Our Home Away from Homebirth

In hindsight (now knowing her personality) Lilah Grace came to us in the only way she knew how – with full force and an intensity only she could muster. Looking back, it was the most perfectly timed entrance that she could have made. I had a great pregnancy; I felt strong and healthy, ate well, exercised as normal (with a few modifications) and even took a four week road trip holiday through the USA! Just as our baby grew bigger and stronger every week, our relationship also strengthened and blossomed during this time and we knew that we were on the beginning of a magical journey together.

Ever since I first began studying midwifery in 2010 I have known that I would birth my own babies at home. Ryan and I lived in the rural NSW town of Broken Hill and whilst there is a beautiful group of MGP midwives, my colleagues, who work through the hospital here, I still felt strongly about birthing out of the hospital environment. Unfortunately, there were no privately practicing midwives in our town, so I began the process of coming up with an alternative solution. 

After exploring our options I came across an independent midwife who was not too far away (by outback standards of travel), in the regional town of Mildura, Victoria. I made contact with her and whilst she was unable to travel to us due to other commitments, we decided that we would travel to Mildura to have our baby.

I was mostly calm and grounded and really enjoyed being pregnant. I continued to teach classes at the gym until 24 weeks and participated in Crossfit until 36 weeks. After 36 weeks I listened to the signs from my body and really slowed down and kept to walking a couple times each week. Physically I felt ready to give birth and that my fitness would somewhat help me through the process. This is also what I believe helped me be able to work full-time until 38 weeks. I remained very in tune with my body and my baby and when I noticed that she was persisting in the same position I began practicing some ‘Spinning Babies’ techniques to give her the space to optimise her positioning. Mental preparations for me included positive thinking and imagery, remembering and focussing on all the positive and empowering births I’d been a part of, reading successful homebirth stories (of first babies in particular as they are much less common) and familiarising myself and Ryan with all the tools that I thought would give me the best chance at having a great birth! I didn’t do any classes or courses in particular but I did read through the Calmbirth information borrowed from a friend and listened to that guided meditation some nights.

On October 16th, 2016 (4 days before our ‘due date’) we made the three hour road trip south, to Mildura, the town where we would birth our baby. We had hired a rental house for three weeks, hoping that the baby would arrive sooner rather than later! We enjoyed some really beautiful time together for the first few days of our stay in Mildura and on the fourth day, our ‘due date’, we enjoyed spectacular weather and a beautiful lunch together at a local winery. Afterwards I spoilt myself with a two hour pregnancy spa treatment and when I sat up following this I felt a little trickle of fluid! At the time and in typical midwife fashion, I totally dismissed this as nothing and went to meet Ryan for ice cream next door.

An hour later we arrived home and I went to the bathroom and noticed my liner, soaked with pink water! I was cautiously excited but delayed telling Ryan without being 100% sure, so I suggested we go for a long walk. So off we went for a nice long walk where I noticed occasional uncomfortable (but not painful) tightenings and a definite increase in pink fluid loss – I felt like my waters were soaking my pants! I had been experiencing Braxton Hicks contractions since around 20 weeks, especially when I had been on my feet for a while, so I was used to this feeling and found early contractions to be no more uncomfortable. After we got home I told Ryan that I thought my waters might have broken (I now know that it was a ‘hind water leak’), news which was met with much excitement and anticipation. We decided to have dinner and headed to the supermarket for a last minute dash, knowing that we may not be leaving the house for the next few days. I called my midwife Leanne so that she was aware of what was happening but told her that I definitely wasn’t in labour yet. We also set up the birth pool in the living area, ready to be filled when necessary and our birth photographer Sarah came around to capture some memories of our preparations. By midnight nothing much had happened or changed, despite a couple of hours spent on the fit ball and a bit of acupressure by Ryan, so I decided to go to bed and try to get some rest. But by 12.45am our baby had other plans and I had to get back out of bed, feeling too uncomfortable to lay down with the tightenings that were now coming. My body and baby obviously just needed me to relax for a little while so it could actually get things going.

I began this early stage of labour very relaxed and excited about the journey we were about to embark on. I remained upright during contractions then rested on the couch in-between. I lit the beautiful clary sage candle my Mum had given me and put some calming essential oils in the diffuser, then read the affirmation flags that had been written for me during my mother blessing. I found using a heat pack on my lower abdomen to be most comforting, until at 2am I woke Ryan and asked him to apply the TENS machine to my back. I sent him back to bed, wanting him to get a good nights rest if possible. I knew I could manage this early stage alone and that I would need his help further down the track, when things were more intense.  This is very much a reflection of my personality and how I handle pain in everyday life – so looking back I could have totally predicted that I would want to be alone.

From about 2am until 6am I laboured with my TENS machine and heat pack in the spare room of our rental house, alternating between laying on my side and kneeling/leaning forward positions. I spent a lot of time in the bathroom as my body emptied itself of anything unnecessary and whilst the vomiting and diarrhoea during contractions was extra uncomfortable, I managed to get through it knowing it was a normal part of the process. As it turned out I continued to vomit and have diarrhoea through my whole labour! It was bloody inconvenient!! When I imagined labour, I always envisioned myself spending a great deal of time labouring in the shower, however once it was a reality I couldn’t fathom taking the TENS machine off – I found it to be such a great help, and so the shower idea was quickly dismissed. This early phase of labour was challenging, as the contractions were certainly strong…however without timing them I could feel that they were still irregular at this stage. 

I felt empowered and independent in managing this phase of labour on my own, however at 6am when the sun started to rise and the room began to brighten I woke Ryan and asked him to make the living area as dark as possible – I knew the light would distract me. If this kid wanted to arrive during the day, so be it, but I was determined to make it feel as calm and safe as possible in that birthing space. Ryan did a marvellous job with extra curtains from other rooms and pillows lining the bottom of the windows to cover all the cracks, the sun had absolutely no chance of peeking into the living room that day!

At 8am I asked Ryan to call our midwife, who arrived at the house shortly after. She listened to the heartbeat and confirmed that our baby was happily coping with the events unfolding. I requested an internal examination and was happy to hear that I was 4cm dilated – all I wanted was to be in ‘established labour’ and to know that progress was being made. Our midwife offered to stay but I felt that Ryan and I would manage together for the time being, so she left to attend her other appointments for the day. 

From 8am-12pm I laboured in much the same way, with mobility and the TENS machine, although this period was much more challenging than previously. The contractions were increasing in intensity and I found myself becoming quite vocal during my exhale, as a way to manage the discomfort, with a nice long ‘Om’ sound escaping my mouth. Meditators around the world would have been proud, I hadn’t planned on making this sound but it felt so natural and calming and I found it to be a great tool. At 12pm I felt as though I’d had enough and wanted to have another internal examination. I bargained with myself that if I wasn’t at least 7cm, then I was going to go to hospital and get an epidural – classic transition thinking! Leanne came back to check me and said that I was now 7cm. I knew rationally that this was good, normal progress, I was secretly disappointed to not have been 8cm.

I felt as though I needed to do something different and so it was at this point that our midwife suggested I get into the birth pool. Ryan began to fill it whilst I lay on the bed to rest between contractions, moving up to my hands and knees to manage through the pains. They were really intense now and I was getting exhausted – it was taking everything I had to get through this phase. Filling the pool took the best part of an hour, which really felt like an eternity to me, but at around 2pm I went to the bathroom before finally getting into the pool. My body had a forceful ejection of whatever could have possibly still remained and with my final vomit, my forewaters also broke! Poor Ryan was running around trying to find me a vomit bag and towel and finish off the pool all at once.

I immersed myself into the pool and felt an instant relief, the warm water was exactly what I needed at that point in my labour, and in hindsight it was the perfect move. My cervix must have melted away and I began involuntary pushing only 30 minutes later. It was during this stage of labour that I really needed and depended on Ryan and he was so strong and supportive of me that I was able to draw strength from him for this final challenge. I pushed for 90 minutes in the pool, reassured by the progress that was being made as I felt the descent of the baby’s head through my pelvis (I felt this internally myself). I did not enjoy pushing at all. I know many women who say they enjoyed having something productive to do but for me, this was the hardest and most painful part. With each push I felt like my body was breaking in half, but I knew that I had to do it anyway to get the baby out – it was such a mental test for me to consciously choose to do something that was bringing me so much pain.

Finally I felt her head at the opening of my vagina. Her head did the up and down movement as babies do before they begin to crown. I kept my hand on her head and my vulva as she slowly emerged and whilst the pain was overwhelming and nearly (but not quite) unmanageable, it was such a relief to be so close to the end. I had a very clear idea of how I wanted to manage this part and try not to tear. I knew I needed to stay completely relaxed and soft and left my body do this last final part. With the burning ‘ring of fire’ and feeling like the baby was actually coming out of my anus!! I somehow managed to keep calm and relaxed and felt my body completely stretch over and around my baby’s head.

Once her head was born we waited for the next contraction – which seemed like an eternity – then her shoulder came out but after this she did not ‘slide out’ as most babies do and our midwife saw that she was so tangled in the umbilical cord that it was preventing the rest of her body from being born! I simply stood up where I was and she assisted with the birth of the rest of the body and our baby was born at 4pm, at which time we discovered she was a GIRL!

Due to her entanglement in the cord (it was around her neck x2 and also around her arm and leg somehow) she was quite floppy and not breathing when she was born. The mother in me panicked and whilst Leanne was calm and confident, I asked Ryan to call an ambulance when the baby didn’t respond to our stimulation. I checked her heart rate after a couple of minutes by feeling the cord and it was excellent, but it was another few minutes, which felt like an eternity, before she gave a little cry and I knew she was okay. The paramedics arrived shortly after but the baby was fine by then and they were more concerned with me and my low blood pressure (normal for me). They offered to take us to the hospital but we declined and snuggled in at home with our new baby instead. They asked what her name was and we told them ‘Lilah’.

My third stage was totally uneventful. I was sitting upright next to the pool and about 10 or 15 minutes after the birth, I felt a heaviness in my vagina. I looked down and could see my placenta sitting right there, so I gave a little push and Leanne eased it out. It was a very healthy placenta so it made sense when we weighed Lilah and she was 3700g (8lb 2oz). Leanne checked my perineum and it was intact which I was happy about. I had 2 labial grazes which were pretty painful for a few days but then healed very well. I lost minimal blood but did feel quite weak and breathless in the first few days postpartum.

The first few hours with are somewhat of a blur. We gave her some expressed colostrum, which I had been collecting in the last few weeks of pregnancy. She wasn’t yet interested in the breast but with her ‘eventful’ birth and the stress of her first few minutes in the world, we decided it was important that she have some colostrum to regulate her blood glucose. I was feeling quite faint after labour, vomiting and not having eaten in 24 hours, so I basically inhaled half a bag of malteasers then Leanne helped me up to have a shower while Ryan enjoyed his first cuddles with his baby girl. Afterwards we hopped into bed for more skin to skin and after a little while Lilah attached to the breast and had her first feed. We ate some of the food I had prepared the previous day and began making the phone calls to our families to let them know of her safe arrival.

I was a bit shocked at how battered I felt after giving birth. I felt like my body had broken apart to let this baby come through and it caught me a bit off guard at how vulnerable I felt in this time. My core felt so weak and I could hardly stand upright for the first few days after giving birth. My milk came in with a vengeance and my breasts looked like a boob-job gone wrong. However, my mindset was amazing and I never experience the day 3 baby blues that we so commonly talk about. I had decided to encapsulate my placenta after having very strong feelings around 34 weeks that I needed to consume it somehow. I taught myself how to do this and completed the process at home with a little help from Ryan’s mum.

Our first week with Lilah was absolute bliss, having travelled away from home for the birth meant that we were not overwhelmed with visitors and could enjoy this time together, getting to know one another. Each of our mums came to visit and help us for a few days, Ryan’s mum travelling from Broken Hill and mine from Sydney and it was lovely to watch each of them bond with their very first grandchild. We stayed in Mildura for six days after the birth and our midwife came to check in with us nearly every day, then we travelled back home to Broken Hill as a family of 3. 

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *