Melbourne Doula

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Plaxy's homebirth - the birth of Charlie

My “due date” arrived, but I knew Charlie was unlikely to come that day. I had been preparing myself for a late birth for the entire pregnancy because I knew how stressed people can get after their EDD, which 70 per cent of first time mums do pass. I was having frequent Braxton-Hicks contractions but I'd been having them for months (since about 20 weeks gestation in fact). They were getting more intense though and I had some period pain-like sensations, but I'd had that a few weeks earlier as well. I didn't mention it to Simon because I didn't really think it was likely to be the start of labour.

By dinner they were still painful so I mentioned it then – Simon immediately asked if he should call work and say he wouldn't be in the next day, but I said no, remember this could go on for a week. Also the contractions hadn't changed the way they felt apart from the pain – I'd read that real labour contractions felt noticably different from Braxton-Hicks ones. Plus they weren't regular at all.I had a bath after dinner but had to get out because of the cramps. Hmmm.

I sent an SMS then to our doula Julie Bell to let her know things just might be getting under way. I said I would go to bed and let her know of any developments in the morning. But every time a contraction came I had to get out of bed because it hurt more lying down. By midnight it was very obvious that I wasn't going to be getting any sleep, so I texted Julie again to let her know, but mentioned that the contractions were very irregular. We timed them and some were two minutes apart while others were seven minutes apart, so we figured this was only “early labour”, still not the real thing.

Julie rang then and said she would come whenever we wanted her to and had the phone by her bed. Before long – about 12:45 – we did call Julie and ask her to come, as the sensations were getting more intense still and I wanted to get the birth pool set up. We had intended to borrow it the last time we saw Julie but we forgot to. I felt bad about getting her to drive out in the middle of the night (all the way from Warburton to east Melbourne) just to get us the pool, but I was very keen to see if it helped with the cramps. We were planning a homebirth so I was in for the long haul with no pain relief.

Simon was trying to help with the pain and I was trying to help him to help, but I didn't really know what I wanted. I asked him to press on my back one minute, but then took off marching around the room the next, which made that a bit difficult. I found moving quickly (on my tiptoes mostly for some reason) and bellowing loudly were my best coping mechanisms. I tried a few other things I'd read in books but those were the winners.

Straight after asking Julie to come we rang our homebirth midwife Gaye Demanuelle and let her know what was going on. She asked me to stay on the phone while I had a contraction, but my next one was really mild and I didn't need to make any noise at all. They had stagefright apparently. I described what they were mostly like and the fact that they were still irregular, and asked whether this could go on for a long time. Depressingly, Gaye said yes, it could be days so I should conserve energy as much as possible. Bummer.Okay, I could do this.

But less than an hour later, before Julie had arrived, I suddenly felt I wanted to know Gaye was on her way too. I asked Simon to call her and ask her to come – he suggested timing a few more contractions to see if they were regular yet since I still may not be in real first stage labour, but I said no, just call her and tell her they are getting really intense.

Julie arrived at 2 am and actually it was very well worth asking her to come so early, regardless of the pool, because things became so much more relaxed as soon as she arrived. She helped immediately by suggesting I turn my bellows, which were coming in short, slightly panicked bursts, into one long low sound. I didn't think I could do it but I tried and sure enough it felt much better. Simon also said he felt much more relaxed once Julie was there and he knew everything was okay and there wasn't something he should be doing but wasn't. He started setting up the birth pool and I settled into a routine of bellowing my way around the house and then curling up on the couch with my eyes closed, waiting for the next contraction. It wasn't too bad really.

Julie spoke to me a couple of times between contractions and I was still able to talk quite easily. I remember Julie asked me if the contractions “hurt”, and what they felt like. I couldn't really describe them beyond saying that they were very intense and that I wouldn't say they didn't hurt, knowing that the original period pain feelings hurt and this was way beyond those sensations. So logically this must hurt big-time. But it was hard to nail down just what they felt like. I think Julie asked if the sensations were more at the front or the back and I said all the way around. I don't think they were lasting more than about a minute.

We discussed where to set up the birth pool and I was able to consider the pros and cons. I decided on the kitchen so I could get in and out and not get the lounge room all wet.At about twenty past two I felt the need to wee and went to the loo. While there I thought I'd give myself a DIY vaginal exam to see if I could feel the cervix and how open it was. All I could feel was smooth and continuous tissue so I thought I was probably not reaching the right bit. But as soon as I removed my fingers my waters broke with a whoosh – how convenient to be sitting on the loo! I must have been feeling the bulging membrane.

Instantly a whopper of a contraction came on before I'd had time to get further than standing up. Oh this was pain all right, a whole new dimension of it! My roar became virtually a scream before it finished. Julie was knocking on the door but I couldn't answer. Another one hit me and I leaned into the wall thinking “I can't do this.” My very next thought was “That's the kind of thing you think when you're in transition.”Julie let herself in and when I could speak I said “my waters broke” and then whimpered, “they're not all going to be like that from now on are they?” Julie couldn't reassure me that they wouldn't, but she did say everything was great, I was doing well, and that the baby was coming now.

The third mega-contraction came and was just as shocking as the last two. During it Gaye appeared. She asked how long I'd been going like that and all I could pant was “three... three... three...” and held up my fingers. She reminded me not to scream but to try to make sounds of a lower pitch. I think that reduces your panic reaction.

With Gaye on one side and Julie on the other I inched my way towards the lounge room. On my way through the kitchen, the contractions clearly became pushes and I started to feel Charlie's head emerging. I felt like I was splitting open (funnily enough) and had one or both hands on the baby's head all the way to the lounge room, trying to slow down his progress. I remember announcing loudly between contractions, “this hurts a LOT!”

Gaye got me kneeling down in the lounge room and then onto all fours – or threes, as one hand was still resisting the inevitable. At about this time I got back into the zone, the pain stopped mattering as much and time stopped behaving normally. Afterwards it seemed as though second stage only took about ten minutes or less, but apparently it was more like twenty.

Julie found time and had the presence of mind (years of practice) to spread waterproof sheeting and towels everywhere, which caught all the mess that came out along with Charlie. I felt his head come out while I still had my hand on it, then his body came with the next push into Simon's and Gaye's hands behind me. I heard him start to cry and thought it was mission accomplished, but Gaye said another push was needed as his legs weren't out yet. I think I pushed them out easily without having to wait for a contraction.

Julie recorded the time of birth as 2:42 in the morning. Simon passed Charlie around to me and came and sat behind me so I could lean back on him. After a while he helped me manouvre up onto the couch, also covered with towels, thank you Julie. The placenta came out at a quarter past three while I was resting on the couch. The third stage contractions were no big deal at all. Simon cut the cord once Charlie was no longer using it.

Charlie and I had uninterrupted skin to skin contact from the moment of birth and for the next few hours. We let him try to attach to the breast by himself – the breast-crawl – and he came really close. He could already lift his head up and was pecking around the nipple but needed a bit of help in the end to get attached. We both needed help with that actually.

Gaye checked my perineum after a couple of hours and said I had a first degree tear and wouldn't need stitches if I was prepared to have bed-rest for four days, only walking if I needed to go to the toilet. She said that by six months after the birth they were finding better results with natural healing and no stitches, so I opted for that.

Gaye left about 6 am but Julie stayed until noon, looking after me and talking to Simon while Charlie and I slept. (She had a sleep too before the long drive home.) And that as they say, is the end of one story and the beginning of a new one!

Finally, some thoughts on doulas and homebirth: I had always wanted a drug-free, natural birth (well since I got educated on the negative aspects of interventions anyway). But I was 36 weeks pregnant when we decided to book a homebirth. Originally we had assumed it too was risky, but the more we learnt, the more it seemed like the safer option. By the time I'd finished antenatal classes at a family birth centre, which offers the least intervention you can get in an Australian hospital, I was really concerned that I still had a high chance of intervention even there, with no real medical need. Some of the policies were just so generic – I assume based on insurance liability issues, or just keeping things simple for the staff, or processing births as quickly as possible, or all the above – not at all tailored to the specific woman and baby's needs. We had already engaged Julie as our doula on my sister's recommendation, and when we expressed our concerns to Julie she was very positive about the option of a homebirth and suggested we contact some midwives to find out more about it and ask all our “what if” questions.

We were soon converts and had booked Gaye as our primary midwife and Andrea Bilcliff as our second midwife. As it turned out we probably would have had an unplanned homebirth anyway, as Charlie came so unexpectedly. Much better to have a professional midwife and doula on hand!
If friends can't afford a homebirth or do want a hospital birth, I still encourage them to get a doula. It can seem like a lot of money when you're saving up for cots and car seats and so on, but people remember the births of their children for their whole lives whether the experience is wonderful or dreadful, and a doula raises the odds for 'wonderful' a lot. If I were to have a hospital birth in the future (only likely if private midwives can no longer practice homebirths in this country and I can't arrange to be in one where they can) I would still engage both a doula and a private midwife. That way I would have the best support, continuity of care, and independent advice available. Of course I would definitely have a homebirth again if I could, for a whole host of reasons, not least of which is that I don't ever want to be having full-on contractions while strapped into a car seat!

1 comment:

shu said...

Gosh this is a lovely birth story.
thank you so much for sharing and beautiful photos :)

happy baby moon and milky years ahead