At five in the morning on the 30th of May 2016 I woke up feeling odd. I didn’t feel any contractions, my waters hadn’t broken there were no twinges of any kind I just felt like something was going to happen. Being exactly one week overdue I had lived with this sense of imminence for about 4 weeks now and generally nothing happened. But I felt like wandering so I got up and went to the bathroom. After pottering in the bathroom for a few minutes I decided I definitely wasn’t in labour but I wasn’t ready to give up hope just yet. I turned over the toothbrush timer over and stood in the Goddess yoga pose for three minutes while the sand made it’s way to bottom of the timer. After the three minutes I re-assessed. In the mirror I saw a 41 week pregnant woman squatting in her bathroom at five in the morning when she could be asleep or at least trying to sleep. So I made my way back to bed. I sat at the edge of the bed and began arranging my complicated system of pillows which I had patented in late pregnancy to try to sleep. As soon as I sat on the bed my waters broke, although burst is probably a more accurate description. Surrounded by a litre of water I decided to turn on a light. Steve bolted upright as though he’d been electrocuted.After Steve shouted “What? What’s happening? Whats going on?” for a few minutes everyone calmed down and we decided to ring the midwife at the hospital. She said as to relax, have a shower, make some breakfast and then make my way to the hospital in my own time. The midwife said they will confirm at the hospital if my waters have broken or not and in all likelihood I will be sent home again to labour at home.So, that’s what we did. Steve called his parents who came over to wait in the house for Ewan to wake up. I showered and started to feel the first contractions (about 5;20am), nothing major, they only lasted for a few seconds but it was enough for me to start thinking it was ‘Game On!’ He made me breakfast, stripped the bed and we both went about the house being giddy. I was also relieved. I had been induced three years ago with Ewan and I was excited that labour had started naturally this time.
On my first visit to Cork University Hospital with this pregnancy I had signed up for the Domino Scheme (something that wasn’t available in Cork when I had Ewan). The Dominio Scheme is a midwife led scheme for people who want to have a natural birth in the hospital. The main reason I signed up for it was that if all went well with the labour then baby and I could be home within six hours of giving birth. To me this was ideal. There were moments during the labour with Ewan when I was very glad to have a medical team right there and I was relieved to be in a hospital but there was nothing about staying in the hospital overnight that I wanted to replicate. The sooner I could be back in my own bed the better.
Another reason I had picked the Dominio Scheme was that there was a small number of midwives so the idea is by the time you get to labour you have met the midwife who will be delivering your baby. But because it’s a small team of midwives who run the scheme there is only one Domino midwife on duty in the hospital at a time. So when we arrived in the hospital, at about half past six in the morning, the Domino midwife was busy helping someone else in labour and no one really knew what to do with me. I was admitted to the emergency section of the hospital and they hooked me up to a trace machine to listen to the babies heart beat. Contractions were getting stronger at this point and I had to be as still as I could manage and that wasn’t easy. After 20 minutes or so they knew baby was doing well and I was free to move around again. Once I had the freedom to move around again I was cheery again and ready to deal with contractions.
Looking back at the first time around I felt a bit conned by hypnobirthing. In hindsight I had really latched on to the premise that pain is a state of mind and with the right breathing and relaxation I could feel the contractions or surges as waves of pressure rather than pain. However, if you have ever stepped into the induction ward in CUMH with more beeping machines than any one room can handle you realise that the pressure to get out of that room does not lend itself to relaxation. So when I did feel pain during my first labour I didn’t put it down to the fact that I was in the middle of a long induced labour. Instead I felt like I was doing it wrong, I felt like I was failing to relax and so this pain was a result of me not feeling relaxed and ready enough. Somehow I had ignored a key piece of information during my first pregnancy. That is labour hurts but the very longest that pain lasts is three minutes and then your body rests. It’s not a lingering pain,it comes in a wave and passes, there are no contractions hangovers after each one. Once it’s done, it’s done. At this point they were lasting about a minute and a half yes they were painful but they were not cripplingly so and every one of these was bringing my baby a tiny tiny bit closer to us. That was my focus. I knew I didn’t want these contractions to stop. I wanted them to get stronger because the stronger they became the nearer baby was. The contractions needed to keep going and I was willing them on.
Standing circling my hips was the most comfortable position for me and labouring in that position was really managable. By now it was about seven o’clock in the morning, maybe later, Steve and I waited in the emergency waiting room while I held on to the flip lid of a bin during contractions! I wasn’t in any rush to go back into the emergency room so this limbo while they figured out what to do with someone in the Dominio scheme when there was no Dominio midwife suited me perfectly.
We spent our time between contractions talking about how Ewan would be delighted showing his grandparents where we keep the breakfast stuff and then we made awkward conversation with a couple from Mallow who wanted to know if I thought this was the real thing or a trial run. I thought this better be the real deal because I was doing great at this but if this was a trail run and some elaborate water prank played by Steve then I was going to be in trouble when it came to the real thing. At about half seven or so the midwife in the emergency room called me in to do an examination. I think the intention had been to send me home to labour, which I would have been happy with because our conversation with the Mallow couple had come to an awkward close when I started to ignore them. When she did examine me she panicked, “You’re four centimetres, you shouldn’t be here at all, you need to go down to the labour room.” I laughed at her tone. She sounded like I had deliberately tricked her. It had taken me two days to get to four centimetres in my first labour so to be sent to the labour ward after only two hours in labour made me very happy indeed.
I decided to walk down to the labour ward rather than get the lift. This really worked. With each step I could feel the contractions getting stronger by the time we got down to the labour ward the contractions were a lot stronger and coming faster together. It was twenty to eight and I was told that although I wanted to use the pool I would have to wait for the Domino midwife to start her shift at 8. Waiting for her to start her shift, do whatever paper work was needed and maybe examine me before I could get in the pool meant the pool was seeming further and further away and it all felt like needless red tape. I replied without a shred of politeness “Could YOU not fill the pool!”. Not my finest moment but Steve reckons she took it well and ran away with sufficient speed. I never saw her again but she did fill the pool.
In the next few minutes I got two pieces of good news. First the midwife coming on duty was Linda. I had met Linda at the Domino Scheme ante natal classes and she had won me over by bringing baked goods to the classes and generally being a wonderful warm person.She is one of those people who you just know you can trust. She is warm and calm and the midwife I had clicked with the most. The relief to know it was her that was going to be there to help deliver my baby made me feel so glad that I had chosen the scheme and excited that everything was slotting into place. She started her shift early by which time the pool was ready and the water was warm.
Getting into the pool was heavenly. All the good things you hear about labouring in water are true. The warmth of the water is so relaxing. Being in a room without machines, with mosaic tiles and dimmed lighting makes you feel like you’re on a weird spa day rather than in a hospital. But for me I think the reason I enjoyed getting into the pool was the feeling that I had made. I got to the end of the pregnancy without pre-eclampsia, I had got to the end of the pregnancy full stop. I was in labour, this baby was coming. The early miscarriage before this pregnancy made me doubt this pregnancy for a long time. But my body had done it. It had carried a health baby to full term whose heart beat was measuring consistently strong and regular. This was a body I could trust. I was with the man I trust implicitly and when I opened my eyes after each contraction they met the eyes of the midwife who I had wanted to be here ,who I trusted. I felt safe and ready.
From here time does that odd paradox where the hours seem to wheeeesh by but at the same time I was aware that things are happening slowly. From getting into the pool at about ten past eight in the morning nothing felt rushed, no one pointed to the clock things just went the way they went. The trainee midwife was excellent at reading the babies heart beat while I was in the pool I was free to move as little or as much as I wanted. The policy of midwives on the Dominio scheme is to let you lead. If you and baby are doing well then they just go with it. So when I wanted to get out of the pool she helped me out, when I wanted back in she helped me in. When I wanted to suck on the gas and air tube as though my life depended on it she helped me out. This might seem like a small thing but having the freedom to move around, squat, stand, move in the water, felt really good. Having had my first labour as a two day event with a lot of time being glued to the bed when I needed to be monitoured it made me feel in control and at ease to move around as and when I wanted . It also helped me relaxing knowing I didn’t need to be monitored to the same degree. They checked the baby’s heartbeat with a mobile device so I didn’t have to be hooked up to anything.
During the labour not much went on in my head. Other than thinking how much I liked the water all I kept repeating in my head to breathe out longer than breathing in. Most breathing techniques can be summed up with that and it worked for me. I had practiced lots of breathing rhythms with both yoga and hynpobirthing but during labour I found counting too annoying and also I got frustrated if my breathe didn’t make the designated number. I also stuck with one image of blowing a bubble very slowly and very carefully. In the ante- natal class Linda (the same Linda who was smiling at me from the edge of the pool) had given us all bubbles and tasked us to blow the biggest bubble we could. The slow long breath that you need to blow a decent bubble was perfect for labour and who doesn’t like bubbles!
And so that’s how labour went, me breathing long breathes imagining bubbles, warm water in the pool, labouring on the toilet, labouring on a mat on the floor on my hands and kness, squatting,leaning against an excercise ball, some empty wretching,a relaxation CD, sucking on the gas and air tube with determination, banging the gas and air tube off the side of the pool to get the water out, the sound of running warm water against my back and a lot of hip circling and moving, and when I needed it Steve’s hand in mine. This was going better than I had hoped but at some point I started to notice that time was ticking on and I wanted to know how close I was. Linda asked if I’d like to be examined and I jumped at the chance. This was at about 2:45 pm and I was fully dialated. She said I could feel the top of the head on the next contraction. When people told me that midwives offered that I always thought why would you want to do that but this was my ninth hour of labour and feeling the top of the baby’s head was literally like feeling the light at the end of the tunnel. As I felt the head I started to think that this was it. The baby was coming. I thought once I could feel the head that one or two more pushes and baby would be in our arms but that wasn’t the case. I was out of the pool and squatting on a mat. Waiting for contractions to come felt like years and they were so brief I felt let down. I knew I needed long contractions to get this baby out but baby seemed perfectly happy to stay where he or she was.
Then came a series of contractions running into each other like backed up traffic. One after the other. Still squatting I tried to stay with each one. I was thinking everything at this point. I was listening to Steve’s voice and thinking he sounded excited and nervous. I was thinking of Ewan and how he changed our lives. I was thinking of my friends not so pleasant description of her birth. I thought of a blog about a woman who spelled the names of her children in her head during each contraction. But when it came to the end of her labour she couldn’t remember how to spell their names or barely think what their names were. Then I felt a burning sensation and I thought of the song Ring of Fire. Then I remembered it was by Johnny Cash. I sang it in my head. “It burns burns burns the ring of fire”. At that strange moment where the pain was intense I had that clarity. It sounds mad but remembering the words, the singer, the title made me feel in control. I am here. The pain hasn’t won over and made me lose my words. I’m still here. I’m so close to having my baby here and I can feel it all.
I was holding onto a pole which was by the steps into the pool. With my feet pushing down into the mat on the floor I raised myself slightly and squatted down again. This baby was coming. Voices raised, I squeezed the metal pole and handed myself over to the surges. Linda said in the next contraction your baby will be here. She said she would help me lift the baby to me. I don’t know how she said it or what noises I made in return to let her know I was ready but with the next surge my baby slid from me and I raised her body to my chest.I remember the movement of it. I couldn’t say how Linda had helped me or who was sitting, standing, squatting where but the sensation of losing the baby from my body and with one swoop feeling her delicate weight against my chest was breathtaking. She was here. It was without question the fullest I am ever likely to feel in my life. Our baby was here.
She was born at 3:33pm on the 30th of May and weighed 9 pounds 1 ounce. But at the time we didn’t know any of that. We didn’t check what gender she was, no one weighed her, we didn’t even marvel at the red hues in her hair. Instead we reacted to the the changing tones of voices. Linda and the student midwife Sarah were rubbing her briskly. Freya was quiet and blue. She didn’t cry. They shook her hands, spoke loudly to her and rubbed her back vigorously. At first I didn’t pay much heed but as they continued doing it I looked at Steve. He too started rubbing her anxiously. She was now a purple colour and still did not make a noise. I thought she was just calm. I wanted everyone to stop. But the longer the jostling continued the more my mind started to wander to where I wasn’t allowing it to go. Within moments she gave me what has since become her trademark face of pained irritation. Through rose tinted glasses I saw her as annoyed by the fuss but perfectly calm and well. Steve later said the change of tones was because she seemed listless and her colour was not good. But within moments she made the noises they had wanted to hear. She coloured as she was meant to and she lay on us.
Everything seemed to stop after the birth. There was no medical team around. Freya wasn’t taken from us to be weighed or dressed. Linda left us to it and Steve and I held her for two hours on the floor of the pool room. It was bliss. Our baby girl was here.
To hold her undisturbed for that long without having to worry about getting her dressed, moving ourselves or do anything other than gaze at her was a joy. Life has moved up a gear since she was born and time to stare at her uninterrupted is brief. Steve and I seem to be constantly busy but for those first few hours we had nothing to do but hold her and gaze at her.
In time we made our way for me to get stitches then up to the ward to wait for discharge. The nurses on the ward were fantastic at lining up all the right people so that Freya and I could get every check that was needed and we could go home as I had wanted.
We said goodbye to Linda and at 10:00pm we left for home. As I walked to the car it felt surreal only hours before Freya had come into the world now we were bringing her out into the night. It was a balmy night and I felt glad that her first introduction to the world was one of heat and comfort. We drove like elderly snails home and made ourselves some breakfast. it’s hard to know what to eat at half ten at night when you’ve just had a baby. Ewan was with his grandparents and we stayed up as long as our tired bodies let us stare at her.
Every morning of her first week a midwife from the Dominio Scheme called to see us. When I signed up for the scheme my main concern was getting home quickly after the birth. What I hadn’t planned for or thought about was how nurtured I would feel after the birth. Being visited every morning meant that any little niggles or questions that I had about Freya or myself were dealt with. She was so well cared for and checked by this community of women that I partly wanted to keep them around. But when Friday came I was ready to say my goodbyes to the morning visits and settle into life as a family of four. A family of four. I still get a kick from saying that!