Homebirth of Torin
By Bree and Lachlan
My first pregnancy came unplanned, but at the most perfect time in our lives. I was 25, my partner and I had been together for five years. We were in a great space in our relationship, having just celebrated our union with a magical wedding ceremony the year before. My career in midwifery, although still very much in its youth, was exactly where I had wanted to be and I adored my job working with women both in the birth centre and at home on the first publicly funded homebirth program in NSW.
[Lachlan note: I was trying to finish a PhD and we’d “planned” to wait until it was finished before embarking on our parenting adventure. In retrospect however, the journey into fatherhood turned out to be just what I needed to get me through the final chapters of the thesis. Funny how babies can put everything in perspective.]
Despite all our ‘plans’, when we saw those 2 faint blue lines on the home pregnancy test, we were both elated and instantly felt right about the path our life had taken. A new adventure was on the horizon.
I didn’t have an easy pregnancy, emotionally or physically. Work took a difficult turn. Two women I had been caring for lost their babies. On top of that, a close friend and colleague had a miscarriage at twelve weeks. Being pregnant myself and also being so close to these women made my experience of their loss raw and heartbreaking. I tried to disassociate my own pregnant state from these experiences and I worried that the emotional stress and grief would impact on my baby. Yet in crying and grieving for their loss, I processed the experience as best I could.
Physically, I was sick every day, well into my second trimester. I had back pain and was completely exhausted until about 14 weeks. I also had heartburn from around 20 weeks. Yet despite these physical discomforts I loved being pregnant. I loved that every little symptom was proof of my healthy growing baby doing well inside me. Around 12 weeks, I felt my little one flutter inside me for the first time. I adored the feeling of his presence and the comfort it brought me, wherever I was. I also felt great about my body, for the first time in my life.
When I was around 14 weeks pregnant, I had the honour of being the primary midwife to my sister-in-law, who was having her baby at home on Scotland Island. I was supported by a fabulous midwife, Nicky Leap, who came in as my mentor and back-up. The baby arrived on Scotland Island in the middle of the night on a cozy winter evening by their fire, with her 13 year old daughter, her partner and a friend looking on. It was lovely, certainly the peak of my career.
I also planned to have a homebirth with two wonderful midwives I worked with and who also were (and still are of course) great friends of mine. I had a very healthy pregnancy, no complications. We lived in Sydney’s inner west less than five minutes away from the nearest hospital and I trusted the process of birth and my support people, so home birth seemed the best choice.
I stopped work around 34 weeks, a little earlier than I had originally planned. However the physical challenges of working on-call, with women giving birth in all sorts of positions was taking its toll on my body and I had begun to find it stressful.
Lachlan and I had 6 weeks until I was due to really enjoy one another and prepare our nest for our baby’s arrival. It was a beautiful time. We went to the Woodford Folk festival, an annual event we’d enjoyed for many years. We also spent time up north with my family and hung out in Sydney just enjoying life and one another and doing lots of navel gazing!
I remember saying to my midwives, “I know every pregnant woman says this, but I really think I’ll go before my due date”. I started saying this around 36 weeks.
I had my first pre-labour contractions around 38 weeks and then a show and was sure I would have my baby within the week. Every day we would climb the hill at Sydney park around sunset and we were sure it would be the last we would experience before parenthood.
[Lachlan: We even sat on top of the hill to watch a comet pass close by the Earth- “very auspicious,” we thought, “the baby must be coming tonight!!!”]
After about two weeks of false alarms, I really hit rock bottom and became very emotional. I would cry about everything. It was hot, I felt puffy and heavy and I just so desperately wanted to meet our baby. I tried lots of things to give labour a nudge in the right direction. I had osteopathy, acupuncture two or three times, clary sage baths and sex [Lachlan: that was my favourite strategy]. I visualised my baby coming and I seemed to have the same pattern most days of a few hours of tightenings that never became regular but seemed promising, only to disappear.
On the weekend I was 41 weeks pregnant I resolved to stop “trying” to encourage labour and have the weekend off. On the Saturday I went to yoga in the morning and in the afternoon we looked after our 6 month old nephew for a couple of hours while my sister and brother in law went to a play. He was so adorable and we really enjoyed the time we had with him. It got us very excited about becoming parents ourselves- we relaxed.
On the way home, we went for a big walk and I felt the same irregular tightenings that had been going on for weeks. These increased as the evening went on. I had stopped mentioning any of these events to Lachlan because I didn’t want that glint of excitement to enter his eyes and for both of us to get our hopes up that this might be it. So I spent the evening just getting on with things. I cooked dinner, Lachlan went for a walk, and then we sat down to watch David Attenborough’s, the Life of Mammals.
I think it was around 8:30pm that I mentioned to Lachlan that I may have been going into labour. Contractions still weren’t regular but they were closer and more intense than I’d ever felt and I thought maybe this was finally it. So we casually set up some things for the homebirth, continuing to say, but with less conviction, that this was probably just another false alarm. [Lachlan: After all, where were the comets?]
It was around 10pm that I could safely say I was entering labour land. I had more of a show and contractions were around 3-6 minutes apart. I was soooo excited! Lachlan and I were beaming that I was FINALLY entering the realm of labour and that it was probable within 24 hours we would be meeting our beautiful baby. Lachlan blew up the birth pool and put the mattress in the lounge room. We put down plastic sheeting and towels to cover the beige carpet of our rented one bedroom apartment.
[Lachlan: As Bree entered labour, I put a sign on the front door of our apartment informing neighbours that there was a birth in progress. We didn’t want the police arriving before the midwives…]
I laboured feeling good and positive at the increase in strength and length of my contractions. We were moving in the right direction. I even got so excited I requested that we watch the Life of Mammals while I laboured.
[L: Playing the Life of Mammals DVD for Bree was one of my first tasks as support person. There is something surreal about watching big cats hunting, as your wife prepares to give birth.]
I think David Attenborough had been on for 5 minutes when I had that whopping big contraction that internalised me and suddenly there seemed nothing worse than to be watching a lion kill a zebra. I ordered it be turned off. [Lachlan: that was my second task as support person.] Things got more intense, my contractions remained irregular but certainly continued to strengthen. I felt most of the intensity in my back as my baby was posterior at this stage and Lachlan worked extremely hard heating our one and only gel hot pack to be ready and waiting when the next surge came. I needed him there for every contraction. It felt like I was going to spin out of control if he wasn’t right there by my side.
[Lachlan: the hot pack had to be heated in hot water, so it took some effort to have the stove going continually, without burning myself, burning Bree or missing a contraction. I quickly began using small towels, heated in the same water, giving me a little more scope. To make matters worse, I realised I couldn’t get an attachment off the laundry tap to fill up the birth pool. I knew this had to be done asap, so in between each contraction, when I was finished heating the pack, I frantically tried to fix the tap with wrenches, gloves and anything else I could think of. A bit more planning probably would have helped…]
I hopped about standing, squatting, fitball, bean bag, toilet, shower and back again. I couldn’t get comfortable but this kept me moving and we sporadically timed contractions, with the same 3-5minute pattern, with every third surge, a really strong one.
My midwife self couldn’t resist the urge to check my cervix to see how I was doing. I felt my cervix was around 4 cm dilated and my baby’s head still fairly high in my pelvis. Shortly after, things became very very intense. I vomited, pooed and generally started to feel out of control.
Lachlan helped get my focus back on track and really talked me up and helped me breathe again, he was so incredible. Over the next hour I kept asking Lachlan to ring our midwife Jac. Then the intensity of each contraction would pass and I’d stop him from calling, thinking I was too early in labour to call on her. I had on my midwife hat and I lost faith in myself. I kept thinking ‘my baby’s posterior, my contractions are irregular and I was only 4 cm not long ago, you’ve got ages to go, this is just early labour’. It even crossed my mind that I would die here and frankly I didn’t actually care! Finally after a while of this, I let Lachlan call Jac and tell her to come and check up on me, I think it was around 2:30am at this stage.
[L: From quite early on, it seemed to me that Bree was going through transition. It was just so intense. Bree the birthing mother was saying she was quite sure she was “going to die”, whilst Bree the ‘midwife’ (after each contraction) was informing me she wasn’t far along yet. Something told me throughout that everything was going fine. I knew down deep Bree was trusting the process too, so I just went along with that- continually reassuring her that it was going well- perfect.]
Jac arrived around 3 am and my contractions had really eased off at this stage, they were around 6 minutes apart and pretty mild. Jac arrived quietly and blended into the surrounds and waited for me to talk. I blurted out something like “I’m sorry I think I’ve called you too early, but it was so intense and I think the baby’s posterior and I’m finding it really hard to cope and I just want you to check me”. Jac agreed to check me and to my complete shock I was fully dilated. I could have kissed her, my whole focus changed and I began to feel excited, incredibly proud of myself and strong, ready to meet our baby.
[Lachlan: it was a relief to see Bree let go of her professional self and just become a woman giving birth. Realising we had already passed transition was also a huge comfort. The shift in Bree was transformative- as if a massive weight had just lifted off her. I could see she was now enjoying the moment.]
Lachlan filled up the birth pool [Lachlan: I had got that damned tap attachment off]. My contractions changed, I felt more in my front, no longer the intense pain in my back. Pretty soon after, I felt my baby move deeper into my pelvis and I felt such intense purpose as the urge to push came. My waters broke as I entered the birth pool with Lachlan. My second midwife Jane, arrived shortly after, just as calmly and reverently as Jac had. She took her place alongside Jac by the birth pool.
[Lachlan: the birthing pool was so warm and comfortable as we entered together. There was now a real sense of expectancy in the air, a heightened reality that this was now happening fast, soon- yet calmly now in the waters.]
I loved pushing, I didn’t feel any pain. I enjoyed the progress that I felt with each grunting urge and I knew I would be holding my baby in my arms soon. I was in the birth pool on all four’s, Lachlan was holding my upper body. I reached down at one stage and I could feel my baby’s head at the opening of my vagina and I could feel lots of thick hair. Soon after it seemed he was crowning, again I didn’t feel any of the burning or stinging, it just felt so good to be so close to meeting our baby.
[Lachlan: I was invited by Bree and the midwives to reach down and feel the babies head. This was so profound that I went to do it again shortly after and got into trouble from Bree (she doesn’t remember).]
And then all of a sudden my baby’s head came and his whole body followed. I felt a tear with the birth of his shoulder, then Jac directed him through my legs and I lifted him to the surface of the water. It was awesome to be holding my baby in my arms, he gave a strong squawk, he was beautiful and healthy and all ours. He went to the breast not long after and after a little breast-feed, I sat on the toilet to birth the placenta, while I rang mum and dad to tell them our news. On 11th February 2007, at 3:50 am, after about 5hrs 50mins of labour I gave birth to our baby boy, Torin. He weighed 3.8kg, had a head circumference of 36.5cm and measured 54 cm long. I had quite a second degree tear but it looked like it would heal well, so I decided not to have it sutured.
[Lachlan: as our little son emerged from the water, the reality of the whole moment consumed me. Before that moment I had never cried for joy- now I could do nothing else.]
Jac and Jane did some tidying up and checked Torin’s measurement, we had some non-alcoholic champagne (Jac was around 32 weeks pregnant at the time and both her and Jane on call) , and tim-tams. We then cuddled up on a mattress on the floor with our brand new baby boy in a cloud of love and bliss as we took in the little miracle that lay between us.
[Lachlan: As the sun was rising, Bree began calling family to tell them the news. To my amazement, she began inviting them around ‘whenever they wanted’. She was ready for visitors anytime. Almost immediately, the chemical rush wore off and Bree passed out on the couch- visiting hours were over. As Jac and Jane left, I lay down to rest with Torin lying across my chest. I will never forget waking soon after, to find this beautiful little soul sleeping peacefully like his mother.]
Loving a newborn baby is an all consuming process. Lachlan and I couldn’t stop looking at him and marvelling at how wonderful he was, delighting in his every move, his sounds and his smells. [Lachlan: the smells have become less delightful since.]
I enjoyed the newborn phase of Torin’s life. We had a whole freezer stocked with pre-cooked meals. In the early days, friends and family came around to cook for us, bring us supplies and clean. [Lachlan: that was a gift that, to this day, I appreciate immensely- the gift of time with our new baby.]
I fed Torin constantly in those early days. It seemed he never left my breast for more than 20 minutes at a time. But I didn’t mind, I read a quote by Jeannine Parvati Baker who put it nicely “ my heart melts and flows into my baby as breast milk”.
[Lachlan: For the first week I took Torin to a separate room to sleep in the morning, to allow Bree to recover. That time was so special- lying with my son and sharing the sunrise. On the second day, I was laying in the semi-dark with Torin next to my chest. I suddenly caught sight of a tiny reflection coming from his direction. When I looked down, I realised the reflection was from his gaze. Torin was staring at me with his beautiful black eyes. That stare will be with me forever.]
Two years and nine months down the track, motherhood has been filled with intense highs and intense lows. Raising a toddler has been challenging and at times not very enjoyable, but I wouldn’t change my life for the world. Children bring so much love with them and I feel blessed to be able to experience motherhood and the intense love affair I share with my son.
Post Script: This birth story was written in 2009 while I was pregnant with twin girls, a version of this story was published in 2011 in the book “Birth Journeys: Stories to encourage and inspire” I went on to have a caesarian birth with Yarralea and Sage in early 2010, sadly Sage was stillborn. I welcomed my 4th child Jaia at Lismore Base hospital in August 2011, a VBAC a very welcome Rainbow baby in the grief that followed the death of our daughter.