The significance of Jack’s entry into the world begins about 18 months before he was actually born.
In December of 2016, I miscarried a baby. It was early - at about 7 weeks. But long enough to consider it a baby, to be expectant, to mark a due date in the calendar. Deep down though I knew something was a little off and, on Christmas Eve, I began to bleed.
A few months later, I was pregnant again. This time I was nauseous and feeling all of the familiar symptoms of pregnancy. On Easter Saturday, I was about 11 weeks along, we were at a wedding and I began to bleed. I knew right away what it was. I dreaded what was happening, again. Pissed off even. But mostly just sad. Really sad. We left the reception early and the following day I had a scan which confirmed that this baby had also died. I was presented with a few courses of action and opted to let nature take it’s course.
A couple of days later, on 19 April 2017, I birthed a tiny sac attached to a tiny placenta, fitting in the palm of my hand. I set it free in the ocean and wept alone on the sand for the life that wasn’t to be. I apologised profusely to it., for no particular reason and all of the reasons at the same time. I whispered in my soul that, if it wanted to, it could try again and I’d be here.
I did wonder, ‘how many times can I go through this before I make a call that enough is enough?’
And resolved that I’d just know when the last time was the last time.
A few months later, and I was pregnant again. This pregnancy was textbook. ‘Morning’ sickness until 16 weeks, scans on track, lots of movement, myself and baby happy and healthy. Although I did feel more fatigued toward the end this time - but that probably had more to do with running around after a toddler and not a lot of down time! All things considered, we were doing great.
I was really excited to experience spontaneous labour. With our first baby, Zoe (born May 2015), I was induced due to gestational diabetes. Not having a date and time to be at hospital this time felt really nice - like it was just going to be a surprise and it could happen any moment and it felt so wonderful to just be living in this liminal, in-between time. It forced me to be slow and thoughtful and just, joyful about being expectant and waiting.
I woke at 2am on Thursday morning, at 40+5, with mild period-like cramps. I was so excited “this is it! It’s starting!” But continued to lay in bed quietly and doze. Every 10 minutes a contraction (surge/wave) would arrive and gently drift off again. I’d open my eyes to glance at the clock each time. 10 minutes. 10 minutes. 10 minutes.
7am came around and my partner’s alarm went off for work. I let him know that I’d been cramping for a few hours and that he’d probably want to stay home today! Zoe came bounding in, and we decided to head down to the beach (15 minute walk) for breakfast. I wanted to keep fairly active, nothing too strenuous, and keep things as relaxed as possible. I pottered around the house, cooking and cleaning. At 1pm I went to my scheduled acupuncture appointment, then popped to the cafe next door for a chai and a biscuit - happily announcing I was in labour!
I got home and my waters began to leak. I put a pad on, knowing that midwives would want to be sure it was waters whenever I phoned or went in to hospital. Contractions began to get closer and a little more intense at this point as well, but still very manageable. Around 4pm I laid down to rest - it occurred to me that I hadn’t been paying attention to baby’s movements so I wanted to check in. After about 20mins of rest, I had not felt baby move despite all my poking and proding. So I called the hospital right away to let them know we were coming in for monitorring. A good friend was at our place within 5 minutes to be with Zoe until my sister-in-law arrived for the night. I had a big cry hugging Zoe as I left - knowing that it was potentially the last time I was going to see her before it wasn’t just her and I anymore.
We arrived to the hospital and were seen pretty quickly, hooked up to the monitor and heard the reassuring sound of a heartbeat. I was monitored for about an hour or so until they were happy with the readings - everything was fine, baby was just a little quiet, but had started moving around again. I was offered a quick look at my cervix using a speculum, rather than a full on vaginal exam, which I consented to. They confirmed it was my waters that were leaking and I was told, “go home, have dinner and go to bed - you’ll be back in here later tonight, but you’ll be much more comfortable at home until then.”
So off we went back home, feeling reassured that everything was on track. By this stage contractions had dropped back off to 10 minutes again. I had some pea and ham soup and went to bed. I was able to doze really well between contractions until around 3.30am, when I was having to get out of bed to manage each one, and then lay back down to rest. I continued on like that for about another hour, before going to the bathroom and noticing a spot of blood. I thought it might be time to head back in to hospital - so I woke up my partner and we went in… least comfortable car ride of my life.
Contractions were now well and truly established and there was a big shift in how I was acting - the rituals I was developing were settling in to place in line with how my body wanted to move and manage the waves of energy. We arrived around 5am. I rang the buzzer at the maternity ward door about 14 times - where was everyone?! It was probably only a minute but I was feeling quite uncomfortable and wanted to get settled inside. They were super busy (although you can never tell because it’s so quiet and staff are just darting in and out of doors) and it seemed to take forever to be seen. Eventually a midwife took us in to an exam room for evaluation. I was put on the fetal monitor again for a while - everything looked great. But they weren’t convinced I was in labour.
The midwife asked if I’d like a vaginal exam, “you’re looking a bit uncomfortable but let’s just see where you’re at and we can make a call on if you should stay but you may be fine to go home again, and we can look at inducing you tomorrow if nothing much changes”. I was managing well with breathing through contractions but I knew this was the real deal and I wasn’t going anywhere. Sure enough, an exam showed I was 8cm dilated with waters bulging at the top of my cervix. “Oh! Look at you I had no idea!” She says.
“I’m just going to break your waters”. At the time, sweet sweet relief. (In hindsight.. not consent)
I was finally able to stand back up again and WHAM, HELLO gravity and back to back intense surges pulsing through my entire body. At this point I had a massive sobbing soaking cry (hello transition!) - I was almost there. This was happening. I was going to be meeting the baby and everything was okay. We headed straight to a delivery room and they started to run the bath for me - I had been aiming for a water birth. The bath takes 20 minutes to fill.
As soon as we got to the room, my body got itself right up on the bed which had the head upright - so I was kneeling with my arms draped over the back of the bed, head buried, hard in the zone, eyes shut tight, blocking out everything around me. Two midwives were hurriedly filling in paperwork, my partner was beside me but pretty quiet, and suddenly I was on my own. Only I could do what needed to be done. I went deep deep inside myself and was probably the most present I’ve been in my entire life. Every second felt like an hour. I was breathing in and out through my nose during each contraction, so fast, counting in out in out in out 1 2 3 4 5 6 through to 40, and it would subside. I’d then take a deep rest. Long breaths. No thought. Just primal listening. Holy attention.
At one point I asked “How much longer for the bath, can you just have a look and see what’s happening”… my midwife took a peak and said, “uh, yeah you’re not going to make the bath”. I was absolutely dripping in sweat - I remember her placing a wet cloth on my back. A poor substitute for a lucious bath but, surprisingly helpful.
Moments later I felt my body completely take over - involuntary pushing. The most surreal feeling, to have no control over this reflex that is just so supremely strong. Baby was coming down fast. We had chosen not to find out the sex, but I suddenly just ‘knew’ it was a boy without a doubt. Until this point I hadn’t had a clear feeling on it, which was in complete contrast to just ‘knowing’ that Zoe was a girl right from the pee-stick-moment.
When I finally felt ready to meet my body and help with active pushing, baby was just about to come around the bend (pelvic brim). One strong push and around baby came… then I felt it go back up again. Another strong push and around baby came… then back up again! “Whyyyy is it going back up!?!?!” I lamented! My midwife encouraged me to change position just slightly - to straighten back up just a little bit, bring my pelvis forward a tad, and my knees out a little further. That did the trick. One more push with the next contraction and baby was crowning.
Another one or two strong, fairly loud let’s be honest pushes, and out HE slithered onto the bed. I knelt back and admired him for a second announcing BOY! then scooped up his warm, slippery little body into my arms. We settled down skin-to-skin very quickly under the blankets after that awkward ‘I need to flip over but don’t want to trip on the cord or drop the baby’ moment.
There was no huge overwhelm of emotion for me when he came out - no bursting into tears (like I had with Zoe, uncontrollably). There was definitely a wave that came over me of joy and gratitude and love but, not enough to really bring me to a huge sob. To be fair I had just had a huge crying release only 15 minutes before hand so perhaps that’s why. But really, I just looked at him for the first time and felt to say, “hello again”. Even though he looked unfamiliar, he felt very familiar and like we had met before. His sweet spirit just oozed and melted right into me and we were one again.
He settled in to feed while I birthed the placenta and rested. We had delayed cord clamping, and he wasn’t taken for weighing and measuring until I was happy for that to happen - probably an hour or so after he arrived, and moreso because I just really wanted to shower and be under the water by that point. It had been a long 30 hours.
I absolutely feel like I completely owned this birth. I really did have full trust in my body and tried to listen to it at every step, so that I could give it exactly what it needed - be it a new position or pea and ham soup. I worked with the discomfort instead of against it - which kept me relaxed physically and calm mentally. I distinctly remember thinking "okay, that was the last time I'm doing that" within minutes after the birth. I was done. At peace with birthing. Labour and birth is a marathon effort - physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually taxing. It cracked me wide open in so many ways.
Jack Hartley, born 6.25am, April 19th. A full year to the day of the passing of the one lost before him. The circle of life in all its sublime sorrow and joy. And the last piece of our family puzzle.