Our labour started at around 10pm on Monday the 7th of November. The faint period type pain that I had been having on and off for weeks suddenly felt different. Like a pulling in my groin, almost as though I had strained a muscle. We didn’t think too much of it (as a first time mama everything felt ‘different’!) and I went to bed as usual. By 1am Tuesday morning the sensations were strong enough to wake me and I began having to breath through them. Lying on my side in bed I would count to 10 with every slow exhale, often blowing directly onto my partner’s sleeping face, which for some reason helped me concentrate. We knew that early labour could go for days and had agreed that I wouldn’t wake Andre unless I felt I needed the support, so that he could be well rested for the marathon ahead.
Shortly before 5.30am the sensations eased off and I was able to doze for a little while. I got up and did exactly what we’d been advised to do- rest as much as possible. I stayed in my pyjamas and set myself up on the couch for a marathon viewing of The West Wing. The opening credits of that show will always remind me of Maisie’s birth! My partner Andre works from home and I encouraged him to go about his day as usual, content in the knowledge he was close by and believing that things had tapered off. At this point the sensations were so mild that I wouldn’t even classify them as uncomfortable. There was a regularity to them but no real consistency and I was able to relax and enjoy my morning while feeling excited that baby girl would be arriving in the coming days.
At around 11am/12pm the surges started to have a little more bite to them again but I was easily able to breath through them in a relaxed manner and told my partner that he should go out to dinner with friends as planned. We had drilled into ourselves that I could be in this state for days so were keen to be low key about what was taking place, so as not to emotionally wear ourselves out before labor had even really begun. We were taken by surprise when things kicked into gear more quickly than anticipated and by 2pm I was waking Andre from his power nap in the hammock to ask him to put the TENS machine on my back. He laughed at me in delight when I grumpily told him he should stop napping and come and help me get things organised now. I had already laid the plastic tablecloth over our couch in case my waters started leaking and Andre pulled up the spreadsheet he had made of things he had to do once labour started. He popped over to the supermarket to pick up the snacks I had requested, brought the birth pool down and prepped the rest of the spaces and things we had discussed. The surges began to feel more regular and had enough kick that I could no longer lie down for them. I would press two hands onto the wall, above my head, and lean into it while I breathed through them. At 4pm I told Andre “I don’t think you’ll be going out to dinner babe”; a realisation that I am sure he had already arrived at! I look back now and am so humbled by what an incredible birth partner Andre was. He was right there with me for every nuance of it. Calm and dependable, light hearted and patient, reminding me that I was strong. It makes me emotional to remember it and has deepened our relationship so much.
Andre encouraged me to eat a proper dinner so we ordered take away from my favourite vegetarian restaurant, which we ate outside in the courtyard. I would eat a few bites and then stand to lean against the wall and breathe through contractions. It was around this time that I found it helpful to start making some noise (I ultimately ended up having a very vocal labour!). We were still very relaxed and light hearted, chatting between contractions and Andre would help me feel loved and at ease with gentle touch and massage. We watched most of the first season of White Lotus cuddled up on the couch together, with me standing to do my wall leaning thing with each surge. By about 7.30pm Andre said “I think it’s time to turn the TV off now” as everything had intensified. I started wanting to lean and sway with him, instead of against the wall, and was beginning to increase the setting of the TENS machine to assist with the building power of each surge. Andre suggested I try a shower but I was probably only in there for 10-15 minutes as I really missed the TENS machine. It’s funny how the things you think will really help during labour don’t necessarily do it for you. As someone who loves baths I was sure that water would be a big tool for me during labor but I just didn’t want to give that TENS machine up! Andre and I had practised acupressure points as support for the intensity of the surges and I had heard many women say that the ‘hip squeeze’ was really helpful to them and expected the same. But I didn’t like it at all. Instead, I found the shoulder pinch one did wonders to help manage the increasing intensity of what I was feeling.
I think Andre called Ramona for the first time at about 8pm but I’m not really sure. It was around this time that it became clear we needed an extra pair of hands. I had gotten to the point in my labour where I needed someone with me through every contraction but, being a homebirth, there were things that needed doing- like filling up the birth pool. Andre called my Mum and dear friend Lianne to come and they arrived one after the other at around 8.30pm and 9.15pm. At my Mother’s Blessing I had invited my girlfriends to make candles for me to light during Maisie’s arrival and these were almost the only light we had. I also had custom made birth play lists but found they were ‘too much’ and favoured a beautiful sound track of singing bowl music. I remember a funny moment not long after Mum had arrived and I had given her a cheerful ‘thumbs up’ in greeting. When I told Andre to ask her to please take off her shoes, Mum thought I was simply encouraging her to be comfortable but actually it was that the sound of her sandals clicking on the floorboards was too distracting! Lianne told me how peaceful and sacred the space felt when she arrived. I recall feeling a great sense of calm and peace when she put her hand on my shoulder to let me know she was there. Our birth team was so special and everyone played an important role. I was especially keen to ensure that Andre also felt supported as being the baby-daddy for a homebirth is a much bigger responsibility then at a hospital. I knew that my Mum, who is a strong woman who has had four natural, vaginal births herself, would be able to reassure Andre that what I was experiencing was normal if it ever became hard for him to see.
Things amped up very quickly, or at least it felt that way to me. It went from feeling quite relaxed to switching gears all of a sudden, where I absolutely needed someone to do the shoulder squeeze every contraction. I remember demanding that someone must be with me for every contraction “please”. I was very aware of keeping my energy as gentle and polite as possible and proudly told Lianne when she arrived that I hadn’t even sworn at anyone yet! I was very direct when I needed something but tried to say “please” and “thank you” as much as I could.
Before Lianne had arrived but when Mum was already there, so sometime between 8.30-9.15pm, my body began spontaneously pushing. Andre had been in touch with Ramona a couple of times but my contractions weren’t the textbook length and time apart yet so it didn’t seem she needed to be on her way. However I started to feel some pressure around my bottom and soon after my body began spontaneously pushing. I interrupted Andre while he was on the phone and told him to tell Ramona that my body was spontaneously pushing. It was such a strange feeling and not at all what I expected. I thought that I would have more of a deliberate role in the pushing but there was nothing for me to do but let go and go with it, which I quite enjoyed. There was an element of effortlessness, despite the intensity. At this point I wondered if Maisie would be born before Ramona arrived and I felt very at peace with that. I absolutely trusted my body and the process of birth. However Mum and Andre were, I think, slightly worried that they would be the one delivering the baby. I heard Mum whisper “Oh thank God” to Andre when he told her that Ramoma was almost here. I tartly told her “None of those comments thanks Mum!” I was very keen to ensure there was no tone of fear or panic at any point during my labour and had communicated to everyone that if they ever felt stressed they should please remove themselves from my orbit, go upstairs and have a break. One of the best things I did in preparation for birth was communicate clearly what I wanted from everyone. Lianne has also said how helpful this was for her as she knew exactly how best to offer support.
I spent some time leaning over the couch with cushions under my belly, so that I could rest as much as possible between surges. During a particularly strong surge I felt a pop and a gush. My waters had broken. Until this point I had had no bloody show and no waters leaking, so I think I had not fully accepted that we were really in ‘proper’ labor. As the presence of meconium in a woman’s waters is one of the things that can lead to a hospital birth, this was a moment I was hyper aware of. I said to Lianne and Mum, who were with me, “What colour is it? My waters broke, what’s the colour?” I was happy that the fluid was so clear that in the candle lit room neither of them had even noticed my waters had broken! We changed my underwear and the bloody show was on full display.
I really wanted to get into the birth pool as I felt the baby was very close to arriving, but Ramona had asked us to wait until she arrived. I don’t really recall her arrival or getting into the pool, where I was apparently for about 40 minutes. Contractions slowed down and I rested deeply in between them. The heat of the water was making me very hot so Andre was putting icy cold compresses on my forehead and the back of my neck and I was sipping the ‘labour aid’ drink that we had prepared as often as it was offered to me. I recall how peaceful I felt and I was able to enjoy the increased sense of stillness and the lovely music that was playing. It was so special to have my Mum nearby, often meditating and drawing upon the strength of our female ancestors for me, at the time when I was becoming a mother myself.
I wasn’t conscious of things slowing down while I was in the birth pool and this time feels very hazy to recall. I do remember Ramona gently suggesting that as contractions had decreased in intensity it would be a good idea to get out of the pool and see if things picked up again. I recall the next phase of my labour as a puzzle that those around me were trying to figure out. I found myself starting to question what I was doing ‘wrong’ and whether I was in some way holding on and preventing things from progressing. But in my gut I knew that I was fully allowing my body to take over and I wondered/worried/felt frustrated and at a loss as to why our daughter hadn’t yet arrived.
Amongst all of this our second midwife Mal and student midwife Laura had arrived. That I earlier overheard Ramona on the phone to Laura implying she may/may not make it in time for the birth now seemed like a joke. I had a few moments of wishing that someone could simply slice open my belly and birth my daughter for me and times where I felt out of control. Because labor had stalled the pain and intensity seemed to have no purpose and I lost my focus. There is one moment burned into my mind where I am leaning into Andre’s lap on the couch, just pummeling him, the poor guy. My bizarrely polite curses of “Oh golly”, “Oh gosh” escalated to more colourful language. Two physical examinations to investigate why things had stalled (it turned out baby was posterior) meant I had a couple of contractions while lying on my back, during which I felt helpless against the pain. It horrifies me that women could still be encouraged to give birth like that.
I reached a point where I only wanted a couple of people with me. I wanted to focus on ‘getting it done’ and found that I was always too aware of what was going on around me, over hearing conversations and directing the birth team as to where to look for items that were needed. I was also aware that I didn’t want to be grumpy or rude to anyone and having fewer people around simplified this. Ultimately I ended up in the laundry/toilet and I’m pretty sure I told the midwives that I didn’t want anyone else in there except them. I remember: Lianne hugging me from behind and helping me to remember and chant a special mantra that is used for birth, Ramona inserting acuneedling needles, being fed an herbal tincture, Lianne massaging my leg when it started cramping. And telling Ramona and Mal: “Just tell me what to do and I’ll do it.” That was when I realised that, exhausted as I was, I was still deeply dedicated to our homebirth. The thought of transferring to hospital after all we’d already done was repulsive to me. And with the help of Lianne I remembered that our daughter was choosing the time and manner of her birth. That it was meant to be this way. Looking back I can also see classic flags of transition. I was deeply scared that I couldn’t do it and in this way Maisie’s birth humbled me and led me to a type of surrender that would not have been realised if she had come at 9pm on Tuesday night when the pushing first started- it would have been too easy! And apparently she wanted to be born in the toilet instead of in the more ascetically pleasing birth pool!
Our daughter Margaret Grace Martinez, ‘Maisie’, was born at 12.45am on Wednesday the 9th of November 2023 during the Blood Moon lunar eclipse. Even when her head was birthed, one of my feet on the toilet and with her cheeky little hand beside her face, I still didn’t feel that I’d done it. It was only when she slipped out, with one last roar from me, and I felt her warm body pressed against my own that I really believed she had arrived. She wailed in greeting and I said: “Hi sweetie, it’s okay, Mama’s got you”. I feel that it was in that moment that myself as a Mother was born.
Other things I remember: how gentle and loving and patient Andre was with me, my Mum’s exclamation of joy, grasping Laura’s (our student midwife) hand on the way to the toilet (aka ‘the dilation station!’), my absolute trust in Ramona and Mal.
Lianne whispered the baby mantra into Maisie’s ear at first opportunity, which was a very special moment for me. Lianne and I are teachers of Vedic Meditation and the baby mantra is an auspicious sound that reassures baby that Mama (& often Papa) carry the wisdom of the Veda; that she can relax and simply be a baby because all else is taken care of.
It was so special for Andre and I to have quiet time with our daughter in those early moments. Everyone gave us space as we met her for the first time and we Facetimed his Mum in Florida to reveal her sex. Months before Andre and I had met I had dreamed of a chubby baby girl with the dusky skin of her Costa Rican-American Papa. So while we chose not to find out her sex, I felt sure I knew who she was.
When I was back on the couch with Maisie on my chest I felt two gushes of blood, so Ramona and Mal decided to give me an injection of Syntocinon to be safe. While I had planned a physiological third stage (birth of the placenta) I was content that everything would be ‘over’ quickly now, after so much work, and fascinated by the beauty of my placenta. I held Lianne’s hand tightly while I was stitched up and Andre and my Mum stayed close by to marvel at Maisie. It is such a precious thing that my Mum was at her granddaughter’s birth. Mum’s exclamation of joy when Maisie was born is probably the first voice she heard and to this day she smiles more for her than anyone.
Birthing my daughter at home is the best, best thing I have ever done in my life. I wish that more women were awake to their own capacity to birth in a way that assumes and honours the primordial power and authority of a birthing woman. I look at my daughter and am proud that the wisdom of this is an inherent part of her arrival in this world.