Three women tell of why they made the decision to have a home birth and how each went through it.
Natural and unaided
“It’s the most powerful feeling in the whole wide world. I gained so much from my birthing experience. I wouldn’t change a thing about it,” says Shuba Jay who gave birth to a baby girl at home, unassisted, 18 months ago.
When she got pregnant, Shuba knew instinctively that she wanted a natural birth. For her, ‘natural’ means the “freedom to labour according to intuition, provided there’s no medical concern” and supported by her loved ones during the birth experience. But Shuba and her husband, Paul, were not happy with the response from doctors whom they shared their birth plan with.
“They seemed to expect things to not go as planned or weren’t willing to wait for our baby to arrive in her own time,” says Shuba, an actor and business owner. “We didn’t arrive at this decision in a heartbeat, it was a journey.”
The couple researched widely on the subject, did a lot of soul-searching, signed up for a hypnobirthing course – “the best investment we ever made,” they say – and consulted two different obstetricians to ensure Shuba and her baby were fine.
“Hypnobirthing taught me to understand my own body, how to remain calm, relieve childbirth fear, connect with baby, enhance father’s bond to birthing, birthing positions, breathing and massage techniques, etc,” says Shuba, who was 37 then. “And we never missed a single doctor’s visits.”
Throughout her pregnancy, she ate healthily and exercised. They drew up a list of emergency contacts: doctors, hospitals and ambulances. In case of an emergency, the hospital was a 10-minute drive away.
“Our only worry was if something went wrong, would we be able to recognise it in time?” recounts Shuba.
During her first stage of labour, they visited the obstetrician to make sure mother and baby were well.
“We got the final green light before heading home,” says Shuba. “We would have liked to have had a midwife attend to our home birth, but we couldn’t find one.”
Her husband and good friends were at her side to lend her support and Shuba delivered her baby girl 24 hours later whilst standing in the birthing pool.
“The moment I held her in my arms, she gazed into my eyes, calm and fully aware of her surroundings. The whole experience was filled with love, warmth and togetherness. As a family, we knew then, it was more than worth it!” recalls Shuba.
Shuba’s advice to mothers who plan on homebirth: “Tune in to your body and baby, they know best. Read, read, read because information is power. It’s normal to have a whole range of emotions, keep replacing them with positive belief. Don’t expect the same experience as everyone is built differently. If you’re not sure if this is for you, choose what feels right.”
A gentle birth
When Leong Wai Kuan was pregnant with her first child, she and her husband wished for a quiet, calm and natural childbirth. They promptly signed up for a HypnoBirthing course before they even picked an obstetrician.
“For pregnancy tips, we relied on the Handbook Of Pregnancy And Baby Care published by the British Columbia’s Ministry of Health, recommended by a Canadian friend (it can be downloaded for free),” says Leong, 47, a yoga teacher.
“Talking to other mothers, reading magazines and gleaning info from the Internet can be confusing due to conflicting views and opinions,” she adds.
In the end, the couple opted for a natural birth, but they decided to do it in a hospital rather than at home.
“We were first-time parents and in view of my age – I was 43 – we were a little apprehensive and opted for a hospital birth in case of complications,” explains Leong who practised yoga throughout her pregnancy to stay fit.
When her water broke, she checked into a private hospital. To their delight, the nurses were supportive and gave the couple their privacy.
“The doctor asked if we wanted monitoring and a vaginal examination, which we politely refused and there was no pressure for us to use any drugs for pain relief,” recalls Leong.
“But most importantly, we knew what we wanted. Most new parents will just accept whatever that is offered to them because they don’t know they have a choice when it comes to using drugs.”
With the exception of two external fetal monitoring bouts, they were mostly left alone. In between contractions, Leong did stretching exercises to release stress on her shoulders and arms. Eventually, they welcomed their baby, Herng Shan, into the world.
“We were out of the hospital in less than 15 hours. The obstetrician saw us only when we checked in and well after the baby was born. She kindly gave us a discount and you could say we paid the hospital for a very expensive cleaning bill.
“In the end, my husband and I had the most wonderful experience of our lives – delivering our daughter with our own hands,” says Leong.
A midwife on standby
Chrissy Steinhardt’s ultimate wish was to have a 100% natural birth, and for her that means no vaginal exam, foetal monitoring and third-stage management such as injecting synthetic drugs (like Syntometrine) after childbirth to contract the uterus and expel the placenta.
“These drugs will affect the mother, and will also go through to the baby – either through the umbilical cord if it’s not cut yet, or through breast milk,” Steinhardt, 42, explains.
“I had spent two years eating healthily, avoiding all chemicals, medication, caffeine, and junk food, to ensure I was in the best possible health so that my baby would have the best start in life. There is no way I would allow drugs to be injected into me simply so the hospital could move me through the system quicker.
“I didn’t want to be giving birth and having to fight the doctor, so it’s just safer to do it at home,” adds the Kuala Lumpur-based Australian homemaker.
Steinhardt and her husband, Darcy, made their decision with their eyes wide open.
On top of 12 months of preconception care, they researched all aspects of pregnancy and birth, prepared an emergency back-up plan, stocked up on a homeopathic birthing kit, opted for waterbirth for natural pain relief and listed pages of information and decisions on what to do if their birth plan unravelled. They went for prenatal check-ups and knew the hospital was just a five-minute drive away.
“We asked ourselves the hard questions: what are the risks and will we be OK if the baby doesn’t make it? Our choice was, we’d rather go for a natural birth and accept any outcome than to go to hospital,” says Steinhard, a certified Hypnobirthing practitioner.
Five days before her baby was due, Steinhardt’s mother in Australia dreamt she had bled to death during childbirth.
“My mum freaked out and told Darcy we have to go to the hospital,” says Steinhardt. “Postpartum haemorrhage (pph) was our biggest concern. I bought some Pitocin (an oxytocin injection used to control bleeding) in case of an emergency.”
They had been unsuccessful in engaging a certified midwife locally, but managed to find an Australian one who could fly to Kuala Lumpur at the last minute.
It was fortunate because 19 hours into her labour, Steinhardt knew something was not right. An examination by the midwife found the baby’s head bent in the birth canal. Steinhardt’s hypnobirthing teacher used a traditional technique to “free” the baby’s head. After 25 hours of labour, baby Kalen was born.
“The midwife checked Kalen and made sure my placenta was expelled completely (to prevent excessive bleeding).
“I am very grateful we had the midwife, and I truly wish all mothers have that option,” Steinhardt sums up.
Weighing the risks
The gentle birthing way