Editor’s note: while not a homebirth story, Amy’s story is a lovely one to read. – Joey
I always wanted to birth naturally but at the time I became pregnant I was had diagnostic surgery for ‘interstitial cystitis’ (otherwise known as ‘Bladder pain’) I was on some muscle relaxants and other naturopathic treatment. This made me nervous about my ability to handle pain, as my muscles would spasm when I had an attack. Some days my back and abdominal muscles would get so sore I would need to lie down for a full day.
It seemed however, that my symptoms had gone into remission when I got pregnant with my first child and Mercy Hospital for women in Melbourne had not given me a clear diagnosis anyway. My urology-gynaecologist wished me well and told me not to tell the doctors at the Royal Hobart Hospital about my condition, as pregnancy usually puts the symptoms into remission and there was no reason to complicate things. He was right, incidentally and I did not want to be considered ‘high-risk’ as I was keen to avoid intervention.
As the months rolled by I forgot I even had I.C and enjoyed a nauseous but otherwise healthy first trimester, the second trimester I had some bleeding over several days, yet our baby was fine. I was advised to stop running, which I had been enjoying until this time – until week 22, by which time I had gained so much more weight that I found it difficult to take it up again. My overall weight gain didn’t concern anyone but me, perhaps it would have been good to get some medical help for my reflux, which was so severe that I had to eat every two hours or I felt terrible. This led to a higher than advised weight gain and made me very uncomfortable. My leg cramps were so bad I had trouble even walking for more than 5 minutes at a time. In hindsight, I should have seen my GP for this but I thought it was normal.
I was part of the RHH’s ‘KYM’ scheme ( know your midwife), this meant that I was able to attend a clinic near my home and only see a doctor if problems arose or if I felt that I needed more care. I thought that this still meant I could give birth in a birth suite but found out later that this affected my eligibility for a suite. If I had understood this properly I would have taken the extra time to go into the city for my appointments as I really wanted to give birth at the birth centre.
However, because of the KYM scheme it meant my visits were very laid back and consisted only of taking my blood pressure, measuring my belly and asking me if I had any questions. Although I was not promised the same midwife, I did end up with the same midwife, Paula for all my check-ups. I felt that most of my care was driven by my own reading, the weekly “pregnastics”physio classes at the RHH, advice from friends and my own intuition. I only stood on a scale once at my first hospital check in when they also checked my urine. I had one infection but noticed the symptoms myself and was treated quickly at the pregnancy assesment centre after a urine test.
Our 6 week parenting classes at RHH were the main source of my understanding of pain and pain management. It made me even more keen to avoid an epidural as from my reading it seemed that moving and hot water were more effective pain management treatments than numbing the pain with drugs. I was worried about slowing the labour too much through drugs and inactivity, which might lead to forceps or other intervention, caesarean or tearing.
I was not convinced that I could cope with the pain with just showers and gas, but I wrote out a birth plan which placed hot water, massage, position and vocalising as my first methods of pain management, with gas and epidural, following by caesarean as the final step if the others failed. I read a book called ‘active birth’ by Sarah McLaughlin but only skimmed it.
When I was about 39 weeks pregnant I had a surprisingly energetic day. I didn’t take my usual nap and achieved a lot. By 10 pm I was too keyed up to sleep and remember leaving my husband sleeping to walk up and down the stairs in my house, do pushups and do some stretches on my fitball. I must have been labouring without awareness of it for 4 hours but I did not feel any pain, just slightly stronger Braxton-Hicks, or so I thought. I felt excited, but wasn’t sure why. I didn’t want to get my hopes up that I was in labour so eventually I got into bed and tried to sleep.
I was lying there for about half an hour, my stomach all churned up and small strange aches running around my back. Then, just when I was dozing off, I felt Evangeline kick and heard a sudden ‘pop’, or maybe I just felt it. I got up quickly and fluid began to pour out of me. I told Luke, my husband that I was in labour and scurried to the bathroom and jumped straight under the shower in a bid to preserve the carpet of our rental house!
The pain kicked in straight away and the hot water was fantastic on my lower back. It felt like some severe period pain I had experienced when I was younger. Luke gathered together our bags and some towels to stuff into my trackpants as I was still leaking a lot of fluid. We attached a TENS machine to my back and Luke rang the hospital to let them know we were on our way.
The TENS was a Godsend, as even though we were only a 5 minute drive to RHH my contractions were very close together ( I think only 2-5 mins) and the pain was very intense. I managed to sit in the front seat for the drive but was arching in pain and turning the TENS on full when I had a contraction.
When we arrived at the hospital I remember striding ahead of Luke very purposefully and heading straight up to the birth centre. Another contraction hit me hard as I was walking down the hall and I fell on my knees. I looked up and saw Katherine, the midwife who delivered our baby as I moaned in pain. She smiled at me, I think I smiled back!
We went to the PAC to do an internal and found that I was already 5cm even though it had only been about half an hour since my waters had broken. I remember having a painful contraction here and pummeling the observation table to take my mind off the pain, perhaps the only trick I picked up from the ‘birth skills’ book and the only time I used it. There was some confusion about whether I would be allowed a birth suite as I was a KYM and not a birth centre patient. As I flatly refused to go into a delivery room (this has a raised bed and designed more for obstetrician led care) and demanded a birth suite I needed to wait a little while so that they could find me one.
Suddenly I squatted on the floor of the PAC and said I needed to do a pooh. I remember being confused as to why I said this out loud! My body was taking over and it was clear that I was already ready to push.
We arrived in the birth suite with a bath, which I was extremely thankful for. I immediately stripped my clothes off, jumped in and turned on the shower nozzle, telling my husband where to hold it. It was such a relief to have this but I had some terrible diarrhea which he needed to wash down the drain between contractions and so it was ultimately impossible to labour anywhere else, but I asked for a bean bag and a mat just in case I needed to shift locations later.
I was offered gas and as I was freaking out a bit from the pain and the messy diarrhea I accepted. It was just what I needed to lift my mind away from my body for a time and just feel the pain, breathe and go with it. I was already pushing at this point as my midwife was urging me to and did not ask to do any more internals. Luke was reminding me to vocalise deep and not scream which really helped me engage my diaphragm and focus my effort on pushing. This was a direction we remembered from our parenting class.
Eventually my midwife asked to see better and as I could not crouch in the bath in a way where she could see I got out of the bath and stood up in shower. My mother-in-law had arrived a bit before this and I was now pushing continually and not taking breaks! I remember getting very frustrated at this point as I wanted to stop but knew that the pain would continue anyway, so I pushed hard, during and between contractions!
Suddenly Katherine reached up and put her fingers around the head of the baby and pulled her out. The pain as she came out was sharp but over quickly. She handed her up to me and I lifted my baby up from between my legs, waddled to the bed and lay down to take a well deserved rest! I couldn’t believe I was holding my baby in my arms already but was elated with my achievement. It was probably the best moment of my life, after a time of intense pain, I now held my darling daughter in my arms.
Evangeline was born at 3:30 am, one hour and 45 minutes after my waters broke at 1:45 am. I did have a 2nd degree tear, which required several stitches, and I think in the future it would have been good to have a midwife who I could have talked about my fears with before the birth and who would also guide me through my labour in a way that minimised the tearing. Ultimately the experience was far better than I hoped for, it was painful, but quick. I had control of my choices, had minimal intervention and my birth partner, my husband, was the best person possible to have there!
We had discussed many times my birth plan and he was was keen to actively help me and to follow my directions. I’m glad I read so much, read so many birth stories, spoke to friends and aquaintances about what they would do and change and how they achieved what they did. Most of all, I am extremely thankful for my daughter and how perfect she was. Perhaps it was because she was only 6 pounds 2 or maybe it was the loose ligaments I inherited from my mother, but her head was perfect too, and not at all misshapen.