This is a guest post by my lovely friend Izzy. I was honoured and grateful to be one of her doulas, alongside my wonderful friend Becky Talbot. This is long for a blog post, but if you are a doula, midwife or parent preparing for birth, I urge you to read it all. Izzy leaves nothing out, so her story has so much to teach us. If you want to know about the internal journey to birth, or how and when doulas help in the birth room, what helps birth and what hinders it, it’s all here. So grab a cuppa and snuggle in for this one, it’s a corker. Izzy totally rocked it – Becky is right, she birthed like a Goddess, not because she gave birth at home or without pharmaceutical pain relief, but because she did it her way, in her own time, in true partnership with her lover and her baby.
I dictated much of this story just a day or two after giving birth, exclaiming that I ‘didn’t want to forget a single thing!’ which may explain why it’s so long and gushing. I remember saying ‘I want to do that EVERY DAY!’ because it was such a magical experience. It really was the best day.
It made me realise that birth can be a transformative, healing & deeply spiritual experience that can teach us so much. I hope an edited down version of this story can help inspire others to have positive births too.
I feel so lucky, blessed, whatever you call it – happy that we had the birth we had. It was genuinely all I could have dreamed and so much more. We have our beautiful girl here now. She was welcomed into the world in the most loving and special setting at home, surrounded by peace, awe and calm. Our doulas were incredible and we couldn’t have done it without them, although they humbly say that we could, I know it would have been a very different experience without them.
There are so many things that led to having the wonderful birth that we had, including my yoga training, reading Ina may Gaskin, Hypnobirthing, much meticulous preparation – and, of course, our doulas. One moment stands out in my mind. It was a serendipitous meeting outside the green grocers. I was waiting to meet a friend who happened to be late and by chance I bumped into a neighbour, Anna, with her new baby. We were chatting about babies and birth and she shared with me that they had had a wonderful home birth, just two streets away from me and this had been such a positive experience, particularly thanks largely to their doula Rachel Graveling.
At the time, during early pregnancy, I’d known nothing about doulas and had been toying with the idea of a birth on the MLBU, because I’d heard people say that being in the hospital is the ‘safest place to be,’ right? This meeting with Anna is where the seed of our home birth was sown, and as I learnt more about what a doula does, I decided to get in touch with Rachel to see if she was free. Rachel was booked up but recommended Becky Talbot. As soon as I had my initial video call with Becky, seeing her brightly smiling face and hearing her warm enthusiastic voice – I knew instantly that this was the lady I’d like by my side at our birth. I felt that this was a face I could trust. Later on in our pregnancy Maddie McMahon came to join us as part of our doula care. I cannot emphasise enough how happy I am that we made the choice to have these incredible women by our side to help us to have our dream birth – without which our experience would have been very different. It has to be up there with the best choices I have made in my life, and the positivity from that experience continues to ripple outwards into our lives. I told my friend Verity that I’m so grateful she was late that day because without her, I wouldn’t have learned about doulas, had our wonderful birth or be training to be a doula now. I also feel that the experience strengthened Rob and my relationship in giving us a deep trust in our ability to make important and instinctive decisions together. Our hunch that a home birth was right for us stood us in good stead and it gives us confidence as we set out on our parenting journey.
In our first meeting with Becky we discussed where to have our birth and she explained to us about The Birth Place Study and the role of oxytocin in facilitating a natural healthy birth. I remember her role playing pretending to be an unknown midwife greeting us loudly in early labour when we arrived in a brightly lit hospital and asking us how we’d feel in this scenario, and what it might do for our oxytocin levels. After letting this all sink in we decided we’d feel most relaxed and comfortable having the birth in our own home and put plans in place for a water birth.
At 4:30 am on Sunday 5th September, 4 days before my due date, my membrane plug began to dissolve with a gush of fluid in the bed, again as I stood up and on the loo. My initial reaction was to inwardly curse, in fact I think I swore under my breath – I didn’t feel ready. I messaged Becky and Maddie and told them what had happened. They explained that this was either the waters breaking or the plug dissolving. I tried to go back to sleep but I was too wired and nervous about the prospect of going into labour so much earlier than I had hoped and planned for. I’d expressed colostrum that night and I wondered if it could have been that which had induced labour. Rob had had 3 epileptic seizures only 3 weeks before, and for this reason, my rational mind had been determinedly willing and hoping that our baby would arrive at 42 weeks – giving us maximum time to recover from what had honestly been a pretty traumatic experience. As it happened I went into labour the day I finished wrapping up my admin work to allow me to officially go on maternity leave. I’ve since reflected on the mind – body connection and how on some level I must have been holding off from going into labour before those loose ends had been tied up.
I tried to sleep but my mind was too busy and I was worried about all the things I hadn’t organised. Winnie our puppy was still with us, and my parents had agreed to take her on my due date, but they were away for the weekend. I certainly didn’t want them knowing I’d gone into labour as I knew this would affect my ability to stay in the zone. Rob’s parents were due to pop over the next day and again I was concerned about how we could put them off. Becky was soothing in her Hypnobirthing voice about the fact that everything was perfect. Maddie was reassuring too, saying that she had had a baby at 35 weeks and that everything had been absolutely fine and that all my baby needed was me. This was all great to hear and reassuring. How amazing to have those messages in hand when I needed them in the middle of the night. Having subsequently read some birthing stories I have realised that for some people and cultures, birth is very much a family affair with close friends and family coming and going throughout the labour. For me however I instinctively felt a need to be private. Perhaps as a sensitive person I knew I’d be too concerned with what other people were feeling and thinking, and their perspectives on birth which may not be aligned with our goals, and this would distract me from the focus of giving birth calmly.
Throughout the night I began to have mild period pain type sensations. When Maddie heard this she was excited and could see that labour was slowly beginning.
In the morning Rob felt excited to hear that things were starting and his delighted face as he lay in bed felt positive. I absorbed some of that. We got in touch with my aunt Lindy who came right over to collect Winnie, promising not to tell any of the family that labour was stirring. We managed to delay Rob’s folks for a few days. Rob suddenly sprang into full nesting mode and cleaned the house top to bottom, put the tarps down and the pool up, changed our bed sheets, put an online shopping order on, and started planning to make a chilli! Meanwhile I had begun to feel emotional and worried about whether my waters had broken and if that would mean I was put under pressure to give birth within 48 hours. This was all based on half understood information I’d heard about. I felt nervous about going into labour 2 to 3 weeks before I had hoped and with the lack of sleep from the previous night I began to get in a bit of a state, unsure what to do with myself and worried that the labour wasn’t progressing as it ‘should’. I had a cry on the phone to Becky and she was so reassuring, explaining that everything was moving along perfectly and gently, and told me to just go on a walk to enjoy being in nature, and clear my head. Becky had a special way of calming my nerves when I was spinning out, and I left the call smiling, and looking forward to the day. It was a beautiful sunny late summer’s day, that warm kind of September light, and we walked to the UEA nature reserve, and looked out at the lake, talking about our wishes to live in nature, but how we also loved the community feel of Norwich. We took some photos and ‘made some memories’ in the words of Maddie.
We had such a lovely time and bumped into a couple of people we knew, and I felt so much better afterwards. One friend reminded me to stay with the breath during labour and this could not have been more perfectly timed. Once home I got into my yoga gear and posed for photos doing yoga in the garden. I’d been meaning to get some pregnancy yoga photos for my prenatal yoga webpage, so we grabbed this last opportunity! It’s amazing looking back at the pictures of me, smiling away doing a warrior sequence, knowing that I was in early labour. After that we watched our favourite hypnobirthing home water birth video. It was inspiring to see this wonderful woman exclaiming how happy she felt as she experienced her surges, and how relaxed and positive the birth stage was, and how relaxed and hands off the midwife was.
Becky was clear that, as a mammal I would go into labour at around 3am that night, when safely in my cosy bed, nesting in the darkness. And she was correct! All along it was so lovely having the doulas’ reassurances of what was likely to happen, when we would have otherwise felt we were stepping into the unknown. At 4:30am I awoke to feeling the surges growing stronger and more powerful. I enjoyed the sensations of riding each surge and for the first time I understood why people refer to them as waves – I felt them gradually building and washing through me, reaching a peak before melting away. As time went on I was unable to lie still, but had to move my legs from side to side, stretching and opening my hips to release some of the intensity as the surge peaked. It was actually so fun experimenting with how to surrender to them. All through my labour I was inspired by the positive birth stories from Ina May Gaskin’s books, especially in relaxing into and enjoying the surges. I was recalling a particular story of a woman that the midwives on The Farm admired for being blissfully relaxed during her labour, having a wonderful time lying on her bed with her partner, enjoying surges. I don’t think I achieved that level of zen later on in the labour but it was brilliant to have a high ideal to aspire to. It was so important to have the knowledge from the birth stories and videos we’d seen that birth can be joyful, not scary, & that birth is a natural physiological process.
With each surge I visualised the peaceful beach in Goa where I had spent a few months learning yoga. Often I’d sit and practice breathing and meditate on that beach, watching the sun set over the sea. Feeling the warm soft sand beneath me, the perfect circular orb slowly dropping over the horizon, and the golden light reflecting off the waves. This was a very positive and calm time of my life. The visualisation took me back to those feelings of peace, relaxation and joy that I’d experienced being on the beach. Later on in the birthing pool, the sound of the water around me became the waves of the sea and helped me feel like I was really there. With each inhale through my nose I’d picture the sun rising up, resting just over the sea. Simultaneously a golden thread of light would travel from the sun, directly into my third eye. I felt myself absorbing the power of the sun. With each exhale through my mouth, I visualised a golden thread emerging through my lips, connecting to the sun as it rose up into the sky. With the golden thread I sent any challenging sensations or thoughts to be seamlessly absorbed by the power of the sun. Not only is gold one of my favourite, most uplifting colours, but the importance of the sun symbolism came from Yoga for me. In yoga the sun represents the universal consciousness, which exists within each of us & can be accessed when we rise above the fluctuations of the mind – to a state of peace and calm. My sun pendant necklace symbolises this for me, & I wore it during labour as a reminder of the innate state of peace & power we all have access to within us, when we rise above our thoughts & emotions. Later on Maddie explained that these early surges are there to teach us how to cope in the more powerful parts of labour. It was good to have a gentler introduction so I could practise my coping method later on in the height of labour.
I stayed in bed for as long as I could, remembering Becky’s wise words that it made sense to stay in bed for as long as possible, to save our energy for the active part of labour later on. I was careful not to wake Rob as I went next door to try some stretching on my mat. At around 6am I messaged Maddie and decided to go back to bed for a bit. I looked at the stars in the sky from the bathroom window. I always feel connected to the people I have loved and lost when I look at the stars. It’s a cliche but I imagine they are looking down on me in the form of those stars. I asked my grandmother Rosemary that our birth would have a peaceful, happy healthy outcome for us all.
By 8am I could no longer lie in bed riding the waves of each surge and I had to get up. When Rob woke I asked him to fill the pool up. His response was “OK I’ll just have a shower, have breakfast and do a couple of things first ‘ and I was like, ‘no…I really need to get in there SOON!” I don’t think he realised how far along I was until that moment. He set the room up with candles, fairy lights, dark cover over the window so it began to feel perfectly snug. By the time the pool was filled up I felt so keen to get in, and the moment I did I felt so much better because the warm water really eased the intensity of the now growing powerful surges. By this time they were beginning to feel too strong to cope with outside of the pool. I had tried the birthing ball, all 4’s against the sofa and various positions but they hadn’t helped much. I think that an unmedicated birth for me would have been much more challenging without the warm water – it was so relaxing, comforting and supportive. I had begun to feel surges in my lower back and thighs in a similar way to when I first began having periods. This felt like some sort of a connection from my past self to the arrival of our beautiful baby girl. My 11 year old self, so new and unsure with my periods, and this fully grown woman just tentatively dipping her toe into labour for the first time.
The surges slowed initially when I got into the pool and I was concerned that from what I’d previously heard, labour would slow down. Becky suggested that I might be having another day of gentle surges, and that things would get going properly tonight. I hoped that wouldn’t be the case because by now I was feeling really ready to have a baby and didn’t want much more waiting around. It’s interesting to think how far I’d come in 24 hours – from feeling panicked to feeling ready. Maddie explained that sometimes labour stalls initially, which allows for a nice rest, but then it gets going again in a more rapid fashion. And that’s exactly what happened. I was learning so much from Maddie and Becky, and discovering that many of the things that I’d previously ‘known’ about labour were not right. I also learnt as labour progressed, that any change, such as the arrival of the midwife, or change of location may temporarily slow progress, but that the pace would always pick up, once I’d assimilated that newness. I started sniffing lavender and clary sage essential oils which felt lovely, and I liked the idea that Clary sage could augment labour. I also liked that I’d seen a mother smelling it during one of our favourite natural, home, water hypnobirthing videos.
I’d been in touch with Becky and Maddie all morning and Maddie arrived at about 11:30am. She had an initial chat with Rob in the front room before making her way into the dining room where I was. She really did ‘melt’ into the room as she had said she would, crouching down so she was at my level and saying something like ‘well this is all very lovely isn’t it’ – meaning the calm, cosy room with candles and fairy lights. It was great to see her smiling, warm face. She explained that because I was able to talk through and between the surges that labour was progressing but not ‘cracking on’ yet. Becky would arrive later when things are really moving along. Maddie reminded me of Ina May’s quote – “if a woman doesn’t look like a goddess in labour then someone isn’t treating her right.“ I was obviously being treated just right. She asked if I was feeling a pull to go inwards, and withdraw from the world. For some reason this made me well up as I nodded – perhaps that she knew how I was feeling before I had realised it myself.
We did the side lying release with Maddie upstairs to see if it would help to relieve the lower back and thigh pain I was experiencing. It was nice to lie on my grandmother’s patchwork quilt as I did so. I enjoyed trying different positions in the pool and ate some soup and pitta while lolling around in there. It felt luxurious being served food in a pool, like being on holiday or something! I said to Maddie and Rob that I really felt so lucky being looked after in such a beautiful way by wonderful people who knew exactly what to do. I felt so safe, lucky and blessed. Maddie said that we make our own luck in life. I like that – the idea of karma. Rob ate lunch too and went off for a nap. The last two days of activity had taken their toll & we were all keen that he saved his energy for later on, plus I was still nervous of him having a seizure if he got too tired at this point.
There was a photo of our puppy on the mantlepiece – it’s one of my favourites as she is gazing up at the camera with warmth in her eyes. I found myself glimpsing it and that warmth radiated out towards me, reminding me that she would have been born peacefully & calmly as us mammals are capable of. Her mother’s mind wouldn’t have got in the way of the natural process of birth – and I could do that too. I remembered Ina may Gaskin’s quote to ‘let your monkey do it’ and imagined Winnie being born in peace and calm. In the days after Frida’s birth I can remember glancing at this photo and it bringing me to tears!
I enjoyed looking at Maddie’s smiling face at that point and throughout the labour. She looked like she was glowing, and it was easy to absorb her confidence and joy. I realised at this time how much she loves her work, and could see she was enjoying witnessing a natural birth unfold. I began to see her quiet power and a beautiful wisdom shine through during my labour. She knew exactly what to say or do when I had a question or concern. She knew when I was finding it difficult to cope and would remind me how to breathe, simply smile or squeeze my hand. This positivity was the simplest reminder of how natural and normal what I was doing was. She knew how to make things easier by offering a straw to drink through or a frozen grape which was deliciously refreshing. I guess this came from many years of experience. I know that if it had just been myself and Rob, I would have had to rely on him for strength, but I could feel how unsure he was in the situation (understandably as it was his first time at a birth), and so I chose to focus on Becky and Maddie who were radiating an infectious confidence. Maddie had so many simple little tricks like a Pilates ball to grip on to, or to massage my lower back, or a cold flannel to keep me cool when I was overheated. At one point I experimented with squatting and felt that it was increasing the intensity and effects in each surge. Maddie explained how this position increased the power of the surges, by allowing the baby’s head to press on the cervix. I was up for that and happy for labour to get moving on, so I carried on squatting for as long as I could take it. I used this position for a while but then realised that it was too strong for me to maintain.
I got out of the pool to go to the toilet and broke down into tears as I held on to Maddie’s hands and sunk to the floor with another surge. I had thought of my very close friend who had taken her life earlier that year. She really was a very special, beautiful person. It felt to me as though a spiritual part of this labour was opening me up to the sadness I felt of losing her. In hindsight I realised that an important part of giving birth naturally for me was to allow all psychological and emotional barriers to fall away, so that I could open up on the physical level. In this way I wasn’t able to hold up the protective boundaries I had built in order to cope day to day with my grief in losing her. It felt good to feel them fall away for a time. Maddie asked me what my friend would say if she were here. I thought and heard her voice saying “you’re doing an amazing job Is-la’ And Maddie agreed that I was. Maddie explained that she was inside me and that the people we love and lose are always with us. I really cried as we sat on the floor in front of the candles. It felt like a tough but necessary moment of healing release and awareness of the sadness that existed inside me. I knew that I could have gone deeper into this sadness, however I could see that if I did it would be a drain on my energy which I wanted to save for giving birth. As we made our way to the loo, which felt like a voyage in itself, I sank to the floor again with another surge and found myself in child’s pose on the kitchen floor as Maddie pressed my hips to help ease the intensity. I joked that I preferred the pool to the kitchen floor, and Maddie said that a surprising number of babies are born on the kitchen floor. We had a frustratingly unsuccessful wee trip – I was finding it impossible to wee throughout the labour because Frida’s head was so low and pressing on my bladder.
As I made my way back from the loo I found that Becky had arrived. It was late afternoon by now. It was lovely to take a moment to acknowledge how special it was that both doulas were able to be with us for the birth. I was drinking coconut water, and mentioned that I felt like I was at a hot yoga class. Becky said she’d rather give birth than do hot yoga which made us all laugh.
At some point Rob came down from his nap. He later said that he was amazed to see that I had had no break from the surges in the two or more hours that he’d been upstairs.
By this time I really felt the intensity and frequency of the surges was increasing. I had been continuing to use the visualisation of the Sun on the beach in Goa and it had been teaching me the connection and unity of everything. I experienced a sense of unity. It was a feeling I’ve only rarely had before, during a deep meditation or in an ayahuasca ceremony where I had felt part of the jungle surrounding us. It was like a humbling & very simple realisation that we are all one & connected. We create an idea of separateness in our minds.It struck me that there is no reason to have low self-esteem, low confidence or to feel inferior while holding others on a pedestal – because we’re all equal, and all ultimately one. When I realise this, there can be more peace & joy in how I live, not striving for approval from others. This sounds quite lofty & harder to relate to now but at the time it felt quite clear. I began to realise that labour can be the most incredible teacher. It’s amazing & logical to me that we have access to this kind of experience through such a natural physiological process of birth. Perhaps this is all part of nature’s design to keep us procreating. It makes me sad that so many people are either denied that powerful experience through the medicalised, fear based culture around birth, or simply unaware that this is available to them.
Writing this, I can remember having this strong feeling of connection & unity, but it’s not something I’m able to embody now. Reflecting back on the experience I started to think of Becky & Maddie as our ‘birth shamans’. It was the same feeling as in a shamanic plant medicine ceremony in Peru, where the shaman would protect and keep us in a positive state as we became vulnerable. We would journey through a powerful and healing experience together. There was that same use of practical skill and intuitive awareness as they sensed what we needed. Sometimes this was through simple acts like making sure I had water. It was a similar combination of practical awareness, while something like magic, subtler, beyond words and everyday experience was playing out. I later asked Becky and Maddie what they thought of my ‘birth shaman’ idea. Becky said that for her, birth is the most deeply spiritual experience we can have. Maddie explained that the idea fits with the idea of the ‘wise woman’ throughout history, and the role women have always had in supporting birth. I thought they may think my idea was strange, so this was nice to hear.
I began really going inwards as the surges grew in intensity, frequency and length, there was barely any gap between them. I was trying to rest between surges but the slight movement of floating from all 4’s to the edge of the pool to rest my head on the side, would trigger another surge, no matter how gently I tried to make the movements. I remember feeling frustrated by this. Apparently I was in transition for hours, and at some point said something like ‘ I think this will be my only baby’ which pleased Becky and Maddie because it meant I was in transition. I remember thinking that but don’t recall saying it. I began to lose track of time and really found myself drawing into a place of labour land where I couldn’t speak or articulate much other than single words such as, “water’” or ‘’BACK PLEASE!“ Which meant I needed someone to instantly massage my lower back with the Pilates ball to release the intensity that I felt there. I wanted to phrase it more politely but the feeling was so intense and overwhelming that I didn’t have time to say anything else. Even a moment during a surge without a back massage felt almost unbearable. We thought that Frida was in the correct position for birth, but we didn’t understand why I was experiencing so much pain in my lower back. It was at this point that I turned to Maddie and said to her that I didn’t realise that it would be this hard. She said that no one does. And later added that the reason that labour is so hard is to teach us that when our children are pressing our buttons when they are older, that if we can handle labour, that we can handle parenting. Reflecting on this since Frida’s birth I have definitely drawn strength in challenging moments of fatigue or overwhelm, from the knowledge that I was able to use my focus and innate power to give birth in the way I did.
Becky could see when I was finding it challenging to relax between surges and suggested I blow out forcefully, or do the ‘horse lips’ to mark the end of each one and enable me to let it go in body and mind, and relax. It really worked, I found myself varying between a ‘chhhh chhhh chhhhhh’ sound and the horse lips which I’d repeat a few times at the end of each surge until I felt I’d shaken it off. Funnily enough the ‘chhhh chhhh chhhhhh’ was something we’d do during a hot yoga class, at the end of a pose.
During the most challenging moments of labour I remember thinking that I wouldn’t be able to imagine choosing to do this again and I didn’t understand why anyone would do it more than once. I don’t remember saying it but Rob insists that I said to him ‘I don’t ever want to do this again’. I do recall thinking that when the midwife arrived, I may well ask for gas and air. As it happened by the time she arrived these thoughts had passed. I asked Maddie when this stage would end and when things would get easier and she told me that I would have a surge of adrenaline and endorphins to get me through the next stage of labour, making me feel brilliant, and that things would be better soon. I remember after some time asking her when that time would arrive – when was I going to start feeling good again! I don’t remember the answer but it was encouraging. I began to feel overheated as it was a very warm day. It’s beautiful that Frida arrived during such a beautiful September sunny day. I made my way to the loo and felt a bit dizzy and woozy as I sat there. Maddie was concerned that my heart rate and babies heartbeat could be increased by feeling overheated. She suggested for this reason that we call the midwife. It’s interesting that it was the first time in two days that Maddie suggested we call the midwives – and it’s wonderful that we had felt totally reassured to just get along ourselves until then.
Becky said there was a wait to get through on the line, and asked how I felt about going into the hospital if they were reluctant to send anyone out. I was clear that I didn’t want to go in and trusted Becky to be firm on this point – she had explained early on in our meetings that she had previously managed to get midwives to a home birth when there was initial refusal. Karen, my named midwife from the home birth team, arrived a little while later. By this time I was feeling cooler having had a fan and cold flannels on my face and neck, an ice lolly and cold water poured on my head! It was my grandmother’s jug which was used to pour water which felt fitting.
Karen melted quite seamlessly and quietly into our birth group and sat silently watching where I was in my labour. I realise that the presence of someone new in my birth environment was temporarily stalling my labour Just as it had when I got into the pool. However I also realise that these delays never lasted long. Karen began to take Frida’s heart rate at intervals using the doppler and I always asked and found it reassuring to hear that everything was well. At one point she commented that ‘nothing’s phasing this baby.’ I like that. It tallies with what I’ve learned about Frida’s temperament – she is calm.
I began to feel the surges change and I realised that I was entering the spontaneous pushing phase in which my body was naturally pushing my baby down through the birth canal. I realised this as a spontaneous grunting sound emerged from my mouth as my back arched in the all 4’s position. I had been fascinated by the ‘spontaneous foetal ejection’ which I had heard about in passing. I didn’t want to actively push as I wanted to just observe my body doing this itself. I was also aware of avoiding any perineal tearing. So I continued without what felt like much progress for a while in this way. To be honest I think I was feeling observed by the four people sitting around the pool, with each surge I also felt like I was going to do a poo – and something deep in my subconscious within that split second was then somehow closing / tensing up to stop this occurring.
I reached down and felt what I thought was Frida’s head, which I explained was squashy, which Karen said must be the amniotic sac and above that was Frida’s head. This was encouraging. Pulling my finger up out of the water to show how far she was from emerging, about two thirds length of my index finger. Karen suggested that I went to the loo to try to have a wee and that the climbing out of the pool, and the walk to the loo would also help to move Frida down.
I explained that I was reluctant because I had previously felt walking was very challenging and that I couldn’t do a wee, and that these trips had felt like a real fruitless voyage. However clever Karen knew that when I was on the loo I would start bearing down. I later realised that it was the privacy and conditioning I had to eliminate while on the toilet that helped me to progress through the pushing stage. I felt a couple of strong surges and grunted as I tangibly felt Frida moving down.
I began to feel slightly fearful that she was going to gush out in to the toilet. I called Rob who was cooking dinner in the kitchen to call Maddie. I felt comfortable being vulnerable with her and knew she’d know what to do. She said she suspected that I was scared of pushing. I explained that I was afraid of tearing, having read about a traumatic 4th degree tear during my pregnancy. She reassured me & said that I’d have plenty of warning before Frida’s head emerged. Dear Maddie patiently was kneeling on a bath mat on the floor, holding my hand whilst I was on the loo and even fetched a towel to cover the toilet bowl to reassure me that the towel itself would catch her, if I was going to have Frida in the toilet itself. After a couple more surges Maddie asked me if I wanted to go and have my baby in the pool? I answered with a doubtful ‘yes’, as I wasn’t sure of my ability to walk a few metres at this point. We decided to make our way back to the pool, and the decision to do so carried me there. I even managed to wash my hands!
I got in again now with the realisation that sitting upright was the way I was going to birth Frida. I tried a one leg extended squat that I’d seen someone use successfully in a video, hands in front of me to support me. Rob mentioned later that he was going to joke that I looked like spider man at this point! Perhaps in an effort to lighten the mood! We laughed at how wildly inappropriate this would have been, within what I felt was a deeply focussed moment, I am so relieved that he didn’t! The most comfy position was with both knees bent, one bum cheek resting on the little seat for support. I tried sitting fully on it but of course Frida’s head was on the point of emerging! Maddie had explained that the only time when there was a risk of perineal tear was at the point of crowning and so that gave me confidence to push when my body was naturally pushing Frida down. My body knew exactly what to do.
Becky was sat directly to my left, and her hypnobirthing words were so gently powerful for me. I had listened to her recordings daily for months, so having her there talking me through it was amazing. I said to her ‘I’m not sure how to push’ and she said something like “you know how, your body knows exactly what to do’. It was so simple but it summed up her whole belief in trusting birth, and the contents of her two hypnobirthing tracks, and was invaluable to hear at that moment. That moment of being there, that quiet, perfectly timed comment embodied months of patiently reiterating that I was born to give birth naturally, and that my body knew exactly what to do.
I have later thought about how disempowering & counter productive it would have been at that moment to have someone coaching my pushing phase, or telling me to PUSH!’.
The new midwife walked into the room chatting quietly to Karen, and although I was very much in an internal world of my own, as though looking through a hazy fog, I recall slowly turning my head in that direction. Becky gently called me back, reminding me to focus on my breath. How valuable to have someone there being so attentive and aware of every internal shift that I was experiencing.
Karen exclaimed ‘ she’s crowning!’ and I think at this point decided to stay rather than hand over to another midwife at such a late stage.
Becky talked me through each surge. When I found my mind wondering at the intensity or I felt overwhelmed by the power of sensations she would remind me to “focus on your breath “or “surrender to the sensation’. And afterwards ‘ relax your shoulders down’ So simple but so effective. I realised later how powerful and effective the Hypnobirthing audios that I have listened to throughout the pregnancy had been in helping to prepare me for birth. There was a tangible transition during late pregnancy when I began to look forward to the birth, internalising the knowledge that I was perfectly created to do this. Just simple breathing with visualisation, all the powerful affirmations and the positive Hypnobirthing videos which we had seen had all culminated to prepare me.
I remember saying to Becky during the pushing phase ‘I’m just ready for her head to pop out now.’ Becky was reassuring that within a few surges it would be. The surges were becoming spaced out and I think this was because there were four people watching me at this point. But when the next one came I really used it to push Frida down. I could feel the top of her head and her hair which was amazing. I realised how amazing it was that she had inch-long hair on her head. This helped for some reason to give me encouragement that our baby was on her way and would soon be here. I love that it was me checking this, rather than having an examination. I’d opted out of VEs and I’m so pleased I did. Becky calmly told me that within the next surge her head would be born. I could see the back of her head. Next Becky or Karen said ‘and now her head will turn to the right’ And she was right! I was continually being astonished by our doulas’ and midwife’s calm knowledge of what was happening. That this mind blowing experience was so familiar to them. This was one of the most powerful and amazing moments of the birth. Seeing our baby girl’s head and the side of her face. In an irrational moment I could only relate what I was seeing to a sea creature – with white tentacles wiggling and waving through the water. Of course I then realised they were her little white fingers poking out by her right cheek. It struck me that our baby instinctively knew exactly what to do. This tiny being had so much innate intelligence. I exclaimed with delight that I could see her hand. We all marvelled at her wiggling fingers as her hand pushed further out and at how she turned her head to the right to allow her body to move smoothly out. I exclaimed with delighted amazement that I could feel her wiggling around in the birth canal.
I think someone explained that the wriggling was to allow her to get into position to be born. I was amazed by the fact that she knew exactly what to do to be born. The innate incredible wisdom of nature and babies. Writing this I understand now why people have so many children. It’s the most incredible thing. And I already love her so much. In the next surge I pushed Frida’s whole body out just as our midwife & doulas reassured that I would. I don’t remember really pushing – it was as though she slid out, and her right arm, elbow and shoulder pushed out first. She floated out to the right hand side. I think I was stunned at this moment and wondered if there had been no suggestion, whether I would have watched her there for sometime before lifting her. There was however an instinct to know that she was alright and to hold her close. With their guidance I reached down and brought her head first up through the water and onto my chest. I could see that she was healthy and strong but I was concerned about the gurgling sounds she was making, whether she was breathing and the amount of fluid that was in her lungs.
This is something I’d been fearful about during pregnancy. Looking at the photos you can see the panic on my face and how awkwardly I was holding her. Rob however looks completely delighted and said he wasn’t concerned at all as the others were looking relaxed.
The midwife and doulas reassured me but this was all perfectly normal and that when she cried she would clear the fluid which had been flowing naturally and healthy through her lungs while she was inside the womb. Karen suggested I tip her chin up to clear her airways, and that I keep her body in the water to keep her warm. She seemed unsettled and cried so we spoke to her in soothing voices to calm her down as Maddie suggested. I asked Rob if he wanted to get in the pool, but this wasn’t so appealing as it was slowly turning red with blood! I climbed out of the pool, feeling slightly reluctant to leave this happy place which had been a safe haven and home for us all day. The three of us made our way next door to enjoy our golden hour on the large sofa. We enjoyed skin to skin and our beautiful baby. Frida, latched on immediately. Her eyes were so beautiful, looking up at me. Maddie thought they were my eyes – I could see some of Rob in them too. I had a strong realisation as I looked at our baby that the longest of lifetimes wouldn’t be long enough time to gaze at this beautiful human’s face.
Karen left and she told me how incredible the birth was. Maddie and Becky also told me how amazing and beautiful the birth was to watch. I think I remember Becky saying that I had given birth like a goddess and it looked like I had done it many times before. I hadn’t really realised until that time that I had done anything special, because it had been so all encompassing, challenging and I hadn’t ‘known’ what I was doing (in my mind) at any point. However, I realised looking back how lucky we are and how happy I am that my preparation paid off, and how focused I stayed and how calm, natural and peaceful our home birth was. I think the achievement was in overcoming my mind, and allowing my body to do it – my goal had been to ‘let my monkey do it’ as Ina May Gaskin had advised. Rob and I are also so pleased that a big decision we made together, using our intuition, worked out so well – it gives us confidence in our abilities as a pair.
Our new midwife Amanda helped us to deliver the placenta which we decided to bury in a plant pot and plant Frida a special tree. Maddie popped it in the freezer and agreed to change the label on the container so that we didn’t mistake it for lasagna! She kindly gave us a beautiful handmade cord tie which she tied around the umbilical cord. Becky took a photo. I cut the cord. Maddie explained that Frida wouldn’t feel anything but that she was convinced that they did feel an awareness of the separation. I felt something too in being physically separated from her for the first time. Until this moment we were one being. Her face looked sad after I cut the cord and so Rob kissed her on the head to comfort her, as I couldn’t reach. Maddie explained that there would always be an invisible cord between our hearts. I feel emotional as I write this, just the day after the birth. If I could do it again, I’d have taken a moment to acknowledge that we were about to physically separate for the first time, talk to Frida and appreciate what was going to happen, rather than just get on with it.
Becky popped in and explained that the reason I had felt so much sensation in my lower back was because our baby had her hand by her face and her elbow digging into my back. This made sense. Maddie and Becky tidied up next door and announced that they were going to leave. I felt slightly panicked – how were we going to look after this baby – we didn’t know what we were doing! Becky advised dressing her in a vest as it was so warm that day (24 degrees I think), and covering her in a thin blanket. The plan had been to pop her in the Next To Me cot, but the doulas explained that we’d likely want to sleep next to one another for the first night at least. We did, and I can’t imagine doing it differently now – I don’t intend to stop until Frida is ready to be in her own bed. Becky & Maddie left, Becky with the birth pool on her back looking like a tortoise once more. I called after them ‘you’re our good angels!’ and Becky said ‘ your angels are going to fly away now’! I have no idea what I meant – I guess that they had been such a positive presence for us.
Amanda weighed Frida – just 6.8 pounds.
Rob had his first skin to skin and cuddles with Frida – she looked so tiny curled up against his chest.
I felt sad that I hadn’t photographed the birthing room which was so calm and beautiful with candles and fairy lights and the pool in the middle. But we are so lucky to have given birth in our dining room. I can see Frida saying when she’s older ‘this is the room that I was born in!’ Rob and I had some pasta which Rob had to feed me! It felt bizarre at the time, but became pretty usual practice in the next few days as we learned how to breastfeed. It was 3am by the time we all got to bed.
I struggled to feed and sleep next to Frida as all of the processes were so new to us both. I felt terrified of rolling over and squashing her, but at 5am I managed to lie down next to her. I woke with a start every time she had a startle reflex. I was feeling so fearful of the muslin sheet which was wrapped over her legs covering her face, or of accidentally squashing her as I slept. It felt strange having felt so supported and empowered in birth to suddenly be feeling so unsure, alone and anxious. This anxiety continued through the first few weeks of motherhood, gradually fading as we learned what we were doing. I don’t think I was prepared for the fear involved in caring for our new baby. I think that it was smelling the top of her head which eventually sent me into a relaxed enough state to sleep a little on that first night.
Becky had reassured me that it was normal to feel uneasy co-sleeping, and that our baby wouldn’t be happy being away from me initially, but that I would grow in confidence in sleeping next to her over time. Until she was born it hadn’t struck me that we had been part of the same body, so of course I would feel strange being any distance from her, and she would too.
In the morning I lay in bed next to Frida and video called my parents and my sisters to show them the beautiful news. It was normal for me to video call my mum and being her anniversary, she wasn’t surprised by my call, until I drew the phone a little further away from my face to reveal the baby nestled under my armpit! They were all so happy and it was beautiful to see.