11pm: ‘I think we should go now,’ I said, not really wanting to leave the comfort of my bed.
The hospital was only a short distance away but I didn’t want to be in the car when the contractions got to the crawling on the floor stage. They had been coming all day. Not painful, just consistent. Keeping everyone in a state of excited anticipation. With Sophie they’d come on quick and brought me to my knees in a matter of hours; the pull of the Earth’s gravity dragging me down and anchoring me to the very core of existence. A stark contrast to the long, drawn out latent phase of my first labour with Charlotte – which turned a hoped for home-birth into an emergency cesarean section after two day’s of labour. Having had such drastically different experiences in the past allowed me to be a little more prepared, but then each birth is undoubtedly unique in its own way.
This was different again. I’d been feeling Braxton Hicks for days. Baby was sitting very low and making walking difficult and sitting in the car painful. My body was getting ready and I felt positive that all would go well. My wonderful home-birth midwife, Helen, had been visiting me at home for months. We’d built up a great relationship and she was wonderful in making my older children feel special throughout my pregnancy. I was tempted to try for a home-birth, but after needing intervention with my last two births I preferred to be at the hospital. Also, a new hospital had been built since I’d had my daughters, with wonderfully well equipped birthing suites. Helen assured me we would make the room feel personal and there was a lock on the inside of the door to keep the ‘clock watchers’ away! The plan was to get to hospital in time to get settled in, but not too early to be pressured into any unwanted intervention.
Gentle waves of contractions rolled my body from first thing Monday morning. I expected them to pick up fast and didn’t think I’d be around to pick the girls up from kindi and school. We made plans for Grandma to pick them up – but in the end there was no need. Dan worked from home all day, as we didn’t think it was worth him going into the office. However, my body was taking its time. A part of me wanted to say, ‘Come on, get moving!’, but my mind was thinking of Charlotte and Sophie. I didn’t want to leave them.
Evening came and the contractions started to be a little stronger. Half of me wanted to be away on my own, but the other half wanted to see my girls happily asleep in their beds. Grandma and Dan offered to get them to bed, but I wanted to cuddle up and read to them. Each time a contraction demanded my full attention Charlotte would take over the reading. They were so calm, supportive and accepting. We all really hoped that by tomorrow morning we would be able to meet our baby.
Once the girls were sound asleep we decided to get some rest, but within an hour of getting into bed I realised the contractions were becoming more definite. This wouldn’t have bothered me if I was having a home-birth, but I needed to decide when to head to hospital and wanted to get the timing right. It was about 11pm when I decided it was time.
I felt rather mean calling Helen just as she was about to turn in for the night. The drive to hospital was fine and I asked Dan to pull in at the garage to get some energy drinks, as I had a sore throat and felt tired. I wondered how long a night we would be in for. I remember taking in my surroundings. The calm, summer’s night sky, the view over to the South Island from the brow of the hill as we dropped down the valley to the hospital.
When we got to the hospital the contractions seemed to mellow again, though still coming every five minutes. Dan napped in the lazy boy. Helen dozed with her head on her arms over a corner desk. I had the bed, but found myself getting up to stand for each contraction or leaning forward on my knees, rocking my hips and breathing deeply. The room was quiet, dimly lit and warm. There was only Dan and Helen. I felt calm and in control, but wondered when, when, when would things start to pick up the pace. I started to mutter apologies to Helen and even mentioned that perhaps I should go back home. I asked if it was worth ‘doing an internal’ to find out how far along I was, but Helen said it was best to let everything progress as nature intended and I trusted her.
It must have been around 2am when I began to feel uncomfortable and needed to really focus on breathing through contractions. We filled up the birth pool and I eagerly got in. The warm, deep water and feeling of weightlessness was instantly soothing. My body was really opening up now, making room for my baby’s head to descend into the birth canal. I gripped onto Dan’s thumbs each time a contraction came, feeling his strength and support surging through my body. I wouldn’t let him go and needed him close by. It was as though his thumbs were my life-blood. Without his touch I would have been lost at sea. His hands were my anchor points. I visualised a punga fern unfurling and welcomed each contraction as a step to bringing me closer to meeting the life I’d carried for nine months.
Helen’s presence gave me courage and calmed my growing anxiety as the contractions intensified. If she stepped too far away from me I felt as though my focus would spiral out of control into panic. I was in transition. My body surged with adrenaline. Fight or flight instincts took over and a sudden feeling of wanting to run away from it all overwhelmed me. There was no escape and I had to surrender to the roller-coaster. A voice in my head reminded me how much I wanted this birth. This was the birth I’d dreamed about when I was first pregnant with Charlotte, but wasn’t to be. A birth free of intervention and drugs. I’d had the emergency cesarean and the epistiotomy and forceps delivery. The bright lights, masked faces and epidural stealing my body of all feeling. I didn’t want that.
‘I’m scared Helen,’ I whimpered. I hadn’t actually experienced pushing a baby out and I was beginning to doubt my ability to do it without pain relief. My confidence slipped away and I felt ashamed of myself, wanting to cry like a child and throw a tantrum of despair and hopelessness.
‘You are amazing Sarah,’ she said calmly, giving me a homeopathic remedy to take away the fear.
The feelings of doom lifted. My head cleared and some inner switch lit me up with a renewed belief in my ability to birth my baby and trust my body.
Helen urged me to turn over from the belly down position I was favouring in the water. She wanted to see if baby’s head had in fact entered the birth canal. The thought of moving away from Dan’s hands seemed impossible, but I felt complete trust in Helen and after a couple of contractions I managed to move myself over. She reached down into the water and asked if it would be okay to reach inside me and when she asked, ‘Is that you I’m touching?’ and I said, ‘No’, it was with relief we all knew that baby’s head was closer to the light. I reached down for confirmation and couldn’t believe the soft down of my baby’s hair beneath my fingers.
The time to push was getting closer, but I just couldn’t muster up enough strength in the water and Helen said, ‘You’re not going to like me for this, but I think it best you get out of the water and let gravity help’.
I knew she was right. But I didn’t like it. I said little, but nodded in agreement. It took me about three contractions to muster up the strength to pull my body out from the comfort of the water.
There was no step inside the pool and I had to heave my body out with my arms. Dan and Helen helped me as my legs were weak from being on all fours for so long in the pool.
It’s all a blur as to how I managed to climb up onto the bed. I think Dan and Helen must have had to lift me. They stood either side of the bed and Helen asked me to put my feet up on their hips. I clutched my thighs and pulled them back to my body, trying to make as much room as possible to allow baby’s head to come out. My feet pressed hard into Helen and Dan’s hips and I knew they were working hard to help me. I pressed my upper back into the raised bed and lifted my own hips off the bed, allowing my pelvis to fully open. The head kept crowning and slipping back. Helen assured me that each time this happened I was getting closer to seeing my baby and it was all helping. I waited calmly between each contraction, knowing that my body would do 80% of the work by itself and it was up to me to go with it and let it happen.
Finally the head crowned and stayed crowned. Now I had to work hard, with each contraction, to push my baby’s head out. Each contraction seemed to take forever to come. It was very painful to hold my baby’s head like that, but I don’t remember that feeling. At the time I withdrew inward and went into a kind of trance. I couldn’t wait for the next contraction and another chance to push my baby out. The contractions weren’t painful, but the stretched tightness of my baby’s crowned head certainly was!
Each time a welcome contraction started I pushed sooooo hard, but baby stayed put. This must have gone on for seven or more contractions – I wasn’t counting! I didn’t make a sound, except to breath. Between contractions I rested and waited and with each contraction I put every ounce of determination into working with my body to bring my child into the light.
Near the end I said to Helen, ‘Just cut me!’ but she was convinced I could do it.
Two or three more contractions and Helen was right, I did do it!
Once my baby’s head came the rest of her body shot out. Helen shouted, ‘Quick! Catch your baby!’. I reached down in disbelief and looked down to see her corkscrew out of my body. She shot out so fast that my trembling hands struggled to catch her slippery body and bring her up to my chest.
She lay there quietly, after a brief cry of greeting to the world. It was so surreal. For those last contractions I’d felt myself removed from my body and now, as I returned to full reality, I was suddenly aware of the pain in my body. But unlike a pain through injury or illness, this was pain with a gift, the gift of life. My baby made everything worthwhile and clouded my bodies sensory perceptions. I held my daughter and gazed into her eyes with utter awe. I kept thanking Dan and Helen over and over. Without them I would have been completely lost. They made everything so wonderful. It was the most incredible birth experience and so healing after the highly managed births of Charlotte and Sophie – but they were what they had to be and I accept that. At the end of the day, no matter the type of birth, it’s the outcome that’s important.
Dan, Helen and I spent the next couple of hours quietly enjoying Alice. Dan cut the umbilical chord and the placenta came out without any problems. It’s always amazing to marvel at the placenta – the incredible organ that has sustained the life of a child.
Alice was born at 5.35am and once she was safely in my arms I instantly thought of Charlotte and Sophie. I was happy that they would be waking with Grandma to look after them. We phoned home at 7am, wanting to share the news as soon as possible, but without waking them up. When Sophie realised Mummy and Daddy weren’t in bed she went to Grandma and said happily, ‘Baby must have come!’. Dan got home in time for breakfast and brought everyone into the hospital around 10am.
The girls were so instantly thrilled and full of love for their sister. It was wonderful for me to have them there so soon after the birth and for me to feel so clear headed, without having had my body pumped with drugs. After a couple of hours Dan took the girls home, whilst my dear Mum stayed to keep me company. I wasn’t particularly mobile, as I’d had a couple of tears which were quite painful but thankfully didn’t require stitches.
It was so special to have my dear Mum with me to share in those precious early hours of Alice’s life. She’d traveled all the way from England to be by my side and I shall never forget those few hours (and the cups of tea with lots of sugar she gave me!).
And now, here we are, 9 week’s on and the day Alice arrived seems so long ago already, but I shall never forget the amazing day she entered the world and the gratitude I feel for having such a wonderful midwife, husband and Mum. Their support made everything go so smoothly and we got off to a great start. Thank you 🙂