Although my son Jacob had been born 3 days after my due date, I was convinced that this baby would arrive sooner as I’d been having so many Braxton Hicks contractions. But, despite a false start a week before, my due date came and went. Everything was pretty much ready for my home birth, but on Wednesday night I decided that we needed to be properly ready and put together a “hospital bag” and checked off the list that our midwives Viv and Andy had given us.
Whether I had sense that things were imminent, or whether those final preparations gave me the push I needed, I don’t know. But at 5 a.m. the next morning I woke up to the sensation of my waters breaking. I was relieved to see that they were clear as my plans for a home birth with Jacob 3.5 years earlier had been scuppered by the discovery of meconium at this stage. On getting up I was also surprised to note that I had no pelvic pain at all – something that had been an unwelcome feature of the last few months of my pregnancy. Thinking that labour might not begin for a while I decided not to wake my husband Laurence or call the midwife and instead try to see if I could go back to sleep. But at 5.45 it became clear that sleep wasn’t an option so I woke Laurence and called Viv, telling her that my contractions were 4 minutes apart and already quite strong.
Laurence helped me with the TENS machine and then went downstairs and started getting the birth pool ready. We had done a hypnobirthing course and I was also planning to use various exercises and breathing techniques from my pregnancy yoga class, but as the contractions started to get more and more intense I found myself making a sort of sing-songy groaning sound with each, which helped me to get through them. At first I was standing and holding onto the edge of the cot with each contraction, but around 6.45 I felt the need to crouch down. This change of position triggered another contraction and suddenly I felt that things were really intense and happening really fast and that I needed Viv here NOW! Even though I knew she’d be arriving any minute I still made Laurence call her as I had a sudden sense that the baby was on its way.
My noises must have got louder at that point because the next thing I heard was Jacob waking up in the next room. Each time I groaned he copied me and groaned back, and I remember thinking that later on I’d find that very amusing but at the time I was just thinking “Where the hell is Laurence?!” Viv arrived a few minutes later and Jacob joined us in the bedroom along with one of my cats. He was not at all perturbed by mummy’s strange noises and behaviour, and was just grinning wildly, evidently thrilled at all this excitement first thing in the morning. My mum arrived shortly after and got Jacob ready to go out.
After he woke up my sense that the birth was imminent faded but the contractions were still intense. Unfortunately I did not find my TENS machine as effective as it had been with my first labour, particularly as the electrodes kept coming off, so I decided to try the shower instead. This proved to be a good move as I could direct the water onto my belly, where I most needed it, as well as onto my back. The cool air from the open window was also very pleasant as I was sweating from the hard work of labour. (Just as I was getting into the shower I heard my mum come up the stairs and whisper to Viv, asking how far apart the contractions were. Before she had a chance to answer I screamed at her to go away – which apparently was a sign that I was pretty far advanced!)
Viv sat quietly observing me, just occasionally checking the baby’s heart rate or telling me that I was doing great. I did wonder what Laurence was up to downstairs but also realised that I didn’t need him. I strongly felt that I had to do this on my own and didn’t want to interact with anyone else – and anyway there would have been no room for him in our tiny bathroom. I stared out of the window and just went with the contractions. I had worked out by now that if I tried crouching down then there was no let up between contractions, but if I stood up very straight – almost leaning backwards – then I could get some relief in between. So when Laurence came in to tell me that the birth pool was finally ready, I wasn’t sure what to do next. I knew the water in the pool would give me extra support but I wouldn’t be able to stand up in the birth pool. Also, I had told him to make it 35?C so I was worried that it would feel too cool after the hot water I’d got used to from the shower. And with the contractions coming one after the other, I just couldn’t see how I would even make it down the stairs. On the other hand, I didn’t fancy giving birth in the bath, so at some point I just decided to go for it.
I managed somehow to make it downstairs and into the pool just in time for the next contraction at 8.15 a.m. The water was cooler but I asked Laurence to fill it up with hot water from the hose to get it up to 37?C. The sensation of the hot water coming through the hose was very nice as was the feeling of being in the pool. Again I stared out of the window, with Laurence and Viv behind me. Shortly after getting in I must have gone through transition as I started feeling a bit sorry for myself. I didn’t want to allow myself to say “I can’t do this” as my whole birth preparation had been about saying to myself “I can do this”, but I did express the thought “I just need a little break” as the contractions were still coming back to back with no chance to really relax and recover in between.
Then, at 8.30, I suddenly started bearing down and pooed in the pool and made a noise like I was vomiting. Luckily I was so spaced out on natural endorphins I was unaware of how murky the pool became after that – or if I was I didn’t care! I knew that the vomiting sound and poo meant that I was now in the second stage and soon enough I could feel the baby’s head coming down. I had to put my hand over my vagina to stop the feeling that I was going to split open. It was scary to think what I needed to do next – Jacob had been born by ventouse so I hadn’t fully experienced this part of labour before. Although I don’t remember it, Viv later told me that I adopted some unusual positions during this stage, lifting my right leg up like a dog peeing! Presumably this was my body’s way of making space for the baby to come out. At some point Laurence came over to ask me if I wanted to practice some downward breathing (part of our hypnobirthing practice), but I just told him no, as I just felt I needed to do what I needed to do, and didn’t feel I could take any instructions at this point.
During the second stage the contractions changed and I was aware of the baby sort of wriggling down at one point. Thankfully I was able to relax and recover after each contraction during this stage, so I finally got the “break” that I’d wished for. At one point the head nearly came out, only to go back up again. Viv reassured me that this was normal, but it was disappointing nonetheless. As the birth became imminent, Viv suddenly turned to Laurence and said “hot towels for the baby!” and he rushed off to get them. At 8.50 she announced that she could see lots of dark hair and I reached down and felt for myself. It was actually quite lovely to feel that supersoft baby hair floating around in the water. When I finally pushed the head out at 8.52 I wasn’t sure it was completely out and actually had to ask. Viv told me that it was and that the body would come with the next contraction. But when I finished pushing with the next contraction that didn’t happen and so she immediately ordered me out of the pool.
We’d chosen independent midwives Viv and Andy because we wanted continuity of care but also because we wanted people who genuinely believed in natural birth. When Viv said I had to get out I knew that she must have a good reason for saying so. She could see that this was a big baby and might need some help getting out, but touching a baby while it is underwater could potentially trigger a gasp reflex. Somehow, despite my big belly and having a baby’s head between my legs, I hopped out of the pool, just leaning on Viv’s shoulder to negotiate the high sides. Normally my pelvic pain would have made this very difficult, but from the moment my waters broke I was unaware of any pelvic pain during my labour.
I stood at the edge of the pool and held onto the sides as Viv gently guided the head forward to release the first shoulder and then gently back to release the next one, and I pushed with all I had to get the baby out, which she did on the next contraction at 8.56 a.m. Viv passed the baby to Laurence to pass up to me. As everyone I met during my pregnancy was keen to tell me – friends, relatives or even complete strangers – I was huge, and I realised that I might be having a big baby. I had had a glucose tolerance test at 28 weeks, but this came back completely normal, ruling out gestational diabetes. Nevertheless, it was a scary moment when the body didn’t come out spontaneously as I was aware of the possibility of shoulder dystocia with big babies caused by GD. But, as it turned out, the shoulders weren’t stuck at all, they just took a bit more pushing to get out because Gina was indeed a very big baby, weighing in at 10lbs 9oz. (She showed no signs of GD either – she was just a very chubby baby!) It was a huge relief to see her as she was passed to me and to hear her little mewing cry. Just as she arrived, so did our second midwife Andy, who’d been called 15 minutes earlier.
Despite being several days past her due date, Gina was covered in lots of vernix, which together with her weight meant it was quite hard to hold onto her and I thought I might drop her. I was helped over to the sofa, where we got to know each other. Her agpar score was 9 showing that she had not been in any distress despite the delay in delivering the shoulders.
The afterpains were quite strong and I soon felt that the placenta needed to come out. With a little help from Viv I gave a big push and out it came at about 9.25, which was quite a relief. A few minutes later Andy cut the cord. I had wanted to see if Gina would do a breast crawl (where babies instinctively crawl up to the breast after birth and latch on by themselves) but the afterpains were very strong and I was just too uncomfortable lying on my back. So I lay on my side and helped her to latch on. She started feeding at 10.20 and fed beautifully for well over an hour, and was then weighed and checked over.
I did have a slight graze on one side as well as a second-degree tear on my perineum. Viv and Andy would have sutured it but by now the endorphins must have been wearing off as my pelvic pain returned and I simply couldn’t open my legs far enough for them to do it. Instead I promised to stay in bed for the next few days so that it could heal naturally, which it did without any problem.
I still can’t quite believe that I got my home birth in the end. It was so lovely to just go upstairs to my own bed after the birth and then to have a celebratory birthday cake with Jacob when he got home to meet his new sister. I am so pleased that we decided to hire Viv and Andy as our midwives. The reassurance that we’d have people at the birth we knew and trusted, and who believed in my ability to do it all naturally, was priceless.