Mila’s Birth... A Home Birth...Written By Dad

1st Mar 2021

Mila’s Birth... A Home Birth...Written By Dad

THE BIRTH OF MILA

“How are you feeling now?” I asked after answering my phone.

“They are getting a bit stronger now, I was in tears before.” Mirjana replied.

“Ok I’m coming home now.”

“You don’t have to, I’m ok.”

“I’m on my way.”

We knew when the cramps started the night before that today could be the day, and with the progressive but slow increase in frequency it seemed that we were getting closer.

We had planned a home birth from around the start of the second trimester. Although I was initially resistant to birthing at home, I was enlightened by information we learnt during an active birth workshop, and this was reinforced the further into it we looked. The idea that birth is a natural and intricate sequence of physiological processes was in contrast with the medicalised popular knowledge I had been exposed to hitherto, which induced fear. Admittedly I was somewhat seduced by a wonderful video of a mother having a home birth (her third birth) in some foreign countryside location, taking walks down by a natural creek and then having a very calm birth in their bath, something I was to learn was not what every home birth looked like, but the contrast to the footage of a mother in hospital strapped to machines was stark.

I made it home in time to do some last-minute preparations before we settled in for the evening. It was a hot build up evening in November, so we bunkered down in the living area of our elevated house with the aircon on, sheets on the windows for privacy, tens machine at the ready and plenty of food in the fridge. We had set up the downstairs bedroom with the birthing pool, hoping to have a ‘waterbirth’ or at least use the pool to make things easier in the final stages.

Confidently, about 6pm we sat down on the lounge to watch a movie, as the progression had been slow during the day, we figured we might get well through it and it would be a good distraction. I think we watched about five minutes and thirty seconds of whatever it was we chose before the intensity increased and we realised we should switch our attention and start facing the labour changes.

After researching, preparing and practicing, I had the feeling that we were very well versed in how to cope with the labour stages. It was amazing how quickly that confidence evaporated as the intensity increased and the realisation that we knew not much at all struck me. This feeling was somewhat overwhelming initially, not knowing what would happen, how long the birth would take, whether we could cope, or if we would end up with a hospital birth. My thoughts turning briefly to the friendly advice from friends telling us we were either brave or crazy, and for a moment I thought perhaps the latter was true.

Fortunately, birthing our baby didn’t present too much time for reflection and the focus was back on my partner who was feeling the early cramping feelings before dilation. We started to identify clear ‘contraction’ phases and tried different strategies such as breathing together, walking backwards and forwards together and constant reassurance. This worked for a time, and our consistent discussion was reminding ourselves that the body was doing its job, and that it’s not pain but a natural process. All of this we learned during various birthing classes or reading books, and it helped maintain perspective in what can be an overwhelming time.

“The pain is in my lower back now”, Mirjana expressed.

“Did you want to try the tens machine?” I suggested.

“Yes.”

With her sitting down, tens machine attached, we turned it on during the contractions. Being the support person, I had no real idea how anything feels, but it seemed to provide a welcome distraction and some light entertainment on the couple of occasions I turned it up too high. We got into a rhythm and the track of time was well lost.

That said, I think it was only about 7:30 when I called the midwife to ask a question about some slight bleeding. It was important to us that the baby was born at home, and we knew that one of the limitations with the home birth service was the amount of time we could have the midwives on duty until they had to stand down resulting in us having to go to hospital, something we desperately didn’t want. On my mind when speaking to the midwife, was to play down contractions somewhat, or at least no talk it up so as not to have them attend too early.

“The early stages could last for many hours, the best thing she could to is stay hydrated, fed and get some rest if she can to save her energy for later”, I was advised by the midwife.

“Mirjana, she said that you should get some rest if you can, lay down maybe…..”

“How the fuck could anyone sleep through this!”

Perhaps I had played it down a little too much, I thought.

A short time later, Mirjana moved to the lounge as the pains had now shifted. She ended up in a slouch position with one leg on a foot stool, one leg on the ground. It was clear the waves were coming on stronger, for longer and with less break in between. During the short breaks I would grab fresh ice for her to chomp on, and during the contractions I would massage her feet and calves as she was experiencing some cramps. Although we were advised not to get caught up in timing contractions, I couldn’t help but keep the phone to one side with the stopwatch function keeping track somewhat. We had been at 2 minutes on and off for some time, and I knew from the reading I had done that we were in to the swing of things most likely. It was also getting a bit hectic. Two minutes break is not much time to get ready for the next wave, and I did miss the start of one or two contractions and was advised of this in no uncertain terms. For the record, I was not ‘doing the dishes’ as was alleged!

“How long does this go on for?” She asked

“Could be hours”, I advised, erroneously regurgitating information from the midwife which was given in a different context. I knew as the words were coming out that they were the wrong words, being incorrect factually, and regardless of accuracy, hardly uplifting. I could see the despair on her face, discouraged by the information and the realisation that this could be harder than she thought. It was only a short time after this, that those critical words came.

“I don’t think I can do this”.

I knew that my advice had not helped, and that the pace of contractions had been demanding and any process we had had gotten away from us. I also knew that this was a key moment for her. I couldn’t help but feel at that moment, we really didn’t know what we were doing, and we had gotten this far, but the tranquil home birth videos I had seen were not this birth. At that moment I had doubts that we would have a home birth. In the few seconds before responding, I also knew that this is what we wanted, and more importantly it was desperately what she wanted.

“You are doing really well. Let’s get back to our breathing exercises and focus back on what we learned. Remember it’s a natural process, try to detach from the feelings and let your body work through it”, I said.

We did this for a couple of contractions and managed to keep on top of things for a few minutes. About then, I saw a change in her. She went from expressing discomfort to a more trance like state. It looked to me as though she had completely given in to her body and she was on autopilot. We had very little dialogue during this stage and she laid back on the lounge along the chaise section, one leg on the ground, one leg on the lounge. I kept timing some of the contractions, they were still two and two.

I then noticed her change again, with vocalised contractions and I could see her abdomen look as though it was contracting.

“Are you pushing?” I asked.

“I’m not pushing, my body is pushing”

“So you feel like your body is pushing?”

“YES!”

“Do you want me to call the midwife?”

“Up to you.”

Up to me I thought…. Okay, I think we are way further along than we thought we were four minutes ago, I think there is a fairly good chance we are about to have a baby on the lounge, not in the pool, and you still have your undies on. Speed dial ‘on call’ midwife. It was now about 9pm.

“Hi, Dave again. The contractions are quite strong now, and it looks like she is pushing”, I informed in my best calm voice. During which one of these well vocalised pushing contractions occurred in the background.

“I can hear her, we are on our way.”

“They are on their way sweetheart.”

I was very anxious during the 15 minutes it took for the midwives to arrive. The contractions continued without interruption, and Mirjana was very lucid in-between. The quick response from the midwife made me suspect the baby might not be that far off. I saw the car pull up and was instantly relieved.

My feelings changed the moment our two amazing midwives walked through the door. The experts were here! From the first time we met our midwife we had confidence that we were in good hands, and her presence was calming. The excitement of having our baby returned to me.

“You are amazing”, she said to Mirjana.

They listened to one contraction, and then the support midwife took me down stairs for me to show her the bath set up and how to fill it. I was then sent back upstairs to be with Mirjana.

“Would you like to go for a walk downstairs?” The midwife asked her. I couldn’t hear her answer but it seemed as though she wasn’t too interested in going anywhere.

“I think you will feel a lot better once you get into the pool”, she added.

One thing that struck me was the way the midwives conducted themselves around Mirjana. They were so unobtrusive, quiet, calm and supportive without ever unnecessarily interrupting the labour. The midwife took her blood pressure and then had a go, unsuccessfully, at finding the babies heartbeat with the doppler. A brief moment of anxiety for both of us.

“The pool is ready”, the support midwife advised.

“We will check the heart beat again downstairs with you standing up as it’s easier to find” the midwife advised confidently, which put me at ease. “Ready to get up?”

“Let’s go sweetheart, the pool is ready, and you will feel some relief in there. It’s nice and warm”, I added in support.

With that, we started the walk downstairs to the ‘birthing room’ and the bathroom attached to it. I was thinking that this would be an interesting walk as the contractions had been consistent until that point; but they completely stopped. It was amazing to see how such a small intervention completely halted labour. Down stairs the midwife checked for a heartbeat again. We were both waiting with great anticipation. There was a heart beating inside. It was in what looked to me to be a very low position. With my limited knowledge it seemed as if the baby didn’t have far left to travel.

Mirjana climbed into the birth pool in the room we had set up, which was nice and dark, the only light coming from the oil diffuser. There was a queen mattress on the other side of the room, we had the aircon on and the specific essential oil concoction doing it’s thing in the diffuser. Perfect. Except I still needed to put the music on. Should be easy, grab Mirjana’s phone and put the playlist on. Easy except I can’t see very well in the dark without my glasses, so I ducked upstairs to grab them. Back again I look up the playlist only to find that I’m not real sure what was to be played. I contemplated the option of asking the person currently in labour what the name of the playlist was that she had told me about three times previously. The pause was becoming dramatic, and I was close to having a guess.

“It’s the ‘time for a miracle’ album“, Mirjana advised.

“Yep, thought so, just having trouble seeing, got it now though”. Music on. Perfect.

It really was like the eye of a cyclone. Mirjana had been in the pool for a good ten minutes and there hadn’t been any contractions since being on the lounge, probably 15 minutes in total. I helped her have a drink of water. Both the midwives sat quietly away from the pool, communicating very subtly if they needed to with each other. A contraction surged, and then passed. I don’t recall how many contractions there were at that time, but it seemed about four at most. The last one was very strong.

“I think I could feel the head”, Mirjana said to the midwives.

The midwife replied briefly acknowledging her statement is an unsurprised and calm way. She moved over to the edge of the pool and if I recall correctly, shone a light briefly in and then turned it off. “I think you will be having a baby tonight” she said with a smile.

Upon hearing those words, the emotions started to rise and a little relief at the same time. I was also a little perplexed as I couldn’t believe the head would be starting to crown. Surely not yet. You put so much effort into keeping a lid on things physically and emotionally in preparation for 12 hours or 24 hours of labour that it felt surreal. The little conservative voice in my head played it down, “this could still go on for some time yet, don’t get ahead.”

The tension and breathing started to come on for another contraction. Both midwives moved to the edge of the pool, one filming (thank you!), quite clearly they knew we were close. The contraction was now in full force and I saw the water break. The contraction continued, and a little baby shot out into the water, and then into the midwife’s hands to pass up to the new mum. The feeling for me was one of disbelief, and complete overwhelming emotion. It’s amazing to wait so long for a baby to appear only to be completely shocked when it arrives. You can watch babies born on television over and over but it’s such a different thing to watch your own baby arrive into the world.

Both of us were overcome with amazement when the baby was placed on Mum’s chest, and very soon after she gave a short cry to let us know she was ok. Our beautiful daughter born on the 11th of the 11th, at street number 11, and around 11pm (well eastern standard time anyway, it was 10:30pm Darwin time). At 2.88kg she was not a huge baby, but beautiful and healthy.

The placenta was birthed a short time later, and placed into a bowl, with mum and bub still in the bath for some time after the birth. To cap off the tropical story for us, it started to rain with an incoming build up storm, right on cue shortly after the birth which added to the ambience and uniqueness.

I cut the cord quite sometime after the birth, possibly an hour or so with the placenta looking completely exhausted. Following that, the midwife showed us the different parts of the placenta and their various functions which was quite interesting. There was skin time for both parents, the weigh in, introduction to the dog and then the clean-up ensued. The midwives emptied the pool and assisted in cleaning up which was simply awesome for us.

About 2:00am, with the final checks done, the midwife told us it was time for her to go, a very daunting thought for us to be on our own with the baby after having so much support. A memory that has stayed with me as clear as the moment it happened, was of us sitting up in bed, with our little baby wrapped up in-between us who had only been in the outside world for 4 hours, on our own and given we were first time parents, feeling as though we haven’t a clue what to do! I thought at the time, everyone must feel like this first time round.

As a supporting partner, my home birth experience began with apprehension, fear and misconceptions, and the journey transitioned me to be an advocate. My expectations of child birth were shaped by popular opinion, the media and the myriad of acquaintances who warned me of my impending trauma as a helpless partner. My experience was one of exhilaration, joy and love.

To my beautiful partner, who was strong, resilient, loving and informed throughout the pregnancy and birth; you got the experience you dreamed of through your own courage and conviction.

To the amazing midwives who supported us through the pregnancy and birth, thank you. We are grateful to the Northern Territory Government for providing a fantastic home birth service which supports and empowers mothers to birth naturally and safely in their own home. But it is the people who are always the linchpin of any service. The human factor. From the first meeting, to the end of the after care, the quality of support we received exceeded professional expectations. Thank you for your time, empathy, competence and genuine passion for birthing.