On 26th September 2009, my mother-in-law called us in the morning to tell us she’d had a vivid dream the night before that Lily had been born.
I was not over 42 weeks by this point, but I was definitely starting to feel rather ready to birth this baby, finishing my last letter to Lily in her special book with “Oh darling, come quickly to us, you are so welcome here!”
The birth pool was set up in our living-room, the midwives’ ‘birth box’ sat in the corner, next to a bag of old towels, plastic sheeting, and a sieve (!) My birth plan was stuck to every door, bullet-pointed for easy reading. We were ready.
In preparation for labour, I had been practising deep breathing and relaxation exercises, and decided that afternoon that I might try a relaxing ‘visualisation’ in a warm bath. As I lay there, breathing deeply, a visualisation came to me unbidden, as if I was not the author of it, but it was coming from outside of me, almost like a vision.
I was walking through a forest in springtime. The trees were covered in pink and white blossoms, covering the soft grass beneath my feet with a blanket of flowers. I walked barefoot, and was wearing a flowing white gown with long sleeves, my bump round and snug against the smooth cotton. I walked with my head high, my dark hair long and loose. I felt calm, confident, strong.
After a while I reached a river, where a small wooden boat lay tied up on the bank. I lay down in the boat, resting my pregnant curves against yielding pillows, closing my eyes…
I reached down and placed a hand on my tummy, feeling the flutter of my little child in my womb. I smiled, loving her, willing her to be born.
Soon I became aware that I was no longer alone, but the presence of my Lord was welcome and warm as the breeze. He was also dressed in white, and His face shone like the sun. His smile twinkled from his eyes. The man who calmed the storm. He untied the boat and pushed us out into the powerful river, sitting at the stern of the boat, looking out ahead as the river carried us away.
Then, I began to feel pressure in my body, a wall of mounting pain, and as I did so, the river rose up beneath the boat with a wave.
“Rest” said the gentle voice of my Lord. “Meet the wave of the contraction and ride over it. I am with you.”
I breathed deeply and the pain subsided gently, ebbing away just like the wave in the river…
Time slipped away, and then, i was aware of a precious weight on my chest, near my heart. My baby. My dark haired princess. We elven princesses, floating in our elven boat, slipping slowly on a smooth river twinkling with stars, with Jesus at the rudder, keeping us safe, surrounded by love…
As I lay in the bath, emerging from the vision, I felt calm and empowered, thanking God for such a vivid picture of meeting the pain of labour and working with Lily and my body to bring her out into the world. I had a strong sense then that she would be coming soon.
I lay down for a sleep on my bed then, as by this point in my pregnancy I was so exhausted I could have slept all day!
I awoke at 5:30pm with a strange pressure, as if I needed to empty my bladder, but not as urgent as that normally feels.
As I went to relieve myself I felt a gush, completely unlike anything I’d ever experienced before, and there was no mistaking my waters breaking. Just like in the movies.
I called my husband Neil in, told him, with a mixture of excitement and sheer terror. His expression showed much the same mix of emotion. This was it. In that moment I allowed myself to feel the terror, to think once more through all my concerns and fears, and to remind myself that it was ‘only pain’. After this brief hiatus, I snapped into business mode.
At about 7pm a midwife came and checked me, wrote on my notes, took my blood pressure, and listened into Lily’s heartbeat. She said to wait til contractions started and to call the community midwives once they were established in a regular rhythm.
After she left we called our parents to let them know my waters had broken. My parents told me that as they sat down to their evening meal, they prayed specifically that Lily would make her appearance very soon, as they knew how difficult I was finding the waiting. I was amazed that they had prayed this at 5:30, almost exactly the time my waters broke! God’s sense of humour and timing is brilliant!
We went for a short walk around our neighbourhood to try and encourage the contractions to start, with me leaning heavily on Neil and more ‘waddling’ than walking! Then we jumped in the car and drove to our local shop for some provisions. We bought juice and sweets and grapes and some pate and bread for toast, which was set to be my first meal after delivery! Not being allowed pate in pregnancy, I really craved it! While we were in the shop we joked and laughed at the thought of the secret we were hiding – all the people in the shop completely oblivious that they were in the presence of a soon-to-be labouring woman!
Very mild contractions, not dissimilar to moderate period pain, started at about ten o’clock after another short waddle round the block.
An hour later, we decided to get to bed, as the midwife who had visited us earlier advised me to get as much sleep in as I could before labour became established. It took us a while to work out how to strap the TENS machine to my back, but once that was on, we lay down and Neil fell straight to sleep, while I lay there and attempted to…
What with the excitement of meeting my little girl, and the discomfort of the contractions, there was no way on earth I could actually drop off, so I tried to rest as best I could.
At about 3am I was starting to struggle a little bit, so Neil called the delivery suite. The midwife who took the call said I should try and manage for a few more hours before calling again, so we called Lucy, my doula, and she came over and talked me through my feelings about it all.
I was laughing and joking with Lucy and Neil, dropping my head to my chest, and breathing deeply to greet the wave of every contraction, breathing it away on an out-breath, consciously relaxing all my muscles. Lucy filled the birth pool for me, and it was somewhere around that time, that my first midwife, Daisy, arrived with the silver canisters of gas and air, that I’d decided to have on hand just in case.
I remembered her only as the noisy midwife for quite a few days after! She kept trying to talk to me and ask me questions, even when I dropped my head and shoulders and closed my eyes to meet a contraction. Neil tried to talk for me whenever this happened. The contractions must have been getting quite uncomfortable by this point, because I was having to concentrate hard to relax my whole body to meet them.
At 6am Daisy received a (loud!) phone call, letting her know that she needed to attend to another birth. I was quite relieved, because I was certain my contractions had become quite erratic due to not being able to fully focus on relaxing. Daisy assured me that the lady she was attending was at the pushing stage, and was giving birth to her third, so she didn’t expect she’d be away long.
While she was away, I slipped into the birth pool. Up until that point I’d been leaning my head against the sofa, rocking my hips, bouncing on the birth ball, and hugging Neil.
The water was bliss. Warm and soothing and instantly relaxing. By this time I felt like I was alone in the world, cocooned in the womb-like blue pool. I rested then, eyes closed, meeting each contraction and breathing it away, focusing on breathing softly and what literally felt like crawling inside the pain.
In the quietness of the pool I stroked my tummy, spoke softly to my baby girl, told her I couldn’t wait to meet her. Neil came to join me at the side of the pool, and cuddled and kissed me softly. It was us and Jesus, there in the safe cocoon. Me, the love of my life, my baby, my Saviour. Holding each other and loving each other and being together. Family.
I remember Daisy coming back, because she came in noisily, and I opened my eyes to see her. Lucy gently asked her to keep her voice down, and she sat quietly at the foot of the pool, on the sofa, smiling encouragingly. I closed my eyes again, swept away on the wave of another contraction. Hours melted, time flowed fast, meaningless in the light of overwhelming connection of my Family, total rest, my body and my baby working together to bring her into the world.
At one point I opened my eyes and looked up at the clock, and, seeing it was 6am, thought of the world waking up, unaware of this pool of bliss behind closed curtains, the sunlight starting to get brighter behind them.
The interruption of time bursting in on my reverie, I remember asking Lucy repeatedly if she thought I had reached the transition stage, because the pain was beginning to be a struggle, and I was starting to get tired. My conscious mind took over my birthing instinct for a moment, and I thought that by now I should be at the pushing stage, as my midwife kept suggesting by asking me if I felt ‘pushy’. It was at this point that I had two very painful waves, and probably because I had been disturbed, I found them difficult to manage. It was on a trip to the bathroom after these contractions that I saw the silver canisters and remembered the gas and air.
Daisy said that if she was to give me the pain relief she would have to check me first to see ‘where we were’. I was very reluctant to be examined at all, as to me the procedure was entirely unnecessary. Daisy also warned me that being checked would put me on ‘hospital time’, meaning that they would be expecting the baby to come by a certain deadline, and if she didn’t, I’d need to be taken to hospital. This made me nervous, but I discussed with Lucy and Neil, and Lucy suggested that it might be worth knowing where we were in order to work out what to do next. If I was quite far along, perhaps I could try and manage without the additional pain relief, but if I still had a long way to go, I could take a rest, and maybe some help from the laughing gas. This seemed sensible to me, and I thought I must be in transition due to the intensity of the pain at this point, so I agreed to be examined.
If I’d experienced pain up until then, it was nothing to the pain of being examined. I yelped and had to beg her to stop, as a contraction started building just as she was doing it. Tears came then, the pain was almost unbearable. To top it all off I was only 5cm dilated!
That was the lowest point of my entire experience, but then I was given the gas and air, and everything became not just a bit blurry, but also hilariously funny after that!
I wasn’t really using it right, because I just couldn’t seem to tell when exactly the contraction was coming on – I think I only handled three contractions properly, and despite Neil and Lucy telling me to relax through the waves, like I had done so far, I kept shouting “I don’t remember how!” When the contractions hit I tensed every muscle, and the intensity of the pain gripped my entire body, and had me writhing in agony.
I remember odd snippets of this time:
Neil cuddling me in bed after being examined; sucking hard on the gas, vomiting violently as a result and finding it hilariously funny; feeling giggly and like my whole body was buzzing; being able to rest in Neil’s strong arms between contractions, with him rocking me, stroking my hair, and holding me tight for each agonising wall of pain. Around this time I must have been getting hysterical once or twice because I distinctly recall my doula, Lucy, filling my entire field of vision, looking me right in the eyes, and saying, slowly and firmly “This is perfectly normal. You are not dying.”
I remember blearily asking if my new midwife had arrived, only to find that she was already in the room, and had already said hello, and giving her the ‘thumbs up’ as it was all I could manage. I remember being amused by the sound of my voice, all deep and husky, and asking Neil if I sounded like Cher, and laughing my head off at the thought. My first canister of gas ran out rather quickly, and before Kit, my new midwife, could change it, I was begging for it as another contraction hit my body hard. Surreal, to say the least.
Then at some point in all this madness I started to feel the urge to push… and practically ran/waddled back to the pool. I hadn’t decided before labour whether I would birth in the water or on ‘land’, but when the time came the thought of birthing on land seemed the most ludicrous idea imaginable. Kit, my new midwife, had examined me again, and said that Lily’s head was well down in the birth canal, but my cervix still wasn’t fully dilated, so if I pushed now my cervix would become irritated and make the birthing process much harder. For this reason, I was told not to push, despite the overwhelming urges, the pain turning to something more like intense pressure. NOT pushing was agonising, because my body was doing it anyway, whether I liked it or not. Lucy was at my head as I was on all fours, resting my head on the edge of the pool. She reminded me how to do five short pants and one long out breath. Neil joined in then, and all three of us did it together. I have no idea if it stopped the pushing at all, it certainly didn’t feel like it did!
Altogether the second stage of my labour lasted about an hour. It felt like longer somehow. When they finally said I was allowed to push I strained, holding my breath (like in the movies!) Lucy reminded me to push downwards, breathe out long and steady with the contractions, channel the power of the pain out through my bottom. It sounds absolutely crazy to type that out now, but trust me, at the time, it made perfect sense. I guess it’s pretty similar to the difference between singing from your throat or singing from your diaphragm. The midwives said afterwards how impressed they were at how I just ‘breathed the baby out’ – I felt like I was pushing like mad! But there was something powerful about not fighting the contractions, but just letting them come and just letting my body do the thing it was designed to do.
I talked to Lily then, from my face down position above the water, and to God. I urged Lily to help me, to come down quickly. I asked God that she’d be out on the next contraction. I felt Him gently coaching me, when I felt like giving up I would hear a soft voice in my head “One more, darling girl, you can do this next one!” It was frustrating, the midwives had a mirror and a torch and couldn’t see Lily emerging for what felt like ages, despite all the work I was doing. Then a strong contraction came, and they told me they had seen the baby’s head – dark hair like I dreamed her three weeks before her birth. This knowledge gave me a new burst of energy. The next contraction came, and I felt its power, and harnessed it with all my strength.
Her head began to crown, and it felt like fire burning me. I asked for gas and air (I’d been pushing without it) I thought that was the worst pain I’d experienced so far… but then another contraction came… this one a particularly powerful one… and the pain was indescribable… Like nothing on this earth… but her head was fully crowned, the worst was over. The midwives, Lucy, Neil, were practically cheering me on, rubbing my back, telling me what a great job I was doing. Three more pushes and her body slid out behind me into the water, and Lucy caught her and brought her smoothly up to the surface.
I heard a voice somewhere in my gas and air dreaminess – “Turn round Lizzie”, and as I did so, there she was… but nothing could have prepared me for what I saw… she was floppy and lifeless, her head blue, her body white, the cord wrapped tightly around her neck four times. That was the only time during the whole labour that I panicked and started saying “She’s not breathing!” over and over. It was horrifying.
The midwives assured me she was fine, quickly unwrapped the cord from her neck, and put Lily in my arms, next to my heart. A few seconds later, she breathed. “Oh my baby.” was all I could say as the tears of relief poured from me.
I thought I’d lost her, for one awful moment, and of all the pain of labour put together, that was the worst pain.
They helped me out of the pool with Lily still attached to me by her extra long cord, and the three of us, the new family, snuggled up on the sofa.
Ten minutes later the placenta was born, and once that was out of the way, I lay down with Lily on my chest. She was simply the most gorgeous being I’d ever laid eyes on. Silky black hair going down her neck, dark steely blue eyes, tiny hands, tiny fingers, soft, downy skin. I breathed her in as she lay there. She smelt like heaven. She started to wriggle on my chest, and bobbed her head and moved her body and somehow, amazingly, found her way to my breast, completely on her own, and had her first feed.
Then the midwives took her from my arms to be weighed (8lbs) and Neil got his first cuddle with Lily while they examined me… it felt like being stabbed with needles, and more gas and air was required! I only sustained one graze, which, after all my fears of tearing or being cut, was amazing. I didn’t need any stitches at all for that.
The rest of the time was a blur – the midwives tried to take me to the bathroom to get cleaned up, and I was shocked that it took three attempts to stand, because I was so faint and weak after it all, when inside I felt like I could defeat an army!
My caring midwives and doula helped me wash, helped me into clean crisp pyjamas, and helped me hobble to my very own bed, where I lay down, with my daughter on my chest, and there I was, a mother, and there she was, my Lily Joy, my elf princess, pressed close to my heart where she belongs forever.