I knew I wanted a home birth since I was seventeen. I was still going to school in Haarlem, The Netherlands and living with friends of the family because I was in my final year of high school and my parents had moved country and I wanted to stay in Holland with my friends and in my school. It was already my 5th or 6th school and I had had enough of leaving my friends behind. Anyway, I’m digressing... Back to the people I was staying with... their eldest daughter had had a baby, in her home of course (!), and I went along to visit. I just have this single strong memory of the homeliness of it all. Her bed had been raised by putting beer crates underneath it (raising the bed is standard practise in The Netherlands as it facilitates things a bit for the midwife and also puts the bed at a good ‘lean-on’ height for labouring mama). This beer-crate thing was totally cool! And, seeing mama in bed with baby on the breast was just the most natural thing in the world. So, I decided on the way back home in the car that when I was to have my own baby I was going to do so at home and I was definitely going to put beer crates under my bed. Definitely!
Well... I surely did have our little Mia at home, but I forgot all about the beer crates...
Discovering I was pregnant was a complete surprise, but a truly delightful one. We would never have planned to become pregnant at the exact time we did but I still feel blessed every single day that we just became pregnant without needing to work at it. I know so many people who have travelled a much more difficult journey to find that little seed planted in their bellies; and enough also who never experienced that joy. I arrived in Dublin when I was about 6 weeks pregnant. We adjusted to this new reality in our lives and at about 10 weeks into my pregnangcy I decided to start finding out about how birthing works in Ireland. I phoned the Coombe and asked how to go about meeting my attending midwife. They told me to make an appointment, which I did, and I remember the creepy feeling I got when I was sitting in the waiting area. The word for hospital in Dutch is “Ziekenhuis” which, directly translated, means Home for the Sick. I wasn’t sick! What the heck was I doing in a hospital?? And all the new-mothers were walking around in dressing gowns, some holding IVs, and I felt so out of place. Having no private insurance in Ireland I was sitting in a long long long queue waiting to meet a consultant. I met the man, told him I was planning a home birth and was promptly told that I was an irresponsible mother. He would never allow his wife to have a home birth. I took great offence to the man using the words ‘allow’ and ‘wife’ in the same sentence and even greater offense at the intended judgement of my wishes. Seeing as I had already queued for 2 hours, I decided to have my bloods done by the midwife anyway. I left The Coombe in a state of shock. Why was what seemed so normal and natural to me treated as something so alien and strange here?
As soon as I got home, I googled “Home Birth in Ireland” and found the HBA website. I called all three midwives to no avail and then left a message with Trish Cronnelly. At this stage I was in a total panic and in tears. Trish called me back and said I was possibly too late to find an available midwife. Whaaaaaaaaat??!! I managed to get in touch with all three midwives and, guess what, none of them
were available for my due month as they already had women on their books and my dates were also slap bang in the middle of summer and that was holiday time. I was asked why I hadn’t called as soon as I knew I was pregnant? Because I didn’t know I had to of course!!
Who could I turn to then? I phoned Holles Street in a complete and utter mess, totally distraught. So distraught I couldn’t speak anymore and had to pass the phone to Paul who explained what I wanted and why I was so upset. The kindest kindest of midwives (I’m ashamed to say that I have forgotten her name) took it upon herself to phone each and every woman on the scheme due in June and July and, oh joy of joys, phoned me back to say that one of her ladies had moved down to Wexford and no longer needed their services and that I could have her place. I was delirious with joy!
I had a great pregnancy. Healthy, happy, loads of energy, no real complaints. Did pregnancy yoga, read the Birthing from Within, practiced my visualisation techniques, painted a lot, worked hard at our new start-up business, bought a new house in the heart of the Liberties, cleaned, scrubbed, painted, nested. Wonderful! Loved talking to my baby ‘bean’ as I called her (was convinced she would be a girl...!). Enjoyed all my visits to and from the midwives. Always full of questions. Oh, I was just soooo excited!
I was planning a water birth and had ordered my La Bassine pool from the UK. We had great fun blowing it up and giggling at the idea of having our baby in the water. Everyone who visited us during the last weeks were proudly shown the pool. Most of them thought we were MAD!
As my due date approached I started wondering “how will I know I’m in labour?”. Nothing I read seemed to help me. I was just so curious. My due date came and went and my nesting urges became stronger and stronger. I was getting up at 5.30 each morning and baking fresh breads (to the delight of Paul)!
And then it happened. 3.15 in the morning and I woke with a start as I felt this strange curious tightening crampy feeling in my lower back. Yeouch! I couldn’t believe it. It had started! A few minutes later the next one came and, remembering Birthing From Within, I tried to follow the path of the pain and it was like an ever-widening circle of tension starting at my sacrum and spreading to the front of my tummy. Just like the big green wave I had painted the week before. I got up, wrote some romantic note to Paul and went downstairs to make myself something to eat (fresh homemade bread with sundried tomatoes and pine nuts with feta cheese and a cup of tea). Then I called Holles Street and spoke with my favourite midwife (Kate from Cork). I was so chatty, telling her how excited I was and what I had eaten and what I was thinking that she laughed and told me to go back to bed as I was far too chatty for any baby to be coming out any time soon. I didn’t heed her advice but made some laborade instead and then got behind my PC and did some work (we were working from home still at that point). Paul got up at some stage and knuckled down to work also. At around 10.30 I just couldn’t sit still anymore and found holding a business conversation too difficult as the contractions were still regular every 3 mins or so and getting more intense (they were regular right from the very first one that woke me up). Phoned Holles street again and wondered when someone was going to drop in. Was advised by Margaret who was on duty at that time to have a bath.
did but was feeling grumpy and felt that the midwives didn’t believe I was really in labour. Didn’t like the bath much and wanted to get out again quite soon. Just couldn’t get comfortable at all! Finally at around 12.45 a midwife turned up, examined me and gave me the wonderful news that I was doing great and my cervix was soft. “How many centimetres is that?” I asked. “Eh... none yet...” was the answer. How totally depressing! I was told that it would be a minimum of 12-24 hours before I would have my baby. Aaaargh! Phoned my mum in Belgium and told her it would be a while yet and that I was going to try and have a nap. And, believe it or not, nap I did. For about an hour and a half. Kneeling on the bed forwards with my arms crossed over my head on a pillow, of all positions! Woke up when the contractions got stronger. It was about 2.30 pm. Was feeling a bit restless so decided to walk up and down the stairs a few times, switched on the music downstairs (Love Me or Leave Me by Nina Simone – on repeat about 10 times). Was taking note of my contractions but this was proving to be a bit too much effort really. Paul came down at some stage and I asked him to time some contractions for me. They were coming on every minute and a half lasting over a minute each (!). I said that this couldn’t be right but that perhaps we should phone Holles Street to be sure. Spoke to Margaret again and was getting rather annoyed with her on the phone as she was asking me for directions to our house and i just felt like “I don’t have time for this nonsense!”. Shoved the phone into Paul’s hand and grumpily said something like “You talk to her, I can’t think straight!”. I walked up the stairs and all I could think was “I can’t do this! Not for another 12-24 hours!”. I was getting hot flushes and had the strongest desire to go for a number two. Down the stairs again (I swear, I don’t know where I got the energy from! To walk up and down those stairs about 30 times that day, I wouldn’t even do it now...). Went and sat on the loo and tried and tried to go but no joy. Seeing as I was quite constipated during the last months of pregnancy I didn’t find this worrying, just frustrating. Finally, I managed to get rid of a bit which was great. The heat waves were coming over my body very regularly at this stage and I was making involuntary deep grunting noises which almost sounded to me like they were coming from someone else. Paul had hung up the phone with Margaret at this stage and come in to me looking somewhat worried as I’m sure I was acting strangely. “I need to go but I can’t!”, I explained. “Are you sure you need to go and that it’s not the baby?” he asked. I said that it couldn’t be as the midwife has told me that it was to be at least another 12-24 hours (I repeated this like a mantra). I was sobbing that I couldn’t do this for another 12-24 hours! And that I wanted a break. Just no contractions for 5 minutes please! PLEASE!! At some stage I put my hand down and felt a bulge. Yep, you guessed it, baby’s head! “Where is Margaret?!!” I demanded. “On her way...” came the reply. I said we should phone and tell her to come NOW! “What’s the number?” Paul asked. Whaaaaaaaaat?! I was stunned into silence (almost). So I took the phone off Paul, scrolled down to the number in the midst of major grunting and dialled it for him. Hahaha! The price to pay for being so “in control” during the pregnancy!
The baby was coming and no midwife. I was starting to lose it and couldn’t stop myself from pushing. My body was just acting on its own. Finally a knock-knock on the door. Margaret arrived to wonderful earth mother wailing! I can still hear the wails echoing in the halls of my memory. They were amazing! Starting really really low and just sliding up the octaves. Almost a caterwaul! She came into the bathroom and took me in. My eyes were almost popping out of my head at this stage. She came over to me, felt for baby’s head which was almost crowning and calmly said: “So, you’re having a baby.”
“I know!” I almost screamed.
“Where do you want to have it?” was the question.
My answer: “I don’t know! Tell me! Not in the loo!”
“Well, you’d better come off the loo then”; Margaret’s calm logical response.
“How?!?!” I demanded.
“Just kneel forward and turn.”
Oh... and that’s what I did. Leaned forward, turned, hung my upper body onto the toilet seat which i had put down. “Just breathe” Margaret said and that sort of triggered a vague memory about breathing away a few contractions.
Paul during these 2-3 minutes had been pulling in all of Margaret’s equipment from the car and re-parked her car that she had just left outside our house on the curb... All the while the hairs on his neck were raised every time I let out one of my primal moans...
Margaret asked me where there were towels . Luckily there was a cupboard next to her filled with clean towels, so she got them out. Paul came in behind Margaret at this point I think. And me? I just breathed and then baby just wanted to come out. I remember trying not to push but just to breathe her out. It was sooo hard not to push and I couldn’t help just the smallest of pushes. I heard a funny slithering splashy sound and realised that this was my waters breaking and going all over the floor. And baby’s head was out and turning. Paul says she opened her eyes and smacked her lips, tasting the air. I wish I could have seen that! Next thing, my body just pushed the rest of her out. And Margaret caught her and passed her to me from between my legs.
I remember looking at my baby and thinking, that can’t be right! She’s too big! My baby isn’t that big! I held her in a kind of daze. What I remember most is just looking at her and drinking it all in. I watched how her little left foot unfolded itself like a little leaf unfurling. Amazing!
And then I just wanted to give her to Paul and get the last of the messy stuff over and done with. I expelled the afterbirth and remember huddling over it with the two midwives asking them to explain it to me. I remember this moment as being very ‘earthy’; three women crouched on the bathroom floor examining the mystery of what had kept baby alive these past nine months. We could have as easily been in some cave in Africa two thousand years ago. I felt so connected to Earth Mother.
I remember being led upstairs to our bed and feeling squeamish about the single stitch required for a very small tear. Funny really to be such a ninny over such a small thing after what my body and I had been through only a matter of moments before! And then Paul came up with our new beauty. I cuddled her close to me and she wanted to feed. I felt so young and inexperienced and remember asking Margaret what I should do. She laughed and grabbed baby, plonked her on my breast and, hey presto, baby knew exactly what to do! I was in bliss and amazement looking at this incredible being for the first time properly since she had come into the world. The time for counting fingers and toes. Of course she was just the most precious thing I had ever encountered!
And then the journey motherhood began. It’s still a trip to this day and not one day passes that I don’t catch my breath at the joy that entered our world that day. “Born upon a star”, I have always said, because the bathroom mat on which she was born has a big yellow star in the middle of it. It is still there today and is a big part of the fabric of the story of Mia. She knows it too in a very deep way; the bathroom is where she plays, sings, reflects, tells herself stories... it is a place of calm for her and I can’t help but believe it still carries the echoes of her passage.
We only named her Mia after a few days. Or, perhaps more close to the truth, she herself told me her name, as we had had very different ones picked out.
I am grateful for the expert guidance the ladies from the DoMiNo Scheme at Holles Street gave me. I felt loved and cared for and never hesitated to call on them in the first few weeks any time I felt unsure about something. I can only but recommend them.
First birth and born at home, Holles Street Hospital, DoMiNo Scheme