I never thought that this would be me!
4 years ago my three daughters starting saying "Mummy, please can we have another baby?"
My husband and I were clucky too, so we started trying.
We had a miscarriage at 11 weeks which was such a bittersweet journey for us all.
When I realised I was pregnant again, I was so guarded. I never really allowed myself to fully enjoy and embrace the pregnancy - I was guarding my heart against the pain of loss.
I remember thinking "I won't fully relax until I have a live baby in my arms."
Late into the pregnancy, I found I was still struggling with fear. As a 4th-time homebirther and mature woman of 43, and after supporting nearly 100 other women through birth as a doula, you'd think I'd 'have it together' a tad more. But no, I was as vulnerable as any woman is when she goes through birth.
I became aware of the fact that I was holding on to fear related to the miscarriage. Deep down inside, I started mentioning this to God in my thoughts and prayers (I'm a Christian, this is just something that's normal to me.)
People starting sending me Blessingway messages, little notes written in cards and letters, which I started pinning up on my board in my birth corner. Again and again they were sharing verses from the Bible about fear - do not fear, I am with you, I will help you, my love will drive away all the fear, that kind of thing.
Finally at about 39 weeks it occured to me that if God was sending me all these messages about 'do not fear' surely that would mean I don't have anything to be scared of!
I really needed this reassurance.
I had a beautiful blessingway at 39 weeks. I had a massage, a footbath in fragrant herbs, and the women gave me blessingway beads and candles. My lovely 12 year old daughter painted the most amazing henna design on my tummy. Flowers in my hair. Everything this aging hippy child could want.
At exactly 40 weeks on the dot, I noticed some cramps happening at about 10 pm.
Kept schtum and went to bed.
Tightenings all night, and noticed some mucous plug passing when I went to the toilet. More tightenings all night, but I stayed in bed, kept to myself, just getting onto hands and knees when they happened.
In the morning I got up and asked dh to start pumping up and filling the pool. I kneeled over my birth ball and tied a heat pack round my tummy. I knew I was dilating and the pangs were a bit more painful that I expected.
My three daughters woke up and began to notice there was unusual activity going on and had eyes big and round.
Notice though, at this point I had not admitted to myself that I was in labour. I had not had a wee chat with God and celebrated the fact with him. I hadn't said as much to my dh. I didn't announce it to my children, I just let them figure it out.
I was playing safe. I was being guarded. I wasn't fully embracing it and entering into the wonderfulness of the moment. In case. In case - of what? In case it didn't work out well? The fears and tentativeness from pregnancy were now influencing my labour.
At 10 am we called my mum, doula friend and midwife friend to join us. My doula friend walked in to see me chatting and eating breakfast, then standing to lean forward for contractions. Her impression was that my body was way ahead of where my head was at. And she was right. My body was getting on with birthing this baby. But my mind was still trying to protect itself from - what? Something going wrong?
If I was serving as doula for a mama in this head space, I would gently challenge her to talk about her fears and doubts so she could let them go and get on with enjoying her birth, moment by moment. But I couldn't seem to do this for myself.
I decided to turn on some music.
The first strains of an amazing song by a Scottish band called Iona filled the room.
"... and here I am, out on the edge of the world ..."
The words and the melody so captured exactly where I was at, in this most sacred, place where even though we are surrounded by familiar, loving people, birth is something we do alone, in a mystical, amazing place ... on the edge of the world.
The flood gates released and I had a big cry and wanted to hug everybody.
"I'm crying because I'm happy!" I blubbed to my doula friend. She said, "I know."
Finally I could admit to myself and everyone that I was in labour and going to have a baby!
There was another song that I'd heard for the first time during my pregnancy, that gave me goose bumps when I heard it - "Healing Rain" by Michael W Smith. And now it was playing for my birth - "Healing rain is falling down ... I'm not afraid. I'm not afraid." Just those words, over and over, like a mantra.
Things then ramped up significantly. Good strong 'Puffing Billy' contractions. My doula brain was noting with satisfaction how the contractions picked up right after the emotional release. See that's how it is when a doula give birth, you can't quite separate your subjective experience from the objective observer's view!
I starting eyeing the pool. It was a fantastic deep one, much bigger than the usual Made in Water La Bassine. I loved it and climbed in.
My last three births were not painful. They weren't without exertion and effort and a fair bit of discomfort, but not what I'd call pain.
I didn't expect my 4th birth to be painful. But that's what this was - painful. I think the fact that I was lagging behind mentally, and not 'in the moment' with what my body was doing, meant that I wasn't in the Zone - that amazing labour-land place where you go really internal, a place of deep relaxation. I wasn't getting the usual rush of endorphins as a result - and I was feeling every bit of it, with not as much hormonal pain relief as the previous births. Perhaps. Birth is such a mystery, can we ever know?
I kneeled in the pool, my arms draped over the soft side of it. You couldn't get more comfortable a position in which to give birth. But I was not comfortable. I was quite a quiet birther during my previous births. Not this time. I started to roar, to really yell my head off during the contractions. One hit like a sledge hammer and I yelled and yelled. I was vaguely aware of my birth helpers encouraging me to lower the pitch - no chance - all I could do was yell! The cat was sleeping on the couch - her ears went back and she stalked off looking most affronted. The girls thought was hilarious. They were watching, rapt - not at all fazed by the din I was making. My doula friend thought I was in transition at that point.
That was a horrible contraction. That sucked. I am not doing that again. No way. There has to be a better way. I needed to totally soften and yield and surrender if I didn't want to get totally dumped by the next wave.
My hands led the way. I laid my hands out, like someone meditating. If I could keep my hands open, I could keep my body open. My mum kindly thought I wanted someone to hold my hands, but actually I needed them open.
Sure enough the next contraction, though extremely intense, was not as bad.
It felt so tumultuous to me, and I thought I was noisy - but when I looked at the video later, it all seemed quiet and calm. It doesn't reveal the storm that was going on inside me.
I could feel my baby coming down. This was my first pregnancy with a posterior baby - who absolutely refused to budge no matter how much walking or OFP or Chiro I did. I was pretty sure he was a boy! I think he turned anterior somewhere on his journey.
He had a plan. I started feeling a ring of fire. I thought, heck, I've never had this with any of the other births! Those births felt good. This just hurt. I knew his head was nowhere near the perinuem, but already I was feeling stretching that really hurt.
It was an incredible experience to try to be so soft and open and trusting in the face of pure pain. This is the miracle that women do when they give birth and the reason why you are all AMAZING!!!
He started to emerge. I felt him suck back up again. And come down another way. "He's being very gentle with you," said my midwife friend as she watched his manouvrers. It really felt that this little lad had a plan. It did not feel very gentle to me, though!
There was a long gap between contractions. There was so much pressure up near my urethra. It hurt and it burned as he crowned and emerged.
My mind was still lagging behind. What - he's out? I was mentally scrambling to catch up. For so long I had looked forward to the experience of being in labour again, of giving birth again - and now I felt as if it was all slipping through my fingers.
He was in my arms, his caul still intact. Take the membranes off his face. Don't help. Let me do it myself. The cord is too short. I have to stand up and de-tangle him. I want to be cuddling him, not threading him about like a football. Oh baby, I'm coming.
Finally we are settling down in the pool, I am holding him in my arms. My focus is not absolutely absorbed in him. My brain is fried. My attention is scattered. I have this soft little being snuggled in my arms and I am not fully in my body, in myself for him.
I have a gulp of lovely warm After Birth Bliss tea, sweetened with honey. The placenta is easily born as I sit in the pool. The blood loss is hardly anything. I think the tea is good!
I'm resting on the couch, baby in my arms. The girls meet him, touch him, stroke him, kiss him. He's lovely.
My man has tears in his eyes. Seeing him born so gently brings up issues of his own violent birth, back in the days when they strapped his mother in stirrups, extracted the baby, strung him up by the heels, slapped him on the bum, took him away from his mother, poured acid into his eyes, circumcised him etc etc. It was deeply moving for him to see a little son enter the world so gently and easily.
Even if it hurt like heck for his mama!
They made up the Post Natal Bliss herbal bath from Blissful Herbs for me and I climbed into it with my little baby son, the placenta still attached to him, floating in a bowl next to us. So there was me, baby boy and placenta all enjoying this blissful herbal soak together.
Soon we all de-camped to our bedroom and we decided to cut the cord eventually, just for practicality. We let baby Rory know what we were going to do, said a little prayer. We tied it with colourful plaited embroidery thread cords and cut the cord. All the girls had a hold of their new baby brother. They were aged 12, 10 and 8 and were delighted to be at the birth 'when they had a brain', as they say.
He was born at 1.32 pm, about 15 hours after the first niggle, and after a few hours (2? 3? of active labour) - that went by so fast I could hardly get my head around it.
He was my biggest baby at all of 8 pounds!! Just a spoonful of butter or so bigger than the girls.
This was my first boy, first posterior baby, first birth in Australia, first birth in our own home, first actual in-water birth and first baby to be born in the caul. And - the first birth that I can honestly say, actually HURT.
Losing our little one a couple of years ago was a special and sacred journey all of its own. It changed me and took away some of my innocence. It made me vulnerable, perhaps even weaker in some ways. I realise this, but I am not sorry. This is just part of the beauty and wonder and wisdom of life.
Realising that I was holding onto fear, that I was not able to fully relax, that I could not whole-heartedly embrace the pregnancy or even the experience of labour, that I was not fully in the moment or even fully in my body - does not fill me with regret or 'what ifs' or 'if onlys'. It just is what it is, and I am thankful for the experience, and what it's taught me about my own human frailty. Being able to love and accept myself, and love life, - even though it is less than ideal and I am less than perfect.