CORALIE'S BIRTH STORY
That night, that Tuesday, as I swayed back and forth on the gym ball in our living room I could feel our baby getting close; closer to coming into this world, into our family. I got ready to go to bed trying to breathe through the excitement at what the night could bring, to allow myself to rest just in case. I checked on Josephine, watched her little body rise up and down, unable to believe that we would soon to be welcoming another baby; it seems like she was only born a few months ago herself. I'm sure every parent feels nervous when preparing to bring a new baby into the family, and as I watched Josephine I felt some pangs of sadness at the end of an era, the end of our family of three. But I quickly remembered the pure, unbridled joy and excitement Josephine felt towards her new brother or sister arriving. I knew she would make such a lovely and brilliant big sister, and how this next chapter would be even more wonderful than the last.
I laid in bed and drifted off, only to be woken at 1am with a deep ache in my tummy. The waves ebbed and flowed and with Ben asleep beside me, I kept my eyes closed and my lips loose as I felt the contractions get stronger. And then weaker, and weaker until they had all but dissappeared. I urged my body to open up, welcoming the contractions, but to no avail. I drifted back off to sleep and was dissapointed to wake at 7am to Ben's alarm. I told Ben about the night's developments, but could feel no further movement, so got out of bed to go and start making breakfast. Halfway down the stairs I felt the waves begin once more, and the excitement rose inside me again. Ben asked if I thought he should go to work but I couldn't tell just yet, I needed to give my body a little more time.
I went into get Josephine up, made her some porridge and folded some washing as the contractions deepened, slowly but surely. I turned to Ben and told him to stay at home, that I thought this was it. We tried to contain our excitement, our nerves, for Josephine's sake, and continued to potter around the house, calling the midwife to let her know we thought today was the day and that we'd keep her informed.
When we decided on a home birth, the biggest decision was what would happen to Josephine. If the baby decided to come in the night, I was happy to leave her sleeping, but deep in my heart I knew I wouldn't be able to completely let go knowing she was in the next room. My sister Dora was more than happy to look after Josephine (and excited to play a part in the labour process) and had notified her work that at any moment, she'd have to leave and come collect Phiney. I text her to let her know what was happening and that I'd keep her updated.
I will always remember those couple of hours with Josephine. She happily helped Ben blow up the birthing pool in our bathroom, prepping it all with such care and excitement. She 'tested it out' for me, and deemed it perfect, asking if Daddy could fill it up and she could have a go in the paddling pool.
The waves got stronger and stronger and by 10am I found myself stopping to breathe through them. Crouching at the bottom of the stairs, kneeling on all fours, with Josephine beside me. She copied every move. Taking deep breaths in and out, letting her head hang and her hips sway with mine. My sweet girl, it made me smile so big.
We called the midwife, Mary, who said she'd be round in the next couple of hours, unless everything sped up and we needed her sooner, and text Dora to let her know that things were moving and asked her to come as soon as she could. We packed Josephine a little bag of clothes and she gathered her favourite toys to take with her. As we chatted I could feel the contractions easing off, and I knew my body was slowing down, waiting for Josephine to go on her own little adventure with Dora – this was her first time ever staying away from Ben and I think she was as excited about that as she was the baby arriving.
When Dora arrived, we kissed and cuddled Josephine and I could feel tears welling inside me. The anticipation was buidling and I remembered what was to come. We tried not to make too big a deal of Josephine going, and laughed at how next time we saw her we'd have a little baby. She marched off so happily with Dora that my mind was instantly put at ease, and I knew I could now dedicate myself to welcoming our baby safely into the world.
Still, by now the contractions had almost ceased, and we decided a walk before our midwife arrived would be a good idea. We put on our shoes and coats and as we opened our front door, our midwives walked round the corner. Back inside we all chatted and laughed and I felt so lucky to have the opportunity to birth at home with such wonderful women at hand to support us. I was examined, and found to be only a cm or two dilated, but everything was progressing and as they left Mary told us to head out on that walk; to keep gently moving and to keep them informed.
We walked the same roads we did when I was in labour with Josephine, tighly holding hands, quietly talking about what was to come, and silently hoping things would progress quicker than they did with Phiney.
The hours ticked by and the waves became more intense. My deep breathing turned into soft moaning as each contraction built. I could feel our baby moving down, feel my body opening up and I welcomed it all with open arms, urging each wave to get stronger and stronger.
We decied to call Mary again as clearly things were moving in the right direction, and she arrived quickly and examined me. I was 4cm, and my heart sank. I couldn't stop the negative thoughts creep into my head, and I squeezed Ben's hand with worry at the idea of another long labour. Mary talked to us both about how well I was doing, how things were progressing nicely and asked if we wanted her to stay. I told her I was worried it was moving too slowly, but she reassuringly told us that things can suddenly really move quickly with the second baby, and she felt sure the baby would be here by the end of the day. It was about 3.30pm and it felt like there was still too much of the day to go for that to be a comfort! She told us that she lived about 50 minutes away, and so often she would just walk through the door only to hear from a couple that things had stepped up a notch and to come straight back. I couldn't see that happening with us, and we were happy to be left alone again, so she left leaving us feeling positive about what was to come.
Within 15 minutes of her leaving the strength of each contraction was rising steadily and I felt myself tensing up as the waves broke, one after another. I quickly started thinking of pain and wanting it all to stop and, as I leaned over the gym ball, the tears came fast and furiously. Ben held my hand and talked me through long, slow breaths, telling me to keep my lips and face loose and relaxed and reminding me that my body was built to do this; that I could do this and that I was doing this. But it was too much. I couldn't do it, I didn't have the strength. I didn't know what to do.
Ben's words became a blur as I buried my face into the gym ball and soon I realised he had left the room. I lifted my head and looked at the picture of me, Josephine and my Dad on the table, and I crumbled. The emotions of the last five months poured out and my heart broke again. The enormity of my Dad not being here, not meeting our baby and seeing it grow, hit me like a tonne of bricks. And so did the fear. The fear I'd spent months trying to push down, to ignore. The fear of life's fragility. How quickly things can go from good to bad. I had spent so long pushing those thoughts to the back of my head and now here they came, flooding me entirely and I just crumbled. I wondered how I could do this, get our baby out. I cried to my Dad, wishing for him to be back with me. I felt so tired, emotionally and physically. I had nothing left to give and yet so much further to go before I birthed our baby. I was overwhelmed.
Ben came back in and sat with me on the floor. He told me he had called Mary again and she had, as she predicted!, just got home, but would be back with us asap. I asked him why he had done that, that nothing would have really changed, and he told me that he thought things really had progressed; that my behaviour and the noises I was making made him think we needed Mary back with us. She arrived less than an hour and a half after she left, at about 5pm, and when she examined me I had dilated another 3cm, and was now 7cm. It was time to get in the pool (hooray!) Mary would stay with us until her shift finished at 8pm; this was it. Baby was coming.
The relief of the pool was undescribable. The warm water coated my body and eased my tension. I was able to move so freely and I immediately relaxed. Of course, that may have been helped by the gas and air that Mary offered me! After refusing it for so long during my labour with Josephine, I happily accepted it this time. My breathing became long and controlled again and I quietly moaned with each wave.
Mary came and sat with us now and again – checking my blood pressure and baby's heartrate – and chatting with us as the hours slipped by. I was examined again and was 8cm; great news after my experience with a cervix that decided to stop dilating around the same point with Josephine.
Those hours really past in a blur. I flickered between moments of calm, and moments of panic; crying that I wasn't able to do it, squeezing Ben's hand. All the time feeling our baby moving down, doing so well, kicking and moving happily; so excited to come out and meet it's Mama and Daddy.
It's crazy how different labours can be from one child to the next. Despite my long (long!) labour with Josephine I was calm and collected throughout. I got in the zone and everything that was happening around me seemed a million miles away. I knew Ben was there with me, supporting me, but I happily swayed in the pool at home and on the bed in hospital, in my own little world in so many ways. This time was different though. I needed Ben right there, holding my hand, physically supporting me as well as emotionally. When my self-belief wavered, he was there to build it right back up, when my breathing became erratic he held me close and breathed with me until it calmed. When the tears fell, he cracked a joke, smiled a smile and made me laugh. He never once let go of my hand. Birthing Josephine together was an amazing experience, but this was different. He was my strength and to share every feeling with him this time, to need him, bought us closer than ever.
8pm came and with it so did a new midwife. Julie arrived and I instantly knew we were lucky to have her with us when our baby was born. She was lovely. She examined me and told us that it was almost time to push. She called another midwife, Kim, (there must be two midwives at home with you when Baby is born – one for Mama and one for Baby) who joined an Australian student midwife Lisa, and they began setting up all their equipment. A resuscitation table just in case, scales, towels, instruments.
I was still on all fours at this point but Julie realised that, while one side was fully dilated the other side of my cervix had stopped dilating, so she flipped me over in the water and had me lean more on my left hip. Within minutes I was fully dilated and it was time to push.
The relief to get to this point was indescribable. I just wanted to meet our baby, for it to be here safe and sound; to be in my arms. The atmosphere in our bathroom was amazing. The midwives were so happy and smiley, Ben held me and I felt in control of my pushing. I focused all my energy into my bottom, with a little scream escaping my lips as each push ebbed away. I could feel that the baby was so close and soon I was able to reach down and feel the soft fluffiness of Baby's hair. I was getting tired, so tired, but I knew we were so close I kept pushing with everything I had. Julie told me that the head was nearly out, I just needed a little push to help out Baby's nose, but I couldn't do it. No matter how hard I tried. I asked Julie to help me and she pulled my leg out of the water, over the side of the pool, and expertly ran her finger round Baby's head. The nose was free and with one more push the head was out.
The next few minutes were a blur. Julie and the other midwives realised that the cord was wrapped round Baby's neck and body and Baby was in a bit of a tangle and getting itself a bit stuck. Julie acted so quickly it was amazing. With Baby half in, half out, Julie managed to get her fingers round the cord and carefully detangle it. She was almost in the pool with me, and I felt so calm knowing she was looking after us. Suddenly Baby was free and out she came. Julie pulled her out of the water and on to my chest; I sank down into the warm water and breathed the biggest sigh. Ben cut the cord and told me it was a girl and we laughed and smiled as we looked at our tiny purple bundle. Julie asked me to bring her out of the water a bit as she hadn't really moved and explained that sometimes babies born in the water can be a little sleepy. Quickly though Julie decided they needed to help our little one a bit and carefully and quickly bundled her up and took her to the recusitation table, just down the hall from our bathroom. Our student midwife Lisa, stood outside the bathroom door and watched as Julie and Kim rubbed our baby girl's chest and gave her oxygen. Lisa smiled and reassured us, telling us she could see Baby's legs moving and suddenly we could hear her little squeeks and cries and we knew she was ok. Never once did we feel the need to worry or panic. She was in the safest hands.
In the quiet of the bathroom Ben and I smiled the biggest smiles, knowing we had another beautiful girl in our lives. I asked Ben what he thought we should call her, and he said 'Coralie'. My absolute favourite girl's name, but one which Ben hadn't been quite as sure about. He now said it was perfect. Coralie Joe, after my Dad. As soon as Ben said her name, the tears filled my eyes. I told Ben how much I wished my Dad was here to see her, and silently we held eachother and both cried. The last few months had been the toughest of my life and with Coralie's safe arrival I felt such a relief. I know my Dad was there with me in that moment and he'd always be looking over Coralie, and Josephine.
Soon contractions started again and I delivered my placenta naturally in the pool. Julie and Lisa kept us updated with how Coralie was doing (getting pinker by the minute!) and Ben helped me out of the pool, down the hall and onto the sofa in the kitchen. Finally I got to hold my tiny girl again. Her little fingers and toes, pink skin and black hair. She looked like me, she looked like my Dad.
Coralie's heartrate was speeding and Julie had spoken to the local hospital's Paedeatrition. He had given Coralie an hour and if her heartrate was still too fast, we'd have to go to the hospital. After 20 minutes it was slowing down, by 45 minutes it was back to normal. She had made a dramatic entrance, that was for sure, but now she was settled and calm and oh so snuggly.
I had torn a tiny bit and Julie thought it was best I had a couple of stitches so I went upstairs and laid on the bed. The adreneline and craziness of the last few hours hit me, and all I wanted to do was get back downstairs to my baby and Ben.
A true superstar, Ben had had some skin to skin time with Coralie before her heartrate needed checking again, and then headed to the bathroom to begin the mammoth cleaning job. Normally the midwives would have sorted it all, but with all the observation and working on Coralie, they were still writing notes and checking her at regular intervals. By the time I came back down, Ben had miraculously cleaned out the pool and packed it all away. My absolute hero, and the midwive's golden boy, for sure :)
Lisa and Kim headed home and Julie sat with me as I fed Coralie for the first time. Reminding me of how to position her and helping me get it right. She fed for 45minutes – a great first feed according to Julie. At 3am, 4 hours after Coralie was born, Julie left, and Ben and I headed upstairs to snuggle on the sofa with Coralie. Both wide awake with excitement. I text my Mum to tell her our news and at 4.30am we realised we should head to bed. With Coralie safe in her moses basket beside us, we all fell asleep. I loved birthing our tiny girl at home, for this reason especially. I plan to write more about our home birth experience soon.
At 10.30am (!!!) Coralie woke us with her tiny cries and I fed her. We text Dora and asked her to bring Josephine home after her lunch. And when our girls met, my heart almost burst. Josephine crept towards Coralie so carefully, and when Coralie squeeked, I saw Josephine fall in love with her, right before my eyes.
Coralie's birth was an intense one. It may not have been the shortest, but for me - compared to Josephine's - it was quick and there were moments when I was overwhelmed by it all. But it was still wonderful, although in so many ways tougher than Josephine's birth. I was in such a different place emotionally. I've written before about growing life whilst dealing with death, and Coralie's birth definitely helped heal my heart a little after loosing my Dad. It reaffirmed to me that my Dad lives on within us all and, even though she'll never meet him, within Coralie.
Birthing Coralie was a journey that was hard but empowering; I emerged from it stronger. A stronger woman, mother and wife. And it made me realise how where you labour or how your birthing story unfolds really doesn't matter. Bringing Coralie into the world I got my homebirth, my water birth, but on reflection I think a more difficult birth, despite being shorter and exactly where I hoped. We learn more about ourselves no matter what your experience; we all bring our babies into this world with love in our hearts, and it doesn't matter the route they take to get here.
ps. next time, I want a birth photographer. We have no pictures of Coralie's birth, of me in the pool, just that one blurry iPhone picture of Ben at 3.15am from the hours after she was born. And after seeing Anna's beautiful video and pictures, next time I want more.