Whilst the weeks since Cora's birth (31/3/06) have flown by, I still enjoy thinking about her birth and I hope that reading about my experience will provide encourage and confidence to other pregnant women considering a home water birth.
I decided I wanted a home birth as soon as I found out I was pregnant. My best friend had given birth to both her babies at home, before that I hadn't heard of anyone apart from my grandmother who hadn't had their baby in hospital. The more I read about how to have a 'good' birth, the more I learnt that being relaxed was key to avoiding difficulties, and I doubted that I would feel relaxed in a hospital labour suite. I also read extensively about water birth and decided that I wanted to try this method and was concerned that this might not be available at the hospital. Since the birth I have met up with one woman from my ante-natal group who wanted a water birth at the hospital but was told that staff were too busy to fill the bath. My husband Matthew wasn't enamoured with the idea of home birth but after doing some research himself he became convinced that it was the best environment for me.
Even though I had my heart set on a home water birth, at the back of my mind throughout the pregnancy were niggling doubts about whether I could achieve this. These doubts were fed by how normalised hospitals births are in our society and the widespread belief that giving birth in hospital is safer than at home. Whilst in certain situations this is certainly true, there is also evidence that simply by being in a hospital environment can lead to medical intervention during a birth. I hoped that by preparing myself mentally and physically for the birth, I would stand a better chance of giving birth at home.
I began attending pre-natal yoga classes at week 14 of my pregnancy and continued up to week 39. I only managed about one self-practice session a week, but in the final month I was doing about 20 minutes of the exercises each day at home. The exercises I found helped with my labour were the ones that helped to open up my hips, e.g. stirring the pot. The class was also important in giving me the space to think about the baby and try to connect with her, which was hard to do when working and doing things like decorate the house. It was also the one night a week that I left work on time and got home afterwards to a really good night's sleep.
I also continued to attend a weekly spinning class at the gym each week until week 35 when I switched to aqua-aerobics once a week. I purchased a birthing ball at week 30 which I used to sit on each evening to relieve pressure on my back. It was also a useful thing to lean on whilst my husband gave me a back massage! I spent most of my labour on that ball and now use it to do sit ups on, so it was well worth the investment! To prepare mentally I spent a lot of time reading about other women's experiences on the Home Birth website as their stories helped me to remain positive. I also found that spending time trying to visualise the birth helped, even though I had no idea what it would really be like!
We hired a water pool from the Active Birth Centre and arranged for it to be delivered two weeks before my due date of 31st March. We put the pool together when it arrived, it was slightly surreal having this thing in our kitchen, and I used to sit in it and try to imagine what the birth would be like.
I started my maternity leave on 23rd March and spent the week cleaning, making lots of meals to freeze and going swimming! I felt extremely fit and well by week 40 although I was moving around quite slowly by then. My mum had arranged to come down to visit for two days on 30th and 31st March, as first time babies never arrive before their due date....
Anyway, almost as soon as she arrived on the Thursday at lunch time I started having mild contractions which continued throughout the day, coming every five minutes apart but not very intense. We managed to have a meal and go to bed around 11pm and I managed to sleep through each contraction at they were regular but mild at this stage. The contractions became more intense around 3 am and we came downstairs to watch a DVD, '24 Hour Party People' which felt appropriate! Around 5 am Matthew put the TENS machine on my back, which I found very effective throughout the rest of my labour.
I phoned the delivery suite around 5.30 as the contractions were getting stronger, and they told me that the midwife would arrive around 8 am. It was at this point that Matthew began to fill the pool; one of the main concerns had been when to start doing this as we knew it would take a few hours to fill as our boiler isn't very efficient. Gloria arrived at 8.30 am with her student midwife, Sophie. I was given an internal and was 2 cm dilated, so Gloria and Sophie sat with me for an hour and then left.
I was feeling very relaxed at this stage and enjoying being able to walk around the house, watch TV when I wanted to, lean on the fireplace, sit on the birthing ball. Gloria and Sophie returned at 12.30 and I was now 4 cm dilated. We bonded really well with Gloria and Sophie, sitting in the living room watching music videos and chatting and laughing. I think it also helped to have my mum there, although she was busy pottering in the kitchen as mums tend to do! Gloria and Sophie left after about an hour and were going to pop back around 5 pm before they finished their shift.
To help progress things at 4 pm I went for a walk around the block, holding onto my TENS machine in one hand and Matthew on the other. We nipped into the newsagents to buy the newspaper and must have looked a funny sight. I was in quite a lot of pain at this point and once back home spent the next hour alternating between rocking on the ball and leaning and rocking against Matthew. I kept my breathing under control, remembering the breathing I had done in the yoga classes.
Gloria and Sophie returned at 5 pm and I was still on 4 cm and decided to have my waters broken as I was concerned that things would carry on too long. So my waters were broken on the living room floor, and one thing that struck me about the whole home birth thing is how unmessy it is. By the next day you would never have known that we'd had a baby delivered in the house, and we only put plastic sheeting around the pool. Once my waters were broken things moved to a different level, the pain become incredible and I couldn't feel I space between contractions as they seemed so intense. So we had a pretty bad hour when I struggled to cope with the pain and at 6pm I begged to go into the pool; Gloria had wanted me to wait until I was 5 cm which I must have been by then.
Note from Angela: It's quite common for women to find that having the waters broken makes it very hard to manage their labour, as things can get fast and furious - see for example the story of Monica's birth.
I was apprehensive about getting into the pool as I had such high expectations of how it would make me feel and was worried that it wouldn't be that great. Matthew had hung sheets up at the kitchen windows and lit candles around the room so when I crawled into the kitchen it looked magical. I can still vividly remember the moment I stepped into the pool, it was the most soothing, gorgeous moment, I almost cried with relief. I kept crawling around the pool saying 'oh this is amazing'. The contrast between the pain I'd been experiencing on the living-room floor and the feeling in the pool was immense, so much of the pain was taken away and it symbolised moving into the next stage of labour for me.
I felt an incredible urge to push and asked Gloria and Sophie what I should do, they were really cool and just told me to do what I wanted. A third midwife, Anna, arrived and she encouraged me to really open up my legs, saying 'make room for baby'. I turned this into a kind of chant and with every push I was chanting 'make room for baby'. The water allowed me to move positions very quickly and I came to the front of the pool with the pain to hold onto Matthew and collapsed at the rear of the pool with each space between. The water felt so warm and soft on my body, the positive effects of the water remained for the 2 hours I was in the pool.
About 8 pm I felt the baby's head between my legs, the strangest feeling I've ever experienced. Whilst I wanted to get the baby out I was coached by Anna to take it easy and I made sure that my pushing wasn't too forceful, although by this point I was on another planet and can't accurately describe what I was doing. Anna began to take photographs as I was pushing the baby out, so all I remember was lots of flashing of the camera. The midwives could see the baby's head and with a few big pushes the baby's body emerged. Apparently it looked like she swam out and upwards towards me. I lifted her up out of the water in shock, with Anna saying, 'keep her under the water!' So I plunged her under again, only for Anna to say 'not her head, just her body!'.
So Cora Ethel White arrived on her due date, in the water, in our kitchen, with her daddy and grandma and three amazing midwives. We're a bit vague about her weight as the scales used gave a different reading to the electronic ones a week later but we reckon she was about 6 lbs 8 oz.
Matthew cut the cord, which he told me later he hadn't enjoyed at all, and I got out of the water. I knelt on the kitchen floor and after a few good pushes I delivered the placenta. After an examination I need one stitch, which wasn't pleasant but mum held my hand whilst Matthew took Cora into the living room for some skin-to-skin contact. I was helped to breastfeed her within the hour by Anna. After a shower, with very shakey legs, I was put to bed with a cup of peppermint tea and a piece of toast with about half a pot of jam on it! Matthew and Mum emptied the pool and said goodbye to the midwives. Matthew and I went to sleep at midnight with our beautiful little girl sleeping peacefully next to us in her moses basket.
I feel incredibly lucky to be able to write this story; I still have to pinch myself that it went so well. Cora is a very chilled out baby - she seemed to sleep for the first 3 weeks and even at 8 weeks she still loves her naps. I used the sitz bath provided with the birthing pool for a week after the birth and Gloria was impressed with how quickly I healed up, so although making the sitz bath was a bit of a pain and the house smelt of garlic for a week, I'd recommend using it.
I hope this story helps you in your research into home and water birth, whilst I'm not ready for another baby just yet I'm hoping that I can achieve the same birth again, although Anna the midwife doubts we'd get the pool filled in time for the next one! I started post-natal yoga classes when Cora was 3 weeks old and feel that they are helping to recover my battered pelvic floor muscles and strenghten my poor old tummy muscles.
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