The story of my first child’s birth and my birth as a mother cannot be separated from the death of my own mother. She died on my due date, the 26th of December 2014. Of course it was tragic but fortunately it was a gradual process, and I was prepared for this event over many months. The date of my mum’s passing gave me comfort. I couldn’t argue with the synchronicity and felt surrendered to the plan of a force greater than myself. I had incredible support around me and allowed the grief to flow. Unable to commit to travelling for the funeral. I wrote a beautiful obituary for my brother to read out, and that gave me a sense of closure.
Eight days following the due date/ my mothers passing, I felt like I was again ready for this baby to come! We were planning a home birth and had spent many months making a beautiful space in our home for the new one to come in to. On the blackboard hanging on our wall we wrote ‘welcome home Mighty Spirit’, the name that we had given to the baby when it was in the womb. In the morning we went for a big walk on the hills around our home, I heard it was good for activating labour. We got home and had a beautiful lunch together and relaxed for the rest of the day. At about 5pm in the evening I felt an intense tightening across the front of tummy and in my uterus. I noticed that it lasted for 20 seconds and was coming about every 10 minutes or so. We got very excited as until then I hadn’t felt any sort of labour activity. My partner Johnny started to do the final touch-ups on our alter, gathering flowers and scattering petals around our bedroom.
I decided not to eat dinner and gave myself quiet time and space, in order to really feel what was going on. I was entering meditation, closing my eyes and being with the sensations. I did some yoga relaxation postures. The tightenings continued at its pace until about 10pm, when they started to happen closer together.
Johnny and I were convinced that labour had begun and that we would be meeting our baby very soon. The moon was getting full and cast light over our garden so we spent a lot of time walking around there together. We excitedly called our midwife Elisabeth to let her know the progress and her response was mellow in comparison; ‘call me when the contractions are 2 minutes apart’.
The night crept on and at about midnight the contractions were getting down to 5 minutes apart. Johnny was timing them and writing it all down. I was loving the experience of labour, dancing, moving and using my yoga practice, so curious and ready to feel the sensations that would bring me my baby. Two contractions that came only 3 minutes apart got us ready to call Elisabeth again. But then the next one didn’t come for 10 minutes. The contractions became more and more sporadic across the night and eventually, just before dawn, Johnny and I lied down for a rest and fell asleep.
In the day light on Friday morning I woke felt confused. I had slept for a few hours straight, there were no contractions in that time. Had my labour stopped? I called my midwife and she gave me a few explanations…that the baby had retreated to find a better position for moving down through my hips, or that I had a pre-labour to allow my cervix to thin out. She recommended that Johnny and I try our best to get some rest. It was very hard though as we were both very stimulated by the whole event and the realisation that our baby was coming soon! Through the rest of the morning I lounged around and consulted my birth books while Johnny planted some seedlings that needed to be in the ground.
After a late lunch I felt the tightenings again. After just a few they started to get really intense, nothing like I had felt the night before. ‘This must be real labour’ I thought to myself. At about 5pm my plug came out, a thick, bloody mucous and lots of it. We called Elisabeth and described the happenings. She said she was willing to come to us now, and would be there to set up her tent before sundown. The contractions were very strong and were coming every few minutes now. Elisabeth lived 45minutes drive away from us, and I wondered if she would get here in time for the birth.
Elisabeth seemed impressed by what she saw. She thought my labour was going well. The contractions were lasting a long time now, about one minute. I was riding the contractions by alternating between an all fours position, swaying my hips and swinging in squatting position supported by a rope hanging from roof. In between contractions Johnny and I would take walks in the garden under the moon light. We were euphoric; talking about how blessed we were to be at home in our garden in the bush for the labour. It was all feeling very magical!
At 8pm Elisabeth asked me if she could check my dilation. I said yes, as I felt I had worked very hard up until this point and was curious to know my progress. I was six centimetres dilated and Elisabeth was pleased. She started to set up the bedroom ready for birth, laying out her instruments and covering the bed in plastic. Johnny and I were convinced the baby would be here within a matter of hours. The strong contractions kept coming at a steady pace and I passed some more of the mucous plug.
As the hours ticked by I started to grow tired. The sleepless night of the pre-labour was catching up with me. I was inspired by the philosophy of active birth, and had been very physical through the whole labour. But for the first time I allowed myself to lie down in between contractions. Yet as soon as I could feel one starting again, I would be up, either on my feet and squatting or kneeling on all fours.
I then started to feel nauseous and Elisabeth said I was probably entering transition, which gave us a lot of encouragement. I started dry-reaching and hoped this meant that I was progressing. When it settled down my exhaustion reached another level. I asked Elisabeth if it was OK for me to fall asleep in between contractions and she started to be concerned. If I could consider sleeping, then the intensity of the labour must be lowering. She checked my dilation and found that in four hours I had only dilated an extra 1 centimetre, which in the medical view is considered as quite slow. Elisabeth went outside to lie down on the futon for a short rest. Then she came back into the bedroom and proclaimed ‘OK, we are going to the hospital’.
We were shocked. Nothing had exactly gone wrong, there didn’t seem to be any good reason to go to hospital. Even though I was tired, I didn’t feel there were any complications. Elisabeth had made up her mind and started to pack her things. She recommended that Johnny do the same for us. ‘Surely there must be something we can do, something else we can try?’, we pleaded with her. ‘I can’t understand why Carla hasn’t dilated more. I want to get her checked. It is better to go to the hospital now before we all get exhausted and have to call an ambulance’, she said. She wasn’t changing her mind.
The tide was flowing for us to go to the hospital and I had to go with it. Disappointment overwhelmed me as I took one last look around at the beautiful space where I had so hoped to bring in my baby. As my hopes dwindled, and I started to worry if there was actually something wrong, I stopped being present through the contractions and they became painful on a different level. As Johnny drove us carefully to the hospital, we expressed our disappointment and fears to each other, as well as discussing a game plan for what we would do in the medical arena.
50 minutes later we arrived at the hospital. The midwife that admitted us had the same name as my mother, and it warmed my heart. She left us alone in the room and Johnny dimmed the lights and hung sarongs up over the intimidating posters and medical information lining the walls. He was very determined to make it comfortable and sacred. On the way there, Elisabeth had a lightbulb moment..she thought that perhaps the baby was stuck, and not able to move down and put pressure on my cervix. So when the next contraction came she got me to squat low, all the way to the ground, and she would use her hands to squeeze my hips from behind me, in order to make room for the baby to move down. We tried this for several contractions and it took a lot of strength from both of us. Afterwards I didn’t feel any difference so we stopped. Elisabeth checked my dilation again and it had gone down to 2cm. I lied down feeling defeated and exhausted and cried out in pain as the contractions continued to move through.
Elisabeth had given up. Her opinion was that the only way to get the baby out was by caesarean. She believed that my pelvis was too narrow, just like my mother’s was deemed at my birth, and that the baby couldn’t move through. ‘Carla, you have done so well, you have tried everything’. I agreed with her on that point, and in my pain and exhaustion, as well as fear for the life of my child, I accepted it as the only option left.
When the obstetrician came in to see me, we told him what I needed. He checked the baby’s heart beat and said it was stable. ‘If the baby is fine then we have no reason to operate’. I was perplexed, from all the stories I’d heard, I believed that they practically forced Caesareans on you. I also couldn’t understand how I was supposed to continue like this and wanted out. ‘We’ll give you some pain relief’ he said, ‘you’ll be fine’. What I really wanted was to make it all stop, sleep for a few days and start again!
Out of the options we decided on an epidural. It was relieving for the pain to stop. I was able to sleep for a few hours. Still tired though, at 7am on Saturday a new obstetrician came on a duty. A sprightly young Canadian woman, she really served it up to me when I told her that I wanted a caesarean, ‘I know that you wanted a home birth, I know that you want to birth this baby as naturally as possible’ she spelled out. This woman had a plan, and told me that she believed I could do it. I looked down at my body, which was completely numb. ‘How the hell am I supposed to birth this baby, flat on my back, unable to feel anything?’ I thought to myself. Johnny looked at me and said we should go with what the obstetrician offered. Once again, we surrendered to another change in direction. The obstetrician used a scalpel to brake my waters and gave me a shot of syntocinon, which stimulates the labour. ‘I’ll be back at midday to check your progress’.
Johnny was emotionally and physically spent, also afraid at the possibility of caesarean. In the early morning, as I slept, he went out to the carpark and prayed, calling in our angels and Sheryl, my mother that passed away only 10 days before. He also rang his brother, who was already a father, to receive some comfort and guidance.
When he came back, I told Johnny to ring Jaime, our dear friend who was nearby home, on call to support us after the birth. Within an hour she had arrived, bringing hugs and lots of nourishing food and drinks. She was fresh and energetic, a very different state to Johnny, Elisabeth and I. Jaime has had 3 homebirth before me, and I trusted her. Jaime sat in the corner of the room in meditation position. Some time passed and she said ‘Carla, birth is an intense experience and you need to get back into the intensity’. Feeling uplifted by her presence, I agreed with her. I asked the hospital midwife, Colin, to turn down the pain relief. The electronic chart showed that my contractions were picking up. Slowly but surely, I began to feel them again.
Jaime held my hands and started to breathe with me. She emphasized that I completely loosen my mouth on the out breath and focus on softening my whole body. After a few minutes I could feel myself melting into the bed in complete surrender. Breathing in, and then exhaling while voicing the word ‘soft’, low and deep. It was the opposite of everything else I had tried so far, which all revolved around strength and dynamic movement. Yet it felt so good to just soften every part of my body. I could really feel some momentum now and my energy had returned. Johnny also was in good spirits, we were giving it one last shot! Enthusiatically, Johnny took his shirt off to make skin to skin contact with me, as both of us knew that it was helpful for strengthening the contractions. Everyone in the room got the hint and gave us some quiet time. Johnny kissed me passionately and rubbed my nipples. I allowed myself to be with him completely. It was enjoyable and wonderful to be in this loving way, similar to how the baby was made in the first place. In our intimate space we prayed and sung and cried to Mighty Spirit..’please baby, move down, we love you, we are so ready for you’ I could feel more fluid between my legs and reached down to feel my Yoni. I was surprised by what I felt. I didn’t recognize my own yoni! Swollen and Fluidy…I didn’t know if it was the baby’s head but I was thrilled nonetheless ‘Johnny, something has changed down there!’ I exclaimed. The hospital midwife came in and announced it was 12 midday, time to check my cervical dilation. ‘You’re ten centimetres’ he said. Johnny jumped as high as the roof and tears came to his eyes as he heard the best news ever. This meant that the baby was not stuck! It had moved down and was now in a position to be born!
Elisabeth said ‘Carla, it’s time to start pushing’. Previously I had not believed in the idea of coached pushing but now I was willing to do anything to bring my baby into the world. With the advice of Elisabeth, I timed each push with a contraction. I still didn’t have full feeling and couldn’t tell if I was getting anywhere. The hospital midwife was pointing a flashlight in between my legs and was encouraging me, saying I was doing really well. Jaime came back into the room. It got to the point where I knew I wasn’t being effective lying on my back. With the assistance of everyone in the room, I navigated my way around the tubes stuck into my body to move into the all four positions, kneeling on the bed. This felt much better! After a few pushes here the hospital midwife started to get very animated..’That’s the way darling, you’re baby is on the way out!’ This gave me so much motivation, despite the feeling of fatigue that was once again starting to overwhelm me. I was having memories of my days in training as a young cross country athlete, and of cycling up steep hills on a long distance journey. I was thinking that this is the hardest physical effort I’ve ever made, the tallest mountain I’d ever climbed.
More hospital staff filtered into the room, anticipating the baby would be here any second. I’d been pushing for about 30mintues when I could feel the baby’s head putting pressure on my anus. Johnny was constantly going from one end of the bed to the other, to be giving me moral support holding my hands and then the other end to check out the view! I was starting to get dizzy with tiredness and I didn’t think I could manage one more push. ‘I can’t do it anymore! I exclaimed. ‘You have to’, Johnny basically shouted ‘the head is like this’, he motioned making a circle with his hands to show the size of the baby’s crown..
‘aaaarrrrgggh’ I gave one last push with all of my effort and felt the head move through my yoni, and then the rest of baby slide out in one movement, with its own little cry. It went through three pairs of hands before Elisabeth finally caught it. Elisabeth quickly passed it to me through my legs. I cuddled it up to my chest, rocking with relief and joy.. We all looked to see..it was a girl!
She was the most beautiful, perfect baby I could have ever imagined.. i felt that all of our effort to have a natural, healthy pregnancy, without intervention, tests or scans had really paid off.
She was born at 1.26pm on the day of the full moon, just a few hours before it swelled at its fullest, and some 40 hours after the beginning of the pre-labour. What a marathon!
The delivery of the placenta was quite a blur, as I was in no state to comprehend the dialogue of the hospital staff. There was concern that I was bleeding too much, and that the placenta was retained. Colin decided that the cord needed to be cut to help the placenta come out. No-one raised an eyebrow at this except for Johnny, ‘You’re not cutting the cord, that has nothing to do with the bleeding!’. He literally intercepted the surgical scissors that were heading for the cord. We were intent on leaving the baby attached to the placenta or as long as possible. Everyone still seemed flustered about the retained placenta. One level-headed nurse stepped up and said ‘I know what to do’. With her hands she spread my knees wide and out plopped the placenta, all in one piece, and within 20mintues of the baby being born.
A few hours later, before we were relocated to the ward, we decided to cut the cord. We could see that the baby had received everything it physically could from the placenta, and she was calm and peaceful in our presence. We said a prayer to honour the placenta, and Johnny cut the cord. She flinched a little but didn’t cry. The placenta was then kept in the fridge so that it could be made into capsules the next day.
The situation with the placenta was the most challenging and imposing part of our hospital experience, as well as gettjng s cut when the catheter was removed. Despite my fears and negative ideas about a hospital birth, we had such a positive experience and were grateful to that we ended up with compassionate staff, not to mention the kick ass OB chick. I’m so glad that they had the belief in me to birth our baby vaginally.
Although I pictured a private birth at home with just Johnny, myself and midwife, the baby was born in a room of about 10 people, half of which were complete strangers. This baby girl, whom we called Yemaya, is very social and loves community! I can see now that our initial birth team was underresourced, and that we really could have done with another support person, which ended up being Jaime anyway.
My lesson in the birth was that I just had to unite with the trust that I could birth my baby, as I was hindered by the fear that I would be like my mum, with a pelvis ‘too small’. Through complete relaxation, not force, my body was able to do as it innately knows, and open up for the baby to move through the pelvis with ease.
Yemaya’s birth was a very spiritual experience. We received help from our angels, especially my mother angel. We were walking a mysterious path the whole experience, with many interesting occurrences, only to be guided by our trust in Great Spirit. In reflection I could see that the close encounter with caesarean happened so that I could truly face the pattern in order to break it. It has now ended with my mother, and not passed on to our daughter. I hope that this retelling demonstrates the magic and power of birth, the strength we all have inside of us and the value of trust and support