I had given birth once or twice before…well, four times in fact. I knew the deal and what I was facing. I have been one of those really lucky women, who has complication-free pregnancies, and births very naturally. My fourth pregnancy had been harder than the others however, with much sciatica and pelvic pain. My body had been a bit overworked with 3 pregnancies in 3.5 years, and I slept very little towards the end. So when it came time to give birth to our Juliet, I was tired and scared. I had lost faith in my body and it’s ability to birth my baby. Consequently, what resulted was the longest and hardest of all my labours and deliveries.
So when I was pregnant once more, with baby number five, and that familiar fear and dread started to creep upon me at around 25 weeks, I knew it all too well. I knew that I needed to work on my mindset and make some changes this time. I started reading the work of Ina May Gaskin and Sheila Kitzinga, two world-renowned midwives, and was quickly reminded that my body knew what to do, and it would do it a whole lot easier if my mind was helping! Once I felt convinced of this fact, I started working on the more advanced idea of birth being an enjoyable experience, one that as a mother we should be looking forward to and embracing, rather than dreading. I decided that to have that kind of experience, I would need to birth through the Belmont Birthing Centre, where I could meet my midwife and become comfortable and familiar with her throughout my pregnancy. Soon after I booked in to Belmont, I had an appointment to go and have a stroll around the birth centre, and it was this day that I had a life changing conversation with one of the midwives there. She asked if I had considered birthing at home, as I was classified a low-risk mother. I immediately replied that I felt it to be a risky decision, one that I wasn’t prepared to take. She very gently explained to me how birthing at home posed no higher risk than in the centre, as the midwives come fully equipped with all the same medical tools and equipment they have in the birth centre. I sceptically asked question after question of what she would do in different situations, and soon realised that my fears were unfounded. If my baby required oxygen at birth it would be there, as a tank would be delivered to my home by 37 weeks awaiting my baby’s arrival. If I haemorrhaged after birth, the midwives would be able to take all the same measures they do in hospital or birth centres, and if needed, administer the required drugs to slow the bleeding and bring it under control. And if there were to be any complications arise that the midwives were not able to control, I would be transferred to hospital by ambulance.
In that moment I started to envisage what it would be like to birth at home, to go into labour and just make myself comfortable in my own environment, rather than pack up and head off to the less familiar birth centre. To be able to just carry on with my day and not stress about leaving my children for an unknown timeframe. The anxiety that surrounded birth for me started to just melt away. Just like that! I called my partner Ben as I was driving home, and said “Umm, I think I’ve decided to have a home birth” He responded with “Fantastic!”
The first time my allocated midwife Barb came to my house for a prenatal checkup, I knew I had made the right decision. She was kind yet confident, the type of person you knew would make the best decisions for you in your time of vulnerability. Over the following three months, Barb came to my home every couple of weeks to do all my prenatal checks. She would stay for over an hour, having a coffee and chatting with me about how I envisaged my upcoming birth. These conversations where I was able to talk about my previous birthing experiences and what aspects I wanted to be different this time, meant so much to me. Every time she left I would walk around for the rest of the day excited about the prospect of giving birth! I knew that it would be hard work and there would be pain involved, but I had absolutely no doubt that I would be able to get through it, and enjoy the excitement of bringing our newest family member to life on the outside. Over the weeks that ensued a very clear picture was starting to develop in my mind of how the day would unfold, ideally. I felt really confident that it was all going to happen that way. I pictured it being a beautiful sunny day, so in the final weeks when we had much rain, I wasn’t surprised to go overdue. I felt like I was waiting for a nice day.
On the morning of October 20th 2011, I awoke at 4:30am with what I knew to be ‘real’ contractions, not the Braxton Hicks type I had been having for the weeks before. I lay there in bed, knowing this was the day we would finally get to meet our little girl and I was tingling with excitement. I felt fresh and strong after a good sleep and I pictured the day that lay ahead of me and how it would unfold. I thought about a YouTube clip I had watched of Ina May talking about how women who are happy and smiling during labour, progress faster and have beautiful smooth births. She talked of the importance of a woman feeling safe and surrounded in love during birth, and I knew that here in my home I was safe and surrounded in love.
When Ben’s alarm went off at 5:30, he rolled over and found me awake, and asked the same question he had asked me every morning for about two weeks “Are we having a baby today?” This day my response was “Yep!” He said “Oh, Fantastic!” and jumped up to head off to work. I had made clear to Ben and also my mum who would be with me for the birth that I wanted no fussing, and everybody to continue with their day. I would make the call when I felt like fussing was in order. Mum was staying with us, so she and I got the oldest two kids out the door to school and the younger two up and dressed. Barb sent me a text at 7:30 to ask if she could come earlier for our scheduled appointment that day, so I was most excited when she arrived at 8:30 to tell her I was in early labour. She checked me over and said to carry on and call her later in the day “when I was ready to have a baby”. I uploaded an app on my iPhone that served the purpose of timing the regularity and duration of contractions. I found it quite interesting and continued using this app throughout the morning while I did housework and fed the kids. Mum went down to the shops for a while and I enjoyed having the house to myself for a bit. I went outside to stand in the sun and found a bunch of perfect yellow roses on my doorstep. They were from a beautiful friend who had heard I was in labour and just wanted me to know I was in her thoughts, without being intrusive. Once again I was reminded how much love and support was around me, and could actually not quite believe how completely perfect this day was panning out.
Mum came home and we packed the kids some lunch and decided she should take them out to the park for a play. Soon after she left, I started feeling like things were progressing to a point where I wanted Ben around. It was about 1:30 by this time, so I gave him a call to see how his day was going, and to ask if he could bring me some lunch as I was starving! He came straight home and I was glad to have his company. We sat on our bed and went halves in a baguette. For the ten minutes or so that we sat there, I didnt have any contractions, just a lovely break and moment to chat and prepare my mind again. As soon as I got up, the contractions started to really kick in. At 2pm, Barb called and asked if we were still on for a baby today or had it all died down. I assured her we were most definitely still on, and I suspected in the next couple of hours.
When she arrived about half an hour later I was just getting out of the shower, and I was glad to see her. I lay down on the bed and she talked to me about how my day had been so far. The contractions were very intense by this time and I felt a pop during one as my waters broke. Barb called her second midwife Jackie to let her know she should start making her way over to us. While I lay there on the very edge of my bed, I became aware of the baby’s bed, sitting all made up beside mine. It had been ready and awaiting our little girl for a few weeks, and every night as I heaved my heavy belly into bed, I would look into it longingly, wondering if that would be the last night it would be empty. I reached out and locked my hand around the base of it. Every time a contraction hit, I squeezed really tight. It was one of the times I remember thinking, I’m so happy to be here, at home, beside the bed my baby will be sleeping in tonight.
I heard the children all piling in the door at once, down stairs, home from school and the park. It was nice and reassuring to hear their voices whilst knowing they were being cared for. We had asked our beautiful friend Emma to come over and take the little ones out to the beach, just during the delivery as I didn’t want to be worried about making too much noise and scaring them. I was concerned that I would ‘hold back’ if they were around. They all came upstairs just before 4pm to give me a kiss and my belly a rub. They knew that I was supposed to be having the baby that day, but couldn’t quite comprehend that it was really, finally going to happen. The little ones headed off to the beach, and then my teenage son came in to see me. He looked nervous and said he was grateful to be going off to work that afternoon, as he had never wanted to be around for the ‘messy part’. He gave me a quick kiss and ran for it. I found it so interesting that I could feel a contraction building as the children were coming up the stairs to see me, and just as it would have been coming to a peak, the kids appeared at my bedside and the contraction simply and suddenly disappeared! My body seemed to know exactly what was going on, and I was just in awe of the way it knew it’s job. It was moments like this that helped to solidify in my mind that I should just trust my body, and that nothing would be out of my control.
As soon as the house was quiet again I knew it was time to have my baby. I asked Ben to run the bath for me, and jumped straight in. I asked him if he could get Mum to come up from downstairs where she was busying herself with housework. She came into the bathroom smiling with nervousness and excitement. Ben positioned himself with the camera up ‘the safe end’ as he calls it. Mum knelt down beside the bath and took my hand. I loved this time with just the three of us. We chatted and laughed in between contractions while Barb was in the bedroom getting all her equipment ready and on hand.
Jackie arrived and said hi and sat herself down on the toilet, and Barb knelt down the ‘business end’. Mum spoke to me in her calming voice and Barb told me that everyone was ready for my baby, so I could go ahead and have her whenever I felt ready. I didn’t need any examinations for Barb and I to both know that I was ready, so I started pushing. By 4:30pm little Eve was being passed up through the water to lay on my chest. She was perfect, although a little purple. Mum asked Barb if her colour was of concern and Barb assured us there was absolutely nothing to worry about as the umbilical cord was still pulsing, and she was still getting oxygen. She explained that babies born quietly and gently into warm water are often a bit sleepy and slow to get started breathing. I talked to Eve and rubbed her back and she soon took a big breath and had a little cry.
I nursed her for a while in my post-birth ecstasy, before handing her over to Ben so I could get up onto my knees to deliver the placenta. I got out of the bath and stood there feeling shaky. I will forever remember how Barb noticed my vulnerable state and took the towel from me and dried me all over. That act of thoughtfulness and care was one which I had never experienced before from any medical provider, and summed up my perfect birth experience. I went and got into bed with my fresh, new baby. Ben opened up the glass doors to our balcony and the afternoon sun streamed in. I told him to call Emma and tell her to bring the kids home to meet their new sister. He said they were already on their way. As Ben and the midwives were busy tidying up in the bathroom, and mum was running wet towels down stairs to the laundry and putting on the kettle, I had a beautiful brief moment alone with my baby. I looked at her all over, fed her and breathed in her perfect baby smell.
When I heard the kids barrelling up the stairs, I was so excited to see their faces. They burst into the room loudly, but quietened the moment they saw the little bundle in my arms. My Aidan asked me “Is that your baby that was in your tummy?” I said that it was, and he immediately pulled the covers off me to check if my big belly was gone.
Our precious little Eve was passed around through all the eager arms for first cuddles. She gazed into each of their eyes before they handed her back and ran off to play.
Mum and the midwives sat down to tea and chocolate cake, before they said their goodbyes. Barb and Jackie both hugged me and told me what a great job I had done. I was just overcome with gratitude to these women who had been so respectful of everything I wanted in my birth, and by having a mutual trust between us, I was able to have a truly joyous experience.
Barb said she would call me in the morning to make sure everything was going well. As soon as they were gone, Ben appeared with two glasses of chardonnay (naughty I know), and we sat there together in the late afternoon sun with our fifth child, smiling and talking about how completely perfect the day had been.
*All photos in this post were taken by my partner Ben.