There were two stars shining directly outside my bedroom window the night I went into early labour; a bigger, brighter one and a smaller one shining just to the bottom left. I had not ever seen them before, and I would only see them again on two more occasions afterwards. It was early days – some mild cramping – exactly as it began with Ella and Billy, but as my eyes fell upon the stars with my first few cramps that night, I knew she was coming. I understood precisely that those stars were the two of us, beginning the enormous journey towards each other, gearing up for the process of birth and all the god-like experiences of sending the soul of a baby from the realm she was currently in, to the very physical body of a human. Birth is a highly spiritual event. I treated it, alas – revered it – accordingly.
The next night, I woke up at midnight. I went to the toilet as I usually did in those last few weeks and as I absentmindedly made my way back to bed, I vaguely remember thinking that my bladder had well and truly given in. Is this what happens after three pregnancies? I thought. Great, I officially have zero pelvic floor. Super glamorous. Thanks, kids.
After an hour or two and a couple of changes of underwear later, I’m confused. Is this normal? Do I put on a pad? Should I go back to sleep? Why do I never understand what is going on? I google “waters breaking” because I think that just maybe I wasn’t getting old and incontinent, after all.
I compare the signs to mine and I’m quite sure they’ve broken, something that didn’t happen with Ella and Billy until a few moments before they were born. I wake Joel. He flings upright, jumping to attention. I laugh, moved by his endearing commitment to being fully supportive. While he flails about from his slumber saying, “What? What is it?” I tell him what’s going on. It’s about 3 a.m. and we decide to wait until the sun comes up to call our midwife and tell her.
I go back to sleep but my heart is focused on only one thing: She is coming.
We wake. Kids are whining to be fed. We divide and conquer, doing lunch boxes and breakfasts and braids and finding lost shoes. It’s a usual day. It’s a Friday. Have you called the midwife? Joel says. Shit, no.
She tells me to come in that day for a check-up. They have to take waters breaking quite seriously. Kids need to get to school and daycare. I still have to pick up that cloth nappy fastener from Nest Nappies. Is this really happening now? I need to get that pork shoulder out of the freezer for dinner. Should Joel go to work?
I get kids off to where they need to go. Joel goes to work and we make plans for him to finish up at lunchtime and meet me at the hospital for our appointment.
I pick him up. There’s a boyish excitement to the way he greets me. I think: This is it. We’re in the middle of her story. All these little details from here on in matter. Everything feels surreal. Like I’m floating. Like I’m not actually in my body at all. The light is bright. It is a sunny day. We drive to the hospital.
We hear all the things I don’t want to hear: Talk of induction. Risk of infection. IV antibiotics. Strapped to constant monitoring. Can’t have a water birth. The midwife straps me to a monitoring machine and leaves the room for half an hour. I’m pissed but I like her. There is a tiny flicker of an eye roll hidden within her expression when she recites the hospital’s policies, undetectable to most, but I recognise it instantly. I’m immediately glad she’s ours in this experience. I see a glimpse of who she is — a woman without the constraints of the hospital placed on her. A woman on our side.
She comes back. Tells me to go home and have acupuncture. Tells me to do absolutely everything I can to get this moving. Her smile is bright and big. Her voice is musical and full, rolling around the room like a laugh. She has the kind of demeanour that makes me feel as though everything is going to be perfectly fine.
We realise we haven’t had lunch. We’re starving. We stop to get Mexican on the way home. I order nachos and they taste amazing. I wonder if this will be the last meal I’ll eat before I meet my baby. I love wondering this. I text my birth photographer who is also a midwife and update her on everything that’s happened. She tells me to go home and walk my front stairs, two at a time, for half an hour. I tell her I will but I know that I most likely won’t. My fitness level is the same as a sloth. I get puffed simply walking to my fridge. I aim to do ten minutes at a time and hope I don’t pass out cold.
Joel leaves to pick up the kids. I take a clary sage bath. I take the stairs for ten minutes. I lie down for twenty. Joel comes home with Ella and Billy. We do what we always do: homey, family stuff — unpacking bags, making dinner, hanging out washing, bathing the kids, playing uno, winding down from a long week. I keep walking the stairs intermittently. No solid contractions start and I feel increasingly irritated, like a mountain of pressure had been placed on me without my consent. I feel a stop-watch placed against my body, asking it to perform before the buzzer goes off. The stress rises. We put the kids to bed, and Joel gives me a strong sacral point massage followed by acupuncture. I take the stairs again. I can’t see the stars from the night before. I feel grossly disheartened. I feel like this could all go really badly.
In the end, I decide to give up pushing my body. I give up. I give up controlling it. It’s around 8pm and I decide to climb into bed and watch a movie. Whatever happens, happens, I think, and I switch off my mind completely. Joel falls asleep ten minutes in. Neither one of us knew that it would be the last nap he’d take.
I didn’t make it to the end of the movie.
Contractions start increasing in feeling and frequency. I try not to take much notice but after an hour, they’re so bitey I shut my laptop and wake Joel up. We’re between the kitchen and the bedroom, him pressing my sacral points with every surge, me needing to walk and move through them, suddenly realising with rising dread that I have to go through all this again.
“I just want to be asleep,” I say.
“I’m going to sleep.”
Joel ignores me and makes me a cup of tea. By 10:30 p.m, contractions are well and truly established. By midnight, Joel calls his mother to come over. He calls Miriam, our photographer, and tells her we’re headed to the hospital.
It is a cold night. The wind is blowing. I have on slippers. A nightie and a cosy knit jumper. I remember loving that it felt cold. I make it down our front stairs in between fits of pain, feeling so acutely aware of the breeze of the cold night on my skin. It reassures me. It comforts me, somehow.
I straddle the car seat and think that Joel is driving like a lunatic. I’m in and out of clarity, the drive to the hospital is a haze. My eyes are closed.
We reach the hospital. Joel helps me walk across the street, one slow step after one slow step. It’s deserted. There are only a few people around. I’m grateful for the quiet. The automated hospital doors open. I hear a man’s voice next to me, I feel a chair at my legs. I’m lowered down into wheelchair. He stinks of cigarettes. But all I think is that he is an angel sent to help. My eyes remain closed. In and out. In and out. I’m wheeled into the lift, noises swirling around me. I get to a room. Open eyes, shut. In and out. Open again. It’s all a haze. The room is different to the one I birthed my other children in. More medical. Buttons and cords everywhere. No double bed. Where am I? I say. Am I at the birth centre? Close eyes. What is happening. My midwife comes. She’s in her scrubs. Everything feels medical. I’m increasingly panicky. She tells me I can’t get in bath. She tells me I need constant monitoring. Panic. Close eyes. Stay in your body, I tell myself. Shut it all out. Hypnobirthing affirmations on. I drop again, into myself. Eyes closed. Just me and my baby. Joel tells me how nice the room is. “There are lovely pictures everywhere, Rach,” he says. “You’d love the pictures.” Though I can’t show him, I love him in that moment for trying.
I’m on the mat on the floor. I’m standing to the side of the bed, swaying into the places in my lower back I know could bring on contractions. It’s so different this time round. I’m less focused on the feeling of the contraction and more on the potential of the contraction. It’s not pain so much as it is force, and that distinction is everything to me this time around.
It wasn’t an ow-ow, it’s coming, all I’m going to do is feel and endure it kind of experience, it was a here-we-go it’s coming, and I’m going to work with it kind of feeling. When each surge came, the only way I can describe it is imagining the petals of a flower were opening. I used each contraction to open. It’s a pushing out feeling without actually pushing.
I shake in between contractions. I’m in shock. I tell Joel I’m too sensitive for this. I’m too sensitive for this kind of power. He holds onto me and I hear, through his touch alone, that he’s proud, in awe.
And then the pressure comes. Oh god, the pressure. I brace myself. This is the real test.
I tell Miriam I’m going to sleep now. I tell her I’m going to bed. I don’t want to do it. I’m not doing it. It’s so bad. It’s so hard. I just want to be asleep.
I know, she says. I know. And I’m comforted because she does. She really does know. I’m struck by how much relief from discomfort we’re gifted, not by our pain being taken away, but by our ability to not feel alone in it.
I ask to hold her hand. It gives me so much strength. I put my forehead on her hand as I grasp it and breathe in the clary sage that was dabbed on a tissue for me. I feel simultaneously peaceful and crazed, wanting to crawl out of my body while working hard to sink directly into it. Joel encourages me: Rach, she’s nearly here. Just this last bit and then you can rest, just you and Georgie. You can rest so soon, babe.
They come hard and fast; my breathing is a fit of panting. I summon the strength I need for the last, final hurdle. I’m all fours on the bed. I feel like an animal, exposed. I hate it. I hate this bit so much. The power is overwhelming, like a wild beast I’m scrambling to tame. But I throw out a rope and I hustle like crazy to catch her. My power lies directly inside my pain, I know this, and I throw myself to go there, completely. I do not run. I do not try to escape my body. I just face it. Breathe. Breathe. Open. Open. I’m riding it all. I’m taking all that overwhelming force and I’m directing it down. And then the stretching. The burning. Dear god, the burning. Joel is crying. Her head is out, he says. He’s sobbing. I am slumped forward, buried into him. Another wild wave upwards, I scramble to stay with it. The surge propels her out and instantly, instantly, it all stops.
My girl is in my arms.
It hits me immediately – her smell. I had forgotten entirely about the smell of a fresh baby. And then at once, everything I had forgotten comes rushing forwards towards me and I collapse into a fit of tears as I fall desperately in love with this precious creature who had just moments before come directly from the source of Spirit itself.
It felt entirely too miraculous to ever believe.
The next day I recount every detail with Joel. I may have used the words “awful”, “horrible” in my description of those last moments of birth. His response stops me.
“But didn’t you feel so strong?” he asks.”Wasn’t it such a powerful feeling? The ultimate feeling of feminism?”
I hesitate to respond.
“I don’t know, that feeling feminine isn’t really about how it feels to have your nails done, but birthing a baby?”
Not for the first time, I stare at this man, stunned by his perspective.
A powerful woman on all fours — a confronting position — loud, open, exposed, messy? That that could be the ultimate definition of feminism?
It goes against every stereotype we’re fed. It challenges every belief we’re programmed to have about what it means to be feminine; that to be successful as a woman we should be tidy, compliant, composed, quiet, pretty, and passive; entirely non confrontational in all our endeavours. It challenges every construct society tells us about women’s bodies: that they are other people’s to enjoy — passive components of a woman, groomed appropriately, presented in such a manner that is comforting to others. The small, composed, tidy ones are more valuable. Oh, are they worth more.
Birth is none of those things and nor should it be.
And as a result, women are none of those things and nor should they be.
Days later, I tell my hypnobirthing teacher that third time around, I finally understood. I finally got how to harness my pain: how to stand up against that kind of force and use it. I told her how much it mattered. I told her how much it had felt like brushing up against the source of life itself – something very deep, something entirely full of god that I still couldn’t find the words for. I told her how much it had transformed me as a woman.
“I imagine this is what yogis strive for,” she says. ”
Yes. Yes. I say.
“And we reach it in birth,” she says.
“What a privilege.”
The morning before Georgie’s birth – the time between dropping Ella and Billy at school and meeting Joel at the hospital – I had a session with this lady I’ve been seeing. I don’t know what to call her, so we’ll just call her Dawn. Joel and I have both been seeing her and she’s had a major impact on our relationship and life together, in the most positive of ways.
Anyway, Dawn said that Georgie was ready. She said she could see Georgie was peaceful, floating, and she said she could make out a crown of sorts around her head, like she was coming from royalty, a past life we shared together possibly. The crown was ruby in colour; a deep red. She was an old soul – composed and honourable, noble and strong.
For days, Georgie didn’t have a middle name. We considered Ruby, but it didn’t seem right. Georgie Ruby Delaney seemed too clunky. Around Day 4, I cornered Joel into making a decision about her name; We really need to decide, I said. We considered different options. We thought about Dawn’s lineage of royalty suggestion. We couldn’t settle on anything. And then, out of the blue, Joel said, “What about Rose? It’s royal, similar in colour to the whole Ruby thing?”
The instant he said it, I knew that was her name.
Royal, noble, feminine and just her.
Georgie Rose Delaney. It was decided.
Two days later, I’m in the bathroom.
I pull open the top drawer to get out my hair straightener, and suddenly my eyes land upon it: The soap Dawn had pressed into my hands as I was leaving her treatment room, the day before Georgie was born. I had forgotten all about it. During the session, Dawn had said Georgie was dowsed in a light pink colour. “All I’m seeing is pink,” Dawn said. “A light pink. A soft, pastel pink.” Dawn had said that I should focus on that colour during labour; that it would bring me strength. It had slipped my mind completely and of course I had not thought at all of it during labour. All I remember was that as I walking out the door, her eyes had landed on the soap and she said, “This! This soap is the exact colour! Here, take it with you”. I had tucked it away in my handbag and hadn’t thought anything else of it. How it even got in my bathroom drawer, I don’t know.
I pick up the soap from the top drawer of the bathroom cupboard and notice a small word stamped into its surface. I pull it closer to my face and look.
Rose, it says.
And I mutter under my breath, “You’ve got to be kidding me” before shrieking for Joel to come and see.
I saw those two stars outside my bedroom window again on Day 2 of Georgie’s life, and again on the night which marked her being with us for one week. When I first saw them, two nights before she was born, I understood the brighter, higher star to be me – her mother – guiding this smaller soul into and throughout life.
But the last time I saw them – that night ending her first week – I realised that actually, the brighter one was her.
It was always her, all along.