When I was 21 and about 6 weeks away from my final exams for my Science degree I, quite unexpectedly, found out I was pregnant. I’ve told the tale here in the love story to my biggest girl, but this story is about birth and the magnificent brutality of it all. It’s about bringing four lives into the world, and helping other women give birth. It’s about the part of me who dreamed of being a doula, and then found a way to do the same thing, that felt the same to me, in another place and space and time. It’s about new beginnings and magic and how much it fucking hurts to bring it into the world.
So much happened after I found out I was pregnant. I discovered so much about my body, which at 21 seemed to handle things pretty well and just grew a baby. When I was 7 months pregnant my daughter’s daddy decided he could not be the person I needed him to be to support me through this. I was shocked. Not because I didn’t have an inkling that he couldn’t but because I was sure my belief that he could would be enough. It wasn’t enough. And so I moved back to my University town in Queensland and in with a couple who, to be honest seemed to feel blessed that I chose to come ‘home’ to them. And so my wild, inner hippy decided (in the mid-90’s when it really wasn’t so complicated) to find a midwife and have my baby at home. My friends made that OK too. I’m not entirely sure if I remember if it was totally OK at first, or if they quietly discussed it in panicked, hushed tones behind closed doors, but somehow we wound up with a plan for me to have my baby at home, in their house, with them both there along with two midwives.
I can tell you it was the most amazing and harrowing experience of my life. I had tried to watch birth videos beforehand, but they kind of grossed me out. I had this amazing book called “Spiritual Midwifery” full of stories of all these women on The Farm who birthed their babies at home, and I was pretty sure I had the whole thing down. A friend flew over from Western Australia to be with me too, and she took photos of me and we waited for me to go into labour. And waited. And waited. She was due to fly out and my housemate was due to fly out for work, and it was looking as though everyone would miss out. And then the day before they were all leaving I woke up in labour at 4am. It went on all day, but was mostly bearable and mostly cool. We had a birth pool set up in the ‘spare’ room (I think it was actually their ‘wardrobe’), which we didn’t blow up quite enough so when I really started clinging to it for dear life, water would slosh over the edge. All of it I remember being OK. I felt loved and supported and in a time warp where the hours went. They stroked my head and gave me drinks and encouraged me and as the labour intensified said all the right stuff. But then this thing happened where I was fully dilated, Stage 2. Strong desire to vomit. Birth pool not cutting it, even with the chest of my guy friend to lean on. I look back and am honoured by the beauty of a man (not the father of my child) who would get into a pool with a naked, labouring woman and support her with everything he had. I hope he knows how much I honour him for that and for everything he was afterwards to my daughter and I.
So then we got out, and I got on my bed and my dog Daisy watched with big eyes. And then I started pushing and I pushed and pushed and I think it took 45 minutes to get that baby out. 45 minutes of the most intense agony and disbelief. I’m sure it was disbelief. I cannot think of another word to describe my shock. I knew there was no way out, or any other option, but the bit I was unprepared for was that once you started to push the baby did not just come out. Maybe by your fourth baby, but baby number one (and two and three DID NOT just come out). I recall bellowing – a guttural noise from somewhere primal in me. I did not want to bellow, I just wanted it to be over. And then suddenly it was and she was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. The people you share that moment with are so precious. I cannot describe it really, but it’s the moment when unborn becomes born. When labour becomes a real, living, breathing child. It’s the most magical moment. I did not forget what it felt like to birth her in that moment though. I was going all natural, which meant natural delivery of the placenta, which took another 45 minutes of contractions, fairly firm cervical massage from my midwife and the continuing desire for it to be over. I delivered the placenta in the shower. To my friends, I am so sorry that I did not realise AT ALL how much mess you had to clean up, how much washing you must have done afterwards, while I was snuggled up with newborn. It did not even cross my mind until seven years later when I had baby number two in a hospital.
And then, finally it was over, but the thing I remember more than pain of childbirth was how excruciating it was to pee for the next few weeks. It made me cry every time and I had no idea there were ways to make that better. I just winced and cried. Finally I told my midwife who did another post birth inspection of my bits (giving birth at home in front of your friends is one way to get over any shyness about your vagina. Especially when there is a photo of the head crowning and you have a 70’s bush and your eyes are rolling back in your head and you think ‘there it is’. Right there. No shame about anything ever again). My daughter’s dad came up from Sydney to meet her when she was 10 days old, and he was there for the inspection. My midwife, ever the empowering woman, decided to fill him in on the fact that it was hurting me to pee and that she’d discovered a graze which was causing the problem. He very innocently asked, “Oh, a graze from giving birth?” Well I hadn’t done anything else with my vagina for months, so here’s hoping it was from that and not wild post-birth sex with a stranger. Our daughter gave him the best hickey on his neck on day two of his visit, when she was hungry and I sent them off to the garden so I could make food. It was so awkward to see all our mutual friends for the rest of his visit, as it looked like we had been passionately making out when really the baby had just sucked his neck really hard, and we were awkwardly trying to navigate a relationship that involved a new baby, and NO making out. At all. Watching him fall in love with her was probably the most heartbreaking moment for me. Not that I didn’t want him to love her. I did, I just really wanted him to love me too.
And then, because I’d done it and I knew even though it was horrific for a bit, it ended up OK and I wanted to help other people have the same experience. The moment of magic when the person you’ve been growing for 10 months is suddenly in the world (even if it took hours and hours before that). And that even though I very specifically chose to have drug-free births, EVERY TIME I would reach a point where I would know exactly WHY drugs would help. And then my baby would be born.
I have been blessed by being at the births of eight other babies, not just my own. I cannot describe them all because they were unique as the mamma’s and the children who came, but they were all magic. And I seemed to have some kind of intuitive gift to be able to bring in those moments, to make everything calm and OK (even when calm and OK do not really seem a possibility). I wanted to be a doula, I dreamed of it, but then I had three more children of my own and being a doula is so without schedule and certainty because babies come when they are ready and not when you are, and it was not something that was possible. Until I found a way to incubate people with purpose, and realised that those moments of magic and realisation (regardless of how horrendous it has been before, or how shocked they are, or how long it takes, or whether they did it with drugs or without, or who they are, or who it is they bring into the world) are the same. And maybe, just maybe, it’s almost one and the same?
My second daughter was born seven years after my first in a public hospital. We drove 1.5 hours to town from the farm once I went into labour. She was posterior. Which meant nothing to me. Until after I gave birth so quietly because the shock and disbelief meant I knew I had nothing to say that would help, and a midwife said to me “You were amazing honey, your baby was spine to spine which means you had to push out a bigger head circumference, and you did it so gracefully’. I was graceful on the outside but screaming on the inside. Just the words were all things that were not useful, so I did not say them. Her daddy and two of my friends (including one who was at the birth of my eldest daughter) were there. And my eldest daughter, who had to leave when I went so quiet because she had never seen me like that before. I requested minimal intervention from the midwives and no post-birth injection so I could deliver the placenta naturally. The midwives in the hospital were not familiar with this and I remember there being almost desperation for it to be out. I had no idea how simple and easy it is when you have the injection. For my next birth my doctor told me I was ‘mad’ not to have the injection. Mad!!!! He was so right. I went home the next morning, believing I had the whole newborn and motherhood gig covered. On day four I was back at work, planting trees with a TAFE group on our farm. I don’t think my second daughter slept properly for almost three years. This I remember more than her head circumference.
My third daughter was born in a private hospital, just me and her daddy. My friend who was at the birth of all my other children was away on a yacht with her family. She messaged me all the time, and I so wished she was there. This time I learnt not to do it alone just with your partner. You both need other people to support you. It seemed to take a long time to push her out, and in the end the doctor (the same one who told me I was mad not have an injection) who knew my desire for natural childbirth said “if you don’t get moving soon I’ll put you on a drip and you’ll probably end up with full intervention. I’m going to leave the room and when I come back we’ll decide”. She was out before he got back to the room. I was still shocked. I thought it was meant to get easier and shorter and every time I would get to place where I would think “oh just let me die” and then I’d have a baby. I had the injection. The placenta was delivered immediately and all done. I was completely mad for not doing it before. She had a 12 year old and a 5 year old sister. They were the best help and both went to school so we got to hang out. Except when she was seven weeks old I flew to Perth for a job interview with her in a sling. Got the job. Started when she was four months old. Lets not analyse my thinking, we’ll explore that another time.
And then my baby girl. She was also born at a private hospital, and finally I reckon I was not so shocked. She was born in a room full of women. My sister. My eldest daughter. My friend who had been at two of my other girls’ births and a friend whom I had helped birth two of her daughters. And the midwives. I was in transition before we left home and was throwing up in my front garden. Her daddy and I had broken up three weeks before I found out I was pregnant with her, and things were complicated with us, but he came to pick up the middle two. I found out afterwards he had wanted to ask if he could come to her birth, but I was so sure he didn’t want to be there and in the end I am glad he wasn’t. But if I had known he wanted to be there it would have been OK. I think it’s magic to see your children born. It didn’t take so long at the hospital. And I feel like she just came out. And I think it’s how I thought birth should be. And maybe it should be. But if that had been my only experience of birth I suspect I would have found it harrowing as well. That time it felt like magic and she was, and is, a magical child. They all are.
Until this came today I forgot I wanted to be a doula. By definition a doula is “also known as a birth companion and post-birth supporter, is a non-medical person who assists a woman before, during, and/or after childbirth, as well as her spouse and/or family, by providing physical assistance and emotional support.” One thing I remember the most (apart from my friend screaming from the home birth pool for us to call an ambulance every time she had a contraction) was sitting behind my friend while she laboured with her third baby, she was kind of leaning on me, with my arms and legs around her and her husband was in front of her, and even in the disbelief she was OK. And I held her and I said some stuff (like all the stuff I say, some of it I barely remember) and she needed me and he did too. Because then they could just focus on each other and what she needed to do and their baby magic miracle. I think I just love being part of someone’s miracle.
I wrote this today because I got asked to write about a side of me that perhaps people don’t know. I didn’t know what I would write when I started. I didn’t know it would be about magic and miracles and placentas. They are kind of all one and the same huh?