For thirty-eight weeks she grew in my belly. Before she was conceived I was sure our family would be completed by another boy, that we would give her brother a brother and our weekends would be forever filled with rugby and cricket. Yet from the moment I learnt she was there, blossoming from a single cell, I knew I would have the daughter I so deeply wanted.
Carrying and growing her was very different to her brother. The first trimester nausea and the third trimester exhaustion were the same but emotionally I felt inexplicably different: calmer, happier, and more grateful for the opportunity to experience pregnancy, birth and motherhood all over again. Where last time I wished away the weeks, eager to get to the next ‘stage’, this time, I begged time to slow down, to just let me savour it all.
My tummy grew quickly, rounding out, as our baby’s tiny arms and legs lengthened, got stronger, chubbier. And then I felt her for the very first time. A pop. A bubble. A flutter that soon turned into strong thuds and then kicks as her feet pushed through my sides seemingly looking for escape. At night I lay in bed hand across my belly waiting for those kicks, that secret code between the two of us. And as I felt for her I would fall into a contented sleep to dream of our dark-haired brown-eyed little girl: our sweet daughter.
As our baby’s due date grew closer and my belly stretched to bursting I prepared myself for her arrival. In the day I washed and folded tiny clothes, filled our pantry and fridge with food, and cleaned with uncharacteristic enthusiasm. And at night I read and studied the approach of Hypnobirthing*: a generous friend guiding me through the process as I learnt about the enormous power of the mind and the benefits of a calm and natural birth. I was nervous about our baby’s arrival but more than anything I was excited about the experience that would bring her into the world.
Two weeks before she was due my Braxton hicks began to build in frequency and intensity. At times I would find myself leaning over the kitchen bench swaying and breathing deeply as I had practiced. For four days I woke each morning thinking today would be the day we would meet our baby and by days end the tightening’s would have faded and I would be left doubting my intuition. November 5, the day I was sure she would be born, came and went. I cried to Troy that I just wanted to meet our baby, to hold her, to know when it was all going to happen. Patience deserted me as I became increasingly frustrated.
The next day I woke determined not to pay any attention to the Braxton Hicks until I could no longer ignore them. I baked banana bread, built Lego towers with Lachie and mopped the floors. At lunch our friends Laura and Matt and their son came to visit. We reminisced and laughed about Laura’s labour, how she rocked on hands and knees on a busy Brisbane street while I assured concerned passer-bys that she was not hurt but probably about to have a baby.
The afternoon slipped by and as the three of us, Lachie, Troy and I, sat eating our dinner I winced as the pinch of a contraction took hold. “You’re going into labour aren’t you?” Troy asked me. I assured him it was likely another false alarm, that he was tired and should get some sleep. The time was 6.30pm.
We played some more Lego with Lachie and then Troy went to lie down. In between brushing Lachlan’s teeth I timed my contractions, eight minutes apart, one minute long. He chose a story, Tiddler: The Story Telling Fish, and we snuggled in bed. Story read I kissed his soft blonde head goodnight and turned out the light. The time was 7.30pm.
The contractions were coming seven minutes apart, tightening across my lower back and radiating through my stomach. I leaned over the kitchen table rocking involuntarily while I called Troy’s mum, Sheryl. “It’s probably a false alarm” I told her, “but can you come over?” I made my way to the shower, wondering still, if this was it, if we would soon be meeting our baby girl. Nerves of excitement started to build.
I undressed, my swelling belly reflecting at me in the mirror. The warm water cascaded blissfully down my aching back. Aware that baby had been posterior at my last appointment, I leant on the shower screen eager to help her turn. The contractions got closer, longer, harder. Six minutes apart. Standing in the shower I called Sheryl again. “Better come sooner rather than later” I told her. “I’m still not sure it’s the real thing though”, I said apologetically. The time was 8.01pm.
The bathroom door opened and Troy peered his head in. “You’re definitely in labour” he said, seeing the obvious where I could not. I got out of the shower and dressed, gathering a few last-minute things in between contractions. I rang the hospital to ask if I should come in, nervous not to go too early. Contractions had jumped to every three minutes and I was having to breath deeply through each one. Make your way in they said. “I think we need to go soon” Troy said. “Should I call someone else to come until mum gets here?” he asked. “No, it will be okay” I replied. Another wave hit. “Actually, yes, do”, I said from the ground. The time was 8.19pm
Bags packed in the car and a pile of towels on the front seat we waited for our friends to arrive. I looked in one last time at Lachie, my first-born, my boy who taught me the endless depth of a mothers love. I felt sadness that his world was about to be changed and in the same moment, joy that we were giving him the lifelong gift of a sibling. I kissed his cheek once more and made my way to the car. I found my earphones and selected the Hypnobirthing track I had been falling asleep to each night for the past few weeks. I closed my eyes. As the wave of the contraction built I went to my knees, leaning over the front step as we waited for Emma and Michael to arrive. Pulling up in a bundle of excited energy Michael tells us he couldn’t find his keys, that he had parked Emma in, that they had to get his brother to bring around his car to use. “He went 80 and ran a red light” Emma tells us. We laughed at the unnecessary panic. I hugged and thanked them both and climbed into the car. The time was 8.45pm.
Sitting upright felt unnatural. I wanted to be kneeling, my belly hanging to relieve pressure on my back. But I had to sit. I turned the volume up on the music and closed my eyes. In the darkness there was nothing but my breath, my baby and I. The outside world stopped existing. As each contraction took over I imagined myself walking into the ocean, the cool water lapping at my body. I felt myself floating, weightless as the wave lifted me up. The pain was there but it was distant, remaining on the sandy beach while I floated offshore in the salty water. I briefly opened my eyes as we neared the entrance of the hospital. “This way” I said quietly pointing. The car stopped and I climbed out. Another contraction. I squatted by the entry path, grasping the handrail for stability, bending deep and breathing down into my belly. The parking attendant smiled knowingly and directed Troy where to park. The time was 8.50pm.
Car parked, Troy lifted me from the ground. Enveloped in his arms, we walked toward the entrance and through the glass doors, my eyes mostly closed, only mildly aware of my surroundings. We arrived at the entrance to the pregnancy unit. “Press the button,” I whispered to him as another strong contraction took over and I went to my knees in front of the door. Eyes closed I heard the door open; “take your time”, a kind voice said, “when your ready” she reassured. The wave passed and I stood. Troy told the midwives my name. “How often are the contractions coming?” they asked. “Every minute or so”, he replied.
The birth suite was dark and calm. “I want to have a shower” I said, kneeling by the bed my belly tightening as I went again to my mind and the ocean; breathing deep, my body soft as Troy ran his fingers gently up my back and down my arms. “Just pop up on the bed so we can check you” the midwife said. I climbed onto the bed and lifted my knees as I felt the baby’s head move down, the pressure intensifying, and the urge to push beginning to take hold. I felt a pop as my waters burst with a bang. The midwives and Troy laughed, thankful to have been standing out of the way.
The pressure became even more forceful and in the middle of another contraction a brief moment of desperation took hold, “I can’t do this, it’s too much”, I thought. Rallying, I closed my eyes tighter, breathed deeper and without realising, started to push. The midwife had called for the on call obstetrician but she was yet to arrive. In my head I thought they would tell me to wait, to stop pushing, I was scared that I couldn’t stop. “I. Need. To. Push.” I said softly. “Push then” they tell me.
And so I pushed. Eyes shut tight, music still flowing to my ears; I remembered Lachlan’s birth and how I brought him into this world. This time I didn’t yell or scream but instead focused all my energy into pushing our baby down. I breathed down as low as I could as our baby’s head was born. “Wait” they told me. I waited. “You can push again” they said. So I did. And her body was born. I reached down as they helped our baby through my legs onto my chest. I held her, pink face crying, chubby cheeks covered in white vernix. The time was 8.59pm, Wednesday November 6, 2013.
I looked up to the man who helped make this beautiful little human: joy and love pouring from every inch of me. He smiled at me; kissed my head, told me he was proud of me, that he loved me. “Thank you” I said to him. For everything. We both looked down at our sweet baby. Our dark-haired, brown-eyed girl: our darling daughter.
* My lovely friend Caitlin from Mother Down Under guided me through her Hypnobirthing course. I can’t recommend Caitlin enough, she helped me achieve the natural, calm birth I wanted and I am so very thankful to her for that.