Ash-lea Gazzola prepared her entire pregnancy for a calm, peaceful home water birth, and everything was going to plan beautifully until a little foot appeared instead of a baby’s head.
Incredibly, Ash-lea still had the serene birth that she’d longed for, with a twist along the way.
“My partner Zac and I had just started trying to fall pregnant and we were very fortunate to receive a positive test after our first month of tracking my ovulation period. I was expecting to rock up to Christmas dinner and announce we were starting to try, but instead we announced we were 8 weeks pregnant,” Ash-lea explained to Mum’s Grapevine.
“We had decided to wait until birth to find out what we were having, and surprisingly it was super easy to just let it be. I always thought I would HAVE to find out, but it was just lovely to focus on growing a healthy baby and not getting caught up on buying boy or girl garb.”
Finding the right birth team
Ash-lea’s search for the perfect birthing team began long before she was even pregnant. Having travelled throughout her life, she’d been gathering information on how she wanted to birth for years.
“Personally I pictured my antenatal care to just be magical, and full of competent, supportive women. I think I got this picture in my head after living in Mexico for a few years and learning about how the ancient culture of the Zapotecans birthed, with shamans, wise women and sacred ceremonies in their Temazcals – which are ancient dome-shaped saunas used for birth and to detox from heavy situations like war and battle. The women entered the Temazcals and birthed their babies in the warmth of the dome in herb filled baths or squatting all in ceremony with their support team.
“I would have loved to birth exactly like that if we still were living over there. But, back in Australia I had the challenge of finding the closest experience to that. I had yet to find the home birth world at this stage and started looking at birth centres. I wanted a shaman, but in Aus we don’t have these ancient healers, but we do have incredible doulas!
“I specifically wanted only women to be my care providers throughout my entire pregnancy. I know there are amazing men in these fields but I just felt very strongly that if you do not have the same anatomy as me, then how could you know more about my body than me? Or share experiences and stories of support? I was craving that community that only women can provide to other women.
“I was in the middle of moving to Sydney from the Gold Coast at this stage, so everything I was researching was Sydney based. I had Googled doulas in the Sydney area and Jerusha Sutton popped up – I sent her an email and later that week we spoke on the phone. After about two minutes of chatting, I knew I had found the right person and we organised to meet when I arrived in Sydney a few weeks later.
“She briefly mentioned home birthing and midwifery lead care after I told her about how I wanted to birth in water. And with that conversation, my research into the world of home-birth began. By now I had been to the birth centre for my first booking appointment and to see the facilities. To be honest I had left there just not feeling great, nothing bad had happened necessarily but I didn’t visualise myself birthing there.
“Later on, when myself and Zac had a coffee with Jerusha at our first meeting, she mentioned private midwifery care again. By this stage Zac and I had discussed the option and were very into it, but stuck on the financial aspect of it. We realised quickly that to have the experience we wanted, we have to be knowledgeable and informed – this meant surrounding ourselves with the right people to make that happen. So we locked in a meeting with our midwife, Jo Hunter, who was recommended to us. We had now secured our birth team and only positive things were to come.”
A beautiful pregnancy
Ash-lea was cared for by her birth team throughout her pregnancy and also incorporated different self-care techniques to ease the aches of pregnancy and prepare her body for labour.
“I really loved being pregnant, every bit of it was magical to me. The fact that I was growing a human, my belly and body were changing and even all the aches and pains … I loved it all. The care we received at each prenatal appointment with Jo and at each catch up with Jerusha just validated the decision we had made with this model of care. It was all exactly how I pictured it to be – just full of love, care and excitement.
“During a prenatal visit, I think sometime between week 29-32 weeks, bub was head up. We weren’t stressed, as we had plenty of time – But of course started using techniques to help make the move to head down. I swam, was already doing yoga throughout my pregnancy and had some acupuncture done.”
Floating into the home stretch
“By the next appointment and from then on until 37 and a bit weeks bub was head down and on track. Everything was plotting along nicely, bub remained head down and was 3/5th’s engaged at which turned out to be my last prenatal appointment with Jo. I was indulging in all the self-care I could during the last part of pregnancy. I had a fair amount of pressure on my hips and wanted to give them a break, so I visited the flotation tanks. I was floating away on my back, but was not getting the relief I needed as the weight of the baby was still pressing down on my hips. (I will just add also, that she was moving like crazy during the float, which was out of character as she was a slow mover the whole pregnancy.)
“So, I decided to float belly down in the water and use the foam floaty to hold my chin up. This let me relax my hips and fully take the weight of my belly off my body. This is where we think she had
the room to do some serious acrobatics. I had never felt so womanly and beautiful in my life, during my last weeks of pregnancy and I was not quite ready yet to let it all go – So when baby Vera decided to evict me at 38+5 I was excited to meet her but also sad to say goodbye to my pregnant self.”
Zac and Ash-lea had planned a home water birth the entire pregnancy, so by the time things started to get moving, everything was in place.
“The morning of Saturday the 4th August I was wandering over to the local library with Zac to print off my birth sheet with all the info he would need during labour. I remember saying to him, ‘The baby is really sitting on my cervix today’ and stopping to do a squat or two on the way. I had planned to spend the day tying up a couple of loose ends in preparation for labour in the coming weeks. I was pretty organised and had everything just about ready for my home birth.
“The last things I wanted to do was write a letter to my body; thanking it for all the awesome work it had done during pregnancy and will do during/after birth, my baby; letting bub know we were ready to go and how much we loved her/him, and my birth manifestation of how I had been visualising my birth for the last 9 months. I finished these up, sealed the envelopes and placed them on my birth mantle.
“Soon after Zac came home and started cooking us a yummy lunch, I popped into the loo before we sat down together and quickly called him in. I had finished weeing, but I could still hear a trickling sound – so I asked him to look down there for me, as I could no longer see my toes let alone my downstairs region. He said I was leaking and we both just looked at each other very wide eyed. Holy crap – birth was imminent. We were going to meet our baby.
“I let our ladies know that my waters were slowly breaking and we all got a bit excited. They let us know to go about our business, as I had no other symptoms of labour. Zac headed into work to tie up any loose ends and to bring some groceries home. I chilled out at home and finished off decorating my birth mantle, put the final touches on my play list, meditated with bub and spent some
last moments with my belly.
“A couple of hours later Zac came home, I was feeling a little crampy by this stage (around 4pm) but nothing big at all was happening. We decided to go for a walk, ground our feet on the grass and watch the sunset together as a duo for the last time. I remember we both couldn’t stop smiling at each other and we had to remind ourselves to relax and not get so excited, it could be days before our baby arrived earthside.
“Zac being the chef of the house, made us a tasty dahl for dinner and we started setting up the rest of the birth space in case it all kicked off in the middle of the night/early morning. Everything was good to go, all that was missing was the water in the birth pool. We picked out a movie to watch and jumped into bed – by this time it was around 9pm. Still no big symptoms just a few cramps.
“At around 9:30pm I had my first real surge. It was pretty intense and I remember thinking ‘Sh*t, this is full on’. I was over trying to watch the movie and decided to take a bath. My surges were lasting a minute and coming every 10 minutes … But I wasn’t keeping track too much either as I thought I was only in the early stages. I messaged Zac from the tub after having a big surge telling him to come sit with me. He was messaging Jo and Jerusha to keep them updated.”
“We were all certain that I was at the start of labour and we had a fair haul ahead of us. I was concentrating on conserving energy and breathing. I know Jo had told me that when I couldn’t ignore the surges any longer, is when she will come. But, from the first surge I had I was not able to ignore it, I kind of put this down to being my first experience, not that I was already in active labour. I had planned to do so much during my labour, I wanted to wear my birth necklace, meditate, burn sage, wander around my house just being a goddess lighting candles – Luckily everything was set up but I did not have the slow ramp up of surges to facilitate the hippy picture in my head.
“I was going through the motions and reminding myself just to let go and to go within. I had gotten out of the bath and was labouring on the birth ball for a short period before getting back into the bath. Zac had begun filling the pool and I was more than ready to be in deeper water. Once I was back in the bathtub, a surge came and with it my body pushed. I was a bit shocked as we were only 2 hours into what I thought was the start of labour. Zac called Jo and I know I spoke to her, but that conversation is a bit fuzzy. Nonetheless, she was on her way, with haste and had called Jerusha to tell her that we were on.”
An unexpected birth
Things were progressing faster than the birth team had expected, but that wasn’t the only curveball headed Ash-lea’s way.
“While I was waiting for the birth pool to be filled enough for me to jump in, I had begun lunging in the bathroom during the surges. I felt the need to stretch my legs and hips. Looking back, obviously I was working my baby down. I reinstated to Zac that I needed that pool to be filled faster (like he wasn’t already doing it as fast as possible) and he let me know that it was full enough to get in. He helped me into the warm water and I immediately felt like I could live in the pool forever.
“My body was pushing with every second or third surge by this point and I was very deep in my breath. Zac left me for a second to answer the door and in floated Jerusha, just like an angel. We were doing great when she wasn’t there but her presence just bought us all together even more. I remember her holding onto both of my hands over the birth pool during a surge and when I opened my eyes she was just smiling at me and said I was doing great … I hope I smiled back but I was pretty deep by this point. But damn, her holding my hands at that point was just really what I needed and solidified my confidence.
“She passed my hands into Zac’s and this is how we stayed up until the end nearly. I felt like I was rolling and rocking with the motions really well and I heard Zac using our hypnobirth breathing techniques for me to follow and click back into if I lost my rhythm between surges.”
‘There’s something in my vagina!’
“My body was really kicking up a gear, surges on surges and I didn’t feel a break between. Jerusha said to me, to have a feel and see if bub was near. I said no at first, I didn’t want to be disheartened if I wasn’t able to feel anything. But, I did and I felt something but I didn’t know what it was. In my head I was thinking it could just be my cervix or possibly the head. I had no idea and told this to Jerusha. She told me it’s ok and that I was doing amazing, just to go with it. And that was my first vaginal exam of my entire pregnancy and birth.
“I was moving my hips to open them up and through a few surges I had felt something coming. I said to Jerusha, ‘There is something in my vagina’ and she looked down and said she couldn’t see anything just yet and asked if she could place her hand just under me. But there was nothing there. At this point talking for me was pretty tough and I remember wanting to say to wait for the next one, but as quick as I thought it, a surge came and I knew something was out. I thought some ‘birth stuff’ must be coming down before the head but Jerusha looked down and I thought she immediately told me the news, but she actually took a photo (of course), called Jo and then came back into the room to tell me ‘Ash, there is a foot’.
“I don’t know if I laughed out loud or just in my head but I thought that was a pretty funny thing to say. Then I guess I realised, that meant bub was breech. I didn’t have any fear or worry, I just knew this baby was coming and my body was doing some pretty powerful things to help out.
When Jerusha told Jo the news, who was still on the way at full speed. Jo answered the call expecting to be told that the baby was born, so she could stop speeding. But instead was informed about the tiny toes that had appeared, so I think the pedal was fully to the metal. Jo asked Jerusha to call an ambulance in case she didn’t make it in time so they could provide resuscitation if the baby needed it. This was all explained to me and Zac by Jerusha and not once did the calm, warm and love filled atmosphere change. I do remember hearing Jo saying on the phone, ‘Don’t let them touch the baby if I don’t make it’, due to the baby being breech, the rule is ‘hands off’.
“Zac held me like a rock through my continuous surges and Jerusha spoke with the ambulance call centre. The lady on the other end had told us that I needed to stand up out of the water and come out of the pool. Might I just add the lady on the phone was a cool, calm, collected and unexpected addition to my birth team, I wish I could get in contact with her to say thanks for not bringing any bad energy into the space.
“I didn’t want to leave the pool. I thought it was going to be impossible and now a little leg had descended. I was not into the whole idea, I was so happy in the water. Jerusha told me in her serious voice that Jo and or the ambulance will need to see exactly whats going on. She and Zac both lifted me out onto the other side and I continued doing my thing.
“The ambulance had made it by this stage but not before super midwife Jo. I could see the lights or maybe I could just imagine them but they stayed put in their car whilst our midwife arrived and they did not enter the house. Jo arrived just in time to have her hands out and ready for baby to come. She was out to her hips by now and my surges had stopped all of a sudden. Probably from the quick position change and a bit of adrenaline no doubt.
“Jo instructed me to try to push, as bub couldn’t hang there for long, I found it nearly impossible to do so. It felt so wrong from what my body had been doing itself this entire time. But, I did and then my body quickly came back online and finished pushing our baby out smoothly into the waiting hands of lovely Jo. (The time lapse between her tiny foot appearing to her being caught by Jo was 10 minutes according to the time dated images taken by Jerusha. It was also just 3 minutes from Jo’s arrival that she was earthside!)
“The feeling of release was insane. The feeling of our baby joining us in the room was even better. I could hear Zac crying and I couldn’t stop saying, ‘What do you mean?!’ which I am guessing was me trying to say, ‘What do you mean I just gave birth?’. Which I still laugh about when I think of it.
“After bub had a quick check over by Jo and given the all clear, she was in my arms. Zac and I took a look to find out the sex and after first thinking it was a boy, were corrected and on closer inspection, through all the vernix, we saw she was a girl. This, I still find hilarious too.
“I stepped back in the pool with her to deliver the placenta and have a cuddle. The cord was really short and I couldn’t bring her to my chest yet so we waited for the placenta to well finish pumping and Zac cut the cord. I hadn’t birthed the placenta yet and it was really hurting my back. I was having a tough time just relaxing and pushing it out. No matter how encouraging Jo was, it really was hard for me just to wrap my mind around the fact that if I just relaxed and gave a push it would come out. I had just given birth and felt like I was just done. Eventually I got the memo and the final stage was complete. That was a feeling of pure relief.
“Our baby girl was then put against my chest for her first feed. We all sat back and debriefed about what the heck just happened. The speed of labour, the way she decided to come out, the moments leading up to labour, Jo’s fast and furious race to catch her, Jerusha’s thoughts upon spying her right foot … all of it was dissected in our lounge room with her feeding away.
“A few cups of tea, lots of cuddles, kisses, tears, laughs and hours later she was weighed, measured and named Vera Mae Wilkins. She stepped into the world at 12:28am on Sunday 5th August 2018 weighing 3.2kgs, with a start to finish labour time of three and a half hours.
“We feel like she will be giving us a run for our money for the rest of our lives.”
(Photographer: Jerusha Sutton)
Read next …
Reading birth stories is a great way to prepare for your own birth, and we have a treasure trove of beautiful stories at the ready: