“Haven’t you had that baby yet?” said the well-meaning lady at the gym, where I’d just been for a swim two days past my due date. “We didn’t think we’d see you back in here!” Little did I know that the early hours of the next morning would mark the start of our son’s intense journey into this world – arriving on the 17th June after 8 hours of labour.
That day I was feeling the need to be extra active and even slotted in an online yoga practice and a “prepare for birth” meditation that evening. In the video the man guided me to visualise when I would like my labour to begin – for some reason I thought 4.30am would be a good starting time, giving me a chance to at least clock up a few hours in bed first before having the stretch of the day ahead. I pictured the husband and I calmly driving over the hills to the hospital as the sun was rising – calm, idyllic, in control.
Ironically, my first contraction came in the early hours of the next morning as the digital clock changed to 4.32am. I lay for a few waves of the sensations, like strong period pains about 10 minutes apart, before waking the husband. It was a much slower build than with my daughter Molly – with her the contractions came hard and fast right from the start. This time around I felt calmer and was able to give clear, concise orders to my husband and my mum, from what else to put in my hospital bag to which jam to spread on my bagel.
We made our way to the Ulster Hospital, arriving at 6.30am where the midwives found I was already 7cm dilated. This filled me with a sense of relief and confidence that my labour may not be anywhere near as long as the 22 hours I endured the first time around. The decision was made to start in the ‘home from home’ room – a private space for women wanting to labour without medical intervention, and which also included a birthing pool. This time around, while I was very open to help in any form, I felt good and reassigned to make a decision to move to the labour ward later if and when things changed.
The water was a huge help during my labour – highly recommended. Things progressed steadily over the next few hours and during those stages I felt in control of each passing contraction – the weight of my bump and back supported by the pool and the gas and air giving a pleasant gentle head rush – not unlike the sensation of that first glass of wine after the kids have all gone to bed. During those initial hours I felt no concept of time passing, but probably the strongest sense of focus and presence that I have ever felt in my entire life.
From here on in, I’d like to tell you that everything was as Zen as it is so far sounding, and up until the last two to three hours, I did feel fully in control. But if you read my blog regularly, you’ll know that being honest is very important to me and I hope my words can explain even a little the intensity of the last two hours before my baby was born.
As the strength of the contractions increased ten fold towards what they call the ‘transitional’ stage (the point where you reach full dilation and are ready to push baby out), I felt an uncontrollable sense of fear taking hold. Thoughts of my first long, difficult labour rushed in along with overwhelming tears and emotion and I struggled to relax my body and my breathing. I called out that I didn’t have the strength and I really felt I needed something extra to help. But, as many women who have experienced labour will tell you, this is a highly common reaction at this point! As my midwives gently reminded me – I was passed the point of intervention – and also a sign that my baby was so very very close.
My fear also stemmed from the unknown – with Molly, my epidural after 18 hours meant that I didn’t feel the transition and pushing stage and in those minutes, I suddenly felt terrified of what this experience would be like. I struggled also to hold onto the present, with thoughts of the past causing my body to completely tense up and resist the pushing. It was during that time that I am so grateful to my husband and the three amazing midwives who constantly held my hands and told me that I was doing exactly what I needed to do.
It was then, that despite the overwhelming sensations, that I was able to pull my mind back into the present. I regained control of my breath and willed my body to relax – so crucial to these final stages. I felt a massive sense of determination to finally hold my baby in my arms. I strongly believe that this determination and strength is inside every mother if you can let your breath and your body be your guide.
The body is an awe-inspiring thing. I never fully understood until this birth that it really could possibly know what to do. But as I could feel the huge intensity of my baby’s head crowning and then drawing back with each of those final contractions before he was born, my body felt the natural urge to push without guidance. I remember saying to myself “this push is it” and I summoned every ounce of primordial strength that I had – not worrying about what noises I made!
Within the next minute, my baby was out and on my chest and the sheer relief and happiness is something I cannot put into words. It is something that brings tears of joy to my eyes as I write. In those first few moments as I held my baby tightly, I felt an immense sense of surrender. That I could finally let go of the emotions I had held in after my first birth, the fears I had, the tears I had cried – and replace it all with a feeling that everything was going to be ok from now on in.
This is what giving birth is about. This magic moment. It’s unlike anything you will ever experience. Yes, it’s intense. Yes, it can be scary. Yes, without a doubt, every tale is unique. No matter how strong we are, it is natural to experience many moments when fear and doubt take hold – we are only human. But above all, I wish that I could bottle that final immense feeling – yes, that magic moment – when your baby is born, and give it as a tonic to every mother who is anxious about going through labour. As a reminder that no matter what birth route you choose, the end result is so truly powerful. Your breath, your body, everything in sync, working towards making this little miracle.
Welcome to the world Henry Roy Parsons, 9lbs 8oz, we are hugely blessed to have you join our family.