It rained in October 2010. On and off the clouds grew heavy and eventually they let go. In October 2010 my parsley and mint were thriving in their terracotta pots.
Daniel wasn't convinced until I placed three pregnancy tests in front him. Two blue lines on each. I was quite certain of my dates and so I wrote, in white chalk, on our kitchen wall: 18th of July 2011. I'm the biggest sceptic of 'estimated due dates'. I don't really believe in them. But she proved me wrong. On the 18th of July 2011, just after lunch, she began her journey.
She grew within me for exactly 40 weeks. But I had dreamed of a little dark haired girl long before she was conceived. And I felt like I was preparing for her birth for many years before she entered my mind.
In my first labour, with her big brother, Che, I was shocked by the intensity and unprepared for the pain. I laboured for a good 31 hours, resisting each contraction, fighting every wave. Subsequently it hurt and although labour was strong, I stayed at 3cm for hours and hours and hours. It wasn't until I lay on the bed, curled up in the foetal position, waiting for an epidural, that I fully dilated within 40 minutes and held my first born shortly after.
It was a positive experience but not an enjoyable one.
I had prepared many women for their own birth journeys in my pre-natal classes. Week in, week out, I encouraged them to open their mouths, breathe deep, fall into the contraction and surrender to the journey. Teaching while pregnant was new to me. I had to remind myself to listen to my self, listen to those words. I was preparing too, getting closer to the transition of birth.
In the last few weeks of pregnancy I wondered whether I had prepared enough. Daniel and I spoke one night about surrender. "Just let your body do it, because it's going to do it anyway."
From the day I discovered I was growing her, I created my sankalpa. Yogis believe that a sankalpa (a positive affirmation) that is repeated daily and never shared, will always be realised. And so, every day, I said to myself, three times with meaning and emphasis: "I will carry my baby to full term and birth calmly and confidently, a healthy baby."
I always encouraged my students to do the same. And yet I knew, from all those birth stories that had been shared with me, that none of us can control our birth experience. Yes we can prepare and we can desire but ultimately we just need to surrender to where our birth journey takes us.
At about 35 weeks pregnant I decided to journey towards birth with acceptance. I surrendered the need to control. When blood tests showed significantly low iron levels my midwife informed me that I might not be able to birth at the low risk birth centre I had booked in to. I accepted the news calmly, promised I would do everything I could to increase my iron levels but, at the end of the day, I had to accept that all would be well. My baby was going to be born regardless of where I was.
Teaching pregnant women is a humbling experience. I have heard stories of troubled conception, miscarriage, pregnancy complications, pregnancy loss, ecstatic birth, traumatic birth. There were some stories that inspired and comforted me on my pregnancy journey and some stories that I consciously needed to let go of.
Some days I had unending faith in my body and its ability to birth my baby. At other times that faith wavered, particularly in the last week of pregnancy when I became bedridden with a heavy cold. On the Sunday before she arrived I cried big tears, the kind that leave red eyes and a headache in their wake. She was getting closer, I could tell, and yet I and no idea how I was going to labour while I felt so sick.
The next morning I woke to sunshine. And I felt good, really good. The best I'd felt in over a week. I was rested and happy. And I was oh so grateful for it. That morning I decided to practice gratitude in each and every contraction - gratitude for my body, my health and the opportunity to experience labour and natural birth.
I wrote a post that morning and I typed the words: " I think I've been holding on to baby a bit, because of my cold, but now I'm ready to let go and labour. "
She obviously heard me because soon after my Braxton Hicks became noticeably stronger. The sun streamed through the windows and I pottered about. I washed the bed linen in gentle eucalyptus detergent, I tended to the herbs on the balcony and I washed the dishes. I checked, once again, that my bag was ready. Che came home from Montessori and the 3 of us ate a late lunch. We were content and calm and happy and I was breathing wonderfully deep through each BH. Still, I was certain that labour was days away.
In the early evening I made dinner and listened, once again, to Che as he told me how much he loved me. He had said it so many times that afternoon, he'd been extra cuddly, never far from my sight. Perhaps then I knew that things were happening. Because in his own way he was preparing, readying himself, for the biggest change in his life so far.
I tucked him into bed extra tight that night, kissed him some more and picked up the books that were scattered on the floor.
And when he was settled and soundly asleep the Braxton Hicks became mild contractions.
Daniel and I started to get excited but I kept reminding him that it could be days away. I honestly didn't think she was so close.
We watched some TV and went to bed. At this stage the contractions were about seven minutes apart, lasting for about 40 seconds. At 10pm we messaged Daniel's Mum (Ommi) to say that I was in early labour and asked her to keep her phone on.
Daniel fell asleep and I dozed in and out of slumber, waking with the waves. I breathed deep and by 11pm I was moaning. It felt good to make noise. I was on my knees on the bed, resting on my forearms, rotating my hips and keeping my mouth open and soft. In between contractions I fell into the pillows, mentally travelling around my body to ensure I wasn't holding any tension. I felt good. I was confident.
At midnight I asked Daniel to phone his Mum. I still wasn't sure if this was the real thing but I knew I'd feel better if she was here, to be with Che. In the fifteen minutes it took for her to get to us I didn't have any contractions and yet when she looked into the bedroom and said "hello" I experienced the strongest contraction yet. Time went by, Daniel lay beside me as I contracted and I reminded myself to let go, to be, to just go with the flow. I started wondering whether I should call my midwife. It was late, I didn't want to wake her unnecessarily, I still wasn't sure whether I was in labour. Sure the waves were getting closer and stronger but I wasn't feeling a great sense of urgency to get to the birth centre.
I suddenly felt the urge to go to the toilet, a pressing down into my bottom. My body was clearing out and then the contractions became stronger once again. Ommi suggested I call the midwives - apparently the noises I was making had got deeper and longer in the time that she'd been with us.
I phoned Marianne, the midwife on call. My midwife, Val, had promised that she would be with me at my birth even if it was her rostered day off. I had two contractions while chatting with Marianne and she encouraged us to come in. She promised that she would call Val. At 2am I kissed Che goodbye, message my parents to tell them baby was on its way, and Daniel and I drove off into the night.
Ommi lay on a mattress beside Che's bed all night. She later told me that he moaned through his sleep, making the same noises I was during each contraction.
We passed four cars on the way to the birth centre. What was usually a 45 minute drive only took us 20 minutes. When we pulled into the car park there were three rabbits on the grass, illuminated by our headlights. The little suit I had packed to dress baby in had three embroidered rabbits on the front. I smiled at the coincidence.
We went into the Emergency Department and waited for our midwife. I was swaying and moaning through eah contraction, physically and mentally falling into each one. I was smiling, Daniel told me, and all the on-lookers smiled with me.
The nurses in ED laughed while they warned me that they weren't trained to deliver babies. And I, being the passionate natural birth advocate that I am, informed them that I was the only one that could deliver my baby. In labour and still willing to voice my opinion.
The nurse walked us through the corridors to the Birth Centre. The lights were dim. I stopped once to squat and sway and looked up to see a painting of butterflies, similar to a painting I contracted in front of when I was in labour with Che. When Marianne welcomed us into the Birth Centre I noticed the butterflies on her shirt. We were the only ones there and when I walked into the Birthing Suite I cried. The room was calm, the lights dim and there was a photo on the wall of a little boy hugging his Muma's pregnant belly. He looked just like Che.
The downward pressure in each contraction was incredibly strong. It literally pulled me towards the earth. As I felt the next contraction arrive I reminded myself how lucky I was, to be so in my body, so full of faith, working together with my baby. Marianne checked my blood pressure and the baby's heartbeat. All was well, as I knew.
Not once did I feel fear.
Daniel set up the cameras, I sipped water, Marianne quietly busied herself.
I was leaning against the bath, facing away from the door when I started crying again. I turned around and Val was there. I began to realise what an intuitive experience it was. My senses were heightened yet my awareness was steadily moving inward, downward.
At this stage all the pressure was in the front of my pelvis. I was squatting and swaying and it felt really good to rub my belly in a downward motion, encouraging her to move earth-side. An internal confirmed that I was 5cm dilated. It was 3am.
I journeyed from standing to sitting on the ball, leaning over the bed. Val knew when to rub my back and when to stop. I felt blessed to be with midwives who had the utmost faith and trust in me and my body. Val was in tune with my needs; she was calm, grounded and supportive. She spoke when she knew I wanted to listen, was quiet when I needed space. Most of the time she observed. After one particularly strong contraction she rubbed my lower back and asked me if the pressure was there now. And it was, it has shifted. She knew from simply listening to me. I didn't need to question whether I was progressing because I could feel it. The pressure was steadily moving deeper into my bottom. I stripped off my shirt and put my hair up in a bun.
"She means business now," said Val. Humour; an essential part of an enjoyable labour.
I hung off Daniel's neck, my squats getting even deeper, I moaned deep and long to ensure I was letting go with each outward breath, the vibration in my body was powerful from those noises, and they were sending her down. I kept my mouth soft and open, my eyes closed in each contraction so I could internalise and focus on my breath. Daniel was so proud of me, I could see it in his face. He just kept smiling at me, rubbing my back, getting me what I needed. So much love.
Just before I got in the bath I remembered the faces of past students and their inspiring stories. Natasha, Belinda, Mel, Sara, Ashley, Sarah, Jacinta, Meagan, Antonia, Amanda. They were all there in the forefront of my mind, encouraging me. The wisdom of the women who had birthed before me. I was still smiling, still enjoying it, happy to be in it. So very grateful for the opportunity to be birthing my baby and to be supported by such wise, loving midwives.
I instinctively knew it was time to sink into the warm water (buoyancy!) and when Val asked me if I'd like Daniel to get in too, I declined. "It's so nice to stretch out," I said. I wasn't willing to share the spacious bath with anyone. It was 4.15am.
I lay on my side, desperately needing strong, long back rubs during contractions and completely softening in the resting space between. She was oh so close, the pressure in my bottom was powerful, I could feel her head pressing down, and hard. I moved onto my knees and leant my torso against the edge of the bath.
Although each contraction was long, deep and almighty, the space between was lovely. I only had a few contractions in the bath before I felt her descend. I was still falling down into the contraction and now, so was she - it was 4.40am. I asked for a cold face-washer and I crunched ice between waves - the cool sensation was welcoming. I didn't have to push; the noises and their subsequent vibrations moved her down. She was almost here. As she was crowning I noticed the silence and asked for music to play.
She was born to Sacred Earth's "Ancient Mother" and the words: "Ancient mother I hear you calling me, ancient mother I hear your song, ancient mother I hear your laughter, ancient mother I taste your tears."
At 4.47am she swam into Daniel's arms. "It's a girl," he said, his face was beaming pure joy. And then he passed her to me. She was here and she was beautiful. "A girl! It's a girl. My baby girl!" She was chirping little noises, she was pink, covered in vernix. She was wide-eyed and alert, lifting her head off my chest to see me. I kissed her, held her, couldn't quite believe she was here.
Daniel took photos and I was deep in the just--birthed-my-baby haze, those hormones lifting me high. I understood what joyous birth felt like. Yes some of the contractions were painful but I wouldn't describe it as a painful experience. It was an honour and a privilege, to be so in my body, with so much faith, working with my baby as we travelled through the transition of birth.
I hardly bled, my body protecting itself because of my low iron levels. I stepped from the bath, my baby girl and I swathed in warm towels. "I feel like a princess," I said to the midwives. "You are," they replied. They helped me onto the bed where I lay for the next few hours. I delivered the placenta twenty minutes later.
Poet was calm and alert and attached easily. She fed for two hours, her eyes open the entire time. We bonded, chatted and fell in love. And then we went home to a warm house where Che cuddled up to her and said: "You're home now baby."
She was home. And we were four.
She was home. And we were four.