I’m writing this as my daughter stares up at me with her ice blue almond-shaped eyes, from beneath my leaking breast, milk spilling onto each of our clothes and flooding the room with its sticky sweet scent. I take a sip of this morning’s coffee, lukewarm from the constant distractions: this is motherhood.
I knew my second baby would come earlier than my first. I wasn’t sure why, or when, I just knew. At first, I thought the birth would happen much earlier, before the hospital system grants you ‘full term’ at 40-weeks. I was prepared, I’d been eating fistfuls of medjool dates and drinking raspberry leaf tea religiously, we’d begun perineal massage of an evening, had a plan set for our toddler, and the birth bags were packed. Nevertheless, my ‘guess’ date came and left, as did my partners – Mother’s Day, no less – this baby was just not ready yet.
I was home alone much of the final week while my partner worked and my toddler was at daycare, my own freelance work had ceased as I awaited my babe.. but life continued on without me. That’s how it felt anyway, like I was stuck in limbo, that monotonous portal between pregnancy & birth, difficult to put into words, and quite a lonely experience even the second time around. I filled my days with small pleasures that I hadn’t known in years (thanks to motherhood), like binge-watching tv series, reading in peace, going to the movies while my son was in chilcare. My body was heavy, exhausted from both pregnancy insomnia, and mothering a toddler, I was big, uncomfortable, itchy, aching, and tired.
Then, the end of my final week of pregnancy arrived. Friday is ‘family day’ in our house (our toddlers favorite) and we were conscious that our last days just the three of us were coming to a close. We spent the day together doing various things, concluding with a long walk in the bush beside the ocean. What we didn’t expect was that the whole bush track would be lined in earthy Banksia trees – a name we had decided on for our baby well before she was conceived. I took that as the first sign that birth was approaching and everything was in its right place, luckily I was ignorant to what was about to play out.
That evening at home we ate dinner together as a family of 3 one last time before putting Dorian to bed, along with ourselves. I woke around 1AM with horrendous reflux, it was so bad that I thought there was no way I could possibly sleep through it this burning fire riding from the top of my bump all the way up my throat. I decided to find the fruit tingles –a candy that had helped with reflux occasionally throughout the pregnancy– but that didn’t help. In fact, it made me incredibly nauseous, I lay in bed feeling worse for wear and gave in to the fact that I wouldn’t be sleeping anytime soon.
Shortly afterwards I heard my toddler’s door open. J had been in there with him as he’d awoken feeling miserable earlier in the night. Next, I heard what sounded like vomiting. I yelled out “did Dory just vomit” and J replied “yes”… and immediately, I realised what was happening and knew that I was next. Just a week prior we’d received an email from Dory’s daycare about a gastro bug doing the rounds, and now here it was in our home, at 40 weeks pregnant. I quickly jumped up and cleaned him up, dressed him, and took him into our bed while J changed his bedclothes. After I’d brought him into our bed I felt a wave of nausea coming over me and told Dory I needed to wee, only to stumble into the bathroom and vomit directly into the bath – I couldn’t even make it to the toilet – that sudden onset hitting me like a wave. J came rushing in to see if he could help me and I told him to just focus on Dory, I could manage myself. There I was at 39+6 weeks pregnant vomiting my guts up.. take my word when I say that with a belly that stretched, there are no words.
So we all went back to bed, J hopped in with Dory – prepped this time with towels underneath them – and me alone in our room with a bucket on hand, only to wake exactly one hour. It was like Groundhog Day, Dory vomiting all over himself and the bed, and me finally making it to the toilet. This then happened repeatedly, every hour, from 2AM until 12noon the following day. It was truly horrific. J and Dory ended up watching movies on the couch at around 4AM, succumbing to the fact that they wouldn’t be sleeping at all. J was catching the toddler vomit in a towel each time, while I was running to the bathroom then returning to bed to rest my body before the next round.
Until this experience, I had no idea just how horrific it feels to vomit your guts up with a baby in your belly. This was the first time I fully understood how awful it must be to deal with HG during pregnancy. I’ve never vomited in any of my pregnancies until this point, and being so far along, your stomach just feels so incredibly wrong – squashed from each primal hurl, what feels like actual contractions. I spent 15 hours from that first bout of vomiting, in bed, sick as a dog, sipping water and nibbling hydralite icy poles, only to vomit it all back up again repeatedly. At one point in this fever dream, J came to the door of the bedroom and I told him “if I went into labour tonight, I would demand a C-Section. There’s no way I could manage childbirth after this”.
I had my last spew around 5:30PM on the 15th of May, and my surges began to become consistent by 10PM that same evening. I’d been feeling surges all day, but I put it down to the cramping of my stomach from vomiting and didn’t realise that I had been in pre-labor all day until 10PM, when they became consistent enough that I started timing them to see what was happening. I was so exhausted and depleted that I fell asleep for 3 minutes in between each surge and wasn’t sure how long it had been until I awoke to time the next one. I looked at my phone 20 mins later and realised it was ‘go-time. This was really happening, right after a bout of gastro, and somehow, I reached into the deepest depths of myself and I just got right to it.
Something I want to sidenote here is that throughout that whole day I had been unwell, perhaps the sickest I’ve been in years, I couldn’t muster up the energy to care for my poor toddler. I still feel so much guilt around this. I’m so lucky that J didn’t have gastro at this point and he was able to fully commit to caring for and nurturing Dory during this awful experience, but each time Dory came into my room for comfort from me, asking “Mama, get up on the bed” to cuddle me, I had to ask J to take him away because I felt so nauseous and drained. I couldn’t comfort him when he needed me and it felt awful. I didn’t end up cuddling him until the following afternoon with a new baby in tow – the longest I’ve ever gone without being physically close to him.
And so the labour had begun. I kept it to myself for about an hour, until I realised it was coming on much harder and faster than it had with my son. I wanted the soothing vibrations of the TENS machine attached to my back ASAP – so I needed to call on J. He couldn’t hear me yelling out so I had to go into Dory’s room, fearful that I would wake them both. “J, I need you” – a strange thing to wake up to after cradling a toddler through gastro for 15 hours I’m sure, but he immediately rose to the task and was with me in minutes. We hooked up the TENS, and I explained how close the contractions were. I’m sure he was a little doubtful that it was as advanced as I’d thought but he was supportive regardless. He set up our birth playlist, dimmed the lights, packed the car, and awaited further instruction. I told him I thought it was time to call my sister and again, he wasn’t sure we were ready, but I knew it would be easier to have her there sooner so that we could leave for the hospital at any moment rather than waiting for her to arrive. She arrived swiftly (around 11:30PM) asking if she could do anything for me before heading to the couch to nap.
The surges were pretty strong at this point and I was unable to sit or have any pressure underneath me. I was up on my hands and knees rocking through them, pressing that button on the TENS each time which provided some relief. I soon realised that I needed to get to the hospital and have the room set up ASAP as I didn’t think I could sit in the car throughout the surges much longer. J called the midwife at 12PM and we discovered that our regular midwife wasn’t on shift. It was a lady called Sue that we hadn’t met before – she was kind and gentle, we got lucky. She told J that I probably could hang around at home a bit longer, but I immediately responded “No, I want to go now” – she got the message loud and clear and we all headed in. As I was walking to the car I paused on our balcony through the surges feeling the cold night air. Labour wasn’t slowing down through the change of environment as it had with my first birth.
The car trip wasn’t as bad as I’d imagined, I was so thankful that it was nighttime as there weren’t many cars on the road and the darkness gave me comfort. I had to pull all of my body weight up with the passenger handle through each surge as I couldn’t handle any weight on my bum. As we arrived in the car park – J carrying our many bags and me, adorned in slippers and PJs with the trusty TENS around my neck – Sue was pulling up too and knew from a single glance that it was us. We wandered in together which was perfect, as it was after hours so we didn’t need to fiddle about with paging the desk and waiting for doors to open etc. Sue made gentle conversation as we were walking, and J did most of the responding for me so I could keep focused. I kept pausing in the corridor to face the wall, close my eyes and breathe through each surge. J told her that I was practicing hypnobirthing, and discovered that she was a hypnobirthing instructor outside of her job as a midwife, which was the most wonderful and reaffirming thing to hear – this meant she really understood how to support us. At one point two nurses walked past me and asked “do you need a wheelchair love? We can get you one…”– I shook my head and Sue responded for me “No, she’s ok, thanks”.
We passed a few birthing rooms before finding one that was unoccupied. As we wandered into the empty space, J began making the room feel more comfortable by putting our birth playlist back on and arranging things. It took about half an hour to get a sense of ambiance in the room. I had positioned myself on all fours on the bed and was intermittently (in between surges) asking J to do certain things like getting the bright hospital lights dimmed (a birth suite benefit), find a birth fit ball, and get some mats out onto the floor. Sue asked if I would like some essential oils and I responded with a hearty nod of the head – please, ASAP – Clary Sage & Lavender.
I’d been previously told I needed to have a blood test on arrival as I had low platelets through both of my pregnancies, also known as pregnancy thrombocytopenia. Sue brought all of the equipment over to me on the bed and told me we could take our time and do it in between surges. First, she put the needle in, and let me breathe through my next surge before she actually took the blood, this process made it feel less invasive and it was the only time I was really ‘handled’ throughout my birth, but with my full consent. She then asked me if I would like to be ‘checked’ to see how dilated I was, and I said no. She was incredibly respectful and understanding of this and didn’t ask again.
Sue had noticed that I was pretty dehydrated (thanks, gastro) and was encouraging me to drink more fluids. J was also being super persistent with the drinks, trying to get me to take sips between every surge – I kept pushing him away because it was distracting me and I felt as though I didn’t want any. He later mentioned to me (after the birth) that he had been really concerned about dehydration and any complications that may arise after seeing how sick I was the night before. I felt lucky to have such a responsive, involved, and caring birth partner.
I moved onto the floor on the mat at this point and got into position on my knees leaning over the birth ball, the most comfortable for me and great for getting baby down. I stayed there for maybe an hour, breathing through each surge, taking sips of random drinks offered by J. The midwife gave me some juice and ice chips which went down well too, I think the juice is what gave me that much-needed energy toward the end. Some things I remember from this point in the birth: a monotonous beeping sound echoing through the open door, asking J to close it, hearing primal birthing sounds, moaning, from another birthing person, thinking about getting into the bath.
I was really thinking about that bath a lot, but I was worried about the timing. I didn’t want to get in too early, transition in the bath, and then end up getting out before the baby was crowning… but I didn’t want to leave it too late and miss my opportunity completely. I asked how long it would take to fill “not long, 5 minutes maybe”. Sue recommended I get into the shower for a while and then hop into the bath from there. Throughout this time I’m not using many words. I’m mostly nodding, mumbling, or not responding at all to questions or comments. I told J that I wanted to get into the shower, and I wanted him with me, so he changed into some swim shorts and chucked the floor mat in there for me to kneel on. This was where I said goodbye to the TENS machine, which was replaced with hot water jets from the showerhead that J held onto my back during each surge. This was a lovely soothing feeling and a completely different relief to the TENS.
I started to get quite vocal during these surges and after about 10 minutes I told Sue I wanted that bath on. When it was ready I got straight up and plonked myself in there, asking J to hop in – I wasn’t sure if I’d want him in there with me, but at that moment I knew I needed him. The bath was a new kind of relief, I love being submerged in water so this was perfect for me. I was resting my head on the edge of the bath between surges at this point as they were getting much stronger, and I was becoming much louder. I asked them to make the bath hotter, and J asked Sue to get a face washer for my head as I was leaning on the hard bath edge.
I really felt a bearing down quite quickly, so I naturally got into a squatting position for each surge and felt a true urge to push. I decided to feel how dilated I was myself, something I’ve never done and had no idea how to, but I did it, and I knew immediately that what I felt was a fully dilated cervix. It was so wide and completely loose, I thought – a baby could fit through there, for sure.
I knew what stage my body was at and I could feel the baby coming down, something I wasn’t nearly as in tune with during my first birth. At some point here Sue told Jamie she was heading out of the room and to press the buzzer if we needed her. I mentally noted that this wasn’t the best idea, but I had no ability to talk. Within one more surge, I could feel the amniotic sac and baby’s head emerging within it – Sue appeared suddenly as I’m sure she could hear the distinct change in my vocal sounds as I was bearing down.
“I can feel the sac”, I told her
“You can feel it inside you mean?”
“No, I can feel the sac coming out”.
This is when she realised I was actually crowning.
All of a sudden there were two midwives in the room and I was pushing out my baby.
“Tell them to get your phone” I said, breathlessly, between surges. “Take photos”.
This was something I missed out on with Dory’s birth, and I wanted this great feat of mine documented visually. I would push through a surge and then drop back into J’s arms to rest which was a major comfort and relief each time, I was so glad to have him in there with me.
The head was SO easy to birth this time around, I couldn’t believe I was actually doing it with such ease… I had my hand there gradually guiding her out. With the next surge, it felt different, her body felt really difficult to birth. This felt strange as usually after the head the body feels relatively easy (they say it’s like a sack of sausages). It turns out her arm was caught up in a weird position which was causing a bit of a jam inside the sac, and when Sue realised what was happening she told me I needed to use a bit more force. J was being super supportive a this stage, talking into my ear, telling me that I was doing incredibly well and that I just needed one more big push before we could meet our baby.
Sue asked me to stand up which I did quickly without even thinking about it, and after another intense surge and some more forceful pushing, I felt the sweet relief of birth. She splashed into the water, the sac exploded and she lay there floating on her back looking a lot more like her brother than I’d ever imagined. We had a daughter, our Banksia was Earthside.
I was truly in a state of shock about how quickly it played out, and with such ease. I’m still in shock, in fact, as it was all so perfect. I lay back on J with Banksia in my arms and we just rested there for a while, speechless and relieved. Soaking it all in, our girl, the first moments of life, our golden hour together.
After ten minutes or so I hopped out of the bath and onto the bed, holding her close, letting her feed immediately, and soaking up that skin-to-skin contact. Her placenta was birthed on the bed, with Banksia in my arms, and we were able to stay like that, just the three of us for a good few hours alone, watching the sunrise out the window. I’d always said I’d love a Sunrise birth, and here it was. Blissful.
In the end, it was only 6 minutes of pushing, which resulted in no tearing at all.. this actually blows my mind. My first birth was a whole 2 hours of pushing, with lots of tears and doubt, which resulted in internal and external tearing that took quite a while to heal. This time I had a truly healing birth and this will remain one of the absolute best experiences of my life, and an enormous feat.
A rebirth, birthing my daughter.