It was a couple of months before Fox’s birth that I had discovered the concept of free birth. I first came across the term on an Instagram post where I read of a woman who had chosen to give birth at home, with no medical assistance, choosing to only have her husband present. My initial reaction was how brave she was, but also how risky it seemed. Why wouldn’t she have a midwife there ‘just in case’? What if something went wrong? I saw that she had been interviewed for a podcast by the Free Birth Society detailing her decision and her experience. I listened to it and was blown away that what is essentially just birth, until now had seemed so radical to me.
Although I had always wanted a home birth, doing so without midwives had never occurred to me. I listened to the other Free Birth Society podcasts and heard other women’s stories and I was fascinated. This led to almost a years worth of research in to the innate safety of natural, physiological, undisturbed birth and the absolute parallel worlds of free birth and routine hospital birth.
I was blessed to have the most amazing pregnancy, feeling great from start to finish. I had been vegan for 4 years at this point and so had a fully vegan, plant based pregnancy and made sure that I ate super well, and listened as intently as possible to my body and what it needed. Sometimes this would mean resting for much of the day then suddenly feeling a release of energy and the need to be outside, so at 10pm I’d head off out and walk and walk until I felt ready to go home again. I loved the magical experience of growing this little human and enjoyed the entire pregnancy. In the weeks leading up to Fox’s birth, Jay and I were busy decorating the house we had moved in to when I was 31 weeks pregnant. I spent some of this time re-reading my favourite birthing books and listening to my favourite Indie podcasts for the second or third time. These resources were amazing for me and helped to constantly remind me that I was on the right path. I wrote affirmations and we prepared my birthing space in what would later become the dining room.
On Tuesday 3rd April, at 40+2 weeks pregnant, I was awoken at 4.45am to a small gush of warm water. I said ‘Jay… I think some water’s just come out!’ to which he sprung awake and said ‘Are you sure?! What do we do?’ I told him that we should try and get back to sleep as we don’t know that things will pick up any time soon. I managed to lay in bed for another hour or so but couldn’t sleep, I was getting excited that this could be the day that we meet our baby. I got up and began doing dishes, putting washing away etc. Jay got up and we decided he wouldn’t head in to work that day, water continued to trickle slowly every now and again but nothing else was noticeably happening. Jay went in to town to do some errands whilst I bounced on the birth ball, watched some Netflix and did some knitting, trying to keep myself occupied.
He soon returned from town and at 11.05am, I felt a huge rush of water and ran to the hallway to the tiled floor. Jay began putting puppy pads and towels down as fast as he could around me as amniotic fluid gushed out. My waters had definitely broken. Just as I began to undress in the hallway, with water continuing to release, someone knocked at the door. Really? Now?! Jay answered with the door as I hid around the corner, to find a Jehovahs Witness! It definitely gave me a giggle, he took the magazine and managed to get her to leave rather quickly, then began cleaning up around me.
Within half an hour I began feeling the start of mild surges. At first I bounced on the ball in the living room, but soon every time I felt one coming, I had the desire to be sat on the toilet. So for a while I was changing between bouncing on the ball to sitting on the downstairs toilet during a surge. I moved upstairs to the bathroom to have more space as they increased and I very strongly felt like I wanted to be alone. I told Jay to go on the PlayStation to stay occupied, I knew it would be hard for him to leave me but I assured him I was fine alone for now and I’d call on him if I needed him. He kept checking on me every now and again to see if I needed drinks or food, I wasn’t feeling hungry but I would drink lots of coconut water and some smoothies . As the surges increased I began to instinctively move in to an all fours position on my hands and knees on the bathroom floor. I would try and focus on my breath and sometimes sway forwards and backwards, and then between surges I would get straight back up and be walking around in circles waiting for the next one. I could feel the surges were lasting longer and getting closer together and I was beginning to vocalise. I timed my surges at around 2pm and they were 3 minutes apart and lasting for 1 minute so I asked Jay to call our doula.
A doula is a hired birth worker who provides emotional support during pregnancy, labour and birth. A doula has no medical training and does not monitor or physically assist the birth in any way. I hired our doula at the beginning of my pregnancy and met with her many times over this period. She was someone that I felt an immediate connection to, and I instantly felt was exactly the kind of person that I knew would be of amazing support for Jay and I. In today’s society, birth is kept private. We don’t grow up seeing our mothers, sisters, cousins, friends giving birth. I felt that I would appreciate a woman’s presence in my birth. Someone who has seen and experienced this incredible process. Jay also felt that he would like a support person present, someone who can be there for me if he needs a break, and someone who can reassure him that everything happening is completely normal as this would be his first experience with birth as well as mine.
I continued to labour in the bathroom for a little while longer but the tiled floor began to hurt my knees and elbows and I was getting a little cold. I began feeling like I wanted Jays presence with me so we went in to the bedroom, drew the curtains and I got back in to an all fours position but also stayed there in between surges too. The feelings really began to increase here and Jay began to rub my lower back through each surge, which provided the most amazing counter pressure and was just the kind of relief that I needed. Jay called this my ‘lion phase’ as my breathing started to sound almost as though I was growling, and my eyes would close and I would bury my head in to my hands. Our doula arrived at around 4pmand soon suggested that they begin filling up the pool. The pool was ready and I got in at around 5pm.
Instantly, I felt the water soothe me, and the space and the warmth was so welcome. I still couldn’t bare to be in any other position than all fours so I draped myself over the edge of the pool, and kept my legs back and wide apart. The surges were beginning to feel really intense at this point. Jay would continuously give me sips of coconut water and smoothies and I would snack on grapes between surges. He would hold my hand and kiss my head and quietly whisper to me how great I was doing. He lit candles and put on the essential oils diffuser that we had set up. I wanted quietness and stillness and Jay and our doula sensed this and kept the space so calm and peaceful for me. Even though I was getting deeper in to labour, the environment felt so perfect, that I truly felt that I could just relax and do what I needed to do. As the feelings increased, each surge I would grab for Jays hand and he would apply pressure to my lower back.
The sounds that were involuntarily coming from my mouth were getting louder, and more raw and animalistic. Our doula would calmly remind me to use my breath to my advantage. She would hear my sounds change and knew whereabouts I was at in my labour. She would reassure me that everything was just as it was meant to be.
No one ever checked my dilation or monitored me in any way. No one ever old me what to do or how to position myself. I never felt watched or judged or observed. I felt completely free to surrender to my body and let it do exactly what it needed to do. I felt safe and private and at no point in labour did I feel any kind of fear. Yes, the surges were painful but they never felt bigger than me and I never once felt like I couldn’t do it. It all felt like the most incredible challenge and I didn’t want it to stop. I knew that the stronger the surges were, the closer I was to meeting my baby. At one point I even remember saying ‘yes…yes…yes…yes’. I was welcoming the surges, willing them to continue getting more powerful because I knew they were bringing my baby down. The months that I had spent reiterating to myself that birth works had paid off.
All the women’s free birth stories that I’d heard on the podcasts gave me such strength that I never doubted that I could do this too. The thought of any kind of pain relief never once crossed my mind. I kept saying to myself in my mind ‘This is not pain, it’s power.’ It felt like a journey, and I could always feel the end coming closer, and I knew that at the end would be the most amazing reward.
A question a lot of women planning a free birth get is ‘how will you know when to push?’ Well how does a tiger know? Or a hedgehog? Who tells them when to push? The answer is, you don’t have to know when to push. My surges began to feel different and I could feel my body bearing down. With each surge I could feel my baby descend, my body was doing all the work by itself, all that I could do was go along with it. Each surge, I felt him come lower. My vocalisations were really getting loud now as I roared my baby down and I remember saying to Jay ‘This is nowhere near as bad as I’m making it sound!’ I didn’t find this part necessarily painful, just incredibly intense. I was astounded at the strength and the intelligence of my body.
Our doula would remind me to loosen up between surges, I would relax my arms and my jaw and my hands and my legs and go as floppy as I could. I felt like I was drifting off and almost sleeping between these final surges. I felt his head really come down low and I said ‘head’s coming, head’s coming….’ Then my body gave one big bear down and my baby’s head was out! I said ‘it’s out, he’s here! Jay, get in the pool!’ We had always planned for Jay to be the one to catch him and bring him up on to me from the water. So in came Jay, I was still in all fours and I remember reaching down and feeling my baby’s head in my hands, knowing that with the next surge, he would be born. It was the most incredible feeling. Touching him for the first time, the moment I had dreamt of for so long. Perfect stillness in a candlelit room, breathing in and savouring the final pause before we would meet our son.
Then came the surge, I gave a little push and our baby’s entire body slipped out like a fish!
Fox Eros was born at 8.15pm on 3rd April 2018, straight in to his Daddy’s arms, who then guided him under my legs and on to my chest. Fox - the name our little boy chose himself, giving his father and I constant messages throughout my pregnancy, and Eros - the Greek God of love, chosen as he was consciously conceived on the Greek island of Kefalonia. I can’t remember exactly what I said when Fox was born but it was something like ‘He’s here, he’s here! Our baby is here!’ and I was immediately overcome with the most overwhelming emotions. Jay and I both cried as we took the first look at our son. No one there to interrupt us and no one else’s hands were on him. There was no rushing or grabbing or anyone trying to clean him or suction him. Just us and this new soul.
I held him to my chest and could feel him wriggling, he was moving his head, adjusting to the world outside of the womb. I stroked him and talked to him and then came the tiniest cough and cry. We just stared at this tiny person, kissing him, stroking him and telling him how happy we were that he was here. Within 10 minutes he was latched on to my breast and we three remained in the pool for 40 minutes whilst we got to know this little boy, our Fox cub.
I was hoping to birth the placenta in the pool simply because it would be less messy but the water was beginning to get colder and I wanted to be out. Jay and our doula helped Fox and I out of the pool and in to the living room next door. I sat for a few minutes and could feel the heaviness of the placenta. Jay held a bowl under me and I gave a cough, and out it came at around 9.15pm. We waited another half an hour until the cord was completely white, limp and cold so that all of Fox’s full blood volume had been transferred to his body from the placenta.
Jay knotted the crochet cord tie that we had bought and used sterilised scissors to cut the cord. Fox was weighed the following day at 7lb 12oz. Our doula then helped me upstairs and helped me to briefly shower off the blood etc that was on my skin, as Jay had the first hold of his son. Jay, Fox and I then got snuggled up in bed as our doula tidied around downstairs. She made sure we had everything we needed and left shortly before midnight.
That first night Fox slept skin to skin on my chest and I didn’t sleep a wink. I had no feeling of tiredness, I was just overcome with love and couldn’t stop staring at this perfect little soul that my body had grown. A little soul that just that morning was living within me. I was on an absolute high, just bursting with gratitude for the amazing experience of birthing my boy. Everything felt just perfect and blissful, just as I knew it would. I had a small second degree tear but chose not to have stitches in favour of healing naturally. I kept my legs together and aired everything as much as possible, had daily sitz baths and used manuka honey. 8 weeks later, and it’s healed up beautifully, as if it was never even there.
Fox and I spent the first few days skin to skin, rarely leaving the bed. We were bonding, getting to know each other and making the most of those beautiful first few days. Jay did an amazing job of caring for us and the looking after the house. He bought me every meal, did every load of washing, allowing me the time needed to heal.
My undisturbed birth allowed me to set my own timescale with what happened afterwards. Everything could unfold in my own time, when it felt right to do so. I had 2 hours of constant skin to skin with Fox after the birth and briefly handed him to Jay whilst I rinsed the blood and fluids off myself with water. We didn’t make any attempt to clean Fox, he stayed just as he was, we didn’t dress him at all for 5 days, and he has slept with us in our bed from day 1.
I believe that knowing the vast positive effects of birthing freely and remaining undisturbed gave us an amazing start to breastfeeding, with Fox putting on 1oz by day 5 and then 9oz by day 10. At 14 days old he was an ounce short of gaining a full pound. He is as peaceful as his entrance in to the world was and he has made this transition to motherhood as smooth as it could be for me. The way our babies are born and what happens in the moments, hours and days afterwards will shape both mothers and babies in countless ways. I am forever grateful that free birth found its way in to my life and for all that it has taught me.