Here is our story. I hope that it may bring some comfort to other women who have had a similar birthing journey.
DOB: 15/8/74 – I was 37 when I gave birth
Child’s name: Lior Grace Elizabeth Drimer born 14/2/2012
After a lot of research, my husband and I chose a to have a homebirth with independent midwives because it is the safest and most gentle birthing option. We wanted to work with healthcare professionals who are in alignment with our views on childbirth and we had one hundred per cent trust in the qualifications, knowledge and experience of the midwives we chose. We wanted to have maximum time frames for labour and delivery and to enjoy the calm and comfortable environment at home. We also wanted continuity of care from people that we had built a positive relationship with throughout our pregnancy. We did not have any fear about birthing at home, but on the recommendation of our midwives we booked in to our local hospital and packed a hospital bag (just in case we needed to transfer).
We did not want to birth in a hospital or birth centre because we wanted a natural and drug-free birth. We also wanted to avoid the cascade of intervention that can occur in a hospital setting. Most importantly, we did not want to be pressured about time frames and we wanted to have choices, for example to cut the cord once it has stopped pulsing.
I have a history of major depression and anxiety and part of the reason that I wanted a gentle homebirth is that I did not want to increase my risk of post-natal depression with a potentially traumatic hospital birth experience. We knew that it was important (for optimal labour progression) for me to labour where I felt most comfortable. For me, this was at home and with independent midwives.
I began labouring at 41 weeks gestation. I laboured at home for two weeks before needing to transfer to hospital. I had three nights of pre-labour contractions, followed by start-stop stage one labour for eleven days. My labour at home was arduous. We had hardly any sleep for two weeks, but somehow, we had the strength and energy to keep going. My midwives only needed to attend to me at home for one day throughout this two week period. On that particular day, I laboured from 2am until 11pm (when I fell asleep). My midwife checked me before she went home and I had only dilated one centimetre after six days labouring at home. I didn’t let this news deter or discourage me. I just kept going! My body was so sore the next day that I felt like I had split my abdominal muscles down the side. I was in so much pain that it was difficult to walk. Thankfully the next day my body gave me a day and a night off to recover a little.
At 42 weeks (normal healthy gestation is 40-42 weeks), we decided to book foetal wellbeing tests at the hospital in one week’s time (43 weeks gestation). I was hoping that our baby would be delivered at home before we needed to enter the hospital system, but we did end up going in for the tests in the end. I was relaxed about my dates because my mother birthed my brother and sister at 43 weeks. It was also helpful not having a doctor pressuring me to be induced sooner. My midwives monitored us frequently throughout our two-week labour and we were both healthy and well throughout that period. The night before the tests I tried everything I knew to get my labour to progress to stage two naturally. I tried nipple stimulation, homeopathics, pelvic rocking and walking up and down stairs (and hills). I also avoided using the bath or birth pool (both of which had provided me considerable relief in the two weeks prior). The day before the tests I laboured from late afternoon and all night. I was still in labour when we went in for the tests the next morning.
We had chosen not to have any ultrasounds throughout our pregnancy, so the 43-week ultrasound was the first time that we had seen our baby. It showed that the flow through the cord was good and that the placenta was healthy. The only concern was low amniotic fluid (this is not unexpected at 43 weeks, plus I had a suspected hind-water leak). The doctor dated my baby at 37 weeks and asked me if I was sure of the dates? I was 100% sure about my dates because I had tracked everything in my period tracker!
I was concerned that the hospital staff would berate me for being 43 weeks pregnant and for planning a home birth. And I was worried that the doctors would try to convince me to be induced by using fear tactics. So, I told the doctors that I had a history of major depression and anxiety and that I would appreciate if they could deliver their findings and recommendations without any fear. Thankfully they respected my request.
We were planning on going back home after the tests, but I had a significant meconium leak after the tests, so we decided to stay at the hospital and to deliver vaginally in the maternity ward. After two weeks of labour I had only dilated one cm, so I agreed to having my waters broken (we discovered that they were already broken) and to an induction. I was afraid of being induced because my uterus was already so sore and tired and because I did not want the cascade of intervention that sometimes follows. However, it was the right decision given the circumstances. The induction was unbearable for me both physically and emotionally and my baby did not cope with it either. Her heart rate dropped dangerously, so the staff stopped the induction.
The doctor then recommended an epidural so that I could try to keep labouring and to give us both a rest. I agreed to this because I could not have kept going with the pain and exhaustion I was experiencing. In my head I kept thinking ‘just make this over’, but I refused to give up on delivering vaginally or to voice my thoughts. The epidural gave me pain relief and about one hour of sleep. The doctor stopped the syntocinon during this period and when they started it again, bubby’s heart rate plummeted for the second time. After two weeks labouring at home and two inductions, I had only dilated 4cm. The doctor recommended a caesarean before the situation became an emergency, and I agreed! I had written a very detailed birth plan and the doctor referred to it each time he made a recommendation. Because of this, I felt respected and that I was in charge of all the decisions made. This was of enormous importance to me because it helped to lessen any trauma that I may have felt after such an ordeal.
Before the caesarean, I was given too much anaesthetic and this left me temporarily paralysed. I could only see out of one eye when my baby was born and I could not move at all. I fought like crazy to remain conscious for her birth. I was in recovery for 3 hours and then in the maternity ward for another 7 hours before I was reunited with her. I felt quite shell-shocked and numb and I didn’t feel like I had given birth at all. I kept being told that she would be brought up in the next hour and this went on and on. Eventually the ward midwife arranged for me to be taken down to NICU in my hospital bed.
My husband remained with bubby, talking to her and touching her the whole time we were apart. She was in the NICU because she was having trouble stabilising her temperature and the staff there would not allow her to be skin-to-skin with her Daddy. As soon as she was in my arms, I put her on the breast and she drank enthusiastically (she had already been given expressed colostrum). Her temperature stabilised fully as soon as she was skin-to-skin with me. In hindsight, I would have insisted on being taken to the NICU as soon as I had left recovery and my husband would have been more insistent on skin-to-skin with bubby in the NICU (it was against hospital policy at the time though). I kept bubby skin-to-skin for five days in hospital once we were reunited and we bonded and established breastfeeding beautifully.
In the end I had all the interventions that I had wanted to avoid, but I am at peace with this because I did everything I possibly could to deliver my baby naturally at home. I was also treated with respect and kindness by the hospital staff and this made the world of difference to my experience in the hospital and to my emotional recovery afterward (thankfully I did not suffer from post natal depression). My independent midwife said that many women feel bullied and disrespected by the doctors attending them and that I was very fortunate to have been cared for by such a fantastic doctor.
I am one hundred per cent happy with all the choices that I made throughout my pregnancy, labour and birth and I am thankful that intervention was available to me (given the rare complications I experienced). I am pleased that my daughter was born at 43 weeks, because she was only 2.872kg at birth and if she had been born sooner, she may have been too small and immature to breathe on her own. She was also born on the day that she chose – Valentine’s day.
My whole labour and birth was a process of surrender and of being in the moment. I changed my plans as I needed to and I have a gorgeous healthy and happy little girl. She is fortunate that her Daddy is a chiropractor. Daddy helped her to recover fully from a traumatic birth by adjusting her regularly and we didn’t have any of the challenges that some caesarean babies face.
For my next pregnancy, I would like to try for a VBAC at home. It’s still the best option for us!
First appeared in ‘Birthings – A home birth access Sydney quarterly publication‘, Autumn 2014, Issue 121.