When I arrived at Penelope’s home, I found her in a makeshift plastic bath of warm water that her husband had rigged underneath the shower head in the apartment. She was curled up in a fetal position and there was a stillness about her. I arranged my midwifery bags, laid out a few things quietly and protected her privacy so that gentle silence enfolded us. Penelope turned on the shower
and water streamed down from the shower head above, while she sat sideways in the water below. I knew it would be a quick birth for this second time mother and had driven the distance to her home as though I had wings. Penelope had waited for me.
I listened to the heartbeat of the baby and waited. Only one side of the bath was accessible and the flimsy plastic casing meant that touching it may disturb the volume of water, leading to floods on the floor. I turned off the ceiling lights and used a small torch to cast a dim light and lessen the stimulation to see, to think, to talk.
Within a few minutes, Penelope felt new bearing down sensations and asked “Is this right, Marianne, can I push?” I watched and waited as the momentum grew, and surges intensified. Penelope reached her hand down and felt the top of her baby’s head to expressions of wonderment and relief. Another bearing down sensation and the head was born, followed by the shoulders, and baby Max wriggled into Penelope’s waiting hands.
I quietly watched and waited, listening to Penelope’s expressions of wonderment and joy, and responded when the placenta came, placing it in a small tub that floated on the water.
Immersion in the water protects a mother from outside intrusion. Here are 12 reasons why waterbirth is so great:
- A mother is warm when immersed in warm water and can cool herself by lifting her upper body out of the water
- A mother feels cocooned and enveloped when immersed in warm water
- There is no need to “coach or direct” a waterbirth
- Birth attendants are reluctant to get wet, this prevents interference
- When a mother is sitting, kneeling or squatting in a bath of warm water it is more difficult to perform an unnecessary vaginal examination
- It is harder to ‘disturb’ a woman in labour when she is in the water
- It appears to be easier for a mother to ‘catch her own baby’ when she is immersed in warm water
- Warm water encourages perineal tissues to stretch and lowers the incidence of perineal tearing
- There is a higher chance of an ‘undisturbed first hour’ after birth, thus enhancing the natural hormones and spontaneous expulsion of the placenta
- Mothers are more buoyant in the water and able to move in ways that aid birth of the baby
- Skin to skin contact between mother and baby after the birth is enhanced
- It is contra-indicated to cut the cord until after the baby is born and breathing, so that waterbirth babies are more likely to receive their transfusion of extra blood from the placenta without interference
Penelope gave birth to and caught her own baby underwater. My task and privilege was to protect this process and benefit, with mother and baby, from the great reasons above.