Julii strikes me as a down-to-earth woman who chose home birth for practical reasons - not because she thought she would find it a 'wonderful experience', help her to get in touch with her spirituality, etc.. For many mothers, home birth is not a romantic experience - it's a tough job, but some of us feel happier doing that tough job in our own environment. Julii wrote this story just a few hours after Isabel was born, and she reminds us how tough even a "good" birth can be.
I was sold on the idea of homebirth for my second pregnancy for three reasons: It seemed likely to cause the least disruption in my toddler's life (23 months old on my due date); The safety and intervention statistics are pretty impressive (ie. it's safer and you are less likely to need interventions to give birth at home for low risk pregnancies); and I like the idea of "natural" birth, although I admit I wasn't sure I was capable of it.
(During her pregnancy, Julii wrote on the Homebirth UK list that she had some doubts about whether home birth would be right for her, because she might want access to an epidural. )
My community midwife was fully supportive from the beginning (having had a homebirth herself). The first words out of her mouth when I told her I wanted a homebirth were "Oh Good!". My GP was neutral (not that we ever really discussed it). The hospital where I had a 22 week scan wanted to see me a week earlier than they might have for a hospital birth, just because it was a planned homebirth. I was peeved enough about that to phone up later and reschedule the appointment for 2 weeks later (would have been 41 weeks 5 days pregnant). Virtually all the other moms I ever spoke to about my plans were supportive, although I expect those with doubts simply bit their tongues. I was lucky that my husband's cousin had had a homebirth only 16 months earlier, so the extended family weren't too suspicious of the idea.
The only glitch in the plans was that I decided to hire a birthing pool, and it became apparent at my 39 weeks appointment that a suitably trained midwife (for waterbirths) might not be on duty. I was disappointed that I might not get the option of a waterbirth, but since I mostly wanted the pool for possible pain relief, it wasn't the end of the world.
I was just over 40 weeks pregnant and had been having minor contractions for about 3 days. I kept toying with calling my community midwife all through the third day, but didn't. The contractions became more serious that evening, but they were highly variable in frequency and duration (mostly short, but sharp, and every 10 minutes or so). My mucus plug went at 10pm, but I didn't feel I'd reached a toe-curling stage until about midnight. I got up to set up the birthing pool and the table for the 2-woman midwife team I was expecting. Finally I phoned the emergency midwife... it just happened to be my usual community midwife on duty! She said that the situation sounded "promising" and turned up around 1 am. She found I was 3cm dilated. I made her a cup of tea and we tried to assess whether the contractions really were strengthening.
AT some point I went to wake my husband up. He helped initially getting the pool filled, but around 1:30am my toddler woke up asking for me. I was in the pool by now and couldn't face going up stairs to settle my son, much as I wanted to. It took my husband almost an hour to settle the poor child, which meant he missed most of my hard labour!
In the meantime, the midwife is more and more frantically phoning around for a second midwife to come help. My midwife had only ever attended one water birth previously, which made her especially anxious if I couldn't get out of the pool in time.
Around 2am the pain started to hit excruciating. Compared to my first labour I managed the breathing much much better, but I still found it awful. The only drugs for pain relief I'd had were two paracetamol (tylenol, for American readers). I wanted to ask for Entenox, but I knew my midwife only carried one canister, which would last 45 minutes, and it felt like I'd best conserve that precious resource.
My husband arrived just as the screaming started, followed by vomiting (I'd been alternately nauseas & ravenous since midnight). I think this is when my poor midwife could have panicked; she'd been on the phone to all sorts of people. It was a full moon, and true to mythology, at least one other planned homebirth was happening locally, and a lot of other midwives who might have been on call for community births had been called into busy delivery wards.
At this point I'm screaming I can't take any more ("Please just cut off my head and put me out of my misery"). But I know from my first baby that this, and the vomiting, are very likely signs that the end is almost in sight. I'm breathing Entenox as deeply as the screams allow, which does help some. The midwife is on the phone desperately trying to get some backup before the Entenox is right there.
The pressure to bear down is phenomenal; I never had this in my first labour, and I realise I can no more control that pressure than I can the need to scream. But in the pool I tend to float; my legs are in such spasm with each contraction that I simply cannot kneel or take any sort of open-pelvis position. I still had gaps between contractions when I could regain control of myself and my body; and in one of them I pretty much leaped out of the pool and into the birthing chair we had made up. Really, all that was was an ordinary chair with the seat pad removed and towels wrapped around the sides to cushion my legs sitting on it. Then I could face straddle the chair, facing and leaning on the back, with a very nicely open pelvis.
It worked a treat; I remember the midwife asking if she could move the chair slightly to give her better access underneath, and at this point it's like I entered a trance. The pain was still out there, but not controlling me any more. The thinking part of my brain was busy calculating what must be happening, unencumbered by the overwhelming pain I had been feeling moments before. I breathed so deeply on the Entenox. The midwife is kneeling behind me and at some point my membranes broke as my body finally got to take over and push the baby out. I did consciously push a bit, but the midwife was telling me not to because she could see the baby was coming fast anyway.
The most wonderful moment in labour is when you feel the baby squeeze out and you know the worst is over. At that exact moment, the cavalry arrived in the shape of two more midwives (a third showed up perhaps 15 minutes later).
Isabel Catalina was 7lb 1oz (3.2 kg) at birth, born at 3am (so, just 2 hours of "established" labour).
Within minutes -- before the last midwife arrived -- I was standing, umbilical cord hanging out, glad to stretch my legs, and SO RELIEVED that the pain was gone. The placenta took about 40 minutes to come of its own accord, with no help from Isabel who only toyed with the idea of nursing and spent most of her time half-asleep or just looking around.
There was a lot of blood. DH was a star and cleaned much of it off the tiled kitchen floor. I only had a small tear which it was agreed would heal on its own.
Would I do it again.... I don't know. There was so much about the labour that went beautifully. No risk to baby from drugs. No internal monitoring to leave marks on the baby's head, or make kneeling and other open-pelvis positions impossible (as happened in my first, hospital labour). Climbing into my own bed at 5am and introducing the toddler who awoke at 7am to his baby sister.
However, it was agonising; I keep thinking I'd like a third child, but to go through this pain is pretty awful. I could seriously consider an epidural next time -- but ironically, with such a fast labour, I'm told I probably couldn't get one, anyway!
Maybe more Entenox next time. And if I had a choice, I think the birthing pool really helped keep the contractions from destroying my back (as happened in my first labour).
Julii's baby was born at 3AM on 2 October 2001; she emailed me her birth story at 10.35 the same day!!! Isn't that a testament to the 'normality' of home birth?
Two days later, having had time to reflect (!!), Julii wrote:
"I feel extremely positive about the whole birth now -- in spite of excruciating pain!"
See the Waterbirth page for more on birth pools and other waterbirth stories.
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