I was up at 11pm reading birth stories hoping this would trigger an oxytocin rush that might kick start labour. I read my own birth story from my first birth, and I immersed myself in the stories of Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth. I was ready to give birth to this baby. At 39 weeks and 3 days pregnant, and having survived one of the biggest heat waves on the British Isles since records began, I was more or less ready to pull this baby out myself. The last four weeks or so had been completely incapacitating. My gigantic size combined with the heat made even the smallest of tasks nearly impossible. I had been feeling miserable, tired, and my skin was so taught I felt ready to burst.
I was reading Ina May, when I felt a sudden pop down below, followed immediately by what initially felt like a Braxton Hicks contraction… But this was no ordinary Braxton Hicks. It had an edge to it, a different kind of energy. I lay wondering if I was imagining things. Better check, I thought, just in case. So I hauled myself (literally) out of bed to go to the loo. When I got to the toilet, a trickle and a gush later, and I trembled with the knowledge that it was time.
I grabbed a pad and went downstairs to my husband who was reading in the rocking chair.
‘My waters just broke’, I said with a cheeky smile. I felt so happy. My husband stood up and hugged me tightly around my gargantuan bump, kissed me, then promptly got himself a beer from the fridge.
The pool was already blown up in our living room, so my husband only had to fill it, which he had practised several times before. My first labour four years previous had been quite fast (8 hours start to finish) so I had a sneaky suspicion that this baby would also make a hasty entrance into the world. For this reason, we had already agreed to fill up the pool as soon as there was any sign of labour beginning.
Over the next hour, I had three or four mild contractions, and I breathed through them easily. They were like waves through my body, vibrations, edgy warm tightenings around my torso. I wandered in and out of the house, in and out of our garden and contracted in the night time heat, or sat on the sofa to have a chat. I passed urine several times in the garden or in our bucket (no WAY was I going upstairs now to use the toilet). During this time, my husband and I kept saying how excited we were. We kissed many times and kept spontaneously telling each other we loved each other. At about 12.30am, the contractions starting ramping up and my husband called the community midwives. I curled up on the sofa, pillow between my legs and began making noises during each contraction. On my out breaths, I made a low pitched and sustained ‘ah’ sounds, hoping this would help my jaw relax.
I cried briefly with my husband holding my hand and confessed that I wasn’t sure I could do this. He told me I could, that I was doing it, that I was amazing.
My mum arrived at about 1.30am and I was relieved to see her. She took my hand and I had a deep long contraction. I did everything in my power to stay soft everywhere in my body. My jaw, my cervix, everywhere. The contractions were coming about every 3-4 minutes now. Between contractions I was lucid and happy, able to ask for water and talk.
I felt like it was time to get in the pool. It had just filled up. It felt great. The contractions, however, suddenly ramped up again, and I started to get the familiar back-labour feeling from my first birth. I was also starting to get noisy, and I felt a bit ‘pushy’; but something in me told me it wasn’t quite time. Instead, it was, you guessed it, a poo. I got out of the pool naked and yes, you guessed again, did a massive poo in the bucket, then handed it to my husband. Now THAT is true love.
The next contraction felt entirely different and easier. I can only imagine that doing my poo cleared some space inside me, and lessened he pressure on my coccyx. I had a few more contractions in the pool, and I was starting to get even more noisy now. My ‘ah’s were gaining strength and power, as were the contractions.
My husband suggested that I checked my cervix to see how I was getting on. I reached around, and low and behold!! I could feel my baby’s head just over a fingers length away! It was incredible.
Feeling my baby’s hard head gave me control; it gave me confidence, reassurance, and it gave me momentum to keep going. Two contractions later, I felt again, and he was closer. I never knew that labour could feel or be like this. I felt mammal, I felt human, I felt woman.
At about 2.30am, my 4 year old daughter woke up and joined us downstairs. It was like christmas day for her when she spotted me in the pool and in labour. I was so happy to see her; we had spent a lot of time preparing for this moment to welcome her new sibling. She was not afraid. She was ecstatic! She came over, kissed and held me, and I smiled and laughed with her.
More contractions came and went, and our daughter got in the pool with me to stroke my hair and tell me affirmations: ‘You’re a mama bear, mummy… you are strong… you are beautiful’…
I’m so proud that I stayed present with her and myself during this time. There was no panic; there was calm and control. My husband joined us in the pool and the three of us laboured together with a strong sense of anticipation. My daughter wrapped her arms around me on and off, stroked my back and held my arms. My husband continued to repeat affirmations, all the things I needed to hear: that I could do it, that I was doing it, that I was a birth goddess. My mum was on hand to top up my drinking water (which I drank a lot of), and take photos of our journey. There were no midwives at this point, so my mum also made some phone calls to see where they were. No one was worried; we were all in the zone, ready to welcome the new baby.
I started to feel intense and pushy at about 3am. It was then that the back labour pain re-emerged full force, and I began to feel all sorts of ovewhelming sensations. The piercing back pain was like a knife in my back, coupled with the all consuming and powerful labour sensations, and now: the stinging… the ring of fire. I cried in my husband’s arms. But of course there was no time to indulge in tears, as the next contraction hit me hard and I cried out another long ‘ah’ as loud and as long as I could. I felt completely uninhibited and powerful. I felt entirely free to do what came naturally, to be all at once myself. I heard my daughter exclaim excitedly behind me: ‘look daddy, I can see mummy’s vagina opening!’ I will always remember that, and as I write, tears of utter joy fill my eyes.
The midwives arrived as our boy was crowning, at about 3.30am. It was then that the sensations took a further unexpected twist for me.
Our baby suddenly began to kick hard. Head half out, I could feel arms and legs flailing around inside me. This was a step too far for me, and I blurted out, ‘this baby is coming out RIGHT NOW!’ I pushed hard. I pushed REALLY hard.
I pushed during contractions. I pushed in between contractions. I pushed with all my might and with every muscle in my incredible body. After a couple more contractions and a midwife clumsily trying to take a last minute heart beat, his head emerged, then his chin popped out. I hoped he would slide out after that, and I knew with a strong sense of relief that I was close to the finish line, that this would soon be over. I was roaring and crying out. It helped. It felt right.
It took another three contractions and me hiking my legs up to push his shoulders out, all the while he kicked and flailed around inside me. It was intense and altogether overwhelming. He emerged and my husband caught him, with the help of my daughter. The midwives helped me turn around and for my husband to give me the baby; it turns out babies are slippery, slimy and extremely hard to handle!
The four of us sat in state of astonishment and bliss. My mum shouted ‘its a boy!’ but frankly, I hardly remember, and the gender, that had felt so important a few hours ago, seemed an insignificant detail in the immediate aftermath.
‘You did it’, my husband said to me with a smile. Yes. I really did do it. My baby was here in my arms, and all four of us were together, holding each other, filled with an extraordinary sense of peaceful happiness.
My little girl helped cut the cord with my husband. Then suddenly my contractions came back nearly full force and I remembered: ah yes, the placenta. My baby boy did not latch onto my breast immediately despite my best efforts; his mouth kept oozing mucus and it made his mouth extremely slippery; so I soon realised I was not going to have any help from him (I knew that nipple stimulation would help eject my placenta). It took a few extremely hard contractions before I decided to once again push with all my might, because goddamn it if I was going to have any medical interventions after all that. The placenta finally popped out whilst I was sitting on the sofa, crouched like a frog and the pain was finally, ultimately gone.
For the next half an hour or so, I shook violently whilst sitting on the sofa. I was full of joy but my body and mind were exhausted and still catching up with the events. I trembled in shock whilst my husband wrapped my naked body in a duvet and I held our baby. He nuzzled around my breasts, eventually latching on with an instinctive skill and confidence that only newborns have. He was a big, strong boy: 4.1kg (8lbs 15oz), and there were cheers of surprise as he was weighed. My daughter had been a dinky little thing at only 6lbs 6oz- how had I birthed such a giant?! During the chit chat, my mum made me the best cup of coffee I’ve ever had.
The aftermath of the next few hours is all of a blur; the midwives discovered my third degree tear (feared to be a fourth degree tear) and I ended up in hospital a few hours later, my legs in stirrups, having an epidural. Soon after, our son was diagnosed with ABO jaundice which required him to go special care. We remained in hospital for four days.
Our time in hospital was undoubtedly a huge disappointment for us; it broke my heart. But I believe things happen for a reason, and had we not gone to hospital for my tear, we may not have caught the jaundice that was potentially life threatening.
He was a big, strong boy as I had suspected; just as he had been in utero. We called him Percy George. He emerged into this world with profound energy, and was welcomed with warmth, serenity and love. I roared this baby out; and from that, I will always gain other-worldly strength and pride. I really was the birth goddess I wanted to be.
Karis White is a mother and part time music teacher and volunteer breastfeeding peer supporter; also a song writer, singer, poet and writer. She lives in East Ham, London with her husband, Andy, daughter, Bess (4) and baby Percy, born in August 2018. Karis also blogs about challenges of motherhood.