By Sara Bailey
Honor’s birth was to be my second homebirth. My son Jackson had been born at home 20 months earlier (see Jackson’s Birth Story, in birthplace, Indian Summer, 2011/12).
For this pregnancy we again enlisted the help of midwife Lynda, and each month our visits went by in an enjoyable hour (or more!) of pregnancy and baby discussion. Towards the end of my pregnancy Lynda went on her usual annual holiday, leaving me in the hands of her backups for my antenatal checkups. She was back by the time I was 37 weeks pregnant. I knew that how my birth progressed had a lot to do with my attitude, mental strength and positivity, and for that I needed Lynda’s support so was pleased to see her back.
At 37 weeks and 2 days I spent my day as normal, taking care of my son Jackson. That day I felt some Braxton Hicks contractions, and by the afternoon I noticed I was getting one at least every hour. This was unusual for me so when my husband, Luke arrived home from work I mentioned to him that we should start thinking about this baby coming sometime soon. The contractions increased over early evening as I prepared dinner and got Jackson to bed. I sent my husband out to the supermarket for toilet paper and bread, the essentials! I called Lynda to let her know what was going on and she suggested that maybe the baby was moving down and this was causing the Braxton Hicks. I agreed to check in with her later that night before I went to bed.
I lay on the couch watching TV and sitting through contractions which were now getting uncomfortable. I started to feel tired so called Lynda to let her know I was heading to bed and I would call in the morning. I lay in bed uncomfortably for a couple hours and got up again for some snacks. Back to bed and eventually I got to sleep. Every time I rolled over or moved it felt like I would set off another contraction. I think I got about 2 or 3 hours of sleep and finally got up and went to the lounge to walk around. I left my husband in bed so at least he could get some sleep, but actually he was awake and listening out for me.
The contractions were starting to get painful and coming around every 15 minutes. I kept thinking ‘this had better not turn into nothing!’ so started walking around the lounge, listening to music on my headphones trying to keep the contractions coming. Eventually as the pain got more intense and contractions closer together we realised the baby was most likely coming today and we’d need some help.
Originally the plan was to have Luke’s mum take Jackson while I laboured, because I wasn’t sure how I would deal with the distraction. Since it was still early morning we called my mother, who had supported me during Jackson’s birth also, to come over so that we didn’t have to wake him, and he had someone to care for him when he awake.
We called our midwife Lynda at around 6.00am. She had been expecting me to call and say that everything had died down but instead I told her ‘I’ve reached the point where I’d like some drugs so I think you need to come over’. She listened to me through a couple contractions and decided to head over and start some hot towels for pain relief.
Not long after my son woke up and I went to him to feed him his bottle. I really wanted for him to feel like things were as normal as possible. We sat in the rocking chair, him having his bottle, and me thinking ‘hey this isn’t bad’ when all of a sudden I got a massive contraction. I yelped, ‘Luke, actually I can’t do this, can you come here please!’ Meanwhile Lynda had arrived and was unpacking her things. My mum arrived shortly afterwards. After a quick examination (I was 5-6 cm dilated, yay!) we got started with the hot towels and called the second midwife and our student midwife, Tania.
Tania was in her first year of Midwifery at CPIT and this was to be her first birth experience as a trainee midwife! We were thrilled to have her there, her first birth; a homebirth!
Luke, my mum and Tania all took it in turns taking care of Jackson who was surprisingly calm and happy to play with toys. I was happy he was there and dealing with things OK so didn’t call Luke’s mum to come and take him. With so many helpers (2 midwifes, 1 student midwife, my husband and my mother) I was very spoilt with hot towels, having them during and in between contractions. They followed me with that bucket of hot water and towels where ever I wondered around the house!
At some point I took a long hot shower, breathing through my contractions. Jackson and Luke followed me into the bathroom with Jackson being very helpful and handing me my cup of cold water every couple of minutes.
After my shower I headed back to the lounge, kneeling and leaning against the couch for support. I could smell bread coming from somewhere (my mum’s breakfast bagel!) and requested a piece of toast to eat. Throughout this time I amazed myself at how well I coped in between contractions. It had been my goal to stay as calm as possible through this birth and I think having Jackson there actually helped me to achieve this. I actually managed to sit up and talk to him between contractions and made sure I smiled at him to let him know everything was okay. I even managed a few jokes and some food! There were times however I felt like that this meant that nothing was happening, surely I should be in more and more pain! This birth so far had been so different to Jackson’s so it was very hard for me to compare, and I felt like I wasn’t making any progress at all. I considered asking Lynda to break my waters, but knew that wasn’t what I wanted. I found out later Lynda had considered asking me if I wanted the same thing, but funnily we came to the same conclusion without even talking to each other!
We continued to labour, using hot towels and chatting with each other between breaks. Jackson was very sweet and patted me on the back and even yelled out ‘push’ to help me along. At some point I started feeling like I was a bit ‘over’ it and wanted to hurry things along so I started pushing a little with each contraction hoping to help my waters break. It didn’t work but things moved along on their own, as they tend to do. Eventually I got to the point where contractions were full on and I was pushing along with them. Jackson was taken outside to play away from the noise and the baby was soon crowning. I remember now that feeling, that awful sting, the ‘ring of fire’ I had heard so often. I never felt this with Jackson because I had an episiotomy, and so this was a new kind of pain for me. Lynda calmly reminded me to breathe through it and soon enough her head was out. Lynda gently reminded me now that if I wanted to catch my baby I would need to reach down now and grab her. As her body was born (12.02pm) I scooped her up and lifted her up to my chest and looked down at my brand new baby. I was filled with overwhelming relief and such a sense of pride and she lay in my arms, healthy and covered in vernix.
We sat together just holding her close and my husband and I staring at her. After a while I managed to check her sex (yep, a girl after all which was a surprise to me!) and we brought Jackson in to meet his sister. He was a bit overwhelmed and upset at first but eventually came around to check her out. We got cleaned up, Honor had her first breastfeed and then we sat on the couch having skin to skin. My mum got in the kitchen and made everyone lunch and we did the obligatory phone calls and text messages.
Over the following week and after several informal ‘debrief’ sessions with Lynda I concluded that Honor’s was the best possible birth I could have hoped for. I had achieved my goal of keeping focused and remaining calm throughout the birth and had a natural, no intervention, home birth. Best of all I got to catch my baby girl and bond with her straight away, and my family including Jackson was right there with me the whole way.
The first three weeks of Honor’s life went by like a dream. I had no issues with breastfeeding, no pain, and she slept everywhere and anywhere. My husband was home to help, we had time to focus on Jackson and I was amazed at how well I was feeling.
Then Honor got the week three tummy issues; wind, tummy pain and all the usual digestion issues babies can have. At the six week mark we sadly said goodbye to our midwife Lynda. Then we moved house. And all the time Honor’s pain and crying time grew worse and worse. When she was about eight weeks old I went to the doctor to see if there was anything to be done. I was assured this was normal baby/mum issues that would resolve itself with time. Again we went home and things got worse. I asked for help, I spoke with Plunket and Karitane nurses and on their recommendation took Honor back to the doctors. One doctor would say crying is normal, one would say something could be done (very conflicting and confusing opinions!). We got to a point where Honor cried all day unless she was asleep, and would only ever sleep in my arms. We rocked, shushed, swaddled, and wore her all day long, and nothing seemed to settle her. She also began having problems feeding, and would breastfeed for a couple of minutes and then pull off crying and refuse to go back on. It was such a trying and exhausting time for all of us.
Negative thoughts and feelings began overwhelming me then. I felt like a failure because everything I tried with Honor didn’t work, I felt like she wasn’t happy with me. I felt guilty because I didn’t have time to be there totally for my almost two year old son. I felt like a failure as a mother and a wife and if I wasn’t those two things, then what was I? Soon life in general began to overwhelm me as well. Simple things like taking the washing to the dryer seemed too hard. I stopped bothering to get dressed in the morning, I forgot to eat during the day and I cried at the simplest things. I got angry with my children. I hated myself. I was unhappy with my husband. I wanted a break.
When Honor was 4 ½ months old she grew out of her crying time and turned into a perfectly settled little girl. She still liked to be held to sleep, but was generally happy and content. I continued feeling awful. By the time she was 5 months old I realised it was no longer her issues that were making me feel down. It was just me, and I needed to do something about it. I remember making a decision one particular day to get some help. I had called my husband at work to come home, I wasn’t coping with the kids and needed help. As I waited for him to answer I looked at the clock and realised it was only 9 o’clock. He had been gone only an hour. I remember thinking ‘oh god there’s something wrong with me, this isn’t normal, I can’t even look after my kids for an hour!’.
My husband came home and I went on the internet to find help. I tried calling Plunket Postnatal Service but their phone wasn’t working. I called the Depression Hotline but they were too busy to take my call. I got hold of our family Plunket nurse eventually who gave me another number to call to leave a message. I felt like I was getting nowhere, no one was there to help. I came across the Mothers Matter website online and took the Edinburgh Postnatal Test, scoring 21. The next day I spoke to Plunket again and they suggested I see my GP, which I did and went home with a prescription for Citalopram.
I started taking the medication straight away and had a break for the weekend, doing art classes for three full days. This break combined with the reappearance of sunshine and extra help from family members gave me the kickstart I needed to get better. Within a couple of weeks of starting my medication I started to notice the difference. I described it as feeling on the edge of a cliff, still on the edge, but further back then I had been. For a long time I was afraid to tell anyone I was feeling better for fear of all the support dropping off and regressing.
My darling daughter is 6 months old now and is the sweetest little thing. I can honestly say now when I look at her I feel my heart swell with the love I have for her. I couldn’t always feel this, even though I knew I loved her, I never felt it like I do now. As I feel better and better each week it becomes clearer just how low things got for me. Some things have gotten easier, and the things that are still hard don’t wear me down like they used to.
I often think to myself how unfair it was that I got postnatal depression. I kept believing that since we had such a natural and beautiful birth and immediate bonding period things would just go smoothly. I was wrong, and have been told it would be normal to grieve for the time I feel like I lost with Honor in her infancy. I probably will, but for now I’m just focused on feeling good, and enjoying my children and our family. They are beautiful and make me smile and laugh everyday and in the end I know that everything we’ve been through is worth it.