It’s Monday and I’ve got an appointment with my osteopath up the road to help encourage baby (aka “Owl,” as we called our bump) to drop into my pelvis. I’ve been having more frequent and stronger “practice contractions” (these are just “practice”, right?) but Owl is still quite high, so we’re going for a 30 minute walk through the bush for treatment. I felt great afterward while I waddled home, 42 weeks and 3 days past our “expected due date” (whatever that means – my cycles have always been inconsistent, ranging from 27 to 33 days so that means my EDD could span over literally six or eight weeks – or at least that’s how I justified it in those last few days!).
At home things became a little bit more regular. Mild and short surges were beginning to become more noticeable. I got dinner ready for my honey love when he arrived home from work, and then off to bed. In bed, I didn’t sleep well as the surges were waking me, and I wanted to get up and move around. I ended up with enough sleep to feel refreshed and full of energy on the Tuesday morning. I was meant to see my midwife for a check-up, but didn’t want to sit in the car, as well as my back-up-midwife for acupuncture to encourage Owl further down and to get labour on the way.
I called up our midwife to let her know I was definitely having surges and didn’t feel comfortable driving all the way into town from the beach while being taken by increasingly noticeable surges. So I asked my partner to stay home from work in case I needed him to drive. Turns out our back-up midwife was keen for the drive so she came out to the beach for a check-up and acupuncture (though in hindsight, labour was clearly underway at this point…at least the early stages of it). She and I had a nice catch up and acupuncture, followed by lunch. As she departed, she said, with all the confidence in the world behind her wise eyes, “I’ll see you later.”
Surges continued to strengthen and became more frequent. I was happy to have my honey at home to support me, though it wasn’t until about 5:30pm that I admitted to him I was in labour and he should start becoming more aware of how frequent the surges were, and how long they lasted. He was on it – the very next contraction he said “I’m going to let the midwife know things are heating up, you’re at less than 5 minutes between them, and they’re lasting almost a minute.”
“Okay”, I said, “Just tell her to not hurry – I don’t think we need her yet.”
Things carried on – I was feeling quite nauseous and had returned all of my lunch to the sink after one of the surges. Had I remembered to take the homeopathics that our midwife had left to help with the nausea, I would have likely not needed to clean up partially digested lunch! Anyway, food was unappealing but my partner was still making sure to offer me bits and pieces, and reminding me to drink when he thought of it…the sun was setting and I felt much more comfortable as the blanket of the night began to cloak us.
I completely lost track of time…according to my notes, our midwife showed up around 9:30pm. At this point, I was calling on my honey during each surge to massage my lower back and put pressure on my sacrum. I was also wearing big woolly socks, a comfy jumper and…no pants. This was probably quite a sight for our midwife, who checked Owl for heartrate here and there but overall was a just a wallflower who showed up when my honey was absent.
My favourite place to labour was at the kitchen bench – it was just the perfect height, with the table being too low and the tall boy a bit too tall. I felt a little like Goldilocks with my choice, but was so comfortable where I chose.
At some point my legs were trembling with each surge and I was feeling quite tired. So, I relieved myself between contractions by sitting on a Swiss ball, standing up between to breathe deep into the surge. At one point, our midwife recommended that I continue through the surge sitting on the Swiss ball…that was amazing. Initially, I didn’t think I would like it at all, but the shape of the ball and the weightlessness of my legs was all I needed to go deeper into myself. I vividly remember breathing through one surge and exhaling while saying “Ohhhhhh, it feels sooo (haha, laugh) gooooooooood! (giggle giggle)” Apparently our midwife thought I might orgasm the next surge, but I never quite got there…next time!
In the meantime, my partner and midwife were working to get the pool just perfect for Owl and me. I was loving the Swiss ball, but the surges were getting more and more powerful, my voice and breath deeper and stronger. At one point, I turned to the pool and said “I want to get in the pool now,” waited briefly for an affirmative response from our midwife and marched right in. Wow, what an amazing relief. I went to the dark corner of the pool and hung over the edge with a towel under my face for comfort. Recovery and relaxation here was just perfect. The next surge came and I uncontrollably began to “push”…but it wasn’t pushing how you would see in the movies. It was just so natural, so comfortable, not painful at all, and just exactly how it was supposed to be. I moaned and groaned deeply through these “pushing” surges, breathing down to Owl and saying this and that.
I remember Simon and Garfunkel playing, with our midwife singing along to one song after another, and myself bobbing along to the beats without realising while relaxing between surges. After each contraction, I requested a cold towel for my shoulders. It was hot work.
Our back-up midwife arrived. Progress must have been slow (I had no track of time in the moment, but apparently had been something like 1-1.5 hours on my knees leaning over the edge). I remember having a minor breakdown at one point: hyperventilating, screaming, scared. Our wonderful midwife was there to reassure me “it’s okay Sarah, you’re doing great, breath down to Owl, breath, breath deep, breath down”. I regained myself, or actually, I lost myself again into myself, into my body, into Owl and the moment…every moment, so present.
And so our midwives recommended a new position, and then another. With one foot lifted, then the other, with my pelvis shifted sideways and one leg supported out of the water like a lateral spread eagle, with all these suggestions Owl moved down a bit more then back up, bobbing in and out of the final stretch. I remember thinking “it’s never going to happen…we’re going to be working this hard forever! What’s wrong? I thought I was supposed to just breathe and the foetal ejection response would take over!” Then a supported squat, with my partner holding me up from under my arms was recommended.
This is when the hard work became harder, the groans deeper, longer and stronger. “You can do it Sarah, breath down and push to Owl! You got it, push! A little more…or wait for the next surge, whatever feels right,” reminded our midwife, supportively. I felt Owl’s head inside me – “Oh my god, it’s so squishy!”
The little ‘ring of fire’ was there: stingy, the only ‘painful”’ bit of the whole lot, but it wasn’t painful, it was just stingy – I relayed the information, “Owww, stingy.” And we worked and worked hard, Owl’s beautiful little heartbeat not even flinching…steady, strong, calm. Myself: breathing deeper, harder, stronger each surge…harder and stronger and gruntier was the work, more so than I had ever imagined it would be…but not painful, just work…hard work.
Then, Owl crowned. Our midwife was holding me and said “Owl is coming. If it feels right, wait for the next surge and let Owl stretch you. Owl won’t go back now, you’re almost there.”
“Okay,” I thought, “one more and then one more. We can wait, Owl is good…strong…and so am I.” At this point, no pain, just relaxation. It was incredible. The next surge came, I can’t remember how long it took but it felt fast. I push, breathed, groaned, breathed, pushed, groaned, groaned, breathed, GROOOOOANED and there…Owl’s head was out of me. My partner saw it all. I couldn’t believe it.
Another break, more relaxation, completely calm, waiting in the moment, knowing we were almost there. I was so close to meeting my baby who spent so long inside me, keeping us waiting, keeping us strong to our word, our healthy, perfect baby…here it was the next surge…the final push, groan, breathe, groan…done.
I picked Owl up from the water, Owl came to my chest, eyes wide open staring at me; me staring at those enormous eyes, those sinkholes of beauty, calm, amazement, curiosity, love, compassion. Such a small, perfect body – a little human – home grown, home birthed, the perfect recipe.
We sat there together, Owl and I, for quite some time…just staring. A few little noises and some raspy breathing but aside from that, silence: perfection. Someone asked about the gender – of course, let’s have a look! A little girl – our little Masha – our Maria Joyce – our mother’s mothers, all wrapped up in one little perfect package.
We stayed in the pool for some time, apparently 45 minutes. Masha wasn’t latching, and my contractions to birth the whenua were mild. So we got out of the pool and I heard her first voice, her first little cry as we left the water. “Yes, little one, this is your new life, a life outside the aqueous world, the aqueous world that is all you’ve ever known. Have no fears, little one, we’ll get through it together, always by each other’s’ side, I will not leave you alone,” I thought.
The whenua took 2.5 hours to birth – I had been pushing much of the labour on a full bladder and had no sensation to relieve myself despite letting the tap run, relaxing, visualisation, etc. Not to worry, our amazing midwives utilised a catheter in/out to drain the pesky pee and I was able to birth Owl’s whenua within minutes. It was healthy, with no sign of aging or calcification (despite being 42 weeks and 5 days) aside from the “ragged membranes” that resulted from the multiple ‘pops’ I heard of Owl’s waters breaking through the final stage of labour, again and again and again.
Masha was born with heavy meconium in the water, though her heartbeat never gave any indication of distress. Hear breathing cleared up as any healthy baby’s would, and she had no ill effects of the meconium. I was so far into the labour that I don’t even recall our midwofe informing me of the meconium; she asked if I wanted to seek medical help for the situation, which of course I denied – it’s all noted in my book.
Masha had a tummy full of amniotic fluid that she had to rid herself of; I think this is why she didn’t latch immediately. Since then (almost two weeks now) she has developed a healthy appetite, is a rock star latcher and has put on nearly 300g in her first week outside my body. We bask in her beauty, fall into her eyes each time she engages and giggle at all her cute sounds, from gulping at the breast to whimpering whilst in baby dreamland.
Thank you to the wonderful support that has enabled me to be so confident about the ability of my body to birth so naturally, as so many women have done before and so many will do in the future.