Friday evening, August 10 2012. The day after your late grandmother’s birthday. I never met her, either. Earlier today, your brother and sister found the first daffodils of the season. They were her favourite. Spring is blooming. I see the life-death-life cycle everywhere.
Once Rose and Blasko had finished bedtime stories and nodded off, either side of me, at about 7.00pm, I (awkwardly!) lifted my heavy body from between them and sat by the fire in the lounge room. At about quarter past, I realised I had to stop in the middle of typing a text message to my younger sister – frick, the tightenings tonight were strong! It happened again as I was typing on the computer not long after. I told myself it was just really strong prelabour, and texted Pete that I hoped I didn’t have six weeks of prelabour this strong (I had had six weeks of prelabour with Blas). His response? ‘Mmmm, interesting.’ We’d dropped him at the train station that morning, and by that evening he was in Byron Bay for the Natural Learning Conference.
I’d had none of the signs I had come to expect in the lead up to birth – gradual loss of the plug, etc. I wasn’t expecting this babe to arrive for another couple of weeks, and for some reason had actually been thinking I might gestate even longer than that. I knew that if I went to the toilet with the runs, something was happening – but even as I was on and off the toilet with exactly that, I was still in denial. I had just had my blessingway five days earlier, and had not yet gathered all my birthy supplies in one spot (I loike everything to be Just So, dammit, so I couldn’t be in labour, y’see?). I figured now might be a good time to scour the house for my bits and pieces, and have them out on the kitchen table. I put my post-birth tea from Julie by the jug, with my glass infuser tea cup. No harm in just keeping it there for however much longer I was pregnant, right? Just getting organised for LATER on, y’see… Luckily I had gotten the tea down from the very top shelf of the pantry earlier that day (standing on a chair) – intuition…
I brought in more fire wood from outside. At quarter to eight, in the middle of a tightening, I had the thought, “Fuck having no hot water!!”, and came closer to admitting I was labouring. Hot water had been my comfort throughout my previous two births, and we had run out that day…
At about quarter past eight, I finally admitted I was birthing tonight. Soon. I texted Pete that this was for real. Between tightenings, I gathered old towels, a blanket for the floor (that I had to pull down from a top bunk, guh!), a bowl for the placenta, considered lighting my blessingway candle but could only find the shitty matches that don’t always strike. I realised I did not feel ready. There was fear. Fear because, emotionally, I was unprepared. I had been avoiding facing certain emotional realities during pregnancy, and hoping to squeeze in a last minute therapy session sometime in the last couple of weeks of being pregnant. Too late. I could feel my resistance to birthing tonight. I wrote, on my phone notes, ‘We don’t have to be ready. In fact, life happens, whether we are or not.’; I felt I needed to acknowledge it in order to be able to birth. Sam had given me an affirmation for my birthspace, it sat on my altar – it read, ‘Unfurl Unfold Expand Embrace.’ I took it on as my mantra, repeated to myself through the emotional fear that came with each tightening.
UnfurlUnfoldExpandEmbraceUnfurlunfoldexpandembrace unfurl. unfold. expand. embrace.
I remember repeating it as I rocked through a tightening on the toilet. At one point I tried sitting backwards on the toilet, I remembered other womyn having done that – oh! Worst. idea. ever. That was the most uncomfortable tightening of all, the one that hit as I sat there. I realised I soon would not be able to keep getting up to make the trip to the toilet. I grabbed a low-lying tub from the laundry and took it back to the lounge, instead. I lay the blanket down on my lounge room floor, folded for thickness, in front of my birth / blessingway altar, with the fire to my right. A towel on top of the blanket. The tub at the ready.
A couple of days earlier, I had gathered all my blessingway beads into a bowl on the altar so the children and/or cats did not scatter them. I felt a panic that they were tucked away, I wanted to be able to see them as I did this! I emptied the bowl, my belly tightening, body swaying, each bead placed carefully on the altar so as not to drop or clang together – my two children were still asleep. I had not had the time to do what I had thought would be a lovely end-of-pregnancy activity – string together my birthing necklace. I needed the beads out, in view; I remembered each womyn as I placed them down.
I remembered Michel Odent’s piece, Don’t Wake The Mother, and realised I needed to make the room warm – I wouldn’t want to be doing it afterwards. I got a warm cardigan and kept it nearby. I built up the gently burning fire, to a roar. I wanted it to burn, burn, for a long time to come.
I couldn’t go all the way to labourland; I was expecting my children to wake and come out any moment. Thought, if that happens, I’m fucked! Not concern over them witnessing birth, but over the possibility of distraction and neediness in the midst of my birthing. I rocked and swayed through the tightenings, some standing by the fire, others rocking over a pillow on the blanket. I finally kicked off my clothes, like a final, loud admission that this was happening then and there. Eventually I got down and couldn’t get back up. I was becoming loud. I was aware of the cat watching me from atop the pile of clean washing. The other children still on my mind, and I noticed I was holding back for fear of waking them. Knew I had to release, and be how I needed. Moaned, loudly, as each tightening came upon me. Thick and fast. Intense. Inescapable. Found myself in the head-down, bum-up, labour-slowing position, saying, “I just want a little break, just a break.” Felt I was stalling things with my unwillingness to be birthing before I felt ready. Had to face what I had been pushing away throughout the entire pregnancy. I sat up. I spoke with my baby, open and honest and vulnerable. I told her what I was scared of.
I’m scared I’m not a good mother.
I don’t think I deserve to be having another baby, after the terrible job I’ve already done.
I’m scared this time it’ll be a long labour, and there’s no one here to remind me I can do this.
I’m scared you’ll die.
I’m scared of something somehow going wrong, and I’m all alone.
I’m scared I’ll get depression again.
I’m scared I’ll be suicidal again.
I’m scared I won’t be able to parent three.
I cried. I felt relief. My baby knew me, nothing hidden, no pretense. Knew it wasn’t all excitement to be having her enter my life, knew there was fear and hesitation, too. I knew myself, honestly, as a birthing womyn who trusts her own self to birth most safely when alone, and at the same time, afraid of the very small possibility of needing assistance, and not having it. Birth and death, they dance so closely to each other.
I did not resume the head-down position. I knelt. I squatted. In front of my birthing altar. I leaned forward onto the lounge next to it. Once, I bit into the armrest. When I needed to, I aimed my butt over the tub, with surprising precision. I felt her coming. We knew I was ready. I talked her down, through each tightening, though I cannot remember what I said. I think once it was, “Come, baby, come.” Her crowning felt different to my other two, in that I felt I had the control to let her slip a little out, then back in, a few times. I did not want to, I wanted to birth her, the instant her head emerged, as had happened with my other two without my having any control – but I was present enough to have this self-control, to care for my perineum. I could feel her little head crowning, and momentarily wondered if it was, in fact, a little bum coming out first instead, it just felt so small! It was indeed her head, and I think it was the third time that it emerged, that I birthed her. Quarter to nine. And then her fast, slippery body next. Into the tub… Gut flora, people! I picked her up, in awe, amazement, excitement, relief, wonder, high. Joy. Laughing. Crying. Smiling. Greeting her, clutching her to me. Vernix down her back, on her head. Wipe the poo from one side of her scalp as I cuddle her. Breathe her in. Delight. Squishy, soft, warm, wet, fresh delight, who knows me intimately. And I, her. Yes, her. Daddy and I thought you would be a girl, and here you are. We’ve been expecting you. No name has been decided, so for these moments you are just You, your Self, in a space of pure being and no label. I already cannot get enough of snuggling you, and you are at my breast. I wrap us in warmth; a cardigan, towels, we sit by the fire. After a little while, I move slowly, and squat over the awaiting bowl for the placenta. The tightenings for its release are as strong as those were for your own, and it is with relief that I birth your wombmate with a great resounding slop! . It sits in the bowl, an island amidst dark, bright, fresh red lifeblood. I think we move to the lounge now, you and I, baby – and the placenta bowl, all attached. My breast to your mouth, your belly to your umbilical cord to your placenta. We sit, together. It’s been an hour, it’s now quarter to ten. I brew Julie’s post-birth tea, and the post-natal perineum mix to have ready for later. Sit the tea on the birthing altar. I call your Daddy, tell him you’re here. We talk for forty minutes, I think mostly it is me recounting your dance into this world. Eventually, there are no more words, and I am tired.
Alone again, you and I.
I adore you.
I shuffle to the kitchen, towel between my legs, you in one arm, the placenta bowl in my other hand. Place the bowl on the bench, rummage in the dark for scissors, to cut your cord. It’s been two hours, and with the roaring heat of the fire, I do not want your placenta kept out any longer. The cord is tough. I’ve never cut one before. It is difficult. The cord is ice cold, I remember the feeling well from your brother & sister’s births, too. Finally, the scissors get through. I forgot to tie it, somewhere in my mind thought that after two hours, there would be no need. Lingering blood from the cord gushes over your belly, tiny thighs, vulva, and I rush for a cloth. Place your placenta in the fridge, after rearranging leftovers onto another shelf. Realise the lounge room stinks. Must get the tub out. And the cat, who is beginning to nag. Keeping the towel between my legs, I shuffle as I alternately kick the tub along the floor, and usher the cat to the back door. Cold night. Once both tub and cat are out the door, I shut it. Ah. Relief. Scoop dirty towels from lounge room, dump in laundry sink. If the cats get back in, don’t want them going through it all on the floor.
This whole time, the afterpains are close on unbearable, the strongest I’ve had. They are reminiscent of your birth tightenings, but not all-consuming as those were. I find undies. Soft, new cloth pad. I need to wee, dread it. Lean far forward on toilet, you in my arms, brace for the sting, that never comes. I have not torn, nor even scratched. I feel amazing.
Back to the firelit lounge room. Drag the blanket from the floor to the lounge. Lie back, snuggling you. I am crashing. Hungry. Parched, so dry. Beginning to get dizzy. I must stop, rest.
Your brother half-wakes, I know all he needs is a cuddle & he’d be asleep again in moments. But I can’t get up. I am spent.
“MUUUUM!” Upset now, and waking your sister, too.
I call back. I can’t get up. “You need to come out here.”
Two bleary-eyed children, upset at having to get out of bed. Their eyes widen as they realise you are here. Your sister marvels, “She’s got such tiny toes!” She always knew you would be her sister, not a brother. Your brother remembers what I said to him when I refused to give him the breast in the last months of pregnancy, he asks if the milk is back. Just before midnight, we have our first ever tandem feed. I am tired, I am capable, I am mother.
Your brother and sister want cuddles in the big bed. I do not feel that I can move. Your big sister gets blankets and pillows, and the two of them vacillate between wanting to sleep on the single lounges, or on the floor. She is continuously re-setting up beds for the two of them. They also can’t decide whether they want to snuggle together, or be separate. Your brother ends up playing with trains in the bedroom, and after a while, your sister joins him. They become rambunctious. I am feeling unwell. I need sleep, but they are squealing and clanking. Part of me thinks I’ll manage, and another part knows I need to reach out; it is the latter that writes the second part of the text I send out to a few friends: ‘Babe earthside. Pete away.’
Linn responds. Asks if I need her. I say I’m fine, maybe I need help in the morning. She tells me she will take her phone off silent, and is able to come. I realise, I am dizzy, hungry, parched, and feeling on the verge of breaking down over your siblings’ noise whilst I need to rest. And I will not be able to change any of that, myself, any time soon. I change my mind, instead.
In the time it takes for Linn to travel from her place to mine, I break down. I am so relieved she is coming. I text Pete that my post-birth high has been robbed from me as I cry, and beg for quiet so I can rest; I am feeling sick from lack of sleep. I text him again when Linn is on her way, and he is yet again amazed by the peeps of JB. Linn arrives around 1.30am. When she pops her head around the corner of my lounge room, and asks how I am, I break out in tears. “I’m struggling.” She comes over, and cradles my face with her hand, like a makeshift hug as she respects the space of our dyad – you are sleeping on my chest. I will never forget the feeling. Instantly I know all will be well, I will be cared for, nurtured – by this womyn I had only met in the flesh five days earlier, when she took on leading my blessingway.
Linn feeds us all. Thick, buttered raisin toast, thoughtfully cut into quarters so I can eat with one hand. More tea. Tends to the fire. Changes my pads. Reads stories to my oldest two until 4.00am. Thankfully, Rose takes a shine to her, and chooses to sleep on the top bunk, with Linn on the bottom. This means the big bed is not too crowded; I take babe and Blas, who crashes instantly. I do not. I doze only a little, though I am exhausted, and beyond. And there is this new. person. on. me.