** Trigger warning – if you’re pregnant and wishing to avoid birth stories that you may find distressing, you may wish to save this to read for later. **
I knew birth could be an empowering experience, and that’s what I sought and envisaged for my own birth.
After I fell pregnant my curiousity was piqued about birth being a rite of passage for women and a gateway to them owning their power, their bodies and their sovereignty. I had faith that birth could be a transformative experience in the best way.
Initially, I didn’t know what model of care I wanted and strangely, for about a month, I had booked myself in to see a female obstetrician in Newcastle (I live in Darwin!), because a friend suggested her and rated her highly. Bizarre! I was blindly following what a friend had told me she found was good for her, but the more I leant into that, I realised it didn’t feel right for me. As I read, I discovered that if I actually wanted to give myself the best chance at having a natural physiological birth, then seeing a private doctor was not the path to choose. I promptly cancelled the appointment and decided I would be taking the public hospital route in order to have a midwifery model of care. Not only that, traveling to Newcastle to have my baby would have made the experience convenient for others (our immediate family in Newcastle), but not for me. I decided I would want to be in my own surroundings, my home, with my things, and not be staying as a guest with family while I was adjusting to motherhood! It dawned on me then that this pregnancy journey was going to be big, and would require me to step up to make decisions for me (and my baby), to stop doing things to people please. To take ownership over my choices. It was time to wear my big girl pants.
I realised that for me, a safe birth experience was a home birth. I discovered that there was a publicly funded homebirth service in Darwin and excitedly set about to get myself on their books. It’s amazing how many people, and indeed those close to me, friends and family, felt it was their place to judge my decision to choose home birth. I received alarmed looks as though this was the craziest thing ever spoken. Concerns over the “dangers”, my age, what if something goes wrong, maybe you shouldn’t (for the first time) and many other perceived issues were cast my way with the tone of “I really care about you, and have you thought about this properly”. To be honest, this really pissed me off. I had done so much research on the risks of home birth versus hospital birth before deciding. I was deemed low risk, all was normal and I was excited about birth. I couldn’t understand how the people around me could be so shortsighted and misunderstanding about birth. It seemed obvious to me they hadn’t read the same evidence and statistics that I had, which proves the safety of homebirth over a medicalised birth. Not only that, by imposing views of safety on me, they were ignoring the fact that a hospital was not an environment that I felt was safe for me to birth at. I knew would not feel “safe” in a hospital where there could be a high likelihood of medical interventions, imposition of time frames, doctors, monitoring, a sterile clinical atmosphere and strict application of policies, all this seemed counter intuitive to a feeling of safety to me.
In the lead up to birth I devoured books about birth, DVD’s and youtube videos of home birthers. I was genuinely excited about birth and loved immersing myself in all things to prepare. I had a wonderful pregnancy. I loved being pregnant and felt mostly amazing after the first trimester nausea and fatigue subsided.
Fast forward to week 39. I was on my yoga mat at around 8am doing some gentle down dogs and pigeon poses when I noticed a small gush of fluid appear on my mat. At first I was confused, did I just wet myself? Nope, pretty sure I did not wet myself. The little gushes continued. I had small puddles here and there on my mat. My heart quickened a little. Was something actually happening!? I grabbed a pad and noticed there was a pinkish tinge to the liquid. After a chat to my doula, and my midwife bestie, we concluded it was my waters leaking, but certainly not breaking. I became immediately concerned because I knew the policy of the hospital here in cases of partially ruptured membranes and no signs of labour, gave (a conservative) 16 hours for something to be happening before my care providers would be wanting to induce to make labour happen. So, my initial elation, was quickly followed by a concern about my lack of other labour signs and a heaviness in my heart. Not a great feeling to sink into and start with. Unfortunately, this immediately placed me very much ‘in my head’. I was strategising about how to get labour to start asap and also, what would I tell my care providers, and when will I call them? I wanted to avoid ALL interventions as much as possible and I knew that prematurely ruptured membranes with no other indicators of labour was not ideal.
I spent the day quietly preparing at home and trying to rest (this was nearly impossible – I was too nervous!). I did a couple of guided womb meditations to invite my labour to begin and try to stay in my body. I spoke to my doula throughout the day and my best friend Leila (also a midwife) who was scheduled to fly up to Darwin for the birth in 2 days time. She quickly changed her flights, and got on a plane that evening, arriving at about midnight. When Leila arrived I was still awake, I’d been resting and listening to meditations, but I was finding it very difficult to relax and fall asleep. We said a brief hello and hug then went to bed to get some sleep in anticipation of what was to come.
At about 12:30pm I finally drifted off, only to be woken around 1am with a dull aching like a period pain, but slightly more intense. I immediately knew, this was the start. I lay awake until I felt the next one about 20 minutes later. These surges were certainly tolerable, however, I was so nervous I was finding it hard to sleep in between, and I knew this was important. I tried my hardest though. I woke Tom and let him know. I couldn’t get comfortable. I made a bed on the floor so I could move around. Tom timed the surges for a little while. They were generally anywhere from 10-20 minutes apart. By the time the sun came up I was pretty tired, I’d barely slept as I just couldn’t find a comfortable position to sleep in. With the arrival of daylight I felt very cocooned in my own dreamlike world most of the morning. I certainly wasn’t up for having conversations with anyone. Everything seemed “hazy” and I felt as though I was a little bit drugged. All that oxytocin was having it’s way with me and working its magic.
None of the final touches of preparation I was going to be finishing that last week of pregnancy were done! My music playlists were half completed, I hadn’t passed on instructions for the essential oils I wanted to use to my doula. I never made it to the acupuncture, chiro or kinesiology sessions I had booked, and I never got that last week of swimming everyday.
And now it was happening. The day was here, now!
I felt unprepared. I wanted more time. Maybe this created resistance in my body. I can say that during the time I was at home experiencing surges I felt safe and (relatively) comfortable. But, I was dying to get in a body of water. Tom, Leila and my doula moved around the house setting up the birth pool and filling it with water. At around 9:30am that morning one of the midwives came to the house to check in with me. Unfortunately, she delivered the very disappointing news that I would not be able to stay at home for my planned home birth (due to the service being under resourced in staff). I was gutted. Staying home where I felt safe was very important to me, and while I had planned for this contingency arising, now labour had actually started, the thought of having to leave my home was very unappealing. I was not even able to verbalise my grief over my home birth being taken away from me. I accepted the fate. Regretfully, and silently. On reflection, the person I am now, would simply not have accepted this. Dug her heels in and stayed right where she was.
Before her departure, the midwife gestured to my birth pool in the corner, finally filled and ready for my immersion (and relief), and said to me, “…you shouldn’t get in the pool because you’ll get too comfortable and won’t make it to the birth centre”. BOOM. Those words shattered through my consciousness, slapping my inner good girl, who would never disobey authority, they hit her heart, HARD. I shut down my instincts and obeyed. To go against the advice of my care provider would have meant death to my inner good girl, and that was a terrifying prospect, especially when I ‘needed’ these people to look after me. I stayed at home working with my surges until about 12:30pm when I decided that I should accept the inevitable and get in my car to head into the birth centre. I was desperate to get in water and knew that would be possible once I arrived there. I’ll remember my time labouring at home as my favourite part of birth. 12 hours of working with my body. Immersed in the mystery of how this would unfold. Being so connected with my body and breathing that I was unable to communicate with anyone, except in short sentences. A dreamlike state. Beautiful support from my best friend and doula who sat with me, reminded me to go to the toilet, held hot water bottles on my body, supported my hips and back, lovingly gave me massages, and brought me food and water.
Part 2 coming soon….