Andrew and I had been planning for the birth of our first child for two years before her birthday finally arrived. During that time we read extensively about birth and decided that the most important thing to us was giving our baby the kind of welcome to the world that all baby’s received in ancient times – in a calm birth space we could call our own, supported by the loving and experienced hands of other women who had birthed like this before. Our journey led us to Jo and Julie, both doulas who had homebirthed their babes.
We enjoyed a normal uneventful pregnancy with no doctors appointments, tests, or scans. I sensed that my baby was in the posterior position at the end of my pregnancy, but I felt strongly that this was not something I needed to worry about. I felt that my baby was telling me she either wanted to be born sunny-side up to greet me, or she would turn in her own time during our labour. Either way, I instinctively knew she would be born safely in her own time.
Gentle pre-labour began on the weekend, but I didn’t realise that’s what was happening. I told Andrew that it felt like the baby was doing break-dance moves on my pelvis, but well aware that these early stages can last for weeks, I also knew not to start counting down the hours until we would meet our baby.
Monday night during dinner the sensations in my uterus became slightly stronger. We had friends over that night and quite often I would jump up in the middle of conversation, without thinking, and begin swinging my hips from side to side. I didn’t get much sleep that night as the sensations became like very challenging menstrual cramps.
Tuesday Andrew went to work and I laboured gently throughout the day. At times I felt overwhelmed by the realisation that our baby had begun her journey. Other times I felt at peace with her timing, but most of the time I was excited. At last it was my turn to join the company of my esteemed friends who had homebirthed before me.
When Andrew got home that night things started to gather momentum. We went to the supermarket for dinner supplies and I would stop when a surge began and gently swing my hips, breathe, and close my eyes, right there in the isles of food. Back at home Andrew began taking photos of me labouring away in my underwear. As he watched me he had a look in his eyes that I knew only too well after so many years of friendship – it was his “I’m falling in love again” look.
We turned off the lights and lit candles which we had placed all around our lounge room and kitchen – where I had felt this birth would take place. We began to wonder if we should call our doulas to the house? Things were moving along, so we decided to call Julie.
Julie arrived just before midnight and took Andrew ‘s place by my side so that he could rest. Hours later Jo joined us, so that Julie could rest. My labour had slowed down by this stage, so Jo helped me get into bed beside my sleeping partner. She knelt by me and massaged my back to help me relax and get some sleep. Jo encouraged me to surrender to birth, concerned that the slow down was the result of emotional issues holding me back. I released a lot of those issues all over her shirt, covering her in tears and mucus during a much needed hug.
I couldn’t sleep, so Jo, Andrew and I went for a walk outside to help it pick up again.
Wednesday was the most challenging day of my three day labour. On again, off again, it went all day, but it was never “off” enough for me to get a decent rest. In the afternoon Jo and Julie asked my permission to leave for a while and give us some privacy, which we were both very grateful for. Andrew had been hanging around in the background, allowing Jo and Julie to be my primary supporters, and we both wanted him to play that role. At any time we could call our doulas back, but we didn’t do so until half an hour before midnight. Until then Andrew and I fell more deeply in love as we laboured in privacy. When the surges became so intense that I started to fear, he would confidently whisper “you are doing it”, and I was so grateful that he never said “you can do it” as if I wasn’t already! When he held me in his arms the pain would literally ease. Between surges he massaged my lower back which was aching, and during surges he would cuddle me from the front. Eventually I got frustrated with him having to move from front to back and asked him to call Jo and Julie back. In particular I was begging for Jo’s amazing massaging hands!
They arrived at midnight, by which time I was calling out “WHERE ARE THEY!?!?” It had only been twenty minutes between the phone call and their arrival, but deep in my labour haze it felt like a couple of hours. For a while the three of them took it in turns to either massage my back, sit by me with my bucket (I was nauseas a lot of the time, but didn’t vomit, the bucket was there for security) or cuddle me.
It was now very early Thursday morning. Once again my labour slowed down so we went for another walk, which I was very resistant to. A crisis of confidence was beginning, and I began trying to test the strength of my support circle. In my hazy mind I thought that my birth support team had the power to switch labour off like a light bulb, and all I had to do was convince them it was a good idea! After begging them to make the birth stop and to save me from the pain I gave up.
This was a turning point for me. At this moment I went from girl to woman. I had been waiting and seeking for Jo or Julie to give birth for me, for them to tell me how to do it. At this point I stopped doing that and chose to listen to my body and do what came naturally to me. I gave birth to myself as woman.
My support team were suggesting we walk further from the house, but now that I was tuned into my instincts I felt with every fibre of my being that this was wrong and I said so.
When we returned to the house labour slowed down yet again. With my blessing Jo went home and Andrew and Julie took turns being with me. I was beginning to get tired and impatient. I felt foolish for having rung Jo and Julie so early, and I felt guilty for robbing them and Andrew of their energy. And I began to doubt my ability to see this homebirth without medical attendance through! I knew just where to go to get the pep-talk I needed. I went to Julie, who had been resting in our spare bedroom and I released my fears to her. She calmed and reassured me, helped me cast out the guilt. She reminded me what an honour it was for her, Jo and Andrew to bear witness to my birthing goddess and not one of them cares how long this birth may take. “It will take as long as it takes” she said. Best of all she said “you are doing it! You may feel like you’re not, or that you’re failing, but you are doing it right now, and you are doing it beautifully!”
We returned to the lounge room and to labour. I was only comfortable standing up at this stage, but I was exhausted and struggling to stand, so Julie suggested I lie on my side and she sat beside me. When a surge swept through my body she would whisper “just relax, breathe through it” and I would.
My body began to shake, I knew that this was the body’s normal reaction to all the great birthing hormones, but it really pissed me off. The shaking made my body feel rock hard, and I struggled to relax, I felt out of control and unsteady. Julie massaged my legs, helping me release all the tension. And when I shook she would place a hand on either side of my body and hold me tightly. It was glorious! She made me feel steady and calm. I went to the toilet and was comforted to see lots of thick blood streaked mucus. I could no longer doubt my perfect body’s birthing ability – it was a sure sign my cervix was dilating beautifully. I returned to the lounge room where I hurled the contents of my stomach into my security bucket, and it was satisfying to get rid of the nausea!
All of a sudden I felt like I needed to poo, which I knew from reading was a sign that the time to push had arrived, but I didn’t want to get my hopes up. At that moment I felt my baby’s head turn around and drop into my vagina! My sense that my baby had been in the posterior position was confirmed, but now she had chosen to be born in the anterior position. I didn’t care which way she was facing, but her turning was what made me realise it was indeed second stage and not a poo coming out! I remember singing out to Julie so happily: “It’s not poo!”
Julie woke Andrew and called Jo back to the house as I was on all fours in the lounge room grunting. A sense of urgency had filled me and Andrew couldn’t heat the water in the birth pool fast enough! (we had filled it days ago, expecting the baby a lot sooner). My knees were sore from the floor and I felt like I might split in half if my baby was born on land. I was so relieved to jump into the luke warm pool and feel the soft padding beneath me. I spread my knees far apart and felt myself open, I felt secure and supported by the water, and confident that the last stretch of birth would come to me easily.
Second stage only lasted forty-five to fifty minutes, after fifty-eight hours of dilation! It was fucking awesome not to be dilating anymore! I LOVED pushing! It was exquisitely satisfying.
I was very calm, and giving my support team a commentary in between cracking jokes. When my body would push I would think to myself “just let it happen, don’t do anything, relax, breathe”.
I reached down between my legs and could feel my waters sac/membranes bulging out. I felt my baby’s head moving down inside me. As I announced to my captive audience “I feel a head” Jo returned. I was so happy to see her again, and the look on her face of excitement, elation, and amazement at how far things had progressed since she left was thrilling for me to see. When I saw her I realised how fortunate my baby and I were to have such a special birth team to celebrate this journey with.
My waters exploded out of me into the birth pool. The pushing urge returned again and my vagina burned briefly as it stretched further than I ever could have imagined possible, then it stretched some more. It was intense but not hard or scary.
I reached down again and touched the top of my baby’s hairy head while it was still inside my vagina. I felt connected to all the women in the world who had reached down and touched their own baby’s heads during crowning.
My body pushed again and my baby’s head was born. I calmly waited for the next pushing urge and then I felt the rest of my baby slide out of me, soft and slippery, the opposite to her head.
I was stunned! I had given birth to my baby on my knees in the pool, upper body leaning forward over the side of the pool, she was behind me in the water, Andrew was still ferrying hot water to the pool, so he was in front of me rather than behind catching our baby. But as usual we could trust our baby, she swam between my legs and placed herself right in front of me. I reached down and scooped her up out of the water and into our world. Andrew was by my side to greet our firstborn.
Time stood still as we gazed down at our wrinkly little bubba, her skin was blue. She introduced herself with a gurgled cry. She and I cuddled in the pool with Andrew by our side. And within a few minutes her skin was a healthy looking pink. Eventually she kicked her legs apart and we discovered that we had a daughter, just as we sensed throughout the pregnancy and even before.
Harriet had arrived at seven past seven Thursday morning. When the water became uncomfortably cool Julie, Jo and Andrew helped us out and we sat on the couch. Julie and Jo helped Harriet and I have our first breastfeed while we waited for our placenta to be born. A little over an hour after Harriet was born, her placenta was born.
I later wrote about my thoughts on the experience:
“I am so filled with pride and self-respect. After years of planning for this moment it has finally come, I have had the awesome freebirth I’ve been dreaming of. I did it as a first timer, I did it for 59 hours, I did it with a posterior baby. Before birth I had no idea the depths of my strength!”
My story shows that yes labour can be long and hard, but if a healthy woman is adequately supported by those around her she does not necessarily require any medical assistance whatsoever!