I am a yoga teacher (sort of) and I have had 2 previous births. Both were quick, clean, messy and perfect, in the way that only births can be. One even included a child born in the caul, the other, an immense amount of meditation and the experience of holding a rock and seeing bright white light streaming out of it into the sky. Yet with all of these occurrences, I still have never written a birth story. But perhaps for my last and final tribute to creation itself, I can write something down. Something that honours the three births that I had, something that gives honour to the perfection that is my daughter.
The pregnancy was hard, not hard as in I needed to be on bed rest and cancel my life but hard as in, I caught every cold virus that went around my office and had a tough time coping with a travelling husband, a crazy overbooked schedule including organizing an 80th and a 40th birthday party and sever issues regulating my emotions in a professional context. In particular, I struggled with making sure the other kids were happy and settled in their new life in this fairly new country before a new baby came and to a certain extent wondering why I was doing this. Had I, in fact, made a mistake, and was I ruining our really quite perfect life. 2 kids, 2 UN careers, a happy marriage, a BMW (yes, that was a joke, I mean we do have one but it is not part of our happiness).
But because I had to, I went ahead, I did it anyway and I struggled through it with the best of them. And then went on maternity leave, loved my little boys so much on a perfect holiday for four and then again at home for a couple of weeks, stuck them in a summer day camp and then took a break. Should I have finished a few things off or done a last cooking/cleaning session before that break? Yes, but instead I went to a club, swam, did a hammam, laid out in the 25 degree Belgian summer sun and relaxed. Afterwards I asked the babysitter to look after the boys after camp that evening so I could go to pregnancy yoga with the best teachers in the world. I came back home and slept like a log. And so, of course, predictably for me, when my pregnant body tired and overwhelmed with attempting to be a super-human at work and then a super-human at home experienced rest, it decided to cut all losses and get this baby out. I woke up the next morning to the beginning of my usual 10-12 hours of the beginnings of labour. Contractions that feel like a period, the loss of a mucous plug (still have no idea why we can't find a more glamorous term for that thing) and the feeling that I have a few hours to do my business before I’m blissfully out of it for a few weeks. I took a walk around the pond with my boys, asked the au pair to take them for the afternoon, called my husband – told him why I was annoyed with him that morning, asked him to be home after lunch and gave him a list of things to do, took a 2 hour nap and got ready for the most intense birth experience I have ever had (small sample size though, n=3.)
And so, the kids are in bed and its 10 or so now and I’m watching ‘my show’ (it’s the good wife at the moment, after this baby I am so having a career change to be a corrupt Chicago lawyer.) I stop the show, I sleep for a couple hours and am woken at 1:30am. I realize that probably the contractions are so annoying that I can’t sleep so I run the bath and call the midwife (also used to be one of my shows). Ahmed can’t sleep so he wants her to come so he can go downstairs and sleep (some might say romance has died, other might say – someone needs to get some sleep so the other two ragamuffins get looked after in the morning.) I dilly-dally on the phone (because let's face it I HATE telling people I need them) but then eventually say she should come.
She arrives at 2:30. She says ‘this is nice’ when she walks in. I assume she means the ambience, I am already in my usual ‘stoned/present’ mindset, the lights are off but there’s a candle on and I have my weird Tibetan chanting music going. She asks if I want her to check me. I say no because I think we can wait a bit. (I ask her later if she wants to but she says it’s not necessary.) Ahmed goes to sleep downstairs.
I sit in the bath and we chat. At some point I am just so hot I have to get out of the bath, I walk around, our bedroom is white, the walls, and the wooden floor and the ceiling is high. The bathroom is adjoined to the bedroom and we have those ridiculous side by side sinks built into a beautiful wooden counter. It’s safe to say it’s the most luxurious place ever to give birth. I feel like I am not in my life but in the life of someone elegant (I am sadly, the type of woman, who at 38 will totally pick my nose and fart if I think no-one is looking.) And then I walk to the closed window, naked, still too hot. I push against the hip-high window sill with my hands and I ask the midwife to push on my back when the contraction comes. I need my hips pushed together, rather than just pressure on my back. I look outside, I can hear the fountain in the lake, the street lamps shine on the trees and water, the clouds above the church are lit by the moon. There is an exceptional calmness in the air but I am brought back to my life by the pain of the contraction that is making it’s way across my belly.
After a short cooling time out of the bath, it’s just too painful and so I go back in. The midwife is on the phone a bit and I immerse myself in my world of meditation music and moaning. Presently, it starts. I breathe, I meditate, I make noises, more than before, than ever before. I sleep or near sleep between the contractions and wail my way through when they come. There is more movement around me, telephoning maybe, or other stuff, I’m pretty sure someone says the word ‘tea’. Inside me Kalo is moving. She is moving her legs and kicking around. It’s like no-one has given her the memo that we are getting to work. Why is she moving? Why is she not hunkering down to zip out there like a bullet (wishful thinking)? At some point there is another midwife and my husband and the contractions are so painful. I think that I have made a mistake. This baby is still having a party inside me and is not ready to come out yet. I am on level 3 contractions. (I have my own rating scale for contractions – 1) Let’s get cooking some last-minute post-natal dinners 2) Fuck I forgot this felt like this, where’s my bath and 3) Goddamit when is that ring of fire coming?) Yet, in my mind, because this baby is dancing I still think there are hours to go. For the first time ever I almost voice the concern in my head that I should be going to the hospital to anaesthetize this. I can’t do these contractions for another couple of hours. Morale is low.
Instead I say I need someone to hold me up and I need someone to hold my leg up. (In my mind I need more than that, I need someone to do this birth for me because I don’t really want to.) I just have no more strength because the speed and intensity have taken it away from me. And I say to them, ‘I need someone to tell me I can do this.’ My husband is holding me up and he is GREAT. He knows intuitively that he cannot be the one to tell a birthing woman she can do this. So he smiles at the midwife next to him. She takes the torch and says with a sweet smile, in a slightly Flemish lilt ,but nonetheless with a look of intensity on her face ‘You can do this, of course you can do this.’
However, it still isn’t going quick enough, the baby should be coming but it's not, it’s still moving around inside me. Dancing as if she’s got another dj set to go before she’s out, but then at some point I feel the beginning of the ring… the pushing, the moving down and the other midwife says ‘What can you feel now’ and I say ‘I can feel the ring.’ But for some insane reason the baby is still twisting and writhing inside of me, her arms, her legs, her whole body. She’s wriggling her way out, why why why? I get 3 or 4 pushes and then it’s THE CHOICE. Wait for a bit to regain strength during a last contraction or just go for it. Happily I choose to go for it because I’m pretty sure this is my last one and I just want this over with. The head comes out and the feeling of relief is the best ever, yes I know we have shoulders, placenta, 3 days of struggling on an off the toilet but the worst bit, that really awful terrible bit that you would never believe you could survive is done. And one midwife says, “let’s get this little boy out” and the other midwife says, “Well, we don’t know that yet.”
We thought she was just trying to keep the secret that is was a boy until we actually saw for ourselves. And then, somehow, when she comes out, she is a girl. And there was this moment, where my husband and I, proponents and parents of all boy families look at each other in wonder. I never thought, well I never really thought I needed the girl. I was prepared to be the mother of 3 boys. I mean, I was prepared and convinced that I would be the mother of 3 boys. But, there’s a part of me that was released in that sentence. For I have a little girl among my brethren and we are a blissful family of 5.