This weeks birth story comes from Helen founder of Lionheart magazine and new Mama to Alba born in September.
“It started with a gentle jolt at 5am. It was the tightening combined with twinges that I had been waiting 13 days for. 13 days is a long time when you know something life changing is going to happen, maybe-possibly-imminently. Of course like many expectant mothers, I didn’t know exactly how the process would go, but I was ready. I’d done the classes, eaten the cake, said goodbye to the colleagues and stretched like a pregnant yoga cat. Gosh, you and everyone you know are so darn excited for you when you hit that golden due date. So ready, ready, ready to meet this little baby. A day is fine, so is a week, but the golden due days start to shine less when 13 of them pass and nothing happens. That ‘imminence’ you felt at your fingertips you realise, wasn’t there at all. It’s actually over yonder up that mountain, laughing on a cloud.
Needles stuck in me. ‘Acupuncture has triggered labour that evening for some ladies’. Raspberry leaf tea with pineapple chasers, fire curry for starters and sad movies for dessert. Chocolate baths and marathon walks. The entire first season of Orange is the New Black. Surrounding myself with newborns due after my own. Baby being monitored. Stretch and sweep times three. ‘They do tend to come when they’re ready,’ on repeat. Our induction was booked for day 14 and the poppet; oh treasure my love, made her first gentle movements to leave her haven on this, day 13.
I wasn’t scared of birth, just intrigued and thrilled at the prospect of meeting our baby. I’d also heard and read some amazing, positive birth stories. That’s why I had opted for a home birth. We had everything ready for our glorious birth at home; the pool, lots of white towels, snickers bars, tea and biscuits for the midwives, candles ready for the light and flowers on the mantelpiece. All the taps were also shiny clean thanks to my incessant cleaning – a necessity – and the cats groomed. However time continued to pass on day 13. During the slow but exciting passing of the hours, we went for coffee, ate good food and wandered around. All the while, my contractions were every nine to 10 minutes apart.
By the evening, I felt they had really intensified and were every five minutes apart, so I rang the hospital to see if a community midwife might be able to pop in. Maybe we would meet our baby tonight? Nope. Not strong enough or regular enough. ‘Go and get some rest,’ said the voice at the end of the phone. I sort of knew this would be the case, but didn’t want to settle down for a kip. I wanted to be moving forward. It was tricky. I was convinced every minute of shuteye pulled the contractions further apart. So I had a bath and draped myself over surfaces as each contraction hit. Put on an old film and hummed a little as I paced the lounge. I told Charlie to go to bed for a bit. He slept like a giant panda until the morning sun rose and he found me walking the stairs and chatting to the cats, like they were my whiskered little birthing partners. It was Charlie’s birthday, so today had added oomph. ‘Wahhh, happy birthday, my love,’ I softly wailed.
The midwife popped in at 11am. ‘You’re 3cm’. Disastrous. How could this be? She continued: ‘I think something is stopping your progress. You should all go to the hospital, just to check everything’s OK, as baby’s now 14 days late. Then you can come home again if you’d like.’ The bag packed for this scenario, it was flung into the car and we drove down the road to the hospital. I knew I wouldn’t be leaving this destination as soon as the community midwife had said she wanted us to pop in. This was going to be where I met my baby. I think it was because of the 14 days, the 30 hours of little progress and just because something felt right and I wanted to trust my unbroken waters housing the cherub. I don’t know. I just couldn’t leave.
Rather than the monitoring, we were able to go to the midwife led unit, a luxurious hotel of birthing, complete with enormous pools, beds, floor pillows, birth balls, private bathrooms and fairy lights. An industrious blonde permed midwife met us at the reception and we waited in the lounge with Kirstie and Phil on the TV circa 1999, so they could clean the room we were aiming for. As I stared out the window complete with those cosy window spikes, to the city and hills beyond, I heard a baby cry as a lady walked past with her newborn in a car seat. Done and dusted, she was on her way home. Well done her! I thought. Now, what on earth was before me? An hour or two passed in the lounge, with Kirstie and Phil on a back-to-back extravaganza.
I needed to hear the pool filling! I needed the pool, please!
Eventually, after a true eternity of house searches, we were beckoned into our room. Calm, tranquil music and low lights greeted us. I was told that the pool is a source of pain relief, as was the gas and air, so it was best to hold out as long as possible to utilise both of them. After an initial gasp of horror, I stripped off and bounced on the birth ball while clinging on to Charlie’s belt, very quickly an imprint of the buckle soon formed on my forehead – nice. I became very attached to that buckle. Time melted and the world became deep and wide (interesting in retrospect!), focus hit me and carried me on its meditative chariot.
God, I didn’t have a care. Just this baby, just this intense, empowering experience. My entire body was being taken over with its own innate superpowers. Women are amazing. The human body is a wonder. I have a vague recollection of a junior doctor coming in with the midwife ‘to see what a normal, happy labour was like,’ as she put it. I remember agreeing for him to see our baby born, when the time came. I really was off and away, smiling from under a canopy of hormones and focus. The midwife could have told me that Wispa Golds were raining down outside and Ryan Gosling was in my birth pool and I would have simply smiled, nodded, closed my eyes and furrowed my brow. She said she thought we had completed a hypnobirth class, as I was so in the zone. I remember drinking in all the praise along with the awful Lucozade. I think it was the pregnancy yoga that zoned me. Who knows – maybe some fairy godmother made a trip to see me. Anyway, I was finally allowed in the pool – hurrah! – at 5cm.
Dear Pool, I think I forgot to tell you that I thought you were just marvelous that day. You’re so clever, comforting and…well… fluid. Such a shame it ended the way it did. However, I still talk about you with great fondness and have recommended your services to many others.
The pool. Heavenly, floating, gorgeous, brilliant pool. I loved the pool. Can you tell? However, after an hour or so, my baby did not like it in there and the squirrel’s heart rate zoomed up. So much so that I had to get out of the watery haven and lie on the bed to have my waters broken. The breaking signified change. A door opening to a hard, fierce place, it was raw and cold, Post break my hands tingled, I felt dehydrated, exhausted and actual pain really hit me for the first time. What’s more, the worst bit, I hadn’t dilated any further – the midwife said in actual fact, I’d gone down to 4cm. Added to this, the baby was stargazing, hence why everything was taking so long… and it might hurt more.
I went heavy on the gas and air. My smug little Zen space had officially exploded and I was standing in the chilly, industrial middle ground. No more fairy godmother whizzing around. The belt buckle sadly, was also now redundant. I wondered how and when I would meet this baby of ours, right at the same time I said hello to the anxiety that had quietly tip toed in. I told the new midwife how I felt, after the talked of one – the lovely one who had previously given me at A+ – went home, her shift complete. ‘You’ll have this baby tonight, don’t worry!’ she said brightly before she left to return to her warm home, roast potatoes and Sunday night telly. I smiled… but I was weak. The Drama Queen was awaking in me and with a baby labelled ‘Diva’ by all the sonographers and midwives since week five; I was worried about our combined drama potential.
The new midwife was very nice indeed. She understood my concerns. It felt like nothing phased her. After our introductions for some reason, I went on to tell her I wanted to push. She said, go on then. I pushed. It was clearly pointless, I knew it was, but I wanted movement, no idea what I expected to happen. She left, popping back every now and then. Time floated before me, like I was in the Labyrinth film’s limbo, which incidentally is a movie I find equally terrifying and excellent. It was all just… melty. I demanded Van Morrison on repeat, as I thought it would bring back my old mate Zen, but the scallywag was gone. Charlie demanded I eat. I couldn’t think of anything worse. The only thing that appealed to me was gas.
After four hours or so of new midwife time, new midwife told me that I had not progressed at all. I have no words to express how this felt. It had been 40 plus hours since that first contraction. And yes, I know I wasn’t in established labour and that only started 10 hours before or something, but… I just wanted to meet our baby. Ya know! The midwife suggested that we move things forward and go downstairs to The Drip. Or we could continue to wait, but she was concerned I was shattered, which I was. So the decision was made to pop along downstairs to the delivery suite, all jolly and bright. Previously I had in my mind that downstairs symbolised all that I didn’t desire for my baby’s birth, but instead at this point I guess it became exactly what I needed. So, as we wheeled down to the suite, knowing we had to now make this new, clinical space our sanctuary I was aware I needed to relax. I could do this before, but now I just felt so tired. So the words tumbled out of my mouth: ‘Please can I have an epidural?’’ Bleugh. Out. Better. The midwife replied that with the drip speeding up contractions, it would be wise and I would need my energy for pushing. Gosh.
The lights dimmed, just an angle poised lamp on the midwife’s notes. Bill Callahan playing softly, a view of the city’s lights. Charlie snoozing on the floor and the sweet, regular sound of our baby’s heartbeat. This was a different place, one of calm and a gathering of thoughts. This was the epidural I thought I would never have. And frankly, in some (many) ways it saved my experience of the birth of our baby, as it pulled me back to where I needed to be. It gave me rest, peace and that wonderful focus back again. I guess, a drug induced path to Zen. I told the midwife I was so sad it had come to this, I had wanted everything to be natural and she said that in no way should I feel bad about my circumstances or decisions – there were many factors involved and soon we would meet our baby and that’s what mattered. Emotion.
After a few hours of dozing and chatting (her husband works in magazines, she met him in London as a student in the 90s, they have two kids – I was interviewing) I was 10cm and ready to push. I made sure to stop the epidural switch earlier than this to hopefully feel as much as I could. I was soon instructed to puuuush with all my might, taking short breaks to take in more air. Again and again, I pushed and imagined holding my baby in my arms. I could feel the baby coming. I absolutely loved this very active part.
It took just 10 minutes for this beautiful, crying, wriggling, eyes wide-awake baby to emerge. The midwife unwrapped the cord around the baby’s neck and handed our baby to me, whereupon my body absolutely flooded me with hormones and love. I didn’t know if it would come straight away, but I was utterly devoted and loved poured from me immediately. It was incredible, like nothing I have ever experienced before. I also quickly noted that this ‘boy’ (I was sure the baby was a boy, as was pretty much 99% of people we knew), looked very pretty. ‘She’s pink!’ said the midwife. Oh my goodness.
This was our little, gorgeous Alba Elise. A bundle of pure love, joy and inspiration from the very moment her heart started beating. She smelt amazing, her skin felt so soft and her cheeks were so plump. We had skin on skin and cuddled as a family, chatting to her, telling her how brilliant she is and that we love her ‘soooo much’. Slightly annoyingly, I had quite a lot of blood loss and a couple of other complications post-birth, but the medical staff were fantastic, as was Charlie, who after voicing how much he despised the birth partner chair, lay on the floor and napped with Alba. Then had a few rounds of tea and biscuits, Alba had some more colostrum, I had a blood transfusion, Charlie gave us an inflatable tiger balloon and everything felt rosy. We were floating on a cloud.
We love our little Alba so much, she has taught us an endless amount about loving and our capacity for love. Everyday, I feel like the luckiest person in the world. Our baby girl is a joy to know and has the sweetest, kindest eyes and the most glorious, wholehearted smile I’ve ever seen. We are truly blessed to have this little addition to our family. Our love, love, LOVE – grows with each precious day that passes. My sweet, wonderful, determined, happy, beautiful tiger”.
Hels is the founding editor of Lionheart Magazine – a lifestyle magazine full of interviews, fashion, illustration, stories, photography, craft, recipes and way more – an independent publication that’ll make you feel peachy good! Buy issues one to four, right here: http://www.lionheart-mag.com/shop