This is the second in a series of stories for The Natural Parent Magazine by Emily Holdaway of Raising Ziggy
The day I went into labour, I didn’t realise that’s what it was. It felt too . . . gentle. I had been having what I assumed were Braxton Hicks all day and while I had thought ‘Ooooh maybe this is it’, they felt too mild to get my hopes up over. It didn’t feel like what I thought labour would feel like. They didn’t hurt, my waters hadn’t broken and there was no bloody tinged discharge. I don’t think I’ve ever checked my knickers so much in one day. Where was the fast onset of pain portrayed in every movie or TV birth I had ever seen? Because this wasn’t it.
Later that evening, looking at my ‘Am I in labour?’ sheet of paper, the only box I could tick was ‘6 – 10 mins apart’. I called my midwife Sam, and she confirmed she thought I was in early labour. Go to bed, get some rest and touch base in the morning.Â
So we went to bed. But I was too uncomfortable to sleep, and once AJ fell asleep I slipped out to the lounge, turned on the TV and, with our two cats as company, started swaying through the contractions.
AJ woke up at 11pm to an empty bed and came to find me. I had just thrown up and the contractions were getting stronger, more intense, and were now about 3 mins apart. He wanted to call our midwife. I didn’t feel we needed to. First births go on for ages, don’t they. Don’t they? He called our midwife.
Sam arrived at midnight, took one look at me working through another contraction and decided we had to leave. AJ called Cassie. I panicked. I was not prepared to go to the birth centre, I didn’t even have clothes on, just a dressing gown! I raced into the bedroom to dress and chuck on waterproof mascara, and during the lull between contractions in the ride to the birth centre, I managed to plait my hair. There was going to be a photographer there dammit, and I wanted to look good.
We arrived just after midnight.Â We’d left the house in such a hurry that AJ dropped me off, then shot back home to grab a few things and dress himself properly. By now the contractions had really stepped it up a notch and I was trying anything to get comfy while Sam ran the bath. Â I tried the Swiss ball, the bed, swaying…but nothing helped. The moment the bath was ready I was in there. Oh, it was bliss. The water felt incredible, it encased me and held me up. I could twist and turn and move around, and while the contractions still gripped me tightly, there was an ease to my movements in the water that I didn’t have out of it.
The next few hours were hard work. I had declined any form of pain relief as I wanted to deliver our baby myself. To be the first person to touch him, hold him. And for that to happen, I needed to be as alert as possible, no interventions unless absolutely necessary.
Having a solid birth plan helped me to focus. All my concentration was set on riding out each contraction, knowing the end result I wanted. I started to moan with each contraction, softly, quietly, as my stomach clenched. As the contractions got stronger, the moans got louder. Soon I started verbalising.Â ‘Ow ow ow’ turned to ‘OW, OW, OW’ and as the contractions intensified, so did my volume. I tried to yell the pain away. It didn’t really work, it still hurt, but it did help.
I threw up a lot. After each contraction I’d catch my breath and then I’d vomit. I’d have a sip of water, so I had something in my stomach, ride another contraction, gripping the sides of the bath, and vomit again. Sam offered me something for the nausea, but needles were involved so I declined. AJ was there, spew bucket in one hand, a glass of water in the other and a cold cloth for my forehead.
Sam gave AJ and I a lot of space to work together. While she checked our baby’s heartbeat regularly, she only checked me internally once, as I knelt on the steps to the bath. She never worried about how dilated I was, and said she could tell how far along we were by the sounds I was making. The trust she put into me and my body to do our thing was empowering.
As my contractions intensified, I worried I wouldn’t be able to do this for much longer. I was exhausted, almost falling asleep between contractions. ‘This is fucking hard,’ I told Sam, ‘where the fuck are these endorphins?’ She cracked up laughing at me. ‘You’re nearly there,’ she said, ‘You’re doing great.’ Looking back I realise this was transition, that final intense part of labour before gears change and you start to push.
Pushing is intense. You just grab onto something and hold on for the ride. Have you ever been so hungover that you’re throwing your guts up into the toilet? You know that uncontrollable retching your body does as it violently expels all the alcohol you ingested the night before? Pushing is like that. You have no say, your body just heaves and you go with it, you have to. It’s totally different to a contraction, the pain is different, not as sharp, not as unbearable.
Pushing was when my waters finally broke and a gush of pink stained the pool. This is also when I shat myself. This fact of birth is something you giggle and feel embarrassed about before you go into labour. But I’m telling you now, there’s no stopping it, it happens and it’s not a big deal. In fact, with everything that’s going on at this stage – you barely register. And your midwife takes care of you – cheers Sam!
As I pushed, I drew into myself, no longer verbalising my pain. I was focused on one thing. Our baby was about to be born and I was ready.
It is a surreal experience to feel your baby’s head crowning. Intense. Unforgettable. I could feel my skin stretch to make room, the burn they talk about, real, but not unbearable. I used my fingers to try and to ease the skin of my vagina around his head. Trying to be gentile, to minimise any tearing. I felt in control. I could feel the progress his head made as with each push, his head came closer and closer. Â Then there was a ‘pop’ as his head birthed. I felt this rush of emotion, I could feel a nose!
Time stood still as I held my baby’s head in my hands. This was actually happening. I asked AJ if he wanted to feel, but he was just crouching there with his mouth wide open, in awe. I don’t think he moved an inch as all of this was happening.Â With the next push, the rest of the body slipped out in a rush and I bought him to my chest.
I had a peek between his legs, the first person to touch him, the first person to see the sex of our child. We had a little boy and he was perfect. We sat there in the pool, skin to skin, my son and I. He was so calm. No screaming, no crying. He just looked up at me, taking it all in.
‘He looks like a goblin,’ I said. He did, he was grey and wrinkled and so small. But it only took a minute or two as the blood from the placenta pumped into his body and he turned bright pink.
Once his placenta had stopped pulsing blood through the cord, AJ cut it. Then Sam wrapped a towel around us, I bought him to my chest, and little Ziggy Jay nuzzled in for his first feed.
I can’t describe the emotions flooding through me at that moment. All that work, the pain and the effort was so worth it to have this bundle of deliciousness snuggled close to me. It’s a moment in our lives we will never forget. It was empowering, beautiful and I’ve never known love like it.
Thank you Cassie for giving us memories we’ll cherish forever. Thank you Sam and Sarah for your support during our pregnancy and our birth. And thank you to my wonderful partner, the light of my life, for being there for me, wiping away my puke and holding me up. You were amazing and I love you. Look what we made. Ziggy Jay. Perfection.
Emily Holdaway is a New Zealand parenting blogger gaining local recognition. She is a first time mum, sharing her journey to natural parenting through her entertaining and surprisingly open blog Raising Ziggy . Emily is an active volunteer of Waikato Baby Carriers, she attends La Leche meetings and also Kangatraining; supporting local businesses and offering advice and the benefits of these groups to other kiwi parents. In her spare time, you’ll find her in the garden with Ziggy and the chooks.