Updated: Oct 16
by Ellie Reynolds
When the day came to birth my second baby, I was delighted. The lights were dim in the theatre of my bedroom, I, the birthing mother, center stage, the lead role. Or was it the baby really? I felt so ripe, the sugar was dripping off of me. I had eaten green pills full of cultured algae and that morning, I had plucked ripe plums from the tree in the yard, and swum naked in the lake through my early contractions. Now it was dark finally and I was naked again; in the flow; in the dance; life in my pores and I was truly not afraid. I was a lotus flower opening, ready to hold hands and dance with the divine. And you know what else? I was horny! I thought about what I had read somewhere. That the vagina widens during sexual arousal, and the same uninhibited behavior as I enjoyed with my partner in the bedroom during sex could be brought into the bedroom when it came time for birth.
My toddler son was asleep downstairs and I called up to my husband to come and make love to me. He was very reluctant! “You’re in labour…. it can’t be right!” he stammered. But I convinced him. The eventual waves of orgasm gave way to surges of blood and oxytocin flooding my brain and vagina, and my uterus seemed to explode with echoing muscular spasms that went on and on and on. It was the most intense set of sensations my body had ever experienced. Pain, pleasure, contraction, expansion, birth, death, life! I felt so relaxed afterwards that I slipped into a meditative state and amazingly managed to fall asleep until fresh sensations awoke me, and I got into the bath to cope.
I didn’t want to call our midwife until I was in really heavy labour, and by the time she arrived, I was fully dilated. She and my husband helped me out of the bath. I chose the toilet next; it felt good to push there, leaning on my husband (who really didn’t want me labouring on the toilet!). I went onto all fours on the floor. With the next contraction, I could feel the head. The pressure was enormous, but when I reached down, I felt a hard balloon, not hair. Like an alien was trying to exit my body.
The midwife was flustered; she had delivered hundreds of babies, but this was only her second time seeing a baby still in the caul. She pierced it, and my daughter literally shot out of me. A silver watery cannon, hitting the carpet before anyone could catch her, and bringing with her a deluge, her caul stretched over her face and tiny body. Once the midwife had torn it away and she could breathe, I scooped her wet little body up and held her to my chest. She had arrived without fear, and did not signal her entrance by crying.
I called to my toddler Elijah to come in and meet his sister. It was 3 a.m. but he was awake. He arrived at the entrance to the bedroom looking concerned and saying nothing. When he saw me spontaneously birth the placenta, he screamed, and I wished I had waited longer to call him up. In all the excitement, I’d forgotten about that step of the process. Once it was all cleaned up and he had calmed down, the midwife left us. Our new family of four finally settled and fell into a beautiful sleep all together in our king-size bed.
We had two children. We were happy, and absolutely sure we were done and didn’t want anymore. I had an IUD fitted and thought no more of it. Until one night I started thinking that I should have had a period by now. I had only recently started my cycle again, so I wasn’t as in tune with it as I might have been in the past. I pushed the feeling away until a few more weeks passed, and I realized I had to take a test. It was positive, and I felt devastated and confused over how on earth it could have happened with an IUD. When the doctor ordered an emergency ultrasound, the technician told me matter-of-factly that there was no IUD in my body at all, just a healthy-looking embryo. It must have just quietly fallen out! I really struggled to accept the pregnancy, although I didn’t question whether I would continue it. But I dipped into a depression, resisted telling anyone about it until I couldn’t hide it anymore, and I felt myself wanting to take comfort in sugar and staying in bed. I know my husband struggled too, though he dealt with it by shutting down a few notches, so I felt even more alone.
It was my oldest child, aged five by then, who really got me through it. He was so excited, he kept talking about the baby, and even thanking me for making him a brother. I didn’t take great care of myself during the pregnancy, forgoing all the deep inner preparation that I had done with my first two births. This time, I didn’t read a single book, article, or listen to podcasts. I assumed when the time came, I would just slip upstairs and have the baby while the other two were asleep in their beds.
At 39 weeks, I was up late helping my husband to lay a new floor in the living room. We were desperate to get it done before our brand new couches arrived. And before my mum arrived from England. And before the baby came. I was tired. I knew I shouldn’t be bending over like that, shouldn’t be lifting, shouldn’t even be awake, but I wasn’t listening to my gut.
Suddenly, I felt a gush and my pajamas were soaked. My first thought was that my water had broken. But then I realized I was bleeding—a lot. My husband spiralled into panic, but I remained eerily calm. I was tired, I just wanted to go to bed and deal with the bleeding in the morning. I did call the midwife though, and alarmed, she came right over. She saw the trails of blood all over the floor and as calmly as she could, told my husband to call an ambulance. He replied that it would take forty minutes to arrive, and that we were better off driving. I couldn’t face the idea of waking our two small children and dragging them in the car to the hospital to face goodness knows what. So, I pleaded with him to stay here and let our midwife drive me to the hospital in her car. He agreed, though I could tell he didn’t want to.
It was midnight and there was no moon to be seen. It was an hour’s drive to the hospital and I was still in my pajamas, still bleeding. She was driving fast. I was trying to keep calm, but by then I was in hysterical tears, the most frightened I’d ever been. It was so dark and the road, full of twists and turns. I had a sudden vision of deer running out into the road and a split second later, one did. BAM. The poor creature hit the front bumper, taking out one of the headlights completely. With the one remaining, we drove on feeling awful about the deer, but in too much of a hurry to stop.
The doctors had been notified and they were waiting for me. I was so attached to the idea of myself as a capable birthing woman that I even asked if I could just rest and maybe labour would start naturally (I hadn’t yet had a single contraction). But both the doctor and my midwife said a caesarian was safer, so I agreed. Everything that followed terrified me. The IV, the spinal, the shaving, the wheelchair, the bright cold lights of the theatre. The fact that no one seemed to be talking directly to me, just to each other. I wished so hard my husband was there to hold my hand and tell me what was going on.
I was used to birth being an undisturbed, intimate act, with me at the center of it. And here I was, just a vessel out of which they needed to quickly extract a baby who might at any moment run out of oxygen. I heard him cry, and then the cry was quickly a far away sound. What had happened?! Where was he?! Was he okay?! It was an awful feeling. And it lasted maybe fifteen minutes until I saw, dressed in scrubs and holding a bundle, none other than my husband! Our wonderful midwife had called a neighbour to keep watch over the house and sleeping children, allowing him to get in the car and race to the hospital, just in time to be handed our son, who was alive, though he needed resuscitation.
My husband handed the baby to me, and every feeling of doubt, regret, and reluctance instantly disappeared. I was so full of relief and love that I was completely overcome. The surgeon told me that my placenta was about one third detached from the uterus wall when he got my baby out, an exceptionally dangerous scenario. I guess I would have just carried on bleeding until…? I had much to be thankful for that night. And I was. I was also still in profound shock, I couldn’t stop shaking, and the return of sensation in my lower body after the spinal was terribly painful. My husband had to leave me after about an hour and drive back home to our kids. It was a long night. I had no idea cesarean recovery was so painful. Over the next few days, well-meaning but inexperienced nurses kept trying to get me to stand up, which I simply could not manage. I couldn’t imagine ever walking again.
But some wonderful things happened that week. I had made a brief post on Facebook saying what had happened and that I was in the hospital in case anyone wanted to visit. And they did. Women I hardly knew came to visit. And I realized it was in part because they had also had cesarean births, and knew how painful the recovery was. They understood that I felt disappointed, somehow broken, and very fragile. They brought me fruit, held my baby, and told me their birth stories. The ones I realized I hadn’t heard before because I had only sought “empowering” stories. And cesarean birth stories were the ones I had avoided. I felt humbled and profoundly changed as I spent the next week in the hospital, figuring out how to get around while healing from major abdominal surgery. I spent most of my time snuggling this heavenly baby who didn’t appear to be scarred by his sudden and violent surgical birth.
For the first time since becoming a mother to my first child, I was allowed to actually rest. There was no housework, cooking, laundry, bedtimes. My only job was to heal, and take care of this most beautiful and mysterious baby, who surprised me just as much with the way he entered my body as with the way he exited.
Ellie is originally from the UK, but moved to Canada in 2007. She holds a BA in English from Cambridge University, and since moving to Canada, she has worked in Early Years community development as a children’s librarian, and more recently, as a solo performer and theatre- maker. She lives with her husband Charles and together they have three children. You can follow her at https://www.facebook.com/elliesolotheatre
Don't miss the virtual Birth Sharing Circle 2021 on Zoom on October 30th at 2 p.m. (EST) Come meet the winning writers, including Ellie, who will share their birth and writing experiences. Many of the jurors and readers will be there too! It will be a unique heartwarming event! Tickets are available on Eventbrite by donation.