I have known Sam for only three years but our friendship is incredibly deep having both gone through several life changing experiences during this relatively short time. We met just before I got pregnant with Leelah and she massaged me through that pregnancy so she has an extra special bond with Leelah that is as strong as any family connection, in fact I would go as far as to say I see her as part of my family. Once again, with Marlene's pregnancy and the failed pregnancy before that, Sam has been with me every step of the way offering me love and support. She is also a brilliant, naturally gifted massage therapist and with her strong sense of empathy, compassion and intuition I wanted her to share in the experience of Marlene's birth...
Here is her story.
Sharmila phoned me at around 6:30am. “I think something is happening, but if it’s not then we can just hang out and then go out for breakfast”. Seemed a reasonable enough request to me.
Having massaged Sharmila through all of her pregnancies, I knew that she was very in tune with her baby and what was going on in her body. The night before we’d talked about ‘letting go of pregnancy’. If she was ready to call me, then I was almost certain that she was ready to give birth. There was no point hanging around. I threw some clothes on, grabbed my own pre-organised ‘birth bag’ (ingredients for the placenta smoothie – yes, really – and some decent Gin & Tonic to wet the baby’s head), de-iced the car and got the hell over to Bishopston. Fast.
As a massage therapist, I’ve seen many women for ante and post-natal massage, read a lot of books and heard a lot of birth stories, but this was the first time I’d attended a home birth. I was excited and nervous at the same time. It’s a huge honour to be present at any birth and I wondered how I might feel witnessing this powerful process. I’m pretty clued up about the stages of labour, but with every woman and birth being so different there were many variables to consider. Many of the people I’d spoken to had warned me about how it might feel to see such a close friend in pain. I felt as ready as I could be for this experience.
I’m interested in how Doulas ‘mother the mother’ but I wondered how it would work with both Ingo and I supporting Sharmila at the birth, after all this was one of the most intimate moments they would ever experience together. As it happened, there was very little for me to worry about. From the moment I arrived the three of us instinctively found our flow. I very quickly let go of what was going on in my head and tuned in to what was going on with mother and baby. Ingo and I worked alongside each other to give Sharmila all the love, support and comfort she needed to birth this beautiful little girl into the world.
When I arrived Sharmila’s contractions were already pretty frequent. I got hands-on straight away as Ingo finished getting the pool ready. As soon as I put my hands on her back I switched out of head-mode and into body-mode and began sensing what it was that I needed to do. Trusting my intuition implicity. We started to breathe together, deeply. Long. Deep. Exhales. Releasing the jaw. Letting go of the breath. Encouraging the baby to move through her body.
Some of the most incredibly intimate moments were during those early stages when it was just the three of us. Ingo was soothing Sharmila’s face and arms and as I used massage to release the pressure in her back. We were all breathing together, working together to give mother and baby everything they needed to make this powerful transition. The room was ready, beautiful music playing and we savoured every moment of this early stage. Feeling love, connection and above all a deep sense of serenity.
As the contractions got more intense I took a back seat, giving Ingo the space to be closer to Sharmila. I can’t even begin to tell you how much love there was in that house that day.
It wasn’t long before Sharmila was ready to enter pool. The midwives had arrived and were going through their usual checks. They wanted her on her back for examination but I could see that Sharmila just wanted to get into the water and birth this baby.
Once Sharmila was in the pool Ingo held her closely as he gently bathed her back in warm water. I was totally captivated by the beauty of this moment. By this point Sharmila had retreated inside herself ready to move through the final stages of labour. She had gone completely quiet and all I could hear was the lapping of the water and the most incredibly moving music as I became acutely aware of what was happening. I heard one of the midwives say ‘just let the baby gently float to the surface and when you’re ready, bring her to your breast’. I couldn’t believe that the baby had been born. It was such an incredibly beautiful and magical moment. Mother and baby were calm, peaceful and swathed in love as they lost themselves in these first few precious moments together.
Realising what was happening, I ran downstairs and shouted ‘Come! Now! The baby is here!’ Sharmila’s parents came running up the stairs with Leelah. I grabbed her from Jim and rushed to the side of the pool. We cuddled tightly as I crouched down and lifted her up so she could see. Tears began to seep from the corners of my eyes as I saw Sharmila with the newborn at her chest. “Leelah,” I said, “say hello to your baby sister.”
After the serenity of birth came a whirlwind of activity…
Midwives checking mother and baby.
Ingo and I holding Sharmila up…legs like jelly as she prepared to birth the placenta.
Ingo and I having a high-five to celebrate.
Sharmila off her tits on gas and air with legs spread on the sofa as the midwife puts in a stitch.
Holding Marlene’s little legs up in the air as Ingo put on her first nappy.
Downstairs with mum… cackling away like witches as we whizzed up a placenta smoothie whilst Sharmila showered and nestled down with Marlene for her very first feeds.
Cuddles with Leelah. Cuddles with Marlene.
Lunch with the family as mum and baby got skin on skin.
Planning to bury the remaining placenta at Granny Elizabeth's grave in Cornwall.
Quiet time with mum and baby.
An incredible and magical morning that I wouldn’t have missed for the world. I left the house with no idea where the day could go after such a powerful experience. True to myself, I headed for the Lido. Sitting in the sauna sharing my first birth experience with mums of all ages helped me to connect in with an experience that was as ancient and instinctual as life itself.
There is no honour greater than to witness the birth of new life. A life-changing moment, for all of us, forever.
Thank you Sam.