I always knew that one day I’d be a mother, but I envisioned this happening far away in the future after I had travelled more and ticked some career goals. You know how some women are just born mothers? Well, I never felt that strong maternal instinct or the desire to have babies. It was, in fact, my partner who suggested we start trying, and low and behold, after discussing it ONCE and getting a bit clucky, we fell pregnant straight away. I couldn’t believe it. I know how many couples struggle to conceive, and I was so grateful it happened easily for us.
Despite my feelings before getting pregnant, I knew that at age 32 I had better think about babies in the next few years. I had been off the pill for over a year and had spent considerable time and effort balancing my hormones and working on my health. After years on the pill, my body felt completely out of whack - I had period pain, PMS, weight gain, dry skin, tummy issues... It turns out my thyroid was slightly underactive and I was dealing with mild adrenal fatigue. So, I consulted a naturopath, took herbs and supplements, quit coffee for a while, started doing yoga, and tweaked my diet. I believe that my efforts towards my health helped me conceive easily. I tuned into my body (yoga helped with this), and I could tell exactly when I was ovulating.
Staring at a positive pregnancy test is somewhat of a surreal moment; I knew deep down that I was pregnant because my period was late - which never happened - but to have it confirmed was something else. It was a pivotal moment, the start of my journey into a whole new life, that as a mother. After some happy tears shared with my boyfriend, my next thought was; “Holy shit, I have to give birth in nine months!!!” Thank god you get time to digest this fact and prepare. I also knew straight away that we were having a girl, something that was confirmed to me early on when we did the Harmony blood test. I was incredibly fortunate to have an easy-ish pregnancy with no morning sickness or complications, but I still found parts of it very challenging.
The first trimester I was utterly exhausted. Shattered. And HUNGRY. Oh man, was I hungry. I went off so many foods and subsisted on paleo toast and peanut butter for a good few months. I also had low blood pressure for a little while which made me very dizzy in the morning. Thankfully, being self-employed meant I could nap and rest as I needed to. Then the glorious second-trimester hit and I was blessed with some energy! I felt almost normal. My bump was starting to pop out, and I loved that I was feeling more “pregnant.” I started back at the gym and began personal training sessions to keep my body strong for the adventure ahead. This decision was one of the best I made while pregnant - and as a result, I felt strong and healthy and never had any back pain.
It was around this time that I started to educate myself and read anything I could get my hands on about labour. I was determined to do everything in my power to have an intervention-free, gentle, natural birth. Deep down, labour terrified me, as it does most women, so I had a lot of mental work to do to prepare myself. I dug deep and decided to trust that I was strong enough to endure what was ahead - regardless of the turns my labour could take. I was fortunate enough to have attended my nephews birth the year before and watch my sister have a wonderful experience, so I had some idea of how things went down, yet I was still realistic and aware that I had little control over the whole thing. I prepared myself to surrender to the process and the outcome. I constantly reminded myself that women are made to have babies and that our bodies know exactly what to do.
Here’s what I did to prep for the big day (links in bold):
- I trained at the gym 2-3 times a week with a personal trainer which I saw as an investment. We did a lot of deep core (TVA) strengthening and lower body work.
- I took Hypnobirthing lessons and put what I learned into practice. After attending a session with my sister when she was pregnant, I knew I wanted to do the same when my time came. The premise of Hypnobirthing is that by staying relaxed and calm using various techniques, you allow the birth hormones to do their job - and keep adrenaline at bay - and your labour will progress efficiently. It also helps you reduce and cope with pain (more on that later).
- In line with Hypnobirthing, I worked with positive birth affirmations every single day: I stuck them to my bathroom wall and listened to them in the car, while cooking dinner, and last thing at night. I also spent time during relaxation exercises visualising a positive birth and outcome.
- I read like crazy, books, blogs, positive birth stories; you name it. My extensive research helped me understand what my body was going through, the birth process, and the varied things that can happen. In particular, the work of Ina May Gaskin gave me tremendous confidence in my own body and birthing ability.
- I avoided negative, scary birth stories and talk.
- At 36 weeks I started birth-prep acupuncture and went once a week until baby was born.
As I entered my third trimester, things got harder physically as I found it tough to get comfortable in bed, and my bump grew like crazy. I felt enormous! My hips ached from sleeping on my side, and simple things like putting shoes on and getting up off the couch became ridiculously hard. I ate healthily while pregnant (and still indulged), and I gained around 20kg which was much much more than I anticipated. Before getting pregnant I was quite petite and in good shape, and my midwife said it was fine for me to gain a little more. Still, like every woman, I struggled a bit with how my body had changed. I tried my best to embrace my growing belly and curves.
As well as the physical changes, I went through the full spectrum of emotions and dealt with the odd mood swing or bout of inexplicable crying. Pregnancy is portrayed to be this beautiful experience - and sometimes it is lovely - but it is also a rollercoaster ride of weird symptoms and emotion. I even had days where I wondered what the hell I was doing and if I was ready to become a mother. I reminded myself that everything I was going through was totally normal.
Nearing the final weeks, I felt equal parts scared and excited, but on the whole, I knew I was approaching the big day armed with the knowledge and tools to get me through. I was very grateful to have a loving partner who had complete faith in me and who supported all of my birth decisions. After a tour of the hospital during our antenatal class, I was left feeling anxious and filled with dread about having my baby there: I knew as soon as I walked in that I wanted a home birth. I had toyed with the idea previously and was unsure - after all, we live 30 minutes from the hospital, and as everyone kept telling us, it was probably not a good idea for a first baby (which is not true if you’re low risk).
I spoke to my midwife who was 100% behind my decision and very excited; she loves home birth and has many years experience with them. She told me that recent research in the U.K shows that statistically, women with low-risk, uncomplicated pregnancies are as safe, if not safer, at home than at the hospital, so I was a good candidate for this choice. She reassured me that true life-threatening emergencies are rare in labour and that she could pick up early signs if things weren’t going right and we could transfer to the hospital. My mind was made up. As soon as I made the decision, I felt so at ease and ready.
We had the birth pool ready, I hired a TENS machine, I bought snacks, coconut water, and candles, made a playlist, and we were set.
My mum arrived three days before I was due, and took over the household, making me beautiful meals and helping me prepare. She was amazing. On my due date, boyfriend and I went to the beach for a swim; it was a perfect summer's day, and the water gave me some relief (I was quite heavy, hot, and over it by this point). I decided to have a nap when we got home, and I put some Clary Sage oil on my pillow - which can kickstart labour if your body is ready. I was expecting to go overdue - after all the due date is just an estimate - so I didn’t think it would do a thing, but baby must have been ready because I woke up at 6pm with mild period-like pains. I ignored them initially as I knew that early labour could stop and start. I tried to relax, and I baked a banana cake.
I went to bed at 8.30pm and tried to sleep, but the contractions were getting stronger and closer together; it was happening. I put my Hypnobirthing affirmations and music on, did some deep breathing, made a pillow nest on my bed, and stayed as calm and relaxed as I could. I told my partner to get some sleep because I knew we’d likely be up all night. I put my TENS machine on which helped immensely with the back labour I was experiencing - and although the contractions were intense, they were totally manageable with some focus and breathing.
At midnight, things were picking up, so I called my midwife, and we got the pool ready (which I ended up hating because I was so hot and I wanted to be on terra firma). The hours that followed are such a crazy blur. I went deeply introspective towards the end of my labour and focused intently on relaxing and breathing despite how intense everything was getting.
After my waters broke (on my bed - thank god I had put down a waterproof protector that week!), I went into transition. It was at this point where things became harder, and I wondered how the hell I was going to get through. I was thrashing the TENS machine before this, but now it wasn’t helping. I had no choice but to breathe, relax, surrender, and keep my cool as things progressed. My contractions started doubling up (fun), and the only thing that helped was leaning over a stack of pillows and squeezing my boyfriends hands. I knew it would be time to push baby out soon.
Oddly enough, I made my way to the floor in the corner of my room, cocooned into a little safe space. I felt this crazy bearing down urge and went with it - it felt like I had been doing this for a short time, but I think an hour had passed and there was no progress. My incredible midwife directed me into a range of positions to help me get baby to descend, but still, I was having trouble getting her down. After being examined (the only time during the whole labour - I didn’t want to know my dilation in case my progress discouraged me) my midwife confirmed that baby's head was right there - I just needed to work to get her out. I had envisioned that I would let my body do the work and that I wouldn’t hold my breath and push, but that is exactly what I ended up doing!
Honestly, it was the hardest work I’ve ever done in my life. I didn’t realise what a mammoth physical effort it took to give birth, and the final phase gave me no relief: instead, my back labour ramped up, and I hit a new level of intensity. My mum and boyfriend were terrific at this point, covering me in cold facecloths and encouraging me to keep going. I remember thinking that I had no choice but to give it every ounce of my energy and that I was so ready to meet my little girl. Thankfully her heartbeat remained steady and calm through the whole process.
Just as I was about to run out of steam and lose it, she was born in what was the most surreal moment of my life. The relief was immeasurable- I had done it! My midwife placed her on my chest, and she was perfect. We were all in tears - including my sister who had been on FaceTime cheering me on for two hours - and I had the craziest endorphin rush. Lucia arrived at 6.30am, just over 12 hours after my first twinge of a contraction. She had a very short umbilical cord which had snapped as my midwife placed her on me; thankfully her quick thinking and experience came into play, and she quickly clamped it. Lucia was perfectly healthy. I will never forget the sound of hearing her cry. It was magic.
My midwife checked me and said I had a small tear which she chose not to stitch. I had been terrified of tearing but hadn’t thought about it at all during labour and didn’t feel a thing thank goodness. I got up carefully, and the three of us got into bed and cuddled up. I remember being in total awe of this beautiful little creature; we couldn’t stop kissing her head and staring at her.
The whole experience was completely surreal and life changing - I had no idea I was so strong - and I was so proud that I had achieved the birth that I had envisioned all those months. I also felt so grateful that everything had gone smoothly with no complications; and that I could be in my own space for such a momentous occasion. My Hypnobirthing practice was invaluable and helped me cope with the contractions by breathing efficiently and staying relaxed physically and mentally. I believe this allowed my labour to progress easily. My midwife even remarked that I had handled everything incredibly well and that she was surprised I hadn’t panicked once (apart from feeling slightly overwhelmed during transition).
Home birth isn’t for everyone. I respect every women’s birthing choices, and I understand that not every birth goes to plan. Regardless of your situation, there is so much you can do to prepare yourself, and it is liberating and powerful to take your birth experience into your own hands, no matter what turn it takes.
If you're currently pregnant and worried about labour, trust that you can do it! Spend some time educating yourself and getting your mindset right. It is just one day out of your life, the discomfort and pain is temporary and completely forgotten the minute you meet your baby.
My life changed the day I gave birth. Becoming a mother to my beautiful girl put everything into perspective, and I continue to learn and grow every day with her.
To all the mamas out there, I salute you.