I had never known that a home birth was an option for us before an appointment with our midwife, to discuss the birth. The thought of being in hospital gave me the woollies; I have a phobia of both me and other people being sick, so a labour ward was the sort of place I wanted to give a wide berth (excuse the pun). The thought of taking that anxiety out of labour was the initial appeal, but quickly other pros mounted up, and all I kept thinking was that we could change our mind at any point and go into hospital if we wanted. Planning a home birth just gave us a choice.
When I first mentioned a home birth to my husband, Guy, he was against the idea. He was worried about the possibility of something going wrong. Both our fathers are retired doctors and were sceptical, which added to his hesitance. I kept reminding him that we could transfer to the hospital at any point – we weren’t ruling anything out. It took a few weeks of mulling it over, but eventually Guy came round to the idea, supporting my decision.
Guy and I spent a lot of time preparing for the birth; Guy looked after the logistics, working out how to set up the pool and find the right adaptor for our taps (at one point he tried the shower arm because he couldn’t fit the adaptors). I focused on getting myself in the right physical condition and mind-set. I was doing lots of exercise such as yoga, swimming, step and resistance training. I was also doing my pelvic floor exercises and perennial massage. I listened to a hypobirthing track as I went to sleep at night, and also found it really useful in helping me get back to sleep when I was struck with insomnia.
Sunday 12 October 2014
I was five days past my due date when I felt my first contraction. I woke up at 1:27am to a strong tightening in my stomach that faded away. I lay still, wondering what would happen next, and shortly after felt the same sensation rising and falling.
I slipped out of bed, not wanting to wake up Guy, and went into our sitting room to lie down on the sofa. I put on my hypnobirthing track, taking the opportunity to nap between contractions, which at this point were around eight minutes apart. After two 40-minute loops of the track, the contractions were getting stronger so I put on a DVD of ‘Cold Feet’, one of my favourite TV series, to distract me and moved onto onto my birthing ball. As the contractions came, I rested my head on the arm of the sofa, rolled my hips on the ball and closed my eyes. I had set myself the target of 6:00am to wake Guy. When 6:00am arrived, I still felt pretty relaxed, so I decided to hold out for another hour. Just after 7:00am, I went into our bedroom, nudged Guy gently and whispered, “Guy, the baby’s coming”. His eyes burst open and he leapt up, “Really? Where? Now?”
Once Guy had properly woken up, I gave him an update on the past hours. Together we timed a couple of contractions, had some breakfast, got showered and dressed and at 9:00am paged our midwife to let her know that our baby was ready to make its journey.
The midwife on call, called us back soon afterwards. We chatted about my progress and how I was feeling, “That all sounds great”, she said reassuringly, “keep doing what you’re doing – lots of walking around and moving, and give me a call again when the contractions are three minutes apart, and really strong; so strong you can’t think or talk through them.” Before putting down the phone, she said, ‘Each time a contraction comes, say to yourself ‘bring it on’. The bigger and stronger; the more you’re progressing”. It was piece of advice that carried me through the labour.
We called our immediate families to let them know that we were on, and were brought to tears by a call with Guy’s mother who had explained that she’d secretly hoped that the baby would make an appearance today as it was the 12th anniversary of the death of her father, our baby’s great grandfather, a very special man.
It was a beautiful, sunny, autumnal crisp Sunday morning, so Guy and I headed out to our local park, for a walk. We picked up coffees, and walked slowly around our favourite wildlife garden, talking about our baby, its names and our hopes and dreams for him or her. Guy was keeping track of the contractions and would say, “You should be having a contraction around n…”, and on cue I would feel one rising.
After about an hour of walking, the contractions had increased in intensity and we headed home. Along the way the contractions would stop me in my tracks and I would need to crouch down on the path or lean on a tree until it had passed. During one contraction, I remember a young family passing us, smiling and giving us the thumbs up.
Once home, we reattached the TENS machine. I returned to the birthing ball and Guy started setting up the birthing pool in the back room of our flat. We had a ‘regular’ sized pool, which is 2m x 2m – it was big. The contractions were coming every three minutes but I could still think and talk through them so knew I just needed to keep going – Guy and I would count together (he’d call from the back of the flat) so I knew how long until it would pass, I knew when we reached 20 seconds that it was going to ease again.
Around 11:00am the contractions reached an intensity that I felt deemed a call to the midwife – they were very regular and quite strong (‘quite’ being a reference of hindsight). The midwife explained to Guy that she was up at the hospital with a new mother (her first delivery of the day) and that she’d be with us within the hour. When I opened the door to her, it was a huge relief and I burst into tears.
Our midwife was fantastic. Guy and I both warmed to her immediately. She walked in, sat me down and chatted to me about how I was feeling, watched a couple of contractions, checked the baby’s and my heart rates, and then examined me; “You’re 3cm dilated, I’m going to stay”. The golden words; I was so relieved.
From this point it was all about progress, ‘bringing on’ the contractions. I’d been sitting on my birthing ball, rotating my hips, using my TENS machine and breathing to relax through the contractions (pursing my lips and breathing out ‘golden spirals’), but to get things going, I needed to move around. I got to my feet and started pacing up and down our hallway, looking for places to lean as the contractions washed over me.
Guy had just served our midwife some lunch when her phone rang. I was on my way back down the corridor and my ears pricked when I heard her say, “I’ll be with you in five minutes, I’m just around the corner”. The midwife put down the phone and said to Guy, “There’s a lady round the corner pushing with her second child, I’m afraid I have to go. You’ll understand when you have a second child. I’ll be back as soon as my colleague [the other midwife on call] gets there.” And she fled out the door.
There was nothing else to do but carry on as we were going. I continued pacing while Guy started filling the pool. I remained calm for around 45 minutes before I started longing for her return. I sat myself at the front window and gazed out at the road, squinting at every car that passed, asking Guy, “Is that her?”
Within the hour, she was back. This time, when she walked in, she was wearing a smock and carrying lots of bags of medical paraphernalia. I thought to myself, “this is more like it!’ Our midwife had reached the other house five minutes before the baby had arrived – her second delivery of the day. The second midwife, had arrived shortly afterwards having had to hitch-hiked a lift in a police van (anther story in itself). It was an extraordinary day for our midwives.
The midwives carried out more checks and suggested I get in the shower for a change of scenery. As my waters still hadn’t broken, I thought it might be because I was worried about the mess in our recently refurbished flat, so I stepped into the shower thinking it might help me relax. I got down on all fours, and what a relief it was. Initially, I thought that the shower was slowing down my progress as the contractions eased, but it was actually relief from the warm water. I remained there for what I thought was 30 minutes, but was actually two hours. Guy kept popping his head round but I just apologetically asked him to leave me. I felt very calm and just wanted to be alone and focus on the contractions. The midwife intermittently, quietly and discretely, came in and checked our heart rates. Hearing the little heart beat of my baby was amazing. It was a constant reminder to me that me this was a team effort, I was not alone. My little baby was going through something even bigger than me and remaining calm. I was so proud.
At around 6:00pm, I asked the midwives what my options were – I felt like I was having contractions that seemed to go on an on – running into each other. I was disappointed that my waters hadn’t broken and I was worried it was holding my progress back. The midwives suggested another examination and then to get into the pool. The examination confirmed I was progressing well and had reached 7cm. She described my waters as ‘bulging’. In my head I was thinking, “don’t push them too hard, I don’t want them bursting on our brand new mattress”.
I made my way down to our back room where Guy had created the most beautiful space around the pool with candles and music. As soon as I saw the water I virtually dived in. As I submerged, a contraction took over me, and at the same time I felt my waters pop. The midwife tucked herself discretely to my left and Guy to my right. The midwife left Guy to do the encouraging while she wrote up my notes and calmly answered questions and monitored everything. About an hour later I started feeling the urge to push. At first I didn’t really know what I was doing but after a few attempts the midwife suggested I keep my voice low and explained that I had strong but short contractions so to really try and drag them out. I begged for a time frame, to which my midwife simply reassured me that I was doing well.
Guy was incredible – encouraging me, filling up my water bottle and reminding me to drink, filling up the pool with warm water and keeping so calm. He went through waves of emotions; laughing, crying and quietly just absorbing the atmosphere. I remember it being dark and very calm – probably because I mostly had my eyes closed. I felt very safe, focused and supported.
After an hour of bearing down I was tired. I had only eaten a piece of toast and my energy stores were getting low. Guy knelt beside me and said, your next push is going to be for Poppy (my niece). As the contraction rose I thought of Poppy’s little face and I found a new strength. Next up was my grandmother, followed by Guy’s grandfather (who’s anniversary it was), and it carried on.
Shortly afterwards we were joined by our second midwife This arrival was another huge help, I knew I must be getting close if back-up was arriving. I remember feeling something, like a little nose budging, but one more push and the baby crowned. My immediate reaction was to leap out the water and jump up and down, but the midwives told me to breath and listen very carefully as I needed to do some very small pushes to avoid tearing. I followed their instruction and felt the head deliver. I remember looking down between my legs and seeing a torch light flashing around. The midwife told Guy to join her and showed him our baby’s face in a hand mirror – its little eyes blinking and head looking around.
With the next and final contraction I pushed the rest of the body out. I reached down and lifted my baby up in front of me. The midwives spotted that the cord – which was all spiralled like an old telephone cord – had got tangled around the baby’s neck, so they both quickly jumped in and unwound it. I then lifted the baby out the water. As the tummy passed my eyes I saw that we had a daughter. “It’s a girl”, I announced, followed by, “and she looks like your dad, Guy”. In the background INXS’ ‘Beautiful Girl’ was coincidentally playing, it was a moment of my life that I will never forget.
I sat back into the water and the midwives placed my daughter in my arms and latched her on to feed – her body submerged in the pool to keep warm, with a little hat on her hat and towel over her shoulders. Once all the goodness had been pumped from the placenta, Guy stepped forward and cut the cord – separating my little baby and me for the first time. We sat for 20 minutes while the midwives filled out the paper work and made a round of tea. Guy took our daughter for some skin-to-skin and I stayed in the pool while we waited for signs that the placenta had detached. After 45 mins, the midwife stoked up an injection to speed up the process and as I stood up to have it administered, I spotted drops of blood in the water. With one final push (I really didn’t think I had it in me), I delivered it!
By 11:30pm our wonderful midwives had weighed our daughter, administered a vitamin K injection into her little leg, completed the paper work, cleared up the placenta and were ready to go. Our daughter was the third baby they had delivered that day – they are superhumas. We thanked them for everything (how do you even start to thank people who have just done what they did), and I took our baby to our bed where we rested and fed. Guy emptied the birthing pool – with a whiskey – and when it was all cleared joined us in bed. Just the three of us, our new wonderful family.