The Birth Story of Jesse Arlen
Even before I was a student midwife I knew I would be giving birth at home. Once I became pregnant –six months into my course – there was no question. I declined all ultrasound scans and used a Doppler, only once or twice later on in my pregnancy. Early on in my third trimester I more seriously considered who would be with me when I gave birth. It just felt wrong to me to be meeting my midwife for the first time when I was in labour. I knew I would not feel safe with a stranger, yet the thought of being alone with my partner also felt a little “off”. I knew what I wanted: a wise woman-type, who had been attending homebirths for decades and who trusted me to take charge of my own pregnancy and birth experience. I found that in Julia, an independent midwife, when I was 34 weeks pregnant.
I began having period-like cramps in the early hours of the morning in my 38th week of pregnancy. I didn’t bother to time them, I simply noticed the waves flowing through me as I lay in bed. I managed a few hours of sleep in between trips to the bathroom. I certainly didn’t think I was anywhere near giving birth. I knew of women who had had contractions for weeks before actually giving birth and so I didn’t want to get too excited for things to only die down.
The next morning the waves continued, on and off. I had a pretty normal day – visiting a friend and doing some chores around the house – despite feeling generally uncomfortable.
At around 4pm my husband Paul and I went shopping. At this point I do recall having to pause in the aisles of the supermarket to focus on my breathing during each wave. We bumped into friends and I found it difficult to hold a conversation; things started to become sort of fuzzy around the edges – with hindsight I realise that I was entering the Birth Zone!
When we reached home around 6pm Paul and I planned to make dinner together. I told him that first I had to go and lie down for a little while. I was still not convinced that I was actually in labour – I had become fixated on the passing of the mucous plug as being the sign that I was in “real” labour and this had not yet happened.
I got out my Birth Affirmations colouring book but soon found that I couldn’t concentrate on colouring in. I never timed the surges but at this point I was lying in bed and they were rolling through me more intensely. Suddenly I wanted to hear some music (alas, I had not yet found the time to craft my perfect birth playlist!) I remember furiously texting my dad for the password to his Spotify account but it was soon forgotten as I fell deeper under the birthing spell.
I lay on my side on the bed trying to rest. When a wave came I would swivel around onto all fours and clutch onto a pillow, focusing all my energy on breathing s-l-o-w-l-y.
Paul came in and out of the bedroom and brought me some dinner (we had decided that I couldn’t contribute to the preparation) although I couldn’t eat it.
By around 9pm I was at a loss and needed some reassurance. I called Julia and, as I was explaining to her that I had been feeling crampy all day but that it was probably no big deal, I had to break off and breathe through a surge. Once we resumed the conversation she said laughingly “that doesn’t sound like any old cramp!” We rang off and agreed to leave things as they were for now.
I decided to try and listen to a hypnobirthing track whilst Paul sat next to me on the bed, not saying anything. By now the surges were so intense that I asked him to help me put on the TENS machine for some relief. I had planned to have a water birth but nothing was ready; Julia still had the pool in her car. I sent Paul off to find the hose and fittings. I continued to listen to my hypnobirthing tracks which helped somewhat whilst he was gone.
When Paul returned I wanted the aid of the birth pool without doubt. I didn’t care anymore to discern whether or not I was in real labour. I knew, as a wild animal knows, that something was happening and I needed the pool NOW!
Paul was still saying “Are you sure this is it?” as he was dialling Julia’s number.
On the phone to her I had to pause again to breathe through a surge and then, I was brief: “Please come!”. I think this was around 11pm.
I began to panic. The surges brought with them a feeling of needing to bear down – I think that this was probably transition for me. I was restless and couldn’t cope lying down anymore. I felt as though I needed to pee. Reaching far back through my animal mind to my midwife brain, I remembered: the bathroom is a popular place for labouring women for good reason.
Whilst sitting on the toilet I was able to push on the wall of the shower cubicle during a contraction, which felt so good. By now I was making some funky sounds. I was not a quiet birther! I felt so free.
I passed my mucous plug at this point. Paul was next door readying the living room for the birth pool. I was otherwise alone and it felt right to be so.
I remember feeling afraid after that, not knowing how much longer I would labour before the baby came– could I handle this pain for much longer? I even had the thought that I might ask the midwife to check my cervical dilatation just to know something, anything (despite knowing how subjective it can be and how much a vaginal examination can hinder the birth process). As another surge roared through my body, jolting me back into my physicality, this thought quickly fell away.
I knew this: my baby and I had to do this alone and there was no other way but through it.
Julia arrived around midnight and came to do an initial set of observations on me, as we had previously agreed – temperature, blood pressure. I remember feeling agitated by this intrusion into my space. It totally threw me off course and I felt trapped. Julia sat quietly in the corner afterwards, but even that was too much. I said that I would prefer to be alone and she removed herself from the room without fuss.
On my own again, I felt completely calm.
I continued to labour sitting on the toilet. I would get up and try to move around a little between surges to stop my bum getting numb. I was talking to my baby and saying “yes!” to each contraction (because I was trying to counter the voice in my head that was saying “no!”) and feeling his head moving down.
At some point I put my hand inside my vagina and could feel a hard bubble – the amniotic sac. In a whole year of attending births I had maybe two experiences where the mother was the first to touch her own baby; perhaps only one where a woman birthed her baby without anyone’s hands on her perineum.
I wanted to feel everything myself. I knew that I would be the first to touch him.
Within the next surge or two my waters broke and gushed out into the toilet. I knew he was about to be born and I thought briefly about calling Paul or Julia but quickly dismissed it.
My baby and I were doing his. We could handle it. By now the contractions were all-consuming; I was on the very brink.
“Keep coming back to the breath. Let your body do the work. Get your head out of the way. Give into it.
Give in.” These were the thoughts running through my mind. “Give in.”
When I did, it felt truly awesome!
As his head crowned I stood up and began to pant furiously. Then came the glorious, triumphant relief as his head was born. He cried immediately and his body slid out in one long contraction.
I caught my babe in my own hands (oh, the joy!) and sat back down with him against my chest. Here was my son.
The most deeply satisfying moment of my life was when Paul opened the bathroom door to find me holding our baby and I told him “It’s a boy!”. I will remember the expression on his face always!
He and Julia came to sit with me and the baby in the bathroom, by the candlelight. It was Friday the 13th April around 1:15am. We talked and laughed softly together until the placenta came away about 25 minutes later. Julia caught it in a pad whilst I stood up off the toilet.
Then I had the idea to have a dip in the birth pool (which was finally ready!) whilst Paul held our son skin-to-skin and Julia made me some tea and toast.
I was flying so high!
By 4.30am Paul, baby and I were all tucked up in bed together and Julia cut the baby’s cord. He fed for a few minutes and then slept beside me until it was light.
In between gazing at his brand-new angel face, I dozed, too ecstatic to sleep deeply. We named him Jesse Arlen.
Thank you to Catherine Hess for sharing her beautiful birth story!
If you would like to find out more about independent midwives you can visit www.imuk.org.uk