I had approached my pregnancy as I did with everything in my life; with spreadsheets and books! I read everything I could on labour and pregnancy, including Ina May Gaskin's brilliant books. We (much to the delight of my husband, Sam) attended various classes during my pregnancy including a Natal Hypnotherapy course in Wimbledon and an active birth class with Janet Balaskas with an emphasis on yoga positions for labour. I also googled (incessantly) anything, and everything, related to my pregnancy.
We planned a home water birth and the pool was blown up on the weekend I turned 40 weeks (due date was 10 August 2014) and we felt ready for labour to commence. I had a 'to-do' list for my husband for during and post labour, a cool-box ready for our food/drink during labour and various A4 sheets pinned on the wall which described the various acupressure points for pain relief during labour. However, a few issues presented themselves during the latter stages of my pregnancy which potentially jeopardised this which I will explain below. This taught me that giving birth is such a phenomenal blessing which is beyond control, despite my best efforts to the contrary!
On 18 August 2014, during a routine ante natal check carried out at home when I was 40 weeks + 1 day, a midwife, whom I had not seen previously, carried out palpation on my bump and suspected our baby may be breech. I could not believe it. All previous ante natal checks had identified our baby (given the monkier Beatty) as head-down and, by this stage, 4/5 engaged. I had an emergency ultrasound at the hospital the next day which confirmed our Beatty was breech. I was devastated as I believed our planned home birth was an impossibility and I was naturally concerned as to any consequences of the breech presentation in relation to our Beatty's health/safe delivery.
We decided to attempt to turn our Beatty by means of an ECV which is a procedure carried out by a consultant to try and manually turn babies in utero. After the ECV failed to turn Beatty, we started to consider our options.
As I was 40 weeks + 2 days, the hospital wanted me to sign a consent form to have a C section on Friday 15 August 2014. I decided to wait for spontaneous labour to commence so did not schedule the C section. I had been practicing Natal Hypnotherapy for the majority of my pregnancy. This, I believe, gave me the confidence to trust my body's ability to give birth naturally and to trust my instincts, both of which led to our birth story I describe below.
I was keen to understand my options, beyond a C section. I therefore asked the midwife whether a virginal birth was a possibility. However, I was told that a vaginal breech delivery within the NHS was a “dying art”. So, after I was discharged from hospital, I spent the evening/into the early hours of the next day frantically researching breech presentation and the possibility of vaginal breech delivery. I was so worried about the situation we found ourself that I could not sleep. I searched Google for “natal hypnotherapy” and “vaginal breech” and found Ruth Atkinson's birth story. I emailed Ruth at an ungodly hour desperately hoping she would reply to my email. Time really was of the essence given the late stage of my pregnancy. I was truly grateful when I saw Ruth's reply in my inbox at around 11pm at night. One of the things she said which gave me an element of hope was “All is not lost. It is still possible to have the birth you want...”
Ruth kindly spoke to me the following day and shared her birth story which was, strangely, not too dissimilar to mine in respect of the breech diagnosis late in her pregnancy and her desire to have a vaginal breech delivery. Ruth told me about the wonderful Maya Midwives who had supported the safe arrival of her breech daughter, vaginally, at home. I therefore wasted no time and contacted Andy at Maya Midwives on Wednesday 13 August. Andy discussed our circumstances on the phone and then sent me various information by email to read on breech presentation, including Jane Evans' AIMS guide 'breech birth what are my options'. Interestingly, Andy was also a breech baby herself.
Andy and Viv of Maya Midwives then came to our house the following day to discuss matters in person. My husband and I digested all of the information and decided we would engage the services of Maya Midwives, together with two other midwives, Kathryn Weymouth and Liz Nightingale, and opted to continue with our home birth. I was so happy to have the support of Andy and Viv, both of whom shared similar views to Sam and I as to natural birth.
For various reasons, the NHS was still involved in our birth plan for a short while after this. The NHS was concerned that we were opting for a home birth and exercised increasing pressure to seek to highlight their views on breech delivery. This was at odds with our informed decision to have a home birth and only served to add to what was an already stressful time.
By 41 weeks, our baby had still not arrived. However, the midwives recommended that I ought not to do anything to try and augment labour, whether that be reflexology, acupuncture and/or a membrane sweep as it was important for a breech baby to come when it was ready, or opt for C section. So, it was a matter of (patiently) waiting.
All the while, I was getting many messages from friends/family wondering if we had had our baby. As each day went by, I was getting increasingly more anxious as I knew post 42 weeks would bring further issues to bear. We had booked a fetal well being scan to check our baby's heart beat, amniotic fluid and blood flow to the placenta for the following week. I was not overly concerned as, in my view, there is perhaps unnecessary significance placed on the 'guess date'; many people had said to me that babies come when they are ready. In France, for instance, full term is considered to be 41 weeks so there are different interpretations of 'full term'. Our baby continued to be very active with lots of kicks which the independent midwives said this was a good indicator of baby's well being.
Maya Midwives therefore embarked on 'Project Relaxation' as it seemed apparent that my body/mind were in a state of flux given the issues of the preceding week. I believed that I would not go into spontaneous labour until I switched of my 'thinking brain' and allowed my primal brain to engage, something I learnt in Natal Hypnotherapy. Project Relaxation was a lot of fun and involved making a belly cast of my bump, decorating candle holders (blue peter style), acupuncture and lots of candle lit baths.
At 41 + 6 days, my contractions started at 3.45pm on 23 August 2014, while eating strawberries and cream in the garden on a lovely warm day. The contractions were irregular and not very strong. We were convinced that this was another false start.
After a little break from the contractions, we retired to bed. However, by 8.30pm the contractions were coming more frequently and with increased intensity. We called the independent midwives; Kathryn was watching an open air screening of Grease Lightning!
My surges were concentrated in my back so my husband massaged my back with increasing force to counteract the sensations. I also used the TENS machine. My contractions continued but did not seem to progress sufficiently therefore the midwives retired to bed.
I continued to have infrequent contractions throughout the night. We all woke up around 7am and, as my surges continued in a similar manner, the midwives decided they would give my husband and I privacy to seek to encourage labour to progress. Once the midwives arrived back at 8.30am, I was in established labour. The midwives did not carry out any internal vaginal examinations, rather they read my behaviour to assess progress.
I had never really considered where I would labour in the house but, in the event, I remained in the bedroom. I recall it was a lovely sunny day outside but we kept the curtains closed to create a more 'safe' enclosed environment. The Natal Hypnotherapy relaxation music was playing in the background for the duration of the labour and we had lavender essential oil in a diffuser. The midwives were very respectful of our own space and left my husband and I alone for much of the time. I do recall the midwife giving me an amazing massage (she is a trained masseuse) on my lower back.
My waters broke in our bathroom during one of my contractions at around midday. I realised we were getting ever closer to meeting our baby!
My husband and I were prepared for the transition stage from labour to pushing. However, I do not recall this period in the labour, nor does my husband; although, in retrospect, it may have occurred when I asked the midwife if I could use gas and air. I think this was a moment of slight panic in my mind when I knew I was entering the final stage and thought I may need assistance. I was gently discouraged from using gas and air and I was happy to proceed without it. I did have 2 paracetamol at some stage but not sure they would have had any effect whatsoever!! I did, however, use my TENS machine throughout labour and found this really helpful for easing the effects of the surges and it also served as a distraction, together with the tools I learnt with Natal Hypnotherapy which were invaluable.
I recall the sensation of our baby's bum coming out and then her legs dangling out of me. It felt like our baby and I were doing a little dance with one another. The midwives said that they had a great view of two rosy bums! I could then sense when our baby's body had unfolded outside of me. I recall looking through my legs and seeing our baby's body hanging there, with her head inside of me. Phenomenal.
We had kept the sex of our baby a surprise so I was constantly asking the midwives if they could discern the sex. As our baby passed urine, with her upper body still inside of me, they could tell it was a girl.
I did not have another contraction to push out our daughter's head for just short of 5 minutes; it felt like a long time. The midwives were not too concerned as our daughter's lips were peeping out of me and her lips were opening and closing to take in air. The only time the midwives intervened was to lightly move the cord to allow our daughter to breathe at this stage. As no contraction came, I pushed without a contraction and our daughter was born at 4:17pm, exactly 14 days after her due date, weighing 8 lbs 9 ounces It was the best feeling.
Given established labour started around 8.30am that morning, labour was fairly quick. I also had a minor tear which did not require any stitches.
We all moved to our bed with our daughter in my arms while the midwives tidied up around us. One big bonus was that a student midwife in attendance used to be a chef so she made an amazing breakfast for us of eggs, bacon, spinach and tomatoes – beats hospital food any day!
I will treasure forever the memory of the three of us snuggling in bed that evening. If we had given birth in the hospital, my husband may have been asked to leave us that evening which would have been awful. This was another (of many) advantages to a home birth.
If we had booked an elective C section, which the hospital proposed, our daughter would have been born on 15 August 2014; that was not her time. In fact, the midwives noted that our daughter did not show any signs of being particularly over her due date. We were delighted she came naturally on her true birthday, and not a date fixed by a hospital.
We named our little breechling Estelle Augusta Barker from Charles Dickens' novel, Great Expectations. A strong, formidable character which we hope Estelle will be, too.