Maybe I should really call this a maternity story because a birth story never comes without a “before”, a laying down of the bearings on top of which you prepare for your birth. My “before” was filled with discovery, mostly good but also bad, with desire to share and connect with other women, of fulfilment and friendship.
The story begins on a sad note; we had a miscarriage first time around and learned that nobody talks about this very common event in a woman’s life. I needed to talk about it, to know that it was okay, that it wasn’t my fault. I figured that many women keep it to themselves because it represents a big loss and time is needed to heal and process mentally and physically. It’s also a hard conversation to have specially with someone who might not understand what you are going through. The hormones certainly do not help with facing this particular moment. I resorted to accepting that nature made the decision for us and that baby was not the one that would have started our journey as parents.
When we found out I was pregnant again, we didn’t really want to build any expectations until our 12th week scan. It was as if we didn’t really acknowledge the first 3 months of the pregnancy.
We decided to sign up for hypnobirthing to prepare for the birth. Our (one of a kind) neighbour recommended we take the course with the same person they used who also happened to be a midwife. That was a complete game changer for me but also for us as a couple. We realised that it was a team effort and that your birthing partner can and should be a major part of you birthing experience. What the course really did for me was the realisation that when it comes to birth , not only do you have choices and that you can make them in the most informed and conscious way but that you can also work towards a more positive birthing experience. We are led to believe from the stories we hear and from the media, that giving birth is this medical event that happens on a hospital bed with a screaming woman on stirrups who is being told by doctors around her when to push her baby out. If we want to add some drama, throw in some blood into the picture too. In my personal experience, it was not until this year that I’ve ever heard a woman saying “I had a beautiful gentle birth”. Everyone just wants to know that the baby is born but hardly ever the focus is on how the baby was born and how the woman felt about her birth. Additionally, the stories more commonly shared are the dramatic and difficult ones, the emergency ones, hardly the smooth ones with not much to report.
Hypnobirthing gave us the tools to know and be confident that the body is designed to give birth and you can prepare mentally and physically for it. I stepped out of that fear box that most women are enclosed in and felt empowered, willing to get my head on the right track and in the best space for making my pregnancy and the birth a good one. Luca and I practised and listened to the relaxation readings, not religiously but enough to create that safe and bonding space. I wrote positive affirmations on a black board and read them out loud like mantras. I visualised time and time again how I hoped to give birth but reminded myself to maintain that flexibility of mind to accept that if things would go differently, it would still be okay.
As you might know, I kept active throughout my pregnancy. I was lucky and I made the most out of it. I went on maternity leave and also stopped teaching at 37 weeks as I felt that 3 weeks would be a good enough time to really allow myself to disconnect from my working life and focus on what would come next. A great majority of women feel like they need to take most of their mat leave after the birth but as one of the midwives I met said, the maternity leave is for you. It takes time for the body and the mind to prepare and that transition from working woman to becoming a mother is sacred. Just think of when you go on holidays and you realise that you actually start feeling disconnected and relaxed only a couple of days into your holidays, if not just towards the end. It hardly happens when you are on the plane on your way there!
We decided to have the same midwife who did our hypnobirthing course at the birth as I felt I needed to have that familiarity to keep the natural process going once labour was established. We were eligible for the birth centre which is what we were hoping for. We wrote down my birth preferences together. These were some of the points:
• I would like to use a birth pool for labour and birth
• Please enable me to stay active and upright during labour with use of a birthing ball, beanbag chair and birthing stool
• I will be choosing instinctive and upright positions for comfort during labour and birth
• I will be drinking and eating freely during labour unless there is a medical reason to not do so
• I will be down-breathing my baby during the active part of my second stage. Please do not coach me or distract me. If I need your help I will ask for it. I understand that if I have epidural anaesthesia that I may need some coaching during the second stage of labour
• I would like immediate skin to skin with my baby
• I would like a golden hour for my husband and I to bond with our baby
• I am waiting for my baby’s umbilical cord to stop pulsating before considering clamping and cutting the cord – physiological third stage
• Please do not offer oxytocis for the third stage as prophylaxis – I accept their use as treatment in the event of me having excess blood loss.
My waters went on Thursday 26th at night . I was 40 weeks and 4 days. That week I made sure to go for walks, had dates, ate pineapple, drunk raspberry leaf tea. You can Google all things that encourage labour to start. We went the following morning to get checked at the birth centre. They confirmed the waters broke and told us to go home, rest and wait for the surges to start. If there were no surges within the next 24h, they would need to see me again and most likely I wouldn’t be able to give birth at the birth centre due to being at higher risk of infections. We both went back home, hoping labour would kick off that day. It did! It started with strong period-like cramps just before lunch. I started feeling very nauseous after having food. I was trying to rest as much as possible but it was hard to find a comfortable enough position. Sitting upright on the bed with pillows propped behind by head seemed the least uncomfortable position.
The surges were increasingly getting stronger so I started using the tense machine on my lower back. It was on for most of my labour and even though at first I was skeptical about its effectiveness, maybe it had a placebo effect on me and I held on to it like dear life. Luca started timing the contractions. They were getting closer and longer to a point that he would just understand when I was about to have one and when it was ending from non-verbal cues I was giving him. I tried to use a bit of the visualisation tools we practised during hypnobirthing. They helped a little at the beginning, not so much when established labour kicked in. I was too focused on breathing properly. We spoke to our midwife and the birth centre a couple of times. Luca was mainly doing the talking as I was not able to talk much. I remember taking a warm shower, sitting on the Swiss ball, swaying my hips whilst leaning my head on the wall. Towards 7pm we called the birth centre because the surges were getting regular and every 2 minutes. I suppose because they heard Luca being quite relaxed, they told us to keep timing for another hour and if the surges kept coming in at that pace we should start making our way to the birth centre. When Luca noticed that my belly started contracting upwards he called an Uber. In my minutes of lucidity I was wondering how I could possibly get into an Uber in that state. Being in a car with a stranger whilst you are heavily breathing, having surges every minute, dressed in sweatpants and the top of your pjs is not what you need. What would normally take 20 minutes took us about 50 due to being rush hour on a Friday and it was raining. At every bump on the road I almost had to lift my bottom off the seat not to feel the jerking movement. I really started focusing inward so as not to let the surroundings get to me. I closed my eyes, put my hypnobirthing playlist on and I stopped worrying about how long the journey would be and whether the birth centre was going to send us back home. I zoned out and tried to separate myself from everything else.
When we got to the birth centre, I felt like I was dragging a drunk body. I must have been ready! Our midwife was there waiting for us. A familiar face, just what I wanted. They checked my baby’s heart beat in between surges and thankfully we were taken to a room straight away. For the first 10 minutes I was sat leaning forwards on Luca. They filled up the bath and by 9 pm I was inside.
Tears of happiness mixed with relief rolled down my cheeks. He cried after a handful of seconds and they moved us out of the water onto the bed. I opted for the placenta to come out naturally and luckily that happened within 20 minutes. When the midwife checked me for tearing, I was shocked but pleased to hear there was no need for stitches (maybe the perineal massages and the pelvic floor exercises did work!). We had our golden hour to spend time skin on skin. I couldn’t believe how soft his skin was and how relaxed his face was considering he had just made his way out and into this world.
Luca and I didn’t sleep much that night, we called our families and shared the news with them and other close friends. We tiptoed around and whispered and Luca told me countless times how amazing I was. I always say that if all men witnessed a woman and particularly their own partner giving birth, there wouldn’t be anymore gender inequality. A man would not be able to deny her strength and power in front of such creation.
We chose to video the birth. We didn’t know if it would be something we would watch again later but I said that if it was a smooth and positive experience, why not! And thankfully it was. That instant where you realise you made it, is like a shot of inexplicable power that brings you back to your senses, to your awareness. You start feeling a condensed and strong gush of love rushing down every inch of you and inside your veins. Love for this new little soul who is now your child and for yourself for bringing him into the world. Love for your partner who has safely held your hand throughout the physical and mental marathon of labour and childbirth. But mostly love for the new shape that you have created for yourselves which we call family!
Our heartfelt thanks go to all the pieces of the puzzle that have made this a positive experience for us:
Kemi Johnson and KG Hypnotherapy, the yoga teachers who I kept practising with throughout my pregnancy, Yoga Mama for preparing me not only to teach other mamas but also for my own childbirth, the birth centre at St. Mary’s Hospital and Estefania Rodriguez for documenting these unforgettable moments.