Leelah’s Birth – Sharmila and Ingo

Here is another wonderful Birth Story – Sharmila and Ingo tell the story of the birth of their daughter Leelah. This made me cry and laugh, amazing!

You can follow Sharmila on twitter here, and Ingo here. Now enjoy:

The birth of Leelah Mazy Bousa

For a good few weeks we had been ready to welcome baby L (both the boy and girl names we chose began with L) into the world. I don’t think I have ever been more ready for anything.

I had a miscarriage the year before at 12 weeks so I was relieved to have had such an easy, wonderful pregnancy this time round – I couldn’t quite believe my luck – and around the 6 month point I decided that I wanted a home birth. I had to wait a few weeks for Ingo to fully come round to the idea. I was so relaxed about the idea of giving birth, as far as I was concerned it was what my body was designed to do and I could cope with it. I also had this really powerful idea that I was supported by every mother that had ever given birth before me. I’m no yoghurt weaver but pregnancy definitely connected me to my inner Earth Mother.

On a more pragmatic level it also helped that I was studying for a qualification in Anatomy, Physiology and Pathology as part of a year long Holistic Massage Course and everything I was learning about hormones, relaxation and stress told me that I should be in an environment that was comfortable for us. A couple of my friends had also had great home births and after talking to them and their partners we were completely taken with the idea.

Ingo: The idea was to do it on our own terms. I read somewhere that you are not even allowed to light a candle in hospital so my inner anarchist came out and after checking that it wasn’t just a crazy idea and wanting to support Sharmila with everything that would help her having the birth she wanted, I was well up for it. I also hate being in hospitals.

I was lucky that my NHS Antenatal Midwife at Wellspring Health Centre, Bristol was massively supportive of home birth and was really excited that I had decided to go for it. She couldn’t have been more helpful throughout, recommending an acupuncturist, various alternative therapies, exercises and responding to all my questions with great patience. I was a bit gutted that due to new regulations it was unlikely she would be present at the birth. Southmead Hospital use a pool of midwives like most Trusts these days so it’s pot luck who you get on the day or night. I was told however that once labour was established I would have the same Midwife with me throughout which I thought was pretty good.

Ingo: I thought that the NHS Antenatal Midwife from Wellspring Health Centre and her assistant were the loveliest and most supportive people we could have hoped for. The idea that you might not have the same midwife present at your homebirth is stupid – but in the end it was okay and of course if two women give birth at the same time they can’t be at both places!

We aren’t generally the most organised couple (outside of work) but somehow we had everything in place for the home birth from around three weeks before our estimated due date. This is a miracle considering we are the kind of people that pack for holiday at about 2am in the morning of the day we are leaving.

I’d packed two boxes with things we would need including shower curtains, old towels, sheets, blankets and pillows, TENS machine (more of that later), paracetamol (waste of time), calendula tincture (expensive, wouldn’t bother with that again), massage oil, water sprayer (the best thing in there), rehydration/energy drink sachets (a must), photocopied sheets of massage instructions and active birthing positions from yoga and NCT classes (hahaha), an iPod with playlists and hypnobirthing aids and my birth plan (all 4 pages, yes 4 pages, like anyone was going to read that). I had even taped a list of what was in each box on the lids.

I printed out a sheet of instructions for Ingo and the Midwives for when I went into labour and had them taped up in the hallway. We’d hired a birth pool and that was sitting in an massive, ugly grey crate in the dining room. In the kitchen was a box of supplies for the Midwives, Ingo and me; tea, coffee, cereal bars, cartons of blackcurrant rehydration drink, nuts and dried fruit… oh there may have been a packet of chocolate biscuits in there too – posh ones from M&S.

Ingo: Yeah, thankfully one of us is mega-organised ; )

We decided to have the birth downstairs as it’s a big space but is really cosy and homely, also we wanted the bedroom and upstairs to be completely ready to receive our new family member without us having to clear up after a messy birth! Being downstairs meant that I’d have to go up and down the stairs to the loo during labour – this seemed like a good idea as the action of going up and down stairs can help the baby into the best position for its journey through the birth canal. Two weeks before the due date we moved a fold out bed thing from our study into the lounge and created a big lounging area, it was great for just hanging out on and we both fell asleep downstairs several times in the run up to the birth.

Ingo: I remember watching Troll Hunter with Sharmila falling asleep after 20 minutes. That must have been a couple of nights before the birth.

I should mention at this point that our parents don’t live in the UK but mine had come over for Christmas and were staying nearby, popping by every other day or so to cook us food, clean the house and keep me company as I waited for Baby L and Ingo went to work.

We were SO ready.

But Baby L wasn’t, in fact Baby L hadn’t even engaged, not even a teeny weeny bit.

And so we waited.

Beanbags ready and waiting

We waited some more.

I started having very intense Braxton Hicks contractions.

I sat on a birth ball all the time or in the Lotus position. I kept swimming. People were afraid to swim behind me.

12th January 2012, the estimated due date passed by uneventfully.

I had acupuncture. It made me sleepy.

I meditated, I did yoga, I walked everyday. Nothing. Nada. Nichts.

We waited… nothing. Baby L was comfy in there.

I was thoroughly sick of sleeping on my left hand side, My hips ached.

We filed our self assessment tax returns.

We watched Masterchef every night. Not even John and Gregg could budge this baby it seemed.

On the evening of Thursday 19th January 2012, Ingo and I talked about my Midwife appointment, which was due the following day. I knew we would be discussing induction and I knew I would refuse and refuse and refuse until the baby was ready to come. Did I mention I am quite stubborn? But most importantly I also had faith in Baby L, I knew he/she would come when ready, after all he/she had treated me really well all through pregnancy why doubt the baby now. I know that probably seems really naïve to some but I truly believed it.

We watched Masterchef and I had my usual strong Braxton Hicks, painless but very intense. At around midnight I decided to go to bed (we are both night owls so this was pretty normal for us), Ingo stayed downstairs looking at motorbikes on eBay.

Ingo: I could smell it. After Sharmila went to bed I was lying on the sofa and for some reason thought ‘I might not get much sleep tonight’. After days of constantly thinking that it can happen any time I was almost beyond anticipation but that night felt somehow different.

I woke up for a wee like I normally did every night at 3am, or so I thought. I dozily rolled over and realised Ingo wasn’t in bed yet so I checked my phone and discovered it was only 1.30am. “Unusual,” I thought, “wonder why I woke up?” I didn’t need a wee so I rolled back onto my left and closed my eyes. “Hmmmm what was that?” Snooooze. “Hmmm, there’s that funny feeling again.” As the minutes passed I realised that I was getting a dull period like cramp in my lower back. I checked the phone again, 2am. “Could it be…?” I wondered.

By now I was wide awake and fully aware of the dull tightening in my lower back. I wandered to the loo and there it was… The Show in all it’s sticky glory. I don’t think there’s any other time in your life when you will be happy to see a plug of mucous. Suddenly I felt a tingling of excitement, this was it, Baby L was finally ready too.

I rushed downstairs in my very unsexy pink towelling dressing gown and found Ingo still looking at motorbikes, or on Twitter – not sure which, maybe both ( I wasn’t on Twitter back then and it seems like a lifetime ago).

I said “I don’t think we’re going to get much sleep tonight, I’m having contractions”.

Ingo: Oh shit.. it is actually happening NOW!

As it was so early on and the contractions were around 10 minutes apart and very mild we decided to go and cuddle up in bed and get some sleep. Who knew how long the labour was going to last.

That plan lasted for 20 minutes.

We were just too excited and I couldn’t ignore the contractions because they were already closer together and did I mention I WAS VERY EXCITED. So at 2.30am we got up and prepared the ‘Birth Arena’ for action. Ingo inflated the birth pool, which scared the cat off (we didn’t see him for two days after that). I ate some more pasta and put out the pillows, blankets, shower curtains and candles. I also unpacked the TENS machine and realised that we had no idea how to use it. Ahah one thing I hadn’t prepared. I wasn’t too bothered because at this point I didn’t need it.

Ingo put on my iPod and some Indian ragas but it wasn’t quite right for my mood so we decided on Coles Corner by Richard Hawley. I think that album ended up on repeat for about 3 hours. It’s a beautiful album and we swayed around the dining room in each others arms. It was very romantic.

A room awaiting birth

It was about 3.30am now and I decided to put the TENS machine on and start timing the contractions. Like most things there’s an App for doing just that – Contraction Manager funnily enough. I told Ingo when they started and he timed them and then asked me how intense they were. After about 15 minutes of wearing the TENS machine and getting tangled in the wires and sticking the pads back on 5 times I ripped the thing off and threw it across the room. It was just distracting me and felt like someone was attempting to tattoo my back. I also threw off my dressing gown and wandered around stark naked, much more comfortable.

For an hour the contractions got increasingly frequent but remained mild to moderate and lasted for about 1 minute to 1.5 minutes. We carried on dancing to Richard Hawley, chatting and laughing or breathing and focusing on the contractions. Finally at around 4.30am I decided we had better call Southmead Hospital and let them know I was in labour but it was early days.

Ingo: I remember always asking how strong the contractions were and then keying the info into that iPhone app. I felt that Sharmila was underplaying the strength of the contractions but just trusted her. What do I know?

I chatted with one of the Midwives who asked me various questions and assessed my progression – I still don’t understand how they think they can do this accurately over the phone but hey ho! I had a few contractions on the phone but was able to talk through them, they felt like period pains so it was clear I had long way to go. The Midwife decided I was early on being as it was my first birth and I wasn’t in pain so she told me to call back in a couple of hours at around 6.30am and let them know how I was getting on.

It was lovely, I felt totally in control and the contractions were easy to cope with. Ingo was with me, stroking my back and spraying me with water as I was getting quite hot during the contractions. I could feel the waves of sensation (I banned the word pain from the house!) as they tightened in a band round my back, hips and stomach. Each contraction would build gradually into an intense peak and I breathed slowly and rhythmically, longer out breaths, deep and controlled. I didn’t use my hypno birthing visualisations as it felt more natural to journey inside myself and focus entirely on the sensations and my breathing, riding the waves up and down and acknowledging what my body was doing.

The next hour or so is a bit hazy, I am not sure what order things happened in but I remember moments.

5.30am(ish) 20 January 2012

Quietly singing, breath

Head buried in Ingo’s chest, breath

On all fours on the lounge bed, breath

Standing, legs wobble beneath me, breath

Need to wee, up the stairs, stop, breath

Bending over the dining table, legs wobble, breath

Cool water sprayed gently on my body, cooling, breath

Ingo holding me under the arms, breath

Gentle laughter

No pain no pain no pain just breath breath breath

I feel cold, big pink dressing gown back on, breath

“Can you get me something to be sick in please, maybe the mixing bowl, it’s in the wooden trolley….” BREATH

The mixing bowl didn’t see any action. But we did decide that it was probably time to call the hospital.

Ingo: That mixing bowl was in my book the beginning of the transition phase but I wasn’t really sure, so I just played along, trying to be as supportive as possible. It was quite cool because we seemed to be totally in control of this whole thing. It felt quite empowering. It felt natural.

6.30am. At this point the contractions were every 2-3 minutes lasting for a minute and a half. I definitely didn’t feel like talking during them but they didn’t really feel too painful yet. I spoke to the same Midwife and had to stop as a contraction took over. BREEEATH. “Oh well that lasted a long time”, she said “I’ll get the on-call Community Midwife to ring you.” Then she asked “Can you feel the baby moving?”

Silence. The baby moving? Had I? I couldn’t remember and I was in such a blissed out, off the planet state I just wasn’t able to answer yes or no, just “I’m not sure” came out of my mouth. But I wasn’t worried, I was sure Baby L was fine, I was feeling great so Baby L must be perfectly okay in there too. Hormones eh?

After the call I remember walking up the stairs to the toilet to have a wee. I came back out onto the landing and lent my head on the railings as I had another contraction. I felt something hot trickle down my leg. “Ingo what’s that trickling down my leg?”

A long pause.

“Er… blood.”


Ingo: This was the moment when my heart dropped into my bottom. I suddenly got very worried inside but decided to keep that worry as much as possible to myself to not freak out Sharmila. I remember asking her a lot about the blood and that we kind of agreed that we weren’t sure if this was still totally ok or if there actually was a massive problem. At this moment I really could have done with a midwife being there to tell me that everything was just fine, but we where on our own.

Now for me that next 30 minutes or so are all a jumble so Ingo might have a better recollection of what happened but we found that we’d missed the call from the Community Midwife so I called her back but had to hand the phone to Ingo as the contractions where very powerful by now. I was still bleeding, sticky, mucousy bleeding. Ingo spoke to the Midwife and I went off into my own reverie riding the waves of my contractions. I heard the words “ambulance” “hospital” “blood” “quickly” “traffic” “over half an hour” “delivery”…

Ingo: Aww.. SHIT.

Then I mooed, yes I mooed, like a cow. It was a sound so primal and so base there’s no way you could ever act or fake that sound. It came from a deep, deep place. But it also made me feel like an animal… in the best possible way. Not that I was really thinking any of that at the time, at the time I was just mooing like a cow. Deep guttural groans. I looked down at my stomach and I could see the muscles working to push the baby down and out. This was it! But it couldn’t be, I only started contracting 5 hours ago and I hadn’t been in pain yet, I had hours to go yet surely. A brief thought scudded through my mind “I can’t push too early it might harm the baby”. I took small shallow breaths, Ingo pushed into my lower back and that way we held off the overwhelming urge to push.

Ingo: PUSHING TIME! And no midwife even NEAR the house. I now started to make friends with the idea that we maybe have to do that on our own. I remember thinking ‘This has been done before.. and it will be a great story to tell’ ..I was in the zone and shit scared at the same time. Shit scared in the zone.

7.10am. I was on the floor of the dining room on all the blankets. Ingo was now on the phone to emergency services, he was peering between my legs, I felt like laughing when I wasn’t contracting. I giggled. My body was urging me to push push push but I didn’t want to, not yet, not until the Midwife or someone who knew what they were doing was here.

Ingo: That 999 woman actually asked me if I can see the head.. it was like being in a movie. The whole situation was so absurd that we now and then looked at each other and laughed about it.

Then my waters broke. In a gush. Whoosh. All over the blankets and possibly through to my nice sheepskin (definitely in fact). From that point I knew I could not hold back the urge to push.


7.20am Seconds later the doorbell rang. I can remember all of this very clearly. I was stark naked reclining on soggy blankets and bean bags and laughing as three young male paramedics files into the room asking each other who had done a delivery recently. They peered down at me and said I looked fine and was doing really well, they asked me some questions and said I could get in the birth pool and just do whatever my body told me to do. “So it’s okay to push?” I asked. “Yes, fine”.

I told them it felt like a I needed a massive poo.

Ingo: YES!!! PARAMEDICS! Three of them ..and none of them seemed to have much experience in delivering babies. Aww great…where’s the midwife???!!!

I was finally in the pool and it was lovely, why hadn’t I got in here before? Ingo poured water down my back and everything felt very relaxed. We had a bit of a laugh and a joke with the paramedics and they admired our record collection and the world map on our wall. In some weird way I now felt I was at a party – those hormones mess with your brain. I had two huge pushing contractions in the pool and I could feel the baby bearing down but I was still unsure about really letting myself push fully so I continued to use breathing to control the pushing urge.

Ingo: I remember this as being in the eye of the hurricane. Really peaceful and at the same time I knew that we were just seconds away from the big finale.

7.30am Suddenly the Midwife bustled through the door, all pragmatism and efficiency. She got me out of the pool and placed the Doppler to my belly.

BUDUMBUDUMDBUDUM. The sound of Baby L’s powerful heart beat resounded through the room. I laughed. Ingo cried. The paramedics cheered (I am not sure they did but in my head they did)

Ingo: That was probably the biggest relief in my life. I had this constant underlying worry that there was something wrong with the baby since that blood showing an hour before. Now we were ready for take-off. This was the moment we were waiting months for… in a few moments I would finally see my boy or girl. I felt an immense emotional rush and a huge wave of ecstatic happy love flooded through my body. Sharmila looked totally mashed and beautiful at the same time.. HEY HO LETS GO!

I got onto the floor and finally had my first examination of the labour. The Midwife looked at me and Ingo and grinned. “Your baby is right here and ready to say hello. Just push away when you feel the urge.”

And that was it, finally I felt as though I could let go. I had been holding off for an hour, controlling my contractions, slowing Baby L’s journey into the world.

We were on the floor, the paramedics stood back and I have some vague memory of them cheering me on (this did happen). Ingo was next to me holding my arms and leg, looking back and forth from my eyes to my vagina (yes that’s where the baby comes out).

Contraction, PUSH, burning sensation. PUSH.

Contraction, PUSH. A cry. Our lives changed.

A tiny warm, wet gorgeous baby girl nuzzled into my chest, her tiny perfect mouth rooting about for my breast. I breathed her in, the scent of her. I drank her up with my eyes, every tiny little bit of her. Her eyes were open looking up at me. I laughed I cried. We had a baby girl. Our Leelah.


Leelah Mazy Bousa was born at 7.50am on 20th January 2012. 7lb 8 oz and 52cm long, with really big feet.

Some 10 minutes later the second midwife arrived, the paramedics slipped away. The second Midwife just happened to be Tracy my lovely antenatal Midwife, she’d missed Leelah’s birth but would be with us for the next couple of hours. She was overjoyed as she surveyed the scene; me lying naked on the floor with our little bundle of joy on my chest, Ingo next to me, hugging and kissing us and the other Midwife urging me to push the afterbirth out.

Placenta gore!

I asked if I had torn and she replied that I had a little and would need one stitch – even that didn’t take away from the unbelievable sense of euphoria I was experiencing. I can’t explain it but it was the start of something I now call Motherhood MDMA! The most intense and soaring high you can imagine.

There were some surreal moments after that. Ingo ended up outside on the street in a daze not realising that his trousers were torn from the crotch to the knee (we still have no idea how this happened) he saw some neighbours and told them the news and then forgot he’d seen them. Most people had seen the ambulance and afterwards I discovered it had blocked the road and several people were late for work. Oh well, my baby and I were the most important thing on the street that day!

Ingo: I remember cutting the cord which felt quite archaic. It was much harder to cut than I expected. It felt like cutting through someone’s finger and I will never forget the sound. It felt an important thing to do. It was both the final and first thing to do for me. It felt like a ritual somehow.

Ingo announces the birth on Twitter … making a little mistake with the middle name!

Just before I lay down on the lounger to get my stitch done I handed Leelah to Ingo for his skin to skin time and he settled into the armchair and snuggled up with her. I spotted the gas and air canister and Tracy suggested I might like to treat myself to some for the stitching. Why not eh? It was great as I was high as a kite already and I just lay there giggling and babbling away as two midwives peered between my legs by the light of my angle poise desk lamp. Somewhere in the background my birth soundtrack had reached the beautiful Symphony of Lamentation Songs by Henry Gorecki (I only recently found out that they were about motherhood, loss and the holocaust, not really happy listening for a birth but I find them stunningly moving anyway http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iks2p6WK310 )

Ingo: We both felt very exhausted and very excited at the same time. Music was playing, candles burning, Sharmila was high on laughing gas and I was sitting in a comfy chair with my newborn daughter on my chest. The best feeling in the world.

Somehow the house had been cleaned up and I was taken up to the bathroom for a lovely hot shower. I looked down at my belly, my wonderful wobbly belly which had nurtured and protected the beautiful baby girl downstairs. What a feeling.

Peanut butter and toast and a cup of tea made for me by Tracy could have been a feast fit for an Emperor it tasted to good.

And then we were alone, the three of us. Our family, in our house in the middle of our street. Deeply in love and ready for the journey of life.

A patch of sunlight marks the spot where Leelah was born

And Leelah on the day she was born:


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3 Responses to Leelah’s Birth – Sharmila and Ingo

  1. This is so, so beautiful! Love the dual perspective too.

  2. Katie Wiggall says:

    Sharmila, that was a wonderful read. Very touching and very amusing in parts. It really is like MDNA. Loving the pink dressing gown and the comment about Ingo’s trousers. I hd peanut butter on toast after too! I wish more people could have births like ours and not see it has a traumatic and terrible thing. No one I have spoken to since has had a ‘normal’ birth. They have all been to hospitals and had all manner of interventions and assume that that is the way that having a baby is. This post should be printed out and stuck up in every doctors surgery, antenatal class, children’s centre, even shop window goddamn it, as an inspiration to all women and then hopefully more would have wonderful experiences.

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