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Erin's birth story, by Helen

On Monday 8th May (40+5) I was having mild but regular contractions throughout the day and thought that things might finally be moving. It was raining heavily all morning so Ewan (my 4 year old son) and I spent time making bread and biscuits (had been warned never to underestimate the amount of biscuits midwives can get through!) and I had a very strong feeling that this would be the last day it would just be 'him and me'.

By late evening, the contractions were getting slightly more intense, but I managed to have a normal conversation with my mum on the phone - telling her nothing was happening at all while jotting contraction times down on a piece of paper! She lives quite a distance away and I didn't want her to have a sleepless night worrying about me, especially as I still wasn't sure if this was really 'it'.

Later still, and my contractions were still regular, around 7-8 mins apart now. Dan and I tried to distract ourselves by watching TV, was very thankful for our cable subscription as there were endless comedies on to keep our minds off things! He nipped out to our local, on threat of dire consequences if he stayed there for a pint, and came back with some beer for him and a tiny bottle of wine for me (well it was either that or paracetamol and I thought I'd enjoy the wine more!). At around midnight we decided to go to bed, I foolishly thought I could grab some sleep between contractions, but my body had other ideas and as soon as I was lying down, the contractions started becoming much more painful.

I ummed and ahhed about calling the midwife out - didn't want to drag her out of bed for no reason, but equally was aware how quickly things could develop in a second labour and didn't fancy the idea of not calling anyone and Dan having to deliver the baby on his own - he'd read the relevant page in Miriam Stoppard but we weren't too keen on the theory becoming practice! So I called the delivery suite who told me that Rachael, the on-call midwife, would ring me back. I was slightly disappointed that Louise wasn't on call, as she'd been my midwife since we moved here two months ago - we'd built up a very good relationship while I'd never met Rachael, but then when she did phone back she sounded so lovely and friendly that I stopped worrying.

Rachael arrived at 1:40am. I have to admit to being slightly taken aback by how young she seemed - probably early to mid-twenties I suppose - and Dan said later that when he answered the door to her he'd had to stop himself from saying, 'does your mum know you're out delivering babies at this time of night?'! She came up to the bedroom and told me she'd just observe my contractions and familiarise herself with my notes for a while before examining me and we'd then decide what to do.

I had a few strong contractions, exactly 5 minutes apart, and she then did an internal exam which showed I was 3-4 cm dilated, with soft cervix and bulging membranes. Great news! So it looked like Rachael was staying put, and Dan made us all some tea while we waited for things to intensify.

I have to say, this was one of the best things about having a home birth, compared to the hospital birth I had with Ewan. Instead of being shunted into a side ward and left to get on with things, with the occasional uniformed midwife (never the same one twice) popping in to examine me, this time I was sitting in my own bedroom, drinking tea out of my own mug and chatting away to a lovely friendly girl in casual clothes - every now and again I had to remind myself I was actually in labour rather than just sitting up having a late night gossip with a friend!

At 2:30am Rachael suggested I sit on the birthing ball so I could rock my hips to help the contractions along. I did, and Dan put my TENS machine on, then called his mum (Linda) to ask her to come over so she could be on hand if Ewan suddenly woke up. She arrived at 3am - I'd expected her to go straight to bed but of course she was far too excited at the imminent arrival of her first grandchild so she joined us in the bedroom. I suddenly realised Dan looked absolutely knackered so told him to go and grab some sleep while he still could - he went downstairs and slept on the sofa for a while.

About half an hour later, my contractions were starting to really pick up and were now about three minutes apart. Every time one hit, I had to concentrate on breathing through it - Linda and Rachael carried on chatting while I was doing this which was actually a great help, I could hear them in the background through the pain, and just rejoined the conversation when the contractions died down.

Rachael suggested I get up and walk about to help things along, bending forward over the end of the bed with each contraction as this would put pressure on the right bit of my cervix. She seemed to have this wonderful intuition and knew exactly when to leave me to concentrate on getting through the contractions, and when I needed just a bit more encouragement, so when things were really painful she would say things like 'that's it, just focus on your breathing, you're doing brilliantly' etc - if she'd been doing this throughout I think it would have been annoying, but it was almost like she had a sixth sense and only did it when I really needed that extra bit of support. Linda kept us supplied with cups of tea!

Around 4:30 Dan rejoined us. Everything was really starting to hot up now and the contractions were coming thick and fast, so Rachael phoned the second midwife, who would bring the gas and air with her.

I started to panic about who would look after Ewan when he woke up, if I was still in labour and Linda had had to leave for work, so Dan phoned my friend Emma who had offered to be on standby and come and help out if needed (her daughter Ellie is the same age as Ewan and they've been great friends all their lives, so while he was on the phone to her I was shouting 'tell her to bring Ellie!' at him). God bless Emma: despite it being silly o'clock in the morning, she said they'd both be over as soon as they could.

At 5:15, Gill the second midwife arrived, and as she was coming up the stairs my waters finally broke with a big gush all over the inco pad under my feet! I was so relieved, the fact that they hadn't yet broken had been a bit of a mental stumbling block for me. We could have saved Gill the trip to hospital to collect the gas and air, as now everything was moving very very fast and there was no time to get it out - I didn't really feel I needed it by now anyway. I saw Rachael getting towels ready and laying out the baby's clothes, and then she put my birthing ball on the bed, with a pillow on top, and helped me to kneel on the bed leaning on the ball. Linda went and waited at the bottom of the stairs and Dan knelt next to me and I held onto his arm with one hand and the bedframe with the other, and at 5:45 I felt the most incredible, irresistible urge to push. I hadn't experienced that in my first labour - I think I had been too high on gas and air to feel anything, which could be one of the reasons why I'd torn so badly - and it really took me by surprise.

My body just took over completely and it was the most painful, intense and yet exhilarating few minutes of my life. Some of the time I was looking into Dan's eyes and finding the strength I needed there, other times I had my head buried in the pillow because I felt I had to block out the outside world completely. But unlike when my second stage with Ewan, when I had midwives 'cheerleading' and shouting 'push push push!', everything was quiet, with Rachael and Gill occasionally reminding me to 'just do what your body's telling you to do'. I could feel the head moving down and I concentrated on keeping it there, not letting it retreat, and pushing it out. Dan tells me at one point I gave him a huge smile, which I do vaguely remember - I think I knew we were so close to having our baby with us, that I was very happy and excited in the middle of all the pain.

In a matter of minutes Rachael and Gill were telling me to pant, I felt the baby's head easing out, and then there was this slithering feeling as the body came out too, then with an enormous cry the baby almost landed on the bed below me (I think Rachael 'caught' her but then put her down for me to pick up). I tried to pick her up but she was so slippery and I was getting my legs tangled up in the cord, so I first looked to see what we had - got a bit confused thinking the cord was something else but then looked behind it and realised to my surprise and utter delight that we had a daughter! I told Dan that it was a girl and I'll never forget the look of pure joy on his face (we would have been over the moon with a boy of course, but I think we both had a secret longing for a girl). She immediately demonstrated her mature post-dates bowels by pooing all over me and the bed, which everyone thought was hilarious!

Rachael helped me round and propped me up on the pillows, and the baby latched on almost immediately. 15 minutes later Dan cut the cord, and another 15 minutes later the placenta arrived naturally. To my absolute joy, after the 3rd degree tear I'd had giving birth to Ewan, I had sustained nothing more than a slight graze and a very small tear that wouldn't need stitching. Shortly after, as we were all gathering our breath, Emma arrived with Ellie, and then Ewan - who had miraculously slept through everything - woke up and came downstairs, mildly surprised to find 10 people in our room, including his new baby sister! I think he was more excited to see Ellie though.

I had a shower, put some pyjamas on, and returned to the bedroom to find the bed which I'd left looking like an abbatoir had been freshly made up with clean sheets. Erin was handed back to me, having weighed in at a very healthy 8lbs 8oz, and we settled down for a good long breastfeed. I could hear everyone talking and laughing downstairs - it sounded like there was a party going on!

Soon afterwards, Rachael gathered up her things and left, Gill stayed for a little longer to make sure the feed was going well. Emma took Ewan and Ellie off to the park for the morning, Linda had a cuddle with her granddaughter and then had to leave - very reluctantly - for work. So from having had a house full of people, then it was just me, Dan and our beautiful new daughter Erin Bridget Lydia Brown, cuddled up on our sofa together for the rest of the morning.

What an amazing experience, and how lucky we were to be able to welcome our new little girl into her own house, and then simply be left to get on with being a family together. No hospital protocols, no overstretched midwives, no ward full of other crying babies, no 'visiting hours'. I can't thank Rachael and Gill enough, and am so grateful that the local hospital's policy is to encourage and support homebirths - this was the most fantastic experience of my life.

Helen

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