Andrea's Birth Story: a first-time mother's homebirth.
Ever since we found out I was pregnant I was looking forward to the birth. It has never been something that I dreaded or felt frightened by. Birth for me was always going to be as natural a process as possible. I believe our bodies are designed for procreation and I could do it myself if I had to, like the thousands of generations of mothers before us. I knew my body was strong enough and knew what to do, I just needed to understand the birth process better. I spent many hours researching extensively about my local midwifery services and how I could get the best care. We were lucky enough to have community midwives in our area who did home visits, supported various different choices of birth (home, midwife-led unit, labour ward), would give me continuity of care (amazing!) and were generally lovely people. I knew then that is what I needed for my pregnancy. When I got my appointment for my first meeting with the midwives I was over the moon. Getting the right midwifery care is so important – they are your rocks through this incredibly physical and mental journey which you go on. I trusted my midwives implicitly, more than any doctor, and knowing I was in the best hands possible made all the difference.
On my commute in and out of work I would read dozens of birth stories. I had fleetingly considered a home birth but when I mentioned it to my mother, who doubted the safety, I immediately put it to the back of my mind and decided the midwifery led unit birthing centre was what I wanted. But a few months later I found myself drawn to birth story after birth story of home births. Birth pools, yoga, hypnobirthing, mind over matter, trusting your body, were all trending themes that I started to familiarise myself with. We went on holiday and read Katherine Graves’ Hypnobirthing book and signed up to a class when we returned. I practised hypnobirthing from around 25 weeks pregnant and my husband really threw himself into it, reading the book and practising exercises with me. This I believe was one of the most important factors to having the relaxed birth that we did. Having a supportive birth partner is vital.
I discussed homebirths at length with the midwives – the logistics, any doubts, the pros, the cons, and my husband and I decided it was what we wanted to do. We didn’t tell anybody else – no family – they would only have made us feel doubtful again as most people are not comfortable with homebirths these days. We knew they would be surprised and it would make me feel uncertain about our choice. This was one of the best things we did! Keeping it a secret meant we wouldn’t have to answer any of those questions, but what if something goes wrong? Isn’t it better to be in hospital? Don’t you need doctors nearby? Are you sure the midwives can do it by themselves? So I researched homebirths like crazy. I think I read every possible homebirth story on the net! We had lists after lists from different people online and those who I had met via my lovely midwives of what we would need for a homebirth. We were ready. Between 38 and 39 weeks pregnant we inflated the birth pool and did a dry-run. Two days later my husband kissed me goodbye for work and I felt a twinge in my tummy. I can only describe it as a mild tightening. As the day wore on and the tightenings continued, I thought this must be Braxton Hicks. I hadn’t had any as yet and as I was so completely convinced our baby would arrive late, I ignored the twinges. The rest of that day was spent rearranging the bedroom, swapping our wardrobes so my husband would have easier access to his clothes without the cot in the way, up on a chair hammering a nail into the wall to hang a picture, and on the odd occasion feeling this tightening sensation in my tummy. It was the hottest September day since 1911. It was 32 degrees with no wind. It was the only news item on the BBC all day. My cat was crashed out on the bed. My husband missed the train home and asked me to pick him up from a different station. ‘I am 9 months pregnant and it is the hottest day on record, and you want me to go out in a hot car?’ Nonetheless I picked him up and we returned home. We spoke about my tummy twinges. Its probably Braxton Hicks we both agreed. The previous Friday I had had a Reflexology appointment – I had never done it before but had a taster and it seemed relaxing. I was clear with the lady that I didn’t want it to bring on labour (some women do this when they are 40+ weeks) but wanted to relax only. That night I had my ‘show’ although it was clear with no blood. I continued to have the ‘show’ for the days afterwards. We remarked that it couldn’t be the proper show as it had been clear and ongoing for days. Back to the Tuesday evening and my tummy started to feel some more intense cramps. They would come in waves. I didn’t really acknowledge it at the time, my husband asked me if the feelings had increased in intensity or frequency. I had no idea. I hadn't been noticing them through the day so really couldn’t say if they were getting worse or not. He rolled his eyes at me. It was 10pm by now and I was alternating between the swiss ball and using my yoga breaths on all fours doing figures of eight – this made me feel like I was concentrating on something I knew about. During the 10 o’clock news off I went to Dr Google and asked what was the difference between Braxton Hicks and real labour pains. A feeling of intensity starting in the tummy and moving round to the lower back, increasing in frequency, increasing in strength…. Ok, maybe these are labour pains then. My husband ran me a candle lit bath with oils and put up the hypnobirthing images I had printed off – hot air balloons, ripples in a stream, large bubbles in the air. The bath didn’t do much to alleviate. I just found it a little uncomfortable to sit in as the space was restricted. I remember my husband emailing his boss to say something may be happening and he might not be in the next day. I thought that was a bit extreme and said to him he was being silly. I think it was after the bath that I acknowledged this may be labour. The surges were getting uncomfortable now, this was about 11pm. I got out of the bath and we put the Tens machine on. Luckily I had two machines as the first one didn’t work for some reason! I panicked slightly but hubby came to the rescue and got the other one up and running. One tip – don’t have a bath with oils if you plan on putting the tens machine on. The pads kept slipping off! Albeit I think this may have been a good thing actually as it distracted me and I kept frustratingly having to slide them back into position during a surge. I didn’t use the word ‘surges’ during the birth, but looking back on it I don’t think we ever said the word contraction either. I think the midwife said it once towards the very end so I really did not feel I had any negative language around me during the labour process.
With the Tens machine on, distracted by the buttons and reading the instructions, I asked my husband to bring me the duvet and pillow from the bedroom. I felt comfortable in our bathroom and wanted to be on the floor on all fours, with my yoga golden-thread-breath. Wow did I breathe out that golden thread. Over and over I did it, alternating golden thread with the Up breathing from hypnobirthing. I found the best imagery to be my uterus muscles pulling upwards. I really envisaged it doing what it is supposed to do, imagining it pulling up and I would also be encouraging the baby down, saying ‘well done’ and willing he/she to keep doing such a good job. I did this over and over. Yes you are noisy. I couldn’t help but cry out with the waves of intensity. I found it comforting to cry out into the duvet, to muffle my sounds but also this made me feel more private. I was alone in the bathroom, as I wanted to be, in my zone of breathing and imagery. It was 12.30pm and with both of us sure this was it, my husband called the midwives. The stars were shining on our baby that night! Of all the lovely midwives we had in our community midwife team, Emily answered the call. Emily had been with us once a week for six weeks doing our ante-natal course. We had gotten to know her well and every week I would ask her whether the team had had any successful first-time mum birth stories that week. By the third week I didn’t need to ask anymore, she would tell me straight away after greeting her what the homebirths had been that week! Emily was our little stroke of luck that evening. She was on call for the last night before a 3 week holiday. It couldn’t have been more perfect for us. Emily had said it would most likely be a number of hours so to get as much rest as possible and call when anything more happens. We had prepared a hospital bag in case of any eventuality. We wanted a homebirth but neither of us were going to ever argue with a professional if they tell us they think we should go into hospital – I wholly trusted my midwives so if that’s what they recommended then I knew I would be doing anything they said. I rummaged into our hospital bag and with my husband trying to get some sleep, I set about making some Super Noodles. ‘Remember to eat food’ I kept thinking. My husband later told me that amongst the clattering of pans and the fork swirling my noodles around, he would hear me mid-contraction. I would be dropping to my hands and knees as that was the only comfortable place to be, and then up again getting my noodles cooked as quickly as possible. Back I went to the bathroom with my noodle bowl and tried to eat as much of them as possible. I remember seeing the bowl teetering on the edge of the bath after the birth with a maximum of three forced forkfuls out of it. My amazing husband had downloaded a contraction-counting app which kept me focused and together with my yoga and hypnobirthing breathing and being wrapped amongst the duvet, it was all I could think about doing now. At 2.30am I called out for Ben and asked him to call the midwives again. On all fours with my hands hanging from the door handle my husband looked at me and suggested maybe we should leave it another 30 minutes. Queue the only time during my labour that I lost some composure with my dear husband. He meant well, he didn’t want the midwife to come over and tell me disappointingly that I was only 2cm dilated. Needless to say; by my reaction to his suggestion of another half hour wait, he was immediately on the phone paging the midwives.
During the call I felt an incredible urge to push and said so fairly loudly to Ben. I can’t remember thinking ‘I wonder how dilated I am’ or ‘I wonder how much longer there is’. I never had any thoughts of ‘when is this going to be over’. I just knew my body was dealing with it as best as possible and it felt ok. I was sitting on the toilet by this time with quite intense feelings of bearing down, leaning on the toilet roll holder which was attached to the wall (this still needs fixing since then – I leant on it so hard I forced most of it off the wall…) He came back with the news that Emily was on her way. I felt a huge sense of relief. Having gone through my whole pregnancy entirely believing that if I had to I knew I could give birth by myself, when the time came, I could not have wished more for Emily to arrive. There she came, the angelic face of knowledge and calm! I was in the best hands now. We moved to the bedroom for an examination and Emily told my husband and I those lovely little words ‘wow you’re 10cm’s!’. The best news! I vaguely noticed my husband urgently rushing around trying to fill the birth pool. We were waiting for Linda the second midwife to arrive. I was on the bed and really writhing around in discomfort. This was the only time during all of my labour where I really felt uncomfortable. My body was telling me to push but I couldn’t push yet. The second midwife wasn’t there. Emily gave me gas and air which I took with heavy deep breaths. I tried and tried not to grind my teeth down on to the spout. ‘Keep your jaw relaxed’. Those hypnobirthing words kept on repeating themselves to me. I noticed Emily laying things out and getting bits and pieces ready. She was in and out of the bedroom with my husband. Ben would occasionally be able to bend down to me and give me reassuring squeezes and eye contact. Reminding me to breath. Telling me how to use the gas and air properly as I had no idea and I was breathing it in but not breathing out into the tube. When I started to use it properly I felt very light-headed so gave it a break for a few breaths. The light was on, our cat was desperately intrigued with all the activity and jumped on the bed to join me. I remember trying to wave him away. I needed my bed-space. Those 30 minutes or so spent in the bedroom were by far the toughest. Going against what my body wanted to do. I had been so in tune with my waves of contractions and encouraging my body to do what it should. We were working well together, my mind, my body and our baby. It was 4am and Linda arrived through the door. Another wave of relief! Now we could get the show on the road. I was told to move quickly into the pool. I went as quick as I could, I felt like I hurdled over the pool into the water. Lovely water. A healing element. An earthly feeling of warmth, safety, relief, readiness. My darling husband had turned off all the lights and we were all together by candle light. Hypnobirthing music was on in the background and I felt calm, positive and relaxed. Emily coached me through the pushes. I would have struggled without her. She kept me controlled and I followed her every word. My husband nestled himself in the corner outside of the pool. I was crouching over the edge of the pool, only able to see Ben in his corner and my hand he was holding. He didn’t complain when I squeezed it beyond recognition during those pushes. The warmth made me feel a little sleepy and my lower back was really feeling some pain. It had all happened so fast, they were still filling the pool trying to get the temperature right so I asked Emily to place the hose over my lower back. I felt the rush of freezing cold water which was lovely (only for a brief moment before the cold was too much – almost like brain-freeze but for my muscles). ‘The baby is in a perfect position Andrea’ Emily kept telling me reassuringly. I channelled my thoughts of appreciation and encouragement to my baby. I remember taking a moment to look into my husband’s eyes, those eyes that I would soon see in our baby we were about to meet, we told each other we loved each other, he told me how well I was doing. I so needed his words. There was a brief point where I felt exhausted by the effort. My whole body, every particle, my every being was pushing to help the baby out. My back was arched and my neck high. I felt like all my body was stretched beyond any physical effort I had ever made before. I have nothing but admiration for those women who are not so fortunate as me and have to push for many hours. What a physical feat. No person who hasn’t given birth will ever be able to understand the physical force that your body goes under during this stage of birthing. I knew where I was, I knew who was there, I knew what I was doing, I knew we were close, I was listening to Emily, but the few seconds that I would have to push, I was on my own, in my own calm darkness, using more power from my body than I could ever imagine I was capable of. Throughout the pushing stage Emily was telling me very carefully when I needed to breath rather than push. I did exactly as she said and this I believe is what made sure I had no tearing. I had used the Epi-no and perineal massage which helped too but I’m sure it was more that I wasn’t pushing when I just needed to breath the baby out. I felt our baby’s head come out, what a relief. Another big push, Emily told me, and I would get the baby’s shoulders and body out.
I felt a slithery featherweight release and it was done. Emily told me to step back and pick up my baby. I moved back and in the dark -light saw a little body float up towards me. Instinctively I gently took our baby out of the water and there, presenting herself to us, was our daughter. A little frown as her skin hit the air and she wailed out loud. I sat back in the warm pool, with our baby daughter close to me and her daddy holding us both. I don’t know what thoughts went through my head. I’m not sure any did. I was in the moment, taking in this vision of new skin, grey and watery, seeing tiny nails on fingers, the meaty purple lifeline still pulsing between mother and baby. Here we were, this scrunched little being who had decided to arrive and say hello a week early taking her mother by huge surprise and leaving her father somewhat unemployed from the many activities he had practised and prepared for during what was sure to be a long labour. I was in awe of our determined little baby, of the ease of my labour, of the beautiful moments we had just experienced together, growing from a team of two, to a team of three. She was perfect, Ben declared her as our baby Penelope sooner than I had registered that we had had a girl. My husband says I had a look of shock and awe on my face, telling him ‘it’s a baby!’.
We waited for the cord to stop pulsing and with one snip by Ben, from one moment to the next, baby and mother were two independent bodies. I held her a little longer, lowering her into the water to keep her warm. The placenta contraction wasn’t coming. Ben took Penelope into his arms so I could concentrate on this third stage. I remember looking over to my husband, now new father, seeing him holding our bright pink little heap of skin, she was instinctively clutching onto his chest. A perfect vision of protection.
The placenta came in one contraction and I pulled it out of the water, marvelling at the job it had done for us both over the previous nine months. What a magnificent life-giving organ. Emily explained to us what part of it had held Penelope and what the other parts of it had been doing. It had kept our baby safe and well and my body no longer had any need of it. Time for a shower and was it the best shower ever. Given what the body has just performed, looking back on it, it was amazing that I was immediately up and over the pool, moving slowly but comfortably into the shower, showering and seeing the same four tiled walls as I do every day, except this day I had our baby in the next room. The body has an incredible amount of energy after the birth. I was standing up in the shower and towelling off without a problem. I felt tired but fine. It’s easy to overdo it when you feel like that. Hormones are a wonderful thing!
Baby and mother were ushered into bed, tucked up and the kettle boiling ready for a cup of tea. We all sat on the bed talking about Emily’s forthcoming holiday to Japan and what had been our favourite places to see. Ben made us some bagels and toast and Penelope latched on for her first feed. What a nice change to have fresh milk! It was 6.30am and the midwives left us to it. The three of us lay in bed, Ben and I having to tell each other what had just happened as we couldn’t quite believe it. We decided to ring family to tell them the news at 7.30am. We lay there for an hour, basking in our own pride and happiness, no one knowing of what we had accomplished other than us and the cat. I will treasure that sacred hour of purest family intimacy forever.