Thinking & Feeling

“The world is a tragedy to those who feel, but a comedy to those who think.” Horace Walpole

Thursday, 26 April 2018

The birth of Benjamin Bodhi Achilles

TMI Notice. This is a birth story, with images of birth. Read at your own discretion and only if you are comfortable with descriptions and images of birth.

All photos, after the first 2 & 4th (which were taken by Andrew), by Sam of Twinkle Star Photography

This pregnancy was much harder on me than the previous ones. In all aspects. Physically, mentally, emotionally... I felt sick and tired for most of it. There was more fear and uncertainty. I wasn't sure I could trust myself to know what to do. Natey's death shook the very core of my confidence and feeling of competence. I also had a failure of faith. I usually feel complete trust and faith that all will be well and that I, and my body knows what it is doing. This time nothing was certain. Added to that were the extra fears, risks and unknowns related to being so much older (43 turning 44 next week!). 

There were just no guarantees. And so I was more cautious, more quiet, more internalised, and less active physically and socially. We didn't share the news of my pregnancy openly outside of our immediate circle until the 3rd trimester. I stayed focused on work and my studies for the most part and didn't have energy for much else. Most days I'd return from work too tired and feeling too ill to do much more than eat and go to bed. 

So it wasn't the most enjoyable pregnancy at all. But thankfully as it progressed all indications were that all the important things (like the baby's health and development) were well and there were no issues.

As I allowed myself to think about and visualise the birth I realised I wanted a similar experience to Natey's birth. I didn't want fear and lack of self confidence to undermine what I knew could and should be another wonderful and natural experience. The thought of a standard hospital and medically managed birth just holds no appeal to me at all. I have come to know, and believe, that it can (and should) be so much better and so much more than that. I knew I wanted to set-up for a similar birth. But at the same time I wanted to be a bit more cautious. And that meant making sure I wasn't alone this time.

Natey was born unexpectedly as an unassisted birth. Meaning I birthed him myself - because the midwife did not arrive on time. It was an incredible experience which is forever etched into my heart and memories. But he came out unresponsive at first and there was a tense moment before he 'woke up' while I was stimulating him and on the verge of wondering if he needed resuscitation. He soon did respond and all was well. But I was not so lucky when I ended up alone with him at the end of his life, and the job and responsibility of resuscitation fell on me, and I failed. I was sure I didn't want to be in the situation of being solely responsible should any resuscitation be needed... So I found a midwife (the wonderful Ruth Ehrhardt of True Midwifery) to support us, and also a back-up gynae and hospital in case that would be needed.

Anyway, the pregnancy progressed as they do. I worked up to 38.5 weeks and then went off on maternity leave on 6 April.

I spent the first week 'off' taking care of a dozen admin tasks, and basically getting life in order. The second week was spent at the gym each morning walking on the treadmill, and resting in the afternoons. It was a nice change of pace to be both more physically active again and also more relaxed, and less busy and in my head.

I had my 40-week check up and all was looking good. But there was no sign of labour any time soon. So both my midwife, Ruth, and I thought she'd see me at my 41-week appointment and beyond... 

I'd tried feeling my cervix a couple of times in the previous 10-days or so and couldn't even find it. So I thought it was probably still high and closed. I wasn't expecting any action till closer to the week-end at least. But I woke up at 3:40 on Tues early morning (40w6d), to pee as usual, and had some bloody mucous. I went back to bed with a towel. Noticing mild contractions coming every 10 mins, but I was comfortable and able to doze so I dozed between them until 06:30.

I then got up and got the boys an Uber to school instead of taking them, telling them I thought it was possibly labour day. Being up and active the contractions were coming every 3-4 mins, but still pretty mild. I could still move around through them. I had a few cups of red raspberry leaf and nettle tea. And I let Ruth know that things seemed to be slowly starting, while wandering around downstairs and checking emails etc.

After 8am I went up to the bedroom to take Andrew coffee. I did some organising and bounced on yoga ball a bit. Contractions spaced out a bit again and felt less intense with Andrew walking and talking around me. I definitely like to be by myself in labour. He realised this and went downstairs for a while. And after a while contractions came on more regularly again. I put on some Cafe Del Mar music and just hung out in the bedroom area drinking tea. 
At about 10am we called Ruth to come. As I could feel things getting more intense, I was feeling nauseous at times, and she was a good hour's travel away.

At close to 11am I decided to get in the bath. At that point I had no idea if it was going to be 30 mins, 3 hours or 3 days still. It's so hard to know! But I'd been anticipating being able to sit in a bath of water - this is no longer something we can do in Cape Town's dire drought, and I'd literally spent months washing in about 2l of water to 'save my rations' for being able to birth in water. I added some essential oils to the water (Lavender, Clary Sage, Neroli & Ylang Ylang). Once in the bath I tried an internal and could feel his head, but thought I was feeling it through my vaginal wall. I thought my cervix was still only 3-4cm at that point, but I wasn't sure, as it was not clear what exactly I was feeling. It was all still quite bearable though. Although I was starting to 'go inside' to cope during contractions.
Around 11:30 my midwife arrived. She did one Doppler heart-rate check and then left the room to give me privacy to do my thing again. Andrew mostly stayed with me, quietly, after that.

Our photographer friend Sam arrived. She was meant to just be there post-birth to do some fresh newborn shots. Andrew asked if she could come in. I didn't really care at that point. I opened my eyes as she came in, but after that it was like she wasn't there. She melted into the background and I was right within myself anyway... I mostly kept my eyes closed and was doing my own thing. Deep breathing and blowing through each contraction.
Andrew called Ruth to come back in at about 12:15. As I was clearly dealing with much more intense labour then. I started feeling pressure too. Ruth sat quitely crouched down near the bath and didn't say a word or even look directly at me. She believes that labour should be undisturbed and most unobserved. She is quite incredible. She is very empowering in a very humble and non-ego way.
It must have been around 12:30 when I started grunting and pushing a bit. It was pretty intense with a lot of pressure. I wasn't all that sure what was going on. There wasn't a clear change from normal contractions to definite pushing at first. I actually thought I just needed to pee... I was doing my own internals every few contractions and noticed his head moving down with each contraction. So yep, pushing it was then so I focused more deliberately on bearing down.
When it was clear birth was imminent the Ruth came closer but still just watched silently as I did my thing. I was moving around in the bath as felt right at the time. She never commented.

Then the head started crowning around my hands which I used as counter-pressure support - holy heck the membranes were still in tact so his head had a whole 'water balloon' around it. I was panting, blowing and pushing trying to control his exit so as not to tear. It's hard to hold back, but I knew if I didn't I'd tear. I think I was quite vocal then.

Once his head had eased out. I waited while I felt him twist ready for his shoulders to come. I could feel his whole head and ears etc inside the 'balloon'. Once he had moved to free his shoulder I pushed hard and watched his whole body slide out. All still inside his sac! 
As I lifted him up the sac opened and stripped off and stayed with the placenta while I pulled him free and up onto me at 12:49.
After 20 mins or so of chilling in the bath rubbing him and watching him wake up, breathe and get pink. 
I asked the Ruth to cut the cord, which Andrew did. Andrew and baby went to do skin on skin on the bed, while I stayed in the bath. Ruth said to do the placenta as and when I wanted. I ended up tugging the cord a bit and felt it moving down, so she said it was fine to pull cord if I wanted to. So I did while bearing down and pushed that giant sucker out. It felt like another baby it was pretty big! 
After that I got out the bath and went to the bed. Ruth left the room for a good hour to give us space while she wrote up notes and checked the placenta (which was heart shaped!). etc.
After she came back we measured and weighed him. 4.25kgs/9lbs6. 54 cm long and 34cm head circumference, and did the newborn health and reflex checks. All very respectfully and calmingly. Baby had no squashed head or face at all - the benefit of the sac and waters I think...
 Apart from it being intense at the end (which is part of the deal after all) and feeling a bit stingy (no tears but a very slight skid mark) now. It was a pretty perfect birth!

Welcome home little Benjamin.

Thanks to:
- Andrew for his constant love and support. And for again being calm and quiet and trusting me with this very important and significant job.
- Ruth for being the perfect midwife. She is quiet, respectful, reverent,  and completely trusting and supportive of physiological birth. She feels no need or reason to direct or cheer-lead at all. But just quietly be present, in case she is needed. It is so empowering being 'allowed' to fully trust your instincts and do birth the way nature intended.
- Sam for being so quiet, respectful and unobtrusive and yet being able to so beautifully and poignantly catch all these very precious moments. They are so fleeting and with the enormity and sometimes overwhelmingness of the actual moment it's hard to remember the details afterwards. Having the memories captured is invaluable.
- Our on stand-by Ob/Gyn Dr Catherine Elliot. For being supportive, practical, and trusting us. That we knew what we were doing, to be sensible, and so being willing to be an emergency back-up in the event that we needed to transfer to hospital. Not many doctors are prepared to support a home birth.
- For all our friends and family who have stood by us and carried us through the past 16 months through devastating tragedy, grief, mourning, and through to new hope. We couldn't have done it without all of the love and support from you all.
- And finally to dear darling Natey. Who is ever present in our minds and hearts and will never be forgotten. We still don't know or understand why his time with us was so short, but because of that Benjamin is here now. For that we are thankful. Thanks for all you were and all you taught us Natey. We love and miss you eternally.


  1. I love you Jane. And Andrew. You are awesome. I am so much respect for you. I love reading Benjamin's birth story. What a special boy, what a special family.

  2. I cried and smiled. My heart is so happy reading this. What a lovely birth story Jane. <3 He is a gorgeous, perfect little baba. You did so so well. I'm in awe of your body. Well done, and congratulations.

  3. Loved reading your birth story. You have such an amazing way with words. Congrats on your beautiful baby boy. Love the photo of those little feet xx

  4. This was so beautifully written. I'm so glad you got to have the birth you wanted. Benjamin is just perfect. I hope that when I go to cape town at some stage, we can meet up again. I want to meet this little guy. Rest up and take care. I'm very proud of you.

  5. Jane thank you for sharing with us so willingly and for letting us be part of the life journey you have been chosen to travel. I am inspired by you in so many ways. Rest, revel and remember xxx

  6. Jane! Thank you for this most wonderful and miraculous life event you have shared with us. You write so beautifully and the photos are breathtaking!
    Mazaltov to you, Andrew and your boys on the arrival of Benjamin! ❤️❤️❤️❤️

  7. Aaah Jane... so special and beautiful. He is one lucky boy to have you and Andrew as parents. Welcome to the world little Benjamin. ❤❤❤

  8. Such a beautiful story of a beautiful birth. We wish you all so much fun and joy with this little guy. He has a special guardian angel in his brother Natey.
    Remember my dream and the permission of your boys to love them both and the space you have in your heart for all 5 of your kids. Love you ⭐️⭐️⭐️

  9. Thank you for sharing Jane. You are an inspiration. Hope Benjamin brings you so much joy and happiness.

  10. Thank you Jane for sharing such a lovely birth story. I am sure Natey is looking down at his parents and little brother with love and pride.

  11. You look so beautiful and peaceful after his birth ❤️

  12. Wow wow wow. I have thought of you so often since your post on Natey was shared. As a mom my heart smashed into pieces reading that post. Now as a mom who also did natural birth I am in awe of your calmness and trust of your ability. I have no doubt Benjamin will bring you such love and joy. I am so happy for you and Andrew. Thank you for sharing your journey and your soul. Xxxx

  13. Thank you for sharing your journey, Jane! Your story continues to bring tears to my face, but this time it was tears of joy...even though i dont know you. May this perfect boy bring you and Andrew endless joy and happiness!

  14. Jane thanks for sharing Benjamin's birth story, it's beautiful! Angelique

  15. I am so incredibly happy to read this and see these beautiful, precious photos - so much love and gratitude to you for being so willing to share this journey with so many x

  16. My heart's condition after reading about your experience and seeing the pictures is difficult to sum up in words. I cried happy tears and am just so grateful to you for sharing in so much detail. You're a very brave woman Jane, just bursting with courage and I wish you knew fully how helpful it is to others that you're such an open book. As I count down the days to the arrival of our little boy my fear is replaced with hope and looking forward. Thank you so so so much God bless you and your family. Love Nomthi

  17. Congratulations to you and Andrew, Jane. What a wonderful blessing baby Benjamin must be to you both.