Saul Alexander, born 2.20am, 2nd July 2004
After the very positive experience I had with delivering my first child, Adelaide, at home in 2002, it was an easy and natural choice to plan to have our second baby in the same way. As not much time had passed since my first pregnancy, I was lucky enough to have the same midwife looking after me through most of the second pregnancy and felt very secure and comfortable in the knowledge that all should once again go smoothly. In addition family and friends were more supportive of our decision second time around, no doubt unable to find a reason to assert that our first homebirth had been a mistake!
I found the second pregnancy much harder work, which I imagine is inevitable when one is running around after a toddler. I also seemed to get bigger and bulkier far more quickly, swiftly outgrowing maternity clothes that had lasted me to the end of my first pregnancy. With so many other things going on I found little time to prepare myself mentally for a second labour. If anything I managed to remain firmly in denial until the 99th hour, although I did start waking up in the night in a panic by about week 37, worrying about getting the baby things back down out of the attic and remembering to go to the Red Cross to get plastic sheeting.
Finally, about a week before my due date, I was able to stop work, slow down, and find the time to tick all the items off my numerous mental lists, including assembling the bits and pieces needed at a home birth. Rather than relaxing at this stage, however, I now started to panic about how little I had thought about labour. I hadn't been to any of the refresher classes, although I had attended a course of antenatal pilates which I found very useful. Would I remember what to do? Someone helpfully told me that women who work on too late in pregnancy have far more painful labours. Oh help.
Another worry, which I know is very common, was what to do with Adelaide when labour began. I have a friend whose daughter attended the birth of her sister, apparently enjoying the experience. Dan and I both felt strongly, however, that we didn't want our daughter present, and I felt that I would only be able to labour effectively and calmly if I knew Liddy was elsewhere and cared for. Friends and neighbours were on call to take her, yet somehow this all felt rather slapdash, and I had a hunch I wouldn't allow things to get started until I felt happy about her. So it had to be on a day when she was at her childminder's, or during the night.
Note from Angela: see also 'Siblings at a homebirth' for other people's experiences of having older children around at the birth - or not!
One other thing that had been bothering me was that Dan was sleeping really badly. I kept telling myself I would wait until he had had at least one good night's sleep before I produced a wakeful newborn!
Needless to say, with so little time to prepare I went overdue again, although not by much this time. My midwife visited on the morning after my due date and we decided on a cervical sweep. Nothing happened that day, but, very significantly, Dan slept really well that night for the first time in ages. The following afternoon I had a smallish bloody show. I bumped into a neighbour as I was walking home with Liddy at around 4pm, who looked at me closely and told me I would have my baby that night. A couple more shows occurred over the course of the evening, but nothing much and I wasn't convinced this was it.
I went to bed about 11pm feeling a bit jumpy, and decided to sit up and read for a while. As I read the twinges started, very regular but still pretty faint. Dan switched his light out at about 11.30pm, and immediately fell into a deep sleep. I tried to read on, but was becoming too distracted by the twinges, so thought I would try lying down to see if I could sleep for a while. Light out, I lay down and immediately had a really big contraction that I muffled in the pillow in order not to wake Dan. Clearly I wasn't going to be getting any sleep!
I got out of bed, thinking I would go downstairs for a while, and maybe have a bath or watch telly while things progressed. I was still expecting a nice unhurried start to proceedings, as I had had in my first labour. But this was a bit unexpected: getting on my dressing gown brought on a massive contraction; I got to the bottom of the stairs and had another one that floored me in the hall; made it into the kitchen and had two in a row gripping onto the counter top; then scrambled back upstairs, contraction en route, and staggered into the bedroom to wake Dan and demand that he start helping me set things up downstairs. The poor love had managed precisely 20 minutes of nourishing sleep!
We transferred downstairs together, where I got onto all fours over the birthing ball, thank goodness loaned to me only a short time before by a thoughtful friend, and began to concentrate on contractions that seemed to be coming with astonishing strength and regularity already. I was relieved to find that I knew instinctively exactly what I wanted to do, rocking over the ball and breathing through each contraction. Dan began to bring down towels, sheets and blankets while I issued instructions from my post. I don't think he had quite grasped what was going on, and took some persuading to ring the hospital so soon. When he did ring, having been passed on to the wrong department a couple of times first, he told them: 'I think my wife is just going into labour.' 'Tell them I am in labour already!' I yelled from my ball. I still don't think he believed me. The delivery unit promised to contact the on-call midwife. Meanwhile, Dan ran me a bath, although I was pretty convinced I was never going to make it into the bathroom. I had found the bath really helpful the first time, soothing and taking the edge off contractions.
The on-call midwife called, and it was Lynne, who had seen me through both pregnancies and just missed delivering Adelaide as she had been on holiday. Hurrah! She thank goodness took my pleas seriously and said she would be straight over. It was now about 12.45am, and we told her I was going to get into the bath for a while, which she said sounded fine. So I staggered into the bathroom and plunged into the tub. But my need to be on all fours made a bath impossible: I couldn't bear to sit down, and kneeling the water hardly reached my belly, where it was most needed. After about a minute I scrambled back out again and returned to my ball, which I gripped for dear life and didn't let go of again until it was all over!
Contractions, timed around now, seemed to be about 2 minutes apart and lasting about a minute, so I wasn't getting a lot of let-up and it was already pretty painful. Dan went upstairs to put some clothes on before Lynne arrived, and I remember feeling very small and lonely on the living room floor, and when he came back down demanding that he stay right by me from now on.
Lynne arrived some time after 1am (the timing all gets pretty hazy from this point). I was still able at this stage to acknowledge her arrival, looking up from my ball and crying 'How lovely to see you!', in a rather incongruous manner, naked bottom in the air. Lynne and Dan began to bring her equipment in from the car, and once again I felt very lonely and small. I hated it when the people who were looking after me disappeared without warning me first, and kept shouting at Dan, 'Tell me where you're going, tell me where you are!' I couldn't look up far enough from my ball to locate him when he wasn't right by me, but it seemed terribly important to know that he was there.
By now the contractions really hurt. The second midwife arrived some time after Lynne, but I couldn't see her or acknowledge her. In fact, I never got a glimpse of her face until it was all over, and am ashamed that I now can't remember her name. The poor woman spent almost the whole time filling in forms. Dan said afterwards it was unbelievable how much paperwork there was to do, which can't to my mind be a good thing: one midwife delivered the baby alone while the other kept abreast of all the paper monitoring that is required of them, presumably in order to protect them against lawsuits or similar.
All I could do by this stage was aim for the end of the next contraction. Any kind of movement, including raising my head to drink, brought on a fresh contraction. Dan tried to massage my back, but pressed too hard and rocked my body, which brought on a new contraction, so that I kept yelling at him not to touch. Lynne, presumably thanks to her long experience, got behind me and placed a cool hand on the small of my back gently but firmly, without rocking my body, and that was very helpful. Dan was relegated to being gripped by the hand until his fingers lost all blood flow.
I was offered gas and air, which I found made me feel very sick and totally drunk, but I quite liked the noise of the mouthpiece, like an extra aid to breathing, so I used it for half a contraction and that was enough to take the very edge off the pain without making me want to vomit. After just a few gasps of gas through the next few contractions I suddenly found myself sobbing in a very melodramatic manner and remember thinking in some tiny buried part of my mind that was still clear, 'This must be transition'. I sobbed through a couple of contractions at the top of my voice and then it felt as if there was a brief, pregnant (!) pause, then something snapped inside me, the waters began to gush out and I started pushing.
When I gave birth to Liddy the second stage was almost easy (I use the term entirely relatively!) in that it did itself and all I had to do was ride the waves of the contractions. This was very different. I had felt increasingly like I was losing control through the first stage, I kept saying 'too quick, too quick', and shaking my head when I couldn't find the words to express my panic. As the pushing started the only thing I could manage was 'no', which I repeated endlessly as I fought with each contraction. Dan kept telling me not to fight it, but I couldn't help it, everything was simply happening too fast. It felt as if the baby was racing down the birth canal and into the world and I couldn't keep up. I didn't seem to have any pauses between pushing contractions (with Liddy's birth those pauses had been very long and recuperative, long enough for me to crack a few jokes, and for Dan and I to have a brief domestic about whether his pins and needles hurt more than my contractions), and if anything I felt like I was trying not to push as the baby pelted towards the world.
As he crowned, after what felt like a few seconds and must have been only a few minutes, I used all my strength to stop the head from being born, literally dragging it back up inside me with each contraction. The head bobbed in and out a few times, until Lynne suggested to me gently that if I let the head be born, then the body would follow and that would be a lot less painful than keeping the baby inside me indefinitely. Good point! So the head crowned and exited with the next contraction, the body swiftly followed, and almost immediately our bonny boy began to yell his head off.
It was 2.20am, less than three hours since those first bedtime twinges. Liddy was still fast asleep upstairs.
In textbook terms I had an ideal second labour, without drugs, no need for stitches (although I was grazed this time but that healed pretty quickly), very quick and 'easy'. Wierdly, though, I preferred my first labour by far, despite, or perhaps because of the long-drawn out pre-labour during which, although I was deprived of sleep, I was able to get used to the whole process and get into my stride in order to manage the later, more extreme parts. There was no time for that here. The only adjective I could find when my mother asked me about it afterwards was 'shocking'. I felt shocked by the sheer force with which Saul had been propelled into the world. Despite this I did have a very positive sense of achievement and peace after the event. I knew I was in the right place, and it was a lovely private and intimate affair, just the four of us in our cosy front room waiting for Saul to join us.
After Saul was born I nursed him and a cup of tea simultaneously, and the placenta arrived after not too long a wait, although the after pains as I waited for it were excruciating (no one tells you about this beforehand, do they?), almost like starting the whole process all over again. Then I waddled off for a lovely hot bath (the one Dan had drawn for me earlier was still warm, so I only needed to top it up!), while the others cleared up the sitting room.
When I came back from the bath, the second midwife had left, Lynne and Dan were sitting on the sofa drinking tea and chatting while Saul slept peacefully beside them. Lynne left at about 5am and the three of us crept upstairs and into bed, although I of course couldn't sleep as the adrenaline raced. But I watched my two boys napping, and when Liddy woke up a couple of hours later she came in and joined us in bed, wide eyed and a little overwhelmed at the night-time arrival, and there we were, a family of four. I can't imagine a nicer way for an older sibling to meet a new arrival, without mummy ever having to go away, but calmly and matter-of-factly with the start of a new day.
I have a new theory that it is the babies themselves who determine the manner in which they enter the world, not the other way around. Liddy was always a peaceful and calm baby, from the moment of her birth when she stared at me quietly as the midwife passed her up to me. Saul is quite different, full of energy, wilful and eager to get onto the next stage as quickly as possible, and his personality perfectly matches that quick eruption of a labour, almost as if he couldn't wait for me to keep up as he made his way out, so keen was he to know what lay on the other side. I can't imagine trying to get to the hospital in those circumstances. But I wouldn't have wanted to be anywhere but my own cosy house, and am very grateful to the Cambridge City Team of midwives who supported my choice with such understanding and professionalism.
28th November 2004
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