the birthing of beren argyle

On the afternoon of my due date we took a walk up the big hill behind a friend's property. From the top you can see out in all directions, the highs and lows, bends, boulders, hills, forests of our part of the country. We are new to this place but its felt like home from the moment we arrived. Something I can't explain, a feeling maybe, a history in my blood of the farming folk who settled here years and years ago, or before that to the indigenous peoples - a love for earth, space and open sky... my mum took my portrait from the top of that hill, and I'm glad she did - the ripeness, the expectancy. More than anything I remember feeling peaceful that baby would come when he's ready, and he did three days later.

It was Wednesday morning, April 8th. I was 40 + 3 weeks with child, and it was the day our 300 broiler (meat) chicks were arriving. Alex's alarm went off at 6am and I roused myself from light sleep. I felt a dull cramping ache in my belly and a pressure - an urge to visit the loo. On returning, I curled up around Alex under the warm sheets and lay there wondering about this sensation I felt - those cramps - getting stronger, then tapering off, going away altogether, beginning again. I breathed deeply and kissed that man beside me. Was I in labour I asked. Are you? Let's see where it goes...

Alex drove off to do morning chores and I began on breakfast; porridge, rice sourdough toast, scrambled eggs, a plunger of coffee, a pot of earl grey tea... Reuben woke and I hugged him tight. Every few minutes I had contractions - rushes of crampy pain - I began to time them and jot them down on a piece of paper... six minutes apart... five minutes... five minutes... four minutes...  regular, anticipated, increasing in force - I held onto the edge of the kitchen table and bent my head down to breathe. I think the baby's coming I told Reuben.

When Alex came home we breakfasted. Then we decided to call the midwife - and she agreed that we should come into the hospital. Alex collected his parents who were staying nearby so they could watch over Reuben while we were gone. I packed my bags and pillow into the car. I looked up into the sky and saw a big arching rainbow through the clouds. A promise I thought, of what's to come... 

We got in the car and began the twenty minute drive into town. I clutched my pillow as we drove those familiar winding roads, and we listened to the birth playlist... I remember gazing out at the landscape and feeling comforted, excited at the thought of meeting our baby. We talked and laughed. 

We arrived at our small country-town hospital and went directly to the birth room. It was 9am. One of my midwives, Helen, was there getting things ready. She began running a bath at my request so I could labour in warm water. I lay back on the bed as she lay hands on my belly, trying to work out where baby's head was positioned. She was having trouble, he was so low down - all she could feel were limbs. Gently she examined me - I was already 6cm dilated and thin, really to have this baby soon. 

I went into the bathroom, my waters broke soon after. I remember undressing and looking at my heavily pregnant body, with tummy so full and tight with child, my hair was still neatly braided up. I got into the bath and that warm water washed over me. It soothed. I was left alone in there for a while - another midwife came in and introduced herself. Alex hooked up our music - Alt J, Sufjan, Sigur Ros, Tazie chants, Iron & Wine, Boy and Bear, Radiohead, Cornor Orbest, Sixteen Horsepower... 

My contractions became more intense. Alex came and sat by the edge of bath, I lay my head on his arm and moaned and breathed through the pain. He stroked my face. I was transitioning and the pressure was increasing. I felt unstable floating in the water, I needed to get out. so I did. I leaned onto a gym ball on the bathroom floor, dazed, breathing hard, moaning for relief. Alex put pressure on my lower back and reminded me to make low sounds, to keep breathing. I remember my mum calling, talking to me on the phone - encouraging, loving me from afar - I think we were both weepy - our spirits close and vulnerable, I told her that it hurt so much... 

Then the desire to push came quickly, forcefully -
I felt scared for a moment -
then I let go, I had to -
prayed a silent prayer,
I followed my body's call,
the midwife urging me to push,
and it burned like fire -
I was leaning into Alex when baby's head emerged,
just as I had done with Reuben,
not that we planned it 
it just seemed the right place to hold myself -
a head, I felt it
and the longest minute
waiting for the next contraction to push the rest of him out,
and ah, oh, a beautiful body
a pink boy hollering for me,
dark haired and lovely.
It was 10.01am.
Throughout the pregnancy my midwives and doctor thought the baby would not be so big, but when he came he was a fairly decent 8 pounds 7 ounces. He actually looked robust, muscular, with big strong hands and eyes that could fix on faces. It's hard to describe, but he felt more mature that my first baby, already wise to life out of the womb. I guess we were older and wiser too. 

His name - Beren Argygle - was picked out months ago. We always imagined Beren as a dark haired baby so when he came with that crop of dark brown we were decided. Beren is an old-English name that means "brave" but is also a nod to our shared love of Tolkein and fantasy. Argyle is Scottish and refers to the west coast of Scotland - which I was able to see years ago, and fell in love with. It is a homage to our shared Scottish ancestry and to the history of the area which we now live and farm on. The Scots were some of first farmers of this land, and I think would have felt at home among the rocks and boulders and windswept hills... 
It all went so quickly - from moment of waking that morning to meeting my babe a few hours later. I am asked if it was easier than my first birth - and it wasn't, it was different. In many ways I felt more peaceful when labour progressed a bit slower with Reuben, and this time I felt a kind of shock by the brevity and intensity of it...

But there is nothing so lovely and good in all the world as holding that baby against your chest and those eyes squinting open at you, and breathing him in. To know a tiny child already so well, but to first meet him face to face...