Home birth had never occurred to me as an option until a friend had her first at home, in 1999. At the time I was quite shocked at her rebellion against the system. It seemed like a step backwards – something our grandmothers had done because they didn’t have an option, rather than a positive choice for the birth experience. However, when I became pregnant with Yasmin in 2001, I wanted to explore all the options available, and it wasn’t long before we were planning a home water birth. Maybe though, if Nancy hadn’t had such a great experience, I wouldn’t have been brave enough to consider it.
I was lucky to have a community midwife who listed home birth as a valid preference, rather than as a mumbled afterthought, so she was supportive of my choices throughout my pregnancy. The only time that the decision came into question was at about 8 months, when a blood test showed I was anaemic. I found research suggesting that slight anaemia in pregnancy doesn’t actually increase the risk of bleeding after the birth, but who really wants to take the stand of having a home birth against medical advice? Time was short to get my iron levels up so, to avoid a fight, I set aside my vegetarian principles for a few weeks and ate red meat to supplement the iron tablets. I was given the all clear just before my due date.
Note from Angela: There is no known evidence that anaemia increases your risk of bleeding after the birth, but in the unlikely event that you had a severe haemorrhage, if you were anaemic then it would be harder for your body to cope. Because of this, most hospitals have guidelines that women with iron counts below a certain level should have a hospital birth. However, many women do make their own assessment of the risks and benefits and still choose homebirth in this situation. As Flora demonstrates, there are ways to boost your iron count and save the hassle of this confrontation. For more on home birth and anaemia/low iron count, see 'You can't have a home birth, because...'. Follow the link to the ARM site for effective ways to raise your blood count.
Back to Flora:
First babies are always late – everybody says so. And true to form, this one was tardy. The birth pool had been set up for two weeks in our tiny dining room, and we were getting sick of edging around it. The cats were also less than impressed (ha! – just wait until they meet the baby!). The consultant insisted on booking me in for an induction at 41 weeks – would brook no argument.
Note from Angela: Most obs would be happy to support you waiting until 42 weeks for labour to start naturally, but even then, it is the mother's choice whether to accept. We all know this in theory, but as Flora points out, it can be hard to be militant in real life - especially at the end of pregnancy when many women want to avoid conflict. If you do not want the stress of a confrontation, but you are sure that you do not want induction, then you could follow the lead of Flora's sister-in-law (see below)! Please see 'Overdue, but desperate for a homebirth?' for more discussion of safety and other post-dates issues.
Back to Flora:
I didn’t feel exactly empowered to refuse, although I remembered that my sister-in-law went three weeks late with one of her five births, simply by not turning up for her (several) induction appointments. I didn’t think I’d have the guts to risk that, so I persuaded the consultant to help me out with a stretch-and-sweep, in the hope that it would move things along in time.
And it did. Mild contractions started in the early hours, and we called the midwife out to assess me – of course, it really was early days, with hardly any dilation, but us first timers don’t have a clue about how it’s supposed to feel... Adam went to work in the morning as I felt able to cope, and as my parents were visiting they could help out if needed. But at lunch time things seemed to be hotting up, and I called him home. A midwife visiting at about 5pm said we still had a way to go, and estimated a birth after midnight. She advised me to take some paracetamol and get some sleep if possible, so we duly followed her advice and went to bed.
Lying down was a good or bad idea, depending on how you look at it. Suddenly contractions were coming strong and fast – oh, THIS is what labour feels like! I started shaking and threw up my lunch. I realised that there was some leaking down below with each contraction, so we apologetically called the midwife out again – broken waters always require an assessment. It was about 7pm when she got there, and started out by warning me that another woman was on the cards for a home birth that evening. Only one birth could be attended – whoever was least advanced in labour would have to go to the hospital. Either way, there was no water birth team available, so the pool was not an option. I took this fairly calmly, but my heart was sinking. This wasn’t how it was supposed to be.
The midwife did an exam between contractions, and was shocked to discover I was 8cm dilated. Suddenly everything went a little mad. She called the other community midwife on duty, to get here quickly, and on her way to collect all the birthing equipment that had been taken to the other labouring woman's house. I was too far gone to be left alone the baby could be here any time.
The bedroom was not where I had expected to give birth (the pool! the pool!), but there was no way I was moving by that stage. Adam ran around the house, gathering plastic sheets and towels, and the birth kit that had been brought by my midwife a couple of weeks before. The other midwife arrived just after 8pm and got the resuscitation equipment set up. We realised later that she hadn't remembered any pain relief, so it's a good thing I wasn't screaming for it. Fortunately, we'd got the TENS rigged up before this too late to actually be of much analgesic value, but its funny buzz was beautifully distracting during contractions.
Yasmin was born at 8.50pm, a bonny 8lb 4oz. The midwife handed the slippery little creature to me immediately, and helped her to start breastfeeding . A few minutes later, at 9pm, the midwife shift changed, so our bedroom was full of people four midwives, a student, my mum (who had been downstairs with dad throughout), and the three members of our new little family. If I hadn't been so high on birth hormones, the whole situation might have struck me as more than a little odd The new shift had come to collect all the gear so they could attend the other home birth good news all round.
By 10pm, it was just mummy, daddy and Yasmin, curled up in bed together. Nothing had gone according to my birth plan (pool, candles, music, oils ?), except for the home' bit. But of course, that's the first rule of giving birth you can't really plan it. And it's not as if I had anything to complain about.
When I found I was pregnant with baby No. 2, we planned another homebirth.
My EDD was early December 2004, so when baby hadn't turned up by 10 days later I was pretty fed up. My parents had been staying to provide childcare and support, but due to other commitments they had to return home on the 17th without meeting their new grandchild. I was booked for induction on the Monday with no clear idea of how we were going to arrange childcare for Yasmin, as we have no local family and most friends had gone away for Christmas. With each passing day, hopes of a homebirth were fading, while the logistics of a hospital delivery were becoming more complicated.
So Saturday morning found me at the hospital, in tears, begging for another membrane sweep. Staff were very reluctant at first, but there's nothing like a distressed pregnant lady to elicit sympathy, so I got my own way. Having tried almost every self-induction trick in the book without success, I felt we'd now done everything in our power to get baby out naturally.
By bedtime, my Braxton Hicks contractions were starting to feel crampy', which I took as a good sign. We had a difficult night with Yasmin, who was scared of bad dreams and kept herself awake most of the night, so I don't know what time the contractions would have woken me if I'd been properly asleep. At about 5.30am I felt uncomfortable lying down, so left Yasmin and my husband (Adam) sleeping in our bed and went downstairs to rock on my ball under the Christmas tree lights and listen to some relaxing music.
I began timing my contractions, although they weren't painful, and found they were less than five minutes apart, lasting up to a minute. Remembering my last labour (which went this way until the last moment, then kicked in fast and furious), I called the community midwives out to assess me. They arrived about 7am, and left again at 8.30am, saying that I was not in established labour and to call them back if it started to actually hurt!
By now, Adam and Yasmin were waking, so I went to have a shower while they had breakfast. Just out of the shower, at 9.30am, I had to kneel down for a contraction in the bedroom, when I felt the most incredible sense of pressure on my cervix, and my waters broke with a gush. I shouted for Adam to phone the midwives and get them here asap, and also to help me get my TENS machine on because it was starting to hurt. While he was on the phone and unpacking the TENS I felt the need to go to the loo. Once in the (tiny) bathroom, I realised that the baby's head was descending, so dignity went out the window as I knelt on the floor, bum in the air, trying to resist pushing. Yelled for Adam to call the midwives again, and to get clean towels on the bathroom floor and radiator because the baby was coming!
He ran downstairs to put the door on the latch, then back to me in the bathroom. He was also trying to fend off Yasmin, who was desperate to see what was going on. She couldn't be persuaded to play anywhere else, so with no other adults to take charge of her, we had to make do.
The midwives arrived at 10.05am, which was a huge relief as I really didn't want Adam to deliver the baby with one hand while holding our 3-year-old back with the other! Only one midwife could fit in the bathroom with me, but she was a star. Our daughter, Heidi Evelyn, was born on the bathroom floor at 10.22am, weighing 9lb 6oz. I got away with a 'nick' to my perineum (thanks the midwife who talked me through the pushing - if she hadn't been there I think I would have torn in a panic to deliver quickly).
We then moved to the bedroom to await physiological delivery of the placenta. This took just over an hour, which was starting to worry us, but the threat of a transfer to hospital gave me the incentive to push harder, and it was all fine.
Yasmin witnessed the whole thing - questions throughout - and even demanded to help cut the cord. The midwife was happy to let her help (no actual touching though, as there were no child-sized sterile gloves), so she was really thrilled. She was totally unfazed by the whole thing which was amazing. Fortunately, we had prepared her for the possibility of being present for the birth - with stories, role-play, and a couple of homebirth videos - but we had never expected to have no option at the time!
I've now had two wonderful homebirths, with the support of my local excellent community midwife team. Neither birth went quite as planned, and in both cases the room I'd prepared to deliver in was not where baby arrived, but I was fortunate to be ditching my birth plan for positive rather than negative reasons (quick labour you won't see me complaining!).
For others planning a homebirth where older children may be present, I recommend the following books:
Hello Baby by Jenni Overend
“Runa's Birth” by Uwe Spillmann and Inga Kamieth (see http://www.runas-birth.de)
I also highly recommend “Labour Pain” by Nicky Wesson (out of print but available second hand online) which is an excellent resource for anyone hoping to labour using non-medical forms of pain relief.
Back to Home Birth Stories
Home Birth Reference Page