Wilkie’s birth was always going to be different. For one, we planned a home birth, something I had always liked the idea of but had never experienced before. In the weeks and days ahead of his arrival we made all of the necessary preparations — we talked through the birth plan with our midwife, we had an inflatable birth pool in our bedroom waiting to be pumped up, and we had briefed the children who were hoping to be present to watch the birth of their sibling. He would also be our first baby born outside of the UK. I had envisioned sunshine and blue skies welcoming him to Australia, but the forecast was for rain and stormy weather all week long. Mom reassured me that it was perfect ‘baby holding’ weather – all we needed was our baby!
For the 10 days leading up to the 18th I was a mix of emotions. Part of me wanted to savour every last day of being pregnant, the very last time I would await a baby. The other part couldn’t stop wondering when this baby would arrive — wishing it would be soon… growing slightly anxious. Having given birth four times before, I knew better than to start overthinking things. I knew that no amount of planning or hoping or fretting would change the course of the events ahead. And yet, I started overthinking. I thought about silly things like the baby’s birth date and the numbers I preferred (evens over odds). I worried about the baby’s weight and giving birth to a really big baby (aren’t subsequent babies supposed to be bigger?). I even worried, as the days went on, that if I went six days overdue we wouldn’t get a Pisces baby, which seemed so fitting after our year spent on the world’s oceans (since when do I pay attention to these things?!). Apparently silly things enter the brain of a woman who is three days past her due date. Even when she knows better.
It was now Saturday the 18th of March and still no major signs of our baby. Aside from the occasional Braxton Hicks contraction, which I’d been having for the past week; labour might yet be days away. We decided to get out of the house and go to The Farm for lunch. I had their delicious aubergine sandwich and we shared their amazing jam donuts for dessert. As we sat at the big wooden table eating, I had a contraction that seemed stronger and longer than the previous ones. I didn’t say anything to anyone for fear of raising false hopes. Maybe the baby just liked the donuts.
There was a break in the rain after lunch so we made our way to the tea tree lake in Lennox Head. The kids were desperate for a swim and I thought I might join them. Driving to Lake Ainsworth, I had two more of the stronger contractions. Still, I said nothing.
As my mom and sister swam with the kids I sat with Michael on a beach towel plopped down beside the lake. Another contraction came and I decided it was time to share my secret. I told him these could be real ones. He looked at me with excitement. Then the rain started to sprinkle and everyone came swimming back to the shore hurriedly. We scrambled to grab everything and get back into the car before the heavens opened up. On the 25-minute drive back home I had three more contractions.
The contractions continued that afternoon but I knew from experience it wasn’t full labour yet. Michael and I decided to make vegetarian chilli for dinner. We chopped tomatoes, courgettes, peppers and aubergines while Mom and Meg played games with the kids downstairs. As we made dinner I felt the contractions getting slightly stronger; strong enough for me to pause the chopping when they came. I could also feel the adrenaline building. These were labour contractions now, not Braxton Hicks, so I decided to walk up and down the stairs a few times to get things moving.
We sat down for dinner around 7pm and I told everyone I was having contractions. I remember looking over at Marlow and feeling sudden pangs of guilt. She was going to be bumped as our baby. I told her she would always be my baby girl and she looked at me with her very Marlow, ‘I’m fine’ expression. She didn’t need to be reassured. Marlow has always been like that – so confident and emotionally resilient. I stood up from my seat and leant against the wall for the next couple contractions.
After dinner, my contractions were still irregular, but were coming through stronger and longer. I didn’t think we needed to call our midwife just yet, but I wanted to go into my bedroom to get things ready. Michael needed to finish inflating the birth pool and I wanted to prepare my bed.
Mom put a movie on the laptop for the kids while my sister cleaned up the dinner dishes. Michael and I went into our bedroom and I continued to labour with long-lasting but irregularly timed contractions. Michael dimmed the lights, lit candles and put some music on. I remember him setting up the speaker as I experienced a series of stronger contractions. I leaned against the wall in our bedroom and let my lips flutter as I exhaled, trying to relax my mouth and body.
Around 9pm Michael suggested we call our midwife, Leanne. When she picked up, I told her I was in labour, but quickly had to pass the phone to Michael as a strong contraction swept through me. She told him to start filling the pool and she’d be over as quickly as she could.
Leanne arrived around 9:40, though by this time I was unaware of anything happening outside of my body. My brain had entered that soft, inward state – edges, objects and details blurred, the room dark, the pain coming in waves, rushing over my body. When I first saw Leanne she looked at me and reassuringly said ‘that was a big one’ referring to the contraction I had just experienced. The look in her eyes told me that she knew this baby was coming. She quickly checked the baby’s heartbeat and took my blood pressure before the next contraction came.
Meanwhile Michael was rushing to get the birth pool filled. The warm water just wouldn’t come out of the tap quickly enough so Leanne asked my mom to start heating pots on the stovetop. There was a lot of rushed, frantic activity in the room and I quickly ducked into our bathroom for the next contraction. It was severe. I was leaning against our bathroom counter with pain so strong I couldn’t decide whether to sit or to stand. I tried to relax my mouth and my body, but this time it was noticeably more difficult to endure the pain and remain relaxed. I envisioned my cervix as a flower, opening up. I fluttered my lips, exhaled and groaned. Just then I felt my cervix open and my waters broke. Water dripped down my legs, blood too. I was now squatting on the floor and felt pain in my bottom and my back. The pool wasn’t quite ready and I worried I might give birth right there on the bathroom floor. Mom came rushing in carrying pots of water and I squatted aside the pool for the next contraction. I hung my left arm over the side and felt warm water. It was nearly ready for me and I suddenly felt the urge to push.
A moment later Leanne gave me the ‘all clear’ to get in the pool, but I felt completely paralysed from the waist down. I couldn’t move my legs and there was no way I could climb into the pool. Somehow Michael lifted me as I remained in the squatting position. He helped me into the warm water, which felt so welcoming against my tense body. Within seconds I had the urge to push. Leanne and her partner, Kris, called everyone in—baby was coming! I pushed and looked down. Through the water I saw the baby’s face looking up at me. He was in the posterior position and came out looking up. I looked into Leanne’s eyes. She smiled reassuringly—it was fine. The kids came rushing into the room along with my mom and sister – they could see the baby’s face. I pushed once more and gently lifted him up to my chest. He was in my arms. I felt such an enormous sense of relief and also, a bit of shock –it had all happened so fast! He was born at 10:15pm. We had all been eating dinner only a few hours before. The kids had barely finished watching their movie. Yet here I was, sitting in the pool holding our baby, surrounded by everyone in the house – Michael, the kids, my mom, my sister and two midwives.
“What is it?” Ivy shouted. “What’s its name?” she asked again. For some reason I didn’t feel compelled to lift the baby from my chest to find out the gender. I held the baby tightly and just looked up at all the children. I just wanted to savour that moment, to take in what had just happened, and to tune into each of the kids as they stood there at the edge of the pool having just witnessed childbirth for the first time in their lives.
I saw Easton standing directly in front of me, pressed against the pool. He was crying uncontrollably, wiping the tears from his eyes as they continued to fall. Of everything that happened that night, I think this is the moment that will always stay with me: my eldest child crying tears of joy, so moved by the moment. Remembering him experiencing such deep, grown-up emotions, brings tears to my eyes whenever I think about it. I am so thankful he got to experience this.
I scanned the room for Marlow. While the three big kids were standing directly in front of me, Marlow was standing slightly behind, right next to Michael. I looked over at her and found her wide eyes, just above the edge of the birth pool, staring straight at the baby and me. I don’t think I have ever seen her eyes look as big as they did in that moment. She watched so quietly, standing there, taking everything in.
Ivy asked again, “What is it? What’s its name?!!!!” She needed to know.
After what felt like 10-minutes but was probably two, I lifted the baby from my chest and looked down to see the gender. “It’s a boy!” I announced, feeling immediately certain that this was exactly what was meant to be. I never had a feeling during the pregnancy but suddenly it made perfect sense. How could this baby be anything but a boy? Of course it was him in there all along. Our baby boy!
Of all the children, Quin was the one who, from the very beginning, wanted a baby brother. When I announced it was a boy, I looked up at him, standing off to my right. He started squealing with delight and jumping up and down–so, so happy to have a younger brother. We decided that Quin should be the one who cuts the umbilical cord. And surprisingly, none of the other children protested.
My friend Millie arrived about 15 minutes after Wilkie was born. I was still in the pool when she walked in expecting to photograph the final moments of my labour and birth, surprised to see there was already a baby! Millie stayed to document his precious first hours of life. It was so easy and natural having her with us, and she captured these precious moments as the children met their baby brother in a way we never could have ourselves.
Time seemed to stand still over the next few hours. Our family huddled together on my bed, cocooned in a cosy, magical bubble while the skies thundered and heavy rain belted down outside. We took turns holding and admiring our serene little boy. We talked about the thick layer of vernix that covered his body, we admired his long fingers and toes and tried to figure out which of the other kids he looked most like. The midwives weighed and measured him: 3.8 kilos and 55cm, then left us alone with our little treasure.
Marlow slowly fell asleep on Michael while the other kids helped me dress and swaddle our baby boy. Mom and Meaghan took turns holding him before saying goodnight and taking the big kids with them. Michael and I found ourselves alone in our room with a sleepy baby in our arms. The night I never wanted to end was coming to a close.
Michael and Wilkie slept peacefully that night as the storm raged on, while I lay there wide awake, still buzzing with endorphins and adrenaline, unable to put my mind to rest. What an incredible night it had been. I had always wanted a home birth and could hardly believe it had just happened. How fortunate we were and how incredible for our family to have this experience together. I lay there admiring our baby as he slept so beautifully next to me.
Waking the next morning I felt as if I had just emerged from a beautiful dream. I stepped out of my bedroom for the first time since the evening before, with a bundle of sweetness in my arms and my heart as full as it’s ever been.
All the photos above, except for the last two, were taken by our friend Amelia Fullarton.