Oscar's birth story, by Brigett English

Where to begin? I should set the scene of how it was that I came to realise that giving birth at home was the only way forward for me.

When I became pregnant I couldn't wait to get to my first antenatal appointment. I was full of excitement and happiness. At the appointment the Midwife asked whether I was planning a home birth or hospital birth (in the UK they are provided on the national health service). I was quite ignorant about home births and lacking confidence said that for the first I wanted a hospital birth.

At 17 weeks I agreed to a have a blood test that measured the protein (I think) levels, which apparently indicate a higher likelihood of Downs Syndrome (Ed's note: this will probably have been a test for alpha-feto protein levels - known as an AFP test). Later that week the midwife told me that I tested 'positive' (or words to that effect) and that my likelihood of having a downs baby was now 1 in 250. She told me that she had booked me in for an 'emergency' appointment the next day at the hospital to discuss my options. Feeling stressed out and frightened I met with a hospital midwife. I had a date scan as they thought that if my dates were out that would explain the high reading. My dates weren't out so they suggested an amniocentesis. Amniocentesis has 1 in 100 chance of miscarrying. Yet I was only 1 in 250 chance of having a downs baby. The maths didn't add up. I was surprised that such a serious procedure was routinely offered and the midwife said the hospital put a lot of premium on a mother's peace of mind. Amniocentesis is a potentially fatal (for the baby) procedure and I felt that the hospital midwives should have put greater emphasis on the high false positive rate of the AFP test, which would have helped to reduce my state of panic. Having the amnio would have been, for me, a panic decision.

The way they approached the situation worried me. I rejected their offer on the grounds that the test was simply too unreliable to warrant such a serious procedure. Instead I opted to wait and have the scan at 20 weeks where they would look for marker signs of Down syndrome like kidney, stomach and other problems normally associated with a Downs baby. I had to wait a couple of weeks for the scan and during this was a time I did a lot of reading and started to question a lot of things. The scan confirmed a thriving and healthy baby which, deep in my heart, I knew to be.

The sum total of the above was that I realised that I couldn't rely on doctors or hospital midwives to have the courage to make the right decisions for my baby or me when I would be at my most vulnerable. I felt that, rather than do what was right for me or the baby, the threat of litigation would inform most of their decision - making. Don't get me wrong; in an emergency, I know they provide a wonderful and important service. But I wasn't an emergency. Basically I felt that my pregnancy and subsequent birth was approached as a potential disaster waiting to happen. The experience also shook my belief that I was capable of growing and delivering a healthy baby.

So I started to explore alternatives and did a lot of reading. I read and loved anything written by Sheila Kitzinger and Janet Balaskas and also enrolled on an active birthing course. I got little information from my standard antenatal classes, so the active birthing classes were a revelation. I enlisted the services of a Doula and started with breathless anticipation to plan my home birth.

As in life and particularly pregnancy and birth - things don't always run to a pre-ordained plan. My baby was due on the 5 December and the day came and went. Days went by and days turned into weeks. My husband had taken leave and we were sitting around thinking surely any minute, any night now I would go into labour. I was getting messages from family 'where's the baby'? But somehow I could sense that Oscar just wasn't ready to come.

The midwives put me under pressure to book an induction. Oscar grew a lot in the second week. That was when I really started to pop out. By the third week over I was going to the hospital every day for monitoring. Everything was proving to be A1. There was plenty of amniotic fluid, the heartbeat was strong and steady, and there was a lot of movement. All the tests revealed a thriving and healthy baby, and on that basis I just couldn't justify inducing him.

One doctor in particular became very aggressive and suggested that I was being irresponsible by not inducing and still planning to give birth so late at home. Without question, if there were any indications that our baby was becoming distressed, then of course I would have taken their advice. I was fully aware of all the facts and figures and statistics relating to going past the due date by so long, but I wanted to be treated as an individual case with my own particulars. Particulars that seemed to show that there was no basis for medical intervention. Surely statistics are not meant to dictate a set course of action for everyone? My husband, who attended every appointment, was fully in support. But the third week dragged by. I was taking caulophyllum ( a homeopathic remedy said to induce labour), eating curries, having loads of sex (my husband, what a trooper!) and walking up steep hills. All the while our baby seemed perfectly happy to stay right were he was!

Aside from the fear of the trauma of an instrumental delivery both for the baby and me, I very much wanted to know what labour was like. I wanted to experience my labour, to feel contractions and to experience every aspect of the birth. I wanted to be given the opportunity to labour as nature had intended. I knew by then the only place for this was the safety and comfort of my own home. I felt that if I went into hospital that opportunity would be taken away from me by the very nature of being a patient in a hospital.

Christmas was looming and there were still no stirrings. His head was not engaged and my cervix showed no signs of effacing. It didn't look good and I couldn't go on like this forever. Absolutely nothing was happening. Was I withholding? Was there a psychological aspect to the delay? Was I somehow responsible? I really felt like I was being tested. I took some Bach flower remedies relating to control and letting go. There was pressure on all sides to induce. I was feeling very emotional and very scared. But my husband and Doula were totally supportive. Again hospital monitoring showed a seemingly healthy baby who was very active.

We finally got tired of waiting around and to take our minds off things decided to decorate our Christmas tree, and buy a goose for lunch on Christmas day. By this time I had lost the services of my wonderful Doula, Sarah. She had Christmas commitments and had left to be with her family. She had not known anyone to go so far over their due date. So there I was feeling a little abandoned. Life and people were moving on. I however, was not!!

There I was, hugely pregnant with a baby that was due 5 December and on 24 December still no showed no sign that he was on his way. My daily visit to the hospital still showed our baby to be in perfect health. The head wasn't engaged and nor was my cervix effacing as much as might be expected. I underwent a cervical stretch and sweep on Christmas eve and couldn't believe Christmas day was almost here! He was 19 days overdue.

At home our tree looked beautiful. Our sitting room was going to be our birthing room and it really looked festive, welcoming and warm. I made lots of mince pies and we decided to do a little Christmas shopping and to try to get on with life a little!!!

So there I was on Christmas Eve about 4pm in a queu waiting to buy a CD. Suddenly I felt a whoosh and a lovely warm sensation running down my legs. My waters had broken. I let out gasp and wrapped my coat tightly round me and rushed out of the department store. I was too embarrassed to look back in case I had left a little puddle behind. Lucky for me there was a quiet alleyway next to the store where I could hide and I phoned my husband who came to get me. He brought towels that he wrapped around me as I waddled out of the alleyway and across two lanes of traffic. What a sight I must have been. But I was grateful for small mercies. I felt good, as now I knew what it felt like for my waters to break.

At home having showered and changed I phoned the midwife and she popped round at 6pm. Liz was on duty that night, which was good as I liked her. She examined me and told me that the head was now fully engaged but in a posterior position and therefore I may need to go to hospital for an epidural, as labour can often be longer and more painful. Liz's own two children were both posterior and she had an epidural each time. To be honest, at this stage I was ready for anything - even the possibility of going to hospital! She left and nothing, as usual, seemed to be happening. We had a light dinner and watched some television. I didn't believe that I was ever going to go into labour. Liz was going to pop back at 10pm for another check up.

At 10pm Liz visited again. Nothing much had changed from earlier. Liz suggested that rather than doing squats, or anything else to bring on labour, that I should just relax and try to get some sleep.

At about 11pm my husband and I go to bed. After an hour or so I become aware that lying down has became uncomfortable as I am having fairly strong cramps. It was now 12am and I don't want to disturb Rich, so I decide I would get a glass of water and lie on my birthing ball as I did occasionally for comfort. I notice that the thought of wearing underwear makes me feel claustrophobic. I am in a loose t/shirt and really wanted to take it off. Before I could do anything, what I guessed must be contractions were coming regularly - every three or so minutes and they are strong. I now can't stop myself from moaning out loud. Rich wonders in looking a little foggy eyed. He didn't think I could be in established labour just yet. Neither did I really. However, these contractions were strong and I suddenly realised that I couldn't get up even if I wanted to. And I did want to, as I had been on my birthing ball for over an hour and wanted to change position. By 1am we knew labour had started in earnest and Rich hurried to light the candles, to fill the aromatherapy burners, and he phoned Liz. It felt like we weren't quite keeping up!

Suddenly, I feel this tremendous kicking and wriggling around going on inside me. Then I get a strong deep urge to bear down. Even I know that I shouldn't be bearing down this early. A little blood is dripping down onto the cushion I am kneeling on. The contractions were getting stronger and I find that making a lot of noise is essential for me to get through the pain. I try to remember everything I had learnt at my active birthing classes about not resisting contractions. Rich kneels to massage my shoulders and talked words of encouragement for the entire length of the contraction! I gently suggest that the encouragement is good but all the way through distracts me. After that he has it down-pat and lives and breathes every contraction with me, helping me, encouraging and comforting me.

Liz arrives at about 1.30am. By then I am not of this world. The pain is coming from deep in my uterus. I am moaning and groaning taking it moment by moment. Liz checks the position of the baby and tells me the baby has turned and is now fully anterior which explained the kicking and urge to bear down. I know this is a good thing but I am on another planet. As the contractions gather momentum Richard intensifies his concentration and attention on me. I know his love and care help me to cope with the pain.

I was breathing hard and groaning (loudly) and feel thirsty all the time. Rich is on hand with a constant supply of water that I sip through a straw. Liz suggests different positions like standing up and leaning forward onto Rich. It feels good for me but not much fun for Rich, trying to balance on one knee with me bearing down on him with all that power. I return to a squatting position. Liz does an internal and I tell her I don't want to know how dilated I am. I knew it could be demoralising if I was dilating slowly. After a while I get really restless and Liz suggests I have a bath. The contractions were now coming every minute or two. I think there is no way I am going to get to the bath let alone get in and out. But she insists. I am glad she did as it kind of gives me something that I can focus on.

So I take a step or two towards the bathroom and hang on to Rich for each contraction and so we go. The bath is lovely and hot and smells of essential oils. Rich lets it slip that I was 5-6 cm dilated and I can see how proud he is of me. He sponges my tummy. I lie on my side and rest my head on Rich's arm. Liz is encouraging me to control my breathing. My throat felt hoarse and dry. In the bath I have a couple of milder contractions and wasn't sure it was the effects of the hot water. Liz notices and says that it means that a really big one was coming. She was right, though in a weird way I didn't really notice. I suddenly felt my lips and cheeks go all tingly just as it does sometimes when I am climaxing to orgasm. Bizarre, I know, I think it must have been the rapid breathing.

I need to get out of the bath. It feels too constricting. I amazingly lever myself out with Rich's help and slowly step-by-step head back to the sitting room. Contractions are coming thick and fast but we aren't timing them so I'm not sure of details. I'm back on the floor in the sitting room lying on my side. Its 4am and the second midwife arrives. She says hello, but I am not able to respond. I realise that delivery can't be too far off. Liz does an internal and I am 8 cm dilated. Liz urges me to lie on my side with a leg raised. Apparently there is a slight corner for the baby to come around. It's my least favourite position, as I didn't really have anything to push against.

Finally, things seem to slow down almost. I am now in sitting leaning against the sofa. I am in a deep and trance like state. I am shivering uncontrollably and feel a little chilly. A towel around my shoulders helps. Then suddenly the second stage starts and I start bearing down. The pain is totally gone and it is the most powerful and unstoppable urge ever. Liz thinks I am not fully dilated and urges me to try to resist them. Anyone who experiences these knows it is impossible. She does an internal during a contraction. Its painful, but she realises that I am fully dilated. Then things seem to reach almost a lull. The pain gone, I feel sleepy. All I wanted to do was curl up in a ball and go to sleep.

I move myself into a supported squat. I want Rich to be as close to me as possible. I am squatting on the floor, leaning in between Rich's knees, who is sitting on the sofa. Liz is kneeling in front of me. Everybody is urging me to push. There is a real sense of urgency and I wonder if there is a problem. Liz regularly monitors the heartbeat. I hope everything is normal. His heart seems to dip slightly in between contractions and picks up again during the middle of a contraction and they joke that he must be enjoying labour. Liz suggests that I should try not to make any noise so that the power of the contraction isn't dissipated. I clench my mouth and push with all my might. Actually I am pushing too hard and I loose my rhythm a bit.

Liz tells me that they can see his head in the distance. I still can't quite believe that I am now so close. After two huge pushes the midwives tells me that I will feel a burning sensation as the baby moves down the birth canal but I don't really notice. Liz asks if I want to touch the baby's head just before it crowns. I suddenly and inexplicably feel the most intense fear. I think the incomprehensibility of it all overwhelms me. I instantly draw back in fear that runs all the way up my spine. I can still feel it now. They don't push it, and a few minutes later Rich guides my hand we touch his head together. His head is soft (much like a boiled egg) which I am not expecting.

After touching his head I push with all my might and suddenly his head is born. The pain is searing and it takes my breath away. I can't feel the next contraction and it feels like ages before his body is born. I can barely feel the next contraction but shortly after, at 5.25am on Christmas day, he is born into my arms weighing a healthy 7lb 8oz. We name him Oscar. He is a little blue at birth but lets out a huge cry immediately and his skin soon turns pink with a gentle rub. Liz asks Rich if he wants to cut the cord, which he does. Rich cutting the cord seems like such a minor detail after what we had just experienced.

Everything is suddenly quiet and still. I am in a state of amazement. I can't believe my baby was actually here and that I had done it. He cries for a minute or so. I hold him wrapped in a blanket, a bit unsure of myself and wanting to soothe him. Oscar and I stare at each other, trying to take it all in. Aside from smiling down at him, I am aware of very little else. Feelings of immense pride well up in me, for me and for this baby. Where did he come? Surely not me? He is beautiful and so perfect. It seemed an age before the midwife asked the sex. It hadn't even occurred to me.

I had planned to deliver the placenta naturally, but all I wanted to do was to be with my baby. So the placenta is delivered with the help of an injection and the midwife checks for any tears with a lamp. It all feels so rudimentary, which I love. I had grazed slightly but didn't need any stitches. I get up and, clasping a pad in between my legs, head for the shower. But it is hard to suddenly leave my baby in somebody else's arms while I clean up. I hurry and dress. They have measured and dressed him and when I return he is sleeping peacefully in his daddy's arms. The bubbly comes out - what a Christmas morning! We take lots of photos and they show us how to bath him and how to breast-feed. He latches on well and away we go.

What an incredible journey. Together we had climbed that mountain and faced that precipice together. I can't quite believe that we had done it. This had been my dream birth. The midwives clear everything away and they show me how to breast-feed lying down so I can rest. Liz is going to return later in the day to see how we are doing. At about 7am Rich, Oscar and I curl up in bed to try and sleep. No chance. The adrenaline is flowing. Besides sleeping would separate us temporarily from Oscar! We get up and Rich makes smoked salmon scrambled eggs, that we washed down with tea and more champagne, and many happy telephone calls to anxious family friends.

Again we all returned to bed at about 12pm but I can't sleep. I leave Oscar and his daddy sleeping and prepare the roast potatoes and check the goose that has been slowly roasting for about 2 hours. Later that day we sit down (or rather I perch on the edge of the seat) to the best Christmas dinner ever. We just can't take our eyes off Oscar. We all finally fall asleep together at about 6pm. The weeks and that followed his birth we closed the door and saw as few people as possible. It was the very beginning of our new family and we wanted to make the most of what we called our baby moon.

11 months has passed and I still get a high when I think of that special night. The outcome has had such a positive effect on me in every way. I love my post-maternity body in a way I never imagined. As time goes by some of the details fade, but the feelings of joy and happiness are with me always. Somehow, I know that whatever lies ahead in my life I will be ok. The experience was great for Rich and Oscar as they bonded - in fact we all bonded immediately. Nothing came between us then and nothing has come between us since.

Oscar's Apgar scores were 9/10, 10/10 and 10/10. He didn't look at all like he had been inside too long. His skin wasn't dry or his nails long. So we felt thoroughly vindicated in resisting the rush to induce. The doctors feel pretty sure that the dating scan is correct so I guess my baby simply needed a little longer to gestate than others.

Brigett English

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