtains and blinds and lit some candles. The geyser had run out of hot water and every pot in the house was boiling water and the urn was going. Almost 42 weeks to prepare and we were a bit behind.
The contractions were starting to radiate around to my back and Lana applied delicious pressure. I told her I was feeling nauseous. She had something magic for that too. I felt my baby move further into the birth passage and a sensation of what I think was his hand moving down from his mouth to his side. Surges were definitely coming quickly now. I wanted to get in the water. ‘Oh here’s another one, can I hang on you?’ ‘Of course,’ said my doula. I hung off her neck and shoulders and stared down at her labour socks. I could see they had been specially chosen for birthing days. Little white house socks – I was struck by their sweetness. I felt the pressure on my perineum, like needing to poo. It was time to call the midwife, I let Lana know who let Tristan know who called her. She told him she would be there in 45 minutes.
I climbed the step stool up to the birth pool. ‘Ha’, I giggled, ‘its like being on a diving board.’ The pool looked far below me as I stepped into the water. Tristan was still lugging pots with hot water from the kitchen and once or twice I had to avoid their steaming stream as he poured them into the bath. A contraction or two later with a ‘Pop’ my waters broke and I felt my baby rush deeper down into the birth passage. It was apparently at this stage that Lana mouthed, ‘Her water’s broken,’ to Tristan and tried to message the midwife to hurry – the message didn’t go through.
Tristan stopped watching boiling pots of water and came to my side. I was now on all fours in the water. All of my body, every cell, was compelled to push with each surge. I had my hand over my vagina, pressed against my perineum. A contraction or two later I could feel the soft mushy fuzz of my baby’s head and there was his ear – my god what an incredible moment and sensation – that first touch, that first contact, outside of the womb, on my hand.
Shit this is too fast. ‘Lana this is happening very fast, this is very quick.’ ‘Just breathe’, she replied. ‘Slow down baby, slow down,’ I panted. There was a break in surges. Short. Although Lana later told me that to her it felt like forever. With the next surge and a roar – fuck toning – I birthed his head. My hand felt his head and neck, my eyes were close. ‘Can he breathe, can he breathe?’ (Luca had nucal cord strangulation and needed to be resuscitated, I was experiencing fear of that moment of his birth.) ‘Yes, he can breathe,’ Lana replied. And the fear was gone. I sensed the need to shift position and pulled up gripping Tristan’s forearms. Lana was behind me watching, waiting, holding a round pink mirror beneath me every now and then to see how it was going. She had seen that he hadn’t made a full 180′ rotation. And with her finger she nudged his right, then his left, then his right shoulder. It took a moment. And then Reuben shot like a rocket into the world and into Lana’s hands. She passed him to me through my legs. ‘My baby, my baby, my baby.’ A slippery little being with a little buttery vernix still, lots of dark hair, and good purple-grey colour. At Lana’s suggestion, I put my mouth over his nose and mouth and sucked out a little gloop and spat it into the bath. Tristan got in the bath alongside us and we enfolded each other. Reuben gave a hearty cry. ‘Is that normal?’ (Ah welcome anxious mother to a newborn, I remember you!) ‘Yes, we love babies that cry,’ she reassuringly responded. 15 minutes later the midwife arrived.
My placenta was not birthed yet. With Luca I had experienced a secondary postpartum haemorrhage. The midwife was anxious to monitor blood loss during the placenta’s birth. She reached for the umbilical cord. My body recoiled. ‘No, please don’t touch the cord.’
It wasn’t without reluctance that I got out of the soupy water and got onto the white sheet and linen saver-decked couch. Leaning against the couch with my baby on my chest, the umbilical cord softly pulsating. The midwife sat staring at my vagina, waiting. And then my body (not my head) gently and firmly asked if she could ‘Please stand somewhere I can’t see you.’ The room cleared. I called Tristan back and on my request he and Lana applied pressure to tops of my shoulders – remembering that this can help release the placenta. With the next surge I got onto my knees with one hand on the umbilical cord, just holding it, and the other holding my baby to my chest birthed the placenta with a wonderful ‘shloop’. And straight away as Reuben suckled my uterus started contracting down. Reuben had such a strong suckle and spent a long time on my breast. I lay on my side, remembering too that this can be a better position for the uterus to contract in. My god the contractions were strong, and lasted longer than labour surges. I had to tone though them, common with births following your first.
When Reuben was weighed he confirmed one thing the Dr. had stated; he was 4.7kg.
I had no tearing and my recovery from this birth has been easier than my first. And it’s cool when relative strangers give you a high five after you tell them you birthed a 4.7kg baby. Or a Dr tells you you must have a good pelvis. Haha what is that?! – Women’s pelvis’ have been incredible for thousands of years.
My birth story is as much a back story as it is a birth story. How can birth be held differently in the medical landscape? We are so beholden to doctors and care providers that so often we don’t question or challenge, placing them in positions of authority over our bodies, especially as women. We submit our bodies for examinations that don’t feel good, without questioning them – disempowering ourselves further and widening the disconnect to our bodies. We are taught from a young age to hand over the autonomy of our bodies; Good girls don’t make too much noise, we shrug off or smile hollowly when things that don’t feel good and often have a disease to please. All of this takes us away from ourselves, from our deep inner knowing – that place in ourselves that creates and births our babies, that place that resides in our bodies and is accessed through our hearts, not our minds.
How could we have held our birth differently? I would have have had more conversations with my midwife and obstetrician. I would have asked tougher and more uncomfortable questions to see if we were the right fit.
Like: Under what circumstances are you going to stop supporting me to have a home birth? How long “post term” are you comfortable to go? Have you ever recommended induction? If so, under what conditions? Have you recommended a caesarean? If so, under what conditions? How do you feel about supporting birth of a “big” baby? What percentage of home births that you have supported end up in caesarean? Have you supported a breech birth? etc. etc.
The affirmations this birth has offered up is the that strength and miracles are held in being embodied; that through my body I can connect to myself on a deeper level and trust my inner known. That I can graciously but firmly say, ‘No, that’s not for me.’ As women our hearts are mighty and we can roar.
You have the right to refuse induction.
You have the right to put down other people’s stores and tune into your body and
your own deep knowing.
You have the right to challenge your care providers, your friends, your families and societies thoughts on how things “should” work.
You have the right and should feel supported in birth, if your care provider does not make you feel this way – please find another one.
It is not by chance that I felt so resourced. Thank you to the wonderful people that held and assisted me in my preparation for birth, in the birth of my “BIG” baby and that precious and tumultuous time post birth. My husband Tristan, my doula Lana Petersen and my midwife (for whom I have respect but have decided not to name as some of my story is critical of her). Our Granny, Ambuya, Gaga, Grandpa and Auntie. The psychologist Annika Nicol, osteopath Erwann Fabre, Kheryne Danu for the birth pool, body stress release therapist Patti Blamire, pelvic physiotherapist Corina Avni, Midwife Ruth Erhardt, lactation consultant Cassandra Bassett and Craniosacral therapist Olivia Badach. Wow! I feel so held in support, thank you, and for all the other women and babies you each hold in your loving circle.
I know that we can change the human heart and story through how we hold our mothers and babies in birth and beyond.