August 11, 2011
‘The baby’s coming tonight.’
I looked across at my husband just in time to see the customary eye-rolling at my declaration. Because this had been the sixth time I’d claimed such an event, going to bed each night adamant that we’d be meeting our first child imminently.
‘Of course it is,’ he replied knowingly. ‘Just like it was coming last night, and the night before, and the night before that.’ He finished rolling his cigarette and tucked it behind his ear before heading for the back door, then held the door handle as he turned to me before stepping outside. ‘I’d like to play skittles tonight, if that’s alright with you. I don’t think this baby is coming any time soon.’
I opened my mouth to protest, but then shrugged as I slumped down in the dining room chair. Who was I to argue? He was right. He’d waited in with me, night after night, day after day, as we moved farther and farther past my expected due date, and he was going stir crazy. More to the point, he was making me crazy with his face like a wet weekend.
‘I’m only up the road, and only a phone call away,’ he told me, and I nodded reluctantly as he stepped out into the garden.
I don’t recall much about the rest of that evening, other than the point when I realised the baby WAS actually coming. Cue me kneeling on the floor and clutching the bed for support while hubby snored, comatose on his side of the mattress, oblivious to my cries and whimpers through each mounting contraction. He did at least stir a couple of times, but we’ve all heard the story of the boy who cried wolf, right? So I don’t think he actually realised my stance was genuine. Until I bolted to the bathroom and lost my dinner, and suddenly he was by my side. We’d decided on a home-birth for our first, sold to us by our neighbours over the road. A lovely earth-motherly type, she had effortlessly popped her first born out in their living room. Tales of total relaxation, being in your own surroundings, and the magic of giving birth in your own home had us blinkered to the reality.
As every mother knows (and every sensitive father), giving birth is bloody hard work – and yes, gents, it does hurt – even more so when it’s your first. Especially when the baby is stuck in an awkward position and you’re beyond exhausted, and incapable of delivering. I’ll be honest with you. I was frightened. I was in labour and I honestly thought it would never end. And, after a very gruelling 24 hours, the midwives suggested a transfer to hospital. So off we went, with strict instructions to refrain from pushing – an impossibility when every little bump in the bouncy ambulance was like riding a rally car over a rocky-road, each pot-hole setting off a desperate-urge-to-push contraction. Once we arrived, the ordeal was over within an hour, and we had a beautiful baby girl (albeit with a rather squished face).
Many of you know that we lost a baby in 2013, which was a heartbreaking ordeal. A little baby girl, born prematurely at 27 weeks with foetal hydrops. We learned she was poorly at her 12 week scan, but at her 20 week scan it appeared that whatever the hydrops were a symptom of, had resolved itself. Fast forward a few more weeks, and evidently the illness remained and the superb staff at the John Radcliffe hospital in Oxford, UK, were outstanding in their efforts to deliver and try to help her. Sadly, she only survived 40 minutes.
Almost a year later, I fell pregnant with our third child. However, when it came time to choose where to have the baby, my husband and I had very little faith in our local hospital. It was a combination of the aftercare following the birth of our first daughter, and certain factors regarding my second and tragic pregnancy. We were faced with the choice of an alternative local hospital (which had its own share of bad reviews), Oxford (an hour’s drive away from us – not really an option when you’re in full-blown labour), or another home-birth. I was sceptical. After the traumatic experience with my first-born, I was apprehensive. But I really didn’t want to go to hospital. All that medical intervention for something which, at the end of the day, is a perfectly natural event. Mammals do it all the time. My cat gave birth to 3 healthy kittens, and she purred the whole way through. Okay, cats purr when they’re in pain, but the point is, she remained calm throughout. More’s the point, she did it all by herself (except she needed me to hold her paw).
So that was that. We were referred to the home-birth team, dug the birthing pool out of the loft, and played the waiting game. I kept my options open. If I changed my mind at the last minute and chose to go to hospital, I could. If I wanted to go to the birthing centre, I could. But 8 days later, after about a week of pretty-strong Braxton Hicks, the first stages of labour started on a Monday night. I sat on my birth ball while watching Corrie and Broadchurch, and got hubby to stick the TENS machine to my back. I snacked all evening, then tried to get some sleep after around 11pm. The contractions were pretty strong, and at 1am I woke up after a very light sleep, shivering like mad and feeling quite scared. It’s a bit like that when you’re in labour in the small hours, not to mention the only one awake. A quick call to the midwife saw the contractions peter out for long enough for me to get some rest, before being catapulted into full-wakefulness at 6am by a vice-like twisting of my insides. My mum collected our daughter and they left at 8:30am. At 9:30am, my husband began to fill the birth pool, but the rubber for the tap connector had perished, so off he sauntered to the garden centre to purchase a new one. In the meantime, I paced the house. Sorted some towels. Intermittently relied on the work surface, the coffee table, the dining room table and the balustrade on the landing for support while the contractions mounted. And do you know what? I think if I was a cat, I’d have purred through them. Yes, they bloody-well hurt, but I was calm. Why? Because not only had I done this twice before, but I was at home. My baby was coming, and she was going to be born here, in the most natural environment. By 10:30am, hubby seemed a little concerned when he asked me if I’d called the midwife yet. The contractions were coming every 3 minutes, and lasting well over 60 seconds. ‘I’m just about to,’ I’d replied nonchalantly.
The home-birth team arrived within an hour. I’ve never been so grateful to see anyone, and had forgotten how good that gas and air really is. I got into the pool and left with the fairies, as the Entonox and second stages of labour took me into a different realm. With a home-birth, you have two midwives with you at all times. The two midwives, the student midwife, and my husband, pretty much chatted between themselves and left me to get on with it (although I must take this opportunity to give my wonderful hubby a huge shout-out – he was the one to-ing and fro-ing with cups of tea for the midwives and kettles of water to maintain the water temperature). I received many kind words of encouragement while bearing down, focusing on the searing pain as our baby’s head was being born. ‘Reach down and touch your baby’s head, Fiona,’ said the midwife. ‘With your next contraction, you’ll deliver her body, and you can lift her out yourself,’ she instructed. So I did. No intervention, no stress, a totally relaxed environment, and I delivered my own water-baby, in the wonderfully cosy comfort of my own home. She opened her lungs as soon as she broke the surface, as I lifted her up and immediately held her in my arms. Within about 2 hours, the homebirth team had cleared up, set me and my baby up on the sofa with towels and blankets, and left us in post-birth bliss as we swooned over our new arrival. Hubby went out and got fishcake, fish, sausage, and chips, and we scoffed the lot then went to bed.
With all the trauma and grief that went before it, I can honestly say that having our baby at home was the best experience of my life. I don’t particularly enjoy being pregnant, and the first stage of labour is not something any woman would willingly go through (mother nature makes us forget, otherwise we’d never do it again), but I wish I could bottle that memory and re-live it several times over. A home-birth gave us the best possible start to her life and our relationship. Breast-feeding is going brilliantly, and our bond is as strong as a mother-baby bond could be. Unless there is a medical reason to have a baby in hospital, I really believe that home-birthing is the way forward. Years ago, it was the norm. Now it’s a beautiful experience, and something which should be an option for any expectant mother with a normal, healthy pregnancy.
Thank you for reading. xx