By Abby Gardner
When I thought of giving birth, I imagined being at home. Homebirth. I couldn’t imagine such a private, natural experience in an unfamiliar hospital room. I wanted everything to unfold in its own time, surrounded by all I knew and trusted. I was healthy and as my pregnancy progressed normally I knew that a homebirth could be a reality for me.
But this reality blew out from under me when our neighbour texted me on February 22 last year, “Massive boulders into your house, it’s in a bad way. Don’t come home”. Homebirth meant a home plus birth. We no longer had a home. I was 36 weeks pregnant and Jacob and I had been having a few relaxing days away in Hanmer, a last holiday before we became three.
I didn’t go home but Jacob and some family and friends went there the next day to salvage what they could, which wasn’t much. Our home, on Bridle Path Road in Heathcote was a long skinny L-shape and three boulders the size of cars had bounced their way into all but one of the rooms. The room which had escaped was the one with all the baby things, which made me rather happy despite all else.
We were able to stay in Rangiora with family for a few days, but it wasn’t suitable for the long-term. Having no luck with rental agencies we made a visit to the Red Cross centre. We were desperate to find a home for our homebirth but knew that so many others were also in need of a home, somewhere safe to stay. We were offered a room above a garage with no bathroom and then a room in a house with several others and their dogs. They told me that they wouldn’t watch. Jacob and I knew that neither place would be suitable for a homebirth. I dreamt of giving birth in our old lounge with the boulders and all the twisted furniture and other rubble, but it didn’t seem quite right. I finally cried, I felt defeated. Neither of us knew what to do next, what choices we should make.
After a long day of searching the Red Cross rang me on my cell phone. “Can you be at Rangiora High School in five minutes? Someone is there who is offering a cottage.” Hope! Beautiful hope. We made our way there in a very relaxed, orderly way…NOT! Once there, we were introduced to Di, we then followed her home. We met her husband and their three children who were filling water bottles to be sent into Christchurch. The cottage was a guest room attached to the garage, separate from their house. One large room with a bed at one end, table and chairs in one corner and two armchairs in another. There was a bathroom leading off it and a separate kitchenette. The yellow walls were the same as our lounge in Heathcote. I was overwhelmed at their generosity and how perfect it was. They told us they were happy for us to have our homebirth there.
We spent three weeks, becoming familiar with our new home, Jacob resumed work and I re-washed tiny clothes and blankets. Our midwife came to visit. She told us it was a good place for a birth. We were lucky that the water out there was drinkable and the aftershocks not too strong. We made our birth-mat and I had new imaginings about how things would go, knowing all the while that things don’t go the way you imagine. We had planned a water-birth but the room wasn’t big enough for the pool so that plan was scrapped. I was due on the 25th of March. On the 23rd we went into Christchurch to have dinner with Jacob’s parents. After dinner his Mum, Emma, got everyone organised around the table with knives, to cut up peaches ready for preserving. I didn’t want to sit down, I felt big and uncomfortable. I leaned my head on my arms on the table and requested that we go home.
We finally got into bed at 11pm. I woke at 12:30am to use the loo, straight away I noticed tightening in my pelvis. Tightening and then none and there it was again and then none. I went into the other room and told Jacob that I was in labour and that I thought we should ring our midwife as I felt the contractions were rather close together. Jacob told me to hold on, was I sure because he hadn’t seen or heard anything that indicated I was in labour. A few short, sharp words and it was decided that I was in labour after all. We decided to time the contractions before ringing her, we didn’t want to wake her for no good reason but she would have to drive from Christchurch so she needed some notice.
I was having a contraction about every 5 – 7 minutes and each would last about 20 – 30 seconds. At 1am we rang Sabina to let her know, we agreed to ring her again at 1:45am to give an update. I was happy to labour by myself, I tried to stay lying down for as long as possible, my idea of conserving my energy. Jacob rang her a third time at 2:45am when I could no longer talk during contractions. By this time, they were 3 – 4 minutes apart and lasting 30 – 40 seconds.
With only candle light and the heater on, it was cosy and calm in our room. I walked up and down between contractions, I felt extremely focused, unaware of anything going on around me. During contractions I leaned my head against the dresser drawers and swayed my hips from side to side. Sabina arrived not long after, together she and Jacob applied hot towels to my back but I can’t remember that now. Jacob tells me that I was appreciative. As the time went on, I found myself constantly moving. Sometimes it felt right to walk and other times I kneeled on my hands and knees. They massaged my lower back at times, it helped but I didn’t want it for too long, I found it distracting. At 4am Sabina examined me, I was 7 cm dilated. I would have liked the baby to come immediately, I wished I had exercised more during my pregnancy, I was sure that things would be easier if I had.
By 4:30am I felt like I needed a break so I lay on my side for a while on the bed, then a hot shower was suggested and I was up and into it. Meanwhile, the back-up midwife and the student midwife arrived. I had forgotten about the student midwife attending, but by this point I didn’t really care who was there. The relaxing shower was a little too relaxing, my contractions really eased off and then the water started to go cold so I was soon out. Once out of the shower, contractions started up again, they were fairly strong and I soon started vomiting.
The next two hours from memory involved alternating between standing up, squatting down and sitting on the loo. I was thirsty and moved around a lot. Soon, the urge to push came but wasn’t consistent. Sabina felt that the baby’s head was very low but that there was still a rim on my cervix. I decided to slow things down by lying on the bed for several contractions. Suddenly, I felt something was going to happen and I swung my legs round and off the bed, landing on the birth-mat. At that moment my waters broke, drawing spectators, and a happy announcement that they were clear.
By 7:30am, my contractions were two minutes apart. I had positioned myself at the end of the bed, and I alternated between standing up and then using the bed post to bear down into a squatting position. Pushing with each contraction, I felt as though the baby would come at any second. Sabina was excited as she said she could see the head and she asked me if I’d like to look with a mirror. I was eager to know what was going on down below but when I squatted down to look, I couldn’t believe it. I could hardly see anything, a little (tiny) patch of brown hair and that was it. I realised that I was really going to have to notch up my efforts if I wanted this baby out – which I did!
I finally managed to internalise my vocal efforts and some good pushing was underway. The baby’s head was out at 8:04am and two minutes later one whole baby emerged to land in Sabina’s arms. She placed it onto my chest and I remember saying “my darling baby”. It seemed like everyone had a job and were in the way, so much was happening at once, I couldn’t believe the baby had arrived. It was six minutes before we discovered the baby was a girl. I looked at her enquiringly and decided that yes, she did suit the name Heidi, which we had chosen for her.
The placenta was birthed half an hour later, with a contraction of sorts and big push from me. I needed a few stitches and I decided that this was definitely the worst part by far. Meanwhile, Heidi had latched herself onto my breast and started sucking away. Eventually, the cord was cut and by 10am I got up to have a shower, discovering that I was covered in meconium, which is actually quite tricky to wash off!
Jacob and Heidi had skin-to-skin while I was in the shower and then I got into bed as I felt a bit shaky. Sabina asked us how much we thought she weighed, we both guessed seven pound something and were incredulous when we heard she was 9lb 4 oz. Soon after, Heidi settled down to another feed and I ate toast with honey which Sabina had made for me. She left us tucked up in bed, amazed at this beautiful little person all sleepy and peaceful beside us.