A letter to a new baby

Dear J,

This is the story of your journey into the world, which I was very honoured to witness. It’s a story of a tremendously strong mother, a sensitive father, a wonderfully confident midwife, and, of course, wriggly you. (and me!)

I met your mum, when she, your dad, and brother and sister had just returned from many years in America. I was teaching an antenatal ‘refresher’ course for people who had had babies before, and we talked about all sorts of things to do with birth, which is one of my favourite subjects. At the end of the course your mum contacted me to ask if I would be her doula – that is a special friend who guides you through birth, helps you, gives your moral support, and that sort of thing. She had had a doula with your sister in California, after a pretty difficult birth with your brother that ended in a caesarean, and a scared and traumatised family.

And at about a quarter past six on Tuesday morning, I finally get the text – contractions eight minutes apart all night. I go onto red alert and wait for the call. I am teaching an antenatal session all morning and there’s a group of nine pregnant mums all rooting for you. I resist the urge to phone or text for updates – I figure she’ll call me when she wants me – but the control freak in me would like to know just what’s going on! Things go quiet again. We chat at 1.30 or so, and I send your mum to bed. She will wake up to get on with her labour when she’s ready, I reassure her.

It’s your dad who phones just before 6pm to say that your mum has been in the bath for a couple of hours and is having contractions every three minutes or so. This is brilliant news – it shows that labour is cracking on. When I reach your house, your brother is helping your mum through the contractions, telling you well done in a delightfully endearing way.

One of my maxims in antenatal classes is ‘stay at home as long as possible’, and after a brief chat about things, we decide that the ‘long as possible’ time period has now been breached. Your mum is worried about the car journey with the intensity of her contractions, and also thinks that some stronger pain relief than breathing and massage is in order. So off we go.

It’s always a palaver, that admission to hospital thing. I park, go up to the front door to meet your mum and dad, then your dad goes to park and your mum and venture up the hall to the door or delivery suite. And wait. And wait. And wait some more. They won’t even buzz us in for at least three contractions, and your dad is with us by the time we are let in.

And we meet amazing Sarah, our midwife. The timing is great – we’re arriving just as the new midwives are coming on shift, and will be on for 12 hours, so a nearly cast-iron guarantee that there won’t be a change of carer. Sarah is sympathetic, doesn’t talk during your mum’s contractions and points out that although the trust’s policy would be continuous monitoring because of the previous caesarean, she will support your mum fully if she decides not to accept that. She will listen into your heartbeat regularly and check your mum’s pulse rate as well, and that’s good enough for her. She’s also totally fine for us to use the pool.

Off she goes down the corridor to set up the room, and then the three of us make one last little journey on to the room in which you are to be born. Your mum has a horrible contraction in the hallway on the way – so nearly there – and starts to cry. She’s feeling desperate in the truest sense of the word. It hurts, she feels like she can’t do it. I hurt for her because I know she has very little choice at this stage. I suggest that we go for a section and she instantly refuses that idea which I feel is a good thing – she still wants her vaginal birth.

When your mum was having your brother she didn’t like the gas and air – said it made her feel sick – but given that we are planning this birth with a lot less high tech stuff around us, I feel it’s worth trying again. I set up a rocking chair right next to the gas and air station and your mum settles herself down and starts puffing on the entonox. The change in mood is remarkable, and quick. From tensing up, crying between contractions, your mum is visibly cheery, laughing and enjoying the ‘gin and tonic effect’ of the drug.

It doesn’t last all that long, though – within a few contractions and she’s feeling like it’s hard work, again, and not all that sure whether we can do it or not. Sarah has said we don’t have to have vaginal examinations if we don’t want to, but between me and your mum we agree that it might be a good idea as it’ll inform what we want to do next. The vaginal examination is carried out with as little intrusion as possible, in the rocking chair, and the great news is that your mum is already 7cm dilated! Nearly there! You’re clearly helping her do a brilliant job of being born. The two of you are working together perfectly.

Next we make the move to the pool. The pretty tankini top is quickly refused and your mum decides she’s happy to get in the pool wearing just her normal bra. Your dad whizzes out to put on his swimming trunks so he can have a dip too.

Your mum is in the pool – gas and air still in hand, and the water is a huge help. Very quickly the contractions begin to look a lot more expulsive: she’s roaring, moaning, crying, making a lot of noise, and even though I’ve done this myself three times, and attended many births, I really really feel for her. This is really really hard work and I wish I could give her a rest as she’s really, really feeling it. It’s fast and furious stuff, it won’t stop and none of us can do anything about it. Indeed, if we did anything about it, it would be counterproductive, and I know that it’s all really good progress, but it doesn’t stop me hurting for your mum in her pain. It’s not much fun.

Still, at this stage none of us have any choice: we just have to let nature do what it’s doing, which is marvellous and mighty but like a volcano or a hurricane – impressive rather than beautiful or peaceful. It’s nature at its most awesomely disregarding of human sensitivities. So all I, and your dad can do, is hold your mum’s hand, stroke her head, encourage her to calm down between the enormous surges, settle herself, and breathe, enjoying the rests before another wave hits. She is pushing with all her might: she looks like a sumo wrestler, or a rugby player – her neck and head and shoulders are all one, blood vessels are pumping, there’s sweat on her brow, teeth are clenched.

And all the while you’re continuing your journey peacefully and happily. I wonder how much of the noise you can hear under the water, and through the uterus, but it isn’t phasing you.

Your mum is anxious that you’re not coming. She keeps feeling for you and you’re not there. She thinks you’re never going to come. I know you are, but that’s an intellectual knowing and your mother is now this amazingly physical animal with intellect left far behind in her primal state. Sarah has a feel internally, with your permission, and acknowledges at 10pm that your head is right on the perineum, you’re in a great position and you’re ready to be born.

It’s the impetus and encouragement your mum needs. With the next few contractions she makes a delicate ‘ow’ sound, quite different from fierce animal of a few moments ago – and I know that that’s your head crowning, stretching your mum’s perineum…. and then you’re half born. And with the next contraction you swim up through your mum’s legs and into her arms, to meet her. So clever.

* * * * * * *

Your mum did an amazing job. She delivered the placenta under her own steam as well (most women have the injection, but her body didn’t need it – she just got on and did it and it was out less than 10 minutes after you.) Even when she felt like she was losing heart, she carried on – she had to, she had no choice – and she did it. She returned to being herself within moments of your birth, and within two hours she was up and dressed and ready to take you home to meet your granny, and your brother and sister. And this is the story of your arrival into the world, which is a story of strong women, who sometimes don’t worry about bucking the trend, who listen to their instincts and accept that nature knows what she’s doing and that it’ll work out for the best. May you also grow up to be one of those women.

With very much love to you, J, and your whole family.


Doula. Story written when you were 12 hours old.


~ by Kedi Simpson on March 3, 2011.

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