I woke on the morning of the 23rd November after a really awful night’s sleep. At 39 weeks and four days pregnant I was starting to get used to not sleeping very well, but this night I had been sweating loads and tossing and turning all night.
My husband, Alex, usually leaves for work around 7am, and just before he left I went to the loo I noticed that I had the tiniest bit of a show – just the faintest pink – I wasn’t really sure if this was my mucous plug starting to come away or not. I told Alex before he left and tried not to get too excited – we’d been told that it can sometimes be up to another week after the plug comes away that labour starts and my sister had told me hers came away over several days.
I sent a couple of excited texts to my family and midwife, pleased as this was the very first real sign of an impending labour!
I went back to bed for a while and soon started to have a bit of a tummy ache and diarrhoea. At this stage I assumed that the tummy ache was linked to the diarrhoea and wondered if I’d eaten something dodgy the day before. Over the next couple of hours I must have dozed a bit and had a few more trips to the loo. I watched Frasier – one of my favourite shows, which always makes me laugh. In this case it was the very last episode – where Daphne goes into labour herself. As her waters dramatically broke she shrieked and declared there wasn’t time to get to the hospital; I thought to myself -“Ugh, another over-dramatic representation of birth – I don’t need this in my brain” – and turned the channel over. I went downstairs and made myself some jam and toast (I never usually have jam, but had been craving some and only bought the jar the day before.) I managed to eat my small breakfast before again dashing to the loo as I felt my tummy tense with pain – at this stage I still assumed that this was just an upset tummy.
I decided that what I needed was a nice relaxing bath. I’m not normally one for baths, but I’d been trying to have them a bit more as I knew the warm water would help me to relax, and it had been part of my birth plan to have a bath and listen to my hypnobirthing tracks to stay chilled out and encourage all that lovely oxytocin to get flowing. I soaked in the bath, curling up on my side to accommodate my bump, and I listen to some pregnancy podcasts – including one titled Birthing like a rockstar – which made me feel pretty empowered!
By the time I got out the bath I realised that the tummy pains were still coming, but without the bowel movements now, I also noticed that they were becoming more regular. I thought it couldn’t harm to start timing them and see if there was any pattern and quickly downloaded a contractions timer app. I’d never had any Braxton Hicks, so thought that these sensations could be that – when I laid down however, the sensations got stronger rather than going away. I decided I wanted my birth ball, so I went downstairs to get it and between cramps I rolled it back up the stairs and along the corridor to my bedroom. I comfortably positioned myself over it while putting on my hypnobirthing affirmations track to listen to.
By this point I decided that I wanted Alex to come home. I still wasn’t convinced this was it, but I realised I needed someone to support whether it was or not.
The cramp feelings were getting stronger, and when they came I couldn’t really stand or do very much. I started to let out strong groans as each surge came and went.
I was oblivious to the time of day, but from his account I know that Alex got home at around 2:30pm. First of all he helped put the TENS machine on my back so I could start using it, then he helped me move downstairs. The living room was already semi-prepared. Alex turned on the fairy lights which were hung over the fireplace, lit the candles and put some yoga music on before getting on with inflating the birthing pool. I had hung some beautiful birthing mandalas across the fireplace and had some lovely autumnal leaves, pine cones and flowers arranged – bringing nature inside.
I knelt and leaned over my birth ball, continuing to moan and groan with the cramps (which by now I was quite sure were contractions) I remember speaking to my little sister on the phone – but I can’t remember if I called her or she called me. It was nice to chat to her in between my deep groaning sounds and she told me it sounded like I was doing really well. We called my midwife and she asked if we wanted her to come round and assess me to see how things were going – we said yes. I was really lucky that this was the midwife I’d seen throughout my entire pregnancy.
She’d only come back to work after a fortnights holiday the day before. It made a big difference knowing it was her and not a total stranger who would be coming to deliver our baby.
I knew I ought to try and wee, so I somehow made it up the stairs to the toilet. When I came back down I only made it half way back across the living room before another surge rolled in – so I ended up kneeling down, leaning over the sofa – which is where I stayed from then on. I asked Alex to bring me a tissue with a couple of drops of clary sage and lavender oil on it. Almost as soon as I started to sniff this my waters broke onto the pads below me. At the same time the doorbell rung – it was the midwife.
She asked if she could examine me, and I was happy to be checked once to give us an idea of how things were going, but didn’t want to be checked any more than that. I laid down on the sofa and she examined me. To my amazement, I was 6cm dilated! I felt so thrilled and encouraged by this!
In between contractions I was totally lucid, really chilled, laughing and chatting away.
The midwife asked if I’d like to start using the gas and air alongside the TENS machine. I wondered if I could keep going a while longer with just the TENS as I felt I was managing, but decided to try the gas and air in the end. I was back to leaning over the sofa and really getting into the groove of the contractions.
During this time I felt like I was in a blissful trance. Without any effort at all the birthing affirmations I’d been saying for months came flooding to my mind: “I can do this. I AM doing this”, “I give birth like a goddess”.
These thoughts and others filled me with confidence, courage, power and peace. As each contraction reached it’s peak I knew that it was already beginning to decrease, and I knew too that I had this.
At some point a second midwife arrived – they mostly stayed in the kitchen, only occasionally popping in to check I was ok and monitor the baby’s heartbeat.
They encouraged me to go with my body and do whatever I felt I needed to, which was the best advice anyone could have given me.
In the background Alex was trying to fill the pool… It wasn’t as straightforward as we had hoped, but he was getting there slowly. Intermittently I chatted to him and occasionally asked him to come and be with me, but I was mostly happy just going into myself and carrying on with it.
I made low groaning sounds with each contraction. At one time I started to really ‘oooooooh’; the day before my sister had sent me a video of my 1 year old nephew pretending to be a ghost, doing his own very cute ‘oooooh’-ing! I thought of him during that contraction and laughed to myself internally.
One of my primary memories of the whole labour was that I felt overwhelmingly happy.
I had sent my mum and three sisters blank cards and a self-addressed envelope; I asked them to write a message for me to read during labour, so I would feel them there with me in spirit as they all live quite far away. As Alex read the first of these cards to me I started blubbing with pure joy and love.
Our journey to that moment had been so long; we had tried to conceive unsuccessfully, we were told that IVF was our best shot – but that there was no guarantee it would work and so had come to terms with the fact that there was a possibility we would never conceive our own child.
Eventually we had our IVF treatment after months of waiting, moving house and being transferred to a different hospital. We were incredibly fortunate that we finally conceived with our first round of treatment.
Now, in those heady moments of labour, all the emotions of the previous three years came flooding to me at once. I recalled clearly the day when I had taken my last contraceptive pill, full of hope and excitement – and how that hope had changed into disappointment over the following months and years, only for it to return again as we started our treatment. Now we were about to meet our baby! Finally. Finally! The thought that she was so close after all that time really made me feel amazing and I was just sobbing to Alex, to the midwives and to my family on WhatsApp about how happy I was.
I asked Alex to take a photo of me smiling in between a contraction, because I wanted to remember how happy I was and to show other people that smiling during labour really was possible! It’s not the most flattering photo in the world, but it fills me with joy!
In between contractions I felt so incredibly blissful. For the past year or so I had started my meditations by focusing on the calm, still flame of a candle – now in those spaces between contractions I saw that candle in my mind and felt the stillness and peace flow throughout me. When the surges came I saw a lion and channelled it’s roar. For a few minutes I had the Katy Perry song ‘Roar’ going through my mind as I felt so powerful, roaring into the sensations.
At no point did I feel like the pain was ever too much – to begin with it had surprised me, I’ll admit I remember saying to Alex when he got home that it was harder than I’d thought it would be. However, as I got used to the predictability of the contractions I felt myself ease into the rhythm that my body was establishing.
When I remember my labour now, I cannot recall the pain – rather it is the elation and joy that fill these memories.
I felt a little sick, and asked for a bowl, which I threw up into a small bit. I heard the midwife say to Alex “that’s a good sign” – I think I was transitioning. Then I started to feel her head pushing down. I didn’t feel any urge to push – I could just feel her and my uterus doing all the pushing for me. Thankfully the pool was finally deep enough and just the right temperature – I was so looking forward to getting into it. The midwife helped me to climb in and immediately the sensation of the warm water around me was amazing! I knelt in the pool and leaned over the side, continuing to use the gas and air. I think my body must have instantly relaxed in the warm water, because suddenly the sensation of our baby pushing her way out came again. The midwives tried to get me to turn over so my bottom was lower down in the water, but I wasn’t having any of it! I was not moving from that position.
I honestly did not at any stage do any pushing myself; no straining, no gritted teeth; rather, I felt my body and my baby doing all the work (just as I had affirmed they would a thousand times in the days and weeks leading up to this day.)
I felt her head move down as if it was going to come out my bum, then retreat and then again down in to my bum, and then, at the last second, move to my vagina – and boom– her head was out! One more big surge and she was all out! They told me to turn around and there she was! Before I knew it she was in my arms; a towel over her and warm water being splashed over her back; our skin was touching – I had a baby. She was so peaceful and calm, she had a couple of short cries after a moment, and then she was calm again. It was 5:38pm – when they told me the time I was amazed – I felt sure it was much, much later.
After holding Luna close to me for a few minutes in the pool, and marvelling at the fact she was real, and here, I was helped out and onto the sofa. I lay slightly propped up and Luna was placed onto my chest before we were both covered in a mound of towels and blankets. No sooner had she landed on my skin had she begun to wriggle her way to my breast. I was amazed as her tiny legs pushed at my tummy and within seconds she’d found and latched on to my nipple.
We spent approximately an hour enjoying this precious skin to skin contact. I was in a heavenly daze and it felt more like 5 minutes. During this time my midwife left and another midwife arrived to relieve her. My hope was that I would deliver the placenta without the need for the injection which is often given to women to hurry it along.
The midwives had been telling me to try and push it out while I lay with Luna on my chest. Having given birth to her without actively pushing or straining at all this felt really counter-intuitive. My instincts were telling me that I should stand up and allow gravity to gently help the placenta out.
I voiced this to the midwife who disagreed with me, but I knew in my mind it’s what I needed to do. Eventually after an hour had passed they suggested I try having a wee in case my bladder was stopping the placenta from exiting – ‘Great!’ I thought, ‘that will get me upright and it’ll come out then!’ I was also really keen for Alex to have some skin to skin time with Luna too.
So while she was passed to him I slowly stood up and crouched over a washing up bowl. Within seconds the healthy, dark red placenta slid out and into the bowl. I felt validated that, once again, I was shown that I could, and should, trust my instincts.
After this the midwives examined me and told me I could do with a stitch. For some reason this frightened me more than any part of the labour or birth had. I didn’t feel any pain down there so I was surprised when they said I had torn a little. It must have been the endorphins surging through my body – so much better at numbing pain than morphine apparently. I think I was nervous about it after comments I’d heard from other women about it being the worst part of their experiences. Without going into detail, I also found it to be the hardest part. The relaxation I’d felt throughout my labour slipped away slightly, and I sucked fiercely on the gas and air until it was over.
After Luna’s checks (she was 8lbs 1oz), some clearing up and an escorted visit to the toilet to check that I could wee, the two midwives announced they would be heading off. “Do you have any questions before we leave?” they asked. We looked at each other with fear in our eyes, thinking “Hundreds!” And so they left the three of us, cosily snuggled together on the sofa with a cup of tea. We’d woken up that morning as a two, and were going to bed as a three – our perfect little family.
Naomi is an avid blogger and particularly interested in women’s rights. Since having a homebirth herself she has become passionate about supporting other women with their birth choices and encouraging positive birth experiences. Naomi has a daughter who is nearly 2, she was born in November 2016 at home in Birmigham. Since then Naomi with her husband and daughter have relocated to the South of England to get more time on the beach and be closer to their extended family.