A home water birth in a developing country with a homebirth ban

Guest post by Ara Chawdhury
Photo by Ara Chawdhury.

I really didn’t think my son would be born the day he was. Maybe he knew his paternal Lola (grandma) was arriving from the States early the following month and that he needed to give mommy time to recuperate before we could cross the sea to Cebu. Maybe it was the halo-halo we had the day before. Maybe he was just your typical Arian — always rushing into things, just like mommy.

I woke up at 6:30 with what felt like menstrual cramps. I don’t know how many times I’ve read that phrase at the beginning of the scores of birth stories I’ve read over the months but it just didn’t seem real now that it was actually happening to me. I knew then that this was definitely labor, but couldn’t imagine I’d have a baby at the end of the day. We texted maternal Lola, who was rushing home from Manila. She said she’d contact the doctor and some of her siblings to do labor watch.

Meanwhile, I asked my partner Chris to time the contractions and intervals. Though they were already consistently between one and two minutes apart, I still wasn’t convinced that birthing was imminent.

The cavalry arrived with an ambulance to get an internal exam at the hospital — talk about overreacting. I figured, if it really was illegal to give birth at home now, there was no way they’d let me go back home. Besides, I was just at the beginning of labor. If I was ever going to end up at the hospital for whatever reason, I would have wanted to go once I was at least near transition. As this was a first baby, I expected to labor for a long time.

I spent the next few hours on all fours in bed and in tears, refusing to let anyone in. My mother’s house is almost entirely made of Nipa, so I could hear every painful thing my mother’s siblings were saying about my refusal to go with the ambulance, which had already left.

They ranted about how stubborn I was, how correct I thought I was for refusing professional help. The people making these statements weren’t part of my birth plan nor were they briefed about the water birth. One of them even went so far as using the “This is best for your baby” scare to get me to give up laboring at home.

So much for the positive birthing atmosphere I was hoping for.

As much as I know they were only looking out for me and my baby’s well-being, I resented that they wouldn’t respect my birthing decisions enough to leave me to it. You’d think they’d at least understand that I was prepared for this and had done my research. And if there was going to be any authority over how this baby was going to come out of me, it was going to be me.

Then a midwife arrived in the doctor’s stead to conduct an internal exam. It turns out my doctor was on 24-hour duty and couldn’t leave just yet. I really didn’t know what an internal exam constitutes. Until the midwife pulled on her gloves, smeared jelly onto them, and then asked me to take a deep breath.


I never got her name. She was in, then out.

“Abri na gad siya” (“She’s open”) she announced. It was 10am, and I was dilated to 3cm. I asked someone to start filling the pool up. I was hungry but had no appetite for rice. I had watermelons and Gatorade and puked out what I couldn’t pee. At 12:45, an aunt with midwife training came in and did another exam — I was four to five centimeters dilated. They started filling the pool up. At this point, I also lost most of my mucous plug.

Contractions were coming in harder and longer. At every peak, I wondered how much differently the experience would be immersed in water. Every painful wave got me asking about the pool. Chris would be torn between feeding me, checking up on the pool’s progress, managing the birth playlist, and then letting me use him as a monkey bar.

At 2pm I lost my patience. I got in the pool even as they were still filling it up. I was beyond the point of caring. What little puddle there was eased the gravity, and that helped a WHOLE lot. By this time, maternal Lola had arrived and the cavalry left me to labor in peace. The doctor and another midwife arrived at 3:40. I greeted them by hurling into a bucket during a contraction. I was at 6cm now. That’s transition for you ninongs and ninangs.

But when transition hit, every contraction afterward was a bone shattering experience to the pelvis and I found that vocalizing through the pain helped lots.

I was relatively silent during contractions even out of water. But when transition hit, every contraction afterward was a bone shattering experience to the pelvis and I found that vocalizing through the pain helped lots. I was hoping to start feeling baby’s head descend, but my water hadn’t even broken yet. Things felt like they were moving slowly for a time. The birth team sat around me talking about the births they’d attended to, trips they’d recently gone on, and so on. I couldn’t focus on anything they were saying. I decided to amuse myself by singing along to Fiona Apple.

The midwife remarked that I was progressing fast. Doctor predicted baby would be out by 7pm.

And then my water broke and I entered the void.

I remember crouching as low as I could go to get the most out of the water while random people poured water down my back. I remember the surprise at the pain, and the immense relief at every interval. I remember gasping for Chris to get in the pool with me. I remember caterwauling. I remember screaming. I remember splashing around in the water like a boiling frog. I remember the ring of fire and the despair at how it wouldn’t seem to stop. I remember hearing them say his head was coming, and me wondering why his head was taking forever to come out. I remember thinking I’d be stuck in a loop of his head coming, and feeling it slip back in, and that there was no way I could do it. And then I remember feeling him slide out of me. I remember someone putting him on my chest.

I was told that he popped out in one go at 6:25 am.

And then there was no more “I.” There was a human being in my arms and it looked like a “Malaya” (in Filipino, this means “free”).

I kept him at my breast, unsure if he was feeding at all. Doctor said I had one small tear, and ended up not administering the pitocin for the afterbirth. I felt lower back pain for the last time and let the placenta out onto a bowl (we’re lotus birthing). I’m grateful I ended up getting the birth scenario I was most comfortable with,and that none of the preparation went to waste (this wasn’t the first water birth in the Philippines, but it was in the island of Biliran — the home birth ban was limited to the mananabang (traditional midwives), so we didn’t have to pay any fines). I’m glad for my birth team, for keeping the mood light and cheering me on when I needed to borrow from their strength.

I’m glad for my mother, who despite losing her own mother and first-born daughter to childbirth swallowed her fears and allowed me to carve my own path. I’m glad for my partner, Christian, for supporting me in this quest for Grace, and for being my calm (even when I was crushing his guitar strummers). But on top of everything, I’m grateful for this little bundle with the dimple on his left cheek and daddy’s old eyes. I’m not making any assumptions about who he’s going to turn out to be.

I just keep staring, wondering how I could deserve to be called mother to this miracle.

Comments on A home water birth in a developing country with a homebirth ban

  1. I didn’t realize that there was a homebirth ban in Philippines now. All of my female relatives homebirth. My mum, cousin, and I are the only ones who -haven’t- homebirthed, because we all had kids in the USA. That’s terrible! Kudos to you for ignoring the ban and having your homebirth anyway!

  2. Ive been wanting to do a home birth water birth but i didnt want to pay the fines scrared that they wont take my new born in the hospital or birthing home for check up and weighing. How did you get to convince your doctor to be there at your home birth waterbirth!
    By the way I salute you!

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