Saturday, 19 February 2011

How She Got Here ...or... The Birth of Coco Mae

This is a birth story... it contains talk of lady bits and bodily functions.

I guess the story starts aptly. At a bar in the city centre with Salva, watching a friend of ours play in a folk trio... people we met in late May, early June last year... when we spent around a month enjoying the new warmth by playing music with them, introducing ourselves to Spanish folk rhythms, drinking wine and at some point obviously, conceiving a baby...

39 weeks later, (37?) and we were sitting in the front row at the Penicilino listening to Sara's lilting fiddle and watching as my belly swayed and bulged with baby dancing inside, the way she did when listening to anyone but the two of us play live. We got home at about 1am and as we dozed off to sleep I started to feel a dull menstrual-like pain. When I went to the bathroom and found the tiniest drop of blood I knew she was coming. So I went back to bed and told Salva she'd be here the next day. He said that's great, and we went to sleep until around 10 the next morning.

As I sat down to tea and toast at the table my waters broke, which I thought was quite annoying. I had been hoping to go into labour before breaking waters because of the planned home birth, and general desire for a natural birth wherever it was to take place. I didn't want to be worried about a time limit to go into labour to be considered safe from infection, and I had no contractions yet. So I had a shower and got dressed, went out with Salva to run some errands all over the town. On foot. By the time we stopped for a coffee break in the centre I was having painless contractions every 5 minutes or so. So we called the midwives, as they had to travel from Madrid which is 200 kms away, I wanted them to know what was happening, but told them not to come yet.

We called into the supermarket on our way home and bought a few supplies, including a mattress protector, something which I would put on a list of my top ten wisest purchases.

Once home, we ate some lasagne and watched the final episode of Lost (hmm...).By then the contractions were getting slightly stronger and I needed to breathe through them. I still didn't feel like summoning the midwives but I'd told myself that I would do it as the contractions started to hurt, as they were a 2 and half hour drive away. So we phoned them, I showered and we cuddled up in the afternoon sun on our bed as we waited. I could see the excitement building in Salva. I felt complete calmness.

Maria arrived first. I don't know how narrative I want to get in this story, but I feel l need to describe its characters. She is a quietly confident woman with a serious manner and a low voice. I'm sure I would know she is a midwife if I saw her in line at the supermarket. I can't imagine her as anything else. She has a clean, sweet smell and a soft, wise look in her eye.

She sat with me on the sofa for a moment, we drank a cup of tea and she asked me if I wanted her to examine me. I did, and we found I was about 3cm dilated at 6pm.

The other midwife is a man, so I find it slightly awkward calling him a midwife, because that includes the word wife which is quite gender specific. I don't know what they call themselves. The Spanish language has the same problem (MatrĂ³n?) He is in his late 50's and has longish white hair and a beard. He is so passionate about giving birth. When I met him for the first time, in a restaurant where they were having lunch after seeing someone in my city, Maria was repeatedly shushing him as he was recounting in explicit detail the birth he'd assisted the night before. When he arrived at 6.30-ish pm Maria met him downstairs and they went out together, taking advantage of the trip to see someone else in Valladolid, have a walk and some dinner.

Maria told us not to sit around waiting for contractions while they were gone. She advised us to watch something mindless together. Preferably something funny. So we put on Flight of the Conchords, which I'd never seen but had the dvd in my bookcase.

So the strange thing about labour contractions is when they are happening the mind needs to completely shut off from anything else. Then, once the contraction was over, I would come back. I'd heard about this happening, of course. but it was funny all the same. So while watching Flight of the Conchords we had about an hour of (frequently interrupted) belly laughs. When there were more interruptions than laughter, we turned it off and I started to move around, knowing that being on my feet would speed things up and wanting all the help that gravity could provide. That was probably the moment I sub-conciously chose where she would be born. I gravitated toward our bedroom and stood at the foot of my bed. Rotating my hips in large circles like I'd been doing for months in yoga sessions, trying to visualise her head passing easily through my cervix, knowing that my spontaneous movements would help me do just that.
Salva and I have since discussed the next part of the story. I don't know how much the choices I made changed things. Salva is convinced that it was the decider of her birthday. As the contractions grew stronger and more intense quickly, at around 8pm I pushed my face into the red mat at the foot of our bed, the one we bought in Morocco that still smells of sheep and over-ripe fruit, as the contractions began nearly overlapping. I kept breathing though them, and started practising voice yoga tecniques- a combination of concious breathing, visualisation (the shape of the mouth mirroring the cervix and vagina) and well, song. As far as pain control goes, this tecnique comes highly recommended. The pain is felt and acknowledged on the inhale, on the exhale it is expelled in the form of a long held note. It worked. I controlled the pain of 5 hours of contractions this way. The contractions were coming SO fast though and I didn't feel ready. I wanted to get into the bath, I asked Salva to call the midwives and ask if that would be ok. They said to get in if I wanted to.

I was still so calm.

I got in the bath and Salva sat on a stool with me as I sang through the contractions. When the midwives came back, Maria came into the room and quietly observed the contractions for a few minutes, and without saying anything she put her hands on my knee and ankle, what I later relised were acupressure points to stimulate contractions. She did that for a while then left me with Salva. I think I spent about 2 hours in the bath before she came back and mentioned gently that the contractions had slowed down quite a lot... With that I nodded and stood up immediately. How strange. Looking back I think that getting in the bath was a sub-concious need to slow things down. Salva insists that the baby was on her way when I was at the foot of our bed earlier, twisting between moon and child poses as though praying to mecca on that Moroccan rug. I think so too. It's something I will be aware of next time. On the one hand, it was nice to follow my own rhythms and control the pain with the hot water. On the other, it REALLY slowed the labour down, and my feeling is a fast labour is a good labour from a physical point of view. More energy for those final moments, which might have come in handy...

After the bath Salva supported me as I walked around the room for an hour, stopping for contractions, feeling her weight heavy between my legs. Maria sat on the bed, watched, encouraged and checked the baby's heartbeat at more regular intervals.
The contractions were coming faster and with increasing intensity.

It must have been past 1am when Juanjo, who'd been resting on the sofa came in dressed entirely in white saying, "I'm dressed in white which means you're going to give birth soon..." Salva laughed softly at the joke, I think I nodded seriously.

I was ready to have her then, and I was wondering if I needed to push. So I turned to Maria and told her I needed to know if I was doing the right thing. She asked if I felt like I needed to push. I kind of did, but I told her I didn't know how, as in, I didn't know which muscles I needed to use. She told me I'd know. It was coming. She could see I needed assurance though and asked if I wanted her to examine me again. I said yes, but I could NOT lie down on the bed for her to do it, it was a physical impossibility. It came to me in a flash that I would have spent the whole labour lying down horizontally if I were in a Spanish hospital. That wouldn't have worked out well for us.

I continued walking and singing though the now earth-shaking contractions. I have the sensation that the notes got progressively higher in pitch during the evening but I'll have to check with Salva (he's the one with a conservatory diploma...). Then I felt like I need to go to the toilet. So I told them. And Maria exclaimed Eso Es! Do it right here, that's the pushing feeling. I'd heard that, but I didn't expect it to be exactly the same. So I knew what to do. I'd identified the feeling, and I pushed and pushed.

And pushed.

"Don't be embarrassed to poop on the floor" Umm, I'm NOT. Believe me. I would if I could. Gladly.

This is where Juanjo became a magic medicine man. We relised during a later conversation with him that his specialness is that he has somehow achieved a perfect balance between western and alternative medicines in his field. He would stimulate the contractions with acupressure points on my back, and leap up to support me as I collapsed under their weight. I've never seen another birth, but I've watched many natural birth videos, and never seen such an active midwife. He later told me he could tell I was asking for his support, whereas Maria knew that we both needed our space in the early labour. All I can remember is feeling so grateful as he continued to suggest and encourage. He moved me around the room guiding me into various positions when he could see something wasn't working. Asking how each one was. Maria continued to check the heartbeat, now at more regular intervals.

And it felt like she was never going to come out. I could see Salva looking expectantly between my legs after every push, and I wanted to tell him not to bother yet. It felt like I pushed her down 5cm with each exhale, and that she'd slip back up 4.5cm on each inhale. And I said it. I looked over at Salva and said "maybe I can't do it.." and he said "Of course you can, we're nearly there" but told me he later thought at that moment "shit, maybe she really can't."

I relised that the birthing stool had been placed at the foot of the bed, and I sat down on it. I don't know what happened then. Perhaps I found the right position. 3 more contractions, about 12 more pushes and she was crowning. 2 more contractions and perhaps 8 more pushes and I was staring at her furry little head in the mirror under me, begging my body to break and let her through. Juanjo took the fetalscope and listened for her heartbeat. He moved it around for a few seconds, but didn't waste much time trying to find it. He jumped up, Maria handed him a pair of scissors, and he told me he was going to do an episiotomy. I nodded. Heard the sound of the scissors as he waited for my push. Felt her slither out into his hands, and heard her cry before she was even on my chest, her black eyes wide open, staring at me. Maria's voice behind me said "3.20am"

Maria cleaned her nose and mouth as she cried weakly. I soothed her insitinctively, and heard Maria say over my shoulder. "Let her cry. She's been through alot. She's just telling you her side of the story. She knows you're here now." and she seemed to. She was quiet within moments, wrapped up in a towel, and a bright red blanket wearing the hat I'd made for her the week before out of an old pair of my leggings. She lay that way on my chest as I birthed her placenta and was stiched up by Juanjo.

Then that was it. Salva disappeared for a moment to provide bedding for Maria, who stayed in the front spare room, some extra blankets for Juanjo who slept on the sofa. I found myself in bed with Salva next to me. He took the baby from me and laid her down on his chest, and they both watched over me from there as I slept for 4 hours, Salva's eyes half open, drifting in and out of a light sleep, hers wide open like two buttons, looking around, her tiny body rising and falling with her Papa's breathing.
The sun streamed in the window the next morning. Juanjo tried to help me up to go to the toilet but I couldn't stand up without fainting. I spent the day in bed with my baby on my chest, offering the breast she wouldn't take until she was 30 hours old. We skyped our families in far-away lands. They partied in our absence. The midwives went out for breakfast discreetly, and went home at about 10am. I ate another plate of lasagne from the day before. Visitors came to meet her at around 6pm. 4 of our friends drank a celebratory glass of red wine with us in our bedroom. The house filled with flowers.

What else to say. We'd decided to attempt a home birth at about 3 or 4 months into the pregnancy, when we relised that a birth centre wasn't an option here. It was something we kept to ourselves throughout the rest of the pregnancy, never discounting the fact that we may have had to go to the hospital anyway, knowing that it is an incredibly contraversial topic here in Spain, that our far-away families were worried about her safe arrival, and not wanting to go into any detail about her impending birth with those who ached to be closer.

But my feelings on homebirth are worthy of another extremely long post. For now, I'm going to echo Salva, who later told Juanjo that he couldn't imagine having lived through this experience in any other way. I'm positive that we chose not only the most beautiful, but safest way for her to be born, given our particular situation at that particular moment. Our baby's birth was attended by the two people who know more about babies, mothers and birthing than anyone I've ever come across. They lived it all with us. The last moments of my first pregnancy, Coco's birth, and our shaky transition from people into parents. Juanjo spent a morning with us when Coco was 3 days old, talking about his experiences with birth in a country with an extremely complicated history. Maria came back after 30 hours and helped relunctant Coco and I begin breastfeeding, reminding me that my relationship with my daughter is unique and can not be learned from any book, that we need to get to know each other.

I still get teary with gratitude when I think about them and what they do.
3 and a half weeks have passed, and I've worried about her cries, wondered about her weight gain and pleaded with her to have a little sleep in her basket by herself, just for an hour or so. I am tired.

But I am still calmer than I have ever been in my life.

I don't know how to end this story. She was growing in my belly and now she's out here, strapped tightly to my chest. A unique, seperate little person with an elfin pointed chin and the biggest, brownest eyes. It happens all the time, but there is nothing more beautiful.
And she will never, ever know how much I love her. How glad I am that she could be born this way. A friend of mine recently said "People who get to have a home birth are BLESSED" I think she meant me, and I do feel blessed, but so is Coco. It was her birth, and it was perfect.


  1. so beautiful. i'm all teary and shivvery, and so happy for you! i had a very similar experience with my first child as well. huzzah!

  2. After reading that, I think I know exactly where you are at. You're just breathing it all in. There's none of that emotional baggage that can come with negotiating a hospital birth. Just an understanding of momentous amazingness - and how that sweet bundle just changed your whole world. xxx

  3. ohhhh Haaaaaayley, I love all birth stories but this is just so timeless and real. What wonderful midwives. What a welcoming way to make an entrance. What a crazy thought that the little girl I remember has her own little girl. I'm sure she'll be just as ripsnortingly funny as you, partially due to that early in-utero dose of Flight of The Conchords ;)
    Cait xx

  4. What a beautiful post and so lovely and heartwarming to read. Congratulations! She is beautiful like her mama and I am so thankful that you were able to have the experience just as you wanted it. Though quite different than your experience, my birth stories are beautiful to me too - you are right that there is nothing more beautiful however it happens to happen for the parents. My youngest is getting ready to graduate from high school and just like Coco, she has no idea how much I love her and neither does my son. But, now you know how much your mom loves you! I know you will be the wise parent that soaks up every second, every breath . . . that is apparent just based on the lovely way you brought your baby into the world. It goes by in a flash and those sleepless nights really make you strong for all the ups and downs and worries and celebrations and decisions and questions you will have from here on out. It is the greatest adventure possible and I know you will be a mom we all admire.

  5. thanks for such a beautiful, inspiring and honest story...I'll keep your words with me in the next few weeks as I prepare to birth baby number 2. Blessings for the next few weeks of new motherhood x

  6. This was totally awesome and beautiful. Congratulations :)


Tell me what you REALLY think.