This is the story of first-time mama Jewel's birth of her baby girl, Ochre.
During the lead up to my due date, it was tempting to wish this time away, to want things to hurry along, however, I would constantly reassure myself (and tell people) that my little roommate would arrive when he or she was developmentally ready to and when my body was ready.
I had done a lot to prepare for birth and was determined to birth at home despite people's fear and opinions. I did a calm birth course, seen a PT up until 37 weeks, did research, listened to podcasts, did breathwork coaching, prenatal yoga, daily routines on the fitball to open my pelvis, meditation, journaling and spending time away from my phone and loved ones to get in the zone.
I spent weeks gathering tools for my birth and preparing my birth space. The walls were lined with short, sharp affirmations and a few sentimental things from past clients that gave me strength, reminded me of my privilege and just how short-lived this pain would be that I was experiencing compared to some of the pain that my clients experience and face head-on every day. I was given a gift from a friend for my birth, a bag full of trinkets. Each trinket had been added by a local homebirthing mother. The strength of these women was also something I drew upon during my birth. My mum had made me an umbilical cord tie and placed it in a white box marked "baby cotton".
I had felt a real connection to nature and "my roots" throughout pregnancy which drew me to reflecting on/researching about Aboriginal history, particularly local Aboriginal history, and the gratitude/privilege I felt to live and birth on such a magnificent part of the country. I put together an acknowledgment to country and decorated it with a native Banksia symbolizing rebirth and new beginnings.
I was 40 + 2 when Ochre started to show signs of entering the world. It was national homebirth awareness week. It was 1:30 am on Monday 26th October and I was woken by what felt like period pain. I was calm, I felt awake, excited and ready for the process to begin.
I woke Kane up and told him "we were on". I laid in bed for a short period of time and breathed through the contractions. At this stage, they were 10 minutes apart and felt really manageable. I naively thought to myself "This is nothing - I got this". Little did I know the intensity would amplify ten-fold.
I decided to get up and bath, wash my hair and freshen up for the anticipated birth. Contractions grew to be 7 mins then 3 mins apart however I learnt in Calm Birth workshop that in order for labour to progress the woman must be in a dark, private and safe space so naturally when my focus was on shaving my legs in a well-lit bathroom, by 8 am the contractions had come to a halt.
As my contractions had stopped, Kane spent the day doing an electrical job for a friend while I pottered around the house making sure everything was perfectly clean and in order because apparently when you have a baby, you never ever have time to clean again (can confirm this is true!).
Kane returned home that afternoon and we ate dinner and went to bed as usual. At 1:30 am (the same time as the night before) I was woken again by contractions. From the get-go they were more intense than the night before, and again started at 10 minutes, then went to 7 minutes then 3 minutes apart. In the Calm Birth workshop, it was suggested that the supporting partner time the contractions based on the body language of the birthing partner as opposed to asking them when a contraction starts and finishes. Kane did just that, however the control freak/perfectionist in me felt uneasy that he wasn't timing them on his phone, instead just timing in his head.
The contractions became very intense and I felt them in my lower back. I was pacing around the bedroom, using a "bumble bee breath" to get me through. Kane started to use an acupressure technique on my lower back while he shook my hips side to side, which brought a lot of relief. I became reliant on 2 scolding hot heat packs, one on my front and one on my back.
As contractions had been 3 minutes apart for some time, we called my midwife Louise and Naomi (my birth photographer) to give them the heads up. When Louise arrived my contractions minimised due to the change in the environment. Louise and I had a conversation in the lounge room while I bounced on the gym ball. Louise's conclusion was that I was in early labour and we all agreed that she would head home and we would call her when contractions were 3 mins apart again.
Kane had placed our black linen bedspread up over the blinds to make the room darker to help with progressing labour. Not long after, my contractions started again at 10 minutes apart but were more intense than before. By this stage I hadn’t slept 2 nights running so naturally, my body felt heavy but I still felt energised and determined. I tried to rest in bed but I found this amplified contractions so it was heat packs, Kane's massaging, lathering myself in "push potion" oil, making noise, and deep breathing that got me through. We also used a tens machine on my lower back which I didn’t find overly effective.
At 4 pm Kane contacted Louise and asked her to return. Louise soon arrived to find me in the bedroom, eyes closed, pacing the room. Louise used a doppler to check the baby’s heartbeat and she had no concerns. It was at this stage that Kane and Louise began filling the birth pool with hot water. I was barely verbal at this stage and can recall not wanting Kane to leave my side however knew I was keen to get in the pool ASAP.
By this stage, Kane had massaged the pressure points on my back for hours. His fingers were sore and my back was bruised. I decided to jump in the shower and used the hose to run hot water on my back. I spent a lot of time here. Kane was convinced that we were having a baby in the shower.
Although the shower was effective in managing the intensity I needed to switch it up to kill some time. I made my way out to the birth pool in the lounge room. It wasn't the instant relief I had imagined. The water was cool and although being buoyant took some of the weight off your back and joints, it didn’t change the intensity of the contractions.
I got out of the pool and went back into the shower. They say that during labour, every woman has a "crisis of confidence". During this period of lost determination, you may hear a woman say things like "I can’t do this anymore" or "give me an epidural or caeser". For me, I wasn’t wanting to throw in the towel, I was hoping for a timeline to mentally prepare how much longer I would be experiencing this intensity.
I asked Kane to go get Louise. She sat on the toilet observing my body language while I was in the shower until I noticed she was there. I asked, "how much longer until I have the baby". Deep down I wanted her answer to be a concrete time but in hindsight, that could have been the undoing of me. If Louise had have said "You will have this baby by 8 pm" I would have been clock watching and if 8 pm rocked around and I hadn't had the baby I may have given up. Louise responded with "chick, I can tell by your body language and by the noises you’re making that things are progressing. It’s working, you’re doing a great job, things are about to get wild". If I was in a hospital environment I would have been offered an internal examination to assess how dilated I was. However, Louise's trust of the woman's body and her experience meant she knew exactly where things were at and most importantly, that they were progressing. Her tactful, reassuring response gave me the will to keep going.
After some more time in the shower, I started to feel the urge to push and something led me to wanting to go back into the birth pool. They say during labour you go into your own world and this couldn’t be more true for me but somehow, despite being somewhere else, my senses within the room have never been so heightened. Despite having my eyes closed, I could sense where people were positioned in the room, I could hear Kane sobbing under his breath from seeing me in so much pain (in addition to him drinking 1 litre of coldbrew coffee and not sleeping for 48 hours), I could hear background conversations, I was aware of the camera clicking. It was at this stage I buried my dignity under the loungeroom rug, stripped off and didn’t hold back with how vocal I was and the positions I was in in the birth pool.
I felt intense sensation in my lower back. I was sure I could feel my tailbone moving out of the way to allow the baby to pass through. All of a sudden mid-contraction, I felt the urge to vomit. The heaving while vomiting had forced my waters to break and I heard a "pop" and experienced some momentary relief.
I spoke to a breathwork coach the day before going into labour and received some advice from her that stuck with me: "When you think you’ve surrendered, surrender some more". This was particularly useful during the pushing stage. My body took over, and my mind was just tagging along for the ride. I checked to see if I could feel the baby’s head, which I could. I sought Louise's reassurance mid contraction. She said that everything was working well, I was progressing and she had called the second midwife to attend the birth.
At this stage I was on all fours. Each contraction I would visualise the baby moving down. My support team surrounded the birth pool and cheered me on for each push. They used a torch to see the progress.
Contractions started slow and built to an unimaginable pressure and burning. After every contraction I got a few minutes' rest. It was suggested at the peak of each contraction I put my head underwater and blow bubbles. I focussed all my energy on this and it served as a distraction from the pain.
I swayed and sobbed in between contractions and I asked the midwives whether I had made progress. The baby’s head was crowning but kept going backward. The midwives saw what they thought was a wrinkly forehead which would have meant I was having a posterior birth. Each push the midwives cheered me on, but they needed more from me to get this show on the road. I had now been pushing for approximately 1.5 hours. The midwives commented on my "perineum of steel". Louise would regularly check the baby’s heart rate and she was relaxed so Louise was happy for me to proceed.
Humans are incredible. Just when you feel like you have nothing more to give, you dig deep and find the strength that you need. It was close to 2 hours pushing with a crowning head. What they once thought was the baby's wrinkly forehead was in fact the baby’s head, meaning the baby wasn’t posterior. I asked Louise if there was anything we could do to assist the process. Louise suggested I change positions. I laid on my back and held my legs for leverage. Louise applied pressure around the baby's head to try and assist it out, to no avail.
I remember the cheer squad being more passionate than ever: "Come on Jewel, big push, big push. Even bigger this time. Just one more push", Kane saying "Come on bub!".
Suddenly, the entire baby shot out into the water, grabbing my leg on the way out which shocked everyone.
Our plan was for Louise to catch the baby and pass her to Kane, and Kane would place her on my chest. Louise tried to scoop her from the water and pass her to Kane but the long umbilical cord was wrapped around her arm, leg, torso and neck. Louise gently and swiftly dunked her back under the water, untangled her, then passed her to Kane who put her on my chest.
She cried instantly. The sense of relief on my body and how cold, slimy and tiny she was is something I will never forget. I sobbed from the relief and disbelief of what just happened.
We were so caught up in the moment it didn’t even cross our minds to reveal the gender until someone said, “Boy or girl?”.
We stayed in the pool with her on my chest, untouched, for approximately 1/2 an hour until the water became a bit cool for us. The midwives assisted me out of the pool to sit on the lounge where I birthed the placenta with ease. The placenta sat in a wooden bowl next to me until the umbilical cord stopped pulsating. I chose to cut the umbilical cord myself, after all, I carried this baby for 9 months and in hindsight, it was symbolic of finalising the birth for me. Louise tied the umbilical cord off with the handmade tie that my mum had made and I was given instructions on how to give her her first feed.
Rachel, the second midwife, said, 'Belly to belly, hold your breast like a sandwich and when she has an open mouth, try and place your nipple into her mouth”. Following her first feed at approximately 3 am, I was supported to the shower by Louise while Kane had the baby on his chest. Fresh PJ's and a shower had never felt so good. I headed back out to the loungeroom to find what looked like a little skinned rabbit laying on Kane's chest. If we were in a hospital environment the baby would have been whisked away to be weighed, measured and given the vitamin K shot. It had been 2 hours after giving birth and our baby had not been in the hands of anyone but her own parents.
When the time was right, Louise proceeded to weigh and measure her. In the watchful eyes of four women, with shaky hands, Kane attempted to put the nappy on the baby, which was a first for both of them. We filmed Louise wrap Ochre for the first time so we could refer back to the video if/when we got stuck. We all shared some laughs about the PJ's I was wearing, and about the neighbours being able to witness my entire birth due to no blinds. At 4 am, we were assisted to a bed of fresh sheets and 2 cats awaiting us.
Our birth team left the house. This was surreal. I looked at Kane when I lay in bed and said, "what the fuck just happened".
Midwife: Louise David
Photographer: Naomi of Billy Buttons Photography