Mother: Rowena, 29 at time of birth
Baby: Jack , born May 2011, second baby
At my first antenatal appointment, my midwife asked me where I would like to give birth: at home or in hospital. Up until that point I hadn’t seriously considered having a baby at home, and I told the midwife that I was convinced that I would once again end up being induced at 42 weeks so I wouldn’t have any choice but to give birth in hospital. She said, though, that I could book a home birth to begin with, then if circumstances or a change of heart meant going into hospital, there would be no problem. What wouldn’t be possible, however, would be to plan for a hospital birth and then change my mind later. Well, after an unsatisfactory – to say the least – experience in hospital the first time round, I jumped at the chance of a home birth. I had only ever heard good things about home birth experiences, and the idea appealed to my inner hippie. What’s more, I was something of an ideal candidate: second birth, ground floor flat (i.e. easy transfer to hospital if necessary), address literally next door to the hospital and, as time went on, an uncomplicated pregnancy.
I actually feel that much of my ante-natal care was better as a result of my decision to opt for a home birth. Not only did I see the same midwife at virtually every appointment (in stark contrast to my first pregnancy, where it seemed to be a different face every time), I was also visited at home on a couple of occasions, making life much easier, especially bearing in mind that I had a toddler in tow by this point. There was one moment at about 34 weeks when the possibility of a home birth suddenly swung the other way towards a c-section as my baby was breech, but happily baby turned a week later following some bizarre alternative medicine and some gymnastics from yours truly. I hired a birthing pool, and it sat in my hall in a box for a month as the last weeks of pregnancy ticked by.
My midwife was determined that I would get my home birth. She believes in it and it also looks good for the maternity department if they can show that they really do give women the choice to give birth at home. She told me that she would have me referred for complementary therapies to bring on labour the moment I went over 40 weeks (something which had only become available at my hospital a few months after the birth of my first child) as I remained sure that I would be induced in hospital at 42 weeks, just like I was with my first child and my mother was with all three of her children. Not only that, she gave me a membrane sweep at 40 weeks, something normally given at 41.
Having been induced the first time round, I hadn’t experienced the natural onset of labour and, due to representations of labour and birth in the media, I rather thought it would take me by surprise. Not so. On giving me my sweep on my due date, my midwife informed me that I was 1 cm dilated and that she could feel the baby’s head. She said that she thought it would be very unlikely that I would be induced. A few days later, I went for my complementary therapies (massage, acupressure and aromatherapy – no idea if it works but it was very pleasant all the same!) and was given another sweep – by this time I was apparently 2cm dilated and 2cm effaced. The ‘show’ appeared later that evening so I cancelled my weekend plans as it was clear labour was imminent.
I’d been having odd contractions here and there for a few weeks, in fact, which was another clue that things would progress naturally this time. So when my contractions started at 1.00am Monday morning it was nice to know that it was now the real thing! My false ones had been strong enough to wake me at night too, but with all the other signs (not to mention the fact that I was a week overdue) I knew that baby was on the way. I had read all the advice about getting as much sleep as possible between contractions but I was far too excited to sleep! Not only that, the birth pool would require a good 90 minutes to inflate and fill so the advice was to get it ready at the start of labour, rather than wait until it was actually needed. My sister had arrived from the USA the previous day and was asleep on the sofa so I prodded her awake and set her and my husband onto inflating and filling the birth pool while I paced the room during contractions. We put ‘Back to the Future’ on and the next couple of hours flew by. Contractions got closer together but never really settled into a pattern. Nevertheless, I phoned (and woke) my midwife at about 4.30am as I was a little nervous about the baby suddenly coming and her having no idea that I even was in labour – particularly as this was my second labour (second ones being typically shorter than the first) and my first labour had only been 14 hours.
Well, I certainly jumped the gun on that one. 24 hours went by, during which contractions stopped and started, I got in and out of that sodding pool, my mum and foster brother dropped by for lunch, everyone managed a nap, we watched ‘The Wedding Singer’, ‘Blues Brothers’, ‘Austin Powers’ and documentaries about silent films and Burt Bacharach, Papa John’s pizza was eaten whilst leaning out of the pool, and my patience grew thinner and my energy stores shrank. I had a walk around the block to start things off again and not one but two midwives came and went – twice each. For about an hour early Tuesday morning I was kneeling over the sofa, a pillow under my head and knees, and a hot water bottle balanced on my back, asleep between contractions.
My 23 month old was desperate to join me for a paddle in the pool! The water was quite deep – and pretty murky by now – so he just leant over and dipped his fingers in. Although he was a bit worried by the sight of me hurting, just his very presence acted as mild pain relief for me. I think seeing him and touching him must have released endorphins or something. More consciously, he gave me something to focus on during contractions: I was able to tell myself, “that’s why you’re doing this; to get another one of those,” which made contractions seem shorter and more manageable. Things started to progress again in the small hours of Tuesday morning. Contractions grew closer together and my pain relief was augmented with the addition of portable Entonox canisters (surely one of science’s greatest inventions).
I was getting really fed up by this point. I’d been swindled! The second labour is meant to be shorter than the first! I really wanted someone else to take over for a bit, just so I could have a rest! I’d happily have taken up the reins again after an hour or so. Still the hours passed, but by dawn the midwives had unpacked their gear and contractions were getting stronger and more frequent. My husband and sister kept a note of the time of each contraction and over the course of the entire labour I had over 200. Yeah, ouch indeed.
The only bad aspect of giving birth in water was that I kept having to stand up to have the baby’s heart rate monitored as obviously the portable heart rate monitor can’t go in the water. So this meant standing up between literally every contraction. I did refuse once or twice. Having said that, sinking back down into the water was brilliant every time. I can’t explain just how good that felt. So I guess it evened out. Mind you, the relaxing effect of the water could quite possibly be what kept causing the labour to slow and stop, so I’m rather ambivalent towards it now.
At 8.30am Tuesday, after over 31 hours of labour, I decided I’d had enough of this, and it was time to start pushing that baby out. Apparently I wasn’t quite fully effaced yet, but the midwives said to just listen to my body and if it was telling me to push, then go ahead. My forewaters had broken but not my hindwaters (the pool was like a swamp by now) and with about three pushes of what felt like a bowling ball, the head was out, and had a cowl (membranes) over it. I have never put that much effort into a single moment before (even my first child was a ventouse delivery) and I felt myself tear in two places. It was a delicious and satisfying pain, though, like the scratching of an insect bite. The midwives flipped the membranes off the baby’s head and with one more push my enormous second child joined the family. My second stage had lasted just one minute.
Desperate to know the sex, I helped the midwife scoop the baby out of the water and immediately my eyes went between the legs. A second boy. As with my first child, I had seen the nappy area before his face! When I did look at his face, I did a double-take. He was like a clone of my first baby! They were so alike. “I’ve done it again!” I said to myself. I introduced Jack to the family and midwives and held him close to me in the water. He’d had almost as tough a time as I had and was a bit pale and floppy, but a few cuddles soon sorted him out. My mother missed the birth by about 15 minutes but arrived before we left the water. Jack was taken off to be weighed (9lb – “It’s a big one!” came the cry from the other room) and I stumbled, shaking, out of the pool. I asked for an injection to speed up the delivery of the placenta but was told that with a second birth the afterpains were likely to be very strong. It took a while, but eventually I squatted over an old washing-up bowl (I wonder what they’d have used if we hadn’t had one?) and delivered the placenta naturally. Apparently this too was a big one!
I lay back on my sofa to have my stitches done. Four lots of local anaesthetic were administered but not all of them took, and I screamed as I felt that needle go through me. I’m convinced that I made more of a fuss during my stitches than actual childbirth but witnesses disagree! The midwife also informed me that I had the wrong colour hair as it was the same colour as her thread and she couldn’t see what she was doing! Jack was returned to me at this point and lay down in the crook of my arm. He seemed to be rooting for a feed and I was keen to establish feeding quickly as I’d had trouble getting it off the ground with my first child and even had to give him some formula for the first few days. Jack knew exactly what to do though, and even though I was lying on my back, he squirmed around to find the milk. Once again, a midwife passed comment on a feature of my anatomy: “Look at those nipples,” she said, “they’re perfect!” Apparently I have ideal breastfeeding nipples, which was news to me, since I’d initially had such trouble first time round. So that was an interesting assessment of my body: big placenta, wrong colour pubic hair, perfect nipples. Excellent.
Jack scored nine on his Apgar at five minutes – not 10 as he never let out a big, lusty cry. At the midwives’ visit two days later we were still waiting for it! As I write this he is 8 months old and has been such a relaxed, easy-going little chap. I’m convinced that a large part of this is due to his entry into the world. He was born into his home, a place where I was relaxed and comfortable, his family were all there and we all spent his first night together in our room, with no staff or other families to distract us. If asked, I always say that that was the best aspect of a home birth. The contrast between the normal, restful surroundings of my own bedroom – lights out when I chose, my family within reach – and the traumatic, crowded, noisy and alien environment of the hospital could not be starker.
Predictably, I’m a real advocate for home birth now. Western hospitals are brilliant for saving the day when things go wrong, or might go wrong, but for a normal birth you can’t do better than staying at home. I never once felt I wasn’t in control (again, hugely contrasting with my first, hospital birth). What’s more, when I took Jack for his postnatal check a few days later, a doctor told me that the risk of infection at home is practically zero. I think people worry about cleaning up the mess of a home birth, but really, one’s partner, family and midwives can take care of all that! Anyway, you’re having a baby, you need to get used to massive amounts of mess, dirt and bodily fluids. I wouldn’t force anyone to stay at home to give birth if they really felt happier in hospital, but I do think women should make an informed choice. We all know a fair bit about hospital experiences but until you’ve researched home birth as well, how informed can you really say your choice is? If you’re reading this and considering your birth options, do look into home birth as, if you are able to give it a go, you’ll regard it as one of the best decisions and experiences of your life. I certainly do.
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