Looking back on the birth of S, I’m not sure how much my mind has forgotten over the intervening 5 years. But I know from what I wrote weeks afterwards, and from the husband who held me whilst I delivered him, that my recollection is pretty accurate. With the birth of S, I had a ‘show’ on the last day of work (36+5) but then nothing until my waters broke at 37 weeks and he was born 7 hours later. There were no practice runs or Braxton hicks. I never thought "are you coming now?" Until he was actually coming and there was no doubt about it. It was straightforward and relatively quick. Like a textbook version of birth, in the loveliest way. So this was my expectation for subsequent baby. This was how *I* gave birth, no matter the kid! Sachin calmly came into the world without much fuss. I was almost completely silent when I pushed him out to meet us. It was a pretty quick and fluent, calm affair. Well, as calm as anything with that much blood and guts can be. The next baby would be that way too, yes?
Oh Arla Bo. She was a whole other ball game.
I was hopelessly desperate for her to come. I mean, it was off the charts. I was a crazy person, a woman possessed. From 37 weeks (maybe even a little before) I was CONVINCED she was coming every other day. I would walk around the house in the early hours of the morning, speaking to her in hushed tones, trying to broker deals. ‘Come baby, come now! We’re ready to meet you! Think of all the fun we’ll have!’ To be fair to me, it wasn't all one sided. She liked to keep me on my toes, test the waters. There were many, many Braxton hicks. Always in the middle of the night, putting me on high alert. Hours of "this is it" which would inevitably shift to "this is nothing" followed by wails of despair. In hindsight I can see there was definitely a strong underlying need on my side - to be reassured that everything was ok, that she was healthy and well. Feel her heart beating with my own hands and count the toes.
A few months before becoming pregnant with Arla, I had a traumatic miscarriage which at times clouded my pregnancy, adding a layer of fragility and uncertainty. The first 12 weeks were terrible, I didn’t want to get too attached and every day I would half wake expecting the worst. The 2nd trimester was easier for the most part, but as soon as I hit the third, the fear returned. From 37 weeks onward, I willed her to come. I was actually pretty stressed out - I’d become convinced that she wasn’t moving and ended up going to the hospital to see a midwife as I hadn’t felt her move through one night and into the next morning. This happened twice near the end, and both times I went to the hospital. It freaked me out so much that I knew hearing a heartbeat was the only thing that would put my mind at rest. The midwives were always amazing and reassuring, telling me that I had done the right thing. When you feel like a crazed whale, this is nice.
I should also mention that I was convinced the baby would come whilst my sister was staying with us. Let's call it a crazy pregnancy voodoo feeling. Not to mention - insanely practical! We had planned a home birth and I just had a feeling that my sister would be there. Our ideal scenario was - weekend, sister visiting (she doesn't live in the same city), night time labouring, Sachin asleep and wakes up to a baby. Obviously, I invited my sister to stay a lot in the third trimester.
At 39 + 2, things got weird. The previous day had been spent at the hospital, a final scan to check baby was ok. She was perfect, with chubby cheeks and hair. I felt odd the next day though, mildly despairing and pretty down, the need to cry and hibernate and be alone. I asked my husband to take Sachin out and I spent a good part of the day alone, sleeping and taking in the quiet. It sort of felt like I had run out - of anxiety, of energy, of all the big feelings. There was just nothing left and I needed sleep. I read this piece (which is brilliant for pregnant woman) before I got to that place and only remembered it again when writing this. Now I can see, I was in The Time of Zwischen.
That night I was ready. I had decided once and for all to have this baby. (I told you I was crazy). My sister had come to stay for the 78th time, I think there was maybe a bit of show and I went to bed absolutely sure we’d be ringing in the next morning with the cries of a newborn. Imagine my surprise when I woke up after a full nights sleep still full of baby. I was dazed and confused and still goddamn pregnant. I walked downstairs and POOF, my waters broke. A bit. It was 7.30am and my relief at that measly trickle was laughable. But man, relieved I was. The birthing could finally begin.
Because of the speed of Sachin’s birth, I was estimating (along with the midwife) that it would be 7 hours or less. Arla was going to be home birth if all went to plan, so we called the hospital and the midwife came out straight away, I was the start of her shift. She was lovely, had a chat with us, hung around for a bit and then essentially got bored. Nothing was happening. N>O>T>H>I>N>G. I paced. I breathed heavily, I rocked my hips back and forth. I did the best impression of a woman in labour you have ever seen. I didn’t even realise it at the time, but now I can see it. I so desperately wanted this thing to happen, I acted like it was. The midwife knew though. She knew we weren’t there. Then after a few hours of this, all of a sudden during a mild contraction, there was a pop. My waters broke, again. It was comical this pop we all heard, and I was so confused, my waters already broke this morning? Or… I wet myself and celebrated it? No no, that didn't happen. There are hind and forewaters. Sometimes they break together, sometimes separately. Thank god. So now we *really* were ready. No more waters baby, come out come out wherever you are. And yet, nothing happened. So she left with the promise of coming back when things started hotting up. At lunch time I was exhausted. This labouring game is exhausting. I was in a state of confusion about why it was so slow, and one thing I would absolutely change if I ever did it again? (HAHAHA AS IF) I would take the clock down. I spent so long looking over at that damn clock. It taunted me. In a hour, I'd think, she'll be here. Watching those hours pass by with still no baby and not much progression was mentally exhausting. A tip for birthing - if you have a clock, hide the thing. So, due to nothing happening and all the tiredness, I went to nap. In the middle of labouring this baby, I did not expect to go nap. During this time my sister was ace and took S out for the day. I mean, to be fair I didn’t think it was going to take quite so long, so they had a bit of a long day. Whatever, I was trying to get this baby out and the only person I wanted around was my husband and someone trained.
I woke up from my nap and nothing really felt any different. The midwives change shift every 12 hours. It was time for her to go home. I was sad as I liked her a lot, but she came to say goodbye and examine me one last time. I was finally 4cm dilated. I was so upset. (Keep in mind that with S I was 9cm on arrival at the hospital). The midwife let me know that just in case the baby still hadn’t come she had booked me in for an induction the next morning at the hospital. With a home birth you have 24 hours from waters breaking to birth at home. Not what I wanted to hear.
12 hours had gone. The second midwife had arrived and she would stay until baby came or I went to be induced. A note here on home birth - it was an amazing experience. The midwives were brilliant and mostly stood back and let me do what I wanted. This really suited me, I like to move around, I like to go into myself, I don’t really like being told what to do. Ha. We had prepared the lower floor of the house, I made a little birthing bed, I lit candles. The freezer was stocked with my pregnancy addiction - ice. It was amazing to be in my home and nest down. It was pretty primal, this birth.
Night came, and darkness brought with it the contractions. I remembered my friend Cate saying how her babies had waited until it was dark to come. Oh, so that’s what this baby was doing? Being the height of summer she had just been waiting. Everything ramped up. We were go. I asked for gas and air but just couldn’t get the hang of it this time around and gave up on it.
The image I had had of myself as being this calm, serene person when giving birth had gone out the window along with the gas and air. I felt loud and animalistic and like my body was preparing to break open. I described S as slipping into the world. I felt like an egg with Arla. It was like she had spent 15.5 hours ( I mean, maybe 9 months?) slowly cracking me open from the inside - her beak tap tap tapping away, slowly but surely. Then I had enough. I declared that I was going to get this baby out, it was time. My husband held me in the same way he had when I gave birth to our son. I was on the floor, him behind with arms wrapped around me. I told him I couldn’t do it, he told me I could, I was. The midwife was ready and encouraging and I pushed and CRACK. Everything was different. It was not serene or calm, but it was like the world flooded with fireworks and colour and my shell had finally cracked and she was here. It was like her being filled the room, exploded into it. Yet she was quiet and tiny and perfect. To me the whole experience had felt so BIG and LOUD but everyone else there said it actually wasn't. That I wasn't screaming of shouting and so I guess the noise was all inside me? Arla had been waiting for the perfect time to arrive, 11.03pm was her time.
For the first 20 mins or so, husband and I sat alone in the candlelight, not moving from the spot where she’d been born. We marvelled at her, kissed her, breathed her in. We were expecting a giant, loud baby, but for now she was teeny and tired and perfect. The midwives were amazing and quietly cleared away the many messy bits. So quietly in fact that I can barely remember it.
Things I haven’t mentioned > during the time I was downstairs giving birth, My Mum and sister had been upstairs, listening. I mean, they had no choice - the joy of open plan living! My sister has not had kids. HAHAHAHA. Can you imagine the trauma of hearing that?! She’s ok though, although any babies may be a while in coming.
So my sister and Mum came down to meet her. I showered (my Mum helped me, the circle of womenhood was overwhelming in that moment) and we went to bed. Sach had been asleep during the whole thing, but on us going to bed he called out ‘Is that a little baby I hear?’ He climbed into bed with us. If it sounds a little bit magical, it was. I cannot describe it well enough. The feeling of the four of us, exhausted and broken and as high as we’ve ever been, together for the first time in the dark.
Welcome Arla Boheme.
Writing this out has given me so many beautiful moments of hindsight. The biggest though, was actually just now as I re-read before posting. I realised that our 'birth plan' - weekend, sister, night time labour... The chances of all those things aligning we're so very small. But Arla Bo, she choreographed it perfectly. She orchestrated my ideal situation for me, and it's taken me 7 months to really realise it. I'll go and hug her now, and maybe forgive her for all the night time shenanigans.