Home Birth Reference Site

Bethany's Birth Story, by Emma T

I really wanted to have a home birth with my first baby, for a lot of reasons: I thought I'd be comfortable at home and nervous in the hospital, I wanted to be able to do my own thing during labour, and I felt that birth should be treated as part of family life rather than an illness, so should happen at home rather than in hospital if possible. The midwives I saw during pregnancy varied quite a lot in whether they thought this was a good idea, but I basically managed to get a consultant to say that it was fine by him (not that it was any of his business really!) and to write that in my notes

By the time my due date arrived, I was starting to get a bit fed up - the midwife I saw at 39 weeks was talking about induction and telling me I wouldn't be allowed a home birth if the baby was overdue. I decided it would be best not to think about it so spent the two days after the official due date shopping in town, rather than sitting at home waiting for the baby to arrive.

On the fourth day, my mum came to visit, and after she left I was sitting cross-legged on the floor to use the computer for a long while, and noticed I was getting backache. I wondered if it was the start of something but didn't want to get too excited in case it was nothing. That was about 11.30am, and by 1pm the general ache had turned into individual contractions about every 10-15 minutes. I hardly dared to believe this was it but thought I'd better take it seriously so I had some lunch, tidied up a bit and collected my drycleaning! On the way back from the drycleaners I had to stop a couple of times because I couldn't keep walking through the contractions, so I think the walk was probably helpful in speeding things up (although having said that, the whole process was hardly very quick in the end!). I sent a message to my husband at work to let him know, but I didn't dare to ring the midwife unit because I was so frightened of being forced to go into hospital unnecessarily - I thought if I waited until my husband was home, he could help me stand my ground.

Over the afternoon, the contractions continued and were regular but not getting much closer together. They were powerful enough that I needed to concentrate on them, and had to turn the radio off because the talking was annoying me during contractions, so I put some music on and read some trashy fashion magazines that I didn't need to think about too hard! I had a show at some point, which I was pleased about because it seemed like proof I wasn't imagining things.

My husband came home and cooked me dinner, and once he was there I called the midwives to let them know I was in labour but there was probably no rush - they said I should call again when the contractions were consistently 5 minutes apart and they'd let the on-call midwife know. Throughout this time my husband was helping me with the breathing and relaxation we'd practised in our antenatal classes, and was holding a warm pad on the small of my back (a big long sock filled with uncooked rice, tied off with string and microwaved for 4 minutes - wonderful during achey contractions).

By night time (maybe 11pm or so?) the contractions were 5 minutes apart, so we called the midwives again and spoke to the on-call midwife, who said "call when the pain's unbearable and you're desperate for pain relief, [very constructive! not what I wanted to hear at that point...] or when your waters break". So we went to bed and I managed to get a bit of sleep, although when the contractions woke me up they were harder to manage because I couldn't see them coming and prepare myself, so they were quite painful and I was really violently sick a few times.

Obviously I had very little idea how I was progressing, not having done this before, but at one point quite a bit later I tried to feel what was going on (not a wonderful idea but I needed to know whether I was just being pathetic or whether we were really getting somewhere) and I could feel the bag of waters, I'd guess I was about 5-6cm but really have no idea. Probably this would have been a good time to call the midwife again, but I was OK with the pain and my waters hadn't broken, so I honestly didn't even think of calling.

By about 3am I was having difficulty managing the pain so I got into the bath, which was fantastic. Apparently I slept while I was in there, although I don't remember. The contractions carried on while I was in there and were powerful but totally manageable.

About 4am, I went through that kind of transition madness that people seem to get: "I can't do this it hurts too much make it stop I'm going to die" etc, although only for the duration of one contraction. The next contraction felt totally different: instead of an ache, it felt like a strong downwards push, and I could feel the baby's head pushing down with it. I panicked and leapt out of the bath immediately, although I'm not sure why it seemed so urgent that I should get out (in retrospect I should have tried staying in there). My husband rang the on-call midwife, who said she had to go the hospital to fetch the gas & air and oxygen for the baby. Meanwhile I was lying on our spare bed trying not to push, although it felt like my body and the baby were pushing whether I wanted them to or not. I ended up panting through contractions to stop myself from pushing. My waters broke at this point, with one of the not-quite-pushes, and really went with a bang and made a horrendous mess!

After about 20 minutes of this, the midwife still wasn't there and my husband could see the baby's head. Astonishingly, he was still being very calm and supportive and helping me through it. He rang the midwife unit again, and they said they didn't know where the on-call midwife had got to but he'd better call an ambulance. He did, and the operator obviously had instructions that under these circumstances you're meant to keep the person on the line while waiting for the ambulance to arrive. So she kept chatting and asking him things like "can you see the baby's head? how's the mother doing?" - to be honest I needed him to help me much more than either of us needed him to talk to her, so he was trying to talk me through the contractions while reassuring the operator that we were all still alive and coping. She did say to him at one point "you seem to be very calm about this".

At 4.30am a paramedic arrived by car, bringing gas and air with him; I tried to use it but couldn't get the hang of it. At 4.40am the midwife arrived: I'd never met her before and didn't really take to her, but the circumstances weren't really ideal for striking up a friendship... She had a brief look at my birth plan but there wasn't really time to discuss it! She told me I was 9cm dilated and shouldn't push, but almost immediately after that told me I was OK to push. I wondered afterwards whether she'd said that to make it seem like it was OK she wasn't there because I wasn't ready to push until after she'd arrived (surely this is too paranoid?) or whether everything had got swollen from all this not-pushing time. Who knows?

Anyway I found it really hard to get the hang of pushing, because I'd been trying not to for such a long time; the midwife kept telling me off for panting through contractions instead of holding my breath and pushing, but by that point it was coming naturally because I'd been doing that for 40 minutes. Just after the midwife got there, an ambulance arrived with two more paramedics, who had nothing to do and just kept out of the way downstairs, along with the original paramedic whose gas & air I was still trying to use.

I was trying to squat, propped against the bed, but I was very tired and hungry (after being so sick, and using so much energy resisting the urge to push) so I found it hard to stay like that. The baby's head kept crowning then slipping back: when I was upright it slipped back less but I didn't have enough strength to push hard, whereas flat on my back on the bed it was the other way round. The midwife eventually told me I was going to have to lie on my back, and I was in no state to argue so I did what I was told.

The crowning and slipping back carried on for about a long time, with the midwife checking the baby's hearbeat periodically with a hand-held monitor. Every time I found I was holding my breath waiting to hear it, and the contractions were stopping; then every time she found it and it was fine, and the contractions carried on.

After an hour or so, the midwife decided I needed an episiotomy to get the baby out quickly. By this time I'd just about worked out how to push, and had also got the hang of the gas & air, which didn't take away the pain but made me feel spaced-out enough to ignore it.

Anyway after the episiotomy the baby's head emerged within the next couple of pushes. The cord was around the baby's neck, but only loosely, so the midwife slipped it off and she was born with the next contraction. The midwife placed her on my stomach, and I tried to move her up to my chest but the cord was very short so I couldn't (combined with the cord being around her neck, this might be another reason why she was taking a while to arrive and slipping back a lot, although I think tiredness and difficulty working out how to push were the main things).

After the cord stopped pulsing my husband cut it and I lifted the baby into my arms - that's when I saw she was a girl. She was crying a lot at first, but then she calmed down and was just quiet and alert and looking at me; I was holding her and saying "oh my baby, oh my baby", over and over again. Her Apgar scores were 9, 10 and 10 at 1, 5 and 10 minutes; her head was moulded and her face a little bit marked, but she was healthy and beautiful and so peaceful despite what she'd just been through.

My daughter was born at 5.54am, so I'd been up for 24 hours and in labour for well over 12 hours - I don't know when I entered "official labour" because there was no-one there to tell me I was 3cm dilated (somehow it got written in my notes as a four-hour labout from start to finish, I've got no idea where that number came from!).

I was so exhausted by this point that I told the midwife that I'd changed my mind about a natural third stage, I couldn't push any more and could she please give me the injection, but fortunately she didn't take any notice and the placenta arrived almost straight away with no injection and what felt like very little effort from me.

Because the episiotomy was through muscle as well as skin, and she hadn't brought her equipment with her (after all that time she hadn't even got as far as the hospital to collect the gas and air and the oxygen, so I can't imagine where she'd been - we live in a small London borough and are 5 minutes from the hospital), she said I'd have to go to the hospital for stitches.

So I got dressed, kind of, in pyjamas and dressing gown and my gardening shoes (they were nearest to the door and I could put them on without bending down!). The midwife found a babygrow and dressed my baby in it, then wrapped a towel around her to keep her warm. I'd packed a hospital bag but no-one (including me) thought to pick it up or even look in it to get a vest/blanket/hat/etc for the baby. I had, however, found a chocolate orange and eaten most of it, although I did share some with the paramedics. My husband and I carried our daughter into the ambulance that was conveniently parked outside and they drove us to the hospital, let us out and we wandered up to the maternity unit.

The same midwife who'd delivered our baby had come along by car and she stitched me up; I found this very painful and she kind of told me off for it, saying "you're very sensitive down there, aren't you?". I though it probably wasn't unusual not to enjoy having needles stuck in those bits of me, but didn't feel it was a good idea to start an argument with the person who was doing it.

While we were there, she also weighed our baby, checked her over, and put her in a heated bed for a little while because she was a bit chilly (it was the middle of winter and we'd come out at 6am without putting a vest on her, let alone a coat or blanket, so no major surprise). We had to wait in the hospital for a long time, for something unspecified, but the great thing was that people kept bringing us breakfast so we had loads of cups of tea and servings of toast and cereal, just what I needed!

We had to fill in a form which asked for our daughter's name: we'd already decided to call her Bethany. We were there for a while, holding her and talking to her and each other, and I tried breastfeeding her with some success.

By about 9am it turned out we were waiting for the paediatrician and she wouldn't be available for another couple of hours, so we decided to go home. My husband called a cab, and I hobbled down the stairs in my dressing gown, still not having had a wash at all, carrying my tiny newborn daughter who was wrapped in a towel - we must have looked such a state that I was worried the cab driver wouldn't take us, but fortunately he did and within a few minutes we were home and I could have a shower then get into bed with my lovely daughter.

Things that I'd do again:

Things I'd do differently:

  • I'd call the midwife sooner! However...
  • I wouldn't wait for the midwife until I started pushing, because I do think things would have been much easier if I'd just gone with what felt right rather than fighting against it. I'm not saying I should have done that this time, but that if I had a second baby I'd know what was happening and trust my own judgement
  • I'd try and get some sleep in the early stages of labour, because by the time I was really tired the contractions were too powerful to sleep through
  • I'd try and get more food and water down me, even if it was just glucose sweets
  • hopefully those last two things would help me to have the energy and strength to stay upright and avoid another episiotomy: having this done, and the days after the birth recovering from it, were the most unpleasant and difficult aspects of the whole birth

    Overall though, and despite the cut and the stitches and the panic and so on, I was really pleased with how things worked out: not the birth I'd imagined but one I was pleased with and proud of, and a wonderful baby at the end of it, which is the bit that matters most.

    Emma T

    Related pages:

    Home Birth Stories

    Pain relief - what are your options at home?

    First Babies and homebirth

    The Third Stage of Labour - what are your options, and the pros and cons of each?

    Transferring to hospital - why it might be advised.

    Blood on the carpet - How much mess are you likely to encounter at a homebirth, and what can you do about that carpet?!

    Overdue - but still want a homebirth? When is 'postdates' risky?


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