All through pregnancy it’s been difficult for me to comprehend what Rose has been feeling. The idea of growing a new life, a new soul, inside you is completely mind bending. I have tried to be supportive and available in whatever ways possible. We did a lot of reading and researching to prepare us for the labour process. We delved deep into ideas around pain relief alternatives, perineum strengthening and support, our rights within the medical system, cord cutting, the third stage of labour and much more. We slowly covered all the areas and whittled it down into our ‘Birth Aspirations’. We were very clear that we didn’t want to assume some rigid plan and not accept the possibility that everything could play out in a wildly different manner. Having said that we knew some of the things were more important to us than others and so we had to make sure we created a plan that would enable them regardless of the setting or birthing processes we ended up being immersed in.
The labour started very slowly. It was a Sunday and Rose’s aches and cramps were increasing. Everything was new for me, preperation can’t really prepare you for the real thing. I knew what I was looking out for and I knew all the “signs” but I still lost my way at times. We took Rose to my sisters house for a soak in the bath and a relaxing evening, my mum cooked for us and we could just be. There were points where I thought that perhaps it was starting in earnest but then it always calmed back down and the intensity dissapated. My mum dropped us back at our little nest that evening and we attempted rest, but the nights sleep was broken to say the least. The following day was more of the same to start, Rose was in a lot of discomfort, tipping over into pain at points. My anxiety got the better of me at times and I don’t think I was very helpful. “Let’s play a game or watch a film? It will take your mind away from it.” Was not my best moment. The day leading up to the active stage of labour was probably the most difficult time for me. Rose was very unsettled and uncertain and I felt like there was nothing I could offer her. In reality just being present and attending to her needs was enough but I do struggle with always wanting to be able to offer “solutions”. This was a real test.
By the late afternoon it started feeling much more definite, these were actual contractions, labour had started. We decided to call my mum, Mia, and get her up here, I was feeling a little lost at times and craving the support of experience. After all my Mia had done this before. I struggled to keep myself present just in those moments, with Rose, during the earlier stages. I found myself pottering around, tidying up, sorting out seating, just silly little jobs that weren’t really necessary. At some point Mia thought we should call the midwife but it was still too early, they told us to keep track of contractions and call again once they became more regular. All this preperation had certainly set me up well for what was happening however once I was in the thick of it, it was very hard to keep thinking clearly. I had to do some breathing exercises of my own to ground me in the moment. From the point that Rose’s contractions became more regular, my sense of time went out the window. Everything just kept rolling and I was spinning with it. I had been keeping note of the timings up to this point but Mia had to take over as I became slowly more and more enveloped by the birthing rites. At this point I was solely focused on Rose and this little corner where the magic was happening, everything else sort of faded away. As soon as I gave myself to this I felt myself connect with my purpose in the whole. I was here to hold Rose, to breathe with her, grunt with her, cry with her (although in the end I did most of the crying for the both of us).
Once the contractions became strong and regular I rang the Antenatal triage again and they notified the on call community midwife who would come out to us. I was in complete disbelief when I discovered we would have Anwen come to the house, she was the midwife we had seen most during our journey and had built a real connection with her. It was amazing news for us. It was one of our big anxieties that we would end up with a different midwife for the birth and it be a stranger, which was a pretty likely scenario as there is a lot of other midwives in the team. We found out later that she was actually 3rd on call that evening so our luck was even greater! It really shifted my perspective. I felt safe and supported immediately and this gave me even more energy to hold Rose with. From this point on me and Rose were together apart from the rest of the world in the corner of our little caravan, breathing out our baby. Rose had asked me if I would go through all the sounds with her during the labour and I did. Or at least I went through a great deal of them. I also kept a soundtrack going. We had the likes of Erik Truffaz, The Penguin Cafe Orchestra, Mount Kimbie, Rodriguez, Bonobo and Erykah Badu.
Anwen arrived and established that Rose was indeed in active labour. This was really it! I felt so relieved to have some reassurance. I had felt a great deal of responsibility up until this point, I had piled a lot on myself and it felt incredible to let this flow off me. All of my escence was distilled into the role of birth partner at that moment. I even finally got around to lighting the candles, the ones which we’d planned to have burning for the whole journey. Better late than never. After a little while the second midwife turned up and set up around the kitchen table, both midwives were very careful not to encroach on our corner too much. They did an amazing job of honouring our space and experience, supporting but in no way taking us out of our zone.
At some point early on I had turned the music down so Anwen could listen to baby’s heart with the pinnard. An hour or so went past before I realised it was still down, it was the fact that I could clearly hear the whispered conversations around the kitchen table that really made it obvious. It was difficult for me to step out of our little bubble in order to adjust the volume though so it took me quite some time to find that right moment. In hindsight I wish I had done it sooner, as the whispers from across the room did permeate our space and this had an effect.
Time seemed to ebb and flow by, sometimes in torrents sometimes in trickles. Each contraction that came found me linking eyes with Rose and the breathe began. My tendancy was always to extend the breaths long but I could tell that wasn’t possible for Rose right now, so as much as possible I tried to match her speed and just encourage her. At some points the breathing put me in a heightened and mildly hallucinogenic state. I was really rushing. Then I would go outside to pee and just stand there sobbing on my own in the dark for five minutes, then back into the circle with Rose. It was so intense, my emotions were on overdrive, I was just feeling so much. It made it feel very natural to be breathing and moaning along with Rose.
Rose was in the 1st stage of labour for six hours. This whole time her waters had not broken, Anwen had said this was causing a huge amount of pressure. At some point about six hours in they broke. I will never forget that sound and the gushing water, I almost felt the pressure release myself. It was a big moment, this was it now. I could see the fluid that had come out was a little green and I knew what this meant, the dreaded meconium. I braced myself for what was to come, feeling tense. I knew that generally they get a bit worried about this and was prepared for difficult decision making. Anwen said she would like to examine Rose before making a decision. Her opinion was that Rose was getting very close to birthing our baby and would almost certainly deliver in the ambulance if we were to try and transfer, so she wasn’t going to recommend it. Oh wow, it feels so amazing to be supported in this way, she knew what was important to us and was willing to stand by us through it. This was it though, I could feel the change, I started to get tingly at the thought of meeting our baby. The contractions started to really intensify and the breathing became even more focused. We were both exhausted by this point, who knew breathing could take so much out of you, I can’t even imagine how Rose was feeling. But I had hold of her the whole time. We were doing this.
During this 2nd stage the midwives became a bit more involved. They wanted to keep a check on babies heart rate periodically and to be honest at that point it felt sort of reassuring to hear the little heartbeat every so often. It seemed to remain pretty calm and steady the whole way through, even with all the activity going on around it. At some point Rose did start to think she couldn’t do it, she wanted something for the pain, it was too much. Even though she was clearly doing an amazing job, not that I was in any way qualified to know that! However Anwen did also think this. We both knew how important Rose felt it was to go through this journey and knew she would feel good to achieve it without any substances. So instead we coached her through it. I’m so glad I made that decision for her, and I think Rose is too now, there was a moment when I thought it might all be over (joke).
The 2nd stage seemed to last forever and was over in a flash. Each time Anwen congratulated and encouraged Rose after a really good push I thought that was going to be it, but they just seemed to keep coming. When I saw the second midwife, Jill, preparing a baby blanket and hat, I knew it must be getting close. Anwen had a mirror positioned to keep an eye on progress and from my place in front of Rose I was trying to get a look at it but I couldn’t really make out much, the lighting was very low, mostly candlelight. All of a sudden he was here. Anwen passed the baby between Rose’s legs and into my arms, what an immense feeling. This small, soft, slimy, warm body in the palm of my hands. Still very much a part of Rose but now a part of me too. We were both so overwhelmed with just seeing the baby, soaking it in, we didn’t even think about the sex. “Do you want to know what it is?” I didn’t even understand the question at first. She ruffled around in the blanket. It’s a little boy!
My biggest regret in the whole process is the way we dealt with the cord. Although it was left until it had stopped pulsating and probably most of the blood had returned to the baby, we still clamped it and cut it, despite what we had imagined. In the scheme of things its not a big deal I know but I can’t help but question if it might have made for an easier 3rd stage. I was just so worn out by that point and completely engrossed in our little boy that I wasn’t thinking clearly. After some time just the three of us, the midwives stepped back in as they wanted to deliver the placenta. I took babe on the my bare chest and Rose was back into the labour process. Everyones energy was low and Rose especially, she couldn’t find anymore push in her. The placenta would not come. It was actually quite a traumatic event, they were desperately trying to get it out, changing Roses position, getting her to cough and push, squeeze, tug. At one point I stepped in and gave baby to her, he needed to be on her skin really, I thought it might help. But nothing worked. Eventually they gave her an injection that closes off the blood vessels, which in turn releases the placenta. Through this whole stage Rose had been on the gas and air. I don’t know if that had made a difference either. It just felt like after having such an amazing natural physiological 1st and 2nd stage, suddenly we were getting the full works of interventions for stage 3. I somehow felt like I hadn’t done enough, it was my job to make our wishes known and at that point I hadn’t done it, I almost felt I couldn’t do it, I had been with Rose throughout and I was utterly drained. Eventually the placenta came out though and all was fine. We didn’t have to go to hospital and both baby and Rose were healthy and well!
Little Teifi Tír Seymour born at 6.14am on 8th Febuary 2022.