Marissa Heckel gave birth in her own bathroom – standing up, holding onto the towel rack, after labouring on the toilet. It was just what she’d wanted.
There was no midwife or doctor in attendance, just Heckel’s husband, who snapped a photo. There’s pride on Heckel’s face, as she holds her baby son, and there’s blood on the bathroom floor.
A few days later, she shared the photo on Facebook, and it’s gone viral, sparking off a debate about unassisted home birth.
In a post, Heckel explained that she gave birth to her daughter drug-free in a hospital three years earlier. She said it was a “horrible experience, being bullied about my birth plan and harassed throughout my labour”.
When she became pregnant with her son, Heckel decided on a homebirth, with her husband’s support.
“We opted out of a midwife due to my stubbornness,” she wrote.
“I simply do not like anyone trying to tell me what is best for me or my baby. Finances were not the issue in my case. Going unassisted was more of an opportunity for me to prove to others that God made our bodies to birth – that hospitals were never the norm.”
Heckel delivered her son after a 36-hour labour. She says she tried to find relief in the shower and bathtub, but it didn’t help.
“I just kept telling myself, ‘The pain is only temporary.’”
Listen: Tiff Hall had a condition that meant she was looking forward to birth more than most mums-to-be. (Post continues.)
She says when the contractions and the pressure came, her husband was by the side of the bed, holding her hand.
“It was actually romantic although I was practically roaring at this point. Somewhere during the time period my water gushed all over our bed. Five different times.”
Heckel says that when she felt the urge to push, it felt “unnatural” for her to stay in bed. So she asked her husband to help her to the toilet, where she sat and “let my body do the pushing”.
“Finally my husband said he could see his head. He encouraged me to keep going. He also expressed concern that our son would hit his head on the toilet or fall in (haha).”
Heckel decided to deliver the shoulders while standing, and got her husband to help her up. She held onto the towel rail, and after one last push, her son came out, weighing 4.3kg.
“I’ve never felt so powerful and accomplished in my entire life. Our bodies truly are amazing!!”
On Facebook, with her photo and story shared more than 20,000 times, Heckel has had plenty of praise: “Wow, mama, you absolutely rock!” “Legend!” “This is the level of badass I hope to achieve one day!”
Heckel is happy to have shared her story with so many people. “I’m so glad I was able to inspire!”
However, a few have expressed concerns.
“I ask real questions like, ‘What would you do if your baby was delivered blue and not breathing?’” one woman wrote. “No one can answer. Or if you had a cord prolapse? None of you know. Those are serious things to think about.”
In Australia, less than one per cent of births are planned home births, according to a statement put out by the Royal Australian and NZ College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. The college supports women having an “informed choice” about where to give birth. However, they say that even in a pregnancy without complicating factors, the level of risk involved in homebirth is “unacceptable” to most women.
“When a pregnancy has any factor that increases maternal or perinatal risk, home birth is particularly dangerous,” they add.
Recommendations for women choosing to give birth at home include having either an obstetrician or a suitably qualified midwife present, as well as making a booking at a hospital and having plans for getting there quickly.