Gaby Gives Birth.

By Rachel Wallis


Ever since the labour of my first child, which I found quite astounding, I have been fascinated by the process of birth and our relationship with it. Many women, understandably, choose not to have a relationship with it, while some choose to experience it as fully as possible. Personally, I’ve always wanted to hear every intricate detail of my friends’ labours, partly to put my own births in context, but also because it seems that birth is one of the few experiences we’re offered in life that are enormously significant.

About 18 months ago, my aspirations came true, and my friend invited me to attend her labour. I was pregnant with baby number three, and my good friend Gaby was having her third baby too. It was her second home birth, and she was feeling pretty fatalistic about it. “My labours are all hard and long, and my babies are all born between 4 and 5am,” she told me. Gaby’s a dancer, and it seems that even athletes are not spared the hard physical work of labour.

At about 10pm one evening, I had a call from her partner, who said she was in established labour and it was a good time for me to come. I was going to look after their two pre-schoolers for the night, and they might wake up. I got into the car and realised my heart was beating rapidly. I was excited, but I was also nervous. I’d heard and read of cases where labours were stalled because of the presence of someone who shouldn’t have been there, and in my own two births, I had shied away from having another person there at the last minute, instead just sticking with my husband and the two attending midwives.

Gaby and Estevez live just 5 minutes down the road and outside their door, I took a few deep breaths to calm myself and then let myself in quietly. Upstairs, the lights were dimmed and they were in the bedroom. She was leaning over the bed, moaning softly, mid-contraction, and he was behind her, rubbing her back. The kids were asleep in the next room, where they would stay, it turned out, until morning, the first time they had ever both slept through the night! Birth magic never ceases to astonish me…

Their house was already immaculate (Estevez did an epic pre-labour clean earlier that day) so there wasn’t much for me to do at this stage. I had a few quiet words with them and then left them in their special bubble and sat on the couch in their lounge. Estevez’s mother turned up about an hour later and she joined me on the couch, where we talked but mostly just stayed quietly tuned in to what was going on.

Soon there was a slight change in the sound of Gaby’s moaning, a lowering of tone that I recognised from my own births. Estevez said, “I think we should call Kerry now,” and I agreed. From here on, Gaby’s focus became quite definite and inward. They moved to the bathroom, and as so commonly happens when you sit on the toilet, her contractions now started coming more intensely and closer together. We could really hear the deepening of her sounds – that baby was moving down.

The midwives arrived, and Kerry sat with Gaby initially, listening to baby’s heartbeat and watching her through a contraction. Lakshmi, her ‘back-up’ started unpacking their equipment and we talked a little about foetal positioning (a relevant topic because all Gaby’s babies had sat posterior, my first two had been posterior during labour, and I had just found out that my third was sitting posterior).

Lakshmi told me that she advises all her clients to “get off the couch” at about 30 weeks (or at least to sit on the edge of the couch, leaning forward) so that baby doesn’t get too comfortable in the posterior ‘hammock’ position. I really took this advice to heart and for the next ten weeks I sat forward in ‘child’s pose ‘as often as I could, or back-to-front on a straight-backed chair. I missed relaxing back on the couch, especially being so heavy and tired, but, coincidentally or not, my baby did turn within a few weeks of doing this and came out anterior in a very straightforward midday labour (my first experience of one of those, but that’s another story!)

By now, Gaby was becoming quite guttural. I assumed she was in transition, the stage of labour I had found extremely challenging in my own births. The atmosphere during transition was rich, beautiful, and other-worldly. It was almost as if time had stopped, and here we were, suspended in this unrepeatable moment of importance. I had such an overwhelming sense of ‘rightness’ at this stage (similar to that glorious feeling you get when you know you’re on the right track in life and suddenly the path opens before you.)

Estevez waved me into their bedroom and I chose to sit across the entranceway; not wanting to enter their space too much, trying to find the line between offering a peaceful presence but not interfering. They didn’t need my practical help – the kids were having their miraculous, labour-drugged slumber, her partner’s mother was warming the towels (she’s a nurse and her son was born by caesarean, so it’s a testament to the healing experience of a wonderful homebirth that she is now an advocate of homebirth), and the midwives were calmly doing their thing.

Once Gaby started groaning deeply during her contractions, Estevez signalled for me to climb up onto the bed with them, and as she squatted, I took her weight on one side, he on the other, midwives and mother-in-law down the bottom end. A few contractions went by like this.

By hospital standards, this was probably a slow second stage; Gaby was fatigued, and the contractions were fading. I knew a slow second stage could be disheartening – with my first labour the second stage was 3.5 hours and with my second it was 2.5. Although I have never run a marathon, I imagine it’s like being a couple of kms from the finish line but not knowing if there is 1, 5, or 10kms to go. I think this is the stage when you need some guidance, either expert or loving.

“Let’s try a different position”, said Kerry. Gaby wielded her body, so her weight was on one side, and she tried this for a few weak contractions, while Kerry kept up her encouraging words. “You’re doing so well Gaby, so well, and so’s baby – he’s totally happy – and you’re almost there, you’re going to meet baby very soon”.

Gaby seemed to locate this enormous well of energy from somewhere deep down inside and beared down hard with her next contraction. This was progress; we all knew it. In between she slumped down and released her whole body in preparation for the next one. A weak contraction came and went, shaped by another big effort by Gaby. Then another and then, a roaring, powerful burst and out came his head. We were all crying out (and crying); a chorus of “Come on, here he comes, keep going, keep going!!” and then some more hard work by Gaby and out he slipped – a beautiful, perfectly formed little being. Estevez caught him and lifted him up and onto his Gaby’s chest.

How do you describe this moment? The atmosphere of momentousness, the pride in Gaby’s mammoth accomplishment, the sacredness of this emerging soul… it defies words. As predicted, it was 4.30am, it was a longish labour and it was hard work. Gaby allowed her body to guide her through the natural, inevitable, and challenging process of having a baby. Nobody interfered, nobody even thought to question whether or not she could do it. It was just how it should and needed to be.

What I’ve taken away, beyond the privilege of being at this massive life event, was how safe and right the whole experience felt. How, with loving guidance and support, we women are fully capable of taking this mountainous journey and persevering through the elements to achieve something beyond ourselves.

In the end, I wasn’t really needed. Gaby had her wonderful partner, mother-in-law, and midwives; and her children slept all night, just waking to meet their little brother in the morning. But, I was allowed to be present, and to glimpse something that I will remember for the rest of my life, as I’ll remember my own births (the third of which, Gaby was present). An experience like this, shared with another, can be inspiring and perhaps, if we let it be, life changing.