I first noticed contractions whilst we were watching Game of Thrones, on the 16th – a Tuesday evening. I didn’t think much about it. I’d been having contractions of varying intensity for three weeks, and these were no different really. Except, I noticed they didn’t go away when I changed position or when I drank. Plus there was an odd, tingly sensation in my lower back.
I woke up throughout the night and noticed I was still having them, but again, didn’t think much about it. When I awoke in the morning, and they were still occuring, albeit only every 15 minutes or so, I wondered if this was maybe the very beginning of labour. They felt different, alright – not so much in intensity as simply more focused.
Then, I had a show when I went to the bathroom, and for the first time it really hit me that this was obviously it. I spoke to the midwife who rang to schedule an appointment with me. She was encouraging, but also said that it could still be days, which made me think that it probably would be days still and not to get my hopes up.
I sent Howard to work, who wasn’t convinced he should be going anywhere. Then, I made Ava breakfast although I couldn’t think of eating anything (another sign this was happening). I tidied up downstairs, I hoovered the bottom of the house and I got out all our reusable nappies, folded them, sorted them into piles.
I noticed the contractions were getting a little more regular, although they would sometimes be every 12 minutes, then every 9, then every 15, so I told myself it might still be a false alarm and I continued to get on with things.
Around 11am, I felt like I had to rest. I had it in my head that I should keep busy, but I also wanted to just go with what my body was telling me. So Ava and I cuddled up on the sofa and I put on The Wizard of Oz. The contractions were getting more focused, but since Ezra was not back to back like Ava, they were a lot less intense.
At around 1pm I made lunch for Ava and decided to take the midwife’s advice and try to eat something, so I had a bunch of oatcakes and hummous. Howard phoned and I managed to convince him to stay put as I was certain that this may still stop and start later. Then Ava and I went up to bed where we read stories and had some quiet, snuggling time.
I was starting to feel as if my concentration was wavering. It was getting harder to focus on Ava, and when the contractions came I felt myself wanting to be there, with them. I texted Howard at 2pm to say that I might need him to come home soon – not yet, but soon, and luckily he decided to come home right away because by the time he got in I was starting to feel a little undone – I knew I was ready to focus on what was happening because I no longer wanted or could distract myself.
When Howard got home he started blowing up the pool right away and I ran a bath. Sam arrived to deliver a whole lot of food to keep us going, but I was in bed waiting for the bath to fill and trying to do some focused breathing.
In the bath, I had a couple of really strong contractions and another show and then I threw up, a lot, which wasn’t pleasant but also not unexpected given that I threw up a few times with Ava. I felt better after, but needed to move, so I walked about a bit upstairs. I noticed that moving, almost dancing, through contractions, felt good, so I did that until it felt like time to get in the birthing pool.
By this point it was only half full and not hugely warm but I needed the water. I told Howard to call Michaela, our Doula, who had been on alert since morning that I may or may not be in labour. I also said he might want to let my midwife know that it seemed to be really happening. I wasn’t sure whether or not I’d want to call the midwives but felt I wanted to keep them informed. I was sure I wanted Michaela there now, but at the same time I kept telling myself that I wasn’t that far along and that I should probably prepare myself for many more hours to come.
I got in the pool around 3.30pm and Michaela arrived just before 4pm. Howard put on my birthing music and I remember feeling calm and relaxed, very lucid, but also very focused. I seem to recall Ava coming in and out and watching me but also keeping her distance somewhat. When Michaela got here, the contractions were strong. She later told me they were about a minute and a half apart.
The midwives arrived shortly after – three of them, in a bustle of chatter and activity. For the first time since I got into the pool I felt myself drawn out of myself, distracted, and surprised. Why were there three? Why were they talking so loud? I felt a moment of desperation, and I remember looking at Michaela and Howard who had already twigged I wasn’t comfortable with this injection of bustle and noise in what had been my lovely, tranquil birthing space.
Howard asked them if he could have a word, they disappeared off with him and came back quietly and then read though my birth plan. At some point,they listened to the heartbeat, but this they only did a few times, and seemed to hang back mostly. One of them asked me if I wanted gas and air, because none had it with them. I told her yes, I’d like to have it in case I wanted it later, and she went off to get it. I wasn’t thinking much about any kind of pain relief but I still had it in my head that it might be hours and hours, and I wanted it there, just in case. She told me she doubted she’d be back before the baby came but at that point having one less midwife seemed like a good thing, so I asked er to go all the same.
I reached down and felt what I can only describe as a very large, fairly hard bubble suspended between my legs – and that was pretty strange. The midwives told me it was my waters, which obviously hadn’t burst yet, and they were acting as a sort of cushion, as well as a little pain relief. I’d never seen or read about this before and it was very odd to have this huge bubble of water which got harder during contractions.
At one point I thought to myself that I should have had a caeserian, which made me smile because I knew that that was definitely not what I wanted. I felt a little like pushing, and yet I kept thinking to myself that I probably wasn’t very far along, that I might well be there for hours yet. I think I asked the midwives how far along I was and they said without examining me (which I’d stated I didn’t want) they couldn’t tell. One of them suggested reaching my fingers inside, behind the huge water bubble, to see if I could feel the head and I did and there it was! A head! Right there. That took me by surprise.
Michaela was holding my hand during contractions and putting cold cloths on my head which felt amazing. She told me that I might find the baby’s head comes out when my waters finally broke, in one go, and I thought how great that’d be. I was really feeling the urge to push and yet I also felt extremely lucid. It occurred to me I hadn’t experienced transition (aside from the thought of a caesarian), and now every time a contraction peaked it felt harder and harder not to let my body push.
I suddenly needed to move. I moved to the opposite end of the pool and now I was on my knees, holding onto Michaela’s hands. I wasn’t really aware of anyone else. I knew I needed to push and I also had it in my head that this baby was going to come out quickly. So on the first push, I really, really pushed.
Michaela asked if I wanted her to get Howard (who was occupying Ava in the dining room). I didn’t want her to leave and I knew that this was it, so I said no.
There was no breathing the baby down gently, no soft urging him out. This was something different. This felt primal and forceful and fantastic. This did not feel like something my body was doing, without me. Or something I was trying to manage. This was simply me – no separation of body and mind – pushing my baby out. I reached down and felt the head and the hair though the bubble of water which had stretched over it. I pushed, and the head came out, and the waters must have broken.
The midwives told me to wait until another contraction came before pushing again, and then another came, and I pushed again, hard, and his body came out in one electric jolt, and I was lifting him up, without thinking, and before I even saw him, or held him, I knew he was fine, and he moved and cried right away, and I felt shocked and elated and amazed. He was born at 5.37pm, weighing 10lbs 9 1/2 ozs.
Howard came though carrying Ava and both looked completely surprised. I couldn’t get over it – there he was, and I’d lifted him up, and it was done. This big, pink baby suddenly here.
The cord was quite short so I couldn’t lift him up too high. I got out the pool after a few minutes, and lay on the couch and Ezra nursed right away. After the cord had stopped pulsating it was cut. I felt strong contractions and about half an hour later the placenta came out, and I felt such relief. The placenta was so huge it wouldn’t fit into the bowl they brought so Michaela got another bigger one.
I don’t really recall the order of things after that. Tea was made, I kept nursing Ezra. At some point the midwives examined me and told me I had a 2nd degree tear and that I’d need to go into hospital to get it stitched, if I wanted stitches. I didn’t know what to do, having not been well enough informed on tears, so Michaela phoned our friend Hannah who is also a Doula and asked her advice. Hannah’s words reflected my own feelings and I opted to let it heal naturally since it was causing me no discomfort and since the last thing I wanted to do was go into hospital.
The midwives escorted me upstairs to make sure I was able to wee, and when I got to the top I felt very light-headed and had to lie on the bathroom floor. My BP was taken and it was extremely low. I wasn’t too surprised. I get this anyway, and I’d lost a fair amount of blood. There was talk of possibly having to go into hospital so I drank some more and ate a banana and then put Ava to bed (a little singing, a little storytelling). They took my BP again and it had gone up enough that they felt fine with leaving me.
Soon after I think Michaela went too, after doing the dishes. I don’t remember what time this was, but I still felt so awake, and energised and completely high on…birth, so Howard and I stayed up and talked about it all, since he had mostly been with Ava elsewhere. He told me that when he heard Ezra cry he at first thought it must be a neighbour’s baby and had thought to himself how, in a few hours, that would be us, before realising the sound was coming from the living room.
It’s taken me this long – nearly two weeks, to want to write about it, because I was still riding that high for days after, still inside a bubble where it felt like nothing beyond the walls of our home existed.
I stayed in bed with Ezra for about three days after the birth, keeping in mind an article I’d just read about how important it was to have around two weeks of ‘bed time’ with your newborn. After that I varied between bed, couch and other places in the house.
My body began to ache. My diaphragm really hurt, I guess from those two pushes that bought Ezra out, but it was hard to be upright. Plus, I’d lost enough blood that I needed to build up my iron a little. I’d been advised to minimise moving to aid healing of the tear, which was easy enough in bed, and thankfully it has already healed ‘beautifully’, according to my midwife who checked it today. Now that I know what I do about tears, and have read up on it, I am glad I made the decision I did.
With time to look back, I feel so grateful and glad that I had such an incredibly empowering birth. As with all birth stories, this is just a version. There are things I haven’t written about, details I don’t think should be shared, and things I have already forgotten.
This birth story has changed Ava’s, too. I always felt very positive about Ava’s birth, and now I feel lucky to have had two births that were both amazing, in very different ways. I also feel that aside from being fortunate, the differences in both experiences were mostly down to my own self-education. Being more informed this time round, trusting myself more and feeling able and strong. Being more prepared, and taking responsibility for the parts I did have control over.
I was much more aware of the importance of good nutrition this time around and I stayed a great deal more active, even in the very final days of pregnancy. With Ava I was not as consistently healthy, and by my 9th month I really only wanted to lie down and read or watch films. This time I was active all day long. I did a lot of walking and more yoga, and I felt so much better for it.
Although I relied heavily on the hypnobirthing techniques whilst in labour with Ava, I was in a very different place this time round. Hypnobirthing gave me a sense of control, and it helped me through a long labour with only gas and air at the end. In particular, it helped me deal with back labour which was very intense.
But this time I wanted to be more present. I no longer wanted to control my body, or distract myself or try to manage a process I knew was instinctive. I wanted to be with my body, to be present and lucid. I wanted to let go of that part of me which was instructing or thinking or doing anything really, and just go with whatever it was my body was telling me it needed me to do. Move or be still, dance or lie down. Throw up or eat. Whatever.
I read enough about freebirthing this time around to know that this was something I wanted to do, and yet I also felt as if I hadn’t yet unlearned some of the things I needed to unlearn in order to be able to confidently birth without midwives. Coupled with this growing sense of the way I deeply wanted to birth was the various conversations I had had along the way which had done nothing but plant doubts in my head. Was Ezra too big? Did I have too much fluid? What if I tried to birth him naturally and his shoulders got stuck? What if my legs got broken if my husband or Doula, whilst helping me position myself in the optimal birthing position to unstick said shoulders, should accidentally pull too hard?
It became farcical. One thing after another, and all based on guesses, and all, at the end of the day, completely wrong. My feeling throughout was this. I am in good health. My baby is active and moving. I have no signs of gestational diabetes. I have no signs of too much fluid. I have already birthed a big baby naturally, without so much as a tear. I can do this. But when you let enough people tell you otherwise, you start to think of all the ‘what if’s. This is a useless approach to anything, especially something as primal and natural as birth. So I stopped listening and I got angry enough to demand to birth exactly the way I wanted. At home, in a pool, with privacy and quiet and no examinations or interruptions or coaching.
And it more or less went that way. It went so well that I now know, beyond any doubt, I could do it without any presence of a midwife at all – they did not actually provide the comfort I thought they would, but, as lovely and helpful as they were, were also completely surplus to requirements. I birthed Ezra myself, with the presence of my Doula being the only one I really remember, and it was terrific.
Thinking about why I tore this time, I have no doubt that it was because I made the decision to really push. With Ava, I had nearly two hours of very gentle ‘breathing the baby down’, which had made my cervix very spongy according to the midwife. This time round Ezra came out in two pushes, in what I think was less than two minutes. It was so quick that even when I was holding him I couldn’t quite believe he was there.
Throughout the day I was, clearly, much further along than I realised, but without monitoring and relying on external sources, my body followed its own pattern and it was so much the better because of it. I think the combination of movement and distraction earlier on actually carried me though a great deal of the labour and meant that contractions increased very quickly. If I count labour as the period I knew I was in labour, when I knew for certain I was having contractions, then the whole thing only lasted a few hours, and the active labour part only two.
Likewise, it amazes me that I didn’t experience transition this time. Last time I really did feel like I was going up the walls at that point. I suddenly wanted drugs, all of them. I wanted to leave. I felt insane. This time around, I don’t think anyone knew I was so close to the end, because I was so lucid between contractions. I felt able and willing to chat and it didn’t feel odd at all.
As for catching my own baby – there really isn’t any good way of describing just how wonderful that is. Knowing that no other hands touched him bar mine – it feels incredible. I can’t imagine anything in this day and age being so primal and elemental as birthing – and reclaiming our right to birth the way we instinctively know how, this, now, is essential to me.
As for having him at home, now that I’ve done it, it would take wild horses to drag me into hospital again. A homebirth is amazing because it reflects what birth is and should be – normal. It feels so normal, so uneventful in a way, that everything begins the way it should. There is no awkward sleeping in hospital beds, no constant interruptions from nurses and midwives who tell you you probably shouldn’t be sleeping with the baby and has he nursed in the last hour and so on. There is no making the father go home alone when all he wants to do is stay with his new family.
I felt like my body was freer this time around, and that it was on my terms because it was on my turf. I felt more able to say no to monitoring. I felt comfortable in my own rooms. I felt the tranquility of being in the water, with the afternoon sun shining through the closed yellow curtains. Best of all, afterwards, we were already where we wanted to be. There was not the flurry and bustle of medical staff weighing and measuring the baby whilst you sit awkwardly in a chair, completely taken out of the birthing space you’ve just been in for over a day, hoping your placenta comes out soon so you can get back to holding your baby.
Just as Hannah had said, that comfort from being at home and being able to nurse Ezra immediately meant I had a quick and easy third stage, unlike last time. No drama. And when everyone leaves, it’s just you and your family and your new baby snuggled up in bed. It’s blissful.
Aside from that, I think having a Doula was invaluable. Part of the reason that we were so late in getting one was because Howard had been so great when I was birthing Ava that I wasn’t sure I needed one. But we knew that it was likely Howard would be with Ava, whether they were present or not, and it became clear that having someone there who was informed about the kind of birth I wanted, who was on my side, who could reflect back to me what I needed, would be a good thing.
I think, too, that part of the value of a Doula is that they are not your husband or sister or friend. And because they are not, they are able to be there for you with a clarity of a vision of birth you both share, without anything obstructing that. You don’t feel bad, in that moment when you need support the most, of asking for it fully from this person, because you know they are there to give you it fully. More than that, they are there to protect your birthing space and protect you, as a birthing mother. They speak on your behalf when you are in a place where you no longer want to have a conversation.
And simply their presence, a companion at a time when you know you go it alone into this birthing place, is a very reassuring thing.
Having this kind of birth has made everything easier. Breastfeeding has been easier. I have been completely happy and flooded with these powerful birthing hormones. Flooded with gratitude and a feeling of being in every way blessed, and a feeling of being somehow amazing and cosmic and powerful on one hand, and yet totally and utterly normal on the other.
Birth is both ordinary and extraordinary. It is something our bodies know how to do, and the less we interfere, the better. It is nothing short of miraculous when you hold your child for the first time and love it so strongly without even having looked into their eyes, and yet the most amazing aspect of Ezra’s birth was exactly how normal everything felt.
Tomorrow Howard goes back to work and we will have to find our own rhythm to the days – Ezra nursing or in his sling, Ava most likely in her sand pit. I’m a little anxious at the thought of looking after both all day long on my own. But trusting that I’ll find a way to make things work is the start. Having good support is also comforting. Friends coming round for lunch, friends down the road I can escape to if it all suddenly gets on top of me.
It is May, and certainly Spring. I want to sit in the garden with my nudey toddler and nursing baby and enjoy it before it passes.