Keri's third baby, Ian, was born at home in August 2004. His big sister, Betty, was another home waterbirth baby.
This is the hardest of my three birth stories to write; not because it was a hard birth, but because it felt so normal. In fact in terms of any kind of medical model of labour and birth it was far from 'normal', but thinking about it nearly 48 hours later, it feels as it was all in a night's work, it was straightforward, it was just me and my body, there was nothing physically or emotionally complicated about it. I have a beautiful baby to show for it but I don't feel particularly euphoric or proud about how it went - it just went the way it went just the way you do any other domestic job.
But I need to put down some physical facts about it; I have my midwife's notes downstairs and I'm itching to read them. Before I do so I need to get my own unadulterated perspective on what happened.
I was 40+1 - more pregnant than I'd ever been, and was fluctuating between feeling 'this baby will come when it's ready' and thinking 'I want this baby out'. I was slightly anxious on one level that the longer he stayed in, the bigger he was going to get, and I knew I grew big babies anyway. Although Lynn had said she thought he wasn't going to be as big as I was predicting, I felt that we were expecting more than 10lb of little boy - and although I knew I could do it, at some level I would have been delighted to birth 7lb rather than 10!
I had on-and-off contractions on the Sunday morning, and again on the Monday morning, including one painful catch-your-breath type at 10.30am. Then nothing much until the kids' bedtime, when they were irregular but making their presence felt. Three times over those two days I tried to time them and write them down, but it was almost as if the mere act of writing down the times sent them haywire again.
Instead, at around 8.30pm Jo decided to go to bed; we both felt that this could well be it tonight, and thought it would be sensible to go to sleep. At 9, I followed him, and again on lying down and relaxing, the contractions stopped.
At 9.50 I was woken by a strong one, though, and lay awake, breathing through just three or four more contractions, until I woke Jo at 10.45pm and told him I thought we were in business - still far from regular, but consistently strong. And at 11.15 I called Lynn - feeling calm and not too worried about what was to come. Her reaction was absolutely positive: no numbers, no 'are they five minutes apart', no pigeon-holing. No element of mistrust or an attempt to assess me on the phone to make sure I was genuine. Just 'excellent, that's great news, I'll see you as soon as I can'.
Suddenly I felt shaky, and by the time I'd finished the short walk into the kitchen, my whole body was quivering, my teeth chattering. We weren't planning any vaginal examinations or intervention in this labour at all so I didn't feel the need to do things by the book either. I knew that you're not 'supposed' to get into the pool until you're 4-5cm dilated, or if you're not using dilation as a guide, when you're in established labour. But I got in anyway because my instinct told me that's where I'd feel most comfortable, and I knew these pains were not going to go away. This was the real thing.
Instantly I stopped shaking and felt relaxed; the pains, though still coming, became far gentler and I leant forwards in the pool with my head on the side and tried to relax. Jo had lit some candles - about six, around the kitchen - but that was far too bright and slowly he extinguished them until we were left with just one: a level of brightness that I could just about tolerate.
Lynn arrived at around midnight and I remember smiling at Jo, feeling that I knew our baby's birthday then: it was going to be the 17th August. Lynn unpacked her bits and pieces and joined Jo next to the pool, on the floor, while I rode the contractions with my breath. Long exhalations helped immensely, but I was acutely aware that the parts of the contractions where I had to breathe in was painful: it was a pay-off between the painful inhalations and the relief of the exhalations. Like in the last two labours I tried counting my breaths, and like in the last two labours I found that most of the contractions lasted around ten breaths, with the most painful bit around breath four.
The rest is already hazy. Time passed neither quickly nor slowly, and between the contractions I sometimes tried to doze, and other times felt really quite bored. I would have a batch of contractions that were regular, then some more time off, although gradually I could feel the strength of each one building in comparison to the last.
Eventually I asked Lynn where she thought I might be. I'd had a few double-peaked contractions by then - or were they simply one on top of the other - and I was disgusted to hear that she thought I might just about be in established labour! I wanted her to offer me a VE to give me a guage; I wanted to know whether I was in this for another hour or two or whether I was going to be at it all night. I wanted her to tell me it was all going to be over soon.
My noises changed. I had been blowing my breath out and then I began to make throaty noises within the contractions: I had to. The contractions were also feeling ever-so-slightly pushy. Within a few I was roaring hard and clutching Jo's hand tightly as he sat opposite me. Around this stage I had a good length of time off, as well - no idea how much but it felt like at least five minutes - and the intellectual part of me that was still functioning wondered whether this was 'rest and be thankful'. I certainly enjoyed the short lack of contractions. I also had a few that began to build and lasted a single breath, then went away. I think I was mentally fighting them; controlling their absence for a while.
I had this strange feeling that I can only describe as a 'passage' and asked Lynn whether the baby's head was crowning. This wasn't because I wanted a marker for the labour, but because I just didn't recognise the feeling at all - there was no classic urge to poo that I'd experienced with the other two but a definite feeling of hardness inside, and several times I put my hand down to see what I could feel.
Actually it was a precursor to the crowning, because then I could feel that immense pressure of the baby's head just inside me, and the urge to push. It was about this time that I felt I did have a marker from Lynn - we'd discussed during the pregnancy how to do second stage, what her role would be and whether she would coach me, and she had said she was usually behind the woman with a torch watching the progress. I was dimly aware of the torchlight shining into the water, and knew I was nearly there.
Still, the urge to push was overwhelming but I felt I had to control it - it felt like I would pop otherwise. I really could control this stage; I let the baby come so far - as far as I dared - and then stopped it again. I bit on the side of the pool and it felt good to do that; I squeezed Jo's hand (he said later that he thought I was going to break his fingers) and that felt good too. There was no 'splitting in two' sensation but finally a time where I knew I was going to open up further than I ever had done before, and with a huge push the baby's head was born.
I felt like it was nearly over, but I knew I had one more hard bit to do. I waited - I wasn't in any hurry to do the last hard bit! And then my body overcame my mind and out came Ian's body.
'Pick your baby up. Pick your baby up,' I heard, and saw this enormous pink body at the bottom of the pool, that I scooped up. It was no surprise that he was a boy.
The third stage is the hardest to make sense of and I feel like I need to do lots of reading around the subject to even begin to understand what was going on. Ian's cord was wrapped around and under his shoulder and Lynn wonders whether that position gave it a little tug on the placenta as he was coming out.
He cried as soon as he reached the surface, and pinked up instantly. My reaction to his crying was to put him to the breast, although feeling that his cord was short it took me a while to realise that actually it was tangled rather than short, and we untangled him and he fed. And fed. And fed. I sat in the pool with him latched on for nearly an hour, I'm told, while the afterpains built up and I expected the placenta to simply separate and pop out into the reddening water.
But it didn't, and I found the water getting bloodier and bloodier quite disconcerting, so finally we got out, cord still intact, and I sat for a while while we simply waited for this placenta to appear. I felt hot and cold, shivery and increasingly dizzy. I lay down; Ian still latched on and suckling. The afterpains came in stronger and stronger waves: calm breathing like in first stage stopped working, and swearing and shouting and panicking didn't help much either. Lynn kept urging me to push with the pain, but it was too much. I'd DONE the pain with the second stage and just felt cross now - I just wanted to go away so I could enjoy my baby without some stupid placenta ruining it all. The best I could do was give little pushes between the contractions.
Finally we cut the cord - we'd wanted to wait until after the placenta was delivered - but I was pleased when Jo suggested we did that because it felt like it was another step towards ridding myself of it. More panicking and crying because the afterpains hurt so much. Lynn telling me it would hurt a lot less once it was out, but I couldn't bring myself to consciously increase the pain by pushing with it.
Finally I think my body won this battle with my mind, and with another huge roar a contraction came that finally got the thing out. Lynn was right: the pain was instantly reduced and I felt much better. Less hysterical (in the true sense, maybe?)
Finally, nearly two hours after Ian was born, we could begin the humdrum clearing up jobs. He was weighed: I think that was the first time Lynn had felt him - even just looking at him she thought he was going to be 9lb something, but as she lifted him up in the stork-scales she began to laugh. 'Old money or new?' she asked - Jo said old, but when Lynn got out her conversion table and said 'new' because I didn't want to wait another 30 seconds to hear how big her was. 4.7kg. 10lb 6oz.
The trauma of the third stage melted away - I just found that funny.
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