My home birth story
I am a mother and a midwife. As a birthing woman I wanted to write about my second birth because it was such a different experience to my first and maybe my story will make someone smile or help them in some way. Some aspects of my first birth were unfortunate and I found myself second guessing some of the decisions made for a long time after the event. When I planned my second birth I drew on these experiences and explored the opportunity to have a home birth. I am so happy with the way it worked out and I’d like to share that story with you.
Leading up to the birth there was a lot of anxiety, fear and uncertainty stemming from my prior experience. When I gave birth to my daughter four years ago, I was overdue (42 weeks) and needed to have an induction. My contractions died off after a long second stage which ended in a ventouse delivery and a third degree tear. While there were things that were good and right about the labour and delivery especially my beautiful daughter, I felt like a failure with lots of physical pain and emotional distress over the following year.
I wanted to have a better birth experience. Being a midwife myself, I knew that it would be different than last time but there was a lot of doubt and fear that I needed to deal with. I was accepted into the Midwifery group practice again which gave me the opportunity to have a water birth and opened homebirth as an option. I was lucky to have a midwife who I felt would support, assist and listen to me which made the decision easier.
Throughout my pregnancy I often doubted my choice to homebirth, running through what if’s, seeing many ‘hospital’ births governed by policy, time, doctors and interference. My husband was supportive of the idea but we kept the decision open for a long time and didn’t share it widely until after the birth. This was also to avoid debate and in case we needed to change plans to the birth centre or hospital at any point. Plagued by questions; what would people at work think? What if I had to transfer after the birth for another tear? Did I really want to get involved in this highly politicised debate? I wasn’t sure if I was ready to answer questions about my decision. I didn’t want to be seen as extreme or hippy; I just wanted a peaceful experience that I had some control over. I wanted to have my baby naturally in a welcoming calm home environment with people that I chose to be with me.
With doubts and thoughts running around my mind I came across some words that really helped: ‘What if things went right?’ This made me think, it could work out better and I deserve a great birthing experience. I tried to visualise the outcome and think positively. I actively did things for my mind and body to feel like I gave myself and my baby the best chance possible. I went to a herbalist, an acupuncturist and listened to lots of positive birth affirmations.
In the last half of pregnancy we also embarked on renovations so I felt a lot of stress and pressure to get things ready for the baby and possible home birth. I finally got to a stage where I was comfortable with the state of the renovations and that night at 39+5 weeks, I woke with a mucus discharge. Great, I thought, as this didn’t happen with the first one at all. Hope grew that labour would start on its own, extinguishing one of my fears. I didn’t get much sleep that night with thoughts, excitement, worry and anticipation running through my head. The Braxton Hicks stepped up in intensity over the next few days often stopping me in my tracks and the midwife came for a scheduled visit. The baby was in a good position but not very well engaged. (I knew this didn’t totally matter especially second time around).
At 39+6 weeks it was a hot day so we went for a swim at the beach that evening and were greeted by a beautiful pod of dolphins. I loved that last pregnant swim in the rolling waves, enjoying those last special moments with a pregnant belly. After dinner the Braxton Hicks increased in strength and became regular for a few hours, we made plans with the in-laws and when we got home we blew up the pool in anticipation. It then all died down again waking me up just a few times in the night.
On my due date (according to ovulation not my period), I went to the acupuncturist who gave me a full induction treatment and I got some things at the shops, so we were stocked on milk, coffee, cookies and everything was ready. That night the contractions started up again, gaining strength and regularity. I think part of me was holding back, scared I couldn’t do it again. Could I have no pain relief again? Will I have to go to hospital? The whole night from about 10pm they were on and off never regular and never seeming to be at the point where I should call the midwife. I tried to walk around and get things moving and then sometimes rested. These contractions had bite so at 3am I called the on call midwife just to talk it over (I didn’t expect a long on/off latent phase especially with the second baby). At 5am my daughter woke, she was excited and didn’t want to go back to sleep but wanted to watch and help Mummy. We called Nana to come be with her. I put o n the TENS machine as they were coming every 2-4 minutes when upright but 8-12 minutely when resting and I just wanted a break. Feeling frustrated with things not seeming to be on or off I called my midwife at 7am. It was great to talk to her and be reassured. I took some pain relief and had a hot shower knowing I could call her and she would be here when needed.
I got 2 hours of well needed sleep followed by more niggling surges through the morning. When the midwife arrived after midday I asked for an assessment and stretch N’ sweep to see if anything was close to starting and help things make up their mind. I was afraid if it continued I would be to tired. I was 3 cm, soft, stretchy and 50% effaced. ‘It wasn’t all for nothing,’ I thought to myself. The baby’s head wasn’t well applied so we tried some different positions, so I squatted against the wall, had a leg up on a chair and sat on the toilet with a step this made them more intense. Things didn’t change in regularity and unfortunately the midwife was called away so I tried to rest again at 2:30pm. It was a hot 37 degree day so I went into the back room with the air conditioner and while I slept my husband put on some clary sage. I woke to some strong, regular, short contractions at 3.30pm, I stated vocally how much they hurt now while in between I was eating a cinnamon doughnut that hubby had heated up. After a few contractions I thought it was happening, my baby was coming! Everyone had been on standby for the last few days and I gave my husband the green light to call the team as I couldn’t manage in between contractions – the midwife, my friend/support who is also a midwife, the student, the grandparents to bring my daughter home and the birth photographer (also my friend). I had a little doubt spring into my mind -what if it isn’t it and we have called everyone? Listening to myself I thought I am making the right kind of noises… My midwife could hear me in the background and had to send someone else as she was tied up at the hospital for an hour longer and she knew it was labour. We were ready, the checklists completed, the pool was ready we had towels, a mirror, and everything you could possibly need. On the table we had a baby boy and baby girl bundle awaiting the much anticipated arrival.
My husband, in-between supporting and massaging me, filled up the pool while answering the door to the people starting to arrive to the labour gathering. I was contracting 1 ½ -2 minutely but they were short, about 30 seconds and intense. The midwife in me was trying to analyse what was happening, what I was doing and thinking, but it wasn’t a ‘typical’ labour pattern. Through the tightening’s I would stand in the door way pushing with my arms or leaning on the table or couch while rocking or standing on my toes. I followed my body’s instinct, so I was doing a lovely labour dance while listening to music which created a nice mood. I needed to vocalise with a singing moan/groan for each breath, to get though the surges and my sounds changed pitch and strength during the different stages, trying to remember to slow it down when it was getting to me. It was so animalistic. I loved the connection I felt with my husband during the birth with hi s full love and support as he watches me bring his child into the world; I needed his touch to get me through. The support people around me each provided a different ingredient, saying things like you are doing fantastic or suggesting things when I needed it and checking on me and the baby. Part of me couldn’t believe that everyone was there that we wanted, it was a nice hour of the day (not middle of the night), was it really happening? I remember at some point instructing people where things are, hubby to change the music and part of me wanted to worry and control things around me. I just had to give it up and focus on being the woman in labour. My midwife arrived and after not too long said I could get in the bath. I was too scared to use the TENS or shower in case things slowed again. I had used these lots in my first birth. I also didn’t want to get in the bath as this was the point where my contractions went away with my daughter, leading to my inability to push the baby out on my own. I needed to be told a few times it was okay, and eventually I felt able to get in and was so glad I did, it was relaxing and supportive. The contractions changed with more strength and more rest in-between so I could completely relax and let go of any tension. It was all about me accepting things throughout the labour, every time I let it go and made peace with things, I could progress to the next stage/hurdle. My daughter came in and out of the room to check on me, then would go and play with her nana and interact with the women in the room. She even massaged my back in the contractions while leaning over and feeling the water in the pool once I was in. I read her many books, talked about birth and showed video’s to prepare her but left it up to her if she wanted to see the baby come out.
My biggest fear was the pushing stage and not being able to ‘get the baby out without assistance’ and the aftermath. As things progressed to a crucial point my midwife cleared the room, knowing I needed space to get over this last and biggest hurdle. I remember shedding some much needed tears at this point. I requested the pool to be warmer as stronger and lower urges started to come and I was fighting them while saying, not again I can’t do it. My midwife brain was thinking I might be in transition, this is normal, but I was also thinking ‘surely I am not at that point yet’ I needed to switch my thinking and claim this so I changed what I was saying from I can’t do this to, “I CAN DO THIS!”. Low urges with some involuntary pushing began to take over and with one large push my waters broke at 18:31pm with a release of pressure. The urges to bare down started to come back stronger and I had to let go and go with it.
Everyone came into the room as the baby was getting close and I needed them around me. I changed position from leaning forward on my knees to reclined back holding my husband and friends hand. As instructed, my husband reminded me to relax my mouth as I heard it help relax the perineum. I really wasn’t sure how things were going, I just had lots of pressure and stretching, it felt really different from the first time. I was conscious to get the head out slowly which was challenging with those strong urges to bare down and after 19 minutes from my waters breaking with not much pushing which was only when I felt I needed to (vs first birth experience of 3 ¼ hours pushing) the midwife said “There’s the head!”. I reached down and felt a wrinkly head, still not believing that it was going to come out. My husband (in the pool by now), daughter and support people saw a head and then the baby emerge over two contractions with a rush. The midwife announced the baby was out. I was in disbelief but I quickly reached into the water I felt my baby and picked it up and embraced my baby. I had that moment of joy, elation, relief, love, excitement and wonder. A perfect magic moment where there was so much love in the room and smiles on everyone’s face, as they witnessed a miracle that I was a part of.
I called my daughter over to look at the baby and find out the sex (as my hubby was the only one that knew prior to the birth). A beautiful boy! At 6:50pm the day after my due date. He weighed 3880g, was 53 cm long and had a 36cm head. My daughter was a big sister and we had a beautiful son, in that moment we celebrated our perfect baby that we made. We caressed kisses and touched our new baby who was covered in vernix and a bit bruised from the journey out, I remember saying ‘he’s so small’. After 15 minutes in the water taking in those precious first moments of his life and a new chapter in our family, I started to get some pains as the placenta was ready to come out so I got out of the pool and pushed while squatting. After I birthed the placenta my husband and my daughter cut the cord together. Then the midwife needed to check down there, I waited with great fear but it was only a 1st degree tear with some grazes (although it did need a stitch and a need le in that area isn’t pleasant the experience was much nicer than last time). He was in my arms the whole time, lovingly touched by his family in his own house and he was on the breast within 15 minutes of taking his first breath. The midwives took care of me for the next few hours checking over me and the baby while the roast chicken was cooking. He slept that night in his cradle, part of our family.
Being comfortable in my own home, getting good rest when needed and being able to choose who attended my birth helped put me at ease. With the support and freedom, I was able to get over my obstacles from the past. After the birth it was fantastic to be able to sleep in my own bed with my husband and daughter close by. With the support of the Women’s and Children’s hospital’s Midwifery Group Practice I was able to enjoy these advantages of a home birth with a primary midwife including home visits and a range of medical supplies in our home if needed. We knew we were only 12 minutes from the hospital and were pragmatic about the possibility that we might need to move if things were outside of the normal midwife scope of practice or causing concern.
I am still in amazement that it was just how I wanted. I was able to birth my baby at home, in water, surrounded by wonderful women and family. This was such a healing birth, calm, without unnecessary intervention. My daughter watched her brother arrive which has helped them bond and we all got to welcome him. We have all recovered well with no trauma or negative feelings, only joy and love. I would love to go through it all again to experience those wonderful precious moments filled with raw emotions and power.