Joanne had her homebirth in Australia, but she has now moved to Cambridge, England, and is keen to support homebirth here.
I had always wanted a natural birth. As I grew up and heard about women using painkilling drugs during birth, I decided that I wanted to labour without drugs. I believed that women were created with everything they needed to birth and I looked forward to my body going through the miracle of childbirth. I also wanted my baby to free of any side-effects an analgesic may give to him or her.
Before my husband, Shannon, and I planned to become pregnant we looked into taking out private health insurance. When we discovered the rate of medical intervention during birth was significantly higher with private health insurance, we decided not to join a fund. However my research led to information about the benefits of continuous care with a midwife during pregnancy, birth and for postnatal care. I spoke to Shannon and we agreed this was the kind of care we wanted. The next piece of research led to the discovery that currently the best way to obtain this kind of care in South Australia is through an independent midwife.
I then set about looking into the difference between labour wards and birth centers in the public hospital system. At this stage of our journey the idea of a homebirth was too foreign (we didn't know anyone who'd had a homebirth) and too scary for our first birth, although my husband agreed that it might be an option he'd consider for a subsequent birth.
Given my predisposition towards natural birth, the birth centre at our closest hospital became an easy choice for us. We decided that we'd find an independent midwife and take her to the birth centre with us. So when I became pregnant I began phoning the list of independent midwives who work in Adelaide. During this process there was one midwife I spoke to whom I really connected with - Wendy. She was extremely positive about first births, she spoke of women who were empowered through birth and she described birth as a beautiful experience. However, she was reluctant to come to the birth centre with us as she was aware that her role would be as a support person, not as our midwife. She suggested I get in touch with another midwife who worked at the hospital we were planning on birthing at as she might have more capacity to act as our midwife during labour.
This led to us visiting the birth centre in order to gain a better understanding of the role of an independent midwife in the centre, the likelihood of us birthing in the centre, the rate of transfer to the labour ward and the logistics of transferring from home to the hospital and back home again. It was an enlightening visit and one that led to us getting in touch with Wendy again to say we'd like to meet with her to discuss our options.
Around this time I also attended a Birth Matters meeting. At the meeting I met Tania who was equally as positive about first births, passionate about homebirths and obviously loved her work as a midwife. When I found out that she works alongside Wendy, I knew I'd found my midwives.
Our meeting with Wendy was a wonderful experience. I was twenty weeks pregnant and we heard our baby's heartbeat for the first time. Wendy's enthusiasm, warmth and passion were a far cry from the cold, sterile, impersonal 'care' I had been receiving at the hospital for my antenatal visits. My mother-in-law arrived at the end of our time with Wendy and was also impressed with her professionalism. She expressed strong support for homebirths which gave us something to think about, given her third birth in a birthing centre had been a textbook birth and a truly empowering experience.
Over the next few weeks we continued to read about the risks and safety of homebirth, we discussed the logistics (isn't it really messy?), we prayed about it and we spoke with our friend, Liana, who is a student midwife. All this led to the conclusion that we'd like to plan a homebirth with the understanding that is exactly what it is - a planned homebirth. If for any reason we needed to transfer to hospital before, during or after the birth, we would, without hesitation. The decision made, we both felt complete peace. Future visits with Wendy and Tania only confirmed that we were making the right choice for us. Their enthusiasm and confidence inspired us and soon we were feeling as excited about the impending birth of our first child as they were.
During the last couple of weeks of my pregnancy I began to feel sensations in my lower abdomen that were very similar to the cramping feeling I would get when I had my period. I also experienced some lower back ache, on and off. I could feel the baby's head sitting low in my pelvis, particularly when I went for long walks. I also started to feel a tingly, almost electric shock feeling in my vagina. Wendy assured me all this was normal and was a good indication that my body was getting ready to birth soon.
On the Saturday before Christmas we enjoyed a late sleep-in, knowing they were about to become a precious commodity. At about 2.00pm in the afternoon I felt a heavy discharge and went to the toilet to investigate. I found a show of bright red blood. I was thrilled to see such a definite indication that changes to my cervix were taking place. Although, I knew established labour could still be days away. Shannon was equally as happy to hear the news. What an amazing feeling of anticipation as we contemplated that in the very near future we were about to embark on one of life's most amazing miracles - birth!
I went and rang Wendy who was pleased to hear from us, but reiterated that things could take a while to get going. We offered to come and collect the birthing pool from her house, as we knew she would be making many visits to us in the days and weeks to come. Before going over to Wendy's we decided to take our Labrador, Basil, for a walk down at the beach. We enjoyed this special time together and again felt very much at peace with our choices for childbirth.
After returning from Wendy's we rang our student midwife, Liana, to put her onto a 'heightened state of alert'. We arranged to go to our local church's Christmas production together and grab a pizza for dinner afterwards. Being heavily pregnant so close to Christmas there were obvious comparisons to Mary made at church that night!
After our pizza we sat around chatting about how I hadn't been able to feel any of my Braxton Hicks during the pregnancy, although we could see the tightening of my abdomen. As we were talking I said that for the first time I could start to feel a sensation that seemed to correlate with the tightening we could all see. We decided that perhaps we'd best go home and try to get as much sleep as we could. I am a terrific sleeper so we knew that if I woke up during the night it would probably mean that established labour had begun.
Once we were home we decided to just do a couple of things before going to bed. Shannon rigged up a trapeze with a piece of dowel and some ropes that he hung from the exposed beams in our lounge room. The trapeze was strategically located above the birthing pool so I could pull on it during labour if I wanted to. I tidied the lounge room and vacuumed the rug. It was during the vacuuming I started to feel several strong contractions that I needed to stop and breathe through. I found leaning on the kitchen bench helped to ease the sensation. It was becoming obvious that we might not need to wait days for our baby to arrive.
At about 11.30pm we decided to try going to bed to see if the contractions eased when I lied down. Nope. In fact I found it really uncomfortable to be lying down during a contraction and so got off the bed and knelt over the side of it. I was quickly learning that any position where my stomach lent forward was going to be more comfortable. We took a few minutes to pray together before phoning Liana to invite her to come over and help set up the birth pool.
Liana arrived and pretty much went straight to work with Shannon setting up the lounge room for the birth. I moved my exercise ball into the lounge and enjoyed rolling around on that during contractions. Something I had decided prior to labour beginning was that I didn't want to know what time it was, how long my contractions were or how far apart they were. I wanted to be free of all time constraints and allowed to labour in my own time. So, when I rang Wendy at about 12.45am to let her know I was experiencing strong, consistent contractions I was unable to tell her more than that. The contractions are pretty consistent and pretty strong. I assured her I was fine with Liana and Shannon to support me and that she should get some more sleep. I agreed to keep her posted over the next couple of hours.
Once the pool was set up I asked Shannon to come over to me during contractions so I could lean on his shoulders whilst continuing to roll on the ball. I found that leaning into his chest gave me stability and comfort whilst I breathed through the contractions. I was already thankful for the wonderful breathing and relaxation exercises my antenatal yoga classes had taught me. However they were to become absolutely invaluable as my labour progressed.
At 2.15am Wendy rang to ask how I was going. Liana spoke with her and relayed the timing of my contractions (unbeknown to me). We agreed that it would be good if Wendy could come over and join us. Plus Wendy was finding it hard to get back to sleep!
After the phone call I started to feel some nausea and asked Shannon to grab me a bowl. It wasn't too long after the nausea started that I vomited. I think for me one of the worst experiences of the entire labour was experiencing a strong contraction whilst vomiting. The next contraction after that was equally as horrible as I found it hard to relax and welcome the sensation. By the third or fourth contraction after I'd been sick I was starting to feel at ease again and was able to relax and breathe through the contraction.
Wendy arrived in the middle of this 'excitement' at about 3am. She suggested putting a cold face washer onto my neck, which seemed to ease the nausea slightly. She also took my blood pressure reading and listened to the baby's heart beat. Both were excellent. Wendy suggested filling the pool, which Shannon and Liana set about doing.
After an hour or so Wendy asked if we'd like her to ring Tania and invite her to join us. We readily agreed and were pleased to see Tania's smiling face when she arrived shortly afterwards. Tania brought peppermint essential oil with her, which she put into a container of ice cold water. I was still experiencing persistent nausea and Tania thought soaking some face washers in the water and putting them on the back of my neck and my forehead might help ease it. The peppermint oil smelled wonderful to me!
The pool was full around 4.30am and given my contractions were strong, it was suggested that I might like to try getting into the pool. The relief from the warm water was immediate. It felt so good to be weightless in the water and to have complete freedom of movement. I tried sitting in the pool in a few different positions, but fairly quickly found that kneeling with my head and arms resting on the side of the pool was the most comfortable. Around 5am I asked Shannon to join me in the pool as I felt that I wanted him beside me. During contractions he placed his hand on my lower back and pushed heavily. He was surprised how hard I wanted him to push. The next day he woke up with sore muscles! The contractions eased slightly for the next hour or so but remained long and strong. I also found it helpful for Shannon to talk to me during the contractions and give me different parts of my body to focus on relaxing and softening.
At about 5.30am I asked Shannon to phone our mums and ask them to come over to be with us. Just prior to our mums arriving I started to feel some pressure with the contractions. I was still experiencing strong nausea and was finding it really difficult to deal with. The mums arrived at 7am and not long after that I vomited again. I just wished for the nausea to ease as I was finding I was able to cope with the contractions much better than feeling sick.
I continued to feel increasing pressure in my bowel over the next couple of hours. At 9am I was again reaching for the container and then deeply inhaling the beautiful peppermint oil.
The mums busied themselves with making cups of tea, fetching breakfast and folding our laundry. From time to time Basil, the dog, would wonder into the lounge room to check on my well being. I looked down at one stage to find some pet therapy going on with my Mum patting Basil. Who was comforting who was debatable!
By 11am I was feeling tired and in need of reassurance. Wendy encouraged me telling me that I could do this. With the next contraction I stated out loud 'I CAN do this' and received strong affirmation from my cheer squad. I found it helpful to think of the contractions as finite. Often Shannon or I would say 'goodbye contraction' or 'that's one contraction closer to having our baby'. I also found it useful to handle the labour one contraction at a time. We played our favourite CDs and found the uplifting lyrics of the Psalms to be particularly helpful. Liana was wonderful at keeping a constant stream of music going.
The pressure continued to increase with each contraction and at midday Wendy and Tania were able to discern some involuntary pushing with the contractions. They encouraged me to push if I felt like it. I tried this with my next contraction, but told them that I didn't really feel like pushing. They assured me this was OK, but to go with it if I did feel the need to push. Thankfully the nausea had started to abate. I felt the baby hiccupping on several occasions during labour, which was a lovely feeling.
The membranes surrounding our baby were still intact and were beginning to cause a lot of pressure as they got lower and lower in my pelvis. By 12.45pm the pressure was immense and the perceived lack of progress on my behalf was beginning to discourage me. My Mum came to me in the pool and gave me a hug. She encouraged me and we shared a verse from the bible together 'I can do all things through Him who strengthens me'. Shannon and I had been reminded of this verse earlier in the morning and it was special to be able to share it with Mum too. Shannon was also in need of some encouragement at this time, and his Mum gave him a hug in the pool and they shared a few tears together.
The strong involuntary pushing continued and I continued to make loud, low noises as I bore down with each contraction. I tried hanging from the trapeze and found this helped me to push. I was expecting the pushing to be an irresistible, strong urge that would have noticeable results. So after a couple of hours of pushing with no discernable difference (to me) being made I was starting to wonder if this baby was ever coming. At these times of doubt Wendy or Tania would whisper an encouraging word in my ear. I recall Wendy telling me at one stage that this was my journey and nobody was going to take it away from me. I found that a profound and inspiring thought. At another time Tania told me that there was a reason why our baby wasn't born this morning and that our baby would come this afternoon. I found that to be an equally as encouraging thought to focus on.
Around 2.30pm I began to have a stronger urge to push. Wendy did a quick vaginal examination and found a thin anterior lip of my cervix remaining. Thankfully it was soft and not swollen. The membranes were bulging in an amazing way and could be felt only an inch from the opening of my vagina. Wendy suggested changing positions as it might help to move the anterior lip. For the next contraction I leaned back and Shannon supported me from behind. With that one contraction I felt a clicking feeling and was sure the anterior lip had moved. At 2.45pm I was confirmed as fully dilated with tight bulging membranes.
At 3.00pm I could feel our baby descending. What a magnificent feeling! We were all relieved at this news and the atmosphere in the lounge room lightened significantly.
The long, strong contractions continued with long breaks in between them. The breaks were long enough for me to fall asleep. Wendy and Shannon would also take advantage of these breaks and close their eyes themselves. Then when a contraction started again they would stir and become alert for me. At 3.30pm with a mighty 'pop' my membranes ruptured spontaneously during a contraction. Shannon could feel the rupture as he pushed on my lower back. Immediately I felt a release of pressure. This really encouraged me and I felt a surge of strength and determination to birth our baby at home in the way nature intended.
I continued pushing with each contraction and was amazed at how much progress I could feel with each push. Now this was more like it! As our baby's head got lower and lower in my pelvis I recalled reading somewhere that having a baby feels like you're pooing out a grapefruit. Yes! That is exactly what it felt like to me too. At 4.05pm our baby's head was low enough in my vagina for Shannon to be able to feel it. Although our baby was so close to being born, I didn't want to rush the delivery, and again felt pleased to be at home where there were no time constraints. I remained in the water and following Wendy's directions, pushed out our baby's head with slow, measured pushes accompanied with little grunts.
Wendy told me it was going to burn as our baby's head emerged and she was right! However I was surprised how easily I could relax and breathe through the burning sensation in between contractions. I again thanked God for the antenatal yoga classes.
Finally at 4.37pm our baby's head crowned. The umbilical cord was wrapped loosely around our baby's neck, so Wendy unloosed it. The next contraction followed two minutes later bringing the birth of our baby with it. Wendy saw that the umbilical cord was wrapped tightly around the baby's neck for a second time, so unloosed this and handed the baby to me. Shannon pulled me against him and he moved against the edge of the pool. There we sat for a number of minutes enjoying the pure joy of holding our healthy baby in our arms. After a few minutes I felt ready to find out who our baby was. I moved the umbilical cord, parted the baby's legs and was delighted to discover that Abigail Emelia Hood had arrived in our life.
Later on Wendy and Tania told us about the second tight loop around Abigail's neck. Perhaps this was the reason my membranes stayed intact until an hour before she was born. The membranes ensured the cord remained loose, and this ensured her regular, strong heartbeat.
We went to bed that night exhausted and sore, but so thankful to God for the amazing and wonderful way my body had ensured the safest passage into the world for our beautiful daughter.
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