It's taken a long time to get round to writing this, my story of Ember's birth. However, I'm lucky and I have write-ups by both my midwife and my sister to help me get things in the right order - much of the first 24 hours or so are something of a blur to me now. But here goes.
We had two due dates. The first was the one we'd worked out from when we know I ovulated thanks to the scans we were having to help us conceive: October 19th. The second was given to us by the hospital and was five days earlier, and it was this one we ended up having to follow as it's what went onto our NHS notes. In the back of our minds, our original date was always the most accurate, but given so few babies actually arrive on their due dates we were happy going for 'some time in October'.
Two weeks before the 19th, I developed the runs one evening and this promptly kicked off regular contractions. We got all set up, my sister Al drove the two hours down from Manchester and my partner Rae inflated the birth pool. By about 5am, things had slowed down though, and although I continued to contract erratically for the next several days, things never really took off again and eventually we were forced to accept that it had been a false alarm. Our baby was happy staying put for a while longer. My sister went home, we deflated the pool, and we got back into the swing of day-to-day life.
My cousin, Kd, then arrived from Australia. She was only to be staying for just over two weeks to help out through the final days of the pregnancy, but we were also quietly hoping she might get to be around for the birth too, as an extra support person. The days went by and we had a lovely time, but the day she was due to leave got closer and there was still no baby. We made some plans to go to the cinema together on her last weekend, and finally, the unwritten rule that babies will only come when they can do so and disrupt social plans kicked in.
On the evening of October 17th, Kd made a fantastic meal of veggie sushi, and we broke out a bottle of sake that we'd been saving for ages. Kd and I then stayed up late chatting after Rae went to bed and finally hit the sack at around 1:30am. This turned out to be a bad move, as just after 3am I was awoken by a sudden strong contraction followed by a trickling sensation. My waters had gone. I woke Rae who ran round the room to grab me a towel and I waddled to the bathroom. There was no further gush, but the bathroom trip revealed I'd started to lose my mucus plug too and the trickle continued from that point on. So did the contractions, which were immediately coming at five minute intervals and felt strong from the outset.
I tried to settle back in bed while Rae went downstairs to call Al and start to prepare the lounge which was to be our birthing room. I found it tough going straight away, more so than when we'd had the false alarm two weeks before. I knew I had to try to tune out, to let my body relax and do what it needed to, and I started using the natal hypnotherapy techniques I'd been teaching for the last year, but it was tough. On one level, I hadn't expected it to be anything else, but being inside an experience is so very different to planning for it, or being an observer of it.
I'd been working as a doula for a couple of years by then and this experience served me well as I could think back to other women I'd been with as they went through what I was now experiencing, and take inspiration from the strength and power they'd each shown. I did manage to keep on top of things using the hypnotherapy techniques, even though it was tough and it felt as though I was 'only just' on top of it. With each contraction I moaned and rocked, and for some reason visualised myself as a horse on a carousel, going up and down and round and round. I have no idea where this image came from, but it worked well for me at the time. I also used a tens machine from quite early on, and I do think this helped too.
Over those next few hours I moved around a bit, settling for a while on a bean bag, other times on the toilet, and for a while perched on the edge of the sofa. I was leaking mucus and fluid the whole time. Because I was contracting so regularly from the start I asked for Olivia, our (independent) midwife to be called as soon as morning came, as I wondered if things might be moving along. She dutifully came but in her wisdom quickly picked up that despite the regular contractions, I was still in early labour. She didn't tell me this though - a good decision on her part I feel. I was encouraged to eat and I managed to get down most of a plate of scrambled eggs and toast. This was to be my last meal before the birth.
By late morning, I wanted to know whether things were really happening or not and I asked Olivia to examine me. This she did with me still perched on the edge of the sofa and she told me I was 3-4cm dilated (although I discovered later that she wrote it down as 3cm in my notes). I felt OK with this, at least things were happening even if I still had a while to go. Olivia asked if she could go to see another client and I agreed, and she ended up popping in and out a few times over the course of the day.
I think that it was at around the time she left at lunch time that I began to move into full labour, as my memories start to become much more vague from here. I spent the rest of the afternoon and evening either in the bedroom or the lounge, rocking and moaning, and I wanted Rae with me at all times which began to get tough for her later on as she'd had very little sleep too.
Al and Kd filled the pool in the early afternoon, nice and warm, ready for me to climb in when I was ready. I was reluctant to do this 'too early' though, so they had to keep checking it and topping it up to keep it warm and ready for me whilst I sat across the room from it, moaning. Eventually, at around 11pm on October 18th, something clicked and I decided it was time to get in the pool and to get one of the team to call Olivia back out.
My memories start to get more clear here and I remember floating in the pool, waiting for Olivia to arrive, and feeling as though it was taking her forever, but equally sensing that my experience of time was probably hugely distorted by now. She eventually arrived at about midnight and Rae got into the pool with me. This part was wonderful. I felt so close to and so supported by Rae as I leaned back against her and she breathed through each contraction with me. I had no idea that this position was really uncomfortable for her, but she bore it with no complaint.
It was at this point that things started to get really tough, and my visualisations and attempts to remain relaxed began to fail. I was getting really tired, so would sometimes doze between contractions, but this, if anything, made things worse as I'd be woken by the next contraction when it was already getting strong, so I was unable to prepare for it. I started getting very negative, swearing and needing lots of encouragement from the others to keep me even remotely positive. I also began to get the beginnings of an urge to push in this position, but it was vague, and it hurt to do so.
Eventually I followed advice and moved onto my knees, leaning against the side of the pool. I remember this part clearly. Rae was behind me and Al in front of me (she was out the pool) and I had Al's hands in mine. With each contraction I rocked, rubbing mine and Al's hands against the side of the pool (fortunately she didn't end up with blisters from this, though she said later she felt she might at the time) and blew raspberries/horse breaths with each exhalation. There's a hilarious video clip of Olivia kneeling in front of me at this point, guiding me with these breaths, and then turning to the camera and wiping my spittle from her face when the contraction ends and my head is down again.
I was still feeling a bit of a pushing urge, but it never really got strong enough to take over and eventually, after several hours of it not developing further, Olivia managed to convince me to get out the pool to go to the toilet to see if the change of position and emptying of my bladder would help. I really didn't want to do this, and was getting beyond the point where I felt I could cope. I'd begun to say things like 'I can't do this any more', and 'I want a caesarian' (to which Olivia had replied 'well you'll need to get out the pool for that' and I'd responded with 'I'm not getting out the pool'). This was where my wonderful birth team made all the difference, as they remained positive and refused to let me give up on myself. Not one of them doubted my ability to do it for an instant, or if they did, they didn't let me see it and that really helped.
When I eventually made it to the toilet at about 5am I was really struggling, but the pushing urge still wasn't taking over despite Olivia's hopes that sitting on the loo would get it to. Olivia was also in a quandry, as she had a full shift on the delivery suite to do later that day and she'd had no sleep, and there was no definite sign that this baby was going to be here soon. She asked how we'd feel about her calling her back-up to come and take over, which we agreed to, but I was also at the point where I was ready to give up and go into hospital for an epidural. I was exhausted, in a lot of pain (the contractions were now every 2-3 minutes and over a minute long), and, in retrospect, in full-blown transition.
Olivia rang her back-up who suggested she examine me before we made any further decisions. This we agreed to, and Olivia told me I could have gas and air after I'd been examined if I wanted it, an offer I readily agreed to. I'd somehow forgotten that gas and air was available up to then. I wasn't meant to have any gas and air though, as when I lay back on the bed and Olivia got her fingers inside me, she announced that I was fully dilated apart from a cervical lip that was keeping the baby's head from descending. She asked if she could try to push it out the way with my next contraction, I agreed, she did, and suddenly everything changed. The pain with each contraction immediately got easier and the urge to push well and truly kicked in. The whole atmosphere suddenly lifted too. I think everyone had been beginning to wonder how much longer this was going to go on for, and we were all exhausted in our different ways, but now we knew this baby was about to be born and suddenly everything became positive and exciting again. I think I even laughed between contractions once or twice.
I decided I wanted to give birth in the lounge rather than the bedroom (laminate floor rather than cream carpet) so we all trekked downstairs again. I was pushing hard with each contraction, so much so that I could no longer take my own body weight when they hit. Rae, Al and Kd all took turns supporting me while I stood, squatted and perched in various positions. Al and Kd also got their cameras out, and from this point on we have pictures of each moment.
The news from down below was really encouraging, as it seemed Olivia could see progress with each and every contraction. Eventually I decided I wanted to get on my knees leaning forward over the sofa. This freed both Al and Kd to get into full photographer mode and Rae to alternately whisper words of encouragement into my ear and to get a full view of what was happening. I heard Olivia ask her if she wanted to catch the baby, and her nervous agreement to do so with Olivia's support.
It was great. I loved this part. I was fully in control again, the sensations were manageable and amazing - I could feel myself open up and our baby's head move down, and I had a running commentary from behind about what was happening. I was using every ounce of strength I had, but it was working, I was birthing our baby, and it felt amazing. I felt the head begin to crown, then a brief popping sensation - not in any way painful, that I now know was when I began to tear a little. Then there was a moment that seemed to last forever as the head was half out and I was stretched to my fullest but the contraction had finished, and I had to wait for the next one to be able to push any more. (I tried pushing between contractions but it seemed to have no effect.) A moment later, another contraction came and the head began to move again. I heard exclamations of wonder from behind me as our baby's face appeared, and I then experienced the most delicious sensation as the stretching suddenly eased and our baby's body slithered out of me. She was born. It was 5:54 am, nearly 27 hours since labour began.
Within seconds, I heard Rae telling me that we had a daughter, and then Olivia was telling me to just wait a moment while she rubbed our baby down. She was rather limp initially, but we didn't cut the cord so she was still getting everything she needed from the placenta and she quickly perked up. Olivia then passed her to me through my legs and I held our little girl for the first time.
From checking the times on the photos later, we know that she was in my arms less than 30 seconds after being born, so she came round very quickly. That moment will be etched in my mind forever. She was finally here. Rae came to my side and we shared that moment of relief, joy and wonder - and amazingly, both Kd and Al managed to photograph it.
I was then helped to get up and on to the sofa - the cord was still uncut and it wasn't very long, so it was a bit of a logistical challenge, but we did it, and Rae and I settled down to admire our beautiful daughter.
We'd decided we were going to try for a lotus birth - where the cord is never cut and the baby remains attached to the placenta until the cord drops away from the navel naturally. In the end it took five hours for the placenta to arrive. After trying all kinds of positions, having a bath and taking some homeopathic remedies I resorted to having the syntometrine injection. The blood vessels in the cord had completely closed up by this point so there was no chance of anything being passed on to our daughter and within minutes the placenta was out. There was a moment where it looked like the cord might break as Olivia applied traction, but she was extremely careful and managed to get the placenta out with the cord intact. Our daughter and I were no longer joined and Rae could get her first real cuddle. It turned out I had a 2nd degree tear, but it wasn't deep and I didn't need stitches.
Later that day (which was her actual due date) we decided on her name, Ember Joy, and she really is a joy to us. Her placenta came away when she was two and a half days old and it's now in our freezer in a silk bag I made especially for it, awaiting the time when we're ready to bury it and plant a tree over it.
In retrospect, both Olivia and I think I was in transition from the point when I started to get those half-hearted pushing urges, but that the cervical lip kept Ember from progressing. This makes me feel a bit better about the fact that I wasn't managing as well through that time, but ultimately, even though I wanted to give up then, I didn't (thanks in no small way to my wonderful support team) and I birthed our beautiful 8lb 11oz daughter exactly as nature intended.
First Babies and homebirth
Big babies and homebirth
Independent Midwives - what they do, and where to find one.
Doulas - professional labour supporters.
What if your baby needs resuscitation at home?
Hypnotherapy for childbirth
Blood on the carpet - How much mess are you likely to encounter at a homebirth, and what can you do about that carpet?!
The Third Stage of Labour - what are your options, and the pros and cons of each?
Home Birth Stories
Home Birth Reference Page