"He was born amid a spring time storm with midwives and doula whiling past the still hours by the crackling fire and Dave supporting you as you moaned and hummed and worked"
Lucy, my wonderful doula.
I first gave birth 5 years ago; an experience that veered between not ideal and pretty damn traumatic, albeit with the sweetest ending. The preeclampsia that had threatened since week 34 finally reared its ugly head at 37 weeks, along with puffer fish levels of swelling and a huge amount of protein in my urine, and I was induced. We were relatively informed about our options and felt like we advocated for ourselves pretty well given the knowledge we had at the time. But I found the induction unfathomably fast and frighteningly painful. My body went into shock I felt like a kitten drowning; feebly battling merciless waves of pain. My baby went into distress, the doctors lost her heartbeat, and she was dragged out of me in an emergency ventouse birth. My experience of this birth firmed up the belief I already held about myself; that I simply cannot cope with pain. That calm birthing is for other women, stronger women. Not me.
I approached my second pregnancy cloaked in these beliefs; these demons, and with nightmares about drowning and blood and vomiting with shock. But I was determined that it would feel different. I rested and ate well. I chose private hypnobirthing sessions with Ray from Kent Hypnobirthing. I hired a doula called Lucy. I eyed my demons levelly.
During our hypnobirthing classes we slowly pulled apart then pieced together our vision of what my birth could be; nothing short of revolutionary for us. We learned about the cocktail of hormones our bodies create to deal with the pain of labour and that by focussing on the positive birth I wanted rather than fearing the worst I could literally rewire my brain and body to manifest a better birth. I learned that no matter what the outcome I could feel calm and empowered. I learned I had a choice and could advocate for myself at every turn. I learned about the importance of keeping my neocortex, my thinking ‘monkey brain’, busy with breathing techniques in order to allow my body to do it’s thing, unhindered. I learned how relaxing and breathing into contractions rather than clenching my body against them made them less painful. In essence, I learned about the myriad ways our bodies are beautifully made for birth.
With Lucy, my doula, we covered similar ground as above, but I also cautiously unfurled my fears about birth and motherhood. Over cups of tea, dark chocolate and dates, and often by a crackling fire, I pinned my fears down and we turned them this way and that and picked them apart. They buckled under our scrutiny. I aired my demons about my pain tolerance and my beliefs that calm empowered birthing just wasn't for me. Our conversation strayed beyond the imminent birth and into the wider, sometimes harder areas of marriage and parenting. I processed and processed and processed some more, in a space Lucy held beautifully open for me. Then we banished those fears and demons and I began to feel accepting and even confident my bodies capability to birth.
Sue, my midwife, never wavered in her belief in my strength. That in itself meant our appointments left me feeling light as a feather, and confident in my body. I couldn't have wished for a better medical ally in the quiet calm birth I wanted.
At my blessingway, my friends tied red wool around their wrists; and then around mine. We spoke aloud the names of our mothers and grandmothers; allowing me to symbolically claim theirs and their mothers and grandmothers strength and wisdom as I approached birth. I felt held and loved by these women and found myself touching the red bands frequently through my pregnancy, birth and very wobbly first week.
I wrestled with where I wanted to birth this baby. I initially thought I'd choose a birth centre birth. I have a small house with nosy neighbours and thin walls and I was worried I wouldn't feel comfortable enough at home. I lose my shit when I stub my toe and generally consider myself someone with a low pain threshold. I found the pain of my first labour intolerable. But after studying all the options, the compass stubbornly fell to home-birth, every time. I can’t overstate what a huge deal this was for me, taking away the epidural I so sorely needed last time. But birthing at home simply gave me the best chance of having the positive birth I wanted. It's where oxytocin would flow most freely; it's where I'd feel my most relaxed and calm, it would be comforting and familiar. I wouldn’t need to worry about transferring. I'd have total control over my environment, and I knew I'd feel more confident advocating for my birth choices on my ‘turf’. It would be the closest I could get to creating the private dark cave I found I craved.
I now remember the last days and weeks of my pregnancy as a dream like sensory blur; the smell of wood smoke, clary sage and lavender. The feel of wet sand and mud under foot. The sound of my Calm Birth School affirmations mixed with the whistle of the wind whipping through the trees and over the pebbles of the beach. The warm hands of my husband, gently easing the aches in my back. Flickering candle light by the baths I shared with my daughter.
My birth nightmares turned into dreams that made me smile when I woke up. I felt ready.
In order to avoid hospital monitoring and a potential chemical induction down the line, I had a cervical sweep at 41+6 days which Sue said she would do in my home. After the horror of vaginal examinations last time I was a little worried, but there is a vast difference when you're in your own home with someone you know and trust. It barely hurt. Sue said I was 2 cm dilated, that my babies head was low, but that he had changed sides to his back being on my right side, rather than left. This was a precursor for what was to come, he continued turning and was (unbeknownst to me) ‘back to back’, something that often makes birthing harder and more painful.
Laboury feelings began stirring in my womb within a few hours; a definite notch up from the mild periody pains I had been experiencing for the previous 3 weeks. We had a chippy tea and Prosecco with my family who live next door, during which I was having regular but mild surges. I was relaxed, calm, and quietly excited. It felt wonderful to be doing something normal with my family, yet simultaneously experiencing my body begin this incredibly miraculous journey to birth. I knew with certainty that I would meet my baby very, very soon.
Part two to come soon!