It took a few days and a long bath for the details of Saoirse's birth to come back to me. She is now one week old and fast asleep beside me, and I can finally write her story.
At 37 weeks pregnant I stopped working, and from that day the waiting began. The weather in Cuenca turned summery, so C and I spent lovely days walking around plazas, dipping our feet in fountains, or spending time in our favorite cafés. We even went to that fancy italian restaurant we'd always said we'd go to. Walking made time go by faster, even if at the end of the day I often felt tired. Day after day I woke up and felt so calmly excited, so ready to welcome our little girl – sometimes the anticipation was too strong and it made me cry. I couldn't wait to go into labour.
The weekend before I turned 39 weeks, my birth team (a local doctor, midwife and doula) came to the house. Finally, it seemed like everything was in place, just the way I pictured it : the pool at the foot of the bed, affirmations and drawings hung on the walls, and our baby's first outfit laid out so I could look at it during labour. They left and a couple hours later, I felt a tightening that seemed different from the Braxton Hicks I'd been having for weeks.. Then, fifteen minutes later, another one. At 11pm, I told my love that although the waves weren't getting closer or stronger, something was definitely happening. We went to bed and I tried to relax, thinking I might go into labour that night.
But dawn came and the tightenings had stopped. They started again late that morning and continued throughout the day and the evening, and didn't progress. They weren't that painful, but it felt incredibly frustrating to be waiting on something without knowing how long it would take.
On monday morning, my midwife came back to check on the baby's heartbeat. Touching my belly, she told me the baby was in a strange position : all curled up the right side of my body, head down but not engaged. What you feel is your body trying to turn her so she can come down, she said. How long will that take ? - A couple hours, or a couple weeks. As she left I sat in the garden with my love and I cried. « I just want her to be born ». « You know she's coming., he said. She'll be born when she's ready ». I knew he was right, and so I waited.
As the day went by, I tried to distract myself from the waves that were still coming somewhat regularly. I walked and rocked my hips around, and tried to nap. After a while I decided that I was going to insane if I stayed indoors any longer and we went out for a walk. As the sun went down we walked to a little plaza surrounded by tall trees. The light was golden and warm and held me like a soft hug. Walking made the waves stronger, and when they came I had to stop and hold on to my love's shoulder, and breathe deeply. I had an inkling this might be it, but I was trying not to get my hopes up.
Back home, we settled down and put a movie on, but we soon had to pause it because a wave came over me that forced me to get on all fours and make a low, purring sound. Then came another, and another, and soon I was only able to rock my back and be on my knees, and vocalise when the pain peaked in my belly. I closed my eyes and breathed deeply like I learned in hypnobirthing. I tried to be focused on each sensation, telling myself – you just have to go through one at a time. I could still see and hear my love walking around, trying to keep busy, but I could feel myself drifting, less present to the world and sinking inwards.
|The room she was born in, hours before labour|
The doctor arrived after an hour. She dimmed the lights and checked me, then smiled. « Tu bebé va a nacer hoy », she said, and both my love and I started to tear up from pure excitement and relief that it was actually happening. She phoned the rest of the birth team and left us to go get her kit from her house. Our doula arrived five minutes later and climbed on the bed, massaging my back during contractions, pushing on my hips to help them open.
The intensity grew. I could feel my love coming to hold my hand, stroke my hair, or wipe my forehead with a cold cloth. Everything was silent, but for my breathing and my singing during each contraction. I could hear voices, like there was another me whispering in my ear, keeping me calm. « It's only your body doing what it needs to do, she said, don't focus on the pain. It's only a minute, it will pass. Every wave brings your baby closer to being born. Just breathe it out ». Whenever the pain went down the relief was so sweet I let out a sigh. Still, as the pain got deeper I had to rock my hips more and more to avoid tensing up, and when each wave was over I laid down on my side and started either shivering or burning up. From time to time the midwife checked on the baby's heartbeat, and everytime it was perfect. I heard my love softly speaking. « Can you hear how strong she is ? You're doing so well ».
All notion of time and space faded away. After a while Elbia suggested I got up and sit on the toilet. Getting up seemed like the hardest thing ever, and I found out I had bled. I called for Elbia and she checked me again, took me back to the bed, and told me to start pushing down if I felt the urge. Around me I could feel everybody starting to hurry around, trying to fill the pool with kettles – our water system being too slow. I felt alone. A wave came and I wanted to scream : « Why is nobody helping me ? », but instead I focused deeper inwards, trying to relax my body and let the pain pass through me freely. Open, open, open, I repeated in my head, like a mantra who quietened all my other thoughs. Each wave it took everything I had not to scream and roll around and run away, and although I thought I couldn't do it anymore, everytime pain was followed by relief and so I let myself be carried by the tide, and thought I can do this, I can, I can.
Transition was the only part of birth I had fears about, I was scared I would lose it completely and not be able to carry on. As it happens, my transition went completely unnoticed. My doula stroked my lower back and whispered - « you're ready and the pool is ready – you're going to meet your baby so soon now ! ».
The warm water embraced me and held me calm. For a moment everything slowed down. My love climbed into the pool and sat behind me, holding me tight. Soon the urge to bear down was there and suddenly all feeling of tiredness was gone. Like my body was taking over and it wasn't in my control anymore, I just had to let it happen. I felt her, moving down, parting my bones. My love whispered in my ear : « You've got so much strength, you can do this, she's almost there ». The water held me still and warm and it felt so good to push. I could feel her head crowning and stretching me. With the next contraction I pushed her head out with the fiercest roar. I reached down and felt her head being born, covered with something soft and squishy – my unbroken waters. One last push and her entire body was born. The water swirled and got tinted with blood.
She was born in the water at 1 in the morning, after only 6 hours of labour. She was entirely in caul, the sack finally rupturing as she came out and letting her free. « Reach down and catch your baby », my doula said. I pulled her out of the water and against my chest. Behind me I could hear my love sobbing and breathing so fast, his face buried in my neck.
She was small, but so strong and awake – one small scream and she settled against me, eyes wide open, gently watching us like she already knew us. Her cord was wrapped twice around her, so we untangled her quickly and she turned pink in seconds. « You're okay, you're okay », I said, « you did so well ». I was too overwhelmed to cry, I think, but I also felt strong, so strong. I had birthed my baby on my own, freely, without drugs. For a moment nothing else was there, just the three of us holding each other in the water. We were a family.
When the cord stopped pulsing, my love cut it, and just like that, we were two separate beings. I climbed out of the water and laid down on the bed to birth the placenta. All the while I held the baby close against my skin, and she nuzzled to find my breast and nursed for the first time. The three of us stayed in bed as the women started emptying the pool and tidying. I wanted to scream my gratitude to them, the wonderful beings that made my pregnancy and birth perfect – but I couldn't talk, I couldn't take my eyes away from her. Slowly we sank under the covers, holding each other, and as they left we slept.
|The moment she was born|
In the few days that followed, we spent so many hours just staring at her in silence, learning her. She sleeps and dreams, stretching her limbs, her head cradled in our hands. When she's awake she's so wide-eyed and gentle – she hardly ever cries, and just looks at us calmly, as if to say she's happy she landed where she did.
Seeing my love with her is the greatest feeling of all - I often find him gazing at her in silence, smiling softly as her tiny fingers reach for his hand. She is perfect – soft mily skin and feathery blond hair. Looking at her I can feel a strange love growing. It's spreading to the end of my fingers, lining my veins with a golden thread, wrapping around each part of me like weeds. Everytime she cries it breaks your heart. We live between day and night, without ever looking at a watch, following the rhythm of her. As she sleeps we hold her hand and we tell her « we love you, we love you, we love you », and we tell her we're here, and she smiles through her dreams.
Thank you for choosing us, Saoirse. We are yours for always.
|In our garden|
|Her first bath|
|One week old.|