I am currently pregnant for the sixth time, and this will be my fourth baby. In January 2004 I gave birth to Lukas, followed by Esther in June 2005 , a miscarriage in May 2006, Leah in April 2007, a miscarriage in September 2007, and the new one is due in October! (nearly a baby every year – how scary is that??)
My first birth was a planned homebirth, although I transferred to hospital and ended up traumatised by the whole experience, so much so that until now I have not been able to write up what happened. We hired an independent midwife for both the girls' births, which enabled me to have a waterbirth at home both times – they were lovely and I did write those stories down very quickly so as not to forget how wonderful it was. This time around I am hoping for another homebirth, and I am trying to do this on the NHS.
“This is you first pregnancy and you have Group B Strep – so who on earth has talked you into a home birth?” – this was the reaction of the community midwife we saw when I was 36 weeks pregnant with our son Lukas. We fought for a home birth all the way and started off as one, but lack of support from the midwife who happened to be on night duty at the time meant we had to transfer into hospital halfway through, for no reason whatsoever. I was put on a drip of IV antibiotics for the entire 28 hours of labour. Coupled with continuous heart monitoring with the belt around my tummy, this rendered me unable to move much and when I did, I got told off for ‘losing the baby’s heartbeat’! Part of me just gave up and surrendered to a managed birth, and when our son Lukas was eventually born it just felt like I had this terribly painful thing extracted from my body at greatest possible speed. I was so exhausted that I did not even want to hold him and it took days for my to bond with my son. However, I told myself that I should be grateful to have had a safe and relatively ‘normal’ birth.
When I fell pregnant again 8 months later I knew I could not go through the same again, the memories were still too raw. It took a few appointments with the NHS midwives to establish that we could well end up with the same scenario as before, mainly due to my previous Strep B (although they had not found any during this pregnancy) and the question of whether the midwife on duty at the time would be happy about doing a home birth at all. That’s when we followed a friend’s recommendation and contacted an independent midwife, Kay Hardie of Kent Independent Midwives.
We were very apprehensive about the financial aspect of employing an independent midwife, but luckily I had Health Insurance in Germany that eventually paid out to cover Kay’s costs. Talking through my previous birth with Kay was incredibly upsetting and I realised how traumatised I still was, all the options we could have had but were never offered…Kay was brilliant at digging up the latest research regarding Strep B and David (my husband) and I were able to make an informed decision that I should not receive IV antibiotics this time, but that the baby would be watched for signs of infection and if necessary taken to hospital.
My pregnancy was perfectly fine and I began looking forward to the birth – something I never thought I would do again. Kay brought many interesting books and articles for us to make informed choices about all aspects of care during labour, and David and I had a good laugh at the very ‘90’s American’ birth videos sporting HUGE glasses and ridiculous perms! We decided for a waterbirth and bought a brilliant inflatable pool from the NCT website (hint: tall ladies have to order the ‘deluxe’ pool – it does not say that on the website!).
I saw a homeopath who made me a kit for the birth. The due date crept closer and I remained very comfortable, in no hurry to get the baby out, - until- my family from Germany decided to visit us 3 days after the due date regardless whether the baby had actually been born yet ‘to help out with Lukas’ – quite why he required the attention of 4 adults is a mystery to me! They were unaware of our plans for a homebirth, and I did not really want an audience… Kay came up with many ideas for natural induction of labour.
As soon as I stopped work on Friday I had a reflexology session which shifted things down, and I continued to have sessions once a day which were very relaxing. I dug some more flowerbeds in the garden and did lots of walking, and lo and behold I had some twinges on Saturday, but on Sunday everything was back to normal until I had a very bloody show in the evening. I called Kay and she became very excited, saying the baby was likely to be born within 24 hours.
Monday –the due date- came and went without even the slightest twinge. Kay came to see me and we discussed what we could do. I had originally asked not ever to be examined internally, but felt that my best option was for Kay to perform a ‘sweep’. Hooray! I was already 2 cm dilated. We decided to put up the birth pool in the dining room and half fill it with cold water so we only needed to bother with the hot water on the day. Tuesday morning – nothing. The last straw was castor oil – a natural laxative. I bribed my friend Jane with fresh croissants and coffee if she obtained it for me, as pharmacists would not sell this to pregnant ladies. So we sat in a café in town and I swallowed 60mls of castor oil mixed with orange juice – little did I know how quickly the laxative effect would take hold… I only just made it home and spent the rest of the afternoon in the toilet with horrendous diarrhoea, but IT WORKED!!
We were going to beat the Germans to it!! The contractions started at 4.45 pm, I called Kay who said to call her back when things got a bit more regular. 15 minutes later my waters broke with an almighty ‘pop’ and the contractions were every 3 minutes apart and I called Kay again, and when she arrived 20 minutes later David quickly dropped off Lukas at friends for the night. I sat on a towel in the lounge and we watched the news while David made dinner for us. Even though the contractions were getting much stronger, I could still hold a rational conversation about Michael Jackson’s ‘not guilty’ verdict (which was pronounced on that day) as well as eat salad and chips.
David kept massaging my lower back and all of us chatted for ages. I was so pleased to be at home and felt so safe and supported. We had removed all the clocks and I lost track of time, just following the impulses of my body. Kay suggested I try getting into the water when she realised I could not really support my weight on my legs any longer and it was bliss. We had opened the door to the garden and there was a gentle breeze and the birds were singing. I was still able to talk and laugh in between contractions, but occasionally they became overwhelmingly painful and I kept saying “David I can’t do this” but he just held and encouraged me.
During some of the contractions, I could felt the baby’s head with my fingers – it had hair! I felt the 1 cm of cervix that was left, and this really helped me focus and cope with the very painful contractions. Kay administered my homeopathic remedies (Arnica and Hypericum). Suddenly, the cervix was gone and I just shouted “I need to push!”. This was David’s cue to get into the water with me, but he did not get a chance – until then I had managed without the Entonox but now it was indispensable. I braced myself for a good hour or so of pushing but things went so fast and 9 minutes later I caught our baby under the water and brought her up to my tummy – we called her Esther. I tried latching her onto my breast but the cord was very short so I asked Kay to cut it. I lay back with Esther on my chest and David cradling both of us. Eventually David took Esther so I could deliver the placenta in the pool – this was really painful and I needed some more Entonox but after 25 minutes it was done. I had a really good look at the placenta, this wonderful organ that had kept Esther alive and healthy for the past 9 months. The whole birth had only lasted 6 hours 15 minutes, with Esther weighing in at 6lb 12oz.
Esther’s birth was an amazing experience, and it almost felt like a first birth for me because I did not know what a natural birth felt like - I kept asking Kay whether the things I felt were normal. Kay was so good at being supportive without taking over, and a lot of the time it felt like there was just me, David and our unborn baby all working together. I felt so proud of my body, and how quickly it recovered. Esther showed no signs of Strep B infection, and I found it easy to bond with her. I was very wary of breastfeeding as I had huge problems with Lukas, but Kay was there for that too and supported me through bouts of mastitis until things settled down again.
I was very grateful to have had the money to go down the independent route. I do feel that I ‘chickened out’ and did not help to improve NHS homebirth services in my area by going independent, but I hoped that for my next baby I could consider the NHS again, having a successful and brilliant homebirth under my belt.
On to the story of Judith's third baby's birth - Leah.
Back to the story of Judith's first baby's birth - Lukas
Home Birth Stories
Siblings at a home birth - what to do with your older children? Should they be present?
Waterbirth at home
You may be expecting a small baby - what are the issues regarding homebirth?
Independent Midwives - what they do, and where to find one.
Group B Strep - your options for homebirth, and choices regarding antibiotics.
Kent midwifery practice - independent midwives Kay Hardie and Virginia Howes, who practise in Kent and SE London.
Home Birth Reference Page