AMOS LAMPBRECHT’S HOME BIRTH
The first, long-awaited contraction on that Saturday morning was unmistakable. I wandered back to the bedroom, where Herman was still half-dozing, and smiled, “I think this is it!”
He obviously knew what “it” was, because he managed to jump out of bed and race to the shower pretty quickly.
It was just after eight, and whilst the three kids had been up for what seemed like hours, watching a movie together in the living-room, Herman and I had been enjoying a leisurely lie-in, knowing that our opportunity to do so again for, oh, probably the next two years… was going to be somewhat limited. I was one day past my due-date, and had been waiting expectantly for baby to arrive after a good week of frequent practice-contractions.
The contractions I was experiencing that morning were very obviously the real-deal, however. Not exactly painful, and very bearable, but strong and regular. In the bathroom I noticed that I was having my “bloody show”, which had been the starting signal for my previous labour. I started to get breakfast ready for everyone, and helped the kids get dressed and organised to go to “Ouma’s and Oupa’s” house for a visit. Herman’s dad didn’t quite follow at first when I subtly suggested on the phone that it might be a good day to clear their calendar and spend the day with the kids; but Herman helpfully shouted “Fire in the hole!” over my shoulder and into the receiver, which seemed to get the message across. I was confident we still had some time to go until things got more serious, so had let Heather (our midwife) know over Whatsapp that I would keep her updated throughout the day as things progressed.
There was a really happy, celebratory atmosphere in the house that morning. When Herman’s parents arrived, we all sat together in the sunny kitchen and drank tea and ate some of the cake I had stashed away in the freezer while kids chattered excitedly about the baby. Contractions were still coming every couple of minutes, but they had spaced out a little while we were all busy socialising, and only resumed again after we had buckled the kids into the car and waved them off.
It was a really different experience to be planning to deliver the baby at home this time around, without the need to race off to the hospital. We had experienced two, relatively uncomplicated and unmedicated births at the hospital; but, after a lot of prayer, reading and discussion, Herman and I had decided that for me and our new baby, the safest and best place to deliver would be in our own home. My “birth haven” (as Herman enjoyed referring to it) in the bedroom had been set-up and organised for a while, aside from a few hours two days earlier after the cat had thrown-up on my duvet (there is no accounting for the trivial things that can drive a heavily pregnant woman to tears…). As my labour gently progressed, Herman and I pottered about the house, hung the last load of laundry, put away the dishes in the kitchen and swept out the bathroom. Without little tornados underfoot to undo our work, the house looked far tidier than usual, and it settled me enormously to see that everything was ready.
Whilst my contractions had been continuing all morning, they were not becoming closer together or increasing much in intensity. I was still quite happy to move around during them and didn’t feel all that bothered by them; but I was eager to get things moving and to meet our little boy. By noon, I started to wonder if baby was not quite engaged in the right position, which was why things were starting and stopping, so told Herman that we should eat lunch quickly and then I would try a couple of the labour exercises I had read about on the “Spinning Babies” website.
After a bowl of minestrone soup (yet another treasure we’d dug up in the deep-freezer), I trotted off to the bedroom to experiment with a few “abdominal lift-and-tucks”. During contractions, I would lean back against the wall, and with my fingers interlaced, gently pull my stomach up and in. I wasn’t sure if I was doing it right but, nevertheless, after just four or five of the “lifts” I suddenly felt a contraction that was much stronger than any others I had experienced all day. Heather called at that point (just after 2pm), to ask how I was doing and I told her that I suspected we were starting to make some progress but I would let her know for sure in 15 minutes. I was a bit nervous about the idea of “sounding the alarm” unnecessarily. The contractions continued to lengthen and increase in frequency – 6 minutes apart, then 5 minutes, then three minutes – so I messaged Heather and told her she should probably come.
Despite the increase in labour pains, I still felt very at peace within the soft green walls of my own little bedroom. Herman started playing some worship music on the ipad. I set up a pile of pillows on my dresser, and would lay my head and arms on them as a contraction began, swaying and breathing out quietly. I lay a heated rice-bag on the small of my back, and found the warmth and weight of it comforting. In between contractions, I read from my Bible, concentrating on a verse a dear friend had sent me earlier in the day: “You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You.” (Isaiah 26:3).
At about 3pm, without my noticing, Herman had gone out to let Heather in at the gate. Suddenly she had joined me in my bedroom, with a reassuring smile. She went to quickly get her equipment organised (after my confirmation that baby was not coming quite yet!) and then when I was ready, came back to check my dilation. Surprise, surprise – I was already 9cm! We were getting close to showtime!
Now I was no longer just breathing through contractions, but really needing to concentrate and hum through them. I started to get a little restless – my pillow tower wasn’t good enough anymore. Heather would come apply pressure to my hips occasionally, but would also step back and let me do my own thing when, I guess, it looked like I wanted space. I couldn’t vocalise it at the time, but I really appreciated her sensitivity. Esti, the supporting midwife, arrived, and I managed a quick “hello” before getting back to work. I laboured through a contraction leaning over the foot of my bed, then against the bedroom wall, then, after a toilet break, against the wall of the bathroom.
Heather suggested we take a walk in our garden, which seemed like a good idea, but after a contraction in the back hallway, I lost my nerve a little. I told Herman that I needed to lay down, and something about being tired; but I think what I really wanted was to be in the safe sanctuary of my bedroom again. For the first time that day, I was worried that this thing was too big for me and I wasn’t going to be able to do it. I lay on my side on my bed, praying a little, trying to wrap my head around what I was experiencing and feeling. Herman held my hand (as well as holding my leg in the air – a very sophisticated look, indeed). Heather reassured me that everything was progressing well and then suggested she could check my dilation again. Apparently, all that hard work had been productive – I was 10cm dilated.
At one of my antenatal appointments, I had mentioned that I would prefer to let my water break on its own. At both of my hospital births, the nurses had ruptured it for me, and on both occasions I felt that it had stalled and complicated my labour. When planning our homebirth, it had been important to me that I be left alone as much as possible, to allow my body do what it needed to do on its timeline. To be honest, now that the occasion had arrived, I kind of wished someone else could have just taken charge of the situation for me again; but, thankfully, Heather trusted and respected me in that moment when I didn’t trust myself. She suggested I stand up, lean back and “hang” in Herman’s arms and try to push a little during a contraction to see if I could break my water – and with the most satisfying “pop” I felt my waters break, and splash dramatically all over the floor at my feet!
I didn’t feel any pressure from anyone to have to begin pushing immediately (unlike at my previous births, when I was told how, when and where it had to happen), but pretty instinctively I climbed up on the bed and onto my knees, leaning forward on my elbows. Herman sat in front of me and held my hands and I asked him to pray for me. And then my body took over. As if by reflex, I felt myself pushing. Like the beating of my heart, I couldn’t have stopped it even if I tried; but I also was aware of being able to “join in” and work with my body, giving it an extra boost when needed to maneuver my baby out. It was incredible.
I felt his head crowning. It was painful, to be sure, but I knew I was so close to finishing now, and I pushed past it. Heather asked me to wait a moment while she checked for the cord around his neck. Another couple of big pushes and then the most amazing feeling as my son left my body and was passed gently between my knees to lay underneath me on the bed.
Literally face to face, I studied my son. A deeply serious face, alert eyes, robust little body and the most ridiculously adorable hairdo, his long golden locks with vernix “brill cream” looking for all the world like they had been combed and styled just for this special occasion. He cried lustily for a few moments, and then we leaned back to snuggle together for “skin to skin” time on the bed, his warm, wet body – still attached to his cord – enveloped by my arms.
Amos Benjamin was born just after 4:30pm, in our own home. When we eventually got around to cutting his cord and weighing him, he measured in at a respectable 3.88kg. Even now, the lasting impressions I carry with me of his birth are respect, trust and peace. It cannot think of anything I would change about the experience, were it within my power to repeat it, and can’t imagine a more perfect way for our sweet Amos to join our family.
Now if only we could figure out a way to ensure our evenings are as peaceful as our homebirth was!