A week and a half before Zara was born I had 10 hours of contractions. I was sure that I was in labour and that the baby would be born that night. I had been timing the contractions since 4pm and they were coming consistently and getting stronger. At 2am I eventually fell asleep, expecting to wake later and rush to the hospital. Instead I slept till morning and woke feeling completely normal. No baby.
Up until then I had assumed that the birth would be similar to my first – which was a precipitate labour that you can read about here. These contractions made me think that this birth might be quite different and I wondered if I would cope if it was a much longer, slower birth. With my first I had put a lot of things in place to ensure it was a positive one – I organised a doula, hired a TENS machine, had acupuncture, practiced hypno birthing and pressure points with my husband etc. This time I hadn’t organised anything, I was just assuming it would be ok, and the 10 hours of contractions made me nervous. We couldn’t afford to do everything we did last time, so out of all of the things I had to choose. I decided to choose a doula as I felt we needed all the support possible and because having a doula last time made us feel so positive about the birth, both in the lead up to it and afterwards. We organised a student doula through the Australian Doula College, which is much less expensive than booking a fully qualified doula. It’s lucky we went for this option because for the second time the doula didn’t actually make it to the birth. Even though she didn’t make it in time I don’t regret having a doula because you never know what type of birth you will have. You just have to plan for the unknowns as best as you can and be prepared for anything.
Knowing my first birth had been so fast and with such little warning I had started staying close to Box Hill Hospital at 37 weeks. This was not something I did with our first baby, as I had assumed that labour would start slow and gently and give me enough time to get home from wherever I was. Staying close to home, made the waiting very real, it made me constantly think that our baby could be close. But I was feeling great right up until the final day of my pregnancy so I started to think, maybe this bub is still a while away.
The day before I gave birth was our wedding anniversary. It was a sunny day and mum and dad had our eldest daughter. We went to a beautiful nursery café in Warrandyte with a view. We sat outside in the sun and took some time to reflect. We went for a walk along the river. We took photos of my belly and I realised that it was absolutely ready to pop, that it was the hugest belly I have ever seen. We sat by the river and talked about our baby. We prayed for her and wrote letters to her. Sitting with the man I love and doing this brought me a great deal of peace. I very much felt that as a team we were ready to welcome our baby and become a family of four.
Sunday morning was the end of daylight savings so my daughter woke at 5am. When she woke us up I noticed that I was having cramps. This wasn’t unusual for me though, as I had been having cramps / contractions / prelabour on and off for about 5 weeks. They weren’t strong so I didn’t think that anything was happening. I started timing them and realised that, though they weren’t strong, they were coming consistently about five minutes apart. I was still in denial though as my previous contractions had been a false alarm. Still we started getting ready for the hospital just in case – packing the last few things, putting the bags in the car, tidying up the bedroom, bathing our daughter and doing her hair for a party she was going to that afternoon. At 8:20am I messaged our doula and asked her to come. I said I wasn’t sure if it was going to go away or progress but I asked her to come anyway. By 8:50 the contractions were getting stronger and fast. I realised that we weren’t going to have time to finish bathing our daughter. Luckily my dad was there so I quickly asked him to get my daughter out of the bath and dressed and we ran to the car.
I remember getting in the car when I was in labour with my first and how dramatic it had been, how I was screaming and kneeling and holding back her head. This time it was all very easy and calm. We drove to the hospital and I was able to discuss the best place to park with my husband. We found street parking. I jumped out, leaving my husband to park the car, and walked alone into the hospital, up the lift and into the birthing ward. The midwife who greeted me later told me I was so calm that she thought she was going to check me and send me home.
But as soon as I got into the birthing suite the contractions started coming thick and fast. I leaned on the table and swayed my hips to get through them. My husband arrived with our bags. The contractions were ramping up and the pressure was building. I remembered the feeling of pressure from last time. I tried a number of different positions and ended up on all fours on the bed. When I arrived I had told the midwife I wanted a water birth and she had turned the water on. I wanted to get in the bath but it wasn’t full enough. The contractions were so painful that I was now screaming through each one. I was grateful though that the contractions were coming and going so I was getting a break between each one to catch my breath. My first birth had been so fast that I didn’t have contractions, they just rolled on top of each other without a break for an hour and a half. Now that I remember the intensity of the pain of birth, I wonder how I did it with my daughter, how I got through it without the break between contractions. With my first birth I actually blanked out as I was birthing, so I blocked the memory of the pain. This time I was much more aware of it, I was feeling every little bit. I was becoming terrified of the contractions because I felt they were too much for me. As I felt them coming I said ‘oh no, oh no, oh no; because I didn’t feel I could face it. I felt I had too much pain and no path through, as though the people around me couldn’t and wouldn’t help me through. I asked for the bath and I asked for gas but I wasn’t able to use either.
Looking back this is the time I would have appreciated having our doula with us, who could have made some practical suggestions to get me through, who could have advocated for me, updated me on where things were at, explained what was happening and why.
I asked the midwife if she could see the baby’s head. Although you might think it would be obvious whether the head is out or not all I could feel was pain without being able to identify exactly what that pain was. Luckily, the birth was quick, and before long the baby was out (she was born at 9:30, half an hour after we arrived at the hospital). I was so relieved. I had birthed, again, without intervention or any pain relief.
It is often assumed that a quick birth is a good birth and that it makes it easy. I can’t count the number of people who have said how lucky I am. And while I am grateful to have had two quick births, it is true that short labours are characterised by contractions that are continuous or extremely long and intense. In both births I had no options for pain relief, despite experiencing pain that was more intense than I can find words to describe.
I didn’t see it but I was told my daughter was born in the sack. I wish we had got a photo of that but the midwife popped it straight away and my husband was too busy caring for me in that moment. Within seconds she was placed on my chest, naked and wet and messy, and we were covered in warm towels. She was here!
My husband and I had named her a couple of months earlier – Zara Lethu – a name that means ‘our radiant dawn’. I held her close to me and was overwhelmed that she was here and by just how blessed I am to be the mother of two daughters. I looked at my husband, I remembered the first night I had vomited at a restaurant and suspected I was pregnant nine months earlier – what a journey it had been to becoming a family of four!
I was lucky because I had no tearing or problems with the birth. With my first I had had internal lacerations which took weeks to heal. This time the recovery has been much easier and much quicker. I believe that this is birth how God created it to be – with breaks between the pain, no damage afterwards and a quick / easy recovery. Having not anticipated feeling so good afterwards I was amazed, amazed at how the body can repair itself and how it can bounce back from something as momentous as birth. I personally am in awe of just what a woman’s body can do.
So now my second daughter is here, and I’ve just embarked on the crazy, amazing and no doubt life-changing journey of being a mother of two. Welcome, little one.