My knowledge of “home birthing” was confined to my mother’s tales of how her then 15 year old aunt helped to deliver her on my Granny’s kitchen floor so like many mums when I discovered I was pregnant, the concept of having a home birth was not something that had entered my head, even though I wasn’t happy with the hospital birth I had experienced with my first child.
It was only when said mother mentioned that the daughter of family friends had had a home birth that I thought, hmm interesting I must look into that. And so my journey began.
A quick internet search led me to www.homebirth.ie – the website of the Home Birth Association of Ireland, where I spent a long time reading about why women chose a home birth, the process involved, reading articles and looking at facts and figures. Myself and my husband sat and talked about it and while at first, a bit daunted by the idea he promised to do his own research into it and we’d talk again. It was as much out of the blue for him as for me.
Between us we decided that we would like to explore our options more and so I rang the Home Birth Association to ask about the next step. They told me to contact independent local midwives. Being in Carlow, Dublin was the nearest port of call. I rang around and found a midwife who agreed to travel to our home to meet with us and talk us through the process. I told my family about our plans and although supportive, it’s safe to say they were definitely nervous so I asked my mum to come along to the meeting with the midwife and to ask any questions and share concerns she might have.
At the appointed time our doorbell rang and Philomenia Canning (Philo as we affectionately call her) walked into our lives, a tall, strong, confident woman and within minutes of meeting her I could picture her at the birth of my baby, encouraging and supporting me and I knew this was the right decision for me. She outlined the process to us, explaining the concept of homebirth, of giving ownership of the birthing process back to women, of not viewing healthy pregnancy and birth as something to be managed but rather as a naturally occuring process during which the mum and baby learn to know and trust their bodies.
I mention healthy pregnancy, as one of the first things Philo stressed to us was that home birth was only an option where mum and baby are not sick and do not require medical intervention. However in the instance of becoming ill during pregnancy Philomenia’s exact words were “I am not what you need” – so I knew from the off if I or my baby were at any stage unwell or at risk during pregnancy, then our care would be transferred to a hospital where we would receive the necessary treatment and home birth would no longer be an option for us.
We asked Philomenia to be our midwife after this first meeting. We knew it was the right fit for our family. I had a very healthy pregnancy with my first son but an induction and bad reaction to an epidural, as well as not feeling listened to during his birth left me feeling disempowered. I hated being left in hospital – torn, tired, sore and alone with my new baby simply because visiting time was over and my husband had to go home. I remember him phoning me from the waiting room the morning after our son was born to say that he wasn’t being allowed in because visiting hadn’t started and we were both so upset that he couldn’t be there to share as much time as possible with his own son. It didn’t and doesn’t make any sense to me that the very person you have chosen to have a child with, the person whose support and encouragement you need most at the birth of your child should have restrictions put on their involvement in the process.
Also a contributing factor for me was that we had chosen to see a consultant privately and after paying him €4,000, he was not present at the birth and our son was delivered by an extemely competent midwife.
Our next step was to contact the HSE and inform them of our decision as they provide some of the funding to pay independent midwives. They also carry out a risk assesment and have a criteria that you must meet in order to qualify for a home birth. I found some of the questions, particuarly in relation to ease of access for an ambulance to our home a little sobering and at times felt that everyone bar the army would be on stand by for our babies birth. I booked in with a local hospital also in the eventuality that either myself of babs did need to transfer our care.
After being accepted we told family and friends, who were very open minded about our decision and asked lots of questions which I found great as it made me really think about my reasons for choosing a home birth and over the months I have read so many articles and talked to other mums about their expereinces I got a few negative comments about the risks involved but I know that anyone who knows me knows I would never endanger a child, never mind one of my own children and so I took it on the chin in so far as possible. While the norm up to 2 generations ago, home birthing is not something people know a whole lot about in modern society and so ignorance can be bliss but I know if people choose to look at the research and outcomes for mums but more particularly babies they will see that the real risk to a healthy baby very often comes from unnecessary medical intervention into a natural process.
Philomenaa came to our home on a monthly basis, until the last 4-6 weeks when she came every week. It meant I could be at home with my now toddler son and he was very involved in the measuring of my tummy, checking my blood pressure and hearing his baby brother or sisters heart beat. He talked about the baby constantly and I really feel built a bond with the baby before he/she arrived.
On the day of my daughter’s birth, I woke feeling back pain. Ireland were playing Australia in the Rugby World Cup and we were up early to shout at the TV in the local golf club. I was uncomfortable but not alarmingly so. We then went shopping. We were due to attend a family wedding that afternoon and I had my stilettos at the ready but something urged me to stay at home and so after a lie down I told my husband to go and I’d stay at home with my feet up and catch up on Dr. Phil!! Himself and our son headed off. In hindsight I knew I was in labour. I had everything ready for our birth even though it was a few days before “due date”. My son had arrived at 37 weeks. As the afternoon progressed I started becoming more aware of mild contractions but predominantly back pain. By late afternoon I started to pay attention to the space between them. By 6 O’clock I was down to every 15-20 minutes and decided to go for a bath to ease out my back.
At 7pm I rang both Philomena and my husband to tell them things were starting. I didn’t feel any sense of urgency and Philomena said to ring her back in an hour. I told my husband there was no rush.
I rang my sister who lives close by and asked her to come and keep me company as I knew things were happening. She arrived armed with chocolate and DVDs for us to relax and read but at that stage I was pacing and asked her to help me fill the birthpool.
By 8 things were well underway and Philo said she’d come down. My husband also said he was on the way. My mum had come over and herself and my sister were frantically filling the pool with all manner of pots and pans as I listened to hypnobirthing on my ipod, trying to rest on couch. Bouncing on my exercise ball was no longer comfortable and stupidly I had put oil on my lower back to ease it out and then couldn’t adhere the pads of the tens machine. The fire was lighting, I had candles lighting and lavendar burning and apart from my mum and sister chatting the atmosphere was lovely and calm. I had to ask them to stop chatting and asking me questions as I just wanted to focus on my body.
Just after 9 o’clock my waters broke as my husband and son arrived home. I panicked a little bit at that stage as I was gripped by a contraction and didn’t want my son to see my upset so I asked my mum to take him to her house, next door. I remember my husband was in this pristine white suit and he took off his cuff links and rolled up his sleeves. It made me laugh. At this stage my sister had rung Philomena to say my waters had gone. I was having very strong urges to push, again through my back.
I spoke with Philo who said she was bombing it down the motorway but that we should call an ambulance. I remember feeling anxious about this as I knew the baby was coming and I really didn’t want to birth in the back of the ambulance en route to hospital. I climbed into my lovely warm peaceful birth pool and felt instant releif wash over me. However I was only submerged a minute when Philomena advised me to get out of the pool as it was becoming more apparent that I was looking at an unassisted birth.
I moved to the couch, on hands and knees and began to naturally sway my hips back and forth. At this stage Philo had told my sister that she wouldn’t make it as she could hear how close I was to birthing. I panicked when I heard this but I took a big deep breath, concentrated on my body and told myself “You can do this”. Calm came over me and I instinctively knew my baby and my body knew what to do.
My husband was on the phone to the ambulance guy who was telling him how to prepare to catch the baby. He kept asking me stupid questions like “How is she feeling now”. I asked my husband several times to please hang up. I just wanted peace and wanted to concentrate on what Philomena was saying. My husband said he needed the ambulance man. He was very calm and said he was getting very good advice and wanted to stay on the phone to him.
I felt like I was going to vomit and asked my sister for a basin and a wet cloth for my face. She was fantastic, wiping my face and encouraging me while Philomena told me how well I was doing and how close I was. After one big push I was able to reach down and feel the silky head of my baby. It was incredible. Philomena told me that in another big push the head would be out and then I was so, so close but as it happened one big push and my baby was born into her daddy’s arms at 27 minutes past 9. He told me we had a baby girl and passed her through to me, where I held her in my arms, overcome by it all. She was tiny and so calm and absolutely perfect.
I sat on the couch with her on my chest, allowing the cord to pulse and she made little cooing sounds. Within minutes the ambulance arrived. I asked them not to turn on the lights. They peered at baby but did not touch her. They asked would I like to cut the cord and I said no. Philomena arrived a minute later and assured them that I was perfect and they left. The afterbirth was coming then and Philomenia took baby while it passed. She was fantastic, so in control, helping me shower and dress and having my husband make me tea and toast while my sister cleaned up. I remember being in the shower and she was washing me and helping me to warm up as I was in a bit of shock.
When I came out of the shower most of the cleaning up was done and I was able to relax on the couch with my new daughter. We rang my mum to see if our son was still up but he was asleep. Mum came in, armed with a pot of curry!! Philo did all our checks. I had no tears and baby Evie was perfect. My mum and sister left and myself and Philomena had a good chat. We were both trying to process the whole event and obviously for her to miss the birth is hugely disappointing as she is such a huge part of it. We discussed how we might have done things differently but ultimately I had the birth of my dreams.
I absolutely loved going up to bed with my husband and my new baby and cuddling all night. They both slept right through and I just watched them, amazed by it all. My daughter took to breastfeeding straight away. Her big brother climbed into our bed the next morning and it just felt so, so right. Perfect.
The follow up care, support and advice were unbelieveable. Philomena could not have done more for us. It was different than leaving one of the country’s maternity hospitals with no breastfeeding support first time round and thinking that my husband physically putting my breast into our son’s mouth was successful feeding. I felt so relaxed at home, friends are family were able to visit and I was in my own little home birth bubble. It was an incredible experience. Hopefully in the future I will get to experience a wonderful water birth. It makes me sad to see home birth services so underresourced and under threat. I can only hope that if the time comes for another pregnancy I won’t have to fight for my right’s to have the birth I desire.
All birth stories and images featured in 42 weeks have been generously shared by members of the public in Ireland. If you would like to take part and share your story, we would love to hear from you. Get in touch through the website http://www.42weeks.ie, through Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/42weeks or follow us on Twitter at @42_weeks.