Last week I had the most amazing opportunity to assist a friend of mine in the birth of her second son. I was really only meant to be there to keep her first born occupied, but it turned into an absolutely amazing and powerful experience for me too. It was rather incredible, being on the other side of birth, this time. Herewith Nadia’s story, as told by her:
Births don’t start with the first contraction, nor do they finish with the moment you first hold the baby in your arms… Ralph’s birth started with my own – being told my own birth story over and over again crucially shaped my own attitude towards and expectations about giving birth. I was born at home, the second of three children; an unplanned homebirth where total labour lasted an hour and the midwife arrived in the nick of time in spite of recovering from a hip replacement. My brother topped this – he was a planned but unassisted home birth, breech, caught by my Dad after 25 minutes of labour in the middle of a frosty February night. Apparently the GP who arrived just after he was born was so shocked my parents were worried he would pass out on them! Although I didn’t witness my brother’s birth (I was fast asleep), knowing all the details of how we were born gave me a deep confidence that birth is nothing to be scared about and that we mothers together with our babies are well capable of this amazing feat!
Consequently, with my older son Joshua I decided to have a homebirth, and the experience was amazing. Joshua was born in our own nest after a short four-hour labour – one of my first thoughts following the birth was “now I know how women can do this again and again.” Naturally, I opted for a homebirth again with Ralph.
Preparation for the actual birth began when I was six or seven months pregnant, and when all of a sudden a vivid picture of myself in labour with only Joshua in attendance popped into my head. Because there was a real chance of this happening, I started reading everything I could about natural birth and unassisted birthing in order to be prepared (I highly recommend Sheila Kitzinger and Ina May Gaskin). I also wondered what I’d do with Joshua, who had only turned two in February, if I had a daytime labour. At first I didn’t like the idea of having him at the birth with me, mainly because I’d never spoken to anyone who had their children with them at a birth. However, I felt even less comfortable with the idea of having Joshua whisked away by whoever would be at hand at such an emotionally charged time.
Talking to other mums who were preparing for homebirths with older children present helped me to look at my own attitudes and to prepare Joshua for sharing in the birth. Luschka volunteering to be with me for the birth also gave me the confidence that everything would be alright – Joshua adores her, and our parenting styles are quite similar (and frankly, I looked forward to having her with me, not just for his sake, but also for my own).
Two weeks before his due date, a Thursday, Ralph’s head started engaging. Up until then I had walked everywhere, but suddenly I was in a lot of pain as he was sitting right on my pubic bone. By the following Wednesday I was in so much pain I could hardly walk. A midwife appointment that day confirmed that his head was “deeply engaged”. I knew that already, but it was such a relief to know that it wouldn’t be long. I had long conversations with Ralph that night, telling him how everything was ready for him, and I was a bit disappointed that labour didn’t start during the night. The following morning, my husband Peter asked whether it would be alright for him to go to work – his commute to work takes about an hour each way. Not having felt any twinges I thought it would be fine for him to go (he left about 7:30).
However, as Joshua and I were having breakfast around 8:15 I felt the first contraction, and by 8:30 I knew I really was in labour. Contractions were fairly light at that stage, so I told Peter he could have breakfast at work and finish a really urgent task before coming home (I did end up wishing I hadn’t!). I went on to clear up from breakfast, put on a loaf of bread and then found that while I was having contractions, Joshua would get into all sorts of things, so I called a neighbour who’d offered to help, and also let Luschka know I’d need her very soon. My poor neighbour – she’d worked a night shift and had just gotten into bed when I called her! Luschka arrived soon after her, and by 9:15 or 9:30 my midwives were also there. It was a real relief to be “all set” and to know that Joshua was cared for so that I could get on with the birth itself. At this stage, although contractions came every three or four minutes (I think – I never got to time them), they were still fairly easy to cope with by bouncing on my birthing ball and using the TENS machine. When the midwife examined me at about 9:45, she was surprised to find that I was already 8cm dilated. At that point, I decided I’d like to give birth in our bedroom, rather than in the lounge, and that I wanted Joshua and Luschka there with me. Luschka and I prayed together – I’m forever thankful to you for suggesting this, Luschka! It meant so much to me.
Contractions got heavier and by the time Peter arrived at 10, I was in transition. As labour got more intense I needed a different way of handling the energy. I felt that sighing, groaning or crying out weren’t going to help me, and with Joshua’s birth I had roared so much I had a sore throat for days after. Singing turned out to be an amazing way of harnessing the energy and opening up – not singing a melody, but vocalizing, turning my cries of pain into notes and following the lead of the contractions with changes in pitch and volume. It was amazing – as I sang, the pain turned into energy, power, force.
It also showed Joshua that even though I was making a lot of noise it was really ok – at one point at the height of a contraction I sensed that he was getting worried, so as the contraction eased up I smiled at him and he immediately relaxed. After that, he joined in with my singing, or tried to monitor my heartbeat by holding the ultrasound head to my arm! It is amazing how being a mother develops your awareness – even when labour was at its most intense, I was aware of Joshua and whether he needed reassurance from me. This may be what made it harder for me to focus on Ralph and myself during the second stage, compared to Joshua’s birth. For that reason, I had the TENS machine on constant BURST during the last half hour (careful – you get really sore back muscles from that!!! Arnica cream helped later on).
During the first half of the second stage I was crouching over the side of our bed. I found this position quite painful, though, because as in the days before, Ralph was pressing on my pubic bone a lot. I then changed into a low squat with my shoulders resting against the side of our bed and Peter supporting my lower back, which was much better. I can’t really remember the sensation of Ralph moving down the birth canal, all I remember is that as he crowned two thoughts ran through my mind in quick succession: “I’d forgotten how much it stings when they crown” and “it only stung in one place – with Joshua it stung all the way round”. As Ralph’s head was born, the midwife burst the amniotic sac – it was amazing, the twin sensations of pressure disappearing and the waters breaking. I could see his head, tiny, grey from vernix with lots of dark soft hair. As I reached down to stroke him I realized with a start that I was touching his little ear – it is one of the most vivid moments that I remember from the birth. Even as I write this, just looking at his ears and caressing them brings back that moment. With the next contraction the baby slipped out, covered in lots of vernix, and onto my tummy – a boy. I thought throughout my pregnancy that I was having a girl, but as soon as I felt him that didn’t matter at all anymore. At first I was a bit worried because he was so grey but he immediately started to cry, his lower jaw trembling in the most adorable way.
The others helped me onto the bed and Ralph rested on my tummy, at first crying, then looking around and after ten or fifteen minutes he resolutely made his way to my breast, latched on and had a good long drink – his birthday meal. After the placenta was delivered I just stayed in bed with Ralph for several hours, enjoying the closeness of his little body against mine and the elation that only a mother can know immediately after giving birth.
Joshua had done ever so well during the birth, but it was a big experience for him. Shortly after he’d seen Ralph for the first time, and while everyone busied himself with me, he went off by himself and lay on his bed with his dummies. Peter went and sat with him and played with him and he soon came back to join us. All in all, he took the whole experience in his stride and he loves his little brother to bits, forever wanting to give him cuddles and kisses, and happy to watch him nurse – “Baby drink mummy’s milk” is his favourite statement.
How do you end a birth story? In one sense, it never ends, it is only the opening chapter of an unfolding life and every new chapter will be as exciting as the very first one. I enjoy every minute of this little person that God has entrusted us for looking after, and I am filled with deep gratitude towards all the people that made this birth so special – Ralph, the star in the performance as well as the prize, Peter who supported me in an amazing way in this second birth, Joshua who made it a proper family happening, Luschka whose presence and support were amazing throughout and the midwives who really supported rather than directed me. Most of all, I’m overflowing with love and gratitude towards God for the miracle of Life.
“I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.”
– Psalm 139:14