Monday, January 02, 2012

more thoughts on the birthing space

I have appreciated the recent thought-provoking discussion in connection with the previous post in this blog, which is also linked to Carolyn Hastie's thinkbirth blog.

In the past couple of weeks I have attended three births; two at home and one in hospital. These three mothers were 'first timers'; primipara; a special category worthy of consideration in any maternity setting.

Picture this scene:
A woman is labouring strongly and consistently in an inflated birthing pool, set up in her home.  It's 2 or 3 in the morning, the 'wee hours', when everyone is overcome by weariness.  Her man, whose sleep was interrupted by early labour the previous night, is asleep on a couch.  The midwife is nearby - within reach but dropping off to sleep between contractions, occasionally mumbling words of encouragement.  The student midwife is stretched out on another couch. There is a little light from a lamp or candle; the birthing space is quiet except for the sounds of the labour.  
After some time, the woman's sounds become deeper.  Her midwife encourages her "let your baby come down deep in your body; feel the fullness; you're doing well", and listens to the fetal heart after a contraction.  The woman does not notice that the 'period pain' she had been experiencing has gone.  In fact she has stopped thinking about her labour and has surrendered to the work that her body is doing.
By the time the early signs of daylight are peeping through the cracks in the blinds, the urge to push has become strong.  Daddy-to-be and student midwife are awake; midwife is awake and ready; and mother gives birth, through the water, to her first child.  Mother and child complete the mysterious dance of birth, as baby searches for the breast, and the placenta is expelled.

Today I would like to reflect on recent primipara births, and (without identifying individual women) discuss how the birthing space has supported these births. In the past 18 months, approximately, I have attended 10 women giving birth for the first time. 

Before looking at the birthing spaces, here is an overview of these births.  Of the 10 women:
  • 10 came into spontaneous labour; which became strong as the night progressed (there's something special about night and birth!)
  • 5 gave birth in water: 4 at home; 1 at hospital
  • 2 planned hospital birth; both gave birth spontaneously to healthy babies
  • 8 planned home birth
  • 5 gave birth at home to healthy babies, without complication
  • 3 who planned home birth transferred from home to hospital in labour
  • 2 proceeded to spontaneous unmedicated births of healthy babies
  • 1 was delivered of a healthy baby by emergency Caesarean surgery
The ages of these women ranged from 24 to 37.
The length of gestation ranged from 36 to less than 42 weeks.
The weights of these babies ranged from 2670g to 4250g.
All babies breastfed from birth.
The estimated blood loss for the 9 women who gave birth spontaneously ranged from 100 to 600ml.

I want to make a point here, which may be obvious to some, yet others may find it a challenging statement in the maternity environment in Australia.
Place of birth - home or hospital - is not a measure of good midwifery care.
Yet the decision to plan homebirth is a huge statement of intent, by the woman, that her plan is for spontaneous, unassisted, unmedicated birth.  Those who plan homebirth with an experienced midwife are able, I believe, to proceed down the path of physiological birth if that is feasible, with a high degree of safety.  Those who plan homebirth, then make an informed decision to transfer their care to hospital because there is an indication - a valid reason - are also able to protect their ability to give birth in harmony with the natural, hormonal, physiological processes that direct labour, birth, and the baby's transition from the womb to the outside world. 

In my previous discussion on birthing spaces I wrote about the physiological phenomenon of *Nesting*.  Understanding normal birth in terms of nesting, as the woman progresses under the influence of an amazing cocktail of hormones, provides a key to the mysteries of birthing.  Nesting supported each of these 10 women, as they came into spontaneous labour.  Nesting supported the three who made a decision in labour to move from home to hospital, and obtain special medical intervention that had become necessary for them.  Nesting supported the choice of position for birth, whether kneeling beside the bed, or squatting in the birth pool, or lying on the bed.

Cessation of nesting happens, I think, when the woman is able to surrender to the huge expulsive urges within her body.  Baby is "coming, ready or not".  Night time and weariness enables this transition to occur without question.  The woman, and her personal support team, have given up trying to understand what's going on; to do it the way they were taught in class.  The midwife is skilled at keeping watch, guiding when needed, without taking control from the woman.

The essential elements of the space for optimal birthing are few.  As long as the woman is able to proceed without interruption; as long as the woman is able to trust her midwife; as long as the woman and her support team are able to hold confidence in the process of birthing ...

... a baby is born.

It just happens.

Your comments are, of course, welcome.

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