I woke at midnight to a contraction that made me leap out of bed. I literally had to move around through it. I knew instantly that these were different to the niggles that I had been feeling all week, but after the week we had I tried to keep calm and walk and move about through them. I held off waking Todd (he was in and out of sleep) until 1:20 am. When I did all I said was,
‘Ok I need you now.’
He knew we were on. He instantly roused and starting keeping an eye on the time of the contractions. We had a goal of 3 – 4 in 10 minutes before we would head to the midwife lead hospital (we were allowed because after all it was a spontaneous labour).
Together we paced the deck in the moonlight. I told Todd of sending out a request to the birthing spirits earlier in the week to keep an eye over us. It seemed to me that this was the right time to say thank-you.
I walked and rocked and swayed an hour away in what felt like 10 minutes. I asked Todd how far apart they were now.
‘About three minutes.’ He said heading inside. After everything we didn’t want to scare the contractions off again but I think he was making the call to our team. Another contraction came and I new without a doubt…
‘We have to go now.’
We rushed as quick as I could into the car and I braced myself for the 25 minute trip. The pain was intense and as each surge came I pushed myself out of the front seat. I was far from relaxed but kept willing myself to be. As we rounded the corner to the hospital I was overcome with love for Todd for getting us there safely and as delicately and quickly as possible. I new he felt the strong urge to protect overtake him.
We made it to the maternity unit just ahead of our midwife. By the time she got there I was progressing well into labour. In the birthing room I found a wall that I was not able to let go of. I just had to lean my head against my arms and hang on through every contraction. I knew the bath was filling and I hoped against hope that I was going to be one of those women that had that ‘Oh my god that feels so much better’ reaction to the warm water.
As I immersed myself I felt the relief instantly. Our doula arrived with the proper birthing pool but I think I was only vaguely aware of all that was happening in the room adjacent. I was already concentrating on each surge as they came with little thought of anything else.
The pain is incredibly hard to describe, partly because I have already started to forget it, partly because it is unlike anything I have ever experienced. To try, I will say that it was like a climbing, crawling ache that started low down and overtook my whole body.
I remember feeling them come on and the initial reaction was to dread the onset of pain. I had to work my mind to retain the affirmations I had chosen. Affirmations like ‘This is not pain this is what my body is designed to do. I welcome each contraction as it brings me closer to the birth of my baby.’ This refocusing of thought helped me through times when I thought the pain was intense. Little did I know that the intensity would grow over the next eight hours and I would have to rely on my body to instinctively take over and guide me through.
There were points along the way where I could think of nothing but the intensity of each surge, I was engulfed by it. There were points where to think of anything more than just getting through this surge was too much. My affirmations at times were reduced to simply ‘Down and Open’ repeated over and over in my mind. I remember the feeling of Todd kissing my head as I relaxed after a surge. I remember his hands never leaving mine as I hung over the birth pool. I remember nothing ever tasting as good as the ice chips fed to me on a spoon. I remember opening my eyes when I could and seeing my midwife – never leaving my side. I remember seeing her face there each time I needed it. I remember feeling Todd touching and reassuring me. I remember our doula in the background, seamlessly taking over from the others for respite. That’s the way I remember this part of active labour now – snippets here and there. I remember the task of getting out to try to pee seeming almost insurmountable. I remember standing and holding on to Todd as though I would fall to the floor without him. I do remember at one point wondering what pain relief I could get or if it would work, but as quickly as the thoughts came I pushed them away with the repetitive thought ‘Don’t go down that path, you wanted this’. The strength of the mind won and the thoughts floated away never to return.
Transition for me was probably the most intense time, but I’m not sure I was there for most of it. I felt it but my mind took me away to cope. I know at one point I drifted with the yoga music in the background to India and some kind of market. I don’t recall any of the thoughts just knowing that I was there. I think this is the time that the guttural groan began. I had no control over the noises that were coming from me. They just flowed with every surge. I do remember realizing that they reflected the level of intensity of each surge. Midwives like ours, that are truly ‘with woman’, must come to know these noises and signs. She knew when to guide my breathing deeper down. She somehow knew when I needed reassurance. She never left my side.
I remember coming out of transition. I came back into the room. I felt so aware all of a sudden. I remember telling the team that ‘I’m back’ but they already knew. The adrenaline needed for pushing was starting to surge through my body. As painful and intense as it was I actually almost enjoyed pushing. I felt like I had some sort of influence over what was happening and that I no longer had to wait and breath out each surge but that I could actively help bring my baby to us. My body was overcome with this deep pull from inside and my entire body wracked down on itself. I only had to follow this force and pushing naturally took over.
At our doulas suggestion Todd came into the pool with me. I am forever grateful for this. To feel his strength behind me as I was pushing was amazing. I know now that he was holding on to me with all his power trying to will his energy and strength into me. He tells me know how he could feel how hard I was working – the heat and energy flowing from me. To be able to fall back and relax into his arms was wonderful. I pushed for a long time. As with every step of the way bub was healthy and safe but making his way in his own time.
There had been a change in shift and the new doctor in charge felt uncomfortable with our birthing. She was under pressure from protocols and I believe fear was motivating her but she insisted on coming into the birth space to again re-iterate that the advice is to get out of the water, have IV antibiotics, and CTG. I remember understanding her need to clear herself, so to speak, but I also remember thinking she was completely mad. There was no way I was going to get out of the water. I doubt I physically could have. I remember thinking – what are you going to do – put a cannula in my arm over the side of the pool? ‘I’m about to push this baby out!’. Bub was being monitored every contraction and his heartrate never faulted – all CTG would have done was tell them the same thing. At the time I was not worried too much by the interruption I just said ‘yes I understand, no thank-you’ and it was over but I know I was shielded a lot by my birth team. I also think they believe it slowed progression again.
I turned to face Todd and although I meant to go on hands and knees I ended up squatting. Here is where I felt the final pushes as baby began to crown. It is hard to describe the burning feeling that was painful but overtaken by gratitude that we were nearly at the end of this amazing journey. He came and retracted a few times. I remember the stretch as his head passed the largest point and he did not retract but waited patiently for the next surge. His head at last emerged. I expected his shoulders to come easily afterward but they didn’t. I didn’t know whether I had the strength to push again but I had to rally myself – there was no return, our baby was almost here. His shoulders came with a little tear that startled me but not more than the slithering sliding feeling as baby exited my body – on his terms – in his time. He was passed through my legs but I was too shocked to respond. I remember hearing my midwife call to Todd.
‘Catch your baby Dad’.
The next thought I had was looking down into Todd’s arms and seeing a pink little body and that of all things…
‘We have a boy!’
I cried and dissolved into tears onto Todd’s shoulder. The relief was immeasurable; the instant love, indescribable.
I wanted to touch and hold him. As Todd passed him over I felt a tug on my very sensitive perineum.
‘The chord’s pulling.’
We realized that bub had a very short chord and that I was not able to get him to my chest. I was half-squatting, half-standing in the water with my baby against my belly. There was a little logistical work to get out of the tub and onto the waiting post birth area but we managed it in the end. We had intended not to clamp the cord until at least it had stopped pulsing but with the short length I was not able to get Harley high enough to my chest and I wanted him closer to me. I asked to cut the cord earlier than we’d planned. Todd did this and I could easily pull bub close to me. I gazed in amazement at this perfect being that we finally had in our arms. I could have stayed like this forever and every thought other than complete awe at our little man went from my head. Every idea of pain or hard work was left behind in the water. We were a family.
Harley was pinker than I expected, but he started to make little grunting noises. I know now that his ‘hungry’ cry is similar to these noises but at the time they were a bit worrying. I could see our midwife observing intently and I was vaguely aware of other murmurings in the birth room. I started to become concerned too. My first hit of a mother’s anxiety set in.
‘What if something’s wrong? Is he breathing ok?’
I could feel myself tense up. I started to talk to Harley. I told him anything I could think of just to connect to him. I talked about how much his Dad and I were waiting to meet him, how clever he was, even about his special song we had picked for him. I remember consciously thinking, I need to slow my breathing, I need to slow my heart and convey this to him. I did. I consciously relaxed myself and focused on pouring positive energy into him. It worked. He slowly calmed and the grunting subsided.
I know that if I had been anywhere other than under the watchful eye of our midwife he may have been taken away. But she knew us. She believed in us, and she believed in giving us time. Now, as was the case all along it seemed this is all that we needed.
The next and final step was in removing the placenta. I believe that the anxiety and the adrenaline caused from worry stopped any further contractions. Again I believe more time and it would have come, but again, this was the one thing we we had run out of. We tried every measure we could in the limited time but in the end protocol won out and the doctor was called. It took syntocinon, a catheter and a pretty strong pull from another midwife but eventually my body gave in and the placenta released. I’m not ungrateful that these measures were taken, far from it, but I can’t help but wonder if perhaps again all we needed was more time. Todd ensured that the second lobe was intact. Hearing the words that it was I again I dissolved into a flood of tears. Now, finally it really was over and I could enjoy our little man.
If you look at the numbers it was 110 hours in all from when my waters broke until we met Harley. There was four days of intense emotional labour, twelve hours of active labour and probably ten hours of hard labour, but in the end I would not change a step of the journey.
Birth has changed me, forever. I am better because of the labour that we had. It has changed the relationship between Todd and myself. I am stronger and more confident. I have power as a mother. I know I was able to fight to give our son the very best chance in starting his life. I fought to have him born in an environment that was safe, loving and secure. In the end this was not at home but was achieved with the love and care of our team. I can never explain the gratitude I feel for these magical women that truly made our birth a transformational event. I know they have been changed by our birth and I believe some politics for home birth have as well. Harley made his way earthside in his own way and I believe was meant to tell this story.