Our third pregnancy surprised us. My youngest was only 10 months and was still breastfeeding. We had always planned a third child, and were ecstatic. From the start I was considering making this our first home birth. Our first birth in February 2010 took place in the consultant-led unit of Our Lady of Lourdes. It was an induction at 42 weeks, and I had found it quite tough. We felt railroaded into purple pushing, assuming the doctor’s preferred position (on my back) and then ended up with episiotomy and ventouse. We were quite shocked for days after that birth, as we had spent the pregnancy preparing for birth in the MLU and using GentleBirth techniques. Our second birth was in December 2011 in the MLU in Cavan. A very different story – I awoke a little after 1:30am thinking I might be feeling something. Arrived at the MLU fully dilated at 3:30am and baby was in my arms by 4am.
If there’s one thing I learned about this pregnancy it was to book your midwife as soon as that extra line appears on your test! It took me until 8 weeks gestation to start ringing around and I was aghast at the lack of availability. I estimated that I was due around the 8th July and the two Dublin midwives I had heard so many good reports of were both on holidays. Two others had retired / stopped taking on clients. Due to the speed of my first labour I knew I wanted someone who wouldn’t be too far away. I phoned one of my local La Leche League leaders, whom I knew had had homebirths, and she suggested a local midwife that I had heard had semi-retired to concentrate on another profession. Happily it turned out she was still taking on clients, although she already had one for the end of June and another for the 6th July. She was reluctant to take someone else so close to those due dates. I pleaded long gestation (previous two pregnancies had been 42 and 41 weeks) and since I wasn’t sure of my dates perhaps she’d speak to me again after a dating scan. She tentatively agreed to this. In early January she phoned to say she would take me on as I client and we were thrilled.
I found it great to have something concrete to focus on, such as blowing out that breath. Concentrating on allowing the baby to move down and work his way out also helped we to relax my pelvic area, rather than resist what I was feeling.
The rest of our pregnancy went smoothly for the most part. We temporarily thought the baby might make an early appearance at 35 weeks, when I started having back pain and irregular contractions. A trace in the hospital showed 3 contractions in every ten minutes, but an internal exam indicated I wasn’t in labour. A course of antibiotics and lots of rest sorted me out. Most likely a UTI caused the contractions. The baby had also dropped and was quite well engaged from 36/37 weeks. I felt sure this baba wouldn’t keep us waiting as long as my previous two had.
We enjoyed gathering everything for the homebirth. A lovely homebirthing mama had given us a birthpool. I had a lovely labour blend of essential oils from my reflexologist. I had my gym ball and a beanbag. Lots of towels and blankets set aside. I picked out some nice fairy lights and candles and did up a new playlist of my favourite classical music to listen to during labour. It was wonderful to be able to plan a space to birth it, and not rely on the luck of the draw of whatever hospital room we ended up in.
My due date came and went, which was an all too familiar feeling! Unfortunately for me it was also coinciding with the biggest heatwave I can remember. Not being a sun worshipper at the best of times I did not enjoy seeing temperatures soaring to 30 degrees and beyond. My feet swelled up (although thankfully blood pressure stayed down) and I felt massively uncomfortable. I continued with reflexology and acupuncture. I knew labour wasn’t far off but as 41 weeks loomed I felt anxious for things to get started.
On Sunday 14th July, at 41 weeks exactly, I awoke feeling emotional. I hadn’t slept well and when my two girls got up at their usual time of 7:30 I burst into tears. My husband took them downstairs so I could get some rest, which I did. I felt a bit better after a sleep, but remained tearful throughout the day. This was exactly how I had felt the day before I went into labour with my second daughter, so I was hoping it was a sign of the change in hormones. We had a nice afternoon, went to a coffee shop and then grocery shopping. As soon as we walked in the door of Tesco’s I felt a lot of pressure and started getting pains in my upper legs. I took my eldest daughter to ride on one of the machines, as I couldn’t face walking up and down the aisles. I had planned to go swimming after this in the hope it would help my swollen feet with the added bonus of helping baby get nicely positioned, so off I went. The whole time I was swimming my upper legs felt achy, which was another symptom I’d had the day before I went into labour with my second daughter. I was really hoping these were signs of something, but when I got home I felt well with no aches and pains. I busied myself cleaning the kitchen and sent some emails and went off to bed around midnight with no signs of anything.
As it turns out labour was just around the corner. It was following the pattern of my second labour to a tee, down to the time I woke up at! At 1:15am or so I awoke feeling ‘something’. I went to the bathroom and had a very slight show, so I knew things were getting underway. I lay down and opened a contraction timer app on my iPhone. I had 3 surges lasting a minute each and about 3-5 minutes apart. I had a very strong feeling that I would be well underway before long. My first two labours had intensified very quickly from the first surges, so I instructed my husband to ring our midwife, Susan, and begin preparations. It was now 1:40am. I told the midwife a little fib that I’d been having surges for an hour or so, as I felt a bit foolish ringing after only 3! But I just knew that it would be best if she got here sooner than later. My husband then rang his parents, who were coming up in their campervan to park outside. They would sleep there for the night, and be on call if my girls awoke or if we needed to be transferred to hospital.
It was like trying to swim against a tsunami. It was a true force of nature and there was no slowing it down or holding it off.
And so we began preparing the birth space. Contractions were coming regularly but were plenty manageable for the time being. I put some of my essential oils on a cloth and breathed them in during each surge, and leaned over my ball. My husband, Billy got the room ready. We were using a shower curtain on the floor, and had lots of old towels ready to go. He lit the candles and put on my playlist, prepared a space for the midwife to set up her things and brought down the changing mat and baby clothes. For the next half hour or so I didn’t need any assistance to breathe through the surges. The midwife and in-laws arrived at exactly the same moment, around 2:10am. Susan busied herself unpacking her bags and preparing everything for the birth. Around this point I asked Billy to get the heat pack and start applying counter pressure to my lower back during surges. This was a tremendous relief to the pressure I was feeling. I remained on all fours, leaning over the ball. Coming up to 2:30am or so I was finding it more difficult to breathe easily through the surges and found myself making some low noises at the peak of the contraction.
Susan needed to run through her observations – taking my blood pressure, temperature, checking baby’s heart rate and so on. Everything was fine, but I was finding it difficult to remain still. She thought it was time to do an internal exam, and the minute I lay down on my back I found it much harder to cope. She began the examination as soon as one surge finished, but then almost immediately another strong surge came. It was all I could do to remain lying down! As soon as she finished another very strong surge swept over me and I had to drop to my knees. The pressure was tremendous. Susan looked concerned and I asked her how dilated I was. I expected to be nearing full dilation, so I was shocked to hear only 3-4cm! She said the cervix was very soft however. This was a little after 2:50am.
I felt like I desperately needed to use the bathroom and so off I went, with my poor husband bringing a cloth along to mop my brow. As soon as I sat on the toilet the surges started coming back to back. The intensity was almost overpowering, and I felt I was losing my focus and trying to resist them rather than riding them out. Susan and my husband helped bring this focus back by reminding me to blow out my breath during the surge and to let baby do the work. I found it great to have something concrete to focus on, such as blowing out that breath. Concentrating on allowing the baby to move down and work his way out also helped we to relax my pelvic area, rather than resist what I was feeling.
I feel this is where having a homebirth really comes into its own. I was able to stretch out on my own comfortable couch, cuddling my newborn baby. My husband brought us all tea and toast from the kitchen and then drew a bath. Susan did the weights and measures while we were having tea.
At this point Susan was anxious to get me back into the living room. I was definitely making some noise and she was concerned that I might wake the girls, who were upstairs asleep. I knew I was also making some ‘bearing down’ noises which was greatly concerning her as I hadn’t been near full dilation just a few minutes earlier. It’s only about ten paces from the bathroom to the living room door, but it may as well have been ten miles. I would take a step, only to be on my hands and knees as another surge hit. It was like trying to swim against a tsunami. It was a true force of nature and there was no slowing it down or holding it off. With immense effort I managed to waddle the last few steps in the door, and as I did another surge took hold and back I went to my hands and knees. This one was different however, and I felt the baby’s head move right down. I felt such relief as I leaned over my husband. Susan asked me not to push for a moment while she checked what was what. The head, we found out later, had emerged with the bag of waters still intact around it. Susan ruptured the membranes to check his position. All was well and so I was given the all clear to push away on the next contraction and out slithered our baby boy, just inside our living room door at 3:10am!
After the intensity of the previous 20 minutes, such a sense of peace settled over me. Our little man, Éanna Gibbons was with us and was perfect in every way. We had wonderful skin to skin and he had his first feed immediately. Once the cord stopped pulsating Billy cut it and then took his son for skin-to-skin while I concentrated on birthing the placenta. I had chosen a natural third stage, but was also anxious to get that business out of the way so I could concentrate on my newborn. I felt it might encourage it along if I went back up onto all fours over the ball. It took another 20 minutes or so, but eventually the placenta came away without too much fuss and my labour was finished.
I feel this is where having a homebirth really comes into its own. I was able to stretch out on my own comfortable couch, cuddling my newborn baby. My husband brought us all tea and toast from the kitchen and then drew a bath. Susan did the weights and measures while we were having tea. He weighed 4.02kg (or 8lbs14oz). After a quick bath we were ready for bed and Susan left, with a promise to call later that evening. The next few hours were pure magic, as we curled up in bed with our new baby. At around 7:30am we were joined by his two big sisters, who were amazed and delighted to find their baby brother had come into the world during the night.
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