We sat with my doula Tara and her partner Mikey at the dinner table. They brought me a beautiful bouquet of flowers so in a way it felt like it was already after the birth.
“When do you feel the baby will be born?” asked Mikey.
“That is the right question. People always ask: when is your due date? According to my scan I am already five days overdue. According to my own due date, I have a day before the birth.”
It was Tara who suggested to define my own date and put it into the birth plan. In the case of health professionals putting pressure on me to be induced, I could demand a recounting of the days according to my own date, and delay different interventions.
“Yesterday I sat here on the sofa and cried,” I continued. “They were tears of powerlessness and fear that I won’t ever be ready enough. That I haven’t exercised enough, meditated enough, studied about the birth enough. That I haven’t made all the things that I wanted before having a baby. That I will never do enough to feel that it is the right time for the next life chapter. With these tears and screams, the limiting ideas about how things should be, came out. I cried out new space in me.
But there is still something more in my interior… I will give birth when I can see it. Maybe it is just about this – to admit my imperfections,” I replied to Mikey.
Yes I do cry and I have a fear. And more than the pain, I am afraid of the new being entering my life, however conscious its conception was.
I am afraid how much our lives will change.
I am afraid how I will manage the new role.
I am afraid I won’t ever be who I am now. I am afraid of always being a mother from now on.
Around five o’clock in the morning I was awakened by pain very similar to period pain with the difference that it was coming in quite regular waves. I couldn’t go back to sleep. Around 10 am it was one wave of pain every ten minutes. Is this really it? I could not believe.
As long as possible continue with casual activities,” was another piece of advice from my doula which kept resounding in my head.
That morning I made the best pancakes in my life, while thinking of my grandmother who used to make them on the firestove. My grandmother passed away the day after I found out that I was pregnant. She didn’t know. But it felt right. I wrote my mum: one life is leaving, an other one is coming.
I got dressed in one of my most favourite dresses which I call ‘the goddess one’ and it still fits me despite of my massive bump.
In the garden I created a construction for the beans with a relief that the garden is ready to look after itself for several more weeks and fruit.
In the afternoon I went across to my husband to pick him up from work. I stopped for ice-cream and had it in the park under the tree. I wanted to pick up my framed paintings as well but the waves started to come more often.
When I breathed through one of them on the way home I was stopped by one elder black woman.
“This one is ready to come out!” she said with hand on my bump. “And it will be a boy!”
“How do you know it?” I asked even though I had the same feeling since the beginning of the second trimester. That time I had to let go of my imagination that our first child will be a girl. I suddenly knew it was a boy.
“I have got six children and this one is my last one,” she pointed the girl standing next to her.
We came home after five o’clock. My husband cleaned up the living room and took out the furniture to the garden to make a space for a birthpool. The walls have been decorated with my feminine paintings since the Mother Blessing Ritual. Fairylights around the mirror to provide intimate light for the long night.
With great appetite I ate the rest of my chicken and creamy paprika sauce from the previous day. All that together with icecream and pancakes I through up in great agony as soon as the contraction became stronger.
By that time there was already my close friend Tamsin from Devon who I have chosen as the third birth partner – next to my husband and the doula Tara. Despite of physical distance, Tamsin was experiencing the whole pregnancy with me. Our meetings were rare but very intense.
Later came from work our housemate Aidan. All of them were with me through different stages of the labour. They supported me when I was twisting in pain, massaged and rubbed my lower body where there I felt the pain the strongest. I didn’t have any doubt that it is childbirth anymore.
The intensity of the pain still increased and forced me to positions and movements which my body hasn’t known yet. Out of me were coming different uncontrollable screeching sounds. To scream gave me the biggest relief in the paralysing pain. I was changing into a being of some other world, into something which was much more similar to an animal than human.
“I can’t, I don’t want to accept the pain,” I whispered between the contractions, “I feel great resistance as soon as it starts. I want to stop it. But I know that the resistence towards the pain makes it even worse.”
The idea of breathing through the contractions dissolved in that all-consuming pain, together with my old identity. The one I used to be, was transforming with each scream and tension of my body into somebody else – the giving-birth-woman – the Mother.
Around midnight Tamsin went to have a nap. Aidan was already sleeping for a while. Me and my husband stayed alone.
The following three hours were the most difficult for both of us. The contractions were coming very close one after the other. It seemed for me that pain was the only thing that existed. I was so exhausted that inbetween I was falling in microsleeps. The pain was ejecting me from the floor into standing, it propelled my body like the chord of the bow. My husband was my support, my foothold, my pillar which I held onto. He didn’t express anything of his fear and powerlessness that he later described he was experiencing.
The intimacy between us took new shape.
When it was almost three o’clock in the morning Tamsin came back down.
This time I was telling myself: “One more contraction and I am going to finish this. I am not going to continue with this.”
I was begging for change.
“Where is Tara? I want in the pool! I want water! I want something different!”
Tamsin called Tara who came in the minute. She immediately asked my man to fill the pool. Till that moment he was resisting my requests because I told him before the birth started that if I would go to the water before the labour was established, it could slow the whole thing down or even stop the cervix opening.
“How much longer? Ten hours?” my husband allegedly asked Tara.
“Not at all! She is almost there!”
From all the births Tara has attended she just knew. According to my reactions and sounds she was clear how far I was.
And truly – even before the pool was ready I felt big change in my body. I started to push. Or better put: my body started to push. It was uncontrollable, like a sneeze. I had a need to make different sounds and had very tightly gritted teeth. I still couldn’t believe I was so far in my labour. My water didn’t break which confused me even though I knew that the baby could be born in the amniotic sack. I just hadn’t expected that it would be this in my case.
The warm water in the birthpool was so soothing. My body disengaged and the gaps between contractions became longer. I could have a rest and gain new strengh.
Tara’s presence was incredibly calming. I knew that she was silently controlling everything. She called the midwives when I was in the very end of the pushing phase which was the best solution for me. She introduced them my birth plan in details. I didn’t want any conducted pushing or being checked how dilated I am. No interventions unless I ask for it myself except checking the baby’s heart beat.
There was one moment when I reached a point when I needed to ensure myself that the birth is actually in progress. I simply put fingers inside my vagina and felt the baby’s head, which was still in the amniotic sack! That was first touch which I gave my baby… One of the strongest moments. I knew he is there. I knew he is coming. I knew we will meet soon. Just a bit more pushing.
At that stage I stopped caring about having a tear or needing an episiotomy. I accepted all of it.
Jonáš entered the world at 5:45 am when I was on all fours. The water broke when I pushed out his head.
Suddenly I pressed against my chest a little pink body connected to my body just through a pulsing umbilical cord. Feeling an immense relief and joy as well as a shock of our first meeting out of the belly. Tara’s bright pouring smile. Tears of compassion on Tamsin’s face. An astonishment melting in a new kind of respect of my husband. Quiet recognition of the midwives. We did it!
After about 40 minutes in this heart-melting space, one of the midwifes said that the placenta needs to come out as well. I completely forgot that the birth doesn’t end with a baby… I couldn’t imagine to birth it with my son on me so the time of first complete separation came – the cutting of the umbilical cord, which was already nicely white. That was the work of the new father with the assistance of the midwife.
I tried different positions but it seemed for me impossible to push without contractions. In the end it helped to stand up and the placenta came out itself without any effort. Tara washed it and cut out the part suitable for consumption. The following week I was having it as a part of fruit smoothies.
With Jonáš’s head came out one hand as well, which is what most likely caused two tears. Fortunately it was first and second degree tear so I didn’t have to go to hospital. My birth team created an improvised operating room in our bedroom: my legs were stretched on two chairs and the midwife brought a log from the backyard that was the right hight for her. When I look back I find that image almost comical.
I want to say how blessed I feel for having natural waterbirth at home. Feeling free to express myself in whatever way was for me crutial as well as being surrounded and supported by “my tribe”. I felt safe, supported and honored.
There were things afterwords which didn´t go the way I wished. Several weeks of painful breastfeeding, neverending sleepless nights, flustration of having no time for myself, heaviness of complete responsibility for new being, dealing with crying of this being while dealing with my own intense emotions… Often I just wished somebody there, to take over the mothering job. But being a mother means that you cannot procrastinate. You have to be there for the baby despite of your own issues whether it is pain, uncomfort, tiredness, worring or experiencing difficult emotions. You have to master the art of care while still being able to give care to yourself.
Now – more than a year and half after Jonáš‘s birth – I still have these moments but they come less and less often. I have learnt to be mother. Whenever I face some challenges of this role I remind myself of the labour experience to empower myself.
Giving birth feels like an adequate initiation of entering the new realm of motherhood. It has to be intense to mark that moment well as there are lots of challenges of unknown intensity to come. It has to be physically difficult to reminds us as women what our bodies are able to do and what we can go through.
I strongly believe that pain has its purpose. We should feel it and celebrate it as much as we can. All rites of passage involve it in some form – either physical or emotional. Some part of ourself has to die when taking on new role and becoming somebody else. That is usually painful as well as beautiful because new space to grow opens up… While giving birth we birth ourself in new form.
May the ability of the female body to grow life inside and give birth to it, be acknowledged and celebrated.
May the pain experienced by birthing mothers give them recognition of their power.
May the experience of labour connect all of us – as women, as mothers, as human beings.
May it connect us with the Wild Wise Woman inside us; with She Who Knows.
*This article was first published in the summer issue of AEVA magazine (She Who Knows)
*Photos by Tara Thompson