Kath was visiting from the UK for Easter and it was lovely to spend a lazy autumn day enjoying her company.

Kath and I went out for dinner that evening and on the way home I suddenly felt very heavy, and had to ‘carry’ (that is, hold) my belly as we walked slowly back to my place. I put it down to having had a hearty meal and not immediately retiring to the couch as I usually do. On reflection, Ailly had engaged and was ready rock and roll. That evening I felt a little uncomfortable, but just put it down to feeling big and that it was part of advanced pregnancy. I didn’t sleep well, but figured it was just because Paul was away for the night.

At 5.30 in the morning I awoke to a feeling like a punch from inside. It made me say ‘ouch’ and so I got up to the bathroom and discovered I was oozing a clear warm liquid that was definitely not urine. Surely it couldn’t be my waters breaking I thought to myself. It just can’t be – I’m only 35 weeks and Paul is away … I tried calling him a couple of times but went straight to voice mail.

In a bit of denial I sent my midwife a text – and heard back from her that she was rostered off and I would need to contact another of the midwives from the birth centre. I felt bad ringing a midwife I didn’t know at such an early time of the morning. When we spoke, she communicated to me that I’d need to go to the delivery suite of the hospital rather than the birth centre as I was less that 37 weeks. She rang them to let them know to expect me given it sounded like my ‘membrane had ruptured’… so I realized quickly that things were really not going to plan. So much for continuity of care and being able to birth in a non-medicalised environment! And I hadn’t even packed my hospital bag!

My parents live in Tasmania and I gave them a call to let them know what was happening. I woke Kath up and we rang her parents to ask for a lift to the hospital (Paul had the car). It was a surreal feeling trying to pack my hospital bag. The first thing I thought of was that I had to remain calm – the last thing I wanted to do was for adrenaline to kick in and start the cycle of fear and tension in my body. So after a tearful hug with Kath, I took a few deep breaths and decided to focus on what I needed to get organized before my ride arrived.

I still had another week and a half of work planned and the nursery was a complete mess. I grabbed some onesies (what size? I packed some 4 zeros in the hope this would do the trick – turned out they were too big). I also packed enough things for an overnight visit and for bringing the baby home. I grabbed only a few essentials – toothbrush and toothpaste basically. I grabbed my ipod, my course book, my meditation picture, some clary sage essential oil, an eye mask from an aeroplane, a robe and my favourite colourful scarf. I hadn’t had time to purchase all the other essentials, but I did have some funny Japanese chocolate biscuits and some coconut juice for snacks.

During the car ride I could feel gentle waves coming and going and had a sense of early contractions. But I was not in any great discomfort and didn’t need to make a big deal of these. When I got to the hospital, I was shown into a room with all of the medical set up and strapped up to a fetal heart monitor and antibiotics. I couldn’t really move, just sat up in the bed waiting for the antibiotics to drip through. I had a lot of different people coming and going – an initial midwife who then finished her shift, another two different midwifes, three different doctors. The first doctor did an ultrasound, and we could see that quite a lot of the amniotic fluid had gone on one side – while this was happening I continued to gush fluid and experience gentle waves. The doctor examined me and said I was 2 cm dilated. I felt most discomfort in my hands as the doctor had messed up putting in the canular in my left hand (there was blood all over the sheet) and so I had the canular in my other hand. Another two doctors came along and told me that most women go into spontaneous labour within 72 hours of their waters breaking and that they would monitor me until Tuesday and then consider options if I hadn’t progressed. This was in light of the prematurity of the baby. This was difficult for my understanding of what was going on – was I going to have to sit in this room for another 3 days waiting to see what would happen? I told the doctor again that I was feeling gentle waves but no one really seemed to think that my labour was progressing quickly so Kath and I were left to our own devices a bit and this gave me the opportunity to listen to my meditations without constant interruption and Cath had time to try and contact Paul and look at the course book (with our had written notes of the important things for Paul to remember).

Gradually the sensation of the waves became more intense and I recognized that I needed to become more proactive about what was going on. Once the antibiotics were finished, I asked to have the fetal heart monitor swapped to the cordless version so that I could start to move around more. I also asked for a heatpack which brought relief that felt amazing on my lower back. I started doing walking meditation, pacing across the room and telling myself that waves would “come and then they would go” as my mantra. Eventually I felt tired from walking, so had a go at resting on my knees and leaning forward into a chair. Then I moved onto all fours on the bed, and realized I was transitioning as I began to moan and groan from a primitive place within myself. I asked Kath if she could have a midwife come in as I knew that my labour was transitioning faster than the care givers realized. Speaking with Kath later this knowledge was confirmed, as the midwife had a look of surprise when she saw me and went into action straight away. I knew that people around me were coming and going and there were a lot of questions being asked of me between and within contractions. I knew at this time that I’d have to advocate for myself as I didn’t have a birth plan written and no Paul to do his assigned tasks.

First was the issue of managed third stage. The midwife asked for consent to give me the injection which I said no to as I wanted to birth the placenta physiologically. She then needed to discuss this with me, so that I consented to receiving the injection if there was an emergency. Next was the issue of access to the bath. I had been asking about a bath for some time, but it was only once I was transitioning that I was told they were running a bath for me. I knew that the room with the bath was quite a long walk down the corridor (unlike the birth centre where I would have had a bath in an ensuite). I had a feeling that as the bath was taking such a long time to run that I would miss the opportunity – I then heard the midwife talking with Kath saying that I was not allowed to give birth in the bath as the baby was premature. I don’t recall anyone actually telling me this directly – but I could hear perfectly and just decided to myself, oh well here’s another thing that hasn’t gone to plan, there are so many things that haven’t gone to plan what does it matter?! I’ll just keep going as I am and it’ll be fine. I cant help but wonder if I had had the opportunity to birth in the bath whether I would have experienced any tearing at all, and I’m sure I would have responded well to being immersed in warm water given the effect the heat pack had. This is just something I reflect on, but it was certainly something I would have like to have experienced for myself and for the baby to have entered the world very gently and softly instead of under bright lights.

Breathing: in between the surges I used ujjayi breathing and turned my energy inwards whenever I was interrupted by questions or overhearing people talking about things such as Paul not being there. I have been practicing yoga for a few years and regularly attending pranayama classes as well as asana classes during my pregnancy, so I had a good understanding of using my breath. When the surges came, I used the word ‘flow’ to regulate my breath and really breathe out after having taken a deeper breath in.

Visualisation: I took with me a post card of a painting by Roy De Maistre called ‘Rhythmic Composition in yellow, green minor’. I’ve had this card for years, and always loved the painting. Following the classes with Tracey I had a bit of a think about what resonated for me in terms of visualization and the kinds of words I associated with what was ahead. I found the card and thought that’s it! For me the picture shows waves, movement and positive energy. Somehow, as abstract as the artwork is, it represented me and the baby on a journey together surrounded by beautiful waves of colour.

When labour became more intense I realized it was time to draw on visualizing that special place in nature. I had a couple of places, one is a forest by the ocean and the other is a river which meets the sea. I thought of both of these places but in particular I drew upon a memory of new years day a few year back. New years eve had been very hot and then refreshed by a spectacular storm. We were staying at a beach which had a little creek running behind the dunes. Paul was fishing further up the creek, and I was swimming in beautiful azure blue water warmed by the hot sun. He was near by but I was alone – the memory was a time of contentment in nature. During the breaks between the contractions I remembered that place and that feeling and I pictured Paul being not far away up the river fishing.

When the contractions came I shifted my visualization to being in a yoga class and practicing asana such as Warrior II. I imagined myself standing strong and focused and drew upon memory of yoga classes where the intensity has been immense but you sustain the pose through relaxation and recognition that the intensity will pass. I think yoga really complements the course, because I know I can trust my body and can direct my thoughts.

Kath to her credit was such an incredibly wonderful birthing partner. She was calm, loving and supportive and made no fuss about the fact she was not prepared for this experience. She sat quietly reading the class notes, brought me water, patted my brow with a face washer, gave me encouragement. I can still hear her voice saying “Ruby – you are amazing!”. After the birth I thanked Kath for being so perfect and she simply put it down to being a good friend and knowing me well. I still am so grateful to her for creating the atmosphere of quiet love and support needed for birthing.

The midwives in the room were also wonderful women, and I appreciated their support also. There was unfortunately one point where it would have been great if the midwife had known some of the principles from the course and that was the issue of naming pain and bringing it into my awareness. For all of the labour the waves were gentle, predictable and completely manageable – I drew on breathing and visualization and made my way through them. With each wave I thought to myself – this is bringing me closer to meeting my baby. But at the point of pushing, the midwife said to me several times “you are going to experience stinging”. It brought the idea into my head – so I had a bit of a conversation with myself and I remembered Tracey talking about pain in our first class. We’d talked about what a momentous experience birthing is – it’s not just a run of the mill experience like going to the toilet. It was time for me to step up and be COURAGEOUS. I wasn’t scared of feeling the stinging and I didn’t want to run away from it – I was filled with excitement from the sensation of the baby moving down and through me. Bring it on, I thought. The sooner I meet this sensation the sooner I’ll be holding my baby!

And soon it was! Not long after Paul walked in and was holding my hand I gave some final few pushes and Ailly was with us at 1pm. The time after this went by very quickly. This was the moment we discovered the gender of our child and named her Ailly after her great great grandmother. She was placed on my stomach (the cord was too short to have her right up on my chest) and I birthed my placenta easily (in fact, I was mid conversation with the paediatrician from the intensive care unit). Paul advocated for the cord clamping to be delayed, and I felt so glad that he was there to see our intentions being met.

The only part of our birth story I felt sad about was that Ailly had to be taken away from me for observation upstairs as they were worried about her breathing. Of course, I understand that this was necessary, but it was sad to have missed out on an intimate and quiet time together to enjoy our first feed. Paul went with her and held her hand while she had her eyes open and had a tube inserted into her stomach and various tests done. By the time I was wheeled up to give her a feed, her eyes were closed tightly, blocking out the bright light and noise of the ICU. We had our first feed in a brightly lit room full of strangers, the parents of other very tiny premature babies standing right next to me.  My wish for my daughter was that the first hour of her life hadn’t been that way and so far away from me. But I’m also grateful that she’s healthy and this was only a short amount of time in the big scheme of things.

While the birthing experience was without fear and really relaxed, it was hard work to continue applying this to the experience of being in the hospital for a week. I was not mentally prepared for having my baby up in intensive care for 3 days or for having to stay in the hospital for a week. I was really ready to come home after expressing at every feed to ‘top up’ according to a prescription given by a doctor who I hadn’t met. I felt disempowered by an endless cycle of different midwives and the very different system compared to the birth centre. When we finally made it home it was such a relief.

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