It was at a Chiropractic seminar when I was 24 years old that I decided to have a home birth (if the situation arose in the future!). I was inspired by Dr Jeanne Ohm when she shared about creating a birthing environment to give the best chance of labour progressing naturally for mother and baby.
Fast forward 7 years when I was pregnant with my first child, I started telling people that I was planning on a home birth. The response is usually one of the following:
- Is that a good idea, isn’t dangerous?
- That’s amazing you are so brave, I could never do that.
- Isn’t that just for people who live in rural areas or for hippies?
I did not personally know anyone who had had a home birth. My family was very supportive but also had no experience of what a home birth involved. It is not something you see on the movies or gets discussed at antenatal classes therefore it is not a choice that even crosses most expecting parents minds.
Five years on, I have had the experience of birthing three healthy children with no pain relief, with one hospital birth and two home births. I feel that the home births were just as safe, I didn’t feel that I was any ‘braver’ to have a home birth than hospital, and I don’t think it has to be reserved for rural areas and hippies!
How does it work?
It is the same process regardless of whether you are wanting a home or hospital birth. I contacted some midwives, found out whether they had availability and whether they had experience with home births (not all of them do). I met up with one for a coffee, we had similar values for the ideal birth so we filled in the paperwork for her to be my midwife, or more accurately my ‘Lead Maternity Carer’ (LMC). In New Zealand we are fortunate that our healthcare system supports and funds the option of home births for healthy uncomplicated pregnancies.
I had regular checkups with the midwife throughout my pregnancy. She gave recommendations for what tests, scans and procedures were suggested then left it up to me to decide what I would like to go ahead with.
I continued to learn about the belief that pregnancy, labour and birth are natural life events but often get treated as an illness or a medical procedure. A fantastic weekend course we did as a couple was CalmBirth (similar to hypno-birthing). We learnt that labour progresses naturally only if the mother is in a relaxed state (parasympathetic). The more relaxed and at ease I was, the better chance there was of my body doing what is is perfectly designed for: growing, carrying and birthing a baby.
This can be difficult when you are having the most intense pressure that you have ever felt. To help keep you calm, it helps to have mentally prepared and visualised the experience prior to the actual event, as well as being in an environment that makes you feel relaxed and safe. For me, I felt like that was much more likely to occur in my own home. The Calmbirth course combined research and information with lots of tools such as breathing, meditation and visualisation to mentally prepare for birth.
As well as doing mental preparation, I wrote out my birth plan. This included everything that would keep me relaxed and happy during labour – my favourite oil burning, a music playlist, a warm and low lit room, having a birthing pool, having lots of snack foods that I liked, a list of my visualisations to bring me back to focus, hot water bottle, cool packs, an exercise ball… everything we could think of.
1. Franklin’s Birth
At 41 weeks pregnant, I had my first contraction at 8pm. I had had no awareness of prior braxton hicks prior so the contractions came as a surprise. They felt fairly intense very quickly, at 8.30pm I rung the midwife to let her know. By 9pm the contractions were strong and I worried that I was just one of those 1st timers who thinks they are intense but it is really only the beginning.
The midwife said she would come and check me and arrived at 10pm. On the first contraction after she arrived, my waters broke spectacularly and it was a brown colour indicating meconium (the baby had ‘pooed’ in the womb). There is a risk that the baby may have swallowed meconium, so next minute my husband and I were in her car on our way to Wellington hospital.
On arrival I had to lye on my back, feet up in stirrups, monitor around my belly and the emergency team took over. The baby was distressed and they told me I needed to get the baby out on the next contraction or there would be some intervention. At first I was in shock as this was not what I had prepared for at all, I got very stressed and then I heard the word ‘surrender’. Suddenly rather than fighting it, I relaxed and let my body do what it needed to. I used every ounce of effort I could muster and Franklin was born naturally at 11.15pm (3.4kg). He was immediately checked by the registrar and was perfectly healthy.
I got asked many times if I was upset that it wasn’t the calm home birth that I planned for, but I wasn’t. That is the purpose of having a midwife, they know when to change the plan when there is a risk to the health of your baby and all I had to do was surrender.
2. Henry’s Birth
After the shock of Franklin’s birth, my husband (and family) was slightly apprehensive when I was adamant we would attempt another home birth. At 41 weeks pregnant again, I went for a walk in the morning and got what I thought was braxton hicks (which I had been having for 2 weeks). They didn’t stop after returning home, I knew that this was probably the start of labour.
My mum took Franklin with an overnight bag while my husband and I sat in the sun, had lunch and relaxed as early labour progressed. We set up an inflatable pool in the house, closed all the blinds, lit candles and put on an infuser. We watched the 5.30pm super rugby game, then the 7.30pm game as labour intensified. The 1st midwife came around 8pm, and the 2nd at 9pm (there has to be two midwives present for a home birth).
I was so hot that I could not even contemplate getting in the pool, once things got full on I was on my knees and used a chair to rest my arms on. We had relaxing music on, my husband used acupressure points and cold flannels. During contractions I focused on visualising tough situations I had experienced, and between contractions I visualised relaxing memories.
Around midnight I wanted to quit, the midwife said
‘You can do this but you are going to have to give it everything you’ve got’
Somehow that kept me focused to push on. Henry was finally born at 1am (3.9kg) and got placed straight on my chest. Shortly after the midwife noticed his breathing was not quite right. They cut the cord and took him away to puff oxygen into his lungs.
When he didn’t respond, they got my husband to ring an ambulance just in case Henry did not improve. By the time the ambulance arrived, Henry had had some expressed colostrum and started breathing normally. However the paramedics still did a full check to ensure that everything was fine. Even when there are minor complications at a home birth, paramedics are trained to be able to support newborns, if it is beyond their expertise they will get you to hospital.
I got a couple of small stitches done while lying on my couch, then showered in my own bathroom, had a cup of tea and went to bed with our new baby. Henry did not even have to leave his house until he was 5 days old.
3. Sienna’s Birth
After Henry my husband was a convert for home births. I had also decided to have the two boys (now 4.5 and 2 years old) present at the birth and had prepared them by talking about it a lot and showing them you-tube videos of home births.
At 40 weeks and three days, I was just about to go to bed when I felt like I lost bladder control and realised my water had broken. We rung the midwife to let her know, got the house ready- set up the inflatable pool, candles, towels, sheets – then went to bed. Contractions started about 11pm, then by midnight they were intense enough that I had to get up.
With a home birth, you don’t have to make that decision of when to go to the hospital. The midwife came at 2.30am, examined me and said everything was progressing perfectly. I used a lot of breathing techniques to keep my mind focused during contractions. Every time I got in the pool it helped with the intense pressure but slowed down the contractions.
My boys woke up at 5am and watched wide eyed from a distance at first then much closer as they got comfortable with the situation. At 6am after trying lots of different positions my legs were exhausted from squatting and I was trying to avoid getting wound up about the slow progress, I knew that the stress would only slow down labour further. I went back to breathing and visualisations. The midwife suggested sitting on the toilet. This did the trick and after two contractions Sienna was born at 6.21am (3.66kg), with both midwives, my husband, my mum and the two boys all squeezed in the bathroom too!
As she was born I lost a lot of blood, the midwife gave me an injection of Syntocinon to speed up the delivery of the placenta and avoid postpartum haemorrhage. I got to hold Sienna on my chest while the placenta was delivered and they did a couple of stitches. Franklin my son got to cut the cord, then I was suddenly craving chocolate and had a lot of Whittakers. The boys watched iPad and had their breakfast like it was any other day. Once showered we took our new daughter and went to bed. I felt so comfortable in my own home, with all of my family there to support me.
Hopefully reading this helps people understand that home births are not dangerous, often they are actually safer as they have less interventions due to the freedom to create an optimal environment. Ideally we should always have the expectation that straightforward pregnancies will have natural, intervention free births, whilst also being prepared to respond to challenges as they arise.
As part of our maternity care system in New Zealand we have fantastic courses and resources for expecting parents as well as well trained midwives that can make a home birth experience optimal for the mother and baby whilst still being extremely safe.
Domino Midwives Wellington http://www.dominomidwives.co.nz/
Home Birth Aotearoa https://homebirth.org.nz/
Calmbirth NZ http://calmbirth.org.nz/