This is the story of the birth of Emma Sylvia Kennedy. Emma is my second child. My son Rob (from a previous relationship) was born 15 years ago, at the University Hospital in Cardiff. Rob's birth was a highly medically managed experience - most of my labour was spent lying on my back on a bed, strapped to one of those monitors, and I finally had a forceps delivery. I used gas and air and Pethidine for pain relief (none of which really worked) and I asked for an epidural but the nurses told me the baby would be born before it could take effect (an excuse for not setting it up I suspect as the labour did in fact go on for some time after this). When the baby was born the nurses whisked him off to do their tests whilst I had my stitches (loads of them), and in the end I had to ask to see and hold the baby. Despite this slightly shaky start, I have a lovely relationship with my son, but have always wished that his birth had been a more gentle and rewarding experience for us both.
When I discovered I was pregnant again I was initially convinced that I would 'have' to have a hospital delivery, because of my previous forceps delivery and my age (35). My sister in law encouraged me to look into the option of home birth and once I did some research I discovered that hospitals have no right to force any woman to have a particular kind of birth, and that it is ultimately the woman's choice. This seems so obvious now, but at the time I really did believe that women needed special permission from the medical profession to give birth anywhere other than in hospital. I still expected resistance to my request for a home birth though, and went to my first antenatal check armed with all sorts of facts and figures, expecting a real argument. Much to my surprise and delight the midwife was really supportive of my plans and encouraged me to believe that my previous birth experience was no barrier to a home birth for this baby.
I had a lovely and uneventful pregnancy and my due date (Monday March 13th) came and went. I had been having Braxton Hicks contractions for the previous week or so, and was vaguely surprised to go overdue. The following day we (my husband Donald had taken leave from work to get a few last days together before the baby arrived) went for a long walk around a public garden, and in the evening I started having contractions that seemed much more regular and were certainly stronger than previously. We did briefly try to sleep that night, but I was too uncomfortable, so we stayed up watching my 'Blue Planet' DVD, drinking tea with honey and breathing through my contractions. By morning the contractions were regular and strong and about four minutes apart and I was hopeful that we were making progress. I was in a fair amount of pain, but didn't feel unable to cope like last time, so couldn't decide if this meant I wasn't as advanced as I thought, or whether I was just coping better. I had used a hypnotherapy CD (Natal Hypnotherapy) to prepare for this birth, and was using the techniques I had learned, so again it was difficult to tell how far advanced I was. In the end we decided to call out the midwife at about 6am on Wednesday 15th March to see where we were and to let the team know that things seemed to be happening. As it turned out, when the midwife examined me I was only just beginning to dilate and she told me it could be 'ages' yet.
Things carried on in a similar way all through Wednesday with contractions 4 - 6 minutes apart. In retrospect the contractions were getting stronger (although not closer together), but at the time I tended to think that I was getting tired rather than that things were progressing. At one point around 4pm we decided to go for a drive and pick up a few bits from the local shop on the way back. The motion of the car felt lovely, but unfortunately seemed to intensify the contractions and I suddenly realised I couldn't bear to sit on my bottom in the car any longer. So I sort of wedged myself into the backseat of the car (no mean feat since I had a very large bump by the end) and had to come back from the shop kneeling sideways across the back seat! I had a real low point at about 6pm in the evening, at the prospect of another night of being unable to sleep with no clear idea of when things would actually start to happen for real (You might think that after the car incident that I would have guessed that things were actually happening by this stage but I didn't)! Donald made the inspired suggestion of listening to my hypnotherapy CD and using it to relax and refocus. I did this, got up afterwards feeling much calmer and more relaxed, went to the loo and discovered that I had had a show. I was completed and irrationally delighted by the appearance of this horrible lump of mucus, and insisted on showing it to Donald who was a bit bemused at being made to peer into an unflushed toilet, but glad I had cheered up so much.
After the show I was much more cheerful and positive and wandered about using my hypnotherapy techniques to manage the contractions. I even managed to eat an evening meal (although I can't remember what of). Throughout this time the contractions were remaining about four minutes apart, and this made me think that we were still a long way off the labour getting 'serious'. I was determined not to call the midwife back until I was convinced things were properly underway as I thought I couldn't stand being told I was still at the 'just beginning' stage. By about 11.30 things were still the same -moderate contractions every four minutes - and I was getting fed up again. Looking back it was partly that I couldn't sit down comfortably (I had quite a lot of pain in my back and at the base of my spine) and this also meant I couldn't get comfortable in the bath. So I was either standing, walking around or kneeling, and that got quite tiring after a while. In the end about midnight I decided to go to bed anyway, hoping that everything would stop and I could get some sleep. I was very cross and wound up because I was so tired, and I got more so the longer I lay in bed. The contractions kept coming and were painful lying down, and the baby was restless as though she wanted me to get up and get on with things. However I was determined that if I just lay still long enough everything would stop and I could have a rest. Finally about 2.00am I got very upset and cried and said I couldn't stand it any more and we would have to get up and go into hospital and I would have an epidural. It did cross my mind at this stage that the symptoms I was showing were almost exactly like those of transition - but obviously I couldn't be in transition yet as the contractions were too far apart and not painful enough .
Thankfully for me, Donald was much more in touch with what was really going on than I was, and he guessed straight away that I actually was in transition and that things were about to move into the final stages. When I told him my plan to get up and go into hospital he said 'OK that sounds a good idea - let's get up, get dressed and go and have a picnic on the floor of the lounge'. For some reason I didn't see any conflict between my plan and his, and I agreed to do this without any further fuss. He told me afterwards that he was convinced that if he could get me up and some food into me I'd be fine for the rest of the labour. As it turned out he was completely right. We went downstairs and he made plates of cut up pear and squares of chocolate and tea with sugar which he held and I drank through a straw so I wouldn't spill it if a contraction started. I immediately started to feel better. At about 3.00am he started to time my contractions with a stopwatch and it very quickly became obvious that they were about a minute and a half to two minutes apart. Just as we were discussing this, I had another really big one which felt distinctly 'pushy' at the end, and then another one which broke the waters (fortunately onto the pile of bath towels Donald had put down earlier). I said 'I think you better ring the midwife' and he agreed.
At this point, things started to get a little strange. Donald rang the on-call midwife who turned out to be at home on the Gower Peninsula, several miles from us. When he described my symptoms (particularly the 'pushy' feeling at the end of some contractions) she panicked a bit and said she would be on her way ASAP, and would try to find another midwife who was closer, but that meanwhile she would put an ambulance on standby just in case. The ambulance station must have scrambled the message from her, because the next thing we knew, the phone was ringing and it was the ambulance controller trying to give Donald instructions for delivering the baby himself over the phone. Having been absolutely brilliant all the way through to this point, he did go a bit white at this stage! We finally convinced them that the baby was no where in sight and that things really were not THAT imminent and settled down to wait for the midwife (me still scoffing pieces of pear between contractions) when the doorbell rang and it was an ambulance crew, complete with ambulance, who had arrived to do an emergency delivery and / or cart me off to hospital asap.
At this point the phone started ringing again, and it was either the midwife or ambulance control (I can't remember which) but Donald went to answer it and I tried to explain to the ambulance crew that I was having a home birth so wouldn't be needing transport to the hospital and that the midwife was on her way, and that the baby wasn't showing any signs of appearing imminently. At this stage I was kneeling on a pile of rather mucky bath towels, and burying my head in the sofa every minute and a half whilst I had a contraction, so as you might imagine that it took some time to get the story straight. The ambulance men then decided they had better wait for the midwife to turn up, so there followed a very bizarre ten minutes or so, with two strange men sitting in my lounge, watching me have contractions. I remember feeling at the time that this was a slightly awkward situation, so I had better be a good hostess and make conversation to put everyone at their ease! I have no clear idea what I said (although I do remember offering them a cup of tea at one stage) and I remember them talking about their own children being born and also telling us that a lady had given birth in their ambulance the previous night. When both the midwives arrived together and the ambulance men were leaving one of them commented on how polite and quiet I was being, and that his experience of women in labour usually involved them swearing. As I was hot and sweaty and groaning loudly with each contraction by that stage I felt particularly pleased that someone thought I was quiet and refined! They wished us luck and one of them said 'Say happy birthday to the baby for me' which I thought was really nice.
Note from Angela: It would have been more thoughtful of the ambulance men to wait outside the room! I have heard other accounts of ambulance crews being insensitive like this - in one case the mother was acutely aware of 3 total strangers standing in her sitting room staring at her naked backside. Mothers and birth partners may need to be firm and insist that any ambulance crew members there in case of emergency wait outside the room. They do not need to be in the room. This is not the time to worry about offending them!
Finally about 4.00am we closed the door on the ambulance men and the midwives were there, and it was time to get on with the second stage. My midwives (Jenny and Julie) were brilliant, and left us very much to get on with things without interfering. I found that standing up with my arms around Donald's neck was the best position and stayed like that for almost the entire rest of the labour, with just brief changes of position. It was a very strange feeling - I could feel the baby's head moving down with each push and I was concentrating intently on pushing in the right place to get maximum movement, and then trying to hold her there so she didn't slip back too far. Because I had done hypnotherapy in preparation for the birth it felt as though I had practiced this stage in advance, and although the contractions did hurt, the techniques I had learned for managing the pain really helped. I remember talking to the baby during contractions, saying 'Come on Speck' (our nickname for the baby) which the midwives apparently thought was very sweet. I was worried that she was slipping back too much after each contraction and that I wasn't making progress, so I kept demanding a report from the midwives and then saying 'You're not lying to me are you?' when they told me I was doing well. Finally the head crowned and Jenny told me not to be afraid of the pain and to push the baby out, but at that stage (totally unlike my first birth experience) it never occurred to me to be afraid. I didn't care if it hurt - I was just very excited that this long awaited baby was nearly here. Once her head was out I thought the rest of her would follow easily, but her shoulders were wide and stuck fast. I could feel the baby flexing her body, trying to see what was happening or to wriggle free whilst still mostly inside me, and I was telling her to stay still (as it really hurt and I couldn't feel where to push properly). Jenny suggested I lay on my side and this must have shifted things somehow as with the next contraction she was born quite easily, and I lay there with a huge sense of relief, thinking 'I did it'. Donald tells me she needed Jenny to puff on her face to start her breathing, but I could hear her making little sounds right from the start, and then a little cry, so I was never worried. When she was handed over my leg to us, we both said 'Hello' and she looked at us and made a little 'Lhho' noise that sounded as if she were saying hello back in a rather woebegone voice. We both agreed straight away that she looked like an 'Emma Sylvia', the names we had in mind for her (both our mothers are called Sylvia).
At this point I really did not care about anything else. The three of us lay together on the floor and it felt perfect. I knew I was tired and my legs and arms seemed to have stopped working but I felt fine and very triumphant and just wanted to be left alone to be with Donald and the baby (and my son Rob when he woke up). The birds were singing outside, and everything felt right with the world. Donald says I looked very pale at this point and he was quite worried, but I really did feel pretty good right from the start. The placenta turned up about ten minutes after the baby so I didn't need an injection, and despite having a bit of a tear the midwives decided I didn't need any stitches.
After a while I was hoisted up to sit on the sofa, and Donald went to find Rob to tell him that his sister had been born. Incredibly, Rob had slept through the whole thing (!!) and took some convincing that Donald wasn't winding him up and that the baby REALLY had been born. I would love to take this as further evidence of how quiet and refined I was during labour, but suspect it has more to do with Rob's teenage ability to sleep through anything. Emma was weighed (9lb 9oz) and dressed and given to her big brother for a cuddle. And that is really the end of the story of her birth -as the midwives left I was drinking champagne, with Rob next to me holding Emma, listening to Donald ringing our families and friends, and it felt wonderful and perfect and yet calm and ordinary at the same time. After a while we all went to bed (apart from Rob who went to share the news with his friends on MSN), all together in our own house, and listening to the mobile phones still buzzing with an occasional message of congratulation as the news spread.
Thinking back on the experience I would say that home birth is not an option that would suit everyone, but it was definitely the right option for me for this birth. I think the following factors made it work particularly well for me:
Looking back over my own home birth experience I'm glad we didn't call out the midwives until late in the labour, as I felt more comfortable just being with Donald and my memories of the labour are of it being a real joint effort. However I do wish I had been more confident that things were progressing, as all my low points in the first stage were to do with me thinking I had hours and possibly days more to go. The mouldings on Emma's head suggest that she came down the birth canal forehead first, with her head tilted back (to see where she was going no doubt!) which may account for the slow first stage and for all the back pain I experienced.
Emma is a lovely calm baby and is particularly relaxed at home in the lounge, the room where she was born. We have had the usual ups and downs of adjusting to a new baby, but have managed them successfully so far and I am convinced that this is at least partially due to us both being so actively involved in her birth. Not only that, but we all coped well with a family holiday to South Africa when she was only four weeks old! Succeeding in having a natural, drug free birth means a lot to me after my first birth experience, and the second stage in particular has given me a lot of confidence in my own strength and capabilities, which I know I will draw upon in all areas of my life from now on.
Home Birth Stories
Big babies and homebirth
Hypnosis for birth - different approaches to hypnotherapy for labour, and birth stories involving them.
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Siblings at a home birth - what to do with your older children? Should they be present?
The Third Stage of Labour - what are your options, and the pros and cons of each?
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