“What if…?” is a question that I have asked my midwife so many times. There are so many uncertainties on your journey of your first pregnancy and for sure, it is a journey of the unknown. Every day is different: exciting, tiring, joyful, fearful, and simply unique. And then there is the big ‘finish line’, the birth of your baby. You spend months preparing for this distinctive and special event, although you don’t really know what it will be like. For sure, along this journey, there are plenty of ‘what if…?’ moments.
We awaited the birth of our baby with total excitement, having had a difficult time getting pregnant and dealing with miscarriage. I imagined this birth would be amazing and I was convinced I could do it. However, after a hospital tour I was full of disappointment. Birthing our so much loved baby into an environment that felt so sad and clinical was not what I had imagined. The hospital delivery suite rooms looked run-down. Each room had a bed, a bright extendable light, resuscitation equipment, and very little else. There was not even a painting or picture on the wall. To me, it simply felt loveless and clinical. I was hoping to find a place that felt warm and welcoming. I was hoping for a picture on the wall, perhaps a rope to hang on, a birthing pool in each room and perhaps a swiss ball. Instead I found a cold room with a bed and flickering light. But what other options were there? In my home country, Germany, there are birthing centres, and the hospitals provide everything you could wish for. But here in Lower Hutt the appearance of the hospital gave me the impression that empowering women and caring for them was not a priority. I fell into a state of panic and researched a lot in the hope of finding somewhere different to birth my baby. But to my disappointment there is no birthing centre as such in my region, and even Wellington Hospital with its caesarean section rate of 31% did not feel like a valid option for me. Somehow, more out of desperation than being convinced, I began engaging in the idea of homebirth.
I knew women who had given birth at home. Their stories sounded both amazing and reassuring. I remember vividly a conversation with my midwife about the idea of Homebirth. “I know that you and your husband are the right people for a homebirth!” she said. I was not so sure at this point. A long journey of reading, talking and thinking began. I gathered quickly that homebirth was a topic that everyone had an opinion on and that many were filled with fear and consternation. And then there was also the view that homebirth is only something very ‘strong women’ could do. I began to ask myself how it could be that there are these preconceptions about homebirth in our society and if these should influence me. Along my journey I realised how important it is to connect with like-minded people for advice, information and support. I found the internet to be a valuable resource as well groups like ‘Positive Birth’, Wellington’s doula network and last but not least, our Calm Birth course. Also our midwife collective ‘Birthworks’ and our midwife Siobhan gave great advice and helped us to understand the beauty of a homebirth. So many “what if’s….’ had been discussed at our seemingly endless Midwife appointments. What if I feel like going to the hospital? We go! What if I’m in the hospital and want to leave? If there are no medical reasons that prevent us from doing so, we will bring you back home! What if something goes wrong? We will transfer to the hospital, but there should be nothing developing that rapidity that we don’t have the time to make that decision.
Over time my ‘what if’s…’, fears and anxieties vanished and we felt strongly that homebirth would be our journey. I decided consciously not to pack a ‘hospital bag’ because I wanted to commit 100% to our homebirth. Daily I prepared with my Calm birth birth visualisations how the birth of our baby would unfold, and gathered bits and pieces together to set up our lounge. I always said “This is what I wish for but if things go wrong, then it will be what it will be!” This was a healthy idea at the time and I felt confident I would not be disappointed if things would not play out as planned.
And there it was, the moment my body decided to birth our baby boy into this world. Full of excitement, we set up the house for the birth: Candles, hot water bottles, essential oils, cosy light, a warm house, and music. It was amazing and it was all that I had hoped it would be. Labouring in the corner in front of my sofa gave me a sense of control. Breathing in an out, I rode the ‘waves’ as they came. It did not even worry me that my midwife could not attend the birth due to an induction and that we ended up with the ‘Backup midwife’. I was full of joy when she arrived and for a long time she was just sitting with me on the floor, simply watching the birth unfold, reassuring my husband and I that we were doing the right things, and making sure baby was safe. The atmosphere was calm, warm and controlled. I was in tune with my body and ready to give birth. I was in control of my mind and let my body do its important work. That was what I, or even more we, wanted! But things took a different turn for us.
What if…? What if you feel your energy depleting? What if your baby is just not coming out even though you push with all the might you have? Two hours of pushing and full contractions brought me to the point of desperation. I just wanted it to be over. I did not want to have one more useless contraction that would not bring my baby closer to me. I simply could not do it anymore and wanted to go to hospital. I felt instinctively that it was time to go and that I had given all I could give. After a short discussion with the midwives and time to reconsider, we transferred to the hospital. My husband drove and I was in the back of the car, focusing to stay in control of my mind and to trust in my body. The contractions were hammering down and the arrival at hospital is a blur for me. Things progressed quickly and we ended up having an emergency forceps- assisted birth. On the one hand it was a great relief to know I would be able to hold my baby soon but on the other hand it was not at all what I was hoping for.I used my Calm Birth techniques and tried to breathe and stay in control of my mind. I surrendered my body once again, this time not to the contractions but to a team of doctors and nurses. I remember that once I had the spinal injections I felt nothing. It was a relief but also surreal. Other people were delivering my baby and I felt like I was not part of it. When I was told to push I asked if it would even do anything to help I was confused. However, eventually, the reassurance from the medical team gave me confidence that if I could push, I would help my baby to come out. So I pushed with all my might, not feeling anything but closing my eyes and imagining my baby moving down and coming out: a thought that I’m still holding on to nowadays.
So what happened that night? Our baby was stuck with his shoulder at my pelvis and, as we later found out from the hospital records; his cord was wrapped three times around his neck. The cord was so short that it needed to be cut to even get my baby out. For me, this confirmed our decision to transfer to the hospital. Our boy arrived safely into this world. He was a little bruised and shaken after this more violent birth but healthy.
We are thankful for all that has been done to help us and to help our son to be born. However, there is this deep regret that nothing that we wished for our birth happened: No feeling of the actual birth, no water birth, no late umbilical cord clamping, no crawling to breast, no cuddling directly after birth, Dad could not catch his son, there was no real ‘ family time’ after the birth, and the list goes on. All this would have been possible in a homebirth situation, but unfortunately the ‘what if..’ situation became reality for us.
So what if you so badly wanted a homebirth but ended up with an invasive hospital birth?’ For me personally it is no question that we had no other choice. I’m proud that I laboured for many hours at home, dilated nine centimetres all quietly by myself without pain relief, and I managed to push my baby down and feel him coming down. Most of all, I am proud that I felt so in tune with my body like never before in my life. I’m thankful for this experience. I’m also proud that my body was clearly telling me that I needed help. I’m thankful that my midwife gave me room to decide and that she reminded me of my wish for a homebirth. She stayed with us the whole time and a few weeks later she came back to talk with me about my birth experience.
Right after birth I felt no regret or sadness about my birth experience. I was holding on to those precious moments that I was able to experience labouring at home. But now, six months later, I’m often sad that I could not feel my baby being born, giving him the warm and loving home right from the start, and have him on my skin to comfort him while he was taking his first breath of life. I have often questioned myself and the decision I made that night, but looking at the hospital records and talking to my midwife I’m sure we might not have made it without help. My head and my heart are torn apart between consciously understanding the situation but also the deep feelings of regret and sadness.
The first three months with our baby were challenging. So many times I have held him, crying and telling him that I was sorry about how things turned out. I knew that he needed me more than ever. We needed time to bond and maybe to make up for the missed initial moments after birth. I often looked at my boy and wondered how this all must have felt for him? So often I heard and read the special home birth stories about how connected mother, father and baby felt. These stories felt like arrows fired at me because I felt I had missed out on something. But over time, I realised that our little family has a very strong bond: we all share the feelings of the traumatic birth that did not go as planned and, at the same time, we love each other for what we have achieved.
There will never be another chance for a ‘first birth’ for me. And even considering a second one might take some more time. I have been struggling to define my birth. If people ask me about the birth of our baby I often don’t know what to say. Mostly I say that we attempted a homebirth but ended up with emergency forceps. The reactions to this statement vary greatly from surprise, critique, understanding and encouragement. Some might see my story as a reason to deem homebirth unsafe. However, my advice is to trust in your instincts, and you and your midwife will know if and when it’s time to transfer to the hospital. Had we laboured in a hospital environment from the start, it seems likely that we may still have needed forceps or maybe even a c-section. However, we would have been left without the beautiful memories of our labour at home and our feelings of empowerment and connectedness.
I want the world to know that I’m one of ‘these women’ that had a homebirth; even though I didn’t give birth at home. Here at home I felt strong, in tune with my body and empowered. I surrendered myself to my body and allowed the birth to unfold in its unique way: a notion that I feel deeply connected with.
Looking back at my birth story and everything I went through, I still believe that homebirth is safe, and yes, I would do it again. When I look back at my son’s birthday I can see me and my husband laughing, making pancakes, filling the pool, setting up candles, and breathing together. Although my body birthed in hospital, after months of anticipation, my heart has birthed our baby here at home. I’m a home birth mum!