Birth | Alba Jones | Johannesburg Birth Photographer
“The darkest hour is that before the dawn” – Proverb
I’ve been part of so many births where Mom’s plan gets derailed by circumstance and she is led down a path she never intended. For Victoria it looked like she would have to abandon her plan for a natural water birth and go for an emergency C-section – just before it all spun around and she got everything she wanted. Truly a blessing for this little family of three.
In the two weeks or so leading up to Alba’s birth, I had mentioned a few times that I thought she may come early. I couldn’t tell if it was because I was so ready to meet her and feeling quite uncomfortable by this stage or if it was my intuition kicking in. At 37 weeks and 1 day, on Wednesday, December 11, 2019 at 2am, during the last full moon of the decade, I woke up needing to pee. Not unusual at this stage as I was often getting up multiple times a night throughout my pregnancy.
I stumbled to the bathroom and went to the loo with my eyes pretty much half-closed and went straight back to bed. I was sleeping in the baby room in the single bed we had put in there, and David was asleep in our main bedroom.
Back in bed and half asleep, I notice this wet feeling, and I think “Ugh did I not wipe properly?!”
I lay there for a few seconds thinking maybe I can get away with it, but no, realising I wasn’t going to be able to ignore it, I got up and went back to the bathroom. Here I realised this was more than just a lazy wipe. My water had just broken. One’s water breaking is not always a gush like in the movies. A lot of the time, it can just be an ongoing trickle for a few hours or small gushes dispersed over an extended period.
I wasn’t entirely sure what to think, but I do remember this palpable feeling of excitement. We were about to venture into the unknown, and I had no idea how this was all going to unfold. That feeling is quite a trip. There was a fraction of a moment where I sat alone in the bathroom and did nothing but take a few quiet breaths.
I woke David. We agreed that all the signs were pointing to yes, baby girl would be arriving sooner than planned. I called my midwife to let her know, and she suggested we try and get some rest and see how things progress. Obviously, sleep was utterly out of the question with the excitement, uncertainty and the deep unknown that is pending labour.
We lay in bed together, talking and imagining what was to come (we weren’t even close) and making lists of things we needed to get at the shops as soon as they opened. We were not quite ready as it was three weeks before my due date and we still had a few things on our birth list that we hadn’t bought yet. Our immediate concern was snacks and ample hydration for the birth. I mean, we really had no idea.
When the shops opened at eight, David went to pick up supplies and came back with a whole bunch of goodies—sweets, energy drinks, coconut water, quiche. You name it. The coconut water was lifeblood during the birth and for weeks after, in that new-born haze. The cold, fizzy Lucozade was heavenly at some point in labour.
We spent the rest of the day attempting to rest, tidying up the house, finishing the set-up of the birthing pool, which was in the baby room.
We had planned a home water birth, so the pool had been half set up about a week prior and we just needed to add the final inside layers. Then we waited. I wasn’t feeling anything; no contractions or anything other than water leaking and the odd Braxton Hicks contraction.
By 2pm, twelve hours after my water had broken, I was on antibiotics. My water breaking is considered premature rupture of membrane (PROM) and the anti-Bs are to prevent infection in mom or baby. By 6pm, my midwife (who was at Genesis managing another birth) told us to come in and book a room. Labour was not progressing …
We were unsure of whether we would be coming back home to complete the labour or staying at Genesis so we packed everything we thought we might need in case we ended up checking in, including most of our snacks.
We checked into our room and hung out. Karen (my midwife) would pop in from the birth next door to ask if I was feeling any contractions, to which my answer was pretty much ‘No, maybe, don’t think so’. It’s hard when you’ve never been in labour before as you have no idea what you should be feeling! I can tell you now that I know what a contraction feels like, and that I definitely wasn’t having any at that stage.
Around 10pm we had a consultation with Karen. She checked the baby’s heart rate to make sure she was coping – all was fine, and her heart rate was calm. It was here that Karen said we were going to have to go with induction as I was now over the recommended time frame for PROM with no signs of labour starting.
I will mention here that one of my fears linked to labour was around being induced. I had heard that induction was hard and intense and could also start a trajectory towards a c-section. The other fear I had was tearing or the need for an episiotomy.
We discussed at length how the induction would be administered, and Karen assured us that it would be given in the smallest possible doses, no more than required to get the contractions going. For the next six hours, from about 11.30pm to 05.30am, I was given four doses of induction medication. David and I pretty much just napped in between.
At around 6am on Thursday, December 12, contractions finally started.
Here’s where the concept of time fades into the background. I know contractions started off somewhat manageable. Still tough, but I was able to set up a rhythm and breathe through them. I found that for the sixty seconds or so between contractions it provided some relief if I got on all-fours on the bed and swayed my hips from side to side. I then needed to make it to the side of the pool before the next contraction peaked as it was a sturdy place to lean into. Timing was everything, but I could tune into my body.
I am not sure how long I laboured at this intensity before the pain of the contractions started to escalate. I had my first internal check to see how far I had dilated, and my cervix was not ready at all. Karen performed what is called a “stretch and sweep”. I had three internal checks during labour, and after each one, I wholeheartedly believed I would not cope with the pain of having another one.
At some point, I got into the pool to help with pain management. My doula, Bianca, assisted me by squeezing my hips during contractions, she talked me through the pain and reassured me that my breathing was great, and I was coping well.
David was my rock and soft place to land all at the same time. He was there every step of the way, touching, holding, encouraging and birthing our baby alongside me.
After time in the pool, we had another internal check, and I had only dilated to 3cm if I recall correctly. I think it was at this stage that I began to really doubt my ability to birth our daughter naturally. I have read a few times not to focus on the dilation number as it can be very disheartening to hear how slow it progresses and also that several other factors play a role. Still, I remember thinking how hard I had been working and that 3cm is very far away from 10! I felt like I had been working for days.
I started to struggle with contractions at this stage. I was exhausted mentally and emotionally. Karen suggested Atarax and Pethidine. A side-effect of the induction is that contractions are fast and erratic and Karen wanted to help regulate them a bit more to provide me with some relief between contractions as I was starting to get panicked and tired.
I agreed to the Atarax, which is a muscle relaxant, but I fought against having the Pethidine at first. I was worried about it making the baby drowsy and didn’t want an intervention leading me down a slippery slope to a c-section.
I tried labouring in the shower. There was talk about getting back in the pool, but Karen was worried it would stall the contractions. I finally got into the pool, but I was really struggling to manage the contractions and remain calm. I was starting to snap at my birth team. Sorry for all the eye rolls and impatient comments guys.
Finally, I agreed to the Pethidine. They administered it in the pool, and when I started to feel drowsy, they helped me out and onto the bed. I lay there for two hours, literally passing out for a few minutes at a time between contractions and then waking up again as a contraction hit. All this time, for a solid two hours, David rubbed my back. All I remember is the feeling of David’s hands on my skin and his touch being the most relief I had felt since active labour started all those hours ago. After two hours, Karen did the third check. I was feeling pretty out of it from the Pethidine, and I heard her say, “She’s ready to have this baby, she has almost fully dilated”. They were the most encouraging, exhilarating words, and I get goose bumps now just thinking about it. I cannot explain the sense of relief that washed over me.
They say the same thing that gets the baby in is what gets the baby out, in reference to the love hormone Oxytocin. David’s unwavering touch for two solid hours is what dilated me from 3cm to fully dilated, I’m sure of it.
The birth team helped me get into the pool, and I heard them telling David to put on his swim shorts and get in the pool with me. It was getting real! Once in the pool, they had me try different positions to try and move Alba down the birth canal. Karen checked and said she could feel her head. I started in a squat and then after much convincing from Bianca, did some cat/cow moves in the pool. I was on my hands and knees, and they had David feel her head, too. He told me afterwards that he had no idea what he was feeling, but didn’t want to discourage me, so he just said yes, he could feel her head!
I went back into a squat position; it just felt right. David positioned himself behind me so I could lean back into him. I reached down, and I could feel Alba’s head crowning! Karen looked me in the eyes and said, “I need you to push, you are going to feel like you can’t push, but I want you to ignore that and push through it”. I pushed hard a few times, and she started moving down. Karen looked said, “Now you are going to feel something that feels like a ring of fire and you’re going to want to stop pushing, but you have to push through it and just keep pushing”. She was absolutely right. The guidance she gave me was everything: hearing her tell me what I was going to feel right before it happened followed by a very clear instruction of precisely what I should do really empowered me to listen and trust her wholeheartedly. I pushed with everything I had. There was no hesitation or fear, just sheer determination. And then Alba’s head came out. A few more big pushes, and shoulders and body followed. Alba’s face was looking up at us from under the water, and everything stood still. I was in a complete daze and just heard Karen say,
“Take your baby, take your baby”.
I lifted Alba out of the water and onto my chest. It was 12/12/2019 at 4pm on the dot, during the last full moon of the decade when just us two became a little family of three.
And today on this Super Pink Moon, Alba is four moons old.
(It’s my fault entirely, I’m way behind on blogging, this little Alba baby is almost 18 months already and she has a baby brother 😱 which I promise I will blog sooner)
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At 19:55 I am trying to stall labour and Christel says that they will video call hubby because he won’t make it in time. I’m trying my best to not push… feeling the urge to bear down is uncontrollable. I don’t lift my head at all, concentrating and steadying myself with one hand on the bath floor.
I started losing ‘the head game’ as the pain in my back became very overwhelming and I started vomiting. If it hadn’t been for Sam who came as birth photographer but jumped in as doula to direct my husband, I think my husband would have run away at this point.
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