The Birth of Charlotte
I have always loved babies and the older I got the more interested in birth I became. Like most people I used to view birth as that horrible thing I just had to endure and get through to get my baby. But I started doing research on birth and reading and watching birth stories years before I fell pregnant and realised that birth was an incredibly powerful and transformative process. And depending on how it goes, has the potential to build or break a new mum. I wanted a powerful, positive birth that left me not only with a healthy baby but a sense of achievement and a belief in my ability to be a mother and an overall greater respect for my body. So I told my husband, Luke “I want a home birth”. I’d never considered a home birth, I thought it was for hairy hippies but the more I read the more I realised that I wanted continuity of care with a midwife, my own peaceful surroundings, I wanted to prepare and decorate the space how I wanted and I wanted my family to be involved. I wanted Luke to be able to climb into bed with us after it was all done and I really didn’t want to have to contract in the car on the way to the hospital!
It took us about 14 months to fall pregnant. We saw a specialist after trying for 11 months and I was taking medication without success. But Luke went away on a course and I couldn’t take the medication for the month as we’d miss our window. So when he got back we were just waiting for my cycle to start to have this medication for the last time before we had to try something more invasive and low and behold….we fell pregnant naturally!! I was so insanely shocked and surprised at those two little pink lines. So the homebirth plan was real now!! Obviously Luke was nervous when I told him that I wanted a home birth. All our friends at the time had booked in to the local birth centre which was the “home in the hospital” option with a team of 3 midwives per woman to provide continuity of care. Luke asked me why I didn’t want that, it gave me what I wanted while being at the hospital in case anything went wrong. And really, at the time I couldn’t give him a reason why not, I just really wanted to be at home. Fortunately that was enough for him, he said “your body, your birth, your choice”. So we met with a private midwife in Canberra as that’s where we were living and we ran through a list of “what if” questions and when the midwife was able to address Luke’s concerns and provide the contingencies he was all on board. My family were also a little shocked but quickly jumped on board with the plan too.
About 16 weeks or so into the pregnancy we found out that Luke (who’s in the Army) was getting posted to Darwin and we’d have to move right when Bub was due. So we made the decision to leave Canberra as early as we could and move to Toowoomba with my family to have baby before moving up to Darwin about a month after she was born. So not only did my parents get on board with our homebirth plans but now it was happening at their house! We found a private midwife in Toowoomba we shared care with while we were still in Canberra and we moved up at 34 weeks.
Everything went pretty smoothly until about 37 weeks when Bub stopped growing. We tried a wait and see approach for a little while but my tummy just didn’t measure any bigger so we had a scan at 39+3 weeks on a Friday afternoon. The ultrasound showed Bub was indeed small but unfortunately her head was bigger than her tummy, which could have indicated my placenta wasn’t working very well, and so she needed to come out sooner rather than later. Our midwife said, the doctors will receive the report on Monday afternoon, maybe Tuesday. So let’s try and have this baby over the weekend. Luckily, before the doctors got hold of the ultrasound results our little miss made her way into the world.
It all started at 11pm on a Friday night after seeing the chiropractor for an adjustment in the morning, some acupuncture in the afternoon, a very long walk with my mum and then a lovely relaxing massage from Luke and some special adult time (wink wink). Just little contractions every 5 min but I couldn’t get to sleep so I got up and watched a movie. Over about 4 hours they slowly got closer and stronger. They were very strong and only 2-5 minutes apart but they were only lasting 20 seconds, so short and sharp! I woke Luke and my mum up at about 3am to let them know it was show time as these contractions weren’t going away. From there it was a few hours of increasingly stronger contractions that did eventually get longer and longer and then, the spewing started. Oh my God did the spewing start! Every time my uterus contracted my stomach got sad and contracted right along with it until I was sipping water simply to have something to vomit when the next contraction hit. I coped with my surges by using the fit ball, stress balls, heat packs, vocalising and having Luke massage my back and hips both in the shower and on a blow up mattress. My mum was an incredible support to Luke and she was running back and forth heating heat packs, crushing ice, rinsing spew buckets and piling pillows, setting up the iPod dock and even feeding Luke muesli bars so that he could stay with me.
It was intense and the pain was huge. Several times I gave up but Luke helped me keep going, telling me I was amazing and I just kept telling myself to get through the next contraction that the drugs at the hospital weren’t worth having one (or several) of these contractions in the car!! I felt all my contractions in the front of my hips, in my hip flexors. Luke would try and massage my back and hips while also trying to massage the tops of my legs at the front of my hips. I just wanted to lie down and go to sleep, I was so tired and I desperately wanted to relax my hips rather than kneeling over a fit ball or pillows but by the time I lied down on my side and got comfortable, the next surge would build and I’d have to get back on the all fours to get through it.
I’d done a lot of preparation leading up to the birth. I did lots of weights and low impact cardio exercise and a million squats! I’d read several books on birth, I’d mapped my pelvis so I knew which positions “opened” and “closed” me and I had prepared lots of positive affirmations. I thought I would say a phrase over and over but when it came to it, all I said my whole labour was “relax”. I told myself out loud and in my head over and over to “relax, relax, relax”. The midwives arrived at 8:30am and checked me and Bub over before and after contractions and we were going along fine. I begged my midwife, Sonya, “Tell me I’m almost done?!” and she just smiled at me and said sweetly, “yes darling, it won’t be long now”. About two contractions after they arrived I was obviously in transition as bubba had made her way through my pelvis because all of a sudden the contraction hit and there was huge pressure in my bum. Here I am bent over the end of the bed crying out to Luke and the midwife, “It’s in my butt, it’s in my butt!!!” I was terrified I’d poop on Luke.
I reached down between my legs to see if I could feel anything and there was my mucous plug, like a big blob of snot just like my midwife said it would be. We then desperately asked my dad and the second midwife if the birth pool was FINALLY ready to go. Thankfully they’d just finished, so I slowly waddled my way down the hallway to the ensuite. Sonya wanted me to try and do a wee as I hadn’t done one for about 6 hours. So I waddled my sorry butt on to the toilet and I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to pee while in labour but I couldn’t even feel my bladder let alone release my pelvic floor to pee…so no luck there. Just huge bearing down contractions while sitting on the toilet, not fun, and I’d yell at my midwife, “I don’t want to have my baby on the toilet!!”. Eventually, I’m sure it was only a minute but it felt like hours, she said I could abandon the attempt and get in the birth pool. Somehow, I managed to have two big bearing down contractions between the toilet and the pool, which was quite literally 2 metres away so obviously I was moving at a glacial pace. I got in the pool in between contractions and sank into the water. It was nice but wasn’t the relief I had dreamed of as I was too busy concentrating on the rockmelon-sized lump making its way down my birth canal. My vocalising, which up until that point had been purposeful, controlled and low, became high pitched and panicked as the reality of crowning was beginning to dawn on me. So Sonya reminded me to “keep it low” and my “aahhhs” turned into roars and to this day Luke describes me a birthing lioness! In a matter of minutes (6 minutes from the time I got into the pool) our little girl was born with very little pushing and an explosion of bubbles as her amniotic sack broke only as her head came through. One contraction and Charlotte was born head and shoulders all at once at 9:11am on the Saturday morning. It was 10 hours from the very first little niggle and about 4.5hours of active labour.
Luke got in the pool with us, I sat on his lap and cuddled our precious baby girl on my tummy, her cord running down between my legs, pulsing away. Then just when you think it’s over and the contractions are done, they hit again…not as painful as the first or second stage but still like the worst period cramp of my life. It took about 40 minutes for my placenta to finally come away and be delivered. Unfortunately, it’s arrival came with a huge rush of blood that filled the pool, sending it a very dark red. Charlotte, placenta in a kidney dish, and Luke got out of the pool together while the midwives helped me get out of the pool and on to the bed. They massaged my tummy, and tried to get Little Miss to feed. Several very poor latches later I had some very bruised, sore nipples and the bleeding hadn’t slowed. The midwives suggested I try and pee again as my bladder was stopping my uterus from contracting down properly. Well, if I couldn’t feel anything below my belly button before I really couldn’t then! Sonya said that was pretty normal after pushing a baby out but to try and relax anyway. Still no luck. Back to the bed for an in-out catheter to empty my bladder. Holy mother….that was not pleasant at all, but it did the trick. My uterus tightened up and shrank down, the bleeding stopped and I avoided having the injection or a transfer to hospital. Another attempt at breastfeeding that was mostly successful, I got to cut the cord about 5 hrs after she was born, she was weighed and measured and we all went off to bed.
As the ultrasound had suggested, my placenta was not very healthy, which neither my midwife or I really know why that happened. I gave birth at 39+3 so I wasn’t post dates. My birth wasn’t exactly how I’d imagined it; I thought I would get to labour in the pool, I thought I would have her head come out in one contraction, look down and see her, feel her head and then birth her shoulders. I thought that having my completely drug free natural birth my hormones would kick in and I’d feel a noticeable wave of oxytocin wash over me and bathe me in love when I saw her but no, it took a couple days for it to sink in and to really fall in love with our Bub. We have an incredible attachment now, she feels like another limb rather than another person and I feel lost without her.
Despite it being different in reality to all my visualisations, I reflect on my birth and it was the powerful, positive and completely transformative birth I’d hoped for. I can’t wait to do it all again!
Live Gentle, Raise Gentle
(Rebecca and her family live in Brisbane, QLD with their cavoodle Pepper. Since the birth of their daughter, Rebecca has become a childbirth educator for Beer + Bubs, delivering childbirth education just for dads in a local pub. She also now runs a wellness and gentle parenting blog and sells essential oils www.distilledhappiness.com. Both her and her husband adore Charlotte beyond words and cannot wait to expand their family with a sibling…or three!)