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Dublin: 13 °C Thursday 20 June, 2019
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Giving birth at home helped me to feel safe and in control

I want to raise awareness of the benefits of having a home birth in healthy pregnancies, with the hope that it will encourage more women to explore this option.

Dil Wickremasinghe Social justice and mental health broadcaster

IN MY LAST column I wrote about my personal decision to have a home birth and now that baby Phoenix has arrived safe and sound and is happily keeping us up at night, I thought it was time to share my home birth story. Needless to say I have discovered new depths of multitasking as I am typing this with one hand as my other arm is holding Phoenix all whilst breast feeding the little guy!

Why a home birth?

As expectant parents we felt having a home birth was the safest and most positive way to welcome our child into this world. This was an educated choice based on my medical history, baby’s health, months of research and most importantly it was a decision made in consultation with numerous medical professionals. Our dissatisfaction with the lack of choice and continuity of care in the maternity services was also a major influencing factor.

We were aware from the onset that our preference for a home birth might not happen so in addition to engaging Neighbourhood Midwives through UK Birth Centres, I attended the Rotunda hospital which is just 10 minutes from our home. It wasn’t our first choice to engage a private service but because I was 41, had gestational diabetes and mine was an IVF pregnancy, I was deemed unsuitable for the Midwifery led Domino scheme or the National Home Birth Services. I found this rather perplexing as this was not based on a physical assessment of me or my pregnancy but simply on statistical criteria. Surely, one size does not fit all?

I am sharing my story as I would like to raise awareness of the benefits of having a home birth in healthy pregnancies, with the hope that it will encourage more women to explore this as an option. I hope my experience will help change the culture of “fear” around child birth and inspire women to adopt a more holistic and empowered approach to it irrespective of whether they decide on a home or hospital birth with or without epidural.

Call the midwife

Preparations for my home birth began at the end of my second trimester when my care with Neighbourhood Midwives (NM) officially began.

Under the guidance and care of my outstanding NM midwife, who lives 14 minutes away from my home, I began preparing for my birth. My midwife played an integral role in the birth of our child as she provided the holistic, person-centred care and support I needed. She visited me in my home and each visit involved a physical check-up, practical advice and emotional support.

I began to prepare physically and psychologically for the birth. I was put on a controlled diet due to having gestational diabetes and was given a glucometer to monitor my blood sugar. This was invaluable as it assisted my baby to be the perfect size for my body which ultimately enabled a healthy birth experience for both of us. I was advised to begin perineal massage with the help of my partner.

In addition we were advised as a couple to adopt the GentleBirth method which provides psychological preparation through affirmations, mindfulness and sport psychology for a positive birth. We attended a two day workshop, listened to the CDs and visualised the labour and the birth as part of our daily routine. GentleBirth helped me prepare for child birth like an athlete prepares for a sporting event. Astonishingly, the birth was exactly as per my visualisation including the time it started and ended.

At week 36 after a thorough check-up my NM Midwife cleared me for a home birth and from this point on she was officially on call for me. If at this point I or the baby had been unwell she would have advised us to have a hospital birth.

Show time (TMI warning!)

On Friday 15th May just before my midwife came for my weekly check-up I felt “odd” and had a spontaneous “clear-out” of the bowels. I was convinced I had eaten something that had disagreed with me but my midwife informed me that this was usually the first sign of impending labour. I called my producer that afternoon and arranged for a stand in for my show on Newstalk in the event that my midwife was right.

Saturday 16th May

2:05 am – I woke up to find my waters had broken. I called my midwife and after sending her several pictures she confirmed I was in the early stages of labour. She advised me to go back to bed and that she would come by first thing in the morning and to call her if anything changed.

3:00 am – For the first time Anne Marie and I happily ignored our midwife’s advice to go back to bed and began preparing our home. The house was cleaned top to bottom, plastic sheeting was put down, birthing pool was inflated, music playlist was compiled and most importantly our beloved rainbow flag was erected! At this stage I was experiencing mild and irregular cramps.

9:00 am – Our jovial midwife arrived with all her equipment and after a physical check she confirmed that baby and I were fine and that baby’s head had engaged but that labour had stalled. I was advised to take a nap and while my midwife stayed with me, Anne Marie set off to pick up some last minute items.

1:00 pm – Anne Marie returned with the shopping and proceeded to cook a fabulous Thai green curry. We ate while we casually chatted as if it was an ordinary day. I felt calm and relaxed.

2:00 pm – Our midwife advised us to go for a walk, climb stairs and do whatever we could to kick start labour again and left reminding us to ring her the moment anything changed.

3:00 – 8:00 pm – We did everything to kick start labour including watching and dancing to Madonna’s Confessions on the Dance Floor tour. We were both in great form and the mood was one of celebration as I could feel the cramps were getting stronger and we were getting closer to welcoming our baby!

9:00 pm – Our midwife returned and after a check-up she said although the surges (contractions) had started labour hadn’t fully begun yet and it could take a while. She stayed with us as we chatted over several cups of tea.

11:15 pm – My surges kicked into high gear and my midwife called for the second midwife to join us as I was getting closer to being in established labour. They began to fill the birthing pool and connected me to the TENS machine which worked remarkably well for me.

12:30 am – The surges were getting stronger and I was finding it harder and harder to cope with them. My midwife talked me through the first intense surge and pointed out that surges only lasted 1 minute and if I put my mind to it I could do anything for a minute. These words of encouragement were exactly what I needed to hear at the time. Anne Marie took over and she started talking me through each surge. She remained calm and guided me through the pain by reminding me that each surge was bringing us one step closer to our beloved child. Our midwife instructed Anne Marie to replace Madonna with the GentleBirth CD.

12:38 am – I began to feel pressure below and knew that it wouldn’t be long now. I asked to get into the pool but it was not fully filled yet as the hot water had run out and they were waiting for the tank to fill.

12:45 am – I went into the bedroom to change into my pool clothes.

12:50 am – I vomited violently, my bowels emptied and had a bloody show, I was now in established labour. I felt overwhelmed at this point and began to doubt myself but thankfully my beloved Anne Marie talked me through it and boosted my confidence in my ability to birth my child.

1:15 am – Our second midwife arrived. The TENS machine was at full strength now. The tank was taking too long to fill so both midwives began boiling water using the kettle and pots on the stove… back to basics!

1:23 am – The pool was ready and I finally got in. The warm water acted as a natural pain relief and I felt better immediately.

1:48 am – After trying the sitting and squatting position I settled on being on all fours and had my arms over the side of the pool hanging on (for dear life!) to Anne Marie.

For me giving birth felt like an opening and blossoming of my body. The pain was intense but manageable as it came in short waves. Psychologically I was prepared thanks to years of mindfulness practice and GentleBirth and instead of fearing and resisting the pain and tensing up, I accepted it and embraced it. I trusted my body and my baby to do what they needed to do. I felt safe and in control in my own home. Between the surges I got a chance to catch my breath and when they started I had three people I trusted supporting me.

1:50 am – The surges were coming in thick and fast and I suddenly felt the incredible need to push. The midwives said if that’s what I felt I wanted to do then I should trust my body and go with it.

2:00 am – I knew I was close as my perineum started to stretch, a sensation I was familiar with thanks to the perineal massage. I reached for the gas and air.

2:03 am – My baby’s head was born to the sounds of my midwife exclaiming “your baby’s head is born and it has a full head of jet black hair!”

2:04 am – Phoenix arrived and I caught him with my hands and lifted him up to my chest. Anne Marie and I were overcome with emotion and cried tears of joy. I looked into my beautiful son’s face and into his dark brown eyes and fell instantly in love.

The placenta delivered shortly afterwards, I was then examined and was told I received minimal injuries and didn’t require any stitches. I called my parents to give them the great news and the second midwife made us all pancakes! For me they will forever be the best damn pancakes I’ve ever eaten! Being in the comfort of my own home and being surrounded only by people I trusted enabled me to feel safe, to be in control and most importantly give my son a calm and gentle birth.

Through this experience I have become a birth activist as I truly believe that if we get birth right we can get the world right.

“At every birth, two people are born – a baby and a mother”
– Ancient Indian wisdom

Dil Wickremasinghe – social justice and mental health broadcaster of Global Village, Newstalk 106-108 FM, Saturday 7-9pm and Training Director with Insight Matters – Inspiring change in self and society through personal development, psychotherapy and counselling. Follow Dil on Twitter @dilw, email her at dil@dilw.ie or visit www.insightmatters.ie and www.dilw.ie

Read more of Dil’s columns for TheJournal.ie here>

‘Ireland over-medicalises birth – and it is terrifying mothers-to-be’

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About the author:

Dil Wickremasinghe  / Social justice and mental health broadcaster

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