At 11 pm on the 3rd October 2023, I birthed a beautiful daughter into the world. My first child, my first experience of pregnancy and birth and my first initiation into motherhood. I chose to do it differently. I chose to freebirth.
The picture above was taken on 30th September. I was 41 weeks and 3 days, heavily pregnant and waiting for baby to decide they were ready for arrival. I knew that if midwives had been involved in my journey, they would have wanted to start hurrying things along by now, believing that a "late" baby was one in danger. I didn't birth our child until 42 weeks and 6 days, but I trusted my body and my baby completely, knowing that it would all happen in divine timing. I don't believe in the concept of a baby being late, they simply decide when they are ready to be born.
The night before I had been up for several hours experiencing various sensations. No pain, but strong enough to keep me awake. However, they disappeared with the rise of the sun so I spent the day making final preparations in my chosen birth space and walking around the lakes.
Towards the evening I started experiencing sensations while we were chilling on the sofa. We entertained ourselves watching Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone, a childhood favourite of mine. Jason and I were excited, but not rushing. We went to bed after the film and I woke around 2 am with cramping feelings in my belly. They started out mild and slowly got stronger. Similar to the night before, they were nothing overwhelming, but enough to keep me awake. I found myself feeling uncomfortable in bed so got up and stood in the bathroom, breathing and swaying with the sensations.
By mid morning, they had completely stopped and it was as if nothing had happened. I knew birth was coming closer, but I anticipated it could still be a long while (and it was!) so I didn't let anyone other than Jason know. It was our plan from the beginning to keep the process calm and personal without too much disturbance, so even though I wanted my mum to be here by the time baby arrived, I didn't feel it was yet the moment to announce that labour was on its way.
The morning passed and we carried on as normal, saying goodbye to the yoga retreat guests that had been staying here and doing our usual rounds of the site. As the afternoon came, sensations started again but only mildly. I knew things were happening but it was slow and didn't interfere with my ability to carry on as normal. It was around 6 pm that it started to ramp up slightly and I asked Jason to let the other people staying at the retreat know that we wouldn't be joining them for dinner. It was time to hibernate and prepare.
We watched another film together that evening but I missed most of it as the sensations were requiring more of my attention. There was nothing painful or too overwhelming about them but they did demand my presence. I think it was my body and mind working together to ask me to turn inwards and become quiet, ready to surrender to the flow of labour and birth.
By the time 10 pm loomed, I was on the toilet experiencing the purge that I'd heard many other women speak about. Sensations were much stronger at this stage and while I knew we still had a while to wait, we also decided it was time to start preparing. Jason called my mum and asked her to drive down (which she did immediately despite it being a 6 - 7 hour overnight drive on little sleep) and we headed to the cabin next to the lake where we had set up the birthing pool. I considered that I may have left it too late for my mum to arrive on time for the birth. She had very quick labours with my brother and so I assumed mine would be similar.
Lucifer our dog came with us to the birthing cabin and we spent the night doing what we could to pass the time between sensations. When my mum arrived in the early hours of the morning, Jason dropped Lucifer back to our cabin to stay with my mum as by this point I was concentrating on deep, slow breathing while I swayed, squatted and danced intuitively with the feeling of labour.
Throughout the night, I got in and out the shower but refused to get into the birth pool until I really needed the help. I was growing more tired as I didn't feel like eating and while the sensations had gotten pretty strong, they also didn't seem to be progressing much anymore.
When the sun rose, it brought a new sense of relief and a fresh start, so we wandered over to our cabin where my mum was staying and looking after the dogs. It was so good to see her and she gave me the most enormous hug. We chatted in between breathing and squatting and I asked her to pop to the shop and get me some strawberries as they were the only thing I felt like eating.
We passed the day with short walks up and down the road by the cabins and pacing around the decking whenever I felt too hot (which was quite a lot). It was a long few hours, but eventually it felt like things were moving.
At one point I remember a real step up in the intensity of the sensations. I had been labouring for about 18 hours by this point and was feeling the exhaustion so I looked over at Jason, saying quietly under my breath "I can't do this anymore". This was far from the truth and he gave me the encouragement I needed to power on, helping me to focus my attention on the present moment by putting all my awareness into the low moaning sounds that came with each sensation.
Focusing on the soft noise coming from deep within me and continuing to sway, rock and squat with the feeling, we really enjoyed the next few hours. They were deeply intense and we knew baby would come soon enough. Staying present and in the moment, not judging the sensations as painful and allowing them to wash through me was what got me through these long hours. I have never known something to be equally so intense and delightful, exhausting and life affirming.
I recalled reading someones experience of freebirth where birth was not described as something you do but instead something you become, a state of being. This really resonated at this stage. I was so deeply into the vortex of birth but it was wonderful. There was no separation between me, baby, Jason and everything else. I was simply being, entirely encompassed by the surges sweeping through and within me which were beautifully overwhelming for my physical body but also reached so far beyond the physical into a space of oneness.
Mid afternoon came and we started filling the birth pool. I laboured in and out of the pool for a while until 5 pm came. At this point, Jason text my mum to say it would be any time soon and we called Jo, our doula to come and help. In all honesty, I knew baby was not ready to arrive at this point. But Jason had noticed another big increase in the intensity of the sensations I was experiencing and thought it was a sign baby was on the way. I was so tired after 2 nights of pre labour sensations followed by almost 24 hours of labour on my feet without rest that I was eager to believe him, hoping the end was in sight. There was no distress within me, just a deep desire to rest.
Nonetheless, there was a lot of excitement at this stage, my body was opening up and preparing to birth our child. My low moans were transforming into roars by this point and every sensation took me to a place beyond the physical body. Jo arrived and kept herself in the background, allowing me and Jason to be alone with each other as we had wanted.
Then, all of a sudden, everything began to subside and the sensations eased off, not stopping but dramatically decreasing in intensity. I was simultaneously relieved and disappointed. I was ready to meet my baby and it felt at this point like it was never going to happen.
Jo assured us this was normal and Jason helped me out of the birthing pool so I could pace around the cabin. Lucifer escaped our cabin and appeared at the door looking for me. The scene must have scared him because he took one look and ran away with his tail between his legs.
Walking brought the sensations back on in full swing within an hour or so and I started to reach my breaking point. Jo helped with hip squeezes that brought some relief but it was as if I had been doing the most intense workout of my life for over 24 hours and I needed to stop.
I hadn't eaten anything other than a small handful of strawberries 12 hours prior and there was no energy left in me. I'd heard of women reaching the transition stage, where things pause for a short time before the moment arrives to bring baby earthside. This is the most common time to believe that you can't carry on. I didn't recognise at the time that this is where I was, but looking back it's clear to see that I was at the last hurdle.
I collapsed onto the bed in hope of a rest but my body started to push. I did not have the energy or desire to push with my body, I just wanted to sleep. I ended up retching uncontrollably as my body worked to push baby downwards without my help. This was the first point in labour that I would have described what I was feeling as pain instead of a sensation.
Between the physical exhaustion and lack of food, I started to go delirious. It's quite amusing in hindsight, I remember laying on the bed looking at a huge picture of the Buddha I had hung on the wall and it was so trippy. It was swirling and moving as if I was on mushrooms and the whole room seemed to be wobbling between dimensions.
Between surges I kept telling Jason I was confused and didn't know what was going on. At one point, he said "Hannah, you're having a baby" and my answer was "am I?". This made him worried and he turned to Jo, our doula and asked if that was normal. I have very little recollection of what happened next. He called my mum to come over who stayed with me and held my hand while I told her I couldn't do it.
He also rang an ambulance although fortunately, as he was describing what was going on, he realised that it was nothing more severe than complete exhaustion as I hadn't eaten anything to fuel me through labour. The ambulance said they couldn't arrive for several hours but fortunately Jason told them there was no need for one as he knew I just needed some energy. He spoon fed me honey for a sugar rush while Jo, our doula, made me a concoction of coconut water, salt and honey to sip on.
Despite not remembering it well, this period of time felt like hours to me although I'm told it was only about 40 minutes. The honey and coconut water brought me back around and while I was not particularly amused by being back in the room after my funky psychadelic trip, I had the strength I needed (somewhat) to carry on. My mum made a pile of cushions and helped me to heap myself over them so I was upright on the bed and I started to push with the waves of sensations.
A few pushes in, there was an enormous pop and my waters broke like a tidal wave. It was finally the beginning of the end and I could see the light at the end of the tunnel. Wishing to birth my baby in the water, I asked for help to get back to the pool so Jason and my mum supported me as I shuffled from bed to water. The support of the water surrounding me was incredible. It held my weight and I slumped over the edge, holding both their hands as I pushed with every sensation that came while Jo filled the kettle with more hot water to make the pool warm enough for babies arrival.
By this stage, the pain had subsided again and while it was the most intense sensation I had ever experienced, pushing with it as opposed to retching took the pain out and allowed me to flow with it. There were no thoughts in this space, time stood still. It was just surges and pushing with every ounce of strength I had left.
Throughout pregnancy, I read many stories of women who "breathed their babies out" without pushing. I'm not saying that's not possible, but it certainly wasn't my experience. I pushed harder than I ever thought I could with every surge coming almost immediately after the last and it still took just over an hour for baby to arrive.
Finally, after what felt like a lifetime, I could feel her head coming. Surges seemed to roll into one continuous flow by this point without any pause and I pushed non stop, gasping for a quick intake of breath whenever I could. Baby arrived like an unstoppable force, head first and body immediately after. Relief swept over me almost instantly and I reached into the water and brought my baby (who emerged screaming with plenty of life) to my chest for the first time.
For a long while, I didn't say a single word. I simply watched my child in shock and amazement, looking at Jason and my mum for reassurance and support. The magic and surreal nature of this moment is not something that can be described in words so I won't even try. It was just incredible.
After the pause, I lifted baby out the water and discovered we had a beautiful baby girl. Jason and I were over the moon and I was amazed that quite literally my dream had come true. About 4 months into my pregnancy I dreamed that I would birth a baby girl on the 3rd. Here she was, my baby girl, born 3rd October.
Jason climbed into the pool to lift me out as I couldn't stand up and her cord was too short to stay in as it was hard to hold her head out of the water. I sat with her on the sofa, shaking with a sudden chill as the heat of labour wore off. More surges came and I hoped her placenta would arrive quickly but it mirrored our daughter, taking its sweet time to arrive earthside.
Jo offered me some angelica tincture to help the placenta come along. I only drank a little of it as the taste didn't appeal to me after birth. I tried everything, squatting by the sofa, sitting on the loo, all fours on the bed. Eventually, my mum suggested sitting on a camping toilet I had bought when I intended to birth in the yurt. This helped as it allowed me to rest so I didn't have to hold my own weight and kept me in a low squatting position. At 3am, 4 hours after our baby was born, the placenta arrived with a huge release.
I asked my mum to take baby as my shaking, exhausted arms were struggling to hold her. Jo prepped the salt, rose and lavender mix I had made for the lotus birth and together they wrapped baby's placenta and placed it in a basket next to her with the cord still attached. It took 6 days to fully dry out and detach from her and we have now buried the placenta here at Zen Jungle under a newly planted blue spruce tree so it can grow alongside our daughter.
After a quick rinse in the shower, I flopped into bed with a much needed slice of toast alongside Jason with our brand new baby girl between us. Shortly after we discovered we were pregnant we had decided on the name Bodhi for a boy or a girl, but this now was the moment we gave the name to her. Our baby girl Bodhi was here, we were now a family of 3.
No matter what, I will forever be grateful that our Bodhisattva was born unassisted, in freedom and authority, here on our magical land. With no interventions, examinations, drugs, bright lights, gloved hands or strangers, her arrival here was one of peace and family. It's the best start I could ever have wished to gift our precious girl.