Birth is intimate and I think, where possible, it’s important to honour that. My husband, Bruno has a son from a previous marriage who was born by caesarean. When I told him I wanted to have our baby at home he deeply respected my decision but was understandably concerned.
We decided to do a preparation for birth course with Alice at the Active Birth centre. It was fantastic. It was informative and gave us experiential knowledge of how Bruno could support me to have the active birth at home that I wanted. I think my baby’s birth was the most powerful and empowering experience of my life. It wasn’t easy.
I had vaguely heard about pre-labour but I’d like to mention it as I think, for me, it was an important part of my whole birth process. My actual labour was 7 hours but the process was much longer. My waters started to leak on the Monday and continued to leak slowly for days. Likewise, the contractions started slowly. Like ripples on a small lagoon. Little did I understand the vastness of the sea that this lagoon was connected to…
When the contractions became so intense that I needed to be in the shower for the relief that the heat and the power of the water gave I felt sure my baby was on the way. I spoke to my doula friend, Saradadevi, on the phone who assured me calmly that if I could speak that I wasn’t in labour. I spent most of the night in the shower with an intense feeling of opening deep within my abdomen. It subsided in the early hours and I slept the last few hours of the night.
The next day was Thursday and I could barely feel the contractions. My husband, Bruno, also thought I was in pre-labour and went to work. I felt a bit panicky that my baby wasn’t coming but Saradadevi said it sounded as if things were on the way. Again, I was distressed by her calm and wanted answers! A mama friend suggested I rest, that I would need energy for the birth. That afternoon I slept a little.
My husband, Bruno, arrived home and as soon as darkness fell the contractions came back with renewed vigour. I called Saradadevi but had to pass the phone to Bruno when the contraction came – I couldn’t talk! She got a taxi over and was soon with us. Bruno was worried and didn’t want to sleep but I encouraged him to because it would be good if one of us had energy.
Now the journey had started and with every contraction a rippling thrust of energy would pass through my body. Using sounds as we had been taught on the preparation for birth course at the active birth centre really helped. At the centre we had also used birth balls and I was so glad we had one because resting my chest on it while I knelt was the only way I could rest. If I tried sitting or lying down it would bring on a contraction.
It didn’t feel as if my body was contracting; the energy of contraction didn’t seem to originate in my body. Instead, I felt sure that the force of nature had entered my body and was moving it. It wasn’t, however, nature in terms of pretty flowers and landscaped gardens. I experienced the force of Mother Nature in her rawest state. It was as if the same force that moves tidal waves and erupts volcanoes was moving through my body.
I had attended a yoga class with Janet at the active birth centre the week before and her words ‘breathe the pain into the earth’ really stayed with me. When I was able to do it, it felt as if I was connected to this elemental force, that we were doing it together.
I spent a lot of time in the shower and was so glad to be at home where I could do this with comfort and with ease. By early morning, Saradadevi thought it was time to call the midwives. They arrived and introduced themselves. I had agreed in my birth plan to an initial examination and I was already very much dilated. They then allowed me, Bruno and Saradadevi to continue our active exercises to birth our baby.
A while later I remember one of the mid wives telling me that it wouldn’t be long now, to place my hand at the entrance of my vagina to feel my baby’s head.
It felt good to feel my little one’s soft head and I can still remember that sensation. Unfortunately, we were still pushing a few hours later. The midwives encouraged me to stop making sounds as they wanted me to conserve energy but I felt the opposite: that the sounds were helping me to create energy. The midwives said that we needed to do something.
I am so grateful that Saradadevi, our friend and doula was there. Her presence was like glowing candlelight. I was scared when they suggested a catheter to drain my bladder. Saradadevi was calm and explained that it was a good thing if it helped the baby come. It was ok but didn’t bring my baby. By this point, the midwives were listening to my baby’s heartbeat every fifteen minutes. This scared me as I was terrified of being whisked away to hospital.
True to the name we later gave her, my baby’s heartbeat remained steady throughout. Their next suggestion was a cut (episiotomy). This was also possible at home. The anaesthetic meant that I didn’t feel it at all. Sitting upright and leaning against Saradadevi and Bruno the midwives urged me to push with all my strength. Bruno was doing labour sounds with me by now which was really supportive. We had practised this on the Active Birth course.
Inwardly, I spoke mantras, prayed for my baby and surrendered. One hard push and she flew out into the mid-wife’s hands. Bruno cried and I think I was in shock. Saradadevi brought her to my breast and we sang a beloved mantra to her.
These were my first moments with our beautiful Serenna. It was as if soft starlight descended on the room. Seren means star in Welsh and Serena means serene in Brazilian Portuguese. Someone once told me that the Sanskrit word for vagina is yoni, which means something like gateway to the stars.
These were magical star-filled moments. Every birth is a miracle and while there can be dangers I think they are often over-played by the system.
After a little feeding, Bruno held her and they had to sew my vagina. It was painful. When they finished I realised that Saradadevi had cooked us a wonderful meal and while we ate she changed the bed. It was really special.
Although I was in physical pain for the next few weeks on a mental and spiritual level I was in a state of bliss! Scientifically, you might attribute that to oxytocin but I think an active home birth definitely helped make those first weeks exquisite.
Nothing short of pure star-filled, serene bliss with our baby Serenna! Birth is intensely intimate and I was so glad we managed it at home.
Photo credit: Khaled Kassem.