At around 38 and a half weeks I’d noticed I was becoming impatient with being pregnant. People around me seemed to be having their babies left, right and centre... yet here I was still unable to stir a pot on the stove, get in and out of a car, or use a sink without having to position my body at an awkward angle to keep my belly out of the way. And if I wasn’t mindful I’d just bump my belly into things, which was both annoying and painful!
My due date was Jan 13 but I predicted baby would come Thursday Jan 4. My first child Archie arrived five days early and I’d predicted his birth date with laser accuracy.
So when this baby didn’t arrive on the date I’d predicted, I realised I’d just have to be patient and stop thinking about it. “Assume you’ll go to 43 weeks” was the wise advice from my dietitian friend and mama of two, Susanna.
On Friday night I slept alone in the spare bedroom after grumpily demanding an early mark. Archie and Andreas had enjoyed a long afternoon nap while I stayed up cleaning and cooking dinner, so I was stern with my solitary 9:30pm bedtime in a separate room rather than being kept up late by a raucous toddler!
I’m glad I had been, because I needed all the rest I could get for the next day. I'd had a feeling that something was different, a slight shift perceivable only to me. Amazingly I'd managed to have a nap earlier that day, and dreamt that I had a bloody show (i.e. a mucusy discharge tinged pink or brown with blood. It means the blood vessels in the cervix are rupturing as it begins to efface and dilate - a good, normal pre-labour sign if you're close to your due date.)
My psyche was giving me clues that things were about to get moving, even if physically my body seemed happy to stay pregnant forever...
It took me a while to realise I was having cramps but once I did, I couldn't help but feel a little (well, maybe more than a little) excited.
I lay there for a while just watching them. The contractions were mild, anywhere from 1 to 4 out of 10 in intensity. They were manageable and only coming every 10 minutes or so. With the bigger ones I imagined an oceanic surge filling my womb like an incoming wave rushing into a sea cave, then running back out as the intensity subsided. My excitement slowly transformed into a calm, peaceful and curious witnessing of the sensations.
At this point in my first pregnancy I had quickly become too excited, too soon. I’ve been lucky enough to have had relatively pain free periods my whole life so feeling niggly cramps with Archie put me straight into “FILL UP THE BIRTH POOL!” level excitement (we were planning a water birth at home for that first birth, too... but it didn’t happen).
Andreas had been equally if not more excited and we ended up wasting a whole day over-excited in pre-labour waiting for the baby to come, instead of resting and just chilling out like we should have. By the time true labour kicked in 24 hours later we were both underslept and exhausted.
Nope, Andreas woke up straight away. I casually mentioned I was having some cramps but not to read too much into it and just go back to sleep. Too late, he was already up and connecting the hoses to fill the birth pool!
Although I managed to stay calm and in bed, I was also unusually hungry so Andreas made me the most delicious creamy and BIG bowl of buttery oats with yoghurt and berries. It was around 4am when I finished my oats in the light of a salt lamp next to Archie who stayed fast asleep. Knowing I’d need to be fully charged for whatever was to come, and telling myself that this could turn into a stop-start pattern or stay low key for days, I managed to go back to sleep for another two hours.
I woke up with Archie to a sunny morning. Andreas had stayed up preparing for the birth. I was SO glad I had gone back to sleep! I kept telling Andreas to relax and not to expect too much. But he’d already texted at least three people telling them, “baby is coming!” Oh well, I tried.
The contractions continued but their intensity reduced, which helped me to relax even more into the possibility that “nothing may happen today.” I could still walk during contractions as long as I used my breathing to ride the waves.
Since the boys aren’t as keen on bushwalking as I am (toddler who wants to be carried, daddy who had to do most of the carrying whilst I’ve been pregnant, and it was 8am in the middle of an Aussie summer and already getting hot by this stage) Andreas and Archie hung out at a nearby playground while I dove into the cool sanctuary of the bush for 15 minutes alone.
My gaze was drawn upwards as I walked along a tall gumtree lined corridor. A greater sense of awe than usual overcame me that morning. We live in such an amazing part of the world, and I was enthralled with it. The leaves of the trees swooshed and sparkled in the sun. Everything seemed more alive, with a magical incandescence. I thanked the eucalyptus forest for bathing me in its warm, volatile-oil scented embrace.
Feeling especially nourished, I returned to the boys and we headed home for second breakfast / brunch. I was starving, after all and craving thick slabs of avocado on toast with balsamic vinegar and grainy sea salt. Again, I was really hungry. I had a sense that my body was preparing for something that requires a lot of fuel: the big athletic event of birth perhaps?!
Little did I know how accurate this reading was: I ended up having a fast, strong labour and birth that afternoon!
It was around 10am. With my intention set of being calm, grounded and trusting, we had a delicious brunch of avo on toast, bacon and scrambled eggs while Archie splashed about in the inflatable pool outside. “Can you put on some big wave surfing?” I asked Andreas. I wanted a visual to match the images I’d had in my mind all morning during the surges. I found this video especially helpful.
For months I’d thought about what my “labour project” would be.
First stage Labour
Around 12:30pm Andreas and Archie took off to Woolies to grab a few things while I put the last finishing touches on the e-book. I wasn’t really taking notice of the timing of the contractions but they were getting more regular, coming every 6 or so minutes when I actually stopped to time them. I was working on my computer in the study, sitting on a physio ball and I barely stopped working to breathe and hip-circle through the contractions.
I was so immersed in my work I didn’t really notice that the contractions were becoming more intense. I just wanted to finish everything before labour really got started. When I'm in flow, I’m pretty good at ignoring distractions!
My friend Fiona had texted me that morning to see if she could pop around for a visit and I was expecting her at 2pm. It was maybe 1:15pm when I finally finished the e-book and needed to pee so I stood up to go to the bathroom. As soon as I stood up I felt a pop and had a feeling it was my waters breaking. I jumped off the carpet and got myself to the toilet in time to pee... and also see some extra non-pee fluid drop out of me.
The e-book I created, by the way, is called A Modern Yogi's Bulls**t-Free Guide to Wellbeing. It was literally a labour of love, forged in the blaze of creativity I felt the day before and of my baby's birth. I think it's pretty all-time! You can grab it for free here.
shit gets real
That’s when I needed to start vocalising. The contractions started coming every three minutes or less. In between contractions I called Fiona. “Uh, have you left home yet?” I asked, “my waters have just broken and shit just started getting real!”
I asked her to sit tight because a roaring woman in labour does not make the best of company!
We hung up just as another contraction started. Fuck! I had forgotten just how much this hurt. Sneaky Mother Nature and her amnesia-inducing procreation agenda.
Finally I called my midwife, Steph. Despite Andreas urging me to call her earlier I had refused, as I didn’t want to alarm her before anything really exciting happened. It went to voicemail and I left a message, again hanging up just as another painful surge came on.
Just then Andreas arrived home with Archie sleeping over his shoulder and as soon as he saw me in the shower he put him down in our bedroom and came to help me. Steph called back and after a quick chat with her, she told us she was coming straight over from Palm Beach, and to fill up the birth pool. As calm as I tried to sound, in her decades of experience she later told me she thought I was close to transition at that point. I'm glad she didn’t tell me that at the time because transition is the most painful part of stage one labour.
With the midwife at least half an hour away, Andreas and I were getting through each contraction in the shower. He would press hard into my lower back while I let hot water pour over me. I was starting to make some more serious noise by this stage.
Coincidentally they had both been chilling out in Palm Beach with their families when I decided to cut their relaxing Saturday afternoons short :) Steph picked up Rosie from the beach and they headed straight over, but traffic was bad and they didn’t arrive until maybe 2:45pm.
By that stage I was in our meditation room and the contractions were a minute long and coming every 2 or 3 minutes. They were very painful, maybe a 7 or 8 out of 10. I couldn’t talk much by then, wanting to save all my energy to get through the contractions and resting in child’s pose with my forehead on a bolster in between. I would get into a half kneeling squat during the surges, hands in fists squeezing the bolster while Andreas pressed into my back and I vocalised loudly in as low a voice as I could. I found “ooooooooouuuuu” sounds the best.
The pain would wrap around my lower abdomen and lower back, like a firey vice, squeezing from within. Each surge was around four drawn out bellows (around a minute) long. The vocalising helped me pace myself through each contraction. I also imagined going right to the guts of the pain, where it was originating from, and being there rather than trying to escape from it, which helped. I got as curious about the pain as I could.
But fuck, despite all the pain management techniques in the world, there’s no denying that it was, by this stage, intensely painful.
The breaks in between were welcomed like cool waters soothing burnt skin. I imagined passing through fire and water, one a counter balance to the other. This was a dance and one that involved both pain and rest. Amongst it all, I knew I was safe. There was no space for fear, or worries to enter my mind. No “I hope the baby doesn’t get stuck, or labour stalls, and I need to transfer again”. No. Every ounce of my energy went into being in the moment: enjoying the breaks and working my arse off through the contractions.
The midwives finally arrived and I felt a wave of relief wash over me before plummeting into yet another vice-like contraction. Thick straw-coloured mucus, followed by blood had started dripping out onto the mattress during contractions, a sign that full dilation has been reached.
No wonder that shit was hurting so bad.. I was moving through transition, the bit between first (contractions building) and second (pushing) stage of labour. And often called the most challenging and intense part of labour. Personally I think pushing the baby out is the most intense bit! But back on track...
Seeing Steph was wonderful and so reassuring. She did a quick internal examination to see how dilated I was. “You’re ten centimetres. Let’s get you into the pool.” I was somewhat surprised, it (the first stage / cervical dilation) had gone much faster than last time. I remember thinking, “thank god. We’re already here.” I hoped baby would come soon. It was around 3pm.
Second stage: Into the pool
At some point I heard Andreas say “Archie is up” and he went to attend to him. He soon came back - after giving him some water Archie went straight back to sleep! His timing couldn’t have been better. In the lead up to the birth I’d been worried about how we were going to manage Archie during the labour. We couldn’t find anyone who was both available and who I felt comfortable having in the house during my labour, so we had decided to just hope for the best.
Calling up the women
It was like going to watch a movie at the cinema. I handed the job over to my body and to my voice and watched them do their thing. My bellows became guttural and primal on the exhale, and almost screaming to gasp air on the inhale. I barely recognised the person behind them.
I remember feeling amazed at how much I could trust and let go and let my body just handle it all for me. It wasn’t quite like leaving my body because I could still feel everything. But it was definitely a shift in perspective, one that I rarely if ever have made before.
As I roared I imagined calling on all the women who had birthed before me. “WOMEN!” I called out in the recesses of my mind. All the strong women in my circles, all of my grandmothers and bone mothers. All of the millions of women over the thousands of years who have birthed before me. The louder I roared, the more likely I felt I would awaken them so they could lend me their strength. I needed them to hear me, to feel me in their bones, calling out to them. So roar I did. I roared across centuries and ancient lands. I had to have them with me. And I had to roar loudly to get them to notice.
In the dark cave
As well as calling up the women, I remember vocalising to my baby and to my body, telling her to get “OOOOOOUUUUUUT!” And beckoned my birth canal to “OOOOOOOPEEEN!”
Soon the urge to bare down became stronger and stronger. Steph listened to baby’s heart between contractions. She used a torch and mirror to check how much of the baby’s head was visible and gave me updates. Between contractions I placed a finger inside my vagina and felt baby’s head. Two inches away, one inch, one centimetre. My birth canal was already so open as her head was descending down through it.
“Baby will definitely be here by tomorrow,” she replied. Haha. Or “as long as it takes.” Not what I wanted to hear! But clever because it forced me back into my body and out of my head. Babies don’t arrive according to clock time.
“Everything’s perfect,” Steph assured me. “Baby’s happy.”
She was getting closer. As I bore down I could feel myself opening, slowly opening. At the end of one contraction her head bubbled right down, expanding the lowest part of my vagina and stretching my perineum in preparation for crowning. That felt WILD! I knew then that in the next push, she would crown.
So in that next contraction I roared to all buggery. I let go as completely as I could. I pushed down into my bottom just like my body directed me to. There was no forcing, it was the most natural urge in the world. (Although with Archie I never got the spontaneous urge to push, and had to Valsalva my way through stage two. Not fun.)
In that next push I felt her head come right out of my vagina. It was hands down, the craziest, most intense physical sensation I have ever experienced in my body. And I immediately felt emotional relief. She was so close.
“The heads out?!” I half asked, half exclaimed. I knew there was probably only one more push to go and then this would ALL be over. That was incredibly encouraging. But I still had to wait for that contraction to come. I closed my eyes and stayed inside myself.
I heard someone say, “She’s awake! She’s looking around!” We were so close. She and I were working so hard together, and so well.
After what seemed like ages that next contraction came. I pushed and roared and her body came out in a bumpy release.
“Sit up and lean back,” Steph said. I leant back onto Andreas and saw my baby down in the water between my legs. Instinctively I picked her up and lifted her onto my chest. She was already starting to pink up. Her eyes were open and she was looking straight up at me. She didn't cry; she was quiet and calm. I tried to lift her high up onto my chest but the cord was quite short so I kept her at breast level.
“Hello my darling!” I cried out in disbelief.
And then, hardly believing it, “I did it!”
I had visualised this birth for months. Wished for it for over two years. Made the changes in midwifery care I felt guided to make. Made the changes to my attitude and inner terrain that I knew were necessary. And had faith that somehow, things would work out.
I did the work. And amazingly, it happened.
Soon after she was born, Archie got in the pool with us to greet his new baby sister. He was so quietly curious and calm about all of it. I kissed Andreas and again turned back to my baby in relief, joy and disbelief.
Is this real? I thought. It was so surreal. How could I get what I wanted? That doesn’t happen in real life, does it?!
Well yes, I suppose sometimes it does.
By now the blood from the placenta had emptied into the baby, and the cord had stopped pulsing. Delayed cord clamping had been something I’d wanted so badly for Archie but due to the emergency of the situation it wasn’t possible. This time my baby got everything I wanted for her. The best possible start in life.
My womb was cramping every now and then and it felt uncomfortable but nothing like giving birth had! After maybe half an hour and a bit of pushing during the cramps I delivered the placenta in one piece.
Since I'd put organising placenta encapsulation on the backburner, I later sliced it up into small chunks and froze it for placenta smoothies. Being six days postpartum as I finish writing this story I can't deny feeling like the smoothies have helped massively with my recovery and energy levels.
The midwives estimated I’d lost about 50mL of blood, which is phenomenal: during the average birth you lose about 500mL. Steph checked the damage and there were no tears, just one mild graze on the inside wall of my vagina. No stitches this time! I was VERY pleased about that. Stitches in your vagina are not fun.
Water births are epic for reducing tears and perineal damage, another reason I’d really wanted one. Recovering after my first birth from multiple tears and stitches including a second degree tear made everything pretty uncomfortable. It’s now been nearly three days since I gave birth and besides a tiny bit of tenderness, my vagina, perineum and anus feel totally normal. No first poo fear in sight!
Kairi Isobel Kuhn was born on Saturday 6 January 2018 at 4:03pm, weighing 3.000kg, in the comfort of our own home. Kairi is the name that stuck during my pregnancy, and it seemed to fit her. It has a bunch of meanings in different languages, including the very cute "unripe green mango" used in a special kind of delicious curry (Kachi Kairi) in India! But the one meaning that resonates with me is "sea village" in Japanese. Her calm, oceanic birth, and chilled out disposition makes it seem fitting for her.
Isobel was my paternal grandmother's name. I never met her but I've felt her close presence since a few months after I gave birth to Archie.
Kairi, our beautiful water baby - we love you so much. Thank you for choosing us. I can't wait to explore this world with you.