Around six months after actively trying to fall pregnant, my period was delayed. One morning I woke up at 4 am to go to the bathroom and took a pregnancy test. It was immediately, so brightly, 100% positive.
My heart was beating so quickly; I couldn't even flush the toilet. I ran into my husband Louis with tears in my eyes because we were having a baby! We were in Byron Bay at the time, and there was no way we were going back to sleep, so we walked up to the lighthouse and watched the sunrise over the water on the day we found out we were going to be parents. It was very surreal and a very special memory.
My pregnancy was, what I believe, relatively normal. Morning sickness in the first trimester, incredible fatigue, constipation, haemorrhoids, leg cramps at night, very low blood sugar all the time which meant I fainted a few times but all relatively normal and no major complications.
At around 35 weeks and on Christmas Day 2018 the tightening s/contractions started. They lasted 1 minute and came on every 8 minutes, and they didn't go away until I birthed my baby almost three weeks later. I had planned to work up until 38 weeks, but the contractions meant I was practically on home rest and told to take it easy, so they didn't induce pre-term labour. While they were incredibly uncomfortable and at times painful, they weren't dilating my cervix at this point, and they didn't increase in intensity or duration.
At 37 weeks and four days, I was admitted for my third round of monitoring to monitor and document the tightenings. I was extremely fortunate to be on the mater mothers midwifery group practice program in Brisbane, so I had a lot of telephone support and was able to meet my midwife at the hospital for monitoring.
The midwife confirmed after an internal examination that the baby wasn't yet fully engaged, that my cervix was still long - but had softened. The midwife said I would need to get the baby down and engaged to help initiate the early stages of labour. She gave me a few techniques to get the baby moving down into my pelvis, including sideways stair walking and said the baby may be a few weeks off yet.
I went home, very disappointed, hot and sick of being pregnant after nearly three weeks of contractions every 8 minutes. I walked sideways up the three flights of stairs to our apartment, and once we reached the top of the stairs and as my husband was unlocking the door, I felt a huge pressure. I knew if he didn't hurry up, there was going to be a massive gush of water all over the communal stairwell of our building.
I, in a very panicked voice, said "quickly unlock the door my waters are going to break"'. He opened the door, and I ran into the shower where my waters broke all over the floor of the shower.
I was shocked, excited, a little nervous, but the majority of me knew - well thought I knew, I had this! We were going to meet our baby soon! I called my midwife and told her, and I don't think she believed me. It was a hot, steamy Brisbane day on the 13th January and when you're pregnant in January in Brisbane liquid leaks from everywhere, so I don't think she believed it was amniotic fluid. But we turned around and went back into the hospital where it was confirmed that it was definitely amniotic fluid.
My contractions started an hour or so after this and we went home to try progress labour. This was at around 8:00 pm. I tried bouncing on the fit ball, changing position in the lounge room all while watching my husband and dog sleep on the lounge. I got into the shower but by 2:30 am I was sure I wanted to get into the birth suite and into the birthing pool where I was hoping I could deliver my baby. I was struggling to deal with the contractions on my own at home at this point and felt like I needed some tools at the hospital to use to distract myself from the pain.
I had listened to EVERY SINGLE podcast episode on Australian Birth Stories and read Ina May Gaskins guide to childbirth, Juju Sundin's Birth Skills and I felt like I had a few coping strategies that I was planning on using. Many of which were thrown out the window, and I think I just did whatever I could do at the time to overcome each surge.
I had been incredibly fortunate to be present and photograph one of my best friends birth her son a year prior. I had not only watched a birth but had witnessed the incredible way she almost wasn't even aware of her environment and become very intrinsic and birthed her baby with very little outside influence and that gave me so much strength going into my birth. I knew what the female body was capable of and what a natural process vaginal birth was, and this gave me a lot of confidence.
Once we got into the birth suite, I found the birth pool not hot enough, and it wasn't giving me any pain relief. So after trying to get my big pregnant body into the pool, one contraction later and we were trying to get that same big body out of the pool. The hospital had dual shower heads, and I laid on the ground for what felt like hours upon hours just shooting those hot jets of water at my stomach and perineum to overcome the contractions.
I did ask for an epidural a couple of times I think, but the midwife would just say "just see how you go with the next contraction" and then what felt like hours later, and I still hadn't had the epidural. Once it got to around the time of transition, I think I just accepted that I had gone so long without pain relief that I would just keep going.
The hot water worked so well, and I don't think I would have had a pain relief free delivery without it when they moved it away, the pain was unbearable. At around 9 centimetres, I started involuntarily pushing. It was so primal, so natural and obviously what my body needed to do at the time and I just let my body and my baby do its thing. I was still on the shower floor where I had regular heart rate monitoring between contractions where they would remove the hot water and check on the babies heart rate, which was consistently fine.
It got to the point during pushing that the break between contractions was so long and I was physically exhausted after 14 hours of labour and no sleep for over 30 hours that I would fall asleep for a short period of time, and when the next surge would come, I would wake and push again.
I remember pushing initially but after 30 minutes or so I started pushing so hard I was sure I was going to burst some sort of blood vessel, most likely in my eyes or brain! At one point, the midwife told me to put my hand down, and I felt the top of my babies head. That gave me so much drive to keep going, and soon, I knew it, soon I was going to hold my daughter or son in my arms, and the world would be perfect. I just had to go a little bit more.
When I started to see my Louis' face (after he'd returned from moving the car!) change to excitement as he could see the babies head crowning it gave me all of the willpower and motivation to get this baby out for the both of us.
I pushed for 1 hour and 10 minutes in total and in the last few minutes, or so the midwife advised that I got up to a squatting position to help the baby through.
Mabel Emma Gray was born at 11:55 am on Monday 14th January.
They handed her to me, and I was elated, I had just birthed my baby with a dream natural birth. A second or so later I noticed something was wrong with her. She was purple, she hadn't cried and was unresponsive.
I had watched television programs and heard stories where babies are stunned initially, and I remember trying to rub her vigorously to get her to breathe or yell out a big cry. I looked down, and the midwives hands were shaking. I knew it had gone on a little too long, and my baby was in danger. The midwife told Louis to cut the cord, and they whisked my baby from my arms and took her to the other side of the room.
The midwife called out 'Call a code', and within seconds there were ten people in the room. It was a very surreal moment. I was still in a squat position on the floor of the shower in a pool of blood. I had both my fingers crossed, and I was screaming internally to hear my baby cry. It feels like a blur of seconds, but it was minutes until she cried.
As far as I know, she had supported breathing for 9 minutes before she was able to breathe on her own. Minutes into the ordeal, a male, who I assume was a paediatrician, yelled out across the room to us that the baby is going to be fine.
They whisked her away so quickly I didn't even get to see if my baby was a boy or a girl. I remember asking what the baby was, and no one paid my question any attention. My birth photographer mouthed 'GIRL'. I had a daughter. I was a mum to a little baby girl, and I desperately wanted her to cry. She was born with an APGAR of 4 and was intubated to support her breathing. To this day, nearly a year later, I don't know exactly what happened or if these things happen with no explanation at times. But she is now a very normal, healthy baby girl who is meeting all her milestones and no known associated complications.
They assisted me after Mabel was stabilised and breathing on her own, onto the bed and handed her to me. I have never felt so elated. I have never been happier in a single moment.
Although a long birth, I thought, I had a dream first birth - everything I had hoped for. A natural vaginal delivery with no intervention and I was so incredibly proud of myself and this continued for almost a month after birth. Within the hour, I had delivered my placenta, and Mabel has started to initiate her first breastfeed.
I will never forget those moments of pure overwhelming joy and love for myself, my husband, who was now a daddy and our beautiful daughter. That night Louis went home to get some decent rest while I stayed the night in the hospital. I went to the toilet, and when I walked out, I looked at her asleep in her little bassinet and in that exact moment I fell in love with her. She was mine, she was my daughter, and I would love her every single day of my life. I cried tears of happiness because I had never felt happiness or love like that before.
Photography by: Stories By Ash