We were in limbo, between homes, when early labour began. We had left London and were temporarily staying at my parents' house while looking for our own place in Bath. I was almost 8 months pregnant.
We had pretty much secured our amazing new flat but we wouldn't be moving in for another month, when the old tenants lease had finished. Almost every night I would wake a lot with strange feelings that I now struggle to put into words. Feelings in my abdomen that I couldn't ignore, feelings that instinctively prompted deep breathing and birthing positions I had learnt in my pregnancy research and from my antenatal yoga teacher.
A favourite during these midnight early labour surges was the polar bear position, face down on the bed with bum in the air swaying from side to side, it seemed to relieve, or work alongside the feelings I was experiencing. I think I always knew it wasn't full labour beginning, but the pressure of wanting to be in our own space before the birth did have me panicking that these feelings were the real deal and that the baby was coming before we were ready.
But each morning the surges would cease, and it would be another normal day of pregnancy: yoga, walking, eating lots, peeing lots and relaxing as much as possible.
Each morning I would be reminded of my gut feeling that, regardless of the due date, we still had a while yet until we would meet our little wriggling baby. We spent every evening listening to Hypnobirthing affirmations and guided meditation whilst Dom gave me pregnancy massages, using techniques learnt at the antenatal class, run by my yoga teacher, which we had attended earlier in the pregnancy, when we still lived in London.
I was determined to have a positive and calm pregnancy and birth. I knew this required me only allowing myself to listen to, watch, think and speak positivity. Dom would listen to our baby's strong heartbeat every day using a wooden pinnard leant to us by our Doula; this was a nice and reassuring activity. We moved into our flat when I was 39 weeks pregnant.
Sounds ridiculous, but I always knew we would go over the 'guess date' so we still had time. The lovely Bath RUH Midwives had got used to the idea that I was a well-informed and very intuitive preggo and that this pregnancy and birth were going to be done in my well-researched way. This 'way' included declining even the discussion of induction until 44 weeks, unless medically necessary of course, and this informed choice was respected. Dom was always right behind me, as was our ever encouraging and empowering
Doula. We wanted to co-operate with the midwife team, and respect their policies, unless it clashed with our well-researched wishes. A copy of our controversial birth plan was given to them during my pregnancy so that everyone was on the same page. We ended up having over 3 weeks in our new flat to settle in and nest, and make sure everything was ready for the babe.
As I was approaching 42 weeks I started wondering about natural ways to encourage full labour to begin. There was impending and unnecessary pressure from hospital policy as I became more and more pregnant, and although we desperately wanted to meet our baby we knew they were safe in my womb and would come when ready and not a minute sooner. I had had quite an active and healthy pregnancy anyway but from this point I made sure to have a long brisk walk every day, in the hope that if the baby was ready, then the walking would help my body to simultaneously be ready.
At 42+2 weeks my parents wanted to pop round and go for a walk along the local river with us. My gut said no. I didn't want to see anyone. I think I subconsciously knew something was imminent and that I needed to prepare the space without the energy of anyone but me and Dom. We went for a walk along the river just the 2 of us that day and then went food shopping. We had quite a normal afternoon. We went to bed very early in the evening, Dom fell asleep but I was restless so I got up, made some pasta (my body must have known I needed fuel) and watched a film snuggled on the sofa. The Song Of The Sea. A film I had watched many times during this pregnancy. An Irish folk lore story told with beautiful animation, about a Selkie, a little girl named Siersha who would magically turn into a seal. Af ter watching this I was able to fall asleep. I woke up at 2am n eeding a wee. Everything from this point is wishy washy and abstract in my memory, like an unusual, distant and beautiful dream. Sitting on the toilet I began to have strange feelings; maybe I was having some more practice surges?
This was a regular night time occurrence so was likely. But maybe something was different this time? I found that breathing long and deep was helpful, as was sitting on the toilet with my feet up on a box in front of me, essentially a relaxed squat position, and leaning my head on the wall right next to the toilet, eyes closed. Dom came to check if I was OK. I remembered a breathing technique learnt from my antenatal yoga teacher, to hum down the out breath. I found this very helpful. Dom then tried to get hold of our Doula Anne-Marie to ask her advice; was this the beginning of full labour?
He was directed to ask me if I could talk during the surges; I didn't reply, so that was his answer. This was real. I think I remember Dom being attentive and hugging me or stroking my head or something. The birthing pool had been inflated since the day we moved in, now it was time to add the water. While I continued surging on the loo, humming my way through the deep breaths, Dom filled the pool. There were disasters with the hose pipe and the boiler but he silently dealt with the dramas and I was luckily none the wiser. During my pregnancy Anne Marie performed a Blessingway for me. One aspect of the Blessingway was to assign a beeswax candle to each of the important women in my life. The candles were lit during the Blessingway ceremony, joining us in a circle of sisterhood. Each women was given her assigned candle and the idea was to light them all again when I went into labour, so I texted everyone to say 'time to light your candle girls!'
Dom rang the midwife team to send someone. There was an administration problem, conveniently, the Midwives' computer was saying no-one on duty. They had to send a midwife from another hospital team farther away, so she took a while to get here. She turned out to be a retired midwife who just helps on the weekends, and happened to be the most experienced home-birth midwife in the country, so that was lucky for us. A second midwife from the local RUH hospital was sent when one became available, which was well into the birth.
She spent the majority of her time in the bedroom sitting on my birth ball doing the birth paperwork. I don't remember either of the midwives arriving. Anne Marie arrived first, she came to the bathroom and gave me a big hug. I went to get off the toilet and noticed blood, 'I'm bleeding' I said to her. 'Well you are having a baby, so thats ok'. Oh my God, I' m in labour! We went into the bedroom and I burst into tears. Realisation? Relief? Anne Marie ushered me to hold on to the iron bars at the end of my bed (the same bed my mum gave birth to me in 28 years earlier!). I knelt on the floor surging, while she rubbed my back, put pressure on my sacrum, and did her Doula thing of making me feel totally supported and nurtured.
As soon as the pool was full and at the correct temperature of no hotter than 37 degrees I wanted to get in. I had heard that you shouldn't get into a birthing pool too early as it may be too relaxing and slow down labour. I didn't want any vaginal examinations so there was no way of knowing whether it was 'too early' but my body wanted to get in that pool, so in I got.
As soon as I was submerged under the warm water I felt so much more comfortable, it was lovely. I unintentionally and instinctively went intensely deep into myself. I knelt, leaning over the edge of the pool. I went into my own little bubble, to focus on birthing our baby. I didn't plan to do this as a technique, this was just where my flow took me.
I had done so much birth research, and although it was still useful to have all this knowledge to give me confidence through the pregnancy, ultimately my instincts took over and I birthed how our baby wanted to be birthed. I stayed in this bubble, with almost no communication with anyone, for the whole of the birth. I wanted Dom there constantly. He was initially standing outside the pool leaning over and pushing down on my sacrum. This position would not have been good for his back so he got into the pool with me, fully clothed, and kept supporting me by pushing on my lower back to relieve the uncomfortable pressure.
We stayed in this position for many hours, until the baby's head began to crown.
Soon after getting into the pool I was still using the hum breathing technique, then Anne Marie demonstrated an alternative way of breathing out, to kind of blow a raspberry on each out breath. I tried this technique and it felt right, so I went with it and kept it going through the rest of the birth, producing varying levels of pitch. The first midwife arrived a while after I got into the pool. She was respectful of our wishes to be left to birth our baby, but was a bit chatty at times which I found slightly irritating. I declined all vaginal examinations, except one. I didn't want to know how many centimetres open I was in case knowing how far I may have to go would interupt my flow.
Since reading the midwives birth notes afterwards, I discovered I was 9cm open at that point, so I was almost there. The midwife was worried that if my bladder was full it may block the baby's exit so she was eager for me to keep getting out of the pool to go to the toilet. Many times I declined her request, I didn't want to move.
The times that I did try were not fun, surges were much more difficult out of the water and I never managed a wee anyway so it was kind of pointless. Our wish to decline the ultrasonic fetal doppler and solely use the old fashioned pinnard to listen to the baby's heartbeat was totally respected, so the midwife spent a lot of time with her head practically in the pool. She would lean with her ear over to my tummy while I raised it above the water level just enough to ensure she could hear baby's heartbeat through the pinnard; each time it was perfect. At one point I thought I felt what is referred to as the ring of fire, a stinging sensation as the baby's head is crowning. I was excited that we would nearly be meeting our baby. I was in fact not yet at this stage of labour. When I realised this mistake I was slightly disheartened. I hit a 'spikey bead' and felt I had had enough and started complaining and feeling impatient.
Although the labour was intense and felt so long, it didn't once cross my mind to ask for any kind of pain relief. I always wanted to be fully connected to the experience of birth, so synthetic pain relief wasn't on my agenda. Frequent surges continued, I was purposely not pushing, just letting my body do what it needed to do, going with the flow, and trying to relax as much as possible. My body was made to birth my baby and my baby was made to be born. My species has been birthing babies successfully for millions of years. Trust. Surges were becoming more and more intense and my breathing out volume was increasing and becoming more and more high pitched. Then something changed. My body started occasionally pushing at the end of surges. Soon after this my instincts told me to come off my knees and into a flat footed squat position.
I had been practising still squats daily during my morning yoga sessions, at home, throughout the pregnancy. I had also happened to read that other cultures around the world who adopt this squat position for a lot of their daily lives seem to be much more successful than the west are at giving birth! I was so grateful for my daily yoga squats; this regular practice gave me the stamina to hold that position for the final part of this birth. Initially Anne Marie was supporting me from the edge of the pool and I had my arms around her neck; this must have been very uncomfortable for her, especially during a surge! She sensibly reminded me of the handles on the outside of the pool so I held on tightly to them. Dom was still devotedly putting pressure on my sacrum. It was around this point that I truly understood the phrase 'The Ring of Fire'. I welcomed this as it meant we were closer to meeting our baby. I was aware of the midwife in front of me and Anne Marie to the left of me. The midwife was coaching me to push at this point, I believe this was unnecessary and my listening to her coaching may have contributed to me tearing. This birth was natural and uncomplicated and wonderful, the foetal ejection reflex would have helped baby out with no need for purposeful pushing. I had my eyes closed for most of the birth, instinctively, to help me focus and concentrate. I peeked down every now and then to see if I could see anything interesting, like a baby's head! The head was very slowly emerging, its malleable skull was temporarily forming into a point so as to smoothly ease through my pelvis and cervix. When I initially saw the point of the head, I momentarily forgot about my knowledge of birth and babies' malleable heads, and thought that my baby had an unusually tiny head! As the head emerged some more I realised, of course, that the rest of the temporarily elongated head was following behind. What a relief! The head was out and it had a lot of dark wispy hair, floating in the water. The midwife helped the shoulders free (another un-necessity that may have contributed to the tear).
At 2pm on 30th October 2016, 42+3 weeks pregnant, out slipped a beautiful baby with eyes wide open like a tiny seal swimming through the ocean. I reached down my arms and brought this amazing, chubby, wet little human to my chest. Our little human released a beautiful cry immediately. In that moment we had become a family. Me and Dom sat together in the pool, holding, looking at and kissing our baby's beautiful face. Dom had seen a flash of the umbilical cord around the genital area and had assumed we had a son, reinforced by his feelings throughout the pregnancy that we were having a boy. After a short time of us sitting there admiring our baby, I realised we hadn't actually checked the sex yet. I said to Dom 'Oh my god we don't know if it's a boy or a girl!' and held up the baby's leg for him to check, "It's a girl!" he said, surprised. We have a daughter.
I think the midwife asked whether we had a name for her. We looked at each other; we had only found one name through the whole pregnancy that we both liked, and it happened to be a girl's name. Siersha. That would be her name. And it fitted perfectly, seeing as she entered into this world like a magical little seal pup. Siersha the selkie. As soon as she was here, all of my time before her felt like a dream, or another life.
All through the birth I was warm but now I started to feel chilly in the pool, and I was worried that I would accidentally dunk Siersha as I felt a bit wobbly. So, we all got out of the water, onto the sofa, and were covered in blankets and towels to get warm and dry. Siersha lay skin to skin on my chest with my dressing gown wrapped around us. Dom sat right next to us after changing into dry clothes. Siersha latched on straight away for some golden colostrum. Immediate breastfeeding encouraged my body to produce the hormones necessary to naturally give birth to her placenta. We stayed here, snuggled on the sofa looking at our new daughter, for a while. The toilet was the most comfortable place for me to birth the placenta so, after maximum snuggle time, that's where we went. A bowl was placed underneath me to catch it, Siersha continued to breastfeed and the placenta kind of flopped out into the bowl when it was ready. We got snuggled up on the sofa again and enjoyed our beautiful daughter while her nutrient-rich cord blood drained through the cord into her. Dom had hand crafted a beautiful box especially for the 'Sacred Severance' of the umbilical cord. This is a traditional Native American ceremony which resonated with us. He had decorated the box with images meaningful to us from Native American tribal art. Once the cord blood had transfused to Siersha, we used my red thread bracelet made at my Blessingway to tie her umbilical cord. We then lay the cord across the box and used 2 beeswax candles to slowly burn the cord at a central point until it naturally broke. Burning the cord cauterizes it, and gently and slowly separates a baby from their placenta which has been their source of life for 9 months. It took longer than we expected and was a bit smelly! It was important to me to use ceremony regarding the placenta as I consider it a very special and spiritual entity. Initially, Dom had skin to skin time during the sacred severance, and I held the placenta in its bowl. Dom and I held one candle each and positioned our flames at the same point in the centre of the umbilical cord. Siersha began to cry a little so we swapped baby with placenta so I could feed her. My blood group is 0 Rhesus Negative. If Siersha was a different blood group to me and any of our blood had been cross contaminated during the birth, then my body would make antibodies against any future babies with Siersha's blood group, ultimately putting these future pregnancies in danger. In this case I would require an anti-d injection to reverse the antibodies. Once severed, the midwife took a sample of blood from the placenta side of the cord, this sample went immediately to the hospital lab for testing, it came back a few days later showing Siersha's blood group to be A Rhesus Positive, a different group from mine, so I was required to have the anti-d injection.
Anne Marie took the placenta into the kitchen and cut it into pieces small enough to fit in the sections of a heart shaped silicone ice cube tray to be frozen, the plan being to add a frozen piece of placenta to my daily fruit smoothie. Benefits of Post Partum Placenta Consumption include regaining energy, stamina and boosting milk supply. It contains oxytocin, a hormone that reduces pain and increases bonding with baby. Also, interferon and prolactin which can boost the immune system, energy, recovery and milk supply. It also contains thyroid stimulating hormones, particularly useful as I have hypothyroidism.
Anne Marie made me my first post partum placenta smoothie with lots of fruit, cacao and other nurturing goodness. Dom had one too after tasting mine and discovering it just tasted like a regular smoothie! Anne Marie had pre-made us a batch of her delicious oxytocin raw brownies, so I had 2! The midwife examined me and I had a small tear so needed a couple of stitches, Dom held my hand throughout; it was very quick. Meanwhile, the other midwife, who had been in our bedroom during the birth, weighed and measured Siersha. 8lb 12oz and 51cm of gorgeous chub! Once the Midwives were happy that Siersha and I were both healthy and fine, they left. Anne Marie gave us some delicious, warm, healing soup she had made. She made sure we were comfortable and cosy in bed, and that we had everything we needed before she left. We spent the next three days in our new family bubble, just us 3, bonding and falling in love.