It’s hard to know where to start this birth story. I think most birth stories start with your very first pregnancy as the learning and growth that happens between then and your most recent birth all contribute to the journey to that birth and the experience that it ultimately becomes. Summer is my third baby, my first was a birth centre birth that gave me a healthy respect for the vast enormity of the experience of birth, my second birth was a homebirth with midwives which went well until a PPH meant an ambulance trip to the hospital. I started my journey with this pregnancy wanting to birth a home with the Homebirth Service (government funded homebirth program attached to the public hospital) again but soon after ‘booking in’ I started to get the feeling that it wasn’t what I wanted. At about 15 weeks I went to the initial appointment at the hospital with two little boys in tow. Spent the best part of 4 hours between the antenatal clinic waiting room, a chat with a midwife who checked my blood pressure, asked if I was going to breast feed, looked at my domestic violence and perinatal depression surveys, didn’t tell me about any of my ‘options’, asked me to do a swab test and urine test for STI’s I already knew I didn’t have and a chat with a doctor which was the same as the chat with the midwife before leaving with blood test and ultrasound referrals that I didn’t want to do. I left that appointment fairly certain that I had no interest in engaging with the system again.
At that point I decided to manage my own care for the remainder of my pregnancy and freebirth at home. My husband wasn’t comfortable with the freebirth idea and not having an ultrasound and it remained a sticky topic for the rest of the pregnancy. I did a lot of reading, listening to podcasts and watching all different kinds of birth videos. I reached a whole new level of confidence in my body’s ability to birth my baby and my ability to respond if something went wrong.
In a moment of doubt at about 38 weeks I called the homebirth service to see if they had space but after a couple of conversations I realised how awful the idea of going that route felt and went back to my original plan. I would likely have hired a private midwife if there was one in Darwin, to relieve some of the stress that Tim experienced, but in hindsight, I'm so happy with who was there and feel that anyone extra would have been unnecessary and potentially disruptive.
I have written separately about the unassisted pregnancy/unassisted birth journey but in a nut shell it was, overall, the easiest, most stress free pregnancy I’ve had. I didn’t have any tests or scans and really thrived on being responsible for my own health and that of my baby. I was much more aware of everything going on in my own body and everything my baby was doing because the responsibility lay with me. There was no one else to hand my power to, no one to ask, no one to negotiate with, no one to blame. And in the end, it felt great.
In the last couple of weeks of pregnancy I had the familiar strong practice contractions that made me pay attention and on at least two occasions I thought ‘this is it!’ but it wasn’t. My 30th birthday came and went and then five days later, on my due date I got to about 4pm and knew that labour had started. Each of my labours have followed a pretty similar pattern, gentle contractions in the afternoon, getting stronger into the evening then unmistakable early labour by bedtime. I put the boys to sleep and started breathing through contractions lying down. I thought I’d get some sleep but was very much awake. Probably a combination of the growing need to breathe through contractions, paying too much attention to what was going on in my body and excitement that I was going to meet my baby soon.
As contractions became stronger I had a couple of ‘clear the passages’ toilet trips. On one of the trips there was bright red blood which was probably a version of the ‘bloody show’. I found it a bit alarming as I hadn’t had that with my previous births but it settled to tiny bits of brown blood so I stopped worrying. I was amazed at the number of messages I received that afternoon, that night and the following morning from friends. Goes to show we’re all connected by something more than we can see.
By about 3am I couldn’t stay in bed any longer and came out into the living room to get more comfortable. I stood leaning and rocking against the desk during contractions and sat on the ball during the rests. I didn’t time contractions at all but I could feel they were getting stronger. I found that I was a combination of in my head and in my body for this birth, which I think was due to taking full responsibility for myself and my baby. I felt the need to be alert throughout the process. I was releasing and behaving instinctively but was very aware of what my body was doing at the same time. This heightened awareness of my body and what was going on didn’t seem to impede my labour at all. It was kind of like the practice of mindfulness I think, noticing what was going on, acknowledging it but not allowing it to hang around and create more thoughts, just letting it go. I was standing there, leaning and rocking, thinking ‘this is strong enough that it’s not fun and I’m having to vocalise but I’m not ‘done’ so I mustn’t be transitioning yet’. My mantra during this labour was ‘breathe, open, release’. Like my previous labour, my ‘words of the day’ came and stayed for the whole labour. I visualised my cervix opening and my baby’s head moving down with each contraction (I knew my baby was head down because of the location of the hiccups). I found the combination of affirmation with my inner voice and visualisation a really powerful tool to keep me focussed and positive.
I was feeling a bit tired after being awake all night so decided to try and find a comfortable position that wasn’t standing up. My previous two labours I had laboured standing up the whole time so this was a new experiment. I folded up some yoga mats with towels over the top in front of our ‘couch’, which is a single trundle bed, stacked up some pillows and knelt down on the floor with my upper body over the pillows. I rocked my hips from side to side or back and forth during contractions and sat my bottom back down on a cushion during the breaks. It was about 5am at this point and I messaged my sister to come over, as arranged. I didn’t really need anything, I just wanted some company. Tim was awake but stayed in bed with the boys to keep them asleep. Not long after Penny arrived I decided to message my friend Tania and ask her to come. Luckily she was only about 15 minutes away and arrived at around 6am. I had waited until the baby had moved down and I could feel pressure in my bottom before asking her to come to make sure she wouldn’t have to be there all day! I think I must have been transitioning around the time I contacted Tania and after she arrived because I really felt the need to have my support people there, my contractions also slowed a little but that could have been due to people coming into my space. I was a little worried that the fear or feeling of doom that can accompany transition for some people would cause a problem but I didn’t experience it at all. In fact, I didn’t feel fear, worry or doubt during my whole labour and birth which I found really interesting. My experience of transition, which is also very common (it’s been the same each time for me), just seems to be the overwhelming feeling that ‘this sucks, can we just be done already?’.
I asked Tania to press on my sacrum which was awesome. Tania thought I wasn’t as far along as I was so to ‘test’ to see if I really needed her right there she left me for one contraction. She said the wild searching eyes looking for her confirmed that she was needed. I continued that way for a while and when it became apparent that contractions had spaced out somewhat, Tania suggested getting vertical for a few to let gravity do some work. They started coming pretty close together once I stood up which I wasn’t that keen on and quickly got back to kneeling and leaning forward but added another pillow to my stack to bring my upper body up a bit. I think I stood up again for a little while and then I entered into that funny place of feeling pressure, maybe even feeling a tiny bit pushy but not an uncontrollable urge yet. I kept breathing and vocalising through it all and waited for the urge to push to intensify. At this point, around 7 am, the boys woke up and came into the living room with Tim. Ace (2.5) was nonchalant but Tiger (nearly 5) was upset and crying. Penny offered to take them to Mum’s but Tim decided to do it. As they were heading out the door all I could do was think in my head that he might not make it back for the birth as I knew that once pushing started it wouldn’t be long to go. Tania asked if I wanted them to stay but I wasn’t really in communicating mode so just shook my head.
The urge to bear down intensified which was exciting because it meant the baby was so close but it also meant the ‘my body is going to split in half’ feeling was still to come. It’s amazing how my noises changed at this point, they went from a pretty ‘in control’ noise not dissimilar to something out of a yoga studio or meditation group to something super low and guttural that can only mean a woman is birthing a new soul into the world. As my baby’s head moved down I had a feel and kept feeling for progress as I was pushing. This is something I didn’t do at all in my first birth and I only felt once in my second birth but this time I wanted to know where this baby was and what progress I was making. That earth shattering feeling of a small human moving through my pelvis and a head stretching everything to the limit is so very intense. Indescribable really. I’m extremely surprised none of our neighbours heard what was going on. Though my husband told me later on it wasn’t that noisy. I was pushing and making all of the very strongest and deepest birthing noises. I wanted to push hard and get this show over with but I was also reluctant. There is no way around this baptism of fire, only through. A hard truth when you’re starting birth right in the face. I was yelling and crying and pushing and feeling all of the feelings associated with this peak human experience. It really is an initiation. A right of passage. Birth is life changing, on every level.
I was pressing on my perineum but gave up on that after a while. I felt a small pop as my membranes ruptured and I continued to stretch with each push. I got to that familiar point of resignation when you’re not sure if the baby is coming out of your vagina or your bottom or if all of your guts are going to come out too, the ‘I’m fairly certain I’m going to tear completely in half but I don’t even care anymore’ point. With one or two more big pushes, I cradled my baby’s head as it emerged into the world. What a relief. What a surreal feeling. No longer within but not yet outside. At the crossroads between two worlds before a new lifetime with unlimited possibilities and potential begins. Then at the next contraction I pushed out my baby’s body in a couple of pushes. I think that’s my favourite part of birth, the feeling of that little slimy body gushing out. And then it’s done. I was still kneeling and leaning forward, Tim caught our baby behind me and placed her on the towel underneath me. Then my placenta detached and a gush of blood fell right on her face. Sorry poppet.
I saw straight away that she was a girl and was amazed, surprised and thrilled. I would have been equally happy either way but I can’t deny that I’m pretty chuffed to have a daughter. It’s like my work, meaning and value as a woman and mother just increased because I’m now responsible not only for raising good and loving men but for raising a strong and loving woman too. What an absolute honour. It makes my own inner work as a woman feel more important and wider reaching now that my lineage will continue.
She was with us straight away and had a good cry though was a bit gurgly after the face full of blood so Tania helped wipe some of it away and I held her facing downwards briefly so her mouth and nose could drain. Her cord was mostly white when she was born, her placenta was sitting ready to be born straight away so someone grabbed the bowl I had out for that and I pushed out the placenta. I didn’t completely relax just yet though, I had a big bleed at that point at my last birth so I was very aware of the tone of my uterus, the contractions I was having, and any bleeding I felt. My little girl breastfed straight away which was such a wonderfully love filled and bonding experience. Both my boys took hours to take an interest in the breast so I was relieved she was keen. I sat on the ground for a little while, ate toast, the obligatory post birth meal, and took some Shepherd’s Purse and ‘No Bleed’ tincture as I felt a little bit of blood and wanted to keep on top of it.
After about an hour and a half I decided to cut her cord. I hadn’t fully decided what I was going to do there. Initially I wanted to do a lotus birth but thought that might be pretty impractical in Darwin in the wet season. I thanked her placenta for the work it did in sustaining my precious baby and told her that I was going to cut her cord now but that we would do something special with her placenta later. We tied the cord with one of my friend’s beautiful cord ties with crystals and I think Tim cut it with a scalpel blade. She didn’t seem to mind at all so I feel like it was an ok decision. Her placenta had the cord coming out the side (Battledore placenta) instead of the middle which was interesting. It was in a serving bowl with a lid in the fridge for Christmas and I was kind of hoping someone would open it thinking it was a salad. Alas, I didn’t hear any shrieks from the kitchen so I think it was left undiscovered. I plan to bury her placenta with a tree in the garden at home, the place of her birth.
Now I was finally brave enough to stand up off the floor and have a shower and Tim had his first snuggle with our new baby. Tania and Penny were amazing, putting on washing getting food ready and cleaning up. After I was settled back down with my new bundle of life, Tim went back to Mum’s to pick up the boys. Tiger has been in love with his little sister from the moment he saw her. He has been more lovely with her and more helpful than I ever imagined. It has actually given me a whole new appreciation of him, he is an amazing little man. Ace has also been super lovely with her but is taking some time adjusting to the change in family dynamic. Poor little fella isn’t the baby anymore. Gosh, there’s nothing like having a new baby to make your older kids grow up overnight. In itself, both a wonderful and heartbreaking change.
I had wicked afterpains that had me wiggling my toes and breathing through them. They lasted about three days and were a stark reminder of the intensity of labour. As soon as they stopped, I was ready to be pregnant again! It’s crazy how a woman’s brain can be so wired to have more babies, I’m already thinking about ‘next time’. Not sure how Tim feels about that. I’ll save that conversation for another day. My milk came in the next day and I have felt amazing ever since. As with my first two births, I didn’t experience any ‘blues’ which I am very grateful for. My body has healed so quickly, much quicker than the last two times. I had a tear which healed quickly without any attention and 2.5 weeks on, can now sneeze without fear, pain or leakage!
I feel unbelievably proud that I was able to trust my body and my baby enough to have an unassisted pregnancy and birth. Sure there were moments of doubt. There were moments of fear. Interestingly the fears changed as I went through pregnancy but by the time labour started, I had no fear and no hesitation about my decision. Every time a fear or doubt crept in during pregnancy I weighed up the benefits and risks of whatever the matching intervention would be (having an ultrasound, engaging with medical care providers, birthing at the hospital) and always came back to the path I was on. I am also incredibly grateful to my husband Tim who trusted me to make the right decisions for my birth and our baby.
Next time (!) I will use a birth pool. I said that last time but this time I really mean it. I’m all for experiencing the full intensity of birth but it’s got to feel easier in the water. Surely.
Birth really is the most physically and psychologically intense, life affirming, soul shattering of the human experiences where you are blasted to pieces only to be slowly and gently rebuilt as a new mother each time. Each time with a bigger heart. A bigger heart that melts at the smell of your newborn’s breath, that soars at the love in the eyes of your older children holding their new baby and that feels that you must be the most blessed person in the world when you sit and watch all of your babies sleeping in your bed. -
My birth in pictures
I live in Darwin in Australia's Tropical North and am the mother of three beautiful children. I am blessed with working with women through their fertility, preconception, pregnancy, birth and early parenting journeys. I am committed to lifelong learning and am interested in nutrition and natural health, the childbearing cycle, natural parenting philosophy and practice and the spiritual journey of motherhood.