Women are the experts in their own bodies and babies...given full information,
they will make the choices that are right for themselves and their babies,
whether or not these choices are in alignment with the current medical or cultural beliefs.
~ Sarah Buckley, MD
Childbirth educator Rhea Dempsey has said that we are living in a "labour bypass" era, and that women who have birth experiences that they are proud of often feel silenced - because talking about it could make other women feel judged.
I'm extremely grateful that I've been able to have such a positive experience of birth that I am truly proud of. But by sharing our story, my sincere hope is that those who read it don't at all feel judged, and instead feel inspired by the beauty and wonder of birthing, and the amazing strength and ability of a woman's body to create a little soul and bring it into our world.
Giving birth really can be a positive experience - and there is no reason why any woman (or her partner, family, or friends) should hold an automatic expectation of anything less. Sometimes complications are unavoidable and medical interventions are necessary - but by automatically assuming that such complications will arise, one is greatly underestimating an innate knowledge and ability that resides within every woman.
The knowledge of how to give birth without outside interventions lies deep within each woman. Successful childbirth depends on an acceptance of the process.
Having a highly trained obstetrical surgeon attend a normal birth
is analogous to having a pediatric surgeon babysit a healthy 2-year-old.
- M Wagner
Treating normal labors as though they were complicated
can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
- Judith Rooks
You're braver than you believe. Stronger than you seem.
And smarter than you think.
- Christopher Robin in "Pooh's Grand Adventure"
Giving birth naturally at home was by far the most intense, draining, and exhausting, yet empowering, exhilarating, and wondrous experience of my life to date. I felt physical sensations that I didn't know I could feel. I heard myself make crazy, primitive noises that I didn't know I could make. The extent of my endurance and stamina amazed me beyond words, and letting the intensity of emotion that I was feeling run wild without any inhibition was truly liberating. I gained an entirely new respect for and understanding of my body. And perhaps most integral to having such a positive experience of birth was that I felt so comfortable in my environment, and always felt the care, love and support of my wonderful birthing team: my husband John, my two lovely midwives, and our two little dogs Henry and Betty.
It really was an experience that I can't do justice by describing in words - but I'll do my best!
it does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work.
It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart.
It was around 7.00pm on a Wednesday evening, the 3rd of October, when my Braxton hicks contractions (that I had been feeling every so often for the past month) began to feel different. It was almost a week since my estimated due date - but I wasn't worried. After over nine months of a pregnancy with zero complications or concerns, I trusted that my body and baby knew best, and that my baby would come whenever he or she was ready. These tightening sensations that I was feeling weren't painful, but were starting to reappear between every 6-10 minutes. We knew that it could still be many days away, but John and I couldn't help but excitedly wonder out loud if we'd be meeting our baby soon. We went to bed around 10.00pm to try and get some rest.
It was 1.00am when I had a "bloody show". The tightenings hadn't eased up at all since going to bed, so I hadn't managed to get any sleep, and had disrupted John's sleep with my tossing and turning. It must have been around 3.30am when I finally dozed off.
Upon awakening on Thursday morning, I realised that the tightenings had worn off almost entirely. Throughout the day they appeared every so often, and by the evening, they were returning consistently once again, now with more intensity. I wasn't sure if this was really "it" or not, but we decided to get the inflatable birth pool set up ready to go, just in case. We soon discovered that there was a leak in the pool that we'd hired, but thankfully (even though we didn't really know it at the time), we had plenty of time to spare. We called our primary midwife Helen to let her know, and she wonderfully organised another pool for us that she would bring with her. It was around 11.00pm by this stage, and the tightenings had remained consistent but hadn't intensified. We decided once again to go to bed, and would let Helen know how things were going in the morning.
The contractions continued throughout the night, and I couldn't get comfortable lying down, let alone get to sleep. At around 2am I decided to quietly get up and leave John in bed to get some rest. I burnt some lavender essential oil and knelt on all fours over my fitball for a few hours in the lounge room, letting my body rock back and forth with each wave of pressure, and dozing off in between. In my hazy state I imagined what our baby might look like, and thought about the wonderful times ahead of us as a family.
By 5.30am, the night time darkness was starting to fade, and I went back to bed to let John know that the contractions had continued all night this time. When the sun came up, we text Helen to let her know too, and she suggested that we go for a walk. I liked the idea of getting out of the house for a bit, so after throwing on some comfy clothes, we walked down to the small park at the end of our street.
It was a stunning Friday morning; the air was chilly but fresh, and the sun was already shining. We walked (or should I say waddled) slowly along the footpath in high spirits, stopping with each contraction so that I could lean against John until it passed. Although uncomfortable, I didn't mind the sensations I was feeling - I knew that my body was doing what it had to do in preparation for our baby's arrival into the world.
At 7.30am, John took me out to a local cafe for a paleo-friendly breakfast. I wasn't feeling particularly hungry, but finished as much of my eggs and veg as I could, considering the impending energy-expenditure ahead. We then headed back home and put some relaxing music on in the lounge room. I went back to leaning over my fitball on the floor, next to the couch that John was sitting on. He was playing a new playstation game that he'd bought (but with the sound off so that I could only hear the music that was playing) and with each contraction he'd pause the game to rub my back. We continued with this little routine for most of the day, with John keeping me well-fed and hydrated, and re-heating the heat pack that I was using during the contractions to ease the discomfort in my lower belly. We chatted in between each contraction, with me trying my best to explain what it felt like; how the contractions weren't a normal kind of "painful" at all, but more of an intense pressure and sense of fullness that was hard to describe.
I remember being amazed at how good I felt in between each contraction - before labour, I'd always known that they only lasted for a few minutes at a time, but I'd never really considered that during the time in between, I'd feel completely like my old self again with no discomfort whatsoever. It was this realisation that really gave me confidence that I'd be able to get through this, no matter how long it took. And as it turned out, there were still quite a few hours left to go...
By nightfall the contractions were starting to become even more intense. We kept the music playing softly and the lounge room only dimly lit, and there was a serene, peaceful mood about the house. Henry and Betty lay near me the whole time, as if to make sure I was okay. We chatted on the phone every so often to Helen to keep her updated, and by around 6.00pm, the contractions felt intense enough that we decided it was time for her to head over to our place. It was lovely to see her smiling face walk through the door around half an hour later, and after a few trips back to her car to bring in the birth pool and a suitcase of medical equipment, Helen and I chatted for a bit about how I was going.
I stayed on my fitball and Helen checked the baby's heart beat with a doppler - everything was sounding fine. John decided to cook us all a chicken curry for dinner with coconut and Sri Lankan spices (yum), and it was around this time that my contractions started to ease off, perhaps from the distraction of chatting and eating. Knowing of the importance of an "undisturbed birth", John and Helen decided to leave me be for a while to see if the contractions would begin to return again, and went to set up the new birth pool in the rumpus room adjacent to the kitchen. The dogs and I stayed in the lounge room, and I put a few drops of clary sage in the oil burner in the hope that this would help to encourage the contractions too.
I slowly paced around in circles in time with the music that was still playing, taking deep breathes and focusing on the baby. Henry decided that this was a game of "follow the leader" and trotted behind me wherever I went. Gradually the contractions began to build up again, and I leaned against the piano or the back of the couch as they came. It felt good to just let go and allow my body to moan and hum - it felt so primitive and natural. The noise I was making must have started to sound even more intense, as John soon came back into the lounge room to see if there was anything he could do. He sat on the couch and I kneeled on the floor facing him, leaning against his sturdy body with each wave of pressure, quietly chatting and laughing (I can't even remember what about) in between them. Helen stayed at the kitchen table reading, occasionally yelling out "Sounding good!" in response to my noisiness, and writing down the timings of each contraction as she heard them. They were now only four minutes apart.
Throughout the entire birth, Helen, and later, our second midwife Amy too, were so respectful of giving me just the right amount of space and privacy that I needed, whilst always keeping a close eye on the situation to make sure everything was okay. I cannot thank them enough for this.
When you consider birth as an involuntary process involving old, mammalian structures of the brain, you set aside the assumption that a woman must learn to give birth. It is implicit in the mammalian interpretation that one cannot actively help a woman to give birth.
The goal is to avoid disturbing her unnecessarily.
- Michael Odent
It must have been somewhere between 11.00pm and midnight when Helen called up Amy to let her know that my labour was finally established enough that it was time for her to join us too. She arrived around half an hour later, and soon after I got into the birthing pool. The warmth and buoyancy of the water were immediately relaxing, and it felt so good to be on all fours with my arms draped over the inflated wall of the pool. Every so often John and the midwives would reheat some water on the stove to keep the water in the pool warm enough (as our hot water system had run out).
The pool was pushed right up against a couch, where John now sat, using a container to pour warm water over my lower back with each contraction. The central heating was up ridiculously high too and I felt a little over-heated, so after each contraction finished, I asked John to spray cold water on my back with a spray bottle and pass me my glass of iced water to take a sip from. This turned into a routine once again, and we all had a giggle at the fact that John was "watering his wife".
I'd put up some birthing affirmations on the side of the bookshelf near the pool. I had John read them out to me, and each of them made me smile by reminding me of the innate strength within me to do this. One in particular that stuck in my mind was:
The power and intensity of my contractions cannot be stronger than me, because it is me.
For the next few hours, Helen and Amy took turns either taking a well-deserved nap in the lounge room or helping me out in the pool, occasionally checking the baby's heart beat to make sure everything was okay. John stayed next to me the whole time, and with our increasing exhaustion from our lack of sleep for the past few nights, he began to drift off in between each of my contractions. As I felt the next one coming on, I'd grab his leg to wake him so that he could continue with the "watering", and he'd jump up quickly to help every time. Due to my own deliriousness, I found this pretty amusing, and would giggle as each contraction subsided. He was such an amazing and reliable support; staying so relaxed and never complaining once.
After spending three or four hours in the pool, we decided it might be best for me to get out for a little while and move around. I was still feeling over-heated, so John helped me walk to the study, which was much cooler in temperature than the rest of the house. He sat down and I leaned against him, feeling so exhausted by this point that I just wanted to have a sleep.
Compared to being in the warm water, the contractions now felt much more intense. Up until this point, I'd managed to get through each contraction calmly and without any sense of panic at all, but the complete exhaustion that I was feeling was beginning to overwhelm me, and I remember saying for the first time, "It hurts...I don't know if I can do this." Looking back, I was probably going through transition. John stayed so calm and reminded me to just relax, and by taking a few deep breaths, I was able to get back to my calm state of mind and trust in my body and baby once again.
Rain, after all is only rain; it is not bad weather.
So also, pain is only pain; unless we resist it, then it becomes torment.
- I Ching
We decided to go for a lie-down in bed for a while so that I could nap in between each contraction (and so that John might be able to get some much-needed rest too). When we were on our way, another contraction came on in the kitchen, and I leaned against John once again, making the loudest noises I'd ever heard come out of me. After all of this time, my waters still hadn't broken, and the sense of pressure inside me was so intense. But I knew there was nothing I could do except to just "go with it" and allow my body do what it had to do.
It was a relief to be lying down in bed, and I instantly dozed off - only to be awoken a few minutes later by what felt like the most intense contraction yet. John tried to help by rubbing my back like he had earlier in the evening, but it didn't feel as good anymore. It didn't feel right lying down; the pressure was so much more intense than when I was on all fours or standing upright, but I so desperately wanted to be able to sleep in between each contraction that I remained where I was.
A bit before 5.00am, Helen came in to check on how I was going. There hadn't been a reason to examine me up until this point, so we had no idea how dilated I actually was. We decided it was probably a good time to check before I got back in the pool, and thankfully, I was fully dilated. Upon hearing this news, I could finally see the light at the end of the tunnel - we were going to meet our baby soon!
We all headed back to the pool (dogs included), and I returned to the same position, leaning against the edge. It felt so wonderful to be back in the water again after lying down, and although every contraction was beginning to feel even more intense than the previous, it all seemed so much more bearable now that I knew I was fully dilated and physically ready to give birth.
The pressure inside me was building and building, and it felt so good to scream and yell at the top of my lungs. Helen told me that I could push with the next contraction if I wanted to, and when I did, I all of the sudden felt an explosion inside me, and an instant relief from the pressure - my waters had finally broken! From that point on, everything happened so quickly that it was all a bit of a blur.
I knew that it was all going to be over soon when I heard Helen and Amy telling John that he'd better jump in the pool now if he wanted to catch the baby. He knelt behind me in the water, and it was so comforting just knowing that he was right there with me. I could feel the baby getting lower and lower with each contraction, and I felt a strong urge to push with each of them. Helen asked me to slow down a little as I was pushing a bit too much, so I tried my best to contain myself and take it a bit slower.
Although this was the most physically intense part of the labour, it felt so good to be pushing and to feel the baby's head finally crowning. I was expecting to feel a burning sensation at this point; the "ring of fire", but never really did - perhaps from being in the water. Instead I felt my body stretching and opening beyond anything under my conscious control; a sensation that probably would have seemed scary had my birthing team not kept reassuring me how well I was doing. Helen verbally guided me in how much to push, and when to "pant", which made my job so much easier as I wasn't really in a state to think for myself! John and Amy were using our waterproof camera to snap some shots under the water, and I heard them talk excitedly about being able to see the head, and that the baby had so much hair.
With the next big push, I felt the whole head come out of me. Only a few seconds later during what felt like the same contraction, I felt the rest of the baby slip out entirely. I smiled and took a huge sigh of relief. I'd done it. At 5.33am on Saturday the 6th of October, our baby was born.
I heard Helen telling John to pass the baby through my legs, and without really thinking I put my hands down into the water and scooped her up into my arms. She instantly took in a gasp of air and started to cry, prompting the dogs to race over to see where this strange new noise was coming from. As I held her to my chest she instantly found my nipple and latched on. John and I just sat there in amazement, staring at our beautiful little baby. We were both lost for words.
Many minutes passed before we realised that we hadn't even checked the gender. Just as we'd guessed during the pregnancy, our baby was a girl. We'd already decided on her name over a year beforehand: Melody Catherine. She had a full head of long dark hair, just as I'd had as a newborn. She had my ears and her father's nose, and she was absolutely covered in a thick layer of vernix, despite being "overdue". She was beautiful.
After sneaking off to give the three of us some time alone, eventually Helen and Amy came back to slowly help me out of the pool, cord and baby still attached. We all headed to the bedroom for the third stage of labour. To ensure that Melody wasn't deprived of any placental blood, we waited until the placenta was naturally delivered before John clamped and cut the cord. Amy put the placenta in a container, ready to be encapsulated. Melody was weighed and measured, and I was examined. I'd torn a little from pushing, but as it was a clean tear, we decided on letting it heal up on its own without sutures.
Despite the exhaustion, John and I were beaming with happiness. We got engaged in June 2011 with the intention of starting a family as soon as possible after our wedding in December, and here we were less than ten months later with our baby girl in our arms.
Had we been in a birthing centre or hospital setting, I am certain that our story would have been a very different one. Before we even started trying to conceive, we'd invested a lot of time and energy in researching and finding the birthing option that best suited us and our lifestyle. After such a special experience, neither of us could have been any happier that we'd decided on home birthing. From a father's perspective, John was able to be so directly involved in the whole process, which wasn't only a joy for him, but also made everything so much easier for me. Our midwives, who had been supporting us throughout our journey from very early on in the pregnancy, were able to provide us with the space we needed in order to allow my body to do its work naturally - without the pressure of time limits, routine examinations, or unnecessary medical interventions. But we also knew that had a medical complication arisen, our midwives had the skill and expertise to either address the complication themselves, or promptly have us transferred to the hospital. The entire birthing experience felt safe, gentle, and loving for not only myself, but for my husband and our beautiful baby girl. It was an experience that I already look back on with fondness; an experience that made me grow so much as a woman, a wife, and a human being; and an experience that calmly and gracefully transitioned me into my new role as a mother.
A woman is the birth power source.
She may need, and deserve, help, but in essence,
she always had, currently has, and will have the power.
- Heather McCue
Never doubt your ability as a woman to give birth. It may not be the best choice for everyone, but for those who are considered "low-risk", home birthing with the assistance of midwives can be just as safe, and often even safer, than birthing in a hospital. Western culture has bred a sense of fear and doubt into us regarding childbirth - but by simply trusting in one's body and its ability to give birth naturally, just as countless women before us have, birth transforms into something so amazingly beautiful, that it really has to be experienced to be believed.
Just as a woman’s heart knows how and when to pump, her lungs to inhale,
and her hand to pull back from fire, so she knows when and how to give birth.
- Virginia Di Orio
Birth is an experience that demonstrates that life is not merely function and utility,
but form and beauty.
- Christopher Largen
Formerly known as Paleo Pregnancy & Parenting,
Mikaela's personal blog explores topics relating to ancestral-based nutrition, pregnancy, undisturbed birth, and natural parenting.