Planned home birth – first baby.
At my first appointment with my midwife she encouraged me to have a home birth. I hadn’t thought much about it previously, especially as the pregnancy had been a surprise, and very few of my friends had managed to have home births, although many had wanted to.
I became a total birth nerd during my pregnancy, however, and became very determined to have a natural birth at home with as few interventions as possible. I went through phases of anxiety about the various decisions I had to make. Would scans harm my baby? What if I needed to have a caesarean? Would I cope with the pain of labour? Once I went into labour however, all these anxieties disappeared and I just went with it.
My due date was February 14th, and we had our last Birth Wise antenatal session on the 15th. I was keen to go to this and also didn’t want the baby to arrive many days overdue, so I talked to her in my belly and told her that I’d like to go into labour in the early morning of the 16th. She had obviously been listening carefully as on that very date I slept lightly all night experiencing very gentle contractions. I got up around 4am to have some breakfast with the intention of going back to bed, but by 6am the contractions were feeling stronger and my partner got up and we enjoyed some time together while we umm-ed and ahh-ed about whether or not he should go into work. We decided that the baby really was coming, and Michael let his work know that he wouldn’t be coming in. I lost my mucus plug and I called my midwife, which was way too early (sorry Toni!), but I was too excited to wait. I also contacted my doula, Renee, who would be with us at the birth, and she gave us some ideas about things we could do to encourage the baby down and pain relief.
Michael and I had dreamed about spending a wonderful romantic day together while I was in early labour, which would involve going for a nice long bush walk, doing some cooking together, watching an uplifting film... We set out on our bush walk, and I did some sideways walking up steps, but fairly quickly my contractions became so strong that I was having to rest on Michael too regularly to make a walk possible and we headed home. It was still quite early morning, perhaps around 8:30am, and the street was busy with people on their way to work. We must have looked a funny sight with me leaning on him and deep breathing after every few steps. I couldn’t stand to be touched or spoken to. Once home I got down onto my knees with my forehead and arms resting on a Swiss ball, our plans for cooking, watching films etc long forgotten. Michael put a rebozo – or, in our case, an old sheet – around my belly and shimmied it continuously for as long as he could, which I found very supportive, and was a great way for him to be involved without having to touch me. I think that from this point on I spoke very sparingly and concentrated on my contractions which were long, peaking and then tapering off slowly, lasting up to 4 minutes, with very little break between them.
Things continued like this for a number of hours. I couldn’t eat and found drinking water quite difficult. Michael spoke to our midwife a couple of times on the phone, who suggested that I do some sideways walking up and down steps and have a bath lying on one side and then the other, as the baby was in a posterior position, and this should help shift her into a better position for birth. At some point she visited us, according to Michael around 3pm, and told me my cervix was about 5cm dilated, which didn’t sound very much to me considering how long and frequent my contractions were, but I don’t think it worried me too much either.
Michael and I had attended the Calm Birth course, and had practised calm breathing for the last few months of the pregnancy. We had also learned vocal toning at a prenatal yoga workshop, and I found that if I vocalised with each out breath it helped me relax enormously during contractions. Michael joined in every single time and together we chanted A-E- I-O- U on every out-breath through every contraction for many hours.
I had another bath at some point, which I enjoyed immensely, folding up a towel to rest my head on, and found I could stay lying down for the contractions and get some much-needed rest. Renee, our doula, arrived around 8pm, and I was in the bath. When we spoke weeks later she told us that she was delighted to find us vocalising together, and she wanted to join in. Apparently she went into the kitchen to have a little practise, so that she could join in smoothly. She also filled up the pool for me. My memories are very hazy and the passing of time became quite intangible to me. I remember at one point telling Michael he should take a break and get some dinner. He liked this idea and left me with Renee. I must have forgotten what was happening though, as apparently I was asking where he was only moments later, feeling a bit lost without him by my side. He was such a huge support throughout. I truly felt we were birthing the baby together.
Renee offered to do acupressure on my sacrum. She was immensely strong and could press really hard, which was brilliant. Her and Michael (who is also immensely strong!) interchanged doing acupressure with offering me sips of water or ice cubes and general support. She also massaged my back and tried to help me relax my shoulders if I got too tense.
Our midwife arrived around 11pm. I spent some time in the pool, but got out well before I was ready to push as I felt far too hot. The water could not be any cooler, however, as it would have been too cold for the baby to be born into. I had prepared our spare room as our ‘birth room’, with a birth mat, the pool and various other props. When I got out of the pool, though, I moved onto our bed in our bedroom. I felt most comfortable on my knees with my forehead on the Swiss ball, on top of the bed. I have a strong vision of Toni, our midwife, sitting on the floor a few feet away from the bed, looking on quietly and contentedly.
Around this time my waters broke explosively while I was peeing on the toilet, and apparently my contractions ramped up considerably, although I didn’t notice any difference.
I don’t remember feeling the need to push at any point. Toni checked my cervix again, and told me I was fully dilated and could try a bit of pushing. She called the second midwife. Pushing, for me, is the bit I remember most clearly, and was by far the hardest part of the birth. It was around 4am and I had been awake and active for 24 hours. I was exhausted. For a long time I felt that I wasn’t making any progress. I remember being encouraged to try various different positions, including lying on my back with my legs bent and pressing my feet into Toni, while she offered me something to pull on with my hands. At the time I was surprised to be encouraged to be on my back, but I didn’t question it as I had full faith in her choices. I suddenly remembered something I had prepared a few days earlier: a squatting rope. I had read about it online. It is an old sheet with a knot at one end, and another knot about a third of the way from the other end. For the first time in many hours I spoke loudly and decisively, got out of bed and hung the sheet over the bedroom door, with the knot at the end holding it in place. I got Michael to help me keep the door closed, and then I put all my weight on the other end of the sheet, holding onto the other knot. I worked through many contractions in this way, squatting deeply and pushing hard with each one. It was hard work. I was sweating and desperately thirsty. I felt like I was running a marathon. But for the first time I felt as though I was making progress. I noticed some blood splashing onto the floor under me, which was a bit of a shock. I moved back onto the bed as it was thought the baby was imminent.
I was told to give some hard pushes. Then the baby’s head was visible and I was told to slow down, while Toni applied coconut oil to help protect the perineum. Then one big push and out she came. It was 6:04am. She was purple and slimy and cried very loudly for what felt like a long time, but in hindsight may have only been for a few minutes. She was placed on my chest and I felt in shock. I was so entirely worn out and, despite a long time passing and a lot of effort to get her out, I was shocked at how quickly she had arrived in the end. I think I’d been so focused on pushing that I’d forgotten I would have a baby at the end of it all. I had trouble birthing the placenta, as I was so tired and overwhelmed I had forgotten how to push. I had to get into a squat position with the baby in my arms to push it out, which was an enormous effort. I slowly started to feel better and the baby was no longer crying. I tried to feed her, which was difficult as I couldn’t get her to latch for quite a while, but I did manage to give her a little feed. Renee had to leave to go into work(!), and Zoe, the second midwife also left shortly after.
My parents came to say hello to their first grandchild, and we had a big hearty stew that I had prepared in advance as my first meal after giving birth. A short time later we put our new little baby in her pepi pod in between us in bed and settled down for a rest. At some point the day after I remember looking at her sleeping face and suddenly feeling a rush of deep love for her, for the first time.
Those first few days after her birth Michael and I kept the curtains closed and pottered in a dream between the bedroom and living room (which became my feeding area). I had prepared loads of food in advance and we ate stews and soups, walnut and coconut porridge, lots of fresh fruit and salad, and I drank heaps of coconut water to rehydrate. Time became irrelevant as we were guided by our baby’s feeding requirements.
We spoke a lot about the birth, which was really great to help me process it. At first I had felt quite shaken from the effort of it all, but I gradually became happier and happier about what I had achieved. I certainly feel I made the right decision to have our baby at home. I felt emotionally comfortable and in control. It was great to be able to labour on my own bed, use my own bathroom, go wherever I liked, make whatever noise I wanted, and for it to be a peaceful space for me. Being able to get straight into bed after the birth, eat my yummy homemade stew and have my parents visit so early in the morning was wonderful. We also love how special it is to be able to tell our little daughter, who we named Indigo Joy, and who is now almost 1, that she was born in the very bed she still sleeps in.