Becky's first baby, Sam, was born at home, in a birth pool, on 14 March 2004. He weighed a whopping 9lb 1 oz, but Becky managed to deliver him without intervention, and with only a minor tear.
The night before Sam was born, we went out for a meal, and got to bed about midnight. At around 2am I woke up having heard a 'pop' sound and discovered that my waters had broken. I briefly considered going back to sleep but was too excited so woke James up to tell him. We lay in bed for an hour or so not knowing quite what to do, then trying - and failing - to sleep. I decided to go and lie on the sofa downstairs.
At around 3am I started to feel very mild contractions, like period pains, though they were quite close together - around 6-7 minutes apart. I lay on the sofa with the cat for company for quite a while, but by 6am I wasn't really comfortable - and I was worried about what the midwives would think of the state of our kitchen - so embarked on a last-minute nesting frenzy, tidying and washing up. James got up around 7am, and we went to the paper shop, stocking up on orange juice, bread and snacks for what we assumed would be a fairly long haul.
While I was out, the contractions intensified, so that I had to hide behind a shelf in the shop to disguise my slightly bizarre behaviour! We stopped by my sister's house to let her know that I wouldn't be going swimming that morning, as I'd intended, then went home to have breakfast.
I called the midwife at 8am - we wanted to wait until a reasonably sociable hour as it was a Sunday. We were signed up with the Brierley midwives, a group of six NHS midwives in south-east London specialising in home birth. I told Jo, the midwife on duty, that my contractions were 5 minutes apart, and lasting around 30 seconds. She told me that someone would pop in to check on me between 10am and 12pm, and to expect to be in labour at least the whole of the day and probably longer. But half an hour or so later, I noticed a fair amount of bleeding, so called Jo back - she said that it was a show, and that she would come by at 10am.
The contractions were, by this stage, becoming quite painful, so I decided to give the TENS machine a go. It wasn't a pleasant feeling, but it did numb the pain, and I found it useful. By the time Jo arrived at 10am, I was finding it hard to talk through contractions, and was leaning on the mantelpiece, with the TENS on boost setting, trying to deal with each one. The breathing and relaxation I'd learnt at yoga lessons really helped me get through them. Jo offered to examine me, and I expected to be around 1 or 2 cm dilated - but was really pleased and surprised to discover that I was already 7cms.
James started to fill up the birthing pool in the kitchen, as we realised that things were going very quickly. The contractions were coming regularly and started to become difficult to deal with, even with the TENS machine on full blast. Poor James was rushing round boiling kettles and pans to supplement the hose running off the hot tap, but it took quite a while. The last few contractions on dry land - with the TENS machine - were very difficult, and I felt a lot of pressure, which was unpleasant. This was the only point at which I felt that it was too much to bear. By this point, the second midwife, Ruth, had arrived, together with Kate, a student midwife who we'd got to know through the antenatal sessions.
At around 11.40, just as I was starting to have real problems handling the contractions and beginning to hate the TENS machine with a vengeance, the pool was ready and I got in straight away. The warm water was incredibly relaxing, and I found it helped to calm me down. For each contraction, I leaned against the side of the pool, kneeling. By this stage I wanted to push, and began to push a little with each contraction. I also started to use gas and air, which took the edge off the pain, and also helped to control my breathing. In between contractions, I felt fine, though a little light-headed.
By this stage, there were four people sitting round the pool - James, Kate, Jo and Ruth - all drinking tea and chatting with me, and it all felt quite sociable. By around 12.30, I was getting an intense pressure and urge to push, which was quite painful and overwhelming - I asked Jo how long this could go on, and she said up to two hours. But it continued very quickly, and I started to feel the baby's head emerging and then slipping back after each contraction. I could actually feel his scalp, and see it with a mirror on the bottom of the pool. (The mirror had a wooden handle and so kept floating to the surface; James tried various ways of weighing it down including a bag of lentils - the ultimate hippy home birth!)
I realised that the birth would not be long away as the midwives were getting the oxygen ready, and putting gloves on for the delivery. After a couple of huge contractions, a lot of pain and pressure and a good few screams from me, the head was born underwater, and there followed a surreal moment while we waited for another contraction to deliver him. He was born at 1pm, caught by student midwife Kate - her first water birth - and handed to me. My first feeling was relief that the labour was over, closely followed by amazement at seeing our baby and discovering that he was a boy.
We relaxed in the pool for quite a while, with James leaning over the edge and splashing water on Sam to keep him warm. He breathed straight away, and was very calm and quite alert, even trying to feed. Then Jo helped James to cut the cord so that I could get out of the pool for the third stage - for which I just sat on the loo. Meanwhile, Sam was weighed and wrapped up warmly, though we didn't dress him for quite a while, and looked after by his dad. I was examined and pleased to find that I had only one minor tear. Sam clocked in at a whopping 9lbs 1oz, with a big head too - I was glad I hadn't known in advance.
The midwives stayed for an hour or so more, tidying up and drinking tea, and making sure that we were okay. Then, at 2.30, they left, leaving me, James and Sam alone together. We had a lovely afternoon and were still on a high that night, so didn't get any sleep at all - nor have we slept much since! But Sam is gorgeous, and a very chilled baby, due perhaps in part to his peaceful arrival.
I was so pleased to be able to stay at home for Sam's birth - it made it a very relaxed and positive experience. We were helped greatly by the midwives, who were fantastic, incredibly supportive without any unnecessary interference. They had every confidence in my ability to manage my labour, and I knew that I could trust them to intervene if necessary.
I know that I was lucky to have such a straightforward birth, but I do think that being at home helped relax me and made it an experience to remember rather than forget. I would really recommend other women approaching their first birth to give homebirth a go.
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