I was “overdue” by 9 days, in medical terms, when Paola made it clear to me that she was on her way to meet us. I can’t stop myself from thinking that those “due dates” are very unnatural. How are we supposed to know when our babies are ready to come?
With my first child I was induced at 40 weeks + 10 days. I don’t even remember the medical staff really worrying about mine or my babies health, all I can remember is the staff discussing logistic and staffing issues – being only a week away from Christmas. Why didn’t I speak up and refuse the induction, you might ask? Well, I was a very naïve first time Mum, who did very little research and knew nothing about birthing or parenting. I was told to trust the system and I did, with my eyes closed. I felt like I was a novice and like my only real chance at a good experience was to rely on the medical support. How much I was wrong, I didn’t know yet!
The birth of my first baby girl was, to me, a trauma. The induction brought about a series of unnecessary medical interventions (episiotomy, vacuum extraction,…) More importantly, it deeply intensified the frequency and intensity of my contractions. What followed was excruciating pain that I was not prepared for. This pain was the result of utter shock and fed all my preconceived fears on childbirth.
It is important for me to note however, that Leila’s birth wasn’t all pain and trauma, it was most certainly magical in it’s own way: indeed it was the birth of my first Baby girl and my happiness (whilst mixed with an intense feeling of relief) was unconditional, once she was finally in my arms.
Looking back, Leila’s birth has made me realise that I was too reliant. It made me realise that if I wanted a chance at a positive birth, I needed to take action and own the birth. We woman are responsible for birthing our babies – no one else should tell us how to do it – we should find within our bodies and mind the best way to birth our own babies. So when I was pregnant with Paola, I was determined to properly prepare myself to give myself the best chance at having a beautiful experience.
Firstly, I read Ina May Gaskin’s “Guide to Childbirth”. This book was a mind opener as it related the first positive childbirth experiences I had ever heard of. Honestly, how many positive childbirth stories have you heard? Isn’t there in our society like a sort of “taboo” on positive childbirth stories? It feels like if we were to describe childbirth as an amazing and beautiful experience we might create disbelief… I then went on to read more books on natural childbirth such as “Birth Reborn” by the so inspiring Michel Odent. While these readings helped me gain so much more confidence in the possibility of birthing my baby completely naturally and better understand the benefits of doing so, the best decision I ever made was to hire a doula. Therese helped me prepare for the birth in such a personal way. I still believe I wouldn’t have had such an amazing experience if it wasn’t for her support. Together, we discussed my fears and doubts helping me exorcise them from my mind and body. It was kind of like a therapy. Being able to discuss the details of my first daughter’s birth also helped start the healing process. With Therese’s support – through hypnobirthing/relaxation sessions, the viewing of beautiful natural births, breathing techniques, etc – I was on my way to truly believing in myself and transforming fear into confidence. It was a wonderful journey that brought a confident woman to her natural labour date with patience (no one was going to touch me in any way for any sort of induction). Having Therese with me through the pregnancy as well as the birth was very reassuring. Anytime I might “relapse” and loose a little confidence or doubt my own beliefs, she would be there to remind me what I really wanted and how much I was entitled to it.
On the 16th of May, Paola was born after an amazing journey. Together, mother and daughter worked through the journey of life, bringing Paola to life in an intense, yet calm, experience. At the end of this journey I felt so powerful, happy and peaceful. I felt the utter strength and meaning of what being a woman really meant to me.
I had started feeling mild and irregular contractions a few weeks before my labour actually started. This tricked me into believing that my baby would be early, but she wasn’t. She was born at 40 weeks + 9 days. It made the wait a little harder than I would have liked. We started discussing induction at my pre-natal visits and it made me nervous. I was adamant that I was going to have a natural labour and no artificial start. I believed in my body and concentrated on my relaxation sessions and pre-natal yoga to further my preparation. This helped me be extra confident and strong for the D-day. On Monday my contractions were getting a little more regular and stronger, I had a feeling the baby was coming soon. When I was getting ready to go to bed on Monday at about 10pm I knew the baby was coming that night. Thomas and I decided we should try to get some sleep before it wouldn’t be possible anymore. We knew we would need as much energy as possible, and I was feeling pretty tired. But I was having trouble having any sleep, as contractions were quite regular (10mn apart). At midnight, we decided to call my Mum to come over, just to be sure we had someone to look after Leila in case we’d have to go to hospital in the middle of the night. Mum came. We had some sheets ready for her on the couch so she could sleep.
Thomas and I stayed in our bedroom and quietly went through each contraction together. I was using my breathing techniques and it was working wonders for me. Every time I had a contraction, I just had to be on all fours or on my knees to be comfortable. Lying down on my back was just so uncomfortable! I couldn’t believe I was lying on my back the whole 6 hours of labour with my first daughter! First huge mistake!
We called Therese, our Doula, and at about 2am she decided to come over. By that time I was mostly leaning on the bed with my knees on the floor during contractions, calmly and deeply breathing, extremely concentrated with each contraction. However, between contractions I would lie on the bed and close my eyes to rest or chit-chat. Every now and then I would ask for some food as I was feeling hungry. All this time was so peaceful although contractions were getting more intense and regular. We were aiming at staying at home as long as possible in order not to intervene with my labour too much. I am so glad we did! I was definitely very reactive to any disruption. I noticed my contractions would slow down both when my Mum and Therese got here. I would even wonder whether I was really in active labour since my contractions would slow down quite a bit.
This whole first stage of labour was really nice as I was labouring comfortably in my own bedroom with my husband. Therese was great as she perfectly balanced giving us space and intimacy and showing up to check on me and offer her support and advice. She was such a comforting and reassuring presence. I am so grateful we hired her to be with us. I know for a fact that we would have gone to the Hospital way earlier otherwise. And it is clear to me that my labour was so smooth partly because we stayed at home for most of it. I felt strong and calm in my own home. I will always remember how natural and smooth it all felt.
At about 5am my contractions were about 5mn apart and really strong so we decided to call the Birth Centre. We left for the much dreaded car ride to the Hospital. How much I had feared this moment for various reasons. Of course, I wasn’t really looking forward to well-established labour during a 50mn trip but I was also afraid it might stop my labour. Although it did slow it down a little, it clearly didn’t stop it. We checked in at the Birth Centre at 6am and Paola was born at 9:08am. It was, in my opinion, perfect timing! The car ride was definitely one that I will remember but it wasn’t that bad after all. I managed contractions pretty well, on all fours in the back seats!
As we settled in one of the really nice rooms of the Birth Centre, Therese and the midwife organised the bath for me. I had always dreamt of having a Water Birth. This wish could not be granted for Leila’s birth. I was really looking forward to experiencing labour in water this time. It was truly amazing! All throughout the labour so far, I constantly was turning around between contractions. During contractions, I was only comfortable on all fours but between contractions I would usually want to lie on my back and rest. It was a little bit of a struggle to turn around especially if I hadn’t turned before the contraction started; but in the water everything was so much easier. I felt so light I could move so much more easily and the intensity of each wave was so much lighter in the water. I remember finding it so relaxing to look at the wrinkles I was forming on the water as I was breathing through contractions. I remember hearing in the distance the relaxing playlist I had prepared for the moment and loving the soft lighting of the led candles we had lit up all around the bath. The setting was all about softness and relaxation: it was perfectly in tune with my mindset and allowed me to connect with my body and my baby, feeling her make her way down to us.
It was all so incredible that I remember looking at Thomas and telling him I was worried I may have hours to go since there was not enough pain for the baby to be here soon. I was comparing with my first experience but it was just a completely different atmosphere and labour. At that point, Thomas decided to join me in the bath and we were left alone. Therese wasn’t too far from us, as she was letting us know by her discrete presence that she was there with us whilst giving us our privacy and let our intimacy express itself. Within minutes of Thomas entering the bath and us exchanging a few emotional hugs and I could feel the transitional stage starting. It was incredible, as if he had triggered it. Suddenly, I knew that our baby was ready to come out. The next 30mn or so are the only time during the whole labour that I can clearly recall pain. The contractions seemed like a 100 times stronger than the previous ones and this was the only time that I started doubting my ability to go on. I was telling Thomas how I didn’t think I could do this. My midwife then reminded me to focus on the moment, to bring it back to the moment. It may sound silly but it actually helped me, I was fighting my own fear and doubts to go back to my breathing. It was just so much harder to breathe than it had been all throughout. I remember Therese not talking but simply breathing with me, alongside. This was so helpful and helped me re-focus. Having Thomas with me in the bath throughout the whole second stage was amazing. I wasn’t birthing this baby alone. He was there, with me. I was in his arms, we were doing it together. It gave me strength. He tells me himself that he feels like he had a part in the birth.
I was in the pushing phase but had so much trouble pushing. I think my body was sort of fighting it. It did feel as if my whole body may tear in 2 and I couldn’t let go. After a few pushes, the midwife suggested I change positions, as “all fours” did not seem to work. I turned around and lied down on Thomas who was holding me. At that point, I knew I had to let go. This is the most wonderful moment of labour, one of the most empowering moments of my life: when you have to accept and completely surrender. In this moment, you surrender to your body completely and gain the ultimate trust in yourself and nature. I believe it may be the very first proof of unconditional love a mother gives to her baby. A wonderful exchange takes place here as the mother gives the gift of life to her baby and the child gives the gift of self-trust to her mother. Paola was born a beautiful healthy baby. She had the umbilical cord around the neck and was born a little blue. We waited nearly a minute before we heard her first cry but when she did our family grew from 3 to 4 and our hearts were once more filled with unconditional love.
Photos by Rebecca Anne LawrencePhotography