My waters have just gone", "Did you get that? It's starting!". Were the two texts that I received in quick succession as I sat at my desk at work, from my wife, Elizabeth. My stomach went cold, it was happening, my mind went completely blank.
Three years before this, I had the same intense feeling when Elizabeth and I rushed into hospital at 4am after her waters broke at 34 weeks. Our first son, Lucas, was born by c-section and spent 3 weeks in the Special Care Baby Unit. We had planned a home birth, so this caught us totally off guard and the whole experience had changed us both forever. I was adamant that we'd not have a baby in a hospital setting again.
Although the care our son had received was very good while in hospital, I was particular frustrated by not knowing what was planned for my wife and son and only finding out by constant uncomfortable badgering of medical staff. I felt disregarded and ignored by the medical professionals, almost unwelcome. I was sent home each night, even when my wife was in labour. It was horrible having to leave them both each night in a sterile, stressful and foreign environment, day after day. I spent each evening trawling the Internet, reading frightening stories of premature baby deaths and maternal mortality. Pretty dramatic, but not having your wife to talk to, or any medical professional providing reassurances, it was stressful, and I became increasingly paranoid over the course of 3 weeks.
As a result I felt very detached from the labour, birth, and the immediate time afterwards, I was a visitor, not fully committed or responsible for my own son. When we finally did manage to get our son home, it felt like an epic battle had been won, and we were both physically and mentally exhausted by the experience.
Talking about the experience with my wife was and still is difficult, I feel extremely guilty and angry that I was not able to support her in the way that I wanted to. When we talked about having a second child, it was tainted by our first experience and it was at this point we decided to seek alternatives to ensure the natural, home birth that we both wanted. We agreed that independent midwifery was the best way to ensure that we would get the right support to achieve this.
We first met Viv and Andy at our house, and I was surprised by how they were unphased by our concerns and provided sensible solutions to mitigate these. It didn't take long for us to decide that we wanted them to support us during the pregnancy. Throughout the next couple of months I could see that Viv and Andy were building my wife’s confidence in herself to have the baby at home. I also started to feel very comfortable with the prospect of a home birth and clear in the role that I would assume. Simple, practical things, like a itemised list of home birth essentials, and being able to talk through other people's experiences of home birth with Viv and Andy were reassuring.
The pregnancy progressed normally, Viv and Andy supported us through a number of challenges. First, liaised with our hospital (in case of necessary medical intervention) to gain agreement on a number of requests, such as allowing both our independent midwife and me into the operating theatre if a c-section was needed. Secondly, helping to get a doctor to prescribe antibiotics to be administered at home, as my wife had tested positive for group b strep.
It was 37 weeks and 2 days when our second son, Isaac decided it was time. When I arrived home, my wife was wandering around the house, seemingly unstressed and content. I was anxious, but fuelled with adrenaline, with a sense of excitement, a similar feeling that I experienced when I first met my wife. I was excited by the prospect of welcoming our son into the world.
We spent the next hour preparing the house for the birth, in a relaxed manner. Viv arrived to administered the first dose of antibiotics, and stayed for a while talking with Elizabeth and then left, to allow us to experience early labour as a family. Throughout the labour, Viv and Andy had very good intuition when to be close, and when to leave us to our own devices. Elizabeth and I were feeling assured and continued the day in a close to normal routine. Elizabeth was now getting infrequent mild contractions. Andy arrived later on to administer the second dose of antibiotics, while I made dinner for my son and put him to bed as normal. Andy suggested that we try to get some sleep in readiness for full blown labour, and she was going to stay the night. This was the stage of labour that I had previously been sent home from hospital, I was now venturing into new territory, I was Captain Picard of the Starship Enterprise, bolding going where I'd never been before... I promptly fell asleep.
In the morning, we had arranged for Elizabeth's Dad to come and take Lucas out for the morning. While Lucas was out, Elizabeth was still only getting intermittent contractions and it felt like things were not progressing. We were just waiting for something to happen, I filled the time, doing jobs around the house. I also pumped up the birth pool and prepared it ready to be filled. When Lucas woke up from his afternoon nap, I took him to the shops to get some essentials. The whole time I was out, I was not concerned, as I knew Viv and Andy were at home with my wife, and would call immediately if anything changed. We quickly grabbed all the things that we needed from the shops and rushed back home. Still no change, Elizabeth was looking tired, but did not seem to be stressed or uncomfortable. She took advantage of the birth pool, and stayed in it for a number of hours, the contractions were starting to get slightly stronger as this point.
Again, I fed and put our son to bed as normal and went to discuss the next steps with Viv and Andy, between them, they had been with us for the last 24 hours. At this point, Andy suggested a sweep, which we discussed and agreed to, as we both wanted the labour to progress. Elizabeth was also anxious that we'd run out of antibiotics before Isaac was born. To be honest, the labour was starting to be pretty boring, like waiting in line for a roller-coaster. Initially, you're all full of anxiety and anticipation of the prospect of being thrown upside down with your legs hanging in the air. Then after a few hours, you just want to get on it for the opportunity to sit down. I spent the time sitting close to Elizabeth, reading on and off, there if she needed me. I might have taken the occasional power nap.
I talked with Viv and Andy about non labour related subjects, while we all kept one eye of Elizabeth. I had been told earlier in the day, to watch out for 'transition', the time between the first and second stage of labour. They had said Elizabeth may become withdrawn, less tolerant of conversation and generally distant. I've seen enough horror movies to realise that this was akin to waiting for a zombie/vampire/werewolf to turn, hence I kept a close eye on her and sat closest to the exit.
Elizabeth started to become withdrawn from the conversation, I noticed Viv and Andy kept looking at her and then looking at each other. Was this 'transition'? Elizabeth was working through each contraction with grace, I had expected more groaning, shouting and “why did you do this to me” type comments. But, it wasn't as dramatic, the labour felt spontaneous, natural and normal. The lights were dimmed already, and there were candles burning softly, I knew this is what Elizabeth wanted and I was happy that we'd got to this point.
However, the contractions seemed to intensify over a number of hours, then quickly started to abate as midnight closed in. Labour was stalled, Andy and Viv went away to discuss it together and came back with a plan of action. Firstly, they suggested that an internal examination would help identify the baby's position. Andy talked through what she was feeling, it was bizarre, but it was what I wanted, a second by second update. Isaac was stuck, his head had engaged slightly to one side (asynclitic). He was also “back to back”. Viv and Andy suggested a technique called, “spinning babies” which involved Elizabeth getting into all sorts of positions during contractions to shake, jimmy, wiggle, nudge, sieve Isaac into the correct position. It was during one of these positions that there was a gush of fluid and Viv called Andy into action, who had gone for well deserved lie down. Andy checked our baby's heartbeat and commented that he was not showing any signs of distress.
Things started to accelerate, Elizabeth was now having intensive contractions and was feeling the need to push, though still working through these with internal strength and determination. Andy periodically took Elizabeth's and babies pulse, I think she was surprised how calm both were, she dubbed our unborn son “Ironman”, nothing was going to shake this little baby, I stayed close to her to support her, but didn't crowd her. Viv and Andy were there too, providing non-intrusive support, which is what she wanted. Elizabeth tried different positions to help move the baby along, and settled on all fours.
Viv and Andy were lying on the floor, with torches (it was dark), looking like two intrepid cavers, waiting for baby's head to appear. I was intrigued, I wanted to see what was going on. Viv and Andy seemed excited, this relaxed me immensely, as I felt the arrival of Isaac was going to be very soon. After a series of intense pushes later, possibly spanning 1 or 2 hours, time had become irrelevant, Isaac was delivered onto our living room floor and my wife picked him up and held him. She looked exhausted, but was glowing with happiness. The roller-coaster was over, I was glad to get off, but I had enjoyed it. I was given Isaac to hold, while Viv and Andy delivered the placenta and dealt with some bleeding. This was done with such a high level of professional efficiency and calm, that it wasn't until after that I understood that it could have been quite problematic without speedy intervention.
Elizabeth attempted to breastfeed Isaac while sitting on our sofa, Viv and Andy clear up some of the blood and gore. I sat down on the sofa next to Elizabeth and relaxed, I may have nodded off,,, Elizabeth then went to take a shower, Andy made sure she was ok, while I took Isaac into our bedroom and laid with him to sleep. In the morning, Lucas, came into our bedroom and met his baby brother for the first time. The whole experience was a million miles from what we had endured with Lucas, and it has been a great healing device for our family.
Elizabeth and I married and had kids before most of our friends so we were asked about the experience by lots of people. After Lucas was born I was asked what its like to be a dad and after Isaac was born everyone wanted to know what a homebirth is like. So, my answers, a homebirth is surprisingly unstressful and feels natural, like things are as they should be. The best way to describe being a dad, I always thought I was happy before I had children but it wasn't until after they were born that I knew I was happy.
I just want to end by saying that writing about our experience like this is not something I would normally do, but it has been such a positive experience and has had such a positive impact on our family that I wanted to share it with people and to encourage others to see private midwife care as an investment worth making not just for the birth and the care afterwards but as an investment in your family's future and making positive memories.