'I chose to have a 'wild pregnancy' and freebirth at home with no doctors'

Photo: Lyndsey Stillwell chose to freebirth at home
Photo: Lyndsey Stillwell chose to freebirth at home Photo: Supplied

While most first-time mums can't wait see their baby in that first scan, hear the heartbeat and find out the sex with big gender reveals, a number are choosing an unmedicalised or wild pregnancy and freebirth.

First time mum Lindsey Stillwell, 31, from the Sunshine Coast decided to shun all tests and doctor's appointments during pregnancy and birth her baby without any medical support at home.

As a native American woman, she believed it was 'instinctual and natural' to follow the centuries of women who have birthed on the land.  

Lindsay and her baby Niah
Lindsay and her baby Niah 

"I wanted to reconnect to my culture and, at the minimum, have an unmedicalised birth, and for the baby to inform me where I birthed," Stillwell tells Essential Baby. 

"It was an instinct knowing that my body is designed for birthing; and knowing that the wisdom of thousands of women who have come before me lives in my bones and my body."

"I am not opposed to conventional medicine, but I understood that my body would inform me if there was a problem that would need that kind of intervention."

Stillwell said not being tied down to external factors, such as what happens to an embryo during development, allowed her to experience a "beautiful intimate journey" of discovery with herself, her body and her baby.

"The bond with my daughter had been strong since before I conceived.  I had sensed the soul of a baby in my energetic field for two months before I conceived, and we had strong communication throughout my pregnancy."

Stilwell also resisted downloading any baby tracking apps or reading about pregnancy until late in her pregnancy.

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Towards the end she started to read books about natural pregnancy and freebirth including 'Ten Moons' and 'Birth Matters: A Midwife's Manifesta' and watched some freebirth videos on Instagram.

According to Stillwell, her journey was made more interesting because she was supporting her friend at the same time go through a highly medicalised pregnancy and a caesarean birth, which she feels was the best thing for her friend.

She even attended one of her friend's scans.

Photo: "It was very magical and deeply empowering," Lindsey said of her birth.
Photo: "It was very magical and deeply empowering," Lindsey said of her birth.  Photo: Supplied

"It was very emotional for me to see her baby on the scan," she said. "It was a real contrast of what I was choosing."

Stillwell's baby, Niah, is part Aboriginal so she wanted to connect to her roots by hiring an Indigenous birth worker for support.

At 34 weeks she did a cultural ceremony to prepare for birth and release any fear.   When her cervical plug broke three days before the birth the birth worker attended her home to set the space with women's business sticks and calling in the ancestors with prayers and acknowledging the elements.

Stillwell, who is a First Nations storyteller and multi-disciplinary performing artist, found her pregnancy so empowering she was able to continue to perform right up until four days before the birth.

When labour finally got underway it lasted 22 hours. Over that time, several friends visited and in final stages she was attended by the birth worker, who caught the baby.

"No one told me what to do it was just me surrendering to my body and listening to it and allowing it to inform me," she recalls. 

"I was not in my mind. I was in my body and it felt like an altered consciousness."

However, when her baby crowned three times but failed to come out her friends became worried and called an ambulance.

The nearest hospital was 25 minutes away and Lindsey had a birth plan in place if a hospital transfer was necessary.

A medical adviser over the phone guided the friend on how to push on Lindsey's pelvis to help free the baby and before an ambulance arrived Niah had arrived safely into the world as she squatted before the fire in the loungeroom.

"I never felt I couldn't do it, I didn't have any doubt," Lindsey explains. "I had the understanding that I wasn't mean to push, but to just allow the baby to come.  I kept surrendering to her movement and listened to my body.

I spoke to my baby and said, 'we are going to do this' and we did.  I sensed there was nothing wrong, she was just taking her time."

Once born Niah, who she wasn't expecting to be a girl, crawled from her stomach up to her breast for her first feed, while she birthed the placenta - all without a single tear.

"It was very magical and deeply empowering," Stillwell said. "There is so much of society that pressures women to give away their power.

There is so much medical intervention in birth that has caused a lot of harm. A lot of women don't even realise they have that choice." 

Professor of Midwifery at Western Sydney University, Hannah Dahlen, said the ideal model of care, particularly for first time mums where there can be a higher level of complications, is to find a good midwife and have continuity of care.

In her recent book, 'Birthing Outside the System', Professor Dahlen examines why women choose to give birth out of mainstream maternity care. 

"It is easy to dam the women, but the question should be: why do they feel it is necessary and how are the models of care in Australia failing them?" she tells Essential Baby.

"These women are marching with their feet and a part of me doesn't blame them, but the health professional in me worries about them. There are high induction and caesarean rates, bullying, harassment and violation of human rights in the system."

"These women are trying to regain their power and do what they believe is inherently natural."

While Professor Dahlen agrees it is a woman's fundamental right to decide what happens to her body, by law, she says it's important to be aware of the risks opting for a 'wild pregnancy'.

"If a woman chooses to have no care provider, they need to be aware there may be increased risks," she explains.

She believes some tests, such as scans to determine the number of babies and haemoglobin and blood pressure, during pregnancy are worthwhile, however not all are necessary. 

"We do too much, too often, and don't give women a chance to decline."

Kathryn, an administrator on a large wild pregnancy and freebirth Facebook group, said it had a steady flow of women joining who are seeking an autonomous birth on their own terms.

"Wild pregnancy is completely woman-centred and woman-led," she tells Essential Baby

"Your pregnancy will not be compromised by over testing, inaccurate testing, potentially dangerous diagnostic testing, inappropriate rude comments, pregnancy by numbers, short and rushed appointments, bad advice, conflicting advice and the extreme, but all too common experience when a midwife or doctor implies that a test or procedure is compulsory."

She said freebirthers believe industrial birth practices and policies jeopardise the natural birth process.

"Freebirthers know that birth has happened unhindered for millennia," she asserts. 

"Birth brings us to the vortex where life and death intermingle. This is true for everyone, no matter the location of birth, but perhaps recognised more by people who choose homebirth and freebirth."