I’m lying in bed, dozing through the Braxton Hicks that have become more intense over the past few nights. I’m not sure where the line is drawn between these and early labour contractions that can start and stop, but they’re definitely getting stronger. It feels like my body might finally be preparing for labour. And about time too. I like the idea of hypnobirthing, but just couldn’t get into the Gentlebirth tracks that so many other people love. Despite that, I’ve been trying to visualise my body ‘opening up’ over the last few days. Anything to encourage this baby to make a move before reaching post-term.
Contract, hold, release. My uterus cycles over and over until I barely notice through the tiredness. 41 weeks and 6 days into the pregnancy. I’ve grown used to my body merrily doing its own thing without consulting me. Then at the peak of one of these waves, there’s a sudden big gush of warm water that jolts me wide awake. I rouse Brodie to tell him that my waters have broken. I gather up the maternity mats I’ve been sleeping on, wad them up, and attempt to make it to the bathroom without leaking fluid all over the bedroom. There’s a steady flow draining out. It’s all clear. This is it. For real. My bump even feels slightly deflated. Yet I don’t feel any sense of urgency. Everything is surprisingly calm. The clock has started, but we’ve no idea how long it might actually take. Or if this will ultimately be a homebirth like we’ve planned for.
We turn on the immersion. I call my midwife, Liz, to let her know my waters have broken and that I’m going to try and go back to bed and wait to see if the contractions continue or stop. I last only a few minutes attempting sleep. There’s just too much fluid still seeping out regularly. Instead I sit on the toilet and try to time the contractions on my phone. It’s hard to know at which point to hit start and stop. It’s surreal sitting there alone in the deep silence of the night while the rest of the world sleeps. I’m at a bit of a loss what to do with myself, stuck on a toilet. It’s an anti-climactic start.
After a couple of hours the contractions seem to be getting regular enough that I don’t want to risk waiting any longer. I wake Brodie again from whatever attempt at sleep he’s making. We call Liz at 04:53am and ask her to come to the house now. Meanwhile he helps me downstairs along with the boxes full of labour items. The Rascal is still sleeping away upstairs while Brodie spreads the tarp and inflates the birthing pool. I alternate between downstairs toilet and yoga moves/breathing on the floor beside the pool with the tens machine. It hasn’t been used in 3 1/2 years. Should really have reviewed the instructions more closely before now, shouldn’t we? Brodie attaches the pads somewhere on my back and I start pushing buttons, slowly remembering how it’s supposed to work. Less than half an hour later Brodie’s just starting to fill the pool with water when Liz arrives to our relief, laden with many extra bags of equipment in addition to her usual ‘Mary Poppins’ big bag of tricks.
I’m officially ‘in labour’. The second midwife is called (Neighbourhood Midwives provide two midwives for each homebirth). I’m still attempting to do pelvis-widening yoga moves, but I’m not hardcore enough for doing that during real contractions. I settle for plain old yoga breathing on all fours. Liz takes one glance at the tens machine and says that it’s doing absolutely nothing for me. She repositions the pads correctly and I keep going. The pool is a third full of cold water, then Brodie switches over to the hot water. Our water is either cold or scalding, little in between. The trial run of the pool pays off, and the temperature is about right by the time the water level reaches the minimum for me to get in at 6am. The immense relief of warm water on muscles tense from contractions. It’s no wonder that so many women prefer to labour in water. The contractions roll on in. Becoming more intense, but still manageable. With short breaks in between them, it’s nothing like the totally out-of-control agony of being induced.
Everything’s going pretty well up until I start to feel a lot of pressure during contractions. There’s a throbbing pain somewhere internally each time that I really don’t like. The pain grows until I’m feeling nauseous. I try the gas and air. I’m not sure if it’s helping much, but at least it’s not making me dizzy like in the hospital. Time passes in fits and starts. A jerky flip-book of ‘contraction’ and ‘not contraction’. At some point Midwife Gail arrives. I’m aware of her presence as another disembodied voice somewhere in the room, but am far too preoccupied for actual introductions. She jumps straight in and starts applying counterpressure on my back which helps with the contractions. I’m still feeling the pain though, and eventually it makes me vomit. Thankfully not before I request one of the basins to retch in. Labour is anything but glamorous. A bit of vomit will be the least of my worries soon. There will be blood, sweat, and if I thought tears would help at all, then there would have been some of those too. (You might want to skip ahead to the end if you don’t want to hear the more gruesome details of giving birth).
A vaginal exam dashes any lingering hopes that this might be a quick labour. I’m only at 4cm. The baby has changed position to OP, and the head is pushing against the cervix. That explains the pain, which will continue while my body tries its best to do the impossible. Somewhere around now the Rascal stirs. It’s his usual wakeup time. He’d been briefed that the baby could arrive some night while he slept, and takes it in his stride to come downstairs and find Liz and Gail are here. He potters about, unfazed by our sitting room full of birthing paraphernalia. Just your everyday morning where your new sibling is on their way… More importantly – who’s making breakfast for him? He’s shipped out to the kitchen with a laptop showing Netflix shows when his play becomes too irritating, or when the unpleasantries of giving birth need to be censored for him. Unlimited screen time is a rare opportunity that he makes the most of.
It felt like Brodie and I were both unwilling spectators in our last hospital birth. There was only so much that Brodie could do to help, considering I was restricted to bed all the time and we were never given any choices about my care. In stark contrast, this time Brodie takes a leading role during the labour. While the midwives are on hand to help, it’s his face I’ll remember in front of me, not theirs. Assisting me every time I need to move. Fetching drinks or equipment. Kneeling uncomfortably by the pool and providing an arm to pull/brace against each time a contraction peaks. I couldn’t explain to you why, but for some reason gripping and pulling/pushing externally seems to help me go with the flow internally. The Rascal wanders in occasionally to rub my head for moral support, but Brodie’s getting a full workout during this labour. As close as you can get to sharing the experience when only one of you is actually giving birth.
Time starts to blur. I’m exhausted, but don’t feel like I can eat or drink. My focus is limited as each contraction builds. Then a short amount of time where I can take in more of what’s going on around me. All the yoga has drilled me to continue deep breathing, sometimes rather desperately in an attempt to control the more intense contractions. But my energy is waning fast at this point. I’m losing confidence that things are going well even though my body is making progress. We try a more upright position. I don’t like it, and return back to all fours. All that advice about listening to your body when it comes to positioning for labour? It’s not a choice I can make. It’s just the only position my body will allow me to be in. Speaking of which, about now my body also decides it’s time to really crank things up. Personally I’d prefer we took a little break for a much-needed nap, but my body still isn’t interested in what I think.
More fun times. We try squatting in the pool. We try lying on the couch. I don’t like it at all. Possibly because I can’t manhandle Brodie during contractions. It’s back to the floor for another examination in between contractions. Brodie is now a professional at applying counter-pressure to my back. While I would absolutely not recommend this as a great way to bond with your partner, it is good that a homebirth facilitates having your partner heavily involved in supporting you. The midwives radiate calmness and offer suggestions. Most of which I’m happy to try. This is only our second birth experience, but they’ve literally seen it all. This small team of people I trust is ready to help me. Unfortunately my body isn’t as cooperative as the rest of the team.
We try sitting on the toilet facing backwards which I find good for a time, though the space is too cramped to be comfortable. I accept random homeopathic pills at various stages when they’re offered. Back to the floor and I lose what little coconut water I’d managed to drink. We continue attempts to turn the baby back to a more favourable position. Another exam. 6cm. At this point it feels like this baby is never going to be out. I have never been this physically exhausted before. All I want to do is lie down and sleep. But I can’t tolerate anything other than staying on all fours while each contraction rolls through me. I’m desperately thirsty, but not sure if anything will stay down.
Good point to have a major mental wobble. I’m making progress I’m constantly told, but I’m starting to wonder if I’m coping well enough to last this out to the end. And if the baby will be okay. There’s an undercurrent of the emotions from the Rascal’s birth lingering through this one. Intense pain, exhaustion, no end in sight, out of control, and then a baby in distress. Calm as the midwives are, I’m internally questioning if they think I can do this, or is the prospect of a hospital transfer looming? The only plus would be stronger pain relief so I could rest. But I strongly suspect that I’d be too far along to get an epidural. Which would open the door again to further intervention I don’t want anyway. Liz reassures me they probably would give me something, and I can transfer at any point. But she thinks I can do this at home and suggests reassessing in an hour. I agree, but if the professionals don’t think it’s necessary then I’ve talked myself out of it at this point. There really isn’t a better (easier!) option for getting this baby out. Can’t change my mind about having the baby… just going to have to keep going. Like the pregnancy, it does have to end eventually. In theory, anyway.
7cm. We slowly work through all the options that might help turn the baby. There’s a catheter involved at one point. And did you know that it’s possible to ‘ice’ someone’s cervix? No? That’s something I wish I didn’t have the opportunity to learn first-hand, but I am extremely relieved I have a tray of ice in the freezer. At this point I’ve somewhat lost interest in how much progress I’m making. I just want to know ‘are we there yet?’. And I already know the answer is no. I’m mentally led/dragged through the motions by my homebirth team to just keep on going. 8cm. Can’t muster up much enthusiasm for the news. I’m still going physically, but mentally I’ve checked out. I need to see a finish line to motivate myself to work harder and get there faster. Or pace myself to last. Me and unpredictable labour are never going to be a good match.
Back to sitting, exhausted, on the toilet. Do I feel the urge to push? I don’t know anymore. Maybe. I skipped the sensation of pushing last time so I have no frame of reference. The pressure on my cervix has petered out and I can feel something that could conceivably be a baby internally, though it doesn’t seem big enough to be. It could also easily be wishful thinking. The option to transfer to hospital is revisited, as promised. At 8cm+? Absolutely no point. If nothing else, I finally manage to consume two cartons of coconut water perched awkwardly on the toilet, before returning to the warmth of the pool.
Welcome to the pushing stage. It barely registers with me that we’ve finally reached a significant milestone. The amount of effort involved in pushing is a revelation though. The last baby flew out in mere minutes under the influence of the epidural, blissfully unaware of any internal damage I might be doing. This baby could take another day to get out at the rate I’m going (not really – but amounts of time that would sound very doable to pre-labour me seem exponentially long to in-labour me). By now I’m willing to push my body harder and harder just to see some kind of end in sight before my energy runs out completely. I can’t match up the sensations in my body with the visualisation of a baby moving down the birth canal. I just keep pushing indiscriminately forever until the midwives tell me it’s time to stop and change tactics. The baby is finally in position to crown. I’m still trying to figure out how much more energy I can possibly have left to get the job finished.
The end is in sight. Kind-of. The pool offers some semblance of privacy in addition to easing any pain. Brodie and the Rascal are there in front of me so there’s something to focus on. The midwives are at the business end wielding lights, mirrors, and the ever-present doppler. Making sure the baby is still doing fine, which it is, despite my constant expectation that the heart rate will plummet like last time. As for me – after all this effort to get the baby out as soon as possible, I now absolutely do not want to push with the contractions any more for fear of doing damage to myself. I know the chances of avoiding some kind of tear after a previous episiotomy are very slim, but I can at least try. Instead of going with the contractions, I now find myself trying to push oh-so-slowly when I’m not in the grip of one. Then I desperately breathe my way through the most intense urges and try to avoid pushing too much with them. The midwives leave me to it, but there’s a running commentary from behind me that I tune in and out of. I’m told I’m doing well, but am somewhat disgusted after my herculean efforts to hear that only the top of the baby’s forehead is actually out yet.
What feels like an age later the head does finally come free. I have this disconcerting sense of something bobbing in the water behind me. Apparently eyes wide open. Do I want to feel the head? Absolutely not. There’s still a bit of a mental disconnect between what I know is happening, and what I need to think about to keep going physically. Then there’s a strange sensation as the midwives note that the baby is turning. Feeling the baby moving all by itself is extremely weird and distracting on a much larger scale than the internal movements during pregnancy. The movement comes to an end. Then it’s on to evicting the shoulders. Despite my efforts, I succumb to a couple of the most powerful urges to push yet and can feel some inevitable tearing. Then, finally, about 12 hours after this all started, we’re down to the last couple of pushes to clear the legs.
This is it. One final push, and I can feel the baby wriggle free. My first thought is intense relief that my job is done. I’m ready to collapse on the side of the pool and trust the midwives to handle whatever needs to be done behind me. I’ve completely forgotten that all the disconcerting spinning the baby was doing meant it would be delivered moving forwards, maybe with some assistance from them. Preoccupied with being glad it’s all over, I look down into the water and am surprised to find a baby serenely floating there in front of me. Instinct takes over and I automatically find myself lifting up this baby that seems to have magically swum up out of nowhere. I bring the baby onto my chest where the midwives use towels to stimulate respiration. Frothy bubbles emerge from the mouth, much to the Rascal’s fascination and delight. The last of the fluid drains. The baby’s lungs fill back up with air and an angry wail protests at the change in environment. Everyone relaxes and sits back to look at this unexpectedly large baby, brand new to the world.
Father and big brother say their hellos. All the exhaustion and pain melts away as I sit in the water looking into those bright blue wondering eyes. The cord still connects us, but we no longer share the one body. Here he finally is. Our second son. A little brother for the Rascal. He took his sweet time getting here. Welcome to the family, Boo.