“Birth is not about making babies. Birth is about making mothers – strong, competent, capable mothers who trust themselves and know their inner strength.” – Barbara Katz Rothman
On the 28th of June 2013, I became a strong, competent, capable mother.
I was sat at the dining table when it started, adding the finishing touches to a painting-by-numbers picture of a deranged-looking peacock. I was 11 days past my “due date”, and the point of desperation had long passed.
My womb-hole felt like an angry, dormant volcano, ready at any second to violently spray its contents over the magnolia coloured dining-room walls. Almost anything would send me into a crazy, venomous rage of disgust and fury. I almost punched my fist through the screen of the laptop when the spell checker wouldn’t recognise the word “Hong” in Hong Kong. I prescribed myself this cheap £1.99 painting-by-numbers from The Works to keep me relaxed and occupied, and to protect the surrounding community from a brutal, bloody massacre. I had promised myself that baby Isaac would arrive as soon as the painting was done, so I’d been spending every spare moment in a state of deep concentration, rushing to get it finished.
I plopped the paintbrush into the glass of murky brown water and sat back on the chair, admiring my finished masterpiece. I soon realised that I was getting familiar tightening feelings. Shoving the painting to the side to make way for my laptop, I excitedly googled “contraction timer”. They were 5 minutes apart, and 30 seconds long. With my sweaty, bloated pork-hands, I grabbed my phone and text my partner, Paul, followed by our super-duper awesome midwife, Lisa Jenkins, and let them know that The Birthings had begun.
Paul was soon home from work, and we spent our evening cheerfully stuffing our face-holes with cheese burgers, and power-walking arm-in-arm around the neighbourhood in the rain. Halfway through the film The Notebook, I realised the tightenings had eased off, and, feeling deflated, we made our way up to bed. Instinctively, I knew my body needed to rest before it would continue it’s work. And just as I’d hoped, at 3am, I woke up to more tightening feelings and I creeped eagerly downstairs, leaving Paul to sleep. I sat in the dining room again, and relaxed as I welcomed the tightenings back into my body.
Without sounding like a complete loon, I find the feeling of contractions quite pleasurable (to a certain point!). I found myself quietly celebrating each one, egging them on, and anticipating the next. It was an entirely different sensation this time, compared to my first experience of labour. I was fully aware of what my body was doing and I took delight in savouring and acknowledging every sensation and feeling. I felt grateful and honoured to be having this experience.
Soon it was 7am. Paul was awake and had joined me, and I felt ravenous. I decided it was time for sausages and ketchup. I inhaled an entire pig’s worth and then licked the plate like a dog. We spent the rest of the morning playing Crash Bandicoot while I bounced up and down on my birth-ball. Every time I got a surge, I’d imagine I was using it’s energy to make my racing car go faster. I felt like I was connected to everything. I had entered “euphoria” mode. I plugged the laptop into the speakers and danced around the living room to Boy George and George Michael. I found that I needed to disconnect my mind from my body when I got a surge, and as I felt one start, I let my mind become part of the music while I left my body to do it’s work. This really helped me deal with the intensity of the surges and stay relaxed and in control.
Despite my very random and terrible choice in music, it really did sound bloody amazing. I felt enraptured, euphoric, almost drunk. In hindsight, I’m pretty sure I looked slightly strange. This is one of the many reasons why a home birth was always going to be a better option for me. Hospitals don’t really allow sausages, Crash Bandicoot and 80’s discos at 7 in the morning.
All the laughing, dancing and general merriment had moved things along quite nicely for me, so it felt like time to relax and take it easy in the bath for a while. I’d started to need to focus on my breathing and things had started to get a bit psychedelic and dream-like. Somewhere in my distant, far away daze, I heard the doorbell ring. Lisa had arrived with all the birthing equipment. My surges suddenly came to a halt, and I returned from outer space.
Downstairs, we sat with Lisa in the lounge and chatted for a while. I felt embarrassed to do my deep breathing
weirdo-ness, so I forced myself to carry on talking through my surges (which had returned) and pretended nothing was happening. Lisa, being the super intuitive and all-knowing midwife that she is, had cottoned on, and announced that she was going to leave us alone so things could progress and get established. She left at around ten past 12.
Alone with Paul again, I started feeling as though a powerful energy had taken over me, which took every ounce of effort to keep under control. I was aware that if I didn’t stay focused, I could lose myself. I went up to the bathroom, and feeling slightly agitated, warned Paul that I thought maybe Lisa should come back. I paced around upstairs for a few minutes and decided that yes, Lisa should DEFINITELY come back. Everything felt a little bit too low and heavy in my downstairs lady compartments.
Lisa returned, only half an hour after she’d left. Bending over the sofa, I started feeling a bit sicky and speculated if perhaps it was because I was hungry and needed more sausages. In truth, it was because I was in transition. At the time, this didn’t strike me as a possibility, I was far too calm and relaxed, far too aware and in control.
I started getting a bit ‘grunty’ and found that my throat wanted to make grunty cow sex noises. In the background, Paul and Lisa were trotting in and out of the living room with saucepans full of cold water, trying to reduce the temperature of the water in the birth pool. I paced around, instructing myself out loud to remember what the great Ina May Gaskin said, that I must keep my jaw relaxed so that my downstairs parts could open up properly.
As soon as it was ready, and without much dignity, I clambered into the pool like a drunken heffalump and immediately started feeling pushy. Instead of being the wonderfully positive and fearless woman that I hoped to be, I very pessimistically thought to myself, “ohhhhh cr*p. Here is the part where I have to heave a massive bloody baby out. This is going to feel terrible”. I decided there was no point prolonging the inevitable and cracked on with it. I think Paul was slightly alarmed at the terrifying cow-like noises that were coming out of the hole in my face. I literally felt everything. That sounds daft, but when I gave birth to my first son, despite not having any pain relief, I didn’t feel a thing. This time however, I felt every single millimeter of baby Isaac’s descent. It wasn’t exactly pleasant at the time, but I have looked back many times since and relived that moment with complete awe and fascination. It was truly amazing.
After only 7 minutes of heaving, baby Isaac WHOOSHED out into the water behind me. I turned around and frantically scanned the pool with my eyes, trying to locate him. There he was, floating with his little bum pointing up towards the sky. Paul and I both reached into the pool together, and brought him up to the surface, one of the happiest and fondest memories of my entire life. I grasped his warm, slippery little body and held him against my bare skin. I immediately gushed over how much he looked like his older brother, but then started to panic when I realised he hadn’t yet started to cry. Lisa reassured me he was fine, and was “pinking up” very nicely. Paul and I didn’t actually hear Isaac’s first cry until 8 hours later, when he filled his trousers for the very first time!
20 minutes later, Isaac’s cord had released all of the blood that was rightfully his into his little body where it belonged, and Paul very proudly cut the cord, which had turned white and looked like a giant, wet tapeworm. To our astonishment, Lisa excitedly noted that there was a true-knot in the cord. As I climbed out of the pool, it swung between my legs and felt like a cold, wet snake. I was relieved when the placenta and snake were evacuated 90 minutes later. Isaac’s first breastfeed had helped my worn out womb-hole to contract and release it without the need for injections and intervention.
After a well-deserved shower, I sat down with our brand new baby boy and a cheese and tomato sandwich. I’d given birth to a 9 pounds 6 ounces baby human without a single vaginal examination, without any drugs or pain relief, and without even the tiniest graze. The whole event was so ridiculously normal, it was almost boring!
I felt utterly blessed to have been given Lisa Jenkins as our midwife. Lisa is a true midwife in every sense of the word. She made me feel empowered and filled me with nothing but confidence and strength. Lisa didn’t doubt me for a second. She respected me and my body, and she respected baby Isaac and his journey into the world. Most of all, she completely trusted the physiological process of birth and sat back, quietly observing the entire event, leaving Paul and I, and nature, to bring Isaac into the world without interference.
6 months later and Isaac, who is still exclusively breastfed, is an incredibly smiley, happy little boy. He and I share an incredibly close and intimate bond. I will always look back on his birth with fondness and gratitude and a huge smile on my face.