This post was edited in February 2017 in order to replace the word ‘blessingway’ with ‘mother blessing’. This is out of respect for the Diné Navajo traditional blessingway. The term ‘Blessingway’ refers to a sacred spiritual ceremony performed by the Navajo people to celebrate rites of passage that occur throughout the entire life cycle, and not only the passage into motherhood. They suggested the term ‘Mother Blessing’ was a more appropriate term for a ceremony that was influenced, and respectful, of this tradition, but not practiced in accordance with the Navajo faith and culture.
It has been 7 gloriously wonderful months since our youngest child was born, our sunshine child, Gaia.
A few of you have been asking me about her birth story. I finally have time to write it all down and share it with you!
I think it’s worth going back and telling the whole story…
In 2013, Stephen had been mentioning that he’d like to have a third child. I had been umming and aahing over it, having only just gotten to a place of calm and happiness after many years of severe mental health issues, and I was unwilling to relinquish that new-found calm to the postnatal depression that plagued me after Ru and Pixie’s births.
“Maybe in a couple of years.” I kept saying.
This desire for a third was also compounded by my father and stepmother announcing they were pregnant with a little girl they would name Kathryn.
***Trigger Warning: In the next three paragraphs, I mention infant death. Please skip ahead to the next set of *** if you feel that this may be upsetting or triggering for you***
In mid-June, my sister Kathryn was born. She was a footling breech presentation, which caused complications and she was deprived of oxygen for a significant period of time. After being helicoptered to hospital, it was decided that further intensive care was unlikely to improve her outcome, and my dad and stepmama, along with their medical team, agreed to redirect efforts towards palliative care.
Sadly she died the next day, in my father’s arms in the memorial garden with the sun on her face.
At Katy’s funeral, whilst looking at some tiny miniature wild strawberries Pixie had found, I realised that life was too short, too fleeting. I realised that at the end of my life, I wouldn’t regret having another baby… but I might regret not having one. I also reasoned that if I could get through PND twice, I could do it again, especially as at that point, I was stronger and happier than I had ever been.
***End of Trigger Warning***
When Steve and I started “trying”, we worked out that it took us about three days to conceive Gaia, although we didn’t find out until a few weeks later, after an amazing Goo Goo Dolls gig in Leeds!
Stephen was thrilled! I mean, I was too, but boy, Stephen was Thrilled with a capital T! He walked around for the entire pregnancy with a bigger-than-usual grin on his face. He was positively giddy.
I felt the opposite though. Calm, chilled out, relaxed. I got the feeling very early on that this little person was going to be a little serene dreamer. I had had strong feelings about what Ru and Pixie were going to be like before they were born, and had been spot-on each time, so I was confident that my feelings were right once again.
We decided, as usual, on names very very early on. Our little child was a dreamer, connected to something bigger. It felt right to pick celestial names, for a link to the everlasting stars, or a name linked to the depth of the earth, ideally with a name that meant peace. We quickly decided on Orion Sirius Lesley for a boy; Orion is the first constellation Steve’s mother taught to him, and Sirius is the common name of the Dog Star. In mythology, Sirius was also the hunter Orion’s dog. And Lesley in memory of my grandfather who passed away a few weeks after we found out we were having Gaia.
We chose Gaia Serenity for a girl, the former being the Mother goddess in Greek mythology, the latter representative of the calmness we felt from her (as well as a sneaky little homage to Joss Whedon!). I also loved the name Gaia as it’s the name of the protagonist from one of my favourite literary trilogies, the Birthmarked series by Caragh M. O’Brien. The Gaia in Birthmarked is a strong girl who fights against the injustices of her world, set in the dystopian future. We also chose Kathryn as a middle name, in memory of my sister.
My pregnancy continued along in peace and quiet… or at least as much peace and quiet as you can have with two children like Ru and Pixie! Steve and I were set on a homebirth, and whilst we couldn’t afford an independent midwife, we could afford a doula.
In the end, I chose my friend to be my doula, the amazing Hannah from Calm Yorkshire Birth, and I couldn’t have made a better choice. I can assure you that having a doula was easily one of the best decisions we made for this pregnancy.
I also did hypnobirthing and a lot of visualisation and meditation. Our seasons table was transformed into a birthing altar as I surrounded myself in beautiful birthing art, including a print of a piece called (appropriately) ‘Gaia’ by Joanna Beck, as well as pieces gifted to me by Hannah and others. I also invited my friends to write letters or poems for me to read when I was birthing, and ended up with the most wonderful collection of supportive and loving words.
As usual, I got annoyed with midwives and sonographers. We were told at our 20 week scan it was a boy… maybe… possibly… well, they weren’t sure but they thought it may be a boy, but our dour sonographer sternly told us “It doesn’t really matter as long as it’s healthy.” . This prediction did not sit right with me. I knew, just KNEW, that this baby was a girl, that they HAD to be wrong. So strong was my conviction that Steve ended up booking me in for a private scan and they confirmed, without doubt, that our baby was a girl, our Gaia.
From 20 weeks onwards, Steve and I started discussing the idea of an unassisted birth; that is, birthing without a medical professional there. The original conversation stemmed from our realisation that I would be 41 weeks over the Tour de France weekend… where my city of York were suspending homebirth services… NOT ideal news for us. After looking into it, we decided that we were fully prepared for the scenario of birthing alone, and I felt confident that I could birth beautifully and naturally without monitoring and fussing from outside sources. In total, I had THREE completely misinformed midwives tell me categorically that “freebirthing is illegal”. (For the record, it’s not.) Whilst it’s not the right decision for everyone, it was for us in with this birth.
Despite the silly midwives, my excitement was growing and growing (along with my bump!), egged on by the birth of my friend Alison’s beautiful daughter, Rivka. Sat in the hospital holding this lovely brand new soul only made me more eager to hold Gaia in my arms!
My doula Hannah organised a gorgeous mother blessing for me a couple of weeks before I hit 40 weeks, where I had all my favourite and closest friends join me in some lovely little rituals. A guided meditation by my friend Sarah filled our home with positive energy, and a ritual candle was created as each Mama spoke their intentions and love for me and my baby whilst tying threads round the candle, ready for the flame to be lit when the big day came.
We also did a fear releasing ritual, burning papers that we’d written our fears on, opening ourselves for those fears to be replaced with strength.
All of us had our hands bound together with thread too, whilst reciting the mantra of “We are the weavers, we are the web. We are the flow and we are the ebb.”. The threads were then cut, leaving each woman with a bracelet to be left on until I birthed; a physical representation of the link between all women during the amazing experience that is birth.
As if all that wasn’t enough, I got my bump henna’d AND an amazing crown made for me from flowers (real and handmade). There was also cake. Oh boy oh boy, was there cake. Cake that was smothered in my very favourite buttercream and adorned with an icing sunshine. A cake SO delicious, in fact, that when we came to eat it… we realised that a cat had gotten there first and had helped themselves to some of the icing off it!
Being surrounded by some of the wonderful mothers I am honoured to know was the perfect way to prepare our home for Gaia’s birth that was drawing nearer and nearer by the day!
On the morning of June 28th, my thread bracelet fell off. I tied it back on, and didn’t really give it another thought. Big mistake. I should have watched for those signs! (The night before Pixie was born, my birthing necklace broke!) In the afternoon, I got a worried sounding message from my friend Kerry on Facebook, asking me if I was ok. Upon further questioning, it turned out I had completely forgotten we were supposed to be going round to hers for lunch that day! I blame pregnancy brain. We ended up going round for dinner instead, and I ate an insane amount of Mexican food.
Bang on 6.30pm, I had a massive surge whilst stood in Kerry’s kitchen. Steve somehow appeared next to me whilst I explained that I wasn’t sure, but I might be in labour!
After a couple more, it was obvious that this was it! Show Time!
By the time we got back home, it was just past 7pm, so I told Steve to take Ru and Pixie to bed whilst I relaxed in the bath. I figured once they were asleep, Steve could prepare the birthing pool and I could move downstairs for the main event. I’d been having recurring dreams about labouring through the night and Gaia being born as the sun rose.
Obviously, THIS was the night that Ru and Pixie simply weren’t tired! We had already prepared for them being present whilst I birthed, by watching lots of positive natural birthing videos with them, reading books, and talking lots about how I would need them to be calm and quiet, and how special it would be.
By this point, I was in my hot bath, breathing beautifully through my surges.
My friend Sarah arrived to be with Ru and Pixie, and I could literally feel her protective, positive energy flowing from her in the living room up to me in the bathroom.
Hannah arrived, and moved silently through my birthing space, lighting my ritual candle, turning down the lights, gently asking if I wanted music on… I heard snippets of whispered conversations between her and Pixie. “My Mama’s birthin’ my baby Gaia!” and Hannah responding “Yes, I know. Isn’t she amazing?”. Ru was totally unimpressed with the whole business, instead choosing to watch Toy Story downstairs.
I hit a moment of doubt when I moved from first to second stage, but then… well, it was weird. I kind of took a deep breath and really looked at what was happening. Really looked at it. Reminded myself of my strength, of my mind and of my amazing body that had already birthed two children. And was able to calm myself and move past the doubt.
It’s at this point I thought “Hmmm, I wonder if pushing might make these surges feel better? Oh, yes. Yes they do!”. That was about 7.45pm ish I think. Not BIG pushes but enough to counteract the surges beautifully. *JUST* enough. Gods, it felt good. Productive. I felt strong.
Pixie at this point was up and down the stairs checking on me, every so often just putting her little hand on my face, or arm or leg. She was the only one I could bear touching me actually, I wanted everyone else there but not speaking or touching me.
I started to feel a deeper urgency within my body. I tentatively put my hand between my legs to feel what was going on, and felt the sac of waters bulging which was a first for me, and an amazing experience! Ended up keeping my hand there, just one finger, the entire time. Felt Gaia really starting to move move move properly down. Felt her head through the membranes. My waters broke and I was able to feel all the hair on her head. I don’t know if I said it out loud but I was gleefully thinking to myself “I KNEW she was going to have lots of hair!”. Then in 4, maybe 5 surges, I was able to feel myself opening up a little more every time and her head coming lower and lower. Felt every millimeter she travelled to meet us. It was truly incredible to feel myself just opening up and my body doing exactly what it needed to. Just working so perfectly, moving this tiny girl closer and closer to being Earthside.
Steve had rung the midwives earlier, but had smartly not informed them that I was already pushing. He was on the phone at this point to the midwife, they rang him to check what was happening and whilst he was on the phone, Gaia’s head started to crown, no searing pain, no fear, just… it just happened. It Simply Was. I called out “Stephen! The head!” and he cut off the phone call, I told him to grab the kids, Ru came up to see, but then went back downstairs, Pixie stayed with me.
Me, Steve, Pixie, my doula there together.
And I felt her head being born into my hand.
Put my other hand down there, and just had this amazing moment of clarity where it started to dawn on me just what I was doing and even more fantastically, my inner voice confidently, calmly simply said “I can do this.”
Then her shoulders.
Then the rest of her.
Lifted her out of the water.
I could feel that Stephen was worried that she wasn’t crying but she was just looking at me, with these dark eyes. Just so… knowing. This look of “Oh. There you are. I’m here.” This perfect moment where there was nothing but pride and love and joy washing over me and this tiny little life.
And then she cried and then settled back down. Had a snuggle and a little feed.
And there it was. The most phenomenal and amazing and empowering and beautiful, natural thing.
Midwives arrived, Pixie ran downstairs to bring them up telling them excitedly “Mama is upstairs in the bath! She just birthed my Baby Gaia!” with so much pride ringing through her words.
It had taken, from first surge through to Gaia being born into my hands, 2 hours and 12 minutes. Quickest birth so far. I have never felt so strong. My friend Eli summed the entire experience up for me, in a way that only Eli can. “You birthed your own baby! You’re one step away from world domination!”
So there it is. In all its mundane, everyday-miracle kinda shininess.
Since then, life for Stephen and I has fallen into an easy rhythm as parents of three. Sure, we have tough days. Ones where we are terribly tired, annoyed at everything, baby-won’t-stop-feeding-I-am-not-a-dairy-cow-dammit kind of days. But holy shitballs, SO worth it. So, so very worth it.
Ru and Pixie are utterly thrilled with their newest sibling, and it’s so interesting to see how each of them has their own relationship with her. Pixie loves her. I mean, Pixie is FULL-ON with her love (something her best friend Nom can attest to!), picking her up all the time, cuddling her all the time, kissing her all the time, fussing her all the time. Gaia bears this love beautifully, but I do get a look from her occasionally as though she’s saying “Hey Mother, I totally appreciate being loved by Pixie, but… does she have to love me quite so voraciously?!”
Ru’s connection with her is just so different. To the outsider, he seems completely unaware of her. But I know better. I am privileged to see him stealing moments with her when Pixie is elsewhere, lying next to Gaia, whispering secrets into her ear. Taking a fleeting moment to stroke her hair as he runs past whilst playing a game. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen him taking a big ole sniff of her milky breath when he thinks no one is looking. His is not a bright sparkling love like Pixie’s, it’s a sweet, mellow, secret one.
As for Gaia, our little sunshine. She babbles away, sitting up unaided now, very alert, and quite the demanding little thing when she thinks someone is eating something and not sharing with her! Family and friends seem to remark a lot about how calm she is, how serene and happy. And you know what, as long as she’s been milked up, she is a blessed joy of a human being. We like having her around, you know?
And so to you, my sweet baby Gaia. Shine on.