Axel Leo- From Conception to Birth.
All professional images are credited to Emma Jean Photography.
Soon after our first born, Elanor, turned 2, we started planning the extension of our family. We decided November would be the first month we'd try to conceive and I spent a few months prepping for this. I increased my iron and other vitamins, and got Paul, my partner, to up his zinc. I also had some acupuncture treatments done to ready my womb (because I bloody love acupuncture!).
November came (yay!) and I knew the rough dates I'd be fertile and ready to conceive. Having one girl already, we were both hoping to have a boy next. So what do you do? GOOGLE of course! "How to conceive a boy?" Turns out they're all myths anyway but it was worth a look.
I took 2 pregnancy tests quite early as I was way too excited. Both came up negative but I knew I was probably just jumping the gun. A couple days later I took my 3rd test with Paul in the room and what do you know, a second line popped up! "Noooo way!", Paul said in disbelief. We high-fived and felt so blessed we had another little one on the way!
I quickly sent a picture of the pee stick to our midwife Maet. She was one of our midwives from Elanor’s birth and we knew we wanted her to be by our side again.
Pregnancy was very easy on me this time around. A bit of nausea in trimester one, and a bit of feeling uncomfortable towards the very end of trimester three (I described myself as a disabled whale from 38 weeks onwards). Thanks to my fitness levels from fulltime Kangatraining, and constant running around with a toddler, my body handled the new demands of my growing body well.
40 weeks came, and went, as it does.
Before you’re pregnant, and after you’ve had your baby, you KNOW that 40 weeks is a guess and it’s so normal and common to go past it (or before it if you're super lucky!). But when you’re actually there at the 40 week mark, it’s near impossible to think logically. And generally you just want your baby OUT!
I got some induction acupuncture done on Tuesday morning when I was 40+4. I knew it was probably too early and that I should have been surrendering a little more, but we had gotten to a point where we thought there was no harm in gently trying to encourage things.
Nothing happened that Tuesday night.
I’d been going to bed from about 39 weeks thinking, “Well today wasn’t the day, maybe tomorrow might be.” I went to bed as normal on Wednesday night too...
Then, around 1am in the earliest hours of Thursday morning, I was woken to a sudden surge. It was so strange to be woken like this out of no where. It was like my body had just gone TICK, it's D-Day. Between the mild and consistent surges, I felt constant period pain lingering around my hips and pelvis. I knew something was shifting. I tried to fall back asleep but I was kept awake by them and they started requiring me to breathe through them.
After not being able to back asleep for some time, I decided to time them. They were 30 seconds in length and 10 minutes apart and they kept coming and coming! Then they grew a bit longer in length to 40 seconds every 5 minutes. At 4.30am we messaged our midwife, Maet, and birth photographer, Emma. I told them what was happening, that I was losing big parts of my plug too, but that I was going to try and go back to sleep.
Elanor woke me around 8am and I updated Maet and Emma letting them know that my body still felt sore but the surges had died down. I said I'd let them know how I felt after a warm bath and once I started moving around making breakfast etc.
Well pretty much as soon as I stood up and starting walking around, they intensified and came back consistently. I messaged my mum and asked her to make her way here from her work (1 hour away). I knew I'd need Paul's full attention soon and I wanted to make sure Elanor was looked after without us having to worry. We waited a little longer and then asked Emma and Maet to make their way here too.
My contractions were still building up, so once we had a full house, they slowly died right down. They became very mild and went back to 10 minutes apart. The thinking part of my brain was still on and I started to feel bad that I'd put everyone out for no reason. All these thoughts you don't need when trying to establish labour!
Maet checked on my belly and noticed bub was positioned a bit to the right and that his head may have been engaged on a slight angle. She advised me to have some restful time to myself in the bedroom and to do some inversions (lay on bed, knees tucked up, with bum in the air) to help baby into a more engaged position and to also lay on my left side to move bub over. I continued to have contractions throughout my time alone but they were still mild and spaced out. I was losing more of my plug and this was really reassuring for me.
Maet came in to see how I was and I updated her. She said her and Emma were going to get some lunch and that she wanted Paul and I to have some time together without anyone in the house. She said they'd stay close and to text whenever I needed her.
This next part of the story is so special to me. I feel like my love for Paul grew deeper over the next few hours. I continued to have mild contractions that started intensifying. We stayed in our bedroom (my birthspace) and laughed between contractions, chatted, cuddled, kissed, etc. It felt like it was just us two on the planet and it was amazing.
I'm not sure when things starting picking up, but all of a sudden I couldn't stay in one spot. I'd have a few contractions on the bed, then the birth ball, standing up, and eventually I NEEDED to get into that warm pool. I wouldn’t let Paul leave my side during a contraction. I'd squeeze his hands, his shirt, and he'd sometimes squeeze my hips. I was vocalising the intensity and trying not to fight it, because as they say, "loose lips, loose lips!"
Seeing Paul be my cheerleader so confidently absolutely blew me away. During a contraction he'd be silent, and then once it was done he'd tell me I was a warrior, give me a high five, and say things like "yeaaaah babe! You rode that mountain so good!" It was SO encouraging and perfect for what I needed.
Things then got really hard. I started saying to Paul, "I don't like this. I don't want to do this anymore. It hurts babe. It's so hard." I knew I needed Maet to come back as my instincts were telling me that we'd be having a baby really soon. I waited another 4 contractions to be sure, before I said to Paul, "Text Maet and tell her things are intensifying. Brooke really needs you now."
To me it felt like the longest wait for her to get back to us, but it was only about 15 minutes. When she arrived, I was laying on the bed and Paul was compressing my lower back during contractions. Maet took over and gave Paul a break. It was now just Maet and I in the room and the energy changed again. It became a nurturing, grounded, and calm space that my midwife provided to me so well while things started to jump up a level.
I started working WITH my body in the water, something I never did in Elanor's labour where I constantly fought the contractions. Even though it was bloody hard, I suddenly felt that breathing through the contractions was actually working and I could ever so slightly feel my baby moving down. All I wanted to do in my head was fight the intensity and wish it was over, but I somehow found the inner strength to rise above that huge temptation to give up. I breathed my baby down whilst simultaneously squeezing the absolute crap out of my midwife's hands.
I needed someone's hands to hold for the next part of labour. I didn't want to do it alone and holding onto someone made the intensity somewhat manageable. I remember saying to Maet, "I just need to breathe don't I?", and so confidently she told me, "Yes, you're doing so great. One contraction at a time." I believe not long after labouring like this on all fours, I said to Maet that I was starting to feel some pressure. And then during a contraction, I felt my waters release with a POP! "My waters just broke!" I exclaimed. "I didn't feel much of a release, but I can feel something harder now" I told Maet.
We had a hypnobirthing track playing in the background throughout my whole labour. It was called 'Prompts For Birthing'. Now I know it might sound a bit hippy lahlah, but if I can recommend anything to future birthing women, it's to have this track playing on repeat! I reckon it completely transformed my headspace during labour. And it kept the calm vibe going in the room and into anyone who entered the room. I began listing to it at 37 weeks during the day when I was drifting off into a cat nap. It would relax me into a sleep and play out while I rested. I believe it really worked some serious magic.
I think I then entered the 'transition' phase of labour now and Paul must have re-entered the room because I remember noticing his presence. Between contractions I started telling them how much I hated this, how hard it was, that I didn't want to do it anymore. It took me 3 contractions to work up the guts to ask Maet, "How much longer?" When I knew good and well her answer wasn't going to bring me any comfort... Her answer was calm but cheeky, "I don't know Brooke. Do you know?" I didn't say anything of course, knowing I was up for a response just like she gave me. I just kept labouring...
I continued to feel my baby move down and I continued to complain about my lack of love for the intensity. I said to Maet, "I really don't want to do this anymore", and again being a bit tough she said "Okay, well what do you want to do instead?" Ha! (Sassy!) I knew these questions didn’t have answers to them but it helped so much to just say them out loud.
Whilst pregnant I read about the natural fetal ejection reflex where you don't actively force pushing your baby out, you let the baby eject its way out and work with your body (okay, I did half reading on the subject so don’t quote me...). But the aim is to avoid tearing!
Well as my baby continued to move down I suddenly starting grunting/roaring, hunching over whilst still being on all fours, and pushing my baby out. It was out of my control. I remember thinking "Oh shit! I really didn't want to push, but I just can't stop!!" (Later Maet told me this is actually the fetal ejection reflex working. If it's out of your control to push, then your body and baby are doing exactly the right thing).
At this point, Paul had made his way into the pool with me. He told me afterwards that Maet mouthed to him "we're going to have a baby!" and quietly said hop in the pool now if he wished. He put his hand on my back between a contraction and told me I was doing so well. To which I replied very assertively, "Don't touch me." Haha! I was clearly in MY zone and ready to get this baby out MY way!
My baby continued to get lower with each push. I may have gone through about 5 contractions before I really felt the head about to come out. I started to get a little overwhelmed. I'm not sure what about. Probably just the unknown. Maybe just the intensity knowing I was about to birth this baby out into the world. Between these contractions I started saying I was scared. I was constantly reassured by everyone and even though I trusted the process, I WAS scared, and it really helped to vocalise that and to feel safe and supported enough to do so.
I then said "Okay, next one Maet." As in, the baby is really close to being born, I think I'll push him out on this next contraction. Nope, that push didn't eventuate to a head popping out. "Next one." Nope. "Okay this is it! Next one."
Bubs head crowned once more and suddenly for no other reason than bodily instincts, I moved from all fours, back into a seated position with my left leg extended. The head was still crowning. Things were INTENSE and I got so incredibly overwhelmed. Maet actually had to hold my leg down a little bit as I was raising my hips out of the water. I wasn’t trying to get out of the water, I think it was just my body moving into positions that would allow bub to be born. And then bubs head came out! I SCREAAAAAMED!
Somehow my body needed to birth him in a different position and I naturally moved to where it needed me to go- AMAZING! I don’t remember feeling the ‘ring of fire’ at all. Whereas Elanor’s birth, that was all I felt. Oh the burn!!
Baby then began the turn to free his shoulders and the rest of his body, and I really felt his stiff shoulders against me. Maet later told me that bub did have to wriggle quite a bit to complete the turn. Then, with a big out-of-no-where woosh (which felt like it took forever to arrive!), the rest of bubs body slid out. "Aaaahhhh my job is over!! Hallelujah!!" Is exactly what I was feeling and saying to myself in my head.
I remember just looking down into the water and Maet said very calmly, “Okay we’ve got cord around it's neck.” She kept bub under the water and began unravelling the cord. “That’s one… That’s two.” (Bub had the cord around his neck twice! Super common and usually not a worry by the way). Her and Paul then lifted bub up out of the water to me. I was STOKED! (Stoked labour was over too!)
I noticed bub was quite blue, but I wasn’t alarmed at all. I blew on bub’s face to get him to take a breath. I spoke to him, cuddled him, and marveled at his features. He quickly became pink and alert. We checked between his legs and discovered he was in fact a baby boy! Paul and I were thrilled beyond belief and gave each other a big happy kiss.
Everything was magnificent.
Elanor soon joined us in the pool that was fast turning into a red cordial bath from all the blood ha! She loved the excitement and was splashing around and looking at her new baby brother. I was in such a blissful postbirth haze and felt so much joy. I fed him and his latch was impeccable! I was so surprised at how good of a feeder he was immediately after birth. That was a huge relief after 3 initial months of breastfeeding struggles with Elanor.
Our second midewife missed the birth because of how quick it was in the end and also because it happened during peak-hour afternoon traffic (my bad!).
We waited to see if I was going to birth the placenta in the pool but I couldn’t feel it. We decided to change scenery and try the toilet. Maet and Paul got a container ready to put into the toilet bowl to catch the placenta. I sat for a while in our ensuite with Maet outside finishing off her notes on the bed. “It’s not coming…” I said to Maet. For some reason I put pressure on myself to get it out, not that it was real concern or anything. Maet said she’d just go get Paul to help me into the shower, and then almost as soon as she left the room, I pushed it out! Maet came back in and I told her it was out. She laughed that I just needed her to leave the room. Paul and Maet helped me back to the bed so we could commence cutting the cord.
First I felt like a shower on my own to get all clean and warm and Paul would have skin-to-skin with Axel while Maet did a few checks too. Ahhhh, that first shower after birth. It’s BLISS! Although your body is sore, aching, and in a bit of shock, it’s your first shower with an empty belly after nearly 10 months and you feel FREE.
I got dressed in some fresh clothes and headed back to the bed to snuggle my babe. My mother tied the cord around the umbilical cord and gently cut it. Maet measured and weighed him, I was brought food, and the packing up and cleaning continued. Elanor helped to deflate the pool with Maet. I boobed and boobed, dressed him, and just lapped it up. Maet and Emma left probably around 7/8pm and my mum stayed to put Elanor to bed for us.
Paul and I were running off adrenaline but we acknowledged that it was such positive and excited adrenaline. Unfortunately, Elanor’s birth felt like negative and scared adrenaline, so this was a welcomed change. Elanor must have still felt the energy in the house because she was back up at about 11pm and was ready to continue the party.
Paul and I are so thankful for the birth journey we went on to bring Axel earthside. Although we had an uncomplicated 8hr homebirth with Elanor, we still think we both suffered a bit of PTSD. Her birth was incredibly intense from start to finish and we felt it was like an endless rollercoaster ride we had no control of. There are things we would do differently if we could do her birth again but we are grateful for it nonetheless.
We believe we had 90% healed from our birth experience with Elanor. Axel’s peaceful and empowering birth was the final 10% piece in the puzzle to completely allow us to heal. We feel so powerful about the birth experience we just shared.
It was truly a life-changing day.
Axel Leo Stuart
8.2 pounds - 56 cm
Born 5.11pm - Thursday - 17/08/17
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