Cathrine Mathiesen

Along came Clara – a birth story

Our beautiful baby girl was born on a dark and rainy night towards the end of November. Both consultants and midwives had independently told me that my baby would probably arrive early and be smaller than my first baby (who, at 4000 grams was quite big) and I felt certain it was a boy. Along came Clara, seven days overdue and weighing a healthy 4340g. That’s life - full of surprises. Someone once told me how important it is for women to talk about their birthing experiences. Because they are so intense, dramatic, life-changing that if silenced they might because traumas that can haunt you for the rest of your life. Here is mine.

Thursday morning, six days overdue, we went for a check-up at the hospital, and the midwife did another sweep, having done the first a week before, on the actual due date. This was less painful than what I remembered from my previous pregnancy by the way, because the cervix doesn’t fully close up after a birth, so a nice, soft start. We agreed that I should come back the next morning to have my waters broken, and so we finally knew, that very soon, we were having a baby.

But back from the hospital I did a couple of hours of yoga and breathing, had dinner with my family and as the hours of that day passed, I could feel something starting. Perhaps it was the sweep, perhaps it was me knowing that the next day we would try to start the birth, perhaps my baby simply was ready to meet the world. If we had broken the waters, I would have had to be induced if the baby still had not come within 24 hours, due to the risk of infection. I’ve heard too many stories of long and complicated induced births - the baby or the body or both were simply not ready. So I was then, and am looking back, relieved and happy it started naturally. But having spent the last couple of weeks constantly scanning my body for evidence of the birth starting, analyzing all movements of the baby, mood swings, bodily changes, cramps and contractions, looking for the right signs, I thought I might have become over-sensitive and found it hard to be sure. However, around 7 pm that same night the mucus plug that helps protect the baby during pregnancy was released as my cervix really was changing and dilating. Even though it could potentially be several days before the baby arrives after this, it was a relief to see that at least it was on its way, something was happening, I was going into labour. I was not afraid. I was excited and ready.

Remembering what a lot of people, from yoga instructors to friends who had just given birth had told me, I kept moving. I was on my yoga mat in our living room, my toddler playing around me and my husband anxiously pacing the floor. I was doing hip circles on all fours, deep squatting and doing this funny Chaplin walk/dance, lifting the knees high and out to the side for each step. Everything to open the pelvis and encourage the baby down and out. I had no pain at this stage, and only minor, very mild contractions. After we had put our son to bed I called the clinic. The midwife there told me to record the time between my contractions, and then call back. So we lay down on our bed, timer and paper at hand, and started counting. This is a good exercise, as the contractions turned out to be closer than what I had thought, only 7-8 minutes between each. It was building up gradually and slowly. All the while I was doing perineal massage, with a generous amount of neutral oil, to increase the elasticity of the perineum for birth, to help avoid tearing and episitomy (where they cut you to make room for the baby). This proved useful, even with a big baby who came quickly I had no tearing at all. I called the clinic again around 10 pm and we agreed to come in. We arranged for someone to come to look after our sleeping son, grabbed the bag that had been packed six weeks earlier, and headed out into the night and a new chapter of our lives.

In the car on the way down to the hospital my husband did the driving and I listened to my hypnobirthing CD, closing my eyes, establishing a deep relaxation and steady breath. The 25 minutes the journey takes was precisely what I needed to enter a zone in which I felt relaxed, strong, untouchable. Like sleep walking almost. I guess you could say that, with the hypnobirthing and breathing I entered a deeper level of consciousness, the place I had been thinking about, talking about, preparing for, where I knew how to birth my baby and felt no fear. I knew where I was going, and so I could easily get there. We parked the car, checked into the hospital, met the midwives on duty and settled into our room. We cleared away all equipment and furniture that we didn’t need and wouldn’t use, pushed the bed into the corner of the room, turned off the electric lights and lit candles, set up the iPod dock and started playing my carefully selected music and rolled out my yoga mat. I was wearing loose, comfortable clothes and slippers, your feet do get really cold during labour. I guess the heart gets too busy doing other things than pumping blood all the way down to your toes. My contractions were getting stronger, but were still absolutely manageable. I felt so mentally strong and well prepared to handle any pain, and a lot of women had told me that second birth was less painful anyway, so by this time I almost thought the baby would just pop out any second, without any of the drama and shocking pain I remembered from last time. What can I say? I was wrong.

When I was examined by the midwife at around midnight I was merely two centimeters dilated. Which meant that I still had most, if not all, of the dilating phase, which is often described as the most painful, in front of me. What a disappointment. Things slowed down a bit then. I slept for half an hour. My husband and I were mostly left by ourselves. I was walking around the small room, meeting the contractions either standing up against the wall or leaning over the bed or the edge of the birthing pool. I spent a bit of time in child’s pose, my husband massaging my lower back, really nice. I wasn’t consciously moving in and out of specific yoga poses as much as moving continuously and freely in yogic movements. Natural movements that felt deeply embedded within my body, which had been good during pregnancy and were equally good during labour. My breathing was heavy, steady, relaxed. Golden thread. The music was soothing. My husband was very much present, but in the background. There was no conversation. The atmosphere almost religious. As the contractions intensified, I went to lie down on the bed. I found that as I needed to be able to relax between them in a way that I couldn’t achieve when moving around. I needed to be completely still and focus on the breathing to relax and prepare for the next contraction.

I have been thinking a lot about how honest I should be when writing about the pain I felt at this point. It’s an amazing experience but I think we all know it’s no picnic. It’s not called ‘labour’ for nothing. It’s bloody hard work. A midwife once told me: on a scale from one to ten, if you die on ten, giving birth is nine. I hope I can help women prepare for a natural birth so really, what other way is there than the truth? So yes, at this point, around 3 am, three hours into what I would call active labour and during the very last part of the dilating phase, just one hour before my waters broke naturally and my baby quickly followed, I was in pain. Rationally of course, I knew that it was only temporary, would not kill me and would result in a much wanted baby, but that’s not to say I didn’t feel it. It’s a pain like no other. Strong, intense and very centered in the pelvic region. But also constructive, targeted, manageable. When you reach the point where you feel it’s no longer manageable, you know you are nearly there! I blocked the world out completely, clinging onto my breath, counting around four or five deep, focused exhalations on each contraction. Between each surge I came back to breathing in and out through the nose, an audible yogic breath that kept me grounded and relaxed. Both my births have been very, very quiet. At one point I tried to scream, and immediately felt all my energy disappear out of my mouth and into thin air. What a waste. Instead I used that energy to push down, visualising my baby’s journey through the birth channel, and nudging her along.

Then, finally, on top an incredibly strong contraction, my waters broke and I knew that the baby would follow quickly. So as that contraction was ebbing out, my body shaking from its force, I climbed off the bed and on all fours to the birthing pool that had taken forever to fill but was finally ready for me. I got into the pool, acknowledged for a moment the lukewarm water’s soothing sensation against my skin, grabbed the handles on the sides of the pool and, on the next contraction, started to push. During the next twenty minutes there was no break. One contraction followed the other, and I was pushing continuously, wondering along the way where I would pull more strength from, but finding it somehow, somewhere anyway. I was completely present in my body, feeling the baby’s descent, crowning and finally, exit. Pushing the head out I felt my body would rip in two, it was so strong, so powerful, so incredibly real. Once the head was out, I focused my last strength in one last, long push and as i felt my baby slide out of me I made a sound so raw, so deep, animalistic even, that it surprised me, not to mention my poor husband.

I leaned back and closed my eyes, needed to take a few seconds to bring myself back from wherever it was that I had spent the last hour. A midwife placed my baby on my chest, as I had requested in my birth plan, and there was a couple of seconds where the world was ever so quiet before we heard the first scream. Apparently this is the hardest thing we do, physically, as human beings, during our entire lives - to draw that first breath of air once out of the water in the womb. With my head still resting on the edge of the pool, and my eyes still closed, I was holding my baby onto my chest with my left arm. With my right hand I carefully felt between the baby’s legs and whispered to my husband standing behind me: we have a daughter.

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