On Tuesday 12th May I woke in the early hours with a sort of stitch in my belly. Just as I had predicted! I have close friends with birthdays on the 9th, 10th & 11th of May and I just knew that this little one would want his own birthday - but that he would be earlier than the due date (14th May) as he was incredibly active in my tum, often seeming like he was trying to escape through my belly button- keen to see the world!
I lay on the sofa on my side letting the waves come and go. Then I woke up in the morning... False alarm! But good to know that things were happening. Everything went quiet until the Wednesday afternoon when a short walk to the postbox left me stopping to catch my breath and again I let the waves roll through me. I called my partner, Martyn, at school to say that this time it must have begun- our baby was on his way! Thursday-due date...nothing.
I was grateful for the extra nesting time but getting impatient now, just so eager to meet my little son face to face, and excited about labour. (Yes it is possible with hypno-birthing!) I wrote a list of happy memories that I could refer to in labour or that Martyn could read to me. I also wrote a list of empowering memories for the tougher moments, and a practical list of things to help- for example taking arnica frequently and using rescue remedy, as well as the relevant reflexology points and hypno-birthing techniques. We had been gifted the opportunity of storing cord blood and I also chose to have the placenta made into capsules so the timing of people arriving to collect these all needed to be quite precise. Martyn had his list of phone numbers, as well as the role of birth partner. Quite an ask!
My parents were slightly obsessed with the idea that our baby would be born on 15/05/15 so when I woke on Friday at 4am with what MUST be a contraction, I was pleased that they would have their wish.
My mantra at the time was 'Don't wake Martyn, it'll be a while yet!'. I turned on the hot water in preparation for filling the birthing pool and had some breakfast, trying to fill the time... After a few chores in the study I woke Martyn at 5am...I couldn't help it! But I was also timing my contractions which seemed to be between 7 and 4 minutes apart. Maybe baby would come pretty swiftly! We both got so excited and he kept saying ' Yes! A day off school!' I had been following 'The gentle birth method' to a large extent with frequent reflexology treatments, no gluten in the last 3 weeks and using meditation to help soften the cervix. I was confident that labour would be somewhere between 8 and 12 hours. Being a yoga teacher I was sure I was in touch with my body enough to open up and let him pop out and we'd all be having a glass of champagne with our afternoon tea... (The thought of the glass of champagne was a good motivator!)
It was a beautiful morning and I was beaming. I was so happy to be at home and feeling very confident about a home birth. However, I suddenly realised, even with all the preparation (NCT classes, pregnancy yoga teacher training, hypno-birthing, 6 weeks of almost-work-free time prior to the due date, reading books on oxytocin etc) that I still didn't know when to call the midwife!
I was just about to iron the nursery curtains when I thought I'd give the centre a quick call just to check in. I was given the advice to take paracetemol (which didn't feel right to me) and to get some rest at these early stages. So the curtains stayed creased (and remain creased. I have not touched the iron since having a baby!) and I relaxed in our brightly lit front room and looked through our wedding album which felt perfect.
Martyn was 'nesting' by cleaning my classic car in the sunshine and it all felt just as it should do. He then came in and blew some bubbles around me which I loved. I called my best friend (who was 4 months pregnant) and we got excited together. I then called my midwife who talked me through a contraction and said I was doing well and that it was completely my call whether I wanted her to come. It was about 9am by now. I said I'd wait a while. She sweetly said 'You can call anytime, even if you change your mind in half an hour that's absolutely fine.
I put down the phone and immediately had a contraction that took me to my knees and I could see in Martyn's face that it was time for them to come. So I called her a minute later! In the interim, Martyn and I lay on the bed and cuddled. Without wanting to be too scientific about it, I was determined to get that oxytocin filling my body! He tried to do the relevant reflexology points on me but another contraction had me leaping off the bed and into a squat on the floor.
I felt quite animal-like as I crawled around on all fours, and occasionally stood up pressing into the wall and stamping, blowing through my lips like a horse! We had the curtains closed so I felt cocooned by the soft warm light of the room. The midwife arrived and she was very sensitive to the atmosphere I had created. She spoke very softly, was mindful when taking my blood pressure and said she would be downstairs if I needed her and would check on me every 15 minutes. I could feel Martyn's shoulders relax! She watched me through a contraction and said I was doing really well. That reassurance felt amazing. She reminded me of Geri who is like a soul-mum to me and lives in The Gambia. Thank you universe!
Ah, what I'd forgotten is that by this point I had been sick a few times. I was struggling to keep any food down. Martyn looked at me and said quite strongly 'You've GOT to keep something down'. I remember thinking 'I'm not choosing to be sick!!' What I wish I'd known before is that it's apparently a positive sign. But I knew I'd need some energy for the marathon ahead so I tried to calm myself and tap into my stomach. And that was the last time I was sick.
By the afternoon I was falling asleep between contractions, sat on the toilet in the dark. The midwife kept checking on me and I was sure that I must be ready to push any minute. The phlebotomist (for the cord blood banking) wanted to know how far dilated I was so that he could time his journey from London. I heard whispers in the other room and was concerned for a moment that there might be an issue. I had requested that the midwives speak through Martyn as much as possible so I could stay in the zone. I had also requested not to be checked for dilation so we had a quandary.
The midwife told Martyn that if I was 9cm it could still be hours and if I was 2 then it might be any minute! So was there any point interfering? I didn't want to risk the phlebotomist not being there so I agreed to a check. I managed to remain completely calm whilst she examined me...and even when she said 'I don't think you've dilated at all'...! I think I said 'Ok'. And she remarked on how well I'd taken that. In my mind I knew that I had to surrender all control for nature to do its thing. The only thing I DID have control over was my mindset and not allowing the slightest thought of stress to cross my mind. If I got anxious then adrenaline would kick in, the oxytocin would be kicked out, and I would likely end up in hospital.
She did say however that she thought the baby was ready there waiting, so it was just the dilation that had to happen.
The midwives said they would leave me to it for a while and that a different midwife would come later on as the shifts were changing. Martyn looked slightly panicked but I thought, yep fine, whatever.
I continued to sit it out on the toilet, sometimes pressing into the seat to elevate myself a little as the contraction reached its peak. I also adopted a slightly unusual form of distraction- when the contractions were intense I would slap my arms!! I focussed in on the sharp sensation and it really helped! I called for Martyn each time I felt the surge and asked him to stroke me vigorously. This really helped too. I remember feeling like I was high on drugs even though I hadn't even taken paracetemol! I was dreaming between contractions and I said something in a dream-like state that confused Martyn and I felt embarrassed! I just kept thinking and saying 'He'll be here soon. This is all good. We'll meet our little boy today!'
I think I used the images of an opening flower and a waterfall.
The new midwife arrived. She came in full-throttle like Miranda the comedienne. I'm not convinced she had read my notes to say I was hypno-birthing!! Again I told myself to let it wash over me but I did say to Martyn when she was out of the room: 'You're gonna HAVE to tell her to whisper!' She appeared at the door so I think she heard! It didn't have a huge impact on her but there was a slight shift. She checked to see how far dilated I was and I felt a gush of warm water. She almost hyperventilated with apology for breaking my waters but again I just thought 'water off a duck's back...' It might have been the release that we needed anyway. Who can say.
I think I was about 6 or 8 cm dilated at that point and it was 9pm. I thought 'Yay I can finally get into my beautiful pool!' that Martyn had carefully kept at the right temperature since the morning! 'And all the pain will disappear and my baby boy will just pop out!'
Then came the words that I didn't want to hear 'just another hour and then you can get in the pool...the contractions will carry on getting stronger' WHAT?? How could that be?? A whole HOUR? Getting STRONGER?? Ok, never mind. That's cool. We're cool. My body knows what it's doing. We're nearly there.
I survived the hour with my micro-sleeps between contractions. (Thinking about it now, I think listening to the meditations in the lead up were what prepared my brain to be able to sleep between contractions- which was my absolute saving grace)
My mum had arrived that afternoon- it wasn't the plan that she would be there for the birth but when I called that morning she just couldn't help herself! It was actually perfect knowing that she was nearby and I had her support, but without seeing her for the actual labour.
When I got the go-ahead to get into the pool at 10.30pm I needed assistance down the stairs. I crossed the dark garden to our 'outhouse'. A converted garage!
I was quite excited to step into the pool as on the trial run it had felt amazing. However as I stepped in I thought 'Why am I still in pain??' I had saved my one form of pain relief until the critical moment and I felt a bit let down by it. However it was wonderful to be in an enclosed space with only a salt lamp for light and my favourite gentle African music playing. I had a wee in a 'she-pee' and soon thought 'why did I bother?' As there was a lot worse than that in the pool!! I hugged the side of the pool and still managed to sleep between contractions. I kept asking Martyn to turn the music up as I wanted to feel immersed in it. As I made some howling sounds I did think briefly 'I wonder what the neighbours are thinking' but then thought, it's not gonna happen too often...!
I quite quickly felt the urge to push and so a second midwife was called and arrived very quickly. I was quite surprised that they were chatting at the side of the pool rather than honouring the sacred space but I managed to zone out. (Apparently they were chatting about shifts and work hours...:-/) At one point I ran out of ways to express myself and yelled 'It HURTS!' There was a sharp tearing sensation on top of the contractions and it was close to overwhelming.
However when I could feel his head a little way up I was so excited and given a new surge of energy. I'll never forget that moment. I suddenly realised I had no idea how close we were to midnight and wanted to know when his birthday would be. The midwife said 'quarter to 11' and I thought 'Yay he'll have the birthday his grandparents wanted!' And then she said 'oh no sorry, quarter to 12!' And I thought. Nope. Not gonna manage that! I made a lot of noise with each push and 'Miranda' said 'See whether you can use that energy to push down'. This seemed like good advice. She also stroked my hair and held my hand and I felt safe and comforted.
As the baby's head crowned, I changed positions and had my back to the edge with Martyn holding on to both hands whispering supportive things in my ear. I said 'It's just cornflour' which amused us both. (fascia jokes!) But helped me to believe in the elasticity of the body at such an intense time. I held fast to one of the images in Ina May's guide to a gentle birth book of a woman smiling ecstatically as her baby was crowning. This inspired me to laugh my way through the final stages. The second midwife shone a torch and took some photos on Martyn's phone which all felt a bit weird but I'm glad we've got a record.
Suddenly the little head popped out! And with one more push I felt our baby swim out! Martyn reached down and lifted our little bundle out of the water. He was very calm and completely quiet...his head was tucked down and then the midwife quickly unhooked the chord from around his neck (fortunately I'd read that it's very common and not an issue) and he made a little splutter. As I held him close he looked at me and then at Martyn with his big eyes. It was the most magical moment in my whole life.
Time of birth: 12.14am
The midwives timed 2 minutes and then cut the cord. I sat on the 'chair' in the birthing pool and tried to encourage this brand new being to suckle. I wanted to be patient and see whether he would 'crawl' to my breast but I- and the midwives- were concerned about keeping little one warm. Martyn took the baby and I was helped out of the pool.
I lay on the double bed, skin to skin with our precious little one and he began to feed. Another magic moment. As he fed I tried to push for the after birth but I didn't really feel an impulse. They suggested I change position so little one was cradled by a midwife as I squatted on the bed and quite quickly felt like a chicken laying an egg. The placenta was huge!! I was in awe. It was ferried off to the phlebotomist, who then came and took a sample of my blood. During this time my mum held her grandson for the first time.
My labia had ripped on both sides but they said it didn't need stitches. Just to be kept clean with water and aired to encourage it to heal.
I felt on an absolute high. 'Miranda' commented on how in her multiple years of midwifery, she's never seen a woman laughing in the final stages of labour. I told her about the book and she said that book is what inspired her to become a midwife. (a shame she doesn't take more of it on board!) At around 2am she offered to help me shower but I said I'd be fine and she must go home and rest. She understandably seemed relieved!
Mum had made us some grub so we munched away whilst watching our beautiful swaddled babe sleeping, with his oversized hat on. We climbed into bed at 4am with little one in the Snuzpod beside us...exactly 24 hours after the first contraction. It was amazing to be at home, as a new family.