A Bermuda Birth Story
Editor’s note: This article first appeared in Midwifery Today, Issue 93, Spring 2010.
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It was a bright October morning in Bermuda when my husband, Glen, and I found out we were going to be parents. It was our first month of trying for a baby. I had been told a few years before that it might take a while to conceive as I have polycystic ovaries. As I took the test, Glen and I barely awake and bleary-eyed, neither of us really expected a positive result. But quicker than we could blink, two pink lines popped up on the stick and that was it—we were expecting a baby!
I loved being pregnant. I can honestly say, with the exception of motherhood, they were the happiest nine months I can remember. I simply marveled at the miracle of life developing inside my body. I embraced my growing belly with pure delight, cherished every kick, prod and roll and would fall asleep at night with my hands resting on my bump, hoping the little life within could sense the love and safety of my touch. Glen was equally enthralled and, near the end of my pregnancy, would rest his head on my belly each morning and listen to our baby’s heartbeat and be very amused by the regular hiccups our little one had.
Even before my own pregnancy, I had been fascinated by conception, pregnancy and birth. My philosophy had always been that our bodies were perfectly designed to birth a baby and I was keen to learn everything I could to try and ensure that our birth experience would be positive, without fear and as natural as possible. More than anything, I just wanted to understand the process so I would be aware of what was happening and have the knowledge to make informed choices along the way.
With this in mind, I started searching for childbirth education classes. I was hoping to find something more holistic and nurturing than the regular classes run by the hospital and so was thrilled to find Sophia, a homebirth mother of two beautiful children, a doula and a strong advocate of educating women to believe in themselves and the natural process of birth. Her classes were passionate about giving parents-to-be the necessary knowledge and confidence to achieve the birth they want. Over the course of her class, my confidence that I could achieve a natural birth grew and Glen and I hired Sophia as our doula.
Unfortunately, there is no midwifery model of care in Bermuda. Whether high-risk or low-risk, you are “cared for” during pregnancy by an obstetrician. There are midwives in the hospital to support you during labour, but the obstetrician is called to “deliver” your baby—crazy! Practically every mom I spoke to had had some form of induction or intervention or both. Homebirth is practically unheard of and very hard to achieve. The midwives in Bermuda are not allowed to attend a homebirth, so to have one, you need to hire a midwife from overseas who is able to legally work in Bermuda. She needs to get a work permit and then sit for the midwifery exams upon arrival. Combine this with the huge expense the above involves and the fact that homebirth is largely unsupported by the government, it is understandable that very few people are even aware of this path, let alone choose it. Consequently, the majority of people think that the hospital is the only place to have a baby. Those who desire a homebirth are either going through the lengthy process I’ve described or choosing to hire a midwife from overseas who comes to the island as a tourist and does not gain approval from the Medical Board, basically making it an “unofficial homebirth.”
In the beginning of my pregnancy, Glen and I did not even consider homebirth an option because of the huge hurdles involved. By the time we realized the benefits of homebirth were well worth the hurdles, it was too late to organize and we settled for the fact that we would have our first baby at the hospital. I had never been in the hospital and it made me feel more nervous than safe, which is not ideal when in labour. But I hoped that, with Glen and Sophia’s support, everything would be okay.
Exactly 40 weeks after conception I felt some twinges and by late morning felt I was in established labour and called Sophia. My contractions were regular and fairly intense and definitely demanding some attention and I had some questions I wanted to ask. When I called, Sophia was hanging out with a midwife, Sherri, who was visiting Bermuda to attend a planned homebirth. She asked if it was okay if Sherri came along with her to meet me and talk over my concerns. They arrived a short while later. I was debating about when I should go to hospital, knowing I did not want to go too early. I immediately felt at ease and safe when Sophia and Sherri arrived. We chatted for a short while, during which time we discovered that Sherri had more than 30 years of experience and was extremely knowledgeable. Sherri offered to check me and I agreed, very happy to have the advantage of seeing how I was progressing. I was 2–3 cm and she suggested if I was keen for a natural birth to stay at home for the time being, as my contractions were not really achieving the dilation the hospital would want for their intensity and frequency. She listened to our baby’s heartbeat and assured us all was fine, baby was happy and so I should just try to relax and rest. Sherri and Sophia suggested that, if we were comfortable with the idea, they would leave, and told us to call if the situation changed. Since they had arrived my contractions had slowed down and eased a little and Glen and I were happy for them to leave.
Glen and I cuddled on the bed, trying to get some rest. After half an hour my contractions started to get stronger, so I decided to take a bath. It was bliss in the warm water, in semi-darkness, I could get lost in myself. Once I was in the bath and lying on my side, the contractions picked up in intensity and frequency and duration. I could feel the wave of the contraction as my tummy started to tighten and, while this was uncomfortable, I was surprised to find it was the intense pain that radiated through my hips and down my thighs that took my breath away. After only a short while the sensations were becoming almost unbearable and overwhelming, so I asked Glen to call Sophia. Sherri was still with her and soon they were back. When they arrived, Sherri commented that the noises I was making were those of a woman who wanted to start pushing! She checked me in the tub and I was 9 cm with a slight lip and she asked if she could massage that a little, I said yes, and when the next contraction lifted I was at 10 cm. I remember feeling overjoyed that my body was doing its job so well and also relieved that the intense pain was due to the fact that I was fully dilated. Sherri advised that if we were going to hospital we needed to leave now and that she could not guarantee I would make the 20-minute journey down winding lanes. It was a decision no one wants to be faced with at 10 cm. My husband and I quickly decided that we would head to the hospital as we were completely unprepared for a homebirth. But the second I tried to get out of the bath and became vertical I knew there was no way I could walk or waddle to the car, let alone cope with a 20-minute ride. We were staying at home.
I remember people suddenly getting organized around me. Sophia went to call the only family practitioner on the island who supports and will attend homebirths and Sherri ran through some further health questions and reassured me that our baby was doing just fine. I had mixed emotions. I was secretly thrilled at the prospect of delivering at home, but slightly scared and overwhelmed as we were completely unprepared in a practical sense. Mainly, though, it felt right and I was relieved.
After all the classes and Ina May Gaskin bedtime reading, I was ready and completely believed in my body’s ability to birth our baby. I tried pushing in the bath but could not get comfy, so I moved to our bedroom. The pushing stage took longer than we expected and I found it really frustrating as my contractions seemed to space out quite a lot. In hindsight, I don’t think I really felt the urge to push until just before our baby arrived. I tried a variety of positions—squatting, lying on my side and eventually kneeling in an upright position. It was such an amazing time. I was so excited that we would soon meet our baby! I felt totally at ease, nurtured and supported by my three birth companions. Glen, despite the unplanned nature of our homebirth, was completely calm and relaxed and did a wonderful job of supporting and reassuring me, even bringing in humour when needed. Sophia knew exactly where to put counter pressure on my back and ease my tension, helping me to relax my face and shoulders and reminding me “energy in, tension out.” It helped with every breath to focus on that. The most amazing thing was that I had complete trust and faith in our midwife, Sherri. I instinctively knew I could not be in safer or more experienced hands. We had never met before, yet I felt far more connected with her than I had ever felt with my obstetrician.
After what seemed like a long time I suddenly had a few very effective pushes, some enthusiastic encouragement and our baby was crowning. Sophia told me to “open like a flower” and I remember focusing on opening my hands and mouth following the theory that if they were relaxed then hopefully my perineum would be as well. Glen was just blown away to be able to touch our baby’s head as it started to emerge. Sherri told me to reach down and catch my baby. I reached down and said, “I can’t,” and she laughed and said, “That’s because you’ve got a big bubba here” and helped me. What a life-changing moment to pull my baby up onto my chest—so precious and empowering as a woman and new mother. We were so amazed that our baby was finally here that it took us a few moments before we realized we didn’t yet know if we had a son or a daughter. It was a boy! Samuel weighed 9 lb 5 oz and was cute as he could be. The midwife and family doctor quickly checked Samuel and he scored well on his Agpar, despite being a little stunned by his arrival into the world. He was slightly congested and Sherri, with our permission, gave him a homeopathic remedy and it soon cleared.
By far, despite the surprise nature of it all, it was the best birthing experience I could ever have hoped for. I was holding Samuel and learning to nurse him and Glen phoned our parents and announced the new arrival on the phone’s loudspeaker. Sophia made and even fed me scrambled eggs. While Glen cuddled and introduced himself to Samuel, I was helped with a shower. It was so nice being in my own home with my familiar stuff. Sophia and Sherri made sure I was comfortable and guided me with breastfeeding. Less than three hours after the birth, everyone had left and Glen and I were eating pizza in bed and marveling at our beautiful son. Everyone was safe and sound and best of all we were at home, just the three of us, getting to know each other without any interruption.