Blood. Birth. And Body.


A sweet and salty start.
Dancing to Neil Young in the kitchen under the new moon in Aries.
Your due date. How typical, we thought.
But we faded across midnight and somewhere in-between sleep and hope retreated back to the bench to bake you a lemon cake.
Into the oven and the waves kept coming.
Eight to five to three, you’re coming, we thought.
So soon, we thought?
Down the stairs and onto the ground.
We ate apricots in the pink light of the salt lamp.
A flash to mark a memory.
Two toothbrushes shattered the softness with love and laughter.
And then two more
Click, click—
A pause in-between, and a portrait of your daddy and me.
Golden and warm.
Time to ice the cake.

And just like that, as the tin and the room cooled and the others began to arrive, the waves too they went cold and
We waited for a while, clinging to the sensations that had led us through the private evening hours.
But as the sun started stretching across the sky I knew you’d wait.
I knew we’d birth in the darkness of the nearly night time.

Just before lunchtime on that second day, we took another walk.
Surrounded by the green and the forest, we heard the black cockatoos calling—
Your bird.
And so the waves started rocking again.
Washing my insides, rinse and repeat.
Long and loose and soft in between.
We were back at the beginning.
So everyone left.
The house fell quiet.
We drifted between sleep and seconds, once more counting the space surrounding the stops, half-heartedly watching old movies and looking at the clock for some kind of reassurance, some kind of signal or starter.

As the afternoon swayed past we made deliberate movements to calm and coax:
Skin to skin, the shower, the bed.
Eggs on toast for dinner and a picture of the clouds as the sky erupted into its dusk display.
A pastel ocean.
Soft and dusty markings melting into the skyline in long and linear lines.
A sweet farewell as the sun went to sleep.
This is for you, we thought, this great and magnificent sky.
You’ll be here by the morning. 

Wheat and wonder to honour your arrival.
We baked a loaf of sourdough.
Stretch and fold: both the bread and my bones.
I retreated to the stairs in a position something close to squatting.
The warmth of the open fire snaked its way through the room as our foreheads held strong together.
His hands around my waist like iron locks of love each time the waves would come.
This time there was no ball, no rushed or rehearsed movements.
This time it felt different, deliberate, more instinctual, more meditative.
But my back was starting to break, screaming with sensation every rise and fall.
I needed the shower.
Water to beat beautifully on my bones, a way to ride the waves with warmth.
And then afterwards, the bed in one last attempt to get a little sleep.

Annika Hein Labour Birth Mother Other


Get these clothes off me.
Can I get into the bath yet?
At last!

I stayed in the water for what felt like an endless universe.
Listening to The Mighty Rio Grande, swaying back and forth between strength and something close to defeat.
Each time he pulled me up and out, eyes locking, hands holding.
And so we kept going.
Surrender, try to smile, loosen the jaw, relax the mouth, sigh deeply through the lips. 
Like a horse, remember.
The sound of the tap dripping echoed through my whole being.
Pulled my breath into focus as I lay on my side holding onto the faucet.
My cheek dipped in the water.
The same water that was wound around my womb and will.
And in hindsight I realise I’ve probably never felt more beautiful.
But then they’d come, those harsh and crashing waves.
Smothering every nerve and surface.
Confusing my confidence as I riled and retched.
Heaving and desperate and maybe if I’m honest a little doubtful.
The minutes morphed into a misshapen marathon.
Time seemed irrelevant.
The only marker was the sky.
And also your daddy’s bold and beating heart, always right beside me in stoic strength and unwavering support filling me up with love and certainty. Dissolving that doubt and desperation, reminding me I was safe, reminding me that I was already doing it.

A push.
From somewhere deep inside.
But after a few tries I knew it was still too early.
Eventually I reached inside and felt something smooth and foreign.
Not you, yet, but maybe the bottom of your waters.
That was enough.

Do you need to wee?
OK, I’ll try.
Onto the tiles with feet firmly on the Earth my waters broke, we think.
My muscles bore down, grounding through determination and we moved in a rhythm up and down the hallway as if in some kind of odd and abstract slow dance, trusting the choreography to lead the way.
On the bed, on my knees, in the hallway, up and down, around and around.
My arms started to give way.
But he held me up, supporting my muscles and my mind so I could breathe down and low, humming through the hardest parts and moving you through me.
It was brutal and beautiful.
My hair was slicked with sweat, my spine felt like it was splitting and for a moment there I wasn’t so sure we’d make it.
How much longer can this go on?
You’re not coming. I can’t feel you.
And then leaning with my elbows on the mattress my heels lifted and I felt you drop.
This must be what everyone talks about.
And immediately I knew.
Everything before has just been practise.

I tried leaning for a few more moments to see if I could feel you coming.
But I knew I needed traction.
Something to push and lean against. Something to support my back.
Lying on the bed, they offered.
I wasn’t sure, but I wanted to try.
It was the last place I thought I’d end up, but with knees pulled up and in it seemed to be working.
I let the power overcome me.
I was just body, no brain, released from thinking, all strength and primal movement.

You took your time.
Slow and slippery.
In and out.
And then finally you appeared, a tiny slice of hair peaking through the threshold.
Further and further, up and down, you made your own way out.
A pause.
And then there you were, your head on the outside resting gently between worlds.
I held you there for a moment, while you prepared to take your first breath.
A turn and a swivel, just enough time to remind your daddy to abandon his place beside me so you could be birthed into his hands.
And in those final moments it almost seemed easy, it almost seemed effortless.
All sense of exhaustion or intensity relinquished.
I breathed deep and loud moving those final mountains from within to witness your gradual entry. 

It was quiet then, a grand exhale as you landed here on Earth.
Hi, we’ve been waiting for you.
36 hours.

On my chest you were pink and perfect, covered in butter and love.
Making calm and peaceful movements your soft skin against mine, your tiny lips and fingers searching straight away for milk.
And just like that my body was again no longer mine.
But it was different this time.
My belly was soft and empty and we were no longer cohabitating.
But my flesh was still your home, your safety, your sustenance.
So I surrendered, once again, to a new and different role.
You gave out a little cry, just to let us know you were here.
And then everything else faded away.
It was just us three, plus the dog made four.
We played Orange Sky—your song from deep inside the womb—sitting in awe and stillness. And then from somewhere far away the sun started slowing yawning through the blinds.

Annika Hein Labour Birth Mother Other


Shattering the softness, the energy shifted.
There was a sort of panic in the air, but all I saw was you and daddy and me: skin and hands and hearts fusing together.
It’s OK I said, to you or daddy, or maybe to myself.
Everything’s OK. It’s all going to be fine. Everyone just needs to calm down.
I held you closer and stroked your hands and your hair.
Slowly and gently just like before.
The others moved around me directing the plays in rushed and urgent tones.
And then daddy was on the phone to the paramedics and there were tubes and drips and tablets under the tongue.
It was me that was causing the concern.
You see, there was just too much blood and the placenta would not come out.
And I don’t really remember the moment they took you or how I even got off the bed, but you were wrapped in a towel while they wheeled me away.
My glasses still on the floor next to the bed, my legs and lips shaking in shock, and the frosty fog of the headlights leading the way while they wrestled and worried over how to get the wheelchair down the stairs and up the hill.
It was taking too long.
I was desperately thirsty.
And then I was in the ambulance.
With a man who could not remember my name and my midwife who kept correcting him.
Wondering where you were.
Wondering where your daddy was.
Wondering when my legs would stop shaking or why my mouth was suddenly all chalky.
The sirens went on.
It’s ok they said.
And then everything goes grey.

I remember the lights and the questions.
The rattling legs that had no mercy.
The beeping and the wheels grinding along the floor.
The veins that were too small.
The breath that seemed to be squeezing out of my lungs.

And then I remember waking up.
Like I was blinking through cottonwool.
Seeing you sleeping on your daddy’s skin, cocooned in a cream blanket with green and purple wool swathed around your head, my damn legs still shaking.
Like swallowing glass to say hello.
Everything in slow motion.
2.5L litres lost, they said.
Critical, they said.
Emergency surgery, they said.
Everything went well, they said.

A retained placenta.
But it would have happened no matter where you were, that’s what they said.

Wrapped up in hospital sheets, it was not the golden hours we had hope for, planned for, longed for—a clinical contrast from your arrival—but we were all here together, breathing, and that for the moment was really all that mattered.
We ate some of your lemon cake.

You were two days old when we brought you back home.
Me moving slowly.
You wrapped up in hand-knitted blankets.
I stopped to stare out our kitchen window watching your daddy look down at you in your big cane basket and it was like my heart flew out of my chest and started beating bold and bloody on the table.
We drank a little red wine and looked at the sky.
And then we went to bed.
The same one where you were born.
Just like it was supposed to be.

Annika Hein Labour Birth Mother Other


It took me your first six weeks to finish writing that, to fully comprehend the experience and understand the tone.
I swayed between pride and pain for a little while, seeming to punish myself for things that were beyond my control.
After that, the physical healing ebbed and flowed.
But my mind whipped my spirit with its cruel and cursing tongue: blaming, berating, battling
This is all your fault!
Look what you’ve done. Look what you did.
You should have tried harder, stood longer, stayed in the water.
You did it all wrong.
You failed.
Serves you right!
Stupid girl.

I was fixated on the position.
As though that was the catalyst for everything that had happened afterwards.
I searched frantically for photographs of women birthing on their backs, as though it would give me the validation to stand up to my self-loathing.
I stood in the bathroom completely void of hope and too scared to look between my legs after asking the Internet what a prolapse felt like, what a prolapse looked like.
It just takes time they said.
And for the most part they were right.
Tissues and tendons and skin and scars slowly started to settle, regenerating through the winter as I grew into a mother.
And as though almost overnight, by five months I felt a little closer to a variation of the body I use to know.
But my mind was a different beast completely.
Around and around we’d go.
Internal dialogue so consuming in its callousness I’d wonder how I was ever going feel free again.

Eight months on, we buried our placenta.
In the place where you first started making your orbit towards us.
And after that I think I finally landed someplace close to peace.
And now, two months later again, perhaps I really mean it.
Or am able to really do it.
To let it go.
Come back.
Perhaps now I’m able to release myself from the deathly hold of perfectionism of judgement of comparison.
I nearly got the birth I had envisioned but my mind through memory kept ripping it off me.
Just like you were ripped off my chest.
But I don’t remember that.
Just like I don’t remember getting out of the car after that horrible crash.
Complete disembodiment.
And until today I’d never made the connection.
No more.
I won’t let that be our story.
I am so proud of how I birthed you.
On my back like a warrior. Like a goddess.
Like all the others before me.
Exactly as it needed to be and was always supposed to happen.
And it’s not really even an important part of the tale anyway.
It OK to mourn what wasn’t, but it doesn’t mean it wasn’t damn big and bright and beautiful just as it was.
Feel into it.
Feel it all.
I didn’t fail.
It was never meant to be perfect.
I don’t have to be perfect.
Breathe into the body.
Come back.
Come home.

I can feel the blood returning as I walk out the door.
Leaving me on the bed, in the bath, on the floor.
Leaving the labouring behind.
Not forgetting, but realising the grip.
Here and present.
Closed in a way, just like my bones that were bound in ceremony.
And walking up the stairs to this new version of self.
I love you body.
Thank you for birthing my baby.
Thank you for being strong and soft.
Thank you for healing.
Thank you, I love you.
You can close back up now.
Warm inside.
Return and come home.

Thank you body
I love you.

Annika Hein Mother Other Birth Story
Annika Hein

Annika Hein

Annika Hein is a mother, writer, founder + editor of JANE magazine.



Friends of the podcast