We welcomed our new baby into the world early in March. It was quite the experience! Even after having three deliveries prior, two of them almost identical in terms of birth stories, this is a story all its own! I moved to South Africa at 20 weeks gestation, and spent the months leading up to the birth adjusting to a new lifestyle. It was the first time since we started having children that we were not traveling full time and it is a very different family dynamic.
I started taking it easy as I entered full term, and like the previous pregnancies I had a lot of pre-labor contractions that were strong (having had an induction, I compare it to the ones I had after about 10 hours of pitocin), but since I’ve been there before I wasn’t worried. I was able to drink a liter of raspberry leaf tea, eat 5 or so dates every day, I ate omelettes almost every day filled with tomatoes and chives for iron absorption and vitamin K. I was very grateful for the ability to plan and make my own meals and eat at home and I was feeling pretty confident.
I also had a house! So naturally I planned a homebirth. I had trouble finding a home birth midwife near me, but we settled for one about an hour away. My labors had been long and babies posterior I figured with my history she could start driving as I entered second stage and the midwife would still make it on time (though that would not be ideal). My midwife was amazing, very thorough and extremely encouraging. Medically speaking, my sugar was perfect, my iron was the highest that it had ever been recorded (I barely qualified to have a birth center birth in the past).
After several days and weeks of false labor, and texts to the poor midwife and doula to be ready just in case, I found myself having “the” talk with the midwife. I was passed 40 weeks and the backup OB was pressing the Sister (nurse) hard to induce me due to the size of the previous two children. The Sister was reasonable and patient and would let me come back the next Friday (one week later) to schedule the induction if need be.
It was a bit different of a regime than the midwives and OB’s I had in the States, this midwife did not expect (or even desire) for me to plan my next visit until I called later in the week. I mostly found this to be a grievance, but it was in my advantage since I could call plan the next visit for Monday, giving me 10 whole days to go into labor.
Monday rolled around and after liters of RRLF, dates, warm baths and hours of sitting on the birth ball, I found myself sitting in the midwife’s clinic still pregnant. I was rather discouraged and still hoped that the midwife would be patient until the 42 week mark, still 5 days away. Alas, we planned a gentle induction the following morning.
The Sister would leave her home around 4:30 am, she was an hour drive, so we planned to be all prepped for a 5:30 arrival. Being newbies to South Africa, we expected to be opening our front door at 5:30 ushering the midwife and her medical bag through the entrance.
I was actually a little relieved that I had a planned time for the midwife to arrive. Being so far along and a messy individual, the idea of labor starting at any time was a bit stressful for me to think on. We spent the day (I say we, I mostly mean my sweet Jeffrey), vacuuming, sweeping, making the kids room tidy, prepping the camera, food and so on.
Shortly after dinner (around 5 pm) I started to have some contractions around 12 minutes apart. Same old same old. My previous pregnancies had false labor methodically 6 mins apart for 16 weeks, this pregnancy it would start at 15 min apart, get to 7 and linger until disappearing. I was fortunate it did disappear during this pregnancy. I thought nothing of it, and was patiently waiting for an induction.
Around 9pm, the household was all still and quite, and I laid down on the recliner, resigning myself to baby positioning after labor started the next day. Contractions were 7 minutes apart, as strong as they had been. At 9:15 I texted the midwife about the strong contractions and let her know that I would let text or call if they got closer together. I did not expect or receive a response.
During the night I was unusually tired, so I slept on the recliner phone in hand, timing contractions. Still 7 minutes apart. I woke up barely enough to monitor them, wishing I had the strength to get out of bed to labor. At about 2 am I mustered the ability to labor leaning against a window sill under the fan. I wanted to text the midwife to come, but they were still 7 minutes apart and she was due to arrive in just a few hours. So I laid back down.
At 3:40 I felt a gripping contraction and shot right up. At 2 minutes and 45 seconds duration, I told my husband to get up and call the midwife right now. This contraction was a game changer and I knew it. Jeff was a bit dazed but he texted the midwife that I believed the contractions were going to start coming quickly.
Contractions were now sporadic, averaging about every three minutes and lasting anywhere from 45 seconds to 2 minutes. Active labor at last! I labored against the window sill, in the bathroom, and on the birthball, just trying to manage while Jeff filled up the birthing pool. With an estimated several hours of laboring left, I asked him to make it hot so it was right for transition.
I couldn’t help but enter the pool, knowing it was too hot for delivery, but just barely too warm to labor in. I felt such a relief, when I stepped in I felt my whole body relax. After a few short minutes of bliss, my birth doula training kicked in and I knew I had to get out before things progressed too quickly. I thought I felt the beginning of baby crowning, but assumed I was out of my mind.
I exited the hot birthing pool as Jeff was talking on the phone with the midwife and while he was giving her a report I yelled, “Push! tell her push!” The need came suddenly and strongly, but then subsided enough for me to know that I just had to wait.
The midwife sent a text at 4:17 that she was leaving her home at 4:15. I found the irony in her awareness of time, but was relieved to know that she would be arriving in about an hour, and I sat on the birthing ball and waited.
At about 4:45, as I labored on my birthing ball, my water broke! I felt like panicking a little, but stayed pretty composed. My water had only broken naturally at the second stage before, but this is a different baby and different birth. I was not going to jump to conclusions, even with the evidence compiling around me.
I brought my music player with me to the bathroom as the labor contractions picked up in intensity once again. I laid clean towels on the bathroom floor and leaned against the bathroom counter, singing “There is Power in the Blood” louder as the urges increased in strength. I had to look and sound like a mad woman.
At about 5 O’clock, I had the urge to push and it was so strong! My husband was coaching me not to push and my whole body was visibly trembling from me resisting the force of contractions. Fighting it was probably about the hardest thing I have ever had to do and there was no way to be sure if it was even working. He wanted to be released to go and unlock the gate at the door and open the fence for the midwife and doula but I didn’t care about any of that, he couldn’t leave me.
The wave subsided after a few minutes just enough for me to let him leave my sight, and I regretted it all too soon. I called him back, thankfully he had opened our property and home up for the ladies. And I went back to fighting nature and clinging to his legs while I sat in the bathroom. After a short while I knew time was imminent so I asked him to make a place for delivery in the bedroom.
As soon as he had gone the surge was great again and I just had to check and see if what I felt earlier was indeed the baby and I could feel the whole top of the baby’s head. I told Jeff to come quick and got on my knees on the bathroom floor.
From what little I knew, I felt that not pushing was probably best for us, so I just relaxed and let happen what I couldn’t prevent.
What a relief it was to not fight anymore! I prepared myself to catch our baby and as her head was just beginning to come out, I could feel her squishy little face. I had never caught my own baby before, but it definitely brought me to another place. Time was so slow. She was posterior, just like the others, but that made it easy for me to cup her head and guide her out to a gentle landing.
Time seemed to freeze as I just took her in. She was not crying, but also not unaware of the change. I unlooped the cord from around her neck as Jeff asked if we were okay. His question brought me back a little and I placed her on my chest and asked for a receiving blanket.
After the birth I stayed there on the towels just soaking in the new baby. I was rubbing her back and trying to make sure her lungs were clear and just kept looking at her. Everything was fine. We were okay. Everything went the way I wanted it to go, right down to catching her myself and capturing the moment before picking her up. Everything except the speed and calm atmosphere. It had felt like a roller coaster. But it was over now.
The placenta was begging to be delivered before the midwife showed up, but thankfully I didn’t have to fight that long before she arrived. She came in doting on me, cleaning, covering me, making me take a bath. I really just wanted to be left alone to enjoy the moment, but with the way things transpired I understood her need to assess and get things into order before relaxing.
I fed the baby for the first time in the bath, she nursed a short while but she really seemed to hate the bath so I tried again after getting comfortable in bed. Baby latched and nursed great; the midwife didn’t hover or dictate how it should be done. Whether she just trusted the system or my three years of experience I don’t know, but it was a restful place.
After some down time the midwife did the newborn exam and the newborn weighed 3.9 kg and was 52 cm (8 lbs 9 oz, 20 1/4 inches).
Jeff managed the other three children while baby and I were getting acquainted. They were very excited and between the arrival of the midwife and doula, cries of the newborn baby and sunrise, they were bound to wake early. So we called in the 6, 4 and 2 year old to meet their newest baby sister, Felicity Jane.