Kim’s Birth Story for Callum
There were ten people in our house when my water’s broke! Jaimie was home, having oscillated in the morning between whether to nurse a splitting headache or struggle in to tackle a heavy workload. I had encouraged him to put his well-being before his duty. Val, the midwife, was here for a thirty-eight week ante-natal check. Val arrived this time with her bag of pads and I joked that this meant I was to have the baby soon. Her other two bookings for late Dec/early Jan had both already come early and she mused about the celestial influences that might be calling these babies in so soon. I had invited Anna and Sophie to join us, to hear the baby’s heartbeat and to see an independent midwife at work. Winnie, their mother brought them and we sat in the sitting room, squeezed around the birthing pool. Mark and Darren were repairing the kitchen shelf, drilling and gluing, bolting and screwing. Marcus joined them in sawdust heaven.
Mark and Darren were struggling to bring a long piece of wood through the porch and I suggested that we open the sitting room window and feed it in over the pool. As I leapt up onto the sofa to unlock the window and to take the end of the wood, I suddenly felt very wet. The wood was passed into the kitchen and I stood there, bemused. I told Val. I sat down, more wetness. I stood up. I wondered if perhaps I had just peed a little, but on closer investigation in the bathroom I discovered my tights to be soaked. Back in the sitting room, with dry clothes on, we discussed what could be happening. Val suggested that I was having a hind-water leak, which would be brief and did not necessarily herald an imminent labour. We continued on with the ante-natal chat, blood pressure and urine checks and all trooped upstairs to Marcus’s bed for the palpitations and to listen to the baby’s heart. All the while I leaked away and it became more likely that this was a fore-water leak, suggesting a baby in a day or two. We discussed the infection implications of leaving it more than three days. Val joked that although not a high-tech midwife she would need to go home and gather a few things. She asked that we ring her late to confirm that nothing was happening and to check in again the following morning. Mark and Darren, working extremely quickly now, tramped back and forth finishing and tidying. Then everyone left.
I wandered around in a daze. Was this it? Were we ready? I became very clear, if this baby was on its way I needed to collect myself. I wrapped myself in a blanket and snuggled on the sofa. I needed Marcus to be still so Jaimie settled him with The Lion King audio cassette beside me. Jaimie, somewhat rattled, wanted to make a list of things to remember from the couples anti-natal session with Amanda the evening before, but I vetoed this in favour of my own list of instructions for Jaimie: hygiene and cleanness first, then the aesthetics – vacuum up the sawdust and clean the kitchen of workmen’s dirt, wipe the muddy footprints from the sitting room floor, clean the bathroom, tidy the piles of things from view of the birthing pool, run me a bath. Jaimie willingly set to; fortunately he felt restored by having napped all morning, while I had re-grouted the bathroom. After my bath and having left a message with Tom to alert Julia to the possibility of a birth, I went upstairs to lie down. I felt in shock. I had imagined Christmas dinner in the birthing pool by the twinkling lights of the tree – Marcus, Jaimie and pregnant-me. I was looking forward to the timeless, pressureless waiting time towards the New Year. I couldn’t remember if there was anything crucial left undone on my list of essential tasks to complete in advance of the birth.
With the house roughly prepared, something within me clearly felt it was safe to go ahead and I felt a whisper of a contraction. As it was early evening I asked Jaimie to feed Marcus, something quick, like three-minute rice noodles. This time when I called Julia I was able to talk to her and suggested that she prepare her children for the possibility of her leaving them that night. I called Sophie and Anna to let them know that it did in fact look like I might be going into labour. Then I tried to call Mum in South Africa; I wanted to let her know that it was happening and to ask that she hold me in her thoughts. By this time I was definitely having contractions and somehow I couldn’t make sense of the international telephone codes and failed to make contact. Jaimie and Marcus re-appeared and Jaimie was beginning to lose his cool. While Marcus stayed still and quiet if he found me breathing through a contraction, Jaimie was asking me questions, panicking and telling Marcus to leave the room. I was beginning to enter into it, politeness was leaving me, clarity and concise instructions taking its place. Jaimie brought me the birthing ball and I alternated between resting on the ball on the bed and rocking on all fours, breathing through the pain. I laboured alone, while Jaimie prepared Marcus for bed.
I called Val to let her know that I was definitely going into labour and she said to call back when the contractions were regular and the pain strong. Then, deciding to try one last time, I managed to get through to Dad in South Africa and talked for a few minutes and then transferred to Mum as a contraction took me over. I breathed through it, then we had a brief conversation before the next contraction and I felt I needed to go. (Our phone bill clocks this as being a seven minute call at 6:25pm.)
Alone in the bedroom, I discovered that contractions were a lot more bearable if I worked with the muscles of my uterus, breathing and gently bearing down. I sensed the muscles pulling up and opening out. I imagined myself loosening and expanding. If I tensed against the pain, I found that I contracted my tummy muscles in and up, working against my body’s desire to soften and open. It took all my attention to surrender to the natural forces of my body, rather than to resist them. During this time, I was abrupt with Jaimie’s interruptions, questions and rising panic. I needed him to get a grip and to remember what we had discussed the previous night at the active birth couples evening about how I needed him to be. There was no-one with us this time to help ground him (as Kay had done at Marcus’s birth), so that he could be present with me in the labouring process. He was still juggling his anxieties, Marcus’s needs, and uncertainty about when to call Val and Julia.
Now it begins to get hazy for me… Sometime after half past six I think he called Val to say that I was having regular five minute contractions. A few minutes later when he called her back to say that in fact we didn’t have any flaxseed oil for her to add to the supper she was bringing with her, I was contracting every two to three minutes. He must have called Julia because she appeared and took Marcus into his room to read books. I knew with relief that I could relinquish my mothering concerns for Marcus, giving him into her loving care. He then came to me in the bedroom to pass on what Val had told him: that I need not wait until she arrived in order to enter the pool if I felt right to and if I felt the head crowning to slow things down by getting my bottom in the air. This was a huge relief as I had been trying to await her arrival before going down to the pool, now I was overtaken by an urgency to be in the water. As for slowing things down, I just knew that this was out of the question. I was deep in there, being in the labour, and I knew that I was surrendered to it all, including the pace.
I managed the stairs in time for the next wave of intense pain to wash over me as I leant on the edge of the pool. Now I really needed Jaimie. I took hold of him and told him that he could do this, that he just needed to be there, with me, to relax and be present. He joked that he should be calming me, not the other way around. Then I apologised for my abruptness and urged him not to take it personally. He reassured me, absolutely. And then, he was there. Really there.
Once in the pool the contractions intensified dramatically. I had forgotten how very, very painful it was. I was starting to feel overwhelmed, knowing that I had no choice but to go through with this, but not wanting to. Wishing for a way out. Wanting Val to be there, so that I could hand some of it over to her. Wanting someone to make it easier for me, and that dreadful knowing that this was a journey from which there is no way out. And that I alone had to find my way through, bearing it all. I could feel waves of fear washing over me. As I felt myself starting to go under, I was handling my contractions less well. My attention was drowning in fears…. fear of what lay ahead, of there being no way out, of Val not getting there in time, of not being able to get the baby out, of over-breathing and distressing the baby as before, of there being something wrong with the baby, of bleeding like last time, of the placenta getting stuck, and no Val to know what to do to make it right. The pain was becoming unbearable and I realised that I had to get a grip of myself. In single words I directed Jaimie to run upstairs and find me aconite 200 to help me deal with the fear. I missed him terribly as I had a contraction alone and found the ticking of the clock to be a terrible distraction in between times. Jaimie returned with aconite 30. I took one and dropped one, which bothered me. I asked Jaimie to stop the clock. I could faintly hear Marcus and Julia in the room above. It reminded me of Tom’s cows, giving birth alone at night in the fields, easily as nature intended.
Then I began to sing. I remember hoping that I wasn’t singing too soon, just as I had feared that I had submerged myself in the pool too soon. I was concerned that if I used all the things that I had found useful last time too early on, then I would be left with nothing to see me through the worst.
Something amazing happened next. I thought, hey, who says that this has to be hard, painful, traumatic? We all agree that it is. We all talk of the pain and the ordeal of childbirth. Why shouldn’t my birth be easy? I will my birth to be easy. I choose it. And I felt a lightening of my spirit. I just knew that Val wouldn’t be there and that I would be doing it alone. And I felt strong. With Jaimie by my side, I could do this. Not only do it, but do it with ease. And then I dared to entertain the idea that it could even not be painful. I thought: Surely the pain comes from my resistance to the body’s natural and strong expansion. I could choose not to resist but to surrender body and soul to it. It was like my body smiled. Now it wasn’t pain that was taking all my attention, instead I felt myself needing to concentrate every ounce of my self on birthing in a state of grace.
As I sang, deep and low, the contractions lengthened and intensified. The pain was gone. I felt the urge to push. I reached down and felt something between my legs. It didn’t feel like Marcus’s head had done, it was soft and spongy and I had a flash fear thinking that it might be the placenta. I chose to trust that all was well. I sang and pushed out of the very soul of my being. One push and I felt the head emerge (the thick covering of vernix giving it the soft spongy feel.) Remembering the graze that came from my impatience to push Marcus’s body out, I waited while I felt the head rotate around. A second push and I felt the body slither out.
I pushed away from the side of the pool where I had been holding on, my head near to Jaimie’s and sometimes holding his hand. I reached down between my legs and gathered up this little fetal bundle and brought it up gently out of the water.
Jaimie immediately noticed that the cord was wrapped around the baby’s neck, told me and I swiftly uncoiled it. No noise and then irregular, light breathing. With no crying it was hard to be sure that this was enough. We anxiously asked each other, “Is she breathing enough?” and, bless her, she gave out a little yelp to let us know that air was indeed entering her lungs. It was seven twenty-five. “Call Marcus”, I urged Jaimie, but Marcus was already on his way down.
Julia tells us how they had been listening to my birthing noises. He had asked why I was making so much noise and she had explained to him that it was to help push the baby out. Then the noises had stopped. A brief pause. And then a cry. “That’s the baby”, Marcus had jumped up and run downstairs.
In the warm, candlelit dark of the pool, we ushered in our new addition to the family with whispered words of love, safety and welcome. The baby uncurled its little body and relaxed in my arms, snuggled up close to me. It was only then that I moved the umbilical cord from between the baby’s legs to discover that we had a little boy! This was totally unexpected and quite a shock. Everyone, but everyone, had predicted a girl. We had girl’s clothes lent to us and a list of girl’s names! So, this little one not only surprised us by the earliness and speed of his arrival, but his gender too.
To give birth, I had reached deep inside myself. Spiritually. Afterwards I didn’t feel physically exhausted but I did feel spiritually drained. And elated. I felt as if somehow I had been inspired to give birth in a state of grace. I felt profoundly touched to have realised, just when I needed to, that the body’s contractions were not the source of the pain, but that my resistance to the contractions was. How I hope that I can remember and apply this wisdom at other times in my life: that ‘the thing’ may not be the source of my pain, but my reaction or resistance to it.
When Val arrived, she calmly and quietly joined us. She didn’t rush over to check the baby and I appreciated her trust in me to deliver and know that our baby was well. She appeared around ten minutes after the birth, just as my contractions started up again. I had to remind myself not to resist. One push and the placenta was nearly out. Just the embryonic sack remained and at Val’s suggestion, I coughed and pulled on the cord to release it all into the pool. And there it floated about for the next few hours, until Jaimie cut the cord and I finally emerged. This time, although there was some blood loss, there wasn’t the same urgent need to stem the flow.
Val communicated with the baby in her special way – with whispered and silent words of welcome and encouragement. He was alert and wide-eyed, gazing up at me. So precious and timeless. Something shifted and I put him to the breast where he suckled easily and eagerly. Strong after-pains accompanied his sucking and I worked with my body, visualising the uterus contracting back. Whilst feeding I needed to hold his body a little higher in the water and we kept him covered with warm, wet flannels. These kept slipping off and a few times in fishing them back up, I pulled up the placenta by mistake! After drinking his fill, I floated him in the warm water. Val suggested that I hold his head and allow his body to float free. His little body uncurled and he kicked and stretched. With his feet gently in contact with my body, he relaxed completely, arms extended up by his head, floating in a milk-filled bliss. His face was a picture of absolute serenity. It was a privilege to behold.
After a while, Julia took Marcus upstairs to read to him and settle him to sleep. Val went into the kitchen to re-heat and eat her supper. Jaimie and I had some time together with our new child. Jaimie then left the baby and I to talk to Val and I had a magical, candle-lit repose in the pool with our little boy. By this time we had been in the water a good few hours and Val joined us to see if we were ready to emerge. I had a lovely chat with Val by the pool where I was able to acknowledge her for her craft and wisdom. In my time spent with her ante-natally, her utter belief in a woman’s ability to give birth naturally and in beauty, powerfully reinforced my own belief in myself. (Such a contrast to the few fear-filled interactions I’d had with the community midwives along the way). The baby awoke and we called Jaimie in to cut the cord, after Val had tied it with a special little ribbon (rather than using a clamp). He found the cord to be strong and it took several goes with the scissors. As he separated the baby from his previous source of life, Jaimie whispered words of welcome and safety. Just at the point that the cord was cut through, the baby smiled. He smiled and smiled. Not a fleeting whisper of a smile. A wide-eyed lasting beam. I held my breath, the moment felt so magical. It left us all in a state of incredulity, wonder and amazement.
The clock still reads seven twenty…
Someone ran me a bath. I held the baby close to me and brought him slowly up out of the water, allowing a gradual experience of gravity and exposure. We wrapped him in a towel and Jaimie held him while I bathed. Once dry, I wrapped him in a brush cotton sheet and cotton blanket and placed a little cotton cap on his head of dark hair. We retired to the bedroom, where Val checked him out, counting fingers and toes and weighed him in at 6lbs 8ozs. Very respectable to a vegan mother and arriving nearly two weeks early. I tied a cotton nappy on and found the outer wrap to swamp both him and the nappy, coming up to his armpits. Val then checked me, before we snuggled down in bed together. Jaimie saw Julia and Val to the door and then joined us with a little snack before we all cuddled up for the night around 2am.
The story of the birthing pool
Great deliberations over which company to use, finally settling on the double deluxe luxury heated and most expensive pool which could be left filled and heated for several days at a time – (this to allay my anxieties of a quick delivery, pool sitting empty with Jaimie three hours away in London.) Ordered for Tuesday 17th (the day after the birth) but collected on Saturday amidst great map reading stress. Constructed, despite exhaustion that night. Partially filled the following day. More water and pump activated late Sunday night and the chemicals introduced. Fully filled and filter fitted on Monday morning. Baby born into it later that day!
Jaimie and I attended an Active Birth Couples evening the night before. This was to provide Jaimie with the much needed opportunity to spend some time contemplating and discussing the birth ahead. It was the perfect refresher and preparation for what lay ahead, (only the next day!) I was left with the words ‘soften and open’, a vision of a pink-and-white stripped knitted uterus and a thought provoking discussion on the purpose of pain.