Before I got pregnant I always thought I'd be happy to take all the drugs and pain relief on offer. I am not good with pain and not one to suffer in silence, so bring me the epidural I thought. When I first saw my midwife at 12 weeks one of the questions she asked was "where do you plan to have the baby?" To me it didn't seem like an option, "hospital, of course' was my immediate answer.
A few weeks earlier I had been woken at two in the morning to hear screaming coming from the flat above. At first I panicked, then I remembered, my neighbour was due to give birth any day and had planned a home birth. I have to admit that I thought she was mad. Having a home birth, surely that's not a good idea? It can't be safe for mother or baby? I certainly didn't plan to be giving birth at home myself in a few months time.
Several months later, I had read every pregnancy and labour book available on Amazon and was beginning to falter in my opinion. I kept reading about a 'cascade of intervention'. That the second you start getting stressed your body begins to slow down the labour. This can leave you more tired and less able to cope with pain. So then you hit the serious pain relief and are more likely to need monitoring or to stay in one position to labour. This in turn can lead to a longer labour with more chance of you needing an assisted delivery or even a c-section. I began to re-consider my desire to scream for the pethadine and think more about having a more natural birth. I don't consider myself at all earth-mothery. I can't bend myself into yoga positions and I have never done any meditation or hypno-anything, but something inside me was making me feel like I really wanted to be 'there' when my little one was born, not in a drug-induced daze.
On a practical note I was also really concerned about getting to the hospital. Would we drive there? Would it cost a fortune to pay for parking? Should we call a cab? What if we got sent home again as it was 'too soon'? What a faff I thought. It's funny how pregnancy makes you all emotional about the little things, but it really did bother me!
When I was about 7 months pregnant I started NHS antenatal classes, run by a great midwife called Jo, and in the third week we had a tour the labour ward. The second I got into a birthing room I began to well up with tears. It was not the kind of environment I wanted to have my baby in. Yes there was one 'home-from-home' room, but what if it was in use? You can't book them in advance! The more I saw the clinical nature of the equipment the more hesitant I felt about going into hospital. We also toured the post-natal ward and were told about the policy of no-dads after a certain time, this seemed awful. The final straw was the waiting area. If you arrived too early or all the rooms were in use, you had to wait and labour in there. The whole thing had a vibe to it very much like being called in the queue at the post office, 'cashier number five please". No thanks.
Jo saw how distressed I looked and asked me if I had considered a Home Birth. I had a chat to her and it really did seem to make sense. My pregnancy was uncomplicated and she explained that a first baby is often the best to try to have at home, as the labour is longer and there is plenty of time to foresee complications. She also explained that a midwife would come to visit me when I went into labour and stay if labour was established. I would also have two midwives present when the baby is actually born. She re-assured me that I could change my mind at anytime. If I went into labour I could go into hospital if I needed more pain relief, or wanted to.
I discussed it with my husband, who is not one for hospitals anyway. We decided to give home birth a go, but I insisted to myself that I would not feel a failure if I ended up in hospital begging for an epidural. I told one friend that I had changed my mind, and she thought I was mad, as I suppose I had thought my neighbour was. I decided to not tell any of my family, as I really couldn't face explaining my decision to them all and having them think I was risking my health and that of my baby.
I attended an NHS home-birth meeting at my health centre, which was a chance to meet the community midwives and ask any questions. They also provided information about what I might need to have at home, such as towels, a floor covering and so on. They provided a 'home birth pack', which was delivered three weeks before my due date and contained all the equipment the midwives would need.
I was shocked to wake at 4am on the 30th March, my due date, in labour. At first it felt like period pains, then I realised I must be having contractions. I had a show, which confirmed this, and I lay in bed feeling strangely calm about the whole thing. The pains weren't too bad, nothing I couldn't breathe through and I decided to not ring the labour ward till 7am, bizarrely my pregnant brain thought that would be a more sociable hour for them to call out a midwife!
The community midwife on duty happened to be Jo, and we a chat on the phone and decided that I was coping fine at home and that she didn't need to come out straight away. She promised to call me every hour or I could call her back anytime if I felt things were getting tough and I needed her. She rang me an hour later and things were still manageable. My husband popped to the shops as we realised that Fridays are our normal shopping day and we had no food in for the us or the midwives! When he returned things started to get a quite painful. My TENS machine had been brilliant up till now and I had been rolling around on my birth ball and keeping my self busy, calling my sister, watching telly and so on. I had now got to the point that I couldn't concentrate on anything except the contractions. After calling Jo she told me to try having a bath and that she'd come over to see me. The bath idea was a nightmare. It meant being stationary and I couldn't use the TENS, however as soon as Jo arrived, she got me out of the bath, examined me and was shocked to see I was 10cm and ready for the push. I had been finding it difficult as I was going through the transition between 1st and 2nd stages, had she of known this I wouldn't have gone near the bath!
Jo called the second midwife who also had a student midwife with her. She was also the one with the gas and air, as much to my horror Jo had run out. She was there within minutes and I had a few puffs of gas to give me a bit of a break. I found the pushing stage hard but also a relief. The first stage was really passive and I didn't feel like I could 'do' anything except get through it. The 2nd stage was more about me doing something to push my baby out. I ended up labouring in my bathroom, which Jo assured me to be quite normal as it's a natural place to feel like you want to push. I have a great memory of my husband and three midwives squeezed into my small bathroom drinking tea whilst I was waiting for my next contraction. My contractions slowed at one point and my husband was sent to the kitchen for honey. He returned and was a little unsure as to what to do with it and Jo explained it was for me to eat to give me energy, not to go anywhere else (!)
Amy was finally born about 3.45pm, and was put straight onto my tummy and I was the one who got to look and find out she was a girl. She was then checked over in our dining room where the second midwife had set up her equipment and my husband went with her. I delivered the placenta within a few minutes and as I needed no stitches I was soon back in my own bed, with my little girl and my husband, having a cup of tea and calling my family. The midwives cleaned up any mess and helped me breastfeed and then we were left alone as a family.
Fathers and home birth - fathers' feelings about the birth, and how they can help.
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?
Homebirth UK email group
Home Birth Stories
Home Birth Reference Page