Helen Gardner's Birth Stories

Helen lives in Isleworth, and she is the mother of Clare and Edward. After Clare's traumatic hospital birth, the story of Edward's home birth, written just five days afterwards, is triumphant! Helen transferred to hospital after the birth for stitching, but it is clear from her birth story that this was not a big deal for her, and I don't think anyone reading her story would say that it is 'not worth' having a home birth if you end up going into hospital afterwards!

I am absolutely delighted to announce the birth of Edward, 8lb 4oz, at 12.14pm on New Year's Day 2001, in my front room.

Clare's Birth

First of all, I'd like to give you a rundown of the hospital birth of my first baby in July 1998....waters broke at 2am on Monday morning, went to hospital, had a very painful internal, was told I was 1cm dilated and put on a ward 'so we can keep an eye on you'. I finally started contracting after stomping up and down the corridors for several hours and wearing myself out in the process.

I was periodically strapped up to to the CTG whereupon my contractions died out, so more excercise, more internals, etc. By the evening I was exhausted and in pain (but not dilating) so I used a TENS machine (just buzzed annoyingly) and was given a lovely cocktail of Co-proxomol, Pethidine and Temazepam so I could 'get some sleep' but I spent the whole night awake and 'speeding' instead!!

The next day consisted of prostin pessaries, painful internals, continuous monitoring and no progress, so my teatime treat was a Syntocinon (brand of synthetic oxytocin - another brand is Pitocin) drip. The artificial contractions were immediate, unbearable with no pause in-between. My blood pressure immediately shot up with a diastolic figure of 100 so it was time for the epidural. Luckily, the anaesthetist was so calm and confident I cheered up (slightly)! My lovely midwife unfortunately changed shift just before the epidural so I was onto my second lovely midwife (I already knew both of them, thankfully).

After almost 16 hours of lying on the bed I'd dilated and let the epidural wear off but the baby wouldn't rotate and I pushed for an hour with no effect.

(Note from Angela: It sounds as if Clare was posterior, ie she was head-down, but facing her mother's tummy rather than her back. This can make labour longer and harder, as the baby normally has to rotate round to face the back in order to be born. More about this on 'Get Your Baby Lined Up!')

The baby had a scalp electrode attached because of the Syntocinon abuse to her heartbeat. By this time I was onto my third lovely midwife! Next treat was the stirrups, episiotomy and ventouse.

Thankfully, on Wednesday morning I produced a 7lb 15oz baby girl with perfect Apgar scores. All this torture was stage-managed by an invisible consultant, of course. This was the most traumatic and painful experience of my whole life, but I fell in love with the baby immediately.

If you're planning a homebirth, I hope this is enough to confirm your (right!) decision.

Edward's Birth

Now for the homebirth rundown! Waters broke at 1.30am on Monday morning, I got out of bed, checked the waters were clear, gave myself an internal and could feel the head behind the cervix although I didn't check dilation. I knew the head wasn't high, had been 2/5 engaged the previous Wednesday and had dropped twice since then so I wasn't worried about cord prolapse.

I made myself a pot of raspberry leaf tea then phoned the hospital reception who said they were so busy they couldn't send a midwife to check me, so could I come in to have the baby monitored by a CTG trace (WHAT??!!). I said "Oh dear, I can't wake my toddler up, I'll see what I can do" by which I really meant "S*D OFF!".

I drank some more tea, did some washing-up, washed the wet bedclothes and by 2.30am was having mild Braxton-Hicks-like contractions. I dozed on the sofa for a while and the first lovely midwife arrived at about 4.30am to take my blood pressure (145/95 but it's usually 130/80 so she wasn't worried. Had I gone to hospital it would have been Synto abuse for sure!), take bloods and check dilation with the first pain-free internal I'd ever had. She said I was doing fine and probably wouldn't feel any discomfort until at least 5cm. She was dead right!

I carried on as before and my 'main' lovely midwife arrived around 8.30am, told me I was contracting nicely and we carried on doing 'normal' things. My friend arrived at 9.15am to take my toddler for the day and at 9.30am I started using the Entonox provided by my second lovely midwife. At 11.50am it was time to start pushing and at 12.14am there was my pink, slippery boy in my arms! I coped with the contractions by circling my hips, counting, clutching my wonderful husband, clicking my toes on the floor, breathing, visualising the pain as red flames and at one point thinking "Come and have a go if you think you're hard enough!"!!

The whole experience was so calm and relaxed and I was never frightened or worried thanks to the constant midwife support and encouragement. The only downer was I had a small tear which wouldn't stop bleeding and had to transfer to hospital for a few hours to be stitched (I would rather give birth than have a needle taken to my genitals!). BUT this experience just reminded me of the delights of hospital and why I was determined to have a homebirth this time.

Note from Angela: Normally midwives can stitch tears at home births, but if your midwife is not confident about doing it, then you may be asked to go to hospital, or to wait until somebody can attend you at home. Not all tears need stitching, but a continuously bleeding tear certainly needs attention.

Helen's story should be compulsory reading for anybody who says "What's the point of having a home birth if you might end up going in to hospital afterwards? Why not just start off there?" !

Helen's Thoughts and Tips on Home Birth:

Apart from having a gorgeous baby at the end of it, the two experiences were like some completely different activity! Sorry this is so long-winded, but if it helps just one woman decide on a homebirth, then it's worth reading til the end!

The trouble is, birth is often portrayed as a dangerous event during which women are weak and feeble and have to lie on a bed, moaning. The opposite is true, a woman in labour is at the height of her powers, you will be the strongest and most effective you have ever been. As for the epidural advocates, if you can feel everything that's happening, the baby moving down, etc, then the encouragement is tremendous and you welcome each contraction to help you do the job. When other women say to potential home-birthers "You're so brave!" what they really mean is "But you won't be able to have an epidural!". Well, how long have epidurals been around, how long have women been having babies and how many people are there in the world? If we really couldn't 'cope' we'd have evolved into zip-opening baby-droppers!

After all that, here are my top tips:

Helen Gardner
Proud Mum of Clare (2 and-a-half) and Edward (5 days)
Both born with the help of the World's Best Midwives, Team D at the West Middlesex University Hospital, Isleworth
hawkman@hawkes5.freeserve.co.uk

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