A Homebirth with Heart, Part 1: Planning and preparing

By first time mum Alex, who I met years ago climbing up some big rocks.

As soon as I found out I was pregnant, I knew I wanted a home birth. I was there for the birth of both my brothers, one at home and one at hospital. My mum had a great natural birth with both.natural-process I hate hospitals and because I don’t see birth as a medical condition (though understand that at times medical intervention is needed), I knew home birth was the right choice for me. I set out to find a midwife and was lucky to find someone who provided home births in our small town.

I saw my GP early on and she followed me until week 20 then I would usually have transferred to the midwife clinic. The appointments with my GP were honestly about 5 minutes. She took blood pressure, weight and got blood tests. In and out. No way was there any opportunity to discuss anything that was really on my mind.

I met my midwife, Gail for an initial appointment and just knew I’d made the right choice. She spent about 1 ½ hours with me. I did a lot of reading about natural child birth and had a lot of questions I wanted to ask. I felt comfortable asking her about her experience, her birth statistics and just generally getting a feel for her. We decided to hire her and she followed us up from about week 13. We both feel it has been the absolute best decision we’ve made. She wanted me to book in to the hospital which I did just in case things changed and I required a hospital birth or transfer late in pregnancy.

So my midwife would come for home visits roughly monthly then fortnightly and weekly when pregnancy progressed. She had an awesome library of books and dvds which she lent us and of course just answered our questions. She was really flexible with timing visits so from around week 20, we often saw her after work hours or Saturdays so Mark could attend. I really loved that he got to know her and was comfortable asking her questions. She did all the regular checks on me (blood pressure, baby’s heart beat, fundal height etc.) but she would also just spend time chatting to me. I was able to talk to her a lot about my fear around becoming a mother, letting go of my independence, giving up work for a while, the changes we would experience in our relationship. I found that stuff so much more important to talk about than baby development and birth preparation in general as it played a lot on my mind.

Of course, it was also great being able to ask questions we had around body changes, birth and various tests. I did a lot of reading and discussed tests with my midwife. We opted not to have the gestational diabetes or strep b testing and I was really comfortable with that decision. My midwife gave a lot of information, let us decide and never judged our decisions. I felt so respected with my decision making throughout the pregnancy. She suggested things to help prepare for the birth too, some of which I had never heard of – hello perineal stretching! Yes, that would be stretching the perineum! A scary thought! However, we psyched ourselves up for preparing that area and it was actually pretty funny! I think it helped too for me to become familiar and relax into the sensations I would feel at birth.

I didn’t really know how I wanted my labour to be. Mostly I just knew I wanted a calm, quiet, dark and private environment. Apart from that I didn’t know exactly where I wanted to birth in the house, if I wanted some soft music or candles, if I wanted to be in the shower etc. so we didn’t really plan anything. We debated attending a course like calm birth or hypno-birthing but the timing wasn’t good. In the end the yoga I did was one of the best preparations for me. In the third trimester, my energy levels waned and a friend recommended Satyananda pregnancy yoga. It focussed a lot more on breathing, meditation, visualisation and gentle physical practice. This was new to me but I found it such a good way to connect to my baby and body. I started doing a bit of the breathing and visualisation everyday towards the end of the pregnancy. Even just 10 minutes a day really made a difference. I also used affirmations daily from the 3rd trimester.

We chose to have our midwife at the birth. We also asked a close friend who kind of acted like a doula and my mum.respect-me

I also knew they wouldn’t be offended if I changed my mind and didn’t want anyone there.

Part Two: Welcoming our Daughter…coming soon

Ruby’s Birth Story

Here I am on a Saturday afternoon, newborn asleep, toddler with Dad, and me actually drinking a hot cup of tea and getting to blog. Last Thursday we welcomed one beautiful little rainbow water babe into our world. I have been almost jumping out of my skin to write her birth story down. Once again I was blessed (GRIN) so here it is from me to you.

This story needs to begin 9 months ago on a glorious day in North Queensland. We are on our honeymoon after one incredibly epic weekend wedding, there’s gorgeous blue skies and clear tropical waters, we are spending the day floating and diving around the rainbow spectacle which is The Great Barrier Reef. As our boat heads back to Port Douglas I feel the familiar ache of ovulation (yes I am one of those people who feel it) and I smile…and know that we have a plan for this little egg, if only it is willing.

Back to present day, I am four days past due and wondering why these braxton hicks that have popped up sporadically for the past few days feel so intense. Surely they were not like this with Boston? I was so clear about labour starting with him and now I feel confused? Is it starting???? No, no rhythm or rhyme to these contractions but DAMN they aren’t tickles.

IMG_3261_fotorFinally around 1am on Thursday morning they come and wake me…I wait….yup there is another….yup and another. But still I am confused, they do not seem more intense so I wait. They bounce around between 5 minutes and 10 minute intervals but finally around 4am I decide this must be it and start letting my birth companions in on the secret. Steve has almost had a full night sleep so he bounces out of bed with a grin from ear to ear and makes some tea. I call Aurelia, my amazing bestie acupuncture extraordinaire, who answers with excitement and prepares to drive south “No rush” I assure her.

I jump in the shower for some warm water love, lighting a burner with birthing oils that smell so delicious, I have burnt them during meditation over the past months. Then all of a sudden contraction after contraction keep coming, and coming strong! I have a mini freak out..seriously…no no no… not yet I can’t give birth yet!! Then I take a few breaths and calm…let go, let it happen, all is well. I jump out of the shower, shoot Auie a message to…ahem…hurry, and tell Steve to ring Kirst.

Beautiful sunshine Kirsten, my bestie with positive vibes to boot, I have invited her along as another companion. It seems a little excessive but with our busy lives, children etc etc I wanted backup. I also wanted the chance to share birth with one of my friends who is yet to go down the road, I have spoken about how valuable this experience was for me and it is a tradition I wanted to continue.

Has anyone told you how your first labour messes with your expectation of your second? You think it won’t, you know they are all different, but my gosh do you think I could get out of my head?! Kirsten arrived 15 minutes after my freak out shower incident. As she sat with me and braided my hair my contractions all but stopped. Twenty minutes past and a few came but they were beyond mellow. Now I am worried the whole thing was a false start. This is nothing like my other labour! What is happening?

BirthAurelia arrives, phew…she pops some needles in and assures me that this baby is coming today and she will make sure of it. I smile, relax and we dig into some delicious birthing cake made and delivered by our gorgeous sister. Contractions are being shy.

Alright well I am getting back in that shower because we are all here now and I am ready for this gosh darn it. Ahhhh WOW there they are again and holy moly call the midwife I think it is time to go. I decide that I need to be where we will birth if I am to fully embrace these strong contractions and so we all pile into the car. I pop my head phones in and listen to a hypnobirthing rainbow relaxation while we drive along the highway.

As we stroll down the ever so long Tweed Hospital corridor I feel like a bad ass birthing posse. Passing doctors give us confused sideways glances. The contractions have eased and I shake my head but I am glad I can glide down this hallway looking oh so comfortable.

Our wonderful midwife from Murwillumbah Birthing Clinic arrives shortly after. I am so happy to see her and even more happy when she informs us I am 6cm dilated and the cervix is really soft. “Oh thank the heavens I am not crazy and this labour is as advanced as it feels…when I am in the shower”.

IMG_3268_fotorAt my belly blessing we did a binding ceremony with some pretty rainbow wool. The idea is that each woman leaves the band on until they hear mum is in labour. It is a really beautiful ritual and a great reminder for close friends to have you in their thoughts. Cutting the bands symbolises the separation of mother and child, and the beginning of a new stage of life. Two minutes after that text went out my labour exploded.

I was having contraction on contraction with barely a minutes rest. I was aware of the others and could feel their relaxed mood, they asked me questions…I didn’t bother answering. Before long I was feeling irritated and annoyed. The contractions were overwhelming. I braced against the bed, head in my hands, squatting like some mad cross fit demon.. resting on the birth ball for what seemed no time…then back to the bed…REPEAT!

The thought entered my mind “no no no, I can’t do this…it is too much” and seconds later a light bulb moment! “oh my god! if this is too much and I feel like I can’t do it that means I am in transition! That means I am nearly there!” and all of a sudden I turned a corner. Two contractions later I had that instinctive muscle contraction that pushes down 🙂 HOORAY

IMG_3298_fotorHypnobirthing advocates breathing the baby down so I was surprised to feel that insane all encompassing urge to push with Boston, and pushed I did. Boz flew out in one, so I wanted to make a real effort this time around to take it a little slower. They call it the Natural Explusive Reflex, that “urge to push”. For those who have not given birth or did so with an epidural it sort of feels like (sorry to gross you out) that uncontrollable response that happens when you vomit…yup…only it goes down not up and its more intense. So technically you don’t have to try to push, your body just does it. So I concentrated on relaxing my muscles as much as possible and letting that uncontrollable reflex just happen. It was pretty cool (she calmly types after grunting like a gorilla at the time).

So there I was standing up and feeling a familiar burn and knowing our baby would be here soon. Steve was in front of me holding my hands, I spotted Kirsten darting around taking photos while tearing up and muttering “oh my gosh”, Aurelia was whispering in my ear “you can do it, nearly there”, I assumed someone was catching my baby…surely…and then from behind I hear one of the midwifes excitedly exclaim “oh wow she is in caul!!”…I am thinking that sounds great whatever the hell it means.

IMG_3318_fotorThen with one last surge our baby is born and water splashes all around. I burst into tears as she is handed up to me. “In Caul” turns out to mean with membranes intact and so our little babe, who started her journey as a tiny egg travelling The Great Barrier Reef, was born surrounded by water till her legs entered the world. Ruby Jean, born 4th June 2:47pm…with absolute perfection.


Birth Preparation

I am attending a pretty wonderful pregnancy yoga class at the moment that combines lots of delicious yoga moves with lots of birth information. Last week we all shared what we were enjoying about class, the overwhelming response was along the lines of “before I came here I knew nothing about birth, now I have so many tools that I can use”.

Personally it has been a great refresher of all the information I learnt when we completed a hypnobirthing course. Before the course, although I ideally did want to have a natural birth, I had little knowledge of the best way to achieve that, or even about exactly how our bodies function during birth.

From what I have witnessed and discussions I have had it seems that many women go into birth with very little helpful information. In fact in our culture, modern Australia, we are subjected to an overwhelming amount of unhelpful information. What we are shown repeatedly through television and movies is a very traumatic hospitalised version of birth. Women in serious pain, screaming, swearing at husbands, machines hooked up everywhere, lying on their back (did you know your pelvis opening is approximately 25% smaller when you are on your back?). I mean… seriously… how many births have you been exposed to where the woman is breathing calmly and deeply while moving around in upright positions surrounded by calm supportive caregivers?

Which brings me to this post and three avenues where you can find positive tools for birth. The links I have included to specific practitioners have been compiled solely from the experiences of people I know, they are recommended by some pretty amazing women, so definitely a good starting point.


Yoga has so many benefits it is sort of ridiculous! At any point in your life it will bring you greater awareness of both body and mind, coupled with increased strength and control (like a ninja…or even a yogi 😉 ). A good prenatal yoga class will work with you as your body rapidly morphs throughout each trimester. You will learn how to keep strong while staying safe, how to ease those aching muscles and joints that are being pushed in all new directions to accommodate another human, you will learn about good open positions for birth and have the benefit of trying and perfecting a few of these.

One of the beautiful skills yoga gives is an awareness of breath. Breathing is something we all do unconsciously, but when we start to pay attention it becomes a SU-PER POWER . Being aware of how breath moves through your body and how you can manipulate it to relax your muscles and your mind will put you at a huge advantage when birth day comes.

Prenatal yoga also connects you with other mum’s-to-be and gives you time to really tune into and honour the mini human who is busily growing inside. Before choosing a class have a chat to the instructor about what the it involves, what the main focus is and what you will gain from attending. Remember that if you start a class that doesn’t seem the right fit there are usually lots more options around.

My gorgeous friend Josie
My gorgeous friend Josie…HEART HER… photo by Karina Bell

Hypnobirthing and Calmbirthing Courses

Want an antennal class with a difference? Both methods view pregnancy and birth as a natural normal event, something that women have biologically evolved to do, and with more capability then what we give ourselves. The courses involve education about the body and birthing process. Sequences of events that lead up to labour and natural methods for induction, pain management and relaxation. They acknowledge the fear and anxiety that often surrounds birth and give parents tools to work through these feelings, in turn breaking down some of the psychological and physiological barriers to having a positive birth experience. Both include relaxations, meditations and affirmations…looked at in a slightly different light.

One of my favourite elements these courses provide is empowering your birth companion (hubby, friend, mother..whoever) by giving them a role in the birth. They will learn different techniques to help mum through whatever circumstance arrives, no more companions lurking in corners looking helplessly freaked out.

So what is the difference? Hypnobirthing was founded by american Marie Mongan and is based around hypnotherapy principles. Calmbirth was founded by Australian Peter Jackson, though similar in philosophy there is a slightly different method and Calmbirth practitioners must have midwifery, obstetric, general practitioner or doula training.

We completed a Hypnobirthing course and many of our friends have completed Calmbirthing courses, all of us have been really happy we made the investment because not only were we no longer clueless…we actually felt positive about our births!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMidwives, Student Midwives and Doula’s

Midwife and doula care brings you all the support and expertise you will need for a normal pregnancy and birth. They are the experts!

What is the difference between a midwife and a doula? A midwife is a trained medical professional who is responsible for monitoring pregnancy and labour, assessing the medical condition of mother and baby, and treating complications should they arise. The word doula also means “mothering the mother” or “woman’s personal servant”. They have intimate knowledge and experience with birth but their primary role is to support the mother in a more emotional and spiritual sense. That is putting things in a very black and white view.

Student midwives need to attend a certain number of births before they can complete their midwifery training. Most avenues available for birthing will have the option of a student midwife connection. It is important to remember that although student midwives have completed medical training and have extensive knowledge about the medical side of birth they will not be allowed to make any decisions relating to your medical care. They can however act as more of a doula.

One of the huge benefits of birthing through a midwife centre, having a private midwife for a home birth or with affiliations to a hospital, a student midwife or hiring a doula is continuity of care. Simply put you have one person who will follow you through pregnancy, be with you during birth and provide care for at least 6 weeks after birth. This person will KNOW you. They will be aware of your history, your wants and desires, the type of birth you are aiming for and the steps you want to take when if complications arise. They will be aware of certain fears and triggers, they will know the things that keep you calm. They will also have lots of tools up their sleeve to help your birth keep progressing, be as comfortable as possible, and keep both you and baby safe.

Why is this so very very valuable? Because during birth… us mum’s… we go into a different headspace completely. You won’t know what it will be like till you get there yourself, but it will be a mix of emotions and hormones and you won’t feel like answering questions or contemplating options, you will just want to birth! Having a familiar face standing next to you who has seen it all before, who knows you, who you trust and feel safe with…that is pure gold.

Hopefully these will options will give you some inspiration to get out there and delve deeper into the birthing journey. Of course nothing and no one can guarantee a complication free birth, but do not let that deter you from seeking the experience you dream of xox