Our baby boy Raffaello a.k.a the Milk Dragon was born on 28 April 2023 in what appeared to be a textbook case of physiological birth. I call this OUR birthing story, because we truly made this magic happen as a dream team. Me, my husband Giacomo and Raffaello.
Since I was six months pregnant I kept predicting that baby boy will arrive ahead of his due date. When I was well in my third trimester I was just praying, visualizing and talking to Raffaello to stay long enough so that we can birth at Le Cocon, a birthing home ran by wonderful midwives that promote respectful natural birth. I could only deliver there after 37th week of pregnancy, and when I passed that threshold I was grateful, relaxed and let things unravel on their own.
It was two days before I hit 38 weeks when I went for an emergency consultation wondering whether I’m possibly leaking amniotic fluid. It was false alarm, but if there's one thing this pregnancy taught me, it's to go get a checkup rather than stress about random conditions and circumstances.
That same evening, I felt rather tired so we cuddled up in bed, resting, each of us reading their own book and just enjoying this warm, loving, peaceful moment. Our housemate came for a chat and while we were talking I felt a little pop somewhere within. A moment later I got up to go to bathroom and splaaash.
Clearly this was no false alarm, my water broke! I didn’t expect this movie-like scenario and started laughing. Well, at least my hospital bag was ready thanks to the morning false alarm. Suddenly, I felt all energized and giddy. My baby is coming earth side and we’ll meet him soon! I was excited.
I didn’t have any contractions yet, so we called Le Cocon to understand how to proceed and Giac went to make a veggie soup for me. Having nutritious food available had been really important for me throughout pregnancy and it didn’t change on the verge of delivery and now in postpartum period.
We spent the first part of labour cozied up at home. We ate late night dinner and rested. Giac fell asleep and I was breathing through the first contractions, noting down their timing, I snoozed here and there and got up for some gentle movement, walking, dancing, yoga.
I just let my body guide me in whatever it needed to do.
Around 3 am my contractions were well established and intensifying. I was tempted to call Cocon again, but I also felt strong desire to rest some more. I was craving another moment of warm fuzzy peace before embarking onto this grand adventure.
We arrived to the hospital around 7 am after nutritious breakfast at home. At that point I had to pause and breath through contractions, but I was still there, chatting and joking around. We were admitted to Cocon, got our first and only heart monitoring where I was attached to the machine, and were left on our own knowing that Laure, our midwife, is around whenever we need. I wanted to sleep and so we curled up in bed one more time for a cat nap.
I entered active labour around 9 am. Giac went out from the room just for a moment to get me water from the water fountain which was pleasantly cool and fresh. Upon his return he found me already on the planet Birth and I needed him right there. “From now on you’re not going anywhere.” I became very direct. Gone was the girl who didn’t want to bother anyone.
A lot has happened between now and 15:19 when our boy shot out from me. I am not sure I have processed it myself just yet (I’m 36 days postpartum as I type this), so let me try to capture it with words the best I can, but ask me again in a month, a year or a few… The story will probably get some updates.
As active labour started I relied more than ever on my intuition and on my breath. I let myself be guided by the needs of my body. During pregnancy I was sometimes wondering what will be my preferred birthing position. Right there in the now my body just guided me from one form to another.
What seemed to work the best in one moment was unacceptable short while later.
All I knew was that I wanted to birth in water. Despite this fluidity I found myself mainly on all four, leaning on the bed frame or large ball and eventually the edge of the birthing pool. I absolutely loved the transition to water. It really helped me relax and even come back to the chatty mood between contractions for a short moment.
Things got rather intense at one point and Laure suggested I come out of the pool to try a few other positions to help baby find its way out. We were stagnating, it seemed, but I appreciated that nobody ever used any vocabulary that would make me worry or discourage me. Giac was doing tremendous job massaging my back through each contraction and simply being exactly where I needed him to be. Laure and Lea, student midwife, assisting with encouraging words, helped me breath and made sure I stayed hydrated. They left it all on us but carefully assessing how both me and baby are doing and if they need to gently intervene.
Breath and sound were my close friends at that moment as was Giac’s touch and Laure’s and Lea’s encouragement. I also felt deeply connected with Raffaello who was moving the entire time. Wiggling and kicking inside, doing his job and wanting to meet us.
I came out from the tub, legs weak and shaky. Only there I realize how heavy and hurting I felt without the hug of warm water. I collapsed down on all four again, shaking and crying. I was shocked, I wasn’t aware my body can tremble so violently, but Laure reassured me that it’s perfectly normal. She encouraged me to cry.
Allow me a little intermezzo
This moment was rather particular for me and I honestly don’t remember, if it happened in this order or before I even got to the tub. I started sobbing and crying a lot and I asked Laure, if it’s ok to cry. In that moment it felt like I’m doing it wrong. Birthing was painful but it was magnificent and happy occasion, because I was bringing our baby to the world. It felt inappropriate to cry.
Deep within I was in a dark place.
I was not handling the pain well and as a person living with pain due to fibromyalgia I entered a hidden realm where some of my fears, thoughts and sentiments around pain surfaced with the intensity of the experience. Laure was brilliant and asked me all the right questions. What are you afraid of? What are you feeling? I didn’t need to answer. It was hard to talk. But I answered to myself and it was relieving to admit that I am really scared of the next wave, as each was getting more and more intense and with each I thought I cannot handle anything stronger.
On Laure’s suggestion I tried to change position and went sidelying in bed. Giac was by my side and holding me tight. He held me tight through each and every contraction, later telling me he was shocked how much force I could muster. Again, I let my body do its thing, only noticing somewhere in the foggy realm what my legs are doing. I was closing my knees and opening my lower legs… it only meant that baby was getting through the bony pelvis.
I moved back into water and shortly I felt that Raffaello is going to come through. He was pushing on my perineum and I suddenly understood why they call this the circle of fire. Michele, a midwife that held the perineum prep class, suggested we rather call it circle of light but my sarcastic me made a mental note there in the heat of the moment to tell her it has nothing to do with peaceful walk in the sun. Circle of fire it was.
At that point I was no longer in charge. My voice went surreal, producing deep animalistic sounds with every contraction. I was partially hanging on a strap hanging from the ceiling over the tub and partially on Giacomo who was bending over the tub from outside. I think his back remembers this until today. I was struggling. I was very much relying on the resting time between contractions, but they were coming too fast or even one after another with no break. I wanted out. I felt like I cannot handle this anymore and realized with absolute terror that I cannot stop this, that I am not in control. My body was. And thankfully so.
My body was pushing on its own with each massive wave of contractions. I’ve no idea how long this phase took. My wild guess is 20-30 minutes?
In a precious pause that was still too short, Laure suggested I feel the head of the baby. He was almost out. She tried to tell me that with the next contraction I push just a little and then stop and breathe, so I don’t get hurt. I was completely gone on the outside, but laughed hysterically on the inside – like I could actually control anything?
I noticed red light in the pool as Laure and Lea were trying to see the head of the baby and someone suggested to Giac to come to the other side to see and to catch the baby. I just said – you’re staying here. I couldn’t handle any change and absolutely needed to hang on him through the next contraction.
It came. A massive overwhelming wave. I felt the head getting through and then all of a sudden Raffaello shot out in his entirety. Not a head, pause, shoulders, pause, rest of the body. He just decided to shoot out in one go. Everybody was shocked, and then there was baby floating in the pool. For a millisecond I wasn’t sure what to do. Then I came to my senses, grabbed my baby and pulled him out from the water.
From the circle of fire, my guttural screams and violent contractions, there was me sobbing, laughing and falling in insane love with my baby. He cried once, smiled tiny bit and started looking for my breast. I remember looking at Giacomo, Raffaello in my arms, and sobbing “we have a baby”.
It was crazy how quickly I landed from this in-between space back into reality and was able to talk and rationalize.
How the hell am I going to get out from the tub? I was shaking, felt like I’m broken in million pieces and had a tiny human in my arms that I really didn’t want to drop.
The midwives helped me skillfully out and let me to bed to check my perineum and help me birth the placenta. I had Raffaello skin to skin the whole time and he was happily sucking on my breast (another tiny rush of pain from this new sensation).
Lea starting cleaning me and I got nervous. If I needed any stitches I wasn’t really ready for another painful event. What a surprise when we found out I had no tearing! Just a few scratches but no need for stitching. I was so grateful! All my work on relaxing and softening the pelvic floor during pregnancy seemed to pay off!
My placenta came out shortly and Giac cut the umbilical cord when we were sure it stopped pulsing and blood was no longer flowing. We were left on our own to enjoy time as new family, skin to skin with our baby, resting in cozy warm intimate space under the covers.
Honestly, I couldn’t have wished for better experience for our first delivery.
Yes, it was intense, painful and I had dark moments. But I remember this day with love and affection. It was transformational and I am grateful to my body, to Giacomo, to Laure and Lea and the whole team at Le Cocon who made us feel empowered, respected and capable to deliver naturally without medication, just as nature intended.
I am aware that my story is not one that every birthing woman can tell. Sometimes medical interventions are required and lifesaving. Sometimes, and sadly, birthing is taken away from the woman and medicalized unnecessarily and without respect to the birthing person. That’s why I’m so grateful for finding Le Cocon and I share my story so that the positive experience is out there and shared. To show that it is possible. To show that we can.