Gatsby Harper Mosley-Chalk was born on at 2pm on the 9th June, a Tuesday afternoon, in the birthing pool, in my living room, with my doula Hannah and my daughter Ava present. He weighed 9lbs 13.
When he came out, I laughed (and laughed). Overcome by a kind of ecstasy and happiness I can’t begin to explain. A bit like being on drugs, but with a clarity, a pause, a sweet rise of awe at the moment you straddle two realms and pull your baby from the water and lift him to your chest.
I remember shaking because it was very quick. At a point when I really wasn’t sure how long it would still take, I reached up and felt a circular patch of hair and thought, ‘Oh, he’s right there’. I said to Hannah, ‘I feel like I need to push’ and she replied, ‘Just go with what your body feels like it has to do’.
And the push – what felt like one, long push – unmistakable pressure, but no to-ing and fro-ing, no down and up. My body bearing down and me with it, and then the head out, and then one shoulder and arm, and the rest.
This time, for the first time, no tears. No grazes. Clear water, no pain. Only laughter.
Your body listens. Like a Russian doll, each birth is carried within the next. You bring yourself to the birth.
I choose carefully what and who I surround myself with, especially when I am pregnant. My body listens. Maybe my baby does too. I am no good at building walls. I am not impenetrable, words invade.
But when I choose carefully, what flows in is necessary and good. How do you start a birth story when the story is everything that leads up to birth, too? The women who are friends and who share their wisdom easily. The Blessingway they threw me and the words they gave which made their way in. The kindnesses of a rare community.
And the words I told myself too.
Two days before he was born, I decided a good exercise would be to write down Gatsby’s birth story as if it had already happened. Reading over it now, I am surprised (and not) by how much of it happened exactly as it is written.
When I woke up on the 9th, some time before 8am, I thought to myself, ‘Wouldn’t it be funny if I felt my first contraction now?’ I went into labour around 7am with both Ava and Ezra.
Like clockwork, I felt a surge. I remembered that during the night I got up to go to the toilet and felt certain I would give birth the following day.
The surge felt different, but not strong. Another followed a little later, but they were very spaced apart and no stronger than any braxton hicks, so I wasn’t sure they meant much. But I had a feeling.
Hannah messaged me to see how I was and I mentioned maybe, maybe something was going to happen. Hannah has had a knack, throughout my pregnancy of knowing exactly what I needed to hear and when and I recalled how she was one of the first people I had told I was pregnant. I didn’t even have to ask her to be my doula – we both knew she would be.
But I wasn’t sure that labour was close to starting. At 10am, feeling restless, I decided we should go for a walk. We walked for an hour, stopping off at the shop to get snacks. I had a strong desire not to engage in small talk with the over-zealous checkout lady, so I waited outside with Ava. Occasionally, I’d feel another surge, but they were very irregular and still not so strong at all. So we walked. Close to home, I felt one which was stronger and stopped me walking for a moment.
At home, I went upstairs to lie down, wondering if I should try to get some rest in case labour was imminent, but I felt restless and uncomfortable. I wanted to keep moving.
I took off all my clothes, which in restrospect should pobably have been a good indicator of what was happening, but I still felt like, if things were indeed beginning, it might be days yet til I birthed.
Howard was updating Hannah. When either of my kids tried to talk to me I felt irritated – another sign, in retrospect. My only thoughts were that I really wanted to move my body and that I absolutely did not want to eat anything.
During Ava’s birth I wasn’t sure at all what to expect and I was intent on following the guidance of all my hypnobirthing readings.
I see this now as largely a hindrance because it kept me from really listening to what my body wanted to do. Despite an overall positive birth, there was so much I didn’t know. And so much I did, that I had to unlearn.
I had no desire at all to use hypnobirthing techniques with Ezra. I enjoyed the Ujjayi breath we did in yoga, and how it centered me and brought me always back to my baby. Having refused monitoring, I was unsure how far along I was, or what stage I was in. This was a complete blessing. This felt like a good kind of uncertainty. I didn’t know, but my body did.
About ten days before Gatsby was born, for the first time since early pregnancy, I felt inexplicably tired. I had so much energy during this pregnancy, and for so long, that I was surprised by the sudden sheer force of exhaustion that overcame me. I slept on and off for two days.
And then, I felt inexplicably sad. So many emotions seemed to rise up at once, and every time I tried to find where they were coming from, or what they were about, I was lost. I had no idea.
I still don’t. I drew, and I wrote. I meditated. I walked and did my best to ground myself, thinking often of the strange and beautiful reiki experiences, the symbols and visions which had arisen from them, that seemed connected to these big feelings.
Fears rose up too, and I was distinctly aware of the need to let these feelings be felt, to give them air. I wrote the fears down and sat with them, and then I tore up the paper.
I cried, sometimes wept, and felt a solid sense of grief. Then it seemed to pass quite suddenly. I don’t fully understand what happened, but I know that this was an essential and important part of preparing to birth. Maybe it was the first part of letting go.
It wasn’t until noon that I started to think I was most likely in labour. The surges were still quite spaced apart but they were stronger. I danced through almost every one. I stood in the doorway and swung my hips back and forward and did a kind of squatting belly dance. A big, swirling naked lady humming and dancing.
The dancing felt so good. I almost felt like I could have gone for a run. When I felt a surge, I focused on it and imagined my body opening up. I could feel the bones in my pelvis loosening.
Howard started to inflate the pool, although I really had no idea if I was being premature. I threw up into a metal bowl and felt mildly annoyed that despite having not eaten (I never want to eat in labour), I still ended up being sick. Being sick, even once, is absolutely the worst part of labour for me.
Just before 1pm, I had a surge that was pretty intense, and I thought ‘I hope this isn’t just the beginning and I keep having these kinds of surges for days – what if my labour lasts a whole week and I can’t cope?’
I breathed. I felt pretty happy that the surges were so focused at the front because I knew that meant Gatsby was not back to back. Then, at 1pm, I got into the pool and Howard called Hannah to let her know I might want her soon, despite me voicing concerns to him that I didn’t want to call her until things were really on their way.
I felt a pressure and a pop and realised my waters had broken as I saw a gush of slightly darker water in the pool. There was a lovely sense of relief after this, which I thought was pretty cool since Ava’s waters had been broken by the midwife, and Ezra’s had gone just as he was being born.
Hannah arrived at 1.30pm. I was moving a bit around the pool, still enjoying the feeling of being active. I think I said to Hannah that I hoped I hadn’t called her too soon.
I remember that Ava did not want to leave the room, so she sat next to Hannah on the couch. I remember that Hannah took her hand. I remember feeling completely calm and present and wanting, needing to feel every single sensation.
I remember the light in the living room, the fullness of the birthing pool and the distinct sharp feeling of my pelvic bones opening up.
I remember Ava saying to Hannah that Gatsby was going to be born in 2 minutes and Hannah replying that it might take a bit longer, yet.
Then 2 minutes later, Gatsby was born.
The amazing thing about birth is not how extraordinary it is, but how completely and utterly ordinary and normal it can be. At 10am I was in our local shop buying oreos. At 2pm, I birthed a baby, and at 6pm, I was eating lasagne that a friend had dropped round.
Gatsby was born about 2 feet to the left of where his brother was born after a couple of hours of labour. From the photos, I can see that after his head came out I raised my left leg, as if I am preparing to propose. I don’t remember doing this, but I do recall knowing I needed to move in the moment after the head was born but before the rest of him popped out.
Howard and Ezra heard me say, ‘Oh, hello Gatsby!’ and came through from the dining room.
After a few moments the water began to feel cool and I wanted to get out as I was still shaking a little.
I moved to the sofa which was covered in towels. I always forget how clumsy this part of birth is – not wanting to let go of Gatsby but trying to get out of the pool with the umbilical cord dangling between my legs, still fastening us together.
The afterpains were incredibly intense. I knew I’d have no bother with the placenta and it came out with a slight push. Since we intended on having a lotus birth, the placenta had been placed in a glass bowl, inside a towel, with the cord still attached to Gatsby. After a while, Gatsby nursed and then I felt like I wanted to go upstairs to bed.
Hannah had made me some peppermint tea since I hadn’t eaten and that helped me to warm up. She helped me clean up whilst Howard held Gatsby and then her and Howard covered the placenta in salt to help it to dry out. Hannah brought me toast in bed whilst Gatsby was wrapped up against my skin.
Later, after Hannah had left, I told a few people. The kids came upstairs and showered Gatsby in excited kisses and a little curious prodding. I ate lasagne. The cord had gone stone cold and every time we moved it annoyed me, and Gatsby would flinch when it touched his skin. We cut it and tied some sterile floss around it.
Then we hankered down and stared at Gatsby and his dark hair and dark eyes and familiar smell, and it was almost just like any other day. A sense of home welled up around me, and I was thankful to be in my bed, surrounded by my people – now five bodies, instead of four.