September 12, 2019 – a lovely spring day, the first time in months you could genuinely use the word ‘warm’, and the day we officially started wearing the past-due pregnancy badge.
It had taken us four babies to finally hit a due date. We were past our arbitrary finish line, still running.
Kate and I aren’t very good at waiting. The pregnancy journey was all but finished and an amazing new phase of life was about to start, but it wasn’t actually underway yet. It’s a strange little transition time, being full term, and we’d been waiting for things to move forward from around the 38-week mark.
We heard a lot of the same advice during that time:
Stay calm and present. Enjoy it. Things are about to change significantly, look around you and soak in the now. Your baby will come when your baby is ready to come.
That’s all absolutely the right advice but we just couldn’t take it on. Whenever change is in the air we want to get on with it. It wouldn’t have helped that Kate started having gentle surges from 37 weeks. That by 38 weeks they were, at times, regular enough for us to start timing them. That two of our three previous births had happened before 38 weeks. That our amazing midwife was leaving on a trip the day before our due date. That this had been Kate’s hardest pregnancy – on both body and mind – by far…
We just couldn’t relax into a nice waiting state.
But back to that beautiful spring day. Despite the weather there was a definite tension in the air, and by dinner time a few tears were flowing. The kids were at my parent’s house for a couple of hours, and I remember Kate working through a whole bunch of worries over that meal. Our second birth was a beautiful, empowering experience at home after which Kate had literally said ‘Gosh, I feel amazing, I could almost do that again.”. But four years later our daughter Florence had taken us on a much different journey – 15 hours of active labour that culminated in almost two hours of final transition. Five years on, those memories were flooding back.
Dinner was picked at but not really eaten, the worries continuing on for at least an hour. Kate voicing them, me (naively, really) trying to either solve or rationalise them. What we’d realise later is that her body was stepping things up a notch preparing for labour that night, and her brain was responding with a final protest before committing to one of the greatest physical challenges a person can face. Letting go of that fear was a key step.
We cleared dinner away and went for a walk. Surges were coming more regularly than they had been, but only marginally. Gentle and short, they were lasting 20 or 30 seconds every 15-30 minutes. Most barely warranted a pause while walking and some almost went unnoticed. We felt a long, long way off active labour and fully expected just another night of broken sleep.
As we neared home a beautiful kaka landed on a branch above us. It’s a bird with real presence, and it’s not all that common to see one. We stood watching it as it pecked its way along the branch before it dropped and swooped back past, a flash of red almost close enough to touch. It sounds funny, but I think seeing that kaka helped us shake off some of the tension we were feeling. It grounded us again, or something.
The kids returned about 7pm and we went through their normal bedtime routine. Pyjamas on, teeth brushed, books in bed, back to the kitchen because two of them were hungry again, teeth brushed for a second time…gentle surges continued on, but my app still showed an average gap between them of about 20 minutes.
With the kids asleep we regrouped over a cup of tea. It was about 8:30pm. A surge began, I started timing, and for the first time Kate started breathing purposefully. 50 seconds. Strong.
8 minutes later, another strong one. 15 minutes later, a gentle one again. Then strong, then gentle and gentle.
By 10:30pm those stronger surges were coming more regularly. We still didn’t think it was go-time yet because there was just no consistency to the pattern, but we woke the kids up and I took them to my parent’s place for a sleepover. Just in case.
At 10:40pm Kate called our backup midwife – someone we knew from Florence’s early baby visits, and who was thankfully available to cover for our midwife who was now away:
“Kate called […] tightenings + or – 20 minutes apart for the past 24 hours, now irregular 4-10 minutes apart, still talking through surges […] Kate happy to continue with comfort measures and await labour establishing.”
At 11:30pm we had enough of those strong surges behind us to start filling the birth pool. If we didn’t end up needing it I’d at least get a practice run – during our second birth I’d failed to get the water warm enough for Kate before she got in, and that wasn’t going to happen a second time.
I also filled the coffee pot. I remember looking at the clock while I was doing that, around midnight, thinking “Ok Friday the 13th, what have you got in store for us?”
The pool was full and heating, the hoses all packed away, and the surges were turning into solid contractions. They were still inconsistent, still broken up by some gentle ones, but Kate had gone from breathing through them to vocalising deeply. It’s a sound I’ll never forget – almost like a song, melodic and powerful. I knew that was a sign we were hitting active labour, so after an hour or so of those I texted our midwife with what was – reading back now – a pretty casual update at 12:50am.
“Text message from Israel to inform surges coming more regularly, 3:10 lasting 40 seconds. Plan to attend.”
She arrived at 1:35am, by which time contractions were coming every 3-4 minutes ranging from intense to, still, quite gentle. After an examination she told us Kate was 4-5cm dilated. We were well into labour, but if this was going to be anything like Florence’s birth then we still had a long road ahead. Into the light of day, probably.
Kate still hadn’t used the pool. If it was warm enough she would have, but it takes hours to heat one of those things. We thought we were being extra cautious by setting it up just before midnight, but looking back it should have been the first thing we did when we put the kids to bed.
I was desperately trying to get the temperature up without bringing any tension to the room. I had pots on the stove heating water, and I must have poured in dozens of litres in the hours after midnight. At some point I realised it was getting too full and started using the pots to empty it back out a bit, trying not to draw attention to what I was doing. This was the second time in three home births I’d failed to get the pool ready early enough. Pro-tip for all the birth partners out there – it is much, much easier to empty a pool you don’t need than to rapidly heat one you do.
Instead of the pool, Kate was using a swiss ball for some comfort. She would kneel on the ground, rest her arms and head on it, and use it to gently rock back and forward. We had two wheat bags that I kept heated on a cycle and one of those was always on her lower back during a contraction.
Other than me giving her sips of iced water and isotonic drinks, and keeping the wheat bags hot and in the right spot, Kate was so self-sufficient and calm that by 2:30am it still felt like she was only just getting into her work. Yep, this labour would definitely be seeing the light of day.
But at 2:45am she got up and walked intently towards the pool. Her face was the very definition of concentration and focus. Whatever the temperature was she was clearly getting in. I helped her over the side and leaned in while she gripped me tightly through the next couple of contractions. Her song was loud, strong, in control. I was in awe.
Then, everything went quiet. An absolute calm descended on the room. Kate closed her eyes and leaned her head on the side of the pool. Her breathing was quiet, rhythmic. She looked and sounded asleep. Her body and mind had gone into a completely different state preparing for what was about to come. I vividly remember thinking “Wait a second…this is what happens right before she pushes…is she about to push??…she’s about to push!! How can we be there already?!”.
I felt Kate start to tense as she drove herself forward from that quiet preparation space. At exactly 3am, after spending just 15 minutes in the water, our baby’s head was born through one incredibly powerful contraction.
The four minutes between that and when the final push came felt like 40. I knew our baby was absolutely fine there under the water, but I still had to consciously keep myself calm about it. Kate was fully there in the moment, talking about how the baby was wriggling her shoulders and that it was a bit sore. A bit sore! I remember looking at her in that moment and saying something like “You are some kind of warrior goddess. You are a freaking warrior goddess.”
The clock ticked over to 3:04am and the last contraction of this pregnancy – and probably our last forever – surged out of that calm, aware state Kate was in. With one final powerful push, our baby was born into the water and into our lives. Kate gently scooped her up to her chest, and after a few splutters she gave us a beautiful big cry to announce herself to the world.
After waiting and waiting and waiting through low level, inconsistent surges for almost three weeks, actual active labour had lasted less than four hours. 90 minutes later on our call to the midwife and we would have been on our own.
Forgive mum and dad’s impatience, Primrose June – we know you made your way to us right when you were meant to.
Welcome to the world.