This birth story begins weeks before our babies arrival with numerous nights of anxiety/excitement that labour was about to begin, several midnight texts to our midwife and even a couple of sleep overs. Archer got sick, I crossed my legs and once all was well in our house and my birthing space was just right labour began, 10 days past our due date.
At 2am on Monday the 28th April I am woken by a strong contraction. I have been having uncomfortable dreams and am quite certain I have been experiencing contractions in my sleep. My first thoughts are ‘this is it…it better be it!’ Another strong contraction flows through my body and I feel my heart race as I start coming to terms with being in labour and what that might mean. I connect up the hose and start filling the pool. I text my midwife to update her. Within seconds the little blue dots of i-Message appear and a reply comes through. ‘Everything is ok I will come over. Fill the pool bub is coming’. I feel a sense of relief. She is close by and she also seems sure this baby is coming. I must be in labour. I move towards the bathroom to get the water running thinking about how lightly my midwife must sleep and how on earth her partner copes with sleeping next to someone in this profession.
I am waiting now. Waiting for my deep slow breathes to centre me, waiting for the pool to fill, waiting for the next contraction to bring this baby closer and waiting for the arrival of our midwife. I take a minute to read the affirmations I have pinned on the wall over the past month. I start feeling calm and excited. I decide it’s time to wake Richard to let him know our midwife is on her way and that maybe this time it’s the real thing.
As soon as everything seems to be sorted and everyone has been notified contractions weaken and space out. I am not impressed.I feel like a fake. The midwife must be wondering if I really know what a ‘strong contraction’ feels like. Baby has turned posterior again. ‘Turn the water off’, ‘try and get some rest’ …definitely not music to my ears. What happened to this super quick straight forward labour I had expected and had been feeling so anxious about?
Lying in bed with eyes wide open and feeling very far from sleep I try to will the contractions on stronger but all I achieve is frustration and no sleep. I decide to leave the guest room, update our poor midwife who is once again curled up on our couch and jump into bed with my boys. Maybe the baby wants the family to be together…who knows? Sleep eludes me. Contractions don’t seem to be getting much stronger or closer together. Around 6am I have had it. I feel desperate. I should be able to do this. Why can’t I get into labour! I decide I need some guidance. I also start worrying that my midwife is waiting for me to reemerge so she can go home. I decide to go check on her. The look of desperation must be written all over my face as one look and my midwife asks me what I want to do? No idea! Should I stop lying down? She suggests we go for a walk. Oh my, the irony! I had always scoffed at the notion of needing to go for a walk to help progress labour. I didn’t need any encouragement first time around so surely this was going to be fast and very straight forward. I seemed to have forgotten that when it comes to children they like to keep us on our toes. Number two would be no exception!
Fresh air was wonderful. I felt amazing and physically invigorated. We walked and talked. Discussing housing prices, the irrelevance of a babies birth size to the difficulty of the birth, how old I was feeling and, of course, about my doubt this baby was ever coming out. I waved to my neighbour who was walking her dog and we ran into an acquaintance of my midwife and stopped for a chat. My contractions continued to roll over me every 5 minutes or so but nothing I couldnt handle at a brisk pace. Contractions seemed to became a little stronger as we approached the house but I was still convinced this was going to disappear. My midwife however was adamant we were having a baby today. I tried to believe her but was quite sure it was probably wishful thinking. Walking back in the front door we find Archer sitting in the early morning light, book in his lap with a look on his face like ‘finally you’re home’. I feel like a teenager coming home late from a big night out. I wonder what happened to his Daddy. Sleeping. I am gently instructed to eat something and notify if there is any change. My midwife leaves to freshen up for the day. I am left wondering if she will need to come back.
By now the house has lost its sleepiness and is wide awake. I request some honey toast, not because I want it but because I have been told to and something in me tells me I will need it. Baby is posterior so with every new contraction I lean against the wall and draw my belly in with my hands to encourage bub into a better position, just like we practiced. This feels awkward and very uncomfortable. By the time my toast is ready the contractions are still about 5 minutes apart but seem to be strengthening. Or maybe I am imagining it? Every time I try to swallow a bit of toast a contraction hits. I totally lose all desire to eat and decide to retreat to the bedroom.
Just after 7:30am I feel the need to message my midwife. Things seem to have moved along. How much? I have no idea. Is there time for her to finish drying her hair? Anyone’s guess is as good as mine. I take back any notion of insight I thought I had. The smell of pancakes fill the air, I press play on the youtube video of ‘gooey’ by glass animals for already the umpteenth time (why did I not get around to downloading it ?!?). I don’t seem to mind only having one song on my birth playlist. It has the word ‘womb’ in it and I smirk every time. I am fully aware how lame that is which makes me smile even more.
During contractions I am focusing on both breathe and sensation. I am intrigued. I am already so certain of my bodies capability to birth that this labour feels so much more free and open to my own personal observation. I didn’t need to fall completely into my meditation but rather I became more of a bystander watching and feeling each contraction roll over me. Anticipating both the intense height of the contraction and the release and relaxation of the uterus as the contraction released. Visualising the cervix pulling up and up, especially in the stronger sensations, was empowering. The practice from my yoga classes was also proving really helpful for those stronger more intense sensations. From practice I was well aware that three long relaxed breathes would get me through a contraction. This knowledge and the image of my yoga instructors serene face and warm smile was extremely comforting. Her presence and words were with me throughout my labour. ‘Relax’, ‘breathe’, ‘loose lips’, ‘relax that bottom’, ‘low tones’. I felt her arms around me.
It was around this stage time started getting away from me and I distinctly remember noticing how hungry I was. Tired and hungry. Although I was having some great contractions nothing seemed to be happening quickly and I was still unsure how things were actually going. Would I just stay in this state of labour unable to sleep but unable to progress? The midwife pointed out that I seemed to be holding tension in my butt and pelvis and that I should try to keep these muscles relaxed. I already knew this and had been trying to keep these areas loose but with not much success. I decided to request a lower back massage from Richard to help release some of this tension. The massage felt wonderful and I was grateful for the company of his touch. After he left me alone once more I distinctively remember sitting on the ball and looking in our dresser mirror feeling confused. Everything was so different to my first labour experience. With my first I was so deep in labour that it was like the outside world didn’t exist. I couldn’t even really speak. It was like I didn’t have the energy to do anything but labour. I was so focused, and staying relaxed and focused on my breathing was everything. I was also irritated easily and didn’t like being asked questions, touched or even looked at. After my first son was born I read about crossing over into the primal part of our brains when in labour is what helps us cope with the intensity of the event and is quite an important transition for a positive experience. So, my mindset first time around made perfect sense. What was happening to me now was making no sense. Nobody was irritating me. Being touched did not annoy me. Even having a thermometer in my mouth during a strong contraction didn’t phase me. This would have infuriated me first time around. I could see messages coming through on my phone and wanted to reply but specifically didn’t because I thought if I did I couldn’t actually be in labour. I was feeling so present and started doubting my ability to do this. I knew things had to get much more intense before I was going to be able to meet my baby and this scared the shit out of me. How the hell was I going to deal with the enormity of labour if I couldn’t switch off the unhelpful, way-too-lucid part of my brain! I started having thoughts of needing to go to the hospital so someone else could figure it out for me. It seemed like my body couldn’t commit. Maybe I just needed to the hand the process over? I obviously could not get in the right headspace for this task and eventually I would surely need to eat and sleep.
Seconds after having these deflating thoughts my midwife appeared back by my side like she knew I needed her right at that moment. She asked me what I wanted to do. I didn’t really have any idea how to answer as I wasn’t sure what there was to do… She suggested that an examination may be useful to see what was going on. I agreed even though I was well aware of how excruciating the process of getting on my back would be. But before we did this she suggested trying something first to help with the tension I was holding in my pelvis. I was willing to try anything so I just did exactly as she asked. The manoeuvre turned out to be a type of thigh shimmy. Alternating legs during each contraction making it impossible for me to hold any tension in whatever side she worked on. She then recruited Richard so we had both thighs going at once. This amazingly felt quite good during contractions and the giggles coming from the doorway brought I big smile to my face. It really must have looked hilarious especially to an almost 3 year old. The next suggestion was to march through the next couple of contractions as high as my legs would go. I cringed a little at the thought but got straight to it none the less. So there I was marching around the house with Archer marching behind me thinking that this was all tremendous fun!
I lost my shadow as soon as I slowed down during a contraction and was standing alone in the doorway of the playroom when things seemed to change. This contraction felt longer, stronger and heavier however the achey pain type peak of the previous contractions was now gone but replaced by a strong pressure feeling. It was during this contraction that everything started picking up speed. I finally had my show and it now started hitting home that this may actually be it. Even though this is what I had been desperate for I felt just a little bit terrified. I was still convinced I wasn’t in the right headspace and therefore thought the pain was about to become excruciatingly unbearable. You could say I was freaking out just a little! The next contraction I felt my water start to break under the pressure. This, like the last, was physically strong but failed to have the sting of the previous contractions and felt nothing like what I could remember from my first labour. If this baby really was just around the corner I certainly wasn’t feeling it as I remembered; at this point I was practically reaching for what I thought was happy gas (turned out to be oxygen) while feeling like I might actually break apart. This however was so different, strangely bearable and reassuring. All I could feel was an intense pressure and opening, but no real pain. I was confused. I let my midwife know and left the puddle in the playroom behind me. It seemed like things were getting real so I decided to grab my yoga mat out of the bedroom and move it into the lounge next to the birth pool so I was close to my final destination. Seconds after getting down onto my mat my body was hurled into another contraction and the rest of my waters broke neatly underneath me, fully contained on the mat. I was amazed at my impeccable timing and tidiness! I allocated a couple of seconds of being chuffed at my foresight before all focus was pulled back to the fact it felt like the babies head was about to be born.
I was feeling really overwhelmed at this point. It seemed moments earlier I was doubting whether this was actually going to progress and now my water had broken and it was obvious things were well on their way. This nervousness was written all over my face as at that very same moment I could hear my midwife telling me that everything was ok, I was ok. Hearing her words of reassurance made me suddenly aware of the fear and tension I was carrying in that moment and reminded me that I needed to relax and let go. I took a deep breath and surrendered. ‘Do you want to get in the pool?’I nearly jumped for joy on the spot! As My midwife was helping me get out of my underwear I vividly remember how intensely annoyed I was. It was the first time something made me feel like yelling. I didn’t understand how nobody else could see how urgent it was to get those underpants off. I was having images of fabric being furiously torn apart but instead I silently obliged taking them off the normal way.
Totally oblivious to the way things were progressing in the lounge room, Richard’s attention was caught by the midwife before he disappeared out on the patio to play Lego with our eldest, ‘If you want to see your baby being born I think you better stay in here’
Next thing they were both helping me into the pool. That momentary feeling of bliss as I submerged into the warm water was amazing but momentary. The contractions were now coming quite close together and the sensation that can only really be described as my body trying to turn itself inside out was, well… intense! I needed to hang on as this baby was coming and for the first time I was 101% sure.
I vividly remember wanting to reach down to see if I could feel the head but at the same time felt unsure as I didn’t want to check, find nothing and be disappointed. It was after an amusing moment where my 3 year old declared ‘mummy did a poo’ that I decided to be brave and check. Even though the sensation was there I unfortunately could not feel a little head just yet. At the end of this same contraction I felt the sensation release and knew that the baby’s head had popped back up a little. I had heard of babies doing this and that it could go on for quite a while. The thought of this did not appeal to me and just as I was starting to feel a little overwhelmed I experienced the most remarkable feeling. A complete spin. I had forgotten my baby was posterior and it was in this moment he decided to spin for the both of us. We were both now ready. After a quick pause for an urgent drink break, which was forced upon me by a husband who has yet to live down his neglect of my thirst in my first labour where I was so parched I couldn’t speak, we were ready.
This part of labour is intense and the finish line is so close that it is so very tempting to rush. I vividly remember doing everything and anything to get it all over with when I birthed my first son but this time I was committed to being patient. As I had suffered a third degree tear with my first which ended in spinal anaesthetic, surgery and lengthy recovery. This part of the labour was very important to me and something I had done lots of mental preparation for. Gathering every snippet of information on how to avoid this happening again coupled with daily meditation visualising how I wanted things to unfold I felt confident and ready. I had surrendered to my body and baby and was letting the birthing of his head unfold as it needed too. I was surrounded by my little family and a midwife I knew and trusted completely. My fears, inhibitions and doubts all seemed to fade far far away. I don’t actually remember looking at any of them but I could feel their presence, touch and reassuring words and reminders to keep things going ‘slooowwwllyy’. At this stage of labour I seem to cross over into another world all of my own where I feel I am only just hanging onto the edge of consciousness, so feeling safe and surrounded by love and strength helped to keep me grounded.
So I would do no pushing and I would remember to use the vocal toning techniques taught in yoga to aid the opening process and help prevent any tension being held. Each of these contractions gently and gradually pushed my baby’s head down and out. I cradled that beautiful perfect head throughout the whole process and I don’t think I will ever be able to forget the silkiness of his hair in my hands for that first time. As soon as I felt his head a wave of excitement flooded over me. ‘I am doing this.’ ‘I am having my water birth at home’.’I am about to lift my baby out of the water and witness their first breath.’ ‘We are nearly there!’ I was actually living out one of the many birth videos I had watched and treasured. Even though it had been my plan and I felt confident I think there was still a small part of me wondering if we could pull it off. The next contraction rolled over me and I prepared myself to catch my baby but instead nothing more happened and I intuitively knew things were not quite right. I was receiving a strong message that my baby was a little wedged and I needed to work with him to get those shoulders out. Weeks earlier my midwife had demonstrated a technique that she explained would be useful knowledge if we encountered stuck shoulders. The image of her on the floor demonstrating this manoeuvre came straight back to me and I knew exactly what I needed to do. I was feeling physically spent at this point and a big part of me just wanted to stay put and have a rest. I however had chosen to do this at home and that meant I had to take charge. I was well aware that my baby’s head could only be under the water for a short amount of time so with that I lifted up my leg and spun myself around as if about to start a race. And although I was originally not too enthused about this additional physical exertion I was met by the best reward. I felt my amazing partner, my baby, wriggle, wriggle and wriggle until he set himself free! He was just waiting for me to make a little extra room and he did all the rest himself. Well, nearly… his tummy was so fat he didn’t slide right out so we had to give him a little tug!
So there I was lifting my baby out of the water. He was perfect. The moments where we waited for him to take his first breathe I can only describe as magical. To witness this new soul transition from inside the womb to breathing our air in our home was heartbreakingly beautiful. Watching him go from blue to the most beautiful shade of pink and letting out his first sound was so much more than I could have ever expected. We were so deeply connected from that very first moment and I felt as though his little soul was hovering around his body reaching out and touching us all. We were all instantly in love all over again.
Rafael Christian Lawrence was water born in the comfort of our home at 11:30am, April 28th, 2014. 9.5 hours from that first contraction. 4 hours after the midwife arrived for the second time. 20 minutes after getting in the water.
4.8kg (10 pound, 9 ounces). 55cm.
Placenta and cord stayed attached until day 5. Lotus born on his brother’s birthday.
I feel overwhelmingly humbled to have been blessed with such a soul-enriching and spiritual experience.
First moments captured by our midwife.
And then our amazing photographer and friend Tanya from Tanya Love Photography arrived and captured our first couple of hours as a family of four. Photos to be treasured for a lifetime.
Have to caption this one. As soon as Rafael was born Archer rushed to the bookshelf frantically searching and requesting ‘fish book Daddy’. Finally he laid eyes on what he wanted and rushed back over to the pool. He was trying to identify Rafael! I am not sure if he found his exact match but he kept saying he was looking for the ‘whitey one’.