I often tell my clients that no two pregnancies or labours are the same. So I shouldn’t have been surprised by my recent experience, but somehow I was caught off guard. I imagined when the birth came round there would be an element of predictability in how it would unfold. Not so. You can read about the arrival of my first born here.
This little tinker had plans of his own, looking to start as he means to go on I imagine, make his mark, step out of his brother’s shadow.
On the surface, it seems like it started at 1.30 am on Wednesday. This is when my waters went. (An unexpected start). But no. NO. This labour began at least 2 weeks before, in my mind at least, and let’s face it I’m the only one with a reliable view on this. Prodromal labour. I knew about it, of course. When it began, I wrote about the importance of framing it positively as warming up, rather than a slowing down of our expected experience. That was all well and good, but as the days ticked by, it became harder and harder to stay positive and grateful.
A week into this, the Thursday that was our EDD, I was quite convinced that the gentle surges I had been experiencing had stepped up a notch, and that baby was on his way. Begged hubs to stay home as I was “sure”. And then at some point, everything died off. AGAIN. And so it went on over the following 5 days.
There was a gradual building in intensity to what I was feeling- surging, period type back aches, nausea, the other thing, emotional outbursts, etc. I could actually feel my cervix softening.
Tuesday evening, the saga continued and off we went to bed. Around 1.30, Louis woke up to come in our bed (semi- regular occurrence). As I settled myself back into bed after the obligatory bladder empty, I experienced a couple of these now familiar surges, and thought about what could be holding me and baby back. I reflected on a wonderful EFT session I had a couple of months before with my fantastic friend Gemma Bennett, where we worked through some of my negative emotions and musings surrounding the pregnancy. So I started to speak to myself- the positive, affirming statements I could hear her making in my memory, filling my mind. I smiled to myself, relieved by the release, and in moments, felt that first trickle of waters. Hurrah! The mind really is a fricking powerful thing.
I alerted Nick, as I felt that with such a long build up, things might happen quite quickly. When I got to the bathroom I was relieved to see the waters totally clear, and headed downstairs to get set up.
For my part, this meant getting the snack zone ready, and gathering my comforts. My essential oils, hot water bottle and candles. I also emptied the dishwasher so that there were clean bits for us and midwives and anyone else who might turn up. Through this time the surges continued to appear sporadically, but I could move comfortably through them.
Around 2.30 we settled down to watch some comedy (Peter Kay’s tour that didn’t tour, if you’re interested). I sat on my ball through this time, a blanket wrapped around me and hot water bottle on hand as we waited for the house to warm up a little.
There was no pattern whatsoever emerging. 2 surges might come along within 30 seconds of each other, often very intense and shortish (20-40 seconds). Then I might go 15 minutes with none. Then maybe a few long but gentler ones (60-90 seconds) with 5 minutes in between. Totally random.
After a good laugh and oxytocin hike with the comedy, we put my Calm Birth School mp3s on as I knelt on the floor leaning forward onto my ball, rocking and rolling with the surges. I picked this up at our HAPPy Bumps workshops, it’s one of Jade’s faves and I know why. It was nice to take some weight off of my back, and I felt my pelvis widening and loosening.
I think this was when Nick started filling the pool. I had no intention of getting in any time soon, but our boiler can be wimpy and we hadn’t done a wet run so didn’t want to chance it. He covered it over to keep the heat in and we carried on.
I was drinking lots, (and munching fruit and oat cookies) and frequently needed to empty my bladder. Each trip up to the toilet brought a good few intensive surges.
I felt tired, wanted to lay down and rest, but as soon as I attempted to lay, even sideways on the sofa, I was very uncomfortable and sprung back up. Needed a new plan for rest, so sat on the ball and got my light touch massage from Nick. The surges continued irregularly, and I embraced some clary sage action (inhaling) in an attempt to gain some momentum. I also found it really helpful to breathe in lavender oil from a tissue during the most intense ones. I’ve used lavender a lot through the pregnancy to aid relaxation, and have conditioned myself to calm with it.
I had called my mum as she had a 3 hour drive to get to us and be on hand for Louis, (who had thankfully remained asleep) and around 5.45am, she and my dad arrived.
I wonder if this allowed me to relax a little more, knowing that if he woke up we had help, as although still very erratic, the stronger surges got stronger still after they arrived. I realised that walking around seemed to be the best way to gain regular progress, so wandered around the living room in tiny laps and my body responded.
Each surge was now fairly significant, requiring me to stand and sway, swivelling my hips, bending my knees instinctively, listening to my body and seeking the most comfortable posture, and for the first time begin to vocalise through them alongside the breathing. During these, Nick would stand by me so I could lean into him while he stroked my back and neck and offered me encouragement.
Around 6.15, I told Nick I thought it was time to call for a midwife. I honestly had no idea how long things might go on for, but was reaching a level of intensity that spelt progress. Each surge now had more and more power, although they continued to vary in length and frequency.
Within about half an hour, 2 midwives, Maria (who had already welcomed a baby earlier in her shift) and Denise arrived, but explained there would be shift changeovers soon, so we would likely see 2 more faces.
Maria suggested she do some checks, and we did my bp sitting on the ball, choosing a moment immediately after a surge to lay back on the sofa for baby to be checked. I had to jump up pretty quickly as another came along, but all was well.
I was clear that I didn’t want any vaginal examinations all being well, and this was no issue.
I think around 7, Denise left and Jill arrived, although I didn’t see her at first. I’d gone back to leaning over my ball on the floor, as Nick reminded me I had seemed to make good progress in this position. I was keen to get things going as I could feel myself tiring- let’s face it, even if we just got up at 1.30am to sit round chilling we would be sleepy again by 7.
I could hear Louis up and about with my mum and dad upstairs, playing happily, it was great to know he was settled.
Leaning over that ball, being stroked through the surges, breathing and ahhhh-ing along, I remember saying, when asked, that I couldn’t tell if it would be another 6 hours or if I would birth within 10 minutes. But I suspected I was in transition. I could feel the adrenaline seeping in, a slight sense of vulnerability.
Around 7.30 I think, another surge came, the very beginnings of the urge to bear down appeared, and the remainder of my waters gushed out. I instinctively called out for the midwives who were catching up on the playroom to come in. I had been really happy to have privacy and space up until this point, but now wanted them close.
They came and checked the colour of the waters, everything still looked good. I looked to them for guidance- part of me wanted to get in the pool, something was holding me back. Looking back I think it was hearing my mum and dad getting Louis ready to go out for an 8 o’clock brekkie. I think I knew once I got in it would be all go, and would have liked him out the house. But my body was taking over, and around 7.45 I stripped off, (pausing with a surge that soaked Nick’s feet…) before being helped in.
I was pleasantly surprised by the warmth of the water, it felt so good. As I looked to settle myself into a comfortable posture, Nick suggested he would get in to raise the water level and support me. I was really happy with this, and as he dripped the water up and down my back through the next surge, I settled onto my knees spread far apart, leaning forwards with my hands on the base of the pool and my face resting on the side.
This was definitely it- not too soon to be in the pool…
These were now some serious surges. Louis popped his head round the door, and Nick told him I was having a wash… He was just about to leave the house, when the next one came. I breathed through the rising of it, then the primal urge to roar kicked in as I felt the baby’s head descend. Mouth wide open, sphincter law in mind, it felt great to let go of that energy.
I spent the next half hr or so breathing, ahhhhing, roaring, horse-lips-ing, swaying through the surges. Maria was excellent at gently reminding me to check if the sounds were helping me, sometimes they were, sometimes it was better to return to the calm breathing. “Ride the wave, listen to your body”, she told me quietly and gently.
Her kind encouragement by my face, Nick behind me stroking my back and trickling water on me, telling me how well it was going and reminding me to relax. I was reassured knowing Jill was keeping an eye on what was happening, and gave me guidance when I asked for it. I felt encircled in support, calmness and confidence.
Maria intermittently checked baby’s heartbeat and reassured me he was consistently calm.
As my body worked hard to bring baby down, there were moments of fear, for sure. Pain, definitely. A sense that I wanted it to be over. Adrenaline was doing its work to bring that vital surge of energy. These moments of extreme intensity, came and went throughout this period, in between I was calmed by visualising my calming colour, by Nick’s reminder of my favourite affirmation- “My surges cannot be stronger then me, because they are me”, by various calming breathing techniques, whatever felt right in the moment.
I never felt I was pushing, only ever that I was allowing my body’s natural reflex to kick in.
When Nick said afterwards that I’d not even asked about gas and air that I considered this- it had genuinely never crossed my mind. Although the pain was significant in those final 20 minutes, I never had a sense that I needed anything extra to manage it. I knew I had the strength to absorb the sensations, I can even say I enjoyed the pain of those moments- I know it sounds odd. It was a productive sensation, it told me I was soon to meet my baby.
It told me I had achieved so much, that the calmness and confidence of the past 6+ hours were a real experience of a complete labour. Up until this period, I must admit to wondering whether I could really be coping so well, whether the trickery of the weeks of prodromal labour was drawing on, and I might only be establishing.
I felt his head emerging, then retreating as I waited for the next surge, my body gradually accommodating him. I had doubts and called out “I don’t feel like there’s enough room!” And was reassured by Jill, “there always is, your body will find a way”.
As the next surge came, I felt the head crown, and cleared my mind to let my body entirely take control. The water really eased the sensation, and I was reminded to pause if I needed to. I just waited, let go, and let my body do its thing.
Eventually, I heard Jill say that the head was out, but this was confusing- I’d been waiting for the relief of closing a little around the neck, but it never came. I later learnt this was because he had emerged compound- superman style with his hand on his head. This also explains why I also shouted out “someone is pushing him back in!” As I felt fingers on my perineum his of course, and my body just holding off the final surges to allow him to rotate a little.
I’m glad no one told me this in that moment- no good could’ve come of knowing this! I felt it was another mark of excellent midwifery care.
In a few moments, the surging returned, the baby’s body started to slip down, and I felt Jill and Nick support him on his way out.
I didn’t turn round immediately, I felt I needed a moment to absorb what had happened. When I then looked over my shoulder, it was so strange and wonderful to see Nick holding our baby. Watching him falling in love with this perfect vernixy bundle. Realising his own part in this experience- it would be wrong to say he supported me, it felt more like an absolute team effort- totally in it together.
“Give me the baby!!”. As I climbed over the cord and Nick handed him to me, the rush was incredible. We sat huddled together, in awe and in love. These moments are a bit of a blur, the thinking mind obscured by the haze of the hormones. I just remember sitting there cuddling, with the midwives watching on quietly, feeling so grateful.
After some time, Jill showed us that the cord had stopped pulsating, and suggested we clamp and cut. Nick went to grab some dry clothes so that he could cut the cord then take the baby whilst I got out. I ordered in the paracetamol- people weren’t kidding when they warned me that the after pains with number 2 could be strong.
I was happy to get out of the pool to deliver the placenta, I wanted to move towards warm cuddles with my baby, and a more normal situation for Louis to come home to. I was helped out of the pool into the sofa, laid back ready to drop the placenta off the edge (seriously, this is the detail we are doing). Nick sat next to me cradling Rory so that we were all close. But the reclining was uncomfortable- once again, I just knew I needed to get up.
So I stood, leant forwards slightly with my hands on my thighs. Jill checked the tautness of the cord, and suggested I might try a little push. I did and it was more than enough…
Placenta and surrounding products launched to the floor like a rocket (into awaiting bag to be checked and put aside for encapsulation). Spattered Nick’s legs- they really went through it…
I was delighted to achieve a natural 3rd stage, and desperate to get back to holding my baby.
But I had a feeling I had torn during the birth, which Jill confirmed. Not surprising given that superman presentation entrance by baby. I prayed for second degree that would keep me at home to get sorted.
Wahhhhhh- 3a tear was diagnosed, and an ambulance was called to transfer us in. Obviously it was a huge disappointment to leave the comfort of our home and abandon those early family moments I had dreamt about. I will write another time about the difficulties I experienced given how overstretched the postnatal unit seemed to be, and how this has affected our journey, as I think it’s important to recognise. This early postnatal period is often overlooked, and my experience has given me food for thought about how I can support my mamas more comprehensively going forward. But I’ll save this for later.
Because this is about the most empowering experience of my life. The contrast between this, and the arrival of my first little love, was incredible. This time, I had much more good luck- no bleeding, wonderful midwives and timings that worked out just perfectly. Both were hypnobirths. In some ways, I leant on the techniques more in Louis’s birth because things were more difficult. Everything that was good about his birth was because of hypnobirthing.
This time felt like how birth should be when all is well with mother and baby. Felt like I was so deep in the philosophy of what I teach that I didn’t think of it as hypnobirthing, just birthing, naturally dipping into the supportive tools when I needed them. No examinations, no timescales, no rules, no suggestion of drugs, or intervention. It felt like how our ancestors might have done it.
So this post is loooooooonnnnnnnggggg. And when I review it again I’m sure I’ll find more I want to say and add a little in.
As I finish this, I’m on the sofa (right at the site of the placenta deluge) with Rory sleeping on my chest. Breathing in his head, it’s magical and a bit surreal to be just a couple of feet from the spot where he was born.
I am already giddy to bring these refreshed feelings of empowerment to a new set of super parents…
Keri Jarvis is a Mother (of a 3 year old tyrant, and a big fat baby), Wife, Birth Addict (not that she wants to keep doing it forever- thinking 2 littles will be quite enough. But addicted to, obsessed by, totally dedicated to enabling parents to give their babies births that they all feel great about). She has been SO LUCKY to have supported around 150 families in welcoming their babies so far, and she continues to be amazed at the power of a couple who are well prepared and in it together- always in awe of her amazing gang.
Find out more about Keri on Instagram or Facebook.