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Episode 273

Libby

In today’s episode I chat to Libby who shares her homebirth story. Based in Governors Bay in New Zealand, Libby introduces herself in Maori and English and talks about her choice to have a termination. At the time termination was still listed under the crimes act and her treatment in the hospital system reflected that. A profound period of grief followed which ultimately inspired her to plan a homebirth for her next pregnancy. Well-read and with a strong understanding of physiological birth and the role of hormones in labour, Libby was supported by a team of women as she laboured through the night, roaring through contractions until she finally met her baby, Taika, just as the sun was rising. Libby’s episode is like a mini birth education course, I think you’ll love it. 

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Image by Chloe Langley

Libby and her husband, Tim, eloped three weeks after they met. Libby moved from Auckland to Christchurch and on the day she moved in with Tim she discovered that she was pregnant. Wanting to focus on creating a strong foundation for their relationship, they chose to terminate the pregnancy which prompted a significant period of grief for Libby and later informed her choice to have a homebirth. Libby talks at length about the way she was treated by the hospital during her termination, which at the time was still in the crimes act in New Zealand. In retrospect she can see that her experience – the way she was treated and the depth of her physical pain –  induced significant trauma.

“I had a terrible infection from the termination and I had no friends in Christchurch at that time. I was unemployed and struggling to find work and I wasn’t in a good place at all. The first friend I met in Christchurch was actually a homebirth midwife named Kate. We were sitting at a group table in a cafe and we started chatting and then we realised that we had both just given up alcohol and I was interested in homebirth and we just hit it off.

“When Tim and I decided to start our family I conceived quickly. I studied law and anthropology at uni and I remember Ina May Gaskin coming up when I wrote a paper on birth. I’m one of those people who really deep dives into anything I feel passionate about, especially around women’s rights in birth culture. My focus switched to how I could have the most informed and empowered birth experience and books played a big part – Ina May Gaskin and Sarah Buckley in particular.  Knowledge is power and I had a strong belief in my body and our innate ability to birth. We are mammals and labour is consistent amongst all mammals – the stages of labour and the release of hormones to precipitate labour and bring about that natural, euphoric birth. Our mind-body connection is responsible for that release of hormones. And just like a deer can stall its labour if it feels threatened, a woman can stall her labour if she feels unsafe, if an unknown face is in the room or if a doctor does a vaginal examination without consent.

“New Zealand has quite an advanced maternity care system. As soon as you find out you’re pregnant you find your midwife as your Lead Maternity Carer (LMC). I found a local midwife called Jo who had about 30 years experience and has a very grounding energy whereas Kate, who was on leave at the time but wanted to support me, has a lighter energy.

“I had a really fixed mindset and assumed I would go past my due date. I actually went into labour at 37+3. I woke up that morning and Tim and I made love and soon after I started having braxton hicks contractions and noticed that Taika was sitting really low. I met my birth photographer at a cafe that morning, little did we know that she would be coming to my house in the early hours of the next morning. I was getting contractions every thirty minutes but I presumed they were braxton hicks. I missed all the signs which seems so silly considering all the birth stories I’ve listened to. After a chiropractor appointment where I saw Kate, I went home and I thought I had peed myself and realised I had no control of the slow, constant stream coming out of me and I realised my waters had broken. I rang Kate and her advice was to have a nice dinner, watch a movie, make out with Tim to get the oxytocin flowing.

“I hated the start of labour when you’re so aware of everything but the contractions are starting to ramp up. As soon as everyone had arrived and the pool was set up and I got in there, it felt like I was in my own private cave, I just wanted to face the contractions and lead into them. I used the gaps between contractions to prepare for the next one. I was in the pool for 4 hours, I used sound to get through each contraction and it would make the whole house reverberate. I didn’t realise I was in such a time warp; big, thick contractions lasting for two minutes.

“There were seven long sounds with every contraction and that was my mindfulness, I focused on one sound at a time. I was saying in my head: open, surrender, come down baby, come down. I was trying to keep everything low, focusing on keeping everything grounded. There were some contractions where I couldn’t deal with it, it was overwhelming, and I just knew that I just had to survive it. I was having microsleeps between contractions; I thought that space was five minutes, but it was only 45 seconds.

“My biggest fear wasn’t the pain, my biggest fear was being transferred to hospital. I had in the back of my mind a concern about not progressing. I heard Kate tell my student midwife that she could see the purple line and I started pushing. I never felt the urge to push but I knew that purple line meant I was fully dilated. I could feel his head and after pushing for a while Kate encouraged me to get out of the pool to get into a better position to birth him. I got into a supported squat position, Tim was holding me up and I was making those really deep sounds and Kate and Jo encouraged me to focus down further, and then Jo said Taika’s head was crowning. Kate asked me to switch my sound into just breathing, so I breathed him out. The ring of fire was such an amazing, crazy, scary, exciting feeling. It feels like all the muscles in that area are stretching in ways that they never have before. I went towards the pain and breathed his head out. There felt like so much space and time between the contractions at that point. Kate caught Taika and within seconds he was on my chest and I’ll never forget that feeling where Taika was put into my hands, a tiny, warm, purple being.

“I knew that with homebirth there is a time frame for everything before you have to go to hospital. I had a marginal cord insertion, where the cord is inserted into the side of the placenta instead of the middle. There’s no evidence that it affects a baby’s growth but doctors are suspicious of it. I was losing a lot of blood and they didn’t want to tug on the cord so they gave me the syntocinon injection and I had a big cry and the placenta slipped out. The mood in the room changed and I held Taika and started breastfeeding, it was so lovely.

“He was born at 6:21am and at that stage the sun was rising and the birds were chirping. The midwives helped me to the bathroom and Kate and Elsa cleaned me and they put me into bed and brought me food. I was so looked after in such a feminine space; it’s something I’d love for every woman to experience. I was ecstatic for two days, I just wanted to be awake with Taika, I couldn’t sleep.

“My postpartum journey has been a real rollercoaster. The first six weeks were bliss, I got so much from your Discovering Motherhood course. I got a meal train set up and my mum was here with us and then Taika woke up at 5 weeks and it went into evenings of him just screaming. Dr Howard Chilton’s episode in the Discovering Motherhood course really helped me understand what was happening but still, it sent me into a stressful state, every evening for three hours of screaming. This went on for about five weeks and it really brought me to my knees. That’s behind us now but it definitely shifted things for me.”

Topics Discussed

Postpartum preparation, Termination, Marginal cord insertion, One vaginal birth, Home birth

Episode Sponsor

Today’s episode is brought to you by Bliss Birth. Bliss Birth is founded on the belief that women’s bodies are incredible things, and that when it’s safe, choosing natural options makes for the best outcomes for mums and babies. That’s why Ariel has developed a range of products to support your natural birth experience. Introducing the most advanced natural pain management device for labour available in Australia – The Elle TENS Plus. TENS stands for Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation and it is the ultimate birth tool as it maximizes your body’s natural pain-fighting abilities. The Bliss Birth TENS Hire features; Built-in contraction timer, Longer 8 week hire period, Pre-addressed, prepaid return (No printer needed). The ‘Mama Bag’ valued at $10.95 is yours to keep! You can enjoy 10% off Bliss Birth with the code AUSTRALIANBIRTHSTORIES. Head over to BlissBirth.com.au

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