I woke up at 5am as Dom was about to leave for work, suddenly aware that I’d had occasional tummy cramps through the night, though I’d mostly slept through them. They felt like menstrual cramps, so I wondered if they could be Braxton Hicks as I’d never had any. I told Dom I thought I’d probably have the baby today but it’d be a while, so he might as well go to work. He said I should go back to sleep but I needed to go to the toilet badly! Afterwards, I got stuff ready for when Ronan woke up, made myself breakfast and went back to bed to eat it while reading my book. Luxury!
Ronan woke up at 6:10. I’d realised I was actually having contractions so I texted Sharon that they were 5 minutes apart and 1 minute long. She said she’d be over once she’d had a shower. I said I’d keep timing them because they seemed to be changing. I had quite a strong one while I was getting Ronan up, so I woke Mum and asked her to take him downstairs for breakfast while I made some calls and had a shower. 6.30am,still timing. I texted Sharon contractions were now 2.5 minutes apart and 1.5 minutes long. Called Dom & said he needed to come home now. Called Holly (my best friend and doulah for Ronan’s birth) and said “how would you feel about not going to work today?” Finally got in the shower and spent most of it on my hands and knees while I was having contractions – having the hot water run over my back felt really soothing. 7.10am. I was trying to dry myself between contractions when Sharon arrived. She examined me – I was VERY surprised to hear I was 6cm dilated and fully effaced already. Sharon’s calm demeanour was slightly ruffled as she tried to get hold of her backup, Marty, and got her voicemail, then tried Linden. (In the end, both turned up.) I asked Sharon if I should put the TENS machine on now. She said it was a bit late for that!
Dom got home shortly after Sharon arrived, having first been to Mitre 10 to get a fresh hose to fill up the birthing pool… which I never managed to use because Caleb came too fast for Dom & Mum to fill it! Holly arrived shortly after Dom. Mum did a fantastic job of keeping Ronan entertained downstairs. My biggest worry with having a home birth was that Ronan would be distressed, but he never was. He had fun with the 3cm of water Dom and Mum managed to get into the birthing pool, splashing everyone. With all the people there, Ronan thought it was another party in his honour, just like Saturday!
No more times now, I was too busy to notice the clock. I had planned to labour downstairs, mostly in the pool, but I never got past our bedroom. I tried some hip circles, but what worked best was getting down on my knees beside the bed, leaning my upper body forward onto the bed. I was wearing my big terrycloth robe to start, but it got too hot to wear anything after a while. Once Dom was convinced to abandon filling the birthing pool, he rubbed my back while Holly, kneeling over the far side of the bed and reaching over to me, let me grip her hands and pull on her arms like anchors. I changed position, keeping my left knee down and right knee up, that instinctive pose Jo had told us about in yoga which opens up the pelvis, providing more room for baby to come through. I stayed in that position for the rest of the birth.
I kept waiting for someone to touch me or tell me what to do – through the edge of my focus I could see Sharon and it seemed like she was texting! Marty and Linden both sat so quietly ( I was initially concerned about having them there as I hadn’t met either before, but they were fabulously discrete, sitting against the wall out of my line of sight) that I nearly forgot they were there. But shouldn’t someone touch me or tell me when to push? Then I realised that they were leaving it all to me because that’s what I’d said I wanted. I was actually being listened to!
I had been wanting to push for a while by this stage, but a) having read that breach babies are sometimes born too quickly because of an overwhelming need to push from early on that should be breathed through I was trying to heed that advice and b) having been told what to do right throughout my labour with Ronan (and I was suggestible, so I did what I was told, which is why I think I ended up with so many interventions I didn’t want the first time) I was expecting more of the same. Once I realised no-one was going to tell me what I “should” be doing, I pushed.
Since I’d had no drugs, I could feel everything that was happening. At times it felt really weird. Caleb knew what he was doing: he went through all the twists and turns, came down and (what felt strangest of all) went back up again, just as I’d read he would in Maggie Banks’ (fabulous) book. I have to say I think I’m fabulously lucky. I really didn’t miss the lack of drugs. The worst thing about the whole labour was the burning feeling of my perineum stretching (closely followed by my waters breaking just before Caleb emerged – I thought I had peed everywhere and felt hideously embarrassed – another thing I hadn’t experienced the first time: there was just a slow leakage then they were broken for me). The contractions weren’t so bad, they were manageable with breathing.
Caleb came out bum first. The meconium was squeezed out of him like a toothpaste tube by the process – no tar-like first nappies to change! At one stage, he got stuck, trapped by his balls! (They were very swollen when he was born, poor boy.) This is the only time Sharon touched me, stretching my perineum further. “Ow, ow, ow!!” I moaned. “What are you doing?! Don’t touch!” She told me she had to get them out. His feet were next, flipping out one per contraction, another thing I could feel distinctly. I don’t remember feeling the arms or shoulders being born. Caleb’s chin was tilted down (phew) and once his face was born he hung suspended between contractions, and Linden joked “oh, you’re wearing your mother like a hat!” Sharon encouraged me to lower myself down until Caleb was “sitting” on the sheet below me.
8:50am Another push and he was out, lying on the sheet, pale and tiny. I “oooohed” but just stroked him with my fingertips, not knowing what to do until Sharon said “you can pick him up you know.” So I did! We got into bed and a few minutes later he had latched on and was feeding. He was 3.22kg and 52cm long at birth, rosy (his APGARS were 8 one minute after birth and 10 ten minutes after), happy and healthy. And calm! We named him Caleb (strong and faithful) Geoffrey (after Dom’s dad, meaning “peaceful” – I thought that would be nice in a baby!) Hamilton (a family name from my father’s mother’s side) Bish.
9.10am Dom and Holly brought me a fruit smoothy and sushi and Ronan came in to meet his baby brother. Mum met her latest grandchild and got to hold him while I had a shower – completely without assistance from anyone! I remember thinking, “wow, that’s how women used to give birth then get straight back out in the fields!” Not having had any drugs, I felt physically and mentally 300% better than I had when I gave birth to Ronan.
I wasn’t at all fazed when Sharon told me there wasn’t a bed available at Warkworth. I considered not going at all, but a bed came free the next day and I’m glad I did (as much as I missed Dom and Ronan) as it gave me some very precious time alone to get to know my sweet, beautiful new baby boy. When we got home 3 days later, Caleb opened his eyes, looked around and smiled as if to say “Ahhh, I’m home!”
This pregnancy and Caleb’s birth was a real eye-opener for me. It made me aware of the politics of our medical system and quite cynical about issues of funding and liability around birth. Not to mention the frequently shocking, disempowering treatment of women who trust themselves to that system, believing it’s the “right” thing to do. It strengthened my trust in my own (educated, informed) judgement, my understanding of what I am capable of, mentally and physically, and confirmed that being strong-willed is not necessarily a bad thing. It also made me aware that I had previously thought of home births as somewhat fruity – maybe most kiwis do? But why on earth should it be that way? Hospital births are still the exception to the rule in many countries and from my experience, rightly so. Being at home made the whole experience so much quicker, less painful, more relaxing and actually enjoyable (rather than just something you’re supposed to enjoy).
I’ve also had a lot of women – other mothers, midwives and nurses – tell me how brave and heroic I am. I’ve found this puzzling and kind of embarrassing each time. I felt like I didn’t have any choice but to have my baby at home. It was a calculated, informed decision. I didn’t want to be bullied, coerced or threatened by unsupportive staff at the hospital. I did not consider the obstetrician’s view that I would have to give birth on my back, in lithotomy, most likely with an epidural, as representative either of a natural breach birth or what was best for me and my baby. I did not want forceps anywhere near my baby. All medical opinion, tests and scans showed that Caleb and I were both healthy. Frank breach is the most straight-forward (and common) of the breach presentations, and breach presentation is normal, even if less common. I live 5 minutes drive from the hospital, and if it had become medically necessary to transfer we could have done so easily. In short, my main concern was that I have a healthy baby. Secondly, I wanted to come through the process well enough that I wouldn’t have problems looking after either him or Ronan by myself, since we don’t have family here. Sharon Weir, my fabulous midwife, is coming for our 6-week sign off today. Caleb’s put on over 1.55kg since birth and is a gorgeous, happy boy. I completely recovered weeks ago. It turned out to be a good decision.