I’m writing this story of the birth of our little boy, Leo, as a way to remember this most incredible event in my life and as a testimony to the help and support of the wonderful midwives who made my home birth possible.
I have been afraid of pregnancy and birth for as long as I can remember, probably as a result of being alone with my mother when my sister was born at home when I was just fifteen. For over 20 years, I refused to even entertain the idea of having children, but eventually, at the age of 36, I had to face up to my fears. My pregnancy was straightforward and against all my expectations, mostly enjoyable. However, as the birth drew nearer, I started to feel very anxious. I had known from the start that I wanted a home birth, but the NHS midwives were telling me that this wouldn’t be ‘allowed’ if my high blood pressure persisted. This was very frustrating, because I knew from my own readings at home that it was actually very low, only 100/60! I instinctively knew that hospital would be the wrong place for me to give birth, as I am quite a shy, private person and the thought of strangers coming and going and not having any control over my environment was awful. So, we decided to employ independent midwives as we thought they would be more flexible and understanding about my ‘high’ blood pressure. I needn’t have worried, as they were so much less threatening to me than the rest of the medical profession that my blood pressure was normal when they measured it.
The other step I took to deal with my fears was to go on a natal hypnotherapy course. This definitely helped to calm me, so that as the birth approached, for the first time in my life, I did not feel afraid of giving birth. The hypnosis techniques enabled me to unburden my fears and stop ruminating on them, encouraging me instead to visualise the birth happening in a positive way.
So, when at 39 weeks, I started having mild contractions, I felt quite calm and prepared. This was on the Wednesday evening, and being aware that things could take a while, I took some paracetamol and managed to sleep. My father arrived the next morning on his way back from Thailand and this stopped my contractions dead. Obviously I didn't feel comfortable with the idea of him being there for the birth. As soon as I went to bed that evening, they returned, stronger than before which made sleeping difficult. By late Friday evening, they were coming 3 every 10 minutes, so we called Marijn. However, although she was very sensitive, her arrival seemed to reduce the frequency of the contractions so she left in the hope that this would enable my 'shy' labour to gather momentum again.
Another sleepless night followed, and by Saturday morning, I was finding it increasingly hard to cope. I started saying that I wanted to go to hospital for induction and pain relief. When Marijn returned, she persuaded me to try to sleep before deciding. I will never forget her kindness in helping me to do so, for whenever I woke up from a contraction, she would rush to my side to soothe me back to sleep. In this way, I got a few hours interrupted sleep, which made me feel so much better that I didn't want to go to hospital anymore.
By Saturday evening, labour still wasn't established and I was starting to feel completely exhausted. So another attempt to get some sleep followed. By midday on Sunday, I was still only 1-2 cms dilated. The lack of sleep and progress were making me very distressed, so to help calm me down, my husband Nic asked our best friend to come over. She gave birth a few months ago and her presence made a huge difference to me. Nic, who had been by my side constantly, was able to get some sleep and I started to cope much better. Viv had also arrived by this time, to give Marijn some relief, as she must have been exhausted too. Viv was fantastic in helping me with my breathing and encouraging me to keep my eyes open to make the contractions more manageable. I spent a lot of time distracting myself by looking at a picture of a Hindu deity that a friend had embroidered for me, forever to be known as my ‘birth goddess’.
By 8 pm on Sunday I was 6 cm dilated, so finally things were moving! Although I was still very tired, knowing that I was progressing was a huge psychological boost, which meant that I was coping much better with the longer, stronger contractions of established labour than I had been with the weaker pre-labour ones. By 3.30 am on Monday morning, I was fully dilated and got into the birth pool to start pushing. The natal hypnotherapy really helped at this point, as it enabled me to relax completely in-between contractions. Nic just had to say '321 relax Nina' and I would instantly relax and almost drop off to sleep. For me, the pushing was the most satisfying part, as I felt that I was finally doing something productive. After what seemed like just a short time to me, I was surprised when Viv told me that I had been pushing for 3 hours, and therefore I should get out of the pool so that gravity could help the baby descend.
It was a tremendous effort, but somehow, even after three and a half days of pre-labour and 13 hours of established labour, I found the energy to do it, and after another half hour, Leo arrived, a strong and healthy 3.4 kg. However, it wasn't over yet, as unfortunately a couple of hours after the birth, I lost quite a lot of blood and had to go to hospital, where I spent a couple of days and had a blood transfusion. This last turn of events didn't upset me at all though, as I was just overjoyed that despite such a long labour, I had managed to give birth at home, with no drugs at all and no tearing. Coming back home to my birthing space was a very positive emotional experience. I am so happy that my birth memories are in my own home, not left behind in a windowless, anonymous delivery room.
I firmly believe that without Viv and Marijn, I would have ended up in hospital, where my long labour would have been seen as a ‘problem’ requiring the ‘solution’ of induction and pain relief. Instead, they had the patience to let things happen in their own time, which enabled me to have the best birth I could have had.