I trained as a doula before I had my own baby. It was a vital part of my journey to motherhood. The best part of my adult life has been spent navigating and understanding my own (lack of) relationship with my mother. It’s like I have been on my own personal mission to heal and chain break a lot of ancestral trauma and this was a significant piece of that puzzle.
My dad had died in mid November and I had spent the best part of my pregnancy taking care of him at home and juggling hospital appointments and some emergencies around work. My father was to me, both parents and I was a daddy’s girl from the start. When he died it hit me hard. A mere 6 weeks later, I was closing in on the due date for my first child. After the funeral I shut the doors and tried to make sense of everything and compose myself with what time I had left. Despite all my training and pregnancy yoga, subconscious lessons and preparations I felt ill- prepared. I was balancing the joy and excitement with utter despair and pain.
My husband Henry - Daddy doula - had been trained to within an inch of his life. I knew he would be the perfect birth partner - calm, practical, loving and kind.
I was due on the first of January - but the full moon came and went it wasn’t until a couple of days later I had a deep knowing that something had shifted. I decided to take myself off and do some yoga and then I decided to snap some pictures of myself - like I knew I wouldn’t have my bump much longer.
Early that morning I woke up, there was a little show and a sense that things were beginning. But I truly believe that labour never really ‘begins’ - it’s just a subtle gentle natural flow - you feel it a few weeks before as you tend to your nest and even then arguably you’ve been slowly softening into this point your whole pregnancy.
Because it was early January, there was beautiful, gentle light throughout the day and our home in a post Christmas lull was quiet and comforting. Everything now feels so surreal - like a story from a dream I can’t quite make out.
We closed the curtains so that day and night were not able to have a bearing or upset me if daytime arrived or night fell again.
I think Henry had called the midwife to check we were underway and all was well. She seemed overly concerned that my waters may have broken already and started to speak about transferring to hospital if labour didn’t begin naturally. This threw me as I had felt well and positive. Intuitively I felt like all was well. I decided I really didn’t want her energy in my space any more and after a good chat with Henry, we agreed to monitor my temperature etc and wait to see what happened. We didn’t see her again.
It was a bit of a glimpse into the subtle pressure that can scare you into making snap decisions that may potentially steer you off course. It was at this point I felt so glad I was well-informed and knew my options. I won’t lie - it did unnerve me but I rationalised it and moved on. If anything I think this could have been something that made me labour longer.
My hospital bag was packed in case we needed to transfer - it was the last thing from my mind. In fact I didn’t really think or plan from that point on - things just unfolded.
In early labour, I used almost every room in the house - mostly the homely front room full of soft furnishings. I used almost everything I’d learnt in Birthlight pregnancy yoga - the breathing, the active labour positions. I’d taught them and had them so ingrained that I just allowed my body to dance its way. It’s at this point that the urge to make those incredible primal noises could not be suppressed.
At some point I went and stood in the shower - it was so good to feel the warm water. I think I might have got in and out a couple of times. One of the most annoying things was going from hot to cold a lot. One minute stripping naked the other wanting my thick trusty cardigan on. But the socks remained! The glamour.
I then decided I wanted a bath. Henry took this opportunity to try and get me hydrated and refuelled but I think we were too far gone and I ended up throwing up on myself in bath - that put an end to that.
Eventually I made my way upstairs to our room. It was darker and more confined and the bed was a good place to clamber. I was so tired - looking back I was definitely in need of more fuel and hydration. At one point I jammed myself into the tightest corner and with the baby gro egg glowing bright red as my only source of light I had found my cave. Henry said it was really surreal watching me in this tight corner, labouring away, covering my eyes. I think this is when my midwife who I’d had since booking came over - checked me and then decided to go away again.
Transition lasted by all accounts a good couple of hours. Now it’s a distant memory but I do remember feeling quite affected with how intense I had found it. For me what surfaced was a lot surrounding the mother wound. I wanted out of my body. I was desperate. I thought for sure I was going to be transferred and end up in exactly the same birth as I had been born in. My mum had been what Penny Simkin would term a survivor and back when birth suddenly became very medicalised she was
poorly supported. Her fate was intervention heavy and culminated in forceps. Somehow this shook me to my core - as if my body remembered for my mother and perhaps I remembered that cold hard entrance into the world too. I really thought it was going to be awful. Somehow my incredible husband got me through it. He rationally talked me through what a transfer to the hospital would involve and as soon as I snapped back into my own birth story I realised that putting clothes on and walking to the car was absurd - much less anything more. I think my response also gave him confidence that it was fear not necessity speaking.
My lovely home birth midwife who had been with me since the beginning had come over again at our request. She had watched from afar and made an assessment that I wasn’t in active labour and that I had a long way to go. I was deflated.
She popped to the bedroom next door and I could hear her on the phone saying she would likely be heading back out soon. I felt so dismissed. I think I even called out that I was definitely in active labour. When they say trust the mothers instinct this is where I am so glad I had conviction in myself and that she listened.
I had up until this point avoided vaginal examinations - knowing all too well how much they could have interfered or set me back - so to prove my point it suddenly occurred to me that I could examine myself! I got up on my bed and put my hand down. I could feel something soft and warm. I got Henry to look and confirm and then he ushered our midwife back into the room. She was taken aback by what she could see and that I had felt was the membranes - which meant a little head was not far behind. There was palpable relief at being heard. That said I was still rather confusingly not hitting the ‘numbers’. My contractions were just shy of the right length and consistency. I continued to labour away with the membranes becoming more and more annoying. As if every time I had a contraction they blew up like bubble gum. I could tell our midwife was trying to make sense of it all but as home birth midwifes tend to be - she was calm and methodical. She told me that she was going to call the second midwife and go and get the equipment from her car. She had fully expected me to give birth in our bedroom and so she set everything up out of sight in the nursery.
All of a sudden there was another ramping up and I made the sudden decision to move next door. No one was prepared - and at around 7:30pm I stepped around all the kit to get to my final birthing space in the nursery. I had a momentary wobble when I saw a pot of episiotomy scissors. I suddenly got very bossy and I directed Henry to get the rocking chair footstool and sit on it. I was bearing down on his legs and labouring holding onto his arms. Poor guy - I think he had scratches and bruises for weeks after.
Before long Huxley was crowning. I had a sudden urge to leave - apparently this is a very primal thing to do. I was also so connected to the feelings in my pelvic floor that I felt myself tearing. I didn’t feel the pain but I panicked. In that moment I was utterly blessed at the arrival of a new set of midwives at the 9pm shift change. Without missing a beat and having just arrived at the door - one of them kneeled next to me and with her cold hands fresh from the January night, pressed them against my cheek, I buried my head in her hands and she helped me slow my breathing. She told me that all women experience this and all was well. My baby was nearly here. A nod of heads from the expectant room was such a beautiful virtual embrace. She got me right back where I needed to be and within a couple more breathes our darling baby boy made his swift entrance into our world.
I’d been happy to invite a student midwife to our birth (one that had never witnessed an intervention free birth outside of the hospital) and the awe on her face, the feeling of confidence her gentle smile and willingness for me to succeed gave me spurred me on. I really hope that being part of our birth widened her perspective and goes on to inform her practice.
I momentarily remember looking round, seeing Huxley’s head, looking up at Henry and seeing tears and adoration on his face. I can still bring that freeze frame moment into my minds eye. Later he perfectly described that time as like being in a coven. In the dark, surrounded by wise women all willing this child earth side. It truly was a moment in time that made me feel incredible. I reached into the depths of myself to birth our baby.
Huxley arrived into my arms en caul. What had also become apparent is that he had a compound hand - in other words he came out superman-ing! I’m told this makes his arrival an estimated eye watering 15% wider. It explained in an instant why I was not hitting those numbers and why assumptions had been made about where I was in my labour. With a hand in the way his head was not pressing down on my cervix and creating the conditions expected. I sincerely believe that the management of this in hospital - another variation of normal - would have resulted in a very different birth story. As it stands I had a trusting and experienced home birth midwife team. I think it just goes to show that in labour we can’t always know the why something happens - but it doesn’t mean we have to intervene in our bodies innate wisdom to ‘fix’ it. In fact my Midwife decided to write up a report about the natural, non-management of this presentation for future learning.
Rather embarrassingly whilst kneeling naked I tried to ‘Lion King’ Hux. I was so proud at what I’d done and desperate for Henry to hold him I rather forgot about the fact he was still attached and that I still had the third stage to go. Once reminded I stayed skin to skin and the placenta flopped out in ten minutes. I was desperate to see it and marvel at this amazing organ that had kept my baby alive all these months.
For a moment the long labour and the intensity of the journey faded into the eyes of this perfect boy before me. Until my midwife reminded me that she now needed to do some checks. I’d had a tear - something that pre labour had really scared me yet suddenly was little to speak of in the grand scheme of it. I had stitches on the floor - I remember feeling really cross that the gas and air had left with the second midwife. Instead I was distracted by the joyful sight of my husband bare chested having skin to skin with our beautiful boy and joking with the midwifes.
It was so incredible - these magical birth keepers not only helped me to birth but they also chucked on some washing, made our bed and settled us in for the night.
All the formalities of checks were organised as I sipped the most incredible cup of tea in bed surrounded by these wonderful warm women from whom I had learnt so much.
My parting gift was being reminded to ‘sleep tonight and don’t be tempted to stare at him too long’ (as labour can make babies just as tired as mum and sleep through the first night).
All in all we estimated it was around 24-30 hours long - difficult to truly say. I was exhausted, elated and amazingly only spent
a little time staring at Hux before falling deeply to sleep.
The following night we watched an incredible documentary about surfers in icey waters under the glow of the northern lights. It suddenly struck me as I watched the waves crash and recede that it really was the perfect analogy for contractions. And I had really felt the uterus rising and then pushing down.
I share this story because I want to be part of the positive birth movement. Birth is birth - it’s intense, not without its trials and each story is unique and individual. It’s the most incredible and humbling thing I have ever done. I am ever grateful for the wisdom of so many birth keepers that enabled me to have such a positive experience. Let’s hold up each other’s stories with reverence. I hope that my story may encourage hope, foster confidence and inspire some well informed choices. As a doula it matters not to me how you birth - but that you feel so strong, so powerful and like the goddess you are.