Birth | Welcoming Hewitt Will Naested | Johannesburg Birth Photographer
“The sun breaks through a gap in the forest trees to land on his reddish back, the moisture of the day gently glistens the surface. He is bent forward over the pile of trunks, a slight bump visible on his skull through his mop of light brown hair, sweat dripping down the back of his neck.
He is at peace when he is at work using his hands, doing honest, simple things and providing, if not much else, a beautiful end to his family’s day. The man chops the wood and prepares the logs for a fire to heat up the cabin with the single chimney behind him while he speaks gently to his pregnant lover with the bright blue eyes smiling in the doorway. “
It is Tuesday evening, 29 January 2019, and I’m irritated as I pack out the vegetables (a mountain of them) that I need to cut up to make us Nori rolls for dinner. Sean has just confirmed that my cervix seems no different from how it felt before, even though we thought last night it might be changing. How can I be moving backwards in this pregnancy when my discharge just feels like it’s becoming thinner and more? This afternoon at Yentl when we went for a walk, it got so hectic I thought at a stage that I’d had a little accident. Now he’s telling me there is no change.
Sean is tired after a long day at work – I managed to rest a bit more today than most days, so I don’t feel too bad. We eat our Nori rolls in front of Master Chef and head to bed. He still seems irritated with me when he switches his light off. A while later I turn to switch off mine and as I settle into position, I feel how I wet myself. I scramble for the light, run to the bathroom and call to him that I’m peeing myself. “I think my waters have broken,” I shout. He tries to keep me calm, but as I walk to him, he sees the droplets dripping out of me. “My angel, I think your waters have broken”, he says in a kind, concerned tone as he takes my arm and makes the call to the midwife, Sharon. He makes me roll my eyes, yet feel deeply safe, at the same time.
I know it in my gut: This is wrong.
I don’t have any contractions, yet my membranes have ruptured. I’m in trouble. I’m under pressure to perform right off the bat. “What time did my waters break?” I ask Sean. We estimate it between 21:15 and 21:20.
We rush to Genesis as calmly as we can. I have one contraction at about 21:54 in the car which I’m grateful for. The warm smiles of the staff turn to surface politeness as I’m told after a check that the baby’s heart beat is a bit flat (like a baby that is sleeping) and I’ll need to eat something and walk around the parking lot to get a better reading.
“But my baby is sleeping – The baby will only wake up after midnight!” I tell the staff.
My husband feeds me big dollops of honey and lifts my wet seat off the clinic bed to head outside for a walk under the stars. I assure him again that baby will only wake up after midnight – that’s the time he woke me up the night before when I had a feeling something was off already. I think of the terrible irony of what I’d said to my mother-in-law and best friend during the day – “Sean and I worked out that, if we were going in for a Caesar, we’d most likely be meeting our baby tomorrow. How weird? I can’t imagine it! I still have so much I’d like to get done this week!”
I knew that he was only expected in Week 40 and seemed very content to stay inside the last time we’d been to the doctor. We were much more concerned with trying to manage our excitement amidst all our friends having their babies (due after Hewitt and before us), than to expect a surprise early arrival.
After 12, the baby stirs and good variability is established during the check-up (during which I get another contraction). We are sent home, but I know what that means. It means I have very limited hours in which to get strong contractions and develop an established pattern in labour, l before 9am which is when the administering of antibiotics will start. I am instructed to carbo load for labour the next day, but I’m concerned. I don’t feel like a woman that’s about to be thrown into the pangs of labour. Neither me nor the baby was expecting this.
Sean collapses on the bed as soon as we get home – he’ll need his energy. I gulp down avo toast whilst trying to shower and prep one or two things. How can I possibly sleep knowing that I need to be cramping and contracting? At 3.13am there is some backpain. At 4.24am some more. It continues. “This is not enough to have a baby in the next few hours,” I worry to myself.
“The sun beats down on the man lugging at the wood in the clearing of the forest. The burnt tinge of his hair glistening in the sun. His back is now covered with a green sweat stained shirt. He enjoys the hard, methodic labour surrounded by the sounds of nature. Peace.
He is not one to speak much or senselessly. He enjoys the beautiful outdoors and working with wood.
Inside the cottage the blonde woman has just finished washing up dishes, the smell of soapy water and humidity hangs in the air. The faint tinkle of bottles spreads in the breeze as she starts preparing homeopathics that she is mixing together for the birth of their child.”
Sharon, the midwife, instructs Sean to go pick up antibiotics for me, bring me to Genesis and arrange an acupuncturist to see me during the morning. They band together as a team to not distract me, but also protect me. We had some rain at home this morning – beautiful light summer’s rain. Now we’re in traffic on our way to Genesis on what looks like the most perfect summer’s day ever. I can’t take my eyes off the perfect sky and I’m excited that my baby has chosen such a beautiful day as his birthday.
At Genesis, the baby’s variability looks good. Sharon has prepared room 6 for us (our rented birth bath is also bath no 6). Willowleaf it’s called – I take that as another sign that I’m carrying a baby boy. We head to Bryanston to see the acupuncturist in his hobbitlike, hot upstairs rooms. I don’t feel much stirring or much happening at all during the session. We run into the only mother from our Antenatal group that seems to be running overdue – I do warn her that, despite her clearly doing a long session with the acupuncturist, today is not the day to go into labour: Genesis is full and I’ll be keeping the midwife’s hands nice and full (little do I know how full).
Sean and I take the gap afterwards to jot to Jacksons so I can get my favourite Chocolate Peanut Butter Smoothie. We share a raw wrap and get the orange juice for a brew Sharon has in mind for me.
As we drive back to Genesis, Sean continues to play our playlist for the birth in the car. I look out at this perfect summer’s day my child has chosen for his/her birthday and the world of emotions embedded in Miley Cyrus’ “Malibu” run over me like a waterfall. I hear her extreme relief that her tale could change back to love. I hear her as she sings, and I’m overcome by emotions as I dedicate the song to my new family with Sean:
“She swirls the liquids in the thin glass tubes as she mixed her potions. She has picked fresh oranges off of their tree to juice so she can make a brew to hurry up contractions. Outside she hears the faint thumps of the wood as her partner prepares to keep the cabin warm through the night in case the baby comes. She has a few of the pills she prepared earlier as she feels her back starting to tighten and the baby tries to bare down. She suspects they will meet him sooner than expected, maybe even before midnight tonight.”
At Genesis, Sharon and Bronwyn have set up the pool and the room. They start trying different homeopathic remedies to push my labour into regular contractions so that I can show some progression, which I’m not yet showing (since she examined me at 3cm this morning). She warns me and Sean that we’re going to have to work very hard as we’ll need to see big improvements by 5pm. As we run up and down the parking lot outside, jog inside to be in the pool, then back outside to do squats in the parking lot, I am surrounded by cellphone alarms. About every 5 minutes Bronwyn appears with her warm smile and the sweetest little spoon with a tiny heart engraved on it, to feed me homeopathic potions. A combination of strong, medium and weak contractions pulse and grow through my body in waves.
In my mind’s eye I see a little baby in a lacy vintage christening dress floating in navy blue ocean water in a soapbox. I am also in white cotton night garments, a cap over my hair, reaching down to the child stroking his face and making him feel comfortable. As the evening grows and so also the ferocity of the water. I will get out of the soapbox and I will try pull it as I swim in to shore. The baby will become more alert, and Sean will wade in from the beach to help us get ashore safely.
I am relieved when Sam, the photographer, appears.
Her smile radiates loving comfort and her eyes are those of a person filled with faith. She gives me faith. She spends time in the shadows with Sharon and Bronwyn as the alarm continues to sound and the white pills continue to be dropped under my tongue. The emotionally poignant journo-style photo session I envisioned is replaced with me running around a parking lot in a very tiny, very wet outfit, with very dirty hair pasted to my face. I have gained about twelve and a half kilos through this pregnancy and I’m aware that the camera only adds more onto a woman. I secretly hope to myself that the light is really bad out here, so that Sam doesn’t get many shots and that I’ll look riveting later working through contractions in the soft lighting of the room.
I am of course wrong about this, but I’m not one to ever lose my sense of humour entirely.
At 4pm Sharon sits us down. We have another hour and a half to make an impact. We need to decide whether we want to continue the route of using homeopathic and natural remedies to assist in regulating contractions or whether we want to use stronger medical interventions. I have cried many, many tears today. I have cried for every friend that I know, who had to labour through their bodies failing them during their children’s births, I have cried for every woman’s disappointment when their infant couldn’t be born, or only survived a few days outside the womb. I have sobbed for my one friend’s journey through 2 years of IVF as she endlessly injected herself with hormones and soldiered through the painful process of finally getting pregnant. Today I have wept. Today I understand their pain, today I share their pain, today I’m overwhelmed by the love they all have for their children.
I cry unconsolably as Sharon breaks the news that I already know, that I’ve known since I saw those drops hitting the terracotta tiles of my bathroom… If there is no progression by 5.30pm, the Caesarean will be arranged. We sit together at the pool and Sean holds me. We will not induce with further medical augmentation – the body is meant to have surges that it can handle, that the baby can stomach. We believe that the surges I’m having are strong enough for the baby to handle and for me to progress if it is possible. We have an hour and a half to work the hardest we’ve ever worked, Sharon warns us again. This is where I stop taking note of the time between contractions and the sizes thereof. We’re in the deep ocean now. I prepare the baby for what’s coming – He needs to be strong and he needs to trust that we’ve got him, because this is about to become a rough ride.
“The man in the green shirt carries logs into the humidity of the cabin built in the clearing in the woods. An owl swoops soundlessly onto the roof and starts scouting the dusk for prey. There is a big bath set up in the main room of the house as cream couches covered in warm coloured blankets have been pushed aside. The blond woman slowly wades from side to side on her knees in the warm water, her full breasts lightly touching the water as she leans against the sides of the bath. Her partner will add more logs to the fire, adjust the urn managing the water temperature, and will then join her in the bath as she manages greater surges running through her body. Her breathing is powerful as she faces the waves of change. His warm smile and eyes meet hers. There is excitement in the air as he prepares to meet his very own son. He bends down to kiss her musky, moist forehead.”
By 5.30pm there is no change – I remain 3cm dilated and the arrangements are made for an emergency Caesarean. I continue to heave, moan and breathe through multiple contractions – but there is something wrong as they are not dilating my cervix. Sharon was right, contractions will fold you in half and take your breath away. Nothing can prepare you for it.
I grow tired as the clock strikes 7.
In between being sick I realise that I can’t escape this – there is nowhere I can go to get a break from the rhythm my body is in. Do I go to the toilet? I don’t stand a chance; the surges buckle me onto the cold beige floor where no one outside the door knows I’m stuck in its very fangs. Do I try escape the bathroom? I’m clutching onto the facilities’ bath, vomiting, trying to get some semblance of control over my breath. I just want to lie down for a few minutes and rest, please! Nope, time after time I must lift myself onto my hands and knees and try focus on the floral print of the curtains and my breath as Sharon tries to encourage me by reminding me of what I’m doing wrong (I would smile to myself if I could, but that requires energy). The ridiculous gown they have me in keeps opening so that any person entering the door of the room can see my state – more of it than they’d hoped for. I cannot escape this merry-go-round. And I’m about to hear that I’m still going to wait a while longer as another woman upstairs urgently needs my operating room – she’s in big trouble. Hold on to your hats guys, we’ve still got a while to go until this ride ends. I try to go outside to sit under the stars where Sean and I had walked the night before. I love the smell of the evening. But it doesn’t help. The beautiful stars that saw me grow up, saw me cry outside by the Yesterday Today and Tomorrow tree as tiny girl, saw me dance at numerous parties in my twenties, looked down on Sean and me on our wedding night – those stars can’t take away this pain.
Eventually I’m told we can head to theatre – I will slowly walk (read ‘shuffle like grandma did near the end’) there and pause for contractions. It is a very slow and long walk to freedom with Sharon by my side. The theatre is freezing and the lovely man who introduces himself as the anaesthesiologist makes a rather impossible request when he asks me to sit still for the spinal analgesic to be administered, as yet another contraction rolls over my body.
My body shakes in the icy cold theatre – I welcome the numbing of my lower body and smile in gratitude that I can’t feel the tugging and pulling they’re doing. I secretly find it awesome that I’m being operated on as I lie there.
I went to an Ard Matthews solo show one night (amongst many shows) during the pregnancy. As he started singing ‘She knows’ the baby did 3 very strong kicks in a row and as a result one of my closest friends felt the baby for the first time. She cried. After that I wrote down the lyrics and chords in the baby’s book and continued throughout the pregnancy to sing it to the baby. It felt like ‘our song’. I can’t believe my ears when that very song comes on – they’ve obviously set up my music in the theatre! (I wonder how the battery for the speaker is still lasting).
“She falls asleep, through all the noise
For all I know, we dream the same
She finds all my weaknesses
She knows just what to do”
And right then we’re told that our baby is about to be born. I hear a tone of excitement and emotion in Sean’s voice as I’ve never heard before.
He calls to me, “Baby, it’s a boy!”
We are both completely surprised, elated, there really is no word other than WOW! I see them move Hewitt Will away to another station and I push Sean “Go with him!” He seems to hesitate. I squeeze and push his hand. “Don’t let him be alone, go with him daddy,” I urge. I hear his healthy cry and I know he’s fine because Sean is with him. I know that my child is safe with his father.
They seem to work on me forever after that. Sean brings Hewitt to me for some kisses. It seems so strange to see this face that I’ve made and felt move for so long inside of me. Very surreal. I worry about the slight redness above his right eye, but I think someone (Sam maybe) tells me it’s just his birth goo.
I can tell that Sean is trying to get the doctor not to speak to me, but he tells us that he needs to speak to us after he’s closed me up. He is only trying to protect me, but it really isn’t necessary. We are told that we had a complication develop called ‘Bandl’s Ring’ which resulted in my failure to progress although I should technically already have had the baby by that point. Due to the severity thereof, my uterus ruptured and has needed to be fixed with suturing close to my urethra and that there’s some concern about my kidneys (I try follow the conversation, but these are bits that I think happened). I am told that this means that I will not be a candidate for a VBAC as the Bandl’s Ring would return during subsequent labours.
My heart is warm, my smile genuine. I know that he is an excellent doctor and I know I’ve had the best team assist me through today. I’ve already cried my tears much earlier in the day. I know I’ll need to heal longer, and I won’t be able to drive for a while which is hard for a busy body like me. I’ve already made peace with the sacrifices and repercussions. I have my amazing husband and our beautiful son and all three of us are safe and together. I am surrounded by love and care – amazing healers stand around me as I receive the news. I’m overwhelmed with appreciation.
I feel nothing but gratitude and love.
We have made it through the darkness into the light and we are now a family.
“You brought me here
And I’m happy that you did, ‘cause now I’m as free as birds catching the wind
It’s a brand new start
A dream come true
“Small droplets of water drip from the man’s strawberry blonde beard as he lifts life out of the water and onto his hairy chest. The warmth of the water and the room red on his skin along with a fresh new human.
His brand new son.
A tear crushes from his eye as he leans forward to press his lips onto the blond woman’s soaked forehead. Her breath sounds clear and relieved and beautiful as she clutches the child he hands to her.
He has become a true man today – the friendly lumberjack from the clearing in the forest. He has become the head of his own beautiful family. Today he has met his son, the son who will be named after himself:
Hewitt Will Naested.”
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Why was I so desperate to have a natural birth?
Yes, it would have been a most empowering experience for me and yes my next one will be a VBAC, but was it really that important in the bigger scheme of things? At the end of it all we got what we set out to achieve – a human being that we could guide and mould and set free into the world for her to make her own impact. Maybe that trauma she and I both endured in getting her Earthside happened exactly how it was supposed to. That’s birth and even more so parenting – you set off on a course with big plans and that’s great, but there has to be flexibility and acceptance in changing course depending on whatever life (or your kid) throws at you.
After a minute or so we heard your first loud cry. It was glorious and we could finally breathe. Sr Lotter brought you to us and our hearts melted, my boy. You were beautiful. We checked for 10 fingers and 10 toes and we couldn’t stop looking at you. The happiest moment of our lives. You were born at 11:33 weighing 3.49kg and measuring 53cm.