Kirsten Millinson lives with her family in rural Lincolnshire, where she provides support to families choosing a birth at home. She works to promote a spiritual and holistic approach to birth, and to raise awareness of the choices available to families, by her freelance writing and by leading discussion groups.
Our first experience of pregnancy in 1990 was one of sadness and trauma. Our first child died as a result of the pregnancy being ectopic.
I had experienced bleeding and pain eight weeks into the pregnancy and saw two doctors on three different occasions before being admitted to hospital for an ultrasound scan and further tests. The scan revealed there was no baby in my uterus. I was sent home in a state of shock. We were told if the bleeding didn't stop to come back. However, later in the day I received a telephone call from the hospital maternity wing asking me to come in the next morning with a suitcase of clothes, etc., as I may be staying. They would not tell me what was wrong with me until the next day.
On admission to a ward in the maternity wing I was surrounded with images of pregnancy. I was told they thought that I had an ectopic pregnancy, and that I would go to theatre later that day for an exploratory operation that would ascertain if the pregnancy was ectopic, and if so the necessary steps would be taken to keep me healthy. I had a laparotomy that left me with a five inch incision in my lower abdomen.
I left hospital three days later in pain and hardly able to walk. I was given no pain killers on discharge and had to go to the GP to get some. He said "Well I was right, they found a decomposing bit of foetal tissue on your ovary." My ovaries were intact but now have adhesions and are misshapen.
A year later, the start of Sam's pregnancy was an anxious time. I experienced early bleeding and pain, and five weeks into pregnancy I was again admitted to the maternity wing for an exploratory operation.
This time it showed a possible pregnancy in the uterus. I was well entrenched in the system of hospitalisation which Ivan Illich describes as "Iatrogenisis".
"The name for this new epidemic comes from iatros, the Greek word for physician, and genesis, meaning, origin." (I. Illich. Limits to Medicine. Medical Nemesis, The Expropriation of Health. 1990 Penguin pg.11)
Thirty-three weeks into the pregnancy, I was again admitted to hospital suffering with severe abdominal pain. More tests and ultrasounds scans followed and showed no problem with our precious child, but showed that I was "doing well for thirty-five weeks, dear". I explained that I knew my dates and was informed that from now on they would go by the scan dates. Iatrogenesis ensued.
My GP had not been kept informed by the doctors at the hospital, and was soon becoming concerned that I didn't become overdue. We just wanted to give birth to a healthy and much-wanted child. I was admitted to the maternity wing for an induction of labour. One midwife saw me fleetingly to inform me that, "We can only make you four days over dear, so you'll probably go home". Two hours later another midwife came and told me they would "start off me of soon." I had not seen a doctor and found it all astonishing.
The labour that ensued was long and difficult. Flat on my back I laboured.
Forty-four hours later, Sam was pulled from my body with a ventouse machine and after a large and damaging episiotomy. Sam was blue and floppy. I could do no more. The trauma of the birth experience affected us both and breastfeeding was difficult to commence.
I took a long time, mentally and physically, to get over the first birth and the intervention I received. When I became pregnant again, ten months later, the fears I had slowly surfaced. I was very concerned about the birth as I did not want to repeat my previous experience. We continued in the "system" until twenty-eight weeks, feeling frustrated and unsure.
I needed an alternative - and quickly - and so I rang Paulette Walker, an independent midwife. I enquired about the service which she offered with and her practice partner, Anne Adamson.
Paulette agreed to consult with us and we discussed our concerns, our history and our hopes for a different birth experience this time.
Mark and I were impressed by Paulette's vision, experience and manner and, despite the cost, we decided that we couldn't afford to be without her.
The care offered included a booking visit and regular, home-based antenatal care. The fee also included the birth, however and wherever it happened, and postnatal care.
Mark and I considered the options seriously, and eventually we decided to go ahead with a birth at home. We wanted the birth to be a natural and calm event. We had asked at the clinic about the chance of a home birth and had been told, "With your record dear, not a chance."
Naomi's pregnancy progressed well and calmly, with an air of a spiritual event.
I began to feel uncomfortable during the evening of the 13th April, the day before my due date, and I rang Paulette to let her know the situation. We were prepared with soft music, baths, books, aromatherapy oils, homeopathic remedies and the comforts of our own home.
I was free to be where I wanted - in this case, the living room.
I relaxed between contractions. Considering the nature of the event, I rested calmly between contractions. When I got out of bed to change the position, I felt a great desire to push, my waters broke naturally and Naomi was born into Paulette's waiting hands with Mark and Anne supporting us, both physically and mentally, in our journey to birth Naomi.
Naomi was beautiful, pink and perfect. She still is.
Naomi weighed in at eight pounds and four ounces. I had a very slight tear that healed quickly with the use of homeopathic remedies, and I had used only my TENS machine for pain relief. The labour had taken about three hours.
By 3.30a.m. Naomi had breastfed easily, I had bathed, and we were able to settle until 7a.m when Sam decided it was morning. He had slept throughout the labour and birth and woke to greet his sister as a natural part of family life.
"Alert and active participation by the mother in childbirth is a help in getting breast feeding off to a good start." (The New La Leche league International Leader's Handbook 1989 p3.)
Paulette and Anne continued to visit me for a further twenty-eight days until we all decided that I was ready to be discharged. I felt in control of my body and my experiences throughout the event. It was a joyous occasion.
Through my experience, I believe to give birth is one of the most significant events in a woman's life. It should be approached with thought and care. We should make informed choices about where and how we give birth.
Wherever birth takes place, it should be a good birth where the family can look back with pleasure and a sense of achievement. Our next birth, a water birth, enabled us to do just that. Water has been used to soothe aches and pains for many years so it is no wonder that some women use water to ease the pain of childbirth.
The use of several therapies and the use of water was something we had planned when I became pregnant with Joe in April 1996.
Nineteen weeks into our pregnancy we were offered a routine ultrasound scan to check the baby for anomalies. Our scan showed that our baby had several anomalies present which we were told were soft markers for Downs Syndrome. This came as a tremendous shock to us and Paulette immediately gave us both the homeopathic remedy Ignatia 200 for the shock and a supply of Arnica and Ignatia to see us through the next few worrying weeks. Termination was not an option to us. We decided to decline an amniocentesis and the risks that entailed, and had a further more detailed scan that showed that less anomalies were present than first thought; the risk of having a child with Downs Syndrome was as likely as having twins. We declined further scans and carried on with the pregnancy. Our baby would be special, problems or no problems.
At this time we prayed often and the knowledge that Paulette and her prayer group were also praying for use was a great comfort to us. We knew we were not alone in our distress.
Less devastating problems in the pregnancy included a painful pubic bone. I was unable to sit on the floor with the children and found it almost impossible to get in and out of the car. One dose of Bryonia 30 allieviated the problem completly; I was amazed and relieved.
I wished to put into practice a more active approach to the labour with use of a water pool. A major benefit of having the pool in our home was that our children were involved and we all tried the water pool prior to the birth - it was a wonderful family experience. When Joe was late in making his entrance into the world there was the laying on of hands and the offering up of prayers of guidance and deliverance so I did not have to endure a hospital birth.
"When you realise the extent to which religion and medicine have always been bound up together, and when you are aware of the therapeutic power of water, the close relationship between water and religion comes as no surprise." (M. Odent. Water and Sexuality. P 47. Arkana 1990)
The sensation of the deep water was intensely relaxing and centring. I could concentrate fully on the baby and lose myself in the water. The whole family joined me in the pool. We found this to be a very special family time and perfect preparation for the birth. The religious power of water as an instrument of purification was most evident at this time. The anxieties of the past were washed away and the water helped us enter a state of peace and purity.
Paulette had experience of births in water so we felt confident in her abilities. Sally, a second midwife, would be present at the birth and we met her prior to the event so we knew exactly who would be there at the time of the birth.
I felt able to prepare mentally, spirtually and physically to give birth.
We moved house two weeks before the date our baby was due to arrive. We got the house ready for our home water birth. The estimated date of the birth came and went and two weeks after the due date there was still no sign of the impending birth apart from a few niggles. We did not want another induction. Paulette visited us and did an internal examination and ensured that my cervix was ripe. She administered some Caullophyllum to tone the uterus and prepare it for labour. We all said a prayer. It was an intensely spiritual event in the pregnancy and a superb focus on the child within me.
As the night progressed labour became established. Paulette administered Arnica and Bellis Perennis regularly to help with the bruising associated with birth. I found the water helped to relieve the pain in established labour. The water was both warm and comforting. It gave me the buoyancy and support I needed to squat in positions I couldn't have managed "on land" and helped me to conserve the energy I needed for the latter stages of labour. It also gave me privacy. The birth was a hands off experience with the midwife sitting at the edge of the pool assisting me as necessary. Just being in the pool helped me to be less inhibited. I could completely focus on the journey I was on and lose my self deep within my soul.
By being able to maintain an upright position (squatting), I was able to facilitate a more active birth thus helping to have a quicker labour. I was able to float and rest between my contractions and lose myself in the feeling of the water and the calmness it offered. I stayed in the pool to give birth, our baby crowned and was born under the water. He was guided to the surface slowly with his eyes open. The lights were dim and he was inquisitive as to his surroundings. He turned to our voices. He was alert, calm and sucking his thumb. As I stood up to leave the pool the placenta was delivered. It is now under an apple tree in the garden. I had a strong craving for apples during the pregnancy and so this seemed appropriate.
Naomi sat on the second midwife's knee and was present at the birth. She had seen videos of births and we had read books about births together including one we wrote ourselves to prepare our children for our birth. She took it all in her stride, Sam slept upstairs in bed. When we said our baby had been born he said he'd be down in a minute to see. To our children this birth was just part of their life and wasn't out of the ordinary. Joseph William Mark arrived at 5.47 a.m. After a labour of four hours and twenty minutes. Joe weighed ten pounds and five ounces. The whole birth was very low-key with little intervention. Sam came downstairs to view his brother. My husband and midwives tidied up and emptied the pool and the midwives left us to our newly extended family. Sam and Naomi love their new brother and life was not interrupted by his arrival.
The gift of nurturing my children, now outside my body, continues.
These experiences of birth have fired my need to offer the information and support to others just as I gained the knowledge from Paulette and others during my journey through pregnancy and birth and beyond.
I want every one to have the chance to experience the pleasure of birth and the empowerment that home birth gives you, rather than the pain, intervention and disempowerment that hospital birth can deliver.
One of the midwives who attended me was keen to offer support, and together with her and two mothers who had birthed our children at home, we decided to offer home birth support and information through The National Childbirth Trust (NCT).
We bought a small selection of books, gained permission to copy a pack offered by another NCT group and held meetings every six weeks. We also spent hours delivering leaflets to all the midwives, health visitors and doctors in the neighbourhood. This was not always a positive experience. At my own doctor's surgery they refused to put any leaflets or posters up as the stated they gave all the home birth support their clients needed. I had been told that I had no chance of having a home birth because of my past history. I had experienced the extent of the support they offered. This lack of care and support, and the lack of research-based information available and accessible, made me all the more determined to keep going.
I started holding the home birth support meetings at my house. The other founder members moved on to other things. The group swelled and subsided like the tide. Sometimes there was only one person there and at other times the room was heaving. At this time I was also swelling. I was pregnant with Joe.
I have been aware of the primal period, that is, "The time which includes fetal life, perinatal period and early infancy." (Primal Health Research. Summer 1998 Vol 6.1.)
The primal period in a child's life is a time of close dependency on the mother. The support, information and encouragement a mother receives during this critical time enables her to make choices about the nurturing a child receives in an informed manner. This nurtures both the mother and the child.
Pregnancy, birth and breast feeding are interrelated. This is evident in the experience I have gained from birthing and nurturing our children at my breast and the experience's others have shown to me in my work as a supporter of those choosing to birth their child at home. The information received in each case has determined the choices made.
I wish to be able to inform women, to pass on the care, understanding and support I have received from others in the past and to ensure the web of support grows ever larger. Recently I have received a request from a lady who had a home birth and now wants to set up her own support network. It is like the ripples on a pond spreading out. Into the circle of life.
Support is influential. The knowledge that you are not alone with your problems and that someone cares and wants to enable you to move forward is empowering. Ease their troubles and empower them.
Finding time to support others is balanced with the needs of my family and myself. My family are used to me answering the telephone and sending books and information to far flung corners of Lincolnshire and beyond.
We also know that receiving letters of thanks and information in return is nurturing to us. We have talked to people from all over the world via letters and E.mail whom we would never have "met" without the stimulus of my work. We also have a wonderful stamp collection.
" As a woman grows in mothering she grows as a human being and every other role she may fill in her lifetime are enriched by the insights and humanity she brings to it from here experiences as a mother" (The New La Leche League International Leaders Handbook 1989 p3)
This quotation epitomises my work. Becoming a mother has changed my perspective on life. I now look at "mother" as a verb, not a noun.
Women I have nurtured and supported and mothered through pregnancy and birth have returned with other questions about breastfeeding. So the journey I am on at present is one that will enable me to be a La Leche Leader.
Knowledge gives you power. I wish to impart the knowledge of home and low intervention birth to as many people as I can, so they can pass it on, making an ever-widening web of knowledge.
To quote a wonderful E news, "Each one Teach one" (Midwifery Today E. News)
The journey through pregnancy, birth and into motherhood has enabled me to consider the way I look at every part of my life. Just as parts of the birth process are challenging so is the whole of life. Life is a process of birth every day.
The times I spend giving of my self to others become an investment for my future and the future of others and other generations.
I feel strongly that what I do now will have a bearing in years to come and that birthing at home and breast feeding will be the norm and only by showing others that it is possible am I able to enable this to happen.
This experiential learning must start early. My children know all about home birth, it is the norm to them. They were present in the house at the times of the births. Naomi sat on the midwives knee as Joe was born into their world. They all have the experience of seeing me breast fed and know the benefits. They are the ones that will say in a disappointed tone "Oh Mummy, that baby has a bottle" They breastfeed their dolls. They also have dolls which give birth and breastfeed. (The Mariana Doll from Brazil and dolls from the Attachements Catalogue)
I have a good collection of children's books showing birth at home and breast feeding. These are as important to the learning process as the adult books. Siblings of children born at home have a much more positive role in the birthing process than siblings of children born in hospitals who are shunted off to a relative and out of the equation. The change into being a brother or sister is fundamental to them and is often not considered. When we were pregnant with Joe, Naomi and Sam wrote a book. They were fully part of the learning experience. It is our children who send this book to other children who are having a brother or sister born in their home. It is the next ripple on the pond of experience.
I have written of my experiences in local newspapers, national magazines and international midwifery magazines. Through these media I can reach even more people making the ripples reach even further. It gives me great pleasure that recently I have been asked to offer information to people starting support groups and from coodinators of other support groups. Yet another ripple on the pond of learning.
Paulette and I try to enable families to have the information they need to make the right decisions for them and their birth process. I sometimes suggest they talk to Paulette if they are having problems obtaining their preferred birth experience. Paulette gives her clients my name so they can call if they would like to borrow books or talk with someone. We are part of a family.
I work alone but it is not in isolation. I have met so many people on the telephone, by letter and e-mail. I am known in the village where we live as the lady that had the home birth. I hope that by this title alone to put a seed of thought into people's heads. The thought being that there is a gentle option when their child is entering this world. Frequently people have said "You are brave having your child at home." I question if it is not them being brave entering the hospital and all a birth there can entail.
Life is all about choice. If you do not have all the facts you can not make an informed choice. That's my job.
Update: Kirsten was accredited as a La Leche League Leader on 23 September 2000.
Kirsten gave birth to her fourth baby, Ben, in October 2001.
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