CaveBaby was born at home. On our sofa in fact. It was fun telling visitors afterwards that he was born “just where you’re sitting actually” and watching them gently edge to the side of the couch.
CaveBaby’s birth was a planned homebirth with a wonderful independent midwife. There are some opportunities in Ireland to have a homebirth under a hospital scheme but for those who don’t live in the limited catchment area for these schemes, engaging the services of a self-employed community midwife is the only way to have a birth at home. Women don’t choose to birth at home for the same reason people decide to do a bungee jump. Or run an ultra-marathon. It’s not some kind of risk-seeking behaviour or an attempt to prove some level of physical stamina and capacity. Most couples who have their babies at home do so, like us, because they know that labour and birth are normal physiological processes, which are aided by peace, calm and privacy and as little outside intervention as possible. And while they are happy that hospital birth services exist for pregnancies with complications or if there are difficulties in labour, they believe that the hospital environment is not always the best place for a woman in normal labour to have a normal, natural birth, even if only because bright lights, clock-watching and multiple examinations are most definitely not conducive to relaxing and, you know, letting your body do its thing. Oh plus of course, it fits with being all Cave-like and stuff.
But the self-employed community midwives operate under a memorandum of understanding with the HSE. And the HSE is in the process of writing into this memorandum a number of stipulations that will restrict who can have a homebirth. The killer about this is that most of the stipulations originated as recommendations in the UK, where they are used as guidelines to help a woman and midwife decide if homebirth is the right option in their case. But they are being translated in this country as non-negotiable rules and so a midwife who uses her own judgement to take on a case which falls outside the narrow guidelines will be in breach of the law and may face prosecution. One of the proposed rules is that there will be two midwifes in attendance at every homebirth. Not only is this not necessary, it is practically impossible for a couple to organise. There is a huge shortage of independent midwives as it is, and there are many women who cannot have homebirths because all of their local midwives are booked up. Trying to find two midwives to attend the birth and trying to find the money to pay the fees of both midwives will make homebirth a non-option in the future for so many families.
If you have a minute, maybe you might sign this petition in relation to this issue. It means an awful lot to many women in Ireland. Let CaveBaby2 be born on the same sofa! And in the meantime, here’s a little story about our birth at home that I wrote for the Home Birth Association magazine, that might show how relaxed and beautiful it can be.
Our birth at home, November 2011.
“I’ll be honest, although I was so excited about the home birth throughout the pregnancy, I was also very fearful that it wouldn’t happen naturally and that we would end up in hospital at some stage in the process, either to be induced or for lack of progress or for some post-birth issue. This was my second baby. My first labour was quite stressful as I felt I was “arguing” with the hospital midwives about interventions that I didn’t want to happen. I avoided some but when I wasn’t progressing as per the stupid bloody chart they have, my labour was artificially augmented with synthetic oxytocin. This was with my reluctant consent. The contractions became quite intense from that point on and I was very disconnected from the rest of the birth. When he was born I was totally shocked and numb and had a very hard time for the next few months, both with my physical recovery and with my relationship with my new baby. I continued to feel very disconnected from him for a while after. Thankfully, I eventually recovered really well physically and he and I developed a gorgeous bond, to the point where it is hard to remember how different I felt in those early days! I was keen even from that point to have a different birth experience for my next child and started to look into home birth. But although I knew that the interventions on my first birth had been unnecessary, there was a horrible nagging doubt in my mind that I might not be able to progress my labour without the use of drugs. I worked hard to let go of that fear but it never disappeared completely – I mention it because it stayed with me all through the birth and was as much part of my experience as the peace and calm was!
So, to the story. As I went a number of days overdue, I was getting more and more anxious (while trying to stay relaxed – eek!). I did all the things everyone does, long walks under the full moon, extra mmm mmm, pineapple and curries, the works. Also had some reflexology when I was 9 days overdue but nothing seemed to be budging this baby. At 11 days over I started to get mild contractions every 20 minutes or so and was fairly sure things were starting. But the contractions didn’t get any closer or any more intense and I didn’t know whether to get the midwife out (she has an hour’s journey to our house) because I was afraid to look silly! We texted back and forth and eventually I asked her to come and rang my mam to pick up the older lad when he woke up. So my mam arrived and got him, the midwife came shortly after and, well, everything just slowed right down! I now think that all that fear and the adrenaline of finally deciding “this is it” made me shut down for a while. I was having pains but not regularly so I got dressed and went for a walk around the estate with himself. We had a good laugh because I kept threatening to get down on my knees at the neighbours’ windows and do some labour roaring. We got back and I kept moving around the house as the midwife wanted me to get labour get a bit more established before I got into the birth pool we’d set up. By about 3, we were back in action with good strong regular pains. So into the pool I went. It’s gas, as much as I wanted a birth where I was in the driving seat and allowed to go at my own pace, I was stunned to realise that I was craving someone to tell me how far I had progressed, to give me the stats in centimetres you could say. The midwife would ask me a question about the pains or the sensations and inside I was saying “you tell me!”. Very hard to let go of white coat syndrome.
The next few hours in the pool just passed by so peacefully. I was listening to the Gentlebirth music on my headphones and breathing through the contractions. The house was silent outside of my CD player and the midwife was in the sitting room, coming in and out to check on me. At around 4, himself decided to make a stew and I think that was the moment that told me I wasn’t in hospital birth Kansas any more, as I breathed through a contraction in a pool in my kitchen, listening to peaceful music, while in the distance, I could hear carrots being scraped. At one stage I asked him if he was going to have to brown mince as I might head into the sitting room for a while in case the smell made me ill. He looked at me like I was bonkers and said “I can leave off the mince you mad thing, it’s not that important!”.
But I let him brown the mince, would have been a shame to waste all the stew preparation.
As the contractions started to get more intense, I was finding it harder to stay relaxed. Himself was great and kept repeating the birthing prompts that I’d gotten from the Gentlebirth workshop, especially the one “shoulders limp, body limp, chest relaxed”. That really helped. I had a wobbly moment where I thought it would all be better if I could get out of the pool (as if that’s where the contractions were coming from!). I got them to help me into the sitting room, had two contractions there, realised they were better in the pool (!) and got them to bring me back in. It was around 7 at this stage and the contractions were massively intense and each one felt like being steamrollered. I was panicking a bit and remember wondering if this meant I was in transition. I asked the midwife for some gas and air and that took the edge of a bit and helped me stay calm. The two of them had a bowl of stew each at this stage but I wasn’t in any fit form for eating by then. Soon enough after that, I started feeling a lot of pressure and we moved into the sitting room which they had set up so nicely with towels and candles and the fire on. A few different positions and a bit of hard work and suddenly baby was up and on my chest and roaring at the world.
We let the cord stop pulsating before clamping to make sure that all of the baby’s bloody supply transferred to him. I wasn’t prepared for this meaning that fierce contractions continued and was a bit shocked but I sucked the gas and air and got through it. We just rested together for the next hour or two, little man had a good feed and the midwife pottered around cleaning up. Baby was born at 9.01pm and by midnight, she had us both cleaned up, dressed and tucked into bed and left us to enjoy our first night with the new addition.
Birthing at home was amazing. I felt so empowered by it and so much more connected to the process and to the new baby as a result. Himself can’t get over it, he says in hospital for our first he felt like a useless lump but at home he actually felt like he had a part to play. There was no rush, no panic, everything went at just the right speed for little man to make his way to us and straight afterwards we got to cuddle in our own family bed. Older brother took to him well although when he saw a post-birth picture of him the next morning (with the new baby wrapped in an old towel) his first reaction was ‘that’s my towel, he has to put that back in my room’! Sibling rivalry straight away.
Oh and I had a bowl of the stew for lunch the next day and it was only gorgeous.”