Early hours of Monday morning I got the call from Hamuera that Aroha was labouring at the Bethlehem birth centre. I slipped out of my warm bed, quietly woke my husband to let him know I was off and left him snuggled up with my 1 year old son. I got dressed into some comfy gear, as you never know how long a birth will be, gathered my gear and headed out the door. As I made the drive from Hamilton to Bethlehem I played some music to keep my mind calm, I'm always so excited to capture a birth, but want to make sure I bring a calm energy into the birthing space. Energy is everything. It was a quick drive, with almost no one on the roads. A beautiful clear summer night with the stars clearly visible in the sky. Magic. Soon after I arrived, I was greeted by Chrissy, Aroha's mother. She guided me to Aroha's birthing room where I was quickly greeted by the gentle smile of Aroha's midwife. Aroha was standing in front of a shelf swaying her hips, eyes closed, in the zone listening to her playlist, Hamuera behind her holding her shoulders. The waves began rolling in stronger not long after I arrived, Hamuera was always close, holding her when she needed. Their connection was so pure and special to witness and looked as though it was exactly what Aroha needed to push through those last few contractions to bring Manahau earthside.
Aroha shares her story below
I was in denial when I went into labour with Manahau. Firstly, he wasn’t due for another 2 weeks, and I had a very long to do list that I was adamant on completing. Secondly, it was about 6pm when I started feeling a shift in movements, and I didn’t want to have another overnight birth where I missed out on a night’s sleep and go into labour already exhausted. Thirdly, I just didn’t feel mentally prepared yet. I had a funny feeling he was going to come early, but I still hadn’t mentally prepared myself for his arrival. My parents were already staying with us that weekend, so that was convenient. My mum kept saying “Aroha, I think you’re in labour.” to which I would respond “No no, he’s just kicking around, he’s been like that all month, trust me it’s just another false alarm.” as I waddled around, grimacing in pain as I feel another ‘kick’. By 9pm I couldn’t deny the signs, and I reluctantly admitted to being in labour.
I decided to attempt getting a bit of sleep, but lasted all of two hours of tossing and turning before getting up and waking my husband and mum. We recorded my contractions, and called the midwife to let her know things were coming along. Soon after we were heading to the birthing centre, and the adrenalin started kicking in. Even though I still didn’t feel mentally prepared for the birth, I had to accept that it was happening, and let my body take over and do the rest. There was no point stressing over something I couldn’t change.
The following hours were a bit of a blur, but I just remember contractions being pretty consistent, but at a comfortable pain level. I opted for gas this time, and am SO glad I did. It was the best. And really helped with my breathing during contractions. My support crew was my husband and my mum, and later my mother-in-law, who rushed over from Taranaki to attend the birth. I cranked a playlist I had from my first birth, and remember grooving to a few of the songs. Music definitely helped me find a rhythm. I had packed plenty of labour snacks (I’m a hangry person, so having snacks was pretty critical T), so would munch on skittles and muesli bars during the in-between moments.
I spent most of the labour hunched over a table or bed. It’s just what seemed to work at the time. I hopped in the bath at one point, but that ended up slowing things down, so after an hour or two I hopped back out. By then I had been in active labour for at least 5 hours, and things seemed to not be progressing further despite very close and strong contractions. I was getting pretty tired by then, and my waters still hadn’t broken. The midwife suggested the option of her breaking them for me, to speed things up. She said it “wouldn’t be too painful” (unless that’s just what I thought I heard), but that was an incredible exaggeration! I lay on the ground and lifted my leg for her to insert the ‘crochet needle’ to pop the sack. She struggled to break it, and had to keep poking around. The pain was excruciating, and I believe I let out a very unapologetic scream. Once the waters were finally broken, it was a huge sense of relief (was very grateful to have that needle out of me). Within minutes I had a strong urge to push, and it was all go. I was still stuck on the floor (was in too much pain to move into any other position at that point), so I must have looked like a fish out of water, writhing awkwardly around on the floor.
I had forgotten how intense the pushing pain was — but thankfully I wasn’t pushing for two hours like my last birth. About 15 minutes of pushing, and out pops our son. 6:50am. There was immense relief. I didn’t realise at the time because I couldn’t see, but our son had come out with the umbilical chord around his neck, which the midwife very swiftly untwisted and removed. I was still lying on the floor as she handed him to me, and I cried tears of relief and joy. Suddenly my worries of not being ‘mentally prepared’ were washed away with a huge rush of adrenalin and an overwhelming sense of love.
How do you feel about your body now?
The first few weeks after birth were the most challenging in terms of accepting my 'temporary' recovering body. Straight after birth I was on a high, experiencing the miracle of bringing new life into world and having that mad hit of adrenalin when baby was handed to me. But once things settled and reality hit, it was hard to not get too caught up with how my body looked. Apart from feeling like I was hit by a bus, aching in almost every part of my body, and still leaking a lot of blood, I was left with a floppy belly that still looked 6months pregnant, as well as boobs that grew to rock melons when my milk came in...it was just so hard to feel attractive or have any hope that my body would eventually recover and return closer to 'normal'.
It took a lot of mental strength to flip my whakaaro so that I could see the beauty in my body - lumps, bumps, stretch marks and all - and to appreciate just how badass it is to be able to carry, grow, nurture, and birth a small human. Like, WHOA. My body did that. That baby came out of me. One day he was all snug and curled up in my womb, and the next day he was in my arms, still attached to the whenua (placenta) that MY body created to sustain him. Being able to focus on the amazing things my body was able to achieve really helped me to not only accept my new body, but embrace it, and even be proud of it. No, it will probably never return back to exactly how it was (nor should I expect it to after all it endured), but every change it has acquired from birth is part of my motherhood journey, and that's something I am so very proud of.
WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO TELL NEW MOTHERS?
Nothing can truly prepare you for motherhood. But you’ll be surprised at how much stuff will come to you instinctively. Go with your gut, and don’t overthink things. Definitely don’t be embarrassed or afraid to ask questions if you think something feels off as well. I learnt my lesson the hard way with my firstborn. I was in a lot of pain and feeling really sick and terrible the week following the birth. I voiced a few concerns to the midwife, but really downplayed it because I thought I was just being weak and not handling postpartum recovery very well. Turns out I had a raging infection and had to be rushed to hospital a week after birth.
WHAT HELPED YOU THE MOST IN YOUR POSTPARTUM JOURNEY?
My village. Would not have made it through sane without the incredible help of my family and friends. Honestly, it really does take a village to raise a kid, and the better the village, the better the journey.