Zachariah’s Birth Story

Like most birth stories, this story starts at conception but the unique circumstances of Zach’s conception need telling just as much as the story of the labour and birth. In February 2004, Steve and I had our wedding and we planned to have a child sometime in the year following the wedding. My menstrual cycle has a large impact on my life and when I had my last period before our wedding, I realised with dread that I was due to be at my premenstrual worst on the day of the wedding itself. This was a serious situation because I would be very likely to say ‘bug*** off’ rather than ‘I do’. So, I came up with a solution – if we got pregnant there would be no PMT! I convinced Steve that this was an excellent idea and at the appropriate times I hauled Steve off to the bedroom to achieve my goal. My plan was a roaring success and on the day of our wedding I had about 10 days’ worth of baby cells inside me and I was a glowing bride instead of the green monster from the swamp. Poor Steve thought that he would have a few months of trying, but I had warned him that I come from a fertile family! Although this was a rather extreme solution to PMT, it was a very successful one except for the unfortunate side effect that I spent much of our honeymoon with my head down the toilet!

Once I found out I was pregnant, I set about planning for my antenatal care and the birth. My older sister had had a beautiful home birth with her first child and this example combined with my distrust of the medical establishment meant that I didn’t even consider hospital as a viable place to give birth to a baby. I interviewed several midwives who do home birth and chose Linda Shannon as my LMC and Julie Carlyon as my second midwife. My pregnancy progressed beautifully with no problems. I chose the course of least interventions and declined any scans or tests, and also insisted Linda use the pinnard instead of the sonicaid when checking on the baby. Steve took a bit of convincing about the safety of homebirth and no interventions. He had attended the birth of his two children from a previous marriage and the birth of his grandson, all of which were medicalised hospital births and he was well-indoctrinated that this was the safest option for giving birth. Throughout the pregnancy, Steve attended most of the midwife visits and the antenatal classes and enjoyed learning about his baby in a way that he never had a chance to for his previous children. Through this process, he came to accept that my birth plan was right for all of us.

My due date of November 11 approached, and I had insisted to Steve that I would produce him a baby at 11 minutes past 11 on the 11th day of the 11th month! As my due date passed, and no baby arrived, we decided that our child had inherited his time keeping genes from his father and was now on ‘Brown time’ (for which Steve is well-known!). Steve insisted that given the military precision with which I organised conception, if the baby had my genes it would have arrived when expected. By the time I was a week overdue, I was truly sick of being pregnant. I was very large; the weather was ridiculously hot, and I found the whole process exhausting. I admired the design of pregnancy that ensures late pregnancy is so uncomfortable that labour is a very exciting prospect.

By this time, I had given up second-guessing the signals my body was giving – instead of thinking ‘is this it?’ with every niggle, I resigned myself each morning to waking up accepting that I was still pregnant. At 10 days overdue, I had a day of strong back ache and started to think that maybe something was going to happen. The next morning when I woke up, still with no baby, I decided it was time to start nudging this baby into being ready. I had an appointment with Linda that morning and I got her to stir up my cervix with some evening primrose oil. That afternoon, I went for a swim with a friend, did some shopping and arrived home ready for a well-earned rest at about 5pm. Steve was having a nap in bed, so I curled up next to him. As I relaxed, I felt some contractions that were distinctly different from the constant Braxton-Hicks contractions that I usually had throughout each day. I started to count my breaths between contractions and realised they were very regular at about four and a half minutes apart. I lay there getting more and more excited, knowing that this was probably ‘it’. I wanted to wake Steve, but I also knew that he needed to keep sleeping because he was probably in for a long night. Instead, I got up and made some dinner. I rang Linda to let her know she would be needed later in the night and rang my support team to put them on standby. My sister Jo and her partner Dave were my support team and they had to drive to Palmerston North from Wellington. I didn’t want them to start the trip until I knew for sure that things were happening. Then I woke Steve and broke the exciting news to him. We had dinner then took the dog for a walk down the river behind our place. It was a lovely evening, and we took our time strolling along and pausing every four or five minutes for me to hang off Steve’s neck and breathe through the contraction. At about 9, I rang Linda wanting to know how I would know that it was all on and when to ring Jo and Dave. She suggested it was early stages yet and to try taking a couple of Panadol and get into bed with some hot wheat packs on my back and belly. I lasted about an hour in bed but then became too uncomfortable to handle the contractions lying down. I left Steve sleeping and had a long hot shower, letting the water run on my lower back while I leaned on the wall and swayed with each contraction. By midnight, I knew that it was definitely for real. I rang Jo and told her I needed her. I woke Steve and told him I needed him too and got him to light the fire. The next couple of hours I spent sitting on my swiss ball leaning over the back of the couch. I had written a list of suggestions for my support team and had some print outs of pressure points that are useful in labour. Steve was a bit uncertain of how to help me and tried using the pressure points. Jo and Dave arrived at 2.30 and the relief on Steve’s face was obvious! Dave had been at my older sister’s home birth and had worked with all the pressure points before. I stayed on the ball and my team all naturally slotted into a routine of pushing on my shoulders and my lower back as each contraction came. I am not sure how much the pressure points actually worked, but I know that being touched helped keep me grounded and focussed and let me know they were all there with me. In between contractions, I would rest my head on the cushions and Jo would massage my back or put a hot wheat pack on it. At 3am I had a show but when I stood up to go to the toilet, there was a gush of a couple of tablespoons of bright red blood. From what I had read, I thought this was a cause for concern. I got Steve to ring Linda who assured us that it was perfectly normal. I also got Steve to ask Linda how we would know when we needed to have her here. She just said that I would know. The next few hours I spent alternating between having hot showers, sitting on the ball, or walking up and down and leaning against the wall with the contractions. At 6, I knew that I wanted Linda there. I had a slight sense of anxiety and wanted to know how I was doing, even if she turned up to check me and then leave again, I knew I needed her input. I asked Steve to ring her and he let out one of the comments that was an absolute classic for me. He said, “but you’re not even in the second stage and I can’t see the head – why do you need her?” He said that as I went into a contraction, and before I even got my breath back at the end of the contraction, I snarled at him “You’re not serious, are you?!!” He promptly rang her and asked her to come. We realised later that his comment came from his experience of hospital births. With his first two children, the doctor only turned up at the very end to deliver the baby and he was assuming that Linda would be taking the same approach.

Linda arrived at about 7am and found that I was 7 cm dilated. She listened for the heartbeat with the sonic aid and the baby was doing fine. I found this very emotional because I had not heard my baby’s heartbeat before, so it was very special. We had filled the pool by this stage, so I got in and with the first contraction in the water, my waters broke. The contractions became much stronger and faster, but still only about 3-4 minutes apart. Jo and Dave took turns working on my back with each contraction and Steve really came into his own as my coach. During each contraction he would keep telling me to focus on slowing my breath, relax my face, relax my hands, and made me stay right in the present. If the contractions got too strong for me and my breathing started to quicken or my quiet groaning started to rise, he would raise his voice to penetrate and keep me focussed. In between contractions, he would first make me take three deep breaths to refocus myself, and then he would talk me through a yoga relaxation. Starting from my feet, he would talk up through my body getting me to relax each part that he passed. Although I could not talk to him by this stage, his voice was magic and so important to me. Jo started applying iced flannels to my forehead and the back of my neck between contractions, which was very soothing. At some stage in the pool, the baby started to go posterior and my back began to ache. Linda got me to lie on my left side to encourage the baby to turn properly. Shortly after this, I began to get contractions that had a pushing urge in the middle of them. This was the most intense part of labour because I could not seem to get on top of those contractions. It was like this roar came up from inside me and would completely overtake me and take my breath away. By this stage I was very tired and was running out of energy. My uterus was also getting tired because my contractions had slowed to 10 minutes apart and were not always very strong. I remember saying to Linda that I didn’t think I could take much more and thinking that if someone offered me a caesarean right then I would jump at the chance! Linda gave me a homeopathic remedy a couple of times that helped strengthen the contractions again. Eventually Steve could see that my breathing was trying to change, and he encouraged me to begin panting through the contractions to control the pushing urge. I still had a band of pain around my abdomen that meant my cervix had not dilated fully and that I should not be pushing. The panting was a godsend, and I began to feel less out of control. Linda got me out of the pool shortly before 10 to examine me and found that I was only 8cm because the lip of the cervix had swollen up and was coming back over the baby’s head. That was really disheartening news to have worked hard for 3 hours and only gained 1cm. I also started to feel it was all a bit futile because I thought that once the lip of the cervix swelled up, it was unlikely to allow the baby out naturally. But I hadn’t counted on Linda’s witchcraft! She applied arnica and rescue remedy directly to my cervix and it moved straight back out the way. I was lying on my back on the floor and as the next contraction came, I started to push. Linda said that if I wanted a water birth I better get back in the pool! Feeling like a turtle cast on its back with everyone standing round staring at me, I shrieked at them to help me up and get me in the pool. With everyone laughing, they hauled me to my feet and helped me get in. At the next contraction I began to push in earnest. Linda had said all along that I can choose how long the second stage lasts for and if I want to get the baby out, I just have to push it out. Steve said that at that first push, my face and chest went completely purple. Linda had to remind me to only push with the contractions because I was just pushing non-stop, determined to get the baby moving! I felt him moving down into my vagina but as the contractions ended, I would feel him slip back up again. After a little while of this, Linda had a quick feel of my cervix and found the lip had slipped back over again. She got me out of the pool and tried the arnica treatment again, which worked a second time. This time I stayed out of the pool and on my hands and knees on the floor continued pushing. A couple of pushes later his head came out. Linda first thought the cord was wrapped around his neck but then realised it was just a roll of fat across the back of his neck! While we waited for the next contraction there was a bit of banter about how well I had been feeding him because he looked so chubby. With one more big push, his shoulders came out and the rest of him shot out. Linda did a very good catch because he chose to come out with the opposite shoulder first and shot away from Linda towards me! She passed him through to me and I cuddled him to my chest. I was so excited to meet him – I could not stop gushing endearments at him and looking at him. I wanted to see what sex he was, but Linda pointed out that it would be best to get him breathing first! She gave him a vigorous rubbing with the towel, and he cried for a minute before becoming calm and began to open his eyes and look around. After a while, Steve cut the cord and then I delivered the placenta with a bit of management from Linda. Linda and Julie were guessing he weighed a good nine pounds because he seemed so large, but everyone was surprised when Julie weighed him, and he was 10lb 11oz (4860g)! I had no idea I could produce such a large baby and to do so without tearing was even more amazing. I was also proud of myself for having pushed him out in 25 minutes, after close to 12 hours of hard labouring through the night.

It was wonderful to be able to clean up and snuggle into my own bed with my husband and baby and have all my family around. My mother turned up soon after the birth with strawberries and ice cream and helped clean up and do the washing. We all had a rest for the afternoon then sat around talking about the birth over dinner. I imagined if I had been in hospital how much lonelier it would have been to spend the night there by myself. Jo and Dave had taken turns videoing parts of the labour and all of the delivery and we watched the video that evening. I have watched the video many times since and cannot believe how lucky I was to have such a fantastic support team. Watching the video showed me they worked as hard as I did to make the birth a success. What stands out the most for me on the video was how much love was lavished on me during the labour. All three of them loved and supported me through the whole event and there was no way I could have done it without them. The energy in the room was so calm and peaceful and perfect for receiving a baby.

I also felt very lucky to have had a midwife as skilled as Linda. I am sure that if I had been in the hospital under the care of someone else, I would have ended up with either an epidural or caesarean or both, instead of the simple solution of arnica and rescue remedy. I am also very glad that I chose not to have any scans. Not knowing he was a big baby meant that no one could scare me by telling me it was unlikely I could deliver him naturally or that I was bound to have problems with his size. I’m sure many doctors would not have let me go past my due date if they had known what a large baby I was carrying, and they would have insisted on a closely monitored induction. Instead, I had a beautiful birth and a gorgeous baby and memories that I will treasure forever