My Positive Birth Story (Home Water Birth Despite Group B Strep)
Pre-Birth Background: Why I Wanted A Homebirth
I have always wanted a home birth, but during my first pregnancy with my (now 2-year-old) son Oskar, both I and my husband were too nervous about the logistics involved. This time around we were both sure from the beginning that we wanted to give it a go.
Being in my own home with its familiar lights and smells seemed like the most relaxed environment to be in for labour. I was also hoping to feel more in control and less subject to possible medical interventions. The other great thing was that having chosen the home birth team, I had the same midwives come and see me at home throughout my entire pregnancy.
How I Prepared For My Homebirth
Our home birth team was very helpful in helping us prepare for the big day. They also had a meet & greet video chat where previous parents talked about their experiences and lessons learned, which was very helpful. And of course, it helped that I had done it all once before, although back then I just needed my hospital bag.
This time the nesting instinct and “omg I need to get things ready”-panic kicked in around 37 weeks. I started re-reading my pregnancy birth books, got the co-sleeper, car seat, and buggy ready, and listened to the hypnobirthing tracks that I still had.
We had borrowed a large birthing pool from friends but decided to hire the smaller version for our tiny flat. Wise decision. I put out a request for second-hand towels on our neighbourhood chat group because that was something we were short on. I got some bed sheets from my sister in law who had had a homebirth just 3 months before us. We also made sure we were well stocked on snacks for the midwives (although they didn’t eat any so I had them all in the first week of ravenous breastfeeding hunger).
Everything else we prepared was similar to the first time - puppy pads for everywhere (bed, floors, car seat), charged TENS machine, and loads of maternity pads.
Testing Positive For Group B Strep (GBS)
Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional, the following is simply my personal decision path based on my own research. This is a great place to start but definitely speak to your midwife/ doctor and where possible get a second opinion. Don’t forget that, in the end, everything around your pregnancy and birth is YOUR choice.
In pregnancy week 30 I went into the day assessment unit to have a safety heart rate scan because I was a bit unsure about the baby’s movements. Turns out she was simply a lot more chilled than Oskar, who had constantly been breakdancing in my tummy. During this scan visit, a urine sample was taken which tested positive for Group B Strep (GBS) bacteria. Because this type of bacteria can be dangerous for newborns it is generally advised to have intravenous antibiotics during labour.
As a Nutritional Therapist, I am very aware of the vast consequences of antibiotics on the gut and immune system. So I did a lot of research about this topic. GBS is not routinely screened for as it’s a very common (usually harmless) bacterium and so the number of women receiving antibiotics preventatively during birth would simply be too high.
The antibiotic approach is considered by some as overcautious, and as potentially doing more harm than good. This is not to downplay the seriousness of GBS infections in newborns. But for the chances of for example meningitis (the most common GBS infection in newborns) felt small compared to the certain consequences of antibiotics compromising my baby’s exposure to, and natural development of, the best and most natural microflora possible.
This led to us choosing the watchful waiting approach: When I discussed the above with my midwife we agreed on a birth plan that included labour at home and then me and baby going into hospital for observation for 12-24 hours afterward to be as careful as possible about a potential GBS infection. I am describing how this process went for us below.
The Big Day: Early Stages Of Labour
I woke up at 3 am, 7 days past my due date, from a very mild surge. I thought I might have felt a bit of water but wasn’t sure, so I got up to go to the toilet. While walking it became clear that indeed my water was breaking so I ran into the bathroom and managed to keep the hallway carpet mostly dry. Phew! I sat on the loo feeling a bit puzzled as I intuitively wasn’t expecting baby for another 5 days. After all, my son had been 14 days "late". So was this really it? Because I didn’t really have the spectacular water-fall-like breaking water with my first birth I wasn’t too sure what to expect. But I was very sure that I hadn’t peed myself and with this amount of clear liquid coming out of me it had to be my water breaking.
I searched around in my son’s room for maternity pads (not a great place to keep them) and then went back into the bedroom. I woke up my husband Kaan with “Happy birthday, my water just broke.” and we both got very excited about him sharing his big day with his daughter. After a few minutes of cheering, we decided to try and go back to sleep though. That was obviously easier for him than for me. My contractions were very mild and about 20 minutes apart but I was so excited that it took me 2 hours to fall asleep again. When we woke up around 7 am my contractions were completely gone. Bummer. We calmly got up, Kaan got Oskar ready for nursery and I called the midwife Manuela. We also started covering the sofa in our lounge with puppy pads and bedsheets and started inflating the birthing pool.
When Manuela arrived around 10 am I felt a bit deflated and impatient. I knew that if we went past 24 hours of my waters breaking a home birth might become too risky, especially with GBS. Her examination confirmed my suspicion that baby wasn’t fully facing with her back to my front, which could have been the cause for the contractions stopping. Manuela advised me to get into the miles circuit exercises and to go for a long walk while she went back home.
It was a very sunny day, so Kaan and I walked (very slowly) for about 1 1/2 miles to a lovely café and had a fabulous birthday brunch. During my first birth I had really struggled to get down any food, so my big appetite this time was a welcome surprise. Just as we were paying the bill, around 1 pm, I finally felt a (still mild) surge. I was so relieved that things were progressing after 8 hours of standstill. We also decided to better take the bus home in case the progress was quicker than expected.
The Final Stages Of Labour
Back home we called midwife Manuela again to report our success. Because the surges were still very manageable and not regular yet, neither in length nor frequency, she didn’t want to come over yet and suggested for me to have a bath. This, according to her, could either slow things down more or kick them off properly. So around 4 pm I had a 30-minute bath with only one, but quite long and intense, surge. After getting out of the bath the surges very quickly became more frequent and intense so I started recording everything in a contraction timer app and Kaan put the TENS machine on my back. I already found this very useful all throughout my first labour and this time again it really helped relieve some of the discomforts.
Having the TENS machine also is a great way to keep busy during surges. When I felt one come I usually got on all fours, pressed the timer app, then pressed the boost button on the TENS machine and started breathing in one of my hypnobirthing rectangle breathing patterns - in for 4 along the short side of the rectangle, out for 6 along the long side. When I called midwife Manuela she said she would be with us within 40 minutes and advised me to stop walking up and down the stairs as surges caused by that kind of movement could be less efficient than naturally occurring ones.
When Manuela arrived shortly after 7 pm, things started to happen quite quickly. I was lying on the sofa, fully focused on my surges and Kaan was busy preparing the birthing pool. This turned out to be quite the challenge as our hot water tank barely holds enough to fill a small bath. The birthing pool required 2.5 bath fulls. After filling a bit of the pool we had to wait for 20 minutes for the hot water tank to refill. I was not feeling very patient at this point. When the second midwife Jess arrived shortly after 8 pm I was already starting to have pushing urges and bloody the pool still wasn’t ready! Sometime around 8:20 Manuela said “You have to get in the pool NOW if you don’t want to have the baby on the sofa. So as quickly as we could we took off the TENS machine and my clothes and I hopped into the, just about full enough, pool.
Back home we called midwife Manuela again to report our success. Because the surges were still very manageable and not regular yet, neither in length nor frequency, she didn’t want to come over yet and suggested for me to have a bath. This, according to her, could either slow things down more or kick them off properly. So around 4pm I had a 30 minute bath with only one, but quite long and intense, surge. After getting out of the bath the surges very quickly became more frequent and intense so I started recording everything in a contraction timer app and Kaan put the TENS machine on my back. I already found this very useful all throughout my first labour and this time again it really helped relieve some of the discomfort.
The Grand Finale
I have to be honest, I was expecting the water in the birthing pool to do the same discomfort relieving job as the TENS machine had. It didn’t. The surges suddenly felt much more intense. Nevertheless, it was so lovely to feel the water on my skin and to feel less heavy. Manuela sent me into the pool with the words “Just do what your body tells you to”. This is a perfect summary of the very hands-off approach of the home birth team and it made me feel so much more in control than during my first birth. As women, our bodies are designed to do this! Our instincts tell us what needs to happen when, how we need to move and breathe.
I was on all fours, leaning onto the side of the pool and holding on to Kaan’s hand. The urge to push was very strong. I remember saying to Kaan “I just want this to be over” knowing very well that it nearly was. This was followed by 2 intense pushing surges where I felt Baby’s head nearly come out but then move back in after the surge was over. Quite frustrating! So I put everything I had into the next surge, using the coffee plunger method to breathe down into my womb. That did the trick and baby’s head came out - as happily announced by midwife Jess who later said Baby was looking around underwater. My little fish had to hang out like that for another minute while I waited for the next surge to move the rest of her body out. Thankfully babies don’t breathe until they meet the air. In the meantime, they continue to get oxygen through the umbilical cord. At 8:30 pm Jette Marita entered this world.
Because I was used to baby being handled by other people straight away after my first birth I was somewhat surprised when the midwives invited me to pick her up out of the water. This caused her long-awaited first cry. The midwives covered her in a towel and I held her to my chest in the pool for what felt like a long time but was only a few minutes. I just marveled at her incredibly soft skin, her little furry shoulders, and her nearly black hair and eyes. She was just so perfect.
Out Of The Water
After a few minutes of watery cuddles, we moved to the sofa, with the umbilical cord still attached. We both got wrapped in warm dry towels and I started nursing her to get the oxytocin flowing and accelerate the placenta delivery. The cord was quite short and I was struggling to hold Jette properly, so after about 10 minutes, the midwife clamped the cord and Kaan got to cut it as he did with Oskar. After half an hour the placenta was still not out so, for the first time ever, I let go of my daughter, handing her to Kaan. I went to the loo with the midwives and gravity did the trick in delivering the placenta.
Back on the sofa both midwives examined me and decided that I needed no stitches. Jackpot! After my first birth, it took the midwives an hour to stitch me back up and the recovery took very long and came with infections and antibiotics. So this time I was so relieved that the stress-free home atmosphere for our birth had obviously done the trick in being much kinder on my bits.
Off To The Hospital
Still lying on the sofa, I was brought food by Kaan while the midwives weighed and checked Jette. I then had a shower and got dressed. I felt very tired at this point and deciding what to wear - pregnancy leggings too big, normal ones too small - took me a long time. When I was ready and had repacked my hospital bag we sent off the midwives and Kaan drove Jette and me to the hospital.
We ended up staying for 24 hours of observation because there had been such a long time between my water breaking and the delivery. Throughout the night we were being examined - blood pressure, breathing, and temperature - every two hours which spread out to every four hours during the day. I spent the entire day staring at Jette, cuddling and feeding her, and trying to take a few naps which was tricky in the bright and noisy hospital room and with many calls and messages coming in.
Finally Back Home
At 9 pm we were finally being discharged and Kaan brought us home. Oskar had stayed with Kaan’s parents the night of the birth and had already been asleep when we got home from the hospital the following evening. He finally got to meet his little baby sister on her second morning. It was a magical moment shared by the four of us cuddled up in bed. That's what we are now: a family of four.