In April this year (2013) my wife Rochelle gave birth to our beautiful daughter Arya at our home in Auckland. Huge feelings of joy, relief, happiness, and love have come over me since then and an overwhelming sense of pride in myself and Rochelle for having brought a beautiful new being into this world, our way.
If you had asked me just six months ago if I would have considered a home birth, I would have looked at you like you were mad. My father was born in National Women’s, I was born there, my two other kids were born there.
That is what happens, babies are born in hospital and I certainly wouldn’t want to risk anything happening to my precious daughter or wife. Heck, the fact that we had a midwife instead of an obstetrician was cause for concern enough in my circle of influence.
On the suggestion of a friend we attended a workshop at Auckland Hypnobirthing and it opened my eyes to an entirely different way to look at birthing. Hypnobirthing has nothing to do with Home Birth by the way – it is more about using the natural resources women already possess to have a gentle birth experience. What I got for myself was way more powerful; the realisation that I had bought into the collective social fear that exists around one of the most fundamental and natural things we do as a species on this earth – birthing new life.
It was the first few chapters of the Hypnobirthing book by Marie Mongan that changed my mind completely. Early last century a doctor name Dick-Read was called out to a birth in a poor part of London and immediately offered the women chloroform, pain relief of the day. The woman refused, and with some gentle breathing gave birth to her child with no fuss or noise. The good doctor asked her afterwards why she refused and she replied “It didn’t hurt. It wasn’t supposed to, was it Doctor?” Many other positive experiences later the doctor wrote a paper called the “Fear-Tension-Pain Syndrome” and it was this that made total sense to me. His premise is “that fear is the cause of tension within the body and in particular the uterus, and that tension inhibits the natural process, prolonging labour and causing pain”. Bang, there it was right there for me, it made total sense, tense up and injury, pain or trauma can happen (or be worse than it would otherwise be). Relax and our bodies have an amazing capacity (coupled with endorphins, our built in natural pain relief is as powerful as any medical version) to do incredible things.
So this got me thinking. How could I create the most relaxed environment for Rochelle to have a gentle birthing experience? Home. The only place where we could both feel relaxed and in our own world and the more we looked into it the more obvious it became. What also dawned on me, was that if it wasn’t for the strength of my ancestors, generations of women tracing back thousands of years, the majority giving birth in their homes, probably in basic conditions, I wouldn’t be here.
It is amazing the amount of time spent preparing for the birth, in reality just a second in the life of our child, but we spent time most days for 3 months preparing ourselves for a calm birth. We also delved a lot more into the effect fear has on birth now-a-days. You can’t escape the movies or TV shows of women screaming in pain in the final minutes. And there is the well-intended advice of friends and family to ‘take the drugs’. FEAR, False Expectations Appearing Real drives so much of who we are as a society it is often hard to see the real truth and touch the deeper innate wisdom we all have inside.
There is definitely a place for the medical system, but on our journey we discovered a couple of other concerning things. Men being allowed into the birthing room has been a huge breakthrough in the last 30 years but, significantly it has co-related with an increased amount of times women are now given pain relief. And while not proven, many suggest that there has been an unconscious side-effect to ‘tone-down’ the birth experience because partners didn’t want to see their spouses in pain.
What happens next is also well discussed, true in my opinion and I am sure open to scrutiny. But the minute any type of intervention is introduced into the birthing process, the mother’s body ceases to be able to do what it was designed to do and things often escalate to emergency situations. The introduction of drugs effects the natural hormones, the endorphins, causing the mother to tense rather than relax. The baby suddenly gets its first dose of something different, can get distressed and often ends up as an emergency. One could argue that it was lucky the birth was in the hospital, and that is of course sometimes true, but given a more relaxed birthing experience, it may also have prevented many negative birth experiences as well. Intervention can often lead to further intervention.
We ended up not telling many people about our plan for a home birth because of the fear based reactions of friends and family. While we did our best not to lie in the weeks before, it was certainly hard to remain focused on what we wanted. Every single person asks ‘have you packed your bag yet for hospital?’ While this is generally a throwaway line, it became a little harder to ignore, and at some stage we relented and did in fact pack a bag. I admit that every now and then some sticky fear would ooze up from the dark depths of my sub-conscious, playing in the shadows of my past beliefs. But each time, by shining some light on this fear, acknowledging it, loving, trusting, I knew from deep in my bones that we were on the right path.
Our due date came and went and the days ticked by. At 7 days over our midwife started talking inducement because ‘they’ don’t like the mother to go beyond 14 days. The big ‘they’ was the hospital, a place we wanted to avoid like the plague. We became a little resigned to that possibly being our destiny despite all the preparation, and a discussion with our midwife lead to more stress, the very thing we were working hard to avoid. We requested that if we had inducement we wanted the right to just have the minimum, and the right to stop at any time when the body took over. But we were informed that the hospital has it’s ‘protocols’ and that once certain things started, one after the other will follow including increasing dosages, and interventions until birth. Because induction speeds up the birthing process it inevitably leads to needing pain relief.
There was that fear thing again, we didn’t want to end up in that situation, I mean how can anyone have a relaxing birth in a hospital? People go to hospital when they are sick, birth is about joy and new life and nothing about the induction process seems supports that.
What happened next? Well we found a home birth midwife who was willing to support us going a little over the magic 42 weeks and the relief we believe, funnily enough brought on labor the next day. Rochelle started feeling surges (contractions) around 2pm and between them did some final nesting around the home. They got more intense by 6pm and we spent the next 4 hours doing the best to breathe through them, find a place to stand, squat and sit. Our midwife came at midnight and I had prepared the water bath, Rochelle got in and we spent the next couple of hours going deeper into relaxation. It was definitely a joint effort, Rochelle doing the work and me reminding her to breathe. By the way we had two midwives present at this stage, one to look after Rochelle and one for baby.
At around 2.45 it became clear Rochelle was a little too relaxed, so we helped her to move out of the bath and within minutes baby was right there, ready to come. What happened next was where the months of preparation paid off. Rochelle was ready to have the baby right then, so we got back in the bath and with gentle encouragement from our midwife slowed the process right down. Literally breathing the baby out, no screaming, no drama just mother and baby working together. It was simply beautiful. Our daughter Arya was born and immediately placed on Rochelle’s chest where she stayed and bonded for 30 minutes with her mum in the water. As I said earlier, I am so proud of Rochelle, the midwife and also myself for working through my own fears, challenging my beliefs and finally experiencing total bliss.
I want to finish off by talking about water births. When we first started looking at one that old friend fear again popped up. I could just see the baby coming out and taking what was supposed to be her first breath to be drowned in the pool. I have spoken to other people who have the same feeling. What really happens is the baby feels the water as an extension of the womb and as we experienced, with just her head out and in the water for about a minute, her breathing system didn’t kick in until she was out of the water. A few coughs and splutters later and a new life was ready to start her journey on this earth.
I wanted to share our story in the hopes that other soon to be parents might consider for a moment, looking past their own judgements, their beliefs and deep into their own fears and find what I found. To trust that a woman’s body and her baby are created with all the tools needed to have a safe, gentle and natural birth; mother and child working in beautiful harmony with nature to create new life.