I don't know if it was just that the due date was the next day, or my motherly instinct screaming out to me that things were ripening up nicely, but the night before we also decided that it would be a wise move to ready the lounge for the birth so that Ingo wasn't inflating the pool or moving sofas while I was trying to focus on breathing through contractions.
On Sunday morning I woke up at 6am and stumbled, bleary eyed, to the toilet for a wee, all pretty normal in the latter stages of this pregnancy. I snuggled back into bed and started to drift off, vaguely aware of my stomach hardening and tightening through an intense wave of Braxton Hicks contractions. Through the early morning doziness I started to become more conscious that the tightening was changing, like a band round my pelvis and under my bump, not just the indiscriminate hardening of Braxton Hicks. I lay still and quiet in the dark and focused my attention on my body and my baby girl, who was moving gently inside my uterus.
Then the intense tightening came again and this time I knew that my body was readying itself for labour.
I checked the time. Two short, painless contractions in 30 minutes, not much to go on but enough for me to get excited. Ingo was already half awake so I let him know that I thought I was starting to go into labour but I wasn't totally sure. I put on some relaxing music, snuggled back into bed and I sent a text saying STAND BY to my dear friend Sam, who I wanted to be at the birth as she had been an incredible support physically and emotionally through both pregnancies and the first years of Leelah's life.
Then another wave of sensation hit and this time it was stronger again. It was 6.40am and I decided to call Sam and told her to get on her way round just in case, even if I wasn't in labour I said we could have a cuppa and some breakfast together.
We headed downstairs and I let my parents, who were staying with us, know that I was about to call the midwife even though I wasn't in the three contractions within 10 minutes zone. I had been roughly timing contractions and by 6.50am they were lasting one minute and coming every six minutes. Definitely regular and getting closer together with each contraction, things were progressing fast.
I called the midwife at 7am as we really wanted them with us this time. I had a brief chat and filled them in on my previous birth with Leelah and the fact that things where moving quickly this time and that I (and Ingo!) would appreciate someone coming out as soon as possible. The midwife on call phoned back quickly and reassured me
that she and her colleague woud be with us within 40 minutes. At this point Ingo had a brief panic as he thought it might be too late. I reassured him that the contractions were too far apart and not at all painful so I was sure they would be here on time.
At this point I was on top of the contractions, using my ball on all fours and doing farty horse lips to the crescendo of the contractions (thanks Mitch at Birthology for this tip), and singing and sighing as the waves subsided. Ingo stayed with me and massaged my lower back and spine each time while my Dad sorted out the pool and my Mum wandered about purposefully with her camera.
Sam arrived at 7.15am and by then contractions had increased in intensity and were coming every five minutes. I was heading rapidly into established labour and I was still happy and relaxed between contractions, laughing and joking with Sam and Ingo. As each contraction began I knelt down, hugged the ball and swayed my hips while they massaged my back, I focused right into the sensations allowing myself to completely acknowledge and understand what was happening to my body and my baby. I remember my Mum walking in mid contraction and complaining that her camera flash wasn't working! Not really the most important thing on my mind at that moment and I chose a couple of colourful words to let her know. Sorry Mum.
At 7.45am the first midwife arrived followed closely by the second midwife at 7.55am. They took my blood pressure and listened to baby, all wonderful.
Then everything accelerated, and slowed down all at the same time...
I became less aware of what was going on around me and more focused on the contractions and my breathing. Flashes of what was happening seeped into my awareness:
Hearing my Mum take Leelah, my two year old daughter, downstairs into the kitchen for breakfast.
Hearing Leelah's sweet voice saying "Mummy is busy and she's singing" and "Mummy is letting the baby out in the pool".
Ingo running up and down the stairs with my Dad, bringing boiled water up from the kitchen for the pool.
Hearing Ingo ordering my Dad not to take away the big saucepan with handles as that was my sick bucket.
Seeing Ingo standing by the pool dripping with sweat.
On all fours hugging my ball.
Being massaged by Ingo and Sam, soothing hands helping me ride through the contractions.
Hugging Ingo through a contraction.
By 8.15am I couldn't stand up at all as the contractions were continuous, so I crawled about on the floor making horse noises and loud ahhhhhhhh singing sounds. Ah hello transition.
Suddenly the sensations changed and I told the midwives I could feel Marlene bearing down and I wanted to get in the pool quickly, the tell tale pressure in my lower back and bum told me everything I needed to know. I was ready, she was ready. But the midwife wanted me to quickly lie on my back so she could check I was fully dilated. I looked at her incredulously and declared I CANNOT LIE ON MY BACK I WANT TO PUSH. I was calm but the thought of lying down was pretty abhorrent. In a brief pause in contractions I reluctantly rolled over and a swift examination confirmed that I was fully dilated after only an hour and 10 minutes of active labour.
It was time to enter the water.
I swiftly stripped off and clambered into the pool and almost immediately was swept up in a powerful pushing sensation. I fell silent and leant against the side of the pool, my arms around Ingo's neck as he washed water over my back.
I focused right into the sensation, all my concentration flowing down to my baby imagining her travelling down and out. It was such a powerful feeling. I heard the midwives and Ingo gently encouraging me. No need to push as I felt her move down. I just breathed deeply down, down into my body. Then the sensation subsided and I came back to the room, a few minutes later and after two more powerful pushing contractions I felt Marlene crown, a burning sensation which receded as the contraction slowed and she gently retreated.
As I came up out of the contraction I realised my parents and daughter were by the pool alongside my husband and Sam. Leelah my beautiful, perfect first daughter was right in front of me watching as with one final powerful contraction Marlene, her baby sister, floated out into the pool and I scooped her gently to the surface.
Her tiny face up turned, so peaceful and calm.
I gently drew her head to my chest, both of us buoyed by the water. Slowly she opened her eyes and mouth and drew her first deep breath. I looked up at the faces around me full of tears, smiles and joy.
Welcome to the world tiny girl.