Home births and elective caesareans are on the rise as more women feel empowered to customise their births.

The Herald shares the stories of four women who chose to deliver their baby their own way.

Read more: Midwifes shares how giving birth has changed over time for Kiwi mums

'She came into a room of love and happiness'

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Josie Cook with her mum, dad, two brothers, sister-in-law and nephew after delivering her daughter Aubree in 2012. Photo / Supplied
Josie Cook with her mum, dad, two brothers, sister-in-law and nephew after delivering her daughter Aubree in 2012. Photo / Supplied

Josie Cook's midwife squeezed into the back of the room, crowded out by family.

Cook pushed her daughter Aubree into the world surrounded by her mother, father, two brothers, sister-in-law and 5-year-old nephew.

Having so much family around isn't everyone's cup of tea, but it was "perfect" for Cook. The 36-year-old Moerewa mum believes her family have all deeply bonded with her daughter because they had seen Aubree - now 6 - take her first breath.

When Cook became pregnant she knew she wanted to have her baby in hospital as the thought of having mess at home freaked her out. Originally, she just wanted her mother - a former nurse - in the room.

But when push came to shove it felt natural for her family to accompany her into the delivery suite.

Cook was labouring in the bathroom in April 2012 when her 21-year-old brother burst in to see if she was okay.

"He rushed in to see why I was screaming and mum and dad were casually cooking a roast for dinner. Mum and dad were timing my contractions."

As the family set off to go to Bay of Islands Hospital around 8pm Cook's other brother, his wife and their son rocked up and followed them to hospital.

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"Everyone just came into the room and never left. It felt natural and it put my mind at ease because they were all calm."

Cook had a brother on each side of her, one had water for her to drink, the other had ice to cool her. Her sister-in-law was massaging her back and her mum was at "the business end" with the midwife. Cook's dad and nephew were sitting down talking about fishing.

After another two hours of labour, Aubree was born weighing 7 pounds at 10.30pm. She was birthed still in her amniotic sac and Cook's mum caught her.

"She came into a room of love and happiness," Cook told the Herald.

"It was really emotional for mum to catch her. She has a very special bond with Aubree. They're pretty close because she was right there from the first breath.

"The first part of her body mum saw was her left ear. She has always told Aubree she'd put a diamond earring in it. We're still waiting."

Josie Cook and her almost-6 year old daughter Aubree. Photo / Supplied
Josie Cook and her almost-6 year old daughter Aubree. Photo / Supplied

Cook explained it wasn't weird having her family in the room. They were all respectful and mostly stayed towards the top of her body.

"No one did anything that I didn't want them to.

"It felt good. Probably what helped was they all had a job, they weren't just sitting around twiddling thumbs."

Her nephew visited Cook every day while she was in hospital and has a really strong bond with Aubree. Since then her sister-in-law has had another baby and the whole family were present for that, too.

If Cook had another baby her family would be invited.

"It is quite special."

'Motherhood starts when the baby comes out'

Jaydie and Aaron Forrest with their son Jesse born via cesarean. Photo / Supplied
Jaydie and Aaron Forrest with their son Jesse born via cesarean. Photo / Supplied

Having an elective caesarean took the pain and stress out of birth for one Wellington mum.

About 32 weeks into Jaydie Forrest's first pregnancy her midwife discovered her baby girl was breech, facing bottom down with her legs tucked up by her face.

Forrest did some research into turning the baby but found the success rate was only about 50 per cent. She also found there was a risk of turning the baby and then needing a caesarean anyway because of complications so she booked an elective caesarean for July 8, 2014.

But baby Aylee had other plans - on July 6 the couple didn't feel her move all day. After monitoring her heart rate which was up and down, doctors decided to deliver Aylee via caesarean a day early.

Forrest commended the doctors involved, saying they explained everything to her and didn't rush the procedure.

"You hear horror stories that you can feel what they do but more than anything it's just weird. You do still feel them pulling, it's more of a surreal experience.

"I just remember watching the clock and waiting to see what time she was born."

The doctors discovered that Aylee was wedged in the uterus and Forrest would have needed a caesarean even if they had tried to turn her.

Forrest said the whole procedure was over in about 20 minutes. A curtain is up so you don't see what is going on but Forrest's partner had a peek. After doctors checked the baby they handed her to Forrest for some skin-to-skin time and her first feed.

"People believe that you miss that important skin-to-skin time and latching in the first few minutes after birth. It's slightly delayed from double checking her but you still get the skin-on-skin and latching."

When Forrest became pregnant for the second time she decided to have a caesarean as there are risks associated with a vaginal birth after a caesarean such as the uterus scar rupturing.

"It wasn't scary, we know how they go, and most of the time doctors like you to have one if you have had one before.''

It took about four weeks for Forrest to recover from Aylee's delivery. One of the hardest parts was trying not to laugh as it hurt her abdominal muscles. When she had Jesse the recovery was much faster and it only took about two weeks before she could move properly.

Aaron and Jaydie Forrest with their children Aylee and Jesse who were both born via cesarean. Photo / Supplied
Aaron and Jaydie Forrest with their children Aylee and Jesse who were both born via cesarean. Photo / Supplied

Forrest wanted to share her birth story to encourage other mothers to deliver their babies the way they want to. The couple had shared their plan to get a caesarean on Facebook and experienced some negative and ill-informed feedback.

"It's the option we decided on after doing our research. Same as any other parent. You make the decision that is right for you.

"Motherhood starts when the baby comes out of your tummy. It doesn't matter how your baby comes out. It doesn't define how you are a mother, it's what come afterwards."

'I felt like superwoman'

Erin Elvis laboured and birthed her baby at home. Photo / Supplied
Erin Elvis laboured and birthed her baby at home. Photo / Supplied

A bad experience in hospital made one Feilding mum determined to have her second child at home.

Erin Evis, a naturopath, had her first child, Edward, in 2014. She wanted a home birth but as she was two weeks overdue her midwife wanted her to go to hospital. Evis believed her stress in the hospital made the delivery longer as stress hormones slow labour.

"It wasn't how I had planned or wanted to have my child. To me hospitals are for sick people. I was having a baby, I wasn't sick. It's a natural life event.

"When I got pregnant with Isobel I was like 'there's no way I'm going back to hospital', it would have to be dire."

Evis, 30, sought out a midwife who specialised in home births.

A water birth didn't interest Evis so she didn't need a pool. But she bought a couple of $3 plastic-lined painter's drop sheets from Bunnings to throw over the furniture in the lounge. She had enough towels and the midwife dropped off any medical supplies she might have needed.

When Evis was a week overdue in late November 2016 her contractions started. She wrote down the times they were coming as she made dinner for her son.

"I showed my husband the list of times and told him 'I think we might be having a baby tonight'."

The couple went for a walk to encourage the labour, decorated the Christmas tree, lit a few candles and Evis paced around the house. She took over the lounge where she had cleared space in the middle of the floor. Her husband would check on her but she sometimes wanted to be alone, so he'd retreat to watch cricket in the spare room.

Evis called her midwife when her waters broke at 3am. About 6.30am contractions had ramped up to active labour and Evis began to push.

"My husband held me up, I bore down and she came. I caught her and our son was watching from a few metres away.

"Before her eyes had even opened our son was trying to show her some toys. It was really lovely."

Erin Evis and her daughter Isobel - now 16 months - who was born at home. Photo / Supplied
Erin Evis and her daughter Isobel - now 16 months - who was born at home. Photo / Supplied

The family wrapped baby Isobel in a blanket and moved onto the couch for a cuddle. Evis said being at home was so relaxing.

"Being able to get into your own shower and then your own bed then just lie there and cuddle was perfect.

"My husband made me a steak for dinner. So much better than hospital food. It was the best experience. I felt like superwoman.

"My first birth was really painful but this one was all on my terms, it was nothing, it was no worse than mild period cramps."

Evis said the home birth bonded her son and husband tighter to Isobel as they both had immediate involvement. And they enjoyed not having the stress of putting a newborn in the car to drive home.

"And she's the happiest most placid baby. I feel like her birth impacted her personality a little bit."

​'I want them to go into birth feeling empowered'

Titirangi mum Danella Kaafar kept her baby Layla attached to her placenta until it naturally dropped off in what is known as a
Titirangi mum Danella Kaafar kept her baby Layla attached to her placenta until it naturally dropped off in what is known as a "lotus birth". Photo / Supplied

A slow lotus birth was the perfect welcome for one West Auckland couple's "rushing baby".

From the first contraction to birth, Danella Kaafar, 33, delivered her second daughter Layla in just under an hour, eight weeks ago.

Kaafar had planned a home water birth after having a smooth delivery with her first baby in a birth suite. The family prepared a spare room, lining it with plastic-backed picnic rugs, stocking it up with towels and adding a native bush mural to the wall.

"Being the second girl we didn't have to buy a single thing for Layla so preparing a birthing room was a way of honouring her."

Kaafar woke up at 3.22am on February 7 with a strong contraction. It was only three minutes until the next one hit.

"In my half asleep state I was thinking I'd bounce on a ball to get myself into labour, not clicking that three minutes was really close."

Kaafar rang her midwife. In the space of her four-minute conversation she had two strong contractions.

With midwives and parents on their way, Kaafar went to the toilet. Her waters broke and she could feel her baby's head. She was crowning.

Nobody had arrived yet and Kaafar thought she would give birth in the toilet. But her husband Sabri convinced her to go downstairs into the birthing pool.

Sabri went to attend to Alina and left Kaafar by herself for a few minutes.

"I had the next contraction and out she came.

"I had done so much prep I felt really really confident birthing her on my own. Everything slowed down became so still and amazing.

"It was very very fast for both of us. When I brought her up out of the water she was a little bit angry.

Ten minutes later the midwives and parents arrived.

Kaafar decided to have a lotus birth, where the baby is kept attached to the placenta until the umbilical cord naturally dries and breaks. She believed this softened the fast welcome for Layla after such a quick birth.

Danella and Sabri Kaafar with daughters Alina, 3, and Layla, 9 weeks. Layla - the
Danella and Sabri Kaafar with daughters Alina, 3, and Layla, 9 weeks. Layla - the "rushing baby" - was born an hour after the first contraction. Photo / Dean Purcell

The couple kept Layla attached to her placenta and in the afternoon, hours after birth they salted and herbed it with rose, lavender and rosemary. It fell off naturally six days later.

"The placenta is the first thing she has ever known. Something that has comforted and nourished her. So it's hers and it's her decision on when to let it go. For me that really resonated."

Kaafar was passionate to share her birth story as she wanted more women to access positive experiences. She was also keen to normalise the natural side of birth away from the medical environment.

"It makes me sad when women go into birth and they are afraid. I want them to go into birth feeling empowered."