I’m pretty sure that you were conceived just before Christmas and during one of the craziest storms I’ve ever experienced. I was supporting someone as their doula at the birth centre here in Ubud, and Daddy was in Java working. The energy from the birth combined with that of the storm made for a crazy night. I was taking a quick breather outside the birth room in the middle of the night, when one of the midwives walked past and said, “I didn’t know that you were pregnant”. “I’m not” I replied. Suastini looked at me funny. I later learned that she has an innate intuition for knowing when people are pregnant. Sometimes, it turns out, even before they do themselves.
You were also born during an epic storm on the night that the following rainy season started. It rained through the roof of our house and in through the ceiling of the room we were birthing in.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Your birth story is so hard to tell. It’s interwoven with so many other things, and over such a long time. The entire story spans twelve years and I promise that I will tell you every detail when you’re ready to know.
But for now, I guess that my Master’s thesis is kind of where your story starts. Indi, Mali, Daddy and I had been living in Java and had moved to Bali for me to undertake my thesis research at Bumi Sehat, the birth centre started by Ibu Robin. I really wanted my MPH to have a maternal health focus and there was work for me to do there. After not very long of experiencing Bali’s magic, I knew with absolute certainty that I wanted to be a midwife. What I also knew was that I didn’t want to go back to university again, nor did I believe in the traditional medical model of midwifery still taught in many, many institutions. I knew that I wanted to be a homebirth midwife, to teach prenatal education classes and prenatal yoga ad movement and to have specialist skills in postnatal ritual and care. I also knew that I needed emergent care skills and felt that I would learn best via an apprenticeship model.
For quite a while I had really wanted another baby and often felt you in my energy field. But the more I felt my calling into midwifery, the less practical sense it made to have another baby. As Indi and Mali were getting a little older and a little less dependent, Daddy and I were starting to date again; I was exercising regularly again and volunteering at the birth centre; I had started a birth doula certification course and was doing lots of research into midwifery training options. Life was finally, after a really intense 4 years, beginning to feel a little, well, less intense.
Daddy and I talked long and hard about having another baby and finally made the decision that we wouldn’t. I grieved heavily for you for months. I still felt you so strongly and held you in my arms, talked to you and said goodbye. It was one of the most emotionally challenging things I’ve experienced and feeling your energy so strongly made it all the harder. When I eventually felt ready, we sold or traded all of our baby things: cloth nappies (for a trike), stroller, car seat (for a pair of earrings), baby carriers and toys. I also had my beautiful Guatemalan fabric baby carrier made into cushion covers. I had bought it in Guatemala in the summer of 2005 after I had fallen in love with your Papa and hoped deep down (and very very secretly) that I would one day have his babies!
Fast forward back to that crazy birth that I doula’d at just before Christmas 2016. Grandma was in Bali with us and we travelled up to the mountains the day after Boxing Day for Indira’s birthday and then on to Amed, one of our favourite places in Bali, for the New Year. Grandma then flew home to England and Daddy flew off to Java.
Late one evening, after Indi and Mali were asleep and I was studying, I experienced an all-too-familiar bout of dizziness that came out of nowhere. My first thought was to check that it wasn’t an earthquake, my second, was that my moon cycle was a week late.
I did a pregnancy test the next day and stood, staring at the positive test, with my mouth open and eyes wide for a very long time. Technically, I shouldn’t have been pregnant. Daddy and I hadn’t made love in, or anywhere near my fertile period, he was off the island during it; he in Java, I in Bali. By my calculations, I must have ovulated twice, or something else crazy had gone on. The energy of that storm during the birth I was at was obviously more powerful than I’d thought, and combined with the birthing oxytocin and what was very clearly your strong need to be here, despite what we thought, I was pregnant.
I stayed up until 1am to see Papa when he arrived back from Java that night. I sat on the sofa with him and gently told him about you. His first response was “is it mine”? and the second, moments later “but we’ve just sold all of the bloody baby stuff”! We sat and held one another, letting the news and the reality sink in.
Around a week later, on mine and Daddy’s 9th wedding anniversary, hyperemesis and migraines kicked in with a vengeance and I spent much of the next 8 weeks mostly in the foetal position. After grieving so long and so hard for you, being unexpectedly pregnant and so so sick was mentally and emotionally very challenging. I struggled with the ‘why’ for quite some time.
When I was 16 weeks pregnant with you and as the incapacitating sickness faded, I joined the Eat, Pray, Doula advanced doula skills retreat in Ubud. I already knew and loved Ibu Robin and was soon to feel the same about Debra. Her energy, passion, knowledge, dedication and heart full of love were infectious and incredibly inspirational. I told your story to the group and someone said to me “but what better way to learn about the kind of midwife you want to be than to be pregnant yourself and to receive the kind of care that you yourself wish to give. Your baby is a true blessing”. Those words and everyone’s joy in my pregnancy essentially changed my mind-set and ultimately, my life; enabling me to see the wonderful opportunity you’d given me.
During the retreat we had a Blessingway for one of the other doulas and I used some of the time we came together in song and circle to connect deeply with you and ask for your forgiveness. A profound sense of peace and relief washed over me.
A month later I joined an advanced skills midwifery retreat where again, you were celebrated wholeheartedly, as was I, and my alternate path. I was able to let go of my fears more deeply, learn from another truly inspirational group of women and gain a more rounded sense of the midwife I wanted to be. One evening, the two beautiful midwives facilitating the retreat, Lianne and GeorGina, led us on a journey back through our female ancestry to connect with our innate birthing wisdom using guided meditation and a Shamanic drum. As Lianne moved the drum up and down through my energy field I could see and feel your energy and light expanding in my belly. Lianne told me afterwards that she felt it too and that it was really magical.
The rest of my pregnancy with you passed pretty quickly, with a 5 week-long holiday in England and Scotland thrown in for good measure. I think your favourite part was sleeping in a camper van on a remote Scottish island beach!
Back in Bali, and Grandma came to stay with us for a month leading up to a couple of weeks before you were born. We celebrated birthdays and she helped out with cooking and school runs and threw herself into the general melee while Daddy was away! You, Daddy and I went up to the mountains for the weekend on a babymoon. It was cold and rainy and I got really sick with a stomach bug so we stayed in bed, snuggled up under the duvet watching movies for the entire weekend! I was also able to enjoy regular massages, acupuncture and chiropractic treatments. Our acupuncturist was a Kiwi ex-special forces soldier, turned acupuncturist and Qigong Master who, a week before you were born, asked if he could cleanse and give protection to our birthing room at home. He is a really big guy, yet incredibly gentle and it was a pretty amazing experience laying on the bed covered in needles watching him go about his work.
We were also given the most beautiful Blessingway, which Ibu Robin, Kara and Daddy organised. It was truly magical and I’ve written more about it here.
Two weeks before you were born, Grandma went back home to England and I was persuaded to stop driving your sisters to school and rest for a couple of weeks (I had to have the driver’s seat so far back to accommodate my large bump that I couldn’t really reach the steering wheel!). On the 15th September which was your estimated due date (Indi was born 3 days before hers and Amalya on hers) Daddy and I went out for lunch and then out exploring on the moped trying to find accommodation for Grandma for when she came back in a couple of weeks.
The plan was that Papa would have 2 weeks off of work after you were born, Grandma would come for 2 weeks, Granny and Granddad would come for a month and then Grandma again for 2 months. We were all really excited about our awesome postpartum support team.
Friday came and went and we made plans with friends to go out to a gig on the Saturday night, convinced that a good boogie would encourage you out. On Saturday morning I decided that the most probable reason you weren’t with us yet, was that you didn’t have anywhere for your things to go, as all sane Mamas whose babies are 9 hours past their ‘due date’ do! Grandma had lovingly and carefully washed, ironed, folded and stored all of your things in a sealed box to keep the mould, cats and geckos away from it. I sent poor Papa out on a mission to find you a beautiful set of shelves. There was also a bag of gluten free pastries to collect from the birth centre freezer, left there by our friend Tina, and some homemade super-pesto that Robin had made, some tincture brewed on The Farm and a Shaman-harvested jar of honey that had been collected under the full moon and never seen the light of day to collect from Ibu Robin’s house. Only in Ubud!!! Oh and Daddy wanted to stock up on pastries from Monsieur Spoon for everyone else. He had already lovingly filled the freezer with home cooked food in case our labour was lengthy so that everyone was well nourished.
Daddy took his shelving mission very seriously and throughout the afternoon I got pictures of different shelves for my approval. We finally decided upon a set made from re-purposed rice paddy farming machinery.
At about 3pm I suddenly felt a huge shift in my metaphysical space. Nothing discernible had changed physically, but I sent Daddy a message and asked him to come home. I needed him more than anything else at that point in time. He immediately messaged me back and asked if he should come straight away, or if he should go and get all of the food first. I told him that I definitely wasn’t in labour and to get the food first, but not to take too long. I also told him that I didn’t think we’d need to go dancing that night to shake you down!
I made dinner for your sisters while we were waiting for Papa and he joined us before the end of the meal. After we had all finished eating, I stood up from the table and as I did so, I felt my whole pelvis open and you drop deeply into it. Having this depth of awareness of my pregnant body was a completely new experience for me, even as a third-time Mama. The learning journey I had been on since the beginning of your pregnancy was something else.
Daddy and I got Indi and Amalya showered and ready for bed and Papa went to tidy the kitchen while I read the girls their bed-time stories and cuddled them to sleep. Amalya fell asleep as I was finishing the last story but Indi took a little longer. I moved from between them to the outside of the bed and turned to face her. She wrapped her arms around my neck and pressed her face against mine. And, as I lay there breathing with her and loving her, I felt the first deep waves of pain flooding through my womb. I have always found labour incredibly painful but hold no fear of it. As an aside, I was laying in exactly the same position with a very teeny Indira when my labour with Amalya began!
Within minutes, the contractions were coming pretty closely together and with incredible intensity. I breathed more and more deeply, willing your sister to fall asleep and at the same time wondering how on earth I was going to be able to get off of the bed! I had promised Indi and Mali that they could be at your birth but, as I had no idea what was happening yet, I at least wanted Indi to get some rest before she was up again. After a short eternity Indi went to sleep and I managed to roll ungracefully off of the bed in a 30 second break between contractions. I moved to the bathroom and sat on the toilet to pee. I held my hands on my belly and connected with you, feeling a huge wave of excitement. I told you that I was really excited to finally be about to meet you and was going to work hard to bring you safely earth-side. I asked you to help me by tucking your chin in tightly and being strong and brave. This connection was taught to me by Ibu Robin and was a really meaningful way to start our journey together to bring you earth-side.
In the next brief break between contractions I staggered out into the dining room to find Daddy, clutching my belly and completely unable to stand upright. Papa took one look at me and sprung into action, calling first our midwives and then messaging our Mums and my Blessingway group of sisters so that they could start sending us cosmic support. Thankfully (as it turned out) one of our midwives was having dessert with a group of friends just down the road from our house, on her way to the same gig we had planned to be at, and had her midwife’s bag in the back box of her moped.
I told Daddy that I was going to lie down on the spare bed to try to integrate the contractions as they felt intense and all over the place. There was still no discernible rhythm to them. I lay breathing deeply and trying to focus on nothing-ness. I was looking at my timer on my phone and not really understanding what I was seeing. By my calculations I’d been in labour for 20 minutes and my contractions were lasting for a minute or more, and were a minute or less apart. Daddy was still on the phone to one of our midwives and relayed what I was saying. She said she was on her way!
I tried every position I could think of and couldn’t find comfort or relief in any of them. The intensity of pain from the contractions was making me feel like I was losing my mind. Daddy was whizzing around inflating and filling the birth pool, setting up our birth altar and lighting candles. Star our dog was in a high state of excitement and your sisters were thankfully still asleep as the rain began to fall.
Inspiration suddenly struck that I would only be comfortable on the toilet and so into the bathroom I staggered. Daddy had rigged the hose pipe that was filling the birth pool up to the shower hose with a bit of bike inner tube and gaffa tape, and the bathroom was looking less than cosmic. Having never given a thought to labouring on the loo before, I hadn’t considered bathroom ambiance in my birth plans! That first time sitting on the toilet only intensified my contractions further and it felt like another one was beginning before the previous one had finished (My midwife later told me that this was exactly what was happening and that she’d never seen anything like it before). I sat, trying to keep my body and face relaxed and my mind calm but just couldn’t stop thinking that I didn’t understand what was going on. I was groaning very loudly and at the same time thinking that nothing made sense and that I knew I was supposed to stay out of my head but that I just couldn’t. Needing to retreat from this new intensity of pain, I made my way back to the bed and onto all 4s, which is how our first midwife to arrive came to be greeted by my bottom as she joined us!
I don’t know how long she’d been sitting on the bed when I became aware of her presence. She was just sitting, being Zen and observing. I told her that I didn’t understand what was happening with my contractions and that I felt like I needed to go back to the bathroom. I also wondered aloud what was taking so long with the pool being filled, as my only desire at that point was to get in it!
What was taking so long was that Daddy’s attachments had come unattached and water was spraying all over the bathroom! Also, our retro boiler system had a cut-off mechanism that kicked in after about 15 minutes and unbeknown to anyone, the water had been running cold for a while!
Daddy had also called Ratih and asked her to come over in case we needed help with Indi and Mali, or anything else really! She was boiling pans of water and passing them into the bedroom while Daddy, and now our second midwife, were trying to fix the shower system! I was sitting on the toilet, my hands and feet braced against the walls to try to re-distribute some of the overwhelmingly crazy and intense energy that was rippling through my womb, with my midwife kneeling in front of me. My other midwife motioned that she wanted to turn the light on so that they could see what they were doing to fix the shower and so, as my midwife motioned for me to use her neck as a pillow, I leant forwards and buried my face in her neck, groaning in my loudest and deepest voice.M
Finally, someone said that there was enough water in the pool for me to get in. I was helped up, across to the pool and into its welcoming and calming warmth. I sank deep into it and took a big, calming breath. My midwife just knelt calmly by the side of the pool, reading the birth vibes and emanating a very calming energy while Daddy and Ibu Robin bustled around still trying to fill the pool and desperately trying to avoid the slightly treacherous puddles that were appearing on the tiled floor from the bedroom ceiling. Rainy season had started in earnest and our grass roof was having a hard time coping!
The intense contractions continued but they felt much more bearable now that I was supported on all 4s in the pool having bowls of warm water rhythmically tipped over my back. I rested my head on the edge of the pool, suddenly wondering why the contractions had stopped. Back in my head I was suddenly questioning whether I’d got into the water too early and inadvertently stopped my labour.
And then an absolutely overwhelming urge to push engulfed my entire being, literally rippling through my body. I must have made a noise because one of my midwives suddenly said, “Oh my god, are you pushing”? “I think so” I replied, taken slightly by surprise at the sudden-ness and absolute-ness of it. And then a gentle voice drifted into my consciousness saying “Sam, if you can hear my voice” and I knew that that was the beginning of my cue to let go. I very consciously let go of my pelvis as we had practiced in my midwive’s kitchen a little earlier on in my pregnancy and after we’d discussed my concerns for your birth. I felt your feet pushing at the top of my womb and an engulfing surge of energy as you moved swiftly and in one motion, down through my open cervix and along my vagina, surging forcefully out into the pool and our waiting hands just an hour and nineteen minutes after my first contractions. We brought you up to my chest and I sobbed, big, body shaking sobs and as one, Daddy, and our midwives all said “Oh, Sam”, reaching for me and hugging me and loving us. My eyes closed tightly shut, I held you and let everything go as theysang Gyatri Mantra, Papa humming along in his deep baritone. I opened my eyes and looked at you and instantly knew. Of course it was you. It was always going to be you. Who else could it have been? You’d been waiting, patiently, just there, in my energy field for so long to join us, and now you were here.
We hung out in the pool for a relaxed while, you comfortably attaching yourself to a boob, and then our midwives asked if I wanted to move onto the bed with you to try and encourage your placenta to be born. Helping hands supported and guided me from the pool to the bed, where we sat, skin-to-skin and wrapped in towels and, with some intention and gentle coughs, your placenta was born. We had planned a lotus birth for you and so your placenta was placed in a bowl beside us and covered with flowers.
I was checked over and received a few stitches while snuggled up with you and Daddy. We chatted and laughed and fell in love with each other all over again.
Your sisters had so wanted to be at your birth and we had planned for it. However, labour with you was just too crazy and intense and fast for Daddy and I to find the space to wake them up. As soon as my stitches were done he went to wake them so that they could meet you. In no time, two sleepy, tousle-haired girls came wondrously into the room to learn that they had a new baby sister. They too joined the pile of love on the bed and helped to check your placenta, weigh and measure you and count your fingers and toes. They made placenta prints, chatted about your birth with us as we all re-lived the past 2 hours (Indi was a bit cross that we didn’t wake her) and shared a midnight feast with everyone before falling asleep again.
The rain poured, one of our midwives went home and one curled up on the bed with us for a while, Daddy pottered between the two bedrooms making sure that everyone was ok and then, it was just us. Everyone else had gone home, or was asleep. And again, as with your sisters, I was too ecstatic and energised to sleep and so, just lay, looking at you, breathing you in, kissing you, feeding you and falling more deeply in love.
And there in bed we stayed for the best part of a week. I had the most blissfully relaxed and ecstatic first week postpartum. We stayed skin-to-skin for the entire week, snoozed together, breastfed, and hung out with your sisters and your Papa. Who, by the way, was nothing short of fabulous: constantly telling us four girls how amazing we were and how much he loved us, crying with us, doing all of the cooking, bringing me tea, coconut water, gallons of water, delicious food, constantly caring for your sisters, doing all of the school runs, taking turns having skin-to-skin with you, taking turns snoozing with you, doing load after load of laundry, sending and receiving messages and pictures from around the world…I could go on, but I hope that you get the picture by now!
Your placenta naturally released when you were four and a half days old. Lotus birth provided us with the perfect transition after such a speedy and intense birthing. Your energy palpably changed after you were separated and it felt as though you were now fully Earthside. As is Balinese tradition, we had your placenta burial ceremony the next day. We had already bought a pot and a beautiful flowering tree and we buried your placenta along with offerings to honour it, ceremonial objects and representations of the things we wanted for you in your life. As is custom, this tree still sits on the right hand side of the entrance to our house and we intend for it to accompany us wherever life takes us.
My birthing experience with you was not at all what I had expected. I had anticipated blissful, cosmic, intuitive and gentle. It was intense, raw, intuitive and powerful. As with your sister’s births, it was full of love and deep respect and my learning journey intensified further. It felt like your birth took me to another dimension and that our blissful postpartum gently guided me back down to earth. I also knew for certain that my birthkeeper sisters had all been right when they assured me that you were the key to my own path into midwifery.
You can read the birth stories of Sam’s first and second babies via the links below.