When I fell pregnant – after a 2 year battle with fertility problems – I was 30 years old. My husband and I were lucky enough to be living in New Zealand at the time. As Australian citizens we were covered under the Aus/NZ reciprocal health care agreement and as a result were able to have full access to maternity services free of charge, including access to an independent homebirth midwife. We had left Australia just as the results of the Maternity Services Review were being released in 2009 and so it was a relief to be in a country where homebirth was supported.
Both my husband and I are quiet, private people, so the idea of birthing in a hospital, surrounded by strangers, had always felt wrong to me, but I had just assumed that it was one of the discomforts you had to put up with when you gave birth and it never occurred to me to think about how we could do it differently. It wasn’t until we had made the decision to start trying-to-conceive that the concept of homebirth was even a factor. Both being avid readers the first thing we did when we had decided to start our family, was head to the local library to see what we could find. I’m so grateful that the books I picked up that day were about homebirth. Before I read them, I didn’t even realise that homebirth was an option, but from the moment I read about it, it was like a lightbulb going off in my head. We knew it was the perfect choice for us.
I loved the idea of our baby being held only by us, of discovering her sex in our own time, of birthing in our own dark quiet space. I loved the thought of being able to climb into my own bed when it was all over, while being served home made sushi and snuggling skin to skin with our new baby. Simply put, we wanted our baby’s birth to be as gentle as possible – for all of us – and the best way to ensure a gentle arrival was to stay at home.
I had never met anyone who had homebirthed before, and all the women in my family had all birthed in hospitals, but I found a great community of women online who supported me so well through the pregnancy (and all the pre-pregnancy stuff too). For the most part my close friends and family were supportive (or at least quiet about their concerns), but a few of them did struggle with our choice, especially when they discovered that we hadn’t visited a doctors office at all throughout the pregnancy, not even to have an ultrasound. We answered their questions as calmly as we could but did our best not to engage in any heavy discussions about our choices, I really wanted to create a positive space for myself and our baby and part of that was avoiding naysayers. We were prepared for the possibility that things might not go to plan but we were preparing for things to go just as we wanted them to.
As a first time mother, I wasn’t really sure what to expect when it came to the labour – there is only so much reading can tell you after all – but I decided early on that I wanted to try and birth with just my husband and I in the house. I had a midwife, who visited us at home all the way through my pregnancy, but while I enjoyed her company and knowledge in the lead up, what I wanted from her during my birth was for her to be ‘on call’ rather than at my house. Secretly I was hoping that I would call her from my couch once it was all over and I had a baby in my arms.
As it turned out, it wouldn’t have been just my husband and I anyway. My Mother was flying in from Australia to meet the baby, and had booked her flight 10 days after my “due” date, hoping to give my husband and I time to bond with the baby before she arrived. I had always said during my pregnancy that I didn’t believe in due dates and that the baby would come on it’s birthday, but it had never once occurred to me that I would still be pregnant when I picked my Mother up from the airport. Having a post dates pregnancy wasn’t something that I expected but it wasn’t something that caused too much concern for us either, my midwife offered monitoring at the hospital to make sure everything was okay, but I was determined to avoid getting put in the system and confident that everything was going perfectly. The baby was moving around all the time, and we had a foetal stethoscope at home as well if we needed to use it. I considered trying to get things going with natural induction methods, but in the end I decided just to let nature take it’s course.
At 42w5d, at 6am, I finally went into labour. My husband and I chatted and swayed through my surges together in the dark of the bedroom for a few hours before heading into the lounge room where I played scrabble with my Mother. My husband cooked for us throughout the day, and read a book, stopping every 8 minutes or so to press my accupressure points as I surged. After the sun set, my water broke, and my contractions went from a steady 8 minutes apart to 3 minutes apart. I smsed my midwife to let her know that things were happening and said I would call her if I needed her. We had been waiting for my contractions to be 5 minutes apart before we filled the pool so when I suddenly went from 8 to 3, things got a bit chaotic. My husband filled the birth pool, boiling huge pots on the stove when our hot water system ran cold and running back from the kitchen every 3 minutes to help me through each contraction.
By the time I got into the water I was roaring through each surge, and when I hit transition I asked for my midwife to be called. She arrived with 15 minutes to spare. At 11:30pm our daughter was born. I reached gently into the water to bring her to the surface, I found her leg, warm and slimy, and spun her around gently until I found her shoulders, and then brought her up to us. When he saw her, my husband said “oh my god!” and burst into tears. I couldn’t believe it. There she was. She had her eyes open from the start and we looked at each other as I held her in my arms. After about 10 minutes someone asked “is it a boy or a girl?” and we both laughed because we hadn’t even thought to look. Her cord was very short, so I couldn’t move it out of the way to check, so my Mum crawled over with a torch and had a look. “it’s a girl!”.
I birthed the placenta about 10 minutes later and we climbed out of the birth pool and settled onto the couch for skin to skin. We had decided to have a lotus birth so while I held our baby, the midwife cleaned off the placenta and got it ready for dusting and wrapping. It was about that time that the backup midwife arrived, expecting to find me in labour, she was suitably shocked to find us all sitting on the couch with cups of tea and chocolates. After a while the midwives checked me over and stitched me up – by far the most traumatic part of the day – and I left my husband and midwife to clean up while baby and I curled up in bed together. We stayed there – for the most part – for the next six days. On the sixth day the placenta detached, our daughter reached down, grabbed it in her little fist and pulled, the cord came off with an audible pop! Up until then the only people who had held her were myself, my husband and my mother.
It was a perfect start to our parenthood journey and I wouldn’t change a thing – except maybe that stitching up business! My only complaint? That I didn’t get my sushi until the next afternoon.