Rue’s Birth Story

I want to share this story as I think that we don’t talk about birth, and for that matter death in our culture nearly enough. Birth is an incredible, but everyday, natural, normal event Western culture has made it into a taboo subject, spread fear amongst women and mis-information. By sharing my experience I hope to do my part to dispel myths and empower women with real knowledge. So here goes:

The first night of my 38th week of pregnancy I woke in the small hours, the world was quiet and dark, still. The day before my mucus plug had started leaking out, thick and goey and yuck, but a midwife assured me that could happen days before labour even began so I didn’t pay much attention.  I squinted at the clock 3am, the world was asleep. I couldn’t get comfortable. I felt like I had period cramps, which became a constant dull ache low in my belly. I tried not to wake Juan, I stretched and rolled and eventually got up. I remember sitting on the loo, still not believing that this was it. Then a wave hit, a surge across my belly deep inside, I opened my eyes looking at the soap in the sink next to me and thought “I’m going to be sick” and I was. Violently and quickly. Juan appeared in the bathroom door. “Here we go” he smiled, so calmly “Here we go” I nodded and threw up again. I tried to go back to bed. Every now and again my belly tightened, usually I was sick. Sometimes I wasn’t. ‘A final bout of pregnancy sickness’ I thought grimly clutching the edge of the bed, sweating.

Over the next hour we put on the hypnobirthing tracks. They helped massively. Hearing the familiar words relaxed my muscles and soothed my brain. We kept the lights off and in the dark rocked and swayed through the sickness. It was like nothing I’d ever felt before. I lost all sense of time. As it grew light we called the midwives and our Doula, Samsara arrived. She squashed onto the floor at the side of our bed, held my hand and a sick bowl. Stayed with me as Juan gathered our things. I didn’t want to move but I knew it was only going to get harder.

They wrapped me in love, with socks and blankets, I made a glamourous sight, but I was past caring. I hung between them and we staggered into the dawn. It was the most beautiful morning. It felt like the first day of winter. Frost glistened on the cars and the last leaves swirled round our feet.

I had never appreciated quite how bad a state the tarmac is in between our house and the hospital. I felt every bump, every lump, every acorn and pebble jarred my stomach. Somehow I managed not to be sick in the car and we made it to the hospital just as the night shift ended.

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                    Doula hands

Later we discovered it was the hospitals busiest day of the year so far. I was shown into a room on level 13. It must be one of the best views in Brighton. But I could hardly focus on it. I rocked on the floor and buried my head in a chair. I was dimly aware of Juan, Samsara and my Mum holding space for me, hands pressing on my naked back, fingers gripping mine, soft words of encouragement, and more glamourous still, holding pads between my legs to mop up mucus and pee and other such delights. Fielding midwives questions, diming lights, playing music, filling the diffuser. Time seemed to stand still and speed up all at once. I breathed and groaned, sweated and froze. Determination sunk into my pores. I opened my mouth, kept my lips soft. Thought of Ina May Gaskin. I stopped caring where I was, what the world was doing, what I was wearing, I wanted it to be over. Almost every contraction I threw up. Exhaustion clawed at me. I wanted to stop, but there was no stopping it. I shut my eyes, it was just me and my baby and the only way out was forward. Someone wheeled in some gas and air. I sucked on that thing like a kid who’d never had a lollipop. It took the edge off. Calmed me down, but I think I got a little over-excited, started to trip, got higher and higher, chatting to my mum about how it was reminding me of acid and mushrooms. All the while contractions got stronger and stronger, taking my breath away, freezing my brain. Then an extra big one came, I opened my mouth, to breathe it out, visualised myself on a wave, there was a rush of pressure and then the room erupted into laughter. I opened my eyes confused and saw my mum dripping wet beside me- my waters had broken in spectacular fashion exploding all over her!

Holding space with me

                         Holding space with me

At some point they put a drip into me. And then with exhaustion sitting heavy on my chest they suggested an epidural. I wanted out. I wanted a break. So I said yes. It wasn’t pleasant, the epidural. Sitting still when my body want me to groan and sway was hard. But then it was done, I expected relief but it never came. ‘Sometimes epidurals don’t work’ they said. I remember listening to a Krishna chant, dragging on the gas and snapping “Fuck Krishna, fuck this hippy shit it’s not fucking working, turn it off!” and then turning to my incredible husband and saying “and fuck men too, you all have no idea!”

And then the midwife spoke some magical words “you’re fully dilated Lucy”. I grinned with relief, bizarrely I realise now in retrospect I think I somehow thought that that was it. That when I reached that point the baby would somehow magically just fall out of my now wide open (- donut sized according to the charts!) vagina…oh how wrong I was! Little had I realised that that is when the true work of labour begins. That’s why you need energy, need rest. Until that moment you’re along for the ride and then you need to work.

I feel like the English language falls down when it comes to describing the next part. It was primal and animal and base. I was the lioness and the she-wolf, I was the mother and the crone and every woman who has ever birthed all rolled into one. A wall of fear rose up and slammed into my chest, I blew it away and growled “I can” right on the heels of “I can’t”. My groans became roars that no power on earth could’ve stopped. I knew in my core the only way out was through. It hurt like nothing I’ve ever felt and yet it wasn’t painful. I curled my toes and roared, again and again. It was too different to be painful. The word pain is somehow familiar, a concept we deal with daily and this, this sensation was something other entirely. The midwife by my feet was a beacon of calm and light, I roared my energy towards her. She took away the gas and air,, turned off the redundant epidural told me I was doing it, told me to roar downwards not up, told me to breath my baby down.

And then suddenly all the hurt stopped. Something soaked my thighs, there was a new cry that wasn’t mine and a squirmy warm body was placed on my chest, the cord slipping between my legs. And there it was. My daughter blinked up at me and the world stood still. She’d been caught by her daddy, she was pink and warm, healthy and very much alive. I was dimly aware that people around us cried and kissed us. A towel was wrapped over us and I stared and stared and tried to drink her in. It was too wet between my legs, I knew I was bleeding, but it seemed a small matter, when they said I needed syntocin to deliver the placenta quickly I just nodded. Moments later it flopped out softly and they stitched me up and I barely noticed so lost was I in our baby’s gaze. The cord was already white and soft, my mum cut it.

Two weeks on, I still find it hard to look away from her. Can’t quite believe she’s here, can’t quite believe I’ve made the rank of ‘mother’. For me, labour wasn’t spiritual or painless. It hurt, it was primal and intense hard work and it was also the most incredible experience of my life so far. It was not only the birth of my child but the birth of me as a mother, I faced the unknown and it was beautiful. All together I laboured for roughly 14 hours, 6 hours active and just 40minutes of pushing. I bled, got dehydrated, used drugs and have a second, almost third degree tear. And still I think Rue’s birth was as perfect as can be. It wasn’t luck, I’d worked hard to ensure I feel that way whichever path my birthing took. I’d studied and prepared. I felt safe, supported and listened too, I had choices and respect. I hope all women can be supported to feel this way. Everyone around me knew about my birth wishes. No one mentioned epilepsy and through it all Epilepsy never even raised its ugly head. And now I can safely say that I would do it all again, right now this moment, just to hold my baby once more for the very first time. No trip, no adventure, no drug, no adrenaline rush will ever compare to that incredible moment.

I hope that by sharing my truth about this most ordinary of miracles it will encourage more people to share their stories and empower women, particularly those labelled ‘high-risk’ to know that they can do it too.

And then she was here.

                   And then she was here.

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Project Virtual-Women’s-Circle

credit: Cluttered Gypsy

credit: Cluttered Gypsy

If I had been born a million or even just a few hundred years ago I expect my experience of pregnancy would’ve been very different. That is assuming that I survived having un-medicated, un-diagnosed epilepsy long enough to reach child-bearing age. Assuming I did, that I was healthy and loved, and forgetting that having epilepsy would’ve either made me an outcast or a witch. One of the main differences I imagine is that I would’ve been born and bred in a small community, perhaps of about 200 people. I would’ve known everyone and everyone would’ve known me.

I would’ve watched all my siblings being born, I would’ve helped out, worked hard. Taken care of little ones whilst mothers laboured. I would’ve listened as the older women passed down their knowledge of childbearing. I would’ve learnt herbs and massages. I would’ve seen women die and babies too. But perhaps not so very often. I would’ve watched the animals mate and labour unassisted, furry wet bundles blindly flopping out and finding their way to milk. I would’ve seen children fed from their mothers breasts till they could walk and talk and take their turn looking after a new one whilst their mother laboured yet again. I would’ve seen and heard the sweat and smell, groans and sighs of love making, perhaps I would’ve learnt that this is how the babies started. I wouldn’t have been afraid. There was nothing to fear, this was just life, it was hard but real, perhaps more honest than the one we find ourselves in now. Birth and Death were everyday, in everything. I read a beautiful article on this thought called ‘I Miss the village I never had’  check it out for further musings on how life, especially for women has changed.

spirit weavers

 

In that ancient community, love, luck and friendship would’ve been my main medicines, my support and strength. So far in my C21st pregnancy one of the many things which has surprised me is the way in which pregnancy affects relationships. I sort of expected it to amongst perhaps my family and child-less friends, but it’s so much more than that. I’ve found that some people I thought would be there to support me have all but disappeared and in their place new unexpected faces have appeared, those both with and without children. It has been another challenge of creating life that I hadn’t foreseen. I expect there will be many more! A positive side of this is that in many ways I now feel much less rooted in Brighton, our seaside home which called us back several years ago, where I thought for a while my heart lay. I’ve realised that the ‘village’ I thought I was in there was a mirage. In it’s place I’ve learnt that I am part of a village. It’s just much wider than this town, it extends around the country, into other cities, into remote valleys and across oceans. This means that I could make a life full and happy practically anywhere in the world. I have a network of friends who are there. Distance and the 21st century way of life gets in the way and I don’t see them as much as I would’ve in ancient times.

To remind myself  of this village I know I am part of I have been reading and researching many life stories of different women, both with and without children, all around the world. Their words have brought me great comfort, inspiration and helped me learn more about what ‘being a woman’ means.  I then decided to reach out even further and gather words from my friends and family to surround myself with for all the challenges ahead, not just for the rest of pregnancy and labour but motherhood and womanhood beyond that too. For those that I had addresses for I sent letters explaining the project. For those I don’t and for those in my web-world, this is your invite to my virtual women’s circle.

wonder

If you would like to take part simply comment on this post with some words of encouragement or wisdom you think might be helpful for me to remember. It could be as simple as “You can do it!” or a quote or anything else you like.

I am then going to print and collect all of the comments and put them on labels on a key ring to make my long-distance woman’s circle of wisdom which I can look through on challenging days. Or perhaps my husband will even read it out to me during labour!!

I hope you like this idea! The ancient villages might be gone, but we are all still connected and I hope this is a little way to remember that connection. I am so grateful that this experience has shown me that I am included, that I’m loved. I feel so lucky to have the tools to connect with all you wonderful people all over the world. Please known I read all your comments, count every like and wrap myself in your words. You cannot underestimate the comfort and support your blog-following provides me with. Thank you so much for taking the time to participate.

A circle of women

 

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Dear Baby

Thinking about you on Brighton Beach

Dear Baby,

So it’s been another few weeks since I last wrote to you. Before we talk more I think I should add a note to the readers of my blog which I started when you were just a distant spark in my dreams.

*~ I started this blog as my own cathartic corner of the web, to speak my truth and share the challenges of some of the labels I’ve been given, particularly epilepsy and chronic pain. Now I find myself adding a new label. ‘Expectant Mother’. This means that whilst I don’t intend to let the blog be entirely consumed by baby-talk, this pregnancy thing is pretty all-consuming! Therefore I suspect much of this space will be baby-related for a while at least. I make no apology for that. If you no longer enjoy my ramblings then there’s plenty in web-world to aid you get rid of baby-stuff from your life such as unbaby.me (you’re welcome!) I’ve been overwhelemed by the lack of imformation and support for pregnant women with epilepsy so I hope by sharing my experiences others might feel empowered to do the same. ~*

So baby bub, back to you. Yesterday your Daddy and I got to see you again. This was not a regular ultrasound. No this was extra special just for you! Because of all the epilepsy medication I’m taking the Doctors who have been looking after you and me wanted to make extra sure that your heart is growing as they would like it to be and that my medicine isn’t affecting you.

This is you in your Green and Pleasant Land!

This is you in your Green and Pleasant Land!

Although I was really looking forward to seeing you again, I keep trying to trust my body and believe that you know how to grow big and strong to meet us without us checking on you all the time. However, the Doctors around me all seem very scared by Epilepsy. Sometimes I think they are more scared than me. They want to check you all the time and I’d really like to just let you do your thing. They made me feel really nervous. This scan felt like A-BIG-DEAL. For a start we had to go all the way up to London to a massive hospital called Tommies. We had to go there because it is the only place in the country that has a machine strong enough to see you in enough detail.

It was a very hot day and by the time we got there I was sweaty and tired. The hospital is somewhere I have been lots of times before as it is where my epilepsy doctor – the neurologist is based. It was absolutely packed and as we walked down the corridors I felt more and more scared. You felt very heavy in my tummy and I had to stop every 10 minutes to go to the loo. Not to mention you’ve been keeping me awake at night quite alot…and I’m still being sick!

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How I am currently sleeping

Eventually we found our way to a new part of the hospital I hadn’t been to before, the Evelina Children’s Hospital. It was light and airy and after the crowds  in other parts of the hospital it felt like an air-conditioned oasis. It is also organised by ‘Arctic’ theme which made it fun trying to find out where we had to go. And I think it definitely helped me cool down! Our appointment with you was in the ‘Polar Bear’ area. There where lots of very sick children in the Evelina. I hoped that we never have to come there with you, although the staff we met were completely wonderful and I thought how lucky we are to live in a place with access to a facility like that, all totally for free.

When the scan started your Daddy and I were amazed by the technology. We could see you so clearly! I saw your face. It looked cheeky and happy! You were bouncing up and down on my bladder – no wonder I kept needing the loo!! Your heart is currently the size of a pound coin and we listened to the sound coming out of each of your four heart-chambers. They all sound slightly different. The sound filled me with more joy than I have ever experienced. I can’t begin to imagine what it’s going to be like to actually have you in our arms. Feel your breath and your heart beat on the outside of my skin. The lady who did your scan was the best person we have so far seen during my pregnancy (we’ve seen approx. 20 different people! Midwives, GPs, Obstetricans, Neurologists and many different nurses) she was the best because she was kind, unpatronsing, calm. She talked to you – did you hear? She listened to us? She said your mission is simple. Grow fat. Get out. Get cuddled. That’s it. My mission is not to listen to all the scary things the Doctors in the system keep telling us. Because, she said, you are perfectly gorgeous and everything is OK.

I am so grateful that the Evelina exists and I’m grateful you’re OK.

Till next time baby-bub

Love

Your Mumma

 

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Dear Baby

You in my belly at 20 weeks

Dear Baby bub,

Today I decided it’s time to start talking to you. I read that you can hear me now, who knows perhaps you can even hear the keys tapping. I’m your Mumma. You have been growing in my belly for 20 weeks now. I feel so overwhelmed by talking to you, there’s so much and nothing to say all at once and I don’t know where to begin. All my life I’ve wanted you. Your Daddy and I dreamt of you and now I can feel you. I’ve started to imagine what it might be like to actually see you. I’m letting myself believe you’re really on your way now. At first it all seemed surreal, I couldn’t believe it. But now my tummy’s swollen and I know you’re squiggling around, pushing and stretching. I hope you’re having fun in there.

Out here it seems that summer has finally remembered England and I can lie in the garden to write. I roll up my top and sun my tummy and I wonder if you feel the rays on you too and listen to the sea-wind in the trees. There’s no reason why you should know, but before you came along my body was pretty broken and I wondered at points if making you would ever be possible. But I healed and there you were, growing and growing deep in my belly, making the world seem quite wonderful!

I’ve been reading lots of books about how to help you come out into the world to meet us as easily as possible and they all tell me the same thing. I have to trust my body. Now that’s something I’ve found really hard. I’ve wondered how to explain why to you and here it is. I find it hard to trust my body because I have something called Epilepsy. That means that sometimes I fall over and get confused. To stop me falling over I take medicine. It is annoying falling over if you don’t want to and it makes it hard for me to trust my body. Right now you’re swimming inside me but I expect you will fall over lots of times in your life, it’s hard to stay upright on earth! Everyone falls. It is nothing to be afraid of. The important thing to remember is that after I fall, I always get up again.

So, I’ve been thinking and thinking about what I can do to help learn to trust my body even though I have epilepsy. And I’ve realised there is one thing my body has done that I haven’t had to take medicine for. Something that my body’s done all alone is to make a place for you to grow in. A place where you are safe and loved. I haven’t had to help. My body knew all on its own how to look after you for the past 20 weeks. If my body can do that then there’s no reason why I shouldn’t trust it to carry on caring for you until you feel ready to come out and see us.

I can’t believe that in a few short weeks you have taught me so much and have helped me to see how to begin to trust my body again after so many years. I couldn’t have done it without you. Thank you.

Your Daddy and I already love you so much Bub and we are so excited to meet you.

I’ll write again soon. Stay well. Keep growing!

Love

Your Mumma x

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