Layla was born in mid-June, to a rousing dawn chorus and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers “Under the Bridge”, 2 weeks early and 4 days overdue, which is a clever trick if you can manage it.
Having had our first baby at home with Liz and Sarah, in a stable no less, there was no way we were considering any other option. All the beautiful wall and ceiling coverings were still up from having our son nearly 2 years before, and all that was required was a bit of clearing out and sweeping, which Liz, Sarah and their lovely colleague Meg kindly came and helped with, ably assisted by our very enthusiastic son, who even gave Liz’s car a bit of attention.
They say you can’t control when to deliver a baby naturally, but there are also things that can get in the way and delay the onset of birth. I had made all the usual jokes about not having enough time to get everything done, but if Layla had waited for all that to be finished, she’d still be inside! I had my worries about how Marley would cope with a little sister, particularly one who would be carried around all the time and sleep with us, and I knew that life might not be easy, but I didn’t think either of these considerations were holding me back from going into labour. But when the due date came and went and it really didn’t feel like anything was going to shift, I did wonder. Layla was so active in utero that I worried at one point that she might turn out to be an octopus, as I couldn’t imagine she could create that much movement with just the four limbs. Being at term didn’t stop her wriggling though, and I didn’t feel I was overly attached to being pregnant… I decided to do an exercise I’ve found enlightening on many occasions to see if that made a difference.
It’s very simple: you just write down a statement that you believe to be true on one side of a piece of paper, and then opposite that, write down the objections that spring to mind. And repeat until you run out of objections, but the idea is to come up with loads. It could be something like: “I am now willing to lose weight” or “live in a tidy house” or “birth this baby.” I came up with all the conscious objections about how Marley would react, and how tricky life might become, and how lovely it had been just the three of us, and so on. But it wasn’t until I kept writing that I realised I needed to resolve something about the first baby we had lost.
We lost PJ 15 weeks into the pregnancy, and then it took us 2 years to conceive Marley. As I did the exercise I realised that whereas Marley came along at about the interval I would have hoped for had PJ survived, Layla might well not have come into existence at all if PJ had stayed. Her spirit suddenly felt very present and I felt the need to honour her little life in some way.
We’ve kept a box with memories of her brief life in it: her positive pregnancy test, a few cards of congratulation from friends, my pregnancy diary, the photos they took of her tiny body in the hospital, the pill box her ashes were in, the certificate of cremation, and the many, many cards of condolence when we lost her. I looked through these things again, wept a lot, and put the box in the birthing room. I immediately felt more at peace and later that night, as soon as Marley was asleep, I went into labour.
I was lying in bed, Marley having fallen asleep on Adam’s lap late that evening, just going through my birth script and hypnobirthing exercises, when I got that unmistakable feeling from very deep within my pelvis. Breathing immediately made the sensation (almost) pain-free, although I wasn’t quite able to breathe as I had with my first birth: for the last 2 months of my pregnancy I had had a bad cough which, although it didn’t develop into anything sinister, proved impossible to shift and made deep breathing difficult. It meant that I wasn’t able to breathe quite as fully as I needed to to make the surges completely pain-free. Also, I could feel straight away with this baby that she was coming faster than Marley, who had taken a comfortable 12 hours to make his way into the world, and the surges started intensely and showed no signs of abating.
I lay in bed contemplating their strength and regularity for a while before clambering downstairs to tell Adam. He seemed a little surprised when I told him they’d been going on for about 40 minutes, and sprang into action filling the pool and phoning Liz and Sarah. Meanwhile I took Marley back to bed, and just hugged him for the next hour or so, breathing steadily through the contractions and feeling the reassurance of his warm little body in my arms.
About 2 hours after labour started, Liz and Sarah arrived. Adam went to tell my mum, who was visiting, so she could look after Marley, and I made my way down to the pool, which was filled and ready. I wasn’t keen to leave Marley, but I had the feeling that I didn’t have very long, and that it might be as well to get into the pool sooner rather than later.
When I got to the room, music was playing, the lights were low, and the pool was gently steaming. It was such a lovely sensation to sink into the warm, deep water, and to immerse myself in the music. Last time, I had run out of music, and had been a bit sad that I hadn’t included some of my favourites. I realised, too, that they didn’t have to be particularly quiet, but shouldn’t have inappropriate lyrics (Muse’s “Time is running Out” for example, is one of my favourites but probably not a good birthing song!) This time, I had enough music to last a very long time, and I was a tiny bit sad that I didn’t nearly get through the playlist!! But I found myself lost in the songs, and giving myself over totally to the sensations, having to concentrate quite hard to deal with their intensity, but never feeling close to losing it. There was an enduring tightness very low down in my pelvis that I never quite reached with my breath, but it was always manageable.
The surges started intensely and only got stronger. After what seemed like an unfeasibly short time, just an hour or so after Liz and Sarah had arrived, I got the sense that the baby was moving deeper into my pelvis and that the birthing was imminent. I had a sudden expulsive feeling as, I think, my waters broke and my bowels moved. Part of me doubted that I could be so close to my baby coming, but Liz said “it’s alright to trust what your body is telling you”, and so I turned over and leant against the edge of the pool, and concentrated on opening and letting go. The birdsong outside was so loud I thought it must be a music track I wasn’t familiar with. I reached down and could feel the top of her head. Liz and Sarah switched on the bright torch to get a better view, and it turned the water into beautiful, dazzling diamonds of light. It also illuminated the odd fleck of poo which amused me. Within minutes I could feel her head emerging. The first time I had torn when I got a bit enthusiastic and had actually pushed, and this time I just stayed very still, muttering “wait, wait, wait” to both my baby and myself. Once the head was out, which was an amazing but completely comfortable feeling, I turned back over to birth the rest of the baby. Sarah did say: “keep your bottom down!”, and I realised afterwards I must have been about to expose her head to the air and then submerse her again, which probably wouldn’t be a good idea! With the hypnobirthing you don’t push at all, but with the next surge I did my first and last mini push of the birth and she slid out, into Adam’s hands. She had a shock of dark hair and the most intense eyes.
We got out of the pool and wrapped up warm in towels and duvets. Layla immediately latched on, and fed for about 20 minutes while we waited for the placenta to come, and had a cup of tea. The afterpains were decidedly unpleasant, because I wasn’t in that deeply relaxed state anymore, and the placenta took a bit more than an hour to arrive, and needed a brief spell on the birthing stool, but no other help. We headed back to the house where Adam lit a fire, even though it was June, and we had more tea and toast all round.
So, early and late? Well, she was definitely over her due date, and I know that we didn’t get our dates wrong. She was a bit of a one-hit wonder. But Liz and Sarah said she had the look more of a 38 week baby. She was completely covered in vernix, and had a slightly unfinished look about her, and her labia hadn’t closed. She wasn’t skinny, but whereas Marley had been a chubby 8lb10, she was a slimmer 7lb04. I suspect that having had a horrible cough for the last 2 months of her gestation, plus the running around after a lively nearly 2 year old, and looking after the (12) horses, meant that perhaps she wasn’t optimally grown in there. And she came out hungry, and a bit cross about it. She fed almost constantly for the first 24 hours, only stopping to complain about there only being colostrum and not milk. Having been born at twenty to five on Monday morning, by Tuesday afternoon she had brought the milk in. She was then a very content little person, and put on 11oz in the first five days.
That said, she was adamant that she shouldn’t be put down, even when asleep, even for a moment, and I was glad I knew about the fourth trimester and the in-arms phase or I might have found it very difficult. Marley coped admirably with the new arrival, although the first time he heard her cry he looked horrified and joined in in a very heartfelt manner. By about the third time he didn’t react at all!
I do regret a bit that he wasn’t there for the birth. I don’t think he would have been upset by any of the biological aspects, but I was worried he would feel excluded by me being in such a deeply relaxed and inwardly focussed state. My mum later told me that he woke up, at around the time I was actually birthing, and I now think it would have been nice if he could have come in then. But although in many ways it was a spectacularly easy labour, it was still a huge feat of concentration and focus, and I’m not sure I could have maintained that with any additional pressures. Still, we have on video him clambering into the room where we were snuggled up with Layla, when he did wake up, saying “Hello, Baby!”, and giving her a hug and a stroke.