It was the first day of Spring, Sunday March 25th 2018. I woke to a wonderful text, one I had been awaiting for a few weeks. “Sorry to wreck your lie in, contractions are 3 mins apart”. It was 04:43am and Baby Sinead was on her way, only one day overdue.
Claire and Cian were the most prepared parents I have ever met! They were super chilled and very welcoming with that wonderful Irish charm and sense of humour. This baby was due to be their second child, a little sister for 2-year- old Fiachra.
The family had not been met with much support or their desired home birth from the NHS, so they decided to hire a wonderful trio of independent midwives to bring their little Princess into the world the way they wanted.
Later that morning, I received a change of plan. They had left their beautiful home, birthing cave & fairy lights, walls decorated with hypno-birthing affirmations, and were headed in an ambulance to the Oxford John Radcliffe Hospital.
I was told baby may be born in the next 45 minutes and I live about a 40 minute drive away, so I made a dash for it! (no speeding ticket has arrived yet!)
Welcoming me on Level 2, Delivery Suite 6 was a whole room full of birthing pros. Liz Nightingale, Sarah Ifill and Meg Miskin, hosting around 75 years midwifery experience between them. In addition we also had NHS staff midwife Louise Poll, her student Midwife (and of course Daddy Cian.)
I’m learning that birth can be an unpredictable beast and instead of the anticipated 45 minutes, labour continued for another few hours instead – well they don’t call it labour for nothing!
Claire was like some kind of Goddess! A warrior of the Birthing suite. She remained quiet and calm, even when she was clearly in horrendous pain. The poor woman next door screamed blue murder for what seemed like hours, not even this managed to throw Claire off.
The midwives seemed to try every trick in the book to make her comfortable: massage, hot towels on her back, aromatherapy, you name it.
At 9cm Claire requested an epidural as her labour had been many hours without progression and she was exhausted. Watching the epidural made me quite squeamish (not a lot does) but it was also fascinating. Electric shocks shot down Claire’s legs 4 or 5 times before it worked properly, and then within seconds she had crashed out half asleep. It was great to see her get some relief.
The girls and I then left to give her some rest and grabbed some lunch. Before we knew, it all 4 of us were running back to the find Cian on his own gowned up for theatre. After failed forceps delivery, baby Sinead was born by C Section. Sadly, I was not allowed into the operating room. I was gutted for Claire, as she really wanted the photos.
One of the many things I learnt that day is that a C-Section takes about an hour from start to finish. I spent 60 incredible minutes basking in the array of stories, wisdom and spirituality of these wonderful midwives while we awaited the news that everything was ok.
Finally, in walked Louise with a placenta, which she plopped on the bed in front of us. All 3 midwives jumped up excitedly and surrounded this incredible life sustaining structure, diving straight in with their hands and giving me fascinating running commentary on what they were checking for.
They shrieked with excitement at a blob of what looked like white ‘putty’ inside, removed their gloves and began rubbing it on their hands and faces! “It’s the world’s greatest anti-wrinkle cream! Vernix!”, explained Liz. Vernix is the white coating on the skin of Newborn babies. In Latin it translates as ‘CHEESE VARNISH!’
I felt like I was on safari watching feeding lions crowded over their catch. I love a bit of gore; the human body fascinates me, so naturally I was in my element! I donned some medical gloves and had a good feel.
The placenta is often kept by these midwives to create fruit smoothies, or for encapsulation like a multivitamin to aid post-natal recovery. Really fascinating stuff, even if I’m not sure I could stomach eating my own, but never say never! Claire plans to create a beautiful piece of artwork with her placenta.
Although I didn’t manage to capture baby Sinead’s first breath, I was there to document the ‘Labour of Love’ before she arrived and her first hour cuddling and feeding with Mummy & Daddy.