My Home Birth Story
Why I made the decision to have a home birth with my second daughter, how I did it, and what the experience was like for me.
Home birth. A concept that seemed crazy, unsafe, and frankly, irresponsible even 3 years ago has become my reality.
After the birth of my first daughter, Zoe, when I was induced in the hospital 10 days before her due date, I was determined to do it differently this time around.
The cause of my induction was IUGR (Intrauterine Growth Restriction) with a risk of stillbirth so after I was induced, I went through a fast labor where I needed pain relief in the form of gas and then morphine which ended up being a horrendous and traumatic experience that I needed work through and heal.
So I wanted to be out of the “system,” to have my pregnancy and birth on my own terms not affected by some hospital policy that the midwife has to follow because her loyalty is first and foremost to the hospital and not to me, the birthing woman (understandable but not how I wanted my experience to unfold.)
If before I couldn’t imagine giving birth at home because I’d never seen it in real life or even heard of it, this time around I was convinced that this is the right path for me.
I was highly influenced by 2 women I had a connection with (thanks Jenna and Kate) who gave birth to their babies at home so I knew I could do it too. I read plenty of books and listened to podcasts about home birth even before Zoe was born but this time it just felt right.
It felt true.
I knew deep down that birth is a natural process, that I’m not sick and I could trust my body. I also knew that if I have a good birthing team, everything would go well (or how it’s meant to go). And I imagined how amazing it would be to give birth at home without the bright hospital lights, doctors in white robes, and all the beeping machines.
One other reason I wanted to birth at home is for my girls (we decided to have the gender of our second baby to be a surprise and it turned out to be a girl) to know that their mother has given birth at home (or at least attempted to) and, thus, set a precedent for them as well. I knew I wanted Zoe to be there during birth and I imagined Eva (our second daughter) knowing and telling her home birth story to other people, thus contributing to bringing home birth back to our culture.
I also knew that the way I birth is not only going to have an impact on my womanhood journey but will also affect other women who are in my audience and are my clients. Because once you see one woman making an unconventional choice and having a great experience, others follow. That’s what happened for me and that’s what I wanted to pass on.
My husband, though, wasn’t thrilled with the idea. So, knowing how men operate, I asked him to read a chapter from the “Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering,” book by Sarah Buckley that talked about the hard facts of home birth vs hospital birth and the data and statistics that showed that home birth is as safe as hospital birth, if not safer.
I wanted to have my husband’s full support so I gave him a bit of time to get used to the idea. We also interviewed a midwife and a doula to talk about the process, which made him feel a lot more at ease knowing that there will be other people to take care of me and the baby and, if anything goes wrong, we would transfer to the hospital which was only 10 minutes away.
One day we were riding in the car and discussing our options and String told me that he doesn’t want to be the one who’ll hold me back from having the experience I wanted if I were to regret it after.
We haven’t shared our decision with many people because we didn’t feel the need to. In general, my second pregnancy, birth, and postpartum experience was less about “sharing” and more about “being” in the experience. No one needed to know the details. It was our baby, our story, our birth. The less people knew, the less judgment and projections we would be exposed to.
There was only one downside to choosing home birth: cost. In Australia, home birth is still in the experimental phase in most states, and, therefore not very accessible or affordable. In Canberra, where we lived at the time I got pregnant, there was a beta home birth program that, unfortunately, didn’t include the area where we lived (to participate in the program, you’d have to live within a 15-minute radius from the main hospital) so we couldn’t participate. In general, Australia provides quite good care for birthing women and babies — much better than what I had heard about everywhere else.
During our first birth in Canberra, Australia, we were very impressed by the quality of care, facilities, and information we received even though my birth wasn’t what I truly wanted or hoped for. There are beautiful programs that include continuity of care, like a birth centre, where you see the same midwife throughout your pregnancy if you are considered low risk. And, all of it is free.
And, although, pregnancy, birth, and postpartum experience in Australia is free and can be a wonderful experience, you’re still in the “system” and following their rules. And the rules are governed by many factors that do not necessarily put me, the birthing mother, at the centre of the system. So, to have an experience where my birthing team has my interests as their top priority (and not hospital avoiding legal battles), I knew I had to go private. And private costs cash. A lot of cash, if you live in Canberra. Without going into too much detail about insurance policies and all the other bureaucratic crap, in Canberra, a private midwife costs about $7,000 out of pocket. If you want to have additional doula support that’s an extra $2,500 or more.
So we were prepared to pay $10,000 out of pocket to have the home birth experience we wanted. I was quite uncomfortable and even ashamed of this decision at first. Why would you spend so much money if you have access to free care in great facilities and mostly good care? And, as you usually do, I posted this question on the Canberra home birth Facebook Group and got some wonderful replies. One that stands out was basically saying that you don’t even blink when you spend $20,000+ on a wedding, and birth, is one of the most significant events in your life (if not the #1 event in a woman’s life) so why won’t you “invest” this amount to maximise the chances of you having the experience that you want?
This was quite a compelling argument, and, considering everything I mentioned above in terms of the factors that influenced my decision, I made peace with it.
And so it was decided.
We were having a home birth!
During my first trimester when I was still having morning sickness, we went to Byron Bay for a holiday for my 32nd birthday In February. We had an awesome experience and fell in love with the place so after we got back to cold and dry Canberra, we decided to move to Byron.
Three months later and when I was 27 weeks pregnant, we packed our stuff and moved into an Airbnb with our 2-year-old toddler. Finding long-term accommodation was harder than we thought and I started to get comfortably uncomfortable with the idea that I might have my baby at an Airbnb. It would be a great story to tell ;-) Luckily, two weeks later we found an amazing house by the beach that we moved into when I was 30 weeks pregnant.
This move was an awesome decision on many fronts but one thing that was awesome is that in New South Wales (the state Byron Bay is located) midwives charge twice as less for their services. So by moving, we not only avoided the 3rd COVID wave but also saved a lot of cash!
It is worth mentioning that Byron Bay has the highest percentage of home births in Australia so we were lucky to be exposed to a great choice of midwives, doulas, and support groups.
My pregnancy experience with our amazing midwife, Astra, was nothing like my previous one. Instead of me going to the hospital (like there was something wrong with me) and seeing random midwives, Astra was visiting us every 2 weeks. And, instead of the boring, clinical appointments that felt impersonal and procedure-like, Astra was showing up in their cool earring hoops and colourful shorts always being easy-going, chatty, and cheerful. We drank tea, and, sometimes wine as we discussed the progression of pregnancy and as Astra was checking my blood pressure and listening to baby’s heartbeat.
Zoe was fully involved in the process and appointments just like I wanted so she can get ready for the baby’s arrival as well and so it’s not a surprise. It felt like such a natural joyous experience. I didn’t have to drive anywhere for any ultrasound appointments and it felt like everything was MY CHOICE. Astra was there to inform me about my options every step of the way and I felt that everything was up to me and what I wanted. Such a breath of fresh air.
When I asked Astra, what doula would she recommend she asked me what am I looking for in a doula. I said I wanted a calming and supportive presence. Astra recommended Heli and hiring her as our doula was one of the best decisions of my life. Not only this woman was my emotional support in the challenging last weeks of my pregnancy, but she has left such a profound mark on my birth experience, this woman has become part of our family. She also ended up nannying little Eva for the first few months when I needed to step back into work.
So we moved into a new house, I was on maternity leave and our birth team was set. Finally, I could relax and wait for the baby to arrive.
A few weeks before my due date, Zoe came back from daycare with a high fever. As it usually happens, String got the cold from her, and then I got sick as well. The last weeks of pregnancy have been difficult for me so adding a constantly runny nose and headaches was the worst. I was lying in bed for days being miserable using up all the tissues in the house and couldn’t wait for all of this to be over.
The sickness, the pregnancy, the sleepless nights.
I was done with it. I wanted the baby to arrive asap so we can finally start the new life we’ve been preparing for nine long months. I thought the body was quite wise and wouldn’t go into labor when it’s battling a cold but I guess the baby had other plans.
Ten days before I went into labor my My Braxton Hicks (practice contractions) started. They were mild and noticeable but stopped after I had moved around.
As I was induced in the hospital with my first baby the wait to go into labor was new for me and I had no idea how it all would feel. I was curious and excited as to when and how it will happen. Will I have a cool story to tell about my waters breaking on a walk or at a restaurant?
Three days before the due date I felt “different.” I felt like something “was up” and remember being very jittery like my whole body saying “we need to get things ready just in case.” So I took out the baby clothes, the nappies, and the swaddles and arranged them in the baby drawer. I also put up all of my posters, affirmations, and special images I’ve prepared for birth.
I thought maybe this was the day. I knew the countdown has started. I told my husband to get ready.
During the last month of pregnancy, we attended a 2-day Hypnobirthing workshop and I started listening to positive birth meditations. This time around I was focused on the birth but more so on the postpartum experience — the “fourth trimester.” As we were new to the area and we didn’t have any family around, I organised food delivery from this amazing service called Golden Month for new mothers that prepares and delivers food based on TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) and Ayurveda for the first 2 months. It was the best decision ever.
On Friday morning, August 27, I felt like a balloon. Was feeling tightening all morning and like something was happening again but wasn’t quite sure. I still had a runny nose and was quite sick with the flu. String left for about two hours to get his first COVID vaccine (great idea String!) while I was calmly continuing my day.
At 3.35 PM I sent a message to my midwife saying that I’m feeling intense pressure in my pelvis but without contractions. It felt like I might go into labor soon or overnight. She said to relax, breathe and keep her updated.
By 8 PM things had intensified and I sent these two last messages to my midwife and doula:
We put Zoe, our toddler, to sleep and this is when it all began…
String had taken out his “get ready for labor” checklist that we put together during our Hypnobirthing class. He brought candles and flowers. Put on the essential oil diffuser and the speakers with a playlist. I thought it was ridiculous and quite funny watching a man just going through a checklist and doing what he was supposed to do. All I wanted is for him to be near me and hold me and just take care of me (which he was doing in his own way ;)
Proper contractions had started and were getting more intense. They were about 20 minutes apart and lasted for about 90 seconds each. String and I started the TENS machine on my back and it felt amazing. I remember setting myself up on the bedroom floor and resting in between the “waves” on the fitness ball. String was having some post-COVID vaccine symptoms like a mild headache which was quite annoying but he was very supportive waking up with me to dial up the TENS machine when another contraction was starting.
I remember it being quite intense in early labor but manageable. I would describe it as intense pressure in my uterus and pelvis and it was definitely coming in waves (and it was NOTHING like period pain ;) I don’t think you can really understand or imagine how labor feels like unless you’ve actually experienced it.
After an hour or two of this waking up to a contraction and falling back asleep only to wake up again, the experience reminded me too much of when I was waking up to contractions during my first labor when I was under morphine, so I just decided to stay up. Besides, I was expecting a short and breezy labor and birth (as it often happens with second babies) so I was putting all my energy into getting through all the contractions one by one. (Big mistake.)
For a few hours, I was listening to my 50-minute long meditation from the “25 Ways to Awaken Your Birth Power” book on repeat. I was walking up to the bathroom to wee saying, “This is a wonderful moment” which String thought was hilarious but it helped me deal with the intensity. I thought it will all be over soon. That the baby was coming in the next hour or so. Little did I know…
This was just the beginning of a long and very intense labor.
By 4 AM (8 hours into labor) I couldn’t do it any longer myself so we called my doula, Heli, to come in and support me. I was exhausted (and still sick!) so I needed help. Contractions seemed to have intensified but I didn’t feel like the baby was coming yet. Zoe woke up around 5 AM feeling like something was happening so String was taking care of her while Heli was with me massaging my back, legs, and ankles. I was on my knees and resting on the fitness ball. The TENS machine was on my back and I felt like “okay, I guess we can do this for a while.”
I tried to surrender to the moment, to release all expectations, and just go with the flow. I was practicing “square breathing” that I’ve learned in the Hypnobirthing class we did a few months before. Breathing in counting to five, breathing out counting to five. Breathing in counting to five, breathing out counting to five. All this time going around an imaginary square. It helped me stay focused and present.
At around 8 AM (12 hours into labor) Astra, the midwife arrived. Things had intensified by then. I entered a zone that I call “rollercoaster of emotions.” The sensations started to get so intense that I started crying and wailing using my voice to help me go through every contraction.
Tears were coming and coming (just like mucus from my nose) and, at some point, I resembled a wild woman going deep into her experience, crying and producing these deep low sounds. Heli was guiding me through different positions: on one knee, one foot up, then changing the legs up. She was also using a rebozo (a big scarf that wraps around your belly and the person holding the scarf shaking you) which felt amazing. Interestingly, my body was shaking after most contractions which was quite amazing to witness as it was the body’s natural wisdom to release tension and move on. Quite an embodied experience.
String was offering me water, ice cubes, and fruit. Zoe was running around playing with toys or watching cartoons on her iPad being quite amused and excited by the whole thing. Everyone took turns babysitting her and at some point, Astra took her to the playground (not sure that’s included in the midwife's job description ;-) Things were happening around me but I didn’t pay attention to them as the intensity of what I was feeling required my full attention. When things started to get more intense, String was holding my arm and I got angry at him.
“You did this to me!” I was screaming and hitting him.
I just felt so helpless and angry that I have to go through this alone and he doesn’t have to feel any of it. And there was no way out — just through. At this time Heli gently suggested I use that energy and direct it down into my legs and the ground. It worked and yet again, I transformed into this wild woman who was grunting and making these strange deep low noises.
During this time I felt like I was an animal. The experience felt raw and instinctual.
Then I went through a phase where I was crying so much feeling sorry for myself and questioning why the hell did I decide to have another baby. I remember looking into my doula’s eyes and saying “I miss my mom…” and crying so hard. Feeling like there is no escape. There is nowhere to go. Noone to help and get me out. That I have to do it on my own but I don’t know how.
Where is my mother when I need her?!
Heli played the role of my mother for which I am eternally grateful. I will never forget her eyes, her gentle touch, her presence. This woman has held me through this whole journey in an incredible way. I felt safe and taken care of. I knew things were going to be okay no matter what and that I just had to surrender and let go.
Breath and support are what kept me going.
I spent around six hours going through contractions and resting on the fitness ball changing positions with my legs. Astra was checking my blood pressure and the baby’s heartbeat all the time which all were normal. As things started to slow down, Heli suggested we go for a little walk. Getting up was extremely hard but I did it. I couldn’t walk on my own so I had to hold String’s strong arms and lean over them. We walked over the stairs and Heli suggested that I walk up and down one staircase. (God, that was so intense.)
We did this for some time and then I was leaning over the staircase bench and just swaying and circling my hips for a while. As we walked back into the room where I was laboring I felt wet in my undies. Liquid was coming out and Heli confirmed that it was my mucus plug coming out. It was such a relief to know that there was some progress!
For some reason, I didn’t even think about checking how dilated I was. It just didn’t cross my mind. And I was definitely not in my head during labor. I just knew that I’ll know when the baby is coming.
Although I did lose my mucus plug, things have slowed down by 12 PM (16 hours into labor.) Contractions started to become irregular and farther apart. I didn’t really understand what was happening and what this meant but I started to fear that we might need to the hospital and receive intervention. I laid down on the bed and was still going through intense contractions, they were just more spread out. I remember needing two people to support me through every contraction: one massaging my back and another one pressing on my ankles.
At that point, Astra informed me that all this is still early stages of labor (WHAT?!) and no one knows for how long all of this is going to go for so we needed to talk about options (Dear God, help me.) This was devastating news because I was so tired, I just wanted all of this to be over.
I started contemplating going to the hospital right away and even entertaining the idea of a Cesarean section. I remember thinking about all the women I knew who had a C-section and how quickly they have recovered and that it wasn’t a big deal.
At that point, I was so exhausted and over the whole experience that I was prepared to do anything.
When I mentioned a transfer to the hospital, Astra told me that at the hospital they would probably just make the labor progress faster by giving me drugs and it will be much more intense. I didn’t want that. Besides, getting ready for the hospital, getting into the car, and driving for an hour were too painful to even think about…
She said that there were two options at that point: slow things down even more so I can rest and gain some energy or further intensify the process. I couldn’t bear the thought of anything more intense than what I was going through so I chose to slow things down. She gave me Panadeine which is the strongest “drug” or painkiller that home birth midwives carry with them (temporary relief from strong pain).
After I had two Panadeine pills and ate some soup, I vomited. I knew vomiting was a good sign but no one knew whether I threw up because I reacted to the drug or because I was close to transition (phase of labor when you’re about to be fully dilated and getting ready to push the baby out).
It seemed like the pain relief had worked because I was knocked out on the bed for about an hour. I remember it being quiet and people coming in and out of the room to check on me. I think Zoe was also having a nap somewhere.
After an hour or so I woke up to really intense contractions but I couldn’t get up or even call anyone for help. They all thought I was sleeping. And so without any help, I didn’t have a choice but to gather everything I had in me, stare at the photos and pictures on the wall that I’d prepared beforehand and go through one contraction at a time. All by myself.
I was quiet and deeply calm. I didn’t even move. I went into a deep dark hole inside myself and remember saying to myself, “Just breathe. You can do this. One contraction at a time. Just breathe.” It was quite amazing to witness myself go through this excruciating pain and be chill as a cucumber not even making a sound.
By 2 PM and after about an hour of being deep inside my well, I finally managed to get up and walk out of the room to call for help. Heli was there and when she looked at me and saw that I was so “in the zone” and “out of this world” that she had to ask whether I was okay. Whispering, I told her I was fine and we walked to the bathroom where I sat on the toilet. I said “shower” because I thought maybe water would help so Heli called String so that we can have a shower. At that point, Astra came in. She looked at me and asked if she could check how dilated I was. We walked to the bed where I had to lie down (that was so fucking difficult) and she stuck two fingers into my vagina. “You’re about 8–9 centimeters dilated…
The baby is coming! Let’s get the bath ready.”
Well, that was a relief to everyone including myself, but I knew it was not over yet… I still had to get up and walk to the bathroom, get into the bath and push…
Every step, every breath was so intense and so difficult I had to stop a few times before we even got to the bathroom. It took me about five minutes to walk 10 meters. With everyone’s help, I got into the bath and didn’t even know how I should sit or lie down…
Astra guided me into my kneeling position and I went through one contraction like that and it didn’t feel good. I was surprised that water didn’t provide any relief at all…
I turned around and laid down sideways. Another contraction came and I knew it was probably time to push but I didn’t feel the urge to push. So I decided to push anyway because I was determined to get this whole thing over with.
So with the next contraction, I started pushing and felt “something” was coming out. Astra said she can see the head of the baby. That was so crazy to hear. Zoe was running around and everyone was telling her “mommy is having a baby!” At that point Libby, the second midwife, arrived and started to take notes.
With the next two contractions, I pushed the baby’s head out. Fuck, this was crazy. This was an experience that I cannot find the words for. I simply do not have the language to describe my internal felt senses.
It felt like something I have never felt and that was beyond me. Beyond comprehension and beyond reason. It was almost unbearable. No, no — it actually was unbearable. Too much to feel, too much to be present with. And so at that point, my eyes rounded and I started staring up and literally checking out of my body. Heli, this incredibly perceptive human, put her hand on my shoulder and told me to stay here, to breathe down, and to stay in my body.
“You are safe, everything is okay. You’re having your baby,” she said. At that point, quite probably, Heli played a crucial role in this whole process because she potentially saved me from experiencing trauma. I listened to her just staying in the body and breathing instead of completely disassociating.
I remember feeling the head between my legs and sensing something very rubbery just stuck there. I touched the head and thought what a crazy, crazy thing this was! Heli put a rug on my forehead and String was at my side as I was screaming like a madwoman holding his forearm. This did not look like what you see in those beautiful birth videos on Instagram.
After the came was out, though, I knew the worst part is over and so with the next contraction (and with Astra’s help) I pushed the baby’s body out. The sensation of bones expanding and making room for another body (!) to come out of my vagina was so insane I’m yet again lost for words.
As the baby came out, Astra caught it and then placed it on my chest. Skin to skin. The baby was blue and started crying right away. I couldn’t look at it for the first 30 seconds — this is how stunned and shocked I was. “Baby is blue and scary!” screamed Zoe. Everyone had tears in their eyes. I looked around startled and then looked at the baby. String asked if it was a boy or a girl. Astra said to take a look. I checked in between the baby’s legs and saw a little vagina ;-) It was a girl! Another girl!
She was all scrunchy and so tiny. The cord was still attached to her and the placenta was still inside me. I looked into her eyes and she looked into mine. That moment was so precious and quite indescribable. All I was saying was “My baby. My baby.” I looked at String. He had tears in his eyes and kissed me then kissed the baby. I hugged Zoe. Everything stopped. It was so surreal.
WHAT A RELIEF…
IT WAS ALL OVER…
We have had a baby!
God, I couldn’t believe that that just happened. That I gave birth to a baby! At home and in the bathtub! So insane. Who does that?!
I remember Astra putting on a headlight and looking down into the bloody water to see if the placenta was coming. After about 5 minutes we decided to get out of the bathtub and walk to the bedroom. I had a lot of towels under me and a “red carpet” of towels leading to the bedroom. I laid down on the bed and Astra helped me latch the baby on the breast and she started sucking.
I was still feeling a little discomfort and with a little push the placenta came out 30 minutes after. Astra examined the placenta (while Zoe was curiously looking) and said it’s all good and everything is normal and cut the cord. The baby was healthy and well. Astra checked me and said I had minor grazing on my vagina but no tearing.
I asked String to order pizza and bring cognac and rakia (Serbian plum brandy) so we could all celebrate. I will never forget that amazing moment when all of us were just chilling out, eating pizza and laughing and I was holding a brand new baby in my arms. Zoe was watching cartoons on the iPad and eating pizza. We were just talking and having such a good time.
It felt like a family coming together after experiencing something extraordinary together. And extraordinary it was.
After the pizza was eaten and the notes were finished, everyone congratulated us again and said goodbye. We put the baby in a nappy, wrapped her in a swaddle, and put her into the bassinet to sleep. We went to bed around 10 PM and our new life as a family of four began.