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Be prepared for the arrival of your baby

4am. Rebecca wakes me and whispers that her contractions are five minutes apart and quite strong. This is it. I am excited and privileged to be a part of this most magical of experiences and yet there is a small twinge of anxiety about what lies ahead.

Every labour is different. Every woman’s experience is different and unique. There are three stages to labour and Bec was experiencing the beginning of the first stage (known as pre labour, when mild contractions may let you know you are getting close to labour proper). The first stage is usually the longest in a normal birth and can take up to 16 hours for a first baby and one to 10 hours for a second baby.

The contractions continue at four- to five-minute intervals and I suggest it would be helpful to walk around because, as the baby’s head descends, it exerts pressure on the cervix, helping dilation, and the weight of the uterus helps the contractions to come faster.

Bec’s husband and I have armed ourselves with a wide selection of jokes and each time a contraction begins we tell a joke … this has the effect of totally relaxing Rebecca as she chuckles her way through the beginning of the first stage. An unconventional technique but, hey, anything that works…?

Other useful activities are cooking, vacuuming or anything where you are standing up rather than sitting or lying down. Anything is preferable to inactivity where you just sit and wait for the next contraction.

Dilation of the cervix used to be measured by internal examination and described in centimetres. This practice is largely abandoned now as it’s uncomfortable and not considered necessary if everything is proceeding calmly and normally.

9am. Oh dear … contractions are now 13 minutes apart and not as strong as they were — maybe we should all go back to bed!

Some women experience "false labour", where contractions start then stop for a period before beginning again. Some women experience vomiting and diarrhoea, which are normal symptoms of the body cleansing itself.

9.10am. Rebecca went to the toilet and calls me to come. She passed a small plug of blood-stained mucus and then her waters broke, not with a gush but a trickle. That suggests to me that the head is firmly down and preventing much amniotic fluid escaping. I suggest this would be a good time to go to the birthing centre.

A birthing centre had been chosen for several reasons. For a healthy woman who expects no complications, a birthing centre provides a wonderful alternative to a home birth. Advantages of a birthing centre include non-intervention from the midwife unless assistance is asked for and freedom to do what makes you comfortable in an inviting, comfortable environment. In Bec’s case, she likes to give birth in the shower and the home shower cubicle isn’t big enough. There is the satisfying knowledge that should a problem arise there is professional help immediately to hand.

The disadvantage with a birthing centre is they are usually a short-stay situation, with the mother staying for hours rather than days. If there is insufficient help at home for the mother it’s probably not the best option. It also involves a trip away from home at a time when both the mother and helpers may be feeling anxious.

9.45am. Contractions are now two minutes apart and very strong (joke telling finished ages ago!) and we’re stuck in a traffic jam! I’m viewing the shops, trying to decide which might have the best staffroom suitable for a birth! In my bag I have a secret stash: clean towel, baby rug, sterile scissors, a piece of linen thread and a bottle of tincture of calendula. I’m not too concerned, but we have all gone very quiet … all that can be heard is Bec panting during contractions and occasional soothing words of praise from me.

Contractions are stimulated by a hormone called oxytocin released in pulses by a gland at the base of the brain. (Interestingly, in a preliminary study, oxytocin was also shown to be associated with the ability to maintain healthy interpersonal relationships and healthy psychological boundaries with other people.) Each pulse of oxytocin results in a contraction beginning at the top of the uterus and spreading down towards the cervix. As the contraction peaks, the entire uterine muscle contracts. As it ebbs, the muscle relaxes again.

The pulsing of the contractions massages the baby’s body, stimulating the nerve endings in the skin, which in turn stimulates baby’s internal organs in readiness for birth. The contraction is followed by a rest before the next contraction begins. Each labour has its own rhythm. Some labours are long. Others progress more quickly with shorter rests between contractions.

Once the contractions have settled down, they will usually become more regular and closer together. When this happens, the mother often retreats into herself, becoming totally aware of her body and the rhythms she’s experiencing, completely unaware of her surroundings.

10.15am. We have arrived at the birthing centre and are all secretly relieved to be there. A calm, tranquil haven for ensuring the birth will be an empowering and memorable occasion for all. A large, airy, pretty room with all the comforts of a good hotel: double bed, couches and chairs and, most important of all, a huge shower cubicle.

10.30am. Bec is now in her chosen position, namely on the floor of the shower kneeling on a folded-up towel and leaning over a beanbag.

Today, women about to give birth have the freedom to move around and change positions throughout the labour and birth. In birthing centres and home births, delivery is no longer treated as a medical condition to be dealt with lying flat on the bed or in a clinical labour ward on a delivery table.

Across the hallway was a bathroom with a huge waterbirth pool. Water has been shown to be one of the most valuable aids to childbirth. Many women say that once they get into the water, concentration is strengthened and in many cases pain is lessened. It has been found that the mere sight and sound of water running in a shower or into a bath has an analgesic effect that helps many women release whatever tensions and fears they are carrying. This in turn reduces their resistance and perception of pain and creates a calm, focused energy. If the mother’s delivery and attitude are calm, easy and smooth, so too is the baby’s birth.

In the birthing room I added a few drops of lavender and geranium essential oil to an oil burner to diffuse into the air. Other items in my birth kit included soft music, diluted orange juice to keep blood sugar up, ice cubes to suck to ease a dry mouth and lip salve for dry lips. Here’s a recipe for a lovely moisturising salve.


Lemon Lips


  • firmly packed tbsp finely ground beeswax
  • 2 tbsp (40ml) light sesame or almond oil
  • 1 tbsp (20ml) wheatgerm oil
  • 1 tsp (5ml) castor or jojoba oil
  • 10 drops lemon oil
  • teaspoon (2.5ml) glycerine

Melt the beeswax in a very small pan, taking care not to overheat and/or burn. Add the sesame, wheatgerm and castor or jojoba oils slowly — don’t overheat. Take off the heat and allow to cool a little but not to begin to set. Add the remaining ingredients and mix until no drops of glycerine are visible. Pot quickly before the mixture sets.

Other items in my birth kit were included for their healing properties. A blend of homoeopathic arnica, hypericum and Rescue Remedy is very helpful, and four drops under the tongue or massaged on the inside of the wrist can be used every few minutes for pain during labour and for afterbirth pains. It also calms the mother if she’s nervous or labour is lengthy. A homoeopathic practitioner will make up this blend.

Pure, 100 per cent essential oils (no synthetics, please) can help enormously. They can be used to delicately and therapeutically scent the air, also in oils to massage the feet and lower back, as few women in labour can tolerate massage on the abdomen. The mother should guide the person conducting the massage as to the movements that are most comfortable and helpful.

The best oils to use during labour are the following but the choice is obviously dictated by the mother:

  • Lavender for its analgesic, antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, anti-shock and calming properties, soft and gentle fragrance and very affordable price
  • Jasmine for its antidepressant, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, pain-relieving, contraction-strengthening properties (some people find the perfume of jasmine overpowering)
  • Clary sage for antibacterial, antidepressant, antispasmodic, muscle relaxant, mildly analgesic and birth-facilitating properties.
  • Geranium to help uterine contractions and for its calming, antidepressant effect.


Birthing massage oil

  • 1 tbsp (20ml) almond oil
  • 6 drops lavender oil
  • 2 drops jasmine or geranium oil
  • 2 drops clary sage oil

10.55am. We are all drenched and working hard but calmly and with an increasing sense of purpose! The overhead shower is running and I have the handheld shower hose showering Bec’s lower back … the water is really hot but she growls if I try to make it cooler. Wendell, the father-to-be, is on the other side using both hands on either side of her buttocks and bearing downwards very, very hard, using the birthing oil as lubrication. We both encourage her, constantly telling her how well she is doing. If I stop to give her a drink, ice chips or homoeopathic tincture she again growls "Water" and I jump to it again.

Contractions are generally at their strongest near the end of the first stage. The overall rhythms of labour have been described as comparable to the rhythms and moods of an ocean. A quiet sea which swells up to little waves and returns again to limpid calm. Then, as the wind grows stronger the waves increase in size and strength until, finally, the waves are rolling in almost without a break.

At this point, Rebecca begins some serious visualisation. When she was 16 she fractured her spine and after two days in hospital I discharged her and took her home, as I felt that her treatment was actually harming rather than helping her. She constructed a powerful visualisation and the end result of six weeks of visualisation (for several hours a day) was that the x-rays showed no sign of a fracture having ever occurred! They were compared to the original x-rays and there was no doubt there had been a serious fracture that was now so well healed it was impossible to see where it had been. Her visualisation now is of her cervix being a soft, rubbery, pink flower bud that was opening wider and wider until it was fully open, allowing her baby to slip through gently and easily.

Using techniques such as breathing, visualisation and meditation can be tremendously helpful. In a normal labour where no medication is used, the body produces endorphins, morphine-like substances that can create a feeling of euphoria and help to reduce the level of pain of contractions.

11.05am. Contractions are now at their strongest as Bec nears the end of the first stage of labour, and it’s very hard. There’s little more than a few seconds between contractions now and when I asked Bec (ever so tenderly) what she would like, she shouts, "A gun" … I actually meant orange juice or ice chips!

11.20am.Cheers and relief … the first push is happening and I’m feeling a growing excitement inside myself. Memories of the births of my five babies are crowding me and I find myself bearing down with Rebecca. We turn off the water and I wipe Bec’s face and give her more tincture and juice. Wendell continues with the downward massage using lots of birthing oil.

During this last stage the midwife sat quietly in the background but occasionally leant over to check the baby’s heartbeat. This stage of labour was, for me, the most intense, thrilling and exciting of all. At last there is something you can do and you know that very soon you will be holding and meeting your baby.

The moment when the widest part of the baby’s head is at the birth opening is the time when you feel you are stretched beyond what is humanly possible. This is called "crowning". Deep, hard breathing at this stage will help the baby to emerge rather than hard pushing that might tear the perineum.

11.30am. I can see a crown of dark hair. Another push and there is a little head lying there … eyes closed and lips pursed disapprovingly. I gasp, "Oh Bec … she’s gorgeous … another minute and you will hold your baby … just another gentle push, my darling girl." Bec’s reply leaves us with jaws open and laughter bubbling up. "No, thank you. I’m tired. I don’t want to do any more."

Most babies face their mother’s back, but some (including Georgia Rose) face the mother’s front. If baby faces front, there may be increased back pain as the baby’s head presses on the spine.

11.36am.A slippery gush of fluid carries the little body out of her mother’s body into waiting hands … there is just a single outraged "Wahhh" before she is placed on her mother’s breast. We are all crying, laughing, and I am offering up silent thanks to the Divine for the safe delivery of my daughter and my grandchild.

This intimate skin-to-skin, flesh-to-flesh contact is the first vital bonding that also maintains the baby’s temperature and exposes the baby to the mother’s skin bacteria, which is important for future protection. The midwife clamped and cut the umbilical cord and we waited for the final stage when the placenta will detach and be expelled.

Noon. Rebecca is showered and tucked up in bed with her baby at her breast suckling contentedly, husband by her side. I delve into my bag for some more goodies. Bec has been craving soft cheeses that had to be avoided during the pregnancy because of the risk of listeriosis.

2pm.Time for me to leave to prepare for the homecoming. The family are going to have a nap and sometime this evening will leave this place where a miracle has happened, and return home where four-year-old Rhiannon anxiously awaits her new baby sister.

Among the goodies in my bag I have a bottle of mixed almond and olive oil that will be used for the first "bath". The commercial stuff that is generally used to clean up a baby is nothing but a mild detergent and this sort of cleaning is neither necessary nor wholesome. A gentle wipe-over with the oil on a soft cloth will leave Georgia Rose’s sweet flesh glowing with health and newness. A thin layer of vernix caseosa (whitish greasy film that coats most of the newborn’s skin) will be left on her skin to act as a protection against infection.

This has been a record of one birth, a very special birth for me, but then all births are special, miraculous, empowering and awe-inspiring.


The WellBeing Team

The WellBeing Team

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