Disclaimer: This is MY opinion on what was best for ME and MY family.
As a self-proclaimed germaphobe, I was interested in the idea of a home birth for my first pregnancy. Soaring blood pressure among other concerns prompted my midwives to recommend I deliver at a hospital instead. For my second pregnancy there were none of the same concerns so I was able to plan to deliver at home. My mother laughed when I told her what I planned to do.
‘Without medications? Are you crazy? You have a very low pain tolerance.’
But I was firm in my decision. Ultimately, going into labour at home and being surrounded by the things that brought me comfort, made me feel safe and gave me control over my body and how I chose to deliver, was thrilling. Although the labour was more intense than my first birth without the narcotics, my body felt more in control of the sensations and I just tried to hang on for the ride.
When I became pregnant with my third child I didn’t even have to consider if I would have a home birth. I had had one with my second and loved the experience. The germaphobe in me was very happy to not set foot in the hospital. Don’t get me wrong, I know hospitals have their purpose, but as a healthy woman with a low risk pregnancy there just wasn’t a need for me to deliver my baby in one.
My third pregnancy was completely routine with the standard nausea and hormones I had experienced in my other two pregnancies. Dating ultrasound and anatomy ultrasound showed a thriving baby girl.
Around 10:00am on Sunday March 29th, 2015, I started having regular contractions.
I paged my midwife and told her I was contracting regularly but at 38+6 weeks pregnant I didn’t think I was actually in labour. She came anyways (since you know, she remembered my second birth where I also didn’t think I was really in labour) and found me labouring through contractions on the toilet. Yes. The toilet. It was the only place that made the contractions feel bearable!
We went to my bedroom, we went to the bathroom, we went to my bedroom. My midwife called the second attendant and told my husband to get moving on setting up the birth pool. My midwife asked me to stay on my bed because things were moving fast. I kindly told her to shove it. I went to the bathroom with my midwife following closely behind. The next thing I remember it was 12:58pm and my midwife called to my husband to get upstairs because our baby girl was making her entrance THEN!
And…. out she came. March 29th, 2015 at 12:59pm.
My sweet little babe. I looked down at her in my arms and looked up at my midwife and asked, ‘does she have Down Syndrome?’
My midwife looked at me with a big beautiful smile on her face, her gaze swept over my little girl and said ‘she does have some features consistent with Down syndrome.’
I cuddled with my girl (YES! Still on the toilet), and delivered my placenta (the placenta didn’t fall in the toilet either). My husband cut the cord, my big kids and my mom all came to see our new babe and there was joy. And calmness, and honestly, regular old boring, just-had-a-baby events. Her vital signs were taken, she was cleaned off, we were wrapped in a towel. We made our way to my bed.
My husband and I continued to snuggle in our bed with her until some time later when our midwife asked if it was okay to do the newborn exam. My midwife sat on my bed with us and proceeded to give her a newborn exam. She may have also put a cute hat on the baby and stolen some sweet cuddles.
The biggest thing I remember that day, aside from the obvious labour, delivery, new baby!, Down syndrome, was how normal it all was. It was quiet and calm, respectful and loving. It was happy. My close friends and family were there and we celebrated the birth of my daughter.And, in between those moments I broke down. I was at moments blissed out and at moments freaked out. I’m quite certain other things happened, behind the scenes and right in front of me. All of the things that needed to happen happened. My daughter was carefully checked over, her heart was listened to and her oxygen levels were checked to screen for any defects that may be lurking, her lungs were listened to, to ensure they were dry and strong.
I can guarantee that the midwives stayed longer at my house that day that what they normally need to for home births but never once did I feel like we were safer or better off in a hospital. Referrals were made that day and the next morning we saw the paediatrician.
I had home visits in the days following, and my midwives ensured they kept a close eye on us but the experience was normal, it was typical, it was perfectly routine.
In the months that followed I met and spoke with many families that had a child with Down syndrome. Every story I have been personally told to date sounds dramatic and/or traumatic. People whispering, no one saying out loud what everyone was thinking, baby’s being kept in the nursery for observation, lots of invasive tests and procedures and lots of separation of baby and mom. Some people were even given condolences on their child’s birth.*
I realized what a lovely experience we had had. I know, for me personally (having had PPD/PPA before), bonding with my daughter would have much harder if we had experienced drama, separation, trauma or sadness following her birth. There were no I’m sorry’s because there was nothing to be sorry about.
My family welcomed our new addition in the exact way that we had expected we would. The fact that she has Down Syndrome did not unnecessarily overwhelm the experience. This helped my family to focus on getting to know our daughter exactly as we did with our first two children. A diagnosis of Down Syndrome can distract one’s focus from this. I’m so glad that our experience kept our focus on our lovely daughter and not her diagnosis.
I believe it helped lead me down a new path of empowerment when it came to my healthcare and my daughter’s healthcare. I am so thankful she was born at home and was able to have those peaceful first moments and days every family deserves.
*I am aware that it is possible to have a positive experience in the hospital that is not like the stories I have heard. I do not think that all hospital births are dramatic, traumatic, sad or characterized by separation. This is just my personal story about how I feel about my birth.
Meghan Jarzyna is the Practice Director for Generations Midwifery Care. You can read more about her here.