Thursday, August 28, 2014

when pain gives way to joy (salem's birth story)

My baby boy has been in my arms for over 12 weeks.

I've wanted to share his birth story here for awhile now, but this has been a summer (or winter, for those of us in the southern hemisphere) of much trauma and pain across the globe.  I don't think the world is getting any worse off as there is much positive change, healing and reconciliation as well.  We are all just more connected, more aware perhaps?  But still, news of our shared brokenness across this spinning planet leaves us reeling and confused and fearful - will we slowly destroy ourselves?

I won't write about how vulnerable and reckless it feels to care for tiny, dependent people these days, I'm sure mothers have felt that way for four thousand years.  Are we crazy for thinking this is a good time to have children?  No, we are brave.  Expecting good and hope for our children's future is courageous, and it's only born out of a deep trust in a God who creates and commits and promises all things new.  I wonder if we've done the right thing in creating more people to be dependent on us, with the capacity to suffer and grieve.  But the world needs new tiny humans, whose imaginations are free, humans capable of love, forgiveness, peace-building and conflict resolution.  The world needs people who will sing their hearts out and lay down their swords.  Even God decided to arrive as a baby; that wasn't the safest option but somehow it was best.  

Pregnancy and birth do not always go to plan, I know that well, and many other mothers and fathers know that much more painfully than I do.  There are many, many variables to birth and some of them are completely outside of our control.  Like anything, we learn as much as we can, do our best and keep our chin up.  There's nothing to prove, just tiny babies wanting to be in the arms of their mothers, however that may happen.  Sometimes the stars align and babies come gloriously, the pain evaporates into a distant memory and mother bonds freely with child.

When the incredible pains of labour (that can nearly swallow a woman whole) are able to bring a real baby - screaming and alive - into the her hands, and even leave her body in need of no repair, the memory of the pain quickly melting away - this is a sign to us.

The world's suffering, and our own, is all going somewhere.  Just as we feel we have lost everything and there is no hope, it will surrender itself and give way to joy.  And all the boots of the warriors, all the garments rolled in blood, all the F-16s and tear gas bottles, riot gear, disease, chaos, racism, tanks and drones will be burned like fuel for a fire.

For we need to boil some water; a child is born.  His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace. (Isaiah 9)

So I'm sharing the story of my son's birth and I wear the memory of it deep in my body, a reminder and a sign.  Pain and suffering in this world do not have the last word.


(Prepare yourself for some graphic details written very bluntly.  Feel free to turn back before it's too late.)

The baby's due date was the 25th of May and I expected to give birth around that time; both of my other children were born at 40weeks + 2 days gestation.  I was half expecting a long labour and half expecting the child to slip out onto the floor spontaneously.  I processed pregnancy fears surrounding giving birth and felt like I moved through them in a new way, I felt pretty sure that whatever happened, God would be midwife:  present and GOOD.

I found most of the pregnancy exhausting and the last six weeks pretty painful as I got huge - I gained 28 kgs/ 60 pounds and I was caring for my other two young children.  My husband should be writing this part as I'm sure he can recount properly some of my misery.  :)  I wrote at the end of my 39th week that I was holding together pretty well and then I promptly started to fall apart.   I was having some pretty intense pre-labour pains off and on, especially in the night.  Ina May Gaskin talks about how for some women labour can try to begin as many as five times before active labour actually kicks in. This was priceless information especially as I hoped to have as little of my labour at the hospital as possible.  Some nights I would lie in bed trying not to time the waves of pain as they came but unable to sleep through them for a few hours at a time.  One night I really thought it was the real deal (how can you know but in hindsight?) and spent so much of the night awake.

I spent the days doing a lot of walking, 35 kg of toddlers in the double pram, hiking up the hilly street we lived on.  My friend on the corner would always ask if I was sure I wasn't having twins which is a great question to have to answer multiple times.

I liked to think that every night could possibly be THE night and then when I woke in the morning I wasn't too disappointed.  Until the morning of June 2nd.  I woke up quite a mess, around 5:30am.  At 40 weeks +8 days  I couldn't believe I hadn't gone into labour yet, I was only a few days away from being induced.  My midwife had done two stretch and sweeps, at 40+3 and 40+7, each one leaving me slightly more despairing.  I still didn't truly trust my body to cooperate with the natural process of birth.  Both of my other labours had been full of interventions and I desperately wanted to give birth the way I know it is meant to be.

When I woke up on June 2 I read an email from a good friend of mine in Canada.  She had been praying for me and felt like I should make sure I was informed about cesarean birth - she didn't think I would have one but knew that many people do have one without having any sense of preparation, and processing that possibility could help me face any lingering fears I have surrounding the birth.  I was so upset to read this, already on the verge of tears upon waking and realizing my baby was still inside.  I sobbed and sobbed and wailed and sobbed in my husband's arms.  My face filled with snot and I had trouble breathing.  I wanted to be out of my body, I was shaking.  I hadn't felt that low in a very long time.  Chris said he would stay home from work, and he did, even though I told him I didn't need him to be home. Ha.

I took a Panadeine and fell back asleep for three hours, waking around ten am.  I was still crying when I woke up.  Chris had read the email and told me he thought my friend was right, that I should make sure I face any lingering fears.  I did read a short article on 'natural cesareans' but mostly I just let go of all of my hopes for an intervention-free birth.  More than anything, I wanted that baby in my arms.  I didn't care how he or she was born, I just wanted them safe in my arms - whether that was via cesarean or vacuum or forceps, with or without syntocinon.  I didn't have anything to prove to anyone and more than anything I just wanted to know this child, face to face.

I was still weepy but was able to get out of bed and take a shower.  I messaged with another friend in Canada, a midwife also heavily pregnant.  I mentioned to her that I was having some kind of contractions but I had been there so many times before in the past week that I wasn't getting my hopes up.  Around noon my daughter woke from her nap and I nursed her for quite a while as I texted with a friend, making plans for the next day.  I noticed things were getting more intense but we were planning to take the kids out since Chris was home for the day.  Chris went to get some hot chips for the kids before we left and I reckoned I should time the pains, which were coming every two and a half minutes.  I called my midwife, still unsure if this was really labour and she said she thought it was, that I should come to the hospital.  I cried endorphin filled happy tears.

Our friend came to be with our children and my friend Hollie arrived for birth support.  We drove to hospital together, arriving at 1:30pm.  I had about five contractions walking from the outside of the hospital upstairs to the maternity ward, still able to talk through the pain and so flipping happy that my body was in active labour on it's own, for the first time.  I was all smiles as I hugged my midwife and we got comfortable in the spacious birthing room, which had a bed, a shower and a bathtub.

I could feel the pains increasing in intensity and length.  Soon I had Chris putting pressure on my lower back during each contraction and I stood with the moveable shower head on my tummy with very hot water.  I preferred to be standing up, swaying, trying to keep my body relaxed.  I told myself that the baby was safe, that I was safe, over and over again.  I could chat between contractions for the first 90 minutes or so but needed to quiet myself and focus through them when they came.  At 3pm my midwife checked me for the first time and I was 6-7cm dilated with my membranes bulging.  What my midwife didn't tell me was that the baby was occiput posterior and if she had I think I would have freaked out as my daughter's labour had been posterior as well.  I kept labouring and spent some time in the bathtub.  In the end I couldn't get comfortable in the standard size ceramic tub, but I did do a big push at one point randomly and my midwife thinks that's when I turned the baby into a better position.

By 4 pm the pain was very, very intense.  I couldn't believe I was going through this again, even though I had been here before (and this time without any augmentation) it was still fiercely overwhelming.  I had to fight all the thoughts of needing interventions.  I had to be very focused - during contractions I would say to myself "One two three, baby's coming" and I slowly breathed in and out and swayed side to side, still with lots of lower back pressure from Chris and Hollie.  I was either in the shower or rocking on the toilet and if Chris had stepped away I would yell for him as soon as the contraction began.  Between the the pains I would say to myself, "You can do this.  You are amazing.  You are so strong.  You only have to get through one more contraction and your baby will be in your arms."  That wasn't true of course but it helped me to really stay present.  Chris and I kissed between contractions a few times, like Ina May encourages couples to do.  I tried to keep my face and shoulders relaxed and loose and listen to whatever my body wanted to do.  Even though I ultimately had to bring this baby through my body alone and no one could take on that physical pain for me, my Chris was right there supporting me in any and every way that he could.

After another hour I started to feel a lot of pressure and naturally took a position more on my hands and knees, still in the bathroom.  I did a big push and my waters exploded everywhere.  There was some meconium present but I was in the zone and trusted my midwives so I barely paid attention.  They had to wrap some monitors around my belly to trace the baby's heartbeat but I was able to stay on my knees in the bathroom. I heard my midwife say the meconium was present because my baby was so overdue and not to worry because baby was fine, but it was a hard moment for my husband.

I wanted to really let my body do the pushing since my other births were very directed by this point.  I felt very connected to the universe at this point, it was primal, like I was the most human I had ever been.  I felt very much alone but also safe and cared for.  I could feel the baby's head with my fingers and as my body would come to the middle of a contraction I would have an irresistible urge to push.  I wouldn't push for long, and only once with each contraction.  I may have had five or so contractions until the head started to crown.  Birthing the head was a crazy and excruciating couple of minutes and my body desperately wanted the baby to just be out.  I let out a little scream and started to panic but my midwife sternly told me to stay calm and to pant.  I wanted to pull this baby out of me as the feeling was so overwhelming but I was able to breathe and pant and only just barely push gently.

Once the baby's head was born I had to do another big push for the shoulders and then I brought my sweet child up to my chest.  It was a whole new world.  I couldn't believe the joy, how quickly it had all turned around, how the pain had surrendered itself once this baby was in the world and breathing for the first time, soon screaming glad deliverance cries.  I held the bald baby close and kissed it's beautiful face, I thanked my midwife who had believed in me, empowered me and watched over me through the whole process.  She asked what I'd had and I said I didn't even care, I was too busy kissing this child.  When I looked I started laughing because this whole time I'd been mostly expecting a girl and the baby growing 41 weeks inside of me was a little boy.

It was 5:30pm on June 2, 2014 and we named him Salem.


We are all over the map when it comes to seeing painful situations in our lives give way to joy and healing and laughter.  We groan under the weight of the suffering at times, with no end in sight.  Take heart, friends.  We have not been left alone.  One day all things will be made new.


  1. this was lovely, friend. so proud of you, so thrilled you got a better birth experience, and rocked it. our bodies are phenomenal. thank you for sharing so much more than just your birth story--a lot of it resonated with me, deeply. love you so.

  2. Gorgeous writing. I love how you weave in the Isaiah imagery. Stories of birth are so personal and unique, and so universal and strangely similar. I find mine in yours, and I am grateful for the wash of memories.

  3. thanks so much for reading! I love that passage - has meant a lot to me over the past few years and even more now.

  4. thinking of you these days kathleen!! hope you are hanging in there and can't wait to celebrate sweet baby in your arms!

  5. I love this Becca. Thank you for sharing- it's so incredible to read, and inspiring.
    I've got so much hope in my heart for a natural birth but grasp that it may not go that way... X

  6. Oh I hope you have an incredible birth! There is so much we can do to prepare ourselves well and then there are some variables out of our control (but they often line up as well!) I think it's good to be aware that sometimes babies need extra help to be born safely so we aren't devastated if that happens but we can still hope/pray for/work towards/expect that birth will happen naturally. Can't wait to see your little one!! xx