Real-Life Birth Stories: Fertility Expert Jessica Bourke on Her Home Water Birth
If you had been considering a home birth but read the recent article about American mother Ashley Martin’s ‘traumatic’ experience, you probably had second thoughts about it.
I want to share my own experience and discuss the big question this piece raises: in choosing a home birth, are you really taking a risk with your baby’s life?
I had planned a home birth for my first pregnancy and had registered with the National Maternity Hospitals community mid-wife scheme. I was young, in good health, had no history of gynaecological problems or issues during pregnancy. From 36 weeks pregnant I had home visits every week and so, when it came to the big day, I felt relaxed because I had met each of the wonderful midwives in turn. I knew it wouldn’t be a stranger taking care of me.
My contractions kicked-off at 6am and I laboured for about eight hours, using movement, TENS machine and some gas and air to deal with the pain. It was intense, but not unbearable and I felt the midwives (I had two attending me, plus a student midwife) understood when I needed a break and when I needed to move around. Just after lunch, while I was (luckily) in the birthing pool, my waters broke and things really got going. To be clear, I was never going to give birth in the water, but the warmth of the water was very soothing while dealing with the contractions and did help my muscles to relax, which relieved the pain.
About 30 minutes later the midwife said she noticed some meconium (yes, that’s baby poo) in my waters and said I would have to transfer in to hospital. Sure, I was disappointed, but I was more than happy to do whatever would be in the best interests of my baby.
The important part is that while I was labouring, I was told by the midwives that they were in communication with the paramedics, so should any issues arise, I would be transferred straight in. There was no great hurry, as it was more of a precautionary measure, so *I was allowed to have another 30 minutes in the birthing pool before the ambulance was formally asked to collect me.
I was whisked into Holles St. in no time at all (15 minutes according to my husband, I was too busy breathing to care) and my baby was monitored, showing no signs of distress, so I was able to labour normally. I believe the transfer process was so seamless because of the midwives attentiveness to my symptoms and knowing when to notify the paramedics that an ambulance would be needed, yet it never felt like it was an 'emergency', it was simply an extra measure of caution to ensure the safety of myself and my baby.
In the end, I got through it without an epidural, thanks to an amazing lower back massage from a stellar midwife who’d seen it all a thousand times before. The pushing stage was not the screaming agony that you see in the movies, but a welcome relief because the contractions were more spaced out by that point and all my body wanted to do was push.
A certain number of rooms are allocated to home-birthers, should they need to transfer in, so I had my own private room and bathroom for the evening. I had my daughter at 7:30pm, 90 minutes after being brought in, then dozed for a couple of hours before the paediatric consultant examined her and said that we were able to go home. I was in my own bed just after midnight and had house calls from the midwives every day for the following week. They examined me, showed me how to bathe my daughter, gave tips on breastfeeding, and were just amazingly supportive and helpful during those crucial first few days of bewilderment.
By contrast, my labour with my son was far less daunting, not only because it was my second time going through it, but because this time I came prepared. I had read Ju Ju Sundin’s book cover-to-cover and I had practiced the numerous techniques she discusses to see which I thought would work for me. As it turned out, movement and vocalisation worked best, so that’s what I did. I bought those bean-bag style, juggling bags and bashed the hell out of them each time I had a contraction.
The timeline of this labour was very different, as most midwives will tell you, your second labour tends to go a lot faster.
I had a show around 4am that day, but from prior experience I knew what was coming, so I managed to get some more sleep until the contractions kicked off around 6:30am. It was completely manageable, every 10 minutes or so, I would have to breathe and concentrate but between times, I was able to chat away with the midwife who had called over to check on me at the end of her night-shift.
Things got interesting later that morning. The midwives were due to changeover at 9am and I was busy braiding my daughters hair in between mild contractions so she could head off to créche. As soon as my daughter walked out the door, things ramped up dramatically. Apparently, this is quite common, the midwives said they had seen this happen for other home-birthers as well when their kids leave the room.
From 9am to 11am, I laboured intensely with contractions every four minutes and when it came to transition I stepped into the birthing pool for some welcome relief. After only 20 minutes in the pool, it was time to push, so I climbed out and with the support of my husband and my two amazing midwives delivered my baby boy at exactly 12pm. The midwives made sure everything went very smoothly for me and after delivering the placenta a 15 minutes later, they checked that all was in order and tidied everything away with their sterile packs.
I couldn’t have asked for a better labour experience and most importantly, I felt in safe hands and was able to cope with the labour pain. Not that it is an option with a home birth, but at no point did I even think about an epidural. In fact, the use of movement and those juggling balls plus the TENS machine was so effective for pain management, that I turned down the offer of the gas and air because I felt it would distract me from what I was doing.
I firmly believe there is a place for home birth in our society, especially where the woman in question is in good health, has no history of complications with labour and has the confidence to labour at home. I found the level of care outstanding, every precaution was taken and I could see that the midwives were watching very closely for any signs of difficulty so they could act on it straightaway.
My experience was far from the ‘nightmare’ that Ashley Martin describes. In fact, as cheesy as this sounds, it was empowering. Every woman has a different experience of labour, so while I agree that the labouring process deserves proper respect, and there will always be ‘the good, the bad and the ugly’, I don’t think it should be something that terrifies us.
*Always check your distance from the nearest hospital and discuss the pros and cons of your location with your midwife or doctor.
Jessica Bourke is a Natural Fertility Specialist who deals with all aspects of reproductive health. Her clinical approach is based on evidence-based nutrition protocols, acupuncture treatment, and she also offers functional lab tests to support you on your journey to parenthood. She's a regular contributor to Irish media and co-author of the 'Guilt Free Gourmet' cook-book. As a Mum of two, Jessica understands the challenges of pregnancy and parenting. For more, visit jessicabourke.com.