Written by Rebecca Playne
Most people would probably agree that a compact, 48 square metre, rented apartment would not make an ideal birthing suite, but my daughter had other ideas.
Four days after my due date, I woke up at 7am disappointed to have not gone into labour overnight. As I lay in bed reading the news on my phone, I started to feel a dull ache in my belly. When I got up, I found I'd had some fresh bleeding, which was a bit unexpected, as I'd had my "show" two days earlier. I contacted the backup midwife Sharon and arranged to visit her clinic at 11am. My midwife Cath was due to arrive back in the country that afternoon, after a brief trip overseas.
Over the next few hours the bleeding subsided and the dull ache developed into cramps. By 9am I decided that I was probably in early labour, and my husband Dan opted to stay home so he could take me to the midwife appointment. We timed the contractions from 10am and found they were coming every 5-6 minutes.
At the clinic Sharon checked me and the baby out, and determined that all was well. She said there wasn't much point doing an internal exam, because I was probably only about 1cm dilated, and no one wants an unnecessary pelvic exam. She gave me some advice about dealing with early labour, said she'd head to bed early that evening because she'd probably hear from us during the night, and sent us on our way. On the car ride home I mentioned to Dan that he could probably go into work and just keep his phone nearby. Thankfully he decided to stay home!
I was feeling pretty nauseated when we got home, and threw up my breakfast. I popped on the hired TENS machine, sat on my swiss ball and tried to distract myself with a couple of episodes of Brooklyn Nine Nine. As time went on, I continued to feel pretty sick and got increasingly uncomfortable. We put on a Hypnobirthing track, but I couldn't focus on it very well. After that I put on some relaxing music and sat on the swiss ball breathing through the contractions.
At about 1.30pm we started timing the contractions again, and found they were coming about every 2-4 minutes and were lasting about 30-40 seconds. Already! We had discussed with my midwife Cath that we were to call her when they were coming every 3 minutes, were lasting about a minute, and had been like that for a few hours. There was no way I was lasting like that for a couple more hours!
At 2pm I told Dan to call Sharon because things were getting pretty intense, and I was feeling a lot of pressure between my legs. As a first time mum, I had no idea what things were supposed to feel like and so I assumed this was my cervix effacing. In retrospect it was actually a head! Sharon had finished her clinic and was heading home, conveniently located around the corner from our place. She said she'd come and assess me on her way back. She arrived at 2.25pm, and as we walked into the bedroom for her to check me, my waters broke, at 2.30pm.
Sharon examined me and very calmly informed us that the baby was coming. I couldn't believe it! "What?! Now?!" Yes! Instinctively I rolled onto my hands and knees while Sharon dashed out to her car to get her gear and make a few phone calls. Dan grabbed a pile of towels and prepared things.
Sharon and Dan did a great job keeping me calm and helping me with my breathing. Most of the actual delivery is a bit of a blur to me, as I was very internally focused… however I'll never forget the sensation of crowning! I didn't have a strong desire to push, and Sharon certainly wasn't encouraging me to hurry things along! As things ramped up, I could feel my body giving pushes, but I wasn't consciously doing so. Then at 3pm my body pushed the baby out, head, shoulders and body all in one go! Sharon caught her and passed her between my legs. I held her against my chest and was apparently so stunned I just kept repeating "Oh my gosh!" over and over.
Our apartment started to fill up with people. Elizabeth, another backup midwife, brought some drugs that Sharon didn't have in her bag (along with her two daughters - one in her primary school uniform, the other, a 4 month old baby!). Cath arrived directly from the airport.
While Elizabeth coached me with breastfeeding (her own baby straddled on her lap) and Dan fed me snacks (I was suddenly ravenous!), Cath and Sharon delivered the placenta. At some point they clamped the cord and Dan cut it. Later in the afternoon I passed our daughter to Dan for some skin to skin time with him, while I got stitched up.
It was quite surreal, the clash of the mundane and the extraordinary, lying on my bed waiting to be stitched up, directing the midwives as to where they could find a decent torch and making suggestions as to what snacks we had available for my poor starving midwife, after her long haul flight. We happily chatted away while Sharon held the torch and Cath sewed me up. After a bit of a sponge bath, the completion by Sharon and Cath of the requisite paperwork, and some first attempts at cleaning up our apartment, which now resembled a crime scene, we bundled our baby up into the car and drove to a birthing centre, where we spent our first few days and nights together.
Having an unplanned home birth was beautiful, surreal, surprising, a little bit traumatic, empowering, messy and amazing.
We were fortunate that I'd had an uncomplicated pregnancy and that the baby was well positioned for a natural birth. I spent several weeks imagining different scenarios, and stressing about how different things could have been. My amazing midwife helped me to realise that even though we were lucky that everything went well, things would have been okay under different circumstances, we just would have had a different birth story!