As my first child, Miles, was born 12 days late, it was no real surprise when my due date for number 2 came and went without a murmur. It was the end of the summer holidays and I was willing the nursery term to start, having been running around after a lively toddler whilst heavily pregnant all summer – a very different experience from the first time round!
I had planned for my first birth to be at home, but for various reasons (‘failure to progress’ and a bit of bleeding in the waters) ended up having an unplanned – and in retrospect probably unnecessary – caesarean section. This was a great disappointment, so for number two I was determined to do anything I could to increase the chances of having a normal vaginal delivery (a VBAC). I decided to use an independent midwife, to ensure continuity of care and so that I knew and trusted the person who would be there on the big day. My midwife Annie was amazing, and said she was confident that not only would I be able to have a normal delivery, but also saw no reason why I shouldn’t have the baby at home, a notion that was very much against hospital policy for a VBAC. When we met with the obstetrician, she said I should have continuous foetal monitoring in case of scar rupture, and scared us by saying this could lead to brain damage or even neonatal death. The actual risk of scar rupture is only about 0.3%, so these comments seemed rather alarmist for such low odds and really not very helpful. Of course I wasn’t going to do anything to put my baby’s life at risk, and the plan was always that we would transfer into hospital if there was the slightest cause for concern.
My due date was 28th August and although I was desperate to get this baby out, I knew that Annie was on holiday until 1st September, and would not be able to attend the birth before then. So once September came, there was no holding back and I tried everything in the book to bring on labour – acupuncture, reflexology, gallons of raspberry leaf tea, and several curries – we even resorted to sex! But this baby seemed quite happy where it was. As the days passed I became more and more anxious for labour to start – I couldn’t be induced due to my previous caesarean, and really didn’t want to have a repeat section just for being overdue. My father had also recently been diagnosed with terminal cancer, and as every day was precious, I was determined that he should meet his new grandchild as soon as possible.
To my relief, after my second membrane sweep on 5th September (8 days overdue), things started to happen. That evening I had a small ‘show’ of pinkish discharge, and went to bed feeling quite excited. Sure enough at 5am the next day I woke up with a bit of a tummy ache, which soon developed into regular cramps, already only about 4 minutes apart, but quite manageable. We telephoned the midwife and she said to call back when the contractions got a bit stronger, as I sounded far too relaxed to be very far along! So I put on my TENS machine and tried to remember my Hypnobirthing breathing techniques to get me through the contractions. We turned on the TV as I thought it would be good to have some distraction, but when each contraction came I couldn’t bear any noise and had to shut my eyes and put my fingers in my ears to focus properly. I also couldn’t stand anyone touching me, so all those massage ideas were out the window!
By 7am the contractions were getting stronger, so we called Annie again and she said she’d be right over. I was breathing through each one, sitting on my birthing ball or kneeling on the floor, leaning forward into a big pile of pillows. They were still not really ‘painful’, but just felt like strong period pains coming in waves, and the TENS machine and breathing were a great way to get through them. As time went on, I heard myself making some deep groaning noises as I breathed out, which didn’t really seem to be under my control, they just happened, but by that stage I didn’t really care what I looked or sounded like, I was definitely ‘in the zone’. I found visualisation a helpful distraction during contractions too, and tried to imagine my cervix opening and the baby moving down with every breath. This continued for a couple more hours, and although I thought I’d be avidly clock-watching, the time seemed to pass quite quickly and in a bit of a blur. I didn’t want my 2 ½ year old to see or hear anything that might alarm him, so I was quite relieved when my sister arrived to take him out for the morning, and after that I felt things start to progress more quickly.
At about 10 o’clock I asked Annie if she could examine me to see how much I had dilated, as until then she had just let me get on with it and didn’t want to interrupt the flow of labour. I thought at this time that the contractions were getting very strong and closer together and I was wondering if I could cope with many more hours of this intensity, so was secretly tempted by the idea of an epidural and a cup of tea in hospital. Annie examined me and I was quite worried when it took rather a long time and she said ‘Hmm, I’m not sure I can feel the cervix at all’. What on earth did that mean?! – I didn’t have a cervix? It was in the wrong place? I obviously looked a bit panicked, as she then quickly said ‘It’s ok, that means you’re fully dilated, all I can feel is the membrane sac, just push whenever you feel ready’. Oh my God! It was really happening I was about to actually give birth; there was no turning back and definitely no going to hospital.
The next few contractions started to feel quite different, and I began to feel the urge to push. Although I had been through early labour before, I hadn’t had any experience of the second stage and it was quite an extraordinary feeling. The surges just take over your body and you feel an incredibly powerful urge to push which is totally out of your control. The midwives were invaluable at this stage, suggesting different positions to help things progress smoothly – I was squatting holding onto the edge of the bath, then hanging off the back of a chair that my husband was sitting on (poor him, a bit more of a full frontal view than he bargained for!) then lying on my side with my leg on someone’s shoulder (don’t ask me who!). During one contraction – luckily in the bathroom – there was an enormous whoosh as my waters broke all over the floor. After that Annie said if I reached down I could probably feel the baby’s head. This was totally amazing and really spurred me on to meet that little person. There was a bit of whispering about hot towels at this stage, and with a couple more pushes the baby’s head was crowning – OW! This was the only part of the whole thing I would actually describe as painful, but it was over very quickly and Annie was holding a hot flannel on my perineum, which helped a bit. Suddenly the head was out, followed by the slippery little body and then a little warm wet person was lying on my tummy. I could hardly believe it – I was lying on my bedroom floor and I’d just had a beautiful baby boy! It was all a bit overwhelming and I burst into tears, then decided it was definitely time for some champagne. The baby apparently had his hand up by his head on the way out, so I had what the midwives referred to as ‘a bit of a graze’ (!) but luckily didn’t need any stitches.
I was over the moon that I had finally had the home birth experience I had hoped for, and couldn’t have done it without the help and support of my amazing midwives. My dad was very proud to be able to meet his new grandson, although sadly passed away a few weeks later. Baby Henry was born at 11.04am on 6th September, after only 4 hours of active labour. He is a wonderfully calm, happy baby and has lovely big blue eyes, just like his Grandad.