Sushmita, seconds after the birth
It all started in the middle of the night. I slept very uncomfortably and thought it to be just a bad backache. But in the morning around 6am I couldn't sleep through the pain anymore. I realised that perhaps what I was experiencing were contractions. I could smell the waft of hot parathas being prepared downstairs by my mum. I ran straight to her and asked if I could be having contractions. We mutually agreed to wait before waking up my husband (although the baby was full term, we didn't expect it to all happen so early).
I decided to do exactly what I had planned to do when I went into labour, just in case this was the real deal. I sat on my birthing ball every time I felt contractions. I listened to my hypnobirthing CD and tried to practice some relaxation. I also lit the candle my friends decorated and blessed for my birth on my blessingway. I told my baby how much I wanted to meet him/her and that I was prepared to take good care of him/her; I was ready for his/her arrival. At this point my contractions were very mild; I was beaming with excitement. I couldn't wait to meet our little wild bump. It was all going to happen soon I thought, and it felt surreal yet real.
Sushmita with her husband during her blessingway
I had a little breakfast, realising that I must eat as much as possible now for strength later as I might not want to eat when the contractions became very painful. I also kept sipping on water throughout. After breakfast, I went into the bathroom to have a wash and that's when I had a "show"—it was very tiny bit of dark red/almost brownish mucus. I popped a pad on and woke up my husband; it was around 8.30 am in the morning. At this point my contractions were coming every 3 to 5 minutes. My husband got out of bed, had his first cuppa. Fuelled with caffeine, he decided it was time to call the midwives as the contractions were very close apart and were starting to get stronger—it was nothing unmanageable though. We thought it might be a super-quick birth and that we might be all done well before lunchtime.
Around 9.15am, the first midwife knocked on the door. She walked in with no charm or smile and went straight upstairs where I was in my bedroom. She plonked her heavy self down on the floor, resting her elbows on the edge of my bed to go through my documents. She touched my belly without seeking my permission to do so, to feel the contractions. She pointed out when the contractions had stopped by the sense of touch and almost disregarded the fact that I still felt the lingering sensations from the rushes. I felt very offended at this point. I felt she might be difficult as she seemed more likely to follow her own beliefs rather than listen to my needs.
She informed us that our baby was measuring small... We were suddenly announced as high risk from being totally low risk.
Anyway, next she took out a measuring tape and measured my belly. Her face didn't look positive. She informed us that our baby was measuring small. We were totally taken aback because throughout our pregnancy, we were never told that our baby was measuring alarmingly small. It was taken into account that I am from an Indian background and we tend to make smaller babies. I was told that my baby measured 2cm smaller than the NHS average and that was acceptable. But this midwife was measuring my baby 4cm smaller. We were suddenly announced as high risk from being totally low risk.
My world came crumbling down. My desire for a calm home birth was going to go down the drain. My contractions stopped completely. I had visited the MLU (Midwife Led Unit) and the labour ward just the day before giving birth, and I distinctly remember telling my husband how that visit re-affirmed my desire for a home birth. Don't get me wrong, our NHS hospital is absolutely fine but the sterile environment is just not for me. Having said that, I was ready to go to the hospital if there was any complication. But we found it rather hard to believe that our baby who measured fine until just four days ago had suddenly shrunk?
Making a decision
We asked the rude lady to leave the premises immediately and asked for a second opinion. As soon as the midwife left, my husband asked me to take a stroll down the road for some fresh air and a change of scenario. We could barely manage 10 feet, and my contractions started all over again. This time they felt slightly stronger and more obvious—I had to kneel down or sway side to side to manage them. We went back home and my doula (who happens to be my friend too) arrived. Within 20 minutes, another midwife arrived. She was much calmer, and had obviously been warned of our "bad" behaviour towards the first midwife.
She and two other midwives who visited us in the next couple of hours reiterated the same thing—the baby was too small for home birthing. But by this point, with the support of our doula and my husband, I decided to go ahead with the home birth, unless, of course, medical intervention was absolutely necessary.
My husband said, "You can do it. You can squeeze me, bite me, swear at me. I am with you. You are doing great and you can do this."
My mum offered me lunch, and soon after eating, my contractions started getting more and more intense. "At one point, I thought she was going to give birth in the dog's basket," my husband recounted later. The contractions were also getting more regular, three minutes apart. My husband tried to call the hospital but no one answered for almost an hour. We thought we might have to do it on our own. I remember saying, "Yes! That would be great."
At around 4pm, my doula suggested that I should get some rest and settle in a room I felt most comfortable. I chose to go upstairs into my bedroom. I lay down on my bed and went through more contractions. At this point, my poor husband was very busy sorting out our other two kids. My brother-in-law was called to pick up the kids and take them away for the evening. My husband rushed to the supermarket to get some extra towels, food and other necessary bits (we really were not prepared for the baby to come so early).
My doula kept whispering positive affirmations. She whispered, "You are powerful." I know it sounds very silly on a mundane day but when in labour, it meant so much. I was on all fours with every contraction, the bed stained with blood (it wasn't in alarming volumes). I never knew you bled through contractions. I would have never worn a white dress (just kidding).
Around 4.30pm, another midwife arrived along with my husband who brought a hell of a lot of dates for me (most of which was eaten by him and why not!). She was at the end of her shift and looked very tired yet warm and calm. She had a very peaceful and confident presence. She was aware of our risks, yet never measured me or expressed a desire to examine me. She simply asked me if I had made up my mind on home birth; and when I confirmed, she responded, "That's sorted then, let's have this baby now."
My contractions were coming thick and strong. I was "groaning and moaning but in a controlled manner" as my husband puts it. In about another 20 minutes, my second midwife arrived. She was young and pretty. I loved the presence of both my midwives. They seemed so comfortable on my bedroom floor, I requested them to examine me and reassure me that I had progressed in the past few hours. Lo and behold, I had. I was 5cm dilated and I was finally in an established labour.
I kept telling my baby, "We can do this. You stay with me. I am here to protect you and nourish you. Daddy is looking forward to meeting you. Just stay with us."
At 5.30pm, I remember saying to my husband, "When will you stop making coffee for others, stay with me now." I had a funny feeling that I wouldn't progress without him. I didn't want to go through labour on my own. In retrospect, if my husband was not so busy sorting out the dogs, kids and running to the shops, perhaps I would have laboured much quicker. And I say that with such confidence because once my husband stayed with me, I progressed from 5cm to 10cm within 90 minutes or less.
Around 6pm, I was in a trance. My contractions were very painful and strong. I was not fully aware of what was going on around me physically. I vaguely remember my midwives shining a torch into my vagina to see my progress as I didn't want to be examined. I remember saying to my husband, "Man it is painful" and I also remember my husband making me look into his eyes. He said, "You can do it. You can squeeze me, bite me, swear at me. I am with you. You are doing great and you can do this." I remember those words were so strong that I kept progressing quite rapidly.
I distinctly remember having conversations with my baby. Whilst I seemed to be moaning with every contraction, swaying, tossing and turning in my bed, squeezing my doula's hands, I was also having an inner experience with my unborn child. I had a distinct feeling that my baby was working very hard. I had a feeling that everyone's concern of my baby being small was possibly true but I knew that my baby was strong. I kept telling my baby, "We can do this. You stay with me. I am here to protect you and nourish you. Daddy is looking forward to meeting you. Just stay with us. We can do this together." My inner conversation, my doula's words of affirmation, my mother's warm reassurance and my husband's presence all took my experience to another level in my head.
Apparently I was being hilarious when I said, "Poo is coming, not baby!" I was secretly mortified about pooing in front of my husband... I can now never complain of his farts.
Around 7.15pm my midwives suggested I should walk around more and not sit down (I was doing that a lot by sitting down on my husband's lap, arms wrapped around him, faced nestled in his neck). We walked downstairs to the living room and things took a turn for the best. I started to get the urge to push. This is when everybody started to have a great laugh at my expense. Apparently I was being hilarious when I said, "Poo is coming, not baby!" I was secretly mortified about pooing in front of my husband. I think I lost being "sexy" to him just then. I can now never complain of his farts.
Jokes aside, my contractions were getting stronger and stronger and very close together. I could not tell when they started and when they ended. It felt like one long contraction to me, to be honest. Every time they said "Push whenever you feel like" I had no idea when to. To be honest, at this stage I had no urge to push but I kept pushing because my midwife did a final examination and said she could feel the baby's head. Oh, my water hadn't broken until my final examination. It did as my midwives examined me (I was aware of the possibility of it happening if I allowed an examination at this stage). I pushed and pushed and pooped and pooped (I blame the dates I was fed). I remember my midwives had strictly requested me to listen to them when they ask me to stop pushing. This was going to prevent me from tearing. I take instructions well even in dire situations. Anyhow, after having cleared my bowels, I finally had an urge to push.
With my first real urge to push, I knew this time it was not poo but baby. I remember saying, "Baby is coming." And with one big push, out came the head.
With my first real urge to push, I knew this time it was not poo but baby. I remember saying, "Baby is coming." And with one big push, out came the head. This sensation was unbelievable. I suddenly forgot about all the pain. I vividly remember feeling the baby's head lower down towards my birth canal. I remember my vagina opening and the slow motion of the head popping out. Everyone screamed in joy, "Oh we can see the head, oh one of his hands is out too." I quickly felt his head, or rather face. He came face down first. I felt his little nose very clearly, a gush of excitement ran through me. We then waited for my next contraction. I stopped pushing, as instructed by my midwives. We waited and waited for what seemed like ages but it was only seconds, apparently, before the baby popped out. I don't remember pushing at all after I pushed the head out. I remember the midwives saying that the head was turning slowly and before I could feel my next contraction he was out. PAIN-FREE!
Sushmita with her son Roshan (Ro)
He was small as anticipated at 2.5kg but not worryingly so. He was healthy and safe.
The sensation of him slithering out was sensational. It was not only pain free, but also slightly tingly. It felt funny! I was ecstatic.
The sensation of him slithering out was sensational. It was not only pain free, but also slightly tingly. It felt funny! I was ecstatic.
Was it orgasmic? I don't want to get lost in connotations. But (in retrospect) it was not traumatic but euphoric. It left me with what I can best describe as a post-orgasmic vaginal sensation, for a couple of weeks.
My birth left me feeling very empowered. I gave birth just the way I wanted—at home with least medical intervention and without any pain relief.
Whether you have a home birth, hospital birth, vaginal or caesarean, hypnobirth or orgasmic birth or a combination of some of them—it is a powerful thing to give birth. From the day you choose to become a mother, you become the most powerful woman you have ever been.
This post was originally published here.
You can follow Sushmita and her gentle parenting journey here.
India Birth Project is a series of crowdsourced birthing stories that highlight the highs and lows of giving birth. To contribute your story, drop an email to email@example.com.