An unplanned homebirth in Kenya
I'm 35 years old and I live in Nairobi, Kenya with my husband, Thomas, and our 20 month old daughter Olivia. We're originally from the UK but have been living in Africa for the last 7 years due to work, we're both working for Save the Children.
We've spent the last 5 years living in Kenya, which we love.
Olivia is our first child. I was lucky enough to have an easy pregnancy. We had considered a home birth, but felt as we were in Kenya it would be better to go to the hospital to deliver as we weren't sure of the referral systems, but I wanted to try and have a natural birth, and we had planned to have a doula with us.
Olivia came 8 days late. I had 2 sweeps and was starting to dilate (2cm). My OBGYN said if I didn't go into labour within 24 hours of the 2nd sweep I should be induced, which I wanted to avoid as I knew this would derail any hopes of having a drug-free birth. Thankfully (after a trip to the cinema and an Indian take away - so cliche), I went into labour that evening.
The idea was we'd stay at home as long as possible with the doula and then go into the hospital in the final stages. However, within just 1 hour my contractions were coming fast and strong. When our doula got to the house I was already very far along and she said if we're going to the hospital we need to go right now. In that moment, I just felt that going to the hospital wasn't the right thing to do and asked if we could just do it here at home. So that's what we did. I hopped into the bath and 4 hours later, Olivia was born. My husband Thomas was the perfect birth partner. Our doula Lucy was so supportive. And my mum was there. It was a very calm experience.
Olivia was perfectly healthy, a little chunky one at 4.1kg. But I started to have some complications.
My placenta only partially detached. The midwife couldn't get it to come out and I started losing blood so we made the decision to go to the hospital to have the placenta removed. During the surgery to remove the placenta I was also treated for a level 4 tear, which of course required a lot of stitches. I also had an infection so required IV antibiotics and iron (to boost blood production) for 2 days.
Despite all that, I still think fondly of my birth experience. I will always remember it as a very positive and empowering experience (I felt like a superhero), and wouldn't change anything!
I asked beautiful Laura, to expand more on her story, her journey and the below had me in tears:
Home births are very common in Kenya, but not out of choice like it is in UK/USA. Many people in Kenya live in poor and/or rural communities where accessing and/or affording healthcare facilities is very hard and so traditionally women just deliver at home, maybe with the help of a relative of a traditional birth attendant (who are not medically trained). Unfortunately as a result, Kenya has a high maternal mortality rate (more info here if you're interested https://www.standardmedia.co.ke/evewoman/article/2001320086/six-leading-causes-of-maternal-mortality-in-kenya). As such many women are encouraged (and in some cases incentivised) to deliver at a health facility where they can be seen by a skilled health professional. So the concept of "choosing" to have a home birth as a way to have a more empowered and peaceful birth experience is quite unusual.
With regards to finding our midwife, it was actually through the birthing centre where we did our ante-natal classes.
Lucy was the midwife who did our classes. As I had previously mentioned, we weren't ever planning to have a home birth, we were planning to go into hospital. During our ante-natal classes we learnt that the Kenyan health system is based on the american system which is doctor (not midwife) led and can often result in less empowered mothers and more medicalized deliveries. This is when we decided to have Lucy be our doula and come to the hospital with us, but as I mentioned we ended up delivering at home. Even though it wasn't our plan, I will always be thankful to Lucy to giving me the confidence and strength to do it, and also giving my husband the encouragement and support to coach me through it (she was very low profile).
As for our work with Save the Children, I am the Deputy Country Director for the Somalia Country Office (but based out of Nairobi) and my husband is Regional Emergencies Director (covering East and Southern Africa).
Save the Children's work of course focuses on the most vulnerable and deprived children and their families, so a bit part of our work in Somalia is maternal, neonatal and child health and nutrition, education, water & sanitation, food security & livelihoods, and child protection. It's very interesting and rewarding work. Since becoming a mother (and the complications I had during birth), I find it even more powerful and really appreciate the difficulties, dangers and challenges the majority of women in Somalia face (it's got one of the world's highest maternal mortality rates). I could talk about this for ages, so happy to answer any questions/send more info.
You can follow this incredible woman here.