Joan Smith's Home Birth Story

Our second baby was born at home on May 18th 2000, after a labour lasting four hours and twenty minutes. He weighed in at 8lb 8½oz, and at the time of writing is now three weeks old. He has proved to be a calm and contented baby, and I attribute much of this to his calm and gentle home birth.

I first asked about having a home birth when I went to the doctor having found out that I was pregnant again just five months after having our first son. He had been born in hospital, and the labour lasted 8½ hours. I used a TENS machine and had Entonox, but felt that I had coped really well and the labour was relatively easy. Knowing that I had given birth once, I was very confident about doing it again, and home birth seemed like a very attractive option. It meant that I wouldn't be separated from my family at this important time, that I could have my own things around me rather than scary looking medical equipment, and that I could eat and drink as I liked, play music, walk around, and generally do what I felt like doing to cope with the contractions at the time. So I was very disappointed when the doctor informed me that home birth was not an option in our area, and I dismissed the idea and booked into our nearest maternity unit.

In fact, there is no part of the UK in which home birth is 'not an option'; this doctor was deliberately misleading his patient. Anyone who hears a similar line should contact the Association for Improvements in the Maternity Services (AIMS) who will help them to book a home birth.

When I was about six months pregnant, I happened to mention home birth to my midwife at a routine antenatal appointment. She didn't seem surprised at the doctor's response, sighed, and told me that of course home birth was an option. Doctors dismissed the idea because they felt the risk was too great and that they would be responsible if something went wrong. However, the midwives arranged the home births without doctors being involved at all, and they had a very positive experience of the benefits of home birth. We talked about it at length, and then I discussed the idea with my husband some more. We were a bit concerned that if anything went wrong the nearest hospital was 40 minutes drive away (up to an hour during rush hour). If I, or the baby, needed emergency treatment, there was no way we could receive it immediately as we would if we were in hospital. But we decided that the distance to the hospital was simply something we would have to gamble on. I was convinced that everything would go well, and had a strong instinct that I would not have to go to hospital at all. The benefits of a home birth to me far outweighed the risk. We booked the birth as soon as we decided to go ahead, as due to lack of resources, the midwives in our area can only take on three home births in any month.

While you may be told that your health authority will only take a certain number of home birth bookings, etc, you should not let this deter you from booking a home birth if that is what you want. Such 'limits' are best ignored. It is the health authority's responsibility to sort out its own staffing problems, not yours. Again, AIMS are the people to contact if you have any trouble.

Although our older son had arrived ten days late, I was hoping that this baby would come early, as everyone had told me that second babies are usually early. However, my due date came and went with no signs of anything happening. Then three days after my due date, I had a show and felt mild contractions throughout the night. But the next day they disappeared and I wasn't sure what was happening. My husband took the day off work anyway, in case things began to move. In the late afternoon the contractions began again, and although they were very mild and not painful but just uncomfortable, we summoned my mother who drove up to be with us. Her role was to look after our older son (now 14 months) during the birth. But in the event, we put him to bed at 6pm and he slept right through the whole thing, ignoring the commotion downstairs!

By about 7pm the contractions were steadily getting stronger, and I had a shower, put on the TENS machine and spent a lot of time walking around. My husband and mum wanted me to call the midwife, but I didn't want to call her too early and for her to be hanging around for hours and hours. I had vivid memories of arriving at the hospital when in labour with our older son, only to be told that I wasn't dilated enough and to go home. It was hours before I reached the magic three centimetres. But this time things went more quickly, and when the contractions were every five minutes and getting more intense, I telephoned the on-call midwife who arrived at 10pm.

She examined me on the sofa in the living room, and I was really pleased when she said I was four centimetres dilated. I continued to wander around, watch TV, and listen to the midwife and my mum chatting about nothing in particular. I was very relaxed, and although I was using the boost button on the TENS machine with every contraction, I wasn't really in pain. I coped with the contractions by leaning over a big armchair or on my husband, and breathing calmly. Staying upright seemed to help the labour to progress, as things soon hotted up. The midwife suggested that her doing the internal may also have speeded things up.

At about 11pm my waters suddenly broke with a pop. Luckily we had sheets on the floor, and there didn't seem to be too much of a flood. After this the contractions got much stronger and I became much less aware of what was going on around me, and more focused inside. The second midwife, who would assist with the birth itself, was called. I had stopped walking around by now and was kneeling down with my head in my husband's lap, clutching him with every contraction! He was really good and kept talking to me and encouraging me.

At about 11.20pm I decided the pain was getting a bit much and asked for the Entonox. Two cylinders had been left at the house a couple of weeks before and were in the downstairs cloakroom. Looking back, I appreciate how good the midwife was. She hadn't once mentioned pain relief to me, or offered anything stronger. I had written in my birth plan that I wanted to use as little pain relief as possible, and to be encouraged to cope without it. When I was having our older son in hospital, I was repeatedly offered an epidural and pethidine, and although I didn't want it and was coping well on Entonox, I was tempted and had to consciously resist. But this time, the midwife was totally guided by me and what I wanted, and let me make the decisions. As soon as I asked for it, she set the Entonox up and I was really glad to make use of it as my body had totally taken over and things were racing along now, with contractions one on top of another and very intense. In the event I only used the Entonox for about fifteen minutes. Knowing that the birth was imminent, I turned round so that I was squatting in front of my husband, who was sitting on the sofa, with my back to him, resting my arms on his knees. I also took off my T-shirt as it just felt in the way and I wanted to be ready for skin to skin contact with my new baby.

The baby seemed to arrive all of a sudden. I had been feeling on the edge of wanting to push for some time, but now the urge was suddenly irresistable and it was very satisfying to give a huge push and to hear the midwife say "It's the head! Look at the head!" But although I tried to look down and see it, I couldn't see past my bump and I was seized by another contraction and another undeniable urge to push really hard - and the body slid out. It was 11.37pm. The baby was laid immediately on my tummy and I scooped it up and held it in my arms, looking to see what sex it was - a boy. He was damp and slippery and covered in blood, but he was completely beautiful! After a while I cut his cord, and, now all wrapped up warmly, he had a twenty minute breastfeed. The midwife had to help him latch on, but once he got going he fed well. I had an injection of Syntometrin in my thigh, which I didn't feel at all, and the placenta arrived very quickly.

I hardly noticed the midwives writing up their notes and clearing up. When baby had finished feeding he fell asleep and my husband put him in his cot upstairs, giving me the opportunity to move - I was still sitting on the floor in the position I had given birth in! - and have a shower and get cleaned up. The midwives left and we got to bed at about 1am. Baby soon woke up again, so we took him into our bed and he fed intermittently for a couple of hours before we all drifted off to a peaceful sleep together.

I wouldn't have contemplated a home birth for my first baby. I remember looking down at my huge bump and being unable to believe that this massive baby could possibly get out of my body without a lot of pain and trauma. I was facing an unknown, and it was scary. I didn't know how I would cope. However, second time around I was so much more confident, and had faith in the ability of the human body to do what it was made to do. Birth is after all a natural process, and if left on its own to do it, the body can (usually) achieve it perfectly well without medical intervention. I read up on home birth when I was considering it as an option, visiting my local library and various helpful web sites, and the benefits soon became clear. I was prepared to go to hospital if anything went wrong, and had a bag packed just in case, but in the event I had a wonderful experience and I would definitely recommend other mums to consider home birth as a very real option. It was one of the most moving and rewarding experiences of my life, and I hope that it goes just as well for other mums who choose it.

UPDATE

Our beautiful son is now thriving and continues to be a relatively calm baby. I breastfed him for two days, but even in that short time my nipples got really sore, cracked open and bleeding. This had happened with our first son, and then I had gamely ploughed on for eight miserable weeks, trying all sorts of remedies from nipple cream to nipple shields, but nothing enabled the nipples to heal up and I was in agony at every feed, dreading the next one before the last had finished. I had a traumatic time, and cried an awful lot. When this started to happen again, I decided, with my husband (who was distraught last time around to see me in such pain) to cut my losses and switch to formula milk straight away. This has made me much calmer and feeding so much easier, and I can give my older son the attention he needs instead of being consumed by the worry of trying to feed the younger one. The formula milk has meant that baby sleeps well and has put on weight well. He gained 1½oz the first week, 5oz the second week, and ¾lb the third week. He is allowing us four or five hours unbroken sleep every night, and because he is having bottles my husband can share the feeding. Doing shifts, we both get a long stretch of sleep - it is not as much as we would like, but far more than we had with our first son! We are now looking forward to baby sleeping right through the night!

Before the birth we were worried about how our older son (14 months) would react to the new baby. This has proved to be a needless worry, as the expected jealousy hasn't materialised. Instead he is very affectionate towards him, putting his head close to baby's and trying to cuddle him, and offering him toys. He does try to poke his eyes and mouth, but that is just curiosity!

'Joan Smith' is a pseudonym to protect the author's privacy.

Joan's story shows that breastfeeding problems can occur, no matter how good your birth experience. If you would like breastfeeding help or information, you can contact a specialist breastfeeding counsellor from La Leche League, the NCT, or the Breastfeeding Network. You are welcome to contact these organisations during pregnancy, if you would like to discuss any particular concerns or problems which have occurred before.

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