I am so pleased to share with you all this beautiful birth story today. My aunt Erin Crowther shares the positive VBAC and unexpected, unassisted home birth story of her little girl Ray.
“I was advised that after having an emergency C-section with my son that a home birth with my second baby four years later was irresponsible and dangerous. I knew though that the reason my first birth had ended up resulting in a Caesarian was because of my inability to relax in a busy, brightly-lit, noisy labour ward and the subsequent drugs I had been given because I was not dilating quickly enough. At the point after 36 or so hours when the Head Midwife had told me that my body was ‘too weak’ to give birth naturally I decided to have the epidural and induction that they were suggesting.
The drugs had then made my temperature rise and the baby’s heart rate drop until eventually after 48 hours the hospital team decided on an emergency C-section. A few hours before this happened I had asked the Doctor (who had just come on shift and was now overseeing my birth) if I could have a Caesarian because I was worried about what was happening to my body and to the baby. She said “no” that I should wait, something to do with the shift change that I can’t fully remember. I knew before she did what was right for me. A few hours later without anyone giving me a heads up an alarm started going off and was suddenly surrounded by a team of people taking off my jewellery and preparing me for surgery.
At that point in a state of exhaustion and panic I thought my baby was going to die and I started shouting at the Medical Team telling them that it was their fault. I have never felt so out of control and vulnerable. My husband said that as soon as we were in the theatre the anaesetist told him not to worry that everything was going to be fine and it was always a bit dramatic. The real events and nuance of these days then became lost within medical notes which say ‘emergency Caesarian section for fetal bradycardial (low heart rate) & pyrexia (fever) in labour’ which make it sound like my body is the problem (rather than what has been put in it) and the Doctor looking at the case four years later decides that I’m irresponsible when to me staying away from the medical environment the second time around makes more sense than anything I’ve ever heard in my life.
I changed a lot as woman over the 4 years between my pregnancies. I moved to Ibiza from London so my lifestyle became healthier and more holistic and I would say that becoming a Mother made me stronger, braver and more intuitive. When I became pregnant the second time around it wasn’t so much that I desperately wanted a home birth (but I was definitely extremely open to it) as I just didn’t want a repeat of what happened the first time round. Then I re-read ‘Spiritual Midwifery’ by Ina-May Gaskin – a birth bible by a truly inspirational woman who has delivered
thousands of babies naturally at her birthing centre in the USA. I started to really want to give birth at home and to really believe that I could. I was more conscientious with this pregnancy maybe because I was 39 (not that this is old!) and because of how my lifestyle had changed. I read the books and followed the advice of an Ayurvedic midwife called Gowri Motha following her programme which included Homeopathy, Ayurvedic pills & powders, nightly reflexology & drainage massage. I also had my blood looked at by Nutritionist Anna King who advised that I take Magnesium which was apparently a bit low in my body. I took baths every night in salts. I read more about natural birth than I had the first time. I listened to Anima sound journeys before sleep and meditated every morning (at 5am but that’s another story in itself!) I became addicted to ‘Call the Midwife’ which I found really comforting.
A couple of months before my birth I caught a cold from my son which turned into Bronchitis. Over the following 8 weeks I got increasingly sick. We were in the middle of a house move so it was very hard to rest and we had no hot water for the first 6 weeks in our new house so my nightly bath was out the window. I had a hacking cough which my Husband Matt said sounded like his Nan when she had emphysema. I was coughing so hard constantly that I damaged the muscles between my ribs and was in agony. I was worried about how I was going to give birth with the pain and I couldn’t stop coughing for long enough for my ribs to actually heal.
Two weeks before my due date my midwife team came over to see me. We had been meeting regularly during my pregnancy so we could get to know each other and they could monitor me. They told me that they couldn’t work with me any further as I was too sick and they weren’t covered under their insurance to deliver the baby. I was pretty upset when they left. I had lost the chance of having a home birth and I also knew that the private hospital where I be giving birth didn’t have water birthing facilities and I love to be in water. I packed my hospital bag.
A few days later (8 days before my due date) I decided to try to heal myself. I created a lovely ceremonial space in my garden under an almond blossom tree that I love. I took some healing plants and visualised my body healing and a safe delivery. I tried to let go of the attachment to having the baby at home. I made peace with having her in the hospital.
That evening I was sitting with my husband watching a film when my labour started. I had been having strong contractions for around 2 weeks but this was different. Straight away it was intense and my contractions were very close together. Matt called our Doula – she was still working with us and the idea was that she would come to us at home and then travel to the hospital with us and be a support for us there. She is an amazing woman with over 20 years experience and actually one of the reasons I was feeling calm about the hospital was because I knew she would be with me. She told Matt to call back when my waters had broken. I went into the bath and locked Matt out. Things got more intense in the bath. I was really stuck in my head at that point thinking that I would be in labour for as long as I had been with my son (48 hours) and that I couldn’t handle this level of intensity for that long. I was also trying to work out how on earth I was going to get in a car, travel to hospital and then not be able to be in water. I never expected a short labour. I started to make a lot of loud, high-pitched noise thinking that it would help the pain. I heard my sister-in-law come and pick up our sleeping son to take him over to hers. Then my waters broke and I called out to Matt through the door to let him know. He knocked on the door and I let him in.
I had told Matt throughout the pregnancy that I did not want him at the birth. And he was ok with that. After my first birth I truly believed that birth was an environment for women only and that having men there was just a modern-day trend. Also if I’m totally honest I’ve never liked the idea of my sexual partner seeing a head emerge from my vagina and was concerned that this had subconsciously affected my dilation the first time round. So I just wanted to eliminate any of that. I had asked him to see me through the first part of my labour and then leave the house.
He came into the bathroom gentle and purposeful. He wrapped me in a towel and walked me to the living room where he had lit candles and was playing my birth playlist. He dried me and stroked my hair. He told me that I was losing control and that my noises were too high and that I needed to make them lower in my body. He told me that I was amazing and that I could do it and he was right with me. It was all very simple. Later he told me that when his sister came over she had heard me and said to him that when a mutual friend of ours gave birth at home she had controlled the pain by making her noises low. So this little gem was them passed on. It was not that I didn’t know this because I had read about it but I lost it in the moment and I got scared. I started to make an OOO sound on my out-breath moving it down my body – very low and primitive. I was crouching leant forward supported by a birthing ball. From then on I felt very empowered and strong. It was still intense but I surrendered to it and therefore felt in control of it.
Our Doula arrived and I could hear her talking quietly in the kitchen with Matt. She slipped into the room very gently, so careful not to upset the very delicate energy of it all. She knelt beside me and asked me if I could feel the head and there to my absolute delight it was right there with a only few centimetres to go. I will always remember feeling my baby girl’s little head for the first time. It was a really special moment. It made me feel even more connected to the experience. She told me that she needed me to get into the car to travel to the hospital. At this point Matt came and put a Pink Floyd T-shirt over my head which was surreal. I told them that I wasn’t moving. And then everything was happening so fast that we couldn’t have moved anyway. I actually never fully fathomed what a contraction actually was (I hadn’t got to this stage with my son.) I didn’t realise how much of the work your body does for you. You just need to ride the wave. My body had been taken over at that point and all I could do was go with it. Each wave came and then I had time to gather myself in between. Birth is a truly beautiful & perfect design. I was holding the image in my mind of me on the sofa holding my baby girl in my arms.
As she was arriving into the World a beautiful song called ‘I am the light of my soul’ was playing and it will always be her song. The chord was very short so she was resting on my tummy. Matt went to the kitchen to get our kitchen scissors which he used to cut the chord with! Our Doula tied it with a piece of string. She told me to put my mouth over her nose and mouth and suck to clear her airways. It was all very visceral. Then we got to the part that I had been imagining – we lay on the sofa wrapped in blankets – my tiny baby girl & I. We named her Ray. She was the smallest baby that I’ve ever seen (5.9 pounds.) I lay for a while then got up to birth the placenta which I barely felt. Then we were back on the sofa again drinking tea and chatting. The magic in the room was palpable, like the best nights were you end up sitting up talking with friends but better. I think we lay there until about 7am. Then we moved into our big bed to drink more tea and call relatives. The only person who we knew would be up at that time was my sister who lives in Honduras so she got the first call and then we waited until around 9am to call our parents and the rest of our family. I don’t think I’ve ever felt better than I did lying in my own bed with Matt and my brand new baby. My sister-in-law and our son turned up. He sat on the bed and we put Ray in his arms.
The two things that surprised me the most about the birth were firstly my body’s innate ability to do exactly what it was meant to. I felt totally free of the Bronchitis and rib-pain throughout the labour and birth (it hit me hard the next day and I ended up in hospital on a ventilator breast-feeding Ray) but for the period of time that I needed to be ok I was. My body did it’s job perfectly for me. The second was the part that Matt played in it all. He was completely amazing and knew exactly what I needed at every turn. I couldn’t have done it without him. It was a deeply empowering and connecting experience for us as a couple.
The ability to give birth is a gift but we have lost our wisdom. We are now two generations away from our Grand-Mothers, most of whom who gave birth at home. We have been taught by society to fear birth and to numb out during the process. If ever there was a time when not to be numb it is this one. To feel what is happening in our bodies as we birth our young into the World is a gift and a right of passage.”
– Erin Crowther