There is laundry currently drying where I gave birth to my son.
I chose to have a home birth this time. When I suggested it at my booking in appointment, the midwife almost jumped up with excitement (they are trying to increase the number of home births in the country for low-risk mothers). Hospitals are not my favourite place and I was convinced by the research I’d done and all the questions I’d asked, that my baby and I would be just as safe at home than in the hospital two miles down the road.
He was eight days late arriving, so we were very ready. In all our appointments with the midwife, she’d stressed that second babies sometimes come much faster that first babies, even going so far as to give Rasmus a talk through of exactly what to do in case the midwives or the paramedics didn’t make it in time. (I think he’s very glad it didn’t come to that).
So I was expecting fast. I got slow. I’d been in labour exactly 12 hours for Kaya’s birth. Oskar took 18 hours.
My contractions started at 4am and we called our midwife and then my parents a couple of hours later when we knew it was the real thing. They got the next fast train into London and arrived about 9am to pick up Kaya and take her out for the day (she was thrilled at the idea). The midwife was already here by 7am and she told me she thought as soon as Kaya was gone, I’d be mentally in the right space to give birth and everything would speed up.
Hours rolled by. I marched sideways up and down our stairs, munching on apples that Rasmus chopped up for me. I bounced on the pilates ball, tried lying in multiple positions – I’d get a run of a few reasonably-painful contractions and then they’d fade away again. I even tried climbing in the pool at some point and they disappeared completely. Baby was simply sitting way too high still, so that the contractions were having little effect in encouraging it out.
It was hugely frustrating. I was ready to go – scared, but ready to do this – and now it just wasn’t happening.
Around 5pm, Rasmus texted my parents to tell them they’d need to keep Kaya overnight. We went upstairs a few hours later to lie down in the dark for a while. I was hugely discouraged, tired from all the marching, unsure of why my body seemed to be failing me. It had done this once before, it was supposed to know what to do.
At 8:30, the midwife came upstairs to offer the internal exam that is recommended every four hours. As she examined me, she suggested breaking my waters, hoping that would encourage baby to move down finally. The catch was that, eight days after my due date, the waters were likely to contain meconium, and if that was the case, policy stated they should transfer me by ambulance into the hospital in case of complications. She told me if it was not a lot and my contractions started straight away, she’d be willing to hold off on the transfer, but it had to be my choice.
I really really didn’t want to go to hospital after all this but I really wanted this baby to come. So I said a quick prayer, held tight to Rasmus’ hand and nodded my permission.
The waters were completely clear. I have rarely been more relieved in my whole life.
Within minutes of getting cleaned up, I got a new contraction, this one hugely different from the dozens over the day. It felt like baby had suddenly dropped down with a thud and was now on his way out. They helped me downstairs and into the pool and from then it was exactly as I’d remembered, everything I’d been hoping for all day but was terrified to begin.
It was just as excruciating as the first time. Now that he’d decided to come, baby was on his way fast and it hurt.
I don’t like this, I don’t like this, I said over and over between contractions, until finally one of the midwives cracked and retorted, darling, no one likes this. I think I laughed.
And then it came, the moment I was very very sure I could.not.do.this. When my world was beginning to close in and become just a blur of pain and I was inwardly cursing our stupidity at getting pregnant again.
“I can’t do this”, I heard myself say.
What happened next was so profound that it took me a few weeks to be able to talk about it. In that moment, I heard Rasmus and the midwives instantly begin to respond with kindness and strength and encouragement.
But it was as if their voices were hushed into the background and I heard another voice. And it was mine and it was Spirit both at the same time.
And it said, Yes you can.
Yes you can do this. You can do this. You can do this.
I began pushing then, and when the pain threatened to engulf me again the midwife placed a mirror in the water and told me to look. If she would have told me beforehand that she would do that, I’d have told her, no never, not in a million years, I remember how messed up I was down there last time, I don’t need to watch it happen.
But it was the most incredible thing. It still hurt like hell but I watched myself slowly push that baby out, centimetre by centimetre and it was miraculous.
Then the baby was in my arms and it was a HE and I was wondering how on earth I could have given birth to a boy and was telling him over and over how much I loved him, every sticky grey inch of him.
We sat there in the water together, Rasmus’ arms around the both of us, the midwives quietly bustling around the pool with their notes, and I felt the most intense sense of completion flow over me. It is done, I thought. And I knew even right then, that I was thinking of two births not one. In that moment I held one baby in my arms and another in my thoughts, and I felt any remnant of shame slip away into the red water, washed out of me, leaving me with a simple but incredible peace.
The wonderful thing about a home birth is having a midwife help you onto your own sofa straight afterwards, to hold your newborn in your arms in your own home as they tidy up around you and fetch you a drink in your own glass and then finally help you upstairs into your own bed and tuck you in like a child, only with your own tiny child tucked inside the crook of your arm.
There is laundry currently drying where I gave birth to my son, and that simple detail reminds me just how ordinary and sacred it all is, that every inch of this floor is holy ground because it can be both the place of our daily work and the place of our deepest redemption.