From the beginning, I wanted my baby to be born at home, in the water.
My partner Chris was more comfortable with a birthing centre, but then we learned there is little difference between the two, especially in terms of safety and the time it would take to get to the hospital if something was going wrong.
We chose Claire to be our midwife as she specialises in homebirth, and our friend Alison who is an obstetrician was also present at the birth, along with Claire’s backup midwife Anna-Lena. It turned out that was the perfect number of people with a balance between professionalism and friendship to support us but also allow us space and peace during the birth.
Weekly pregnancy yoga, run by midwife Claire, gave me a place and the guidance to relax, care for my body, connect with my baby, and prepare for the birth. The birth support workshop also run by Claire was crucial for Chris to learn what to do during the labour, and what not to do! Yoga and the workshop truly prepared us with a wide range of tools for the labour and we used the whole damn toolbox too! I remember one point during my pregnancy I realised there was probably nothing more I was going to learn before the birth. I was as prepared as I could have been.
I was 38 weeks and 2 days when I woke at 0200 Sunday with low belly pains and show. I knew rest during the initial phases is important so I tried to stay in bed as long as possible and delayed telling Chris until 0430. Contractions were about 6 minutes apart, some stronger than others that I had to focus on breathing through.
In the morning, I contacted Claire and Alison so they had a heads up, but I was happy on my own for the time being. My Dad was staying with us that weekend so we got him to help Chris set up the birth pool and make the birth mat, then he headed home and left us to it. My Mum also came over for a bit in the afternoon which allowed Chris to grab some snacks from the supermarket.
The midwife came over later that afternoon and checked in on us. As soon as she left I vomited for the first of what would be nine times throughout the 48 hours of pre-labour. It was awful. I tried to drink and eat as much as I could and was afraid of becoming dehydrated, but at the same time I really wasn’t hungry and could only take the tiniest of bites.
Contractions were coming and going so we tucked into bed to rest as much as we could. Claire and Alison stayed over at our place on the couch Sunday night, we thought it might be all on and the pool was filled, but then contractions died down again. Just before midnight we decided Claire should examine me and I was 3cm with flexibility to 4-5cm and she confirmed my waters were intact. I had no negative feelings when I heard the numbers. My head was very level and it didn’t matter to me how dilated I was. I knew it was happening and it would take as long as it would take. We managed to get a little sleep that night and Claire and Alison both left early Monday morning.
Monday was long and hard. It had already been over 24 hours. Chris held me through each contraction, reminding me to breathe and let go. He stood as my Roman pillar and let me hang from his arms, allowing me to soften into the pain.
He swayed with me and breathed with me. He wiped my tears and held the bucket while I puked after especially strong contractions. He fed me ‘magic water’ (electrolyte) through a straw and offered snacks and water. He continuously rubbed my back and I knew he would do anything to take my pain away. He would do anything to keep his woman strong and to help his wee babe into this world. My eyes were always closed but I knew his were watching my every expression. I was silent for the few moments I had on my own, but made noises to communicate my emotions and pain to him.
I felt like he was holding my soul with his arms and my spirit with his eyes.
By Monday afternoon I was tiring. I was falling asleep between contractions which was not nice as I would wake in the middle of the contraction with a fright and the pain was always much worse as I had not been able to prepare my breath. It had gone on too long.
I realised I had to do something about this so I switched into pumped-up, proactive mode and did all the things I had learned from Claire. By being in different positions during contractions it was more intense and painful but it gave my baby the space she needed to move and find her way. A more open squat with one leg up on the couch. Ouch! Three contractions with one leg up, then three contractions with the other leg. I was dancing around the lounge doing hip circles with a smile on my face while Chris ran to get himself some fish and chips. Some tribal music came on the auto playlist on youtube so I pretended to be in a tribal dance circle.
My determination was strong. I was going to do everything I could to help her get out naturally. I tied a knot in my scarf and shut it in the hallway door so I could do deep squats on my own. We did rebozo to jiggle my hips and this always brought on contractions but gave her freedom to move. I walked around and around the kitchen/lounge to stimulate contractions.
Sometimes Chris would press my hips during a contraction and I could feel her move down lower. Anything that increased the pain and intensity of the contraction was a good thing and at this point I welcomed it all! I would cycle through these activities, and sometimes would just sit in the chair between contractions. I could feel her moving; she was finding her way. I talked to her and told her she needed to come now and I really wanted to meet her. I told her she would be so loved and this world is not so bad.
Things started to ramp up and we called the midwife to come over but by the time she arrived I was asleep and contractions had slowed right down again – a common pattern! She said it was normal to be taking this long and it could go on even longer so we needed to rest when we could and keep eating and drinking during slow periods. I felt like, how could I possibly cope another day of this, I’m exhausted. I asked if she would ever rupture the membranes if that would speed things up and she said no, you need to leave them as cushioning around baby’s head. There was also a much higher chance of needing other interventions and I knew it was not what I wanted. I would wait and I would stick it out even though I no longer felt strong.
We desperately needed to rest so we slept for an hour in the pool during which time I had about three awful contractions. We got out of the water that had cooled down and I got stuck shivering uncontrollably. We managed to sleep in bed for another few hours and I only woke two or three times! My body needed rest and it totally allowed me to do so. I never once felt scared or thought about leaving home. The waters hadn’t broken so we were not at risk of infection. Home was the safest place for us.
At 0230 I woke and instantly heard the pop as my waters broke. We went to the lounge and I was on the birth mat leaning over the swiss ball. Chris continued offering words of support as he had been doing since the labour started, but I had changed and shushed him straight away. I was in the zone and told Chris to get the midwife NOW and make that pool hot NOW! He wanted to wait a bit, as the midwife had said once the waters break it may still take a while. But I knew better and Claire arrived at 0320 followed by Alison and then Anna-Lena.
At some point I remember asking if I could get in the pool. How bizarre that all of a sudden, I guess I just knew it was time to get in. It was 0345. I don’t remember the water helping with the pain. In fact, I was waiting for the pain to get worse and it kind of never did until the very end. The water was lovely for my movement though. It took my weight and allowed me to sway while in a deep squat. I felt patches of water that were different temperatures so I swished it around with my legs. The movement was freeing and safe. I remember the midwife saying I will feel stinging soon but I will stretch so beautifully. I was so happy. I felt at peace. It was probably this point when I realised I was really in labour and was actually about to birth this child, how exciting!
“Gemma coping so beautifully. Wonderful support by Chris and Claire. Gemma breathing gently through contractions, following her body. You are amazing!!”
I was smiling between contractions but my eyes remained closed. Chris was outside the pool holding me and I was gripping the edge of the pool. I felt strong. I had plenty of energy. There was a point where I invited Chris into the pool. I pressed down on our clasped hands and squeezed for strength. My focus was on the sting and controlling the pressure.
0427 “Peep of head seen by Claire!! Yay!!”
0431 “Gemma pushing beautifully and gently with each contraction, resting well in between. More and more of head seen with each contraction.”
0438 “Big progress – head coming down gently and beautifully. Gemma, you are so brave and strong and amazing!!”
I felt part of baby’s head. It was squishy with soft hair yet hard at the same time. I took Chris’ hand to share that moment with him. My breaths turned short and quick. At 0442 the head was born!! I felt a couple of strong turning movements and suddenly opened my eyes as I thought Claire had reached down and turned her! But, she was her turning all on her own to allow her shoulders to be born. Unreal. Claire said that her body was halfway out and I needed to keep pushing to get her all the way out! Haha.
At 0443 our gorgeous baby girl was born. Welcome to the world little one. You are so loved!!
I kept my hand on the top of her head the whole time and she was being born and naturally picked her up out of the water and put her on my chest. Oh my, so heavy! She was bigger and chubbier than I was expecting. Healthy. Fully-formed. Perfect. What a darling! Claire adjusted her position on my chest and rubbed her then she did a big cry which reassured Chris that she was okay. I was never worried. I don’t remember hearing the cry.
“BIG SMILES by everyone. Well done Gemma and Chris, your baby is so beautiful. Baby pink, warm, alert, eyes wide open looking at her parents”
We admired her features then Chris whispered to me that we could check the gender – a girl, I tell him. He couldn’t see over my shoulder, oops. A couple of times I felt the cord tug and unwrapped it from her foot, and told Chris to be careful not to pull on it. A warm wet cloth was put over her and we were told to keep her partly in the water so she doesn’t get cold, but not to put her head in!
Someone suggested try to feed her – she latched perfectly straight away, 20 minutes after she was born. We are stunned and taking it all in.
“WE DID IT!”
I remember the placenta seeming quite hard to get it out. I felt something come out but it turned out to be a clot. I pushed and Claire told me to cough, cough, cough, cough, cough. Finally, it came out at 0505 and was all intact. We were grateful that she showed all the parts to us, including the sack that the baby had been curled up in just moments before. The placenta floated around in an ice cream container while we continued to adore her. Those tiny, chubby fingers, so perfectly formed. That cute little nose! Adorable lips. Perfect little ears. Everything in the right place, as it should be. So proud! So much love.
I stood to get out of the birth pool and had ringing in my ears. Claire rushed into action and made us aware of the urgency to get me out and lay me down. I fainted. Claire and Anna-Lena needed Chris to help but he was holding the baby! Luckily Alison was right there. She managed to quickly take the new squishy bundle and the placenta container so Chris could grab me and lift me out and put me on the mattress.. The midwives cared for me and were impressed with how little I was bleeding! Estimated 350 mL in total. I got a couple of stitches, although they were not critical but would help me heal straight.
About 45 minutes after she was born, Chris tied the cord with a traditional muka (woven flax) and cut it. I felt fine, hungry though, and she suckled again. An hour later, she lay next to me and was checked over by Claire. Chris held her hands so she feels safe and I touched her little features. Tiny nose! Thinking back on it now, this is all a blur. I had no concept of time during any of the labour. Hours seemed to tick over surprisingly quickly. We just surrendered to the process and allowed it to unfold as it was always destined to.
Claire came back mid-morning and moved the mattress into the lounge and made it nice for me, as I was too dizzy to stand up. We spent the night in the lounge. By midday the next day I was able to stand and made my way slowly down the hallway with the help of Chris. Had my first sponge bath! From the second night we were able to settle into our bedroom and get to know our new baby.
Everyone always says there is no perfect time to have a baby. For me, I put it off for only a couple of years. At first it felt too soon, then I had funding for another season of Antarctic field work and then there was a conference overseas. There was a point where I realised that there are always opportunities, and those opportunities can actually wait. Having a family was always more important to me. I turned down a fourth season in Antarctica, a second trip to Africa, and a few international conferences but there was never a moment when I regretted our decision to start trying. I am glad we chose now.
I was 26 and he was 30 when she was born. I am so grateful that we are healthy and had no troubles conceiving. I am grateful that, for the most part, I enjoyed my pregnancy, and that I was able to create such a perfect tiny human. I am proud of how I allowed her to be born. I am grateful to be on the other side, with new knowledge, experience and a deep connection with what it means to me to be a woman. It was humbling and to be cared for by amazing women; I felt safe, loved and nurtured.
My labour was long, but once my waters broke it seemed relatively straight forward. The whole experience was incredibly empowering and I learned more about myself. I had hoped I was a woman who was capable and strong, that I could endure labour without any analgesics, that I was brave to stay at home, yet informed of all my options. I am grateful that I was able to find out that I am that woman I had hoped I was, and I am so proud to be her. I loved my birth experience, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Perseverance. Patience. Trust.
Harriet Rose Brimblecombe
Born 04:43 am 04 April 2017
8 pound 9 ounces; 3870 g