I had been having the odd cramp/contraction on Sunday evening, not quite braxton hicks but not regular enough to think about timing. Sophie had had a tummy bug (her and Charlotte were spending the night at my parents’ house, to keep the tummy bug out of our house) and I wasn't sure if maybe I had picked that up. I stayed up until 11:30 that night, reading Ina May Gaskin's Spiritual Midwifery. I kept thinking I needed to switch my light off and get some sleep but I figured I could nap the next day.
I woke up just before 1am needing to wee and soon realised that I was having very mild contractions, 8 - 10 minutes apart. I lay down to rest a bit more, hoping to get a bit more sleep and messaged my doula Leigh at around 2 to let her know that things had started but I was still resting.
I soon realised that I wasn't going to get any more sleep and was more comfortable moving around than lying down, so around 2:30 I went through to the lounge, lit a couple of candles for light and put on some worship music. I swayed and squatted my way through contractions, rubbing my belly and talking to baby through each surge. In between, I soaked in the glittering golden lights of Pietermaritzburg below us, and wallowed in the utter peace of the moment.
At some point I messaged my mom and sister to let them know things were slowly starting, and at around 3 I let Leigh know I was up and things were progressing, and she said she would start making her way over. She lives in Westville, and was bringing a doula friend with, so I knew she would take some time to get to me. Contractions were getting close to 5 minutes apart and a minute long, but they were still very manageable and I continued moving as I felt comfortable during each one. They were intense rather than painful, and I was very aware of my body and what worked best in each moment.
After messaging Leigh, I went to shower and I checked myself at the same time - almost fully effaced but not dilating at all. This wasn't entirely unexpected, as I had taken 21 hours of labour to reach 3cm during Charlotte's birth, and then another hour to fully dilate. So I kind of expected another slow start - plus everything was still so manageable and easy and I was so enjoying being in labour!
After my shower I went through to the lounge again and started falling asleep. I was so tired! Leigh messaged to say she would be arriving at about 5, and at about 4:30 I went through to the bedroom to lie down next to Noel. Contractions spaced out from 3 or 4 minutes apart and I had 2 in the 20-odd minutes that I was lying there, dozing off in between.
When Leigh and Shelley arrived, I got up again and they became a bit closer, but still much further apart than they had been. Swaying wasn't helping as much anymore and Leigh applied counter-pressure through a couple of contractions (which could finally be described as painful) while Shelley made me a batch of lemon labour aide. Yum!! Leigh also lifted and brought my belly in through a couple of contractions to help get Bubby in a better position.
|Leigh helping me with one of the 2 or 3 lift and tucks we managed to fit in|
I messaged Arlen, and she said she had aqua classes until 10... so I figured we would go out walking at around 10 to get things moving, and hopefully we could have a baby in the early afternoon. We had discussed an enema a couple of weeks back and it had worked great for me during C's birth. I know others feel differently, but I liked knowing that when I had to push, it was definitely a baby (and that there weren't likely to be any surprises coming out at the same time as baby!) Arlen suggested I use it then, so I went off around 6:20.
Noel joined Leigh and Shelley in the kitchen - I heard later they were making tea and toast, and Noel started washing dishes (always practical!). In the meanwhile, my body cleaned itself out and I carried on labouring on the toilet, even having a bloody show. There were 2 contractions that felt intense enough to be active labour, I gripped onto the burglar guards and bathroom cabinet through these. But I would still describe them as intense rather than painful and I still felt so so peaceful.
I finished cleaning out, but still felt like I needed to push... it took a while to realise that it was now baby ;) I flushed the toilet and washed my hands, and tried squatting through a contraction, but it wasn't very helpful and I found myself sitting back on the toilet again. I sat there a while, giving a big push at one point, and started realising that I was going to have my baby in there, and pretty soon. I tried shouting for Leigh or Noel, and even tried throwing things at the bathroom wall (the lounge borders on our en-suite bathroom). My phone was charging in the kitchen and I had no way of letting Arlen know. I wasn't afraid, but it was just what I was supposed to do.
I felt baby's head move down my pelvis and rotate around - it was totally surreal! Soon after I felt to see how far baby was, and I could feel a bulge probably 4cm in. That suddenly made it real! I was having my baby in the bathroom, all on my own.
It still wasn't scary though - I was totally at peace and my body was doing exactly what it was supposed to.
The next contraction, I felt baby move down to 1.5 cm in, and realised that it was too squishy to be a head. Just after that, I heard a pop as my water burst all over the toilet, my legs and the floor. Kind of like in the movies J I felt again and baby was roughly 3cm in. I could feel my perineum bulging out and was very aware that sitting on the toilet was probably a very bad position to give birth in, because the weight of the baby (which was about to come out!) was too far back, and I needed to be leaning forward. I needed to move onto the floor, but I could not persuade any part of my body to move. I guess by that stage, every part of your body is focused on the area involved in giving birth, so there is no spare brain function to tell your legs to move ;)
Thankfully, just after that (probably 10 minutes after the show, and 5 minutes after my waters had broken) there was a gentle knock on the door and Leigh gently called out, "are you ok in there?" I called to her to call Arlen, the baby was coming. She rushed off to call Noel and Shelley, and while Noel phoned Arlen she helped me onto my hands and knees on the floor and found a towel for me to kneel on and a pillow for me to rest my head on (on the edge of the bath) in between contractions. Shelley came in and prayed for me in between taking photos, and someone found me a glass of water to sip on. Almost straight away, I could feel the infamous ring of fire and I told Leigh. She was so calm through this time and she was very good at reminding me to pant through contractions at this time, rather than push. I tried. I really did. But I just couldn't hold myself back all the time, and pushed a few times.
|Leigh reminding me to breathe through contractions in the 10 minutes she was with me just before Bubby was born|
Noel checked in with us after talking to Arlen, and asked if I wanted him to fill up the bath. I just grunted, "no time" back at him, and it occurred to me that maybe he would be able to catch our baby. Arlen had mentioned a couple of weeks before, that catching their own babies had made a major impact on a number of dads, and I thought how much I would love him to be able to have that gift.
As quickly as it came to me though, he disappeared again, and just a minute or so later, a little head popped out with the next surge. There was a brief pause, but no time to think before the shoulders and rest if the body followed, and I instinctively reached out to grab my baby as I focused on not letting her fall.
|As I caught my very slippery little baby! You can see that she was already crying!|
Before she was fully out she was crying, loudly announcing her entrance. Her cord was around the back of her neck, and I registered this and was aware that I needed to do something before I could lift her up, but my brain was still too slow to figure out what that something was. Leigh checked with me first, then unhooked it, and I raised my newest baby to my chest. At the same time, I caught a glimpse and vaguely registered that we had another daughter, but it was only a couple of minutes later when someone asked, that I had a proper look to see.
|Falling in love with my little newborn. For some reason, this photo will NOT stay the right way around. I was standing up by this point though ;)|
Someone called Noel, and he came in to meet our baby (I think slightly stunned at how fast it had gone). We hung out between the bathroom and the bed for a while - I liked the idea of hopping into bed with baby, but also wanted to stay upright to encourage my placenta to come out, and soon afterwards she started rooting and latched on beautifully.
Arlen arrived about 20 minutes after the birth, and ran a hot bath for me and baby to warm up in (it was cold!). At the same time, the bed was warmed up and the heater switched on, so when we got out of the bath we could snuggle up together in a warm bed. Through this whole time, our precious Bubby was just staring at me with her beautiful luminous violet eyes.
It took a while for my placenta to come out (which I left attached until the following day in a partial lotus birth, then planted in a pot with a beautiful pink flower above), and then Arlen checked for tearing. I was hoping for a small tear that we wouldn't have to stitch, but unfortunately there was quite significant internal and external tearing (because of the speed in which she descended, mostly because of the position I was in, as well as from the times I pushed really hard). There was a lot of swelling and bruising, and the local anaesthetic she gave me to numb the area before stitching up didn't take everywhere, so there were 4 or 5 stitches without anaesthetic. I had some Rescue drops and a couple of panados, and then squeezed Leigh's hand through those, literally screaming through the last couple. Poor Arlen missing the fun of the birth and just arriving to do the horrible part! That was agonising.
|Sophie meeting her baby sister for the first time. We kept the placenta covered in salt and wrapped in a towelling nappy, and it was in a paper bag at that point. I transferred it to a proper wetbag a bit later, so it was easier to move around.|
|Proud big sister! She was so looking forward to being at Bubby's birth, and we had watched many birth videos together in anticipation of her being there.|
A little later, after Leigh, Shelley and Arlen had left, I asked Sophie which of the 2 girl names she preferred, and she chose Annabelle. Our Bubby finally had a name!
Annabelle is now 6 weeks old, and I still feel a rush of emotion when I go into our bathroom, put on the shirt I wore when I gave birth to her or look out of the lounge windows on a clear night.
|Smiling at her 'newborn' shoot (at 4 weeks old)|
As for me, I still can't believe I had an unassisted birth!
Interestingly enough, the times when I was on my own was when everything seemed easier, no pain and I was calmer and knew better what to do within myself. When I was with Noel or Leigh (despite them both being people I feel safe with and trust) is when I felt pain. Not overwhelming and I am grateful for them being there, but still pain nonetheless.
I really enjoyed my labour and birth – it was intense more than painful, and so so incredibly peaceful. Candles, a beautiful view, worship music, the tangible presence of God and an almost supernatural understanding of what my body and baby needed through my labour… does it get better than this?! I was in complete control of my body and it was simply a dance between Annabelle and I as we both did what we were created to do in the miracle of birth.
God has blessed me now with 2 amazing births (and 3 amazing daughters), and all I can think is, what a privilege it is to be a woman - to carry these babes for months as they grow, to go through labour, to birth them into the world, and then to nurture them in the months that follow. Each process a small miracle in its own right.
|Annabelle, Charlotte and Sophie - I am a very blessed mama!|
|Annabelle and I|