It is Saturday afternoon. A four day old baby lies fast asleep in my lap. From time to time she throws out her arms as though startled, then settles down again with small suckling sounds. A few days ago she was inside my body. I dreamt of the day I would hold her and get to know this little person who was passing through my life. Now she’s finally here and a million thoughts and emotions take turns tumbling through me. It will take me years to process them, as we three, my husband, I and our little daughter, grow together.
This is our birth story.
It took me a long time to arrive at a space in my life where I could find and accept a man who loved me, and who wanted to be a family with me. About a year into our marriage, I fell pregnant. I had always believed that this experience would not be part of my life, and now it was. And what an easy, healthy pregnancy it was. I came to feel very passionately about natural birth, although it was not something that I could discuss with my friends at all. My husband and I explored our birth options and chose a team who we believed would honour our wishes whilst being conservative about our safety. Our little girl grew strong and whole and month by month we came closer to the time when she would come into the world as an individual person outside of me.
I had been having Braxton Hicks contractions for many weeks prior to the birth. I could see them, but never feel them, until at 39 weeks, on Sunday the 27th of February, I started to feel a tightening in my abdomen with every contraction. On Monday afternoon, I noticed a bloody vaginal discharge and knew that birth must be imminent. When the discharge continued to be bloody I grew worried as this was not what I had understood the mucous plug should look like. We went in to Femina Hospital for a checkup in the evening and they assured us that there were no problems, and that the bleeding was probably just the mucous plug that had become dislodged after all. By two o’clock that night, the contractions had become too strong for me to sleep through.
We had a scheduled appointment with Heather the next morning at nine o’clock, and loaded our bags into the car, checked the cats had enough food, and left home, expecting that we might be returning with a little girl in our arms. Heather checked the intensity and interval of my contractions and confirmed that my cervix had dilated to about 3cm. She suggested we consider if we wanted to go home after our reflexology session. Marthie, the reflexologist must have pressed all the right buttons, because, and hour later I was 4cm dilated and the contractions had become very intense. We decided not to go back home, but to settle into the birth unit for the duration. We had arranged with our families that we wouldn’t contact each person individually, but rather that my brother and husband’s sister would spread the word for us. That done, and the paperwork at the hospital sorted out, I settled into the process. I tried to remember all the breathing I had practiced at yoga class, tried to close my eyes and internalize with each contraction. Rean held my hands with every single surge. The intensity kept mounting, and about every hour saw another centimeter opened for our daughter to be released through. I had become very nauseous, and despite Rean’s every effort, was not able to drink enough fluids without vomiting. By late afternoon, I was feeling desperately tired, and thought that I wouldn’t be able to keep up with the yet escalating intensity of surges. Heather warned us that I wasn’t taking in enough fluids and considered putting me on a drip. We resisted this option as that would restrict my ability to move around. Eventually she gave me an injection for the nausea, and that immediately helped, and I tried to make up for lost fluids. I had continued to bleed throughout the day, still a watery bloody discharge which started to look like leaking amniotic fluid, although a strong membrane still covered the baby’s head. Even at this point, Rean held my hand through every single surge and by now had to help me breath through them as I felt that I started to lose my focus, and felt an escalating fear or the probably long stretch that lay ahead.
Rotating my hips in large circular movements and squatting had been positions that I had come to know in yoga class. I had expected that these movements would be valuable tools during labour. However, when it came to the real thing, I felt that they further increased the intensity of the surges, and I couldn’t bring myself to go that route even though I knew it would probably speed up the process. What did really work well was sitting on the birthing stool and leaning forward over the bath.
By about 9pm progress had stopped at 8cm for some time. I felt a little desperate at this stage. I felt that I couldn’t keep up for much longer, and yet there still seemed such a long way to go. If someone had offered me pain relief, an epidural or a caesarean section at this stage I would probably have jumped at the opportunity to get out of the situation. I had started to feel very nauseous again, and couldn’t drink enough fluids. I couldn’t find comfort in the bath, or in any of the positions I had used all day.
Heather said that she thought the membrane still covering the baby’s head was holding her back, and she suggested that rupturing it would release the remaining amniotic fluid and allow for the final opening of the cervix. That was also how it turned out. After some time the space between surges became a little longer and I even imagined that the intensity eased a little. Heather asked me if I was ready to let go of my pregnancy, if I was prepared to finish the labour process. She left the room, she said, to give me time to come to terms with the end of my pregnancy, to focus my mind on finally releasing my daughter into the world. I remember panicking as the reality stuck and thinking I didn’t know how to finish this, I had no reserves left, I couldn’t internalize and focus anymore. How was a whole baby going to pass through my body without damage? I could only hold onto my husband’s hands and follow his breathing. Our Doula, Marie-Louise’s words of encouragement that this was the worst part, from here things would be easier, meant the world to me. I tried to remind myself that this marathon WAS going to finish.
Heather suggested I try getting in the bath again although I felt it wasn’t deep enough for me to get into a comfortable position. She suggested I try lying on my side, and someone found an inflatable cushion for my head. I could support my belly with the hand underneath me, and with the other grip onto Rean. I started to feel increased pressure on my rectum, and thought that the baby must have started passing through into the birth canal and wondered when I would feel an urge to start pushing. Heather left me to my intuition with this, as she had been doing all day. I tentatively explored the idea with the following surges, pushing harder and harder, feeling more and more that this was the right thing to do.
I finally felt that I did indeed have control over the situation, and that I really was ready to actively end the pregnancy and to push my baby into the warm water surrounding us. With every surge I could push harder and harder, no longer worrying about tearing my body, or squeezing my baby too hard. I had come to a place where my body knew what to do, I could just follow. When I felt her head pushing on my perineum I became very determined. It took some time as she crowned a little, the surge would pass, and she would sink back into the birth canal. A last surge and a set of final pushes brought a gushing relief. I felt Heather releasing her from my body. Someone put her on my chest. Rean spoke to me and cried. I held her wet slippery body against me and somehow felt as though I was standing aside watching with incredulity as everyone scurried around us, then left us alone, just the three of us, to hold each other and cry, with joy, exhaustion and disbelief in the candlelit night. At 11.30pm Mieke was born.