Through our entire pregnancy we were so excited about birth and meeting our baby . Ziggy’s birth had been such a positive experience, we were looking forward to doing it again.
We had decided to home birth this time. The room we choose was our library, a large calm space, filled with books, but practical in that we could set up the space and shut the door so the cats didn’t claw the pool. I spent hours in that room making it perfect. Out came the desk. Out came the junk. Up went the pool. Up went sheets on the walls to hide the shitty paint. A friend made the most beautiful birth affirmations for me which hung above the fairy lights. We would spend time in the room in the evenings, AJ, Ziggy, the cats and I, just enjoying the space. I would move a lamp over here, then move it back over there. Move the couch here, then move it back there. Rearrange the affirmations. Change the hanging of the sheets. I tweaked and twiddled until the room was perfect.
My pregnancy progressed well. I love being pregnant. No morning sickness, no indigestion, no cravings, aches or pains. I loved watching my bump grow, and talking to Ziggy about the baby growing in my puku as we went on walks together, around the lake, around the arboretum. Staying active and healthy during my pregnancy was a big focus for me.
As our birth month drew closer, we started making a few more decisions. We asked a friend of ours to come and be Ziggys support person, to look after him while AJ looked after me. We wrote down our birth plan, our hopes, wishes, wants and what ifs. We started whittling down our name choices, although we still had no idea what name we’d go with, boy or girl.
We were so ready. I had all the ‘yes days’ and ‘no days’ marked on the calendar. Ziggys support person was away from September 20th – 23rd, and our midwife Claire was busy on the 21st, so those days were out. But any other day, little baby any other day was fine.
Tuesday September 19th.
The morning bought with it a surprise in my underwear. Mucous. My plug was unplugging. This was exciting news for AJ and I as it meant things were starting to happen. And it was new territory for us. For our first birth the mucous plug didn’t come out until I was pushing, so this ‘sign of labour’ had our excitement levels peaking. However, according the Google, the gradual loss of my mucus plug meant:
1) I will go into labour in a few hours.
2) I will go into labour in a few days.
3) I am already in labour.
So, with that oh so accurate advice, we went about our day as normal. AJ headed to work and Ziggy and I went to playcentre, where I spent most of the day with my belly hanging out, enjoying the sunshine and wondering if the Braxton Hicks I was feeling were actually Braxton Hicks, or early labour contractions.
When AJ got home the first thing he wanted to know was how I was. Was this it? I wasn’t sure. There had been more show, and my contractions were getting more obvious, but nothing alarming. So we called our midwife Claire and our birth photographer Cassie to give them a heads up, made pizza and settled in for the night.
We also called our support person for Ziggy, Nat, and made the decision that as she had to drive to Auckland at 6am the following morning, not to come over. My contractions were quite irregular and around 10 – 15 minutes apart, so it was still early days. We went to bed to try and get some rest.
Wednesday morning. September 20th.
By 3am the contractions were stronger, closer, and we had given up on sleeping. We asked everyone to ‘please come now’, fully expecting that things would go much like they had our first birth, and a baby wasn’t too far away.
But nothing happened. I kept waiting for things to pick up but my contractions stayed at 6 – 10 minutes apart. AJ filled the pool and I got in, but that just slowed everything right down, so I got out again and went into the lounge by the fire. At 3:30am Ziggy woke up, upset and tired. His house was full of people, and instead of being in bed next to him, his mama was making strange sounds on the floor with his dad rubbing her back. The poor kid, even with all our preparations it must have been very confusing.
But he soon perked up, there was a party happening in his house and he wanted to be part of it. So, we gave him a digital camera, and let him hang out with us, as I worked through contraction after contraction, wondering when things were going to start moving along.
By 5am, Ziggy was overtired and upset. I had tried to take him into the room and boob him back to sleep, but it wasn’t working. Plus, breastfeeding while in labour was not the most comfortable of experiences! And so AJ took him in the car for a drive, hoping he would crash out.
Looking back, I am pretty sure this is where my body stopped. Where my mind said ‘my boys are gone, we’re not having a baby’ and things calmed down. AJ was back 40 minutes later, Ziggy asleep, and my contractions were back to 10 – 15 minutes apart. Claire asked if I wanted to try anything like acupuncture or homeopathy to get labour progressing, but apart from hating needles, I’m not a huge fan of trying to make things happen, and would prefer to just let my body do it’s thing. I was sore and tired, so I got back in the pool, but nothing was happening. It was so frustrating. One night done and we were no further along than when we started. The tears started to flow.
At about 8:30am, everyone left and I headed to bed to rest.
Wednesday day. September 20th.
Later that day, AJ, Ziggy and I just hung out. It was a stunner of a day, blue skies and sunshine, AJ mowed the lawn and Ziggy and I took selfies. Every now and again I’d have a contraction, but they were irregular, and I was able to talk through them.
It felt really strange to me. I fully thought that we would have had a baby by now. With Ziggy, everything had happened so fast and call me naive, but I was expecting the same for our second baby. Added to that, everyone loved telling me how much faster and easier the second birth is. ‘You won’t even have time to fill the pool’ was a common phrase. And so I guess that in my head, I was expecting a quick birth. We all were.
To have been in labour all night, with nothing to show for it but tired eyes, was taking a bit for my head to wrap itself around.
Wednesday night. September 20th.
By 7pm I was in labour again. We called Cassie first and when Claire arrived I was on my knees in the lounge with Cassie rubbing my back. The contractions were strong, but not too close together. Now, I’m a bit fuzzy about exactly what happened next, or why, but for some reason AJ and Ziggy headed off again in the car. AJ had been wearing him hoping he would go to sleep, as there was a big focus on ‘making the space quiet for me’, but it wasn’t working and we were worried Ziggy was becoming a nuisance to our birth team. Our midwives were asking if there was anyone who could come and take him for a while. But there wasn’t.
Just as it had earlier, once my boys were gone, my body stopped.
It’s taken me a while to look back and process this part of my birth. Probably why my birth story has taken so long to write. I feel there was a breakdown in communication between what it was thought I needed, and what I needed. What I needed was AJ and Ziggy. With me. But what I was being told I needed was a quiet dark space (read: No Ziggy) and there was even talk that our birth photographer (who was not ‘just our birth photographer’ but also someone we valued as a friend) needed to give us space too.
I felt like my son was an inconvenience. I felt like I had to make sure Cassie knew we didn’t want her to go anywhere. I was so worried about making sure everyone else was okay, I wasn’t feeling ‘free to give birth’, but instead feeling ‘stressed and trying to make the situation right for everyone else’. Which is not a headspace any birthing mother should be in.
Maybe things would have been easier had our support person been available. I don’t know. Would I have had such ‘stop start’ labour had AJ and Ziggy not left the house? I don’t know. Should we have been clearer in our birth wishes to have both Ziggy and Cassie there? I thought we had been. Should we have taken mum up on her offer to come down sooner? Probably, yes.
By 8:30pm I was over it. I was tired. I was hoha. My contractions were no closer together and nothing was happening. I clung onto AJ in the hallway and cried. I was so frustrated. I felt like I had cried wolf twice now. That I had been a bother to both my midwives and my birth photographer. I felt like I had let my team down. I was defeated. I kept apologising to everyone for wasting their time, and no one said ‘you haven’t’ which made me think I had even more. I was a mess. The stress of the past 24 hours, the lack of sleep, the hormones flooding my body, it was all taking its toll.
The decision as made for everyone to go (again) and we would call if things changed.
We headed to bed. I lay there, fed Ziggy to sleep and fell asleep not long after.
Wednesday night. 10:30pm.
Everything was dark and still when the contraction woke me. Hard. Strong. This was serious. I got out of bed as quietly as I could, Ziggy still sleeping, and headed into the lounge. Another contraction hit, this one had me dropping to my hands and knees, gripping the carpet. Then another hit. Then another. I started to pant. These hurt. Holy shit these hurt. AJ took one look at me and grabbed his phone, ‘Get here now, we’re having a baby’. I asked AJ for a bra. ‘There’s no time’ he told me, ‘just get in the water’.
Less than half an hour later, everyone was back for the third time in two nights. There was no easing into this, my body was in labour and it was intense.
The next three hours are a clear blur. I clearly remember yelling. A lot. I clearly remembering AJ asking me if I was okay and thinking ‘you need to brush your teeth’ but not wanting to ask him to go and brush his teeth because 1) I needed him, and 2) that’s not a cool thing to ask of anyone is it. I clearly remember being offered lemonade and honey and chocolate to give my body energy and balking at the thought of food. It was all I could do to get through the next contraction.
My birth notes are full of words like ‘powerful surges’, and ‘awesome job. Apparently I made a joke. I also busted out ‘oh fuck, ‘come on bubba’, and ‘where are you’. It is hard to explain this part of my birth. I made noises I never made birthing Ziggy. I freaked out and wanted it all to stop. The thought that this was happening and a baby was going to be birthed meant more pain and I was at the end of it. I spaced out and went somewhere else. They say a mother leaves her body during birth to collect the soul of her baby. Is that where I went? Who knows, but I remember AJ welcoming me back when my eyes finally snapped back into focus.
After every contraction Claire would check my baby’s heartbeat, and every single time she put the doppler in the same place. Because my baby wasn’t moving down. Every damn contraction I would hope that she’d move the doppler down, that things were progressing, and every damn contraction it stayed at the same place on my belly. I started talking to my belly. ‘Come on baby’ I said ‘where are you, I am so ready’.
Just after midnight Claire suggested I get out of the pool and move around. I managed to stand up, but that was as far as I was going. Looking back, I wonder if she was a bit worried that things weren’t progressing as ‘quickly’ as they should, and trying the tricks she knew to change things up again.
Later, when I debriefed my birth with Cassie, she said to me ‘Em, if you were in a hospital, there’s no way you’d have been able to birth that baby yourself, they would have started interventions’. But we had chosen well with our midwife, and she watched me, listened to me, and trusted my body. I never felt any worry or panic from her as she stayed calm and supportive while I bellowed through my contractions and woke the neighbours.
Just before 1am I threw up. I have never been so excited to vomit before. And then I felt it, the wiggling and the kicking as our baby started to move down.
I could feel everything. Every movement the baby made as they turned and kicked and worked with my surges to be born. The pain stopped and my body took over as every bit of me focused on what I needed to do. The pushes were intense. I had no say in them, they just happened. Like spewing your guts out with the worst hangover of your life, except you’re spewing out your vagina, and it’s a baby that’s coming, not that 3am kebab. Oh god how I wish birthing a baby was as easy as spewing up a kebab.
And then finally, after an age of bearing down, I felt it. Our baby’s head, right there, at the entrance. I remember looking at AJ and asking him if he wanted to feel it, then bracing myself for the next few pushes as our baby’s head birthed. Except the head didn’t birth. It felt . . . stuck. There was immense pressure on my pubic bone, and no matter how much I eased the skin of my labia around the head, with each huge push, nothing was happening.
I was trying not to panic. I remembered what we had learnt in our birth classes with Claire and moved my leg out to ‘open up’ and make more room. I felt a ‘pop’ and looked at Cassie, ‘my waters’ I mouthed. I had a moment of disappointment that they had broken, how amazing would it have been for an en-caul birth. After what felt like forever, but was only minutes, a head birthed into AJs waiting hands, and with the following push a slippery baby finally made their way out of my body and into the pool.
I lost it. Everything about the past few days hit me as I finally held my baby and I looked into AJs eyes and we cried. Happy exhausted relieved crying. I had every emotion storming through my body, and AJ held me as I shook.
And then our baby reminded us they were there, and we took a moment to have a look at . . . . him. And he took us by surprise! A full head of back hair, vernix everywhere, a flat squashed nose. AJ and I laughed and laughed, we’d joked my entire pregnancy that our second one ‘might be a darkie’ after Ziggy was born so pink and bald. And he was! Jaggers coloring was as far from Ziggy as you could get.
With my placenta high in my body, and the level of the water unable to be adjusted, it was easier to get out of the pool than stay in the warm water. I had hoped that my placenta would birth so we didn’t have to move, and had given the umbilical cord a few tugs, but nothing was happening and so I decided to get out.
The moment I had both feet out of the pool and on the floor, my placenta literally plopped out of my body – still attached to Jagger! I moved as quickly as I could to get Jagger down low, so the weight of the placenta on his belly button didn’t hurt him, but boy did he yell!
Once on the couch, perched on one buttock so I didn’t sit on my new impressive hemorrhoid, Jagger nuzzled in for his first feed. Claire checked over what had so recently been his home, making sure everything about my placenta and amniotic sac was okay before Cassie packaged them up to take away and encapsulate.
After his feed was done and he had a cuddle with AJ, we decided it was time to cut his cord. It had stopped pulsing some time ago, and was still and white, all the blood from the placenta in our baby’s body where it belonged. This was a part of the birth we had really been looking forward too, as for AJ it was something where he could be a big part, and show aroha for his child in a special way. The birth kit had been a loving work in progress through the duration of my pregnancy. AJ had handcrafted the knife, we’d found the Jasper stone on a trip to the Coromandel, and the pounamu cord-tie had been won in a giveaway through Aotearoa Gemstones.
Jaggers birth had taken quite a toll on my body. I was exhausted, and I had a walnut poking out of my bum, so once his cord was cut we moved back to the lounge where I could lie down, and someone made me a hot sweet cup of tea. It was so nice to be able to rest on my mattress, my pillow, in our house – there’s nowhere better when you need a bit of awhi aye. I kept waiting for Ziggy to wake up, surely I had made enough noise that he would be padding into the lounge soon, but he kept sleeping through it all as Claire did the checks she needed to check.
Our lounge was very quiet. Everyone had just been through a massive two days, and our energy stores were low. By 4am, our house was ours again. Our midwives had gone, Cassie had gone, and AJ and I were left to rest and marvel over the perfect new addition to our family.
It’s taken a year to finish writing Jaggers birth story. It was important for me to be able to share our experience as a positive one, because there is so much fear around birth, and it’s powerful for expectant parents to see more than one narrative. But for a long time, when I thought about Jaggers birth, all I could focus on were the ‘what if’s’.
So I parked it. Something I needed to do, but not something I was ready to do. The reality of his birth had been a headspin for us both. There are things that looking back I wish I had been more verbal about. There were opinions expressed by the back up midwife that upset other people in our birth space and made for an awkward vibe. For a long time I saw Jaggers birth as a series of failure by me. Calling the midwives too soon. Calling Cassie too soon. Falling into the trap of thinking I knew what was going to happen. There was another lady in labour at the same time I was, and it was my ‘crying wolf’ that robbed her of having Cassie at her birth (she did have an epic back up photographer instead), but regardless, I carried all of that for a long time after and cried a lot when I thought back on it afterwards.
From the moment Ziggy woke up, crying at 4:40am, with AJ and I exhausted, things got even harder, and it took quite a few weeks for us to find our groove as a family of four. We’re still tired a year later.
But now I look back at this birth and I do see it as a positive birth. I see strength in a woman who laboured for two long nights. I see the love of a partner who believed she could do it, no questions. I saw a birth team who knew that home was the best option for this birth and who answered that phone every time it rang.
I am so happy we decided to home birth our second child. That no one wrote ‘failure to progress’ on my birth notes when labour stopped. That my body was given time and trusted to do what it was made to do, even if the way it happened was so different to what we had experienced with Ziggy.
I look back on this now and I feel pride in my body and oceans of love for our baby boy.
You are our last baby Jagger James, and your birth is one I am going to remember for the rest of my life.