I was alone when I gave birth to my second child.
It wasn’t the way I planned it, nor would it be a birth I’d advocate due to the risk factors, but looking back on it, knowing it turned out well, I am so deeply grateful for the experience.
My first birth was fine – quick and simple – but I remember craving to be on my own during the whole process. I loved stories (I’m not sure if these are true or some fantasy I concocted) of tribal women going out in the desert alone and digging a shallow hole to squat over and catch the baby.
Don’t get me wrong, in reality I’d really like to know there are experienced people nearby, not to mention a good surgeon if needed. My compromise for the second birth, not having a desert on hand, a midwife in calling distance and hospital over the next sand dune, was to have a home birth and request my midwife be as low key as possible. I pictured her in a nearby room reading or knitting and checking on me from time to time.
As it turned out, this birth was too fast, the midwife didn’t have time to get there.
Before I go into the beauty of this situation, I feel like I ought to own up to the less appealing aspects. Like the state of my house. And the disconnected relationship I was in. I have read about birth experiences where the couple are in tune and supportive of each other and, you know, there’s lovely music playing and incense burning and it’s all very serene - the kind of births that bring tears to your eyes.
Well, mine wasn’t like that. I was surrounded by my husband’s magazines, newspapers, bird cages and piles of random stuff; scissors, socks, cups, rolls of wire, tools. It was a bit like giving birth in a shed and/or pet shop. It was, in fact, the lounge room.
To be precise, I didn’t crave the desert so much as being alone in a warm pool, so amongst the clutter, my husband - quickly and with a lot of swearing – put a birth pool together as I walked up and down the stairs. I spent most of my brief labour walking up and down the stairs as it was too cold and dark to walk outside. Once the pool was up and filled he stayed outside awaiting the midwife, no doubt in a state of anxiety.
I, on the other hand, began to relax – deeply. I snacked, turned out the overhead light and climbed into the water. It felt so good! I’m not sure where my mind went but I know I had all kinds of visions as if I were asleep and dreaming. One vision was of birds breaking free of cages and rushing into the sky in thick sheets of feathers.
The baby came out quickly, in a few pushes. As I’m sure many mothers will agree a baby’s head feels like a watermelon when it’s in the birth canal so I got a shock when I put my hand on the emerging head and thought it the size of an orange - a damp, hairy orange. Okay, it was a small baby but I did later adjust my fruit comparison to a grapefruit. I know, still small, I was very lucky - all mothers have my deepest respect for their birthing experiences, no matter what the process, but particularly those who breed large headed babies!
With an orange in mind the last push seemed extra easy. The most beautiful part was catching the baby. There was a deep shadow in the water, then a body in my hands. My baby was calm on surfacing. There were no sounds, just us, looking into each other’s eyes.
Then my husband came in. His voice seemed so loud.
“AAH!” (That was more a terrified tone than an excited one).
“IS IT BORN? IS IT ALIVE? IS IT BREATHING?”
He moved closer and shifted the umbilical cord to one side. “Good, it’s a girl.”
I hadn’t known the baby was a girl, it hadn’t occurred to me to check. The midwife arrived soon after and helped me out of the pool – and my two year old woke up and fetched her doll’s pram, ready to take her baby sister for a walk.
Once the placenta was out my husband went off to bed claiming it was all too tiring and that he didn’t want to be disturbed. The lovely midwife made my girls and I a big bed to sleep on downstairs.
We all slept beautifully.
But then I was up five hours later cooking porridge, kneeling on a chair with my heel jammed between my legs. Being alone can be beautiful but there is a time for company – and support. Luckily, mine arrived later in the day and for many days following.
“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*
I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves – thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.
* Gloria Steinem