This is a lovely duo of stories - The first from mother Catherine, and the second from father Gilbert.
Other than a peaceful existence, what I always had in mind to fulfill me, completely, was a child. To love and care for someone so special, it is a precious gift. Freya Rose-Amber Holmes brought such joy to us when she entered this world, a moment in time that I will always cherish.
It all started with cramping a week to two weeks before my due date. I was jolted from my relaxed state and forced to think quickly about how prepared I was. They were moderate to strong pains that had me excited. I got the last things packed in my hospital bag and got my midwives’ pager numbers handy. Unfortunately, the cramping would go as quickly as it came and I was left thinking, ‘if this is it then there is nothing too it!’ However, I soon learnt they were just pre-labor pains. What you realize is you do not really know what to expect from an actual contraction other than what you hear and read about, unless of course it isn’t your first child. Nothing really quite prepares you for that ‘strong period pain’ that they tell you it is like. This I was soon to learn.
Days went on; my due date came and went. Another day of what seemed like stronger period pain excited me once again, and then it dissipated. It was longer this time though. This went on over many days. It built me up and then let me down. It was when I was 11 days overdue that I had to make a decision. After 14 days overdue I would not be able to be in the Birth Centre due to there being more risks. I had been seeing the midwives regularly. Having a sweep was discussed as a way to start labor. It is basically just that, a ‘sweep’ of the midwives fingers up inside the cervix. I decided to firstly try acupuncture and have the sweep as a second option as it can be quite uncomfortable. I had been having regular sessions of acupuncture with my friend Kate Gray. By this stage she was more than happy to do an acupuncture induction.
It was the 27th of March, Sunday afternoon. I had the acupuncture, went food shopping to stock up and then came home to feel my waters break, or at least that is what we thought. There was a small gush that dripped onto our kitchen floor. We called the midwife who said to come in for an examination. The examination actually showed that it was not my waters breaking and which gave me the option to have a sweep. I decided to do it. It was time. I had been ready for a while and now more than ready. Freya would be on her way down the birth canal soon I believed. And sure enough, an hour after having the sweep and being back at home I had my first contraction, strong and painful. It had started. This was no longer pre-labor pain. It was really it.
My friend Suzanne was to support my husband and I through the birth and as fate has it, Suzanne arrived at about 7 pm. I had just started the contractions. We all chatted for a while until it really started to be strong. I stayed calm within my mind. I had been practicing calm birth techniques taught to Gil (my husband) and I by Suzanne, for months previous. Visualization of serene peaceful places helped me in this early stage. Over the next five hours the pain would get intense, each one increasing in time and more frequent. I was able to use the vocalization techniques from the active birth classes which gave me a sense of groundedness through this. I felt very primal and timeless. I would groan deeply. This was to continue throughout the labor and I can say it was the one thing that really got me through, along side different active birth positions that helped me keep moving. I remember Suzanne putting me in the cat position where I moved my pelvis and spine rhythmically and which brought me into the experience of my body, and out of my emotions that could tend to get a little overwhelming. Furthermore, I had myself breathing deeply and rhythmically throughout the contractions. The techniques from the calm birth classes assisted this. I realized that it just all came naturally after months of practice.
With real intensity building and the contractions being 40 seconds in duration and two to three minutes apart I felt that I needed to go to The Birth Centre. I got on the phone to the midwife, I pretty much said we were coming in, even though she thought I sounded quite calm. The thing was, I was calm. I had practiced for this for some time and it was working. I remember Suzanne then saying that getting down the stairs to the car might take a few contractions and well it did. They were very strong surges at this stage, leaving me breathless and tired. The car ride was a challenge but I made it through a number of really strong surges again. It was about 12 pm now. It was exciting to see the Royal Brisbane Hospital in sight because I was going to have a baby. I was staying focused on my calm state by remembering to breath and the vocalization saved me every time. As mentioned before it really got me through. It seemed to keep me in my body, earthed, allowing the pain to flow through me like a wave.
As we entered the Birth Centre I started to sense that the birth was close; I had an urge to push. It wasn’t long after we entered the amazing blue room that it all started. Time passed so quickly. What I remember is my midwife saying how wonderful I was, that I am an amazing woman, it was exactly what I needed to hear. I was on a birth seat at this point. I knew I had some further work to do and it was time to surrender. I remember saying to Julie that I was not going to tear. It was what I was most fearful of. Before too long Freya was crowning. I was shown this with a mirror. I had thought I wouldn’t like this however it was really great to see it actually happening. What an amazing experience, absolutely incredible. Julie then said if I did not want to tear then the bath would be the best way to go. I liked this idea. I was keen.
Time passed and we were in the water. I would move my body around and again it felt very primal. I was in my own world making groaning sounds and pushing. In reflection it was the pushing that was the best. It was the end of a long journey and a sense of achievement came with it. With a loving husband, friend and midwife all supporting me, beautiful music creating waves of peace around me and my own instincts to birth with me, I was safe and happy and Freya was born 2.12 am on the 28th March 2011. It was the most incredible journey of my life.
How long is an umbilical cord? I look up the official answer to this question before I finish this story, but I think that my new daughter Freya’s must have not been far short of a full metre.
My wife Catherine had been in labour for about four hours before we decided to move to the hospital. Contractions had been coming thick and fast throughout that time. Never more than five minutes apart and for most of the time more like three. Suzanne was with us, with her and I trying to play cards for the first couple of hours. With each contraction, one of us would get up and press points in Catherine’s bum and shoulders.
The contractions became more intense, and with them coming so regularly, the cards had to cease so that we could concentrate on supporting Catherine. She spent some time in the shower, with Suzanne and I there along side her, then onto the lounge room floor. While frequent, Catherine’s contractions were only lasting about 40 seconds instead of the full minute that the midwives were looking for. Catherine was also still quite lucid so the midwife on the phone thought that we should stay home a while longer.
Eventually however, Catherine made the decision to leave and we made the slow and noisy journey downstairs to the car, and then onto the Royal Brisbane and the Birth Centre. Catherine had become quite vocal by then. I thought that sound was quite different myself, but Catherine thinks that she sounded like she was having a powerful orgasm. She has subsequently checked with several of our neighbours whether they thought we were having wild-animal sex in our garden on the night in question.
We got into the Birth Centre just past midnight, and as soon as we got into the room, Catherine felt the urge to push. The top of Freya’s hairy head started showing with either the first or the second push. Having only recently gone home from attending another birth, the midwife from our team was unable to be present, so we were left with a stranger; but she couldn’t have been more lovely. With her doubts that the baby was coming soon quickly dispelled, Julie set about preparing the bath as well as supporting Catherine in other ways and keeping an eye on her progress.
While the bath filled up, Catherine sat on the birthing stool. It seemed to me that given a few more minutes, Freya could have been born right there, but Julie wanted to slow the process down warning us that tearing often results from birthing in that position. Catherine climbed into the bath and I followed her in my boardies. The decision to have a water-birth was not pre-planned. We were open to the idea but when the time came it just felt so natural and comfortable that we went with it.
Suzanne was still with us, brightening up the room as she moved around taking photos and helping to massage Catherine through her contractions. It’s been more than great having her on board throughout the process. What a good and admirable person!
Freya was finally born at 2.12am. Catherine’s whole body was humming with the force of her efforts and from the sounds that she was making. “Her head’s out!” I was informed by Julie or Suzanne and I felt jealous that I couldn’t see. Catherine was leaning the front of her body onto me, with Julie ready and watching from behind.
The next thing I knew, Freya came sliding along the bottom of the bath, only stopping near my foot when the umbilical cord reached its maximum extension. “Oh my God!” I said, various thoughts and emotions flashing into my awareness. There she was, my long-awaited and already well loved baby girl, sliding along and then lying there in half a metre of water. “Where’s she gone?” piped up Julie, trying to sound calm, but by that time I had already laid my hand on her and was lifting her from the water.
I held her up and she looked at me, water running off her face and eyes as she curiously tasted her first breath. The cooler air touched her skin and she let out her first little cry. Soon her mummy had hold of her, snuggling her close to the breast, skin to skin.
So overall the birth was relatively magical for all concerned; seven hours total, trauma free. The placenta slid out 10 minutes after Freya, barely registering on Catherine’s new-mother consciousness. As it turned out, there was a little tearing, but nothing serious.
All was going swimmingly until that point, but then Freya wouldn’t take the breast. With her mother trying to encourage her on, Freya exhibited her father’s stubbornness and continued to refuse. Freya’s first phobia; the breast! Two months later and while Freya is lovely and healthy, the struggle with breast feeding continues. It is even painful for me. But that is another story….
For your info, I am reliably informed that the average umbilical cord is 55cm long, but they vary from nothing to 3m.