By Eva Neely
Dear Laurel, looking down to you cuddled up and sleeping on my chest, and now 14 weeks old already, I feel so fortunate to have had such an amazing start with you.
The anticipation of your birth was unexpectedly a lot harder than with your sister, I was biased and expected your birth to be similar (despite knowing it could be completely different). Mara was born at 38 weeks and labour was just over 2.5 hours; how do you prepare best knowing that you could likely have another fast birth, or alternatively, have the opposite! Of course, our midwife prepared us for a very fast birth, but to keep the expectations balanced, also had to keep reminding us that each baby has its own birth, and that you could by all means take a lot longer.
From about 36 weeks you started teasing me, I started having mild cramps, like I did last time, although last time I wasn’t that clear on what that meant. This time I knew it was my body preparing for labour. Some nights the cramps were so bad I really thought it must be starting; every time I went to the bathroom in the night I expected my waters to break on the bathroom floor, like they did last time. It felt quite unlikely that labour would start any differently than with my waters breaking, and probably it would also be a night time baby again – wrong! You clearly showed me that you were your own person with your own story. I was on maternity leave from 37+2 weeks, so I could enjoy the time waiting for you with your 3 year old sister, and with some time for myself. The twinges and pains kept teasing me psychologically, but I kept in good spirits knowing that you will choose the birthday of your liking. Of course, I knew that it was silly to expect the same birth again, but I found it hard to separate myself from my previous experience. However, we did decide to set up the Christmas tree a tad early, on the 21st November, just in case you also wanted to be born under the Christmas tree like your sister. I also jokingly threatened you the next morning with shared birthday parties with your sister if you came too close to her birthday on the 11th December.
On Sunday, the 22nd November, a beautiful, windless day in Wellington Mara and I went to the local school fair, I pushed her up and over the hill in the stroller. You were lying so low that on our way home whilst walking downhill it almost felt like you were going to fall out of me. When we got home from the fair your great-grandparents came by for a cup of tea on their way into town. Whilst sitting there happily chatting away to them (around 2.30pm) I started to feel pains that noticeably came and went away again, different from the more monotonous enduring pains I had been having. I thought, this is probably it! But thought maybe I should not burst out to my grandparents that I was likely in labour. They (luckily!) left just after 3pm, by then I had decided that those were reoccurring contractions and that I better tell your Daddy and let our midwife know. Gosh this was so different from last time, no waters breaking, no middle-of-the-night adventures, and not feeling all that nervous about anything; just excited to meet you.
Daddy tidied up around the house and started to fill the pool (last time he spent a large part of my labour running frantically through the house to fill up the pool in time; this time we were wiser and started filling straight away- a smart move!). After letting our midwife and student midwife know she might have to interrupt her weekend plans for a Sunday afternoon party at our house, I also called Zoe, who was going to be Mara’s support person, and my mum, who lives up the Kapiti Coast and needed a little while to get there.
After letting all the important people know, I relaxed and enjoyed feeling my body preparing for your arrival. I lit our candles from my mama blessing, put on my birth beads and admired my birth blessing bunting- I smiled and thought how much I just loved doing all this in my own house! I felt awesome, I loved feeling my body, and even when the contractions started getting a little more intense, I relished the feeling. Until about 5pm, where I suddenly thought, damn yes, now I remember how intense this gets. In the moment I did not realize that this was the transition I was going through and briefly questioned again how I had gotten myself back into this! In those moments I kept telling myself my favourite affirmation, that every contraction is necessary to get you into my arms.
At about the same time things got more intense both midwives arrived, as well as a student midwife (who took the best photos and videos of my birth, thank you!). Both midwives were fantastic and came to do my acupressure points on my feet and back immediately. Only about one fetal heart rate check and two contractions later I asked my midwife longingly if she thought I could get into the pool, as I couldn’t wait for the warmth of the water to surround and relieve my body. She agreed immediately and I was in the pool by 5.20pm (yay for midwife notes, time is so elusive when in labour!). Around then I just heard the midwife call over to Daddy, “you better stop organizing, you’re going to be having a baby here any minute”. Bless your Daddy for always making sure everyone is looked after, the water temperature right, and the midwives have a cup of tea; but we certainly didn’t want him to miss your birth. Mara had been watching the whole time with Zoe, she was holding her hand and had been explaining to her what was happening, I even managed to look up and smile at her in between contractions a few times; my little trooper stood and watched with amazement without fear. It meant a lot to me to have her there, especially since I remember both of my brothers’ births and them being so deeply rooted in what I thought and think about birth.
Once I was in the pool I was gifted a few beautiful minutes of relaxation, feeling that beautiful sensation of warmth surrounding my body. Then the next contraction came on and I felt like pushing. You didn’t muck around, and with the second contraction I pushed out your beautiful little fluffy head, in a leaning forward position. I carefully (well as elegantly and carefully as you can when you have a head stuck between your legs) turned to the back to be able to catch you when the next contraction came on. Then just a moment later I finally met you, I brought you up, right onto my chest. You were a beautiful little baby!
In your first few moments of life you gave us a good few cries and let us well know that you had arrived. Once you had processed what had just happened, and had gotten remotely used to the feeling of being the right way up and not enclosed in my body, you realized it wasn’t all that bad out here. You stared up and were so pleased to see your Mummy’s face for the first time and recognise that voice you had been hearing all that time from within. I still break out in tears thinking about this ever so special moment of holding you in my arms for the first time. The gentleness, quietness and familiarity of the environment was so calming for us both; as we, encapsulated in love, got to cuddle for the first time. Your Daddy and sister soon came close to greet you into our family. Your big sister was a little shy and had to process what had just happened. It had been her job to tell us if you were a girl or a boy, but she was too shy in that moment, so we looked together. You were a girl! She was utterly delighted that you were a girl as the whole pregnancy she had been telling everyone she was getting a baby sister. Soon you found your way to the breast for the first time, it didn’t take long for you to figure out the latch and you were very quickly sucking like a little champ. A little while later I birthed your placenta, which we placed into a container floating right next to us. I loved the space and time we had after the birth, nobody needing to interfere, and it all being on our time schedule.
Right about now your Nana arrived, too late for all the action, just as with your sister. You will laugh as you will know her by now (she is always a little late for anything!). Shortly after we climbed out of the pool and relaxed on the couch, continuing cuddles, and kisses. With your placenta still attached I carefully lay you on your Daddy’s bare chest for cuddles while I took a hot shower in my very own bathroom, another reason I love homebirths. Then we all settled back on to the couch and we decided that it felt like a good time to cut your cord; you seemed settled and happy with your new home, ready to let go from your placenta. We used a lovely muka tie I had made for you to tie the cord, and your Daddy and sister cut your cord together. Then we put Nana to work cutting up a little bit of the placenta for a homeopathic remedy and the rest went into the freezer to plant under a cabbage tree on your naming day.
Your big sister had her first hold and had the proudest look on her face. Daddy got his beer out of the fridge and relaxed watching us. Mara, you and I snuggled up and you both had your first feed together, Mara was very happy to share her milky with you.
Wow what a Sunday afternoon, everyone even got back home for dinner. I really can’t tell you what I loved most about birthing you at home; the safe, familiar environment, the lit candles giving off their beautiful light, not having to go anywhere, the extended time and space we got to enjoy your arrival at our own pace, or the cuddling up on our couch afterwards. I could not have wished for a better birth experience. The gentle entry into this world gave us the best start we could have wished for and I feel so fortunate to now have two mind-blowing homebirth experiences that I will savour for the rest of my life. Welcome to the world Laurel Frances Neely.