All photos taken by April Werz (excluding last two)
“Take your baby!”, my midwife exclaimed around 9:37pm as she and my husband held our wide-eyed, clean as a whistle vernix-free, 3.47kg boy in front of my face. Utterly exhausted, off in another realm, I had collapsed back onto the inner wall of my birth pool, eyes transfixed on the dimly lit ceiling. Apparently this was quite common, she assured me later. A baby’s first cry is nature’s supposed way of bringing a Mother’s attention back from the depths of childbirth to ensure she promptly swoops up and cares for her newborn. I held our long and lanky limbed boy in my arms as he stared up at Daddy and I with his characteristic curiosity. Subtle tears fell from my eyes – partly from relief and partly from the surging love bubbling up inside. Reaching up to touch my chin, he let out his first wail, and then immediately fell back into his spirit of enquiry. Shortly afterwards, skin to skin with Daddy was in order as I dried off, birthed my placenta (later to be encapsulated), had another examination down there (no stitches, hurrah!), and guzzled water. Once settled again, babe in arms, he and I relaxed on the couch into the patient teamwork of latching. Additionally, I learned quickly about the intensity of postpartum contractions.
During the final stages of birth, I explored the epically deep reservoir of strength and stamina I never knew existed in me. In between almost shattering my husband’s wrists as I gripped them tightly (an understatement) and every monumental groan, I rested with cold wet washers on my head and shoulders, almost oblivious to what was happening around me. I recall the critical pause during crowning, reaching down to feel the head finally, FINALLY, appear. The sting of the stretch was nothing in comparison to what had passed. Holding two clear focuses – keeping my jaw soft and not rushing through that pivotal moment – were the key to a clean, abrasion-free emergence. The supportive warmth of the water which pooled around my body offered some repose and a little more ease.
Prior, frequent contractions in a buttocks-up variation of childs pose eventually had our posterior – i.e. backwards – baby boy lift up out of my cervix and turn into ideal position. I’d found myself reluctantly alternating positions whilst labouring on our bed, three midwives and my husband cheering me on. I didn’t think I had made my indignation obvious at the time, but my husband has since assured me so. Labouring out of water was rotten. In that moment I understood why the modern way of throwing women onto hospital beds was only for the benefit of the obstetrician. Not for the labouring mother. Being posterior his position wasn’t ideal, whilst he was wedged deep in my cervix. Due to this, my cervix had swollen on one side and made it next to impossible for him to move further. Labouring on the bed seemed the only option as I had already spent considerable time in the birth pool with strong, consistent attempts to push my determined and posterior baby as he summoned.
Floating and swishing in the waters of my birth pool, my midwife (the other two were yet to arrive on the scene) was sitting not far way casually monitoring the depths of my vocal prowess. With each surge and every strong prompt to push, I was in agony. In between, recovery. Labouring with a posterior baby meant he was head down (correct), but spine to spine. Every contraction felt like someone had smashed a pointy hammer into the centre of my sacrum. I hardly felt contractions in my abdomen. The pain and intensity was reserved only for my poor pelvis. Every now and then my midwife would offer me the option of water injections in my back. I couldn’t recall ever hearing about this form of pain relief, although perhaps my mind just couldn’t care to track back and remember anything. Part of me felt she was sincere in the offer, but for the most part I took it as motivation to press on and not pursue four excruciating (her words) needles in my back. Apparently they were more painful to receive than enduring contractions (but would dull the pain due to the “bone to bone” nature of posterior birthing). Ah, hell, no, thanks. Never did I want pain relief anyway. I wanted to feel and experience childbirth in it’s entirety. However, I distinctly recollect thinking very affirmatively that I could absolutely comprehend why women seek pain relief. Especially trying to birth a human in a less than ideal position. In that moment I experienced a strong connection to all women – no matter their preferences or decisions in the midst of an intense birthing moment. I also felt like birthing a breech baby surely could’ve been more comfortable? My “waters broke” in the birth pool with one of the many pushes. I felt the burst despite being submerged. It’s was on. But I knew that already.
I told my husband the classic words… I don’t think I can do this anymore. I’d forgotten (he didn’t) that the midwives had previously noted that those words were the sign of a truly established labour. I continued to munch on coconut water ice cubes I’d previously made and was sipping the same through a straw which he held to my mouth.
My midwife arrived somewhere around 3:30pm. After a heat wave, for the few days prior, we landed a cool change, so I’d had a hot water bottle glued to my back (thanks hubby!) with every wave. The birth pool was being slowly filled, as I wandered around the house in my Dwell & Slumber batik print nightie with labour well and truly kicking in. Had it really been HOURS passed of pre-labour (i.e. no developments or change) contractions? I was shattered. Only 30 minutes earlier we had been on the phone to my midwife – she wanted to listen to my contractions (basically, could I still hold myself together whilst having a conversation). I was pretty peeved at my husband for sticking the phone up to my face mid-contraction, as I hadn’t been made aware of her request at that moment. We laugh about it now of course.
The birth pool was being inflated, and I was pottering – or hobbling – around, closing blinds and enjoying music. I don’t remember really eating much at anytime. But my soul was fed as I literally played the same song on repeat for hours, all day, until active labour (or was it transition?… it’s all a blur) kicked in. When I hear that beautiful song now I am so incredibly moved. It’s all I wanted to listen to at the time, and even now I could hear it for hours on repeat. My husband massaged essential oils onto my back, and I went about posting a cherished pregnancy photo on Instagram with some heartfelt words. No one understood them at the time, that I was in the midst of pre-labour, but that was my specific intent. It was the end of the prenatal period, another chapter read, a door closing. I took space then, from the outer world, telling no one of my circumstances, ensuring I had the privacy to pursue the birth I’d hoped for.
Time was an utter blur. Warped. I was hit with my first pre-labour contraction sometime between 4am and 5am on January 19th, 2017. From my reclined position, I sat up in bed. I knew. I’d not really had any braxton hicks before, that I was certain of anyway. This was immediately strong, and uncomfortable. I lay down again on my back in the darkness mentioning the swell of sensation to my husband who I’d woken. I prodded my abdomen to feel our baby. It was soft. He had changed turned. This I knew affirmatively. After an entire third trimester with him being in ideal position, I’d been unintentionally asleep on my back in the early hours of the morning – something I’d been consistently conscious of avoiding. Perhaps it was the poor sleep through third trimester I’d had that knocked me flat? From this moment, and until about 12 hours later, I experienced 10-15 minute intervals of unchanging contractions. 1-3 minutes of intensity, and the in-between was all recuperation. With maybe 4-6 contractions each hour for 12 hours, all with a posterior baby, this, for me, was far harder that the depths of labour itself. I had offered up what I thought was absolutely all of my energy in this period that it was a shattering (physically and energetically) experience.
A few key things helped me through… focusing on my breath, keeping my jaw relaxed, and having the space around me quiet (once I’d had enough of the music). No tricks or techniques I’d read about or that they teach in antenatal classes (I never attended any) were of interest, or any use, in the thick of it all. It was just me being super present to every sensation and each breath. Again, time was so distorted. The few brief moments I looked at the clock I was so gobsmacked at the time. The hours flew by despite the intensity.
In the birth pool, squatting was the most comfortable, or perhaps intuitive, position for me. Again, I cannot imagine labouring on a bed for hours on end. The only pain I felt was that in my sacrum and back pelvis from pub’s position. I feel like if he was anterior – spine forward – it would be incredibly manageable. But, I guess I did manage.
I remember the dimness of the room. The cocoon of the birth pool. The gentle bustle of the midwives. Their stillness and patience too. I recall the softness of the encouragement I heard. I remember some words my husband said quietly to me that made a huge impact – they gave me more strength and resolve. He held space by being present (physically and mentally) and by truly trusting in my capacity. Worth noting, it was him that encouraged me to have a student midwife at the birth, and I’m so thankful. Having her there was a huge blessing in so many ways.
Extra learnings, experiences, and discoveries along the way:
- Yes, it’s true. Your anus “blossoms”.
- I’d come to terms with the reality of pooping during birth. However, early on I felt the urge to empty my bowels (I’d say that this is an upside to posterior labour, so much pressure on the colon), so I hopped to the bathroom and did so. The result, no poop in the birth pool. Yep, I was pretty stoked.
- You don’t always need birth “tools”. Just a great trust in yourself and this very natural process. Distraction isn’t the only way through. Utter presence has a lot to offer, both during and afterwards.
- Ignorance IS bliss. I chose to read and research only that which aligned with my birth vision. I never asked others about their experiences giving birth because I knew most often I’d hear the warnings, the trauma, and the “scary” stuff.
- I kept my birth vision and preferences mostly to myself, for the same reason as above.
- I didn’t experience any sense of shock after giving birth like I’d read and heard of. I felt at ease and relaxed, like coming home. I know it’s not the same for everyone and that’s a-ok too.
- Post-partum contractions can suck.
- Breast engorgement (hello milk maid) hit on days three and seven. Don’t ever think if you’ve got small breasts you won’t produce enough milk. HA. I couldn’t even raise my arms to shoulder height for the first two weeks without pain. My boobs were explosive.
- Express/pump milk early and often. I wish I had of. A store of breast milk would’ve been gold. Not sure when I could’ve as I was feeding every 2 hours for weeks on end, but it would’ve been worthwhile.
- Not all baby’s know how to sleep. We need to guide them. Every cry I thought my boy was hungry so I stuck him on the boob. He became a boobie boy as a result (I’m guessing anyway) and not a fab sleeper at ALL.
I’m sure there is more, but for now in closing…
We were told to get some sleep after the birth. Yet again, the clocked ticked by. The hours passed and we found ourselves still awake and in awe at 4am. I think we got two hours sleep? At sunrise, whilst Daddy continued to sleep, I had our little monkey wrapped in a soft blue blanket on our bed. His eyes dark, almond shaped, and open wide gazing toward the window where loud bird song was resounded from. Eyes of wonder. I captured the moment, both in my heart and on camera. One week earlier than my scan date, but spot on with the tracking app I’d used, all along I had a gut feeling that he would arrive when he did, our little earthy Capricorn.
Do these words do it justice? Perhaps not. But what an honour to experience the birth of this beautiful little human. And, my birth as a Mother too.
Any regrets? I’d entertained the idea of having a birth photographer. I didn’t feel it was necessary. But now, I look back and wish we had have. A very dimly lit environment calls for pretty awful and grainy images. However, I share this intimate and less than perfect photo that is full of love and amazement. And that is good enough for us.