On Sunday 22nd June 2014, at 22.31, our lovely, little Ethan was birthed out into the world. He weighed 3.16kg, and was 46cm long. Here is a little account of how it happened…
After a wonderful, active, healthy pregnancy, full of hypnobirthing classes, a yoga for pregnancy teacher training course, ‘fit-to-pop’ exercise classes in Clissold Park, hot yoga classes with Jacqui at ‘Fierce Grace’, meeting with groups for birthing support and preparing with my Homerton Homebirth team midwives, and, of course, lots of reading (Ina May Gaskin, Amali Lokugamage, etc), Ethan started his journey ‘out’ on the Friday evening, more or less. That is, my ‘hind waters’ it seemed had broken and excitement set in (until I remembered the rule to get as much rest as possible in early pre labour). I’d listened to and read hundreds of birth stories and researched extensively to dispel unknowns and concerns that could come up, wanting to be able to make informed decisions at every stage; that was what was right for me.
In-keeping with the philosophy of being relaxed, and confident in my connection to my own body and to baby Ethan in all the clever communication he’d provided over the 9 months, I kept my plans for Saturday and God-mum-to-be Gaby and I went for lunch at my favourite pizza restaurant. It was the hottest weekend in June, solstice and busy, but I was enjoying the spacey mindset I felt slowly embracing me, thanks to the oxytocin, and I was allowing the process to do its thing. The physical feeling was that of mild, low contractions, irregular and much more like ‘period pains’ than anything else, though not particularly painful. We enjoyed the bustle of a Polish lady and her kids eating by us at lunch outdoors, and a flower-selling gentleman giving away free potted plants off Hoxton Market, and Gaby stopped off to buy some baby mittens for Ethan as we walked home.
Given the beautiful weather and the slightly timeless feeling that was coming over me, Gaby, my Mom and I all embarked on many walks that afternoon, around the local park and back several times. That timelessness was, incidentally, a great preparation for life with a newborn, I later discovered! I also happened to see some great old friends Llucia and Miriam, whilst walking, which somehow stamps for me how ‘outdoorsy’, active and social my pregnancy was; also, since Ethan’s birth, life has been open, healthy and full of friendship: which is wonderful. By Saturday night, given my slightly stronger aches, Gaby decided to stay over, just in case, and had her brilliant sister, Lucy, bring her some overnight essentials. Thus the birthing process engaged a natural network of people to support it.
It was a night of barbeques and parties in the park so we took yet another walk in the dusk and even went on the swings (which felt odd and uncomfortable for me – a sign that the baby’s head was working with my widening pelvis to wade a way out!) and on the roundabout, which probably looked hysterical but felt wonderful! Everything felt peaceful, secure and exciting at once.
With Gaby and Mom holding the space, I was confident. After 11pm, when it was finally dark and once tucked up in bed, I felt a full surge, such as those I’d imagined when studying the physiology of birthing. Smiling, I relaxed. The household slept a few hours and at about 4am I felt what I suppose can be more likened to the word ‘contraction’, and I went to tell Mom we should let the midwives know, as per protocol. After a funny, sleepy conversation with the labour ward (which included them misunderstanding and hanging up, and us having to call back – giggling, of course, since we were so relaxed in that magical pre-dawn sleepiness) and a comforting one with the midwife on-call (of the five in the team, whom I’d met and built some relationship with) The midwife agreed she’d come by –she was unperturbed, given my lack of panic – in a few hours. Gaby and Mom got the birthing pool ready in the summer dawn light.
The midwife was not expecting to find me already 3 or 4 cms dilated when she arrived later that morning, and decided to get everything ready to return sooner than she’d have thought after our earlier conversation – combined with the fact that nothing is in ‘logical’ terms predictable when it comes to the process of birthing, it also happened to be the day of the Hackney Marathon that day and the midwife was worried about getting to us!
In a gradually more intense state of pre labour, with Gaby’s loyal support, more walks happened – it was just too sunny and warm to stay in, and my need-to-move self felt happiest and safest moving. When we finally got to a point, at around 1.30pm, on our way down to Colombia Flower Market, after having passed the stragglers of the Hackney Marathon, when I had to briefly lean slightly on The Little Georgia’s terrace table to breathe through a surge, we all three knew it was time to be home. By 3pm my midwife was there, (we had called her once surges/contractions were less than 10 minutes apart), I’d been in the pool for a ‘test’ float (very relaxing, alleviating and comfortable!) and had discovered one or two places where I felt ‘contraction’ breathing/management easiest, including and most significantly, kneeling at the foot of my bed.
I used an app on my iPhone (what a contrast, the returning-to-roots attitude to birthing and the use of nifty technology!) to calculate times, and was, as one option on my birth plan pointed out, happy to hear Ethan’s little heartbeat being monitored every 15 minutes as suggested per protocol – I wasn’t sure I’d want this, but it felt right at the time (right up to the final stage, when monitoring became at times intrusive because of the little time to recuperate between surges). The midwife eventually suggested I could get back into the pool which I gladly did, and there we – little Ethan and I – worked away for an ephemeral few hours, listening to the Relaxation hypnobirthing guidance mp3 on repeat, losing track of time, feeling his head descending, changing positions from time to time.
From my perspective, things that went on around me were blurred and somehow vague; I knew who was there, but I know there were various rather hilarious instances to do with pool-filling, picture-taking,
Once the second midwife arrived and dusk was coming in – the sign to me that time had indeed passed – we were in full final stage; Ethan was coming down the birth canal. My need for my Mom to stay by and help, using her ample experience assisting at births, kicked in, and I was feeling the exhaustion of less-than-minute intervals between surges which, honestly, did not hurt at all. What I did feel was an almighty pressure pushing downwards, which for the life of me I couldn’t match in ‘pushing’. This became slightly worrying at one point, simply because I couldn’t feel certain I could push enough, and between surges there was no time to hydrate, drink juice (to replace used energy) and/or rest – rather, it seemed, I had to chose one of these things to attend to at a time. Thus, also, why the monitoring was tough to squeeze in, in addition to the list of needs. However, the times I did hear that mighty, strong heartbeat I felt full of power and love, reminded I could do it, of course. It was a psychological process for me, too, that final stage, in the most potent of experiences I’ve ever had, to know that I would not turn back but had to keep going – that, I believe, is the part we can only prepare for, set our minds for, and let our bodies do. It was a process that required for me to be so centred that I forget my deepest physiological fears and face the moment of ‘I can’t do it!’ for the ego that it is. I felt that Ethan knew he could do it, and in the canal, in that final stage, my determination and exhaustion at its peak, his little head crowning and vanishingover and over, ‘the fore waters’ broke and I felt a big ‘pop’, which also enthused me to put in even more of myself to the task.
My Mom was incredible, helping me physically lean and lift at key moments, holding the space in every sense. The midwives were great in allowing me to do what I had planned, what I wanted, what I needed, in order to give birth well and successfully. They suggested things they saw useful and I cared for what they said precisely because I knew they weren’t going to intervene if I didn’t want that. This is the kind of home-birth team that I wish more people had access to – one that focuses on the importance of preparation, helping annihilate fears that can so often result in a series of interventions spiralling away from the original process and plan for birth. These midwives told me what protocols there were, and reminded me that it was my choice, and I, in turn, followed not what I thought, but what my trusty instinct told me we (Ethan and I) needed – with a backdrop of information and knowledge prepared in the months beforehand.
The final moments were intense, and I was roaring like a wild animal – sounds I didn’t know I had in me – not from pain, as I repeatedly told a dubious Gaby, but somehow, in synchronicity with the pressure and downward bearing of the baby and uterine movement…it doesn’t make much sense but, once harnessed and internalised (again, something those more experienced around me helped me do), the sound helped power the final birthing stages, and Ethan’s little head (‘lots of dark hair!’ the midwife told me) out. I was crouching in the pool, and I was able with the next surge (which already felt easy) to help him ease himself out completely, and to receive him from underwater, bringing him onto my chest right away for that unmatchably glorious, oxytocin-induced first bond to happen. He was little and wrinkly, and indeed had an expanse of hair on his head! His eyes open, he was calm, aware and making tiny noises that I suppose are engraved into the hearts of all new parents!
God-mum Gaby cut the umbilical cord after a while, as we drained the pool gradually, and I kept Ethan warm with its water. Everything felt safe, secure and wonderful. While the midwives weighed him and measured him I was helped out of the pool, still soaring on the hormonal ‘love’ feeling, one I can best describe as a dizzy clarity. It took very little time for the third stage of the birthing to happen – in fact, as soon as Mom and Gaby had dressed Ethan and he was given back to me, he latched, and that triggered the placenta to release – I almost didn’t notice!
Once I’d been checked for tearing (tiny scrape from Ethan’s nail!), and he’d been placed on me for sleeping, we called his father to give him the good news.
For the things that I decided against testing in hospital, the midwives stayed for a couple of hours. Everything was cleared and Ethan’s temperature reached the desired level, and we slept for a couple of hours, with him on my chest, until Monday’s early hours, when motherhood began with our first post-birth feed.
Truly, it was the best experience of my life! I think two things I said as soon as he was born were:
“What have I been doing with my life before this?” and, “I want to do it again!