The two grandmothers were perched precariously half way up the stairs as I neared the end of my planned homebirth. They heard sounds and were unsure whether it was me or one of our other children, who they had come to look after while I went about the business of bringing baby number three into the world.
As they stood there, clutching each other and praying to God, St Anthony and my recently deceased grandfather that the baby would arrive soon, they realised it was my two-year-old daughter waking up. They crept up, grabbed her and ran downstairs, not wanting to interfere with the miracle of childbirth in the bedroom next door.
If someone had told me seven years ago, whilst pregnant with my first child, that I would someday have a planned homebirth, I would have laughed in their face! I had private health insurance and believed the only place babies should be born was in nice, safe hospitals, surrounded by the doctors and midwives.
Two hospital births changed my mind about that.
I was excited about my first birth. I had my semi-private suite booked and birth plan written. I practised yoga and was not planning any pain relief, other than well-rehearsed breathing techniques. The reality was much different.
The hospital was packed, (there was a full moon that night) and there were no delivery suites available. I remember panicking, waiting for one to free up as I listened to women screaming. By the time I got in, I was ready to push. The doctor disagreed. (Believe me, the one time in your life you know something for sure, is when you’re about to give birth.)
I protested loudly, the doctor looked again, chuckled and said, “Oh my, you really are ready.” Within seconds, I was in stirrups, feeling humiliated (I thought these were abolished centuries ago) as the doctor told me to bear down and push. Forceps, vacuum and an episiotomy later (they cut without asking permission or explaining why), my son was born. I was elated at his arrival but let down by the experience.
My second birth was much different. I went private, expecting a better service. My waters broke at home and within three hours my daughter was born in hospital. Ten minutes later my private consultant waltzed in, checked me over and left. The private rooms were full so I went public. Regardless, I received a bill for €3,000. It was a waste of money but the experience taught me I could cope without a doctor or pain relief, once I had my husband and a good midwife.
My third pregnancy I wanted something different. I chose the Midwifery Led Unit (MLU) in Drogheda, which is run by midwives. There is a birthing pool, soft lighting and no doctors — apparently it is like giving birth in a spa. MLU places are limited due to high demand and unfortunately I didn’t get in.
I was disappointed until I read Tracy Donegan’s The Better Birth Book where she explains how studies have shown home births to be as safe as hospital births and it was then I considered a homebirth. I’m not the tree hugging type (I couldn’t live without lipgloss) but the idea still appealed to me.
Through the Homebirth Association of Ireland, I contacted a midwife. She came to our home and within 30 minutes, we booked her for our homebirth. For my entire pregnancy, apart from two routine ultrasounds at hospital, I had home visits. I lay on the couch as the midwife found the baby’s heartbeat, while my children and husband listened. It was wonderful, especially not having to spend hours at hospital appointments.
I was four days overdue and impatient when my labour began at 2am on a Tuesday morning. I rocked on a birthing ball and at 4am my contractions became regular. I woke my husband and called the midwife, who arrived alongside the grannies at 6am. The grannies made tea and toast while the midwife checked me. I expected her to say I was about 7cm dilated but much to my dismay, I was only 2cm.
She suggested a bath. The water was lovely and helped enormously with the contractions. My husband’s job was to distract me with funny stories and help me breathe. We had practised hypnobirthing but until then, I was not fully convinced it worked.
However, with each contraction, I remembered to relax and let them wash over me.
As long as I did not tense up, they were totally manageable.
My husband topped up the water regularly to keep me warm and the midwife popped in once or twice. The children slept soundly while the grannies panicked downstairs while drinking copious amounts of tea and repeating the rosary. Whilst they had never said anything negative about homebirth to me, I knew they were nervous.
When I felt the baby coming, I climbed out of the bath and wobbled into the bedroom. I got on the bed and within five minutes, she crowned. I never made a sound until the very end when she got stuck. I grabbed my husband (accidentally twisting his nipple 360 degrees!) and told him I couldn’t do it but he encouraged me so I yelled out and pushed. I had one leg on the midwife’s shoulder and my husband’s nipple in a twist when suddenly my little girl arrived.
Her hand was beside her head, which had made delivery tough but other than that, it was much easier than my hospital births; being at home was relaxing. After the baby was weighed, wrapped and fed, my husband decided to put the grannies out of their misery and walked into the kitchen holding their newest little granddaughter. He was met by two shocked faces and a very excited two-year-old Robyn, now a big sister.
They could not believe a baby had been born so quickly and quietly. (I’m usually very vocal so I cannot blame them). Tears of joy were shed all around and then my husband brought baby April back to me.
Just then her big brother, Mitchell, woke up and rambled into the bedroom. He was rubbing his sleepy eyes and talking about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles when he noticed her. His face was a picture of shock and delight. When he went to bed she was in my belly but when he woke up, she was here.
The midwife gave me a bath, stripped the bed and put on the washing machine. Within an hour of having my baby I was washed, changed and lying in my freshly made bed. The Grannies took the big brother and sister out while my husband, new baby girl and I slept peacefully in our bedroom. I woke up a few hours later and went downstairs to make a snack. My husband was horrified when he walked in to the kitchen and saw me preparing food — literally hours after giving birth but I felt so good that I did not mind.
Over the days that followed the midwife visited to check on baby April and me. As a family we adjusted to the new arrival with minimum fuss because I did not go away to have her, therefore our other children were not put out by her arrival.
My homebirth was one of the best experiences of my life and if I ever decide to have another baby (my husband will run when he reads this) I would definitely have another homebirth. At first I saw it as a challenge but now I know hospital births are actually more challenging.
Having a baby at home is the easy option!
For more information on home births, visit www.homebirth.ie