Home birth – what is the difference

Six weeks ago I gave birth to my second child, Albert. It was a home birth and I learnt some important lessons through this experience, that I wish to share for future parents who may find it useful when preparing for a natural birth (not necessarily at home).

Pain

I exactly remember the pain of giving birth to my first child, Lily Helena. The peak of it, when the contractions were the longest and the strongest felt like my lower back was cracking and spreading as a glacier. I expected the same pain for the second time but it didn’t happen.

Despite of it, I was really scared. Scared of the pain, scared of my reactions, of tiredness and loosing energy, scared of impossibility to escape the process. Scared of lack of the control and scared of the thought that the birthing process may take many hours.

I felt extremely vulnerable and what I needed from the outside world was reassurance, safety and as much comfort as possible. I also knew that these things are going to help my child to come to this world peacefully.

Relief

The haven of my own home provided the sense of security and intimacy. Home birth allowed my family to avoid separation – we stayed all together throughout the process. My husband, Simon seemed to feel much more free to take up his supportive role and act according to his intuition.
It was getting dark outside and inside Simon lightened the candles instead of turning on the strong room light. It was one of those little, subtle changes which made a big impact on labour. It wasn’t planned to have the light turned down, but midwife seemed to expect that as when it came to the second stage of labour and she needed proper light, she was using a head torch, which she brought with her.

Hormones story

What really matters during the birth is to let hormones do the right thing. Hormones are responsible for progress of the labour – oxytocin, adrenaline and endorphins are the main substances which drive the process. Their production is related to psychological condition of a mother to be and this means, for example, that too much stress can cause overproduction of adrenaline, which can inhibit the release of oxytocin.
Adrenaline is known as a ‘stress’ hormone. The more a woman is distressed the more adrenaline circulates in her body, causing trouble to oxytocin release and prolonging the labour.
Distress can be caused both by small uncomfortable stimuli – like strong light, as well as more serious issues – like fear of pain. So as labour is inevitably a stressful experience, to work through the natural birth is to minimise factors, which influence hormones in negative way and maximise those which help a woman to be relaxed (as much relaxed as possible – and I can imagine that this statement doesn’t have a limit – my friend, who was using autohypnosis techniques recalls giving birth as practically painless experience).

Interventions

In my case, the crucial role in supporting the natural course of action, played very subtle changes in my behaviour and in circumstances. They were introduced by the midwife, who attentively assisted me through the process and was giving clues and suggestions which made a huge impact on my way of experiencing the labour.
In hospital, doctors and midwives have a wide range of medical interventions to apply and they are often used. Induction of oxytocin, epidural, using of forceps, etc. – they are actions justified by the context in which the birth is happening and by the medical culture. Sometimes they are used unnecessarily, sometimes they are needed because of the hormonal process being affected by hospital environment.
What I was amazed of, was that my midwife had wide range of natural interventions to choose from and that they all made massive changes, including speeding up the action.

To list those which I remembered as being most helpful for me:

  • Relaxing the forehead. When pain was becoming more severe, I tended to frown and string the forehead. Sorcha asked me to try to relax that tension. Since then through all the labour I focused on that part of the body, remembering to have eyes wide open and have a forehead relaxed. That leaded me to make ’rounded’ noises and let me to survive through every contraction much easier.
  • Rocking. The movement played enormous role during all the labour and rocking during contraction was particularly helpful. During more difficult times, I was rocking my body resting my hands on Sorcha’s forearms, so I can say, we danced through the hard moments.
  • Changes of positions. I heard a lot about the benefit of using different positions during the labour, but I didn’t have a chance to try it when giving birth for the first time, so I didn’t really understand what does it mean. After experiencing constant changes of positions I know that this is the vital part of moving things forward and of coping with labour. That included taking few baths, and also: walking up and down the stairs, when the action slowed down. When in pain, my instinct tells me to curl up in one place, stock there and wait until the thread is gone. The key work during the labour was to resist this instinctive reaction and just move around – as much as possible. I was strongly encouraged to do so and also, Sorcha was preparing new places for me – fixing the pillows, blankets, hot water bottle, etc. Feeling free to move and being creative about it was for me the most important part of going through natural birth.
  • Avoiding screaming. When the time for pushing came I was given two pieces of advice which allowed me to push out my 4.4 kg (9.7 pound) baby very gently and with very small damage to my body. One was to switch from high pitch screaming (which again appeared as an immediate reaction on very start of the pushing stage), into making deep noises from diaphragm. That deeper voice of mine immediately guided me to find the right speed and strength of pushing (and probably also allowed our older daughter to sleep through that phase).
  • Listening to my body. It all came together when I heard these words: Listen to your body. The meaning of this sentence is very floating and almost impossible to grasp, but I didn’t have to think what does it mean. It just allowed me to follow the rhythm of contractions and let me take the control over that moment.
  • These are examples of small ‘interventions’ which I found very helpful during my labour. Some of them might be a take away for other parents preparing for birth. Above all, I would encourage mothers to be to think creatively about the process and try to anticipate what can help them to go beyond their immediate reactions for pain or fear (be it clenching teeth, frowning, getting stuck in one position, etc) and what are the subtle changes making big impact, possible to introduce in given context (whether at home, in hospital, birth centre; with partners, midwives, doulas…).At the end, I would like to pay my deep respect to the midwife – Sorcha Nic Lochlainn – for her calm, attentive, caring and beautiful presence during that special moment of my life.

    Thank you Sorcha and keep doing this fantastic work for others.*

    *In Ireland Home birth is an option available costs free for all women of low risk pregnancy.
    Sorcha Nic Lochlainn is Self-Employed Community Midwife and provides care to women who fit the HSE criteria for home birth, under the HSE home birth scheme.
    contact:
    091 648 452
    resources:
    Home Birth Association Ireland

    Community Midwives Association

For the peace of mind – baby products tricky marketing

The power of knowledge

Last may, exactly a year ago, my partner and I participated in the antenatal classes at the local hospital. Most of parents at the group were expecting the first child. We were absorbing every bit of information, coming from midwifes, physiotherapists, nutritionists and anaesthetists. It felt like
the right source of knowledge and professional information are the anchor which are going to help us through the process of welcoming the baby to this world and going through the life change.

This is a given that the set up of the antenatal classes gives the power and authority to all those who speak in front of the expecting parents. It is both not welcomed and difficult to imagine, that audience disagrees or discusses with the speakers. They have years of experience in the matter which most of parents to be, are debuting in. They are also talking to people in very vulnerable state, when excitement of awaiting for the baby mixes with the rainbow of other emotions – be it anxiety linked to birth, baby’s wellbeing, mother’s well being, stress provoked by all sorts of life challenges, financial pressure for providing for the growing family, etc.

Being in the process of huge transition, parents are prone to suggestions and it often happens that they are comforted by someone else giving clear and simple instructions: saying what exactly should happen and what steps parents should take. I am sure that intentions of those, who provide information for parents to be, are genuine. There are obviously important bits of knowledge parents need to get and comprehend (e.g. recognising signs of labour).

But some of those messages floating to parents add on to their anxiety and make them feel inadequate and confused.
This is particularly the case with commercial information which often takes a form of persuasion.
Marketing for baby products leaves parents with the impression as if stocking up with expensive and advanced products is the must for all responsible parents.

Anxiety based marketing

The antenatal classes we attended, hosted a sales representative from car seats shop. He gave a presentation on types of car seats; he brought the most expensive brand as an example, and was discussing the difference between basic and upgraded version. He said that the basic version is safe and meets the standards but the upgraded one (no need to mention about the upgraded price) is better for ‘our peace of mind’.
He didn’t say that, but the obvious consequence of his rationale is: if you can’t afford, or chose not to buy more expensive version, you can forget about the peace of mind.
The example from the shop with baby beds and mattresses is even worse. The basic version doesn’t meet the standards for protection against suffocation. If you can’t afford the better version of the mattress – we are sorry to say this – but you are putting your baby at risk. Deal with it now!
Searching through offers, articles, magazines for parents I am coming back to time when I was expecting the first baby and wondering about what we really need before the birth and trying to get get it right. In the hospital I was supplied with the plastic envelope containing the leaflets on birth plan, pelvis exercises, breastfeeding, postnatal depression, etc., and much bigger pile of adverts of cosmetic products for babies. I later on received also a small rucksack with plenty of samples. Marketing baby products is omnipresent and mostly unquestionable. The danger is that this commercial way of thinking becomes a fixed mindset, shaping our reality.

Information about product choices are based on number of assumptions which may or may not be true for expecting parents. The blurring between selling something useful and marketing a product for profit has become profound. Greater pressure is put on parents, and much of the marketing is based on raising parental anxieties…. “If you don’t buy this you are not being a good parent” is the subliminal message….The question is how do we protect ourselves from this barrage of advertising, and make the choices that are right for us, and for our babies?

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photo: http://www.redheadbabyled.com