Deciding to have another baby, our third after a four year break, came with great excitement and a good deal of faith. My husband, Angus, and I have two sons, who would be almost seven and four and a half when this baby was expected to join our family. During our first two experiences of the pregnancy and births we lived in SE Tasmania, we now live in Northern Tasmania on Angus’ family farm.
For the birth of our first son, Rory, we were typically naïve. We had written an idealistic natural birth plan, booked into the birth centre at the Royal Hobart Hospital and hoped for the best, seeking out positive birth stories and trusting it might work out the same for us. The labour was a long arduous thirty hours, twenty hours at home and ten in the labour ward. As is often experienced, the labour slowed when we went to the hospital and also when the midwives changed shifts. We were pleased to have a drug free natural birth; but the midwife was stressed by the longevity of the labour and chose to hasten things by breaking the waters. Her presence certainly affected me; she was keen in suggesting ways to intervene in the natural birthing process. She gave me oxytocin to activate the birth of the placenta and I required stitches. I felt mostly out of control and at the mercy of everyone and everything.
It shocked me when I considered what it entailed to physically birth a baby and I wondered why a woman would choose to do it again! It wasn’t long before the joys of motherhood overtook me and I began to consider having another baby. Angus and I decided to approach it differently, seeking to prepare ourselves for a home birth, and to be more proactive in preparing mentally and spiritually. We read and talked with others about the environment and circumstances you choose to birth in, the need to control your breathing during contractions and how to take captive fearful thoughts and trust that just as the baby was faithfully conceived, so too will it be faithfully delivered into this world.
Our second son, Archie, was born in our home, at Boomer Bay in the middle of winter. We had a male midwife of senior years, who was calm and inconspicuous during the labour, sitting in the corner of the lounge room in a rocking chair, there if we needed him. The labour and birth was a great bonding time for Angus and I, we embraced the work ahead of us and eagerly anticipated what it brought forth. The contractions remained five minutes apart from start to finish, a labour that was like no other our experienced midwife had seen before. It was a peaceful labour; the contractions were effective, extending in length as the labour progressed. I recognised the need to control my breathing and Angus coaxed me, I thought of the way Inuit people ‘breathe their babies out’. If I could focus my mind on that, I was sure to know my body would do the rest. There was a time I was standing up leaning over Angus, I fell asleep on his shoulders in between contractions, and when in the water I dozed on the edge of the birthing pool; I was given rest to recuperate before the next wave of contraction gripped me. Archie’s head was birthed into the water and remained suspended there for five minutes before the next contraction came; we all patiently waited for his body to be birthed. The labour was eight hours in total.
With the boys I had tried to get them to feed to encourage contractions for the birthing of the placenta; however they did not do this. I required an injection of oxytocin both times and the needle I received for Archie’s placenta unfortunately hit a nerve in my thigh that remained consistently tender for eighteen months. It was therefore one of our prayer points to not have this occur again.
We learnt from this home birth experience that the best place to have your baby is in the place you feel most comfortable with the people you feel most comfortable. It is that simple.
For this pregnancy and birth we decided to engage Margaret Dingemanse as our midwife, we had met her at church. She has a pleasant manner, calm and confident. It is true that you really don’t know how your midwife will be during the labour, but you can make some assessments based on their bedside manner and their confidence. If you can communicate openly your concerns and wishes, you give your midwife a better understanding about what you seek to happen. We told Margaret that we wanted her to be there for medical assistance, we felt self-contained in the areas of mental preparation and emotional support. We wanted a water birth at home using the birthing pool provided by the Launceston Birthing Centre. Margaret was to be the primary midwife doing the anti-natal visits; and Anna, an experienced midwife of later years, to be the secondary midwife.
The time before a baby is due is a productive time for us. We usually have a long list of jobs and are eager to tick them off. It is as though the world will be forever different once the baby arrives and these jobs just simply must be done! It is all part of the preparation I guess, but I’ve learnt the biggest and best area of preparation that I can do is in the way I mentally and spiritually equip myself for birth.
Every time I found myself having a fearful thought in relation to the pregnancy or birth I quickly rejected it, remembering the promises in the Word that the Lord is faithful.
We chose not to find out the sex of the baby or have any scans.
The baby’s due date was December 6. In the lead up to that day I had consistent tightening, known as ‘Braxton Hicks’. I saw these as good preparatory contractions, delighting in the way it made my stomach go as hard as a rock. Each step towards birth I embraced, not allowing myself to dread anything, instead encouraging myself to be captivated by the wondrous works our physical bodies are capable of. I was expecting this baby to be early or on time as Rory was a day early and Archie was a week early. Our geographical world became smaller as the due date drew nearer, not wanting to be far from home. I had decided to not become impatient if the due date came and went. Too much emphasis is placed on the ‘due date’ and causes medical staff and parents to become hasty and as a consequence, intervention occurs. It seems to me that as soon as you intervene in the natural birthing process it is a slippery slope to more and more intervention. Unless you are at risk or there are complications, there is no need to interfere. After all, we are fearfully and wonderfully made!
One of our prayer points was that this baby would come when it’s due, not necessarily December 6, but when it was good and ready. We prayed it would be in God’s perfect timing – the right timing for us, our midwife, our support people, our sons, and all concerned.
This is how it went…
At midnight on December 12 the labour starts just as I head to bed. I am tired after a day out in Launceston, a trip Angus had taken me on to distract me from house work and from anticipating the birth. When I feel this first contraction I am really keen to get some rest, so as I lay there and as the next contraction comes I pray that I would have at least four hours sleep. Angus is dozing next to me and I debate whether or not to tell him as I know it will alert him. I tell him softly that it is starting but I don’t need him yet and that he should get rest. He later reflected on that moment, saying that every cell in his body buzzed with adrenalin, but he got to sleep soon after knowing that it would begin in earnest very soon. Some hours later I am woken by a contraction and I glance at the clock, it is 4:00 am. I smile; I have been given the sleep I know I needed. I quietly get out of bed, light the fire and make a pot of tea. I sit in front of the wood heater, leaning over the coffee table as the contractions come every fifteen minutes. The house is quiet and peaceful. I feel close to the baby, both of us working with my body, each contraction drawing us nearer to the birth. I send a message to Margaret so she can prepare for the day, she has time to arrange someone to have her children and she can advise the secondary midwife, Anna. I tell her it is happening but I don’t need her yet.
At 7:00 am the boys awake and come into the lounge room to find me. I tell them labour has started, their faces show excitement and delight. They ask me if I am in pain, I say it is tight and uncomfortable for brief periods, they watch me as I write the times on a piece of paper, recording how close they are becoming. Angus awakes and the day begins as it normally would, except this time with contractions, I get the cereals out and pour milk into the boys’ bowls. I had asked Angus to help in making sure life just carries on as normal that the usual routines continue. I don’t want any extra attention or things to change. It is about maintaining a familiar atmosphere, I think that is one of the main reasons you choose to have a homebirth. To have your children doing what they usually do at your feet, busily building Lego creations, doing a puzzle or reading a book. The bricklayers are working on the old kitchen building built in 1828 which is adjacent to our cottage, they’ve been here for two weeks, I want them to carry on working. Rory heads outside and tells them, ‘Mum is having contractions!’, as we put our shoes on for a driveway walk. The farm tenant is moving sheep in to the yards for shearing; I like hearing the rustle of the sheep on the shearing shed floor and the radio ringing out over the shearers machines. I want to smell the sheep manure and see the dust rising up out of the race as the freshly shorn exit the shed. I enjoy experiencing these familiar things on our morning farm walk as the boys’ ride ahead on their bikes along the driveway. Angus continues to record the times a contraction comes, I stop walking to breathe through the tightening.
Back in the kitchen after our walk Angus rings my mother, who has packed to drive the two and half hour journey to be of assistance during the birth. She is excited to hear it has begun and embarks on the drive north to us. I cook the toast and make more tea, the boys’ see me leaning over the bench as another contraction comes.
When you tell your support people that things are happening, the labour is starting; you feel a sense of responsibility to make sure it progresses, you don’t want to engage them too early in case labour hasn’t begun in earnest. Any change in atmosphere, environment, people or sense of pressure usually results in the contractions slowing or ceasing, so you try to minimise these factors and that is why a homebirth is helpful in allowing the natural process of birth to continue unimpeded.
At around 10:30 am I clamber back into bed, with my pillow between my legs for comfort. I lay there, half asleep between the contractions, wondering about the next few hours. I am calm and reflective, without the slightest hint of fear. I listen to the familiar sounds of the boys’ footsteps down the hallway and the Kelpie’s distant bark in the sheep yards. I hear the engine of a crop duster plane soaring over farmland and the Jetstar commuter flight from Melbourne coming in to land, doing its ritual turn over our property before landing at the airport some ten kilometres away. Just after 11:00 am I hear the bright voice of my mother come through the back door, she says hello to Angus and the boys. I feel her kiss on my cheek and she sits on the bed, strokes my face and asks, ‘How are you feeling?’ in her kind and affectionate way. I update her on the progress and then I get up for the fresh pot of tea Angus has made. The boys busy themselves with the new books and toys Grandma has arrived with, and the day carries on like any other day, except for the groaning and tightening I feel my body doing every ten to fifteen minutes. We make some wraps for lunch and I need to politely spit my food out during a contraction as I can’t breathe through it properly! We laugh together at the sight of me.
One of the bricklayers looks through the kitchen window as a contraction grips me. He knows what’s happening and witnesses that snippet in time as I am leaning over the table with Angus rubbing my back. This is the start of the more serious contractions. I need to be by the fire now, I am less cognisant of what is happening around me, focussed on being comfortable. Angus sits with me, the heat of the fire on our backs and the Bible open, we read a Psalm together.
Time seems to be going quickly at this point, I want the heat of the pool water on my back, I want to feel weightless. My mum cuddles me and tells me I am a really good mother, I get very emotional and want her to stop. I may not keep it together otherwise. We embrace again for a long time; I feel her love, her warmth. Angus is running out the hoses down the hallway from the bathroom to the front room where the pool sits partially inflated in a cosy little extension room off the lounge room. He inspects the side of the birthing pool and finds a hole, the air hissing out as he tries to pump more in. I fumble around in the birthing pool equipment to find the puncture repair kit. Found it. But the rubber cement tubes are old and dried; Angus struggles to squeeze the paste out. I decide not to get stressed about it; Angus will find a way because he always does.
Ten minutes later and from the lounge room I hear the water going into the pool, I re-shuffle on my knees as I feel another contraction coming on. I call out to Angus; I need him with me now. I hear Mum playing with the boys, then she comes through with a bucket of cold water. Angus says the birthing pool water is too hot now; I have to wait for them to cool it down. A few minutes later the water is just right, I put my bathers on and dangle the tip of my toes in. It is inviting. My body immerses in the water, the heat envelops my muscles and I feel the weight of the baby lifted off me. It is a wonderful relief; I can take the contractions better, leaning over the thick edge of the pool with Angus there breathing with me. It is 2:30pm, the midwives arrive, both Margaret and Anna together. They enter the room, big smiles and loving voices. I feel their warmth, their unspoken encouragement, their presence is comforting. Anna leaves the room to take up position in the lounge room. I hear Mum offer them a hot drink and the rattle of saucepans as Rory helps her make a soup. Margaret stays with me for a couple of contractions, but they have slowed and are less painful. She sees that my awareness of their arrival has affected the labour and she says she will be in the other room if I need her, keen to give me space. I am comforted knowing they are there, they can hear my every breath but I do not feel smothered, examined or overly monitored.
Angus and I continue alone, listening to the world lullabies music as it plays quietly but drowns out the majority of sounds in the house. I hear my Dad who has arrived on his motorbike, he is reading to the boys. They come in to the birthing room to ask me questions. I give them a kiss and reassure them that I am okay. I see the wide eyes of Rory, his face showing wonderment. Archie carries on in his world of fun and fancy, bounding around with all his character and zest.
The contractions are very gripping now; I grasp the cold face washer and place it on my forehead. I cling more tightly onto Angus’ hand and pull him in closer to my face. There is a bucket of icy cold water to dip the washer in, the washer is a great comfort, I need it freshly cooled for each contraction now. I sense Margaret in the doorway; she is observing me during the contraction. I look up at her afterwards and say, ‘That was a big one’. Each one is getting more and more intense, they are consistently five to eight minutes apart. I don’t want Angus to rub my lower back anymore, I don’t want anyone to touch my body during the contractions, I just want my hands held. I feel in control of my thoughts and breathing, I know I can do it. Angus recalls the scriptures we had read earlier, it keeps me focussed. Then he says he needs to put his dog back on the chain and I tell him he can’t leave me now and to get someone else to do it. He stays with me.
The contractions become increasingly longer and more effective. I can feel the baby low down, I imagine my cervix opening up and releasing as the contractions do their work. My body is aching all around the middle, but it is strangely nice, as I know soon the pressure will be released. I feel the need to push, I hold and breathe, and I got through it. The next one is stronger and hot on the heels of the other, I have an incontrollable urge to push, I do push. Then the contraction ends. I confess to Margaret, ‘I pushed’, as though I have been a naughty school girl! She says that’s okay, but just hold off pushing, she thinks I am not as close as I am. But I know it is close, closer than she realises. I reach out to find a hand, Angus is not there, he’s putting a hot water bottle on my back, I feel a smaller hand clasp mine, its cooler but comforting and firm, it’s Margaret. In the next contraction I push and then yell out ‘It’s stuck!’, because I feel the pressure of the baby’s head so firm, bearing down on me. Margaret is prompted to look and I hear her walk around behind me. In the next contraction I breathe heavily and feel myself opening wide as the sting of the baby’s head stretches me. It crowns and I remember this sensation from before, of the head stretching me so far I feel it cannot be opened any wider; I am at full capacity. I am overwhelmed, I hear the emotion in my mother’s voice and I hear Angus sounding relieved. Then I feel Margaret touching me down there, I say ‘Don’t touch me, please don’t touch me!’ I am pleading with her to leave me; I don’t want anyone to touch. Margaret told me later that she was only touching the baby’s head, but I could feel it, it was uncomfortable. Before the next contraction I hear the solid reassuring words of Anna say, ‘let this next contraction push the baby out, don’t push, just breathe now’. I hear Anna, though I seem to instinctually go into a short sharp rhythm to stop myself from pushing, hard and rapid breathes. I feel the long and slippery body and limbs of the baby sweep through me, out into the water where Angus catches the baby, assisted by Margaret. I awkwardly move my upper body up off the edge of the pool, the midwife prompting me to open my legs for the baby to pass through. I touch my baby, then I lift it out from under the water and it lets out a healthy cry. Its head is covered in thick black hair, and as I lift it to my chest I see what sex it is – a girl. Angus and I see this together at the same time as he is sitting next to me leaning over my shoulder from outside the pool. We are close and intimate. My dad and the boys have now joined us, Mum went to get them from the bedroom when she saw the head crown. Archie’s asks a question, ‘Why is she already grown, Mum?!’.
It is 5.55pm, the summer sun is shining through the small paned window and the river is aglow with evening sun as it snakes off to the western horizon. I announce she is a girl and there is a chorus of ‘aaaaahh! My sons come over to see her, their expressions are radiant. I am pleasantly crowded by my boys, Angus there also as we look down at her face, she is beautiful. Mum and Dad take photos with watery eyes and we revel in the moment, the moment we meet Ada.
I rub the grey white vernix into her skin, her cheeks are puffy and her brand new eyes, deep blue. She has red lips as the colour came into her skin, taking her first breaths. She is slumped across my chest, nuzzling, looking for the nipple. We are surprised at how keen she is, ready to go. Her eyes are slits as the light is too bright for her.
In the proceeding days we loved watching her adjust to the light, opening slightly and then pulling her head back and squinting as her eyes adjusted. I change my position to lean back on the edge of the pool, finally relieving my knees after being on them for over three hours.
Now came the third stage with the placenta still needing to be birthed. I maintain chest to chest closeness with Ada for the next hour and a half. We keep Ada’s cord attached to her for over half an hour until it stops pulsating. Angus cuts the cord, I pass Ada to him and I get out of the pool. I am now able to assume a position that will help the placenta to release. Anna tugs on the cord during a contraction while I am standing up, the sack gives way and is birthed with a splash on the towel below. We clean up and inspect the placenta to see it is all intact. It seems to be all there, but there are some ragged edges on one side. This would explain why another section came out with a blood clot the following day. We wrap up the placenta and place it in the freezer so it can be planted under a fruit tree in the garden, Ada’s tree.
Ada wasted no time stimulating the colostrum after she was born and this most definitely contributed to the unassisted delivery of her placenta, which occurred an hour after she was born.
Margaret weighed baby Ada on the scales, her naked body so defenceless and fresh, she weighed 9lb8oz (4.485 kg). We held and cuddled Ada in the lounge room while the midwives sat in the kitchen writing notes for their report on the birth. They ate the soup that Mum had made with the boys earlier. After checking the baby and me, and satisfied with our condition, they left at 9:00 pm. The follow up from Margaret and Anna each day after the birth was comprehensive and thorough, they were caring and professional.
While preparing for, and during the birth itself, we found it was useful to remind each other of who we are in the body of Christ, that is, how we relate with and are known by our brothers and sisters in the church. We reminded each other that whatever the outcome of the birth, we would be alright. We would be able to, in faith, find support in this context. It was interesting to reflect on how things have changed for us over the years, our attitude, our understanding of how faith comes to us. Our second child, Archie’s birth, was taken up with processing and moving forward from the confusion and fear of our first experience. This time around we resolved not to be fixated on a particular outcome, but to find a place of rest. Neither of us was fearful, we knew we had arranged practical and medical support; it was down to us to remain faithful.
Our attitude towards the adjustment and sleep deprivation has been remarkably different in these first weeks, we keep noting how we are not so easily rattled or stressed by the crying at night or Ada’s irritable time in the evening. We laugh about how we used to get maxed out in the car when the boys were really young and crying in the back seat. We are not longing for her to advance to the next stage too quickly, instead cherishing her for the age she is now. The boys are enjoying her, eager to see to her needs and regularly asking to hold and cuddle her.
We are savouring these days and thankful for the blessings that are our children.