Breath in, breathe out…one wave at a time!

First pregnancy – Home birth

When one of my friends (in her mid twenties) mentioned that she was going to do a home birth, I must admit, I thought she was crazy or just naïve. It was her first baby, why take such a risk? This was two years ago, and oh, how my view has changed during this past year, as I journeyed through my own first pregnancy. I work with children and mothers with complications after birth and I always thought that the “safest” way for a baby to be born is in hospital. All the necessary equipment and trained personal are there; ready to help in the case of an emergency and the NICU and theater is just down the passage.

After working closely with premature babies over the past 3 years, I have come to realize that there are a lot of factors that can affect the baby during pregnancy, during labour and after the delivery, which has a direct or indirect impact on their development. I learnt what a massive roll oxytocin (the “love” hormone) and cortisol (the stress hormone) plays in our bodies. I learnt that if a woman is stressed during her pregnancy and delivery, this might have an effect on her labour and even affect how baby is born (this is just my opinion).

I realized that I knew very little about birthing a baby and what a mother needs during her labour process. My husband and I did an extensive 8-week ante-natal class (with extra sessions afterwards to desensitize my husband as he battled to deal with the thought of the whole birthing process). I did a lot of extra research, reading and speaking to professionals as well as mothers. What I found was that our modern day practices in hospital are still quite structured in such a way to make it comfortable for the healthcare practitioners and their preferences so that they can do their jobs well. When questioning certain protocols, I was told that unfortunately they couldn’t change the way they do certain things in hospital. This was odd to me, seeing that everyone seems to be pro-natural birth, but all I heard was the “what-if-something-goes-wrong” or “just-in-case-something-goes-wrong”.

This made me look into the possibility of a home birth. There were a few things that I wanted in place on my labour day and delivering at home would allow this to be a possibility.

One thing that was very important to me was that I did not want to be in a scenario where my baby or myself were at risk. We met with an advanced midwife, and asked her many, very direct questions to determine the “possible risks” of delivering at home. She answered all our questions and did not flower up the idea of a homebirth. After that, I knew that home births are safe for moms who are well informed with a low risk pregnancy and a strong support system. She made it very clear that it is no walk in the park, and that there is a 50% possibility that I would be transferred to hospital, seeing that she does not take any chances with mothers at home.

After my 37-week check-up, my Gynecologist reassured me that I was a good case for home delivery. My pregnancy was still low risk and she was happy to be the backup doctor on the day.

My water broke on the Friday evening around 7pm (at 38weeks and 2 days). I did not have any contractions at the time. After informing my midwife, she gave me 24h to go into labour, otherwise she advised that we go to hospital.   The next morning around 04h30, my contractions started! I waited till about 6am before I phoned my Doula (also a midwife) to inform her. She arrived about 20-30 min later and examined me. At that stage, I was 2cm dilated and in the early stages of labour.

I decided that I did not want to make use of any pain medication. I used various means of pain relief during the day. Initially, I was able to get through the contractions with focused breathing and movement, leaning on the kitchen counter and swaying side to side.

It took my husband quite a while to wrap his head around the fact that things are HAPPENING! We still laugh about the fact that he asked me if he could put up some shelving (whilst I am rocking through contractions). I had to very calmly tell him: “I don’t think we will get to put up shelving today”. I think it was his way to cope and keep busy

Back to the contractions…When movement was not that effective any more, I combined the breathing with TENS treatment to assist me during contractions. That helped quite a lot, until I went into active labour around 11am. After that, I wanted downward pressure on my lower back during every contraction, with every breath I breathed out. My midwife was notified when I transitioned into active labour and she arrived around midday. At that stage I was 6cm dilated. I also made use of a gym ball during active labour to help take the edge off from the contractions. Between the two midwives and my husband, they worked very hard to help and coach me through each contraction. We were such a great team and I am extremely grateful to them!

When my contractions got really strong, they suggested that I tried sitting in the birth pool. The warm water was really relaxing between contractions, but did not assist with any pain relief during contractions. The only thing that helped was rhythmical and focused breathing as well as the downward pressure with every breath I breathed out during contractions. I still recall my Doula saying to us at our anti-natal classes that labour contractions are like waves, and you need to try stay on top of the wave. Towards the end, music (I set up a playlist with music a week before I went into labour) was very helpful to break the silence and had a subconscious calming effect, which also assisted with dealing with the pain. I cannot recall actively listening to the music, but I do recall the relief before the pushing phase.

I reached the transition stage of labour in the birth pool. The pain is something that you do not want to re-imagine. Instead of being fearful of the next contraction, I focused on tackling each one as they got stronger, something that athletics (running hurdles) and surfing taught me. Not to fear the hurdle/wave, but to push forward instead of backing down. With that said, when it got quite bad, I recall thinking to myself: “This is our first and last baby. I am not doing this EVER again!” The pain was like nothing I have ever experienced in my life. I recall my Doula saying to me at some stage: “Not long to go”, and thinking to myself: “She better not be lying to me!” I had to constantly decide to fully trust the midwives and followed their instructions as best I could.

When they saw I was ready to push, they helped me out the pool and on to a birth stool. My husband sat behind me and assisted with the downward pressure on my back during contractions.

The pushing phase was once again a different type of pain, unlike anything I have ever experienced. During the pushing phase, my midwife asked me if I wanted to look “down there” using a mirror. When I looked, I saw nothing, even though it felt like her head should already be visible! Everything in me did not want to push, because it felt like I am going to fracture my pelvis by pushing, but I realized that there was no turning back at that point.   I closed my eyes and re-focused. With the coaching of the ladies, it took about three contractions (that I can recall) and our healthy baby girl was born.

My husband’s favourite moment was looking over my shoulder and seeing our little girl being born, spit out the amniotic fluid and taking her first breath. After crying for a bit, she started making sucking movements with her mouth. I completely missed this part as I still had my eyes tightly shut at that stage. She was handed to me straight away and as I sat back against my husband with our baby in my arms, he burst out crying and then I realized we did it, and I burst out into tears. At that moment my placenta spontaneously came out as well. I was so grateful, as I did not want any artificial hormones injected. Time of birth 13h50 (for baby and the placenta)! Weight 2.84kg, 49cm long.

I was assisted to my bed, where I lay skin-to-skin with my baby, while the midwives cleaned up. During that time, our baby started to bob her head and wiggle around. She found my breast within minutes and started suckling all by herself. That was such an amazing moment for me as this was one of my biggest desires, for my baby to be born un-medicated and given an opportunity to initiate breastfeeding within the first moments of her life, which she did! I am so proud of her!

Afterwards we all sat on the bed reflecting on the day and my midwife prayed, thanking Jesus for His tangible presence throughout the day and the birth of our precious little girl.

The Lord provided in every little detail. A few days later reading through my “birth plan” where I wrote down my desires for the birth, I felt like I received the biggest undeserved gift ever. I could tick off every box! Looking back at the day, I could not have asked for a more beautiful, ‘peaceful’, unmediated home birth to welcome our precious girl into this world.


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