The birth of Marlene
After a long labour Marlene was born naturally at 1.45am on the 7th of March at Angliss Family Birth Centre, Upper Ferntree Gully. I was surrounded by a magnificent birthing team that supported me throughout the labour, which comprised of my husband, my mother, my doula, my midwife, and the attending midwife at the hospital.
I went into pre-labour Wednesday March 4th late in the day. The cramping started at this time and I experienced mild contractions. I was feeling excited and also afraid of what was to come.
It turned out that Marlene was in a slightly posterior position with her spine a bit too far to the left of my front. She needed to swing around to align her spine with my belly and totally engage in my pelvic region. I progressed into early labour and remained in that state for all of Thursday. I was confronting some fairly uncomfortable pain and needed encouragement. It felt very challenging. I had to just accept the process of labouring, to take a walk of faith, in order to go into the next stage of labour.
My birth attendant, Erika Munton, came to me on Thursday evening and stayed with me through the night. I lay on my side contracting every 3-4 minutes, trying to conserve energy, going deep into my body, and trying to release all tension. Erika was coaching me to do this. She encouraged me to try to sleep in between each contraction. The contractions started to come at wider intervals. I managed to sleep a little and regather my strength somewhat. Erika encouraged me to have faith and believe in my ability to birth my daughter. I was telling myself a bit of a false story that I would break down mentally and emotionally with no sleep, and that I couldn’t cope. I finally let the false story go and started to be really positive. However, I was feeling quite fatigued as I had been labouring since Wednesday afternoon.
By Friday afternoon I was in a pit of despair. The contractions were coming somewhat erratically between 3-4 minute intervals for a while and then at 10 minute intervals. I was only about 3cm dilated. I had a vision early that evening of holding a torch and walking through the darkness into the unknown. The experience reminded me of the Persephone myth. It also reminded me of the story of Psyche who has to go through a serious of very difficult tests, in order to win back her love, ending with a descent into the underworld to retrieve a box of beauty. I felt that I was journeying through a very dark place, in order to win my beautiful daughter. Earlier in the evening I had swirling visions of the heavens opening up, of a spiralling above me. Indeed, this was in fact what was happening within me. I was preparing to birth my daughter.
I went into the bath at this stage to try and ease my aches and pains. I had begun cramping up pretty heavily in my hips. Every 3-4 minutes a contraction would come and I would grip the side of the bath. Previously my preferred method of dealing with the contractions had been to widen my legs, hold onto something like the back of a chair, or table, whilst breathing, and voicing the contraction, as it arrived like a wave, built, and dissipated. However, this technique had become too taxing on my energy, as Erika had pointed out to me the previous night. My new technique was to go with the flow of the contraction with as least resistance as possible. I constantly tried to release the tension in my body, checking my jaw, and shoulders, and trying to release my buttocks, and keep my legs loose, but sturdy. However, despite my best efforts I was having a crisis of confidence. The fatigue set in. I didn’t feel that I was ever going to get through the situation. I had absolutely no idea how I would birth this baby naturally. I just couldn’t see it happening.
Erika returned to support me late Friday afternoon. We went upstairs and talked. I finally gave up my fear of being a mother, of facing the pain of birthing my daughter, and of being able to cope. I surrendered to the experience and was able to because I made a back up plan. I decided to go to the hospital for an induction the following morning if I hadn’t progressed in my labour. Jon, my husband, was angry about this decision. He wanted me to follow my birth plan. I was quite confronted by his anger and thought it completely unjust. He affirmed to me that he knew I could do it naturally and that I was just having a crisis of confidence.
Having made the plan to labour one last night and having given up my fears, and instead re-creating my birth as a healthy, positive, and powerful experience, my waters broke. I felt a pop and a rush of warm liquid. At this point everything began to escalate. I finally went into active labour. The baby had done most of her manoeuvring into the correct position for birth. My midwife, Jennie Teskey arrived at our house and checked that the baby’s heart rate was fine, and that I was keeping up my blood sugar levels, and fluids. Her presence was very reassuring. My contractions started coming in waves more and more powerfully, and then they would slacken off for a bit, and then return. There was a building of intensity and pain. I started to feel intense pressure on my bowel, which had previously been controllable. It was starting to get very hard to resist the urge to bear down. When I couldn’t resist the urge to push Erika showed me a position to go into that helped a lot. I lent down on my four arms on the ground and raised my bottom in the air. Jenny also helped immensely by giving me a new voicing to help stop me pushing. She said to chant “Ha ha ha heeee”. Jennie then gave me an internal examination. I was 6-7cm dilated. At this stage of the labour I was no longer able to talk between contractions.
There was a small earthquake and the whole house shook. We took it as a sign that we ought to get going to the family birth centre. We bundled into mum’s car for an extremely uncomfortable journey to the birth centre. Jon directed mum to take a wrong turn. I screamed out the right directions and mum quickly got back on track. We got to the birth centre and I was given my own room. The midwives encouraged me to get into the bath to help ease the cramping in my hips during contractions. I had requested a water birth. However, I didn’t really feel like going in the bath. Instead, I got onto the bed and alternated positions between lying on my side, standing up, and leaning down on my forearms with my bottom in the air, trying desperately to surrender, open up, and get the baby out.
The cramping in my hips started to become unbearable and my team were all taking it in turns to massage my hip area vigorously. Jennie encouraged me again to get into the bath to ease the hip pains, so I finally went in. I found it quite challenging to adjust to the new position for dealing with the contractions. I felt extremely hot and the midwives put icy cold towels around my neck, and on my forehead. I was starting to reach the point of my pain threshold. I felt like I couldn’t take it anymore. I told Jennie that I felt like I was going to die. She assured me that I wasn’t going to die. But something inside of me was dying. It was the past, my old life, a hampering aspect of my identity. I was becoming a mother. I was learning to stand in my power as a woman. All through the labour I had visions of wild animals, particularly lions, and tigers. I began roaring within myself at the fear and commanded my baby out of my womb, into the world. I told her that I wanted to meet her.
I stared to think that I couldn’t go on for much longer. I asked the midwife at the Angliss if she would check how dilated I was, but she said to wait a bit longer. I thought otherwise, but I decided to trust her. Then very shortly after I requested an internal the contractions started to pound me and gave me very little chance to breath in between them. The midwife decided to give me an internal and found that I was 10cm dilated, and ready to push. I started to push whilst holding onto the end of the bed. I didn’t have any transition period. My crisis of confidence had occurred early in the labour, and I had been able to get through it with the help of my support team.
The pushing was quite confronting, but a relief. I went on the toilet. Whilst I was pushing I couldn’t control my bowels. I didn’t care. Jennie told me that I was pushing very strongly and effectively. She said that it was because I am a singer. Jennie coached me very well to push effectively. She instructed me to use the technique of doing two back to back pushes, taking a quick breath, and pushing a third time to maximise the contraction. I had learnt this technique previously in Rhea Demsey’s seminar, which was incredibly valuable.
The baby was moving down the birth canal, even though I didn’t feel like I was really getting anywhere. I couldn’t imagine the baby getting any closer to me, but they assured me that she was. I heard Jennie say that I had 2 hours in total to get the baby out. I started to wonder if I would get vacuum suction and I thought I probably would have to. But I kept pushing anyway. Jennie said to my mum that I would do it in time. At Jennie’s suggestion I adopted a new pushing position holding a pole with one leg elevated. It was very effective. Finally, I could feel that the baby was coming. Jennie asked me to feel up into my vagina for the baby’s head, but I couldn’t do it. I was still a bit disconnected from the actual physicality of the experience. I was connecting to some kind of spiritual power that was guiding me through the birth. For pretty much all of the active labour my eyes were closed. I only opened up my eyes momentarily. I felt like I was having some kind of visionary experience. It was shamanic.
I felt the babies head come into my birth canal. The discomfort was confronting because of being opened up, but at the same time very manageable. I kept trying to release all of the tension in my jaw and shoulders, and remain loose in my bottom. My training with the epi-no ball was serving me very well. At this final stage of the birth I waited for each contraction to push, not forcing the baby out. I reached up and felt her hair. She was so close. I took heart. I finally realised that I would be having this baby!
I pushed her out. My husband caught her with the midwife Kate from the birth centre. He passed her straight to me, through my legs. I heard my mother cry out with joy as Marlene’s head appeared. My heart expanded a million times its normal size! I held my darling girl. She was beautiful. I was still coming back into my body. Erika called me back in. We speculated about the name as I held my baby girl. Erika and Jennie both loved Marlene as a name. Jennie said that Marlene’s cries were her telling us her story. I thanked everyone at the birth for their incredible support. As I came back into my body fully I fell in love with my beautiful daughter, and realised some deeper level of peace, and calm, and higher purpose in myself. I felt the proudest I’d ever been. I felt utterly fulfilled.
Jon, mum, Erika, and Jennie stood by me completely throughout the whole experience. They were all pillars of strength and love. They held the torch for me in the dark when I couldn’t see the way forward. I believe that I would not have achieved a natural childbirth without them. I would also like to acknowledge the wonderful work of Kate the attending midwife at Angliss family birth centre.
Natalie Rose Dyer