Becoming a Mother.

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It is difficult to write the story of Isabella simply because she led our journey from the very beginning and I was merely along for the ride.

She, always a tight little ball of emotion, silent until a pinnacle point at which time her whole cataclysmic being is shown and you have no choice but to recognize her power.

She, the soul who entered when I was never still or silent enough to notice. Who stuck with me through working hard, playing hard, traveling; on freezing winter train rides through Amsterdam where I was sure the yogurt drink I had supped caused my sudden ‘motion sickness’. Through the months of lethargy, when my eyes were heavy for hours and my skin was paler than usual.
Through the hours of running that my 22 year old self endured in a bid to tame the little extra fat pockets which were depositing around my body- what I thought to be a consequence of winter-inspired laziness.

She, the soul who lay quietly like a walnut in a shell, hardy and persistent and grounded. Sure of herself despite having chosen a mother who was in the thick of being very unsure about herself.

What about pregnancy?’ My mother in law said through a little laughter one early spring evening as we ate together during our ladies-only supper. And I laughed. That wasn’t possible. I was on the pill. My cycle still came, albeit short and unscheduled.
Not pregnant.

The mid-may afternoon in 2006 rolled around and well-kept, in a neat pin striped skirt suit, I made my way to my doctors surgery. I was to discuss my now erratic menses, my headaches, my achey stomach which ballooned at night. I was telling him that I simply knew I must have polycystic ovaries. And that I needed to be ‘fixed’. Because that is what I searched for, then.

As I strode through the waiting room, I was surprised to see my mother; she and I shared the same Doctor. We had each been a patient of his for years.
She asked me if I wanted her to attend my appointment with me and of course I said no; I was 22. I knew it all. I didn’t need her.

I sat opposite the doctor and explained my symptoms. Explained how positively polycystic I was.
He glanced me over. He smiled. He nodded. He was gentle and kind. He asked me to lie on the doctors bench.

His hands palpated my belly and he quizzically glanced up.

‘I’ll be right back’ he said, and disappeared from sight. Returning, in his hands lay a Doppler. I have no idea how I knew what this was but I scoffed.

He placed cool jelly on my stomach, and rolled the Doppler over the area. He picked up a heartbeat: ‘don’t worry, that’s your heartbeat.’

I breathed out.

Pause.

Glance up.

Pause.

‘That’s not.’

His hands over my belly once more.

‘Sian you’re pregnant. You’re between 16 and 20 weeks pregnant.’

He had, by all account, felt the height of my fundus. He had noted the upper edge of my womb reaching towards my tummy button and absurdly to me, he had felt a baby move within me as he placed his hands around the contours of my belly.

I have never in my life had events stop…pause. Slow down and echo. Only then.

Baby moving….5 months pregnant…no idea before. Was it safe? Was I ok?
My life was going to change.
My job was amazing…would they keep me while I was on this trial period?
Everything would be different.
22 years old, one year out of university, bright eyed and pretty active travel bug in my bones and now a baby.

I left the doctors room, in a dizzy state. My mother had left by now but I called her and she collected me. And I cried because I was scared. I cried because I was angry that I never knew. That I had been blind and deaf and sensory deprived and dull.
That I may have hurt this baby and I.
She drove me home and I told my dad through irritated tears and he simply said that it was good news; at this point Jeremy and I had been partners for over 6 years and my dad presumed it was going to happen one day.

My mum listened and somewhere in her eyes I saw an excitement.

Jeremy was in Norway; I called him and blasted the news in a tirade of frustrated and frightened words. He was quiet but tried to be soothing. Soothing someone else when you are catapulted into chaos yourself is difficult.
I was not soothed. I was terrified.

My mother in law greeted me on her driveway with one giant cuddle. A part of me wanted to run from her and hide, another part wanted to me to sink into her and leave the worries behind. I did a little of both.

And then I lay down, on my back, staring at the ceiling. And I felt the roundness of my belly, a small little mound between the bones of my hips, to the bottom of my tummy and up around to my belly button. A swelling, really. A firm hill of skin and baby.
And I felt this baby move.
And I fell in honest, captivated love.
The tears, the doubt, the last few hours began to melt away. I felt her.
She was no longer hiding. She came to play.

The next 18 weeks from 20-38 weeks pregnant were a beautiful time. Busy and beautiful. I worked and I grew, I blossomed. Though I struggled sometimes with having no pregnant or mama friends, with being the first in the family generation to have a baby, with the sudden decline in social life, with my body changing before my eyes and losing all control of this human vessel which I had fought unhealthily to perfect, through all of those small struggles, there were huge moments of bliss.

I would fold my entire body into a bath tub half the size of a regular one each night, devouring pregnancy magazine and book tirelessly and constantly, reading everything about birth that I could. Taking pure pleasure out of new pyjamas and long hair washes at the weekend. Loving it. Excited for it. Wanting this wild ride to happen. Jeremy was not home with me most of the time, working in Norway, but I felt nurtured.
Content.

I was naive other than this; no friends or cousins having birthed before me, my midwife was a blessing. She was nonchalant, easy, helpful. Wise. She mentioned a birth centre in a typical small English village/town 40 minutes away and spoke of the peacefulness of birthing in water. I didn’t question it. I listened to her suggestion, I thought it made sense and I decided that this would be for me. There was the feeling of one big giant shrug around my shoulders. I didn’t need control. I trusted. It was as simple as that. I believe it came from my youth.

I have always been different, I always felt odd compared to others. I was an awkward kid, often, especially as I grew into adolescence. I was a bookworm and I liked school; I was certainly not the beauty of the family, I had a large bottom and big lips and all before that was any sort of trendy. I cut my hair off short and would make weird little hairclips for my pixie do. I wrote poetry for my friends and myself. I was angsty, i disliked my curvy body, I became more out of tune with these growing curves as I got older and desperately tried to tame them, to skim them away.
It was not unusual for me to feel unusual but when I committed to birthing away from the hospital, in the water, and knew that I would breastfeed too, I did not care less how different or odd I seemed.

It was the beginning of a growing confidence in myself. It still took another 5 years and moving away from a solid support system to truly have trust in myself as a mother but the decisions that I made when my belly was ripe with Bella began a whole new chapter in my psyche.

Isabella was due to arrive, by the ultrasound calculations, on October 6th.
The morning of September 26th I awoke early to use the bathroom, leaving jeremy asleep on the bed. I noticed pink. In an instant, my tummy warmed and I felt an intense buzz of excitement.
The books, the midwife, they all said that labour could be a while off when this physical Sign showed itself.

I did not believe it would last long.
I could feel a change in my whole self.

I drank tea at my mums, then with my nanna and jeremy. It was a stifling hot day, summer had just changed to autumn but the sun was strong over England that September and as I walked around town with my mother and jeremy for the afternoon, I was hot and sticky.

Each time I used the bathroom there was a little more pink and though when I visited the midwife that afternoon and she thought nothing of this sign, I left her, confident.
I would not be pregnant for long.

Early evening came around and in the tiny apartment that I lived in to the side of Jeremy’s parents, Jeremy cooked baked potato and beans for me. My lower back ached and I felt the surges of contractions nudge at my consciousness every now and then. Like menstrual cramps. Low, niggling, nothing to write home about.

I ate and watched my favourite show and watched early autumn twilight turn swiftly, as it does, into pitch blackness. My mother and father in law sat on the back deck with Jeremy’s brother, enjoying a fresh but warm evening with drinks.

It was around 9pm and I was leaving. The surges had been coming for a while, though spaced out and subtle.

I left them on the driveway, a most bizarre sensation of trepidation and pride, because I was bringing home their first grandchild.

Through the dark and winding roads of the English countryside we drove, mum and dad joining us for the drive that they were so excited about, stopping at a grocery store to buy snacks and magazines for this was my first birthing experience and the books told me it would be a long, long process.

Now late in the evening,  we arrived at the birth centre, an ancient, tiny old place with ancient old practices. Matronly midwives and rules around rest and sleep. My parents left.

They took me to a room, by now 11pm and I changed into my dads shirt, feeling comfortable and ready but not ready, because I wanted to read. Jeremy sat in an arm chair. Most strange. Why was I here? There was no pain, just menstrual aches. Would this be labour? Was this all I had to do? This was easy. I could do this. This was actually rather boring. Surely I should just go home? No. I would read. And chat.
And we giggled a bit and it didn’t take long for an hour to pass.

The old midwife entered the small room and felt my belly. There was an audible sound and a shocking sensation as, right under her touch, the amniotic fluid surrounding my baby released with a strong force and water spilled out of me in masses.

‘Oh! Your waters! Right under my hands!’ The midwife said, ‘well that has never happened to me before! Let’s get you changed and into your birthing room.’

I stood and knew something had shifted. There was a different sort of heaviness; not the pressure on my pelvis of the last few weeks but a weightiness, lower than I thought possible, and a palpable rawness to my energy.

I glanced at the clock when we arrived into the birthing room and it was midnight; my mum had once told me that twenty minutes after her water breaking, she was in hard labour. Huh. I wondered.

And it was the wildest thing; at 12:20am, I felt my first true contraction of labour, the sorts of sensations that make your head whirl for a second as you integrate it, where the space around you seems like murky water, muffled sounds and you sit in a bubble of crazy colours where nobody can reach you.

I know that I moved. I know that I removed every scrap of clothing and I know that I found a birth ball and leaned on it, kneeling on the floor and just mindblown by what was happening. Just going with it. Not having a clue. This birth happening to me, me just along for the wild ride again whilst this baby took the lead.

Jeremy found the midwife and told her that I was having a baby soon. She scoffed. She had stated that a baby would not be born until 7 or 8 am, if we were lucky.

She followed him nonetheless and though my memory of this part is sketchy, there was not another midwife present and she panicked. It took a while after she called out for another midwife to have her companion there and together they began to fill the tub.

People can be animalistic; they can be animalisticly sexual or hungry or tired. But when a labouring woman becomes animalistic, there is a glowing fire-ember inside of her that drives her. I wanted in that tub. I didn’t care that a baby was ready to emerge, I found a way to heave myself up the steps and into that tub and there, for the first time in my life, I knew the absolutely pure and true and undeniable magick of water.

My belly settled in there. I kneeled against the side of the tub, facing jeremy and the midwives and contraction after contraction after contraction swept over me and for the final few minutes of what felt outrageous and otherworldly, I accepted that gas and air tank like it was holy air and sucked it back, clawing at an attempt to see me back down some incredible mountains.

She began to move out of me, quickly. It was all SO QUICK. I wasn’t sure of anything, I was not aware of myself, I was lost somewhere. Her head exited my body and the midwife was poised for the rest of her body to come out behind me as I still knelt against the tub, head buried into the cool edge.
And she splashed out.

This child, coming from a child, emerging from a person who was technically a woman but still felt like a girl.

And now, I saw, I had a girl of my own to raise. A daughter. This realization that I had brought forth a female clicked into my being in seconds and made sense.

The midwife brought her between my legs and I turned with her in my arms and sat back in the tub, gathering this tiny, skinny, determined little human of peach skin and fuzzy hair and rosebud lips against my breast, in another animalistic display of following instinct. Smelling her head. Watching her, watching me. Noticing the emotion of Jeremy. Back to Earth but it all seemed changed, anyway.

The man whom I loved held our child and I left the tub to get into bed, no aftercare needed. My body was perfectly in tact! I felt such amazing relief. I required warmth as i shuddered uncontrollably with adrenaline coursing through me.

She nursed…she nursed like she had been nursing for years. She fit me, she moulded to me. And for the first time since this baby had became a part of my existence this time around, I accepted my world, no questions, no fears, no worries. No need for anyone but Jeremy.

She was home…because I knew, by the ease and comfort I felt, that she had been with me before.

Isabella Marie Pilkington was born just before 3am, 5ib 12oz of beautiful Big Lesson. She has initiated me into the world of Mothers, a place where heartache and true love mingle on a daily basis, where you reside for life and feel the pain and bliss of millions of women before and after you.

She took me from a place of dis-ease, where escapism was rife and self sabotage went with it and she helped elevate me out of arrogance to a humble space where I recognize with every day that It possible to know nothing but gradually remember everything. That I will never be perfect but that unconditional love exists.

I have been her mother for over a decade now, 11 whole years of watching her sweet, soft eyes grow fierce in minutes and I am proud of her trait because she reached me that it is ok to have shadows and light. That is how we stay whole.

She hid for a while but when she showed her face, the world as we know it changed in an instant. She brings enchantment and depth, curiosity and affection to this world. She is some sort of wisdom personified. She is a gift.

 

IMAGE: CARYYORK BIRTH ART