Petra and Ira: A beautiful summer morning birth

I could not be happier to introduce my 'September Sister' Petra, and her wonderfully unique birth story. 

Petra is such a beautiful and poetic spirit and we have been on many a mad adventure together - grape picking in the south of France, hitch hiking around the french Alps, and many a camping 'sauvage' - we share a fond love of France, and an even fonder passion for French men!

Petra was literally MADE to be a mum (being the eldest of a large family growing up on a dairy farm in Somerset) and I am so happy to hear that her second experience of birth was more positive than the first (she sadly had a bit of a rough ride the first time round).

This is without doubt one of the most beautifully written and touching birth stories I have ever read, and it is so uniquely her own, original voice.     

Petra and I met whilst studying at SOAS over a decade ago.  We set up the first SOAS women's society there together - which I believe is still going strong today - probably more thanks to Petra than me as I bailed on SOAS in my second 4th term of studies proclaiming (probably rather arrogantly and naively at the time) that I didn't want to sit in a class studying Development Economics any more and I wanted to go out and get a REAL skill to change the world (although arguably I kind of did get a valuable skill in the end - so maybe not so naive after all?)

Anyway, here is her powerful and utterly wonderful birth story.  Thank you SO much Petra for sharing this with us.  I'm sure your words will give many other women courage, knowing that things can be different the second time round xxxx


Ira is my second daughter, born in June this year. My first daughter, Linéa was born two and a half years ago in a stormy February. The plan with Linny was to have a homebirth using hypnobirthing and what actually happened was a pretty good example of the 'cascade of intervention' that we're all warned about. Worst of all, on reflection, was the sense of failure and guilt I was left with after Linny's birth which I was determined to not put myself through the second time regardless as to what happened. I still had vague hopes for the sort of 'positive' hypnobirth (the kind of which you can endlessly watch on youtube where a woman looks amazing and delicately pushes a baby out in their candle lit birthing pool- these women are amazing !) but tried to hold this as inspiration rather than see it as a formula to a positive birth.

I was four days past the due date when the labour began with Ira, I was lying on my bed resting after a day chasing the toddler around and an early evening walk... Despite having been through it before I still thought that it probably trapped wind. Pretty quickly it was clear that these were raging contractions (the first time I had used words like 'surge', this time I felt that semantics weren't going to soften the sensation and the word contraction actually seemed quite apt...). I took a bath and staggered around a bit but nothing seemed to ease them and soon I began to shout at my partner, my way of being able to tell that it was time to get to hospital. I had accompanied my sister through her labour earlier in the year and I recognised her in my own manic moving about the house, throwing myself at furniture for support during contractions... This time, because of the complicated arrival of Linny we had decided not to try for another homebirth but go to a midwife led birthing centre.

The first stage of labour with Linny was a gruelling two days long.  With Ira, within a couple of hours we rang the hospital and were advised to come in. Once at the hospital, abandoned, as my partner sped home again to pick up my notes we had forgotten, I was soon overcome with the intensity of the contractions and proceeded to make a lot of noise. Out and out screams. I wasn't screaming in fear and not really because of the pain, more as an outlet for it all. My position of choice was bent over the bed which was informed by the relative comfort of kneeling like this and the close proximity to the gas and air which very soon felt like a life line. I hardly moved for the next seven hours, I did some swaying with my partner which felt good but I suspected he was trying to get me to ease off on the etonox which led me to get right back over that bed again and not let go of that blessed mouthpiece until my baby had arrived.

I still find it incredible how completly consuming the experience was. I remember drumming my fingers on the wall infront of me and smacking my feet together behind me, I probably looked a bit like a seal. These two things felt like a way to shake away the pain and something that had stuck with me from hypnobirthing was 'keeping loose'. I had a lovely midwife called Jane who allowed me to get on with it and was probably wondering how long I'd be able to keep up the ear splitting screaming for. I had asked that no one use the word 'crowning' or in any way draw my attention to this bit of labour which I planned to pretend wasn't happening. I learnt that there is no way you can avoid knowing that this is happening and in fact the knowledge that my baby was almost here and the sheer strength of these moments somehow got me through this.

Ira slipped into the world at exactly 7.30 am on a beautiful summer morning. I had been expecting a boy. Everyone told me I was carrying a boy but there, passed through my legs and placed in my arms, was a chunky little girl. All blue coloured and calm. She made those amazing first cries and I was completely overwhelmed. Suddenly the room came into focus, the midwives, the strange smell of birth, my partner behind me and my baby daughter, heavy in my arms. Somehow she had squeezed herself out and now she was here. There are a few other wonderful things that stick with me : The second midwife who arrived for the birth whose hand I held during those final minutes. She seemed very motherly and I'm sure she said 'Just call me Auntie Sue', either to me or to Ira once she was born and it was just what I needed to hear after the night of labour. And of course the tea and toast. I was ravenous.

I do sometimes wonder whether having a doula would have led to a simpler outcome with Linny's birth. The support I had from my partner was invaluable and sharing these experiences with him incredible, but I think perhaps having someone else there to be supportive at the right moments and assertive when necessary might have been welcome for him too.

My experience of hypnobirthing is probably a little unorthodox. What I took from it during Linny's birth kept me very calm but with Ira's birth I think I threw my MP3 player off the bed, shouting something about 'relaxation sh*t' however I don't think I really did it justice as it was something that had helped me before. I guess that in that moment I just wanted some gas and air...

Although I do tend to over-analyse life's events, the significance of labouring and birthing a baby I think is possibly one such event that merits some pondering. I wholly believe that natural birth is best in many ways but in the instances where this is not the outcome, for whatever reason, please let us not chastise ourselves. Now my elder daughter's propensity to get stuck and take a long time to get anywhere has helped me to look back fondly on her arrival into the world, apparently characterised by her personality. Perhaps Ira will grow up to be much speedier and straightforward...