The Birth of Arlo Wirra Joseph
I was conscious of the moment our second baby was conceived and knew I was pregnant straight away. We were excited and full of love for the new life. This awareness was a lovely start to the journey, knowing that our little one was ready to join us in an earthly body.
We had experienced great care from Midwifery Group Practice midwife Kathy (Women’s and Children’s Hospital) for our daughter Freya’s birth in 2008 and we were keen to use this program again. Our midwife Meg became close to our family during the many home visits and she was happy with our wish to birth at home.
My pregnancy was free of serious complications, however several minor issues meant that I didn’t enjoy being pregnant as much as I would have liked. I experienced nausea for almost my entire pregnancy and it was hard to get through some days. My pelvis was painful and unstable from about fifteen weeks onwards, making it extra hard to care for our two-year-old daughter who still liked to be carried a lot. Then when I was about six months pregnant I was hit by a car and managed to fracture my coccyx. We were scared by the thought that our baby was harmed in the accident, however everything luckily all turned out to be fine. We counted our blessings and as the weeks passed I was desperate to birth our baby and start to feel some kind of normality back in my body.
After giving birth to Freya at 38 weeks, I had been expecting (and hoping) all through my second pregnancy that this baby would arrive a little earlier. I felt ready to birth as soon as I got to 37 weeks with cramps and lots of tightenings. As I got through week 38 I was feeling impatient and people must have thought I was over 40 weeks by the way I complained some days. Then when I hit 39 weeks something changed and I was able to completely surrender – I felt at peace with the knowledge that my baby was going to arrive right on time.
On Monday, with my new-found surrender, I started to play my birthing music on loop. Geoffrey Gurrumal Yunipingu had played for the duration of Freya’s birth and for many weeks after our daughter arrived. His songs would again welcome our child into the world. That night my husband Pete and I practised a little ‘creative encouragement’ and I went to bed that night with cramps, but no expectations. Sleep was deep and restful all night with no memory of any contractions.
Tuesday, February 14.
I rise by myself at 7am with sharp pains low in my belly. Standing in the bathroom I discover that forward-bending completely relieves any pain and so I stay like this for a few moments and the sensations pass. This is different to my memory of what I had felt during my previous labour and the sharpness worries me so I phone and speak to one of our back-up midwives. She explains that this is completely normal for a second labour and that I am probably in early labour, but not to expect much to happen until late afternoon or evening.
Pete had risen from bed whilst I was on the phone and we now begin to discuss what the day might bring. We decide to take things easy and perhaps do some grocery shopping as I had planned for the day, only now with him to help. Pete prepares our lounge room with a mattress and blankets for me before making some breakfast. Even though I had initially felt a little hungry I now find that I don’t really want to eat at all but instead try to focus on keeping my fluids up. My first labour had seen me get so dehydrated due to vomiting that I needed to take fluids through IV and I didn’t want this to happen again.
Three-year-old Freya wakes to find us on the lounge room floor and is excited that baby day has finally arrived. She snuggles into the bed with me. My tightenings are getting stronger and I have forgotten about our shopping trip. Pete shows Freya how to use the timer on his phone and we find that my contractions are quite irregular, anything from three to seven minutes apart. By now the forward bending position which had provided relief earlier is not helping and all I can do is to focus on breathing through each contraction.
The nausea worsens, coming in waves just as I pass the most intense point of a contraction. Each time the wave rises I think: “oh no I feel really sick but good, the contraction must be nearly over”. Then I throw up and have a rest. I’d been so sick during the pregnancy we were all used to the vomiting. A lesson we’d learnt from my first labour was that even when I couldn’t keep water down, ice was a big help so we have plenty on hand this time and it really helps keep me hydrated.
Our midwife Meg is not rostered on, so I speak to our back-up midwife Dee on the phone. She listens to me getting through a contraction and decides that they are sounding ‘pretty decent’. Dee is with another labouring woman so she phones Meg and asks her to come and see how I am doing. At this point I still feel like it will be a while before I need a midwife so feel that whatever is happening is fine.
Pete and Freya begin to set up the birth pool in the kitchen. They find that even though we’d had a dry run and that all the attachments fit onto the taps, when the water is running the pressure forces the hose to detach. Pete instead brings the garden hose and runs the cold water from outside, whilst bucketing hot water. Each time I feel a contraction coming on Pete comes to me, leaving Freya in charge of the hose, which occasionally gets a little messy (picture the water arching from the hose in the kitchen through the air into the next room…). I still feel very present and coherent between contractions. Lying on my side on the mattress, I watch the pool filling and see Freya get her pyjamas off ready to hop in for a ‘swim’ as soon as she can.
I had planned to try and relax my body as much as possible with each contraction, focussing on easing open in a gentle way. I feel like this is going well, though it is hard to relax during contractions. Pete is amazing at helping me achieve this, reminding me gently and bringing me back to my body.
The pool is almost full and I have a sudden feeling of needing both my mum (who works in a post-natal ward as a midwife) and Meg to come rather quickly. Around 9.45am I slide into the birthing pool with Freya, who rubs my back and pours warm water over me. By now I am beginning to zone out a bit, the warm water helps me go within. My mum soon arrives and is surprised by how strong my contractions are. She phones Meg and finds that she is on her way and at some point someone also contacts our student midwife Kate.
A few contractions later I feel that I need to go to the toilet so Pete helps me out of the pool but when the next contraction comes I realise that it is actually my baby moving down. We are now in the bathroom and I yell ‘it’s coming’, and my Mum begins bring all the equipment into the lounge room. Although she has been a midwife for 30 years and attended many births, she has worked in post-natal for some time now and feels a little out of practice but confident that she will be fine if Meg doesn’t arrive before the birth. Pete is trying to encourage me back to the pool in the kitchen but I am in the midst of a contraction and don’t feel I can make it. As it passes we somehow manage to slowly move the ten or so metres back into the warm water.
I am now wholly within my body and as my womb again contracts I feel my baby easing down, no pushing – just opening. Just as I had pictured so many times, baby was coming without any pushes but instead with deep breaths and not much more. I feel myself stretch, though no burning like I had remembered from my first birth. Stretching, opening and he crowns then slides back a little. Now Meg arrives, pulls on her gloves and touches my back. I open again, stretch, open, and his head slides out. I remember the feeling vividly and the conversation around me vaguely – he is in caul. Looking up at his sister and blowing little bubbles inside his watery home. I am kneeling and don’t feel like trying to see him yet – Meg brings me back to my body and reminds me to breathe him out gently. As he emerges from my body his caul comes away and I bring him up between my legs to cradle on my stomach. He is perfect and calm, still curled in a little ball. Moments pass between us and I look to my husband and my daughter who are behind me, touching my shoulders and gazing at our new little one. It feels like several minutes later that I have the presence of mind to have a peek and see that he is a little boy.
We stay together in the warm water and Kate arrives, sorry to have missed the birth. He was born at 10.31am and we hadn’t suspected he was going to arrive so quickly. Pete holds our son as I am helped out of the pool to the couch with towels and blankets, though the weather is set to reach the mid-thirties this day so we stay warm. I hold our little one close to my breast and Freya snuggles up, eager for a hold after he has fed.
Meg and Kate stay for lunch and later in the day Mum does our grocery shopping before leaving us for the afternoon. The day is a long one and we are all coming down from our high.
I really can’t remember the rest of the evening, but I have said enough. Arlo is here with us and we settle in for the night.
Kate delivers the placenta and Mum goes out for coffees and gelati (all pregnancy I had felt too sick sick for ice cream and I held true to my promise that it would be the first thing I ate after giving birth!).
Pete and Freya have more cuddles and I hold him whilst he sleeps. He is named Arlo Wirra Joseph.