Mud Hut Home Birth
“There were shepherds living out in the fields … An angel of the Lord appeared … and said to them, “…you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:8-12)
We are volunteer workers with an NGO in West Africa, Republic of Benin. I had 3 previous water births, and 2 of them were home births. I was pregnant with my 4th child and felt I had a clear sense of what I wanted from birth, based in a belief in the importance of birth as being something sacred, private, and deeply powerful. Grantly Dick Read in “Childbirth without fear” stated “we are not concerned with disease, but with healthy women carrying out a normal and natural function”.
Because we are working in Benin I knew it was unlikely that I would find a midwife that would be an advocate of physiological birth (or if they were, one that would also allow me the birthing choices I was wanting to make). I also knew that it is awfully expensive for anyone to travel this far to come out to visit. Within maternity wards here, most if not all will be trained in a medical model system that usually looks for the worst and unfortunately, more often than not, finds or creates it – we had just heard of a baby dying due to forceps injuries at the local Natti hospital.
So, I prepared within myself that I would likely be birthing unattended. I did a lot of reading up (in the context of home births) on issues that brought up any questions or doubts within myself, and came away satisfied yet again that natural birth was achievable and desirable in the circumstances I was considering. After an ultrasound, I knew baby and I were in good health, and I was taking multivitamins and trying to eat well.
I spent many hours in prayer and felt again an assurance and a deep sense of peace before God that things were OK, that we were in his hands. I kept thinking of Mary birthing in the stable, what circumstances! – but the Nativity is a lasting image and emblem of something holy and sacred. We were eventually blessed with Sharon, our Kiwi midwife who did a lot of independent fundraising and went to a huge amount of personal effort to come out. I was so thankful and pleased that she really wanted to be a support and help for us. She is an advocate of the midwifery guidelines that say you ensure the woman is informed and then give her the dignity of choice. What a blessing and relief to find.
However, when I did go into labour before Sharon arrived, I was still well prepared to birth unattended because of my ongoing expectations and beliefs about birth. I see it as a privilege to be a healthy woman with a supportive husband and the option to birth in privacy and peace. “Birth is not an emergency but an emergence”. When I went into labour it just felt like more practice contractions and I wasn’t fazed – I call them “Tightenings”. About the same time my youngest (who I was still breastfeeding) came and asked for a drink, and I got one of those “grab you” tightenings, and then I started saying to Jo, “Hmmm” – he thought they were just practice too, until he saw the way I was concentrating, leaning against the kitchen bench!And that they were coming again, though I didn’t want to time anything.
I wasn’t really thinking I was in labour. I moved into our room and pottered around, opening the buckets of old sheets and towels that I had prepared and throwing them down next to my armchair and next to the toilet, and covering over a kids mattress. My mind and my body were not really paying attention to each other, but part of me back there was thinking it could move really quickly so I better have some things out just in case! (Before the birth I spoke out to Baby inside that when God called him, he was going to come quickly and easily.) So, during a few tightenings I sat on my armchair, concentrating on relaxing into it all and letting my body take over. I instinctively felt that my body was naturally more open when I wasn’t wearing undies! So, I took them off and said, “I give my body permission to open”.
Then I moved to the toilet because it was the place where I felt most open. I had one intense tightening, which didn’t connect to my logical brain that this was transition! But I wanted Jo there and called out for him. He was moving around trying to get hot water into the pool, but he saw me and stayed nearby. I just had time to throw sheets and towels on the ground and I knelt on them, leaning on an overturned bucket. Then I had 2 intense tightenings which I only realised in retrospect were pushing, because of the way I was breathing – more exhaling through my open mouth rather than just breathing quietly like I had been before. During these I was listening briefly to worship music on my mp3, “Perfect love casts out fear, his name is Jesus”.
I stood up and asked Jo if the pool was ready and I thought he said it was (although it was still cold). So, I got ready to get in, but I had a “grab you” and crouched down because I could feel the baby descending! I managed to say to Jo “the baby’s coming now” – it felt great to crouch and feel the head crowning with my hand there, as I went slow -it felt different to a water birth where I never really felt the stretching, but so powerful to crouch and feel the head myself as it was being born! Immediately it turned and then Baby’s whole body slipped out into my hands in front of me, face up, pink and crying vigorously! (Jo said I blew on his face and then he started but I don’t remember).
Jo said all up it took less than an hour. He brought the kids mattress over and I lay on that, baby on my belly, while he tidied up and cut the cord. I went and leaned over my armchair with baby lying against me and delivered the placenta. We settled on the nearby bed and broke out the traditional celebratory Peanut M & M’s, and baby had a nuzzle. We didn’t weigh or measure him because we had nothing to do it with! But he was pink-and-golden-healthy and making plenty of noise.
We were so glad Sharon still decided to come out, she found out the baby had been born just as she was getting ready to fly out! But when she came it was such a support and encouragement. She brought so many presents it was like several Christmases combined! And what an affirmation to be able to share and feel understood. It’s still crazy to me that I didn’t even realise I was pushing at the end of the labour, but Sharon said it was because I am so comfortable with birth that I let my body just get on with the job!
Noah Ezekiel was born here at home in our mud hut, 22nd September at about 6.30 pm we think! We think he had a good Apgar; we think he weighed about 3.5 kg, and we think he was about 53 cm long! However, we do know that he iswonderful, and his 3 brothers agree.
“My soul glorifies the Lord” (Mary’s song)
Kristie Bayne, Natitingou, Benin.