Friends of Belmont Birthing

A Healing Homebirth

In order to fully understand what Vivienne's birth means to me, you will need to first know a little bit about my two previous birth experiences. In January 2008 I gave birth to our first son, Benjamin James. I had had an uncomplicated pregnancy and he was born in a delivery suite at a major hospital in a capital city.

I had done little to prepare for his birth other than attend a couple of the antenatal classes at the hospital, have a quick tour of the delivery suites and read Kaz Cooke's book 'Up The Duff'. His labour was quite long and hard; I spent much of it in the shower as this helped me deal with the contractions although I was also sucking away on the gas too. After 16 hours or so the midwife examined me and said I was almost ready to push. My waters had not broken though and so she suggested breaking them for me in order to get things really going. With no further thought than, "Yes, let's get things really going, the end must be in sight", I agreed. She ruptured the membrane and then said, "Oh". I will never forget the look on her face then. "You're not 10cm" she said, her voice full of regret, "you're only 5cm". Apparently the amniotic sac had bulged so much that my cervix appeared to be more dilated than it actually was.

At this point I totally lost the plot. I felt utterly defeated. I had worked so hard to get to that point and thought I was nearly at the end. The thought that I would have to do all that hard work again to be fully dilated was horrific. The midwife suggested an epidural and I sobbed my agreement despite it being something I had wanted to avoid. Our son was born 7 hours later following the predictable cascade of interventions from the epidural: catheter, oxytocin and an episiotomy. Despite all this, I was ecstatic; our son was here and he was healthy, and the midwives had all been lovely. Overall I felt very positive about my first birth experience.

In 2010, I gave birth to our second son, Alexander Matthew. We had moved states since Benjamin's birth and I registered with the birth centre at our city hospital. I was keen to try and have a water birth this time as the shower had been so soothing in my first labour and hoped to have a more natural birth. I was disappointed by the birth centre rooms when I visited for the antenatal tour. They were simply delivery suites on the same floor of the hospital as the normal ones, with just the addition of a large bath. They still felt very medicalised and not at all 'homey'. I wish I had known enough then to choose a homebirth, but it wasn't even on my radar at that time.

Sadly, Alexander's birth was not the experience I was hoping for. The midwife who attended the birth was totally uncaring and unhelpful. She didn't tell me that my son was in a posterior position (even though she made note of it in my records after her initial palpation of my belly). I could not understand why, only an hour into labour, I was in more pain than I had ever experienced in my first labour. I couldn't get any relief from the contractions in any position and the bath didn't help. All she told me was to keep sucking on the gas, even though I hated how it made me feel and it did nothing to relieve the pain I was feeling. The contractions rolled into one, there was no downtime, no relief, nothing but pain and fear. I honestly thought I might die and truly thought that it would be welcome relief from the pain. At no point did my midwife help or reassure me. There was no positive encouragement; nothing at all.

Our son, Alexander, was born just three hours after arriving at the hospital in a full posterior position. I gave birth on my back, on the bed, in agony and shock.  I had second degree tears and several labial tears which were excruciating.

I went home that morning in a daze. I spent the first several weeks sobbing. I was in so much pain from the physical injuries of birth and I was in total shock at the way I felt I had been treated. No one was interested though; I had a healthy baby, so I should be happy. But I wasn't, I was miserable.

I remember very little of Alexander's first year. Coupled with the traumatic birth experience, Alexander also suffered from severe reflux and was a very unsettled and unhappy baby who would sleep for only 45 minutes at a time. Months later, I was finally diagnosed with post natal depression. I was depressed, but there was more to it than that. I was suffering from flashbacks, anger and insomnia. I would lie awake at night thinking about Alex's birth even months and months after the event. I saw a psychologist who suggested I was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. It seemed ridiculous to me that a birth experience could trigger such symptoms, but it was true.

A year after Alex's birth, I undertook EMDR (eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing) therapy from a local counsellor who specialises in trauma and, in particular, birth trauma. It was amazing. In only five sessions I was able to process my feelings about Alex's birth and move past the trauma. I felt fantastic and positive and ready to take on the world again.

I fell pregnant very soon after my therapy. After Alex's birth I had been adamant I would never have any more babies because I was terrified of having another bad experience. But after the EMDR therapy I had decided that a third baby was not quite so terrifying a thought now.

I was determined that my third birth would be a totally different experience than my previous ones. I straight away chose to see the midwives at Belmont Midwifery Group Practice for my care. Since the trauma of Alex's birth, I had become much more informed about pregnancy and labour and knew that having a relationship with a midwife whom I trusted was going to be key to my experience this time. The team at Belmont support homebirths and it seemed obvious to me that we would be more in control and more comfortable birthing at home. Luckily, my pregnancy was again uncomplicated and we booked in for a homebirth. For the first time ever I was actually looking forward to giving birth.

My midwife saw me for almost all my antenatal appointments. We discussed in great depth my traumatic birth experience and we broke down any fears I had about the birth this time. I had two main concerns this time; baby's  position and the chance of tearing badly. For the entire third trimester, the baby had her head down but was lying with her back against my right hand side. I wanted to ensure I did everything I could to encourage a good position for labour. I spent lots of time on my hands and knees, avoided sitting in a reclining position and swam every couple of days in the lead up to the birth.

I had already decided that I wanted to birth in water this time. My midwife and I discussed how I might labour, positions I may find helpful and, importantly, how I could control the final stages of the baby's birth and simply breathe the baby out to minimise the chance of tearing. I also listened to hypnosis for birth CDs and tried to really focus on how I would get through the labour in the most positive way I could.

On Monday, 4 February, six days before the guess date, I woke up at 3am with a pain in my belly. It took me a minute to work out what had woken me. It felt like a contraction, but I wasn't sure. I stayed in bed and waited to see if there were more. Ten minutes later, the next contraction came. Ten minutes later, another. I was excited but wary of getting carried away in case they petered out.

By 4am, the contractions were still coming regularly and now slightly closer. They were quite manageable at this stage and I went and woke my husband up. We had already had the birth pool inflated to about 90 per cent so that we could set it up quickly when the time came. Bryan brought it through to the room where I wanted to labour and finished inflating it. I got him to start filling it as soon as it was up and ready. I knew that the water was going to feel good and I didn't want to be waiting for it to fill when I felt the need to hop in.

At 5am I called my midwife's mobile. Another midwife answered as my midwife wasn't on duty. We chatted briefly about the contractions so far and how I was feeling. I didn't want them to come to the house too early but wanted to let them know that I didn't think it would be too long before they were needed. With the midwife half an hour away, I said I'd give her a call back when I thought she should set off. I hung up and got back on the birth ball which I was using to help me rock through the contractions as they came.

It was only half an hour later when I called my midwife back and said I thought she should come. She told me my midwife wasn't on duty until later that day. Though I was a bit disappointed, I had met some of the other midwives on the team and knew they were all lovely and would be a great help. A few minutes later though, they called me back. She'd text my original midwife to let her know I was in labour and she was going to come with her. I was so pleased that my number one birth team was going to be with me.

As soon as the pool was ready, I hopped in. It was just in time. The contractions were coming much more often now and were getting intense. The warm water felt wonderful. It was deep enough for me to feel supported and the water eased the intensity of the contractions as they came. I had thought that I would labour kneeling over the side or on my hands and knees. But when I got in the pool I sat down with my legs in a V in front of me. I lent my back on the wall of the pool and rested in the brief pauses between contractions. As each contraction swelled, I put my hands on the floor of the pool in the water either side of me and pushed down with my arms, lifting my body off the bottom of the pool slightly and moaned away the pain.

I am a noisy birther. As the contractions grew in intensity, so too did the low mooing noise that I made. It felt good to me; a way of directing the energy and intensity of the contraction out of my body while I envisaged the baby moving down. For the first time in any of my labours, I didn't fear the contractions or the pain they caused; I saw them for what they were; my body doing an amazing job of moving the baby down and getting her ready to be born.

The midwives arrived at 6am. I was so focused on my little world in the pool that I don't really remember much about what they did as they arrived. I know they got set up quickly and quietly. My midwife came around to sit behind me. She whispered words of encouragement when I needed to hear them. She gave me sips of ice water between contractions. She held a cool flannel to my forehead when she could see I was hot.

By this stage, our eldest son Benjamin, now five years old, had woken up. He came in and said hello to me and we chatted quietly between the contractions. We had discussed the birth with him during the pregnancy and he knew he was welcome to stay and watch if he wanted or he could go to a neighbours if he preferred. My husband made him some breakfast and he went to watch the TV in the other room while he ate it. He came back in a few moments later saying that he'd like to go to the neighbour's house as I was being too noisy and he couldn't hear the TV! Well, fair enough we laughed, and my husband took him next door.

No sooner was he back than Alex, now two and a half years old, woke up too. Again, we'd spent lots of time during the pregnancy talking about the birth and what that might look and sound like. We offered to take him next door as well but he was adamant that he wanted to stay with me.

By now, I knew that the baby was going to be here soon. My midwife suggested I check myself to see if I could feel the baby's head. I could, and it wasn't far away! The intensity of the contractions was still growing every time. I was louder each time too as I mooed my way through them. I felt strong though and in control.

I was getting the urge to push now and I followed my instincts and did what my body was telling me. I could feel the baby's head - she felt so close but I knew I had lots of work still to do before I met her. Her head had now almost completely come through the pelvic cavity but seemed to have got stuck somehow and still hadn't been born. Julie said she could see the baby's head trying to turn to the side to come out, but it was being held back by my perineum. It just wasn't letting her past.

We talked about how we might get her head past the perineum. I got onto my knees and leaned forward slightly over the wall of the pool. As I pushed with the next contraction, I applied pressure to the front of my vagina, while Kim applied pressure at the rear. We were hoping we could get the baby's head to slip in front of the perineum but it didn't work.

I could feel her head there, almost out with us, but seemingly caught behind my amazingly stretched but intact perineum. I turned back over and sat down. I thought for a few moments and then I asked the question outright, "Would and episiotomy fix this and let her through?"." Well, yes", they both agreed. "Well then let's do it" I said.

I knew how my midwife felt about episiotomies - as a homebirth midwife, she was loathed to do them. But we had tried to get her head through with a change of positions and even with the strength of my contractions and my body's efforts to push her through, it just wasn't working. As the next contraction started to build, the midwife very carefully made a tiny incision. I didn't even feel it. It was what was needed and as the urge to push continued I tried to let my body to do so gently. My moo became a roar and, with my hand on it as it came, my daughter's head was born.

nicolaI was so full of joy. I could feel the amniotic sac around her head, still intact. I took a moment to marvel at what was happening and I shifted position slightly in order to be able to see her head. I could see a shock of dark hair on her head and I kept gently touching her, almost cradling her head. It felt wonderful. Time does funny things in a labour I've realised. Looking back it feels like that moment lasted a long time when, in reality, I know it must only have been a minute or two at the most.

The next contraction was coming and I tried to breathe into it and let my body do the work of birthing her shoulders. In the blink of an eye, she was here. Her shoulders and body were out and both my midwife and I had a hand on her and brought her up to my chest, with my midwife clearing the caul away from her face as she reached my chest.

She was perfect and I had done it! The joy, the relief; such strong feelings and such love for my daughter. I marvelled at her as I cradled her to my chest. My husband quickly ran to our neighbours to get Benjamin back home to meet his new sister. I stayed in the pool while our little family got to meet its newest member. The boys were thrilled and touched her head and kissed her gently. The midwives took some pictures for us and Bry put the kettle on for a well-earned cuppa.

After about half an hour, Benjamin, aged five, cut her cord. I felt so happy. Everything was as I had hoped. The birth had been intense but empowering and my first daughter was here with us safely. While I hadn't planned on an episiotomy I was totally at peace with the decision I made to have one. And I was happy that even with such an experienced midwife, I had still managed to make her 'first' list; her first ever water episiotomy!

My midwife was keen for me to deliver the placenta. She suggested that maybe I could move to the toilet to see if it would be easier to deliver it there as after 40 minutes it still showed no sign of coming. I passed our beautiful new baby to her daddy for some skin-on-skin together and started moving in order to stand up to make my way to the bathroom. As I did, I felt a strong contraction and in just one push, I delivered the placenta. Yay - now I was all done and I could have a cup of tea and a muffin!

Nicola familyIt was such a wonderful feeling to be in my own home, surrounded by my beautiful family, my wonderful midwives meeting my new baby. She had taken to the breast like a champ 10 minutes after she was born and was content to stay there. I got cleaned up and we moved to a mattress on the floor where my husband and the boys gave us cuddles and lots of attention. It was so relaxed and happy. How different to my other births!

Vivienne Frances Rowe was born in her caul, at home in the birth pool on the 4th of February at 7.11am. She weighed a whopping 4.25kg, was 55cm long and had a head circumference of 37cm. Her APGAR was a 9 and then a 10.

Her birth was truly an amazing event for me. My fears, my anger and my pain from my traumatic birth were finally laid to rest once and for all. Vivienne's birth completed my healing journey and gives me such joy as I cannot adequately describe. I only know that when I think back to that morning, when I look at the photos of me in labour, I know that I wouldn't change one single thing about it. The birth and the baby; both absolutely perfect.