A precedent, but no expectations

Georgia Elyse Brimblecombe, 1 August 2020, 1:00 am, 3.80 kg

Friday had been a tiring and stressful day. That evening, Chris took Harriet (3 years 4 months old) to visit family for dinner while I stayed home to rest. They arrived home late and the transfer from car to bed was unfortunately unsuccessful – Harriet woke up and was very upset. This noise startled me and I also woke up, at 9:30 pm. It took a long time to settle her down, then finally we were calm and I was able to read her some stories and resettle her to sleep, soaking up the love and reconnection.

During pregnancy, the baby frequently changed positions from left to right, and posterior to anterior. I had felt tall, fit, strong, flexible, and was surprised how small the bump was and how much the baby was able to move right up to the last moment. We think Harriet was posterior during labour which may have added to the time she took to be born (52 hours at home). I was therefore trying all I could to make sure this second baby was in the ideal position – my midwife Anna-Lena was able to help with some acupuncture, I had been regularly attempting the spinning babies manoeuvres (upside down off the edge of the couch), and also spent as much time as possible on hands and knees (nice cat/cow stretches) and in deep squats. 

When labouring with Harriet I was very proactive and tried all the tips and tricks we had learned from our previous midwife Claire Eccleston. It was strange to have a precedent, to know what you were capable of once, but to have so much still unknown the second time. While I was reading Harriet those last two stories, I felt huge movements from baby and then suddenly all was still (baby had moved into birthing position!). On the next page of the story, contractions started and I had to pause as I was reading. I didn’t say anything to Harriet at that point (I wasn’t sure myself what was happening) and I snuck out to the lounge once she was snoozing. It was 11:00pm. 

It was strange to have a precedent, to know what you were capable of once, but to have so much still unknown the second time.

I wrote down 11:03, 11:06, 11:09 … wow they are regular contractions and getting more intense with each one. Seriously, after 15 minutes I went from “hmm that was slightly more than it has been the past few days” to “ow ow ow Chris this is actually hurting now”. 

He was watching football after a long week, we hadn’t yet reconnected after our difficult evening, and he was not looking forward to another long labour journey at that point. Nevertheless, he jumped up and went rummaging in the garage for spare plumbing parts to fill up the birthing pool in our bedroom with warm water through a hose from the bath spout – turned out to be the worst timing as we had just returned the gas califont that evening.

Speaking of the worst timing, it was the one night our lovely midwife Anna-Lena had off. She was blissfully resting, looking forward to being at our birth maybe the next day or week. Our midwives work so hard around the clock that it didn’t bother me, I appreciated that she needs rest too. It all started very suddenly and intensely that I didn’t have time to really think about it, and most people almost missed the birth anyway! After only 10 minutes of labouring, I sent simple “heads up, it might be starting soon” messages to my doula support friend Alison Barrett (btw, she’s also an OB/GYN! I’m so lucky) and our back up midwife Kelly Taylor who Harriet and I had previously met. I was trying to finish making porridge. Wow everything was so difficult right now! Kelly rang me at 11.30 pm and I said I was fine for now. But, I remember not being able to really think or talk, and felt like I couldn’t make decisions about whether she should come over now or not. She waited at the birthing centre (they had been at another birth there already).

Harriet and I had talked about birth a lot and what might happen. We read books about birth, we watched youtube videos of home water births with siblings, and we were both looking forward to it. We are lucky in NZ to have a good system for supporting home births, always with two midwives present (one to care for the mother and one for the baby, if anything bad was to happen). It is no less safe at home than it is at a birthing centre, as the midwives bring all of the equipment and medical things that might be required. We felt perfectly comfortable and confident at home. We had the pool set up in our bedroom, so Harriet could play in her own space in the lounge during the labour. Aunty Brooke was going to be our main support person for Harriet, with Alison and Chris also around to help. We had planned and prepared what we could, but really we had no idea what was going to happen. What time of day? How long? Who would be here at the time and how would Harriet react? Unlike most aspects of our lives, for birth you have to just relax and hand it over to nature, totally surrender, then sit back and watch the magic unfold. 

We felt perfectly comfortable and confident at home.

With Harriet’s birth I vomited 9 times. I remember each distinctly. It was horrible! This time I vomited again, and texted Kelly afterwards to let her know. That was when she rang to say they will come now (12:10 pm). I did not want anyone to help or touch me; I was doing this by myself. Last time Chris held me and rubbed my back for days! The contractions were ramping up so quickly this time though, I felt afraid that this painful stage would last for hours. I had a feeling it would be much quicker, but still couldn’t bring myself to say that – when I texted Alison I said “oh yeah cool come on over whenever, no rush”. 

I tried getting on the ground for some different positions but nope got straight back up and just stayed standing in one place for the whole labour. I tried to relax my shoulders, my face, neck and jaw, I tried opening my hands, facing my palms up, removing as much tension from my body as I could, thinking about keeping my hips open and free. But damn it was intense and difficult to relax. Kelly and Josie (the student midwife) arrived and I was shaking the tension from my hands and trying to let go. Really I was holding back though. Where is my Harriet? Where is Alison and Brooke? Will I even make it to the pool? I was asking Chris to wake up Harriet even though Brooke wasn’t here yet. He had managed to fill the pool while trying to be with me and do all the things at once. She was difficult to wake though, poor thing hadn’t been asleep long. 

I was standing in my bedroom leaning on my dresser. During the most painful contractions I could absolutely feel that it was my cervix opening. Every third contraction or so was different. More of a squeezing down from the top kind of sensation, I was able to be silent, slowly deeply breathing, feeling my body taking over. I wondered if the baby was going to just plop out onto the carpet! It certainly felt like that when I vomited again. I wanted to get in the pool but Harriet was still not with me. I waited and had one contraction leaning on the outside of the pool which was horrible. Kelly was able to listen to baby’s heartbeat with the doppler and all was good. Got in the pool and instantly felt so much more relaxed and comfortable. 

When Harriet was awake, she came into the bedroom with us but was very upset in the corner and still waking up. Chris was trying to help her and watch me at the same time. Brooke arrived, she was taking photos for us. I roar! Wow that must have been scary Harriet. My head stays in the room, providing a running commentary for everyone, I say “It’s okay love, the baby is coming! Yay! Come over here and see if you want”. 

With Harriet’s birth it was a marathon and I felt like I had gone into my own and retrieved my baby, called her here, convinced her to come into the world now. They say that women go to the stars to collect their baby and I can relate to that. With Georgia though it was different. I was hyper-aware of the physical sensations but also stayed connected to the people in the room, mainly because I was thinking of Harriet and wanted her to understand what was happening and reassure her not to be afraid, that I was okay. It would have been a bit scary for her at first perhaps, as she woke up right at the height of it all as the baby’s head was being born.

I roar again. I felt the membranes intact, coming out first, full soft and warm. I tried to slow down the pushing as much as possible and did everything I could to reduce tearing (there was a tear that healed fine on its own without stitches). The membranes burst as baby’s head popped out. 01:00 am. What a beautiful way to be born – from amniotic fluid straight into water then brought slowly into our home. “Hello baby!” I bring the baby up out of the water and onto my chest. A gentle blow on the baby’s face and then the first breath. Welcome baby! 

I ask Harriet to turn the twinkle lights on. Her face lights up and she joins us at the pool with a smile. She asks if we should check to see if it’s a boy or girl and to her delight she has a new baby sister! Her and Chris hop in the pool with us to meet her and check it all out. 

De Cleaver (backup midwife) and Alison arrived shortly after the birth. In total, that was a two hour labour! Only three minutes in the pool then baby was born. I was confident, relaxed and strong. Yet our baby girl arrived in this world so gently. It felt very special to share the first moments in our bedroom birthing pool with Chris and Harriet, surrounded by women full of knowledge, experience, love and support. Harriet asked if she could touch the cord (she knew all about what that was) although was surprised and curious about the vernix “what’s all that white stuff?!”. 

We hung out in the pool for 45 minutes or so, waiting until I could get the placenta out which wasn’t easy – I did not pull on the cord but was working through the process verbally with Kelly standing right beside me. She offered to reach into the pool and help, I tried on my own first then could feel the placenta half out but ripping slightly so I asked her to help. She gently worked the placenta out with a twisting pulling motion and it was all good. That went into a bowl and was then passed out of the pool with baby girl. 

We tucked up in bed and were in awe of what had just happened. You’re pretty sure your unborn baby will be perfect, but to meet them and feel relaxed and reassured all was okay, is just the best feeling. So content. I am proud of how we showed Harriet how normal it can be. 

I love that for both of my babies we were holding them close when they were checked over. Chris tied the muka (woven flax) around the umbilical cord then cut the cord with the medical scissors. Harriet enjoyed being part of the process, and was watching as the midwives explored the placenta – they commented how it was small but very thick and healthy. The cord was central and they looked at the cross-section of the blood vessels. Bleeding was minimal.  

When the remaining umbilical cord (pito) fell off a week later, we buried it under the kowhai tree with the placenta alongside Harriet’s, with a few words (karakia). 

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