My accidental home birth VBAC
My home VBAC… yep!
Let’s get this out of the way; a homebirth was not the plan. It wasn’t even in the realm of possible outcomes for the birth of my second baby.
I’ll set the scene for you; we live in rural New Zealand, about an hour away from a hospital. In my 39th week I was crazy with ‘late stage pregnancy rage’ as I like to call it. I think if my midwife called me that day and said ‘I think there has been a mistake, you’ll be pregnant forever’ I would have believed her. I felt like it was never going to end.
The pregnancy had been complicated. I’d had spotting in the first trimester, horrendous pubic symphysis pain in my second trimester and, due to placenta previa noted in my 14 week and 20 week ultrasounds, I was very careful to take it easy.
We got the all clear to try for a VBAC (Vaginal Birth After Caesarean) at my 36 week ultrasound, because the placenta has moved. Even so, we had booked in a planned C-section for 2 days after my due date, just in case. My previous emergency C-section with my first baby meant that I really didn’t want to try for a vaginal delivery, only to have it end in an emergency caesarean section anyway; been there, done that. So, at the recommendation of my obstetrician, I would try for a VBAC if I went into labour naturally before that 40+2 date, and if that didn’t happen, it was a planned c-section.
So at 11 pm on August the 7th, at 39 + 1 weeks (and so pregnant I was going nuts), while lying on the couch watching Game of Thrones, my waters broke with a huge pop. I think I waited there for a minute or two before telling my husband ‘Dave… I think my waters just broke’. Precious of our new couch, he raced to get a towel. I stood up and the contractions started. In our house that night we had my 2 ½ year daughter Rosie and my mother-in-law (who was there to look after Rosie when the baby arrived). Both were already asleep.
With my first daughter, the contractions were strong to begin with, but they didn’t ramp up until we reached the hospital (then only 10 minutes away). With my this labour, they were very strong and very close straight away.
I called my Midwife Terri to let her know it had started. The official plan was, because it was a VBAC, I had to have my baby in a hospital. That was fine by me! After our first experience I wanted to be as close to medical care as possible. So, when I went into labour I was meant to call my midwife, she would come over and check me out, and then we’d all head up the highway to the hospital together where I’d have my baby (hopefully with an epidural and gas and what ever else they’d give me - I’d laboured for 12 hours and pushed for 2 hours with my first baby, so I had experienced labour, and wanted the drugs!).
Back to that night…. We should have known it was going to happen that night. It was a full moon and there was a dense fog and no wind. I’d called my midwife (woken her up actually!) and she said ‘Call me back when your contractions are 6 minutes apart’. So we counted. The contractions were strong and about 2-3 minutes apart. I went to lie down on our bed, thinking that I could slow them down if I just moved the weight of the baby. After another 10 minutes, I called my midwife back, told her ‘The contractions are strong and about 2-3 minutes apart’ so she decided to come to us.
15 minutes later I felt a change in the contractions, and I needed to push. My husband came in, alarmed, I think he must have heard the change of tone in the noises I was making. And I remember my mother-in-law (Sally) popping her head in at some point, patting me on the shoulder in encouragement.
I think the 25 minutes it took for my midwife to arrive were the longest ever. I was panicking that Rosie would wake up, that I’d have to get in the car while pushing to get to a hospital and worst of all that I’d be having this baby on my bed with no help! Meanwhile, my husband was silently freaking out that he would have to deliver this baby himself. In hindsight, I think he was more relieved than I was when Terri walked through the door to a loud announcement from Dave, ‘She’s pushing!!!”.
It was 12:05am, August 8 2017.
Terri checked me out (yep, fully dilated and pushing), and told us we’d be having this baby here. She did all the practical things you take for granted in a hospital, like covering as much of the bed as possible with absorbent pads, and listening to the baby’s heart rate with her monitor between contractions. She also called in another midwife to assist (her name was Lydia). Sally put towels in the dryer to stay warm for when the baby was born, and kept a bowl of water warm for wiping up anything and everything. Luckily I had read enough stories of women who’s waters had broken in bed, so I had 2 waterproof mattress protectors on our bed.
The next few hours were a bit of a blur, but, looking back at my maternity notes, I can see the progression of events. Lydia arrived at 12:50am, and with Terri’s help they moved me around the room trying to get the baby to progress faster. I remember this part clearly: a) because it felt so damn hard to move, and b) because we ended up back on the bed with me propped on my back with cushions and pillows supporting me (a position I was keen to avoid pre-labour). This position was giving me the best support and helping me push the baby out.
The baby was progressing down the birth canal slowly, so at 1:12 am Terri called an ambulance as a back up, in case we needed to get to hospital. I remember discussing the progress with Terri and Lydia. They were both very calm, encouraging and supportive, even though I was tiring.
At 1:22am (or so my maternity notes inform me) the head was spotted. I felt a huge relief when they announced this because my first labour didn’t make it that far, despite 2 hours of pushing. At some point, Terri told me the baby had a lot of hair. She joked, ‘If only I could grab it I could pull her out!’ - in hindsight I think that was probably a good suggestion.
The ambulance arrived at 1:34am, Sally waited by the gate to wave them down in the thick fog. The female paramedic came into the room and was given the job of holding one of my legs in the air. Sorry for that graphic piece of information, but that’s how it happened, Dave had the other leg. The male paramedic stayed outside the room with my mother-in-law, Sally. Over the course of the next 30 minutes they spent their time scoping out spots for a helicopter to land on our property, if it was required.
Shortly after the paramedics arrived, Lydia noticed my contractions were getting weaker and further apart. I was getting tired, and I could feel there was less and less forced behind each one. Sophie’s head was still visible but progressing very slowly. In an effort to keep everything moving, Lydia had Dave feed me a spoonful of honey between every contraction and a sip of water. There was a fair bit of skill on his part to achieve this; holding his pregnant wife’s leg in the air, whilst spooning honey into my mouth and providing sips of water - and encouragement. I think at some point he over heated, because I remember him disappearing, and later found out he was about to faint! He had to go and cool down, put his head between his legs, get some moral support from his mum, and just take a deep breath. He reappeared in a tee-shirt and shorts, ready to face the action.
The effect of the honey and water was almost instant. The contractions increased in intensity and strength. Each contraction I had I could push the baby forward, but she’d slide back. Every contraction. The pain of the bones of my pelvis closing back after each contraction (and pushing the baby back) is what sticks in my memory most. Terri and Lydia used olive oil from my kitchen pantry to try and lubricate the process. This went on for 20 minutes, until Terri raised the option of an episiotomy. If you’re reading this and you’ve never had a vaginal delivery, an episiotomy sounds (and is) brutal. But frankly, at this point in the labour, I would have done anything to have it over with. So I agreed, willingly. Anaesthetic was applied to the perineum, and at 2:06am the episiotomy was performed.
The last few minutes of my labour were intense.
Terri and Lydia were giving me very strong instructions to keep pushing, even in between contractions, to try and get the baby to move past my pubic bone. There was no yelling, but it wasn’t the calm, joking atmosphere they’d had going on around me previously.
Finally, at 2:09am she was born. On my bed. On my new Sheridan sheets.
I’ve never felt such a sense of relief as I did when her head came out. It wasn’t relief of pain, just effort. All of a sudden I knew I could get her out from there. When she came out, Terri removed the umbilical cord that was loosely wrapped around her neck and she was put straight onto my stomach.
I just stared at her. I had no choice, I couldn’t move my arms, and I was utterly and completely exhausted. My beautiful baby who looked identical to her big sister.
“What the F*^K just happened?” were my first words after she was born. Everyone laughed.
I delivered the placenta, and Lydia helped me try and breastfeed Sophie while Terri inspected the damage. I had a deep second degree tear, so the decision was made to transfer me to the Hospital to be sutured.
Sally came in to meet her newest grandchild, and believe it or not, Rosie had slept through the whole thing. She hadn’t made a peep the whole night.
So that’s how it happened. My accidental home VBAC.
It was one of the most intense and traumatic nights of my life. Despite not loving my first labour, I had a lot more negative feelings after my second one. A lot of that is in relation to the extreme feeling of helplessness. I think I spent the whole labour thinking about how I wasn’t going to make it to a hospital, and at some point it did pass through my mind, that I would die there on my bed.
In the first few weeks after Sophie was born, I didn’t feel too bad about it all. But, as I continued to suffer from birth related injuries (a bladder prolapse and scarring that caused ongoing pain) and the lack of sleep took its toll, I felt worse and worse about the whole thing.
I should point out that we wouldn’t have done anything differently given the circumstances, I had amazing care from both Terri and Lydia. However, giving birth in my bedroom, on my bed, left me with strong visual cues and I had frequent flashbacks. I know now that, the emergency situation I experienced with my first baby, greatly impacted my feelings about the birth of my second. I knew how quickly it could all go wrong. That feeling of helplessness and danger only got worse as I got further from the birth, and I adjusted to life as a mum of two.
I mention all of my complicated feelings here because, although the situation of Sophie’s birth was crazy and we often laugh in an incredulous way about how it all happened, it would feel false to say it was a 100% positive experience. I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that it’s ok to be so completely grateful for the birth of your healthy baby, but also feel like that experience was the most awful and horrific thing you’ve ever done. That’s how I feel and I’m ok with that.
I’m now 11 months’ post-partum, and in my case time has been a great healer both physically and mentally. I’m also getting more sleep which has helped tremendously. I also re-arranged my bedroom so I no longer look at the same corner of the room I was staring at that night. That small change has reduced the flashbacks and anxiety associated with being in the same space. My husband even bought me two huge prints for my birthday to hang in our bedroom so now it’s filled with colour and positive vibes (hooray for loving and sensitive partners who just get you!).
So… we’re in a good space now. Learning every day how to live with two children (eeeekkkk).
Do you have negative feelings associated with the birth of your child?
If you feel like you have experienced trauma after the birth of your child some valuable resources that helped me are:
PANDA - Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Australia supports women, men and families across Australia to recover from post and antenatal depression and anxiety, a serious illness that affects around 100,000 Australian families every year
Australasia Birth Trauma Association - Emotional and practical support to women and their partners who have been traumatised by a difficult birth experience. The labour and delivery, which may have been vaginal or by caesarean section, has resulted in physical and/or psychological damage.
Emotional and practical support to women and their partners who have been traumatised by a difficult birth experience. The labour and delivery, which may have been vaginal or by caesarean section, has resulted in physical and/or psychological damage.
If you feel like you need help right away talk to your GP.