Adelaide's birth story, by Abigail

Abigail's first baby, Adelaide Mary Woodford, was born at home on 12th August 2002. This beautiful story shows how straightforward a first birth can be, when a woman has privacy and is well supported.

I am particularly keen to post my homebirth experience on this site, as I often visited it as an excellent source of information and inspiration in the latter stages of my pregnancy, and was always on the look out for successful homebirth stories from first time mums, as this seemed to be a less common experience. I hope my own wholly positive experience of a first labour at home may perhaps inspire someone else to opt for a home delivery first time around, and ignore the unhelpful comments that such a decision can occasionally attract.

I hadn't really considered a homebirth until in the 29th week of my pregnancy I was sent up to the maternity hospital with high blood pressure, and was quite needlessly kept in overnight. While all the staff I encountered were friendly and accommodating, it took two full days for a doctor with sufficient authority to get round to see me and agree that I was perfectly fit and could leave again. I think it was the realisation of my loss of autonomy in that situation that set me thinking about alternatives to a hospital birth. I had a strong feeling of helplessness and frustration, the sense that I was at the end of a long chain of command that led through midwives and junior doctors to the registrars, and my own certainty that this was a false alarm somehow ceased to matter in that situation, or was overlooked, despite the best intentions of all concerned.

My midwife was quite happy to change plans when I spoke to her about my feelings the following week, and recommended this website as a good source of information. The reaction of friends and family was less encouraging. It was implied that I was being irresponsible, that a second or later labour was acceptable but noone should risk having their first child at home. The most common reaction was 'You are brave!', which I found singularly unhelpful. Nevertheless my partner and I felt happy with our decision and decided to stick by it in the face of criticisms.

The remainder of the pregnancy was pretty uneventful. My baby went a week overdue, which did get me worrying that I might have to end up having a hospital induction, which I was very keen to avoid. Luckily a very long walk (we got lost!) followed by Dan's speciality Tai curry finally started things off on a Sunday night six days after my due date.

I had mildish contractions every 15 minutes through Sunday night and most of Monday, attempting to sleep in between them propped up on cushions with the TENS machine on as I was anxious not to become too exhausted before things got more serious. Dan took Monday off work and napped at home with me and fed me regularly. A new midwife called on Monday morning for a regular ante-natal to find me in the early stages of labour! My own midwife had gone on holiday shortly after my due date, and I was lucky enough to be passed over to the consultant midwife from the maternity hospital, who had agreed to take over a number of home births while the city practice was understaffed. Susan had been an independent midwife in London for a number of years and had great experience of homebirths. Both Dan and I feel that we were privileged to have had her guiding us through the experience, as she was a great source of strength and inspiration. Maybe a lot of women experience this, but after it was all over I felt a bond with Susan which belies the brief hours we actually spent together. Perhaps a case of transference that Freud would find interesting!

Susan advised me to rest as much as possible, as it could be a long time before anything serious started happening. We agreed that we would call her when we felt we needed her again, and she left us to it. Dan napped upstairs after lunch and I listened to music and breathed through contractions on all fours leaning over cushions on the living room floor. I kept the TENS on all day. I have no idea if it really had an effect, but the mild pinpricks were strangely comforting and fiddling with the levels kept me busy at least!

By about 5pm I was in some pain and the contractions were closer together, so I went upstairs to wake Dan as I didn't want to manage alone anymore. He ran me a bath as deep and as hot as possible and I took the TENS off and got into that. The hot water felt wonderful and really helped me to deal with the pain. I sat up to my waist in the water and we wrapped a towel around my shoulders to keep them warm. During each contraction I found I needed to lift myself from the bottom of the bath, as the pressure in my rectum and pelvic floor was becoming pretty intense (my waters had still not broken by this stage), and Dan helped lift me and pressed his hand into the small of my back, which I found useful. In between contractions he sat on the loo seat and read Oliver Twist to me, and fed me drinks through a straw. At one point we became vaguely hysterical with laughter thinking it was like being in a boxing match, the towel, the drinks, Dan coaching me through contractions like a real pro! I sat in that bath for nearly five hours, during which time we read ten pages of Oliver Twist, which gives an indication of how intense things were becoming, although I don't think either of us really realised this at the time.

We called the midwife again at about 7.30pm, when she was in the supermarket, and I shouted from the bath to describe my contractions. I obviously sounded very in control, as she decided not to come yet, but told us to ring again when we couldn't manage anymore. Both Dan and I were worried that we were still a long way from getting anywhere, and although the space between contractions had pretty much ceased to exist after another hour, we kept delaying calling Susan again. I was terrified that she would arrive and tell me I was two centimetres dilated, and I wasn't sure I could manage the pain for much longer. We agreed we would call her at 9pm, and at that stage she said she was on her way. It took her an hour to get to us, during which I suddenly got very weepy and told Dan I was finished and would have to go into hospital for an epidural. He gave me as much encouragement as he could, but he was looking pretty grey and exhausted by now and I knew he was worried too. I think in retrospect the weepy stage was probably transition.

Susan arrived at ten, and was finally let in after ten minutes of knocking on doors and windows and listening to my contractions from the street! She came into the bathroom to find me in full boxing pose, and tried to ascertain where we were with a mirror, but the bath was too full of gunk to see anything. (I had had a nosebleed earlier, which made things a bit icky.) Then she set about persuading me to get out of the water. I was scared of leaving the bath, as I was still convinced that I had hours more to get through, and the bath seemed like my last option before the pain became too much to stand. I wasn't sure what my next option would be. I did finally climb out of the water however, and immediately fell to all fours on the bathmat where my waters promptly broke and the pushing contractions started. Our bathroom is very small, and the three of us were squashed into the narrow space between the bath and the wall. 'Where do you want to have this baby?' Susan asked me. 'Not in here!' Dan was dispatched upstairs to dismantle our carefully constructed 'birthing suite' from the bedroom, and he threw himself back downstairs with plastic sheets etc and hastily moved furniture and rolled up the rugs, and built me a birthing platform in the middle of the living room floor. The student midwife arrived at this moment, to find me in an undignified scramble on all fours from the bathroom to the living room, where after only ten minutes of very intense pushing (accompanied by bellowing such as I have never heard issuing from my mouth before and I am sure I could never reproduce) our beautiful baby girl was born at 10.55pm and passed up into my arms. I didn't tear or even graze despite her exiting so quickly. Shortly after Adelaide's arrival the second midwife arrived!

One thing Susan said to me as the pushing began which I found very helpful was to let go of my rational mind and banish fear. She could sense I was getting scared as everything intensified so suddenly, and my voice was rising in pitch and I was beginning to thrash about and forget to breathe. She put her face down next to mine on the bathroom floor and told me to calm my breathing and let it happen, it would anyway and if I fought it it would be far more painful. I managed to hang on to that thought, and she was of course quite right, as I let go the contractions took over and I was really carried through the final stage despite myself. The noise I made as I pushed seemed to issue from some deeper part of myself over which I had no control. Having said that I was intensely aware of the people around me at all times, especially Dan whose support was fantastic, I couldn't have managed without him beside me. Also Susan's calm management from the sidelines was wonderful. She never really touched me, never once gave me an internal but only occasionally monitored the baby's heart rate so unobtrusively that I hardly noticed her doing so. She simply helped me to allow things to happen just exactly as they should.

The next hour is a bit hazy. I lay in state in the midst of the mess on the living room floor while my daughter suckled and we waited for the placenta. Each time I tried to push it out I started to lose consciousness, so we ended up waiting for a good hour. When it finally did emerge the relief was huge - that thing weighed a lot! I do have on abiding memory of Dan, who was attempting to clean up despite being vaguely delirious, wandering out of the bathroom with our bathmat held gingerly aloft, wandering around for a while in a daze, and finally asking the midwives in a pathetic voice, 'what shall I do with the mucus plug?…'

After a bath and a practical in placenta management for the student midwife, Dan, Adelaide and I were tucked into bed with tea and biscuits, the midwives went downstairs to clean up and do their paperwork, and we lay gazing at one another in amazement. It was a lovely moment. I felt calm and on top of the world, like I had come first in the London marathon, only better than that! The fact that Dan and I did 90% of it alone together has been a hugely bonding experience which has helped carry us through the difficult early weeks with Liddy. I will certainly have my second and any subsequent babies at home. It was magical. I can't recommend it enough.


Update: Abigail's second baby, Saul, was born in 2004.

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