Our beautiful Katie Joy turns 2 this week and I wanted to take this opportunity to remember her amazing birth and write it down so I never forget. We often tell the children their birth stories, particularly on their birthdays. It helps us to remember that every birth is a miracle, a gift from God and every child’s arrival has its own unique story.
After nine babies I am very aware that birth is always unpredictable and many births don’t go as planned. Katie’s story certainly didn’t go as we had expected, but it was more beautiful than we could ever have hoped. Our account tells the story of her unintentionally unassisted, relaxed home birth.
I tend to have about a month of pre labour. That means that for a month I look and feel like I could pop at any minute. During this pre labour month I will have contractions in the evenings. After the children are in bed my body relaxes and contractions will often start and can continue for a couple of hours before I go to bed, when they all stop. If I climb the stairs I can keep them going, but really they are just my body’s way of limbering up for the main event.
So after my month of on off contractions I was all ready to give birth. We had planned to try and have another home birth. We have had 7 of our babies at home. Our first and fifth were born safely in hospital and were only born there as a precaution. I had discussed our options with a consultant and our midwife and we had concluded that a home birth would be best for me. We decided this because our eighth baby was born within 30 minutes of contractions starting and therefore we were unlikely to make it to hospital with number nine!
Friday night I started my normal round of contractions, but these ones ramped up and we called out the midwife who found me puffing and panting on the bathroom floor. After hearing my hollering she quickly put together the gas and air and handed me the good stuff. Once the gas arrived my contractions seriously picked up and we were ready for a baby. After emptying one canister of gas my contractions slowed down and then stopped. After 4 hours of painful contractions I was ONE cm dilated and rather embarrassed! Surely after so many babies I would know the difference between false labour and real labour? Unfortunately my body does a good job of tricking me. My midwife kindly said that my body was ready but my baby wasn’t quite there yet. So I reluctantly gave up on giving birth at that point, the midwife went home and I went to sleep.
Saturday, all was quiet. Sunday, all was quiet. I thought that maybe the baby had decided they just didn’t like the idea of birth and had got comfy again.
Sunday evening Phil and I decided to have a date night, knowing that they wouldn’t happen again for a while. He made me a Thai curry and at 9pm I sat on my birthing ball and enjoyed a really relaxing meal. The lights were dimmed, classical music was playing and we were both feeling, how can I say this? Feeling amorous! Those hormones that had been created by the intimate evening were about to become very helpful.
Around 9.40 I popped to the loo and then I had a big contraction at the bottom of the stairs. Phil was meanwhile trying to put ‘Call the Midwife’ on the TV. Elizabeth then came down and complained of a tummy ache, so we quickly packed her off to bed with an emergency sick bowl and some paracetamol. Praise God, all the other children were quiet, which is so unusual in our house before 10 in the evening. By the time Phil came back from attending to Elizabeth I had had another huge contraction, so I asked him to actually call the real midwife instead of watching it! By now it was 9.50. I knelt down by the sofa with my head on Phil’s lap, hoping to slow things down while we waited for the midwife. I should know by now that that was unlikely to work, as I had gone past the point of no return. One more contraction and my waters went. Phil exchanged his lap for a cushion and went round to the end where the action was kicking off. During each of these contractions I had not made any noise, which was very unusual for me. I knew the children would come downstairs if they heard any noise and the older boys room was next door to us downstairs. I focused on just riding the waves, breathing and praying. I was still really relaxed because the evening had been so peaceful and no one was disturbing the flow of my labour. I was doing everything my body instinctively told me to do and without inhibition I was following the path my body was taking me on.
Phil quickly exchanged my wet skirt and leggings for the mats and towels which had been sitting in the lounge, waiting for this moment. With the next contraction the baby started to move down the birth canal and that inner roar (which would normally be shouted out) was used to power our new arrival into the world. Phil all the while was being a great support reminding me I was doing so well. He was the picture of calm and both of us were just focused on our tasks. Phil’s task was to catch and attempt to keep the carpet clean and mine was to push!
Excuse me if I pause during this next contraction to describe something extraordinary that I always feel right around this moment. During this most intense moment of birth I always describe it as a ‘thin place’. ‘Thin places’ is a word often used about places where God has been worshipped for centuries, but my thin place always comes right around the moment of birth. I describe it that way because for a moment it feels like God is right there, a palpable sense of his presence. In my weakest moment I lean on nothing but him and he in turn carries me through every wave. My eyes close and my focus turns to God as through the shedding of blood and water I bring new life into the world.
Birth is the most beautiful picture of God’s redemptive plan for us as sinners. Through his Son’s death, where Christ shed blood and water poured from his side, we receive new life. So too, in birth, do we shed blood and water and experience a glimpse of the pain of surrendering our own lives for another. In that pain though I turn my eyes to God and he replaces the pain with an intense peace and calm. The more I focus on him, the more the world seems to disappear and for a few moments I feel I am almost touching Heaven.
Back to the birth….2 more contractions and at 10pm, our new baby arrived into Phil’s arms. He passed her to me between my legs and we checked to see whether God had blessed us with a boy or a girl. Another daughter lay before us, but she was very floppy and I began to worry and pray. We called 999 as she was hardly breathing. Had I thought about it, I would have worried less if I’d remembered that she was still attached to the cord and therefore getting oxygen through that. The person on the 999 call got us to flick her feet and rub her with a towel and she did take little breaths, but she was still not really responsive and normally my babies have all breathed immediately. I remember wondering for a moment if we would lose her and asking God if he would help her breathe. We continued to rub her though and keep her skin to skin and she gradually started breathing, praise God! The midwife arrived 8 minutes after she was born. She took one look at Katie and by then she was doing better and she took the phone and said, ‘Mum and baby are fine, you don’t need to send anyone here in big clod hoppin’ boots, we’ll be fine!’ After that she got me comfy on the sofa and we got Katie feeding.
Katie Joy’s birth was truly amazing. I believe I had not needed pain relief because a) my body had done most of the labour on the Friday night, b) I was in a state of deep relaxation as the children were quiet and a Phil and I were feeling closer than ever and c) God carried me through every wave. God helped me not to be afraid once during her birth and I’m sure fear causes a lot of birth pain because it makes us tense up. After she was born was quite nerve wracking for a few minutes, but I learnt that sometimes when babies are born so quickly they just need a few minutes to get going. I suppose I really knew this but I normally leave that bit in the midwife’s hands. This time it was down to us to decide if she was ok and so we reached out for a bit of support and we were very grateful to have some encouragement down the end of the phone.
Our lovely midwife stayed with us for a couple of hours and then we were able to go to bed by about midnight. What a date night that was! One we’ll never forget.
The next morning the children trickled down the stairs one by one and met their tiny baby sister. They’d all miraculously slept through the whole birth and were completely amazed that our home now suddenly had a newborn sister in it. They each held her and fell in love with her instantly.
We are so grateful to God that she arrived safely. We called her Katie Joy, which means pure joy. She certainly lives up to her name and continues to bring huge amounts of joy to our home every day.