I feel incredibly blessed and grateful. I feel blessed because when I became pregnant I somehow came across all the right people at the right time. Ultimately this led to me being able to have the birth for Joshi that I wanted. Joshi was born at home into a pool of water in the middle of our living room. Yes, it was calm and peaceful and candle-lit and sacred chants were playing when he came out, but ultimately those things were just peripheral and really not imperative. What made all the difference to me was that I was able to labour and birth in the comfort of my own home, surrounded only by the very few people who I wanted to be there, and that I was in an environment in which I felt able to avoid being drugged up and getting unnecessary medical interventions.
Labour is tough for most woman. It’s said to be equivalent to doing a 50km run and you well may reach a stage during it when you’re not sure you can do it, but riding through that and coming out the other end (scuse the pun) drug and intervention-free was possibly the most empowering experience of my life.
When I was pregnant I was keen to avoid the whole medicalisation thing which is common around pregnancy and birth in Australia. I have nothing against doctors but I didn’t feel that I needed to see one while I was pregnant. I was pregnant, not ill. Instead of going to a doctor I started looking for a private midwife. I went to meet a few of them in their homes. I was looking for someone who believes deeply in a woman’s capacity to birth completely naturally and who could educate and prepare us for being able to do that.
Anyway, having met some wonderful private midwives, I eventually chose two – Robyn Dempsey and Hannah Dahlen. I believe I hit the jackpot when I found them. The 10 months of care we received from them, from the start of my pregnancy until a few weeks after Joshi’s birth, was incredible. To me, private midwives are the Rolls Royce of birthing care.
Simon and I saw them regularly. We’d meet either after working hours during the week or during the day on a weekend. Up until I was 30 weeks pregnant we met them once a month, then every 2 weeks until I was 36 weeks and then once a week until Joshi was born. Most of the visits were in their homes, until the end of my pregnancy (and of course for the birth) – when they came to ours.
I remember our first visit to Robyn’s home. Chatting in her study I could smell dinner being made. Hubby and kids were home. We always felt comfortable and relaxed there and her humour and wisdom were a very appealing combination.
In all our sessions with our midwives we’d first discuss whatever was on our minds. Leading up to them I’d make a list of questions on my iPhone as I thought of them. We discussed absolutely anything and everything around pregnancy, birth, post-natal care and parenting.
After they’d thoroughly answered our questions we’d cover whatever topics they needed to cover. These talks we had were so thorough I never felt the need to attend any other prenatal classes. During the first half of my pregnancy we spoke about things like blood screens, ultrasounds, back care, pelvic floor exercises, my diet, sex, self-care, etc.
During the second half we moved into topics like breastfeeding, work commitments and when to slow down, our pending role as parents, perineal massage, episiotomy and perineal trauma, child restraints, circumcision and the emotional changes that come with late pregnancy.
Towards the end we reviewed what we needed to do to prepare for our homebirth. Our list included things like buying plastic paint drop sheets to cover the floors and furniture, a new hose pipe to fill the waterpool and hiring an oxygen cylinder. We spoke in-depth about reasons for a possible hospital transfer and what we’d need to take to hospital with us in the event of one. Of course we had to be booked into hospital and have a hospital bag pre-prepared just incase. We discussed breastfeeding, what to expect in the first few days of being parents, vitamin K, immunizations, when to call the midwife during labour, our birthing options and preferences. Our discussion around the latter led to us writing two birth plans – one for a homebirth and one in the event of a transfer. (That’s a whole topic in itself really, but it included things like waiting at least until the cord has stopped pulsating before cutting it and having skin to skin contact with our baby as soon as he/she was born). We spoke about the stages of labour, about eating and drinking in labour (it’s really important to keep hydrated), about active labour positions, waterbirthing, natural pain management, interventions in the event of a transfer to hospital, ambulance cover in case of a transfer, our plans for the placenta (Robyn made ours into homeopathic medicine for Joshi). We also covered postnatal topics, like what support we’d have after the birth, postnatal depression and any anxieties we had around parenting. Plus more. You get the picture. It was incredibly thorough and by the end of it we felt really educated and pretty confident around all these topics. Nothing was left out. It was education in a nurturing, relaxed and fun environment.
And between the session, we did our homework. We read and we watched some pretty amazing dvds which they lent us from their library. It was awesome watching women go through a positive birthing experience. I think the more positive birthing experiences you hear of or watch, the stronger your mind becomes around your own ability to have the birth experience you want. Ina May Gaskin’s books were also really great for positive stories.
After our discussions I’d lie down on the bed so that she could measure my belly and listen to Joshi’s heartbeat. She’d either use one of those good old-fashioned wooden pinard horns or a doppler. It was amazing hearing his heart beat for the first time. I remember how it all felt even more real and exciting in that moment, the fact that we were going to have a baby. She’d also routinely take my blood pressure and give me a stick with coloured paper squares to pee on. I didn’t have to, but I always did, coz it was fun and they can tell a lot about how your body’s doing by how the colours on the squares change. I always left those sessions feeling lighter (even though I was actually getting heavier).
I loved the unbiased approach of our midwives. For example, while I did go for some blood tests during my pregnancy, I chose not to do the routine scans which most women go for. I did a lot of reading around it and decided that it was better for me and my baby not to have them. I was very much inspired and influenced by Dr Sarah Buckley’s view on ultrasound scans. Again, I’m grateful that I came across her work early on. If I hadn’t read her book, ‘Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering,’ I’d probably have thought that scans were harmless as well as compulsory and gone for them all. However, I decided that if there was ever a time when our midwives strongly recommended I go for a scan I’d do it. So in the end I had one scan. I was 39 weeks pregnant at the time. It was to make sure that the placenta wasn’t covering my cervix. Robyn suggested it because Joshi’s head was still really high up and she just wanted to make sure nothing was in the way of it descending. It was like a trip to Disneyland, seeing the image of Joshi’s little body moving on the screen on the wall in front of us, and then being handed a cd with pictures on it as we left. Sureal.
It was incredibly special having that personal and intimate care from the same two women the whole way through. I think there’s a lot to be said for being cared for by the same person(s) throughout. I could call or email them whenever I needed to, during my pregnancy and for six weeks after the birth. I knew they’d be there for me. As our sessions with them progressed so did the trust I had in them. There was never any doubt in my mind that I was in great hands.
And then, after Joshi’s birth, when you really need that support more than ever, our midwives came to our home to see how we were doing. They came every day for the first four days and then on day 6, plus once the following week and then when Joshi was 6 weeks old. During these sessions they discussed whatever we most needed to talk about with them at the time, but also covered topics like cord care, safe sleeping guidelines, dealing with a crying baby, how we were coping, etc.
I think the hardest thing about having private midwives is that the time you have with them like this has to eventually come to an end. But on the up side, the group which mine are part of meet once a month in one of the midwife’s homes. There you get to be with all the mums, bubs and kids that they’ve looked after in this way. Seeing them at those mums meets is always really special. It’s something I look forward to. To Robyn and Hannah – thank you for taking such special care of us all. You will always have a very special place in our hearts. To all the private midwives out there – I think you’re amazing. Keep up the great work. You’re much-needed on this planet.