I woke up at 2am on Sunday morning to the feeling of strong period-like cramps. This must be Braxton Hicks, I thought. I dosed off but was roused every twenty to thirty minutes with another tightening feeling.
It was two days after my official due date and my family was visiting from the US, for the impending birth. They were already concerned that my baby was “late” and kept asking me questions like “when will the doctor induce you?”
I guess it’s the birth culture that my parents experienced in the US; my mom was induced for my and my youngest sister’s births, on our due dates. The reason for the latter being that her obstetrician had a holiday planned and needed to get the baby out before he left.
I didn’t let these comments get to me. I knew that early labour could last days and I was happy to wait for my body and baby to be ready. I was actually really enjoying the novelty of my big belly and the feeling of having my baby with me all the time, kicking away.
It was a hot August day and we decided to go to Greenwich Park. Sitting on the grass beside the National Maritime Museum, I continued to experience surges every ten to twenty minutes. I quietly breathed through each surge. They weren’t too strong so I managed to go through the day without my family noticing. It wasn’t until we left the park, around 3pm, and were walking through the Greenwich Foot Tunnel, that I started feeling surges every six minutes.
My husband and I went home, and I went straight up to bed. I tried to find a comfortable position to rest, but any pressure on my back was unbearable.
My husband made me a nest of pillows to rest my head and belly on while I went into child’s pose; the position I found most comfortable for my back pain. He played music and recitations from the Quran. I took in deep breaths and exhaled with an ‘aaahhh’ sound, counting each breath, in my head, through each surge.
Throughout the evening I went back and forth between my nest of pillows and sitting in the bath tub. My contractions were getting stronger but when I called the midwife around midnight he said they, being three to six minutes apart, weren’t regular enough to come into the birth centre.
At 3am on Monday morning I told my husband to get some sleep and I went downstairs to sit on my birthing ball and watch TV. Rolling and rocking my hips helped relieve some of my back pain. I ate a peanut butter and jam sandwich then tried to sleep on the sofa, but I couldn’t find a position that didn’t hurt my back. Every time a surge came I leaned over or sat on my birthing ball.
Just before 7am the surges started to get very intense. I woke my husband up to tell him that my contractions were getting longer and stronger, and he ran the bath for me to ease the pain. When I got into the water, my mucus plug shot out and I thought that my waters had broken. My husband called Barkantine Birth centre and they told us to come in.
I found getting dressed very difficult. Whenever a surge came I couldn’t move. I counted my breaths and repeated “breathe in love, breathe out fear.” I got in the car and was so uncomfortable. Pains shot up my back from sitting and every little bump in the road made me wince. The fifteen minute drive felt like an eternity.
We arrived at the birth centre around 8am on Monday morning. The midwife asked me some questions and said it was likely they would send me home because I didn’t appear to be in active labour. Hearing this, I was close to tears. I wasn’t sure if I could handle the pain much longer.
The midwife offered me a vaginal exam to check if my waters had broken. She looked shocked to find that my waters hadn’t broken, but I was already 7cm dilated! She rushed to prepare a room and fill the pool for me.
I got into the pool immediately and began to push with each surge. After about 45 minutes in the pool I had to get out because my daughter’s heart rate had dropped (or possibly because the underwater monitor wasn’t working properly).
I positioned myself on all fours on a mat beside the pool. My mom arrived around this time and started massaging my back while my husband and my midwife spoke calm words of encouragement. When I was told I could return to the pool I didn’t want to move. I took deep breaths, counted and pushed through each surge, planting my knuckles on the mat and lowering into child’s pose as I bore down.
Soon my daughters head was crowning and my waters gushed. I feared tearing and became a bit conservative with my pushing at this point, even though the urge was so strong even between surges. Her head started to emerge, then went back in, then back to crowing again. The midwife suggested that I change position to get things moving along. I didn’t want to. As soon as the next surge came I focused all of my energy on pushing.
I repeated to myself, “I breathe in love, I breathe out fear,” and I birthed my daughters head. Two surges later I birthed her body. What happiness and relief! The midwife passed her through my legs and I held her skin to skin.
I hadn’t expected that I would give birth to my daughter less than three hours after arriving at the birth centre, but I’m so happy that it worked out that way. I owe a lot of thanks to my antenatal yoga instructor, Arlene Dunkley-Wood, who helped me reframe my ideas of birth and believe in my ability to birth calmly and without pain relief. I also owe many thanks for the calm and quiet support I received from my husband, my mom and the brilliant midwives at the Barkantine Birth Centre.
Monica is a mum of one, currently on a break from her career in project management. Originally from the California, she’s lived in London for eight years. Her daughter was born at the Barkantine Birth Centre in August 2017.