After I had my third child, Benjamin, a wonderful birth at home, I thought that I might not want to have my next (yes, I was planning a next even then!) at home in case something went wrong and spoilt the memories of the 'perfect' birth that I had just had. Of course, when it came to it, it never occurred to me to plan to have my baby anywhere other than home and when my midwife said "I imagine you'll have this one at home too?" I agreed without even considering hospital.
My third baby had been overdue, despite my first two being a few days early, and as I had found that really tough emotionally, I was determined this time not to expect the baby to be born until at least a week after my due date. The most important thing, however, was that the baby shouldn't be born on my daughter Charlotte's ninth birthday, which was three days after my due date. She wasn't especially thrilled with the idea of another baby anyway, and as her birthday grew nearer (and the plans for her sleepover more elaborate!) her focus was very much on how much she wouldn't want to share her birthday. I could understand the sentiment as I had been very keen not to have my third baby on my own birthday. I felt rather selfish and silly feeling so strongly, but I didn't want to share my birthday with another person - I already share it with my twin sister!
On the Thursday evening three days before my due date (whilst sitting at a school Parent's Association meeting!) I started getting what felt like Braxton Hicks contractions, only a little more regularly than I had ever had them before. They were pretty painless, just uncomfortable, but I was slightly suspicious as I had felt vaguely uncomfortable all day. They stopped when I got home and I went to bed as normal but was woken around 3am by more Braxton Hicks- like contractions something that had happened often, although there seemed more of a pattern to them than before, and I didn't get much more sleep. In the morning, they seemed to have stopped (and I was rather disappointed) but they started up again as I walked the children to school although they still felt just like tightenings rather than 'real' contractions. I knew that last time I had seen the midwife my baby had been posterior, as had my first baby, and my labour with her had been very slow and drawn out, with nearly 24 hours of pre-labour before things really started to happen. I felt that maybe this labour would be like that and knew from that experience that the best thing that I could do would be to keep busy and do my normal things and try not to think about whether I was in labour or not.
As my youngest, Benjamin, doesn't go to nursery school on a Friday, I had offered to have his best friend Madeleine for the day, as her mother, Alice, had to go into work. I decided that I should carry on with this plan, as the distraction of two children in the house would be good. As the morning progressed, I still felt things weren't really happening; the contractions were only uncomfortable and fairly randomly spaced, so I caught up with lots of little bits and pieces that I had been meaning to do for ages while the children played happily together.
Around midday, Alice phoned to check I was still fine and to see whether I wanted her to collect Maddy, I told her that I didn't think that I would be having the baby that day, maybe tomorrow, and that I would see her in the playground after school. My husband also phoned to see tell me he was just going out on his visits (he's a GP) and if I needed him I could call his mobile. I laughed and said that I was fine and not to keep calling me! I wish I'd taped those conversations, as at about 12.15pm my contractions suddenly went from being almost painless and maybe 20 minutes apart to being every 2 minutes and pretty painful.
I was just cooking lunch for the children and I had to keep on turning away and breathing hard through the contractions because I didn't want them to see that I was in pain in case it worried them. It didn't take me long to realise that maybe that baby wasn't going to wait until tomorrow and that things were going to be fairly speedy from now on! So I phoned my husband back and asked him to come home after his visits, then ten minutes later phoned him back again and said actually I needed him to come home as soon as he could!
I phoned the Rosie (the local maternity hospital) to ask them to page the on-call midwife for my area just so I could let them know what was going on, and when she phoned me back she said that as she was nearby, she'd pop round to see me. Then I phoned Alice and, feeling rather foolish, I said "You know I said the baby wasn't coming today and I'd see you at school, well I've changed my mind and please could you collect Maddy, take Benjamin with you too and collect the other two from school!" Of course, Alice was very pleased to help and didn't mind missing her seminar for such an exciting reason!
So at around 1.15pm the house suddenly became like Piccadilly Circus as Alice arrived to take Maddy and Benjamin and at the same time the two midwives arrive to assess the situation. Julie (a very experienced midwife) and Clare (newly moved from the Rosie into the community) sat themselves down at the table in the kitchen and told me to carry on with what I needed to do (sweep the floor as the children had couscous for lunch!) while they asked me a few questions, watched me carefully during contractions and generally got a feel of things. They very quickly decided that they weren't going to leave again and I went upstairs with Julie so that she could check the position of the baby and listen to the heart rate.
Simon arrived home at about 1.30pm and I pottered around vaguely tidying the kitchen while we chatted and Simon had something to eat. It was all very relaxed and low-key. As I was intending to have the baby in our bedroom, we decided that we should go and prepare things before everything became too serious and before my waters broke; we have recently had a new white(!!!) carpet laid in the bedroom and I wanted every scrap of it covered with plastic sheets!
The midwives helped Simon to lay out plastic sheets, dustsheets, a duvet cover filled with bubble wrap to kneel on, and various other things I had been piling up for comfort and floor protection, while I gave instructions and wandered around trying to organise things I needed. By this time, I was finding it a little hard to concentrate on things as the contractions were becoming increasingly strong, but it was brilliant to have things to do to take my mind off the pain.
Every 15 minutes or so Clare or Julie would just listen to the baby's heart rate with the sonicaid to check that it was coping well and it was really encouraging for me to see that every time they listened, the baby had moved further down. By about 2.30pm, the room was as ready as it could be and I wondered what I should do now. The contractions were really pretty painful now and I didn't want to sit around waiting for that pain to come back, so I decided that I should have a shower. The warm water was nice and I stayed in there for about 20 minutes. By then I was beginning to feel that I couldn't cope with the pain any more and at the back of my mind a little voice was saying that when I had felt like that with my last two births (with my first I had an epidural) I had been in transition, although I had only realised that in retrospect.
I tried not to let myself think that I might be getting near the end in case I wasn't and I would be disappointed, but I was also suddenly feeling very shaky and extremely sleepy, as I had with my last baby, and I decided that it would be safest if I got out of the shower. Julie dried me as I didn't really feel capable of doing anything and I went to kneel on my bubble-wrap filled duvet cover at the bottom of the bed and rested the top half of my body on the bed. I actually dozed between the contractions and counted through the contractions to try to keep myself calm and breathing instead of screaming and shouting "Make it stop!" which is what I wanted to do (just a few cries escaped!).
The midwives were very unobtrusive, quietly getting on with what they needed to do and watching me, chatting to Simon a bit but just letting nature take its course. Throughout the whole time, neither of the midwives had done an internal examination as they didn't feel it was necessary, and although I agreed with them, a little part of me was worried that I might not know when to push as I had never really had the urge with my other births. Of course, nature is amazing, and suddenly I felt I needed to kneel with my legs much further apart and as I adjusted myself, I saw the midwives look at each other as they realised the significance of this. Shortly afterwards, I felt my body give a little push at the end of a contraction and my waters broke.
There was meconium in the liquor (I didn't know that at the time) but there wasn't the time or the need to do anything about it as now my body took over and with the next couple of contractions it pushed, I didn't do anything voluntary. Four minutes later, the baby was born, all in one go, no "Here is the baby crowning" or "Just pant while the head comes out", just a fairly surprised (and quick as she didn't drop him!) midwife and an extremely relieved mother.
Despite having just been through labour, I couldn't really believe that I had just had a baby and I kept on saying "Simon, I've had a baby!" in a rather surprised way; I think Simon was slightly embarrassed by this! You might have thought that by the fourth time it wouldn't be quite so startling that at the end of a nine month pregnancy and labour you have a real live baby, but I can honestly say that this time seemed the most unreal. Maybe it was because although we had made the decision to have another baby, with three other children already, life is so busy that we had really only taken each day as it came and right to the end I had this vague feeling that the baby would never actually come!
I had toyed with the idea of having a natural third stage, but the cord was so short that the baby only just reached the floor even though I was kneeling and so I had the syntometrine and the placenta came away a few minutes later.
The whole labour from when the contractions had become painful had lasted just over three hours, a perfect length of time, I felt. It was wonderful to be at home, having a bath in my bath, with my new baby boy just there in the bedroom.
Probably my favourite moment was when the other children came home. Charlotte had guessed what was going on, but the boys apparently had no idea and when Edward came into the bedroom and saw me sitting on the bed with a baby, his face was a classic picture of amazement and disbelief. Benjamin likewise, he told me later that at first he thought I was holding a doll, not a real baby! None of the children have shown one shred of jealousy. Theodore James is such a favourite with them all, they fight to sit next to him and won't leave him alone (much to my annoyance when I'm trying to get him to sleep!). Charlotte is fantastic with him, is truly helpful and is the envy of all her friends who would dearly love to have a baby in their family. Despite the children all begging me to consider having another baby in a few years, I know Theo will be my last, and I cherish every moment that I can, because I'm not doing it again!
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