In my last post, I wrote about preparing for a home birth. I left that post being taken straight back to feeling heavily pregnant – 38 weeks and awaiting baby’s arrival. I remember feeling hot, uncomfortable, and hoping beyond all hopes that she would come early! Her official “due date” was 28 December, but I was quietly confident that she would come before Christmas. And I was right.
Trust those gut feelings…
Having done all of my Christmas prep early, a few days before she was born I had an overwhelming need to do a massive deep clean out of my fridge. Classic “nesting” signs, right? Believe it, those feelings are real.
The day she was born was a Monday.
I took myself out for a coffee that morning, as I had a feeling that this might be the last chance I’d get for a while! Around lunchtime I had a bit of a mucous “show” and my heart did a little leap…. would this be the day we’d meet her?
I had a midwife visit scheduled for 2pm that day, so I didn’t bother to call her and report anything. I did text my husband (Matt) and call my Mum and sister though. I’d also been texting my sister-in-law that morning as I’d been wanting her to come over and paint my toenails! Kind of a ritualistic must-have-pretty-nails-in-labour session. Turns out that I went into labour WITHOUT painted nails this time round, sigh!
Also in a classic “gut feeling” type of moment, I’d insisted to my husband the very night before that we do the plaster-of-paris belly cast that I’d been wanting to do for the last few weeks. So, we made a cast of my 38 week belly the day before I went into labour. I’m pretty sure he’d have rather relaxed on a Sunday night, but instead he listened to me, for which I am ever thankful.
So, all the signs were pointing towards baby’s early arrival.
I wasn’t feeling any contractions during the midwife visit at 2pm, but soon after she left I started feeling a few “tightenings” around my belly. Upon reflection, I think it would have been interesting to know if I was dilated at all at that midwife visit. But I didn’t feel the need to know at the time. I was peacefully ready to welcome baby into the world. And also a little bit nervous about it as well, to be honest.
What to do with the kids?!
The nervous feeling I had was more to do with our two preschool aged boys – about having them at the birth. We had a loose plan that my mother in law would come over and help take care of them during the labour. But, I wasn’t sure how they would react. They were 2.5 and almost 4 years at this time. Turns out they were fine, but it was unknowing that I was nervous about. I was actually hoping that baby would arrive at night and the boys would be in bed already!
So after the midwife’s visit I just pottered around the house. The tightening feelings started to get more intense as the afternoon went on, but not painful yet, just uncomfortable. So I was quite sure that it was the real deal LABOUR and not braxton hicks (given that I was only 38+3 at the time, I had thought that they possibly could be braxton hicks).
How exciting – our baby was on her way!
When Matt arrived home from work (around 5.15pm) I greeted him with:
“hey there, I’m pretty sure we’re gonna have a baby tonight!”
What a feeling – there was immediately such an air of excitement! And of course our two boys got wind of that and started asking “is baby arriving Mum?!” Aaaaaaand that’s all I heard from them for the next few hours haha.
They got on with putting up the birth pool while I concentrated on getting though the contractions, which by now were getting a bit painful. The kids were very excited to be helping.
I was also on the phone to my midwife letting her know that she’d better eat her dinner early if she could, so she could come round to our house soon! My previous labour had been so fast that she missed the birth, and I REALLY didn’t want a repeat of that.
I was also on the phone trying to get hold of my mother in law so she could come over and support our boys.
At about 5.30pm Matt suggested I start timing the contractions so we could give a bit of info to our midwife. Those kind of details just slip out of my head when I’m in labour. “Oh yeah”, I said. “Great idea, probably should be doing that already!” On with the contraction timer app (great having an app for this, so easy!)
I had borrowed a swiss ball, so I was sitting that sipping on water and having a bit of dinner when the midwife arrived. Her arrival made everything seem very real. She started with the routine obs of listening for baby’s heart rate using the doppler and measuring my pulse and blood pressure.
The second midwife arrived not long after and set up all their equipment (oxygen tank, resus equipment etc) and checked that mine (towels, heaters, baby clothes etc) was all ready too.
Meanwhile, Matt and the boys had been filling the birth pool with warm water for me. I vividly remember my eldest saying things like “Mum you’re gonna love this aren’t you!”, and “It’s ready!”. So adorable and it was delightful having him share our excitement.
Time to get into the pool…
Ahhh… the relief! That feeling of weightlessness, the ease of the warm water on my back and tummy. So good.
My eldest boy stayed beside me for a while, quite interested in what I was feeling and “is baby here yet Mum?” Haha, no son, you’ll know when she arrives!
As the contractions ramped up, I entered into a space in my own head of visualisation and breathing through the pain. My mother in law had arrived and between her and the midwives they were reading stories to the boys.
It was important to me that the boys were taken care of at that stage, because I needed all of my concentration to get through the contractions, which were very intense.
I had moved into kneeling in the birth pool. Matt was leaning over into the pool doing acupressure on my lower back at this stage.
The midwives were monitoring my blood pressure and baby’s heartbeat (using the foetal doppler) this whole time.
Next thing I knew, the contractions moved into feeling like I needed to push. “I’m feeling like I need to push now!” I told everyone. So PUSH I did.
I love that the midwives just gave me total control over the situation, just supporting me to do what my body indicated at the time. I asked for some guidance with breathing through the pushes, and Claire (my main midwife) was right there giving it.
I remember exclaiming “wow our baby’s coming, she’s coming!”, an indication of my surprise and delight that it had been another fast labour. As I gave those final few pushes, Claire could see that baby was emerging en-caul, which means amniotic membranes intact around her head. Sometimes these membranes break earlier on in labour. I reached down and could feel the membrane bulging.
Another intense push, and then she was born into the water at 7.22pm.
I remember vividly two things from this moment:
- looking down and seeing her for the first time, in front of me in the water, with the milky white membranes around her little face and shoulders.
- the midwife saying “you can pick your baby up now”
And so I scooped her up into my arms and cuddled her close. She was perfect! I just couldn’t stop exclaiming “you’re here now!” and “I can’t believe she came so fast!” to everyone.
Matt and the boys came in closer to meet baby. Our two year old just said “she got eyes Mama” and our four year old was pretty much enamoured, it was love at first sight.
I stayed in the pool holding her close and marvelling in her for a while, just drinking her in and enjoying the magic of the moment.
That amazing placenta…
After about 10 minutes I started to feel uncomfortable in the pool so with assistance I was able to step over the side onto the birthmat I’d prepared earlier, and then onto the couch. I still hadn’t birthed the placenta yet, so baby was still very much attached to me.
We decided to cut the cord so I could move freely to birth the placenta. So I did that and Matt was then able to have his first skin to skin meeting with baby.
The midwives assisted me to get into a kneeling position to birth the placenta, which came after a few massive pushes on my part. I always feel a bit ripped off that you have to push again to birth the placenta, after just having baby!
The midwives then examined the placenta with the “help” of my two wee boys. I will alway remember them being fascinated by it and it’s another reason why I’m glad they were there – enabling birth and all it entails to become normal for them. They still talk about this moment, almost a year on!
We sat on the couch cuddling and giving baby her first breastfeed for the next 45 minutes or so. It was such a relaxed special time. The boys would come over and visit occasionally, very interested in what baby was drinking. The midwives were measuring baby’s temperature frequently and keeping us both warm with towels. I had a bite to eat and a hot cuppa. Bliss!
So what next?
I had to get a few stitches so the midwives and I spent some time down in the master bedroom getting me sorted out. Matt and the extended family got to have lots of lovely cuddles with baby during this time. I had a lovely fresh shower after this. And some pain relief!
Meanwhile, while I was in the shower, the midwife examined baby. She was all fine except for a pronounced respiratory “snuffle” when she was breathing. We’re not sure what the cause of this was, but it was enough for the midwives to call the neonatal registrar at the hospital and have a phone consult with them.
The decision was made that we would have to take baby into NICU for a review.
Into hospital we go…
At the time, I was in autopilot and didn’t really have any disappointment about this decision. I’m quite a practical person, and all I would think of were the logistics of everything. We didn’t have our baby capsule ready, having loaned it out! So I had to quickly change from my comfy pyjamas and adjust one of our Diono convertible carseats to safely transport baby into hospital.
We went into hospital at 11pm, 3.5hours after she was born.
Her breathing was reviewed by the paediatric team at NICU and it was decided that we’d have to stay overnight in order for her breathing to be monitored overnight. She had an NG tube put down her nose and was hooked up to an oxygen tube, and bundled into an incubator.
It was all very full on and despite my midwife being beside us advocating for baby to room in with me, there weren’t any “rooming in” rooms available. So I had to sleep away from her that very first night.
Transition to a different model of care:
After having a wonderful empowering water birth at home, switching to being a “patient” in the hospital environment was a really tricky thing to do. Whilst baby was obviously getting the best care needed for her at the time, there were a couple of things about being in hospital that were a bit disappointing:
- the fact that baby was put on IV fluids without informing me first. This meant that after her airways cleared and she no longer needed oxygen supplementation, we still had to stay another overnight “because that’s protocol” after being on fluids.
- the NICU nurses telling me that I MUST pump every four hours “because that’s just what we do here”. Whereas baby was actually breastfeeding fine, after the first 12 hours.
- Having to ask (and wait) for painkillers to be charted to me. Whereas at home a mother is trusted to be in charge of her own pain relief.
- The NICU nurses telling me that she’d “grizzled herself to sleep” the second night we were in. I was so upset about this. Babies often have an unsettled night the second night of life. And I was quite aware of this and had asked them to call me when I was needed. If we had been at home she would have been sleeping right beside me and I could’ve fed her and cuddled her as needed.
(Bear in mind that I was in an emotional state after having just given birth and ending up in hospital. Some of these things may not seem a big deal to some, but to me at the time, they mattered a great deal!)
It was so hard to lose the autonomy and independence that you have at a home birth and switch over to having baby cared for by others.
In saying all of that, I am SO grateful that we had the care we needed to support us when we needed. She had definitely needed her oxygen monitored for the first 12 hours and I was thankful that we could access world class care so easily.
Home we go…
We stayed for two nights before we took her back home, airways and breathing clear and all healthy and happy.
It was four days before Christmas and we were delighted to be able to celebrate our first Christmas together as a family of five.
All in all, this little baby’s arrival was such an amazing experience.
A mix of the best of both worlds; showcasing the amazing empowering midwifery system we have here in NZ that DOES allow women to birth at home safely if they so choose to, and the top class medical wards that allow newborn babies to flourish with the best medical care when needed.
Baby is now 11 months old and it’s been wonderful for me to reflect on the time of her birth. This story is a way for me to contribute back to the amazing community of home birth families that exist here in New Zealand. Reading other home birth stories was so powerful for me in the lead up to planning our own. If you would like to know more then feel free to send me an email, or have a look at Homebirth Aotearoa’s website.