My first child was born at hospital in London, in 2002. It was a very short labour – 3 hours from the first contraction to the delivery. I was extremely traumatised by the quickness and ferociousness of this birth, as well as shocked by the bossy and disrespectful attitude of some of the midwives. I had 'permitted' an episiotomy which I now think was unnecessary, and the recovery was very painful and uncomfortable. I was determined things would be different for my next birth.
Two years later and I was expecting my second child. I knew that I wanted a home birth. The midwives in my area were very supportive, which was very comforting. At 30 weeks, I was told that the baby was breech. Not to worry though, I thought, plenty of time to turn. He didn't budge though, determined to stay put. They attempted an external cephalic version at around 37 weeks, but he just flipped right back about 30 minutes later. (I have always wondered whether it was a bit of a half-hearted attempt because they didn't line his head up with my pelvis, they stopped at around my hip area).
Now my choices for birth had changed. Midwives would not deliver a breech at home. My wish for a home birth vanished. I would have to deliver a breech baby in hospital. I was deeply unhappy. All my fears about the hospital environment, equipment, staff, attitudes etc, resurfaced. Only to be heightened when I discovered how much intervention is usually carried out with breech 'extractions'. I imagined a highly medicalised birth experience and was scared. This was going to be a nightmare, I thought.
I didn't have much time to think about what I was going to do when my waters broke three days after my ECV (two weeks before my due date). The hospital told me to come in. When we arrived I sat in the labour room petrified and shaking. The consultant examined me and told me that my cervix was closed, but thinning. I could feel the contractions starting. He left to perform a caesarean on another Mum. Upon returning, he examined me again and found me to be 3cms dilated and said he could feel a foot emerging. Great. I went into a sort of shock. I wanted a caesarean. He obliged. About an hour later it was all over and I had a son. Then came the recovery. Dreadful. Very painful, uncomfortable, and combined with an emotional rollercoaster of mixed feelings of relief, disappointment, failure and a sense of loss at the birth that I never got. In time though, I moved on, busy with the two children, I put it to the back of my mind.
Two years later and we are now living in Perth, Western Australia, and I am pregnant with our third and last child. I was shocked to discover their extraordinarily high caesarean rates in this part of Australia – in 2006 it was 80 percent in my local (private) hospital. I discover that I am now referred to as 'high risk' because I have had a caesarean, and am now at an increased risk of a repeat caesarean purely because I have had one already. This angered me, so I decided to become informed of my choices. I visited the local pregnancy resource centre and read extensively on VBAC (Vaginal Birth After Caesarean) and other natural/active birth books. I was also lucky enough to bump into Penny Hardy from Birthrites whilst at Heathcote one day. She was wearing a Birthrites t-shirt so I went over to talk to her. She told me all about the support group meetings and I looked forward to attending them.
Over the coming months, my confidence grew and I knew that I could achieve a VBAC in the right setting, with the right support.
I visited the main maternity hospital in Perth where I had heard that the midwives were very supportive of VBAC. On my booking-in appointment I was disappointed to be told that not only would I 'have to' see an Obstetrician, he wasn't an advocate of VBAC (!?).
I also didn't want to be continuously monitored, or have an IV bung 'just in case', or feel pressured to stay within certain time limits for the pregnancy and during labour, and I didn't want to feel like I should have to insist on these things even though they were hospital policy.
As I looked around the labouring rooms, I felt a sense of fear. I did not want to have my baby in hospital. To me, it just doesn't feel like a comfortable, safe environment to give birth in. I wanted to have this baby at home. As soon as the thought came to me, I knew it was the right decision. Now all I had to do was find a midwife and reassure my husband. Unfortunately the Community Midwives could not support home VBAC, so off I went to find an Independent Midwife.
When I met Sally, I liked her immediately. She had a wonderfully relaxed manner and had full confidence in the natural birth process and successful home VBAC. I informed my husband on the risks associated with a repeat caesarean and the very low risk of uterine separation, and he supported my decision.
The pregnancy went very well. I continued to read books on active birth as well as The Pink Kit and natal-hypnotherapy CD's. I swam three times a week, did yoga and walked regularly. I was mentally and physically prepared, and looking forward to the birth.
Two days before my due date ( May 2007), I had a show and I knew that things were going to be happening soon. I had been having strong Braxton Hicks for weeks and was confidant that my uterus was functioning well (!) and that I could deliver this baby. The day before my due date I had a compulsive urge to clean my bathrooms and kitchen cupboards. Then I spent the afternoon doing kid stuff with my son before I picked my daughter up from school.
At about 10.30pm as I was lying in bed, I had a contraction that made me get up out of the bed and start rotating my hips. I started to shake and rushed to the toilet where I was on and off for the next ten minutes or so. I said to Rob (husband) 'I'm having contractions'. I was still shaking and I felt cold so Rob told me to get in to bed and we had a cuddle. I focused on relaxing my body and calming my breathing.
Once I had calmed down we went into the sitting room which we had prepared for the birth – pool, music, ball, cushions etc. We started filling the pool. The contractions were coming every 5 minutes and were lasting 30-40 seconds. They felt strong, but manageable and I got myself comfortable on the birthing ball. We phoned my sister at 11pm, who was about 20 minutes away. She was going to be here for additional support and to look after the children.
At about midnight I felt that the contractions seemed to be lessening in intensity so I decided to go on walk-about around the house. (We also stopped filling up the pool, thinking that we would top it up when I needed to get in it later on). Whenever I felt a contraction I would head to the kitchen and squat down holding onto one of the stools, swaying my hips from side to side. Rob would come and squat down behind me. This was very comforting. I really enjoyed the freedom of being in my own home and not being confined to one room or bed.
At about 12.30am the contractions seemed to drop off a bit. They were now coming about every 7 or 8 minutes apart. At about 1.30am I felt that things were really slowing down and suggested that we all get some rest. Rob and Siobain were feeling particularly tired so we all went to bed. Rob fell asleep almost immediately, but I had terrible trouble finding a comfortable position. I was on and off the ball, on and off the bed and on and off the toilet.
At about 2.35 and after yet another trip to the loo and a repositioning of myself on the ball, I had a huge contraction. It hit me like a truck and I couldn't believe where it had come from. My groaning and aaahhhhing got increasingly louder. I woke Rob up, saying that if I have any more like that one, then we should start topping up the pool. Over the next 10 minutes or so, I had several more strong contractions, each one was stronger than the previous one, and my groaning was increasing in volume.
I realised then that things were happening VERY fast. Rob started topping up the pool while I squatted through contractions which were now coming every minute! I couldn't believe how intense things had become. My groaning had become quite loud and my sister came running in. At 2.50 she tried to reach the midwife.
At 2.55 I had a contraction and exclaimed I feel like I need to push! I put my hand inside myself and could feel a head at the top! I stripped off all my clothes stating: I AM GETTING IN THE POOL , I didn't care what temperature it was (thankfully, and to my surprise, the water was still quite warm from earlier). It felt wonderful.
I kneeled in the pool and leaned over the edge. Rob held me from the outside. I could feel the baby's head moving down with each contraction. I felt a split second of disbelief when I realised that Sally was going to miss the birth and it was going to be Rob and Siobain who were going to be doing it; but I new that there was no way I could stop this baby coming out, my body had taken over and even though I tried not to push, my uterus was expelling this baby, no matter what. I put my hand inside me, on the baby's head to help me focus. This was an amazing feeling and it really helped knowing that this was my baby and I would get to meet them soon.
I felt somewhat reluctant when I felt the head crowning. The trauma of my first episiotomy came flooding back to me. I tried not to rush the crowning stage. It was hard because my body wanted the baby out, but I tried to just let it happen really slowly. The burning felt like fire and it made me want to jump out of the pool, but once the head eased out the relief was tremendous. I knew then that the hardest part was over.
The head's out I said. Siobain said to Rob: I think that you need to get in the pool. Rob started to undress. He hesitated before he took his trousers down and for a split second I forgot about my predicament and thought about the fact that he may not have any pants on underneath his tracksuit bottoms – thankfully, he did! He got in the pool with me. I can see the head he said. Does it look ok? I said. I don't quite know why I asked that. He said yes. He checked for the cord around the neck; there wasn't one. My sister took up Rob's position outside the pool and I held onto her throughout the next few contractions.
With the next contraction I pushed out the baby's shoulder and his arm popped out as well – he had his hand up we think. The body came out with the next contraction. One more contraction saw the rest of the baby come out. Time of birth – 3.10am. I had done it. Rob handed him to me and I checked to see if he was a boy or a girl. A boy! He needed some back rubbing and blowing on his face to get him going, but he was fine after a minute. He just let out one yell, and that was it, he was happy to be cuddled by his mum in the warm water. It was all over. The enormity of what happened was just too much to comprehend. I was absolutely chuffed, with myself, with Rob, with my sister. It was the most amazing experience. I wouldn't change any of it – although it would have been nice to have Sally there! She arrived 20 minutes later. The placenta took about an hour to deliver and we all had a good look at it – another thing that I had missed out on with my previous births.
Our son weighed 6lb 2oz and 50cms long. Afterwards I had a shower and climbed into bed with my husband and new son. What a night!
For several weeks after I remained in an almost euphoric state. I had finally achieved the birth that I had longed for and my son Connor is the most contented baby – surely due to his relaxed arrival. Because I suffered no tears or episiotomy (just a small graze) I felt a little tender for a few days, and then fine after that! When I think back to my first episiotomy and how much pain I was in for several weeks...
Upon retrospect, being free to move rooms and adopt any positions I chose; having low lighting, my own music, knowing I didn't have to endure a car journey; having loving supportive people present who had full confidence in my ability to birth my baby; having my children in the next room; all contributed to a relaxed atmosphere and a relaxed me! I feel that I would not have had such a positive experience had I been in hospital. I am so pleased that I followed my instincts about what was best for my baby and me and not listened to those sceptics of homebirth (of which there are many).
Many, many thanks to Rob and Siobain whose unconditional love and unwavering support reinforced the belief I had in myself.
Thanks to all of you at Birthrites for your empathy, encouragement and support.
Thanks also to homebirthuk whose information has been valuable, and whose stories inspiring.
First stage: 4 hours 25 minutes.
Second stage: 15 minutes
Home Birth Stories
Fast Labours - is quicker always better? What do you do if your baby is arriving faster than your midwife?
Waterbirth at home
Independent Midwives - what they do, and where to find one.
Hypnotherapy for childbirth
Home Birth After Caesarean
UK VBAC/HBAC (Home Birth After Caesarean/ Vaginal Birth after Caesarean}) group: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/ukvbachbac
Home Birth Reference Page