Birthing in the Earthquake Zone: A Midwife’s Perspective

By Juliet Thorpe

The rest of New Zealand may be a bit sick and tired of hearing about the woes of our shaky city but it has been a time of learning for the Christchurch home birth community. Our home birth midwifery practice had quite a few women due to birth just after the 7.1 earthquake.  Unlike those women planning to birth in hospital who all seemed to go into labour at once, for the first few days after the ground tossed us about, our clients kept their babies safely in utero.

Visiting homes after the quake however, meant carefully assessing each family’s home and emotional state with discussions around whether home was still the best place for them to be. Fortunately none of our clients had enough damage requiring evacuation but with the possibility of no power or water, we needed to have contingency plans in place. With the closure of the primary birthing units, Christchurch Women’s Hospital was overloaded and our top priority became keeping our healthy home birthing women at home.

As midwives we strive to keep women and their babies safe and happy. So what did we need to consider?

Assuming that the house is safe to live in-

  • In the first week we all had to boil our drinking water so we decided the birthing pools were a no go zone due to potential contamination and infection. Everyone started boiling and storing as much water as they could for drinking, cooking, hand and body washing.  We also suggested stocking up on disposable cleansing wipes and alcohol hand sanitizer.
  • It was important to think about heating alternatives so as to keep the house warm if baby arrived when the power was out. This meant stocking up on firewood, borrowing portable gas heaters and making sure the gas cylinders were full.
  • Consider alternative lighting during a power outage. Candles (safely placed in case of after shocks), oil/gas lanterns, at least two torches and a good supply of batteries.
  • Making contact when the power was out meant making sure we all (midwives and birthing families) had a landline phone that plugged directly into the wall (cordless phones are pretty useless with no power) and that the cell phone was charged up. We stressed to our clients that when the Civil Defense said to use cell phones only in an emergency that included women needing to contact their midwives!
  • Was the road and paving access to the house safe and clear of debris or rubble in case we needed to call an ambulance? If not, consider birthing at a friend or relatives house that did have good access.
  • Make sure that the midwifery notes and equipment including the birthing mat, towels, buckets, etc were assembled together and easily accessible.

Having discussed these plans with our birthing families it struck me that we really should have these contingencies in place all the time, no matter what the ‘lay of the land’ may be. All over the country every family planning to birth at home should consider what strategies they have in place should there be a civil emergency of any kind. It is very easy to think that it only happens in other towns, cities, countries but believe me when it happens to you, you want to be prepared. After any disaster, natural or otherwise, hospitals are for the sick and injured. Lets keep our healthy wonderful home birthing women where they should be. At home!

Over the last six weeks more than 2000 after shocks have frayed our nerves and kept everyone on edge but I am pleased to report that our home birth babies have been born safe, happy and at home.

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