Something is happening!
I love reading birth stories, and especially those of home births. So thought I would share the story of how Sienna arrived earthside!
My surges started at 2am on Sunday. I had had a brilliant evening beforehand when my cousin came by for dinner – our first post-lockdown get-together. We ended up going to bed late. I was wide awake and surfing on my phone when at 2am I felt this strong cramp-like pain. Very much like period cramps. After another one came I excitedly thought – maybe this is it?! I decided to time them. 8 minutes apart. They lasted 30 seconds. They were strong enough that I had to concentrate and breathe through them, but mild enough to allow me to rest (but not sleep) in between. I had not anticipated this – I expected the surges to be mild and irregular in frequency – perhaps 20min apart.
By the time the sun came up, they had died down and were 10min apart. I also went to the toilet and found I had passed my mucus plug. So, I sent a msg to my independent midwife and let her know. However, I knew that this being my first labour, I still had a long way to go. Also, I knew with the sun rising, it was likely that the surges would space out even further. On the bright side, I was excited that my home birth journey had begun!
Teaching Pregnancy Yoga Whilst in Labour
With this in mind I made the decision to continue teaching my scheduled pregnancy yoga class I emailed my regulars and said that this was my last class I would be teaching so if they wanted to join and be led by a teacher in early labour – now was the chance!
With the caveat that I may have to stop talking from time to time and focus on my breathing whilst riding a surge, I led the lovely little group of pregnant mamas-to-be. The sequence I taught was the sequence that I teach during my yoga for labour and birth workshop – especially designed to be practiced in early labour – so it was very apt for me!
I asked if I could take a picture of this class, for posterity’s sake. And perhaps it was the hormones but I felt very emotional and remember, not actually wanting to say bye!
Getting ready for the marathon of my home birth
During your early labour – even when you are not feeling hungry try to eat at this time – it will help fuel your body for what’s to come.
I ate a massive plate of spaghetti to carb load, did a few tasks on my long to-do list and resigned myself to the fact that I would not finish the list. Then, I also FaceTimed my parents for our weekly chat – but I didn’t let on that I was in early labour. I didn’t want my mum worrying in case it took a long time. I knew her worrying would impair my ability to just go with the flow. So every time I had a surge I would go offscreen, hand the laptop to Brad and let him talk whilst I breathed through it as noiselessly as possible.
By the evening, we wanted to set up our birth space in out living room. I was very excited to set up my home birth area. Brad had inflated the pool and we both hung some fairy lights. Brad wanted to fill it with water but I said it was way too early for that and the water would just cool down by the time I could get in. At this point, my breathing alone didn’t cut it and I put on my TENS machine. Oh man, did it help!
The Second Night
My independent midwife had warned me that the surges would likely ramp up again at night, so after watching something on Netflix, I went to bed to try and sleep. My surges were coming every 5 minutes and lasting 45 seconds. I was advised to stop timing them and just let things build up and my mind to let go – ie. to take off my midwife hat and “just be”. Well, I got no sleep whatsoever. I kept having to turn the TENS machine to a higher level. My diffuser was on with frankincense and geranium. I placed my RELAX essential oil blend on my pulse points and this helped me to let go and soften the tension in my face.
My poor midwife didn’t get much sleep – she hadn’t heard from me all night and at 6am she sent a msg asking how I was. As a midwife being on call for home births, and knowing that your client is in early labour never makes for restful sleep. I remember many a nights when I kept waking up and checking my phone in case I had any missed calls or msgs…. I had not slept either, the surges were coming stronger.
The Next Day
At 10:30am on Monday, I noticed I got a trickle of fluid every time I had a surge. I smelt my pants (!)…. sweet-smelling….yep, I had a hind water leak and clear fluid was draining. For those of you who are asking why I am smelling my underwear, it is to determine whether my waters have broken or perhaps I have pee’d myself.
I decided to get up and watch back to back episodes of Friends as a way of distraction. I was quite tired as that was 2 nights in a row without sleep and I found myself dozing off for a 2 minutes in between surges.
Self VEs are difficult to do!
By midday I decided to do a self-VE (vaginal examination) because I felt I wanted to know “how long this would go on for”. I had written in my birth plan that I didn’t want any routine VEs unless the labour was taking “a long time” and that I wanted to try doing my own VEs. It was a little awkward to do as my wrist couldn’t bend the right way but somehow I managed it. My cervix was soft but still long, baby’s head was high, dilation was approx. 2cm. I won’t lie, I was a little disheartened that I was not in active labour yet.
I decided to go back to bed and try sleep (unsuccessfully). So I got up and ate a big meal to refuel my body.
My midwife came at 6pm to check my vitals and my baby’s heartbeat. I also asked her to do a VE. I set my hopes low and didn’t expect to be much further dilated. So when she said my cervix was 5cm and she could stretch it to 7cm, I was OVER THE MOON! I was technically in active labour, even though my surges were only 5min apart as opposed to the preferred 3min apart. That helped give me a boost in morale!
For the next 3 hours, I continued to change positions, alternating between standing, swaying, pacing, all fours and kneeling. I implemented poses and movements I teach in my yoga classes and birth workshop. Squatting in malasana with my back supported by Brad for duration of 3 surges. I then moved into a lunge pose with my hands resting on a bolster. During the surge I would do hip circles. I knew that it would be very beneficial, but it felt so intense that I was losing faith in my ability. At this point I was actually debating whether I could carry on, and even thinking about transferring into hospital. In my head I was contemplating asking for an epidural.
Then my favourite song came on my Labour and Birth playlist and I lost it (emotionally!). The song was Give Me Tonight by Dustin Tebutt. I was sobbing whilst singing the lyrics. It was all so raw. This gave me a much-needed boost to keep going to meet my baby. I still didn’t know what sex my baby was, but I remember talking to him or her (in my mind) and telling them I would do my best to bring them into the world safely.
Leaving the house for first time in 2 days
At 9pm, my midwife suggested, to go for a walk. So, Brad and I set off towards Ealing Common. It felt good to be outside breathing fresh air and having a change of scenery. It was a slow walk; stopping every few metres to press the boost button on my TENS machine, lean my forehead against Brad’s chest whilst squeezing his hands, and emit some loud groaning noises.
At first, I felt self-conscious, but soon I no longer cared what anyone thought! It being London, most passers-by would avert their gaze and give us a wide berth. Only one couple (middle-aged Italians) doubled back after hearing me moan and asked if we needed some help. We never made it to the Common. It took us 1 hour to walk 150 metres! The walk did the trick and my surges were much more intense and closer together so we headed back home.
When we got back I said I wanted to use the pool. Whilst Brad filled up the pool, I hid away in my bedroom and went into myself, very much like a mammal seeking a quiet and dark corner where I felt safe. At the height of each surge, I started to feel pressure down below. All of a sudden, I felt a massive explosion of warm liquid cascading down my legs and pooling by my feet– my forewaters (the waters in front of my baby’s head) had broken in true Hollywood style!
The explosion of my forewaters releasing felt good. However, from then on, the surges felt way more intense – as now the baby’s head was pressing directly onto the cervix. At the same time, me and my OCD tendencies, worried about the amniotic fluid on my carpet!
My legs were getting tired from standing, so I used the birthing ball in between surges. It felt good to sit on the birthing ball and sway from side to side and in circles. I practiced a mix of golden thread breath and something in between and “Om” and an animalistic groan. I also used my essential oil “ENERGY” and “LABOUR” roller blends (see more about how essential oils can help in labour). They both helped to give me a boost, as my surges had intensified and were coming every 2 minutes.
Getting in the pool… bliss!
Unbeknownst to me, the water in the pool was initially too hot (42 degrees!) and so Brad had to empty out several buckets and top up with cold water. After 1hour and 15min, the pool was finally ready!
I had a moment of panic when a huge surge hit me, after I had taken off my TENS but had not had any time to get in the pool yet. It is weird how some women love either hip squeezes or lower back massage during a surge. And others like me, really dislike being touched! So I had nothing helping me during that surge. I just lent over the edge of the pool trying to breathe through it. That was a tough one.
Getting in the warm water felt AMAZING! I just floated about and stretched my tired legs and wiggled my toes. My surges did decrease in frequency but they felt a little more “pushy”. During this time I faced away from Brad and my midwife. Again I retreated into myself and I think this really helped me to “let go” and trust the process of labour to unfold.
After 1 hour of being in the water and breathing my baby down, the top of baby’s head was visible at height of a surge! When that surge finished it would recede. It is important that you allow your baby’s head to come forward and back – 2 steps forward, 1 step back. Allowing the head to come bit by bit, allows for the tissues to relax and stretch – thereby allowing the head to descend further and minimise your chance of tearing.
From then on, my surges did feel more expulsive, and so I followed my body’s instinct and pushed when my body told me to. However, I had a fear of tearing, so I wasn’t pushing as much as I could have. My midwife reminded me to surrender to the sensations and to allow my baby to come. I gave myself a stern talking to and loudly repeated my affirmation that I close my yoga class with. I TRUST MY BABY, I TRUST MY BODY, I TRUST THIS PROCESS, I TRUST MYSELF.
See the next chapter here.