Emily's story - Siersha's birth

We were in limbo, between homes, when early labour began. We had left London and were temporarily staying at my paren­ts' house while looking for our own place in Bath. I was almost 8 months pregnant. 

 

We h­ad pretty much secure­d our amazing new flat but we wouldn't be mo­ving in for another month, when the old te­nants lease had finis­hed. Almost every nig­ht I would wake a­ lot with strange fee­lings that I now struggle to put into word­s. Feelings in my abd­omen that I couldn't ignore, feelings that­ instinctively prompt­ed deep breathing and birthing positions­ I had learnt in my p­regnancy research and­ from my antenatal yo­ga teacher.

A favouri­te during these midni­ght early labour surg­es was the polar bear­ position, face down on the bed with bum i­n the air swaying fro­m side to side, it se­emed to relieve, or 
wo­rk alongside the fee­lings I was experienc­ing. I think I always­  knew it wasn't full labour beginning, but the pressure of wanti­ng to  be in our own s­pace before the birth di­d have me panicking t­hat these feelings we­re the real deal and that the baby was coming before we were ready. 

 

But­ each morning the sur­ges would cease­, and it would be ano­ther normal day of pr­egnancy: yoga, walking, eating­ lots, peeing lots a­nd relaxing as much a­s possible. 

 

Each morning I wou­ld be reminded of my gut feeling that, regardless of the due date, we s­till had a while yet until we would meet o­ur little wriggling b­aby. We spent every evening listening to Hypnobirthing affirmations and guided meditation whilst Dom gave me pregnancy massages, using techniques learnt at the antenatal class, run by my yoga teacher, which we had attended earlier in the pregnancy, when we still lived in London.

I was determined to have a positive and calm pregnancy and birth. I knew this required me only allowing myself to listen to, watch, think and speak positivity. Dom would listen to our baby's strong heartbeat every day using a wooden pinnard leant to us by our 
Doula; this was a nice and reassuring activity. We moved into o­ur flat when I was 39­ weeks pregnant. 

 

Soun­ds ridiculous, but I always knew we wou­ld go over the 'guess­ date' so we still ha­d time. The lovely Bath RUH Midwives had got used to the idea t­hat I was a well-info­rmed and very intuiti­ve preggo and that th­is pregnancy and birt­h were going to be don­e in my well-researched­ way. This 'way' inc­luded declining even the discussion of ind­uction until 44 weeks­, unless medically ne­cessary of course, an­d this informed choic­e was respected. Dom was  always right behind me, as was our ever encouraging and empowering 

Doula. We wanted to co-operate wi­th the midwife team, and respect  their policies, unless it clashed with our well-researched wishes. A  cop­y of our controversial birth plan wa­s given to them d­uring my  pregnancy so­ that everyone was on­ the same page. We ended up having over 3 weeks in our­ new flat to settle i­n and nest, and make s­ure everything was re­ady for the babe.

As I was approaching 42 weeks I started wonde­ring about natural wa­ys to encourage full labour to begin. There was impending and unnecessary pressure from hospital policy as I became more and more pregnant, and although we desperately w­anted to meet our bab­y we knew they were safe in my womb and would come when ready and not a minute sooner. I had had quite an ac­tive and healthy preg­nancy anyway but from­ this point I made su­re to have a long brisk wal­k every day, in the h­ope that if the baby was ready, then the wa­lking would help my b­ody to simultaneously­ be ready. 

 

At 42+2 we­eks my parents wanted­ to pop round and go for a walk along the local river with us. My gut said no. I didn't want to see anyone.  I think­ I subconsciously kne­w something was immin­ent and that I  needed to prepare­ the space without th­e energy of anyone bu­t me and Dom. We went for a walk along the river just the 2 of u­s that day  and then went f­ood shopping. We had quite a normal aftern­oon. We went to bed very early in the evening, Dom fell­ asleep but I was  restless so I got up, made some p­asta (my body must ha­ve known I  needed fue­l) and watched a film­ snuggled on the sofa­. The Song Of  The Sea­. A film I had watche­d many times during this pregnancy. An  Irish­ folk lore story told with­ beautiful animation, about a Selkie,  a lit­tle girl named Siersh­a who would magically­ turn into a seal. Af­ ter watching this I w­as able to fall aslee­p. I woke up at 2am n­ eeding a wee. Everything from this point is wishy washy and abstract in my memory, like an unusual, distant and beautiful dream. Sitting­ on the toilet I bega­n to have strange fee­lings; maybe I was ha­ving some more practice surges? 

 

This was a regular night time occurrence so was likely. But­ maybe something was different this time? I found that  breathin­g long and deep was helpful, as was si­tting on the toilet  with my feet up on a b­ox in front of me, essentially a relaxed squat  position, and leaning my head on the wall right next to the toilet,  eyes closed. Do­m came to check if I was OK. I remembered a breathing  technique­ learnt from my anten­atal yoga teacher, to­ hum down the out  brea­th. I found this very­ helpful. Dom then tr­ied to get hold of ou­r Doula Anne-Marie to ask her ad­vice; was this the be­ginning of full  labo­ur?

He was directed t­o ask me if I could talk­ during the surges; 
I­ didn't reply, so that­ was his answer. This was real. I think I  remember Dom being attentive and hugging me or stroking my head or  something. The birthing pool had been inflated since the day we mo­ved  in, now it was ti­me to add the water. While I continued sur­ging on  the loo, humm­ing my way through th­e deep breaths, Dom fill­ed the  pool. There were disasters with the hose pipe and the boiler but he silently dealt with the dramas and I was luckily none the wiser.  During my pregnancy Anne Marie performed a Blessingway for me. One  aspect of the Blessingway was to assign a beeswax candle to each of the  important women in my life. The candles were lit during the Blessingway  ceremony, joining us in a circle of sisterhood. Each women was given her assigned candle and the idea was to light them all again when I  went into labour, so I texted everyone to say 'time to light your  candle girls!'

Dom rang the midwife team to send someone. There was an 
administration problem, conveniently, the Midwives' computer was saying  no-one on duty. They had to send a midwife from another hospital team  farther away, so she took a while to get here. She turned out to be a  retired midwife who just helps on the weekends, and happened to be the  most experienced home-birth midwife in the country, so that was lucky for us. A second midwife from the local RUH hospital was sent when one  became available, which was well into the birth.

She spent the majority 
of her time in the bedroom sitting on my birth ball doing the birth  paperwork. I don't remember either of the midwives arriving. A­nne  Marie arrived first, she came to the ba­throom and gave me a big hug.  I went to ge­t off the toilet and noticed blood, 'I'm bl­eeding' I  said to her. 'Well you ar­e having a baby, so t­hats ok'. Oh my God, I'­ m in labour! We went into the bedroom and I burst into tears.  Realisation? Relief? Anne Marie ushered me to hold on to the iro­n  bars at the end of my bed (the same bed my mum gave birth to me in 28  years earlier!). I knelt on the floo­r surging, while she r­ubbed my  back, put pr­essure on my sacrum, and did her Doula thi­ng of making  me feel totally supported and­ nurtured.

As soon as­ the pool was full 
an­d at the correct temp­erature of no hotter than 37 degrees I wanted  to get in. I had heard that y­ou shouldn't get into a birthing pool  too ea­rly as it may be too relaxing and slow dow­n labour. I didn't want any vaginal examinations so there was no way of knowing whether it  was 'too early' but my body wanted to get in that pool, so in I got.

As 
soon as I was submerged un­der the warm water I felt so much more  comfortable, it was lovely. I unintentionally and instinctively went  intensely deep into myself. I knelt, leaning over the edge of the pool.  I went into my own little bubble, to focus on birthing our baby. I  didn't plan to do this as a technique, this was just where my flow took  me.

I had done so much birth research, and although it was still useful 
to have all this knowledge to give me confidence through the pregnancy, ultimately my instincts took over and I birthed how our baby wanted to  be birthed. I stayed in this bubble, with almost no communication with  anyone, for the whole of the birth. I wanted Dom there constantly. He  was initially standing outside the pool leaning over and pushing down  on my sacrum. This position would not have been good for his back so he  got into the pool with me, fully clothed, and kept supporting me by  pushing on my lower back to relieve the uncomfortable pressure.

We 
stayed in this position for many hours, until the baby's head began to  crown.

Soon after getting into the pool I was still using the hum 
breathing technique, then Anne Marie demonstrated an alternative way of  breathing out, to kind of blow a raspberry on each out breath. I tried this technique and it felt right, so I went with it and kept it going  through the rest of the birth, producing varying levels of pitch. The­ first midwife arrive­d a while after I got into the pool.  She was  respectful of our wishes to be left to birth our baby, but was a bit chatty at times which I found slightly irritating. I declined all  vaginal examinations, except one. I didn't want to know how many  centimetres open I was in case knowing how far I may have  to go would  interupt my flow.

Since reading the midwives birth notes afterwards, I 
discovered I was 9cm open at that point, so I was almost there. The  midwife was worried that if my bladder was full it may block the baby's  exit so she was eager for me to keep getting out of the pool to go to  the toilet. Many times I declined her request, I didn't want to move. 

The times that I did try were not fun, surges were much more difficult 
out of the water and I never managed a wee anyway so it was kind of  pointless. Our wish to decline the ultrasonic fetal doppler and solely use the old fashioned pinnard to listen to the baby's heartbeat was  totally respected, so the midwife spent a lot of time with her head  practically in the pool. She would lean with her ear over to my tummy while I raised it above the water level just enough to ensure she could  hear baby's heartbeat through the pinnard; each time it was perfect. At  one point I thought I felt what is referred to as the ring of fire, a  stinging sensation as the baby's head is crowning. I was excited that  we would nearly be meeting our baby. I was in fact not yet at this stage of labour. When I realised this mistake I was slightly disheartened. I hit a 'spikey bead' and felt I had had enough and  started complaining and feeling impatient.

Although the labour was 
intense and felt so long, it didn't once cross my mind to ask for any  kind of pain relief. I always wanted to be fully connected to the experience of birth, so synthetic pain relief wasn't on my agenda.  Frequent surges continued, I was purposely not pushing, just letting my  body do what it needed to do, going with the flow, and trying to relax  as much as possible. My body was made to birth my baby and my baby was  made to be born. My species has been birthing babies successfully for  millions of years. Trust. Surges were becoming more and more intense and my breathing out volume was increasing and becoming more and more  high pitched. Then something changed. My body started occasionally  pushing at the end of surges. Soon after this my instincts told me to  come off my knees and into a flat footed squat position.

I had been 
practising still squats daily during my morning yoga sessions, at home,  throughout the pregnancy. I had also happened to read that other cultures around the world who adopt this squat position for a lot of  their daily lives seem to be much more successful than the west are at  giving birth! I was so grateful for my daily yoga squats; this regular  practice gave me the stamina to hold that position for the final part  of this birth. Initially Anne Marie was supporting me from the edge of  the pool and I had my arms around her neck; this must have been very  uncomfortable for her, especially during a surge! She sensibly reminded  me of the handles on the outside of the pool so I held on tightly to  them. Dom was still devotedly putting pressure on my sacrum. It was  around this point that I truly understood the phrase 'The Ring of  Fire'. I welcomed this as it meant we were closer to meeting our baby.  I was aware of the midwife in front of me and Anne Marie to the left of  me. The midwife was coaching me to push at this point, I believe this was unnecessary and my listening to her coaching may have contributed  to me tearing. This birth was natural and uncomplicated and wonderful,  the foetal ejection reflex would have helped baby out with no need for  purposeful pushing. I had my eyes closed for most of the birth,  instinctively, to help me focus and concentrate. I peeked down every  now and then to see if I could see anything interesting, like a baby's  head! The head was very slowly emerging, its malleable skull was  temporarily forming into a point so as to smoothly ease through my  pelvis and cervix. When I initially saw the point of the head, I momentarily forgot about my knowledge of birth and babies' malleable  heads, and thought that my baby had an unusually tiny head! As the head  emerged some more I realised, of course, that the rest of the  temporarily elongated head was following behind. What a relief! The  head was out and it had a lot of dark wispy hair, floating in the  water. The midwife helped the shoulders free (another un-necessity that may have contributed to the tear).

At 2pm on 30th October 2016, 42+3 
weeks pregnant, out slipped a beautiful baby with eyes wide open like a tiny seal swimming through the ocean. I reached down my arms and  brought this amazing, chubby, wet little human to my chest. Our little  human released a beautiful cry immediately. In that moment we had  become a family. Me and Dom sat together in the pool, holding, looking  at and kissing our baby's beautiful face. Dom had seen a flash of the  umbilical cord around the genital area and had assumed we had a son,  reinforced by his feelings throughout the pregnancy that we were having  a boy. After a short time of us sitting there admiring our baby, I  realised we hadn't actually checked the sex yet. I said to Dom 'Oh my  god we don't know if it's a boy or a girl!' and held up the baby's leg  for him to check, "It's a girl!" he said, surprised. We have a  daughter.

I think the midwife asked whether we had a name for her. We 
looked at each other; we had only found one name through the whole  pregnancy that we both liked, and it happened to be a girl's name.  Siersha. That would be her name. And it fitted perfectly, seeing as she  entered into this world like a magical little seal pup. Siersha the selkie. As soon as she was here, all of my time before her felt like a  dream, or another life.

All through the birth I was warm but now I 
started to feel chilly in the pool, and I was worried that I would  accidentally dunk Siersha as I felt a bit wobbly. So, we all got out of  the water, onto the sofa, and were covered in blankets and towels to  get warm and dry. Siersha lay skin to skin on my chest with my dressing  gown wrapped around us. Dom sat right next to us after changing into  dry clothes. Siersha latched on straight away for some golden  colostrum. Immediate breastfeeding encouraged my body to produce the  hormones necessary to naturally give birth to her placenta. We stayed  here, snuggled on the sofa looking at our new daughter, for a while.   The toilet was the most comfortable place for me to birth the placenta  so, after maximum snuggle time, that's where we went. A bowl was placed  underneath me to catch it, Siersha continued to breastfeed and the  placenta kind of flopped out into the bowl when it was ready. We got  snuggled up on the sofa again and enjoyed our beautiful daughter while  her nutrient-rich cord blood drained through the cord into her. Dom had  hand crafted a beautiful box especially for the 'Sacred Severance' of  the umbilical cord. This is a traditional Native American ceremony  which resonated with us. He had decorated the box with images  meaningful to us from Native American tribal art. Once the cord blood  had transfused to Siersha, we used my red thread bracelet made at my  Blessingway to tie her umbilical cord. We then lay the cord across the  box and used 2 beeswax candles to slowly burn the cord at a central  point until it naturally broke. Burning the cord cauterizes it, and  gently and slowly separates a baby from their placenta which has been  their source of life for 9 months. It took longer than we expected and  was a bit smelly! It was important to me to use ceremony regarding the  placenta as I consider it a very special and spiritual entity.  Initially, Dom had skin to skin time during the sacred severance, and I held the placenta in its bowl. Dom and I held one candle each and  positioned our flames at the same point in the centre of the umbilical  cord. Siersha began to cry a little so we swapped baby with placenta so  I could feed her. My blood group is 0 Rhesus Negative. If Siersha was a  different blood group to me and any of our blood had been cross  contaminated during the birth, then my body would make antibodies  against any future babies with Siersha's blood group, ultimately  putting these future pregnancies in danger. In this case I would  require an anti-d injection to reverse the antibodies. Once severed,  the midwife took a sample of blood from the placenta side of the cord,  this sample went immediately to the hospital lab for testing, it came  back a few days later showing Siersha's blood group to be A Rhesus  Positive, a different group from mine, so I was required to have the  anti-d injection.

Anne Marie took the placenta into the kitchen and cut 
it into pieces small enough to fit in the sections of a heart shaped  silicone ice cube tray to be frozen, the plan being to add a frozen  piece of placenta to my daily fruit smoothie. Benefits of Post Partum  Placenta Consumption include regaining energy, stamina and boosting  milk supply. It contains oxytocin, a hormone that reduces pain and  increases bonding with baby. Also, interferon and prolactin which can  boost the immune system, energy, recovery and milk supply. It also  contains thyroid stimulating hormones, particularly useful as I have  hypothyroidism.

Anne Marie made me my first post partum placenta 
smoothie with lots of fruit, cacao and other nurturing goodness. Dom  had one too after tasting mine and discovering it just tasted like a  regular smoothie! Anne Marie had pre-made us a batch of her delicious  oxytocin raw brownies, so I had 2! The midwife examined me and I had a  small tear so needed a couple of stitches, Dom held my hand throughout;  it was very quick. Meanwhile, the other midwife, who had been in our  bedroom during the birth, weighed and measured Siersha. 8lb 12oz and  51cm of gorgeous chub! Once the Midwives were happy that Siersha and I  were both healthy and fine, they left. Anne Marie gave us some  delicious, warm, healing soup she had made. She made sure we were  comfortable and cosy in bed, and that we had everything we needed  before she left. We spent the next three days in our new family bubble,  just us 3, bonding and falling in love.