My Journey to a Homebirth
Growing up, the only person I knew who had a homebirth was an aunt who, in my family’s opinion, was a bit of a hippie. It was not something “normal” people did. I never considered it as an option for myself.
My homebirth came about because of the experience I had with my first birth. Both births are precious to me, and I value them equally. If I hadn’t been challenged by the system and by myself, physically and emotionally, I would never have had the knowledge or courage to take the steps required to take charge of my second birth.
I have a strong belief in the body’s innate ability to birth and that pregnancy and birth are normal events that in the vast majority of cases do not require major medical intervention. When I found out I was pregnant with our first child I dutifully went to the doctor, not to find out I was pregnant, but to tell him I was. I’m not really sure why I went—it just seemed the thing you do when you’re pregnant. I’m a chiropractor; chiropractic is my choice of healthcare. I hadn’t been to a medical doctor in 10 years, and then only for signatures. He gave me some “great” advice about maternity options in Canberra, where I live, including: obstetrics, the birth center, and the public hospital. He may have mumbled something like, “I hope you’re not considering a homebirth,” but at the time I wasn’t, so I let it slide. I said I wanted as little medical intervention as possible, so he steered me in the direction of the birth center and told me to get Janet Balaskas’s book, Active Birth. He joked (rather condescendingly) that I should swing from the rafters to reduce the labor time.
The birth center seemed to be my ideal place to birth. My birth plan was accepted without question, and my husband, Rob, and I believed our birth would progress smoothly without medical intervention and that we were in good hands. How wrong we were. Even though I was completely well, with not a sign of concern, the birth center staff pressed various interventions upon me every step of the way. These included additional ultrasounds, stripping my membranes, inductions, vaginal examinations, wanting to rupture my membranes, catheters, cannula, drugs, and Syntocinon for the placenta. I knew all these procedures were unnecessary, but I felt powerless to stop them. Every time they brought up a new procedure, it took me away from the birthing state. My anxiety levels rose and I had no belief that the midwife was supporting me. She appeared more interested in performing procedures for the student doctor. Needless to say, my anterior lip wouldn’t budge—no wonder, considering my stress levels. My body was thinking it wasn’t a safe place to birth, and stopped dilating. Rather than feeling a sense of support and encouragement, I felt directed, pressured, and restricted. There was no respect for letting me birth as my body knew how, in the time frame that my body and baby required.
Charlotte was born with the entire birth-center team in the room, two midwives pulling on her head, and the student doctor holding me down on my back. Intuitively, I wanted to get up, but I choose not to resist their control, knowing my resistance would only make things worse. My anxious midwife, keen on interfering, panicked and started pulling and twisting the baby’s head instead of giving us some time to birth. Charlotte came out with a crack; she had a dislocated shoulder and brainstem damage.
Midwifery care was heavily promoted as being for the woman. Where had that idea gone? What happened to the idea of the midwife being my advocate? Too late, I realized my midwife knew nothing about me, my beliefs, and my understanding of a woman’s ability to birth without interference. I had expected her to believe this more strongly than I did. I remember how quickly she had scanned my birth plan; she never asked me any questions about it. I hadn’t asked enough questions about her beliefs, either, and what her choices would be in each circumstance.
Fortunately my education and training as a chiropractor ensured that Charlotte received the care she needed to facilitate the healing from such trauma. Her dislocated shoulder had not been picked up by the pediatricians; her brainstem damage caused left-sided muscle-tone weakness, which affected her gross motor control. I even enrolled in the International Chiropractic Pediatric Association certification course to advance my skills, now that I knew firsthand what can happen during what the medical staff considered a normal birth.
When I found out I was pregnant with our second baby I wasn’t filled with the excitement of the coming birth that I’d had the first time. I was looking forward to having another baby, but not eager to go through the process again. I didn’t know where to look for care. The birth center had let me down, but still seemed the most closely aligned with my philosophy; how had it gone so wrong the first time? I took some advice and hired a doula—someone who offers emotional and physical support to a woman and her partner before, during, and after childbirth—to be my advocate. I also enrolled in Calmbirth, a training program designed to release fears and anxiety about birth. My associate, Dr. Natasha Pragnell, began adjusting me using the Webster protocol for optimal neuro-biomechanical balance throughout pregnancy. Dr. Sarah Farrant helped me draw strength and healing from my previous emotional traumas.
I had been looking into having a homebirth, but thought if I could be in the birth center then I would save on the cost. As with most things in life, you get what you pay for. I began to realize cost in dollars did not compare to cost in satisfaction. I started attracting people into my life who were advocates of homebirth: my yoga teacher and women in my class; my doula, Ingrid; my Calmbirth instructor; Dr. Farrant, Dr. Jeanne Ohm and other chiropractors and their wives; and women from a homebirth rally I attended. I realized I had to take the plunge and commit.
I contacted Marie Heath, a very experienced and respected homebirth midwife. As soon as I met her and explained my first birth, I knew I had the right midwife for us. She believed that I was able to give birth without intervention, and that I didn’t need the entire hospital to interfere in the birth of my baby. She was on the same wavelength as me regarding how the first birth got interfered with. Once I committed I was relieved. I started to relax and enjoy being pregnant—my niggling pubic pain and sacroiliac joint pain disappeared. I had a lot of emotional baggage to work through to get in the right head and heart space for a homebirth. I got out my crayons and nurtured my creative side.
I meditated every day on the ability of my body and baby to birth. I made a birthing board with positive affirmations and decorated it with pictures of open flowers. My daily affirmations were: “I trust my body, I trust my baby. My body knows how to birth. My baby knows how to birth. My body can only create a baby the right size for me to birth. If a woman can give birth in a coma, I don’t have to do anything. Let my body do what it knows how to do. Just get out of the way and let it happen.” I refocused the language I was using that wasn’t encouraging, like “labor,” “delivery,” and “contractions,” and changed it to “birth,” “pressure,” and “sensations.”
I watched movies of homebirths and women giving birth without pain. I fortified my inner knowing by convincing myself that if all those women had done it, then so could I.
The rest of my pregnancy was less eventful. I was led to a book called Hands of Love: Seven Steps to the Miracle of Birth by chiropractor and doula Carol J. Phillips. Its message resonated with me. The outcome of birth does not make it good or bad, right or wrong. It’s not whether it is slow or fast, painful or not—it is what it is for what you and your baby need it to be. It is perfect. Your body knows what to do and doesn’t need to be told by someone who thinks they know better. I let go of my expectation of a perfect birth, whatever that was.
As with my first pregnancy, my due date came and went without event. I had been twinging for a few days, but it was nothing to write home about. Two weeks later I called my support friend, Niki, to come over, since I was feeling miserable and needy. She encouraged me to call Marie and tell her I was experiencing niggling sensations. Marie said I was fine and just pre-laboring and I would see her in a few days. Rob and my dad were collecting hay for the garden, so they were in and out all day with Charlotte. (There were lots of jokes about the men doing the nesting.) Dad saw that I was a bit unsettled and decided I shouldn’t be on my own; he called Mum to come and spend some time with me. We lay on the bed and chatted.
My doula, Ingrid, called too—she must have sensed I needed support. I asked if she could come over that afternoon. My niggling sensations were not going away. I focused on each sensation as if it was opening my cervix. I hoped for the birth to get going, but all I could feel was a mild pulling above my pubic bone. I was sure it was pre-birth practice sensations and the real thing was still days away. My first birth had been 10 hours of arduous work. I concentrated on the sensations, hoping they were the feelings women who don’t have pain in childbirth have, but not believing I was actually underway. I let it work on my uterus without trying to resist it or put up with it, as I had during the first birth. The sensations only went on for about 20 seconds, and I maintained my conversation only with slight pauses and changes of breath. We joked a few times that I was probably 9 centimeters dilated.
Ingrid left around 4 p.m., and Mum an hour later. The sensations were maybe 20 minutes apart at their closest, but not consistent. Often there was an hour in between them, and they didn’t increase in intensity at all. I napped for an hour and woke up for dinner with Rob and Charlotte. He noticed my changes in breath were getting closer together and asked when the last one was. I had been asleep so didn’t really know, but thought maybe one had woken me up. I didn’t want to be distracted by observing my body, I just wanted to be in my body and let it do what it needed and not get in the way of the process. I didn’t want timing and watching the clock to be my gauge. After dinner he said they were about 10 minutes apart. OK: I was now convinced it would start tonight.
After dinner, Charlotte asked to breastfeed before bed. It wasn’t exactly what I planned to be doing at the time, but I thought it was better to have her settled and in bed so we could get ready for the birth. I lay on our bed feeding Charlotte while Rob gently stroked my back to encourage endorphin and oxytocin release. I still thought I was being premature in starting the relaxation techniques, but what could it hurt? I asked Rob to run his fingers through my hair, but he just got the hair in my eyes so I gently redirected him to stroke my back again.
When I tried to ignore the pulling sensation it actually felt worse, and the more I focused on it the less it bothered me. The whole process was frustrating; I just wanted the birth to establish for real. I felt it was unfair I had to work so hard at staying calm and it wasn’t even the real thing yet. I could sense that if I didn’t stay calm it could easily take over and get out of control. I stopped myself from entertaining those thoughts; they weren’t going to help me. Rob noticed a slight change in the depth of my breath, and timed the breath changes at five to six minutes apart. We hurried Charlotte to bed. It was 7.20 p.m.
Breastfeeding had stirred things up, and I wanted to get in the bath to relax. I thought we had plenty of time: We’d get ourselves ready, get the support team back, fill up the pool, and settle in to make an evening of it. I went to the toilet and had a mild urge to push. This was interesting, because last time pushing wasn’t something I could choose whether or not to do. I trusted my body and decided since I didn’t have to push then, I wouldn’t. I’d let my body do what it knew how to do.
Rob ran the bath and called Marie—it was 7.29. She was helping another woman give birth, so she called a stand-in midwife. Rob rang Ingrid and told her things had progressed and we’d call her back when we knew for sure it was happening. (He hadn’t realized it was already happening, because I was so calm and not making any noises. He’d missed the point that he should have been telling them to come over.) Rob went to the lounge room to set up the birth pool. I couldn’t get comfortable in the bath. I couldn’t lie down. I was on all fours and the water didn’t reach my belly. I then realized it was happening—not in a few hours but right now, and fast. I called Rob back to the bathroom and told him there wasn’t going to be time for the birth pool: “It’s happening right now.” A hot flush raced down my back, which called for a cold washcloth.
The stand-in midwife, Georgia, called. Rob handed me the phone and I calmly accepted her offer to come over and “check me.” She had no idea the birth was imminent. I should have screamed, “I’m having the baby right now!” but I thought better of it. Then Rob called Ingrid back and told her it was happening right now. She was half an hour away. I had an overwhelming urge to bear down, and I felt my membranes pop. I breathed deep and hard and told myself not to push so hard; it would happen on its own. I could feel the head! I realized we are having the baby on our own.
I had to stay calm. Rob told me it was OK; the baby had gone back up. “Yeah but it’s coming in the next push!” I told him. I breathed. We got Ingrid back on the phone, since we didn’t have Georgia’s number. Ingrid was still 20 minutes away, but she knew she wasn’t going to make it. She suggested I get out of the bath, because if I stayed in the bath the baby would dive-bomb into the water. I slid out of the bath and onto the mat. I had to stay calm. I asked Rob what he could see and he told me as each part emerged—forehead, eyebrows, eyes, cheekbones, nose, mouth. I took a breath and reflected on my previous birth and how different this one was. There was no way the shoulders were getting stuck this time, it had just been too different. At 7.45, Rob took the catch of his life.
“It’s another girl,” he said, as he passed Eleanor back through my legs to me. I double-checked. Rob had forgotten to look when Charlotte was born, and almost presumed she was a boy. Oh my gosh! We did it, and on our own! I thought. And it was oh, so easy. I held my crying baby girl, thinking, That’s good; she’s breathing; everything is OK. Now that’s how you’re supposed to come into the world: no pushing, no pulling, no interference. Just letting it all happen.
We woke Charlotte, who had been in bed for only 20 minutes. She excitedly declared “Bay-be” and pointed out all her body parts and where my breasts were for “mi-mi.” We retired to the bedroom. We couldn’t stop laughing. Ingrid arrived 10 minutes later and suggested giving a little push so I could birth the placenta. Ten minutes later Georgia arrived, surprised that we’ve already had the baby and the placenta. She helped Rob and Charlotte cut the cord. Eleanor needed no guidance with baby-led self attachment as she bobbed her head straight to my breast. I even had ice cream in bed just because I felt like it. I’d had a homebirth; I could do what I liked!
Marie called in at 6 the following morning to check on us before going home to sleep. Eleanor was 4.4 kilograms (9 pounds 11 ounces)—our “little” baby, lighter than her sister but longer, at 58 centimeters (23 inches).
Everyone involved in our homebirth supported me to stand up for my rights as a birthing woman. We feel proud we did it our way: the way we knew was possible and the way it can be done. Knowledge is power, and knowing firsthand the importance of getting the right support team for you and the tools to manage birth is life-changing. I can’t thank everyone enough.
This article appeared in Pathways to Family Wellness magazine, Issue #53.
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