My son's birth proved to me once again that birth is an unpredictable force of nature. It can’t be controlled, it can’t be planned. All we can do is get our heads into the right place - knowing the outcome we want, focusing on it and using it as motivation to power through... But knowing that sometimes baby has other plans.
Before I begin - a bit of back-story. My first baby was born 2.5 years before her brother, on her due date. She was a planned homebirth, turned hospital birth, when we discovered at 34 weeks that she was breech and wouldn't budge for anything (you can read her birth story, HERE.) I had an amazing, empowering vaginal breech birth following a 12 hour labour under Dr Bisits in Sydney and walked away from it on a birthing high.
For this baby, I wanted to try for a homebirth again. My plan was to have a nice, 6-ish hour labour (enough time to relax and try to enjoy the process without it getting ridiculously long), spend early labour listening to music and using the shower, then use the birthing pool and hopefully have a waterbirth. Although I wasn't super attached to the idea of where in the house baby was born, the pool seemed like a lovely option.
Oh yes, and the final part of my plan was that this baby would be born at night.
It really was a great birth plan!
As my due date approached I began to get impatient. I had always felt baby would come on the 1st. It was more a "guess" date than a due date, and besides, my last baby had been born right on time. So why not this one too?
On the morning of the 1st I was annoyed that I hadn't gone into labour the night before, but I figured there was still time.
At 10.30am my husband and daughter went off to her swimming lesson and I decided to have a nap, listen to some music and talk to baby about how it was a good day to be born.
I snoozed for about an hour. Swimming lesson time was one of the only times I had to sleep without being interrupted and it was heaven.
Then, at 11.45, just as I thought I might like to get up to have a snack, I felt a lot of pressure on my bladder and… I wet the bed.
O M G! MORTIFYING!! As if being pregnant wasn’t sexy enough, now I would have to explain to my husband why we needed to get the sheep-skin dry cleaned…
I jumped up and as my feet touched the ground there was a huge gush. I ran into the bathroom and it kept coming. Clear… pink… Wait. Was that my waters?
I texted my best friend (also a midwife) to ask her opinion, but really, I already knew.
It was definitely waters. Slightly less mortifying than wetting the bed, but probably still necessary to dry-clean the sheepskin…
Anyway, that could wait. It was on! Baby had listened! I texted my midwife Bron and she told me to keep her posted.
Hubby came home with our daughter at 12.00pm and my mum came by shortly after to take her and the dog to her place. I know a lot of people have their toddlers around for their homebirth, but it just wasn’t something I wanted. For me, I felt that baby’s birth-day would be the only time it would ever be just baby, me and my husband. Baby would forever have to share us with our little girl, so I wanted to make sure that for this occasion, baby’s entry into the world, the attention was squarely on them.
Once our daughter and dog were gone, we started setting up the pool in the bedroom and organising everything. I even did some laundry. I said to hubby that maybe we could go for a walk or something, but I knew he just wanted to watch the football. This whole labour-approaching-thing was a great excuse for him to take the afternoon off from doing any work.
“I wonder how long it’s going to take to start…” hubby wondered out-loud as he settled down in front of the TV. I told him it probably wouldn’t start up until night time when I felt safe in the dark. Besides, we were having a night-time baby, remember?
At around 1.00pm I felt some irregular tightenings in my belly. They weren’t painful, more like strong Braxton Hicks.
I decided to watch some TV, but even with Foxtel, there’s never anything on. I figured I would just go into the bedroom, listen to some music, play on my phone and rest.
At 1.40pm I texted Bron, our midwife: “Irregular contractions. Mild-moderate. Can talk through. All good. Baby is moving.”
I lounged around as the contractions gradually got stronger and longer, but remained irregular and tolerable. I wondered when “real” labour would start. I was ready to get going!
At 2.30pm I texted Bron again: “pains getting stronger. Lasting nearly a minute. 5-ish mins apart but still kinda irregular…” l also told her we would call her when we were ready for her to head our way, keeping in mind she had a 30 minute drive. Hubby asked me when that would be, but I told him we were a long way off. He shrugged and asked me if I wanted him to stay with me. I told him no, and he went to watch a replay of the Rugby, leaving me me alone - which is exactly what I wanted.
Another hour passed and they were definitely getting more intense. It was very different to my labour with my daughter. Those pains were all in my back and bum. These were in my belly.
I leaned over the baby's cot (one side off, that we had pushed up against the cupboards so I could easily access the bed) and swaying through them. I had also grabbed a trusty plastic comb from the bathroom and squeezed it - a fantastic distraction and something I used during my first labour. Lavender oil on my pillow also helped. The smell took me to a calm place.
It was at this time I realised I wasn’t happy with one of the songs on my iPod. A song by The Red Hot Chilli Peppers kept cutting out mid-way through for some reason, which was insanely annoying, so I wandered into the living room to hook it up to my laptop and update it.
While I waited, I picked up my in my pregnancy diary that I had been keeping. I decided to write something, as I assumed it was going to be the last entry before baby came.
I wrote: “it’s 3.30pm and they hurt, I won’t lie, but I know it’s just the start! Will update when we have a baby!”
As soon as my iPod was updated I walked back into the bedroom and plugged it in. Hubby followed me.
“Yeah. I might get in the shower though.”
I jumped into the shower in our ensuite and showed him how to use the contraction timer on my phone. The hot water was lovely. I remember wondering how long it would be before I was deep in labour-land. I knew I wasn’t there yet, my mind still felt very clear.
The contractions - and yes they were definitely contractions now - ramped up in the shower.
“They’re getting closer and longer” hubby observed.
“It’s just because I’m upright” I told him, smarty-pants midwife that I am.
I leaned against the wall and breathed heavily through them, moving my hips. They made my knees buckle slightly. I remember a small part of my brain thinking: "ah yeah, these are starting to really hurt!"
“Should we call Bron?”
“No, not yet.”
“Should we fill the pool?”
“No, just wait until we call Bron.”
I could understand why he wanted to call her, but I knew we could still be hours away. I didn’t want her to drive all this way and then have her sitting around forever, waiting for me to have a baby. I didn’t want that pressure. And I also didn’t want to be that woman (especially that midwife!) who called her midwife while she was still just in early labour.
I stayed in the shower for about 20-30 minutes before I was over it. They were pretty uncomfortable now and getting a lot closer together, and I wanted a break from them. I figured that if I got out and lay down, the contractions would slow down a bit. Makes perfect sense, right?!
I got out, dried myself, decided to put my undies and a pad back on so I didn’t leak amniotic fluid on the floor and walked over to the bed to lie down.
As soon as I was down I jumped up again and threw myself over the baby’s cot, moving my hips. I groaned loudly, the intensity of it stunning me and I felt the first flash of doubt go through my head: "oh god, I don't know if I can do this..."
The words left my lips before I could even think about them: “I think we should call Bron.”
This was music to hubby's ears. He grabbed his phone and called her. She said she would leave straight away and that she would be about half an hour. As soon as he hung up, hubby busied himself filling the pool.
While he was out of the room I had another contraction. This one was longer and stronger and I found myself crying out, almost sobbing, as it ripped through my belly and… WHOA… I felt a bit of pressure in my bum. Okay...
I continued to sway over the side of the cot, burying my face into my lavender scented pillow. Another contraction and the pressure in my bum amplified. Hubby was out of the room so he didn’t hear me grunt loudly. Oh shit, I thought. Am I pushy? I can’t be pushy. My labour has only just begun!
Hubby walked back in. I could hear the pool behind me slowly filling up.
“You okay?” He asked again. Another contraction took me over. An animalistic noise came from my mouth.
“Breathe through your nose… that’s it, lots of oxygen to those muscles” hubby muttered, rubbing my back gently.
The contraction peaked and suddenly my body took over. I let out what sounded like a growl and felt myself start to push - HARD.
“I’m pushing!” I cried, unable to believe it myself.
My husband was surprisingly calm.
“Okay. What do I do?”
“It’s okay. It’s okay. It’s okay. It’s okay. It’s okay…” I repeated over and over, probably more to myself than to him. My brain hadn’t caught up yet. What the hell was happening? Why was I pushing? What time was it? It hadn’t been that long since the contractions had become intense. I couldn’t actually be ready to have this baby. In fact, I wasn’t ready to have this baby! I needed a few more hours - at least!
“It’s okay, it’s okay…” I continued, and finally, my brain clicked. I knew what I need to do: “I need to take off my underpants.”
Hubby helped me take off my undies and then suggested that if he needed to catch a baby, I should probably move to the end of the bed. I staggered over and another contraction brought me to my knees. Another groan escaped my lips as I felt myself push. Heave almost.
But I still refused to believe what was happening. I just couldn't be pushing! IT WAS TOO SOON!
I decided to have a feel to see if I was actually fully dilated, while hubby grabbed his phone to call Bron back.
I had a feel. What the hell was that?! Was that closed cervix?! Holy shit, I thought, am I bloody pushing on a closed cervix?! Is this some kind of fucked up posterior labour and I’m feeling like I need to push without even being dilated yet?!
I couldn’t believe it. I knew if that was in fact the case, then fuck this shit I was going to hospital and getting an epidural. No question about it. I couldn’t do this. I couldn’t do this for another several hours while my stupid cervix dilated.
What the hell kind of crap was this?!
Suddenly Bron’s voice filled the room as hubby put his phone onto speaker. I don’t remember anything she said, but I do remember that her voice was calm. I had another contraction and she asked me if I could feel anything. Yeah, burning agony and a closed fucking cervix, I remember thinking, but I decided to have another feel anyway.
And oh… well then… I guess my vaginal examinations skills were a bit rusty because that wasn’t a closed cervix… that’s a fucking HEAD.
“I can feel head” I cried, thinking that this baby had to be kidding me. I was NOT going to have a freebirth. I had not planned for that and I needed my midwife.
Bron’s voice was again calm and reassuring. She told me I was okay, to trust my body and to just go with it. To breathe through the contractions if I could, but to push if I needed to.
Nup. No thank you. I’m not pushing without my midwife here. I just felt like I could not do this without her.
Let me stop the story there for a minute and come out and say something. In these moments, as I knelt on my bedroom floor, with my body involuntarily pushing out my baby and my amazing husband standing behind me, I was fucking terrified. It hurt. Oh my god it hurt. How had I forgotten how much a baby coming out HURTS?! And where was the build-up? With my last labour, I’d had hours and hours and hours of slow build-up. I had slowly walked deeper and deeper into labour land.
This time, it was like I was leisurely skipping along and then tripped and fell down a rabbit hole. One minute I wasn’t in labour, the next, some tolerable, cutesy contractions (aww, labour is so fun, look at me go listening to my cool playlist!), then suddenly baby was coming and it was like being knocked over by a freak wave. I didn’t want to be there. I didn’t want to do it. I just wanted to escape, I wanted someone to help me.
I think that’s why I was so desperate for Bron to walk through the door - I felt like I just needed my midwife, the woman who had cared for me for me though my whole pregnancy, to walk in and keep me safe.
Look, I know women birth without midwives all the time. I know my body knew exactly what it was doing, in fact, I couldn’t stop it. But I was scared about being alone. My husband was so calm and so present with me, but I still really, really wanted my midwife.
“Please hurry, I’m so scared” I begged Bron, as I desperately clutched the sheets on the bed and slid my thumb up and down the teeth of my trusty plastic comb. After remembering how hard I had worked to push my daughter out, my body literally ejecting this baby on it’s own was pretty shocking.
I clearly remember Bron telling me how far away she was…
“I’m coming off the round-about into Ballina…”
That’s still so far away.
“I’m driving past the prawn…”
That’s still SO far away!
“I’m coming over the bridge… Dad, what do you see?”
“I see head…”
Oh god, please hurry… I can’t hold this baby in much longer!
“I’m turning into your street…”
HURRY UP BRON!!
“I’m in your driveway, I’m coming up the stairs…”
Then suddenly, the relief of hearing hubby say: “she’s here, she’s here Georgy, she’s here.”
I felt Bron touch my shoulder and she said: “you’re okay, you’re doing amazing.”
Suddenly, I felt like I could push and relief washed over me. Thank god she had made it. We could now have a baby.
I pushed with the next contraction, but my relief didn’t last long.
“Okay, baby is coming. Try to pant Georgy, pant” Bron gently encouraged. I didn’t really want to pant though. I wanted to scream and swear and push and get this the hell over with because OH MY GOD THIS FUCKING HURTS! This was that place, that completely raw and primal place that I suddenly remembered so clearly from my first birth. And I’d had enough now, I wanted this baby out! I wanted this bloody thing, which I swear had only started a few hours ago, to be OVER. NOW!
“Breathe Georgy, breathe” Bron said, and I felt myself groan as she placed a warm, damp towel on my perineum. I had completely forgotten how good that had felt during my first birth. Such a simple thing but seriously, when that big, hard head is coming out, that warmth is so brilliant and soothing.
Then suddenly I felt a feeling similar to my whole insides coming out of my butt… And then RELIEF. The head was out. URGH!
“Okay, baby’s head is out, just breathe…”
Oh thank Christ, I thought. The sweet, sweet relief! Let’s never do that again! EVER!
But wait… shoulders. Oh god this baby still had shoulders!
It wasn’t over just yet. Another contraction crept up and this was it. I screamed - SCREAMED my baby out. I remember the words clearly: “COME ON BABY! GET OUT!”
Bron and hubby both reached down to catch and suddenly, baby was being passed through my legs to me. I grabbed him - even though I still didn’t know it was a him - and brought him up to my chest and… Wow. Just WOW.
The rush. That post-birthing rush. There it was and suddenly, it was all worth it. Every bloody minute of it because look what we have… IT’S A BOY!
I started to sob. I was in shock, I could not believe I had just done that. Again. I did it, I bloody did it! Hubby wiped his eyes and then I was truly lost. Lost in a flood of oxytocin as I held and kissed my baby. My sweet, squishy baby.
Everything from here is a total blur, but wonderfully, Bron had pressed record on her phone so I have a beautiful video of our first moments after birth...
“That was so good Georgy! God! That was so fast!" Hubby exclaimed, wiping his eyes and grinning.
"Oh my god, that hurt so much” I had uttered, in between elated sobs.
"No shit. It looked it..."
“I did it…”
“You smashed it!”
But you know, it was strange. I really felt like I was just a bystander at this birth and my body did it all for me.
“You’re amazing” Bron had told me afterwards, but I didn’t feel it. I almost felt like I had cheated. My labour with my daughter had been hard. I had worked for it. It had been a mental and physical game and yep, I had conquered it.
But this birth had been so, so different. It had been so fast and so furious that my head didn’t have a chance to catch up to what my body was doing. It was actually really shocking.
But despite all of that, I have to admit that it was also completely amazing and incredible. The power of birth is stunning and I am so grateful that I was able to have the experience that I had. I was also so glad that I didn’t have to leave my house (quite apart from the fact that if I did, baby would have been born on the Bruxner Highway - FUN!) There was something so magical about climbing into my own bed afterwards, letting baby lie on my chest and have his first breastfeed without any interference or pressure.
I did tear - a small second degree which Bron sutured by torchlight in our bedroom. No noisy medical students staring over her shoulder. Just the 4 of us, while I ate lollies and drank diluted apple juice.
I know this isn’t your traditional, romantic homebirth story. There were no fairy-lights. I did have my birth affirmations stuck up on the wall, but let’s face it, I didn’t have much of a chance to read them. The birth pool didn’t even have enough water in it to bath the dog, let alone safely birth a baby. And I wasn’t some serene birthing goddess who calmly breathed out her baby.
Perhaps this isn’t the type of homebirth story people want to read? Perhaps people would rather read the stories that do have fairy lights and where the woman is calm and in control.
But that wasn’t my story. THIS was my story. And it was actually pretty awesome.
Dr Rachel Reed has a wonderful blog called “Feel the Fear and Birth Anyway” which I remember reading back when I was still a student midwife. I came across it again recently and it really resonated with me.
In it, she says: “We have created a culture (and birth culture) that seeks to avoid and minimise extreme emotion and pain, and encourages being in control. We use medications and/or skills, methods and techniques to remain in control and dampen the emotions – or at least the expression of those emotions. In some cases women are told that they should not experience fear, or pain, during birth… that these are conditioned feelings that can be controlled. I think it is a shame that this powerful aspect of the birth experience remains hidden and suppressed…”
“Powerful aspect of the birth experience” - powerful is correct. I may have been scared. I may have been overwhelmed. I may have felt like I was suddenly run into by a freight train but there is no denying that I was also, once again, awed by the power of birth. Awed by the power of my body. And of course, humbled by forces out of my control - which, when it comes to life with a 3.5 year old and 1 year old, is a lesson that definitely never gets old.
Our beautiful boy was born on his due date, the 1st of August at 4.40pm. On the bedroom floor, next to the birth pool that was only filled with about 1 foot of water, approximately 6 minutes after our midwife ran in.
Since that day he has filled our lives and hearts with sunshine. And as crazy as that afternoon was, I would do it all again in a heartbeat.
You can check out Dr Rachel Reed’s (Midwife Thinking) wonderful blog “Feel the Fear and Birth Anyway" HERE.
Georgina Dowden is a mother, midwife and lactation consultant (IBCLC).
In her day to day life, she looks after her two beautiful children and also supports other families on their parenting journey.
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