Rhythms of life: my baby's waterbirth

As labour began, Carla went about her everyday life, surrounded by family and the familiar environment of her own home. Carla gave birth to her daughter in the gentle warmth of a birthing pool. As Carla rested in bed with new daughter Tessa Claire, her first daughter Sophie woke from a nap and came in for excited cuddles.

Tessa began her life, tenderly embraced by the natural life rhythms of her family. Carla shares her waterbirth story.

Growing up, I dreamt of a white wedding and babies. But I never really thought about how those babies would enter the world. In fact, I don't think I even considered it to be particularly important. 

Four weeks pregnant with my first daughter, I remember looking at having a private obstetrician because that was 'just what you did' when you discovered you were having a baby. I guess that's because that's the only style of birth I'd had anything to do with. 

A birth seminar opened my eyes to more of the physiological aspects of birth, and introduced me for the first time to the concept of the 'cascade of interventions' that sometimes occurs in a more structured environment.  I ended up giving birth to my daughter Sophie in a birth centre, with a wonderful doula and midwives attending. It was a beautiful experience.

Growing up, I dreamt of a white wedding and babies.

Twelve months later, my partner Jono and I found ourselves thinking about trying to conceive again. By now, I'd become very interested in the birth process and knew I'd really love to homebirth any future children. Living in the ACT (Australian Capital Territory), the only option to satisfy a homebirth was to employ a private midwife costing upwards of $3000.  Jono and I had been speaking about relocating to Perth, WA, for several years and had heard about the publicly funded Homebirth Program offered there by Community Midwifery WA. Whilst not our sole reason in deciding to relocate, the availability of homebirth was a big influence.  

We moved into our new home in Perth in April 2006. We soon discovered we were expecting our second child and I immediately lodged my application for the Homebirth Program. Places were very limited due to funding limitations.

When I reached 11 weeks of pregnancy, I opened the letterbox to discover a letter addressed to me that had the stamp of the homebirth program. With trembling fingers, I opened the envelope and was ecstatic to discover I had been offered a place. 
I was in! Yippee! 

I was allocated Linda as my primary midwife who would see me for any prenatal visits as well as attending the birth and postnatally. In addition, I was allocated a back up midwife who we would meet towards the end of my pregnancy.

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Over a cup of tea, my midwife, Linda, came to out house and discussed my pregnancy and ideal birth with Jono and me. Linda was knowledgeable and she refreshed my own confidence in my body's ability to birth this child safely at home. She was open to discussing any of our ideas, and made sure to include Sophie during this first appointment.  Every visit, she showed Sophie my tummy and guided her hands to feel the baby. Sophie listened to the baby's heartbeat with a sparkle in her eyes, every time. 

We had gently introduced the idea of a new baby brother or sister to Sophie (who was then 18 months old), and we started to give her a little bit more information around this time. We read books about homebirth together... 'Hello Baby' by Jenni Overend & Julie Vivas was a favourite. I can still remember pushing a loungechair around the room, demonstrating how making pushing noises helps when you're working hard!  Sophie was quite an expert at guttural grunting by the end of it all! 

We hadn't yet made a decision about whether she would be present for the birth or not. We agreed we would just wait and see what she wanted to do at the time, and had arranged to have my sister there as support for her.  Looking back, I think my biggest difficulty would have been keeping Sophie out of the pool. That's not to say we couldn't have had her in the water if we'd wanted to. 

Linda had mentioned that some women chose to make a back-up booking at a local hospital in case hospital transfer is required during labour and birth.  We decided to make this booking with the major women's hospital in Perth, and agreed to be referred for an initial visit. 

We asked Linda lots of questions that had been stewing in our minds and waved her goodbye that afternoon after nearly three hours of chatting. We knew we had made the right choice.

At 21 weeks, I attended my scheduled hospital visit. I arrived there and unsurprisingly for this stage of pregnancy, needed to visit the restroom almost immediately. I was told I could not relieve myself until I'd been seen by a nurse and had my urine tested. I'd also need to be weighed.  I was gobsmacked!  Here I was halfway through my second pregnancy, and I was being told what I could and could not do in terms of a natural bodily function. This was a 'lightbulb moment' for me, and it simply reiterated to me that hospital and all its associated protocols were not the way I wanted to go.  

We decided not to do any of the prenatal tests or scans except for a 20-week ultrasound. For me, that morphology scan would provide the reassurance that all was well with my baby or provide some advance notice of possible complications at birth that I'd have wanted to be prepared for. I remain unconvinced regarding the safety of routine ultrasounds in pregnancy, and so our compromise was to do just this one scan, but to keep it as brief as possible.  We saw our baby and all seemed well.  The pregnancy carried on normally, with the usual aches and pains. We arranged ambulance cover through a health insurer, just in case of transfer.

For the rest of my pregnancy, my appetite for reading was insatiable. I read anything and everything I could find about homebirth, waterbirth and natural birth as well as possible complications and their management. We realised we would like to make waterbirth a possibility as it seemed such a gentle introduction to the world. 

We could have hired a birth pool, but I'd learned about some inflatable birth pools that you could purchase. They seemed great, and so we sourced a display model from a Baby Expo, which we bought at half price. I wasn't sure whether I would want to use it for the actual birth (I had chosen to get out of the water to birth Sophie), but knew that it would be great for labour in any case. If not, it would make a great ball-pit or ice box for BBQ parties!

Around 37 weeks, I felt huge, and was convinced my baby would come early. I was having painful Braxton Hicks contractions that would have me on my hands and knees several times a day. By now I was having weekly visits with Linda and I'd also met Marilyn, my back up midwife.  Linda had given me a list of items to collect for the homebirth and my Essential Baby friends were happy to help with old towels and blankets. We set the birth pool up in the retreat area of our bedroom and I used it a few times over the coming weeks just watching telly - easing the backache that comes along with late pregnancy.  

Jono was allocated the task of filling the pool when the time came, which felt like it would be soon, however Linda seemed to think birth wasn't particularly imminent and estimated a 10 pound baby would arrive around my due date. Now I was getting scared! My confidence wavered somewhat at this point, but I knew my body had done this before and that we would simply transfer to hospital if I needed to.  Linda made sure I knew what to do when labour started and reassured me that I should call her whenever I felt like it.

On the morning of 25th January, around 2am I awoke to a familiar pop and gush of fluid.  My waters had broken. I raced to the ensuite and saw coloured fluid. My heart fell as I worried that there was meconium in my waters. Flicking on the light, I realised the colour was actually pinkish.   Jono phoned Linda, who reassured us that a tinge of pink was perfectly normal. She said I should try and rest because I'd probably have my baby in my arms before lunchtime.  She would wait for my next call. How exciting!  Around 3am, there was only about a four minute gap between intense tightenings, so I sent my sister a text message on her phone to advise that it looked like we'd be needing her to come and help with Sophie today. She said to phone again as soon as we needed her.

After posting a message on Essential Baby, we both went back to bed to try and doze but whilst Jono succeeded, I didn't!

At around 6.45, the contractions were strong and regular. Jono phoned Martina and she arrived soon after.  We took a few photos at this time, and looking back now it seems so normal to see myself reading the newspaper around our own kitchen table during labour! That's what I loved about my homebirth so much - life just carried on!

Linda phoned a couple of times throughout the morning, but I was managing well at home and insisted we were happy to be alone at this stage. I was in the pool, rocking from side to side trying to welcome each wave knowing it would bring my baby one step closer to us. Sophie kept popping in to give me kisses and mop my brow.  When things got a bit more vocal, Martina took Sophie to the park and Jono phoned Linda. He described my breathing and that I had gotten in the pool. Linda said she was in the car on her way to another appointment, but was turning the car around and coming straight over.  It wouldn't be long now!

Linda came right in the middle of a contraction. I don't remember her arriving.  Jono told me afterward that she just popped her head around the bedroom door and watched me through the contraction, then tiptoed into the kitchen to set up her supplies. A few minutes later, she came in to see me, marvelling at how wonderfully strong the contractions were and reassuring me that it was fabulous because my baby would be here very soon. 

Sophie and Martina were pottering around. Jono was helping me, using cool towels on my forehead and pouring hot water over my back whilst I laboured on my hands and knees in the pool.  Linda maintained a very subtle presence, never touching me or doing examinations. Not long after, I felt my baby descending through the birth canal. The memory of this still gives me the shivers even today.  What an empowering feeling - my body was just DOING birth - all on its own and I was coming along for the ride!

I heard Linda quietly phone Marilyn and give her a status report, suggesting she should attend shortly. Marilyn arrived with perfect timing - about 10 minutes before my body started pushing.  She asked Jono if he would like her to take the photos so he could concentrate on being with me, and he agreed.  We have some wonderful 'action' shots of the birth that we would never have had otherwise, so I am forever grateful to Marilyn for her suggestion. The video camera was running in the corner of the room too, so we also have a full video at arms-length (not too graphic!) of established labour and birth. What an amazing memento.

After a particularly powerful contraction, I became worried about frightening Sophie, so Martina took her off to her bedroom and they sang songs and read stories for a short while. Sophie drifted off to sleep just 15 minutes before her new sister arrived.

My body was birthing this baby. She was coming NOW!  Terrified of tearing (I had a nasty  third-degree tear with Sophie's birth), I used my own hand to support my perineum under the water. Linda suggested that I might like to gently touch the baby's head or even gently press against it when I felt that familiar sting of crowning to provide support and time to stretch slowly.  The instant I touched my baby's head and felt that gloriously soft hair, I was able to continue. My strength had been restored. I called out "There's so much hair" and heard laughter in the room.  It's my favourite moment to replay on the video, because it's a moment of pure joy and light heartedness during a very intense time.  It's the moment I realised that I was doing it!  My baby was so very nearly here!

A few more pushes, and the head was born. One more giant contraction saw the rest of the baby slide out into the warm water.  Nobody had so much as touched the little darling, except me. Linda called out a little reminder to 'pick up my baby' from the bottom of the pool.  I think I'd forgotten that part!  I scooped the baby up from between my legs and rolled over to lean against the pool wall, so very very proud of my baby and myself. We'd come through it together, with my family close around me. 

We'd been told to expect a girl, so I had a look, and for a moment thought I saw a penis, but no - it was just the umbilical cord. She was a perfect little girl. We cuddled for a while in the pool, before I started getting contractions again to expel the placenta. I didn't want to get out yet, so I was helped to support my weight on the edge of the pool for this stage. We looked at it, and Martina got the job of popping it into the prepared container to deal with later. 

Supported out of the pool, I hopped into our very own bed with our very own baby daughter and we shared a breastfeed straight away.  It was discovered that I had a second-degree tear, but I declined stitches with the option to reconsider in a few days when we could see how healing was progressing. I didn't want to have to take my baby into hospital now!! 

Perfectly timed, Sophie awoke and came in to meet her new baby sister, who we named Tessa Claire. She had been born at 11.40am, weighing 9 pound 6 ounces. She was 55cms long, with a head full of black downy hair.  To this day, I couldn't imagine a better way to bring a baby into the world.  Peaceful (mostly!), with the comforts of my own home and loved ones supporting me. 

Today, Tessa is a toddling one year old, who shares a special bond with her big sister Sophie (now aged three).  We're moving house shortly, and I feel a sense of sadness that I won't be able to gaze down at the end of my bed and see the exact place where my daughter was born. There's been something so soothing about remembering that morning in our home. Still, we are moving to a new home, and we're hoping we will be blessed with more babies in the future - homebirths of course!

So there's my story - I got my homebirth, but I still haven't had my white wedding!