Story by Laura
Of all the numerous helpful affirmations I wrote (and placed on almost all the walls around our home), the one that carried the most truth was this:
There is no hurry
I have the strength, stamina and patience to let this birth unfold
Our baby will be born at exactly the right time
When my estimated due date came and went, and our baby showed no signs of readiness to arrive, we undertook extra monitoring to make sure all was still well in there. Strong, healthy readings from daily heart-monitoring and an extra ultrasound scan gave us the confidence to keep waiting. But it wasn’t always easy as there was increasing talk of inductions both from our midwife and from the obstetrician she encouraged us to speak with. They didn’t pressure us, but made it clear that was what they were advising.
If there had been a clear, medical reason, or anything indicating that our baby was in trouble, we would, of course, have agreed to any necessary interventions, but both the tests and our instincts told us it was okay to keep waiting. I am so glad we did. Talking to Vida on the phone around this time was a huge help, and I remain extremely grateful for her calm, supportive presence.
We tried everything you’ve ever heard of to help get labour started: acupuncture, acupressure, climbing stairs, walking, spicy food, (best of all) lots of sex, and (less delicious) a labour ‘cocktail’ suggested by one of our midwives! I also, on the advice of a dear, wise friend, found a place of calm authority and spoke to our baby, saying, “I’m your Mummy, and you chose me, and I’m telling you it’s time now to be born.” In the end I don’t know if any of it helped or if, in his own sweet time, our son eventually just decided he was ready.
We didn’t know he was a boy at that point. It seems so strange, now that we’ve known him and loved him for over a year, that we were still waiting to meet this little person and didn’t even know if it was a son or a daughter on the way!
Labour started on a Sunday evening and quickly became very intense. We spoke to the midwives on the phone and were advised to try and get some sleep, which we tried to do. Lying down was very uncomfortable for me, however, and that was the closest it came to being genuinely painful. At that point I remember joking (sort of) that I could understand why mothers might choose elective caesareans! After some hours of not managing to get much sleep (as with every surge I found myself wanting to be on my hands and knees) but a little rest, I decided to get up, and then everything slowed down… I was still feeling contractions every 10 or 15 minutes but nothing like the urgency of the night before when they were rolling over me like powerful waves every 3 minutes.
Looking back now, it seems like he just decided to take a break (and give me one) after some intense work.
When one of our midwives, Grace, came to see us later that morning, she thought I might still be in the very early stages of labour as I seemed so relaxed and the rushes were so spaced out. She offered to do an internal check and was astonished to report that I was 6cm dilated! I was less astonished, having been party to the intense sensations of the night before, but nevertheless found it extremely encouraging (I had hesitated to have the check as I knew it could have had the opposite effect).
Grace commented that it was so peaceful, calm and relaxed in the house, and that this was lovely, but that it might also be a good idea to go for a walk to try and get things moving again. We did this and she left us to it, and just around the corner from our house the surges picked up again and built steadily through the afternoon and evening.
Grace came back around 11pm and was with us through the night as my husband, myself and our baby worked together towards our first meeting. I found lots of beautiful and enjoyable ways of moving that felt very natural and sensual to me, and Simon supported me in so many different ways, with acupressure, with his voice, with lots of loving touch and his clear, strong, calm presence. I also remember scrambled eggs appearing, though how he found time to make them I don’t know as it felt like he never left my side!
At around 5 in the morning, fully dilated and feeling like we were really on our way, I climbed into the birth pool, and again everything slowed down!
I wondered afterwards if it was because the water was so delicious and relaxing and such a beautiful sensory experience that my body forgot what it was supposed to be doing! Or perhaps our baby had his own plans and his own ideas of what ‘exactly the right time’ would be for his birth.
After two hours in the birth pool – which passed quickly but lingers in my memory as an incredibly beautiful, peaceful time – but only a handful of contractions we all agreed it was time to get out and try something else.
By this time Annie, our lead midwife, had arrived and was soon joined by Susi, as Grace had gone to get some rest. The next few hours I dozed between contractions, drank lots of water, and ate some more scrambled eggs that magically appeared once more! And though I felt fine Annie thought I was perhaps dehydrated as things had been going for quite a while now – it was nearly Tuesday lunchtime by this point. She suggested some intravenous fluids and though I was initially resistant and tried to drink more water instead, we decided after a while to give this a go.
Sure enough things started moving more quickly again, and another internal check revealed that our baby had dropped into a position that suggested I had been pushing for half an hour, but I hadn’t pushed at all yet. I knew this was because we were all on the same team and he was doing his part, just like we were.
Finally the time came for pushing and I worked hard, for two hours. The midwives were so supportive and encouraging, though I remember being puzzled by them telling me to push through the pain, or push the pain away, as even in those moments I was thinking, ‘what pain? this isn’t painful’. Which isn’t to say that it wasn’t hard work, or very intense, but ‘pain’ is definitely not the word to describe it, for me.
Someone had the brilliant idea of setting up a mirror so I could see what was happening, which was so inspiring. I will always remember seeing my son’s head emerge from within me, just as I will always remember touching his beautiful head for the first time, when he was still inside. Extraordinary feelings. And only the beginning, as he was soon to be out altogether and slithering onto my tummy and into my arms, and taking his place firmly in the centre of our hearts.
But first we needed a bit more help as he wasn’t getting past my perineum, which kept bouncing him back up inside me whenever I relaxed. I could see this happening in the mirror, and remember joking about ‘all that bloody pilates!’ Annie suggested an episiotomy, and gave us a few surges to think about it. I trusted her completely, and knew this wasn’t a rash decision; afterwards I learnt that in her many years of midwifery she has only done a handful of episiotomies. I also knew, somewhere vaguely in the back of my mind, that at some point in the future I was going to run out of energy, though that point still felt some way off. In actual fact I never had the experience described as ‘transition’, where I hit the wall and felt like I couldn’t go on. The closest I came to that was knowing that there was a wall out there somewhere. But after a very tidy episiotomy, our baby was born on the next push!
After that everything else went out of focus as I held this tiny person (not that tiny actually, at 9lbs 5oz / 4.2kg!) and sang to him, at Simon’s suggestion, the song I had sung lots while he was in my tummy.
There is so much more that could be said – about his first feed, first cuddle with his Daddy, first meeting with his grandparents who arrived to see him a few hours later, so many ‘firsts’, right up and through his first birthday a short while ago… This lengthy account is, in fact, only a fraction of the full story that I wrote down in the days and weeks following his birth.
I’m always glad of the opportunity to think back over the experience of birthing our son, whom we named Felix, as it was, undoubtedly the most profoundly beautiful, empowering and enjoyable experience of my life so far. It transformed me, in so many ways, and I am so proud of us all. I know that Simon had absolute faith in me, as I did in myself, to be able to birth our baby. And that Felix, as I knew he would, did his part beautifully. And, with a big thank you to Annie and the amazing team of Domino Midwives, and to the incomparable Vida, I can truthfully say that I look forward to doing it all again.
And, finally, to circle back to where I started, I can also say that the affirmation really worked – I did have the strength, stamina and patience to let his birth unfold, and (2 and a half weeks after his estimated due date and after 42 hours of labour) our beautiful son was born at exactly the right time!