By Suze Keys
14 September 2010
On the 4th of September, when I was exactly 38 weeks pregnant, Christchurch had its first big earthquake. That was a wake up call and a half! For the whole day my uterus seemed to be in one solid contraction and I thought I might go into labour at any moment. This was a cause for concern with no electricity and possibly sewage contaminated water (at least we had running water). I was too stressed about the aftershocks and taking care of the two older kids to worry about the logistics of waterbirthing in contaminated water, heating said water with no electricity, heating a log-burner free house with no electricity and most importantly heating hot towels with no boiling water… The Canterbury District Health Board said women birthing during that time should definitely go to hospital.
Fortunately the baby decided to stay put, though every day I thought “today’s the day” as Braxton Hicks contractions and cervix niggles were very frequent, probably aggravated by the huge emotional stress I felt from the continuing aftershocks. We set up the pool as soon as we got it, just in case. I was very grateful that, during this time, my husband Phil stayed home, his work disrupted by the quakes. And anyway, we all just felt safer being home together.
On the morning of Sunday the 12th of September, when I was thoroughly over worrying about when another aftershock might come as well as when the baby might come, I had a show and was excited that things seemed to be getting underway. But nothing happened.
On Monday Juliet and Kirsten (midwife and student midwife) came for the first of their daily visits and Phil decided he should probably head out and do a bit of work. I felt that he should not go too far from home – he had work in Burnham and I didn’t feel comfortable for him to be about an hour’s slow-truck-drive away. So he went and did a few more local jobs and was home around 4pm.
At about that time I was called by a reporter from National Radio, who had been in touch with the Canterbury Homebirth Association wanting to do an interview with someone regarding homebirth in the face of the quake. I told him that I thought I might be in early labour and if he wanted to do an interview then he should come NOW! He came and was gone again by 5pm. While he was here I watched the clock and noted twinges about every 15 minutes or so.
I cooked tea and everything settled down again. When I sat down to watch the news after tea the twinges started again, stopping when I put the kids to bed and starting up again when I finally sat down and relaxed about 8pm. I timed them – but they were all over the place, short and long with varying lengths of time in between. I still felt like something was definitely up so at about 9.30 I called Juliet to have a chat about what was happening. I also texted my support people – my brother Nick as support for Zavier (2 ½), his wife Rose (as go-fer), my ex-mother-in-law Bev (paternal grandmother) for Silas (7). Everyone was forewarned that it might be tonight! At 10.30, when everything had died off yet again, I decided “sod it!” and texted everyone that we were going to bed.
I read for a bit and then about 11.30 turned out the light.
Suddenly, in the dark and the quiet, I was extremely uncomfortable. There was no way I was going to be able to sleep. I had to get up, because lying down was terrible. Phil was solidly asleep, so I had that dilemma about whether to wake him or not, in case it was a false alarm. After a bout of diarrhoea, I woke him.
We pottered around and got everything ready. Phil started to fill the pool and I got the candles going and lit some incense. I couldn’t handle the lights on at all. It was a lovely quiet calm time and I felt very comfortable about it being just Phil and me. I didn’t want to call anyone else immediately.
At about 12.30am the contractions were coming faster and getting harder. I was pacing around holding a long wheat bag across my lower abdomen, where all the pain was with each contraction. It was very soothing.
I called Juliet who came straight away – Zavier’s labour had been really fast and she nearly didn’t make it in time. But this time she arrived in super quick time, beating Kirsten who lived closer and had assumed she would be there first.
I was having a real dilemma about calling all the other support people as, in the heat of the moment, I felt that I didn’t really want Nick and Rose here – it seemed to be a big daunting audience for a labour that had been stopping and starting – I seemed to have stage fright! And I also didn’t want to get Zavier up in case he wanted me, which negated the need for his support. I did want Silas to be woken, so we called Bev and she was there by 1.30am. The cat sat watching proceedings, curious.
Juliet and Kirsten were doing a wonderful job with hot towels on my lower back and abdomen by this stage, it was very full on. I looked at the clock and reckoned baby would be born by 2am (naïve!).
Then I got into the pool.
I remembered the water with my previous two labours being a wonderful relief. Not so this time. I only felt minor relief and was still extremely uncomfortable, with major pain low down in the front. Being on my hands and knees didn’t help the pain, though it was the only position I could stay in. Jugs of boiling water were still being added to the pool to get the temperature just right (we’d emptied the cylinder) and I was extremely hot. And I was feeling nauseous, contractions coming every few minutes.
At 2.45am Silas was woken and I was starting to make those infamous primal noises. I was a bit worried about scaring Silas and that I might wake Zavier, with no-one to support him!
At 3.15 the baby’s heart-rate was not ideal as the pool was too hot so I had to get out. The contractions were one on top of the other and moving was hideous. Trying to time stepping over the side between contractions on top of hip/pelvis issues I have was a challenge. I had a contraction the moment I stepped out and if Phil hadn’t been holding me up then I don’t know what would have happened! I thought “how do women transfer to hospital in labour?” fast on the heels of “I’m never doing this again!”
I managed to get into a kneeling position on the birthing mat, supported by Phil. At 3.30 the waters broke – I’ve never had that happen out of the pool and it was an amazing, gushy experience! Silas held the torch for the midwives while I pushed and Juliet held hot towels on my perineum. Baby arrived at 3.40am – lots of dark hair!
I got back into the pool to clean up and birth the placenta, which took about 50 minutes to come. We planned another lotus birth, so the placenta was left in the sieve to drain for a while before it was checked by Kirsten and her assistant Silas. Then it was salted and wrapped in a nappy. Baby had his check-up, weighing in at 4.76 kg (10 ½ pounds!).
Zavier woke at 5.45am, coming out to the lounge with a bewildered look – why is everyone here? He was impressed with his baby brother, although he remains curious to this day about how he came out.
At 6am the baby and I went to bed and Phil stayed up with the other boys, who were all quite wired and under no circumstances going back to bed. In fact Phil didn’t get any sleep until he went to bed that night, staying up with the older boys all day so I could rest. My hero!