Real-life Special: Home Sweet Home

We had such a fantastic response to our real life special earlier in the year, that we’ve decided to turn it into a regular feature. Over Winter and Spring we’ll be running another six stories, detailing the amazing and inspiring real life experiences of our readers and their families.

All families are unique, and we love to celebrate them – and to pay tribute to the strength and determination which enable people to overcome setbacks, large and small, to forge the family that they have hoped for. This issue you we bring you Sadie Sheliker who battled a rare cancer while she was pregnant, in order to give birth to baby Jessica; Samantha Feeney, who was distraught when she spontaneously went into labour at the end of her second trimester; and Kirsten Mieklejohn, who managed, very unusually, and through sheer force of will, to have a natural, home birth – even though her baby was in a breech position.

Pregnancy, and the arrival of a new baby, are transformative experiences for parents, and our children come into the world with their own individual stories already underway. Whether you’re suffering from a minor complication of pregnancy, or facing something more serious, it’s always comforting to know that other people have faced similar things, and with the love and support of those closest to them, have survived to tell the tale.

We hope you enjoy reading about this season’s families.

he Meiklejohn family are certainly no strangers to adventure. Andy is a professional yachtsman who races sailing boats around the world, and he met Kirsten in Capri where she was working as a stewardess on a private yacht. Andy proposed to Kirsten in the Canary Islands, and though they were living in Europe, the couple planned a wedding half way across the world in Kirsten’s home city of Melbourne, Australia.

But when it comes to giving birth, the Andy and Kirsten like to keep their adventures closer to home. Andy is originally from New Zealand, and the two of them were living in his native town of Auckland when their first son, Zach, was born. “We were considering a birth centre, but one of the girls at our ante natal class was planning to give birth at home, and, afterwards, Andy said ‘why don’t we have a home birth?’ We checked out the birth centre anyway, but thought that it was too clinical and hospital-like. I feel as though hospitals are for sick people, and that women have been giving birth for thousands of years, so it doesn’t need to be complicated.”

Although Zach weighed a hearty 9lb 11oz, his home birth went smoothly, and when Kirsten became pregnant with Caleb she was determined to repeat the experience. “I believe that labour and birth go much more smoothly when a woman is in her comfort zone. Your home environment is a lot calmer than a hospital, with all of the lights, machines, and people coming and going. Why would you want to transfer to a hospital in the middle of an intense labour? I can’t think of anything worse!”

By the time Caleb was on the way, the family were living in Southsea, Hampshire, where Kirsten planned her second home birth. At 25 weeks, Kirsten’s midwife detected that Caleb was in a breech position – something that could potentially make home birth a trickier option – but, initially, Kirsten wasn’t too concerned. “The midwife said that it wasn’t uncommon for babies to be breech at that stage, and that he had plenty of time to turn.”

“However, at every appointment after that she confirmed that he was still breech. He never changed position.” At 30 weeks Caleb was still breech and Kirsten was forced to consider her options. To give birth to a breech baby naturally, let alone at home, is very unusual, and if Kirsten had been planning a hospital birth, she would have automatically been booked in for a caesarean. She was determined not to let this happen. “I definitely didn’t want a C-section, I talked to my midwife and said that I still wanted to have a home birth. She totally supported me, and together we planned and researched it.”

Although Kirsten’s midwife was supportive, the consultant obstetrician was a little more sceptical. “He said that since the baby was breech, I should have an ECV (External Cephalic Version), where a doctor tries to turn the baby manually, from the outside. But I had heard how painful and stressful this could be, and I refused it. His response was sarcastic – ‘you want to have a caesarean, do you?’ When I told him that I was still planning a vaginal home birth, the look on his face was surprise and disbelief! He didn’t try to talk me out of it, though. I believe that if you’re strong, and certain of what you want, then the medical staff will support you. They have to – that is their job.”

Kirsten was then referred to a second consultant, who was a little more encouraging. “I expected her to try and talk me into a C-section, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. She was completely supportive, and said that it was a shame that birth attendants – both midwives and obstetricians – were not experienced in breech birth any more. She also said that since it was my second baby there was a smaller risk, as labour tends to be quicker and easier.”

“She did emphasise, though, that there was a risk, that I needed to discuss and plan everything in detail with my midwife, and that the midwife had to be completely okay with it – because if anything went wrong, it wasn’t just me that would suffer. I told her that I’d had a meeting with both my midwife and her supervisor, and that we’d discussed the risks at length.”

Although she’d refused the ECV, Kirsten did try several other methods of turning Caleb. “I saw a maternity reflexologist who was also trained in moxibustion, a Chinese technique which involves burning mugwort sticks over an acupuncture point. I spoke to the midwife that I’d had with Zach in NZ and she told me to place a plank of wood with one end on the ground and the other on a chair and then lie on my back with my head towards the floor and my feet up high. Gravity is supposed to encourage the baby to turn. I also tried putting a bag of frozen peas under my chest at the top of my bump and a hot water bottle at the bottom, to encourage bub to move from the coldness to the warmth.” However, it was all to no avail – Caleb remained breech.

Despite friends and family telling her that she was ‘brave’, Kirsten stuck to her guns. “I just knew that breech is only a variation of normal, and that it was definitely possible.” Six days after Caleb’s due date, she went into labour naturally, at home. “I had a lazy Sunday in bed, as the contractions came and went, and then built up.”

In the end, Caleb’s birth was actually fairly straightforward. “It was much faster and easier than Zach’s, and it also hurt less,” says Kirsten. “From the first push after my waters broke, it was only 12 minutes until Caleb was born.”

“He came out easily up to his armpits, on two big pushes. His bottom presented first and then a leg came out next to his bum. The other leg popped out and then the torso was born. There was a pause when his arms were coming as the midwife realised that they were above his head and had to manoeuvre them down. They came out on the next push. Caleb’s head was also flexed back, and the midwife had to tilt his chin down so that it could come out.”

“The midwife noticed that Caleb’s body was losing colour and so my doula called 999, at her request. When Caleb was fully born he had trouble breathing, but I’d been told that breech babies often need help to breathe, so I wasn’t totally shocked and scared. The midwife blew on his face and I knelt over him, with the umbilical cord still attached, stroking his arm and saying, ‘It’s all okay, mummy’s here’. When the midwife checked his heart rate, it was still as strong as it had been during the labour, and I knew that everything was going to be alright. By the time the paramedics arrived, Caleb was absolutely fine.

Kirsten’s blood pressure was low, so the paramedics stayed for a while to check that she was okay. “I spent the next few hours regaining some strength through chocolate milk and Vegemite toast, encouraging Caleb to breastfeed, and bonding with him and Andy, cuddled up in our own bed.”

The breech experience has done nothing to dent Kirsten’s faith in home birth. “It’s just so nice to give birth in your own space, comfortable, knowing that you can do whatever feels right to you at the time, and to be in your own bed afterwards, with only special people there.” In fact, it has inspired her to retrain as a doula. “After having both of my boys, I really want to work with pregnant, birthing and post-natal women, and also babies.”