A Stormy Night, a Kitchen Sink, and a Freebirth
by Felicity Dowker
Layla’s birth began with a long and trying early labour that lasted a week. On the evening of Friday, the 27th of April, I began having very infrequent mild contractions. They were all felt achingly in my lower back, very sharply in my cervix, and sometimes across the front of my belly. The baby moving around sharply against my cervix hurt in and of itself and also seemed to stimulate the contractions. I think she was twiddling her fingers quite energetically against my cervix, as well as ramming her head (and my bulging bag of waters) into it for most of the week!
I was quite excited initially. I knew that early labour could last a long time, but still thought, “Is this it?!” I also held a lot of fear about this, my second birth, and looked forward to actually facing the event and moving past the fear and the reality of the birth.
My excitement died down as the contractions continued throughout Saturday day and night. By night time, I couldn’t sleep through the mild to moderate contractions, and spent the night perched on the couch dozing in between them. Lying down, even on my side, really intensified the contractions, so I needed to doze semi-upright, propped up on cushions. It was not easy or pleasant.
Sunday morning, I had my first show and vomited a little bit from the contractions. Mild to moderate contractions continued day and night, with another sleepless night on the couch. I found myself leaking colostrum profusely from my left breast (literally dripping onto my belly), my first leak for the entire pregnancy. Lots of hormones pumping, clearly!
Monday, my show continued to emerge in bits and pieces. Contractions continued, more intense sometimes now, but still irregular and mostly mild. As this experience continued, I perceived the contractions as milder and milder because I was getting so used to them! My midwife came and checked my blood pressure (fine), my baby’s heartrate (fine), the position of baby (ROA, a little bit ROP, sort of in between), and found my baby VERY low (no surprises there). Monday night I actually took Panadeine to try and get some sleep during contractions. It helped a lot; not a bad night’s sleep.
May 1st, we moved into the next month and I was still labouring! Tuesday morning I had LOTS of show, with contractions very sporadic and mild. By now I decided to just accept that it was all just a long “pre”labour – and to try not to focus or dwell on it too much unless I had to. My midwife called to check how I was coping. I told her I was fine and had nothing new to tell. Not much sleep overnight despite more Panadeine. Sporadic contractions weren’t totally the problem, but also noise which I am sensitive to at the moment in this heightened state. Someone hammered outside until 10:30pm, Stephen was late coming to bed and woke me up, Aidy was up crying for ages around midnight–argh!
Wednesday morning I woke up tired and feeling really over it all. I just wanted this baby to COME OUT! Same old, same old. A bit more show. A few more contractions…blah. Is this baby EVER actually going to get born?! All of this mucking around had BETTER be doing something (i.e., thinning and dilating my cervix). I thought, “If I have a long active labour in addition to this endless prelabour I’m going to be extremely fucked off! I’m not nearly as frightened of labour now as it will almost be a relief after all this long stuffing about (probably naïve of me to say that).” I got interviewed by the local newspaper who wanted to write a feature on my homebirth and “demedicalising” childbirth – so they were waiting for me to have this baby, too!
Stephen was starting to get lots of little comments from colleagues, friends and family: “Has Felicity had that baby yet? What, she’s STILL in early labour?! Poor thing! I hope ‘they’ won’t let that go on too long, you know.” Not sure who “they” are; perhaps the hospital and doctors who are meant to “save” me from my perfectly normal and healthy (if totally annoying, tiring and frustrating) early labour? It felt like EVERYONE was waiting for this baby now. The beautiful support from the women on Joyous Birth sometimes felt like the only thing keeping me going, keeping me focused, trusting, and willing to endure.
Stephen was being very patient and supportive too, but I could tell he was excited to meet Boo and was as frustrated as I was with the process at the time. I didn’t really mind being “overdue” at all (I was 41 weeks according to dates the following day); it was the pain and sleeplessness and feeling of being forever “stuck” in early labour that had gotten to me. If I had been pain free (other than the usual discomforts of late pregnancy) and not having constant labour signs, I’d just have been plodding cosily along!
This all continued throughout Thursday and Friday without much change and with no sleep. Then, on Friday night as the sun set, my contractions seemed to intensify. It was hard to tell by this point, though. They always did get stronger after sunset, so I just tried to ignore them as much as possible. It was an insanely windy, rainy night, and I felt some sort of strange expectant electricity in the air. “What a nice night to birth,” I remember thinking.
By about 8pm I was sitting on the couch with a glass of wine, hoping to relax myself enough to sleep through the contractions. Stephen and Aidy were in bed together. I think Stephen intuitively knew this was the night, as he was keen to go to bed early and get some sleep. The contractions were quite strong and I used a heat pack on my back, sat upright and breathed through them. They’d been this strong previously without a baby eventuating, so I was still trying not to get too excited.
By 9pm, I was feeling restless and wandering around the loungeroom with no idea why or what to do. I needed to focus and breathe through each contraction now and yet still didn’t want to think this might be it. Some of them were quite bitey but they were pretty irregular and seemed very short to me, lasting 30 or 40 seconds.
By 10pm, I was starting to vocalise with each contraction. I remember thinking to myself “I can’t be needing to vocalise yet. They can’t be that strong yet; I must be overreacting. I should just calm down and be quiet!” Stephen heard me beginning to work hard and got up to see if I needed him. I decided I did. I was wandering very aimlessly now and feeling a bit lost. He began filling the birth pool, and I found myself with the telephone in my hand and half my midwife’s phone number entered. That was as much as I could manage. The contractions kept coming and I was too spaced out to make the call or even to tell Stephen to do it for me. I remember vividly standing in the loungeroom during a particularly powerful contraction, head thrown back, arms flung out behind me, wailing to the sky as the wind gusted outside and I literally felt that wind roar through me with the power of my contraction. It was a moment I won’t forget.
We ran out of hot water, so Stephen put some pots on the stove to boil. It must have been close to midnight. I was now working quite hard during contractions and had a few very loud difficult ones, so Stephen called our midwife and left a message on her pager telling her I was in active labour. I remember hearing him say that and wanting to tell him: “It’s not active labour yet and I have a long way to go. Don’t mislead the midwife!”
When he hung up, I vomited really violently into our kitchen sink (I’d vomited about an hour beforehand quite aggressively, too) and at the end of the vomit, I was simply pushing. I told Stephen the baby was coming NOW and began roaring with each contraction…nnnnnnnggggghhhhhhhhhh… I remembered this feeling very well! I could feel the baby moving down very fast and had a moment of thinking, “Should I try not to push? I’m freebirthing!” I realised it was out of my control and I just went with it. Stephen applied pressure to my back and somehow managed to set the video camera up in record time, so we got the birth on film. I stopped roaring after a few pushes and just breathed, feeling my baby descending, crowning, emerging. I didn’t have to do a thing or make a sound. It was peaceful, calm, and perfect. (NOW I understand how women can “breathe their baby out!”)
I told Stephen to catch and he assumed a baseball catcher’s pose between my legs as I stood leaning over the kitchen sink with my legs braced against the cupboard door. I felt Layla’s head emerge and her body came with it in one smooth slippery whooooosh. Stephen caught her (JUST – she was very quick and very slippery) and handed her straight to me. I sat on the kitchen floor, rubbed her back and tilted her down to help with any mucous. After a moment she let out a little squawk and I ripped my top off and cuddled her to my naked body. Stephen brought us a towel and doona to wrap up in and we sat there for a while, just cuddling, welcoming our baby. Eventually Stephen called our midwife and left another message that the baby was born now!
The placenta simply fell out of me when I stood up and moved to the couch, and we put it in a big pot, leaving Layla connected to it. We cuddled on the couch and began our first breastfeed. Stephen cleaned up a little and began emptying the unused birth pool. Our midwife arrived and checked me over – just a small internal “skidmark”, no suturing required, yay! Both Layla and I were fine (she was on the small side at 6lb 12oz) and Stephen cut her cord about two hours after her birth. My midwife cut the placenta into some “pills” for me, stayed for a cup of tea and to see Layla and I into bed, then left. It was an easy night for her; nothing required and the baby well and truly born before her arrival!
I lay gazing at my daughter as my son and partner slept in the next room. There was no surreal transition from home to medicalised hospital and then back home again with a new family member. There was just our house, a windy night, a kitchen sink, a baby pushed out quickly, cuddles, smiles, and a bed.
Aiden slept through the whole thing and arose in the morning to greet his new sister.
It’s been quite difficult to write this story as, whilst Layla’s birth was full of all the power and beauty of birth, it was also just really simple in the end. I wasn’t sure how to document something that felt so normal and safe! This will do for now. I might return to it later in life and add things as new feelings and recollections emerge.