Monday, 28 May 2012

A knitted birth story

Two years ago in May I knitted a little vest for the baby that still kicked inside me, waiting to be born. It was perfect, not a stitch out of place, and I pictured myself pulling it over the head of my new born babe with such pride. It was the first time that I had ever cabled, and I ran my fingers along the braid, feeling the twisted stitches ripple beneath my hand. Buying the needles for the cabling had entailed a visit to a yarn shop a few suburbs away. I popped into the supermarket after stocking up on knitting supplies and it was while I was lugging the heavy bags back to the car that I felt the muscle fibres of my abdomen start to contract. I tried to ignore it, to breathe my way back to normality as I sat silent in the passenger seat. But the tightenings continued even after I got home and climbed on to the couch.

I finished knitting the vest that evening.  I was planning another home birth, but at only 35 weeks gestation that was going to be out of the question. Lewis had been born in hospital at 36 weeks with no dramas, and Darcy a few days shy of 36 weeks after a 55 minute labour at home. My babies are ready to be born a month before most, and we were not really sure why. But my midwife told me to lie down and hold him in until the 36 week mark if I wanted to stay home, and with the help of an army of friends and family I did.

I ordered more yarn online from my horizontal position on the couch and waited eagerly for the parcel to arrive at my door so that I could knit a Milo vest for Darcy and Lewis too. I crawled a track between the bed, couch and toilet. Even sitting up would bring on a contraction. My friends bustled around me; delivering a meal every evening; collecting Lewis each morning and walking him to school; cleaning my house; hanging out our washing; making sure that our household continued to function in a way that it just can't when its main caregiver is lying down all day.

Then my midwife visited and strapped a cuff around my arm to check my blood pressure. The house was full of laughter and children and I remember the silence as she unwrapped the cuff and announced quietly "I think this baby is ready to be born." My blood pressure had suddenly gone from rather low to very high - now we knew why my babies came early - and that same afternoon I had to pack my bag and head to hospital. "I don't think that you will be coming home until your baby is born," my midwife told me, and it was with a strange mix of emotions that I folded nighties and breast pads and baby clothes into my overnight bag. The perfect little vest sat on top with the massage oil and birthing snacks tucked in around it.

I spent the evening in the foetal assessment unit at the maternity hospital, foetal heartbeats galloping around me through the blue curtains. Darcy and his dad kicked around in the park across the road and roamed the corridors while I sat strapped to monitors and my midwife noted every detail for the obstetrician to assess. But somehow the numbers scraped through. "It is borderline, but you can go home if you come back in on Friday for another assessment," he told us. I walked out of there with an enormous smile on my face and a spring in my step. I had made it to 36 weeks, and if I my baby arrived before Friday we would be able to stay home after all.

It was Wednesday. All my boys had been born on Wednesdays. But he didn't come that night, or the next day. I cleaned the house like a woman possessed. I walked to every shop within a kilometre radius to stock up on essentials. I started to knit Darcy's Milo vest, standing upright or balanced on the fit ball to encourage optimal foetal positioning. I crawled into bed that night dreading the trip back to the hospital the next day. My midwife was coming to collect me at 8am.

But I couldn't sleep. There were these niggling little contractions - nothing major - and I thought, perhaps if I stood up, they might turn into something more. So I picked up my knitting and walked in circles around the lounge room. The contractions started to build and I lit the fire and the candles clustered on the mantelpiece which had been left by friends at my mother blessing. I turned every heater in the house on to full to ward off the midwinter chill. And I knitted, working my way through the increases at each stitch marker to finish the yoke while I did lunges and squats around the rug to help move the labour along. The house slept around me - the only sounds were the crackling of the open fire and the click of my needles.

I cast off the armholes and cast on the underarms. I knitted in circles for an hour or two and then I came to the start of the cable, and I knew I could knit no more. It was getting a little bit complicated. So I laid my knitting down and went back to the sheepskin, burying my toes in the thick wool as I breathed deeply. And like a switch had been flicked the contractions suddenly intensified. I sunk to the floor on my hands and knees, and thought vaguely about waking up Grant. Then Darcy appeared at the door, his blond head glowing white in the candlelight. I shepherded him into bed with Grant and whispered to him to get Darcy back to sleep and then get out of bed.

I breathed through a few more contractions and Darcy appeared again. I took him back to bed and again told Grant to get him back to sleep and then come out and join me. I laboured on alone - checking the clock only when I started to hear the traffic pick up outside. It was 6am. Lewis would be waking up soon. I picked up the phone and called my midwife and my friend - a doula - who was coming to look after the boys. As light started to leak around the edges of the blinds Grant emerged from the bedroom wiping sleep from the corners of his eyes with Darcy on his hip. He seemed surprised to see me.

Grant took Darcy into the kitchen to fill up the birthing pool. Everyone moved around me with hushed voices, moving the candles to the kitchen bench as I prepared to hop into the pool. Lewis wandered out of bed as I walked into the corridor - and I smiled at him and told him the baby was on its way. I slipped into the pool and back into that timeless space as I floated and moaned and growled and roared through one contraction after another. Lewis and Grant rubbed my shoulders while Darcy helped to stoke the fire. Then my waters broke and with two more pushes Quinn came swimming into the world while his brothers ate their breakfast cereal by the birth pool.

It was 7.55am - I have always been good at meeting deadlines - and I realised it was now daylight outside.  The boys tried to give their favourite dinky cars to this tiny little wrinkled baby still covered with creamy vernix. He was more interested in gazing into my eyes while his rosebud lips snuffled at my breast. I climbed out of the pool and sat wrapped in blankets by the fire while Lewis got ready to go to school. Grant walked him there with Darcy and did a puzzle or two with them, picking up coffee and muffins for us all at the corner cafe on the way home.

And so the first four weeks of Quinn's life passed in this warm, cosy cocoon by the fire while the world stayed in the cold, bright distance outside the window. I held him wrapped in my arms while I finished knitting and then dressed all the boys in their new vests - catching the train to the city museum for our first outing into the world outside our suburb.

Whenever a friend has a baby now I knit them a little Milo of their own. I have one that I finished last week ready to post to my friend in Melbourne when her baby is born sometime in June. Quinn Henry will turn two next month. He now fits his brother Darcy's old vest - there are two and a half years between them but their clothes are the same size. I will dress him in the little green vest on his birthday, just like I did last year. How could I not? It has the story of his birth knitted into every stitch.


  1. This is the best birth story I've ever read. I've got goosebumps. I sense the sacred and the beautiful ordinary (ie. your boys eating brekkie during the birth) Thanks so much for sharing this precious memory with us. x

  2. ohh .. wow. I too have goosebumps. coming from a family where knitting is at the centre of our hearts too .. in fact, I was chatting to mum the other day - she had just knitted me a new cardigan. She was saying while she knits them she thinks of the to-be-owner; and I was saying whenever I wear it, I think of her. So lovely, your words are just so right.


  3. Oh my, what a sensational birth beautifully written and heartfelt.
    I am rather impressed with your ability to knit while standing/walking :)
    I am new to the Milo vest but it's fast become a favourite.

  4. I already knew many of these delicious details, but it was so wonderful to see them all pulled together into this special story. So beautifully told. xoxo

  5. A wonderful, gentle birth story. I've been asked if Charlie will be there at our next birthing, and if he's not sleeping I think we just see how he goes. I love the way your boys just took it all in stride, and the detail of Grant walking Lewis to school, what an extraordinary normal morning!

    1. Lewis was sleeping when Darcy was born, and I was glad, but he really wanted to be there for Quinn's birth. He was terribly eager to get to school afterwards as I had told him he could have his first lunch order from the school canteen after the baby was born. And the canteen was only open on Fridays. He didn't tell his teacher I had had my baby until that afternoon, as the sausage roll was a bit more exciting!

  6. I pointed Georgie (the creator of the Milo pattern) to your blog the other day - I hope she's seen this wonderful story!

  7. I am sitting here in freezing Melbourne sobbing my heart out at the beautiful birth story - so good for me to read right now as I feel a small sense of growing anxiety about whether or not I'll actually be able to have a natural birth. Thank you. I was also thinking, gosh, my baby will never have any hand knitted clothing! Thank you for that too! You are wonderful beyond measure.

  8. Sitting suckling my own home birth babe reading that.... ahhhh, tears to my eyes.
    Beautiful story Alison, just beautiful.

  9. I also had 3 children all girls and now grown to adults. They all came early for no apparent reason. The first at 36 weeks and the next 2 at 37 weeks with very short labours. All very healthy but tiny. I love your vests and the story behind them. I have made a similar one for my grandson who is now 3months old.

  10. What a beautifully written birth story - such precious moments to know have recorded x

  11. Wow. As a knitter, this story has pleased me to my core. I've rattled off a few Milos in my time, but never, I must admit, whilst in labour. Isn't it lovely to be able to pass your own handknits down through the line of your children? In my case, it's three girls, not three boys. xx


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