My Waterbirth 2VBAC At Home
Since becoming a Hypnobirthing Australia Practitioner three years ago and learning so much about physiological birth and the many, benefits of continuity of care with a midwife, I knew that when my third baby was to finally come along, I would choose a Private Midwife (also known as an Independent Midwife). The thought of seeing one person for my entire pregnancy, birth and postpartum period was appealing and having all appointments at home was the icing on the cake. My first two births were in the private system and I wanted to experience true continuity of care.
When I was about six weeks pregnant, I reached out to Melissa from Midwives Perth for an appointment. I had read about Melissa for years. She was the VBAC guru, had supported a couple of friends through their births and was recommended by my hypnobirthing colleagues so meeting with her was a no brainer. At our first appointment, Melissa asked about my previous births and what I wanted this time. My plan for baby number three "go to the hospital, have the baby then go straight home" is what I told her. Melissa has admitting rights at King Edward Memorial Hospital (KEMH) so the plan was to have all my antenatal and postnatal care at home but just birth in the hospital and all going well, I'd be home in my bed within six hours of the birth. Having all my antenatal appointments at home was the best! No driving to the hospital, paying for parking, waiting in waiting rooms with the kids (or asking Grandma to babysit) all for a quick 5-10 minute appointment. My appointments with Melissa were booked at times that suited me, with the kids home, with my husband Ben home, sitting at the dining table. My appointments would take around 45-60 minutes each time. They were nice and informal. We'd chat about me, my plans for the birth then we'd usually spend a good chunk of the visit just talking about birth in general. I learnt so much from her. I'd ask questions about things my clients had referenced, things I had read online or in the paper and of course, we'd have a whinge about the obstetric culture of today. Before she would go we would finish off with all the clinical necessities (doppler to check baby, blood pressure, urine test etc). After each appointment, I'd feel excited for my birth. I loved the matter-of-fact, casualness of Melissa's attitude around birth. It was after all just another bodily function. I loved that Melissa loved science. Loved evidence. I love my birth stats and approach birth in a methodical, logical way. She wasn't fluffy or coddling and I liked that. I had briefly entertained the idea of a home birth. Something I had never been interested in before (the clean-up put me off) but it's not something my husband and I had ever discussed and I thought it would be too hard to change both of our mindsets now.
Then COVID-19 happened.
The future was looking grim. Perth was in isolation. KEMH were preparing for a potential onslaught of COVID-19 positive mums. Hospitals were placing restrictions on birthing mums, their partners, their support. I started to think that having the baby at home would be the smart decision. Away from the sick people. I think I was about 30 weeks when I told Melissa at one of my appointments that I feel safer having the baby at home instead of the hospital. Ben was a little shocked. This is not something we had really ever discussed before. He has always supported me in any decisions I have made regarding my births but I also wanted him to feel comfortable so I asked him if he wanted to see any research on home birth stats in Australia but he said no, he knows I'm such a birth nerd that I wouldn't do anything that wasn't backed by evidence or cause any additional risk to myself and our baby. So with only a couple of months to go, I started mentally preparing to have our baby at home. I got really excited! Melissa dropped off the birth pool and we set it up when I was about 38 weeks. Ben had a few practical jobs to sort out; how to fill the birth pool and keep it hot and sort out some drop sheets for the floor.
We met with Peta from Hand In Hand Midwives, another lovely Midwife who would also be at my birth and has worked very closely with Melissa for years. We were in such good hands. I continued on with my birth preparation; my hypnobirthing tools, pregnancy yoga, chiropractic care and acupuncture (I'll detail all of this in a separate blog). My birth space was in our home theatre room. I'd prepared it with LED candles and battery-operated fairy lights. Ben and I ran through all the different scenarios of what to do if labour started in the middle of the night, at dinner time, in the morning and what we would do with our two older children. We were ready.
Each night while watching telly, Ben would help me with acupressure points SP-6 on my leg and BL-32 on my back, designed to help soften and efface the cervix. He was well practiced in all the other points we were going to use in labour.
My EDD was July 3rd and my first baby was born at 40 weeks and my second at 39+2 so I knew labour was close as the date approached. My first baby was born by emergency caesarean after 24+ hours of labour and we’d been awake for over 40 hours by that point so we started off our parenting journey completely exhausted. My second baby, while labour was nice and quick, was born at 7am so again, awake overnight and pretty tired. When I was first pregnant this time, I’d said to Ben that we needed to manifest a day time labour. A full nights sleep, labour then a baby. We laughed and scoffed at the thought knowing that babies are most often born (or at least laboured) in the dark, while both secretly hoping it would happen.
Five days before my EDD pre-labour started. Every night I was woken with cramping and tightening on and off. It would last for hours but never intensified so after the second night, I'd put a Hypnobirthing Australia track on and force myself to go to sleep. This worked a treat. My mind was calm and relaxed, yet I was so excited to meet my baby soon.
So, fast forward to 39+6 with four nights of pre-labour under my belt. I assumed tonight would be no exception. I woke at 2am with the usual pre-labour but went back to sleep. Woke again at 4am, this time with back pain. This was different. It was constant and increased in intensity laying down so I hopped on the floor and rested my head on my bed, popped my headphones on and listened to the Baby Come Out track, rubbed some clary sage on my belly and tried to rest/sleep. Ben, usually a deep-sleeper, had been sleeping light all week and woke up after a while. I told him what had been going on, said it could still be pre-labour but got him to pop the TENS machine on anyway. I was looking forward to the sun rising as I’d know for sure if labour was the real deal if it kept going in daylight.
At about 6am, we could hear both the kids awake which is unusual for them to be up that early so we got up and had weetbix together. The kids were excited it was the last day of school and a free dress day. I was still experiencing surges while getting them ready so I was pretty confident it was labour at that point. They were really manageable and the kids didn’t even notice anything was going on as I was easily able to breathe through them. Ben had a dentist appointment booked mid-morning and he remarked that he might not make the appointment. It was 90 mins before his appointment at that stage and I said of course he’d still make it. I sent a text to Melissa at 8am to let her know I was in early labour and gave her a bit of an update and told her I’d be in touch. I kissed the kids goodbye and Ben left to drop them at school at 8.30am. With the kids out of the house, things started to intensify. I used the TENS machine and my surge breathing during each surge. I sent a text to my mum letting her know I thought I was in early labour and to be on alert in case we needed her to get the kids from school. Melissa called at 9am to see how I was and I said I was still managing fine at that point but things were increasing. She was on her way to another appointment but said she would turn around and wait at her house in case. Ben got home just after 9am. I said hello, asked him to fill the birth pool (I knew it could take a while) and to cancel his dentist appointment.
With the birth pool full of hot water and covered with a tarp, I set myself up in my birth space and got in the zone. I was leaning on a fitball during surges and Ben would give me acupressure on my lower back (BL-32) while I breathed slow and used the TENS machine. Between my surges I felt great. I didn’t feel like I was in active labour at that point. We had my birth playlist playing on Spotify (think Mumford & Sons, Lana Del Ray, Matt Corby, Florence & The Machine etc) and Ben reminded me to take sips of water. I've got this.
At 10.30am I sent Melissa another text with an update and she asked if I wanted her to come over now. Ben and I chatted and I said I thought it was still too early and that she might get all the way here and end up going home again. Ben said that didn’t matter and to ask her to come.
Melissa arrived at 11am with all of her supplies and started setting up in the lounge room (she comes with a full suite of ‘just-in case’ emergency equipment and medications). I popped out of the theatre room to say hello and she asked how I was feeling - I was feeling good. I STILL didn't think I was in active labour. I retreated back to the theatre room with Ben when I felt the next surge coming on. By this stage they were getting very intense and I was really having to focus on slowing my breathing down. I really, really wanted to get in the water but knew if I hopped in too early, labour could slow and at this stage, I still thought I was in early labour. At some point, I heard Ben tell me that Peta had arrived. He was telling me this to encourage me as typically the second Midwife doesn’t arrive until baby time. Still not thinking I was close to having the baby, I can remember wondering why she was there. I thought perhaps she was just in the area and decided to pop in haha. Between my surges I was now just resting on the fit ball. The surges were intense and the TENS and acupressure point BL-32 on my back was providing so much relief - so much so that when Ben ducked out of the room I really noticed the intensity increase quite quickly.
11.30am Melissa told me after the surge was over, I needed to hop into the pool. Yes!!! This is what I had been waiting for. Having read about the benefits of water immersion for years and so many water birth birth stories from my clients about how amazing it is, I was so excited to get in. The relief was instant. The water was nice, hot and so relaxing. My surges slowed a little before picking up again and I asked Ben to pass me one of my Airpods and I listened to 'Surge of the Sea'. This helped me to regulate my breathing once the surges were over so I stayed nice and relaxed leaning over the edge of the birth pool. Several times I felt my head nodding as I was falling asleep! Ben was in front of me the whole time and during surges he was reminding me to breathe nice and slow and that every surge was one step closer to meeting our baby.
I was getting a lot of pressure in my bottom now and started grunting during surges. Unbeknownst to me at the time, this was the bearing down urge but I didn’t recognise it at the time as it felt different to when I birthed my second baby on land. Because of this it meant I was breathing my baby down, not pushing. Throughout my time in the water Melissa was sitting close by and would intermittently monitor the baby’s heartbeat with a doppler. I can remember moving my legs to get into different squat type positions instinctively. I was free to do whatever I needed. With the pressure in my bottom at its most intense, Melissa was using a torch and mirror behind me to see what was going on during surges, she told me the baby was sitting right there and if I pushed a little she would come out. I remember thinking 'OMG, really!' I still didn’t think I was this close to birthing my baby. So with the next surge I started to bear down. I remember reaching down to try and feel the baby but I couldn’t feel her yet. I did the same with the next surge but this time I could feel her head emerging. It felt good! I was so close. I reached down to touch her head and remember being a little shocked by what I felt. I had forgotten my membranes were still intact so it felt a little different to what I was expecting. I remember noticing the crowning sensation but I was surprised that it didn’t hurt and certainly wasn’t the ‘ring of fire’ people talk about (I assume the water helped with that!). With the next surge I beared down again and felt her head pop out. Relief! Her membranes released and with it meconium stained amniotic fluid gushed into the pool. Her body slid out and I reached down and pulled her out of the water and straight onto my chest.
12.26pm "She's here. I did it." I thought. I sat back on the edge of the pool while she had a cry and my mind returned to the present. It was quiet. There was no rushing, no noise, no one touching me. We sat in the warm water for a while, my new baby snuggled into me and she eventually had her first feed. I had a juice and the four of us were chatting while we waited for my placenta. I hadn't felt it come down yet and we were nearing the 50 minute mark now so Melissa suggested I actively try and push it out. Two or three easy pushes later and out it came. We popped it in a container and it floated in the water while Melissa checked it over. Placentas are absolutely fascinating. I love seeing the membranes where my little people were protected for the last 9 months.
The water wasn't as warm now so I was ready to get out of the pool and onto the couch for more cuddles. Just over an hour after she was born and with her cord now white and flat, we decided to tie it off and cut it.
After baby was separated from her cord and had another feed it was time for Ben to have his first cuddles. Melissa and Peta were packing away and cleaning up in the meantime and emptied the pool via a pump onto the back garden. Peta left after a short while and it was getting close to school pick up time. They were going to get a BIG shock when they got home :) Melissa had said we could wait until they got home before we weighed and measured baby so the kids could be involved which was great. Ben ducked out to get the kids and I had my phone ready to video the moment they walked in and saw me holding their new baby sister. It was awesome! Their little faces when they saw her were priceless. They had their first cuddles then baby was weighed and measured before Melissa left then we all moved to the lounge room, sat on the couch together eating burgers we ordered from Uber Eats like any old day except there was one more. It was such a magical moment.
That day. The birth, was such a non-event. In such a good way. Melissa and Peta were so non-chalant. I was literally left to do what my body knew it had to. I didn't have a single vaginal exam my entire pregnancy or birth. It felt like a normal, ordinary day. That night, with the older kids tucked into bed, Ben and I sat on the couch watching telly, just like the nights before, except this night we had our baby girl in our arms.
Photos courtesy of Ben, Melissa & Peta. Edited by Amber from Amber May Birth Photography