Bits of life / CNF

Water dragon.

It was ink dark outside when the contractions started but I waited until 5am before waking him.

‘Are you sure?’ he asked.

‘Yes, I’m sure!’ I said.

‘Could it still be prelabour?’

‘These are no Braxton Hicks. And they’re getting closer together. I’ve been timing.’

He had good reason to ask: my prelabour had gone on and on for five days. My stomach, an ever-tightening ball.

I had lunch with my sister the day before, in the midst of a run of these unreal contractions, and I would have to stop moving or talking to breathe through each one.

‘Should you even be out?’ she said, incredulous. ‘Are you going to give birth right now?’

‘No, it’s just prelabour,’ I said. ‘I’ll be fine.’

We walked into a clothing store and the owner looked me up and down.

‘Don’t give birth in here!’ She was only half joking, I could tell.

‘I won’t,’ I said, and my sister, the shop owner, and I shared the same nervous laugh.

Twelve hours later, I was in labour for real.

I was already what the medical establishment called “late”, even though I’d done the maths based on my own cycle. In three days’ time, at 42 weeks, they would tell me I would have to be induced, with no possibility of the home birth I had planned, so I had been getting progressively more stressed, spending nights working on my own care plan because my midwives couldn’t risk it.

When my son was born more than three years earlier, I experienced what I later learned to be called the “cascade of intervention” — where unnecessary medical interventions are introduced and stepped up and backed onto one another, reducing the risks to the hospital and its staff, but at a cost to the mother’s wellbeing. His birth left me with a trapped nerve, other latent medical issues, and ongoing trauma. I was determined to stay away from doctors and hospitals this time.

I really looked after myself. I joined the Community Midwifery Program, did antenatal yoga once a week, saw a chiropractor for sciatica, put the best food into my body, and took liquid iron when they told me to get my iron levels up or risk being admitted to a hospital bed.

And then, on the night before my littlest one was born, I couldn’t sleep.

I stayed up to refine my seemingly inevitable post-42-week care plan and accidentally started watching a Dutch horror movie that I couldn’t bear to see through when I realised it would end with a graphic birth scene. So I scared myself with what-if nightmares instead and woke up two hours later with contractions.

We’d had days of crazy heat in the lead-up, as we do almost every February in Perth, but this day was mild. Great weather for yoga and a water birth at home. Only I started too strong. When the contractions took hold, I mustered my arsenal of asanas and wore myself out early with too many squats and warrior twos.

I have a vague recollection of general care (from my midwife and husband), frustration (from my midwife, when I said, ‘I don’t know if I can do this.’) and screaming (from me: ‘I can do this!’). But what I remember most vividly was my beautiful man holding me up and out of the water to push because my legs couldn’t hold me anymore, my perfect babe in my arms, cradled by water and love.

Her birth healed me in ways I am still finding words for.

‘A superman birth,’ were the first words I heard from my midwife because she’d made her entrance unconventionally, announcing her arrival with one fist first exploding out and up, followed by the other.

My little water dragon was spirited from the start, a special girl, born in blood-warm water and the afternoon sun bathing us in glorious streams through the glass. A child of the elements. India Lucie. Water and light.

*

Excerpt from ‘Water and Light’, first published in Hippocampus Magazine, December 2017. My little water dragon turns seven this month.

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