Arthur’s Birth Story
When I wrote Arthur’s birth notice for the newspaper, I described his birth as being a ‘joyous’ occasion. And it was! This isn’t a load of hippie hogwash either. The birth of my son was the most joyful, beautiful, and incredible experience of my life.
The night before our baby was born, I could not sleep. Not wanting to disturb Andrew with all my thrashing about, I got up and pottered about a bit. I stayed up till one in the morning trying to finish a picture of farm animals I was painting for the baby. (It remains unfinished.) I awoke at 9am the next day, feeling a bit uncomfortable. This was nothing unusual as the baby’s head had been engaged for a few weeks, and virtually everything had become uncomfortable! When I noticed the discomfort seemed to be coming and going, I began to think my baby might be born that day. Foremost in my mind was our midwife Leanne’s words regarding pre-labour. I thought, “This isn’t the real thing, the contractions aren’t long enough. Besides, it could all just stop.” Consequently, I didn’t think I should contact the midwife, my support people or even Andrew just yet, and went about my usual morning routine.
Gradually, the contractions started becoming more intense, longer, and closer together. Even at this early stage, I could feel the baby’s head pressing down on my cervix. It became necessary to concentrate on each contraction, and I thought, “This baby means business!” I entertained the possibility that this might be the real thing, but I was actually in denial about really being in labour until about halfway through. I was expecting two lots of visitors that day, so I rang them to say not to come around because I might be having a baby. This was about eleven thirty. Time was just flying by. I rang the midwife and left a message, saying to ring back but nothing else. She later said I sounded too calm to be in labour! I rang my auntie Bev, one of my support people, to give her some advance warning because she lives about one hour away. The contractions were now about 45 seconds long. I told her that it might not be real labour, but she decided 45 seconds was long enough and to come anyway. I am glad she did! I was feeling a little panicky on my own. I still hadn’t called Andrew, so I decided to let him know what was going on, seeing as everybody else did!
Andrew, Bev, and Anne (our backup midwife – it was Leanne’s weekend off) arrived all around the same time. Once I had company the pain seemed so much more manageable. I found a position that worked for me – squatting down – and I would bob down into this position, with my head and forearms resting on the dinner table, whenever I had a contraction. Doing this, and exhaling slowly from the beginning of each contraction, made it completely bearable. At this point, my support people were busy trying to get the birthing pool filled. This was a major undertaking. Having exhausted the hot water cylinder, they were boiling huge pots of water on the stove, and the kettle and spare kettle as well. As my labour progressed quite rapidly, this was not fast enough, so Bev had to go door-knocking throughout the neighbourhood asking for buckets of hot water! This proved sufficient in the end.
Anne examined me (my one and only internal examination) and found my cervix 5cm dilated. I was extremely pleased. It was quite stretchy, and she was able to open it up a bit wider. I couldn’t believe how quickly things were progressing. Since I was now officially in active labour, I hopped in the pool. It was pure bliss. The water was beautiful and warm and felt incredibly supportive of my belly. The water made it quite easy to relax and rest between contractions. Being able to completely chill out and conserve energy like this I think definitely helped me have such an easy labour.
Things began heating up once I had been in the pool a little while. Andrew rang his mother (our other support person) and in his typical relaxed fashion told her, “Come round whenever you want.” I was in quite advanced labour by this stage!! So, she didn’t think to hurry, and consequently arrived much later than everyone else. I kept asking where she was and had begun to worry, she might miss the whole thing! I felt a bit shivery and shaky, so I asked for a lemon and honey drink to keep my blood sugars up. I should have left out the lemon because next thing I threw up and the citric acid left an awful taste. Anne told me, “We call that the 7cm vomit.” This was very encouraging. She was very attentive. I remember her always regularly asking if I needed more water and reminding me to keep my breathing slow and regular. She kept telling me how well I was doing, and to keep doing whatever felt right to me.
Leanne, our LMC, decided to come to the birth even though it was her weekend off. I was glad about this because we had got to know her so well throughout the pregnancy, and I really wanted her there. She arrived when I was approaching transition and gave me great moral support and encouragement. I thought I was probably in transition when I started bellowing throughout each contraction. It made me feel better. I kept saying “I’m sick of this.” The midwives said this was a sign we didn’t have far to go! I seriously started thinking, “Somebody else should get in this pool and have a turn birthing this baby.” The support people and midwives kept chatting amongst themselves and saying how well I was doing, which was very reassuring.
Time ceased to have meaning. My world was now divided into contractions, and the magic time in between when I felt no pain at all. As this rhythm progressed, I felt my rational, thinking self-retreating, and my animal self-coming to the fore. I was in my own space, not thinking. I could feel the pressure building up as the baby descended. Anne would check his descent and heart rate from time to time, and every time she said he was doing fine I would tell him what a good baby he was for being okay and doing his bit to get born. I began to feel like I wanted to push, but I wanted to be sure I was fully dilated first. However, there was no time between contractions to have another internal, so I just held off as long as possible, breathing through the contractions.
I was curious to know what was happening inside me, and not being a particularly modest person, I had a good feel around inside. I was quite surprised to feel the baby’s head, with a bulging bag of waters before it, about halfway down. I told everyone about this, overly excited. The midwives suggested I break the waters myself, with a fingernail. The membranes were tough, but eventually came away. When they did, a big contraction took me, and the baby seemed to surge downwards. It was now obvious it was time to push. It took a few contractions to get the hang of this. The midwives helped me really well, giving instructions about breathing and pushing. I still could not believe I was so far along. I was on my hands and knees at this point.
Everyone said, “The baby’s got lots of hair.”
I said, “What! Can you see it already?”
They all said “Yes!” It was very exciting.
I felt a little awkward on my hands and knees and turned round into a supported squat. I was against the edge of the pool, with two of my helpers holding my arms. This position felt a lot freer and I was able to use gravity to help me. The pushing contractions didn’t seem to hurt, but this may have been because the rest of me was hurting so much! Anne held a mirror under the water so I could see what was happening. When his head was halfway out, the baby started wriggling! I shrieked. It felt so weird. It felt like holding a floating object under water while it tries to escape to the surface. Arthur was keen to be born and trying to wriggle his way out.
Because I gave birth in an upright position, I was able to watch him as he was born. These are the most amazing memories of my life. When he was halfway out, I could make out his features under the water. I could see him and feel him wriggling about under water. It was as if he was trying to swim out by himself. I yelled something daft like, “It’s my baby!” I remember the midwives both smiling at that moment. They were incredibly pleased. Everyone radiated energy – I could feel and hear them smiling.
The moment he was born was like an explosion, and the pool water quickly changed colour! I brought our baby to the surface and Andrew lifted him out of the water. Then Arthur and I had the best cuddle. His face was the picture of anguish. He was crying vigorously, bewailing the end of his utopian existence in the womb. You have all these ideas when you are pregnant about what the first moments with your baby will be like. You think about what you might say to your newborn and imagine them stopping crying as soon as they hear your voice. You imagine yourself eagerly checking to see if you have a son or daughter, as soon as the mystery of the last nine months is finally revealed. Myself, I have no recollection of what I first said to him. I remember exactly the colour and feel of his skin, greasy and soft, as I held him next to me. We stayed like that for a little while, me talking and him crying continually, apparently not caring who I was. After maybe five minutes Anne said, “Shall we see what we’ve got?” I had not even thought about it. So, we checked to see, and I said to him, “I knew you were a boy.”
Arthur was born at ten past five, after a labour of eight hours. I joked that he was my nine to five baby. His arrival seemed conveniently timed to suit everybody. We rang the visitors I had told not to come around earlier, (My mum, and Andrew’s sister and niece) and they all came to visit our beautiful baby, just a few hours after he was born. I remember Mum phoning Dad and saying, “It was just like a normal day. Andrew got up and went to work, and Emma went into labour. They had the baby and now they’re all going to bed.”