I was so excited and equally terrified when I found out I was pregnant. My greatest fear... The birth!! There seems to be a strange need amongst certain woman, to bombard a pregnant woman with horror stories of their own child birthing experiences. Almost like a pregnant woman presents them with a rare opportunity to debrief.
To my mind birth was scary, it was something I would need to survive, and I definitely needed help doing so, especially with my squeamish not-so-good-in-a-crisis husband. At the recommendation of a friend I enlisted the services of a doula. I had a very limited understanding of what her involvement would entail but she'd help me survive this awful birthing business and then we'd part ways. I didn't realise at the time of enlisting Colleen's services that it would be the best decision I made for my birth and for my baby, and it wasn't because she would help me survive child birth. It was so much more than that, she would walk a journey alongside us that would culminate in a birth experience that was one of the most beautiful and exhilarating high points of my entire life.
Our first meeting with Colleen involved a lot of talk about natural birth. Initially I smiled and nodded. It didn't matter what kind of birth it was as long as she was there to make sure I survived it. However the more she spoke, the more I listened. Hang on this lady actually thinks birth is something quite amazing? Something to look forward to even??? How odd!! She spoke about all the advantages of natural birth, of skin to skin and delayed cord clamping etc. I was fascinated, I started to feel, dare I say... excited.
Colleen had me read Ina May's guide to childbirth. I wasn't keen to read it (or anything on childbirth for that matter). I didn't see how reading terrifying stories of other people giving birth was going to make me feel any better. I picked up the book anyway, and gave it a tentative skim read, nervous that the words on those pages might hold the power to terrify me even more than I already was. Once I started reading it was hard to put the dreaded childbirth book down. The words were indeed powerful, but not in the way I'd imagined. The stories of birth were gripping and beautiful, like, tears-well-up-in-your-eyes beautiful. Ina May, it turns out, was also quite clued up, she was not just some crazy crunchy midwife living off the grid. Her research and knowledge on all the aspects of childbirth, and particularly on the cascade of interventions had me hooked. This sparked in me the need to really start researching in preparation for my own childbirth. Watching a documentary called 'The business of being born' and reading other material similar to Ina May's got me thinking, no... got me quite passionate about birthing naturally. What a journey, from needing to simply survive the birth (and kind of hoping they could even just knock me out while they did it) to hoping I could have an unmedicated natural birth.
There would be many people during my pregnancy that would try to talk me out of this foolishness. Which led me to find people who had birthed naturally without medication. They were few and far between. I found one friend who had given natural birth to both her girls. She lived out of town but we texted often and she became a gentle unobtrusive guide and support as I explored my options. By the time my due date approached I knew I wanted to birth naturally without unnecessary interventions and all was in place to do so.
My due date was Sat 24 June. My final gynae appointment was on Wednesday 21 June. I had set myself up for a busy morning (because who needs to rest during week 40 of pregnancy?). I took a trip to the dentist, a breakfast with my mom, a gynae appointment, lunch with a friend, and a visit to my in laws.
At the appointment the doctor explained that the baby's head was quite low down and that she was ready to arrive. If I was not in a labour by Monday he suggested I come in for a stretch and sweep. There was also some discussion about medical induction. We discussed how long he would let me carry over, and he seemed quite in favour of moving things along. I let Colleen know and she suggested we do some walking. I felt quite certain I was going to carry beyond 40 weeks as I understood this to be the case with many first time pregnancies (So convinced was I, that in the latter weeks of pregnancy, one of my friends, out of sheer frustration and concern, eventually came over to my house and packed my hospital bags for me). Of all the interventions I most wanted to avoid, a medical induction made the top of the list. It just seemed too likely that an induction would lead to other interventions.
Towards the end of Wednesday I was exhausted and irritable. I decided it was now time for me to stop running around and to lay low at home, and finish off the last few things I needed to before our baby came. I also set myself the task of finishing off the two childbirth books I was busy reading (I'm nothing if not ambitious). I was quite emotional that evening and felt quite tired. I read a little of my hypnobirthing book and listened to a relaxation track. The week itself now feels like a bit of a blur but I recall one of the nights (I think it was this night) feeling wave like spasms across my back. I thought little of it. On Thursday morning I woke up feeling extremely uncomfortable and exhausted. I recall a time in my childhood when my friend's cat had kittens. They couldn't find her for a while because she had withdrawn herself from the family and found a quiet dark cupboard in which to labour and give birth. I thought about that cat, I can't say why, but instinctively I felt like it was time to find my dark cupboard.
I moved from my bed to the couch, built myself a little nest of cushions and blankets, put on the tv and moved between watching series, sleeping and eating for the rest of the day. At some point in the day I put my phone aside and stopped responding to messages. I got up at a stage to get ready for yoga class but then opted out as I was feeling so very tired. The whole day just felt exhausting and uncomfortable. It felt like my lower back was in spasm. I found myself wondering how much more uncomfortable third trimester could actually become.
Early that evening I grabbed my hypnobirthing book and went to bed, promising myself that I'd start going for walks over the weekend. I tossed and turned with discomfort, and then had a stretch of sleep that was nothing like I had had during the third trimester. In fact it was nothing like I'd had during my entire pregnancy. It was heavenly! When I woke somewhere around 1am I was quite struck by how restful and long the sleep had been. I woke with an urgent need to empty my bowels. On the loo I suddenly felt a wave like contraction across my stomach. It took me by surprise, then I noticed that I was bleeding. This must be the start of labour? Without any warning my lower back suddenly felt like it was being twisted and pulled in every direction possible. I was immediately drenched in sweat and I instinctively collapsed onto my hands and knees. No one had told me to do this, it was just something that happened.
Now all of our service providers had emphasized the whole 'not rushing to hospital too soon' thing. I recalled our antenatal classes. 'Stay at home' the midwife had instructed, 'have a bath, watch a movie and delay waking the husband'.
In retrospect, when I think about the stages of labour, I can now see that my labour must have started long before this moment, however in this moment I had lost all capacity to think with a clear head. All I could think was, if this is the beginning of labour I'm not ACTUALLY going to manage 12 hours. I also wondered how on earth I was going to watch a movie feeling like this. I paced around the house a bit, feeling a little disoriented and confused, and trying to decide whether a bath or a movie would be better. Neither felt appealing.
I had to collapse onto my knees a few times to tolerate the waves of pain across my back. As the pain rippled across my back, I tried to recall the hypnobirthing book and it's relaxation strategies, and I chuckled to myself. No amount of self-hypnosis, and thinking of rainbows was going to help me remove myself from the intensity of these contractions. Calling them waves or surges did little to change the fact that they were blindingly painful. To be fair though, I was still trying to finish the book.
The contractions were very close with little time for recovery (probably a good clue that it wasn't movie time). Eventually I could not labour quietly and decided it was time I woke my husband Jörg. I even told him not to turn the light on in case it stalled my labour (yes, I am also laughing out loud as I type this). In my confusion I still only thought I was in the beginning stages. I think Jörg thought the same. I had mistakenly over emphasised to my very laid back husband that when the time came we would not need to rush. He was unhurried, and not at all panicked. We headed to the hospital and upon arrival I briefly considered finding the stairs, as we had learnt in antenatal classes: don't be taken in a wheelchair to the labour ward, take the stairs so that the labour doesn't stall. I don't know why I still thought there was any chance of it stalling at this stage. I simply felt overwhelmed and confused and desperately tried to draw on the things we had been taught about labour. Needless to say I was taken to the labour ward in a wheelchair, a wheelchair I bundled off twice to fall onto all fours as the contractions hit, much to the disgruntlement of my wheelchair pusher.
The midwife at the labour ward was relatively unphased by my chaos as I collapsed off the wheelchair once again and found myself kneeling at her feet. My wheelchair pusher, quite relieved to be shot of me, bolted out of there at the first indication from the midwife that she'd take it from here. She asked me for a urine sample. I went into the bathroom and she closed the door. I was unable to produce a sample (a novel experience during pregnancy) and while trying, another intense contraction engulfed me. All this time, every time there was a contraction, needing desperately to be on all fours to manage, to cope, to labour. As I collapsed off the loo it suddenly began to feel like I needed to push, maybe I needed to empty my bowels before the baby came? It felt quite a relief to push with the contractions. It was short lived as the midwife realising I was taking a bit long bustled me out of the bathroom to check how dilated I was. At this stage everything seemed to start moving quickly around me. She didn't say anything but I sensed the pace in the room shifting. At some point around this time we moved to another room. It was a disjointed, chaotic time and I couldn't figure out what was going on. I felt like I was drowning in a sea of pain and rescue was slow to arrive. The midwife had mentioned something about pain management earlier on and I wasn't sure I'd turn her down if she offered, but it was like the thought had gone out of her head. I wished it hadn't because if this was the start of labour (yes, bless my soul, I still thought this was the start) I certainly wasn't going to cope with the more intense contractions at the end.
At some point Colleen arrived, and with her some peace and calmness amidst the chaos. I crawled onto the bed as another contraction swept over me. Colleen now right by my side talking me through this one and somehow her calmness and the sense that someone knew what to do to support me, made it, not less painful (because it was very painful, unbelievably so) but less terrifying, confusing and overwhelming.
The midwife came in and asked if I'd discussed alternative birthing positions with my doctor. I realised then that I was still on all fours. I thought it an odd question. I managed to get out a 'yes' amidst a contraction. I did discuss my birth plan with my doctor, but I was simply choosing to be on all fours as a labour position, we weren't at the birth yet? How I hadn't clicked by now that my baby's arrival was imminent is truly beyond me. Colleen had previously told us that there was a point during transition where labouring women become a bit disoriented and I imagine this was the case for me. Things had moved so quickly and unexpectedly and it felt like I had gone from 0 to 100 in the blink of an eye.
The contractions continued and at one point I recall telling Colleen that I could not do it. Her words were gentle, calm and reassuring. She then told me (finally someone did) that I was actually almost done. Wait what? I thought I had hours of labour ahead of me. No candles, music and labour food to keep up my stamina, no, this was almost the end, I was going to see my baby soon! That's when everything came together for me. That's also when my doctor walked into the room and was met by my alternative birthing position (which was still just a labouring position to my mind). He commented on it, I commented back, but I didn't move, nor did he ask me to . Truth be told, had he asked I would have turned over, but I have no idea how I would have tolerated the contractions across my back in any other position.
He asked if I felt like pushing, I did, I had been pushing since my failed attempt at a urine sample. Although to I say I had been pushing would be incorrect, as my body had been pushing, it wasn't something I could control, it was just happening, and gosh it felt like a relief compared to those contractions.
The pushing involved lots of high energy shouting and encouraging from the doctor and midwife. It was an interesting juxtaposition of loud, excited cheering on one end, and Jörg and Colleen a calm, quiet and gently supportive presence on the other. The energetic encouragement was helpful but I eventually preferred the quiet. I wrapped myself in a mental bubble with Jörg and Colleen and didn't find it hard to stay there. All this time Colleen stood right by my side, quietly talking me through allowing my body to push the baby out, breathing my baby out. The background noise and hype blurred as I found myself listening only to her quiet and calming words.
Towards the end the energy was upped, there was a need to move things along, talk of not being able to monitor baby and so possible suction and/or episiotomy. I wanted for neither and so with Colleen's gentle agreement surrendered to the purple pushing we had hoped to avoid.
Two or three more pushes and I looked down between my legs to see her tiny body emerging from mine. I still can't describe that moment. It still doesn't feel real. My heart leapt out of my chest, I could not comprehend what I was looking at. I felt so happy, so proud, so full of joy. My baby was here, I had birthed her in the way I had hoped to.
I heard her little cry and my heart melted. As she was placed on my chest, I held her, I looked at her, I smelled her (oh gosh she smelled heavenly). She was astounding. She had just been inside my body. Now she was right here on my chest, I could not believe she was here.
Her dad, her squeamish dad, had watched the whole birth - and he was still standing upright. As she lay quietly on my chest he was at my side and we both just stared at our little girl, we were mesmerised.
The rest of the day was a blur, not of confusion, but spent in a euphoric love bubble with my tiny precious baby. I must have stared at her the whole day. Colleen kept telling me to sleep, but that would mean I'd have to close my eyes and stop looking at my treasure, and I couldn't bring myself to do that just yet. She was inside my body and now she was outside, how does one begin to comprehend such a perfect perfect miracle?
At a point shortly after the birth the midwife asked for the baby's name. With a final glance of confirmation to Jörg I officially said her name out loud... Abigail. I heard myself say it and it sounded right. It sounded just right. Her dad had chosen her name. It wasn't on top of my list of favourites but her generally undemanding dad's absolute insistence on the name, chosen because of its beautiful meaning, led me to agree that it was the perfect name for our little miracle. Abigail means 'my father's delight'. A few days after the birth when I had time to look at some photos Colleen had taken of the birth, I was struck by the look on Jörg's face, it was one of absolute joy and delight. Abigail is the perfect name for her, and just as we delight in this beautiful gift that has been entrusted to us, so our heavenly Father delights in her, His perfect little creation, her Father's delight.