Bronwen's Birth, by Hazel Clatworthy

"Our first child, Bronwen, was born at home in South Wales in July 2003. I looked at your webpage when I was first considering a home birth, and I hope my story will encourage others, especially for those who are expecting their first babies."

Bronwen Clatworthy, born in July 2003

It was my community midwife, Jayne, who first asked had I considered a home birth. Until then I had assumed that I wouldn't be "allowed" as it was my first baby, but as Jayne said, it was my baby and I could do what I wanted. Then I started National Childbirth Trust antenatal classes, which further convinced me of the benefits of home births. Once we had decided on a home birth, I didn't face any real opposition to it. Family members had had good experiences of home births, and Jayne was very positive about it throughout my pregnancy, which was probably one of the main reasons why we decided to go for it.

I didn't sleep that well two nights before the baby was due, waking several times feeling a bit uncomfortable and going to the toilet, in case that was the problem. However, things felt quite uncomfortable at 5.45 a.m. when I went to the toilet, and I couldn't get back to sleep. I started timing the mild, crampy pains I was having in my lower abdomen and they were happening about every 7 or 8 minutes and were lasting about 25 seconds or so. I didn't wake my husband, Hywel, up, but he stirred at 7 a.m. and I told him that I thought he didn't have to go to work that day, at which point he was quite excited, even if it only turned out to be a false alarm!

We decided not to do anything yet, in case it was only a false alarm, so Hywel got up as if to go to work, and we both had a shower. However, the pains kept on coming, and they were so regular and so unlike any general twinges I had had towards the end of pregnancy that I didn't think it was a false alarm. Hywel had a mad frenzy of tidying the house, putting out the rubbish etc – it is amazing what the prospect of midwives descending on your house can do – one of the benefits of having a home birth!

At 8.30 I phoned my Mum and told her that I thought things had started happening. She was going to drive to South Wales from West Sussex to be here, but I told her that there was no rush and she didn't need to race here at break-neck speed! I started to write down the time of each contraction to see how often they were coming. Then we nipped over to Hywel's parents' house up the road to let them know what was happening.

We went back over to our house and I spent the morning in no great discomfort, carrying on pottering round, tidying and making up an e-mail list of people to send birth announcements to! I phoned Jayne, my community midwife, at around 10 a.m. Luckily she was on call that day, which was great news. She said that she had had a dream about me the night before, which was a strange coincidence. She said that if everything was fine and I was coping OK she would come over about lunch time after her visits.

We got out the TENS machine which I had been meaning to try out before but hadn't got round to! Hywel stuck on the pads, which made a mild tingling feeling. It took a while for me to realise that I had it on boost mode all the time, and after lots of contractions throughout the day I kept forgetting to turn the boost off!

I made lunch and Mum arrived at about 1-ish and seemed surprised that I was getting the dinner and just carrying on as normal, without being in any great distress! My contractions were still not particularly painful and were happening about every 5 to 7 minutes. Jayne arrived just as we were about to serve lunch. She tested my blood pressure and urine which were both fine and examined me and found me to be 3 cm dilated, with a very thin cervix. This was encouraging as it seemed to be good progress without any great pain so far. Jayne left after lunch, saying that she would come back after another visit or two.

The afternoon carried on in an equally relaxed way as the morning. Mum got out some baby things she had brought with her, and we went for a stroll around the garden. By this time the contractions were gradually starting to get a bit stronger and more painful, but were still quite manageable and were still about every 5-7 minutes.

At about 5 p.m. Jayne returned. She examined me again and I was 5cm dilated, the cervix was really thin and she could feel the baby's head through it. 0 to 5 cm takes longer than the final 5 cm though, so she said that it wouldn't take as long again to get to 10 cm. Phew! Although the pains weren't that bad, they were gradually getting stronger, and I didn't fancy another 12 hours of them before the action really started!

Every time I had a contraction I was aware that Jayne was watching me intently to see how I was coping. She tested the baby's heartrate after contractions and it was fine. She also brought some lavender oil for me, which we mixed with wheatgerm oil, and Hywel massaged my shoulders and back, which was very nice and relaxing

Jayne called the second midwife, Julie, and she arrived at about 7 pm. By this time my contractions, although STILL only every 5-7 minutes apart were getting more painful. I had been bobbing around on my birthing ball, but I had to stand up and rock from side to side during the actual contractions, as sitting down made the pain worse. I found that a hot water bottle held on my abdomen during contractions helped a lot, and Hywel helped me to breathe properly. I was in the lounge at this point with the TV on and I just about managed to follow Eastenders without being completely distracted (unlike the midwives!) Holby City was on next though, and by this stage I couldn't pay any attention to the TV. Jayne phoned Jo, a student midwife, and she arrived about this time I think.

I kept going to the loo quite regularly, and finally had my “show”. I remember coming back into the lounge from a visit to the loo to find that they were spreading out plastic sheets etc, which I was a bit distressed by, so they put them away again! However on another trip to the loo, the pain was getting very bad, Jayne examined me again and I was almost fully dilated. This time I didn't complain about the sheets as things were obviously quite imminent!

At this point I changed positions so that I was kneeling on cushions on the floor and leaning over the settee, which had a pile of cushions on it. This meant that I could kneel upright during the contractions, which was more comfortable, and could lean forward onto the cushions to relax in between. Around this time I started to use the gas and air, although it took a little while to get set up because Jayne's valve wasn't working. Luckily Julie had one in her car!

I was quite nervous about using the gas and air because I didn't know what it would feel like. As it turned out, I couldn't really tell much difference through using it. I had imagined that it would make the pain less or go away, but it didn't make any difference to the pain, just perhaps made me feel a bit distant from the pain. However, I did find that it helped me to focus on my breathing, because you can clearly hear your breathing as you breathe in and out of the valve. At one point, I had the mouthpiece in my mouth and the pipe came off. I said desperately “My pipe! My pipe!” but the midwives didn't hear me properly and I had to tell them again that my pipe had come off. They apologised for laughing!

When the urge to push came, it was not like I imagined. The pushing feeling was in my bottom, as if I wanted to do a poo, whereas I hadn't expected to feel the pushing there. When the final contractions were coming during the second stage, the pushing just happened on its own. I didn't really have to do much pushing myself – it just happened.

In between contractions the midwives monitored the baby's heartrate. I wanted to be leaning forward over the cushions, but they couldn't pick up the heartbeat when I was in that position, which was scary. However, they found it when I knelt upright. The heartrate went slow immediately after each contraction, which was also a bit frightening, but picked up very quickly again each time, which was good and apparently quite normal. Towards the end the contractions were getting closer finally, because no sooner had they listened to the baby when another one would start.

Finally there were about four or five contractions when I felt everything stretching. The midwives were amazed, because although I had been leaking some waters up until this point, the main bag of membranes was still intact, and with each contraction they could see the membranes bulging out of me and the baby's head through it. They kept saying how amazing it was, and how long they were able to see the baby's head for. Then, although I hadn't wanted my waters broken for me, I was happy to let Jayne break them because the end was so close – apparently they were very tough and were hard to break!

I think with more or less the next contraction, Bronwen was born at 9.56 pm, just two hours and four minutes before her due date! I felt a lot of pain and stretching, and didn't know quite what was coming out, but she came out all in one go, rather than the head coming first followed by the body with the next contraction. Hywel said he more or less had to catch her, because the midwives hadn't been expecting her to come all at once! Then they were saying to me “Look, Hazel, look”, but I was still busy concentrating on the end of the contraction, so hadn't really registered that the baby had actually arrived! She came out with her elbow at the side of her head, which meant that I did tear and had to have some stitches.

When I looked down and saw her, I was so pleased to see that she was a girl, because I had more or less decided that she was going to be a boy! She quickly let out a healthy yell. The midwives were telling me to hold her to me, but her umbilical cord was really short, so I couldn't lift her higher than my abdomen. We had said that we would wait until the cord stopped pulsing before cutting it, but obviously that wasn't practical, so Hywel duly cut the cord. Then I was able to get up off my knees and sit (or slump!) onto the sofa, and the baby was put on my chest. It was lovely to then be able to spend a bit of time with her on top of me, and not being whisked away to be cleaned or checked or weighed. It meant that I could just finally relax and enjoy her.

We waited for the placenta to be delivered naturally. However, I didn't seem to have any more contractions, despite trying to breast feed the baby. After a while Jayne asked me to push, but still nothing. So in the end, after waiting about an hour, I had a Syntometrine injection, and Jayne pulled the placenta out. Fortunately it had come away fine and was intact – I was dreading having to go into hospital after all, just to have the placenta removed! Hywel and Julie had the baby to weigh and dress – she weighed 7 lb exactly. Finally I had to have some stitches where I had torn.

All in all, I would highly recommend having a home birth. Having the support of the midwife made all the difference, but I know that not all our local community midwives are as keen on home births, so the fact that Jayne was on call on that day was hugely reassuring. Both Jayne and Julie were fantastic throughout the whole experience, even right down to clearing up every scrap of mess in the lounge so that by the time they left at about midnight, there wasn't a trace of evidence of what had gone on! I am massively grateful to them.

It was so nice to be able to labour in my own surroundings, be able to get up and move around and do what I wanted to do. As Jo, the student midwife said, compared with hospital births which were all she had witnessed until then, everything was so much more relaxed, and Hywel and I were the ones who were in control, not anyone else. After the midwives had left, I was able to have a shower in the comfort of my own bathroom, and then collapse into bed with Hywel for the night, and Bronwen in the carry cot at the side of us. Lovely!

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