“to live in this world
you must be able
to do three things
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go”
Children are born every second, all over the world, in cultures and ways as different as the labouring mothers themselves. The very occurrence of birth is no more uncommon than eating a meal, getting dressed, talking.
And yet, for each woman, for each baby, in the tapestry of motherhood which weaves its thread between women in each corner of the globe, birth matters. The strangest thing of all is that the frequency of birth does not reduce the sheer miracle it is. Rather, it does the opposite. It’s very occurrence is made more stunning by the fact that it happens every minute, every day, all the time.
It’s my belief that birth should be seen as a relevant and integral part of life’s journey, where women are not unnecessary by-products of labour, where babies are not simply passengers, neither affecting or being affected by the process of birth, where labour matters just as much as everything that comes before and after it.
Every mother has a story of how her child was welcomed. Every child, a story that belongs to him.
This is Billy’s.
An eight pound seven parcel of pure tenderness was born into his father’s arms at 5:50 am, Tuesday the 4th February, 2014 — the much-anticipated Will Francis Delaney, making his appearance Earth-side a sneaky six days overdue.
But lives don’t begin with birth. Stories form long before that.
I won’t start at the beginning since I don’t know where the beginning really is — I will just start here, because you have to start somewhere.
I felt a deep desire for this baby a couple of months before Ella’s first birthday. And while I thought I wanted another girl because girls are what I know, I had no idea that day on the beach when we opened a flower-covered envelope with shaking hands and racy pulses…. I had no idea that when my heart sunk a little as I read the word boy, fate knew long before I did what I really wanted.
A boy. My son.
Some mild cramping began two days beforehand, increasing in regularity and intensity over the weekend, much like what happened with Ella. By Monday afternoon, I knew he was on his way and, needing to savour the last bites of my family of three, wanting to feel every moment of this passing over of torches, hoping to make this last day one full of sacred moments, I suggested the three of us take a long walk through our happy place. The walk which hugs the base of wild cliffs, nestled next to the beach near our house. The walk with lush beach trees jutting out from a carpet of wild yellow flowers, of jagged rocks, of red earth. The walk thick with ocean air, buzzing with a feeling I find hard to describe. Freedom, maybe.
We walked slowly, picking up pebbles, kicking our shoes off at the shoreline, collecting shells for him we would put in a glass jar and stash away in his keepsake box. I took it all in, unable to talk much. I remember looking out to the horizon for the longest time, feeling utterly grateful for my life. I remember holding Ella closer, kissing her more than usual. I remember watching her and Joel play together and comprehending with every rock they skimmed across the water that an era was ending.
But what I didn’t know then, was that it wasn’t really. Not really at all.
We returned home to an early dinner with our neighbours – Tracy and Josh – our kids running about our feet, tipping cornflour over the floor, pulling every cushion off the couch, getting beef strogonoff everywhere but their mouths. It felt as normal and as utterly surreal as you’d expect. Tracy started timing my cramps, by now increasing in force and making both me stop and breathe through, and Josh get a little sweaty over. Should we be going? Trace, should we be going?
By about 7pm, Joel called my friend Renae and told her to come right over. We had planned this very early into the pregnancy – an extra support person to tap Joel out if he needed a break, and someone who might be able to intuit the extra things I needed more than Joel could – you know, being a man and all. Our photographer, Kate, was also on her way. Everything was calm and beautiful and flowing just as we had planned for it to be.
Little did I know what was about to happen.
When Renae arrived at the front door, Joel went to let her in. I heard some whispers but didn’t think anything of it. In she came, all bright-eyed and glowing, radiating every bit of excitement I knew she felt. Some time went on and we got into the rhythm of early labour at home — right in my lounge room, with candles burning and music playing softly. It was beautiful and I kept ebbing in and out of what was happening around me and what was happening within me. I was losing clarity behind my closed eyes and I was trying my hardest to sink deep into that place I know I needed to reach.
I can’t remember clearly then how I found out, but the whispers shared on Renae’s arrival became words that suddenly hit me cold in the stomach. Joel is sick, Rach. He’s really sick. He’s shivering in bed, cold as death. He can’t get up. He’s been vomiting Rach. Really badly.
I was pulled out, and up, and went to see him. I walked into our bedroom and found him huddled under our blankets, shivering, bloodshot eyed. He’d been feeling off all day, he managed to slur. But he told me it had gotten worse. A gastro virus, he said. Food poisoning, maybe.
I held him, hoping this was all just a bad dream, until he leaned over and vomited violently into the bucket next to the bed. He collapsed back, pale as the moon, unable to even lift his own head. Go, he whispered. Be with Renae. You have to focus on yourself. You can do this, Rach, he said.
I walked back to the lounge room, crumpled to the floor, put my face in my hands and sobbed. And I sat like that for what felt like forever, grieving the loss of him, of his support, of his strength, trying desperately to come to terms with labouring through the birth of our son without him. At a time in her life when a woman is most vulnerable, most shaken, most confronted, the thought of plunging herself within the wild and utterly exposed experience of childbirth without the one person she can let herself completely go with feels impossible. Every time I thought of him and how utterly helpless he would be feeling lying shivering in that bed knowing he couldn’t be there for me dropped me deeper into the hole that was rapidly enveloping me.
Days after Billy was born, I still couldn’t understand why. Some evil twist of fate, some lesson to be learned, I was still demanding answers why, of all nights, of all nights, Monday the 3rd of February had to be the one which would take Joel away from me in the birth of our son.
And then. a few days after the birth, I went to check into the blog after I had recently posted a quick birth announcement. To my utter shock, over 600 people had read that announcement, and I had so many people – strangers – pressing Facebook follow buttons, Instagram like buttons, email subscribe buttons. So many people telling me how much they liked this little blog, but also how much they loved the book The Red Tent. The book this entire blog is based on.
Oh, I thought. Ohhhhhhhh.
The Red Tent, essentially, was the place women went to birth. It was a place where men were uninvited. Not because they weren’t worthy, but because it was no business of theirs. Not really. It wasn’t until days after Billy was born that I asked Joel how he felt about not being as involved in the birth as we’d wanted. He looked at me and said, I think Renae offered you more than what I could have given, anyway. I think it was meant to be like that.
Little did I know that the very thing I write for, I advocate, I believe in would present itself in the most unexpected way.
I had to strip myself bare to Renae. I had to feel vulnerable enough in front of her to pull at, to lean on, to scream at, to bite on, to lose all my inhibitions to. I had to dig around for strength in her – as different as it is to a man’s obvious, commanding strength – and use it to fuel me past the edges of childbirth which are wild and rough and incredibly treacherous.
And in doing so, I understood what the Red Tent truly means. I felt what it’s actually like to use women as assets rather than measuring sticks. To break down walls of petty jealousy and competition and suspicion and something in the way, and bind together in this most incredible, most powerful sisterhood kind of way.
For twelve hours, she never left my side. She never once gave up on me, even after staying dilated at nine centimeters for hours and hours with no sign of progression and me slipping into unimaginable exhaustion and despair. But then again, I’m getting ahead of myself.
It was getting to be time to go into the hospital. Renae – as she told me afterwards – walked into the bedroom, told Joel that he could slump over a bucket in the corner if he must, but that he had to come. By this stage, his parents had been called over – both naturopaths and acupuncturists – and had been madly pumping him with remedies and tinctures and Panadol and acupuncture needles for what had developed into a full-blown fever, rendering him almost delirious. He had been vomiting and had diarrhea so badly, all that was left to throw up was bile. In a drastic display of strength, he pulled himself out of that bed, lay on the bottom of the shower and tried with all his might to gather the ability to walk to the car and come to the hospital.
We got in the car, Kate behind a wheel she’d never driven before, me sitting backwards on the front passenger seat, straddling the headrest and fighting my way through contractions which were building like fire. Renae held onto me from the backseat, and after all of a few minutes, we heard a weak voice coming from the back.
You guys, I’m wearing one of Ella’s nappies. I didn’t want to risk it.
The air went silent, and then, roaring laughter. I loved Joel so completely in that moment, for finding the strength to not only talk but to make us laugh. For relaxing me. For actually being funny enough to put on one of his daughter’s nappies should he not make it to a bathroom in time.
It was the last time I smiled for the next seven hours.
Renae and I, we walked. We rolled on fit balls. We sat in baths for hours on end, me labouring mightily but going nowhere fast. It was agony like I’d never experienced it before because with Ella, though the sensations pulsing through my body were fierce and wild, mentally, I never gave up. I never once doubted my ability to birth my baby without drugs or intervention. This time, with every hour that dragged on, I felt myself actually losing hope. I’d look over at Joel, desperate for his touch, for his voice, and although he tried to walk with me sometimes, to hold my weight within his arms, to read through the hypnobirthing scripts we had practiced, to press the acupressure points that so relieved my pain, he could never do it for long, and he’d collapse back in the corner, or run to the bathroom where we’d all hear him throw up into the toilet bowl.
Renae pressed on. For hours and hours and hours she never left me. Never stopped touching me. Never stopping holding me up, through every contraction, every wild scream, every collapse. She never once gave up hope that I could get through it naturally. Even after being dilated at 9 centimeters for hours on end, no sign of progression, and me begging for an epidural, a caesar, a nap, anything to make it stop, I could feel her strength purging into to me, prying me open to find that reserve inside myself I had to grasp for.
At around 5am, she took charge. She fought for me, in her own last reserves of strength, and had me rocking, bouncing, walking and moving into positions she noticed had made contractions stronger for me. I went with her – pushing my body to that edge it needed to go. Nobody talked. I needed quiet. A hypnobirthing track played and I forced my mind to fall into it. She sat on the bed facing me while I sat on a fit ball and with every last bit of strength within me, I fought like hell to reach the finish line. About half an hour later, my baby’s head appeared, and with one final burst of desperate fight, I birthed my baby right into Joel’s outstretched arms.
He is finally here, as though he has belonged to us all along. And I now understand that one of life’s best secrets is finding out that our hearts can hold even more family than we realized.
Baby Billy, welcome home.
A little birth video: (click on the title of this post to view if you receive blog posts via email)
Birth Photography credit goes to the amazing Kate at Kate Veronica Photography – who was never just ‘the photographer’. Kate, I know I’ve said it before but I cannot thank you enough for documenting one of the most challenging, hilarious and heart-opening experiences of my life. We will have these memories forever.
Hypnobirthing is a birthing style which uses deep relaxation, specific breathing techniques and mind control for a calmer, gentler birth. I birthed Ella in this way as well and without it, would never have experienced the birth I did. For more information on hypnobirthing, click here. (Melissa — I did it!! And again, felt you in the room with me every time I heard your voice: I am a strong woman. xoxo )
And lastly, Renae. One of the strongest, most beautiful women I have ever known. You saved me. Your undying faith in me and the hours and hours you fought on, right beside me, is appreciated more than any words could do justice. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your friendship and your support. There is a very deep, very special place in my heart that will forever have your name on it.