I am not very good at putting pen to paper so I apologise in advance. I am much better at telling stories in person. That way I can throw in the odd joke when its starts getting a bit personal and raw, plus my spelling and sentence construction leaves much to be desired. However, when I saw the call for VBAC home birth stories (SPOILER ALERT: I still cant quite believe I did it) I felt compelled to tell mine. It was out of this world, amazing (something I thought I would NEVER write alongside the words labour or birth) and I think its important for any woman considering a VBAC or home birth to know, it can happen, it is safe, and it is all kinds of wonderful.
A bit of background. My first daughter was born via crash section. After FIVE hours of pushing (she was back to back) and 30 minutes of arguing against a forceps or ventouse delivery, her heart rate dropped and she needed to be born there and then. Thankfully she was fine, I was fine and I avoided a butchering of my down below from the obstetrician. I never once looked back and thought it was a traumatic labour or birth, it wasn’t ideal, there were parts I wish I had more control over. I didn’t feel cheated out of my “perfect birth”. It was what it was, I had done my birth prep, hypnobirthing and all the rest but it wasn’t meant to be. However, the recovery was hard, a c-section is not the easy way out by any means. It was something I really, really, really wanted to avoid next time round.
For all its totally amazing benefits the NHS is not really great at giving you options when it come to having a VBAC. Due to the sheer volume of births they perform they take a bit of a one size fits all approach, they have to, for a variety of reasons. The midwives were great at encouraging me to have a VBAC but were also equally as great at saying if I didn’t want one I didn’t have too, but if I did there would be stipulations…. These included (and not in their entirety) having to go to the hospital birth centre as soon as labour started (the home from home was out of bounds as I was deemed high risk), continuous monitoring and only being about to labour for a certain permitted time due to the risk of scar rupture. There would be no inductions, or assisted delivery (totally fine by me) and I wouldn’t be able to go over my due date. This was not what I wanted at all. I knew an active birth would help move things along, I didn’t want to be restricted to the bed and with my first birth I laboured at home until the very last minute arriving at the birth centre fully dilated. I wanted to do the same this time around.
After much thought, reflection and reading around, I knew that if I was to achieve a VBAC I needed continuity, I needed to feel safe and needed to be at home for as long as possible. I had started to toy with the idea of home birth, I mean, it makes sense right, you’re most relaxed when your in your own space, your body can do it thing, the evidence is there. However, working in health care you see the worst of the worst and I didn’t want to put my baby or myself in any danger, plus who am I to argue with midwives and obstetricians. Well it turns out I am a mother who knows my body and my baby better than anyone else, I did have options and I could make it as safe as possible, not EVERY birth is a medical emergency, far from it!
Given that I was high risk I wasn’t able to sign up with the home birth team.
I knew from the get go I wanted to VBAC but not for definite at home. I wanted the option of a home birth should I feel safe and in control, I wanted options, I wanted to stay at home as long as possible, I wanted to go over my due date if it was safe, I wanted the same midwife, and I wanted someone I totally trusted to advocate for me, not my husband, as his sole focus was to make sure I wasn’t losing my shit during the labour and birth.
This is where the amazing Rene from neighbourhood midwives comes in. She gave me all those things and more. I need to be careful not to make this story all about how wonderful Rene is, and that’s really hard, she is one special lady and I truly feel like I would not have achieved a HBAC without her, she’s the reason Tala’s middle name is Renée, we feel like we owe her so much for making the whole pregnancy, birth and postnatal recovery what it was. It makes such a difference having a midwife you know and trust, one that has so much knowledge, experience and compassion when it comes to birth. I had 4 midwives during my 6-hour stint at hospital with my previous birth, as well as different midwives for each appointment, not through choice. I had to move from three different areas whilst in the throes of active labour, the assessment unit, the home from home, the hospital birth centre, there was shift changes, help needed and so on. I didn’t want that again. I truly believe it didn’t help things.
Rene, my husband and I prepped, planned, and discussed, we threw multiple questions and scenarios over many hours of appointments, whatsapp messages and emails – poor Rene! We had it down, we had it sorted, I was to stay at home as long as was safe and then head to the home from home birth centre (yes we secured it after a specially arranged meeting with a consultant midwife – it turns out there was flexibility you just had to really push for it). However if I change my mind we could go ahead with a home birth. Sorry I really have gone on here!
The birth – So, I had many weeks of “pre labour” like many,many, many weeks! A few times I’d called Rene saying I thought it was game time just for the hours of regular contractions to grind to a halt. My due date had come and gone, and gone some more. I’d cancelled all my hospital appointments, as I didn’t want the pressure of a c-section looming over my head (they don’t normally let you go over). I was still having regular check ups with Rene, she kept me reassuring me when I felt things were not going to happen as we hoped. A week after my due date Rene and I made the decision to examine my cervix to see if any of this pre labour had, had any effect. It hadn’t! I started to panic a bit and went in heavy on the alternative therapies. Acupuncture, reflexology, homeopathy, aromatherapy, massage, osteopathy (I’d been having regular osteo to help with the babies position throughout my pregnancy, its voodoo and it still blows my mind but it works) you name it, I was trying it.
I was now 12 days over and really starting to panic I was going to have another section. I spoke with Rene she reassured me we still had plenty of options. We agreed she would come over that evening and examine me and we would decide if it was time to try a sweep, in the mean time I would email the hospital to make an appointment to have a discussion about the next steps. I did and no surprises they want me to come in the following morning. Luckily when Rene examined me that evening I was 4cm dilated!! Finally it had done something, see, trust your body and the process! Rene gave me a sweep, I had a show, Rene told me to relax and go and have a birth. I didn’t. I freaked out, called some friends and blubbed that I wasn’t ready for baby number 2 to arrive. I did calm down and come to my senses eventually having something to eat and then heading off to bed with some light cramping.
I woke up around 12.30am with some light and regular contractions, again wondering if this really was the real thing. We decided to call my sister who was going to take Malaya, knowing it would take her a while to get to us. We called Rene to give her the heads up and agreed she would come when things ramped up. And ramp up they did. Quite quickly. Not long after my sister arrived I was having to stand up and work through the contractions, sniffing a bottle of lavender oil like my life depended on it. I still wasn’t timing, as I didn’t want to focus on times, I wanted to focus on remaining calm and just going with the flow. Then my waters went with a big pop. I had a slight freak out that my scar had ruptured as it was such a noise and weird sensation, I reasoned it didn’t hurt, and I was being slightly dramatic.
We called Rene at this point who said she was on her way. I headed downstairs, still sniffing my lavender bottle with some force, popped on my birth playlist and my sister went to bed in the spare room as we thought things could still be a way off. They weren’t. Before long the contractions really were intense, and I was starting to make all the noises/noise. Rene arrived after 30 minutes (which felt like THE longest time ever) and I told her I needed a break, and I couldn’t do it anymore, I remember thinking at the time why the F*&k didn’t I just have the section as this was all too much, I didn’t dare say it out loud as I think Rosh and Rene would have killed me. She asked if I was pushing, I said I wasn’t but on reflection I was definitely in transition and pushing (confirmed in Rene’s labour notes which I got to keep a copy of).
Rene grabbed the gas and air at my polite (!!) request. She examined me as best she could whilst I was kneeling on the sofa and I was 8cm dilated, she said if I wanted to go to hospital I needed to go right now, I said there was no way I could tolerate the car journey, she agreed so we decided to stay at home. The second midwife was called but would take a while to arrive so Rene advised me she was calling an ambulance as things were moving along really quickly (standard procedure for a VBAC with one midwife), they arrived fairly quickly, I didn’t see them, my husband ushered them to the kitchen in order to preserve my calm birth space, where my sister was hiding as she had heard the commotion. Malaya was still sleeping soundly throughout this and did through the whole thing, I have no idea how, apparently its quite common.
Shortly after, Rene asked if I wanted to be examined properly which I did, I was fully dilated. I now started really pushing, trying a multitude of different positions. Rene was amazing in everyway, encouraging, knowing where to support, what positions to suggest and before long I felt THE BURN. Funnily enough I wasn’t scared, I was so relieved I felt it, I was doing it, it was happening. My god it hurt, labour does, it’s the reality, it’s relentless, tiring and I so wanted it to stop but it’s not unmanageable. I knew with the increasing intensity she was getting closer so I kept pushing into it. Then out came Tala! Totally gorgeous, totally peaceful and with a shock of black hair. 2.5 hours of active labour and she was in my arms. I had bloody done it!! We did immediate skin to skin, delayed cord clamping and then the placenta came. My husband and I checked about 17 times that she really was a girl – we were so convinced it was a boy. It was all over.
I then lay down on MY sofa and settled in to feed Tala, there was no rush to weigh her, she was never taken off me, we just laid there in total bliss. Rosh went off to make us all breakfast and Rene checked us over and completed paperwork. Not long after I had the most amazing bath, and then headed to bed where I had ordered a GBK (bacon cheeseburger fries and chocolate milkshake if you’re wondering) and stayed there for a whole week, soaking up the amazingness of the newborn bubble. All I did was feed, sleep and get to know our new baby, it was the best thing I ever did, and it made such a difference to my postnatal journey. My recovery was quicker, I felt more stable hormonally and felt so much more love this time around for our new baby, I really didn’t feel that immediate rush with our first, needless to say it did come, it just took that bit longer and that’s okay, every birth, every baby and each experience is different.
So, there it is. For any woman considering a home birth or VBAC or even a home birth VBAC I hope that this at the very least has given you some food for thought. Better still I hope its given you the confidence to trust your instinct, your body and your baby. You have so many options, question everything, explore everything, knowledge is power. Just know you were made to do this, trust the process and you are a god damn superwoman!!