I have two other children - Jake, who was born in hospital after a 36 hour labour, during which I used TENS for 17 hours, then the birth pool, then pethidine after an impatient midwife ruptured my membranes, then an epidural because the pethidine didn't work, though I let it wear off so I was able to push him out without assistance - and Eva, who was a planned waterbirth, but due to sudden placental abruption ended up being born by a very traumatic emergency caesarean.
I knew I would definitely plan a VBAC (Vaginal Birth After Caesaran) for my next baby even before I was pregnant - the CS was the most frightening experience of my life and the recovery was long, slow and painful. But it wasn't until I was actually pregnant that I started planning a homebirth. I expected (and got) raised eyebrows, but none of the health care professionals seemed to be taking me seriously until about 34 weeks. At 36 weeks I had a meeting at hospital with one of my team midwives and the hospital Supervisor of Midwives. They spent a good two hours with me, discussing the risks of VBAC and homebirth as well as my previous CS and the trauma and lingering feelings of anxiety I had experienced as a result. They also allowed me to visit the normal delivery rooms and the birth pool room where Eva's birth had begun to go so horribly wrong. I had no plans to give birth there, but I knew I could very well end up in hospital, so it seemed a good step to face some of my fears. To my surprise, I coped better than I had thought I would, but I left feeling more determined than ever that staying at home was right for me.
Both my other children were overdue, by 4 and 10 days respectively, so I was fully prepared to go over again this time. I had an antenatal appointment when I was 40+5. That morning I was feeling uncharacteristically nauseous, and whilst driving to the appointment I felt a bit weepy. My midwife offered me a sweep, which I declined, but I made an appointment for a midwife to come out on the Saturday, when I'd be 40+10 to do one (but I felt confident I would have gone into labour naturally by then). After the appointment Rob, Eva and I had lunch at Slapton Sands beach and played in the edge of the surf. I was feeling better by now, but I had already wondered if my nausea and weepiness were signs that labour was nearing.
That day, a Monday, I felt myself coming down with the cold Eva had developed the day before, so I decided to sleep on the sofa that night, as I figured if I could stay propped up I'd be able to breathe better. Nevertheless, I was awake quite a lot in the night.
I don't know if it was Eva or the first contraction that woke me up at about 6 am on Tuesday, but from that first pain I had a feeling I was going into labour. By the time Rob had brought Eva downstairs at 6:30 I had had five pains, about six minutes apart, and I was quite sure this was it. I felt very calm, though annoyed that I was going to have to give birth with a stinking cold! I told Rob I thought I was in labour, and he made me a big cooked breakfast of scrambled egg and beans on toast (this breakfast had been a theme throughout the pregnancy - it was a real morning sickness antidote!). I had agreed with the midwives that I would contact them early on in labour just to let them know, because they wanted to ensure I had a midwife who would feel confident about dealing with a home VBAC. Unfortunately my named midwife was in London to see Robbie Williams, but luckily, as I'd gone into labour in the day it meant I'd at least get a midwife from my team.
Kim arrived just after 9am. Eeek! She was the only member of the team I hadn't met before, because she'd been off work for the previous six months (I didn't find out until later that it was her first proper day back at work!). But on a very positive note, she told me she had had a VBAC herself, and had actually planned it to be a homebirth, so I knew she would understand to some extent how I was feeling about this birth. I was busying myself getting little jobs done, such as hanging out the washing and organising things for Eva in case she needed to be left with someone if I had to transfer in to hospital.
I had planned to keep vaginal exams to a minimum, but agreed to one about an hour after Kim arrived. I predicted I would be about 2-3 cms, based on the pains I was having, and sure enough I was. Kim decided to cancel the clinic she was meant to be doing so she could stay with me. I went upstairs to take a shower. I'd been using TENS up to this point, but didn't feel it was doing a lot (though when I looked at it later I realised I had it at almost minimum power - doh!). The shower felt great, and I actually laid down in the bath and tried to rest between contractions, which were now about four minutes apart. Kim poked her head in at one point and laughed at the sight of me stretched out on my side in the bath. Soon after, I started feeling too hot, and figured it would soon be time to start filling the birth pool, so I got out.
Around now, Sarah, my yoga teacher and friend who had helped me deal with my feelings about Eva's birth, arrived. She had agreed to act as a birth support for us, and I was so pleased she was able to be there. We chatted for a few minutes, and I complained about how tired I felt. I think it was around now (perhaps 10:30) I asked her to ask Rob to start filling the pool.
I went downstairs and the pool was nearly full. I stepped into it and my epidermis nearly fell off! I checked the temperature and it was nearly 50 degrees! I also noticed Rob hadn't put the tarpaulin down underneath! I asked him to put some cold water in. As he turned on the tap the hose flew out of the pool and started gushing water all over the kitchen floor (which is wood, so not terribly waterproof!). I remained amazingly calm through all of this, and I didn't even tell him off.
Finally it was ready and I climbed in. It wasn't the instant relief I had experienced when I got into the pool during my other two labours, but it felt nice having my own space, and I felt one step further into a positive birth experience.
I was still feeling overwhelmingly tired, and I asked the midwife for some Entonox. I had written in my birth plan that if I asked for drugs the midwife should reassure me that I was doing well and didn't need it - which she did - and this reassurance kept me going for another hour without the gas and air.
Rob and Sarah were taking turns playing with Eva, and then Sarah gave her lunch. I was aware of Eva's presence and it was strangely comforting. She didn't seem bothered at all by what was going on (though she wanted to get into the pool with me) and would come and give me a cuddle every once in a while, which was lovely.
Kim phoned the ambulance service to alert them a home VBACer was in established labour. I think I started on the gas and air at around this point. I was determined to remember the labour, though, so I was very stingy with it, only allowing myself three or four breaths of gas per contraction. I was really breathing through the pain at this point, and I think I was sort of moaning on the out breaths. Sarah, Rob and Kim all encouraged me to keep breathing and keep my shoulders relaxed. I started getting mild pushy urges, and Kim suggested a second VE to check progress. I wasn't keen, so I tried to check myself -I couldn't really feel anything! So I flipped onto my back in the water and let her check. She said I was 9-10 cms but that she could feel an anterior lip. I was a bit disappointed, as I'd had an anterior lip with my son and it had slowed progress for hours, but at the same time I was pleased I'd dilated almost fully with no other complications. Kim had been checking the heartbeat every 10-15 minutes and it was always very good. During one of the early checks after I had got into the pool I had a little cry. Kim said, 'Carrie, it's fine, there's nothing to worry about!' And I replied, 'I know, I'm just so relieved!'
The first sign that something was wrong with Eva came just after I'd got into the pool - the midwife couldn't find her heartbeat. So I was understandably fixated on the heartbeat throughout this labour. Strangely, every time I heard the sonicaid beating away, I knew immediately whether it was okay. And when Kim checked it again, soon after telling me I was almost fully dilated, I knew immediately it was too slow.
Kim stood up and said, 'Right, on the next contraction I need you to push,' then turned to Sarah and said, 'Phone 999.' I must have been a bit befuddled by the gas and air, because I though Kim had said to me, 'On the next contraction I need you to push like 999.' Being an English teacher I started questioning her use of such a weird simile - did she want me to push frantically as if I were dialling the emergency services? Then I saw a look of absolute fear on Sarah's face, and I realised what Kim had really said. On the next contraction I tried to push, but nothing was happening. Kim then asked me to get out of the pool.
Now this should have felt like a horrifying flashback of what had happened during Eva's labour, but I remained completely calm. As she had been listening in that time, I had felt a profound movement deep in my pelvis, as if the baby was turning and dropping, and I was certain that this accounted for the change in heart rate. Sure enough, every time Kim listened to the heartbeat after I got out of the pool it was completely fine.
Meanwhile the second midwife (and the ambulance) arrived (around 2:45 or 3:00). The midwives were happy with the heartbeat now so never mentioned the ambulance again and I forgot about it. I was now leaning over a beanbag placed on the sofa, and the pain was bad. I was actually finding it too difficult to really use the gas and air as I had to concentrate so fully on getting through each contraction (which were now coming every minute and a half or so). Rob was upstairs playing with Eva and I was gripping Sarah with one hand and the back of the sofa with the other. I felt very pushy at this stage, but still not much was happening. I asked Sarah to get Rob, as I felt the birth was near and I was worried he might miss it. I kept feeling hunger pains when I had a contraction, along with a feeling of needing a wee (which I think I did a little). Kim suggested I go upstairs for a wee (I know now she was just tricking me into going up the stairs, as we have a downstairs loo). Somehow I managed to get up the stairs. Sitting on the toilet brought some relief. I had a massive contraction. I was hanging onto the door handle and bearing down, making the most hideous grunting noises, when Kim started telling me to get up and go back downstairs. I protested, and she said several times, 'I'm not going to deliver this baby into the toilet!' I almost wanted to laugh! I'm not one to swear in labour, but I was thinking - Hang on a minute, whose f***ing baby is this, anyway? I'll decide where I'm going to deliver!
I relented though, and stood up. Another contraction hit me. I leant over the bath and bore down. Kim and Rob tried to get me out of the bathroom. At the end of the contraction I moved onto the landing towards our bedroom. I had another contraction. It was all getting very fast and furious now, and I sensed the people around me getting stressed for some reason. I couldn't understand why they wouldn't just let me go in my bedroom - isn't that where lots of babies were born, in their mother's bed? When that contraction passed I was ushered back downstairs, trailed by two midwives, a husband and a gas and air mouthpiece thumping down behind me.
I leant back over the beanbag/sofa. At this point I got really irritated because the plastic tarp was kind of beneath me, but there was no towel covering it, so my feet kept sticking to it. It was at this moment that I had my only real crisis of confidence. I was experiencing a deep ache all around my lower abdomen and back that carried on hurting between contractions. I began to wonder if my scar was going to give way under the immense pressure. I told the midwife it still hurt in between, but she explained the achy feeling was the pelvis stretching and opening to allow the baby to pass. I began making classic transition statements: 'I can't do this. I'm too tired. Please can't I have some pethidine?' Even as I said these things, I knew it was a good sign.I knew it meant the baby was nearly here. The second midwife, Terry, placed the gas and air within reach. I tried to get a puff, but it was out. I gripped Rob with my right hand and the back of the sofa with my left, and I was still making these awesome throaty roars with the pain. I felt inside myself and could feel the soft, squishy amniotic bag surrounding my baby's head, just an inch or so up. I looked down and realised I was bleeding -the midwives reassured me that it was just a show, and nothing to worry about.
The next contraction came. I roared and felt my body doing things I had no control over. The pain was unimaginable and I cried out that I was tearing. I started to bite Rob's hand, then realised that wasn't very nice of me so let go. I felt a pop as my perineum finally gave up its grip on my baby's head. The head was out, but the pain didn't go. I begged for 'something stronger!' and had an urge to ask the midwife to pull on the baby's head to get the rest of the body out. I felt the next contraction coming and my body pushed the baby out. All was silent for a moment, then I heard a lusty cry.
Kim guided my leg over the cord and I got my first glimpse of my baby, lying under me on the floor. The midwife asked me what I had had, and I saw immediately it was a girl. I collapsed on the floor and Kim scooped the baby girl into my arms. At that moment a huge gush of thick blood collected under me. Kim pointed out that the cord had already stopped pulsating and said she needed to clamp it now, and said the rush of blood suggested the placenta might already be coming away. She asked if I would consent to syntometrine (I had indicated in my birth plan that I would prefer not to have it). The sight of all that blood made me think I'd rather have the injection than end up having to transfer into hospital after the birth for a blood transfusion, so I consented. Meanwhile Kim asked who would like to cut the cord. I asked Rob, but he didn't want to (he'd said this throughout my pregnancy), so Kim asked if I would like to do it. I said yes, so she handed me the scissors. I was nervous of cutting the baby, but pleased that no one else was going to make this very symbolic cut that would separate us for the first time. Afterwards, Kim gently pulled the cord and I birthed the placenta a few minutes later (and yes, it did hurt!).
Kim asked if I had a torch so she could check if I'd sustained any perineal damage. Both midwives had a good old peer up there and determined I was wrong when I shouted that I'd torn - they couldn't see any damage at all (I later had a look in the mirror and just had two tiny identical paper-cuts). They then explained that the baby had been born in her caul - my waters had never broken, so Kim simply wiped the membrane away from her face as she came out of me.
Sarah came down the stairs with Eva, and we introduced her to her new baby sister. She was fascinated by Imogen's tiny nose and fingers. Within 15 or 20 minutes Imogen was suckling like a real pro, and carried on with her first feed for almost an hour. Kim inspected the placenta with me and showed me Imogen's intact amniotic sac. When she had finished feeding, Kim checked Imogen over and weighed her - 7 pounds 6 ounces.
I was given tea and the rest of the pineapple I had started eating the night before. I had a cuddle with Eva and marvelled at this amazing day.
Home Birth Stories
Home VBAC stories
Vaginal Birth After Caesarean - what are the issues?
The third stage of labour - your options for delivery of the placenta
Waterbirth at home
Home Birth Reference Page