As a young girl I had played with my favourite childhood doll ‘Buttercup’ and imagined she was my baby. I changed her nappy, dressed her up and nestled her in my wardrobe which had been converted into a mini nursery.
Many women dream of becoming a mother, a time that we feel will be surrounded with bliss and elation. As if the journey to become pregnant and nurture a child is our highest calling in life. That was certainly the way I had felt. For the longest time I had visualized my pregnant self, my birth and my baby, I felt like my life would be incomplete and insignificant without achieving motherhood. So when achieving a pregnancy became surrounded in stress, worry and disappointment I felt as if I was a failure. I share this background only because I know so very many women who are struggling to achieve a pregnancy or who have lost babies along the way. I understand that the repeated monthly cycle of hope and heartachedoes take over your life.
After being diagnosed with autoimmune condition 12 years ago I knew falling pregnant would be a challenge for my now husband and I. With this knowledge and ongoing struggles with my fertility we decided to start trying for a child in 2015, long before we were even married. I didn’t place my hopes high but after over 2 and half years of negative results I officially reached exhaustion. The psychological toll of desperately wanting a child and failing to conceive was breaking me. It seemed everywhere I looked friends and colleagues were having children and still I was now. At this point we decided to let go of the outcome we had envisaged and focus on our lives together. We hoped to travel more, buy land, build a house and naturally pour all our love into our new puppy Biscuit.
In yoga we often talk about letting go as an important part of making way for something new. At times we can become so attached to an idea that we begin to limit our wider experience of life and allow the fear of failure to consume us. I had to part ways with my fixation on becoming a parent and reconnect with the present. I had to remind myself of everything I already had instead of all that I didn’t have. With the help of meditation, yoga and self-reflection I was able to find more joy in everyday life and soften my grip around wanting to be a mother. Interestingly a few short months later, on Christmas Eve, we found out we were expecting a baby.
The emotions that we feel prior to falling pregnant tend to follow us into pregnancy. I was no different. In the early stages I was filled yet again with anxiety that this miracle we had so long hoped for would be short lived. I knew that I needed to dispel my fears in order to have a positive birth experience. This was what attracted me to the hypnobirthing techniques. A natural way of utilizing breath, visualization and relaxation to redirect attention and find more ease during labour. Part of hypnobirthing is also fear release. A series of techniques used to acknowledge and then part ways with what both partners are afraid of. I registered for a hypnobirthing workshop in Auckland and reassured my husband that wasn’t going to be a weekend of ‘woo woo witchcraft’. I found the weekend hugely valuable in freeing myself of worry. And also felt it was invaluable in uniting Adam and I as a team prior to our baby’s arrival.
With much consideration I began to research what was involved with a home birth. Having a medical background I was well aware of the risks in being away from a hospital. I also trusted my discernment and promised my husband we would transfer the instant there was any risk the labour could not progress safely. My priority was first and foremost the health of our little one. I had for a very long time also assumed that having a home birth would be synonymous with having a water birth. However with our home being only 70m2 we felt this would not be an option for us. The more research I did the more I realised that using a pool was not essential and that land based home births were just as common.
At the back of my mind there was some doubt about how I would deal with the ‘discomfort’ of labour while at home. Of course when you are in the hospital you have resources available to you such as; nitrous oxide gas, pethidine or an epidural. Initially I was worried that birthing in the comfort of our home would render me without any options for pain relief. However with the help of the hypnobirthing techniques we had learned I felt much more confident that I could deal with the transient sensations that may arise. I also had friends recommend TENS, which works by sending small electrical pulses into the nerve endings and blocking pain signals. We were kindly loaned a machine and along with my wheat pack I felt well armed for whatever the unknown held for us.
With a lot of support from our midwife, ongoing dialogue with each other and shared participation in our hypnobirthing workshop Adam was on soon board with birthing at home, an idea he was initially vehemently against. We were prepared, mentally, physically and emotionally for however our baby chose to be born. We knew ultimately that it was out of our control and fully surrendered to the will of this new life joining our family.
In the last 5 weeks of my pregnancy I also decided to prepare for the birth with acupuncture. I felt, through my experience with Yoga and Chinese Medicine, that the Eastern practices were extremely powerful. I have no doubt the energy work aided in creating clear pathways and downregulating my nervous system to support a smooth labour.
At 5pm on the evening of the 7thof August I arrived home from a day of errands having had one full day of maternity leave. I began to feel what can only be described as mild cramps. I figured being a week before my due date these must be the ‘braxton hicks’ everyone had spoken about. The cramps arrived intermittently but regularly. So regular I began to time them- they were arriving every 3 minutes and lasting roughly 30 seconds. I wondered whether this was ‘practice labour’? My waters hadn’t broken, and I had assumed that would signal the beginning of ‘real labour’. So I took a hot shower and that seemed to help things feel better. Adam soon arrived home from work and asked if how I was my answer to him ‘I’m not sure, I think I might be in labour!’
By 7pm I had prepared dinner and found I was unable to eat my meal. Chewing and having these cramps was becoming a bit tricky. I decided after messaging our lovely midwife Hannah to head to bed for a while. I figured after all that most first babies take a day or so to arrive so thought I was in for a long haul. My biggest concern at this point was I had forgotten to bring my diffuser home from work and I wanted to use my special labour blend. I also promptly sent Adam to find me a straw which apparently was an essential item for my drink bottle. He rolled his eyes and went on a hunt for both!
By 8pm laying down in bed quickly became uncomfortable and by 8.30pm I was back in the lounge kneeling over my swiss ball. By this time the ‘surges’ were still 3 minutes apart and lasting 30 seconds but just building in intensity. I was still able to move with my breath and found being close to the ground and swaying to be deeply comforting. I had enjoyed learning the hypnobirthing breathing techniques and was finding them helpful at this stage. As each surge washed over me I was able to focus on opening and surrendering instead of tensing and resisting. I also felt the wheat pack on my lower back to be incredibly helpful, so too that straw for my drink bottle that two friends had recommended!
By 11pm I had made it into our master bedroom and was kneeling beside the bed (hot tip for home birth is some knee pads) and I fancied a crumpet. Afterall I hadn’t managed to eat my dinner. My wonderful husband fetched me the best darn buttery crumpet I had ever eaten. Even if it did take 10 minutes and three surges to get through a series of small mouthfuls.
At 12.45pm the ‘surges’ were becoming longer, about 1 minute and still 3 minutes apart. Although they were growing in intensity I was still managing my physical experience with the wheat pack, my breath work and movement (lots of hip circles and swaying). I believe Adam called our midwife again, to which she asked if I was ready for her to come to us. I still figured I had a long way to go as my waters hadn’t broken and I was finding a nice rhythm that allowed me to cope with each wave. I said I was managing fine and we agreed to call her again when I was no longer coping.
By 1.25am the surges had become so intense I was now making enough noise to alert the neighbours and Adam was wondering whether he needed to reassure them everyone was fine! Surges were soon lasting 1 and half minutes and I was able to make it through with lots of humming and giving my Adam a forearm massage. I had been ‘saving’ the TENS machine for when I felt like I needed additional relief and ironically the surges were coming so quickly by this stage we didn’t have time to attach it. We phoned Hannah again and she assured us she was on her way.
In the meantime I had the undeniable urge to push and felt I needed to hold back, as again my waters hadn’t broken yet and I was worried that I wasn’t fully dilated yet!
At 1.45am Hannah arrived and Adam was helping her unpack the car. I suddenly felt an incredible downward pressure and my waters literally popped and splashed all over the mattress I had decided to kneel on. Adam remarked ‘Oh I guess that’s the waters!’ And there was no mistaking it. In hindsight we could have laid a few more towels!
In New Zealand, when you have a home birth, a second midwife is called to attend the labour. This was another reason why I felt sure that I was as safe birthing at home as I was on the ward. Shortly after Hannah arrived our second midwife was called and I felt warmly reassured that I was in the best hands. Thus far the labour had progressed on its own without any examinations or interventions and I was confident nature was simply taking course.
At 1.50pm once my waters broke I felt an almost immediate urge to bear down. Many women I had spoken to said they never felt the desire to ‘push’, but I certainly did. Once it made itself known the rest was absolutely an instinctual process.
At 2.15am an unfathomable ‘relief’ was followed by the welcome cries of a teeny tiny baby. Our little one was born. The active labour was mighty intense but short lived and deeply satisfying. Adam announced it was a boy and he had a head full of hair! We agreed he looked like an Elijah, thankfully- because it was the only boys name we had! I was certain the entire pregnancy it was going to be a girl. We had opted to allow the cord to stop pulsing before it would be cut. After 45 minutes the surges began again and with just one push the placenta was born and Adam was able to snip his umbilical cord.
Elijah was placed on my chest and we rested a while before he wanted to feed. We were still in absolute awe of this beautiful boy who had chosen us to be his parents. I was feeling a deep sense of contentment that we were able to fulfill our dream of a natural birth at home, with absolutely no interventions. It really did feel like my body had followed its primal instincts and some other power had overcome me.
Yes, there were a few small tears that I had spent so much of my pregnancy worrying about (and didn’t need to as they were quickly dealt with) and no a homebirth was not nearly as messy as I had thought! Giving birth to my baby in our bedroom felt like the most normal thing in the world.
Shortly after my needs were attended to I was able to take a hot shower in our own bathroom and have Adam fetch some snacks from the kitchen. A milo never tasted so good! Hannah completed her paper work and at 6.30am she was able to go home and we rested. The beauty of being at home was Adam and I were able to snuggle into our very own bed, with a wee man sleeping on my chest. We lay there for the next 48 hours immersed in the skin to skin warmth, our baby unbathed and undressed, as we simply drank in the scent of newborn goodness.
The birthing process really is one of the most miraculous journeys. After Elijah was born I felt as if I was swimming through a haze- where I was both the experiencer and the witness. Like I was watching the events unfold from outside of my body, his arrival- through me, seemed so surreal. Those little fingers curled around mine, holding tight to reaffirm I was his entire world. I reflect on this day so fondly and I am beyond grateful that as a family we were able to have such an incredible home birth experience.
Every birth has its own tale. No one story any less special than another. The events of every baby’s arrival are deeply personal and lay just a few threads in the tapestry of the fourth trimester. I share Elijahs’ story because I spent a great deal of my pregnancy filled with fear. Fear about labour, induction, caesarean, tearing, pain and trauma. I was deeply afraid of the ‘unknown’ before me. But through self-practice, hypnobirthing, fear release, yoga and breath work I was able to surrender to what this little being had planned for me. In the days before I gave birth I felt completely at peace with what was about to unfold. I believe that softening and letting go of control was one the greatest tools in preparing to bring new life into the world. The very same tools that I am quickly learning are most valuable to any new parent and as we adjust to life with this beautiful newborn.
I look forward to sharing more of the techniques and practices that I found so useful in our upcoming Pre-Natal Yoga classes which begins on Sunday the 3rdof November. You can learn more about the contents of this 6 week series and register here.