The Birth of Ayla
On 26 May 2009 a radiant new life entered ours. Daughter Ayla emerged from the warm womb that had held her for 9 months into the warm water that now held us both in the delicate moments of her birth. Her Father’s hands were open and ready to catch her; to be the first to hold and welcome the child into this world as she separated from the safe shelter of her Mother’s body for the first time. She announced her arrival loudly, unleashing her unashamed cry while being held against my breast. Cradling her tiny warm body of helpless perfection against mine, I was overcome by awe and the greatest gratitude I have ever known. We’d been graced with the presence of an immaculate new life, and the birth had been the most empowering testimony to the duress and strength of the human body and spirit. It had been a dance of courage with trust; of determination with surrender.
We went to bed that Monday evening without any great premonition that this was to be the last night that Stephen, my husband, and I shared alone. We knew that the birth of our child was near – in the past ten days I’d had 3 runs of strong “practice” contractions or “pre-labours”, each one drawing me closely into the experience of childbirth but never quite extending over into proper labour. I had by now given up on the notion of “perhaps tonight is the night!”, and merely lay my bulging belly down to another evening of restless sleep. And then it happened. I woke up to a wondrous ‘pop’ inside of me; in an instance I knew that the bubble that had cushioned little Babalu (as we’d affectionately named her in the womb, not knowing whether she was girl or boy) had burst, and a moment later the confirmatory warm flood of water gushed out. I hastily rolled out of bed and with an excited giggle announced to Stephen that my waters had just broken. Despite being 3:20am, he jumped up in an instant, a great big grin on his face. Following the uncertainty we’d felt during the 3 pre-labours, we both knew that the breaking of the waters this time heralded the real thing.
We felt well prepared for this big event thanks to attending antenatal classes as well as reading books on pregnancy and natural child birth, as well as spending much time in meditation and prayer. We also both simply had a strong sense of trust that the birth would go smoothly. We had learnt that, while contractions may not commence immediately after the waters breaking, it was certain that labour would be underway during the next 24 hours, whether it had to be induced or through its own natural progression. With the 3 “practice” labours our midwife Sandy had told us that this was the body’s way of “warming up” and that it may result in a shorter labour. With this anticipation Stephen and I immediately went about preparing our lounge – now the birth room – for the special occasion. We placed plastic liners and towels on the floor and over the couch and switched the gas heater on. Stephen went about filling the birth pool that had stood expectantly in our lounge for the past week. For extra ambiance we lit candles all around the room and placed our chosen cd’s in the sound system. The ready-packed hospital bags were on stand-by. As terrified as I was of the unlikely event of an emergency Caesar, or simply of having to rush to hospital, I had mentally prepared myself for the possibility. I knew I had done my best in preparation for a natural birth at home, but that I had to remain open to medical intervention in case it became necessary. Another important part of my preparation had been the communication with the growing babe in my belly – during my daily walks, meditations, and quiet times at home I had spoken to her and held her and stroked her, letting her know that she is loved and welcomed into our lives, and that we have a choice of how she enters this world. I went on to explain the kind of intimate home birth that I would love and also explained to her the alternative of having to go to hospital and of a caesarian. I told her that we were ready for her to emerge, and that it would be to both her and my benefit if she didn’t carry on growing inside the womb too long. I encouraged her to remain in the head-down position that she was already in and repeatedly pictured and communicated to her the ideal position and movement during the birth. Finally I told her about the many beautiful gifts that await her on this earth; I described the colours of the sunset and the animals and the trees and flowers and the blue sky and wispy clouds. And I told her that Stephen and I would look after her and keep her warm and nurture her in every way we could. And while I kept wondering whether she was receiving any of my communication, I knew that at the very least I was mentally preparing myself and doing my bit in creating the birth I wished for.
We were ready. I had for some inexplicable reason expected our baby to arrive early and she obliged by one day; it was the day before her due date.
About 45 minutes after waking, I felt the first contraction; the sensation was by now familiar but noticeably more intense than with any of the pre-labours. At first they were fairly inconsistent, signaling that we were really just at the very beginning of the journey. I got comfortable in front of the gas heater with a cup of tea and a bowel of warm oats, my watch and notepad on the ready for timing the contractions. Stephen energetically carried on filling the pool, taking breaks to envelope me and Babalu in the comforting drone of his didgeridoo. I felt a similar nervous courage that I knew from the many sporting competitions I had entered when younger, and I told myself that once more I would need to keep calm with the aid of deep breaths, pace myself, and use my strong mind to support my body in this – by far the most meaningful – event. I believed that my body was completely capable of the great feat; the only difference was that this time I did not know upfront what the distance or the terrain was. I had to remain open to all possibilities and above all, be present in every new moment.
By about six o’ clock the contractions had begun to take on a slightly regular pattern, and we alerted our midwife, Sandy. Thereafter the ball kept rolling, with the pains becoming increasingly intense, and first our doula Ruth, then Sandy, then our friend Carey arrived to support and guide us in our journey. Though I felt clear and directed in my task, I also felt very emotional and when Ruth gently told me that Carey had arrived, I broke into tears. They were tears of relief mixed with tears of fear, and though I couldn’t pinpoint what I was crying about, I recognized the moment as one of surrender. My team of support was with me. Stephen didn’t want to leave my side but I asked him to take Bundu for his morning walk. The enthusiastic dog needed to release some energy, and with Ruth there to look after me, Stephen reluctantly went out for a quick run. It was a crisp sunny Auttumn morning but I chose to stay in the warm darkened lounge, sitting on a pile of cushions while leaning on the edge of the birth pool. Ruth sat behind me and massaged my lower back, soothing the pain. Each contraction succeeded the previous with renewed vigor, drawing out of me the most primal of groans and songs. The approach of each new wave of pain had me wondering how much longer this would continue and how many more times I was able to take on this all-consuming great big cramp in my abdomen. I felt myself starting to wish them away, but soon realized that I had to change my attitude; instead of wishing them over I started to welcome the onset of each contraction. With this change of attitude came an immediate easing of the intensity, and I marveled at how this wonderful strong body was working so very hard to, with each sore tensing of my insides, move this baby down towards the start of her life with us. Stephen was both my physical and emotional stronghold – I leant and hung on him, and he held me in such a way that I felt he was bearing some of the pain with me. Together we could tap into our combined well of primal power. Long “Ohm’s” helped us remain present as well as to breathe deeply, and direct our intention towards moving our baby down, down, down. Both Ruth and Carey gave us well-timed words of encouragement, telling me I was doing so well, and making gentle suggestions to keep moving around and to take sips of water and sweet berry elixir. I went outside to soak in some sunshine, and walked the length of our house with Stephen. Every few steps I would turn to him and we’d both brace ourselves – him because he knew he was about to bear my full body weight, and me because, here comes the next wave, let’s see how big this one is…! Bundu lay calm on his bed while Oli the cat sat on her perch overlooking the birth pool, holding vigil for us. I thought about the circle of friends who had each taken a candle from our baby blessing a week earlier, and of our family in Namibia, Cape Town and France – the flames were burning and we were being held strongly in thought and prayer. I felt completely supported and strengthened by the silently cheering team that surrounded us.
Sandy regularly checked Babalu’s heartbeat with her hand held ultra-sound device – she reported that even during contractions the pulse was steady and strong, and that Babalu was positioned well. As the morning progressed I felt my energy levels waning; my thighs especially were working hard and I needed to sit down between contractions. The birth team kept ever-watchful over me yet gave me all the space I needed to both move around the house and focus on my task. The hours rolled by without me having any notion of time. Then Sandy announced that it was close to midday and that she would like to do an internal examination to see how much my cervix had opened. She found that I was 5cm dilated. This meant that – by the book – it would probably be another 5 hours before the Grand Finale but thankfully I wasn’t aware of this. After 6 hours of active labour I was tiring and wanted to believe that the end was near. Ruth, with her deep understanding of the natural process of birthing, clearly sensed this and with a calm confidence suggested I get into the birth pool. Welcoming any change and especially any additional physical relief, I willingly stepped in. I was met by the most comforting warmth that allowed me to just lean back and relax for a while, basking in a moment of sweet relief. The water felt like a warm embrace from a best friend. As the warm water helped me relax a bit more, the contractions eased both in frequency and intensity (or so it felt). But all of a sudden I felt myself pushing. Clearly being in the water had speeded up the process while diminishing the pain and I had progressed into the third stage of labour unexpectedly fast. The pushing took me by surprise since my understanding had been that one had to make a concerted effort to push, yet here my body was doing so without any instruction from my brain! And so our baby was in the birth canal – a very vulnerable place to be – and I was determined to get her out as fast as possible. This miraculous yet arduous task needed completing. I heard Sandy ask where the nearest plug is for the suction machine, and in my own mind I said that I wouldn’t need it. After another 3 pushing contractions – these ones with concerted efforts and with all the strength I had left in me – Sandy announced that she could feel the head … “almost there, almost there!”. She instructed Stephen to lean over the edge of the pool and to be ready to catch the slippery babe. I didn’t allow myself to stop and get all excited just yet or even to try to feel the head since I wanted to stay focused on my task and get it over with. Stephen leant over and felt the head as well, and with the next contraction –my last and best effort – she was expelled with speed out of my body. I looked down and saw a little pink body in Stephen’s hands, still under water. We lifted her up to my chest where Sandy expertly checked that her mouth was clear and whipped the cord back over her head.
We were met by a loud wail. Our baby was with us, in our arms, and alive and healthy. It was 6 minutes past two, a mere one-and-a-half hours after stepping into the water.
I was overcome by awe and overwhelmed by a sense of caring and Love. I stepped out of the pool and lay down on the couch with baby still snug on my chest, for the first time feeling her flesh to flesh, and Stephen by our side. Her cry was relentless and loud and I looked at Sandy questioningly. She laughed assuredly and said “oh that’s good!”, while Carey pointed out with a sparkle in her eye, “you have a beautiful baby girl!” Her cord was still intact and pulsating for the last few beats, giving her as much oxygen-rich Mother’s blood as possible while adjusting to the first few breaths of her own. Ruth lay a heated towel over us, the tiny body that lay upon mine, and Sandy helped her latch onto my breast. I was amazed by both her ability to suckle and the strength at which she did it. We lay (glowing) on the couch for the rest of the afternoon while Stephen phoned the family with the happy news.
A proud new family had just begun.
I know that I will continue to feel proud, for the rest of my life, that we gave Ayla the best possible entrance into this world. She was received in a warm, friendly and calm environment and untainted by any synthetic drugs. I knew this would serve her for the rest of her life. As for myself, I entered Motherhood feeling extremely empowered; like I had endured my rite of passage into this next phase of my life. The sense of trust with which we had entered the Birth – trust in our own innate ability and the natural birthing process that the female body follows when not interfered with – had rewarded us beautifully. I am also forever grateful for the professional services of our birth team, who not only have the medical expertise to deliver a baby naturally, but also have the sensitivity, humility and respect to guide and truly support a woman and her partner during the life-changing event of a Birth.