My baby is 8 days old and I’ve been thinking back to the birth.
It was the exact experience that I wanted- a peaceful, concentrated birth with my baby happy and calm throughout. I can’t believe this but I did it at home without any drugs, with minimal technology, and surrounded by love.
Your role as my birth doula was essential to this. I want to say thank you for helping me get there.
My pregnancy was not easy for different reasons, and when I first came to your yoga class for pregnant mamas; I was run down emotionally and physically.
I think you sensed how much I needed some positivity, and pregnancy yoga was gentle and fun, just what I needed. You and I clicked and you kept in touch with me as the weeks passed.
I joined the birth partners workshops too with my mum, (as I am a solo mama), and my mum was made to feel very welcome. You knew that families are different and each has its own ecosystem. And that birth partnering can happen in all sorts of ways.
Then through more conversation over email and phone calls, we agreed that you’d come and be doula for the labouring stages of my birth. It made sense to me because your calming nature would help me get into a positive frame of mind on the day, and reassure my mum too. The plan was I would then head to the hospital when it was time. My midwife OK’ed this.
In our preparations for my labour you created a safe space for me to work through the specific things that were bothering me. You helped me let go of those things, and leave the shore for my journey as a birthing mama.
As I went over my due date, you lent me patience and good humour in the long Nothing Doing and Niggling phases. You helped me focus on deep relaxation and breathing each day.
Then my contractions finally started on a Monday evening. When they were in a regular rhythm the next morning, you came to my house to help me cope with the pain. We spent the day walking, talking, eating... and riding the waves of each tightening, trying different positions and drawing deep to relax my mind and body. Together with mum and you, I got through. By the end of the day my contractions were 5 minutes apart and I was in a sort of natural high. I remember feeling beautiful, capable, and ready to go and meet my baby ‘on the sunny road’.
As we agreed, you and mum took me to the hospital to the Midwife Led Unit. We said goodbyes and I went in alone. I had a few contractions along the corridor and they took me to the labour ward because the MLU was closed. However when they examined my cervix I was told I was 2cm dilated; but clearly my body and mind had gone way beyond that stage. In order to get everything back in sync it was suggested I take some pain relieving drugs and rest. That sounded good and my mum was allowed to stay the night with me.
The night was uncomfortable and painful, and I remember feeling disappointed that today wasn’t going to be my baby’s birthday. The gas and air made me feel horrid and woozy and my contractions slipped back to 15 mins apart.
In the morning, the lead for the MLU kindly explained I would need to head home as I was still in the latent stage of labour. This felt like another setback but she had read my birth plan, and knew I wanted a natural birth if possible. She was right, there was no need to hang around the hospital and increase the likelihood of interventions.
By this point I was also now missing my home comforts. For me the room on the labour ward was missing the details that I wanted- private corners to breathe through my contractions, a stream of yummy snacks, and quick access to the toilet. I was told the MLU would definitely be open when I came back but even if that was true, now it seemed somewhat sterile and lacking comfort for me. The pool was unavailable due to Covid too.
So I headed home a bit gutted and a bit relieved. I rang you Laura to share. Although you had already spent the previous day labouring with me, you readily agreed to come back to my home and do it again.
This time though, I was looking at changing the location of birth because realistically (I felt) the MLU could not reliably be my first choice. I felt like my wishes to progress had been seen differently by the staff on the labour ward although they had taken good care of me.
So it was now Wednesday morning. I rang my midwife to talk about my hospital experience and to ask about a home birth. She was able to support it. I spoke to my mum and family. We agreed to pull it together at the last minute, if you Laura were able to come and be here to the end.
You were very supportive and answered my last minute questions about having a home birth. Then I had a couple of hours rest in my bedroom in between contractions. Then you came back to our house- take 2!
This time it felt different. I could relax properly now and get comfortable in my little nest for the duration. This was now Wednesday afternoon and by evening, my contractions had ramped right up to 5 mins apart but with serious pain that gripped my body.
The midwives came around 11pm and we all agreed I would not have a cervical exam. I didn’t want the stress or the feeling of being tied to a number. The midwives fully respected this and waited in the next room listening to my voice- pitch and frequency- to see how far along I was. They gave you and me Laura the private space to labour in my own way.
This is where I felt you and I were on a journey together. While the rest of the household was on amber alert and buzzing away with cups of tea and quiet chatter, you and I spent the night working through some difficult stages.
Each surge was acutely painful in the way a foot cramp takes your full attention for a few minutes- but the sensations were far more powerful and obviously located in my belly and lower back. The feeling of being gripped by pain was all consuming, but as each tightening grew and swelled, you helped me meet the new intensity and “level up”. For hours you applied counter pressure to my lower back: kneading with your fists while I lay on my side with one leg in the air supported by pillows. You were up and down for hours massaging my back with clary sage and warm oil, your hands spreading oozy warmth and applying a cold compress by turns. In between tightenings you were feeding me juicy banana slices and berries, sips of coconut water, spoonfuls of honey and lemon water. You stroked my skin and reminded me to welcome the feelings. We had low light and relaxing music on. You showed me how to greet the pain with a low voice- encouraging me to hum and chant “ooooh oooh” in a low controlled way, rather than slipping under the wave and letting fear win. This made the pain entirely acceptable. I imagined each grip was a star, and squeezed the iron curls of the bed head as hard as I could. I felt bright and happy between the surges too and we had some jokes.
The feelings all got more intense and around Dawn my waters broke in a big upward splash up and over the side of the bed. The drama of it scared me especially as everyone kicked the preparations up a notch. I was vaguely aware of everyone looking at the fluid on the shower curtain on the floor, the bustle of midwives getting into gear, and my mum’s emotional response becoming heightened. Throughout this new and busier environment you stayed with me, not chatting but holding a very concentrated and focused bubble around me and my baby who was now coming soon. Some of the background patter would have broken through my labour mist if you hadn’t been protecting me from it- not just helping me keep focus but giving reassurance to my mum and reminding the others in the room to hold their silence as much as possible. You dealt with everything I couldn’t register, so I could stay focused and meet the pains which were now becoming intensely demanding. I was getting to the top of my mountain; or else the depths of my sea voyage. It was high, deep, dark, cold, but I was living within; not wholly registering the passing of time space in the real world.
Thursday morning, the contractions were spilling one into another, and I could not find a single bearable position to start pushing in. Unfortunately because of Covid a birthing pool was not an option, but we have no hot water at home anyway. So I had to make the most of gravity. Squatting in very abstract poses with legs everywhere did not come easy. You helped me try new things (rest your head here; keep your hands soft etc) and you and mum kept nurturing my energy levels with tiny snacks between every single urge to push. When everyone was becoming a little tense that the crowning stage was going on and on, you worked in sync with the midwives to calm and reassure me.
I followed the Midwives’ instructions at this point, and for a long time I was beholden to my body’s urge to push. Eventually I was encouraged to reach down and feel my baby’s head. It was soft and wet, and I was filled with a new determination.
I was in a half squat, half kneel, holding onto the side of the bed with the midwife looking up under me, her full attention on all the visual signs of birth and monitoring the baby’s heartbeat. Baby was happy and showing no signs of distress even though this crowning stage took 1.5 hours. Once the head was through, My baby was born very quickly and eased gently onto the floor beneath me. It was 10:30am on Thursday.
Everything happened quickly then. I lay back and you were behind me, wrapping me up warm as the baby was gently placed onto my chest. My mum was above me beaming and crying. I looked down at my baby’s face and welcomed her with relief.
She was crying a little bit and then eventually settled. I felt held and rocked and calm- I looked up and held my mum’s hand. It was the perfect calm moment and baby looked at me with her dark inky stare.
The placenta came out easily then with a little help; then unfortunately between blood loss and a tear I was informed I had to go to hospital. While we waited for the ambulance you Laura made sure I got a little time with baby in lieu of our “calm first hour”. You made sure we had skin to skin, for which I am super grateful with hindsight. Everyone else was palpably relieved and the atmosphere turned very chatty and chaotic with the ambulance coming, photos being taken, the cleanup, other checks and paperwork and instructions being relayed all around me. But I stayed peaceful at the epicentre and you stayed with me while I got a few minutes in bed- to dress baby, to stroke my hair, to help the baby latch, to check any assumptions about my care.
The paramedics came and took me and baby into the ambulance. I remember being strapped safely onto the stretcher with baby on my chest, with my mum coming too. Our calm first hour was very different to what I hoped for, but I felt so pleased and relieved. You gave me a big smile as they closed the back of the ambulance and you mouthed something- I can’t remember if it was well done, love, or what but I remember the feeling that all the medical stuff to follow was going to be secondary. Because I had done it and my baby was here safe.
Afterwards mum told me that I had gone through the whole labour with poise. She said from the outside I looked meditative, even when I was clearly in the throes of the strongest parts. I was surprised because I had found the pain and other sensations so intense, but clearly my journey had been mainly inwards and I had held it myself.
I would put a lot of this down to you Laura- for helping me realise my new capacity for labouring at every step without escaping or masking anything with medication. You got the conditions right in my birthing environment- psychologically and physically- and it was the dark, safe comfortable nest I needed. You showed no fear, and in doing so, you showed me ways of heading off fear. You provided closeness and understanding when I felt removed from the real world.
I know this is a long recount, but it’s helped me articulate the sheer force of the birth and how the choices I made either side with your support helped shape the most transformative experience of my life.
I feel strong now and deeply satisfied that I can do anything for my baby. She is so healthy and calm, and now feeding beautifully, I’m sure because the pregnancy and birth were so peaceful and also a massive triumph. So a huge thank you to you. I feel like I have gained a close friend/sidekick/sister! My overwhelming feeling is love for you, doulas, all mums, midwives and grannies and for little babies everywhere xxx