Melbourne Doula

Welcome to 'Melbourne Doula', the place where I share what birth work is teaching is me, and what I am learning from the wonderful families who have invited me to share this most special season of their lives. Here you will find information about me and the doula services I provide, birth stories from remarkable women and their loved ones, as well as all kinds of resources to enrich your own journey of discovery. And welcome also to BLISSFUL HERBS, the home of beautiful herbal teas and bath herbs to support wellness through every season of life.

Listening to Rain - Talitha's Birth Story

Here is the account I wrote of the birth of our first baby, in 1998, when I was 30 years old. You can tell by how long it is how happy I was to experience birth and to have our first baby. I felt as if I had inherited the most precious treasure. She is still a treasure to us (her sisters, too.)

Listening to Rain – a long and laid-back labour.
Is there anything more lovely than a sleeping baby? Soft, glowing cheeks, pink bow-tie lips complete with milk blisters, and the softest, dearest little head of smooth, silky hair .... And how to describe the fragrance of newborn baby? It's like meadow flowers after the rain or a rose whose petals have just opened to the sun. There's that special sweet smell that makes babies seem just about edible. Talitha Dorothy is now a chubby two weeks old and I had better write down the story of her birth before I forgets all the details ... and there's plenty of them ...

Talitha's estimated date of arrival was May 15. By the first week of May, my tummy was still quite a snug package and I thought the baby still had some growing to do. But on Thursday morning, I went in to wake my American husband Doug at 5.30. (He sometimes slept in the spare bedroom when I was having restless nights.) He woke out of a deep sleep, looked right at me and said, "I just had the most vivid dream! It was so real! I dreamed your mucous plug came out and you were in labour ... I gotta get that birth pool finished!" I had been having regular and 'feelable' Braxton-Hicks contractions all night and subsequently got very little sleep. What with the contractions, Doug's dream, and the fact that it was a full moon, we should have been able to figure out that this was it. The baby was conceived on the full moon and Doug had been counting the months moon to moon all along - a method that proved more accurate than counting of 266 days from the day of conception. But Doug got up and went off to work as usual. I think I was in denial that labour was close - I didn't want to get my hopes up in case I went past the due date. Besides, we weren't ready!

I went out to spend the day at the Bryan's farm, grateful for the company after a long and lonely week with Doug working long shifts at the prawn factory. (In retrospect, I can see that my strong feelings of loneliness that week and need to be around people was another clue that Baby Day was drawing near.) Having our first baby in Ireland, far away from our friends and family, it was good to have friends like the Bryans close by. I was fascinated with the 'tuning up' work my uterus was doing and proudly called Lynda to feel how hard it was during the contractions.

"Yours was even harder than that, wasn't it?" she said to her mother.

That made me think I must still have more time. I wolfed down a huge dinner of Dorothy's fish pie and after lunch, sorted and organized the Bryan's 'library' of books onto their new shelves. I got a nerve pain shooting down my leg and let out a moan. That brought Aylwyn forth from his bedroom where he was studying, with a concerned look on his face. I think he thought I was going into labour right there on the landing! I felt quite tired and next had a nice hot deep bath, which took some of the pressure off my pelvic floor and haemorroids. (Another clue right there.)

It was after 9 pm before Doug arrived to pick me up. "Is there any movement at the station?" he asked (which will only mean anything to Australians familiar with the bush poem, "The Man from Snowy River"!)

I told him I had been having 5 minute apart Braxton-Hicks contractions lasting about a minute all day.

"But don't panic, these practice contractions can go on for weeks," I assured him.

Doug looked doubtful. We persuaded him to eat some of Dorothy's fish pie before we left, since he looked so hungry and tired. He bolted it down hurriedly, anxious to get home quickly to work on the birth pool. Doug, Dorothy and Lynda surveyed my bump there in Dorothy's kitchen and decided that the baby must be engaged because the profile had changed shape and the bulge looked lower. And I STILL didn't get it!! Yet some instinct made me ask Dorothy and Lynda, "If my friends don't make it in time for the birth, how would the two of you feel about attending the birth and helping Doug?" Well! They both went bright red and said nothing! Had I offended them? When they finally regained the power of speech they assured me they'd love to - they were just taken aback! As we left, I mentioned that I was feeling some low backache. Apparently as soon as we were out the door, Dorothy said, "That's just how I felt before I started labour with Aylwyn!" And they knew I was on my way.

The only person who still didn't realise labour was imminent was me!

"Oh Doug, don't stay up late working on that birth pool - you'll be so tired at work tomorrow." Nevertheless, Doug worked 'til past midnight. Then we tried for some sleep.

FRIDAY MAY 8: "Coming Ready or Not!"
Regular contractions continued through the night. They were not painful, but the sensation was strong enough to enable me to time them - I was having 8 per hour, lasting 45 to 60 seconds. I got out the Sear’s Birth Book and read, "If you are having 8 or more contractions per hour, you are probably in labour..." That gave me a shock!

0400: I went to the toilet and spied some brownish coloured mucous on the tissue. Finally I was convinced. "Well, I'm glad all those contractions are achieving something since I can't get any sleep!" I muttered. At 0500, I switched off Doug's alarm clock just before it was about to ring. "I think you'd better call work and tell them you can't come in today." We tried to get some more sleep. As I lay in bed, a light rain fell on the roof, evoking a tranquil mood with its music. I love the sound of rain on the roof. We even have a special cassette of romantic, mood-setting music entitled, "Listening to Rain Music". This rainfall only lasted 10 minutes or so, but it helped me fix in my mind when my labour began. It was if God was saying, "Yes, this is it! And I am with you!"

And so labour day began! As the bells of the big Catholic church next door pealed solemnly, Doug and I sat on our bed and had a time of prayer, thanking God for our labour and asking for his help and protection. We prayed for every part of my body to function normally, and that the baby would be in the right position and would not be frightened or distressed during the big adventure ahead.

0730: Doug's foreman from the fish factory rang. He guessed why Doug had not made it to work, and wished us well. I went downstairs and pottered about, putting laundry in the machine and tidying up. I put on my favourite tape of Vineyard music to listen to, while I wrote a list of groceries and items we needed to "beg, borrow or steal" for the birth. I was focused more on the tasks that needed to be done rather than on the reality that this was me, actually in labour!

0800: I called our midwife to let her know that there was a bit of activity. Then I called Dorothy and Lynda to tell them I wouldn't be coming out to the farm today (they were, like, SO suprised!?) - but could they please come over to the house to be with me while Doug dashed off to buy last minute supplies to finish of the birth pool? I read the list over the phone and they went shopping for us en route to our house. While waiting for them to arrive, I made "labour-aide" and raspberry leaf tea, and straddled a chair whenever a contraction came. Then I thought I should go back to bed for a while, remembering a birth story of a woman who tired herself out with activity in early labour and ran out of steam later on when she needed her strength. I had always pictured myself striding up and down the country lanes, leaning against a tree or stone wall when a contraction came. But instead, being fairly tired after two nights of hardly any sleep, my only thought was, "I need to get some more rest!" I lay comfortably on my side, breathing through the contractions and praying quietly in between. (Now, in retrospect, I wish I had gone for that walk, to get those contractions cracking a bit more. Two subsequent births have since taught me that walking around, all the way to fully, is how my body likes to do it. I think my instinct was speaking to me, but back then, I did not know how to recognize and validate that inner voice as much. Life teaches us these things.) Doug came in to check on me and set down beside me a beautiful vase of flowers, hand-picked and arranged with his landscaper's artistic touch. The garden 'just happened' to have an abundant offering of spring flowers that day - another special touch from God, I thought.

1100: I heard voices and came downstairs to greet Dorothy and Lynda. The kitchen looked like a UNICEF relief distribution centre - a wall-to-wall carpet of shopping bags laden with groceries and equipment for the birth - big pots to boil water in (for the birth pool), an extension cord, plastic sheets, etc. Next time I looked up from a contraction, Lynda was doing up the dishes. These two women simply walked into our home and took to their role as if they were experienced doulas, just doing whatever seemed to need doing and being company and support for me. They were such a blessing!

Doug hadn't wanted to leave me alone, but now that Dorothy and Lynda were here, he left to go and buy some nails, hose and other equipment needed to finish off the birth pool. I went upstairs to the study to get out my birth scriptures. These were encouraging Bible verses for inspiration during labour. I hadn't even finished glueing them onto cardboard yet. That baby really caught us unprepared! We had intended to have a "birth team briefing" to pray together and discuss our preferences, but that never eventuated - I was well along into labour before we were finally all together. The only thing to do was to chill out and just go with the flow. I felt peaceful and calm in my inner self. Even as the contractions began to make their presence "felt" a bit more, I felt no fear or tension. I think my general tiredness even contributed to my ability to relax. Lynda and I picked out some baby clothes and little blankets to put in the warming cupboard ready for the baby. Smoothing and folding the wee outfits it seemed amazing to think that a tiny person would soon be here to wear them. Was I actually going to have a baby? Surely I was only pretending!

1200: Midwife Mary Cronin arrived. A quick look at me strolling around looking happy and calm assured her that I was still in the early stages. The contractions felt like strong period cramps at this stage. They weren't distressing, but as soon as one started I found I wanted to be sitting astride my chair in a hurry. Mary had a little prod of my tummy and confirmed that the baby was head down, well-engaged and LOA - good baby! I'd spent a lot of time in the last weeks of pregnancy doing ‘optimal foetal positioning’, according to an article Mary had given me to read: pelvic tilts on my hands and knees, encouraging the baby to assume an anterior position. We heard the foetal heart with the sonic-aid. It sounded strong and vital. We went upstairs to the bedroom and Mary did a vaginal exam in between contractions. She was keen to do this exam in order to be absolutely certain that the baby really was coming head first. I am not too thrilled about vaginal exams myself. But Mary has tiny, deft hands, and was so gentle and skilful that it was no big deal. We had agreed that she wouldn't tell me how many centimetres dilated I was, because I didn't want to get hung up on times and measurements. I wanted to avoid being goal-oriented and instead simply live the labour, taking it just as it came. She told me the cervix was fully effaced and dilating nicely. "You're flying," she said encouragingly. That was enough for me. (After the birth, Mary told me that I'd been 3 cm dilated at this stage and that my cervix was soft and yielding - "soft as butter" she said, complimenting me on being so relaxed.)

(N.B. – it is interesting to note our concept of time in labour, especially with regard to first time mothers. I was 3cm dilated after 24 hours of contractions by this time. At this point, I was encouraged that everything was unfolding nicely in a timely way. Yet, according to some ‘text-book’ approaches, and under a different model of care and birth philosophy, I could well have been under pressure to hurry up or ‘augment’ my progress (which would have undermined my confidence significantly.)

1330: The contractions were coming only every 5 minutes and I was still not in what Mary considered to be established labour. Dorothy and Lynda took turns rubbing my back which was sweet of them. Their touch felt feather-light after the pulverising massages I'd trained Doug to give! But labouring women are pure gluttons for any touch and I gained much comfort from their presence and care. Lynda vacuumed upstairs while Dorothy stayed with me until Doug got back from his errands. Then Dorothy left us alone together for a while.

1400: Mary left to see another client, satisfied that I was doing fine. I peeked at her labour notes and saw she'd written, "... Julie coping brilliantly ..." I felt ridiculously pleased, like a school kid that had gotten a sneak preview of her school report! It's amazing how significant words can be when you're in labour. That's another reason why I found the Bible verses so helpful - such as, "I can do everything through Christ who gives me strength." We had music playing almost all the time - compilations of songs that were special to me.

1600: Mary returned - I was aware of being relieved to see her. I'd been managing just fine, but my sense of security stepped up a little when the Midwife was back on deck. I thought she'd be here for the duration from now on. The contractions were stronger now, coming every three minutes. I was getting a decent break between the contractions and could rest and relax. I knelt on the carpet and leaned forward onto the couch in the living room, while Mary used the phone. I heard her say, "She's a first timer - it'll be a long time yet. We'll be here well into the night." I remembered Mary saying that women are very open and susceptible to comments and atmosphere during labour. Overhearing this comment certainly affected me. On one hand we agreed that speaking positive words had a lot of influence, but on the other hand, Mary wanted to realistically prepare me for a long labour - therein lies the dilemma! Nevertheless, I wish I hadn't heard that comment.

Doug was flat out downstairs getting the birth pool finished and filled with water. He used 2" by 4" planks of lumber to construct it.

"I don't want to have to be saying to you, "I'm sorry I didn't build you a stronger birth-pool", like the man in 'Titanic'!"

He insulated it with thick cardboard and lined it with blue plastic sheeting. We were about as proud of that homemade birth pool as Noah was of his ark. Mary accompanied me upstairs to the bedroom while Dorothy and Lynda helped Doug. I was most comfortable kneeling, leaning over the end of the bed, burying my head in the pillows. Mary knelt beside me and her quiet presence was very reassuring. I tried one of Dorothy's tapes of instrumental music - it was supposed to be soothing, but it sounded like banal 'elevator music' to me and got on my nerves. So I changed it between contractions. This irritation was an indication that my 'emotional sign-posts' were changing from "calm and happy" to "getting down to serious work".

I started wanting to go in the birth pool. I had the feeling that right about the time Doug had it ready would be when I would be needing it. The contractions were stronger now and the thought of submerging in warm water was very appealing. Mary advised, "You'll find the pool most effective if you wait until you're really desperate before you get in it." I didn't think that point very far away.

1700: Doug came to tell us that the pool was ready. I was relieved; both to have the option of the hot water available to me, and to now have Doug able to give me his company and support. I was about good and ready for both by this time.

1800: I told Mary I'd like to get into the pool and she agreed now would be a good time to do so. I was glad - I half thought she might say, "No, wait a bit longer until the contractions are harder"! I undressed and wrapped a towel around me to walk downstairs.
Every woman I'd talked who had used warm water during labour raved about how effectively it took the edge off the contractions. As I sank into the water, I anticipated relief. It was there - but only for a few seconds. Then I found that contractions under water felt no different than on dry land. Nevertheless, it was comforting to be surrounded by the caressing water and the weightlessness made it easy to assume vertical, semi-squatting positions. Until now, I'd been cruising, but about this time I began to appreciate the term, 'labour'! Instead of merely breathing through contractions, I started to 'sound' through them. This was nothing like the romance of whales 'sounding'! It was more like a cow giving birth - or perhaps a bull charging!? Making noise seemed to help me cope and I really let rip. I remembered reading that high-pitched cries tend to make yourself and therefore your cervix tense up, but that deep roars help facilitate release. I dropped my jaw and kept my mouth soft and open as I bellowed, picturing my cervix opening wider. I was still able to interact with my helpers in between contractions at this stage. Dorothy read aloud some of the birth scriptures:

"Build up, build up, prepare the road! Remove the obstacles out of the way of my people!" Isaiah 57:14

"Pass through, pass through the gates! Prepare the way for the people." Isaiah 62:10

Great symbolism for encouraging cervical dilation, I thought. Mary checked the baby's heart rate periodically. It was regular, between 130 and 140. We were all pleased and reassured to hear that the littlest member of the birth team was doing just great, coping with all that squeezing!

After about half an hour, I got out of the birth pool and straddled a chair, because I was disappointed that the water didn't diminish the pain as much as I had anticipated and the heat was making me feel woozy. I was really working hard by now and had to communicate in monosyllables to conserve energy. (Finally, something to cure Julie's loquacity!)

"Drink!" I mumbled and someone put the straw betweeen my lips.

"Door!" I muttered and they had to decipher from that whether I wanted the door open or shut! They thought the cool night air would be too cold for my bare skin, but it was just what I needed to refresh me. I felt quite rude issuing these one-word commands, but they were unperturbed.

The contractions were coming every 3 or 4 minutes. They seemed quite short - no-one was timing them but they felt much less than a minute long to me. I had read that contractions start gently, build up to a peak and then fade away. Mine seemed to hurt the most right at the start and then fade from there. The break between contractions seemed much longer than only 3 minutes. I was able to rest between the contractions. I think the combination of exhaustion (I was getting into my third night of no sleep by now) and endorphins had me quite stoned!) Cervix pain receptors must have built-in amnesia mechanisms or something, because I can't for the life of me remember what that low abdominal cervix pain really felt like. It was neither a sharp stabbing pain nor dull ache. It was more like strong period cramps or intestinal cramps. So if you have ever survived teenage dysmenorrhoea or a bad case of "Delhi Belly" during your overseas travels - take heart! You'll probably think labour is not so bad! (All things comparative, of course!) I did not feel afraid and I knew that the hurt was a good, 'healthy' hurt - totally different to the anxiety you feel when severe pain is signaling you that something is wrong in your body. I felt deeply reassured that everything was very right and that my body was doing all the things it should. And so the pain was not intimidating me or overwhelming me. Now I won't go so far as to say that I accepted it or surrendered to it, but Mary assured me that I was beautifully relaxed between contractions. Again I felt ridiculously pleased with myself - imagine, the excitable and usually intense Julie able to chill out so well during labour! The atmosphere remained mellow and free of tension. It had to be God - I can't take the credit for this - it was the caress of his peace into my spirit and his loving, protective presence that was responsible.

1930: Doug kept waiting for the big dramatic crescendo where the wife starts to fall apart: "I can't cope anymore!" she wails, or: "Right, that's it - I'm off to bed, forget this baby-having caper!" He was all prepared to roll up his sleeves and heroically wade into the emotional fray to give some real, full-on SUPPORT!

"Now listen to me, Julie!" he'd say firmly. "You are going to make it - now concentrate on my voice: breathe!... breathe!... BREATHE!"

Well, it never happened. Everything just kept plodding along. Transition was so uneventful that we almost missed it. I decided I wanted to go to the toilet - a little bit of restlessness - that was one sign. Then I asked Mary, "How much longer?" Mary described me as "fed-up" at this point, and Lynda thought I was "a little bit frustrated". But I felt like I didn't even have the energy to feel frustrated. My question was purely rhetorical, yet it expressed exactly where I was at right then. Verbalising it helped, although I knew no one could give me an answer. These were the markers of the beginning of a long transition.

1945: I asked Mary to examine me. She said "You're well along" (during our post partum 'de-briefing' birth she told me that I'd been 8 cm dilated at this time).

2000: I got back into the pool - again the blissful relief as I submerged - that only lasted for a few seconds, more's the pity! I laboured (and bellowed) away for another hour in the pool. I sat on a bucket cushioned by a towel - a tip from the NCT ante-natal class in England. Every time I got up for a contraction the wretched thing would go floating off. To my irritation, I'd have to find it, re-position it up-right, and place the sodden folded towel over it before I could resume my sitting position on it to rest between contractions. We should have put a brick in it. I used an upright standing squat when the contractions came, hanging onto the side of the pool. Sometimes I held onto Doug's hands or forearms. I thought my bellows were very loud - my throat got hoarse - but the others say that it didn't sound loud at all, and Lynda even said afterwards, "I thought she'd be in a lot more pain than that."

The next four hours were the hardest for me. I would be in and out of the pool 4 times during this long haul. I knew I was fully dilated or pretty close. I wanted the baby to start moving down, but nothing seemed to be happening. I couldn't understand why not. I talked to my body, telling it to relax and yield. Dorothy read this scripture to me which touched my heart so much it brought tears to my eyes:

"Deep calls to deep
in the roar of your waterfalls
all your waves and breakers have swept over me.
By day the Lord directs his love,
at night his song is with me - a prayer to the God of my life."

Many scriptures in the Bible are down-to-earth and specific to life situations, but during labour it was poetic verses such as these, with their powerful symbolism, that were significant to me. They by-passed my intellect and touched the core of my being, and I felt comforted.

2100: I got out of the pool and straddled my chair again. Dorothy and Lynda covered the pool with bubble wrap which floated on the water to prevent heat from escaping. The hours were passing quickly in a blur. My eyes were shut quite a bit of the time. I was keenly aware of some things going on in the background and oblivious to other things. I heard them discussing food and drink. Mary wanted something sweet - the best we could supply was honey on toast and a cup of tea. The others also ate something. I was past eating anything and stuck to my "labour-aide". Apparently, Doug was rubbing my back and telling me all sorts of supportive things. But I felt as if I was not being touched very much and a lot of what he was saying wasn't getting through. It was if the contractions were so intense that touch and verbal support from my helpers had to be extra-intense for it to register. Yet I knew he and Mary were right there, while Dorothy and Lynda were sitting a little further away. It's quite a job to minister such concentrated support to someone for such a long time! Mary described me as "coping brilliantly" at this stage. Without the commitment of my excellent birth team I'm sure that wouldn't have been the case.

2120: I walked in to sit on the toilet. I knew that regularly passing urine helps the progress of labour. Out of impatience and curiosity, I felt inside my vagina and - "Mary! I can feel the head!" How special it was to actually touch my baby while she was still inside me! Her little head seemed so precious. I could feel the smoothness of the amniotic sac, the bounce of the forewaters (like prodding a blister) and behind that, something very hard: the baby's scalp! I could not feel any cervix around the head and there seemed to be heaps of room in the birth canal to accommodate the baby. This was very heartening - but why wasn't something happening? My waters hadn't even ruptured yet. Wasn't I supposed to get a pushing urge about now?

2200: I went into the lounge room for a change of scenery, which meant that my whole entourage had to traipse after me, bringing Mary's equipment as well. Doug lit the fire - a lovely, romantic touch! - and I laboured away for a while in standing semi-squat, to get the benefit of gravity. When a contraction started, I instinctively froze for a second, as if being still would make it hurt less. I had to consciously will myself to sway my hips from side to side, for once I got past that initial psychological hurdle, the swaying really helped me get through the rest of the contraction. Doug and I stood face-to-face, swaying together in a "labour waltz", with me clinging to him for dear life. Sometimes I put my arms around his neck and massaged his shoulders. Doug was quite touched that I was doing something nice like that for him while working so hard myself. The pressure of my fingers communicated what I was too tired to express verbally: "thanks for being here for me."

2300: I got back into the pool - what else did there seem to do? The contractions slowed down to one very five minutes. I was so tired by now that I was falling asleep between contractions. Each time the pain started again, I woke up startled: "Whuzzat!? Oh yeh - now I remember ... I'm in labour - STILL!" I was not the only one having trouble staying awake. Mary was perched in the corner like a little bird with its beak tucked under its wing. Doug emitted a gentle snore. Dorothy and Lynda were struggling with drooping heads and eyelids. Typical! "Drama Queen" Julie has a labour that's so boring that the entire birth team falls asleep! With each contraction, I stood up with legs apart and held Doug's arms very tight. A few times I whimpered pathetically at the start of the contractions - then forced myself to resume my low bellowing, because I knew whimpering wasn't going to make it any easier. A few times I opened my eyes and looked at Mary - then turned my head and looked at Doug, then Dorothy and Lynda. I didn't say anything, but there was something in the way I was looking at them - as if to say, "Can't you do anything to help me?" Mary identified my mute pleading and spoke soothingly. I don't know what she said, but I felt her tone of voice. She said, "Julie, tell that baby to move down!" Which I did - with feelin'! - as Arlo Guthrie would say!

I felt inside my vagina again and this time instead of the smooth amniotic sac, I felt something rough. It took me a while to realise that it was the puckered skin of the baby's scalp! The waters must have been leaking out slowly. But still the head felt no closer. "Come on, little baby! Come on down!"

Saturday May 9
I got out of the pool (again!) and went to the toilet (again!) Dorothy came in and stood beside me, cradling my head against her abdomen and praying softly. She was so motherly, so comforting - and I was so, so tired, I just relaxed and let her hold me. Of all my wonderful birth team, Dorothy was the one who had personal experience of childbirth. What a lovely cuddle she gave me! It was one of the highlights of my labour, and it gave me courage to hang in there.

Where to, after the loo? Right - back into the pool again! That pool and I were sick of each other by then. After another sleepy half hour of strong 5 minute contractions, Mary suggested a vaginal exam. So I clambered out of the pool and the whole entourage adjourned to the lounge room. Doug stoked up the fire and I lay down on a mattress on the floor covered with plastic. Mary found that I was fully dilated (so I should think, by that time!) Yet still I had no urge to push.

0100: Mary tried applying some extra pressure around the head and on the rectum while I was in a standing position. "Try giving a push with the next contraction, Julie," she suggested. But how do I push when there's no urge? I gave it a try. It didn't feel like it made any difference. But when Mary checked, she found that the head had indeed come down a bit. So now, as each contraction started, I gave a deliberate push - which finally seemed to kick-start a proper child-birthing push. I was confident pushing in the standing position but my haemorrhoids didn't appreciate it one bit. So I ended up on my hands and knees, hoping that might ease the pressure on the piles a bit. The atmosphere was suffused with anticipation. I asked someone to go and get the baby clothes and receiving blanket form the hot water cupboard upstairs. But Mary knew that birth was imminent and advised them not to go away or they might miss the actual birth.

Everyone had been too pre-occupied to change the cassette on the tape-deck and the same music had been playing over and over for ages now. It was our special "Listening To Rain" music: Van Morrison, Chariots of Fire, and this song by Amy Grant:

"Yeah we were nervous and a little scared,
until the music of our baby's cry filled the air
(how can we see that far)
and like your daddy said,
the same sun that melts the wax will harden clay
and the same rain that drowns the rat will grow the hay
and the mighty wind that knocks us down if we lean into it
will drive our fears away ..."

This was the same tape we had playing when Talitha was conceived - and now it would be the theme music for her birth.

After only 15 minutes of quite gentle pushing, the head was visible. I wish I had remembered to arrange for a mirror to have a look. I even forgot to reach down and touch the baby's head. These are the sorts of things we might have discussed at our "birth team briefing". With each contraction, I would volitionally start a contrived push. This would trigger am involuntary, expulsive push that would just take over. My face squashed up into an expression that may have looked like extreme effort or even pain - but I was neither in bad pain nor working particularly hard. It would have been great to capture it on camera. But the camera was aimed not at my face but at my rear end! I was startled when I saw the flash and heard the whirr of the camera behind me.

Soon I began to feel the stretching of my perineum with the pushes. Mary assured me, "Everything is stretching up beautifully!"

I heard her say to Dorothy and Lynda, "See that's the perineal massages paying off."

These comments gave me confidence that my perineum would not tear - good thing, since the haemorrhoids felt awful. I asked Mary to rub oil on my perineum, which she did, as well as applying warm water compresses. I felt the stretch during the pushes and the slight receding of the head in between.

Doug said, "You're almost there, you don't need to rush - just take your time." He was kneeling beside me with his hand on my back. At one stage he tried rubbing my back very hard, the way he knows I like. But it felt all wrong while I was concentrating on pushing. It was too distracting. I said abruptly, "Don't do that."

Soon the receding seemed less. I wanted to know if I was crowning yet. I felt so pleased when Mary replied in the affirmative. Crowning already! Now Mary counselled me, "Julie, you'll feel a burning sensation that might be quite sore - just give a good yell if you want to and push through it and then it'll all be over." Well, she was quite right about the burning pain - especially up by my urethra and not to mention the ache of pouting piles! I thought, "Oh well, what the heck, might as well - " and let out a sharp, high-pitched yelp just like those I have heard other women give at the moment of birth. Then I heard Dorothy cry, "Oh, it's a little face!" Another camera flash!

Doug went to see the head emerging and came back with tears in his eyes. "She's really beautiful!" Interesting - he used the feminine pronoun, but neither of us thought anything of it at the time. Mary called for the lights to be dimmed and the still, early hours of Saturday, 9th of May were lit only by the wood fire crackling in the hearth. With the next push, the whole head was born.
Doug went back behind me and put his hands out ready to catch the baby. Mary saw that he was in position to do the honours, so she sensitively sat back and let Doug catch the baby as her body slipped out with the next contraction.

0151: "It's a little girl!" Dorothy was the first to spy her sex, but I didn't hear her - I was busy trying to clasp the slippery little body Doug passed through my legs to me. Before I knew what I was about, I was sitting back with a tiny, wet, warm little baby cradled in my hands. She was lovely and pink, her little hands reaching out like sea anemones. She cried just a little bit but was quickly soothed, responding to the peaceful atmosphere around her. I longed to hug her up to my heart, but her cord was very short, only a foot long; and I could not lift her up higher than my navel. Doug and I both expected to be in a flood of tears at this moment. During the pregnancy, even thinking about our baby's birth would set us off. But at the time, I was calm, almost numb. I felt as if I was watching it happen to someone else. Was this really me, holding my own newborn in my hands? I could not take my eyes off her. I was captivated by her, oblivious to everything around us. I spoke to her softly, in the instinctive, intimate words and sounds that mothers seem to acquire automatically when their babies are born. I called her Talitha right from the start - it suited her perfectly. It's the Hebrew for "Little Girl", from a Bible story found in the Gospel of Mark, chapter 5, verse 41.

0210: Twenty minutes after our little daughter was born, Mary clamped the cord and Doug cut it, after praying a short prayer. Now finally I could cuddle my baby close to me. I lay down on the mattress on the floor. Talitha clamped on to my breast like a limpet, suckling vigorously.

0300: I transferred to rest on the couch on a clean towel while we waited for the placenta. Dorothy and Lynda bundled away the tangle of wet, bloody towels, and plastic-backed paper under-pads I had been lying on. Mary suggested sitting on the toilet to see if that would help the placenta out. So Doug took Talitha for a cuddle and I walked to the bathroom. Finally, Mary gave a gentle pull on the cord with a pair of forceps, while I gave a little push - and out it came with a plop, splashing blood on the floor and walls. I was surprised at the way my muscles and tissues, already sore from birthing Talitha, hurt a bit as the placenta came out. The placenta was huge. I had minimal bleeding afterwards, but suddenly felt quite faint. Mary had me put my head down between my legs for a bit. Then I tried walking back to the couch. "Talk to me, Julie!" warned Mary - she didn't want me suddenly dropping to the floor as a dead weight! So I kept up a mumbling commentary as I inched along and round about the time my sight started to fade, I fortunately was already at the couch - just in time. It was great to lie down.
Doug brought Talitha back to my side to feed a bit more. Mary checked my perineum, which as I could tell by the feel of it, was intact - no tears! I was glad about that. I did have two little "skid marks" - small grazes on the outer labia, but they would heal quickly.

I now felt very, very tired. I was amazed how exhausted I felt, because I didn't consider the labour to have been all that gruelling. Doug stroked my hair. He was very moved by the sight of me lying there - looking half -dead, he thought - utterly drained of energy, with this pink, bright-eyed little bundle of life beside me. It reminded him of how Jesus poured out his life in order to give us life.

0445: Dorothy and Lynda had a little cuddle of Talitha and left to go home. I was just with it enough to squeak out a faint 'thank you' and 'good bye'. Then I walked slowly up the stairs with Mary keeping a close eye on me to ensure I didn't faint - and got into a special post natal herbal bath. It had healing herbs and sea salt in it - lovely and soothing for sore tissues. Dorothy and Lynda had poured the packet of herbs straight into the bath. I took Talitha into the bath with me and we both ended up with bits of herb sticking to us all over our bodies! I learned from that and later sewed up some little bags out of muslin cloth to hold the herbs and after that had baths with my herbal 'tea-bags'. Talitha was blissfully happy in the bath and I got an attack of 'chatterbox' virus, which sometimes happens when I'm over-tired. Mary listened patiently and helped me out of the bath and into the bedroom. I got there by crawling along on hands and knees, stopping occasionally to hang my head lower until the dizziness eased. Finally, we were both tucked up in a clean bed. We put Talitha in a nappy but no clothing so that she and I could enjoy skin-to-skin contact as I cuddled her close to my side. Then finally Mary could leave. She had to hurry away to another client who was already in advancing labour and needing her. It was amazing that Mary had been able to stay with us as long as she had.

As I lay there, beginning to doze into well-earned sleep, with the soft, sweet body of my wee 7 lb 2oz girl in my arms, a light rain began to fall on the roof. Not a very unusual occurrence in Ireland at all. But once again, this rainfall lasted only about ten minutes and I realized that it was just about 24 hours ago that I had heard the rain on the roof signalling the start of labour. This rainfall was like a kiss from God, as if to say, "Here you are, safe and sound with your baby daughter, and I'm delighted with you!"

The "Baby Glees"
Several people warned me to be prepared for 'Baby Blues' to kick in somewhere between Day 3 and Day 10. "It's quite usual and you're bound to have it" they said reassuringly. I felt as if in some way they 'needed' me to get the blues so that perhaps it would make their experience seem more normal. But Mary and I both felt that high rates of post-natal depression has a lot to do with unsatisfying birth experiences in which women do not get to have confidence in their bodies or experience natural childbirth due to technological intervention and transferral of control from the labouring woman and her partner to the professional personnel. I was blessed to have a normal, natural, uncomplicated, un-medicated labour and birth, with excellent emotional and spiritual support from my birth team. Our midwife practiced 'sensitive midwifery', did not take over but was truly 'with woman', watching and waiting as things progressed naturally. As a result I could feel proud of how well my body functioned ("I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made" - Psalm 139) and pleased that mentally and emotionally I coped a lot better than perhaps expected. We had people all around the world, whom we had faxed, praying for us, and the reassurance of God's loving presence embracing us the whole time.

I remember once a woman said to me woefully, "it's the hardest thing you'll ever do in your whole life!" But mulling over the birth afterwards, I thought to myself, "I've been through worse things than that before and never got a reward as sweet as baby Talitha for all my troubles!" I said to my mother (herself a midwife) on the phone, "It really wasn't as bad as those train trips in China." We travelled overland to nearly every province of China, carrying heavy loads of Bibles to give to the underground Christians. They were real feats of endurance - 30, 40 or even 50 hours in crowded, dirty carriages choked with cigarette smoke on the slow-trains we called "Hell on Wheels"! Mum said: "Must've been pretty awful train rides, Julie!"

Well, Day Four came along and the emotions did kick in, well and truly! Doug came upstairs with a special post-natal treat for me - fresh oysters and salad. Yum! Then he handed me a card with a picture of a mother hedgehog bathing her new little baby hedgehog daughter with an expression of pure bliss on both faces. Doug had bought this card several years previously and had saved it to use on this occasion. (“Hedgehog is his nick-name for me.) We had known then that we wanted to have a baby girl one day. (We had shopped for a 'baby boy' card, too). I opened the card and read, "Julie, you were super. It's great having Talitha. Watching her face is like watching the waves break on the shore or the fire burning in the fireplace." And Doug had drawn a sketch of a beach and lighthouse, and of an open fire. Well, that did it. Finally, the emotions that had been numb at the time of the actual birth surfaced. I picked up my beautiful little baby girl, cuddled her and cried and cried and cried. Tears fell down my face and baptised Talitha's head of dark hair. But it wasn't for baby blues that I cried, but the ‘Baby Glees’! Like C.S. Lewis, I was totally 'surprised by joy'. I've cried many times due to heartbreak, anguish or rage, but I never expected becoming a mother to make me so, so happy. My heart was breaking up with love for this perfect little human being lying in my arms, and gratitude to God. There's a certain song on one of my tapes that goes:

"Glory and honour to God
Glory and honour forever
Glory and honour to God
Glory and honour belongs to you.
He who formed the heavens
He who calls the stars by name
Author of our lives
Full of wisdom, full of love ..."

It’s the signature song for Talitha’s birth. I still can't get through that song without picking her up and having a little weep. Her second name means, "Gift of God". She is at that.

1 comment:

Kirsten said...

What a beautiful story. Thank you for sharing it, Julie. And thank you for the inspiration from your total faith in God as you brought Talitha into the world. Wonderful stuff!