Giving birth is as beautifully personal as it is universal, with hundreds of millions of women having gone through pregnancy, labour, and delivery.
I figured if they could do it, so could I.
And I could either make a big deal about it, complaining about little things like sleeping uncomfortably, or the aches and pains I experienced as my body stretched and supported this new life, or I could choose to enjoy every moment of it.
Thursday, the 9th of December, while relaxing on the couch with my partner Sabri, I began feeling mild contractions. I assumed they were Braxton Hicks contractions, which are false contractions that prepare your body for actual contractions, and enjoyed how my stomach would tighten and release. The contractions were about 10 minutes apart and lasted 20 to 30 seconds. We went to bed a couple of hours later, with the contractions continuing periodically.
I remember waking up around 5 a.m. and going down to the kitchen to get a drink. Filled with excitement of thinking today might be the day the baby comes, I had to share this news with someone, and texted my close cousin in India.
Still wide awake, I jumped back in bed, and Sabri woke up shortly after. We stayed in bed for an another hour before getting ready for work.
Wrestling with whether I should go into work or stay at home and have my sister keep me company in case I went into labour, I decided to text my midwife. I told her about the contractions and asked if it would be ok to go to work, and she reassured me that it would be fine, and that I could always come back home if necessary. December 9th happened to be the day of our work Christmas party, a celebration I had been looking forward to and did not want to miss.
It’s funny, the little things you remember about the day you give birth.
On our way into work, Sabri got me my favourite breakfast – toasted cinnamon & raisin bagel with scrambled egg, mayo and beetroot relish with a slice of cheese and smoked salmon. It was a big treat as we usually save it only for cheat day carb binge Saturdays– I won’t ever forget how delicious the naughty breakfast tasted.
We arrived at 7:30 a.m. and began the day (we work together in the business), and I was still having contractions every 10 minutes. Though they weren’t strong enough to signal active labour, every time I had one I would stand up, bend over on my desk, and wait for it to pass. I took this position naturally, as it made the contractions feel much better.
Every so often, Sabri would come over to my desk and ask me if anything had changed. He stayed very calm, but I’m sure he was hiding his excitement just as much as I was.
About halfway through the day, I started timing my contractions and texted my midwife. She suggested I turn off my analytical mind and go on with my day as I normally would, reminding me that labour releases the same hormones that are released during love making.
“Don’t analyse it too much. Let go and allow your body to do its thing, she said.”
All I really wanted to know was whether or not I was in labour. My midwife noted that it could be very early labour, which could progress or cease altogether.
Work Christmas Dinner
Somewhat disappointed, I continued on with my day and headed over to our Christmas dinner with the team at 5:30 p.m. Contractions continued through dinner, but that did not stop me from feasting on a six – yes, six! – course Italian meal at one of my favourite restaurants in Melbourne called “Baby” – ironically.
Hours flew by, mocktails were consumed, laughs were had, and I took several visits to the women’s room during contractions. Around 9 p.m., everyone was heading to a bar, and I decided to go home. Sabri, being the boss, felt compelled to join the team, but told me he would be home in an instant if anything happened.
We all started our lives as a result of a passionate, intimate and powerful act – sex. During sex, our brains secrete a hormone called Oxytocin, which facilitates an intimate bond between the couple, relaxes them, and reduces stress, while increasing trust and psychological stability. No wonder we feel great after sex and so intimately connected.
Sex is so powerful because it gives us the potential to create new life. I learned that the same oxytocin – that is released during sex is also released during birth, and as such sex and birth are very similar intimate and passionate acts.
In terms of the hormone activity in mother and baby, birth is the most passionate experience we could ever have. Oxytocin reaches peak levels at the moment of birth, creating loving, altruistic feelings between mother and baby. Endorphins also peak at birth, which protect the baby from lack of oxygen in the final stages of birth, and ensure that mother and baby are both wide-eyed and excited at first contact. Prolactin, the mothering hormone, is then released, which helps us surrender to our babies the most tender of maternal feelings, which is beautifully rewarding.
This series of bodily processes serves as preparation for both birth and mothering, facilitating a seamless transition baby to transition to life outside of the womb.
Considering procreation is such an intimate process, why are we not treating the birthing process in the same way? If we are in an unfamiliar environment, plugged into monitoring machines, inspected every few minutes and watched by multiple unfamiliar faces, feeling exposed, will we be able to have sex the same way we would like to?
Sabri’s mum was visiting us that same night, and arrived shortly after I did. Having showered, I offered her a quick hello in between contractions and headed to bed for the night. I didn’t want to worry her about what I felt, as they could have been false contractions.
Fast asleep, I was abruptly awakened by a strong contraction.
Scrambling to the bathroom, I called Martina, who stayed on the phone and kept talking to me through my next contraction – she wanted to hear if there were any changes in my tone to indicate labour.
Suddenly, I felt lonely and began to cry. Hearing my sobs, she asked me to get Sabri to come home and assured me that she would be at our house in 40 minutes.
My excitement surged as I recalled her telling me that she would only make a house call to her pregnant mums when she could sense over the phone that they were in active labour.
Early on in my pregnancy, I knew that I wanted to have a natural birth like my mother.
I come from India where there wasn’t a big fuss about giving birth; in fact, my mother had four kids with no painkillers. Not once did she ever tell me any horror stories or scare me about the pain, even though she had a bone separation when she gave birth to me and was bedridden for two months afterward.
A year later, she delivered undiagnosed twins.
In contrast, most of the women of my generation whom I spoke with about their birthing experiences opted for c-sections or epidurals because they felt they could not handle the pain.
“How do you know that you can’t handle the pain?” I’d ask. They would talk about their low pain threshold, history of back pain, and a host of other reasons they just assumed painkillers would be necessary. These women would then go on to talk about the media or family members who told them horror stories and advised them to do whatever it takes to make it easier, without knowing the consequences of those choices.
I feel fortunate that I had my mother’s experiences to guide me.
Her experiences taught me that the woman’s body is an immensely powerful thing, fully capable of bearing and nurturing children. This is one of the reasons why I chose not to get any scans done during my pregnancy, learning to trust my body and the development of my baby without going through a multitude of tests and examinations.
In addition, I didn’t want the doctors to scare me with 101 things that could go wrong and the multiple other tests I would need to make sure that this was not the case; I didn’t want to go down that rabbit hole.
The more I learned about my body, our baby, and the birthing process, a greater anticipation built within me. This only increased my desire to experience the labour and birthing process without drugs or unnecessary distraction.
I wanted to feel and enjoy every moment of it without the risk of that experience being stripped from me without due reason, which I have heard is quite common in a hospital setting. Hospitals need to follow several protocols in regards to intervention should any phase of labour take longer than their guidelines, such as inducing labour, episiotomy, forceps or vacuum delivery, caesareansection, and so on.
The idea of home birth really resonated with me prior to my pregnancy, but to be honest, I hadn’t researched about it in detail before wanting to have one. When I did become pregnant, I made an appointment to meet a private midwife who specializes in home births. Our first appointment with her was for a duration of four hours, which was basically an educational session about the birth process, benefits of natural birth, and most importantly, the best environment for a natural birth. When we walked out, we knew we wanted to have a home birth.
We learned that the sense of safety (being surrounded the people who we know and trust), coupled with the warmth of familiarity (being at home), would lend itself to a beautiful birthing experience.
I’m not against hospitals, as they do save lives, but I found the freedom of having an undisturbed labour and lying in my own bed with my child for the first time, instead of in an unfamiliar hospital bed in a robe, very appealing.
Back at home…
On that aforementioned night in December, after talking to my midwife, I called Sabri and he was home before I even knew it.
He got on the phone with my midwife and started preparing the room, turning on the salt lamp, playing our birth playlist, getting the clary sage essential oil burning in the diffuser, laying the tarp on the carpet and started setting up the birth pool. I was still in the bathroom going through the motions with every contraction, and could feel a distinct change in the type of contractions I was having. They were more pronounced now, and I had to keep moving my hips in circular motions every time I had one.
The next thing I knew, my midwife was there and it was about midnight. I came back into the bedroom and sat on the floor. During this stage of labour, I was most comfortable standing or sitting down cross-legged. She asked me to try and sleep as she noted the time between contractions.
Leaning back on the bed, I tried to sleep, but couldn’t.
My midwife then asked me to get into the birth pool and see how it felt. I got in and the warm water felt really good. Having laid there for about ten minutes, I felt another contraction. After that, I fell asleep in the pool for about fifteen minutes, and when I woke up my midwife told me that things had slowed down and I should get out and try to get some sleep.
I was beginning to feel a bit disappointed when I felt another contraction.
Waters breaking 🙂
Halfway through, I felt a pop, like a bubble bursting – it was my water breaking! “I think my water broke,” I told my midwife. She checked, confirmed that it had, and asked me to lay in the pool. In the corner of my eye I could see that she had gotten up and left the room.
At this point, my excitement rose, as did some nervousness.
Wondering what might happen next, I remembered reading other birth stories where mothers mentioned that the most exciting part of the birth was the third stage where they get to urge to push the baby. Thinking about that was calming. After a few minutes, I got really hot and wanted to get out of the birth pool. So I climbed out and Sabri helped me dry myself. Again I went back into my favourite spot – the bathroom! I felt most comfortable in dark, small spaces, and my bathroom was perfect.
After a few contractions, I had the urge to push.
With every push, I felt like something big was wanting to come outside of me. I can’t recall exactly what happened during this stage, because I zoned out and felt like I was in a bubble of my own world. My midwife and Sabri let me do my thing, and sat patiently, watching.
“During active labor we are in this altered state of consciousness which helps our body transcend through the stress and pain of labour.
The Native Americans call it mothers traveling to the stars to bring there soul of the baby and come back.”
During one contraction, I was moving my hips and standing on my toes. My midwife told me to stand flat on my feet, to not resist what was going on and move my hips in the figure eight, which did feel good. A few contractions and some pushing later, I had to ask her if she could see the baby. “Not yet,” she said, but asked me to maybe try sitting on the toilet with my knees raised on a stool in a squat position. I sat in that position and went through a few more contractions.
Still in my zone, I heard my midwife suddenly exclaim “I can see hair!”
Sabri came over and both of them saw the baby crowning. My midwife held down a mirror for me and asked me to have a look. I couldn’t see anything from the position I was sitting in, and it was also too dark, even with the torch.
“Now I can tell you…the baby will be here within the hour,” said my midwife.
I am not sure what time it was, but a few minutes later, she asked me to get on all fours. I did as instructed, with both Sabri and my midwife behind me.
Reaching down, I felt a big ball – my baby’s head and wondered how it was going to come out.
With the next contraction, I felt with my hands as the baby’s head started to come out and everyone in the bathroom screamed with excitement.
My midwife then asked me to push. I could feel the baby’s head coming out and once it did, the rest of the body just slipped out without me doing anything.
Sabri caught our baby who came out with one arm up, and I could hear him screaming in excitement.
The baby let out a tremendous scream, Sabri began to cry. Slowly, I started coming back to the present moment and soon began to cry too.
Our baby was born at 4:26 a.m. on December 10th, 2016
“Pass him to Shalini,” I heard my midwife say.
“Is it a boy?” Sabri asked, who then had a look and cried, “It’s a baby girl!”
I held her, both of us in tears while our sweet girl was screaming her lungs out.
She was completely covered in vernix and was very slippery. My midwife covered us with a towel and we moved into our bedroom, laying on our bed so my baby and I could have skin-to-skin contact. Then my midwife helped me breastfeed our baby girl for the first time.
It felt magical.
Sabri and I could not believe that we had just made a little human. Now here she was, chilling with us in bed.
My midwife waited about an hour to allow the umbilical cord to drain the blood completely into the baby and then brought Sabri a clamp to cut her cord. About an hour later, my midwife helped me get up, and asked me push in order to birth the placenta. A few pushes later, the placenta came out and my midwife took it away in a bucket.
As we laid in bed, the vernix was quickly getting absorbed into our baby’s skin and she started to turn more and more pink.
Around 5:30 a.m. Sabri woke his mum up with the big news of the birth of our baby, who was sound asleep and hadn’t heard a thing!
Shocked and surprised, she came into the room excitedly to see our baby. We then broke the news to our family and there was so much shock, excitement, and surprise all round.
Sabri and I had a few hours of sleep with our baby before I woke up with the most ravenous hunger I had ever experienced. I asked him if he could get me our favourite bagels for breakfast, so he went away and was soon back with the goodies.
Those bagels tasted better than the naughty bagels of the previous morning!
Slowly, I started to gain my energy back. My midwife helped tidy up my room and told me that she would come back the next day. She then left, taking my placenta with her for encapsulation. Sabri and I stayed in bed most of the day with our brand new baby. It was really lovely being able to share the joy with my mum, Sabri’s mum, and my sister on the very first day.
We soaked up every moment, as we embarked upon a new adventure: our journey into parenthood.
Our culture and understanding of birth in this day and age seems negative. Birth is often regarded as painful, dangerous, risky, which is why striving to keep our ideas of of birth pure and unpolluted by such thinking is imperative and should be imprinted in our minds. I found watching positive birth videos made me understand labour and change my outlook towards birth.
In the midst of pregnancy, we trust that our body is completely capable of creating, nourishing, sustaining and growing this baby. But when it comes to birth, we question our ability to bring our babies into the world. That same level of trust and understanding seems to wane, which is why it is imperative to research and educate ourselves in regard to the entire process. Researching the various internal components that work together both physiologically and emotionally is crucial.
Perhaps now more than ever, it is vastly important for us parents to be intimately involved in the decision-making process, and to carefully consider the choices that medical care providers offer. This can be challenging when it is the first encounter with the medical system. However, it is important to remember that it will be the us and our children who have to live with the consequences of these choices, not the health care provider.