My VBAC Homebirth.
By Ruth Siller
Doula shaped Armour - continuity of care.
My first birth experience was fairly horrific - a long labour, a cascade of unwanted/unnecessary medical interventions and the all too common 'grand finale' of an emergency cesarean. So when I found out I was pregnant for the second time I was determined to have the natural birth I knew my body was capable of and that I felt robbed of the first time round. My partner and I started researching the possibility of having a homebirth here in Edinburgh. The more we read, the more convinced we were that having my baby in the comfort of our own home was the way to go. When I told my midwife my intentions during our first appointment she just smirked and suggested I "prepare for battle" even though the policy across the lothians, where I live, is to actively support homebirth. Because of my previous cesarean I was considered 'high-risk', and for some reason giving birth at home is commonly considered less safe by medical professionals than a hospital birth. My midwife clearly thought I was mad for attempting to have a homebirth and this lack of encouragement was a great disappointment to me. I felt that my caregivers should be behind me 100% and believe in my ability to have a normal, natural, vaginal birth. So prepare for battle I did! Our armour came in the shape of a wonderful doula who helped us in so many ways during my pregnancy and the birth. If my midwives were not going to be on side then I knew that we needed someone who was.
What does a doula do?
Our doula helped us by first suggesting we address the trauma of our first birth. By talking through our birth story with us and using birth art she enabled us to grieve and ultimately put aside the negative feelings we were harbouring. She then helped us to focus on what we really wanted this time around and again we used birth art to help us visualise our perfect birth. This was a very healing process in itself and a great moment of bonding for myself and my partner. She also encouraged me to change midwives and gave me the confidence to make it known amongst my team of midwifes that I was exercising my right to give birth where I wanted and that I would not be 'bullied' or 'scared' into changing my mind. She often sent me links to relevant articles and lent me a stack of books to research and help me make informed choices.
During the birth itself my doula was an absolute godsend. She silently held me through each contraction, pressed a hot water bottle against my back, mopped my brow with aromatherapy oils and gently whispered words of encouragement. Her presence meant that my partner could deal with the midwives when they arrived and make sure that they had read my birth plan and understood my wishes. He was also free to look after our 1 year old daughter who woke up during my labour. This alone gave me a huge sense of relief and allowed me to focus completely on giving birth without worrying about anything else. Unlike the first time, my partner was also able to relax as he could be safe in the knowledge that I was being cared for. Our doula was someone he could discuss things with carefully if faced with making any decisions about my care. And he also had someone to help him fill the birth pool! As my baby was born, she reminded me that I could 'catch' her myself, which I did. I will never forget that moment. I am so hugely proud of the fact that I went from being 'high risk' to delivering my baby myself in our own living room without so much as a paracetamol for pain relief. This, I am convinced, is largely due to the support we had from our doula.
For me, having a doula was a bit like inviting Mary Poppins into our lives. She lifted a huge weight off our shoulders, helping us both practically and spiritually. For a brief period in our lives she was a total rock for our family and will always be a shining star in the story of our baby's birth.
Tessa and me!
Tessa and I became friends shortly before I discovered I was pregnant for the second time, while Tessa was training to be a doula with Red tent doulas in Edinburgh. One afternoon as my daughter played happily with her son and ate fistfuls of Tessa's homemade carrot cake, we had a long chat about our first birth experiences - her's a very positive home birth and mine a largely traumatic hospital birth which ended in an emergency c-section, it struck me how vastly different our journeys had been and I started to think about why this might have been. Tessa listened intently to my story, expressing concern at all the right moments. I instantly felt understood and knew we were on the same page. She listened to the worries I had about my next birth and encouraged me to think about hiring a doula and recommended literature, places and people I could connect with - it seemed there was a whole world of support, and a world that celebrated birth positively, if I knew where to look. This turned out to be the best piece of advice she could have given me. Her own positive birth story, understanding and encouragement was a great support to me and very empowering. In the months that followed Tessa gently helped me to prepare emotionally and physically for what turned out to be a very successful and altogether magical home birth. She often sent me links to useful articles, encouraged me to join a home birth support group and even sat with me for over an hour in a dismal hospital waiting room when I needed an ultrasound. Shortly before my due date she dropped off a gorgeous package filled with homemade energy balls, post-natal bath salts and other very thoughtful goodies for me and the new baba. Slipped inside a homemade card were half a dozen tags with empowering quotes and mantras which I strung up beside my birth pool. During my labour I stared at these and asked my doula to read them to me out loud! After the baby was born Tessa visited several times with food for the freezer, did my washing up and folded my laundry. She intuitively knows what would be helpful, rolls her sleeves up and just gets on with it.
Just a few hours before I went into labour, my partner and I had spent the day with Tessa in the Botanical Gardens in Edinburgh. Our babies played together in the leaves and squealed at squirrels as we talked about my then 'overdue' pregnancy. She made me feel so at ease about all the decisions I had made for the birth, offered words of encouragement and made me feel so empowered - my body must have known then that it was ok to have my baby!