On the day I gave birth to my first son, Jaron, I was euphoric. I had a baby, and it had been so “easy”. We had headed to the hospital in a mighty hurry the second I realised I was in labour, and from there it had been pretty routine… foetal monitor (the machine with the squiggly lines), enema and an hour or so of reasonable pain (coinciding unfortunately with the hour my hubby was out organising a few things for work) which I managed more or less by bending over in the hospital shower.
All I wanted at that point was to know that a team of people who were “cleverer, braver and stronger” than me would take control of this situation and give me my healthy baby boy with as little pain as possible. Soon after Bruce returned to the hospital, my membranes were ruptured manually and not long after, I was asking for an epidural which arrived promptly and was administered effectively.
I spent the rest of the day sleeping, joking or continually texting my mom and sister with updates on my dilation as the hospital midwives periodically checked it. Bruce spent the day “in labour” with the squiggle machine. He’d bounce around on the ball excitedly and wake me up to tell me how strong my contractions were. The machine did seem to warrant more attention than I did in general, and I was okay with that. So long as everyone in a white coat looked happy, I was happy too.
Sometime before midday I sent Bruce home to make a sandwich or something (home is less than a km away). Just after he left, I was informed I was just about fully dilated and would give birth within minutes. Eek! I phoned Bruce and HE DIDN’T ANSWER. That was reasonably stressful but fortunately he did answer, did come back and did witness the birth of our beautiful son Jaron Ross Walker, weighing 3.2 kg born just before 1 pm on 18th March 2011. If I recall, he was brought forth to the words of a hymn that I hope will become a prayer for his life:
I need thee, Oh I need thee,
Every hour I need Thee.
I need Thee, I need Thee.
I need Thee every hour
The last stage of labour had involved a few fruitless pushes along with a sense of failure, something on the squiggle-lines-machine that got everyone a bit concerned and a few quick manoeuvres with a scalpel and forceps. And a lot of spraying blood.
And a baby – a perfect baby, placed really quickly on my chest making the most beautiful sounds with eyelashes to die for – what a carbon copy of his daddy (who was closer to shedding a tear than I had ever seen him). I had gotten what I wanted from the birth and was grateful to my gynae and the hospital midwives, and still am to this day. They played a role in bringing my Jaron into the world!
Back in the recovery ward I told someone that birth was painless and that it was less effort than washing a car. “Epidural” was a one way ticket to a perfect birth…
…I didn’t feel the same way a week later when I was still in excruciating pain recovering from the episiotomy. Nor did I feel the same way when over a year had passed and I still felt so disconnected from and damaged in all the parts of my body involved in the birth. Nor did I when I found myself blessed once again with a beautiful boy in my belly, and needing to make the decisions about where and how he would be born…
I had been so excited that my boy had safely arrived. It was only later that I realised how much the process had left me feeling disempowered, violated and even mutilated.
At first I resigned myself to a repeat episode of the last time. I figured not much damage could be done that wasn’t there already and I was comfortable with my gynae and the hospital, particularly that it was so close to home. I still saw the approaching birth as an imminent medical emergency that would require quick, decisive, technical medical action. Then, my medical aid displayed levels of inflexibility that still send me through the roof and the bottom line was that I had to go to a Life network hospital so my initial choice was off the list. The two nearest alternatives were both at least half an hour away and changing a gynae was going to entail all sorts of new-patient expenses. We went on a tour of the labour ward of one of the hospitals and we were quite satisfied, but I was not content. My mindshift had been forced to change, and it was taking a direction I hadn’t anticipated. Everything about the hospital setting felt like something to resist.
I have a friend who throughout my childhood was as near and dear to me as my own heart. We went to different high schools and neither of us kept in touch at all except through an occasional news flash via our mothers, until Facebook changed that and the news flashes were more frequent and delivered electronically. Jayne was forever uploading statuses and stories about the wonders of natural vaginal birth, having experienced one at the birth of her daughter after an unnecessary caesarean birth of her son. I decided to ask her a few questions and give some thought to what she had to say… until she mentioned two words: “Home Birth”. I silently replied with two words of my own… “No Way!”
Or so I thought.
I’ll fast forward here through a beautiful pregnancy involving countless hours of googling and reading, drawing up comparison tables, calculating budgets, long chats with a very confused hubby and a final sense of peace…
…to waking up at home at 1.53am on Thursday 22nd September. With the first contraction that woke me up, I was pretty certain it was labour. I’d been up with Braxton hicks for the past two nights and this was significantly more painful. Five minutes the next one came, and it wasn’t shy.
I began to text the midwife and Jayne – who was to be my doula – when the third one came. I woke up my husband and we set to work preparing for the hours ahead. That involved a lot of running around on hubby’s part getting the birthing pool ready and fetching an urn from the church next door, while I climbed into a nice warm bath to see if the contractions would stand the test of relaxation. They certainly did and were becoming increasingly painful. I knew I was going to have to decide there and then what kind of labour this was going to be. I made a choice to approach it with spiritual focus. With every contraction I prayed “Lord, thank you for that contraction and thank you for that pain. Thank you that my cervix is a little more open now than it was before”.
We put on a DVD called Praise Baby – worship songs intended for entertainment and spiritual upliftment of babies and toddlers. It was stunning. Bruce sat behind me for the next hour or two while we both stared at the images. For me they enabled the spiritual focus I needed – and a little comic relief every time one particular random hand puppet video clip came on.
I sat on a birthing ball with one hot water bottle directly underneath, one on my lower tummy and one on my lower back. Bruce sat ready and waiting for my instruction to push on my lower back when I had a contraction, and discovered rather quickly that when I said “push” I meant NOW and not in three seconds time, and expected full obedience and accuracy as I quietly gave one word commands – “harder” “higher” “lower” “more together” “further apart” “HARDER” “HARDER”. Bruce couldn’t believe how hard I made him push. We eventually set up a system where my knees were up against the couch which in turn was up against the wall – otherwise I would have been sent flying across the room. I don’t know how I knew exactly how I needed to be touched, but when he got the right spot and the right pressure the pain was absolutely manageable and I could have gone on for hours more. My mom had arrived by then and while I have no idea how she kept herself busy, it was so wonderfully reassuring that she was pottering around. How could I not feel safe when I knew Mom was nearby?
We had not been able to get hold of Jayne, and while I knew she’d be devastated, I somehow had a sense of peace about it. The midwife Sue King was on her way, as well as a back up doula she’d quickly arranged – Maria, who played the most phenomenal role at such short notice. Maria was like an angel, a quiet reassuring presence, meeting my needs so quickly and subtly – usually before I knew what I needed!
With very little conversation and an overwhelming sense of calm, we waited patiently for the next step.
When Sue arrived, I was excited. She walked in the door and I knew God’s messenger had been sent. Sue… from the first time we met her I knew the delivery of this little boy would be in the hands and arms of a mother with a gift of guiding babies into this world. She is kind, warm, compassionate, firm and gentle. The pre-natal appointments allowed all the time on earth for questions and conversation. I’d been so sulky about a medical aid not allowing me many scans in my pregnancy, but when her examinations involved feeling the belly, talking to the baby, hearing his heart and a general sense of awe, I wondered why I had ever been so obsessed with staring at the sonar screen in the first place. She was the right person to deliver our boy.
I was barely through a contraction when Sue walked in. She asked me how I was and I said “okay” with as brave a face as I could. I told her contractions were 2 minutes apart and that my waters were broken. It wasn’t long after that she examined me and announced I was 9 cm dilated. WOW! I had only been in labour for about three hours!
I was invited to get into the birthing pool. Our previous set-up on the ball had been so effective I was almost reluctant to get in, but when I did the water was so soothing. Contractions were a little harder to deal with without Bruce applying counter pressure, and breathing became my main objective. The praise baby music was playing in the background and was a huge comfort and encouragement. I still didn’t want to engage in much conversation, and Bruce got “shhhh’d” a lot when he tried to talk to me, but we did have a moment or two of light humour. Suddenly in a brief gap between contractions I asked for my hairbrush and started brushing my hair, which everyone found pretty hysterical – a first in all Sue’s years of experience, apparently! Also, the only time I ever spoke during a contraction was when Bruce was squeezing my hands, not the other way around and he was crushing them! “HUSBI, I must squeeze, not you!”
I never really felt the urge to push at all, and needed Sue to guide me through pushing which she did with the most amazing patience and encouragement. It was difficult and exhausting, and I started to doubt whether I actually had the strength it would take to push him out. I sensed I wasn’t doing it “right” but had very little cues from my body. But, the pain was never unbearable and I never asked for drugs once. It was also noted that I never swore (if you don’t count the glass of water I knocked over in early labour). Toward the end, I was so tired I thought I’d fall asleep before this was through. I felt like it would be more effective if I changed my position, but the effort of moving seemed too much for my aching body. I sensed that it was becoming rather critical that he came out, but my midwife and doula managed to maintain their calm composure and encouragement.
I looked over at my mom only once, she was semi-hiding behind the doula on the other side of the room. I think she was crying and I knew I couldn’t look at her again, but was deeply reassured by her presence and her prayers.
“Can’t you pull him out?” I asked Sue. She smiled at me. “Liam has his predestined time to be born and we can’t mess with that”.
From that moment I began to envision the hand of God pulling him out.
Sue got into the pool with me and I knew this meant business! Besides all else she was doing to help me birth this baby, I also had some leverage to push against now – at the expense of her knees! (Sorry Sue!!!)
The last few moments are a bit of a blur. Finally he was coming out. I must be honest, I can’t truly recall the pain of that moment. Maybe it was beyond what my brain knows how to store. But I remember my groans turning into very loud screaming as all 36 cm of head emerged and then an indescribable feeling of him slipping out. Sue’s miracle hands unwrapped the cord, which was twice around his neck, and she lifted him out of the water. As I grabbed my baby boy, she handed him over and I clutched him to my chest.
He was here. He was mine. Liam Keith Walker, 3.9 kg, born 06h30 – just four hours and seven minutes from the first contraction. A beautiful, perfect, wrinkly wet boy! I had survived!!! – and this time, no cuts or tears!!!
I can’t explain how different I felt. Not a failure, but victorious! Not in opposition with a body that wouldn’t co-operate, but connected deeply within myself despite my struggles with the pushing. It was immensely spiritual and the most powerful battle I ever fought against fear. It was affirming of my worth, value and dignity. It was beyond anything I’ve ever experienced and it left me feeling powerful, beautiful and blessed!
In retrospect, I knew something still wasn’t quite right with Liam as I held him in those first few moments. He was checked and the physical signs were all satisfactory – he’d started to breathe, was moving, looking around and turning pink. But something felt different with Liam and not in a reassuring way. Fortunately, my birthing team were in no hurry to pack their bags and rush away. Sue was watching him carefully, still in the bath with us 7 minutes after he had been born, when she uttered the worst words I have ever heard in my life.
“He’s stopped breathing”
I looked down at my Liam. He was completely unresponsive. Limp. I stuck my fingers in his mouth, he didn’t grimace. Some mucous came out of his nose. He felt empty somehow, and I believe in that moment, he had left us. Taken from my arms, imexplicably.
As Sue lifted Liam up he tried to take a breath. She began working with him, with the help of Maria. I didn’t know it at the time, but my mom left the room to pray. I wanted to pray but words failed me. Bruce was still behind me and he repeated over and over, with more confidence and authority I have ever heard from him “Don’t worry, Liam is going to be fine, everything is fine, he’s going to be okay”. I believed him, he sounded so sure. I only heard later that Bruce was as white as a sheet and looked terrified. His voice never betrayed him. I asked him afterwards if he really believed Liam was going to be okay. “There’s something called ‘hope’” he says.
It was then that my words came to me as well. Words that had been pasted on my bedroom mirror for weeks as I prepared for the birth:
It was You who brought me safely through birth, and when I was a baby you kept me safe. I have relied on you since the day I was born, and you have always been my God
I don’t know how many times I repeated that verse and whether anyone else could hear me, but it felt like I proclaimed these words a thousand times over, and with each time I said it, I felt a greater peace. I watched over the edge of the pool as they brought my baby back to life. Then I began to feel a contraction coming. I knew that the placenta needed to come out and that there was no telling it to wait. In that moment I had to surrender, turn my back on their activity and leave it all in God’s hands as the birth process was completed.
By the time my placenta was out, Sue had delivered Liam for the second time that morning from the arms of his Father in heaven to the arms of his father on earth.
Our baby – “born again”. He had been to visit Jesus and I pray that in those moments he received some extra strength and courage to live this life for Him.
A day or two after the birth, my mom sent a text to Sue to thank her for what she had done. This was her reply:
“It was a privilege and honour to be chosen by God to be with Liam in his moment of need… There is a very fine line between life and death, God decided when we cross it, whichever way. I was under direct instruction from God, it wasn’t me, it was all Him and His greatness! Cherish every moment with Liam, he is a chosen one!”
Lord, my God,
Thank you for the birth of my littlest one.
As you gave him second life, you gave it to me as well. I too was reborn in that moment. Thank you for leading me to give birth at home despite the so-called risks. One can never say for certain how things could pan out differently, but I’m almost certain that the outcome of Liam’s birth would have been very different if I’d had to travel to hospital, receive an epidural or other interventions, and not birthed him in the sanctuary of our bedroom. Only you knew, Lord, the birth that we needed, and you gave it to us.
Lord, I brought three prayers to you regarding the birth – a healthy baby, an encounter with You and… if it wasn’t too much to ask… to be intact at the end of it!
The more I think of it, the more I see how every aspect of the birth came together to grant me these desires of my heart.
Thank you for helping me through the pain and exhaustion. Thank you for leading us to Sue – I am awestruck by the way you led her hands through every step of the birth. There was a time I just wanted her to take the problem from me, but her patience reminded me that I had been equipped to overcome. How many times have you taught me that same lesson?
Thank you for Maria, and for your infinite wisdom in keeping Jayne’s help and reassurance for the hours after the birth rather than at the birth in all its intensity. Thank you for Bruce – that he agreed to the plan despite his concerns and that he stuck to it with such commitment. Thank you for mom and most especially her prayers in Liam’s most critical moments. Thank you, even, for Dr Boshoff, and her willingness to be available as a backup.
Thank you for Liam’s birth and for his life – for our precious little family and every gorgeous moment with each of our boys. Thank you for my healthy child, for the encounter we all had with You and for the way you protected my body. You answered my prayers.
I praise you Lord! May every day of Liam’s life bring you glory!