Daddy and I were swimming in a lagoon off of Tsoi Lik, when it occurred to me that my bleeding was almost a week late, which never happened. In fact, after almost three and a half years of unsuccessfully trying to conceive, we were near to giving up hope of having a baby. Grandma had come to Papua New Guinea on holiday and the three of us were adventuring in New Ireland Province, Papua New Guinea’s most remote.
Floating in that magical lagoon, I took deep calming breaths.
I could be pregnant.
I told Papa.
We daren’t hope too much or let ourselves be too excited. Not yet.
There was nothing that I could do until we got back to Port Moresby anyway, except eschew the South Pacific beers and margaritas that your Daddy and Grandma were drinking like they were going out of fashion, and try not to retch at the overpowering smell of seaweed that seemed to follow me everywhere that I went.
A few days later and back in Moresby, I managed to buy a pregnancy test at the local pharmacy as soon as we were home. I had to sterilise a jam jar to pee into to do the test; it was an old fashioned one that required the use of a pipette! Papa was waiting for me in the bedroom, barely breathing, an eyebrow raised expectantly…all I could do was nod, smile and cry. Daddy did the same while we held each other tightly. We told Grandma about you later that evening out on the terrace at the Royal Papua Yacht Club and couldn’t quite decide whether she was going to spontaneously combust on the spot, do the chicken noodle soup dance along the balcony, or throw herself over the railings into the harbour such was her excitement!
When I was eight weeks pregnant I experienced some light bleeding very unexpectedly and we feared the worst. Your Auntie BB was the country director for Marie Stopes PNG at the time and very kindly paid for me to have an ultrasound scan at their Port Moresby clinic. In a very random location and situation, and on a very old and fuzzy screen we saw your heart beating for the first time. Everything was just fine. Implantation bleeding was the probable cause, take it easy over the weekend and don’t worry was the advice from Doctor David.
I was studying for two modules of my MPH whilst I was in early pregnancy and experienced twenty-four hour nausea and vomiting, migraines and some kind of weird pregnancy induced narcolepsy. Daddy kept coming home from work to find me laying on the bed or collapsed on the sofa, completely unconscious and covered in all of the papers that I’d been trying to read when the urgent need for sleep completely overtook me! I started feeling shockingly ill on that holiday in New Ireland before I even knew I was pregnant and finished feeling terrible just before we went to Fiji when I was 11 weeks pregnant. I was still feeling dizzy and sick but nowhere near as bad as I had been. I sat my epidemiology exams at the University of PNG when I was 10 weeks pregnant and had to ask to sit at the back of the room next to the door and a rubbish bin, just in case!
By the time we left Papua New Guinea when I was 14 weeks pregnant I was feeling amazing and was able to really enjoy our holiday in Malaysia on the way back to the UK. When I say enjoy, I mean that in a fairly loose sense, as your Daddy made me kayak through a mangrove swamp looking for tree dwelling snakes and nearly gave me heat stroke on one of his infamous ‘jungle treks’ during the holiday.
You were very well traveled before you were even born; we were living in Papua New Guinea, went to Fiji via the Solomon Islands; Cairns; Malaysia; Singapore; Scotland; Holland AND emigrated back from PNG to the UK! You also had your first taste of champagne (Bollinger of course) in business class on Singapore Airlines traveling from Brisbane to Singapore. I think the bubbles must have made you bounce a bit more than usual because I felt you move for the first time on the flight too!
Before we moved to PNG, Daddy and I had been living in and loving Edinburgh and Scotland. Grandma, Granny and Granddad had all been living overseas when we were in PNG, but were all back and living in the South of England. We umm-ed and ahh-ed a bit about where to live on our return to the UK, but soon decided that we would move to Oxford to be near to our families so that you could all get to know one another before someone set off on further adventures! Daddy got a cool sounding job and found a gorgeous little cottage close to the centre of Oxford, and we moved in about 8 weeks before you were due. We set about making a cosy nest to birth our baby in.
I had heard so many hospital birth horror stories over the years from friends and friends of friends and in fact from complete strangers who, as soon as they saw my bump, felt compelled to come and share their horror stories with me about their own hospital births; so many, a crazy number. I heard about a lack of autonomy, a lack of power, a lack of consent, disrespect, unnecessary medicalization and at no point did I ever consider anything other than a home birth for you. Papa and I read everything that we could get our hands on and did lots of research to prepare and inform ourselves. Oxford had a great team of community midwives who were nothing but supportive of our choices.
From the day I found out that I was pregnant, I had been doing a beautiful prenatal yoga flow with you each day at sundown. It was the only hour of the day that I didn’t feel overwhelmingly nauseated. Part of the flow was a guided visualisation that facilitated imagining what birth looked, felt and sounded like; who was there and what happened in the minutes after birth. This guidance was pivotal to our birth choices. I had also connected with you every day through Reiki and had shared positive energy, love and affirmations with you.
You were due on the 1st January and as you were my first baby, I was anticipating waiting an extra week or so past then to meet you. We had a quiet Christmas day at home with Uncle Bj and Freya, poor Grandma had the flu and was in bed. On Boxing Day Daddy and I went for a long walk through Port Meadow. We stopped to watch a herd of wild horses grazing and to our surprise, the littlest came boldly over to us and playfully nuzzled my very large belly! We travelled up to Granny and Granddad’s the next day, and spent the day eating, laughing and on a very hilly walk with them, Auntie Anna, Uncle Lee and Alice.
Very early on the morning of the 29th December, when it was perhaps even still night, I woke up to a very regular and rhythmic mild cramping in my belly. I can still remember the rush of excitement I felt at that moment with amazing clarity. I lay quietly, snuggled up to Daddy, for another hour or so, tuning into you and the sensations in my belly. I got up to go to the toilet and then went downstairs to make a cup of tea. I was pretty certain by that point that I was in labour.
I drank my tea in the kitchen, gazing out of the window at the river, taking deep and calming breaths, knowing that it wouldn’t be long until we met. I went upstairs and woke Daddy to share the news with him.
We had such a beautiful day. It was calm, relaxed, and full of love and anticipation. Daddy made us a delicious breakfast and we sat by the window next to the twinkling and fragrant Christmas tree in the weak winter sunshine, reading the papers and talking. We called family and friends on Skype while I was bouncing on the birthing ball and then finally called the homebirth team to let them know that I was in labour.
A midwife came to visit at lunchtime and asked if she could check my cervix. She enthusiastically proclaimed that I was doing really well and was a whole 1cm dilated. I was pretty devastated! Not for any other reason than I’d been having regular and rhythmic contractions for about 7 hours and was excited to meet you. At that point though, they weren’t stopping me from doing anything. I could even talk and eat through them! The midwife asked us to let the team know if anything changed significantly.
Daddy and I went for a walk along the river and that encouraged stronger surges. We walked back home and ate lunch and then snuggled up on the sofa to watch a movie. We decided that a comedy would be just the thing to encourage yet stronger contractions and held onto each other in hysteria at ‘Death at a Funeral’. Later in the afternoon when the surges started requiring more of my attention and were stopping me from talking, we took the tv up to bed to watch something else (but I don’t remember what!) and then fell asleep! I woke regularly to breathe through contractions but quickly fell back asleep again, warm and snuggled up next to a gently snoring Papa!
I was rather suddenly startled out of my sleep at around 6.30pm by a surge so powerful that it quite literally rolled me out of bed. One minute I was happily asleep, and the next, before I was even awake properly, I was on my hands and knees on the floor trying to breathe and calmly integrate this huge shift.
Daddy called the homebirth team again and timed the contractions while he spoke to them. They were just a few minutes apart and lasting for around a minute. At the peak of the most powerful surge yet, my waters released with a very strong gush. The midwife said that she was on her way and would be about an hour.
Our intention was for you to be born in the dining room by the Christmas tree, so we moved downstairs so that Daddy could light candles and I could find a rhythm down there. It seems very strange to me now that I hadn’t considered a water birth for you. The contractions were so powerful by then that I felt like I was barely holding it together and wondered where hours more of this would take me. Not having experienced labour before, I obviously didn’t know that we were a LOT closer to meeting you than we realized at the time.
Periodically drifting off to another dimension, I floated back as the pain subsided and told myself that my body was doing exactly as it was meant to be doing, that each mind-spinning surge was bringing our baby closer to us. But oh my GOODNESS it hurt. I was on my hands and knees again by this point and mooing! The midwife arrived, took one look at me (if she hadn’t already heard me half way down the street) and called the second midwife to come over straight away.
I don’t remember her name and I don’t remember what she looked like. I do remember that she asked me if I’d had a wee recently! I hadn’t. She suggested I go up to the bathroom and try and I quickly decided that I was staying up there, as it was so blissfully cool compared to the rest of the house. As we were in the depths of winter, the house was super-heated in anticipation of your arrival. Laying very unglamorously on the bath mat with my head in Daddy’s lap, the midwife checked me and said that I was about nine and a half cm dilated.
I moved position back over onto all fours and leant with my head on the cool bath, drinking Ribena, and suddenly, there was complete silence and stillness. I felt no pain, no tension, just complete bliss. And then just as suddenly, just as the second midwife walked up the stairs, my body started to very powerfully push you out. I very gratefully accepted the nitrous oxide that she’d brought along with her and was offered for pain relief.
Our house was pretty teeny, the bathroom the smallest room. The midwife asked me if I could possibly move round so that we could maximise space (my bottom was under the sink at that point!). So Daddy sat on the toilet and I knelt up, with my upper body, upper arms and head on his legs. The second midwife set up the birthing kit on the bend in the stairs!
Daddy said that I roared like a Howler monkey.
As you began crowning, the pain changed and the burning sensation hurt more than anything else. I started crying, convinced that I couldn’t deal with the pain anymore. My awesome support team (and I mean Daddy – his was the only voice that I was tuned into) assured me that I could, I was and that we were minutes from meeting you.
And then suddenly, from somewhere, far away, voices were gently saying “Sam, Sam, your baby is here, look, meet your baby….Sam”. I looked down, just behind me and there you were, in the midwife’s hands, shouting your head off and looking very cross. I turned around with my back to the wall, still leaning on your Papa, took my vest off, reached down for you and held you to my chest; suddenly calm and focused. Back from the stars.
You shouted some more, did a poo in my hand (a story of family legend already!) and then became calm. While we waited for your umbilical cord to stop pulsating, we sat there in Daddy’s embrace, learnt that you were a she warrior and I began falling in love with you and your 3.4kgs of perfection.
I snuggled up in bed with you soon after and you very quickly found my boobs. Daddy fed me tea and toast and then helped to weigh you, check you over and get you dressed right next to me while I was getting a few stitches. We were never apart from the moment you were born. The midwives stayed and chatted, drank tea, ate some of the delicious food that Daddy had lovingly prepared for them, did their paperwork and then, at about 2am, they cheerily waved goodnight.
We took you back up to bed and lay with you between us, in turn dozing and marveling at you, thanking one another and affirming our love for one another and you. You dozed, squawked, drank milk, looked at us with your big dark eyes and listened to our voices, taking everything in, in the soft light of our bedroom.
My birthing experience with you was pleasurable, empowered and full of love. Papa and I spent the whole day together, in and around our home, where we were most comfortable and doing some of the things we most love doing together (thankfully dangling over tropical sinkholes and snorkeling with jellyfish weren’t available as activities that day!). To have laboured for around 15 hours, until transition, by ourselves and then afterward with only intentionally minimal support, was an amazingly powerful path into parenthood.
This is the first of 3 posts where Sam shares all of her daughter’s births! Follow the links below to read the stories of her 2nd and 3rd babies births.