I love birth stories. I must yet write the story of Saoirse’s birth (born July 2017) and I have a hard copy of Aoife’s birth (born January 2008) as yet unpublished, and here I share Beineán’s, born November 2010. This blog post is from an original on my personal blog Kettle on the Range
On the 28th of November in the year 2010, a massive cold snap brought snow and ice and my son Beineán. At twelve minutes past four in the darkening afternoon, he was born in our home on Saint Jarlath’s Road in Cabra.
He was blue.
He was moving but for his first minute he didn’t breathe. My midwife Colette worked rapidly to assist him. Colm watched at the bedside. I knew he was suddenly badly afraid, but I felt deeply serene. The massive rush of prickling energy I was experiencing through my entire body, in the wake of giving birth, meant that I couldn’t even speak.
“Don’t move” Colette said to me. And I didn’t; I only turned my head to see him, looking over my shoulder from where I was positioned on hands and knees, which is how I had given birth to him.
Maybe it seems strange to say now, but I almost couldn’t understand why Colm had fear. Just wait, I wanted to say to him. I felt sort of other-wordly, the intensity and pain of labour suddenly vanquished. Afterwards Colm would say that it was like I was suspended in some kind of hormonal high; to me, it was like being more pristinely awake than I had ever felt in my whole life. I had this supreme confidence that our baby was perfectly fine.
I looked at Colm and tried to tell him with my eyes: All we have to do is wait.
But Colm wasn’t looking at me. He was staring at our son. Willing him to breathe. Willing my midwife to do her thing.
I don’t even really know what Colette did to get him breathing. At the time I was just focussing on my own breath: keeping it steady. It was cooling and expansive after the enormity of giving birth. The umbilical cord was still connecting our boy to me; though it was the that same cord that had wrapped his neck one-time-round and made him blue, through it my body was still sustaining him.
And Colette had done it.
4:13 PM. He breathed.
I think Colette said,
His blue colour was already turning to purple-pink. He gurgled quietly, opened his eyes, and looked around. Colette picked him up and placed him in my arms. He was wiry and strong and sturdy, and he had deep sparkling blue eyes and long dark eyelashes just like his Daddy and his big sister.
And I held him with deep gratitude: to Colette; to all of us; to the process of childbirth.
Colm cut the cord, and Colette tended to me. I had yet to deliver the placenta.
Wordlessly then, Colm lifted him from my arms. He sat on the edge of the bed by the window, snow falling thickly against the outside of the glass now. Lifting his T-shirt over our new baby, he cradled him skin-to-skin against his chest. Still he didn’t speak, but gazed down at the tiny face which was scrunching and un-scrunching inside his shirt collar. They sat like that in silence, for I-don’t-know-how-long.
The nights leading up to the birth, I was restless yet couldn’t move. The Saturday evening, I was strewn on the stairs in the dark trying to find a comfortable position. I went to bed, and at midnight I woke to find that the waters had broken, or were beginning to. I rolled my sleeping almost-3-year-old daughter Aoife away from me and went downstairs to tell Colm, who was still up watching television. (When I told him, he immediately thought I meant the pipes had broken; a cold snap was issuing in outside, and we’d had experience of the pipes freezing the previous Winter.) Nervous excitement set in and I texted the midwife, who told me to see if I could get some sleep and keep in touch. I went back to bed, and my daughter settled herself back to sleep half-sitting up against my back, which is how she slept at that time. Mild contractions were setting in but I managed to sleep. At 6AM I came downstairs and tried to sleep through the contractions on the couch, with our little dog Molly curled up at the back of my legs.
Before 8AM I arose and went to wake my sister Alicia, who was charged with taking care of our daughter throughout the birth. The baby’s due date wasn’t for another four days, but fortunately she had cancelled her plans to attend a birthday party in Limerick that weekend, just in case. I looked around her bedroom door and told her cheerfully, “it’s baby day!” Colette rang and said she’d be over at 11. I rang my mother in Galway to tell her what was happening. I recall that Mam took a moment to process the information and then she said that she and Dad would get on the road to be with us. Colm phoned his parents in Wexford to let them know, and got baby clothes out of the wardrobe before leaving to stock up on food. I knew all of the grandparents were anxious about our decision to have this baby at home.
Contractions – or “surges” – were still manageable when Colette arrived. I had set up the ironing-board up because I felt I needed something to lean over during the surges. Colm came back, and he and Colette brought me upstairs to our bedroom. They settled me on a chair with the curtains drawn. I felt like being on my feet but they were worried I’d get tired. The contractions were beginning to get very uncomfortable, but I was coping. They set up the hypnobirthing tape. It seemed like I had a long way to go still, so Colette popped home for lunch – she had asked me if I’d rather she stay and though I’d said, no, I was fine yet, I realised when she’d left that I felt uneasy without her. She came back pretty quickly in case of getting stuck in the snow, which was beginning to pile up quickly outside.
I stayed in the chair, or walked in the room, or swayed my way through the surges. I felt myself drawing more and more inwards, as I concentrated intensely on breathing and let all sense of time and space fall away. At one point I spotted my sister and my toddler standing on the landing to peak at me. I couldn’t speak at that stage so I just nodded back, and tried to smile. Aoife laughed aloud at the sight of me – hanging by my arms from a tall set of drawers, swaying from side to side. With her long labour, I’d been able to ride the waves of surges, all of them, with gigantic breaths, in, out. That time, inspired by the antenatal classes at the Rotunda Hospital where I’d had Aoife, I’d felt able to greet contractions as “friends”, repeatedly visualising a warm mist settling every muscle from the top of my head to my toes, again and again and again.
But these surges were rawer, even more hardcore, and they were happening stronger and faster, and I didn’t feel “on top” of them as I had with Aoife. By 3PM, they had taken charge. I moved to the bathroom, to sit on the toilet or cling to the sink during surges. I felt despondency setting in. I began to wail in despair and Colette came into the bathroom to give me a pep-talk.
I felt out of control. I should have recognised it from all the birth stories I’d read, that this was transition.
Rippling Surges … Raw, long, close together … Anguish … Hang over sink … Tippy-toes … Whimpering …..Won’t hear…… No speak…. No listen….. Go away everyone …. Anger…. Beyond control…..Strip clothes….. Shower …. . Crouch on hands and knees …… Water on my back ….. Marginal relief …….Remedies on a spoon ….. No to food …. No to water …… Go away everyone ……. Rocking side to side ……. All meaning lost ….. . Body in possession …….. Surrender
Colm held the shower-head over me as I crouched in the bath, spraying my back with warm water. He told me later, recalling the birth of our daughter, that he’d recognised from the way that I seemed to insist on positioning myself in the bath – on hands and knees – and from the sounds I was making, that birth was imminent. They got me out of the shower, and brought me to the bedroom and onto the bed, which had been covered with protective sheets and towels. It was about 3:45PM. Colette asked if I wanted gas and air. I barely managed to gasp out the word “YES” and Colm went to get the bag with the equipment. Even the thought of gas and air relaxed me suddenly.
By now I was only marginally aware of the others in the room. In fact I was barely aware of the room itself. I felt wide-eyed and electric and could perceive almost nothing beyond what I can only describe as a ‘fog’ around me – like a kind of trance.
Colette suggested checking me, but my body wouldn’t lie down on the bed. I immediately vomited when I tried to make it. (I remember that the hardest thing about labour at the hospital with my daughter, other than the sheer length of it, was being encouraged to lie down on my back with a trace machine hooked up to me). I think my body wanted to push now. I found myself turning onto all-fours, and at that moment felt a connection with my grandmother Kathleen whom I knew, from talking to my mother, had likely given birth this way too; at home, for four of her five births. Colette checked the baby’s heart rate.
Colm came back with the gas and air.
“Baby is coming!” Colette announced suddenly.
No time for gas and air now. Colette got ready. The pain fell away. Just like that, I was pushing my baby out. Colette continued to check the baby’s heart rate quickly. I pushed with all my might, my voice ringing out heavy with the effort. I thought I was howling, and that the whole avenue of St Jarlath’s Road outside could hear me, and could hardly believe it when my sister told me later that they’d heard nothing downstairs.
“This baby will be blue,” Colette declared then, in a matter-of-fact way, as she worked fast to unwind the cord. I remember feeling surprised to hear that, but didn’t let it distract me from the business of pushing him out. During my pregnancy, because of a case of this experience once before in Colm’s family, I had read lots of birth stories about the cord getting wound, about babies being born blue; I even had spoken to Colette about what she would do if it happened to us. She had told me that she would have the necessary equipment and would know what to do. Right now I felt a deep trust in her, which in turn supported the calm I was experiencing in the midst of the rawness of what was happening.
It was all happening so fast all of a sudden.
It took five or six pushes. And he was here.
CABRA’S NEWEST RESIDENCE
Once the intensity of the birth had settled, and Colette had tidied up and settled me comfortably, Aoife and Alicia came upstairs to meet Cabra’a newest resident. Colm was still sitting by the window, holding our new and as yet nameless baby. I felt eager to feed him, so Colm brought him to me then and helped me place him to my breast. He latched fine. A new nursing journey had begun. Alicia took our first family photo, he and I still wrapped only in towels and blankets.
My parents arrived from Galway about an hour after the birth, reaching us just ahead of a blizzard. Colm took the new baby downstairs to meet them. We still hadn’t dressed him or even put a nappy on him yet. I had a shower, and Colette came into the bathroom to confirm the baby’s weight, muttering the numbers to herself in her native French as she converted from kilos to pounds for me. I could hardly believe his size. He weighed 8 and a half pounds, so much bigger than Aoife who had been 6 pounds and 15 ounces at birth. Colette checked to see if I needed any repair stitches, but I didn’t. Alicia made me the best tea with toast that I’d had since the tea and toast I’d had after Aoife’s birth at Dublin’s Rotunda hospital. For some reason I then insisted she stay to watch Colette inspect the placenta in its stainless steel bowl. She observed silently and respectfully before going back to entertaining Aoife.
I went downstairs to greet to my parents, and only then, standing in the doorway between our kitchen and living room, did Colm and I confer about the baby’s name.