Our birth story begins long before the first contraction. As I’ve learned over the past year, a birth story is a journey, and begins with the decisions made by the expectant mother (or couple, as was the case with myself and husband).
The first weeks and months of pregnancy, before we spilled the beans to friends and relatives, were full of research, discussion, and soul-searching. Our decision to abandon the societally-popular “medical model” of birth, and to hire private midwifery care, was based on many factors: I dearly wanted a home-waterbirth; I did not want a barrage of unnecessary medical intervention; I wanted my pregnancy to be treated not as a pathology, but as a normal life occurrence. And perhaps most important to me – I wanted continuity of care. Choosing ‘Midwives Naturally’, and our primary midwife, Nicola, was an exciting move for us, which we never second-guessed.
Our pre-natal consultations were nothing like visits with the hospital, GP or sonographer, which were clinical and impersonal (and of course necessary for us at times, for blood work and ultrasounds.) Nicola (and later Simone) came to our home for check-ups, which were leisurely paced and very reassuring. These pre-natal visits with our midwives allowed Jonathan and myself the chance to bond with the women we’d chosen to attend our birth; we grew to trust and respect them deeply. And they grew to know us and our wishes for the birthing experience we hoped to have. We knew we were in good hands – and every time we listened to the baby’s strong heartbeat while lying happily on our living room couch, I knew this pregnancy experience was exceptionally awesome, and that we were incredibly lucky to have been able to choose this path.
Our baby was due January 21st. Over the months, we slowly put together the Homebirth Kit, collecting items we’d need on hand for when the magical day arrived. I was heart-set on a waterbirth and had reserved a birthing pool through Midwives Naturally, which was to be picked up at 38 wks. As I grew rounder and rounder, I started to prepare myself for the big day. We attended Active Birth classes; I religiously listened to my relaxation/hypnosis birthing cd, attended pre-natal yoga classes, kept fit with light exercise at my gym and consciously worked on optimal fetal positioning.
Any negative criticism we received about our choice to birth at home (despite being a very healthy, low-risk pregnancy, and having a backup booking at the nearby Royal Women’s hospital in case of need for hospital transfer) we chucked out the window. I surrounded myself with empowering birth stories and endless books on natural childbirth – I wasn’t going to allow other people’s fears, criticism and lack of knowledge about the midwifery model of birthing damper our spirit and the choices we made.
Christmas came, and just beforehand we had the all-important ‘Birth Plan’ meeting with both midwives, plus anyone who would be present at the birth (my husband and sister, who was also living with us at the time). I became slightly nervous during our long evening of talking about the birth…”this was really going to happen!” I thought. And relatively soon.
Little did I know it would be sooner than expected.
I had been told, of course, that first babies tend to arrive post due-date. I knew this, statistically, but couldn’t help thinking, pretty much since the second trimester, that this baby was going to come early. Maybe it was merely wishful thinking, as opposed to maternal intuition, but in any case, I was right.
Just after Christmas, my sister left town to do some travelling. I remember joking with her, saying “well, if the baby arrives early, while you’re away, I’ll see you at the airport with a bub in my arms”. We laughed it off. But then December 30th came around…
In the evening, my husband was reading in bed and I came in for a chat. As I was sitting there talking, I felt a very distinct “drop” in my pelvis. It made me stop and grunt, and I said to Jonathan “I think the baby just dropped”. We went to the bathroom mirror and examined my bump – sure enough, the shape of it was completely different. No longer was my belly up high – I had indeed “dropped”. However, knowing that this didn’t mean much – it could be days, weeks even before I went into labour – I went to sleep not thinking anything significant was happening.
Around 6am, I woke up to use to loo. As soon as I stood up from the bed, I felt an unfamiliar gush of fluid. I walked slowly to the bathroom, noting that I was dripping fluid along the hallway. There was no question about it – my waters had broken! I was stunned and totally excited by this. The drops of fluid were slightly tinged with blood, as Nicola had said they may be.
I waited about 15 minutes before I woke up Jono to tell him the exciting news. No contractions yet – but “something” was happening. This took him out of sleep too. We were excited! Could it be happening?
At a decent hour, we phoned Nicola. She came out that day in the afternoon, to ascertain what was happening. I had only felt a few random contractions during the day before she arrived, and I was still slowly leaking amniotic fluid. Nicola suspected it might only be a hind-water leak, as it was clearly not a “big gush” of fluid, but rather a slow leak, which might stop after a bit and repair itself.
At this point, there was nothing to do but wait and see what would happen. If labour didn’t start soon and I was still leaking, it was possible I would go into hospital the next day to see what was happening with the ruptured membranes. I was starting to get nervous that I would end up having to have lots of intervention and a hospital birth. I knew that there was a window of time, and risk of infection, with waters breaking and delivery, and plus I was three weeks early – however, as luck would have it, I was exactly 37 weeks, which is considered full-term, so we just squeezed in the window of when a homebirth is safely allowable.
Nicola said we could try and bring on labour, by the typical ways such as raspberry leaf tea, massaging certain pressure points, and stimulating the production of oxytocin through the nipples.
After she left, we sat around playing board games and doing all the things we could to try and induce labour. I was still leaking a small amount of fluid all day and evening, but only getting tiny contractions here and there, which didn’t hurt at all (like a mild period cramp). We also spent part of the day frantically getting things ready, should the baby decide to make an appearance. We packed up the Christmas tree and decorations, and made the living room into a birthing space. Being procrastinators, we still didn’t have every item on our homebirth checklist – so Jonathan ran around doing errands. If the baby decided to be born now, it wouldn’t be a waterbirth, unfortunately – we didn’t even have the hire pool yet. Plus, if the waters had been ruptured for a while, it wasn’t the safest idea to use the water anyway.
Eventually, we went to bed, full of giddiness and nervous excitement. I was hopeful that things would start through the night – but I also had to come to terms with the fact that I might have to visit hospital the next day, and might not be able to have the kind of birth I wanted. I knew that what was most important was having a healthy, safe baby (and mom!).
Our midwives had of course discussed the important of being rested before established labour begins. Unfortunately, our excitement led to a very restless evening, neither of us getting much sleep. At 3am, I woke with a start – and a huge contraction! It was like I went from nothing to WHAM, ouch. I visited the loo and crawled back into bed, thinking I would try and get more sleep, especially if labour was happening. Jonathan was half-awake, and I told him I was getting strong contractions. I tried to lie down and rest, but from then on it was impossible. The surges came fast, strong and regularly.
Jonathan got up and grabbed the stopwatch to start timing things. From this point on, my memory and sense of time gets slightly hazy. The contractions seemed to be incredibly close together, even from the start. There was barely time to rest in between them – and making it from one room to another, or one position to the next, was challenging.
The living room was set up for my labour – dark, cozy, with soothing music playing in the background. Jonathan had set up cushions, the bean bag and towels in the open area. He straight away tried to get me to eat some oatmeal, so that I’d have energy to get through the labour. Since everything happened so intensely and quick, I had no desire to eat – but tried to get a little bit down anyway. Unfortunately, my body was not having any of that, and I vomited a few times. Luckily, I managed to sip Powerade and electrolyte pops, and chew on ice chips throughout my labour. It was the middle of a hot sticky spell in the summer, and even though it was the early morning hours, I was very very warm. I laboured right near the air conditioning unit, and Jonathan kept me cool with cold cloths on my forehead and neck.
Two hours later, Jono rang Nicola, as my contractions were already reaching 60 seconds in length. She encouraged him to get me into the shower, to try and ease the pains. Despite my absolute love of water (and desire for a water birth), I was very reluctant to try the shower. I could barely move from my labouring positions on the floor and couch. I was exhausted and the thought of having to climb into a shower with the strong contractions coming so frequently, while supporting my weight, was laughable. But I obliged and Jonathan helped me into the tub, staying with me to support. However, once again, my body was telling me what it needed, and being the shower didn’t feel good – I quickly got out of the tub and back to my “labour land” in the lounge room.
I had envisioned myself being very “active” during labour – using my fitball, stomping & pacing, perhaps rocking while standing, as we’d practised so many times during yoga class. But in the actual moment, it was breathing & vocalisation that got me through. I was absolutely drained, physically. Lying propped up on my side, or kneeling on pillows (with upper body on the couch) was all my body could do, as I tried to stay open, upright and forward.
What got me through my 7 hour labour was uninhibited use of voice. And deep, slow, purposeful breathing.
At first, the pains made me grimace and let out a small moan. But as the contractions revved up, the vocalising grew and grew. I had never before heard any sound like this come from myself. This wasn’t screaming, nor moaning as I knew it. It was low, deep, primal sounds – I experimented with different vowels “aahhhhs” and “eeeee”, before stumbling across what worked best – saying “mom” (in my American way of doing so). How interesting and appropriate it was that the vocalising of “Mooooom!” comforted me and helped me get through the surges (a fact that would later have my mother tearing up when we told her). I was partially aware of how strange my own voice sounded to me, and the fact that I might scare/wake the neighbours up in the middle of the night. But thankfully, I stayed uninhibited and didn’t worry about anything other than getting through this labour.
In between contractions, I rested, closing my eyes and deeply breathing, focusing on the out breath. I realize now, actually, that I spent a great deal of labour with my eyes closed. Completely in another world, focused on the task at hand. Jonathan was the most amazing support person – he instinctively knew what I needed, whether it was comforting or leaving me alone. He offered sips of fluid without a word and let me labour in the way my body needed to. At several points, as I neared transition and the pain became overwhelming, he would grab both my hands in his, and have me open and look into his eyes, breathing with him, to calm me down and work through the intensity.
A couple hours after the first call to Nicola, I was begging Jonathan to ring her again and tell her to come out to the house. Because I had nothing to compare it to, the labour “felt” like it was going fast. In my head, however, I thought – “maybe this is what every labouring woman thinks, that she simply must be close to being fully dilated”.
Indeed, Nicola informed us she was on her way. Knowing this made me relax a little – the intensity was building even more, and I was keen to have a midwife here before I became scared – I wanted to hear reassurance that everything was going as it was supposed to.
Just before Nicola arrived, the sensations of the contractions changed. There was immense pressure on my cervix, and I felt a pushing sensation. I was a bit nervous – I couldn’t stop the “pushing” sensation, but I didn’t know if I was anywhere near being ready to push the baby out.
Nicola arrived around 9am, and told me that I was in transition and that everything was going wonderfully. I remember a little lightbulb going off, thinking “That’s right! Transition – I remember hearing so much about that”. In the midst of it, it was just so intense that nothing made sense.
Nicola rang Simone to let her know how far down the baby was already, and to hurry out. Turns out, my instincts, which had said that things were happening quite fast, were right. The baby was almost here.
Having Nicola there was excellent – she was so calm & reassuring. She dropped ‘Rescue Remedy’ on my tongue and helped to keep my breathing slow and my groans low and smooth, so that I wouldn’t panic. Meanwhile, Jonathan was next to me applying counter-pressure on my sacrum. I had started experiencing very painful back labour at some point later in the labour – and his counter-pressure was very much needed. After contractions, we listened to the baby’s heartbeat with the Doppler and knew everything was going well.
When the pushing started, I was on all fours on my couch (of all places! I really have no idea how I ended up there). It was nice to have a change from the contractions – but the pushing itself was very tiring. It felt like an eternity – I would feel the baby’s head begin to emerge, and then it would retreat in between contractions. Nicola let me know that I was doing great, and that every contraction was stretching the vagina a little bit more, to prepare for the bub’s exit.
Simone arrived during the pushing. She fed me sips of water and later took photos of the baby’s first moments in the world. I remember being so drained during that final hour. I said “I can’t do this” at one point, to which the lovely midwives and my lovely husband all chuckled at. Maybe I just needed to hear it, the fact that I WAS doing it, and it was almost over, the baby was almost in my arms.
After many contractions in the all-fours positions, I sat up and said “I have to change positions”. Again, instinct told me to shift. Nicola suggested a supported squat. Jonathan sat behind me on the arm of the couch, holding my (massive!) weight up as I squatted. Nicola moved the mirror so that I could see what was happening down there. As soon as I saw my baby’s head, full of dark hair, I was stunned into the reality of the situation.
This – the new position and seeing my child – seemed to do the trick and open the birth canal up. Within a few contractions, the baby crowned. Indeed it was very much the “burning” sensation I had read about. Nicola had me stop pushing and I panted. On the next contraction, the rest of the baby slithered out. He was scooped up and immediately put into my arms. It all happened so fast!
It was such a moment of incredible shock – after nine months and then 7 hours of labour – here was the child we couldn’t wait to meet. He was small and slippery, wriggling around as I tried to comprehend the moment of meeting my firstborn child. He cried and squawked and made strange baby noises, while I smiled and cuddled and drank in the moment.
Turns out he ended up being posterior after all, which explained the onset of back labour halfway through. He also had an incredibly hilarious cone-head from his exit through the birth canal, which we all laughed at!
It took me a good three minutes or so before I realised that I hadn’t checked to see if it was a girl or boy. A blanket had been put on the bub as soon as he was cuddling my chest – and everyone let the new, tired mom take her time in discovering the bub’s sex. I said something like “Oh, I don’t even know if it’s a boy or girl!” and lifted the blanket.
Within a few minutes of cuddling our son, and kissing each other, my husband said “So, what do you think…is he a Felix Zebedee?”. It was our favourite boy name, and indeed, that’s what we named him. At 2.9 kilos, he was the smallest baby I had ever held, but he was so strong right from the start.
From there, I delivered the placenta about ten minutes later, with one big push. Jonathan held his son for the first time, then cut the cord. After some skin to skin contact with mommy, Nicola took to helping Felix and I get started with breastfeeding. Later on, the midwives made us food and put the three of us into our big bed while they cleaned up and did all the paperwork.
The rest of that magical day was spent in bed, bonding with our tiny boy, resting and later calling our relatives to tell them our huge news. We hadn’t even told anyone we were in labour, so you can imagine the shock when we broke the news and Skyped with them to show off our boy!
Felix was born on New Year’s Eve, and as the three of us, our new family, turned out the lights that night, I lay there too awestruck to fall asleep…next to me was the gurgling noises of my first child, and outside there was the sound of a summer thunderstorm mixed with New Year’s fireworks blazing away. Not only that – but it was a full moon, and a Blue Moon, I would later learn. Such a special entry into this world.
The best advice I could give to any expectant mum wondering how to manage natural childbirth? Let your body tell you what it needs to do. Listen to your body, respect it and ride the wave. Have a bag of tricks at your disposal, so that when the time comes, you will have many options to pull from.
Well, I know that this, our birth story, is slightly untraditional in that the actual birth isn’t the only focus. For me, that was only a small (yet unforgettable) part of the whole experience. A woman’s choice to birth how and where she chooses, to have access to real & impartial information in regards to birth and birth statistics, is just as crucial a part of the birthing story as the contractions and pushing themselves. I’m also writing this story quite late (Felix is many months old). With perspective and time, when I look back over “My Birth Story”, it encompasses all of this. I can highly recommend the incomparable services of Midwives Naturally. From that first phone call and meeting, to many weeks of post-natal visits, they were there for me and my family, providing support and advice with the myriad of questions and issues we had.
Writing this birth story makes me realize just how blessed my new family and I are, for so many reasons. And choosing a homebirth with Midwives Naturally was one of the best decisions my husband and I have ever made.