A new book of water birth stories has been published recently – (see below).
Janet Balaskas has contributed her story of the birth of her 4th baby in 1988 to this book, which we include here, plus some rare personal pictures of Janet and Theo taken a few hours after the birth. Here follows the extract from the book:
Janet Balaskas is internationally renowned for pioneering the concept of ‘active birth’ in the late 1970’s. The central concept of active birth – that women should move freely in labour and be led by their body – is underpinned by a deeper philosophy that addresses the dynamics of power in the birth place and calls for women to take an ‘active’ rather than ‘passive’ role in their birth experience.
Janet is a leading world voice on birth and maternity practice, and has organised many ground-breaking events including the Water Birth Conference in 1995, pivotal in getting the green light for water births in the NHS by bring together leading pioneers and researchers from all over the world. She is the founder and director of the Active Birth Centre in London, and the author of several books, including New Active Birth. Janet lives in London and is the mother of four children, three of whom were born at home.
In the story that follows, she tells of the birth of her fourth baby, her first birth using a birth pool, at which Michel Odent – renowned water birth pioneer – was her midwife.
I am the mother of four children who were all born naturally and actively. Three were born at home. Although water birth was not yet available, I did enjoy a swim in labour with my third and then carried the memory of the water with me through the rest of my labour.
By the time my youngest son came along, it was possible to have a portable birth pool at home. Mine was set up in my bedroom, under the full moon and next to an open fire – so all the elements were there to help me.
The circumstances of this birth were unusual. I was 42, I had had surgery three years before to remove a fibroid from the uterus leaving me with a scar very similar to that of a caesarean, and he was a very large baby – weighing in at 11lbs or 5 kilos at birth. But as birth is both my profession and my passion, I had some great friends and colleagues on my side for a planned home birth.
Obstetrician Yehudi Gordon was in the background and gave me the go ahead. And I did live very close to a hospital, so I was not fearful at all and confident I could do it again. My midwife was Michel Odent. I was intrigued by his concept of the ‘foetus ejection reflex‘ and as this was to be my last baby, I wanted to try it out for myself. This meant that privacy and not too many people around was paramount.
I also had a dear friend Mira who is a midwife, sitting in the kitchen just in case I wanted her. This was reassuring for me as I felt I might need some female energy and did in fact call her to sit with me at some point, although I did not want her to speak or to do anything and apparently told her in no uncertain terms.
Funnily enough, my twelve year old daughter was a solace to me. I remember a moment when I looked up out of the birth pool thinking I was going to die and seeing her reading a comic and eating a banana on the bed. So I knew everything was fine as she certainly wasn’t looking worried. Soon after this, she was asked to leave the room as Michel insists it is very important that the mother is undisturbed and not feeling observed by anyone as the time of the birth approaches.
He also says that when the word death comes up it means the baby is coming very soon. Sure enough he was whispering to me that it was time to do something different and leave the pool. I later understood that this was because of the anticipated size of the baby and that it was more practical to enlist the help of gravity standing up. I remember following his suggestion, standing up, slowly stepping out of the pool. I tried the all fours position for a couple of contractions as I had given birth like that the time before, but soon understood instinctively I needed to be more upright. So I stood up and was supported from behind by my husband. I can’t remember much about the timing, but I believe it was about seven minutes later that my son came out in one massive contraction. I remember Michel saying,
“Here is your big boy!” So I had my proof – birth happens most easily and quickly when a woman is undisturbed and free to let go and follow her instincts. It was a perfect ‘foetus ejection reflex’. More importantly, for us it was the perfect birth.
Many elements contributed to this outcome. Not least the support of those around me, their belief that I could do it and their lack of anxiety.
In a practical sense the help of water was immense. This was a very intense labour. In the early stages I was very uncomfortable in every position except standing up and bobbing and bending forward. After some time this was getting very tiring and it was such a relief to get into that delicious pool of warm water. Suddenly my body weight (not insignificant with such a big baby) seemed to disappear – I was comfortable in a whole variety of positions. All sense of struggle and strain disappeared. I could relax and let go.
At one moment, soon after getting in, I was squatting and holding onto the edge of the pool, rolling my hips, when I was surprised by an intense orgasmic release.
After that I was in another world where the waves of intensity came and went – I could feel my baby moving down and there were just the two of us doing this – as if we were dancing together in the galaxies.
I knew he was coming. I think Michel was wondering about my progress and tried to suggest he might examine me, but I couldn’t possibly let him. I thought I heard him mutter something about this being like driving a Ferrari without brakes, but maybe I’m imagining that. It was then I said I felt I was going to die which must have come as music to his ears…and then it was time to leave the pool. I remember feeling as If I had only just got in – but in fact I was in the pool for about three hours.
In retrospect I can see the wisdom of ‘managing’ my birth like this – how being in the buoyancy of the water throughout the active phase of labour protected the uterus and optimised the labour, while gravity helped me to have a fast and easy birth.
Michel had just the right blend of respect for my wishes and expert know-how. I’m ever grateful to him for coming with me on this Ferrari ride and ‘catching’ my beautiful boy.
You can find out all about Active Birth and how it is the perfect accompaniment for water birth in Janet Balaskas’s book New Active Birth.