The day I gave birth to my daughter Ingrid, was the most challenging yet best day of my life. Aged 41, just 5ft 2 and small framed, the NHS would have preferred I was looked after by a consultant and booked for a hospital birth, but I was determined to have her with my husband at our lovely home. I didn 't want to be surrounded by strangers, male doctors, nurses, fluorescent lights and MRSA bugs!
I had nearly reached my due date and my independent midwife Sheila was starting to be pressurised by the NHS to book me in for an appointment to discuss medical induction. I knew the baby was full term by my calculations so I told my body I was ready, prepared my mind by reading up on Artemis and powerful births, rubbed castor oil into my huge round belly in the bath and enjoyed a metamorphic technique treatment from my good friend Emma, with the focus on stimulating my uterus. It worked!
At 6am the next morning I felt Braxton Hicks contractions that were definitely more than Braxton Hicks! And I also felt a small trickle of amniotic fluid. It had started and I woke my husband Wayne, calm but excited. I phoned Sheila, who had a two hour drive to get to me, to tell her this was probably pre-labour and not to rush but just to be aware. By 8.30 am Wayne was back on the phone to her! I could now hardly walk or speak and was doubled over by regular contractions about every 3 minutes. Sheila got in her car and was on her way.
Wayne and I had prepared a lovely birthing room in our large lounge, a bed at one end and a birth pool at the other. The lights were soft, Donna Summer sang ‘I feel love’ to me, I was surrounded by familiarity and I paced around and doubled over the bed trying to cope with the contractions. Right from the start I felt something I have never felt before as if I was opening as if a speculum type instrument was slowly stretching my cervix and birth canal whilst massive cramps rating 8/10 on the pain scale wracked my body and pushed down from my diaphragm. I was on a journey and there was no going back the only way to end it was to get my tiny baby out of my body, head first, inching her way down, like a medicine ball trying to descend down a sock!
Sheila arrived around 10.30. Wayne and I were doing well. I leant over the side of the bed on all fours trying to find ways to avoid the pain and wish it away! I tried telling myself pain was my friend and necessary for opening and getting the baby out. Wayne looked me right in the eyes, let me strain against him, stroked my hair, neck and back and kept talking to me. His eyes calmed me down and we felt like a team. This was not just me giving birth, it was Wayne too. He was strong and calm and dedicated to looking after me. Sheila constantly checked me, the baby 's steady heart rate and the rate of the contractions. She gently encouraged me from the sidelines and was our medical ‘rock’. She was calm, softly spoken and non-invasive allowing us as much space or autonomy as we felt confident with as a couple.
By 12pm I was mildly feeling the need to push and feeling pressure as if in my sacrum and tail bone. We all took this as stage two beginning and the second midwife, Fiona, was called in case the birth was soon. I was now allowed to descend into the glorious warmth of the birth pool and stayed on all fours, leaning over the side, while Wayne coached me from the outside. He told me I was doing really well over and over again, that I was strong and brave and that he loved me and hearing that he loved me so clearly seemed to help melt away the pain for a moment.
About 1 o 'clock perhaps, just when I thought we were going to deliver our baby, things went calm and serene and spaced out and I thought I was one of the lucky ones about to have an easy, not-too-painful ‘spiritual’ delivery Ina May Gaskin style. But soon something didn 't feel right. Instinct told me to get out of the pool and ask for an examination. I now needed to know where things were at as I felt confused and in need of a reality check. I had convinced myself I was going to have a very quick labour beforehand but if it wasn 't the case I had to know.
Sheila gently examined me with me managing to lie on my back no easy task as I just wanted to be on all fours. Her face dropped a little. I was only 1cm dilated! Surely not! Hours of pain and expectation and not even properly in labour! She reassured me my cervix was soft and ready and in just the right position so not to worry but full dilation may take many, many more hours yet. I was stunned. I was tired. I was also a little weak now but couldn 't eat anything. Lucozade drinks and water was all I could manage. I looked depressed and I knew I was staring out of blank eyes for the next half an hour as I laboured on. Inside my head I worried I 'd have to give up I had another 9 cms to go potentially another nine or ten hours before delivery.
I contemplated demanding pain relief and transfer to hospital but the thought of going into the bright street to an ambulance and giving up on my dream was far worse than staying put. I searched every corner of my brain for ideas, for resources, for a strategy…
I 'm still not sure what happened next. Sheila went for food and a sleep and advised me to try to sleep and eat also to prevent getting weak. Sleep! Eat! I thought she was mad. Wayne and I struggled on. I realised this was no longer going to be a passive experience. I had to get to work, to grasp the bull by the horns! I had to find tactics… to labour. I smiled weakly at Wayne who wet my face between contractions with cold flannels and continued to stand firm as a strained against him, grunting and groaning.
In the next two hours, my water broke with unbelievable determination! We had towels and pads on the floor and I didn 't care about anything except progressing, letting go and letting my body do its instinctive work. Wayne had made me a funny poster with a picture of six chimps and the logo, ‘think like a monkey’ and that 's just what I did. I knew my body knew what to do, like an animal 's would. It was doing it! I now concentrated on manipulating the TENS machine which sent strange sensations through my back and was distracting, I paced around a little, leant over the bed and breathed out hard with huge blows, maybe five blows for the worst 20 seconds of each contraction (now rating 10/10!) The breaks between each peak were heaven.
Wayne and I felt so connected it was as if we were one unit my body wracked by its own internal dynamics and Wayne staying cool and calm (despite being shocked by the intensity of the experience of seeing me in so much pain). He peered into my strange new world in awe and we were both in new territory.
I made a trip somehow upstairs to the loo and we had to call Sheila from her nap because now my mucus plug had gone too and there was loads of amniotic fluid everywhere and things were really motoring. She was pleased and calm as if she 'd seen it all before and our eye contact reassured me this labour was ‘normal’.
One more examination and I was 4cms dilated so allowed back into the pool. Fiona (who had done a u-turn and gone home) was called again! In the pool, things were intense. For about half an hour I just kept going thinking we would be hours longer. But soon Sheila said she could see the baby 's head! Amazing. I was astounded. I must have dilated the last 6 cms in a couple of hours thanks to committing to blowing, labouring, surrendering, straining and crying out. I called on Artemis, the goddess of nature and childbirth to give me fierce strength. I used Qabalistic keywords associated with my perineum area ‘plenty’, ‘beginnings’, ‘exciting’. And I used gas and air huge gulpfulls as the massive contractions pushed the baby out slowly. I was told it wouldn 't be much longer and I was delighted but disbelieving at the same time until I eventually reached down tentatively and felt for myself the soft skin of the head.
They told me to cry out in lower tones and I felt like a lion roaring. I 'm sure the whole street heard me but nothing mattered. Wayne continued to hold my space and encourage me. He was seeing a new side of me but there was so much calm and concern in his eyes, I felt accepted to my very core. I felt loved like never before, even respected for what I had achieved. That meant the world to me.
By 8.30pm the baby 's head was really coming through, like a huge ball squeezing through a small pipe made of skin my skin! God it hurt and pushed me to my limits but I knew I was nearly there. They told me to pant and not to push and I screamed ‘WHY?’ at them in disbelief. Resisting the automatic pushing and straining sensation was not a possibility my body was just doing it. Next contraction, her head strained out and then her long body slithered effortlessly into the warm water. I leant panting against the side for a few seconds, hugely relieved my baby beneath me suspended in the water. They asked me to reach down and bring her up slowly.
This is the best bit! I looked down and there was a long, tiny, human baby, seconds from sentience between my legs, under the water. I had done it! There she was all real and alive and human and amazing, with little fingers and little toes, wrinkly skin and a little nose…I brought her up. She breathed. I looked at her. She looked at me instantly, calm and alert. I clutched her close and wrapped my arms around her. My knees shook. I was exhausted.
I had my baby.
The midwives loved and fussed over us, dried us, checked me and Ingrid took her first feed inducing the placenta to pop out. Wayne held her next while I was tended to no stitches, no tearing but sore scraped skin as she had been born sucking her thumb which really stretched me!
We all slept together in bed a new family. All huddled together. A family of love, of acceptance. I never felt so good or loved. My husband had seen me sweating, groaning, bleeding, buckled over, being sick, and you know what he loved me more than ever before. Nothing could have prepared us for the intensity of September 6th. Or for the love we now have in our new family.
Birth has the potential to be empowering, life-changing, natural, active, exciting and relationship-enhancing. I found strength and courage I didn 't know I had. It 's deep in there it 's mine. The Minoans knew. Artemis knows. I hope all women get back their power to birth actively some day and that the men of the world appreciate this beautiful life-bringing gift and labour of love that we offer humanity.