I intend to write on quite a few parenting topics but the birth of my second child is the most recent significant event in my parenting journey. The way I birthed him is somewhat uncommon (though not as much as you think): I had a planned home birth. Most people in Australia think home births are totally wacky and something only hippies do. I never thought that I was a home birth kinda person either. So I thought I’d share a bit about what it was like (here in Part 1) and how I came to diverge so drastically from the mainstream (to follow in Part 2).
What was it like?
The antenatal period
I selected a private midwife when I was about 3 months pregnant, and she visited me at home throughout my pregnancy. The frequency of the visits started at about once a month and slowly increased as we approached the birth. During this time, my midwife and I got to get to know each other, and apart from checking that my pregnancy continued smoothly, the midwife tried to ensure that I was in the right headspace for giving birth naturally, because a woman’s attitude has a huge influence on pain experienced (more on that later).
I chose a midwife in a group midwifery practice, and there is always a backup midwife, who I met once before the birth. The backup midwife also provides a second pair of hands at the birth from just before the pushing stage till they are sure everything is fine after the birth.
I also registered at a backup hospital (a public hospital for my area) and attended one neonatal appointment there. If a risk had been identified during pregnancy that prohibited a home birth or a problem had arisen during labour, the backup hospital is where I would have given birth. This almost happened as my son turned breech at about 30 weeks. He only turned head down at 36.5 weeks just before I was about to receive an ECV at the hospital to turn him.
I had the normal antenatal checks, such as ultrasounds at 12 and 20 weeks (though you do realise that the decision to have these checks are completely up to the mother regardless of mode of care?) and blood tests. My baby also had all the usual tests and injections following the birth. What I didn’t have were ultrasounds at every appointment like with my first pregnancy or internal examinations unless I requested them.
Antenatal Education: CalmBirth®
There are generally two types of non-traditional antenatal classes: hypnotherapy and CalmBirth®. I attended CalmBirth and I found it incredibly insightful. CalmBirth was designed by a male Australian midwife and is quite popular in the eastern states, but not very common in WA. The fundamental principles that I learned at CalmBirth were:
- In birth, hormones play a huge role in controlling the birth process. Oxytocin, the hormone of love (which is involved in orgasms as well as breastfeeding), is needed for labour to progress. Adrenaline, the ‘fight or flight’ hormone, is needed when pushing the baby out (and to provide pain relief) but too much prior to that will inhibit labour.
- The fear-tension-pain cycle. Fear during birth increases the pain experienced, as well as inhibiting birth by the production of adrenaline. Fear increases tension, which increases pain, which usually results in more fear and hence pain.
- Therefore management of fear, keeping calm, is paramount for minimising pain and helping birth progress.
- The course offers and allows you to practice a few ideas for managing your state of mind, such as guided relaxation, visualisation and massage. It’s up to the parents to continue practicing these methods up until the birth.
- Pushing is not actually required to birth the baby, the contractions of the uterus will push the baby out even in the absence of the mother “pushing”. A mother should push according to her own urges to do so.
My son’s birth
On the day I went into labour we put my daughter to bed as usual in her bedroom. At around 8.30pm I started getting labour pains 15 minutes apart. I’d been getting Braxton Hicks for many weeks but it was unusual to get pains repeatedly so I suspected this was it, and sent texts to my midwife and mum to give them warning.
Just before 11pm the pains started coming every few minutes, which is the definition of real labour beginning. I let my midwife know that she was definitely needed and my husband started filling the birthing pool, which had been provided by the midwifery practice.
I found the contractions very painful and only really managed to cope in a kneeling position, though I tried to keep moving between the contractions. During contractions I tried to distract myself by performing physical activities like drumming my feet, as well as the CalmBirth breaths. The pains came faster and faster, and I was really looking forward to getting into the birthing pool. It was getting to the point where I thought I couldn’t bear more, but I also felt pretty sure that I was really close. I didn’t want to dispel this notion so I refrained from asking the midwife to check dilation. Dilation isn’t very reliable in predicting the length of time remaining anyway.
I was right: after moving into the birthing pool, less than 2 hours after starting real labour I reached the pushing stage. The second midwife had arrived by this time. Because I felt like pushing, I gave one or two pushes till my son’s head crowned. And then I stopped and just let my uterus expel him naturally. It took 15 minutes and most of that time was spent NOT pushing, just allowing my uterus to move my baby out by itself. Every time I had a contraction I just chanted, “I’m huge, I’m huge, I’m huge” and visualised myself opening. Once his head was out I gave another big push to get his shoulders out because that’s what I felt like doing . And he was born! Just before 1am!
Throughout it all the midwives remained unobtrusive. My midwife gave me reassurance every once in a while, checked on things without looking like she was, was just present and imbuing me with a sense of confidence that I had the strength and judgement to accomplish what I needed to. No loud cheering, no instructions to “push” like in the movies.
For the next half an hour I just sat in the pool with my baby lying on my chest and the cord still in tact and unclamped. He gave a little cry as he came out of the water and then went back to sleep! Eventually I felt the urge to push again and I birthed his placenta. I think by that time all the blood in the placenta had transferred into my son, the cord was transparent as there was no longer any blood flowing through it, so we cut the cord. This is called delayed cord clamping, which ensures baby gets the maximum amount of blood and iron from the placenta before the cord is clamped.
At this point I was ready to get out of the pool, and the midwives performed all the checks on me and bub. We made sure my son stayed skin-to-skin with me as much as possible.
At around 3am in the morning the midwife helped me get into bed with bub and left, promising to return later. We all went to sleep.
My daughter slept through the whole thing! She woke up at 6am and came into our room to find she had a little brother. I’ll never forget the expression on her face, something like, “What a minute…? Wha…? Is this really happening?”
In the next 6 weeks after the birth, the support I had from my midwife was amazing. She visited daily at first, slowly reducing to weekly. Before the birth I didn’t think that having home visits was important, but I realise now how positive it was for my mental health. I was so relaxed after my son’s birth, so not stressed, even though I still had some breastfeeding problems to work through. This was partly due to having the support of a private lactation consultant, but also because I had the midwife to talk to, and get advice about any concerns I had about my son, during her visits or by sms.
Overall, I was extremely happy with my care before, during and after my pregnancy, and so glad I decided to overcome my initial reluctance to have a home birth. In Part 2, I’ll explain how and why I came to that decision.