In the weeks leading up to my due date, I was obsessively reading my friend Felicity's blog about her birth story to prepare myself. I thought I’d blog my experience in case other pregnant ladies want to do obsessive research too. I had a really positive experience so I’m keen to share it to dispel the idea that childbirth is something to be feared.
Lots of my friends have asked questions about the birth and I have been too exhausted (the joys of life with a newborn!) to answer fully, but I do want to share the details. So writing it down will save me time!
And finally, I feel that I had a really positive experience of water birth and giving birth at home and I’d like to share this in case it encourages other women to make similar choices.
I knew that I wanted to have a homebirth straight away. I’m not a huge fan of hospitals, doctors or medical implements and because childbirth is a natural thing it seems strange to me that most babies are born into such an unnatural setting. My mum had her second baby at home (albeit by accident) and she found this a much nicer experience than her long stay in hospital after having me, so I suppose I’ve grown up with the idea that home births are good.
Labouring women need to feel safe and calm and in control, and for me this meant staying at home. My husband was really supportive of my decision and didn’t have any concerns about the safety of a home birth. In fact, everyone I spoke to was supportive.
If you have a home birth you have the full attention of a midwife throughout your labour, unlike in a hospital where you might be sharing your midwife with a number of other women. A second midwife will arrive at your home in time for the birth. It sounds expensive but in fact a home birth costs the NHS on average £310 less than a hospital birth.
The Royal College of Midwives is supportive of home births. Only around 2% of women opt for home births in England. I live in Stockport where this percentage is slightly higher but the midwives are always trying to encourage more women to choose home births.
Anyway, onto my birth story...
My due date was 6 January, and even though I knew only 5% of women actually give birth on their due date I was still disappointed when the day came and went. Luckily it was the weekend and so my husband was home to entertain me, otherwise I would have been crawling the walls with frustration at still being pregnant. On the Friday night I managed to get about 9 hours of continuous deep sleep - any heavily pregnant woman will tell you this is an impressive feat! I’d heard that women sometimes have a deep sleep before going into labour, as their body is conserving energy for the task ahead so I hoped this was why I'd slept so well.
However, Saturday came and went (with much bouncing on my birthing ball). I went to bed at about 1:30am on Sunday morning and immediately started having mild period-like pains. The pains were coming and going every few minutes and seemed to be quite regular. I couldn’t sleep through it so got up and went downstairs. I was very tired but didn’t feel as though I was in labour because the contractions didn’t hurt, and everyone says when you’re in labour - you’ll know.
By about 10am the next morning I was still in the same position, and so I called the triage department at Stepping Hill Hospital and explained that I was having regular contractions but that they weren’t painful. They said they’d send a midwife out to check my progress. The midwife arrived about 11am and confirmed that I was in pre-labour. This was a shock to me as I hadn’t realised you were meant to be able to feel pre-labour! The midwife said to walk, sleep, eat and ring back when my waters broke.
This was really depressing because I was already tired and labour hadn’t even started! I tried taking paracetamol and sleeping but kept waking up with each contraction so it was very distorted sleep and was making me feel worse. Me and my husband went for a few walks around the block throughout the day, and I did lots more bouncing on my ball. I also did some secret belly dancing upstairs because this is a good way of getting the baby to fully engage for labour (according to my antenatal teacher anyway). Nothing was happening and I was getting moodier and moodier, my poor husband. The contractions had been starting and stopping all day, and were varying in strength and timing, this means it’s still pre-labour.
By Sunday night I was really exhausted after not having slept since 8:30am on Saturday morning. I tried going to bed to get some sleep, but again I struggled to sleep through the contractions. I downloaded a contraction timer for my phone and started recording the length and frequency of my contractions. They were starting to feel stronger so I took some more paracetamol. My contractions were about three minutes apart and lasting 40 - 60 seconds each time. Google told me that if this continued for an hour I should ring the midwife as I was probably in labour. I was reluctant to ring the midwife too soon because it was so disheartening the last time when I found out I wasn’t in labour.
I didn’t want to wake my husband up because he would need his sleep if I was about to go into labour. So would I, but that wasn’t really working out. I ran a bath and continued to time my contractions. After an hour and a half of frequent contractions they felt a lot stronger so I shouted my husband. He then called the triage department and told them what was going on and they offered to send an on call midwife round to see what was going on.
I stayed in the bath and the midwife arrived about an hour later, just before 4am on Monday 9 January. She confirmed that I was in actual labour which was very exciting. She also said that she’d be staying with us throughout which was a great relief as she was truly one of the nicest people I have ever met. She put me at ease straight away, and was speaking very passionately about homebirths. She was also very complimentary about our bathroom.
I think I’d been in the bath for about 2 hours at this point. My plan was that when the pain became too much for me in the bath I would use a TENS machine, and then when the pain became too much for me again I would get into the birthing pool I’d hired (from Baby Love who are a really fantastic company and I would strongly recommend them to anyone looking for a birthing pool - get the inflatable heated one!). My husband asked the midwife when I should get into the birth pool and she looked at us as though we were mental and asked why I was in the bath if we had a birthing pool! It was decided that I should move into the birthing pool soon and so they both went down to finish filling it and set the temperature. I stayed in the bath breathing through the contractions.
By this point the contractions felt like really bad period pains that came in waves. At the start of each contraction I would panic slightly and then calm myself down by breathing in for the count of two, and breathing out slowly to the count of four. I repeated this breathing technique throughout the contraction and it kept me calm and distracted me from the pain.
Eventually the birthing pool was ready and so I went downstairs to get into it. The pool we hired cost £250 for 5 weeks and was worth every penny. It was an inflatable pool with a temperature control, in fact it was a hot tub and had bubbles. When I first got into the pool I sat by the bubbles with them adding pressure to my lower back (as this was where I was feeling the contractions) and it was wonderful.
Being in the birthing pool was instant pain relief because of the heat and being supported by the water. But I became very very hot, and the midwife became a bit concerned. The birthing pool was set to 38 degrees, but a quick temperature check with our medical thermometer revealed that the water was actually much hotter than that. My body temperature was 41.6 degrees so the midwife poured lots of cold water into the pool and turned down the temperature of the pool. It seems the pool heater was broken and so wasn’t showing the correct temperature, but it was quickly solved by turning it down.
The midwife turned off the lights and lit candles to light the room. Being in this dull lighting was very calming and I felt very safe and private in the room.
Everything after this point is a kind of blur. The only way I can explain it is that I went into a kind of trance, as though nature took over. I have hazy memories of the next few hours, but in a way it feels like an out of body experience.
I can remember that my husband was putting a cold flannel on the back of my neck throughout contractions and that this was one of the best feelings ever. I also remember that the midwife kept saying how great I was doing with my breathing, and that this encouraged me to focus on my breathing and try not to use pain relief for as long as possible.
The contractions were getting stronger, and although I can’t remember exactly what they felt like or how frequent they were, I remember that the pain was in my back and that after a few hours I started to feel that I’d like some gas & air but wanted to go as long as possible without. Luckily my midwife could tell that I was starting to think about pain relief and so she called for some gas & air from the hospital. The gas & air arrived about 7am and I started using it shortly after.
At some point over the next hour, two more midwives arrived. I can remember seeing one of them but I have absolutely no recollection of the other one, it’s strange how much you switch off from external going ons when you’re in labour.
My next memory is of my waters breaking, they broke about ten minutes before I reached the second stage of labour. I remember the midwife telling me not to push yet, and I remember that there was literally nothing I could do to stop myself pushing. I just had no control, my body had taken over. I was trying really hard not to push at the start of each contraction but by the end I was pushing. This pushing broke my waters and I felt a huge relief when this happened. There had been extra pressure pushing down because of the added weight of the membranes and waters.
A few minutes later I was fully dilated and ready to push. At this point the gas & air became my best friend, and my poor husband who was occasionally slow to pass the mouthpiece was at risk of becoming my worst enemy! With the start of each contraction I started breathing in the gas & air and didn’t stop until the contraction ended. The only way to describe this part of labour is pressure. It just feels like a ridiculous amount of pressure pushing down and trying to force its way out of your body. With each contraction your body forces you to push harder and deeper. I pushed as hard as I possibly could, and made an awful racket while doing so (sorry neighbours).
At some point during this second stage I heard one of my midwives tell the other that they were expecting this baby to weigh about 9lbs. Up until this point I was unaware that I was about to birth a giant. This is really not what I wanted to hear at this point and I felt quite panicked by it. But also there was nothing I could do so I just tried to push extra hard & not think about the freakishly giant baby about to break out.
My second stage lasted 29 minutes, this is really short for a first labour and I think this is because I was kept calm by my amazing midwife.
The only way to describe the feeling of crowning is... burny. Sorry for the overshare. There is really no mistaking that feeling. It feels exactly how you would imagine it would. At this point, most women become irrational and want to stop labouring. This is the body’s way of stopping you pushing and allowing your skin to stretch. I told the midwife that I was sorry but I couldn’t push it out and could she just pull it? I was informed that no, it would be better if I pushed and that I could do it. I can’t really remember what happened next, but I’m sure one of the midwives was right in front of my face encouraging me to push hard. I remember pushing as hard as I possibly could and making an almighty screech, and then all of a sudden the pressure was gone. It was 9:14am on Monday 9 January 2012.
Moments later a baby was thrust onto my chest and it was literally the biggest shock of my life. It sounds stupid but I had forgotten that I was having a baby. I had been really focused on pushing, but I’d lost sight of why. The baby in my arms was a wake up call and was quite terrifying. The baby had huge dark eyes and was intensely staring into my eyes. I just started to cry. The midwives asked what it was, and I looked down but the umbilical cord was between the baby’s legs so I couldn’t see. The midwife moved the cord and we saw that she was a little girl. I couldn’t stop crying, it was the most overwhelming intense feeling imaginable.
After nine long months of pregnancy, I was finally meeting my baby. I just sat in the pool holding her for the next twenty minutes. I really cannot explain what it feels like to hold your baby for the first time. I am terrible with babies and always feel terrified holding them, but not with Ebony. It just felt completely natural and right.
After twenty minutes, Ebony was handed to her father for a cuddle and it was time for me to deliver the placenta. This is, to me, the worst part of labour because by this point you are exhausted. I felt really tender and like I had lost control of my pushing muscles and simply wouldn’t be able to push it out. I had really wanted to have a natural third stage, but in the end I had an injection to make it happen with less effort. Because this deviated from my birth plan I had to really beg my midwives to let me have the injection, I think it’s great that they tried to give me the birth I’d wanted even when I changed my mind. But also I was exhausted and relieved when they stabbed me with the needle. I had to do a huge push and then the placenta came out, this was not pleasant at all because I was so tired.
From start to finish my labour was only 6 hours and 40 minutes, the average first labour is 12 hours so I’m really pleased that I had such a short labour! I thought the whole labour was a really positive experience and I think this is partly because I was looking forward to labour (instead of dreading it as some women do) and partly because my midwife was so amazing. I would strongly recommend a home birth to anyone, it was the best decision I made. I felt so at ease in my own home, and it’s really special that Ebony was born here and didn’t have to go into a cold and unforgiving hospital.
I really enjoyed labour, I know that sounds odd but I found it to be an amazing experience and it was inspiring to see what the body is capable of and to let nature truly take over for once.
And it was amazing to be tucked up hours later in my own bed with my perfect new family.