We fell pregnant after one try. Leon and I had been together for eleven years and we felt ready to bring another person into the picture. We talked about homebirth but booked into a nearby hospital because at the time, we didn’t feel confident enough to birth our first child at home. We didn’t expect that we’d end up having what we consider to be our ideal birthing experience – at home, in a birthing pool, with a peaceful, grounded atmosphere and no intervention.
I was sure I was pregnant within a week of conception. My period wasn’t due for another week but my breasts were tender and I felt an overbrimming of love. For perhaps the first time in my life, I looked at my body in the mirror with a deep appreciation and admiration. I was at peace.
I was exhausted in my first trimester. And nauseas. In my second, I felt alive and radiant, ready for action. I’d been doing Shadow Yoga for two years and kept up a regular practice until I was five months pregnant. As the third trimester progressed I felt huge. Walking was a strain. I switched to a very gentle form of pre-natal yoga and it felt wonderful to be in a room full of other expectant mothers.
We had ultrasounds at a private clinic at 7 weeks, 12 weeks and 20 weeks. I attended standard appointments at the hospital from 18 weeks onwards. At each appointment we saw a different midwife or obstetrician and though they were lovely, the policy-driven environment didn’t gel with us. I never quite felt like I could be myself there.
We decided not to do antenatal classes but at 35 weeks, we attended a one-day partner’s workshop on active birth, run by my pre-natal yoga teacher. It covered gentle movement for birth and encouraged a conscious, connected attitude to birthing. The workshop helped Leon and I realise how well we communicate with one another. We met a couple there that had a beautiful homebirth experience with their first child and were about to birth their second child at home.
Vaginal Swab for Group B Strep (GBS)
In accordance with the hospital’s recommendation, I did the vaginal swab for GBS at 36 weeks. I tested positive and was informed that if my waters broke, I’d have to present at hospital for induction and be put on an intravenous antibiotics for the duration of the birth. The information was relayed to me in a nonchalant manner with a student midwife present, which made me uncomfortable. I asked if there were alternative options to antibiotics and was told I’d be putting my baby at risk if I didn’t follow hospital policy.
After the appointment I immediately started a natural treatment for the bacteria and began researching extensively on the risks involved in birthing with a possible GBS infection. After weighing up the risks, Leon and I decided we didn’t want to bring Vienna into the world on antibiotics. We also wanted to avoid induction unless the situation was truly dire.
The Switch to Homebirth
The hospital’s policies on GBS and the way the situation was dealt with at my appointment was an alarm bell for us. And every time we read over our birth plan, Leon felt he was going to have to be a warrior, defending me from unnecessary intervention. Two of our friends who had birthed in the same hospital recently had been told they’d needed an episiotomy but declined and went on to have tear-free births – I started to feel like I’d freeze whenever an obstetrician came near me.
One morning I woke up at 5am and started Googling local homebirth practices. By 10am I’d spoken to a midwife and by 12pm we were sitting in her clinic chatting to her. It felt right.
The midwife was happy to support our homebirth as long as there were no signs of complications. We discussed the risks of GBS transmission and infection, and talked about possible scenarios for transfer of care to hospital. We’d transfer if my waters broke before I went into labour, if I had a fever during labour or if there were any abnormalities in Vienna’s heart rate.
We left the clinic feeling we’d be able to make informed choices that aligned with our values. We sat with it for a few more days, then booked the homebirth in and cancelled our hospital booking.
Not long after, our midwives came to our house to talk about what kind of birth we’d like to have and to map out the set-up of our space. I love being in water, so we opted to hire a birthing pool. None of us knew then that just 3 days later, I’d be in labour.
Meditation and Connectedness
For around two and a half years Leon and I had been attending classes that focused on meditation, visualisation and oneness of spirit. The classes encourage following intuition, fostering a relationship with higher self and living in the present moment. Since the classes began, we had grown to embrace the natural, divine ebb and flow of life. The knowing we’d gained helped me to allow the process of birth to unfold in a centred, peaceful manner.
On the 9th of December I woke up and felt that I must get a manicure, pedicure and have my legs waxed. I went to a day spa near our home and came out feeling pampered and extremely relaxed. I spent the remainder of the day resting.
At 7am on the 10th of December I was conscious of having something that felt like period pain, though I was asleep. It died down after a few minutes but returned about 10 minutes later. After about 4 rounds of these waves, I woke up fully. I timed the next two rounds and they were 8 minutes apart. I went to the toilet and there was some light pink fluid left on the toilet paper. I called our midwife to let her know, then stuck my head into our home studio and told Leon I was in early labour so he better finish off the design work we had due that day – very quickly!
I hadn’t had Braxton Hicks contractions and we had been convinced that Vienna wouldn’t arrive until Christmas, when our design work for the year would be finished. We hadn’t set anything up for the homebirth yet. I texted our friend Alexi and asked if she’d buy some towels, a cushioned mattress protector, a hot water bottle and some orange juice.
I spent time resting on the couch while Alexi and Leon set up the living room. The birth pool was inflated and the mattress protector was put down over the hardwood floor so I could kneel if I wanted to. Sometimes one of them would just sit with me or come and put a hand on my lower back.
After a short time Alexi left and Leon and I spent the next few hours together. He lit candles and put soft music on. As the contractions got stronger we intuitively started using the movements from our active birth class. I swayed gently, rotated my hips and breathed slowly. Leon lifted my belly with a rebozo. He applied counter pressure to my lower back during the surges and we walked around the house slowly. My focus was also on resting and letting go between each contraction. We spent a lot of time connecting through eye contact and just being present with one another.
Leon stayed in regular phone contact with our midwife to update her on what was going on. By 3pm the contractions were intense and frequent. Labour was established. At that stage, Leon’s touch began to feel too intense. He sat on a meditation cushion nearby with his legs crossed and I felt his presence as strong and secure, even though he wasn’t right next to me.
Transition and the Birth
From about 8.30pm I started feeling a downward pressure on my bowels. Contractions were incredibly intense and I found the best position to be kneeling with my elbows propped on the couch. After each contraction I gave Leon a thumbs-up, then rested on cushions and listened to the inner voice that was encouraging me. I kept hearing the word ‘progress’. The whole time I felt conscious of what a beautiful empowered experience I was having.
Our midwives arrived and entered the space peacefully. They checked Vienna’s heart rate without me having to change position. They didn’t offer internal examinations or give advice; they just sat on the floor and let me keep progressing as I had been. Their presence felt grounding and comforting. A few times I noticed them exchanging soft smiles.
I had been happy labouring on the ground but getting into the birthing pool changed everything. The weightlessness was welcome and the warmth made me relax. I knelt with my knees wide apart and rested my arms and head on the side of the birthing pool. With each contraction the downward pressure intensified. After a few minutes, I felt a pop between my legs like a champagne cork. My water had broken.
I held one of our midwife’s hands for a few contractions and then she whispered in my ear, ‘Let the baby come’. I looked at her and said, ‘OK’. She gestured for Leon to come and sit in front of me and he held both of my hands. It was about 10pm. It had felt natural to be silent throughout the labour until that point but as I felt Vienna’s head start to move down, I began making sustained, otherworldly sounds beyond my control.
With each contraction I felt Vienna’s head moving further down and a stinging sensation spread across my perineum. The pressure of each contraction started to feel like a huge release. The midwives shone a torch into the water to check our progress and said we were doing well. I breathed as slowly as I could. It was 10.20pm. As the next contraction came I felt Vienna’s head and then body slide out of me with force.
I looked at Leon and said, ‘That was awesome’. He quickly jumped into the birth pool and held Vienna for a moment before handing her to me and then to our midwives. After a few minutes they all helped me move onto the couch and wrapped me in towels and blankets.
I often replay the feeling of Vienna being handed to me for the first time – her warm skin on mine and how tiny she felt.
The umbilical cord was clamped and after about fifteen minutes, our midwives helped me stand up and told me to push gently. My legs were shaking and I couldn’t feel any of my muscles. They kept encouraging me to push but I couldn’t. I think gravity did the work because the placenta dropped into a container, ready to be refrigerated for encapsulation.
My midwife inspected me and said I had a small second-degree tear but it did not need to be sutured and that it would heal itself within 6 weeks. And so it did.
I had some of Leon’s homemade bread with some dates and almond spread, and held Vienna while Leon and the midwives cleaned up the space and deflated the birthing pool. Then they helped us all get ready for bed before leaving for the night. We slept with the low, warm light of a salt lamp on so we could see Vienna whenever we wanted to.
We put a lot of energy into preparing for the actual birth, mentally, physically and spiritually. I’m not sure we could have been prepared for the initial complications that arose with breastfeeding. I assumed everything would run smoothly and naturally. As Vienna lay on my chest for the first time I was conscious that she wasn’t making her way toward my nipple like I’d read often happens. Our midwives helped me to get her latched onto my breast but she didn’t feed for long. I made several attempts throughout the first night to feed her but didn’t have much success.
On the morning after birth our midwife returned to check on us and look over Vienna. She told us that Vienna had a significant tongue-tie that might need to be released if feeding didn’t improve. Leon and I decided to wait because we didn’t want to have Vienna go through an unnecessary medical procedure.
Our midwife is also a lactation consultant and during her visits on the following days she gave us further support with feeding positions and latching. I tired the best I could but by the fourth day Vienna had lost more than 10% of her birth weight and our midwife suggested we take immediate action to release the tongue-tie. We got into to a nearby private clinic close to our home and had the release performed. We were diligent with feeding but my milk was slow to come in and over the next few days Vienna hardly gained any weight.
We didn’t want to use formula because all our research had shown the incomparable benefits of breast milk. Our midwives went about securing some donor milk from recent homebirth mothers and helped us develop a plan; I would breastfeed Vienna first, then Leon would give her a top up feed with 60mls of donor milk from a bottle while I did an extraction with a hospital grade breast pump we’d hired from a chemist. It felt stressful and the plan meant that we weren’t getting much sleep but it was the best course of action for helping Vienna gain weight.
As well as our midwives, our Chinese medicine practitioner was a huge support to us in the first week. My milk supply was low and he gave me regular acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine for support. He also advised us on diet and passed on recipes for post-natal stews that Leon could make for me.
When we could no longer get donor milk we made the decision to supplement with a biodynamic formula until Vienna’s weight had increased. We wanted to keep breastfeeding and our midwife helped us use nipple shields and a supply line to increase Vienna’s time on the breast.
I also spent a lot of skin-to-skin time in bed with Vienna, with low lighting and no visitors. I’d emailed my pre-natal yoga teacher who’s also a doula and she’d recommended lots of readings on being a newborn mother, all of which recommended retreat and alone time between mother and baby.
Once Vienna’s weight had normalised, our midwife advised we start decreasing the supply line and then weaning off nipple shields. I love breastfeeding now and feel glad that we stuck with it even though it was a big challenge. Our midwife does recommend beginning to extract breast milk from 36 weeks during pregnancy – I’ll be doing that next time.
Just before Vienna was born, one of our design clients, sent us an email saying, ‘Enjoy this, the very best thing about life’. Vienna is 4 months old now. Our focus has been on creating a gentle, joyful home environment. She is laughing and smiling, sleeping pretty long hours at night and every second with her feels like a blessing. We reflect on the wonderful experience of birth often.
Pre-natal Yoga and Partner’s Workshops
Meditation and Oneness Classes
Oneness of Spirit