(Last year, 26 Feb 2011, I had my first child at home and, for posterity, made sure I wrote about it so that I could look back in years to come. And perhaps even inspire someone else. I give you the story of baby Camille)
I waddled into my 37 week midwife appointment; everything was running perfectly as it had been for the previous 8 months. That appointment though, changed everything.
I had a fabulous pregnancy. Well, when I say fabulous, I mean just not as awful as I had been led to believe. I had heard so many horror stories of crouching next to the loo or a bucket for 9 months with only my swollen ankles and piles for company.
My midwife throughout my pregnancy was very experienced and pro-homebirth. She mentioned home birth a few times during my appointments through the weeks and I dismissed it outright. It was almost an involuntary reaction, my mouth said NO without hesitation. You can’t have a home birth with your first baby, too many unknowns, too dangerous, child abuse, selfish choice, for hippies, right? (Those are all genuine arguments I subsequently read against home birth).
We started attending our NCT classes just before Christmas and began to learn about birthing positions, options, choices, what to expect. I was interested to learn that your position and gravity can help the baby out, adrenaline kills oxytocin (the love hormone thought to aid labour) and one type of intervention can lead to another. It just all made sense. So, when we visited the hospital for the maternity tour, I freaked out when I saw the labour rooms. They just weren’t conducive to what we had learned at NCT. Flat beds, shared wards, bright lights, boiling hot ward, medical smell. I went home in tears. The day of my labour was to be the biggest thing to have happened to me and yet I would have little choice, I’d just be another mum in another labour room in the baby factory.
So, there I was shuffling into the 37 week appointment and again my midwife briefly mentioned home birth. My mouth said no. I got home, had a cup of raspberry leaf tea and put my feet up. Or at least I think I did, obviously I couldn’t see my feet by this point. And then it dawned on me. Was I saying no to home birth just because that’s what you say? Or could I really do it? I spent the whole weekend meticulously researching the subject, reading articles, statistics, posing questions on web forums. I presented all of this to my husband and he immediately agreed that this would be our path. It clearly seemed more “us”. And should the worst happen we live 3 minutes by ambulance to the hospital. With an average of 30 minutes between the ‘decision to incision’ on an emergency c-section, I would really be no further away; in fact I would be straight into the theatre if that’s what was required. I called the midwife first thing Monday morning and she was thrilled. So, that was it, decision made, maternity notes changed, I was to have a home birth.
Our biggest decision next was to keep this completely a secret. We knew that we’d face negativity or criticism for our choice and at 38 weeks almost, this would be simply unhelpful.
A trip to the shops later and we were ready, plastic ground sheets purchased, old bed sheets and towels ready. My iPod primed with suitable playlists. My hospital bag was packed, just in case and so that everything I’d need was in one place.
And then we waited. And waited.
Ok, not really, but as every pregnant lady knows, time actually stands still when you are in those last few weeks. My 39 week appointment arrived and we began to wonder when or if this baby would ever arrive. My midwife mentioned that she’d be on duty on Friday night/Saturday morning, so “if I could have the baby then that would suit.”
So Friday came and I spent it with two of my NCT group, also still very pregnant and utterly fed up. We went over speed bumps in the car, walked up and down steep hills, drank buckets of raspberry leaf tea and there I was, staring my due date in the face. My husband told me to go and have a bath and then we’d make a plan as to how to spend the Saturday, my due date, so that I wasn’t miserable and beached on the sofa. Wallowing in the bath of Clary Sage oil and hot water, I had a stern chat with my bump. Come out now I urged. Your mummy and daddy love you and want you to come out. NOW. Pretty please?
And there it was. POP. My waters had broken in the bath. Convenient or what? I had spent weeks worrying that it would happen in the supermarket and that little old ladies would slip and break their hips. Or in the public swimming pool, causing a scene reminiscent of Jaws. I got out of the bath and carefully ambled downstairs. It was 2145. My husband was watching TV, so I just quietly sat down on my birthing ball and had a few bounces. More water trickled out, so I thought I’d better tell him the news. He suggested I relax. More bouncing. More trickling. This is definitely it I said, my waters have gone, my due date begins in 2 hours time and my bloody waters have gone. After 9 long months of waiting, here it was, labour was about to commence. We rang the midwife to tell her the good news and we received the instructions to try to go to bed, get some rest and call at 4am when she’d still be on duty. I had a little cry, just from the overwhelming thought that this really was IT. We went to bed and by the time my head hit the pillow I was starting to have contractions. I was there all of two minutes when I decided to pop the TENS machine on in bed (the plan was that this and gas and air would be my only pain relief).
And then the pain really started. It was midnight, my due date had arrived and it hurt. I decided to leave my husband in bed and have a warm bath. Another one. The TENS machine was flung in the corner of the room as it was making me so incredibly nauseous. Bloody stupid thing I thought, how much time I spent on Amazon looking at them only to find it hurled across the bathroom within minutes. I started timing the contractions with an iPhone app and into the bath I went. And then I got straight back out and got my husband out of bed. “This is really sore” I said, “Can you come and sit with me?” He trudged in. I explained that just as we learned in NCT class, we need to call the hospital when we have 3 contractions in 10 minutes. We both thought as it was our first baby we’d be in labour for 24 hours. Or a week. “So how often does the timer say now?” I asked. I was breathing through the contractions which were steadily becoming more intense. The timer was acting all funny though, they seemed to be really close. Actually pretty much constant. I was confused. He was confused. The App was confused. By now the pain was taking my breath away and I asked that he call the hospital for advice. He said “No, we’re nowhere near time to call yet, just try to relax”. “PLEASE CALL THE HOSPITAL” I said, I was in serious pain now. I had been sick and then bitten clean through the side of a plastic laminate kitchen mixing bowl which was my makeshift bucket. I was writhing in pain and in danger of ripping the taps off the bath. He got the message and called them in the hope that I wouldn’t destroy any more kitchen equipment with my teeth. With a planned home birth, they send one midwife to accompany you through the first stages of labour, followed by a second for the actual birth and aftermath. I decided that I really needed to go to the toilet, so carefully got out of the bath. When the midwife arrived she walked into the bathroom, took one look at me and it was then I heard her say to my husband “this baby is coming now!” Hang on; I thought I just needed the loo. By now I had retreated into my own world, making a low and deep groaning noise with each contraction. Gone was the birth plan, the Take That soundtrack, the sports drinks, I was naked and back thousands of years. Just an animal giving birth in the most primitive and natural way. It was around 3am. I was 10cms dilated and ready to go. Somehow, I was helped downstairs and into the lounge, which was to be our birthing room. Hastily arranged sheets and plastic were on the floor alongside what medical equipment she had time to get from the car. A swift phone call to the hospital and midwife number two was here. I was pushing, my groan becoming a roar. I leaned over the sofa on all fours but the pain was too great on my back so instead I got on to the birthing stool brought by my midwife. Gone were my inhibitions, all my worries about nudity, bodily functions, my husband seeing “the business end”, all gone. He sat behind me with his arms around me and still had no feeling in his poor squeezed arms the next day. I roared. It did the trick and within 20 minutes out popped a baby. Yes, that’s right, a baby. We were both shocked. I’m not sure what we thought was in that bump (cupcakes?) so to finally have a slippery pale vermix-covered baby in my arms was a complete surprise. It didn’t occur to either of us to check what sex it actually was until the midwife suggested we might like to find out.
She was absolutely beautiful. Our little girl Camille was born at 0450 on 26 Feb 2011, her due date, weighing in at a dainty 7lb 1oz. Just 7 hours from my waters breaking which is the first baby equivalent of whooooooosh!!
We asked for the umbilical cord to be left intact so that she got all the goodness from it. She was placed on to my chest skin-to-skin and I was just euphoric. They say that once you have crashed through the pain barrier you feel a rush of endorphins and boy did I? I was so happy to see her and gobsmacked at what had just happened. No pain relief, no gas and air, just roaring. The midwives got to work, one completing all the paperwork, cleaning up, packing up the placenta for delivery and disposal at the hospital. One popping in stitches where I had torn in the baby’s haste to meet us and my haste to get her out. And then they placed her back on to my chest and helped me get her latched on. There I was, staring down at my little daughter, just minutes old, taking her first few sucks of colostrum and comfort from her mummy. Wow.
The beauty of the homebirth was that we had one midwife stay with us for a few hours after the birth, she then came back later that day and again for the next 3 days. She was amazing, like having an extra Mum, albeit one highly trained and experienced in labour. I was on the sofa with my daughter, husband and a cuppa. At home, our own food, our own music, our own heat, our own bathroom, and our own germs.
The funny thing was that in the days following, as we spread our happy news, so many people’s reaction to the fact she was born at home was “oh, was it too late to go to hospital?” It seemed inconceivable to them that we had actually chosen this path. We received a few disapproving reactions and raised eyebrows, but on the whole people were curious. I am so proud of our choice and am adamant that my daughter’s lovely arrival into the world has influenced her chilled and smiley personality some months on.
Home birth is all about making an informed choice, weighing up the risks of hospital versus the risks of home, working out what is best for your baby and for your family. I know that I was extremely lucky to have such a smooth experience and not all ladies are the same. But the key is not to rule anything out like I did for 37 weeks, there are risks involved in any type of birth, wherever it takes place. I’m not suggesting for a second that everyone should do the same or that everyone will be fortunate enough to have a smooth labour and delivery. The arrival of babies is a complex and highly emotive subject. My own belief is that birth is a natural process, not a clinical or medical one so home was without doubt best for us. Women should have choices and the support to make those choices become reality.
I am immensely proud that my husband and I were able to make this decision. And as I sit here looking at my sleeping beautiful baby, I wouldn’t change a single thing.