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When your home birth doesn't go as planned

Gary and Deepa MacEachern were planning a peaceful home birth. But when baby Andrew Akash MacEachern, now 2 months old, came early, they did it alone and he was delivered in their pristine white bedroom with huge windows looking out onto trees in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Deborah Baic/Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail

As a portfolio manager, Gary MacEachern knows his way around a conference call. But the morning his first child was born, Mr. MacEachern had the three-way call of his life.

A midwife was on one phone, a doula on another – both on speaker phone because Mr. MacEachern needed his hands free to tend to his labouring wife, Deepa. After all, their son's head had just crowned.

It was 18 days before his due date.

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"We were in the 'holy crap' mode," says Mr. MacEachern a few weeks after he coached his wife through the delivery of their son, Andrew Akash MacEachern. As they tell the story of Andrew's birth, it's clear the adrenalin is still coursing.

The MacEacherns hadn't initially planned on a home birth, but when they couldn't find a hospital they liked that was midwife-friendly, they decided to try delivering at home. And they're glad they did. But given that the number of home births is slowly inching upward – 1.3 per cent of Canadian births took place in "non-hospital" or "unknown" settings in 2008, compared with 0.7 per cent in 2000 – they've been circulating their story to inspire others to consider home birth, as long as they're prepared for the unexpected.

Theirs is a tale of what happens when the cozy planned delivery unfolds so fast the partner has to be the midwife. While "precipitous labour" does happen in rare cases, says Katrina Kilroy, a midwife and the president of the Association of Ontario Midwives, couples like the MacEacherns needn't fear the consequences.

"The vast majority of the time, with a healthy normal term delivery, when babies come fast it's because things are working really well," she says.

The MacEacherns had found the perfect spot for their home birth: the bright master bedroom in their new home. They enrolled in hypnobirthing classes and worked with their midwife throughout the low-risk pregnancy.

When contractions started the night before Andrew's birth, the couple didn't think it was their moment. By about 7 a.m., their doula told them the timing of Ms. MacEachern's contractions indicated the baby was, indeed on the way. And it was coming fast.

"Despite that, there was no crying. No freaking out," says Ms. MacEachern, who credits the classes and midwife advice with keeping them calm. "We might have been freaking out if we hadn't taken the classes."

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"[Calling]911 didn't even enter my head," says Mr. MacEachern, as he bounces Andrew in his arms. Instead, he set about making up the delivery bed.

"I didn't have time to get stressed out," he says. "At that moment I dialed it in."

The original plan had been to use layers of shower curtains and sheets on their bed. But garbage bags would have to do. Still, he had time to let his self-described penny-conscious Scottish roots influence him on the choice of which linens he could sacrifice. "I went for the white towels. You can bleach them," he says.

Baby Andrew came so fast that by the time his head appeared, it was only 8:30. Mr. MacEachern remembered that going slowly would be the key to avoiding tearing for Ms. MacEachern. After he guided Andrew's second shoulder out, "He picked up speed," and was out by 8:34.

"Admittedly, I counted fingers and toes," he says. He placed baby on mom's stomach, checked his mouth and lightly tapped his back. (He would be weighed later: 5 pounds 13 ounces.) They had planned on leaving the umbilical cord alone for five minutes, as their midwife had suggested. It stayed intact for 45 minutes instead.

The midwife arrived at 9:15, the doula at 9:30. The midwife clamped the umbilical cord. By the time Mr. MacEachern did the stereotypical new-dad umbilical cord cut, "It was anti-climactic. What's the big deal?"

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Mr. MacEachern says he did make one rookie mistake. He forgot to drape the baby in a blanket and he was losing heat. But otherwise, the pair are now almost evangelical that home birth not be considered a risky, fringe endeavour.

"We're both so pleased we did it naturally," says Ms. MacEachern. "There's this idea that using a midwife is granola. It's not. We're Bay Street."

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About the Author

Tralee Pearce has been a reporter at The Globe and Mail since 1999, starting as a writer in the paper’s Style section. She joined the new Life section for its launch in 2007. She covers parenting and family issues for the daily section. More

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