Sylvia is our sixth baby and was born on 17th March 2006, two days after her 'due date'.
During the pregnancy I saw a midwife I knew well as I’d also seen her whilst expecting our fifth baby. She also attended our third child's homebirth as 'second' midwife and had been at two of my sister's homebirths. Although we no longer lived in an area she covered, I got in touch with her and she agreed to be my midwife once again.
With my fifth baby, Francis, I never actually went into active labour at all. I had irregular, very sporadic contractions that varied hugely in intensity over the course of 3 days. There were often hours of nothing happening and it was a rather mentally trying & frustrating time. I eventually birthed him in one contraction after several hours of no contractions whatsoever. Whilst my previous labours had been similarly irregular & non-'textbook' they had never been prolonged over such a long time before.
As I approached the birth of my 6th baby this last 'labour' was very much on my mind. I really, really hoped and wished that I would have a proper labour or that the birth would be quick and sudden in the middle of the night. I didn't want to have to go through days and days of waiting for something to happen. Being on the brink of birthing and constantly disappointed, not to mention being very uncomfortable for days on end.
As the pregnancy drew towards its end I had the odd episode of runs of braxton hicks contractions, but when I woke up on the morning of Wednesday 15th March I knew they had changed in nature. They were much stronger and I felt them now as a gripping band of tightness around my lower abdomen and an intense pressure in my cervix. I went to the bathroom and discovered I was having a slight show. I had to take the children to school, which is a 15 mile round trip in the car and I felt very nervous about that.
One of my big worries throughout the pregnancy was that I would be close to birthing without realising it and have the baby in public. I made the decision to go anyway. I didn't want to call my husband, Steve, back from work until I was sure things were happening as his paternity leave would start from that point and I didn't want to waste it. As it was, it was okay. I only had two strong contractions whilst out and got home with the baby still inside, much to my great relief!
Once at home the contractions died away and stayed away all day. I was disappointed but not terribly so. I knew things were heading in the right direction and felt sure it wouldn't be long.
On Thursday morning, the 16th March, I awoke aware that I'd been having strong contractions in my sleep. They continued as I set about the morning routine. I was very relieved that it was Steve's scheduled day off so I wouldn't have to brave the school run again. I went to the bathroom and was again having a show - this time with old blood too. Another good sign. I waved the children off to school feeling there was a good chance their new brother or sister would be there by the time they arrived home.
Once again however, the contractions fizzled out. I was more disappointed this time. I began to feel that things were going to go exactly the same way as the previous birth and that I'd better prepare myself for the long haul.
I had a midwife appointment booked that afternoon. My midwife was visiting me at home as she'd done two weeks previously and two weeks before that. I was quite glad of the opportunity to discuss how it was going. We'd built up a good relationship and I felt she understood about my weird labours. Despite having previously chosen not call midwives until after the birth for our previous two babies (three days afterwards with our fourth baby), Steve and I had discussed it and decided we would call this midwife immediately prior to birth, meaning she might actually be there. I warned her that I didn't think it would be long and that I'd been having strong contractions and also that I was unlikely to be able to call her with much notice.
For the rest of day I had almost no contractions, until about 6pm that evening when they started up again. They were still irregular and varying in strength, not that that usually had any bearing on how things were progressing for me.
I felt the need to set up a birthing area that I could get to in a hurry. I set it up in a corner of our bedroom. I laid down a single duvet folded in half, then a folded over sleeping bag on top of that and covered that with a big plastic sheet I'd bought. Then over that I laid several old flannelette sheets I'd collected that could be binned straight after the birth. I tucked my 'nest' in all neatly and then sat and waited.
By about 9pm I realised that the contractions had once again fizzled out completely. I now felt very fed up and disheartened but tried to see the positive side too. I'd had more contractions that day than yesterday and they were definitely progressing in the right direction. I hoped that the next morning the contractions would stick around and I'd get to meet my baby.
Fed up with waiting for something to happen, I went to bed early at 9.30pm. I put my daughter's washable bed pad underneath me, just in case my waters broke.
I slept soundly until I was gradually roused from my sleep by two strong contractions. After the second I was mostly awake and looked at my watch. It was just after 2am. I got up and went to the loo and saw I was having another show but this time accompanied by bright red blood. Back in the bedroom I stood very still whilst another strong contraction passed, unsure what to do. I considered getting onto my birthing nest but in my half awake state I just wanted to lay back down. I felt quite low and irritable and panicky and just felt like I didn't want to do this right now.
I crawled back into bed and laid very still and dozed slightly between contractions. They were intense and I gave myself a little pep talk in my head. This was what I wanted, good strong contractions and I would meet my baby soon!
I breathed through every contraction and on every other out breath said 'yes' and then 'open' in my head and savoured the power and intensity of them. I looked at my watch each time one came and was amazed that they were coming exactly 5 minutes apart. I hardly dared hope that this could be 'proper' labour.
As I lay there letting the contractions course through me I felt a pop and then the gush of fluid as my water broke. I stayed laying down, very glad I'd put the bed pad under me and let the waters rush out. I looked at my watch again and it was 2.45am. I reached over and prodded Steve, who had been fast asleep until now and told him that my water just broke. He leapt up immediately and got dressed. I decided I ought to get up then and moved to standing over my nest.
Steve witnessed a contraction and said he wanted to call the midwife. I think I was still in denial to certain extent at that point. I still believed it could all stop again and we could be left sitting around for hours with the midwife in the house - not something I wanted to happen. However, I reluctantly gave the go-ahead and he phoned our midwife at 2.55am. Apparently the first thing she said was 'Have you delivered it?' She really wasn't expecting to make it in time.
Shortly after that I decided I needed to go to the loo again. I went, but when I stood up I was immediately hit with another contraction and I felt the head move down and a hint of that familiar urge to push. I made my first noise of the whole labour and let a small moan escape. Steve appeared at the bathroom door and I managed to tell him I couldn't move but needed to get back to my birth nest. I hung on to him, bent double and somehow made it back into the bedroom and onto all fours on my nest. Steve made moves as if to leave the room but I managed to tell him no.
The next contraction came quickly and I said 'Catch! Catch!' to Steve. We'd previously discussed how I'd like either him or the midwife if she made it, to actually try to catch the baby this time. Even though it was a soft landing, it's still rather a rude awakening for the baby to tumble out from a kneeling position as our last two had pretty much done, so he knew what I meant.
However as he took his first tentative look, I felt the baby's head crown and be born as I moaned 'it huuuuuuuuuurts', quickly followed by the body and the baby tumbled out beneath me, too fast for Steve to catch. Born in one contraction at 3.15am. The baby was crying very loudly immediately.
I looked down and moved the cord to see what sex the baby was and was stunned to discover it appeared to be a little girl. I would have been thrilled with a boy too, but had hardly dared think we might have a little girl - it seemed like such a long time since our nearly 8 year old daughter was born. It was such a thrilling moment and one that I'll really treasure forever. It was important to me to discover what we had myself. Last time Steve had accidentally announced it before I'd looked. I had to check again at least twice as I just couldn't believe it. I picked up my baby and covered her in a towel skin to skin with me to keep her warm.
At this point I remembered I'd wanted the birth videod so Steve recorded a very precious 2.5 minutes of those after birth moments. Our 2 ½ year old, who'd been asleep in our bed in the room up until this point, woke up and came to meet his new sister. Our two older girls were also wakened by the baby's crying and they appeared at the door full of excitement that the baby was here.
5 minutes after the birth the midwife arrived. She helped me birth the placenta, which I'd completely forgotten about. We had a completely natural third stage and the cord was left intact until after the placenta was out. The midwife tied off the cord with the embroidery thread ties I'd made and Steve cut it. The placenta was saved to be buried in our back garden. I completely forgot that I'd wanted to make placenta prints and a cord wreath, and let Steve bury it later that morning without doing either.
We weighed our baby girl and she was a tiny 7lb 1oz. My previous babies had ranged in weight from 9lb 4oz down to 7lb 10oz so she was the smallest yet.
After that we got settled in bed and she latched on and fed for about 2 hours! The midwife left at about 4.30am and we all settled down and tried to get a very excited 2 ½ year old back to sleep. I didn't sleep again the whole day. I couldn't take my eyes off the beautiful little baby in my arms.
I heard it said recently that every birth is different and they each teach us something and thought how true that was. It was amazing and brilliant to wake in the middle of the night and have a short intense progressing labour that didn't stop and flowed right through to birth with no gaps. A dream labour for me! I would pick that option every time over another day of long drawn out stop/start contractions.
I also learnt to appreciate the value of truly excellent one-to-one midwifery care. I only ever saw the one midwife. For all the antenatal appointments, birth and afterwards. She never questioned my choices or the many standard procedures I declined. Always asked, never just did, or told me what to do. I have a better understanding now, why so many people highly value the individualised care they receive from independent midwives. I do realise and appreciate how very fortunate I am to have received a similar standard of care through the NHS. Particularly as this midwife doesn't even cover the area I live in and had to travel the extra distance to see me.
I don't really think of it as being an unassisted birth, although we once again birthed without attendants, as the pregnancy was shared with one midwife we had come to trust. That turned out to be not such a bad thing after all.
Hannah's website has the birth stories of her first four children on it - one planned hospital birth, one transfer to hospital, one home birth with midwives in attendance, and Alfie's unattended home birth http://hannahshome.20m.com/index.html.
Hannah's thoughts about having transferred to hospital are on this website, along with the birth stories of Alfie and Francis.
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