Our first son Lucas threw us headlong into the experience of childbirth and parenthood. Our plan was for a home birth in water. Instead, he arrived six weeks early by c section in hospital. He spent most of August that year in the special care unit and, once I was discharged, I stayed there with him. We emerged a family of three, slightly battered and bruised but in many ways stronger than before. That experience taught us many things:
It taught us that childbirth and babies are not things we can control,
It taught us what fear really feels like because at the time we had no idea what having our baby at 34 weeks would mean and we had no one to reassure us or explain,
It also taught us we had to fight for our family because no one would fight for us.
When we found out we were expecting our second baby the happiness was tinged with worry. We decided before I was even pregnant that this time we would look into employing independent midwives, and I will forever be grateful we did. We planned to meet several midwives before choosing the right ones for us. In the end I didn't need to, as soon as I met Viv and Andy I knew they were just the people we needed.
The rest of the pregnancy progressed with a few difficulties and hurdles, all of which Viv and Andy supported us in overcoming. A b6 supplement helped the nausea making pregnancy with an active toddler a little more manageable. I still struggled with sickness throughout the pregnancy but significantly less than first time around. Then a diagnosis of being Strep B positive and a hospital who wouldn't prescribe antibiotics for home birth looked set to ruin our plans, again, our midwives helped us find an alternative and got us a prescription from my GP. I had just started to try to come to terms with having a hospital birth again and then I got a text from Andy telling me I could pick up the prescription. It felt as though Viv and Andy were right by our sides making sure we got the birth we wanted if humanly possible! It was becoming clear to us that there was a lot of "behind the scenes" work going on liaising with our hospital and GP, writing letters and doing research. We really appreciated all of it and I was gradually starting to see how different things were going to be this time. We had kind, genuine, experienced people to support us. However the birth turned out, that was priceless.
During the anti natal appointments both Viv and Andy spent time chatting and getting to know our family. They included our son Lucas in all the appointments and as a result he became interested in and took ownership of his brother right from that early stage, he also started to be interested in the human body and what goes on under our skin. He really grew to like our midwife visits and was excited that Viv or Andy were coming. Once, when they cancelled because they were at a birth, Lucas was quite disappointed. He also renamed his Catwoman figure "Viv" for a while because both of them have a motorbike! All this time spent in a relaxed way together meant Lucas was not at all surprised to see our midwives in the house during the labour and was neither worried by it or over excited by it, it was just something he was used to.
Thankfully I made it to 37 weeks this time and so the second hurdle standing in the way of our longed for home birth was over come. At 37 weeks and two days on a Tuesday afternoon my waters broke. First I sent my husband a text to make sure he was on his way home and then I called Viv. When labour started during my first pregnancy I was in hospital, having had my waters break at 34 weeks and not knowing what that would mean for my baby. I was anxious, alone (my husband had been sent home) and it was my first baby. When I felt contractions starting I went to tell the midwives on duty that I thought I was having contractions, they told me "so is everyone here" and laughed when I suggested calling my husband to come back, he wasn't allowed to come back until the next morning. They didn't move from behind the desk so I went back to my room. They didn't check on me once through that night and only checked on me in the morning when my husband arrived saying I had called him and insisting they let him in. By that time I was 9cm dilated. In contrast, when I told Viv my waters had broken she said "how exciting", then after a short chat told me she would be there within the hour. After that conversation I felt a rush of relief, I could labour in peace because Viv and Andy would be there and would make sure we were okay. I hadn't realised I was worried about this aspect of the birth until I felt the weight of it lift. It was the afternoon, Lucas was asleep and both Viv and Paul were on their way, labour felt imminent but hadn't started and I didn't have to go to hospital. I really savoured that time.
Viv came to give me the antibiotics I needed and as I wasn't yet in labour she left us to have dinner and put our son to bed together. Labour built gradually overnight and then seemed to tail off the next morning. I slept a little on the sofa and moved around the house enjoying the fact that I was in my own home and that it was dark and peaceful. I thoroughly expected my baby to arrive over night and I think Andy did too as she stayed overnight after giving me my second dose of antibiotics. He had other plans and I climbed into bed in the early hours resting and napping a little until our son woke up. The next morning I found my body needing to move and I was quite uncomfortable sitting down. So I walked and swayed in our living room as things continued to build and then ebb away during that day. I have no idea how far apart the contractions were and to be honest, most of the time, I wasn't that interested. My focus was on simply responding to what my body needed and to fully experiencing what was happening. Viv, Andy and Paul all respected the fact that I like to be independent and focus inward during labour. They sat back, chatted to me when contractions eased off and left me alone as they built up. I hardly noticed when Viv or Andy checked my pulse and baby's heart rate it took seconds and they came to me rather than asking me to lie down as hospital staff tend to. After each check they would reassure me all was well and I would continue. I was grateful to have people I trusted in the room with me and found having Andy and Viv there a great comfort. It was also incredibly important for me to share the experience in it's entirety with Paul, he knew to sit back and let me labour in peace but this time he was part of the birth process and we were able to discuss and debrief afterwards. He knows me better than any other person and I trusted him to just be there unless a situation occurred where I needed him. During our stay in SCBU he had done constant research, reading our son's notes and writing down anything he didn't understand to look up in the evening. He had been the one in the end to reassure me that our son would, in all likelihood, be okay and he was the only person to say anything positive after Lucas' birth telling me "he's perfect you did brilliantly". Thankfully this time no such situation occurred. I knew he was with me even if he was playing with our son in the bath and I knew whilst he was there I didn't need to worry. He also knew how important it was that me and the baby were together and that I got to bond in the way nature intended, he very deliberately played a supporting role and even decided he didn't want to cut the cord because it represented a separation of mum and baby. We had experienced enough of that to last a lifetime.
At some point during that day I spent a lovely half hour in the shower then tried the birth pool. Utter bliss! If it weren't for Viv and Andy encouraging me to move this baby I think I would still be sitting there today relaxing and semi sleeping between contractions.
As the day drew in to evening the labour still seemed to keep stalling and so Andy did an internal examination and checked our baby's position. It was refreshing to have this presented as an option rather than a necessity and to make a decision. It seemed our baby was back to back and his head had dropped into my pelvis at a strange angle (reaffirming that you can not control babies or childbirth). I was getting tired at this point and we were heading into the second night. Our wonderful midwives had basically moved into our house by now, goodness knows how they managed their own families during this time. It was clearly time to stop enjoying the birth pool and to start getting this baby where he needed to be. After a little chat with Andy in the kitchen Viv came back to offer us a technique called spinning babies (Gail Tully) to get our baby into a position to be born. At this point the contractions were building and my first instinct was to stay in the water and have everyone leave me alone, deeper down I knew I was tiring, I couldn't refuel because I struggled to eat or drink anything without being sick and I wanted this baby born naturally. I needed to take action. I agreed to try the technique and it was an incredible experience.
We went through several exercises which Viv explained and then Viv and Paul helped me to do, each movement made the contractions more intense but also gave me a different kind of pain. I could feel a stretching and moving inside my uterus and the pain was a sweet pain like stretching a tired muscle. Whilst it was incredibly hard to deal with the extra pain during a contraction I could feel it working and I had something to focus on. It felt like a Pilates class during labour! After the side lying leg release (i will allow you to imagine or do your own research) things began to change. I finally felt stretching and the baby dropping and at some point following that the need to push. At that point I panicked, I was sure the baby was going to be born that second. Andy was having a rest upstairs and Viv was in the kitchen preparing my next dose of antibiotics. I managed to shout at Paul to get Viv and she came in to see what was happening. Once Viv was there I immediately relaxed, I can't remember exactly what she said but it reassured me that there was nothing to panic about and just having her in the room made me feel better. I have no idea how long the next stage took (Paul tells me it was a couple of hours, I still can't believe it was that long) but having experienced labour up to this point before but never actually experienced pushing a baby out I was intrigued by and focused on what was happening in my body. When you are able to remain calm and focused without pressure or interruption your body really does tell you when to push, when to wait and it does everything it needs to for this new human being to drop into the world. I had said in my birth plan that I would appreciate help during the pushing stage as I had never done this before. In reality I didn't need anyone to tell me what to do and I'm so glad Andy and Viv were wise enough to allow me to follow my own body. Firstly because I would have found being told what to do annoying and secondly because it reaffirmed for me how amazing our bodies are during birth, I really was doing this by just listening to myself. I vividly remember Andy telling me to reach down and touch the head, it was a beautiful moment to feel the reality of the baby who had kicked and fluttered inside me making his way into the world. He was born onto our living room floor in the early hours of Thursday morning and I picked him up myself and held him. Only someone who has been separated from a baby at birth can understand how that made me feel. This birth healed many wounds, some I wasn't even aware I had. I was so grateful to be the first person to hold my newborn and only to give him to his dad whist I was checked over and Viv and Andy dealt with some bleeding after the birth. As soon as possible Paul gave him back and I held him on our sofa feeling calm, tired and happy but at the same time a little sad remembering that our first son was taken away almost immediately and that we were separated for the first three days of his life. My biggest regret is that we didn't have Andy or Viv with us during that birth. I would have given my right arm for their support during that experience.
Our son Isaac was and is a beautiful healthy newborn. He took a week to really get the idea of breastfeeding and we were, again, thankful we had Viv and Andy. They were on hand to help us get him to latch on, to advise us about alternative ways to give him milk whilst he matured a little and cleared his jaundice so he wasn't too sleepy to feed, and to check him over and reassure us he was doing fine. Having experienced a sleepy premature baby who couldn't breastfeed first time around and fighting for months to get him exclusively breastfeeding (in the most part by trial and error) we really understood the value of the service we were getting.
Having a baby is life changing, our first experience taught us many things but this second birth made us rethink.
You may need to fight but if you have midwives like Andy and Viv then they will fight with you and for you, often without you even having to ask.
Whilst Lucas' birth taught us about fear Isaac's taught us about contentment. Many moments sum this up, not least waking that first morning after his birth to his older brother climbing into bed with us and our children meeting for the first time. I also felt hugely empowered, that may be an overused word but I can't think of a better one. My body had amazed me during the birth and I found I trusted it and was proud of it in a way I hadn't been before.
And the lesson about not being able to control birth and babies? Well that still stands. As with most things the trick was to relinquish control, just as long as you relinquish control to nature and your body rather than medical staff and hospital policy!