Callisto, 53 cm and 3.260 kg, born on 21/03/2014 at 5.32 a.m. in Blackrock, Co. Dublin.
My first baby was nearly born at home, although it wasn’t the plan at all, so a home birth appeared as an interesting option when I got pregnant with my second. I knew I could change my mind until the last minute, so I went ahead and booked a home birth with the Community Midwives in Holles Street Maternity Hospital. And the more I learned about it, the more answers I got to my questions and any concerns I raised, the more certain I became that this was the right choice for me. I didn’t tell my mother about my decision though. I thought it sad to have to hide such a big thing from her, but I just knew she would fret and I preferred to spare myself (and her) the hassle. My partner, on the other hand, quickly agreed.
The pregnancy went well. After a miscarriage the year before, I was quite nervous during the first 3 months, and started having uncomfortable Braxton Hicks contractions as early as week 15, which I also found stressful. Apart from that, I sailed through the 9 months with no problems, except that I had a low iron count. That could mean I wouldn’t be accepted for a home birth, so I had to work hard to get the levels back up. I took loads of Galfer, spirulina, wheat germ and assorted folk remedies. I finally reached the minimum allowed in the last few weeks of my pregnancy. I felt like I was preparing an exam! But being seen by the Community Midwives was a real treat. They provide amazing care. I barely ever had to wait more than a few minutes at the Dun Laoghaire clinic, and they were all so nice and easy-going. Amazingly, the first midwife I met at the booking visit had read my file and asked me about my daughter. They all had that person-centred approach that unfortunately most consultants seem to lack. I also got several visits at home. Luxury!
My baby boy was born in the night (or what some people call the morning) at 5.32 a.m. on Friday 21st March 2014 — at home like I wanted. It took a mere 4 hours in all, counting from the very first twinges of discomfort, and labour itself lasted only an hour or so. I’m glad I opted for a home birth, because I would never have made it into Holles Street in time. I still can't quite believe it, and after watching me have our second baby, my partner Dunstan persists in thinking that giving birth is a piece of cake! Now that’s slightly annoying, but I can't help feeling I've been very lucky. Once I got the baby in my arms, I kept saying: “I can’t believe it! I can’t believe it!” I'm amazed that it was so quick and that I got such a beautiful, healthy baby. The challenge is really worth it.
Yet of course it's not all down to luck. A good mind frame and good preparation also help, and I owe a lot to a brilliant yoga teacher / doula, Helen Bourke. In addition to the yoga, it’s thanks to a book she lent me that I found out about Active Birth, which was also instrumental in my preparation.
I wanted to share the birth story in case it can be of interest to other expecting mums, whether or not they are considering a home birth.
On 20th March, my favourite grandfather turned 90. I had been waiting for that big date. I called him to say happy birthday and when I hung up, I felt something unlock in my head for some reason. I felt a sense of completion, of readiness. My baby was then 6 days overdue, and I was finding the suspense hard to bear. In the evening I started having stronger period pains than in the last few days and guessed that things would kick off soon, although I didn't realise how soon and imagined it would be the next day. Choosing to ignore reason, I watched a film with my partner and went to bed late, so I'd only had an hour of sleep when the contractions began at 1 a.m.
But were they really contractions? They were nothing like what I remembered from my first time. More like intense period pains than a terrible tightening coming in waves. I tried to sleep through them (sleep had been the first step of my battle plan the last time), but soon found I couldn't. Accepting that the night was over for me, I called the midwives to tell them that things had started but that I didn't need anyone yet. “Call back when the contractions start to bite more,” midwife Annemarie told me. My plan was to call her again as late as possible because I imagined having an audience for my labour might actually make it harder for me to stay calm and focused. For my first labour, after a long walk and a warm bath, I just lay on my bed and breathed deeply through all the contractions until I felt ready to push. I was hoping to achieve that again, although I feared it couldn't be that "easy" twice.
Second step of my tactics: diversion. For once I'm glad I am a little neurotic because at that stage I started to organize the house the way I wanted it for the birth (move this chair there and this bucket here, empty the bins, attach balloons to the front door to help the midwives find the house, bring all the useful stuff up to my bedroom, etc.) even though I was convinced nothing would happen for hours and it was much too early to worry about such details. But there would be no time for any of that later.
Soon I couldn't ignore the contractions anymore and had to go back to bed. This time instead of just lying down I kept moving, making circular movements on all fours during each “wave”. I didn't manage to let my partner sleep through the first hours as I had intended (for both his sake and mine: he's not very good with sleeplessness), but it was time to forget about the plan and just adapt to how things were. Dunstan asked me how he could help, and later I was glad that we covered the mattress and the carpet with a shower curtain and plastic sheets then.
I didn't really have time or even the inclination to have a proper yoga practice at any point, but I did use my yoga. Rocking on all fours turned out to be my way of coping with each contraction, as I found I couldn't calm down enough to lie still and just breathe. I also used a deep relaxation breath and tried to remove every tension from my body like I had practiced in my yoga class: neck, shoulders, jaw… I kept working on what my yoga teacher interestingly called "a friendly face", thinking: "I don't want to scare my baby away!"
Two hours into it I was shaking. I reckoned that it was just nerves and that I was probably still only in pre-labour, but when I had my first baby, I got the shivers just before I felt like pushing, so my partner thought we should call the midwives again. Luckily Annemarie decided to come over straight away, even though I was convinced I still had a long way to go. By the time she arrived, the period pains had definitely turned into waves of tension that felt like what I remembered. I managed them by convincing myself that they were a good thing, opening up a way out for my baby, and by avoiding to tense up. The second midwife who would look after me, Katie, arrived soon after. I said "Oh dear, two midwives to myself here and I'm probably not even in labour yet!" The contractions had been 1 to 2 minutes apart right from the start, but only lasted about 30 seconds and still felt quite manageable. Annemarie examined me then and found that I was 1 cm dilated. I was happy enough with that. Labour had started, even if it was still early as I suspected. Little did I know that the baby would be there an hour later. An hour and seven minutes, to be exact.
I didn't mind having an "audience" after all. I felt compelled to tell my life story and crack jokes, which helped me relax. My attending midwives had the knack of being present enough to calmly whisper advice from time to time, yet staying in the background and letting me do things my way. (Annemarie later told me that I was very decisive and that I did exactly what I wanted. Which I didn't know I wanted until the spur of the moment!) I improvised a new yoga pose that I called "the Gorilla": kneeling half upright with my arms straight and my hands in fists on the floor. This made me giggle in the middle of a tough contraction and Annemarie commented I just might "laugh this baby out". A nice prospect for me, who’ve been training to be a clown for the last couple of years.
When the pressure got really intense I decided to go in the bathroom, as I was suddenly worried about the mess and felt it would be tidier to have the waters break while sitting on the toilet… Which is exactly what happened as soon as I sat down. I am quite proud of that little achievement. But then straight away I felt an urge to push. "I can't have the baby on the toilet", I moaned to myself. The midwives suggested I stand up, but I didn't think I could. The few steps to walk (or crawl) back to my bedroom as I had planned felt impossible. So I knelt down right there in front of the bathtub. As advised, Dunstan climbed into the bathtub so as not to have to stand behind two other persons in our tiny bathroom and only get to see my backside throughout. I looked into his eyes, pushed or rather breathed out twice and the head was out. Really? Already? I was stunned.
The first time I gave birth, I'd been squeamish and hadn't wanted to touch or see the baby’s head as it crowned. This time when a midwife suggested I catch the baby myself, I didn't think twice. I felt a soft, wet thing between my legs and pulled the baby up on my chest. It was so wonderful, so empowering to do it myself. I didn’t know I had it in me, but it felt surprisingly natural. Really my two midwives were brilliant at guessing what would be right for me and helping me achieve just that. They gave the best possible advice at every step.
Everybody else in the room seemed to disappear as I started talking to my baby. This time I was already a mum. I was ready for him and we connected instantly. He gave a little cry, then settled down. I didn't realise he was a boy for a long while at first, but then the midwives said:
– Did you see what you've got?
I lifted the umbilical cord and saw male gear, but was so dazed I had to check:
– Is it a boy?
Then I walked back to my bed, stooped forward with my baby boy in my arms, still attached to the cord. I was so happy. I looked at the time, wondering about my daughter. Dunstan checked for the umpteenth time that she was still asleep and cleaned the bathroom to make sure she didn't see anything scary when she woke up. I had bled more than the midwives liked, so once back in my bedroom they gave me an injection to speed up the delivery of the placenta. It was a relief when it was all over. So fast. My head was reeling.
– I feel so lucky, I said, close to tears.
After quite a long while midwife Katie remembered to check the baby, snuggled against me. She counted his ten fingers and toes, and declared him perfect.
Everything was perfect. Conveniently my daughter slept through it all, just a few meters away from the action, and discovered her baby brother in my arms when she got up around 7. I was moved to the tears when she shyly walked into the room and joined us. She ran to me, stared at the baby with sleepy eyes and declared he was cute. Then we all spent the day together at home, a new family of four. My daughter got to skip school. Bliss all around.
We named our gorgeous little boy Callisto, like one of Jupiter’s moons, and naturally, we are in seventh heaven.
. A movement founded in the 80s by Janet Balaskas, who wrote a very good book about it. Disappointed by the medicalisation of birth and unnecessary intervention in hospitals, where labouring women were made to lie on their back, she started to advocate the use of movement and gravity to help labour and birth.
. But in France, where I come from, they count an extra week in pregnancy!