Birth was always a sacred act to me, even before I experienced it. Practicing Earth based spirituality meant that birth and fertility were transformative acts of women that require preparation and trust in both the body and the spiritual journey birth takes us on. I went into my pregnancy and labour trusting my body to know what to do to undertake natural birth and knowing it was a sacred act of transformation, to which I would emerge forever changed.
I woke at 3am to contractions on November 24th 2 min apart. I was four days ‘overdue’. Starting so close together, I didn't know if I had missed earlier signs of labour, it was moving fast, or this was just the way it was going to be? I was so excited that the endless days of waiting were coming to an end. I tried to sleep, but they were too close together. So I just lay on my left side and rested and occasionally walked or stood against the cot and rocked.
At 5.30am Mumma woke up and I walked out to the balcony…I said to her ’we are going to have a baby today!’ She hugged me and said she was happy because today I would become a mother and told me it would be the most wonderful thing I would ever do in my life. I got the Tens machine and she attached it to my back to build my oxytocin levels. I heard Shamus stirring soon after in his room and went to his door. I said ‘our baby is coming today!’ He asked how I knew and if I was really sure. I told him I had been in 2 min labour contractions since 3am, and he smiled, we were all so excited. Shamus went downstairs and did final preparations on my labour area, placed more curtains up to make more privacy and a cocoon environment and then went to get some extra labour foods. Mumma started to become nervous, pacing by me, looking then looking away, knowing I had asked to be unobserved, since being unobserved is crucial to maintain the intimacy of birth and keep the labour progressing. Mumma made me French toast and then sat down and began to read.
I started by focusing on my Celtic spirituality, sitting in my stone circle, singing through the contractions to the earthy music I had prepared for labour, swaying my hips and burning sage. Then I would walk through my curtain tunnel up the stairs to the house and sway and rock against the cot, or sit on the ball and roll with the contractions. As the day progressed I found myself rocking on the ball and falling asleep for 1 minute, waking up to a contraction, rolling with it for 1 min, then sleeping again for 1 minute. This was a very restful position and gave me time to recoup strength while remaining upright and still moving with the labour. It felt very safe to labour at home, it was dark and secure, Shamus was with me and I could sing the elements, chant, moan, breath deep or sleep.
Walking upstairs to downstairs was more challenging than I had thought. I hadn’t anticipated my contractions being so very close together for the whole labour. I had to make several resting spots with pillows and blankets on backs of chairs, kitchen benches, top of the stairs, bottom of the stairs, house posts and eventually getting me to my birthing altar in my circle. I found singing to the elements comforting and moving my hips in a circle to the direction of the element I was singing. I was surprised by the feeling of contractions. I thought it would be like a beat, or pulsing of the womb as it contracts and expands. But it was more like an intense energy source hitting me and being switched on to an electric force and then switched off after a minute. Like an electric current running through my body, very intense at first, then the current easing, then eventually stopping. I felt very calm moving through the rhythm of the labour, smiling and laughing between contractions, and being taken to another world during them. Labour is truly beautiful.
As the labour progressed I found it hard to keep my eyes open, my breathing got deeper and sounds louder. Shamus stayed close to me, breathing with me during contractions and lightly stroking me and giving me water and light food in the short time in between. Mumma brushed my hair and stroked me. The tens machine worked wonderfully for me. I had planned on using a wide range of methods for pain management. However, the tens pulse and then buzz during contractions became such a wonderful ritual and helped so much that I wasn't interested in anything else. I labored over the whole day at 1 minute apart, and into the evening, moving, swaying, singing and making deep sounds. My original plans of going walking, dancing and doing ceremony had to change, as the contractions were too close together. My music just played all day, both upstairs and downstairs and I felt cocooned in my home swaying to the contractions. At 7pm I started to feel a heightened pressure and intensity to the energy of the contractions. I didn't know if this was just a different phase of active labour, or if it was getting close. But I started pacing around the hospital bag and asking Shamus to check everything was there. I told Shamus to call my midwife and tell her we would be on our way soon.
It was now dark on a warm evening of the 24th. I put in my ear phones in the ipod so all I could hear was my birthing music and waited until shamus told me the car was ready. Mumma and Shamus moved around the house packing and checking lists. Then he helped me down the stairs and into the car. I kneeled on the back seat, put pillows on the car seat and leaned over it, keeping myself upright. Over all the night and day I had not laid down once and my swollen feet felt sore, but the labour felt good and the baby was in the right position for birth.
The drive to the hospital was quick; I closed my eyes and disappeared into the music, only to be awoken by Shamus talking to the boom gate operator about letting us through to the temporary parking outside the birth suites. We pulled up and I finished a large contraction in the car and then got out and we began the walk down the bridge to the birth suites. I closed my eyes and went into the music and stood behind Shamus holding onto the back of his shirt. In reality I knew all the people in the entry could see me and would definitely be hearing me, but behind Shamus I was invisible, and under the music I couldn't hear a sound. Occasionally when we stopped I would open my eyes briefly and see Shamus talking with staff, signing forms, and then just lean back into him walking behind him.
We started walking away from the birth suites and I was confused and took out one of my ear phones. Shamus explained we had to go somewhere else first to be assessed before the birth suite. We walked around the corner and in big letters was ‘labour observation unit’. In a process where being unobserved is crucial to progress the labour I found the title of the assessment unit quite amusing and strange. We waited outside the glass doors and after what felt like a lifetime, someone let us in. Inside I was given a chair and sat in the waiting room. Shamus left briefly to move the car and mumma sat stroking me. A couple sat across from us talking nervously, I guess in early labour. Contractions kept coming hard and strong. I found myself searching for privacy and looking around for somewhere to go to. Shortly after someone directed me to a private room in the ‘observation unit’ to wait for my midwife to arrive.
It was a tiny room with a bed and side table. I ignored the bed and set myself up swaying on the side table through my contractions and listening to my music on my ipod. Shamus came back in and was helped me breathe through the contractions and soon someone tapped me on the shoulder to let me know my student midwife had arrived. I was told my midwife was also on her way. I stayed here for another 20 minutes or so and then my midwife arrived and asked to check dilation. I laid down and tilted to my left. She said my waters had not broken yet and I was around 6cm dilated. She asked me if I wanted to settled in or go back home. I thought I would be further along, but I did not want to do the drive in and do the observation unit again and decided that settling into the birth suite and making it my own would be best.
We walked around to the birth suite. It was such a clinical room, I was glad I had taken the time to visit these rooms before the birth, so I wasn't shocked by the change in space. Shamus and Mumma put my blankets and pillows out and got out my Goddess pictures (taking little pink birthing suit stickers taken from the midwives station) and put them on the wall with strong affirmations about birth. Mumma sprayed some essential oil spray around and we put on my music.
I found a space leaning over the bed and swaying my hips and found a small potable step next to the cupboards and moved it over to the bed so I could have one leg raised when I wanted. The contractions started intensifying, then swaying, even breathing became difficult. Shamus and I did the breathing together and I was so thankful he had done the birth practical and the active birth classes. During the early phases it was wonderful having his support, but during this phase I needed his support. As the contractions came closer together I lost the ability to speak and I forgot to do the deep breaths and sounds that helped so much with pain. The whole room disappeared and I just followed Shamus and did what he was doing. Without that I would have been lost. Shamus and I just leaned over the bed and breathed and moaned deeply through each one. The midwifes kept to themselves and our rhythm just flowed with my body.
As the pain level increased I just focused in more on Shamus. I had always thought a contraction is only a minute, I can do a minute. But my contractions flowed differently. The most intense pain that made me not breathe or move, only went for the first fifteen seconds. In that 15 seconds I didn’t feel I could do it, then it would pass. After the 15 seconds it was a painful but manageable contraction. So we started focusing on the 1st 15 seconds. Shamus would tell me how to breath, move me and count me down, letting me know when I was almost over the first peak. Then I would go back into my birth rhythm. Flowing with the energy pulsing through my body. I had decided I may use gas if I lost focus due to pain, as it was the only thing that did not affect the baby or the progress of the labour. However having the breathing techniques going with Shamus kept my focus well and I did not need to use anything during the labour. My waters then broke and flowed and flowed down my legs and towels kept being placed all around my feet. It was a moment of surrender as my body let go.
The midwife then came up to me with a concerned look on her face. She said my waters had meconiium and were not clear. While this can be a sign of many things, it can be an indicator of fetal distress. My heart sank and I buried myself into another deep contraction. She explained that she would now have to contact a pediatrician and that a doctor may be present in the room now during the birth, but I didn't need to be concerned, it would only be her involved in the birthing and the birth plan of leaving the cord intact, and direct skin to skin contact would not change unless the baby’s life was in danger.
We were very aware of the cascade of interventions and disruption to the natural labour process that can occur once a problem is detected and needed to be very careful about introducing any intervention unless absolutely necessary. The midwife suggested hooking me up to monitoring. Having had control of my own labour for this long and being able to move as I pleased the idea appalled me, but I wanted more information about how the baby was doing to confirm what I already felt. They then checked the heart beat of our baby with an external Doppler and she was perfectly fine. The pediatrician arrived and explained about this being a requirement of hospital policy and why them now monitoring was important. I said what can you get from that heart rate, which you can’t get from the Doppler? What if we do nothing? Shamus asked about other interventions that may follow and mentioned the research supporting this. Her foot began to tap, her lips tightened and I she shot several annoyed looks towards the midwifes in the room. Between contractions I asked what if we carry on as we are? What if you just monitor more with the Doppler? The pressure in the room was intense, I didn't know what to do and they were obviously annoyed at our questions. Shamus turned away from the pediatrician and faced the midwife. He said to the midwife can you just step away from the medical model for a moment what would you suggest? The midwife said we always support women in natural birth, but recognize there is a place for medical interventions when necessary, its really up to you in how you want to move forward. The pediatrician started talking again about the policy ….In a contraction I heard shamus say this was unfair to be placing this pressure on me at this stage and asked them to give us a minute and leave the room. I was so thankful for that moment.
I was torn between my values, pride, trust in natural birth, my own intuition and what they were telling me I had to do for safety. I said to Shamus if you think there could be a problem, I can do the monitoring for 20 minutes then have it taken off, I’m just worried about any cascade effect if I do that, but in myself I know she is just fine, I know it. They came back in before we had made a decision together and asked me again about more active management of my labour. She asked for my decision and I went into a contraction. I heard Shamus say we are fine without it, and she confirmed for the record that we were formally refusing hospital policy and we both said yes. With that I felt a huge sense of relief as the pediatrician left the room and my labour was my own again.
We didn't see the midwifes very much after that, occasionally coming in to check the heart rate and write in the charts and then leaving again. The pediatrician didn't come back in again during the labour. Shamus and I had a good rhythm happening between us and everyone just stepped back and let us work through the contractions together. The world seemed to disappear and all I could see or hear was shamus. I couldn't remember my breaths anymore, or what moves I needed to do, I just totally gave up and followed his lead. As the contractions came on top of each other my control over what was happening was lost, I said to him I don't know if I can do this anymore. He looked me in the eyes and told me several times I was doing great and I wasactually doing it and doing it really well. I trusted him and this gave me the strength I needed in myself.
I realized I had been laboring leaning over the bed for hours and said I need to change position, I don't know to what or where, I just do. Shamus then moved the bed so it was close to the floor and found a birthing bar and fitted it to the bed frame. I climbed onto the bed kneeling upright and swaying on the bar. Lifting one leg up at a time to create asymmetrical lines like I had learnt in yogababy. Suddenly I felt a shift and my body begun pushing during contractions, whether I liked it or not, and an intense pressure built in my pelvis. The student midwife walked in to see how I was going and I said I feel like pushing, or my body is pushing…so she went to get the midwife.
The midwife explained that the urge to push had only just started and it may be a while. But if I wanted to have a check to see if she is close to crowning she could do that, and then they would have a coffee and leave us to work through the next phase in privacy. I told her I wanted to go to the toilet first, as emptying the bladder is good before birth, she agreed and went to the nurses station. I walked over the toilet area and pulled the curtain. I started getting undressed then leaned into the wall and had a strong contraction. Suddenly I felt her moving through my pelvis, I quickly dropped to my knees and felt between my legs, her whole head was in my hands. I yelled ‘she is here, she’s here!’ and Shamus pulled the curtain and got down next to me while I began pulling her through my body. A bell went and midwifes ran into the room, followed by a crowd of other people all reacting to the emergency bell. I heard shamus call out ‘who are all you people?’ while trying to maintain my space for me. The midwife came in behind me and pulled Ryley out and I swept her through onto my chest and I sat down on the shower floor.
Before I realized what was happening one of the strangers that had entered the room had clamped and cut her cord and tried to pull her away from my chest. Confused I looked around trying to work out what was happening. I had been assured several times that the cord would be left untouched and she would be left on my chest unless there is a medical emergency. Was there something I was missing? The woman again tried to pull her from me saying in a patronizing voice ‘ come on let her go you will get her back in a minute sweetie’. I looked down at my beautiful baby, healthy, breathing and beginning to cry and thought she is fine, you are not taking her, and pulled Ryley onto my chest and out of reach of this woman, and turned away, curling my knees up to protect her. I wanted only calm and gentle touch at the point of birth, so I held her, kissed her, stoked her head and surrounded her in warm blankets and curled my body around her keeping her out of reach of others. Shamus sat next to us stroking her head and all the extra people left the room. I don’t know why these people took over. Instead of the gentle moment after birth still attached to me through her pulsating cord, I spent these first few moments fighting for Ryley and protecting her. I missed that moment, those few seconds in time where women talk about experiencing birth ecstasy and bliss. Later I heard the midwife saying to Shamus that she had come so fast it had been a shock and she hit the red medical emergency bell when the green call bell would have probably been enough. But despite that I know I kept her safe and with me when the unexpected happened, and when I reflect back on my birth experience this was only a few moments in hours of bliss and strength and a lesson that I can’t control everything. At 12.39am 25th of November 2009 Ryley Niia Brown was born into my arms.
The floor was covered in so much blood, the midwife had to put towels down for me to walk so that I didn’t slip. I had requested to deliver the placenta naturally without an injection. So I walked over to the bed and we waited for the placenta to detach and move through in its own time. We were just watching Ryley and occasionally I would push. This was very gentle and easy to move through my body. The midwife showed me the placenta and the sack that had wrapped around Ryley while she was inside me. She said it was intact and a very healthy placenta. It was so amazing to see. Shamus looked a bit grossed out and said it reminded him of cows, but I was amazed with it, it was so incredible. I asked for the container so I could later plant the placenta under the tree we bought for her birth and preserve the cord in an amulet to always have the life connection between us. Ryley’s face was all squashed. Having missed the pushing stage and being whooshed through the pelvic bone so fast her forehead was dark and very puffed up, her eyes all squashed and head misshapen. Shamus chuckled and said, she looks a bit mong, doesn't she? I laughed, it's a newborn thing just wait. Within a day her little face settled to the beautiful little girl she is.
The pediatrician came back in to check to birth tears. My perineum was intact, so she did an internal check. I had two minor cuts internally from the birth. Usually they would not stitch them as they were less than ½ a cm, however since they faced each other she suggested to have 1 stitch put in. This anesthetic really hurt and without the birth hormones pulsing through me I felt it all. While I lay on the table Ryley began to breastfeed. She was so quiet and calm, it was beautiful.
After a couple of hours of checks and paperwork I told Mumma and Shamus to go home and get some rest. They had been with me through this 21 hour labour all the way and were very tired. The midwife said she would be back shortly to take me to my room upstairs. I sat in the room by myself for some time. Looking around a room covered in blood, feeling hungry and a bit overwhelmed by the new life calmly resting in my arms. Unfortunately the midwife didn't come back until 4.45am. An unexpected and difficult birth had pulled all the staff into another room. She came back apologizing and asked if I wanted to walk or be wheeled upstairs. I said I would be fine to walk and stood up. I nearly fainted. Then I realized I hadn’t eaten since the birth, I had lost a lot of blood and hadn’t slept in over 24 hours. I decided to be taken up in the wheelchair instead and asked for a sandwich. They set me up in my room and put Ryley in a cot next to me and I then fell asleep looking at the surreal new world of my baby sleeping next to me as the sun rose to a very new day.
The last few weeks have been wonderful. Ryley has been a beautiful calm baby who has brought so much more love into our home and I can honestly say the sleep deprived crazy newborn phase seems to have evaded us. I am so happy we took the time with yogababy and active birth classes and were able to enter birth with knowledge and trust in the beautiful process that labour is. Regardless of your spiritual background, I believe natural birth is truly one of the greatest sacred acts that transforms us and tests us as women, if we only free our bodies to move through and not against the process of birthing.