Our daughter was born in late winter 2018.  She was one of the 3% of babies who actually arrive on their due date. This was our first child, and we were wildly excited!

Some years earlier, when facing a series of chronic health issues, I had come across one of Ina May Gaskin's books on midwifery. What she had to say about natural childbirth resonated deeply with me. I knew from that time that if/when my partner and I conceived a home birth would be my first preference. I had also read about the statistically better birth outcomes achieved when a birthing family was supported by a doula.  Therefore, once we confirmed our pregnancy in late 2017, we set about putting in place a birth team to support a home birth. This included bringing Anna on board as our doula. We did a significant about of preparatory work for the labour and birth. I was particularly interested in the stories of women who approached their labours in a positive, non-fear based way, and how this was a tool to manage the intensity of birth. To help us approach labour in this way we, among other things, took the Katharine Graves Hypnobirthing course with Anna and also attended an active birth workshop. Both were invaluable to us during labour and birth.


We were fortunate to have a good pregnancy, and as our due date approached we were on track with our home birth plan. On the evening before the due date I felt my first surge around 9pm. I'd just had a lovely long bath and had laid my head on the pillow. My partner had gone to bed quite a bit earlier than me that night at around 8, which was not the norm (we joke that he must have subconsciously sensed that he wouldn't be getting much sleep in the week to come!). I waited in bed to see if/when my next surge would be. It was quickly clear that labour had started, as my surges were already five minutes apart, and there was already an intensity to them that differed from the cramps I'd felt the week prior. I tried to stay in bed as long as I could, but it wasn't long before I felt I needed to get up and move around. I let my partner continue sleeping for the next hour or so. As my surges gradually intensified, I woke him at 10.30 to tell him that things were happening! I decided that I would feel most comfortable in the bath, so he set me up in the bathroom, including with our hypnobirthing affirmations and relaxation tracks. While that early labour phase is somewhat of a blur, I recall being largely happy in the bath. My partner would spend his time in the bathroom with me during a surge then head off to the living area to set up the birth pool. My surges gradually got closer together, and we felt it was time to contact Anna.

Anna arrived at ours around 2am. Although in a 'labour bubble', I recall feeling very reassured by her presence. I remained in the bath for a bit longer while my partner and Anna continued to set up our birth space, and then I moved to this area and continued to labour in a relaxed way with amazing support from my partner and Anna. In the early hours of the morning, sometime before sunrise, Anna recommended that we phone the midwives to tell them that we were in labour. They said that they would call back once we were a bit further along. We appeared to be making good progress and it was not long before they called back. After what seemed like only a short period of time to me, the duty midwife from our collective (Dominoes) and a lovely student midwife arrived. Our Lead Maternity Carer (LMC) was 'off-duty' that weekend. We had really wanted her to be at the labour, so joked with the baby over the weekend that s/he had to wait until at least Monday before arriving. And baby listened! A few hours later, our LMC arrived to take over.

Our Midwife checked my progress around this time and I was approximately six centimetres dilated, and I was feeling good. My surges continued to increase in intensity in the few hours ahead, but I was wonderfully supported through each one. I particularly felt the labour in my lower back, so through each surge three of my support team would wrap around me - one pressing hard into the acupressure points in my lower back while the other two would shake my thighs vigorously. Around this time I decided to go into the birth pool for a change of scene. I found the water calming, although at times I felt either too hot or too cold. Anna would get me a cool flannel for my neck and forehead, or pour warmer water over me, or hold a warm flannel on my back while I was in the pool. I also recall her reminding me to relax my shoulders while I was in the pool by gentle stroking down on them. My partner and I used vocal toning (essentially chanting in time to achieve resonance) during some surges, which made me feel very calm and connected. Having the hypnobirthing audio playing continuously also helped immensely; it made me feel relaxed and reminded me to breathe and ride the wave of each surge.


Around late morning our Midwife asked, and I readily agreed, if she could check my progress again. And it was good news - my cervix was almost fully dilated, with just part of the cervical lip that needed to move. While barely aware of it at the time, my partner told me later that he served everyone pumpkin soup after hearing this, thinking they'd all need some sustenance before moving into the second stage of labour (the pushing part) in the near future.




However, as with many things in life, our labour from this point took an unexpected turn. The hours ticked on and I never felt an urge to push. The midwives recommended a range of different positions to try move things forward, which included squatting, lying on my side, being jiggled by a rebozo (large scarf), and (my favourite) hanging upside-down off the sofa! Unfortunately none of these changed the situation. To this point my waters had not broken and our midwives recommended that they do this. This was a big decision point in our labour for my partner and me. We were aware that the breaking of waters was an intervention (of sorts), and our preference was to avoid those. At the same time, we knew that our midwives had tried a lot of things and that this was not a careless recommendation. It was also our last chance to stay at home - given the amount of time I'd laboured to that point, we would have to transfer to hospital shortly if progress was not made. We were given time and privacy to consider our options and ultimately decided to break my waters. The breaking of the waters itself was a very quick and painless procedure. We continued for a while to try to help baby move into a better position, but there was still no urge 'to push'. Given the amount of time we had been labouring and the lack of progress, our midwives recommended, and we agreed, to transfer to hospital. It was quite surreal walking out of our house up our garden path in the early evening light - my labour bubble was burst. We transferred the short distance to Wellington Hospital in an ambulance with its sirens muted. Our midwife travelled with me, which was reassuring, while my partner and the rest of the support team followed. Until this point my surges had been intense, but manageable. However, I found it much harder to focus in the ambulance and at hospital, and no-doubt was also feeling an element of fear, which led to a new level of intensity.

At hospital, I was initially offered gas to help manage the increasingly intense surges. I tried to take it, but my body rebelled immediately (I threw off the mask!). The obstetrician then recommended an epidural in the hope that this would relax the body and help the baby descend. It was reasonably clear that this was our last chance at attempting a vaginal birth, so we consented.  20-30 minutes after the epidural, the obstetrician conducted a scan. He could not find an obvious reason as to why baby had not descended, and recommended a caesarean. The epidural had unfortunately made me feel cold and shake uncontrollably.  My partner and I discussed our options. We agreed that, given our baby had not descended over the past eight or so hours, and the fact I was not feeling very strong after a relatively long labour and the epidural, we would proceed with a caesarean birth. This was not an easy decision for me, but in the circumstances it felt like the best option. In particular, I wanted to avoid a situation where we might need a true emergency caesarean under general anaesthetic and I would not see our baby be born. Our birth team were immensely supportive of our decision. I was prepared for theatre and there were forms to sign. Fortunately our antenatal classes and our reading had given us some sense of what to expect.  I continued to listen to my hypnobirthing soundtrack and send our baby calming messages. While exhausted by this point, and apprehensive about the surgery, I was also excited that we would get to meet our baby imminently.

And it didn't take long. After what felt about five minutes after the surgery began, the obstetrician lifted our baby up over the curtain.  She let out a cry to let us all know she had arrived. It was a girl! It was 10.01pm - over 24 hours after our labour had begun. She was taken away to be weighed and checked over briefly. Pronounced healthy, she was then placed on my chest. And what a magical moment that was! She calmed to our voices and looked at us intently out of one eye (the other eye was squished against my chest). She was here; she'd found her way to us. We had two name options for girls in advance of the birth - one stronger sounding and the other softer - and had thought that we'd take a bit of time in choosing one of them. However, whilst in recovery immediately following the surgery I turned to my partner and suggested that given the strength our daughter had shown through the entire labour - her heart rate was always strong - we should go with the stronger sounding name. He readily agreed, and we announced to our Midwife that her name would be Greta Kōwhai.

While I felt fortunate that I immediately bonded with Greta, I struggled in the period following her birth to talk about it. There was a sense of loss for what I had wanted and also of failure - why couldn't I give birth naturally. We also had a challenging first week establishing breastfeeding and, rightly or not, I felt this was exacerbated by the surgery. However, in the period following Greta's birth, I have been very fortunate to have amazing support around me encouraging me to explore my emotions around Greta's birth. I also attended a really helpful post-natal counselling session at the hospital.  While I don't regret having had a 'plan A' for how I wanted to labour and give birth, I also can now accept that I gave it my best shot, but sometimes life has other plans, and that's okay. I am grateful that we had a wonderful birth team who empowered us to make decisions, rather then making them for us. The passage of time, and getting to see Greta grow and develop in such amazing ways, is also a great healer.

Anna was instrumental in supporting our pre-birth preparations and was also such a supportive, attentive, and reassuring presence during labour. You can read our testimonial for her services here.