While pregnant with our first baby, I read over 20 books on pregnancy and childbirth; spoke to many women about their birth experiences; attended classes and seminars; and watched documentaries including an excellent summary of birth choices, The Face of Birth. With an unwavering belief of a woman’s ability to conceive, gestate, birth and feed a baby naturally, I was motivated to birth our baby without medication or interventions, as I had had an uncomplicated pregnancy; and my theory was that my body had been preparing for pregnancy without intervention every month for over 20 years, so it presumably had the hormones and systems to create and birth a baby on its own. I was keen to have a water birth, which the midwives at the Launceston General Hospital had indicated could not be guaranteed due to staffing and pool availability. I also wanted to be seen by the same midwife during the birth, and for pre and post natal care, which was not available at the hospital. After doing some research, I discovered that Launceston has the only private birth centre in Australia. Once I started asking around, I heard many great things about the Launceston Birth Centre (LBC) where women are seen by the same two midwives before, during and after giving birth; have the option of a water birth; where there are no pharmaceutical or obstetric interventions; and the local hospital, if needed, is located across the road.
At 33 weeks pregnant, our baby was in a breech position. My primary midwife gave me advice on turning the baby around, which was to initially include doing handstands in the swimming pool. A breech baby would mean that we could not have birthed at LBC. I went to the aquatic centre and swam upside down via handstands and duck dives. That night I felt some intense movement which must have been the baby turning around as it was no longer breech when assessed two weeks later. At our 36 and 38 week checkups our baby was lying posterior which I did not want as this would most likely increase the duration and discomfort of childbirth. I made every effort to encourage the baby to turn around, which involved leaning forward whenever I was seated; moving my hips while sitting on my fit ball; and other forward leaning postures as practiced at my weekly pregnancy yoga class at the yoga centre.
At 41 weeks and 3 days, labour came on rather suddenly. I had spent the day of 22/8/12 having an anniversary lunch with my husband, Stu; later taking our dogs for their daily walk with my mum; and I accompanied Stu to his 6pm class at crossfit. In the evening we watched television before heading off to bed at around 10.30pm. A few times that day I had felt slight waves of period-like cramps, but nothing more intense than I had experienced on and off for the past month or so. At 11pm, lying in bed, I had a fairly intense contraction, requiring me to roll out and rest on my knees on the floor. Over the next 40 minutes I experienced about six of these contractions; then noticed a lot of mucus when I visited the toilet. Throughout this time I was keeping Stu informed; and I told him that I wasn’t sure whether or not we should be contacting my midwife or whether it was too early in the birth to worry her. I was conscious of the fact that it was getting later in the evening (now close to midnight) but, being a first baby, we could be a long way from needing her involvement. By about 1am after a nice hot shower, I asked Stu to message my midwife advising her that contractions have been consistently 3-5 minutes apart, too intense to speak through, since 11pm. My midwife said she would meet us at LBC whenever we would like to go there. By 1.30am I started getting a little anxious at the thought of not being at LBC in time for the birth. As a result, I asked Stu to ring and arrange that we meet at LBC as soon as convenient for her. Stu then woke mum and they packed the car while I went and had another shower.
The drive to LBC took 10 minutes. During this I knelt on the back seat, had two contractions, and felt every bump in the road. Once inside, my midwife put a small mattress down which resembled a dog bed. I thought I might be sick so I requested a bucket. What I was given was a metal bowl that resembled a dog bowl! I had read stories where baths or birth pools were not filled in time, as they take so long, so I asked if the pool could be prepared straight away. While the pool was filling, I asked for some citrus oil on a wet washer so I could inhale the fumes during contractions. This was really effective, reducing the otherwise very intense pain by about 25%. I also recall having some Rescue Remedy at this time. At 3.15am I asked my midwife for hot towels to be placed on my back which I had read about in many LBC birth stories as being very effective pain relievers. They did not disappoint! She placed a piping hot towel on my lower back, plus some pressure at the start of each contraction and pain reduced by about 75% (my brother later suggested I should have combined the oil and the hot towels to get 100% relief, but it does not quite work like that!) I was really enjoying the towels for about ten contractions when the pressure with the towels changed. I thought it was mum who was now applying them, however it turned out to be my second midwife who had just arrived. After one or two more contractions the birth pool was ready for me. I had been very keen to get in the water because a lot of my pain was in my groin, radiating down my legs so the towels on my back were not completely alleviating my discomfort.
I entered the pool at around 4am. It was instant bliss. The warm water, freedom of movement and soft floor and sides made it wonderful. For the next four hours I remained in the pool with Stu on a seat nearby, dim lighting, soft Tibetan meditation music playing, and regular visits from the midwives to monitor baby’s heart rate. At times, the pool felt cool but I did not always have the energy to ask for hot water. Next time I have a baby, I will ask someone to be in charge of maintaining the pool at a certain temperature so I do not have to think about it. Despite having Gatorade, honey shots, Coke and a range of other energy-giving food and drink on hand, I barely managed to sip water. Sometimes I felt thirsty, but did not have the energy to ask for a drink even though Stu was right in front of me with the bottle ready to go.
At around 6.30am, well after the birds had started chirping outside, each contraction concluded with the strange sensation of my body trying to push. I remember the midwives coming in and I think they may have been surprised that we were near second stage already. After what felt like 30 minutes of these pushy contractions, my midwife gave me some advice on how to push effectively. She said to imagine I was pushing on the toilet. I had read in many birth stories about women not knowing how to push effectively and wondered how this could be. It made sense to listen to her advice. On that note, because I had met her at least ten times before the birth, I completely trusted her opinion and advice and I can see how difficult it must be to have a midwife who you have never met before. Also around this time I heard the midwives talking about getting the basket (supplies like gloves, towels, birth pack etc.) Being so caught up in the intensity and regularity of contractions, I had almost forgotten what we were doing. In a rather surprised tone I asked “are we going to be having a baby?” and my midwife replied “not yet, but soon”.
By about 8am the suggestion was made that I might like to stand up or get out of the pool to use gravity to facilitate the pushing. At this point (and for many hours before!) I felt exhausted and the thought of standing up seemed impossible. I did, however, agree and exited the pool. I stood, arms around Stu’s neck, Stu leaning back against the wall and pushed through a few contractions. Eventually I was too tired to stand and went down on all fours. I was then offered the birth stool which I accepted and sat back wards on it for a few contractions. Once the head was starting to crown, I returned to the standing position supported by Stu. I remember being told that the head was crowning and I could reach down and touch it if I wanted. I was unsure, but did and could not believe I was touching our baby. My midwife coached me in waiting for each contraction before pushing in order to allow my perineal tissues to stretch over the baby’s head. I was pleased she reminded me of this as the discomfort of having the baby’s head half in and half out made me want to just keep on pushing with or without contractions, to ease the discomfort. Once the head was out, my midwife told me to rest while the baby turned. I had read about shoulder dystocia and definitely did not want any issues there , so I waited patiently until it was time to push again. During the next contraction, as our baby started to come out, I remembered that we did not know whether we were having a boy or girl and we would soon be finding out! As our baby slid out at 8.35am and was gently placed on the floor, my eyes scanned it from the head down, past the umbilical cord to discover we had a daughter! My instant reaction, after announcing this, was to call out to my mum who had been in another room in the Centre all night, to invite her in and see her granddaughter, who we named Emerald. The midwives reported that Emerald’s cord had been loosely around her neck and her Apgar scores were 9 and 10.
After everything I had read about those early moments of a baby’s life, I was adamant that Stu and I be given as much time as we liked for skin to skin contact and initial bonding. Because I was so tired, however, I found myself quite uncomfortable prior to the delivery of the placenta. Once Emerald’s cord stopped pulsating, my midwife asked if I would feel better if the cord was cut, so that Stu could hold Emerald while I found a more comfortable position. I accepted this offer, Stu cut the cord (while mum took photos) and he held Emerald for a minute or so while I was given a chair to sit on. Emerald then returned to my arms for skin to skin and eye to eye contact. 30 minutes after her birth, I stood up and placed Emerald near my breast where she latched on perfectly; and the placenta was delivered with a very small push from me.
After being weighed and measured and checked, Emerald was dressed by my mum, then swaddled and tucked into the bassinet by Stu. In the hours that followed, Emerald, Stu and I were able to bond, rest, shower and rejuvenate while the midwives ensured that we had a quiet and clean environment, checking on us as required. After our final check up for the day, we packed the car and headed home, tucking Emerald into her own bed by 4.30pm, at just 8 hours old. In the following weeks the midwives attended our home, assisting with breastfeeding, bathing and general newborn care as well as monitoring my recovery.
Stu and I know how blessed we are to have had a complication-free birth, under the guidance of two fantastic midwives, in a great facility, conveniently located across the road from a fully equipped hospital. We hope that Emerald’s future siblings will also be born at LBC.