Homebirth – a Dad’s perspective

JR1184-33B

‘We should, though, get accustomed to homebirth being ever more the norm. To go forward, we should go back to my Grandmother’s world.’

The past is, famously, a foreign country, where they do things differently. When I learned, as a child, that my grandmother was born at home, this felt decidedly the practice of another country. It seemed something that used to feature but, like spam meat, ration books or outside toilets, had so long ceased to that it was the preserve of aliens, never mind foreigners.

When we were expecting our first child, Stanley, in 2011, a work colleague told me that his wife had had a homebirth. This seemed to me alien speak, as my views on homebirth had lain mentally dormant, un-scrutinised since my youth. My co-worker even insisted that homebirth was much superior to hospital birth. This was so otherworldly that I couldn’t compute. I could only explain it in terms of the eccentricities, invariably much in evidence, of the guy who was speaking to me. Crazy man, crazy talk, I concluded.

I thought no more of homebirth till my wife, Monica, suggested it for our second child, Brenna, born on 2 January this year. Monica is not someone whose views I can dismiss as quickly as the person I worked with. And she rapidly won me over. Others that we spoke to during Monica’s pregnancy were, however, befuddled.

“You are,” they’d stammer, “having the baby at home?” “Well, that’s the plan. But the midwife will take you into hospital if there is any need. Planning for a homebirth doesn’t mean you’ll definitely have one. It just gives you the option and you can always revert to the hospital, if that is necessary or what you come to prefer.”

Regurgitating these points, picked up from a ‘meet the midwifes’ session, often brought a close to this conversational line. Presumably, those who moved the conversation on were content to see homebirth as a vehicle for maximising your options. To those who showed more interest, I’d explain how it might help, particularly with the first stage of labour, where being as relaxed as possible assists. The hospital being an unfamiliar environment not tending toward relaxation, while the home, in contrast, is wholly familiar and thus, more relaxing.

This generally persuaded even the most doubtful. One chap, though, insisted that we have the birthing pool on the ground floor, otherwise we risked a ceiling collapsing. This had been heartily dismissed as a possibility at the ‘meet the midwifes’ event, so, I replied, “has that ever really happened?” “Oh, yes,” he maintained, ensuring I had a tiny twinge of concern for our ceiling when I inflated the birthing pool in our first floor bathroom. But, as I did so, fully two weeks before Brenna was born, I pushed aside this misgiving, reassuring myself that the midwifes must know what they are talking about.

‘Be prepared’ is the Scouts motto and, we thought, we were acting in that spirit by getting the pool inflated, and keeping it so, at an early stage. At this time, action stations always appeared on the horizon. I’d go to sleep thinking, “this is the night that our daughter will arrive”. Then wake up the next morning to find that she hadn’t. The action stations were so regularly mirages that I stopped believing in them. There was a part of me that believed Monica would always be pregnant and the birthing pool would forever dominate the bathroom, without ever being used.

A few year days before Brenna’s birth, rather tactlessly when speaking to a German friend, I compared our wait with the Blitz, in the sense that initially it felt like it must end soon. But our wait went on a few weeks, as the Blitz went on for years, after a while, it just seemed normal that Monica was on the verge of giving birth, as grim acceptance marked London’s fortitude in the face of the Blitz. There are no conditions to which a person cannot grow accustomed, as Tolstoy said.

He had, of course, never given birth. That appears to me not a condition to which we accustom. No matter how excellent our midwives are, or how relaxing our homes, it can only be endured. Brenna arrived at 4.45pm, little over an hour after the midwives did. Thankfully, my colleague was right: homebirth was a quicker and smoother experience than Monica experienced with Stanley. But still not, pace Tolstoy, an experience she could be said to have become accustomed to.

We should, though, get accustomed to homebirth being ever more the norm. To go forward, we should go back to my Grandmother’s world. As challenging as birth inevitably is, Brenna’s homebirth was preferable to Stanley’s hospital birth, incurring less cost for the taxpayer, as no hospital bed or treatments needed to be paid for. Homebirth can help families meet the challenge of birth and the NHS the cost of remaining affordable in an ageing society.

follow Jonathan on twitter @Jonathan_Todd

Suzanne and Thea

SH&RH pregnant

If at the start of my pregnancy, you’d asked me how I hoped I would give birth, I would have informed you that natural childbirth, not to mention a drug free, pain free one, was a myth!  And then I would have gone on to tell you that the only possible way our baby was coming to join us was via caesarean section.  Now, this isn’t a birth story where I turn a full 360 degrees, and tell you my daughter glided out into a pool at home with me smiling, and yogically breathing my way through labour.  Almost but no, not quite like that!  But my view of birth and my approach certainly changed as my pregnancy progressed, and my wonderful midwife Clemmie, was one of a number of people who played a part in that.

Throughout and since my teenage years I’d been told war stories of the pain of childbirth and more importantly, the aftermath and scars that are left, both physically and mentally on the female body.  I think women tell these stories partly to exorcise their own perhaps unhappy memories of difficult births, and also throughout history  we know that in small communities, women assisted younger women through pregnancy and childbirth, sharing experiences and aiding and teaching future generations of mothers.  So I think it’s mostly well intended, though it left me with such a fear of the butchering my body would undergo, that I spent my twenties telling people I didn’t want children!

But as is often the way, I entered my 30s with my biological clock ringing in my ears and after a long struggle, we were delighted when we got pregnant with our first child.

Around the time that Clemmie was assigned as my midwife, two other things happened that influenced my opinion of how I might give birth:

A friend recommended I read a book called Birth Skills by Juju Sundin, an Australian obstetric physiotherapist.  To say it blew my mind is an understatement.  It was the first time that I truly understood both the physiology and psychology of labour, and I began to believe that my body ‘knew’ what to do.  I learnt that labour pain is not the pain of illness or disease, but the healthy pain of the uterine muscle working.  It’s just a muscle that works hard, gets tired, and aches.  I accepted that though a part of me would be in pain during contractions, the rest of my body would be pain free!  And that it would only hurt for the duration of the contraction.  And I grew to accept that as I can’t control the pain of a contraction, why waste precious energy and time trying, why not put my energies into something else.  It also felt like the first time that someone was saying, you’re afraid of the pain of childbirth? You’re absolutely normal!

This message was also reinforced when I hired a doula named Milana Silva.  She believed that you could achieve a peaceful pain free birth though the power of the mind, but she also told me a doula was there to support the mother in anyway she needed, and if that meant assisting her though a c-section, or discussing an epidural, a doula is there for you.

And then there was the wonderful Clemmie, who listened to and answered my many questions, talked through my worries and concerns, and allowed me the time to work out my own birth plan.

The other truly important message of Birth Skills, (and that of my doula and midwife and mum) was that no matter what happens during your birth, the important part, the truly important thing to take away with you, is that you did your best for you and your baby, and it doesn’t matter how they arrived, what matters is they’re here.  You meet your baby!

So, how did my beautiful daughter Thea eventually join us?

I experienced Braxton Hicks from about the middle of my pregnancy, and I often wondered how I would know that I was having actual contractions.  But 3 days before my due date, I went to bed one Tuesday evening, and just as I was drifting off to sleep, I knew.  It suddenly felt different.  I glanced at my husband Rich who was sleeping beside me, and decided that until it was truly time, I wouldn’t wake him.  I then spent the next 9 hours making a note of how long each contraction lasted and how far apart they were.  When Rich woke up at 7am he said, “someone’s been wriggling around all night”, to which I replied, “someone’s been having contractions all night!”

I texted Clemmie and my doula to warn them, and attended a pre planned appointment with the consultant at Kings.  This appointment had originally been booked in to discuss their preference to not allow women aged 40 and over, to go beyond 40 weeks.  But on examination, I was told I was 2cm dilated and the lovely consultant,  said, “I’d be surprised if this baby wasn’t born within the next 48 hours!”

So off home I went to busy myself through the early stages of labour.  On the advice of Clemmie I baked a cake!  Two cakes actually!  I think secretly she likes to eat cake when she visits her ladies, but she says it’s a good way to take your mind off things!  I went for a walk to buy ingredients and had to stop quite often to breathe though the contractions, all the while thinking, OMG I’m in labour here, actual labour, but here I am walking along Lordship Lane buying cake ingredients!!

By the time we went to bed on the Wednesday evening, the intensity of the contractions was starting to increase.  Though Rich had been following me as I walked around the house, massaging my back with a wooden massage roller, I decided it was time to use the TENS machine I had hired, only the week before as a last minute decision.  Oh how glad I was that I hired it!  The TENS machine was perfect for me.  I paced the bedroom floor (as Birth Skills had taught me), focusing on my breaths and counting through the contraction or rhythmically repeating, healthy pain, healthy pain, with the TENS doing its thing on my lower back.  My little walks would take me to various baby girl dresses that Rich had hung up around the house, some of them with our 3D scan picture attached!  A sweet reminder of who we were about to meet.  In between contractions I sat in a comfortable chair in the corner of our bedroom, with the sound of waves playing quietly on the iPod.  I love being by the sea and had adored swimming throughout my pregnancy, so the wave sounds were hugely comforting to me.

On Thursday morning both Clemmie and my doula arrived and both commented on what a peaceful and serene scene they had entered into.  When I think back to my early fears I had not imagined any of this!  After examination Clemmie told me I could move to the pool if I wanted.  From a fearfully planned c-section to a birthing pool that was sitting in the dining room!  So you did do a full 360, and your baby did calmly glide out into water you ask?  Well no, not really, as two contractions in the pool later and I was yelling loudly to anyone who would listen that water alone does not cure pain! What was I thinking?!

But the next game changer then arrived in the shape of gas and air.  Oh it was Heaven!  For the next few hours I floated about in the warm water, with a fantastic chill out playlist playing in the background, and blissfully declared my love of entonox.  Really, this bit was just lovely.  I must have felt pretty ok throughout this stage of my labour, as I apparently offered pizza to anyone who was hungry and directed them to the freezer!

But as is often the way, things changed a little.  I became pretty worn out (by this time I hadn’t slept for two nights), and Thea became a bit stuck (holding a hand up by your ear will get in the way of your route through a birth canal y’know!).  Eventually, and happily, we transferred into hospital.  An epidural and some forceps later, and Thea was born on Thursday evening at 22:51, an hour and 9 minutes before her due date.  In the theatre a radio was playing Don’t Take Away the Music by Tavares.  Yes, baby was born to the sound of disco!

In the weeks after Thea arrived, a few people (on hearing my birth story) said, what a shame you ended up in Kings, rather than birthing naturally at home.  But honestly I look back and I don’t mind, nor care, that Thea was born in a theatre at Kings.  My birth choices were mine.  I’d educated and empowered myself and though of course was scared of the unknown, felt, if not confident, comfortable on the day I went into labour.  Not how I had originally imagined it at all.  From the early days of wanting a section, to deciding to buy a birth pool, and eventually to having the epidural, I was happy to make these choices for my baby and I, and they were all good choices at the time.  I learnt to be prepared to deviate from ‘the plan’ and trusted that it would all be ok, whatever happened.  The important thing is that I got to meet my daughter Thea.  How she arrived is really irrelevant.  She’s here and she’s amazing.

Thea 1st pic Thea feet