Birthing in the Earthquake Zone: A Mother’s Perspective

By Suze Keys

When the big earthquake hit on Saturday, September 4, I was 38 weeks pregnant. The pregnancy on the whole had been pretty uncomfortable and I’d always thought I’d go early – at 38 weeks. However, following the rather rude awakening at 4.35am my body didn’t know where it was at. The hideous adrenalin fuelled shock of it all had my uterus solidly contracted from the moment of the quake and I did think I might have this baby at any moment! Fortunately I was too shocked to be very worried about the logistics of the situation. It was only once I’d managed a call to my midwife that I understood the real challenges of my predicament.

My family was really very lucky in terms of damage. It did take us the whole of Saturday to clean up the mess – items thrown off shelves, jars and bottles of wine thrown from the top shelf in the pantry (wine up the walls and tiny shards of glass everywhere!), almost half of the water from the fish tank on the lounge carpet… But the damage to the house was next to nothing. Our street was one of those that looked as though nothing had happened. Evacuation was never considered.

We did lose power and our only heat source is a heat pump. Phew – we have a gas heater. Is there gas in the bottle? Of course there is… (Not!)

Then there’s water birth without the power to heat hot water. We did have running water, but we couldn’t heat sufficient amounts for the pool and anyway, the water coming out of the taps was potentially sewage contaminated. We had to boil all the water we wanted to use any way – not ideal for water birth. OK… A land birth might be fun for my third and final birth experience. I’ve already had two water births and they say a change is as good as a holiday!

So, we can manage without hot water for the pool, but in no way could I manage without hot water for hot towels. The barbecue should do for heating pots of boiling water – well, fingers’ crossed anyway.

We had lighting sorted by way of candles that I already had in the birth kit and our household always has a myriad of torches on hand (such is life with boys!). The birth kit and everything was organised and close at hand in preparation for my planned early labour, so we were all set  – except for a phone. We did not have a basic, ordinary phone that we could just plug into the wall socket. That Saturday morning my mobile was almost flat and the landline is a cordless that needs power. The communication thing was a very real problem.

We were fortunate enough to get power on at about three that afternoon and from then on it was really only the clean water issue that was the problem. But waiting for other quakes was also challenging, on an emotional level. It was really quite scary waiting for the next one. I was waiting for a baby and waiting for another quake. Nerve wracking to say the least.

When the baby finally came, ten days of niggles and this-could-be-its after the quake, we were no longer having to boil water and everything went smoothly. There were aftershocks during my labour, but I never felt them. I was just pleased that one of the things I was waiting for was finally here!

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