Upon the insistence of her midwife Sharon, who she simply cannot praise enough, Suné de Bruin wrote about her birth story so that she and her husband, Tiaan, would have it memorialised. Their first baby, Aldwin, was born unmedicated and without any tearing on 17 October 2019, weighing 3.9kg and with a 38cm head. She shares her story and images of the beautiful moments with us…
Labour at home
We’d been worried about our baby’s movements decreasing – it took real effort to feel him move, and we were looking forward to discussing it at our next visit with Sharon, our midwife! On Wednesday, 16 October, Eskom unexpectedly implemented load shedding again, and we decided to go watch a movie that night, as our power was out and we had nothing better to do. The movie somehow put some life back into our baby – he was kicking as before and I was having some good Braxton Hicks.
Around 2:30 that morning I woke up with intense Braxton Hicks. I wrote it off due to the baby moving around actively, went for a wee and then back to sleep. That Tuesday (at 39 weeks and 2 days) the osteopath had confirmed that he was still not engaged, so the idea that “real labour might be near” didn’t even cross my mind. We got up at 6am and I was still having stronger than usual Braxton Hicks and (part of) the mucous plug showed up. I thought “hey, he is probably less than a week away now!”
Tiaan went to work as usual and I made my favourite peanut butter and banana smoothie for breakfast, which I struggled to enjoy due to the Braxton Hicks. They were coming approximately every five minutes and lasted for a minute. It freaked me out somewhat, but Sharon had told me that real contractions demand attention, will fold me over and take my breath away – and these didn’t. I went for my pedicure, where the contractions became strong enough that I downloaded an app to check my mental timing – they were still regular at five minutes apart. I kept Tiaan up to date and he was as confused as I was about how consistent and regular they were: Braxton Hicks “should” start irregularly and become more regular and intense, but these were just becoming stronger very slowly.
I tried napping and playing games, both of which failed due to the contractions starting to demand my attention, although they weren’t exactly painful yet. I thought something might be starting and Stacey, our doula, advised me to have some lunch (carbo-load) and take a bath. The bath temporarily kicked the contractions out of their rhythm, but they continued where they left off the moment I got out of the tub.
I told Tiaan to cancel his plans for the afternoon and get home. I was trying different positions to get through the still-consistent, more intense contractions and remember thinking that if this is what early labour feels like, then there was no way I would survive the rest of it. Luckily, those thoughts went out the window when Tiaan arrived around 2pm. He checked dilation (approximate 2-3cm), and fed me (again) and bathed me (again). He rubbed my back with labour oil and talked me through the contractions.
By 3:30pm I was dilated somewhere between 4 and 6cm, depending on Tiaan’s accuracy, and we checked with Stacey, who said it might be time to give Sharon a call. Without that prompt, we would’ve let it go for another hour or so! Sharon asked whether she should phone the private clinic in Johannesburg we had chosen, and Tiaan made the decision. He superhumanly packed the car without forgetting anything, and by 3:45pm we were on our way. With the load shedding and the robots out, we had about an hour’s drive to the birthing clinic.
“What a shock! I realised then that labouring in the birth pool was not going to happen – our baby was on his way!”
Labour from around 5pm
Sharon and Stacey were already waiting for me when we arrived and Sharon checked my and my baby’s heart rates while I was sitting on a birth ball. She also helped correct my breathing during contractions – deeper, without scrunching up my face and shoulders, and so on. Our baby’s heart rate was fine and Sharon checked dilation next – I was already at 8cm! What a shock! I realised then that labouring in the birth pool was not going to happen – our baby was on his way! Stacey and Tiaan put my music on, got some candles lit, got my affirmations up on the wall and fed me honeyed coconut water between contractions.
I had found out a few days before the birth that I was Strep B isolated (a normal bacterial infection found in the vagina and rectum of about 25% of healthy pregnant women) and would need antibiotics during labour. I did not want our baby to receive antibiotics and, fortunately, my contractions were far too frequent and intense for the nurse to get a drip going, so I gave birth without antibiotics. Afterwards, the paediatrician (lovely Doctor Bopape) assured us that not having received the antibiotics was not a problem as the risk for infection was very low, and we should just watch out for fever during the first week, which never happened!
Time lost meaning to me and I was surprised each time I looked outside and saw the difference in the daylight remaining. Sharon guided me between various birthing positions and, at some point, I was so tired I just wanted Tiaan to hold my head up for me. I have no idea when my waters broke, but it was more than I expected and full of old meconium. It scared me somewhat, as now our baby had to get out and labour couldn’t continue for 12 more hours like I initially thought it would. It also meant that I could feel his actual head with my hand, and not just the membranes, which made his arrival feel a lot more real to me.
Birth at 7:30pm
Finally, I started feeling the “pressure in the bum” and Sharon was applying heat and oil to my perineum, so I knew our baby’s arrival was close! Eventually, I could not tell the difference between having a contraction and not having a contraction, so I just pushed on Sharon’s cues. Tiaan kept in physical contact with me, and pushed with me, which helped a lot!
At some stage, I was sure that I had pushed the baby’s head out, followed by his shoulders, and then his body and legs, but when I looked at my reflection, it was only the top of his head! That gave me quite a lot of energy to get through the last few pushes, and it felt quite different when I pushed him out! I do think my imagining birthing him helped get me through the final pushes.
Sharon passed him to me and I could feel his almost-short cord tug at my insides. His cord pulsated for a long time and I struggled to even imagine having another contraction to get the placenta out. Eventually, it came, missed the bucket and plopped into Sharon’s waiting hands. I was very relieved! I could not believe that we had done it; we had managed to birth a baby the way I wanted it to happen! I could not keep my eyes off him. Tiaan clamped and cut the cord, and the three of us got into the birthing pool. It felt beyond amazing for my body and I could imagine just staying there with Tiaan and our baby forever.
Afterwards – the things we knew but did not really know until they happened
- The belly is sexy and does not disappear the same time the baby appears.
- The bleeding isn’t as much as people like to scare us about.
- Midwives and doulas work HARD during labour too – they move around, kneel around, and work every second of labour while still being emotionally available for us.
- The paperwork takes a long time! Both Tiaan and I thought we might go home after the baby was born, as it was still “early” in the evening. And then we spent some real good time in the pool, had something to eat and paperwork was only done around midnight.
- Breastfeeding isn’t the easiest, most natural thing in the world – getting help early on sets you up for success – even if you have to ask for help every two hours (like we did).
- The placenta is huge!
- Getting out of the hospital takes a lot of time – waiting for the paediatrician, filling in forms, packing everything up and getting it to the car, etc.
- Your body went through physical LABOUR – it is sore as if you’ve just had a tough workout.
- Planning for a 12 hour+ labour made our labour seem short and that helped to keep our moods elevated.