My darling son, Rupert Gabriel Barkes is 16 months old. So yes, I realise that writing about his birth comes at a very peculiar time and all the photos in this post were taken on his first birthday, but it’s a story that I have wanted to share for a long time and for some reason I’ve never sat down and made myself write it. I think it’s partly because I found it all a bit overwhelming. In a good way, but overwhelming nonetheless, and I think I was afraid that I wouldn’t do it justice as the experience was extremely magical.
When I fell pregnant, Michael (my husband) and I were living in Tokyo and after finding myself a brilliant Japanese obstetrician/ gynaecologist, I soon realised that in Japan giving birth the natural way was pretty much the norm, with cesarian sections only being done if it was a medical necessity. This was completely fine by me as I’ve always envisioned myself going the all natural route for child birth anyway. But of course it motivated me to read up as much as I could about giving birth vaginally, which led me on a path of birthing as naturally as possible. And by that I mean, not just giving birth vaginally, but actually harnessing the power of mother nature to bring baby into the world with as little medical intervention as possible.
Throughout doing all this research we had already decided that we’d be moving back to South Africa. Michael and I both wanted to raise our child in the West, either close to my family or to his. So it was upon arriving in Johannesburg that I set out to find myself a midwife as well as a doula as by this time I already had my heart firmly set on doing a home water birth.
So why these choices you might ask?
- I wanted a midwife because they are fully qualified nurses who specialise in assisting healthy women during labour, delivery and after the birth of the baby, not only at certain intervals.
- They assist the labouring woman in the the comfort of their own home whereas an obstetrician does not.
- I wanted as little medical intervention as possible and trust my body to do what it was designed to do.
- I seriously dislike hospitals and since I wasn’t ill, I didn’t see the point of being in one. I was bringing life into the world and wanted to be in the most calm and relaxing environment as possible. For me, it was my home.
- I also wanted a doula as I knew that she would provide the extra emotional and physical support to both me and Michael before, during and after the birth.
So it was after having all these things in place that we patiently awaited the arrival of little Rupert.
He was due 5 November, but after an evening of watching The Walking Dead on Wednesday 14 October, I suddenly felt the need to go and have a wee. Unfortunately I didn’t quite make it to the toilet because by the time I arrived my underwear was soaked and I realised that my waters had broken. So if you calculate it back you would realise that my waters broke 3 weeks early people! My calm, relaxing home water birth was at serious risk if my midwife didn’t think it was safe enough. (Let me add here that I did have an obstetrician on stand-by in case there was a medical emergency.)
Luckily after going for a check-up in the morning Rupert and I both received the healthy nod, but because you have to give birth within 24 hours of your waters breaking or risk infection to you and/or the baby, I had to receive the stretch and sweep procedure to help the labour along as by 11:00 on the morning of the 15th I had barely felt a contraction. If you need a refresher, a stretch and sweep is a procedure the midwife will perform by putting a couple of lubricated, gloved fingers into the vagina and inserts their index finger into the opening of the cervix. They then use a circular movement to try to separate the membranes of the amniotic sac, containing the baby, from your cervix. This action releases hormones, which prepares the cervix for birth and initiates labour.
After this procedure I was told to go home, eat lunch and take a nap, as I would need the energy later on in the day.
By 17:00 nothing had really happened yet, at which point I was starting to wonder when this baby would indeed make his arrival known. Luckily I had the most amazing team with me because by 18:00 my midwife had arrived and performed another stretch and sweep. This in combination with my doula who made me do all sorts of hip swaying exercises on our front lawn and sniff some essentials oils to help with the onset of labour, I felt my first real contraction at 20:00. Neither Michael or I tried to time them as firstly I knew it was starting to happen and secondly we had our midwife and doula with us so it would be wholly unnecessary.
From then, the contractions started coming steadily. It took a few hours, but I soon got to the point where I could not hold a conversation anymore. They also got so intense that one contraction would literally flow into the next one. Unfortunately I wasn’t allowed to get into the birthing pool yet as staying in the water for too long would increase my risk of infection. But luckily my doula was also a pregnancy massage therapist and let me tell you, she had the best hands ever. I felt all my contractions in my lower back and with each and every contraction she massaged that pain right away. It was honestly the best pain relief I could have had. That, along with visualising our little family of 3 on a far away beach holiday really helped me to overcome that pain barrier. It may sound cheesy to say it, but it really was a case of mind over matter.
By 1:00 am on the morning of 16 October I was fully dilated and ready to start pushing. That moment I was allowed to get into the pool and feel the warmth of the water on my back was like heaven. Of course the contractions were still as demanding as ever and pushing baby was the most challenging thing I’ve ever done, but the water really was a God-send. And having Michael right behind me in the water taking even more of my weight was the best support I could have asked for.
I still get teary eyed as I think back to when I was preparing my mind to push on another contraction, when I suddenly heard my midwife say “Eleanor, pick up your baby”. For a second I was totally confused as I was so in the zone, but then she said it again, at which point I looked down. And I suddenly saw our little Rupert floating in the water like a mirage. He was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. Michael and I reached down and together we lifted him from the water.
I’ll never forget what I felt in that moment: just pure, absolute joy. I would lock eyes with Michael and smile and cry and then carry on staring at our little miracle again, with only love in our hearts. In the hours and days afterwards I felt so incredibly strong and invincible and happy that I trusted by body to do what it was meant to do.
A few days after the birth I was chatting to my midwife when I realised that I birthed Rupert without any pain medication. I was a bit shocked at myself but of course also proud. When I asked her why she didn’t offer me any medication, she simply said, “You never asked”. This, along with birthing him naturally made me realise that the human body is a beautiful and powerful vessel and capable of so much: physically, mentally but especially emotionally. I knew from the moment I found out I was pregnant that I loved our boy, but I could never anticipate the immense love and overwhelming joy I felt for him in those first moments after birth. It truly was like the best dream I could ever have, except it was real.
What was your birth experience like? What emotions did you feel after bringing your baby into the world?