I knew before I got pregnant that home birth was for me. I had been feeling broody for some time, and to satisfy my cravings until we could start trying for a baby, I decided to search the internet for birth stories. I stumbled across www.homebirth.org and became hooked.
I had previously assumed, like most people, that babies were born in hospitals and that birth was one huge crisis – waters breaking in the supermarket, the woman suddenly screaming in agony, a mad rush to the hospital and the day saved by doctors with forceps and drugs. But the stories I read were a revelation; here, birth was peaceful and natural with the woman in control and with surprisingly little talk of pain. I had to know more, so I put my research cap on and over the next few months I read everything I could find on the subject of home birth. I won’t tell you here about everything I discovered, but I was both surprised and pleased to learn that for a normal, low risk pregnancy home birth is perfectly safe and can avoid many complications that can arise from an over-medicalised birth in a hospital.
More than the safety though, was the sense that I would be in control in a safe, relaxing, comfortable environment. As I have suffered with anxiety attacks in the past, I knew that feeling safe would be paramount to a good birth experience. I had been talking to my husband, Chris, about the subject, and although he was apprehensive at first, he trusted my opinion and after doing his own research he was soon a convert. We were sold and ready to start trying to conceive. I would have a natural, drug free, home birth.
Five months later the sought-after blue line appeared, and three days after that the morning sickness arrived too. I’ve since met lots of women who claim to have had bad morning sickness “oh I was sick every day” or “whenever I cleaned my teeth” but let me tell you - that would have been a dream for me. I was sick every time I went near any kind of food or drink, and horrifically nauseated all the times in between. I couldn’t even sip water without vomiting bile and after no food or drink for 4 days and losing 9lbs in weight; I was eventually admitted to hospital for rehydration with a diagnosis of Hyper-remisis Gravidarium. My plan for a drug-free pregnancy was out of the window as I needed anti-sickness drugs every 90 minutes just to function. This lasted until week 16, by which time I had also developed Pelvic Girdle Pain (also known as SPD) and was finding walking increasingly painful. All in all I wasn’t enjoying pregnancy! Still, I was determined that home was the place for me.
At the same time I was having increasing doubts about my NHS midwife. While she was perfectly open to my home birth plans, we weren’t exactly hitting it off personality-wise and the simple fact that we were limited to a 10 minute appointment every couple of months wasn’t helping. I had questions about the birth and wanted to get to know and trust the person who would be delivering my baby, but when I raised these issues I was told there was no time and I would have to wait until my 34 week “risk assessment” before we could talk about anything. At the same appointment my dislike of a blood test (I hate needles) provoked the remark “You need to think about pain relief – how will you handle birth if you can’t handle a blood test?” I knew that if this woman turned up on my doorstep when I was in labour I would not want to let her in. We decided to look into independent midwifes instead.
We are not especially wealthy and the thought of laying out several thousand pounds for a midwife was rather daunting, but we decided that no event was more important than the birth of our child, and agreed to take the money from the deposit we were saving for a house. The first woman we interviewed was very nice, and shared our view of birth as a natural process, but I felt like I needed to be on my best behaviour with her and that I wouldn’t be able to swear (something that seemed likely giving birth!). So we pressed on and met with Kate & Angela who were an instant success.
From the moment we met them, we knew they were the right people to help us have the birth we wanted. They gave us the confidence to stick to our birth plan and know that if there were any complications, we could trust them to guide us through them and help us get back on track. Our weekly antenatal visits were a joy; they were able to answer all our questions and reassured us at every turn. As time went on, we began to feel that the intimate moment of birth was to be attended by women who were not just midwives, but also our friends.
The 40 week mark came and went and when I was a week overdue we agreed that if I reached two weeks over, then I would see a “wait-and-see friendly” consultant for monitoring. I was adamant that I wouldn’t be induced, as I really didn’t want to get into the “cascade of intervention”. I knew in my head that my baby would come out when it was ready, but in my heart I was sure it would stay in there forever - I had visions of a fully grown person sticking out of my tummy: like when a cartoon snake eats a deer and you can still see the shape of the antlers! I was huge and fed up.
By ten days overdue I was telling strangers very forcibly and at great length why I wasn’t going to be induced (and enduring their horrified expressions) and on day 40+11 I was to be found marching up and down the high street hoping to shake the baby out! That evening I spent half an hour upside down, hoping the baby would move it’s hand, which I could feel was up by it’s head, as we thought that might cause a problem at the birth. Clearly this had some effect as at 4.30am on my 12th day overdue I went into labour.
I woke up needing the toilet – nothing unusual there – but as I sat on the loo, I felt something dribble between my legs and saw a pale, pinkish liquid when I wiped. I realised with a jolt that it must be my waters breaking, and that it was a contraction that woke me up. I called out to Chris, who woke up very excitedly and we sat and waited for the next contraction. It was pretty mild and I just sat, slightly stunned, on the toilet. This was it – I was finally going to have my baby - eek!
We timed a few contractions and they were about 5-6 minutes apart but weren’t lasting very long and were easy to cope with, so we decided to wait until a more humane hour to call Kate. I remembered that I had a TENS machine, which we had thankfully already worked out how to use, so I stuck that on to get the endorphins pumping as soon as possible. We tried to go back to bed, but I was too excited and busy dealing with contractions, so I spent most of the morning in the bathroom while Chris got a bit more sleep.
At 6am we called Kate, who said she would get Angela to come round and check on me in an hour or so. Then we called our parents to let them know the news. From all our reading and our NCT classes we were aware that early labour can be a very slow, stop-start process, so we were half expecting everything to stop any minute, hence Chris told his mum “we’re not sure if she’s really in labour yet”. Unfortunately he made this statement just at the peak of a contraction, causing me to growl “Chris – I’m in labour!” He didn’t make that mistake again!
At 7.30am Angela arrived and immediately had an impact. She placed her hand gently on my shoulder and talked me through a contraction and I realised that I had been tensing up, particularly my pelvic floor muscles. She really helped me relax and the contractions (which had been getting steadily stronger) became easier to deal with.
After checking the baby’s heart rate and my blood pressure, Angela sat with me and talked about the upcoming birth, and ways of coping with the contractions, then left us alone, with instructions to call as soon as I felt I needed more support.
I found that with each contraction I became more inward focused, and less able to concentrate on the outside world. As they became more intense I needed to hold onto something to steady myself, so I moved upstairs to lean over a stack of cushions piled on the bed. I was a little alarmed at how fast things seemed to be progressing. I had thought that early labour would be a much slower affair with spaced out, irregular contractions for most of the day. I had planned to spend that time pottering about, baking cakes to eat after the birth, but already at only 4 hours in I was feeling well into established labour. I was making a low “aaahhh” moaning sound with each contraction and had turned my TENS machine up to 3, pressing the boost button each time.
I needed some reassurance so we called for Kate & Angela to come round.
Angela arrived first and came up to see me in the bedroom. “So you decided you need us back already” she said. I had no idea how much time had passed (about an hour) “Oh no!” I thought, “I’ve called too soon” but another contraction was on it’s way and I knew that things were progressing and I wasn’t wasting their time . Kate arrived shortly after and after checking the baby’s heart everyone went downstairs and got to work inflating and filling the birth pool. I was left pretty much to my own devises, but just knowing that everyone was downstairs listening to me moan over the baby monitor was a big reassurance. I continued to cope with the contractions well, with our cats, Willow & Tara, keeping me company and rubbing their heads against mine in support, and with the exception of one where Willow decided to jump on my back at the peak of the contraction (bad timing!), I really wasn’t in very much pain .
Time had long since lost any meaning, but at some point things started to feel different. At the end of each contraction I started to feel a little bit “pushy”, not much, but enough to alarm me a little - surely we couldn’t be that far along yet! Soon Angela arrived at my side and suggested that I might want to get into the birth pool now (I later found out that the noise I was making had changed and she had realised that things were moving along). I tried to stand upright, but felt nauseated and shaky so had to cling to her and Chris for support. I had three contractions in rapid succession going down the stairs where I had to stop and lean over the banister, but I eventually made it to the living room. I didn’t realise it at the time, but I had just gone through transition.
Next I needed to actually get into the pool - easier said than done! I was really scared of taking off my TENS machine - I was relying on the boost button to get me through each contraction and the thought of coping without it was daunting. Angela reminded me that the endorphins wouldn’t wear off right away, so I would still have the benefit in the pool. I decided to brave it and after a moments hesitation I dropped my trousers and climbed in.
Aaah! The relief was immense. My heavy bump seemed comparatively weightless in the warm water and the tension in my back was eased. I immediately felt more relaxed and in control and actually had a brief break from contractions. Bliss! I hadn’t been sure until then if I would actually give birth in the water or not, but now I was convinced - I wasn’t getting out of the pool for love nor money! I settled into an semi-upright kneeling position, resting my head and arms on the side of the pool. Chris came and knelt in front of me, holding my hands and giving me occasional drinks of water.
As the contractions started up again, the urge to push was a little stronger but I was still experiencing the contractions low down and at the front and Kate and Angela were concerned that I may have a lip of cervix remaining. They told me to resist the urge and “blow the feeling away“, so I did just that - I blew raspberries on my upper arm with each contraction (I knew keeping my mouth open and my jaw relaxed would do the same to my cervix and pelvic floor). I don’t know how long I blew raspberries for, with Kate occasionally checking the baby's heart rate , but eventually I just couldn’t resist anymore and I started pushing.
It felt really good to finally be able to push, I just can’t describe how overwhelming the urge is. I clung to Chris’s arms with each contraction and pushed with all my might, Chris, Kate and Angela giving me gentle encouragement and reassurance throughout. Soon Kate told me she could see the head moving down, and asked if I wanted to look in the mirror. As much as I did, I simply couldn’t move enough to see, so I just took her word for it that the baby had lots of hair and kept on pushing. The sensation of the head moving down is something akin to trying to pass a bowling ball - big, hard and round and incredibly hard work, but with each push I could feel I was making progress which was really encouraging.
As the head approached crowning I developed terrible cramp in the back of my thighs, and cried out in pain - this was really the first time I had made any complaint throughout the labour, “cramp, thighs” I grunted and everyone leaped to massage the cramp away, Chris leaning over my head and me clinging to his legs. Kate told me to resist pushing while the head was born, so I blew more raspberries and did a small amount of swearing as I felt myself stretch open with a burning, splitting sensation. Then the head was out. I was panting for breath and muttering curses while Kate declared that I had a beautiful baby while Angela informed me that with the next contraction the baby would be born. Weirdly the head no longer felt hard - it was more like a big squishy water balloon between my legs. Kate suggested I reach down and feel the head, but again I just couldn’t move enough to achieve this.
When you watch it back on the video (that Angela was filming for us) the next contraction seemed to take an age to arrive, but I was unaware of this, concentrating on breathing. Finally the next contraction arrived and with a great slithering sensation, at 13.52 my baby was born. I heard a great big cry and I immediately became much more lucid and turned round, lifting my leg over the cord to receive my new baby. Someone asked me what we had, and I took a look - a girl! We had been so convinced it was going to be a boy we were quite shocked but secretly pleased to have a little girl. She was all slimy and covered in vernix and her little face was clenched up wailing, but she was still the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. The next thing that hit me was just how hungry I was! Giving birth is a major work out and all I’d had that day was a slice of toast, so tea and Jaffa-cakes were quickly produced and I scoffed them down hungrily.
We waited for the cord to stop pulsing before Chris cut it, then I passed her to Chris who cuddled her wrapped in a towel while I tried to deliver the placenta. Easier said than done it turned out. I spent some time in the pool waiting for the placenta to come out, but no joy. So we decided I should get out of the pool and lie on the sofa. Climbing out was difficult - I was shaking like a leaf and felt really heavy back on dry land, but somehow I made it to the sofa. My new daughter was cleaned up after having done her first, merconium poo all down her daddy’s bare chest, and put to my breast where she started suckling, in the hope this would move the placenta along. I tried pushing but it was rather scary as I felt quite broken down below, and besides I desperately needed a wee. Eventually I moved to sit on the toilet and I finally felt the placenta drop down and pushed it out into the toilet (easy compared to pushing out a baby!). Meanwhile our daughter has been weighed at a healthy 8lb 8oz and had scored 9 and 10 on her APGARS.
I can honestly say that the thought of using the gas and air didn’t occur to me during the labour, but I hate needles and there was no way I could even face having the local anaesthetic without some assistance, so the Entonox was wheeled out and boy was it good! I don’t think I would have liked it while I was in labour, but light headed and giddy was exactly what I needed to get through the repair of my 2nd degree tear. Soon the business of birth was over and Chris and I were tucked up in bed with our beautiful new baby girl, eating toast and honey and just marvelling at the whole day. When Kate and Angela popped in to see us the next morning we had decided on a name, Solace Louise - our baby angel, our star.