By Laura Robertson
I had always secretly dreamed of having a home water birth. I’d seen the pictures of new mothers serenely birthing at home, free of all the apparatus of a hospital. However, I thought that since I was older and this was my first baby, birthing in a hospital was the safer option.
Sebastian was due on September 6th, and on August 23rd and 24th we took a prenatal course through the Childbearing Society. During that class, home birth began to seem like more of an option. I was concerned that in a hospital I would end up being induced, or having unnecessary medical interventions. Like many women, I wanted to avoid having a c-section, and have the baby as naturally as possible. Then my doula came around for a home visit and said, “You could really rock a home birth here.” My partner, Jamie, liked the idea too, mostly because it seemed more natural, but also because none of his other friends who’d recently become dads had had a home birth.
So on August 28th, at 39 weeks pregnant, I asked my midwives if a home birth was an option. Somewhat to my surprise, they were completely open to it. My plan was to go with the flow. I was booked into BC Women’s and figured I’d labour at home and give birth in the hospital unless labour was going really well and I could deliver at home. At that point, I thought I would have lots of time to get the things I needed. Most first births are late, and since I was born almost 3 weeks late I assumed my baby would be late as well. I told everyone I expected he would be born sometime in the middle of September. I kept working up until August 29th, and I was looking forward to having a couple of weeks to relax and get things ready. But the baby had other plans.
Against the advice of my midwife, we decided to go to Seattle on Saturday August 30th, to see Jamie’s dad. I had just finished work the day before, but I figured I’d be late, so I wasn’t worried. Besides, I was sure I wasn’t going to go into labour on Labour Day. That would be too poetic. On the way down, I had mild menstrual-like cramps and back pain, but nothing a Tylenol wouldn’t fix. I didn’t think too much of it.
The next day, my water broke. It was Sunday, August 31st around 11am. I went to my midwife’s office. She confirmed it, and told me I had 24 to 48 hours to start labour before she would have me induced to avoid infection. She gave me a recipe for “labour cocktail,” a mix of verbena oil, castor oil, almond butter and juice meant to kick-start things so I could avoid being medically induced. Since giving birth, I have talked to other women whose waters broke and were induced 12 hours later. I feel lucky I was given the extra time.
I let my doula know that my waters had broken, and she told me to just relax, get lots to eat, take it easy. In a mad panic, Jamie raced off to the local grocery store and came back with over $300 worth of groceries. Never send a man about to be a father out shopping. It was a beautiful late summer day, and when he got back, we hung out and enjoyed the day and each other’s company while we waited for things to get started. It was very exciting. That night, we had some people over for dinner, college friends and their partners. I didn’t tell anyone my waters had broken – why worry anyone? But I was pretty uncomfortable. The mild cramps and back pain had stepped it up a notch. I spent most of the evening rolling on a yoga ball but still managed to enjoy a delicious dinner.
Unfortunately, my doula texted during dinner and told me she had put a rib out and wouldn’t be able to come tonight, but that she would send her back-up if I went into labour. I was disappointed, but there was nothing I could do about it. When our guests were gone, I decided to go for a walk – walking uphill really helped my discomfort. Then I took an ibuprofen and gravol as instructed and went to bed, planning to rest up for the day to come.
At approximately 1:00am, I woke up with what I thought were intense gas pains. I tried to go to the bathroom, but nothing happened, so I went back to bed. I was awoken half an hour later with another excruciating pain. Again, I tried to go back to sleep. For the next couple hours, I kept trying to sleep, only to be woken up again. I thought it was indigestion; we had had quite a fancy dinner the night before. Finally at 4am, thinking I was just constipated and that labour hadn’t started yet, I decided to take the labour cocktail that Zoe had given me.
The instructions said to take it at 4am and then go back to bed in the hopes that by 7am you would be in labour. It tasted terrible and I immediately felt very sick, and struggled to keep it down. After about half an hour, it all came back up. The pains were getting worse, and more frequent, and at this point, I knew wasn’t going back to sleep. I woke Jamie up. He kept informing me how far apart the pains were, but I didn’t register what he was saying. Because I was expecting a long prelabour, I figured this was just prelabour. I didn’t know how I would get through actual labour if prelabour was this bad. At 5:30am, I realized I couldn’t take the pain, and I decided to call my midwife.
I talked to Fallon, who was assisting with a home birth, and she asked if I was having contractions. I told her I didn’t think so, but I had an attack of “indigestion” while I was on the phone with her. We decided she would send Zoe, and Zoe would take me to the hospital for a shot of morphine and gravol. Hopefully after that I would go back to sleep to wait until labour started. Zoe arrived around 6am to find me naked, pacing the upstairs floor and crying in pain. She checked my cervix: 5 cm. This wasn’t indigestion – these were contractions!
Now that I knew I was having contractions, not indigestion, I found the pain easier to deal with. Zoe and Jamie helped me get through them, pushing into my back and encouraging me to keep my labour sounds low and grounded. I don’t remember discussing whether to go to the hospital, but after Zoe checked the baby’s heartbeat, the decision was made to stay at home. Zoe suggested I get in the shower, which felt amazing. Standing up and sitting were the only comfortable positions I could find. Anything else put two much pressure on my rear end. It actually felt like that was where the baby was going to come out, although of course he didn’t.
Jamie let the doula know that I was in labour. Her rib was still out, but she sent her back-up. Kaz arrived while I was naked and bellowing in the middle of a contraction. She got right in there and applied pressure to my back, then once the contraction had passed we shook hands and introduced ourselves as though we were just casually meeting in a coffee shop. She asked if we wanted the birthing pool set up, and Jamie said yes. I was too busy labouring to really care. Kaz got right to work filling it directly from the hot water tank. My contractions kept coming closer and closer together until they were coming in clusters of three less than a minute apart. It felt like any movement would trigger one, standing up, sitting down, having my cervix checked.
Just when I thought I couldn’t take it anymore and I wanted it to be over, Zoe said I was at 10cm, and I could go into the birthing pool. It was wonderful. My contractions slowed down and I was even able to nap briefly between them. I had a few moderate contractions before the pushing started. After about thirty minutes, the baby’s head was showing and Zoe told me to stop pushing and just cough. Then she told me to give one more push to get the head out. It burned but almost as soon as the baby’s head was out, he was lying on my chest. He was quite purple at first, but he turned pink very quickly. I’m not sure I felt “in love” feelings immediately, but I am certain that even at that moment I would have protected him with my life.
The second midwife arrived just after Sebastian was born, and she and Zoe helped me up to the couch where I “delivered” the placenta, which was huge! Then we moved back upstairs to the bedroom so Zoe could assess the damage. It was mild; I only required a few stitches. While this was happening, Kaz cleaned up the birthing pool, and did our laundry! One of my concerns with a home birth had been the clean up, but we didn’t end up doing any of it ourselves, which was amazing. Because we had been unprepared, we ended up using all the towels and sheets in the house. Kaz then prepared us a meal, which she brought to us in bed like we were royalty.
Sebastian was born 7 pounds 15 ounces in our living room at 11:38am on September 1st, 2014, a beautiful, sunny Labour Day. It is a day I will always remember.