Phoenix Jean Blanc was born at home on the 5th of March 2011 at 6.02am with the help two beautiful midwives.
Phoenix’s birth story really starts many years ago with my first thoughts of home birth and then the arrival of my son Kai. After reading a couple of homebirth stories when I was in my late teens I had fleeting thoughts that I would like to experience it one day. However, when the time came, my husband Phil was quick to put these thoughts to rest as he thought of homebirth as being too risky and dangerous.
After two miscarriages and about a year of trying, I finally fell pregnant. During the pregnancy I didn’t think too much about the labour as I had assumed that there wouldn’t be any complications and everything would be completely boring and normal but it wasn’t to be. After a very personally traumatic and intervention filled labour that resulted in an “emergency” cesarean section, a very difficult first few days due to my trouble bonding with Kai and other health dramas for me (both related and unrelated to the cesarean) and a bout of postnatal depression, I spent a great deal of time researching and reading about my chances of having a vaginal birth next time.
When I found out I was pregnant again I was scared. I was very uncomfortable about my weight and knew that was a possible hurdle in achieving a VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean). I was happy but it took a while for the initial shock to wear off as it wasn’t exactly a planned pregnancy. Phil knew that I was set on having a homebirth and we were getting excited about the prospect of it becoming a reality.
My main midwife was recommended to me by my naturopath, Leah Hechtman, as a first port of call for information about homebirth and VBAC. So I sent off an email to my midwife and a week later got a reply to call as it was easier to discuss what I wanted to know rather than email. I was inexplicably nervous calling the midwife but after speaking to her I knew that I wanted her to be my midwife and help us on the journey on which we were about to embark. After meeting our midwife both Phil and I knew that it was the right decision. This was cemented by the fact that when we had our next appointment Kai immediately warmed to her which was a big deal because he was going through a stage of being quite shy.
My pregnancy was great apart from the normal annoyances like morning sickness and heartburn. One of the things I did in preparation for the birth was a Calmbirth course with Gill McGregor and it has been one of the best decisions I have ever made. It sounds a little corny but it was a life changing experience. It really has changed the way I look at and approach life.
I had a fairly uneventful pregnancy up until about 35 weeks. I have a tumour on my liver that is caused by estrogen so when I started to get a bit itchy I called my midwife straight away. She sent me off for a liver function blood test (LFT) and when the results came back elevated we were concerned that I was developing obstetric cholestasis which can be very bad for the baby. My midwife phoned Westmead Hospital (where I was booked in the event I had a complicated labour and birth) and we ended up in the antenatal clinic for an appointment. I was terrified that I would have to birth in hospital or worse end up with another c-section but everything turned out fine and I didn’t have cholestasis thankfully so our homebirth plans were back on track.
By this time I was 39 weeks pregnant and definitely ready to meet my baby. My mum was staying indefinitely to help me out and was amazing with keeping Kai occupied, helping me with my house work (well mostly doing everything really) and getting prepared for the impending arrival. The baby was obviously very comfortable inside because despite all my efforts with clary sage oil, acupuncture and other methods to get things moving there were absolutely no signs things were getting started. My due date came and went and then another week went by too. A friend had joked that each day over a due date felt like the equivalent to three normal days and she was right! I was getting extremely frustrated with everyone wanting to know what was going on and people starting to voice their concerns about me being pregnant too long. Finally at a week past my due date I got to a point where I honestly felt like I was going to be pregnant for the rest of my life and I had better get used to it. The following day I started having really strong Braxton Hicks ten minutes apart for a few hours at a time. I didn’t tell anyone and I was starting to feel a little restless and strange. I couldn’t put my finger on what exactly I was feeling but it was almost like a blanket of calmness had fallen over me and I knew that our baby would be coming soon.
I told Phil that night about the contractions and the next day I booked in for another acupuncture session and went for a long walk with Phil and Kai for a play at a little park we like that feels as though you are tucked away from the world. That night I lost a big chunk of plug and knew things were starting. I was woken the next morning at 3am by what I thought was a strong Braxton Hicks. By 5am I could no longer sleep through them and got up to start my day. The contractions continued about every ten minutes or so all day and I couldn’t hide them from mum any longer. I went for my usual weekly appointment with my midwife that afternoon where she suggested that things would either keep “fiddle farting around” or they would kick off after dark.
I had a sleep that afternoon just in case things were happening and surprisingly was able to sleep through most of the contractions. By dinner time that night I needed to stop talking during the tightenings and we joked with mum (who was over for dinner) that we may be seeing her in the middle of the night. After we put Kai to bed the contractions were starting to get a bit more intense and I was using my Calmbirth strategies – mostly rhythmic breathing – to get past each one. I was having a lot of trouble using my visualisations and was getting a bit restless and losing my concentration on my breathing. At about 10pm my contractions were coming in regular waves about five minutes apart so I decided to set myself up on the couch leaning over the beanbag with my heat pack on my lower back while listening to music. This was bliss for a few hours and I was becoming lost in my music. Phil had been pottering around the house doing things and decided to go to bed about midnight as by this stage we knew things were happening. I was needing to be by myself and we thought it would be a good idea if he got some sleep as who knew when he would have the opportunity to do so again! About 1am I had grown uncomfortable lying on my precarious bean bag construction and could only find comfort standing up. I settled myself in front of the TV leaning on the sideboard below swaying my hips through each contraction.
By 2 am I had sent my midwife a text message saying that the contractions were coming about every three minutes and lasting just over a minute, that I had had a huge bloody show and was wondering what she thought I should do. I had decided not to call her as I wasn’t sure if things were progressed enough to warrant waking her in the middle of the night. About ten minutes after I sent the text I went in to get Phil out of bed. He hadn’t managed to get any sleep which is unusual for him as he has been known in the past to fall asleep at live music gigs sitting two rows back from the band! I tell him that he needs to call my midwief as I haven’t heard back from her and I think things are getting intense. My midwife arrived at about 2.30am and with her arrival came Kai waking and vomiting everywhere several times over the next hour or so (we think he had dodgy custard for dessert that night). My midwife checked out the baby’s position and heartbeat and held my heat pack in between organising her equipment and writing notes in my folder.
Even though I was using a contraction timer I had downloaded to my phone which was telling me the average frequency and length of the contractions, I still wasn’t convinced that I was in true labour. The contractions didn’t hurt like I’d expected they were just like waves of intense pressure that ebbed and flowed like the tide of the ocean. As each one started to build I would start my deep rhythmic breathing, ensure I had my earphones in and my music on and I was immediately taken elsewhere. I know that in my mind I was visualising something but I honestly have no idea where I was. It was almost like I was inside my music and I don’t actually really remember the waves themselves. There isn’t any clearer way I can describe it. I do remember losing my focus a few times and starting to moan and feel pain but with gentle tones Phil (and my midwife after she arrived) would bring me back to my breathing and I was able to get back into my head space where my music took me away.
I phoned mum to come over just after my midwife arrived and Kai had vomited for the second time. She arrived somewhere between 3am and 3.30am and quickly took over from Phil in attending to Kai. They lay in bed together watching Toy Story on the portable DVD player whilst we were getting on with having a baby on the other side of Kai’s bedroom wall. My midwife suggested we start to fill up the pool and Phil got busy fully inflating it and setting it up in our living room in the space where Kai usually played. I started to wonder whether it would slow down my labour as I knew that this could happen if you got into the water too early and I honestly didn’t think that I was in established labour yet as it didn’t hurt! But after talking it over with my midwife I got into the pool at about 4am and it was bliss! There are no words for me to describe the relief of floating in the water and having the heaviness of my body disappear. I spent time on both my back and on all fours in the water but for some reason it felt right floating on my back despite knowing that this wasn’t the best position for birth. Phil sat behind me doing a dance of trying to keep my phone and earphones out of the pool whilst still putting them in my ears whenever I demanded “MUSIC!”. Several times it was suggested that we put the music on the stereo but that would have taken away my little cocoon of sound that I wasn’t willing to share. It was my way of keeping everyone out and from distracting me when the waves were arriving and I needed to be lost in my music.
After about an hour in the pool the waves took on a different edge and all of a sudden I felt like was involuntarily flung up into an almost squatting position and my body started almost squeezing and pushing downwards. I had no control over the pushing and I started to worry that I was going to cause a cervical lip or my body was pushing too early as I still felt like things should have been more painful or more intense if it was pushing time. I started to lose focus and my midwife asked if I wanted her to do an internal to check. I said yes and after another few waves she checked and said “the head is right there!”. This was the motivation and reassurance I needed to refocus my mind as by this stage I had gotten frustrated and annoyed with the music and headphones and they felt like a distraction. At first I was a little freaked out by the noise that was coming out of me during the waves. It was a very deep and loud grunting/moaning that I tried a few times to stop but found impossible to keep inside. So I just let it happen and forgot about it knowing that if I focused to much on the noise and not what was happening then I wouldn’t get very far with the job at hand.
After about ten or so pushing waves I felt a huge pop and a gush of fluid and intelligently stated loudly “SOMETHING BROKE!”. I knew it was my membranes rupturing but had no ability to string more than two words together at this point as it would have taken too much time to say it properly. I know that I was making a few remarks about how it hurt and I was over it or had enough but inside my head thinking “why did I say that?” as it wasn’t what I was feeling. I think on some level I had an expectation of what I would be like at this point of labour and was letting it spew out of my mouth in order to convince myself that it really was happening and I was actually pushing out my baby!
I was vaguely aware during this time that my other midwife had arrived and mum had emerged from Kai’s bedroom. I remember being aware that Mum was coming in and out of the room and I had an overwhelming need to feel her around me. I thought that maybe mum was feeling like she should keep out of the way and I tried to reassure her that she was welcome in the room. But afterwards she told me that she was finding it difficult seeing me be in ‘pain’ and needed to move away for a few moments here and there as she was getting a bit teary. After about half an hour of my body rhythmically pushing my baby down I had an overwhelming urge to hold my breath a little and help push with each wave. I heard my midwife say a few times “yes like that” or “keep doing that” and realised that I needed to focus my concentration on pushing actively rather than letting it happen to me. I was aware of my midwife asking for something to scoop “floaty bits” out of the pool, and realising that the inevitable of number twos escaping was happening and I also remember people having a slight giggle at how I was able to bark instructions at mum on where to find the sieve. At the same time I was a bit mortified that I was pooing in public and kept wondering if the peas I had for dinner the night before were floating about.
The last three or four pushes before my baby crowned were the hardest as she would retract with the end of each wave. As she crowned I understood the term ‘ring of fire’ very well and was having trouble not pushing like my midwife was instructing me to. There seemed to be a pause for what felt like eternity between her crowning and the next wave. I don’t know how many more waves came after her head was out but as the final one came my midwife suggested that I needed to get ready to catch my baby. I found it difficult to move so Phil tried to help by pushing me up. But instead he was pushing me under the water and my midwife had to reach in to the pool to catch the baby! She handed me my baby and I think I think I was in a little bit of shock (in a good way!) that I had actually just given birth! Towels were placed over her slippery body as she was resting on my chest and I finally thought to check out whether she was a girl or boy. I had to check twice because the first time I looked I didn’t really pay attention as I had ‘known’ my whole pregnancy she was a girl so it wasn’t really a surprise that she was.
My midwives asked us her name and both Phil and I wanted each other to announce it. I don’t know why I was so adamant he announce her name but I was thinking that I had just done so much work bringing her earthside that the least he could do was tell people her name! It seemed like a trivial thing at the time as all I wanted to do was look at her and calm her down (she screamed her lungs out for the first 45 minutes of life). Phil finally told everyone her name - Phoenix Jean.
Those moments now seem so surreal as there was so much expectation built up in my mind of how that experience would go and I was just so overwhelmed by it all that I was a bit oblivious to what was happening around me. I had an overwhelming urge to find somewhere to be alone and snuggle with my baby and try to savour every moment of that time. I had expected to become quite emotional and teary as I had been all throughout the pregnancy and I am generally a very emotional person. But I was in awe of my little creature and of what I had just achieved and felt the calmest and most serene I have ever felt.
About five or so minutes after Phoenix was born I had a very mild tightening and felt a gush of fluid. It was like slow motion change watching this small dark circle of blood gradually turn the whole pool red. I was aware of my midwives paying careful attention to this and I started to think maybe I was haemorrhaging as this was a real possibility considering my liver. My midwives got a syntocinon injection ready just in case and told me if another gush happened again they would give me the injection to minimise the chance of haemorrhage. About 15 minutes after Phoenix was born the placenta came with a mild tightening. After getting out of the pool we had cuddles on the couch where Phoenix wasn't too interested in feeding just yet. I had a second degree tear which was stitched up without too much fuss - I wouldn't have even known I had it. Phil busied himself with emptying the pool and mum started putting loads of washing through the machine. It was like life was continuing as normal and having a baby born in the early hours of morning was a completely normal and natural part of our day.
Phoenix finally had her first feed whilst getting her checks done. She was 3.92kg, 51cm long with a 35cm head circumference. She had these lovely chubby thighs that you just wanted to squeeze. Kai eventually woke up happy and healthy with no sign of the vomiting from the night before. He saw Phoenix and before we could tell him what happened while he was sleeping he proclaimed that "mummy has baby Hamish!" (our friends’ baby who was born about two months prior to Phoenix). Kai was interested in his little sister somewhat but much more interested in the present she had 'brought with her'!
So now we settle into being a family of four (with hopefully more to come someday!) and we have had some ups and downs and highs and lows but Phoenix has melted our hearts and everyday still I look back on the morning she was born and smile. I don't think the high from her birth has worn off yet and I don't think I ever want it to.