My first inkling of labour came on at approximately 4pm one Saturday afternoon. It had been quite a hot day and I was feeling very big and uncomfortable. I had reached that point where you “just wish this baby would come out”. I was only 3 days past my due date, but it felt like an eternity. Earlier in the afternoon I had lay down for a nap and when I stood up, something was noticeably amiss. My pelvis felt much heavier, as though the baby had suddenly dropped down and I was experiencing a strange sensation in my back that I haven’t felt before. Looking back I know that this was a definite sign of birth beginning – however I’d had a show a week before with no change and my Braxton Hicks had been regular and strong for the last fortnight, so I just assumed that this was yet another uncomfortable sensation of late pregnancy.
Like clockwork, my Braxton Hicks started at 6pm (as they had done for the last 2 weeks) and continued steadily every 20 minutes for the next 3 hours. Thinking I was no where near having this baby, I waited until they stopped and then took myself off to bed – oblivious to the fact that I was actually in the process of birth.
At about 1:15am the next morning I woke up feeling very uncomfortable. The contractions had definitely started and they were 15 minutes apart. Still doubting that I was in labour, I assured Dan that I was fine and ambled out into the kitchen by myself to make a cup of tea. I was doing okay for about ½ hour – leaning over the back of a chair to ease my back pain and then pelvic rocking myself through the contractions. Then suddenly I seemed to crumble into an emotional wreck. Throughout my pregnancy I had always said that I wanted to birth my baby at night. I felt an affinity with the darkness and coolness of night-time and had been quietly confident that it would be this setting that I would birth in. Now, here I was at only 15 minutes apart and it was only a few hours before dawn. If this was an average length birth for a first baby, I wouldn’t be seeing this little bub until at least mid afternoon the next day! Looking back I can now laugh at the urgent insanity of my birthing mind – but at the time I was devastated at the prospect of birthing through a long, hot day.
Just when I thought my fate had been decided – I stood up and felt quite a loud and strange POP! Immediately I knew that my water had broken and I laughed as I pondered upon whether I would have enough time to get to the toilet before the gush. I yelled out to Dan and the next thing I knew I was sloshing around in what was now a pair of very full ugg boots.
Suddenly the house seemed to come alive. The kitchen light went on and the energy within the room took on a nervous kind of excitement. My contractions were now 10 minutes apart and Dan was asking me if I wanted him to ring the midwives. I said NO! – they had told us that 10 minutes apart for most women was still early days, so I didn’t want to be a pain in the butt and get them out of bed in the middle of night for nothing. I seemed to coping well, so we chose to go on birthing by ourselves. Over the next ½ hour I spent all my time getting off and on the toilet. I had this overriding need to do lots of wees and poos – especially at the height of a contraction! Although I was finding this a little tedious, I felt strong and positive.
As time went by, the contractions were definitely getting stronger, but they were still only 10 minutes apart. Dan could obviously see the changes that were occurring and finally after another hurried trip to the loo, he convinced me that we should ring Robyn and Betty. As I had expected, Robyn told Dan that 10 minutes apart was still too early for them to be heading down this way just yet. She reassured him that if I seemed calm, that the pain couldn’t be all that bad yet and so we should just continue as we were doing and remember to take in lots of fluids. Then, just as Dan was hanging up the phone, I fell to my knees with 2 enormous contractions. I remember Dan relaying Robyn’s message to me very calmly as I sat there crumpled over with “real pain” thinking that if this was just the start, then there was absolutely no way that I was going to make it.
Suddenly, I felt an amazing rush of heat through my whole body and I stood up and ran through the house tearing my clothes off as I rushed towards the cool bathroom. Before I knew it, I was down again. These contractions, sure didn’t feel as though they were 10 minutes apart anymore! I called out to Dan to follow me with a stop watch, I was starting to feel panicky and I wanted to know how far along I was. It took a few contractions, before we could convince ourselves that we were calculating the time right – but eventually we knew that they had jumped to 2 minutes apart.
I had been holding off getting into the shower for the last hour, because I hadn’t wanted to use all my pain relief “tricks’ too early on – but now that I knew I was so close, wild horses couldn’t have stopped me from getting into that bathroom! I jumped into the shower aHHHH – HOT water, the magical elixir of childbirth. As I stood in the shower, Dan called Robyn back with the latest update. Of course, this sent everyone into a wild panic – they lived 45 minutes away, and if I continued to progress this quickly, there was no way they were going to make it here for the birth.
Dan returned just as I was climbing into the empty bath – having decided that the shower was far too hot – and that what I really needed now was to lie down, in someplace nice and cool. We had planned to have a water birth all along, so it was only natural that I would eventually find myself gravitating intuitively towards the bath – however at this point I had no idea how close I was to actually delivering my baby.
As Dan lit a few candles around the room, I could feel myself start to shake quite violently. I was starting to feel cold and panicky, and before I knew it this overwhelming sense of FEAR came over me. Dan had just popped out of the room to get me a drink and I remember kneeling in the bath and having to really come to a point of reckoning within myself. The pain was strong. It had moved down into my bum and legs and I was having to hold tightly onto the edges of the bath to get through the contractions. I remember saying to myself “I know why people choose to have drugs in birth” – the pain was so confronting – there was no escape. I called out to Dan to come back – previous to this I had wanted to be left alone – but now, something had changed and I needed company if I was to get through this phase. As I waited for him, I suddenly realised that I was in Transition. Now everything made sense – the shakes, the cold, the fear and insecurity. Before this realisation, I was seriously doubting how I was going to get through the rest of this labour. I had friends that had experienced 2 minute contractions for many hours before the actual birth – and based on the intensity of what I was feeling, I doubted that I could go for much longer. Having no previous experience of birth, I had, up until this point, still believed that I was in the beginning of 1st stage! As soon as I realised that I was close to delivery, I seemed to gather up all this inner strength and courage, that I had no idea was inside me, and from that moment I knew that I could birth this baby alone.
Transition seemed to pass as quickly as it came. As soon as I had made peace with the idea of us delivering our baby alone in our bathroom, there was this incredible stillness. It was almost like my whole body and mind took one big, long, deep breath. The pain stopped and I seemed to enter this kind of surreal reality – which I can now only remember as a hazy, slow motion type of film. I turned to Dan and said, “The baby is coming….are you okay with this?” and he said “Mel, if you’re okay with this….then let’s just do it”. There was no doubt in my mind that I wanted to birth this baby, in that bathtub. I had no thoughts of the midwives or the hospital or anything else, it was too intense – and of course, much too late even if I’d wanted to transfer.
Then the contractions returned. Strong and downward. I could feel the baby’s head coming down and I asked Dan to fill the bath, so we could have our dearly wanted waterbirth. As the water rushed out of the tap, as fast as it could possibly come – I leant my forehead against our bathroom wall, and on hands and knees delivered our baby into the waiting hands of his deliriously happy Dad.
The actual birth was bliss. I don’t remember pushing and according to Dan, I didn’t. The contractions were strong and powerful, and after only 3 enormous waves, our baby had entered the world. He made the tiniest squeak as he took his first breath and was then silent and peaceful as he looked around the candlelit room with his big, wide eyes. I was amazed at how alert and attentive he was – listening to our voices, obviously recognising them from when he was inside. In what seemed like the most amazingly peaceful and beautiful 20 minutes I had ever experienced, we sat as a little family, quietly taking each other in. He never cried, not even when he was weighed or dressed for the very first time. For me, this was a sign of how peaceful and calm, he had experienced his birth to be.
I delivered my placenta and about 5 minutes later, our midwives knocked at the door. They had made their best effort to be there – but this little boy had just come too fast. What was doubly amazing was that Betty, our midwife had dreamt that our birth would be like this, a few nights before, but had chosen not to tell us, in case we had become frightened and unsure of ourselves. They were so proud of us – and rightly so, we had delivered our own baby in our own home, after only 2 ½ hours of active labour.
For me, Finn’s birth was the most empowering experience of my life so far. I had wanted a homebirth right from the start and I was so proud of myself for achieving this dream. Dan did an amazing job as “midwife”. He never faltered, became scared or ran from the challenge of so called “unassisted birth”. For that I am ever indebted to him. His close involvement with Finn at his birth has definitely made the bond between them so much more special.
People often ask me whether I would consider having another “unassisted” homebirth, since my first experience was so positive. For those women who are lucky enough to have partners who have a knowledge and experience of birth, this option would be the best and most special decision you could make. I had a beautiful birth with my partner in attendance – but looking back I can definitely say that I would still choose to have a midwife at my next birth. This is not to say, that I support medical intervention or believe that women cannot birth their own babies. I believe all women birth their own babies (in one way or another), what is significant in a birth experience is how well supported a woman feels in the process of birthing herself into a mother. I was lucky enough to have an outstandingly supportive and loving person by my side during my birth, however when I look back there were definitely times when I would have greatly appreciated the presence of another “experienced” woman within the room. Just to have someone to assure me that things were going fine or that the pain I was experiencing was not mild, 1st stage labour pain – but real, honest to goodness 2nd stage labour, would have really helped to relieve the intensity of my experience.
Throughout my pregnancy, I drew strength from my midwives, other Mothers, my knowledge of natural birth medicines and the support that Kylie Poloni (Illawarra Homebirth Support Group) offered to me. Whilst I was the one that birthed my baby, I feel on reflection, that my birth experience was the result of all the loving support and education that my little “birth network” provided for me. I often wonder how well Dan and I would have coped with the birth if we had chosen to go “solo” from the very beginning of the pregnancy.
Overall, I feel that our birth experience was proof, that Homebirth (under any circumstances) is the safest and most sacred kind of birth that two parents can offer their child. When the time is right, we will definitely be choosing this option again.
Written by Melinda Whyman
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What a beautiful and positive birth story, and encouraging to read, as I prepare for the birth of my third child. I am hoping again to have a waterbirth, after delivering my first two children in waterbirths. Both times, the midwives were there to assist and both times I delivered my babies unassisted as you did, and found the experiences extremely empowering. Our bodies are designed so amazingly, if we can let go and trust ourselves to do give birth to our babies. I did the Calmbirth course with Peter Jackson during my first pregnancy, then a refresher in my second pregnancy. This gave me the confidence and belief that I could birth my baby naturally. This time around I have re-read Ina May Gaskin's book "Guide to Childbirth", one of the resources recommended and used by Calmbirth. Educating yourself through a course such as Calmbirth is the best preparation you can give yourself leading up to the birth of your baby.