I really hadn't meant to get pregnant. But once the reality hit us Martin and I focused on the practicalities. It meant a lot of changes. We lived hours from each other and my cottage was too tiny for three of us. I wasn't sure how I would juggle work and mothering without compromising either role. I lost the details of being pregnant beneath swathes of estate agents' handouts. Pregnancy was just a surprisingly large dress size when I picked out a £5 charity shop dress to get married in.
The midwife team offered me a homebirth before I'd even considered one. But homebirths seemed too uncomfortably real. Too bloody and painful. The Bump was at several removes from me. We were not yet attached. Placenta and cord were merely biology. I delayed making a decision, knowing that the likelihood was that I would have moved health authorities by then.
A friend bought me some pregnancy magazines. She thought I'd like to see the maternity fashions. I read the matter-of-fact stories of epidurals, forceps and lithotomy positions with mounting horror. I didn't want hi-tech, and being able to resist those things in hospital seemed unlikely. I began to research homebirth. And somewhere amongst the endless birth stories I read, I felt a real, live baby, tugging gently at the connection between us.
During Week 28 we moved halfway up the country. I find hospitals, doctors and medical equipment very stressful; I have M.E (and have had for 12 years) and this has caused a bit of a distrust of conventional medicine; I desperately wanted to avoid a hopsital stay after the birth (absolute worst place for someone with M.E, amongst other reasons); and I felt that I would be much happier and more relaxed, as well as more able to take my time, if I had a home birth. I'd therefore decided that home birth was the safest option for me and my baby, and Martin and I were both bolstered by the fact that our new house was only 2 miles from the maternity hospital.
It didn't occur to me that not everyone might agree.
My previous midwives had given me some advice about seeing the new GP. They'd told me to ignore whatever the GP said about home births and wait until I saw my new midwives. They'd suggested that I might not even want to mention my wish for a homebirth to the GP.
However, the GP was insistent that I tell her which hospital I was going to give birth in. When I, tentatively, said that I wanted a homebirth, she was horrified. She told me, flatly: "we don't allow first-time mothers to have home births", and asked me again to choose between the three available hospitals, her pen poised in anticipation of my answer.
When I still hesitated, the GP asked me: "Have you ever seen a woman bleeding to death while being rushed down a hospital ward on a trolley? I have. Home births are for third world countries. We are not a third world country. I need to know which hospital you would like to give birth in so that I can complete your notes."
Note from Angela: A shame the GP decided to resort to emotional blackmail and bullying tactics, instead of reasoned argument. It is a wonderful achievement of modern midwifery and obstetrics that it is rare for a woman to die of postpartum haemorrhage in a developed country. We have drugs such as Syntometrine, which are usually very effective at controlling bleeding. And these drugs are taken routinely to homebirths, and are available to be used there, just as they are in hospital. Women planning homebirths are at lower risk of severe bleeding in any case, as the major risk factors for haemorrhage are interventions such as caesarean or forceps delivery, which are not undertaken at home. For more discussion of this issue, see Postpartum Heamorrhage and Homebirth.
I decided that I should choose somewhere for now, and then explore my options again when I finally got to meet the new midwives. I picked the midwife-led unit, and that is what the GP put on my notes.
By the time I was finally referred to my new midwife team I was 33 weeks pregnant and horribly aware that I still wasn't booked for a homebirth. The first midwife I saw, Minnie, was a bit put out that I was changing to a homebirth, mostly, it seemed, because it meant extra paperwork. Minnie insisted that I see a consultant to 'get permission' for my homebirth. I acquiesced as I felt guilty about her paperwork. He was a cheery man, who said that he was sure I knew the risks of a homebirth, and that he couldn't stop me if I wanted one. As I left the consultant's room, the attending midwife whispered: "There's nothing lovelier than a homebirth when everything goes to plan."
"Hoping for a homebirth" was duly recorded on my notes.
I had been dreaming that the baby was asking me if it could come, and I kept replying in my dreams that I wasn't ready yet. As soon as my birthing pool arrived on the last day of Week 37, a Sunday, I told the baby I was ready.
On the Monday I carried on unpacking books in the new house. At 6pm when I stood up with a pain in my back and thighs I thought it was because of the position I'd been sitting on the floor in. I went to rest with a book, and felt a warm gushing onto the bed when I lay down.
It was beginning. I realised I was excited. I rang the number for the midwife on call, while Martin began to fill up the birthing pool. The midwife number went straight through to the hospital, and there was a lot of discussion about whether or not to send an ambulance to collect me. I managed to stay calm, and remain resolute that I was going ahead with my planned home birth.
I had gathered together some plastic sheeting, and old bedding, and Martin and I made up the bed with the sheeting protecting the mattress. We covered the space between the pool and the bed with towels. Martin went to get in provisions of energy drinks, snack bars and chocolate biscuits. He forgot to get champagne. I'd had an image in my head of Martin and I - new babe between us - sipping champagne and phoning the grandparents. I realised that a cup of tea would probably be more welcome, by then, anyway.
At 8.30pm two midwives - who I hadn't met before - came to examine me, and said that I should call them again when the contractions were 7 minutes apart. This was happening by about 10pm, but I felt that I didn't want people around me, so I just pottered around the house and concentrated on finding a calm and serene space in my head, which I could occupy until it was all over.
I rested until about 5am Tuesday, and woke to find the contractions were 3 and a half minutes apart, but still not 'painful'. But being first-timers, we decided we'd better call the midwives again.
The same midwives came, and told me that I was only 1cm dilated, and so we all decided to leave things for a while and see how things were later in the morning.
My back began to feel painful again, so I tried having a bath. But I couldn't get comfy in the bath and so I ended up squatting in the shower, with the hot water trained onto the small of my back. I added a few things - spare T-shirts, another book - to the big bag in the corner of the room that held the things I thought I'd need for the birth.
By 10am, I was 3cms dilated, and Minnie was with me. By 2pm I was in the birthing pool. The contractions didn't feel too bad. Minnie commented on how calm I seemed. I felt almost smug. This was exactly how I'd wanted my homebirth to be.
Suddenly my temperature rose quite dramatically. The baby's heartbeat rose a bit too, and so we got out of the pool to cool off. Minnie rang her hospital supervisor, and was advised that a transfer might be the best thing, but as my temperature soon came down again and the baby's heartbeat had returned to normal when we'd got out of the pool, we carried on at home, but out of the birthing pool.
I had been sipping on some gas and air but hadn't really noticed it making a difference. But now I was out of the pool Minnie suggested I use it a bit more. She talked me through a good, deep breathful, and the room seemed to shift out of focus slightly. People became further away and all I could hear were the sounds of my breaths and the faint hiss of the gas canister. I felt my body moving with the contractions and stayed calm, above and almost separate from what was happening.
At approx 5pm Tuesday there was a change of shift, and two different midwives came to attend me, who I had not met before. They informed us, straight away, that they weren't qualified to stitch, and that I would have to transfer if I needed stitches. I wasn't happy with this, or with their overall attitude but couldn't quite get to grips with explaining this to them. It seemed unimportant. I decided that I simply wouldn't need stitches so there wouldn't be an issue. I drifted back and forth in my thoughts and only gradually became aware that the midwives were starting to get concerned.
Once again, my temperature had risen, and, although this time the baby's heartbeat stayed normal, one of the midwives rang the hospital for advice and was told to bring me in. They explained to me that, because the waters had broken so long ago, there was a high risk of infection, both for myself and for the baby ... and I needed immediate treatment.
I tried to snap myself back from where I'd been drifting and asked if this was a real problem for the baby. I was told that it was, and the situation was potentially dangerous. I therefore agreed to be transferred. I told Martin where to find the extra bits we needed and he decanted the important things - homeopathic stuff, nappies, babygro - from the big Birthing Bag to a smaller, Hospital Bag. I hadn't included any overnight things and he didn't bring any. We weren't going to be staying.
The ambulance arrived far too quickly and I was stretchered - in a half reclining position -down the stairs and out of the house.
At this point I felt that my control of my labour had been given away in a driftcloud of Entonox. I felt that I was being treated as if I were a child: patronised and slightly bullied. While they were loading me into the ambulance I was shivering wildly. I was only aware of the lights and the fuss and the fact that the neighbours would know that I was going to hospital. One of the midwives got into the ambulance with me, and Martin followed behind in his car. The trip to the hospital was very quick, and I couldn't seem to find the words to explain to the ambulance crew that it wasn't pain that was upsetting me. It was because I felt that I had failed.
The midwife who had come with me in the ambulance introduced me to the hospital midwife, Bella. "Don't worry" she said. "Bella is very good and will respect your wishes." Meanwhile, Bella was connecting me up to an IV drip with antibiotics and a belt monitor. I was on my back on a bed, attached to machines by arm and belly, before I'd had time to remind myself that it didn't have to be that way. By then the gas and air was working again and I told myself it wouldn't be for long and I could move when things started happening.
Some time later, Bella was worried that labour wasn't progressing. I hadn't had a pee for several hours and she felt that could be holding things up. When she passed me a bedpan I couldn't fill it, and so she decided to insert a catheter. At the next internal examination, Bella told me that she suspected the baby was no longer in the right position. She said that she was concerned that I was getting too tired to push. To prove her point she asked me to push against her hand. I didn't have any idea which muscles I was supposed to 'push' with and wasn't able to. During this examination Bella discovered that only the hind waters had broken the previous evening, and announced that she would need to break the rest of the waters. She didn't give Martin or I any chance to discuss this, simply took an instrument and broke my waters with a sickening internal popping feeling.
Everything suddenly seemed to have got out of hand. I was flat on my back, unable to move from the bed. I was being told that my baby - who'd been in the perfect position for weeks - suddenly wasn't anymore, and I was having my waters forcibly broken without my consent.
I desperately needed to regain some of the control over my own body that I felt I had lost. I asked Bella, angrily, whether she had read my birth plan. She explained that she had, but that some things needed to be done for the sake of the baby. She suggested that I take some Pethidine, so that I could rest. I refused. Bella began to talk about the possibility that forceps or ventouse may be needed.
At this point Martin stood over the bed and heatedly announced: "There is no way I will let anyone come anywhere near Lucy with forceps."
After being so calm and completely happy at home, we had both become upset and frightened. I was aware that I needed to remain as calm as possible so that I could deal with Bella. My mind was totally distracted from actually giving birth, and I just didn't feel ready anymore. I wanted to go home and start all over again. I couldn't explain any of this in a way that made sense. So I just cried.
Bella had another mother-to-be in the next room, and went off to be with her for a while.Martin gave me some homeopathic remedies for ineffective contractions in labour, and lots of Bach's Rescue Remedy. He took some himself, too.
Some time later, I finally began to feel the urge to push. I asked to get off the bed, but was told I couldn't, because of the drip and the monitors. Arguing at that point just didn't occur to me. I had more important things to do.
After loads of hard work, with Bella and another midwife carefully 'teasing her out', while telling us that they couldn't see which way she was facing because she had so much hair, Adan was born at 4am Wednesday. She weighed 8lb 1oz. I had only a slight graze, and no need for stitches. We had, somehow, been expecting a boy. The scan hadn't been clear enough to tell, but we'd both thought that she felt like a boy. I don't remember the moment when we were told she was a girl - and I had stipulated that we wanted to discover this for ourselves on my birthplan - I just remember Bella asking about Syntocinon.
I was given a Syntocinon injection for the 3rd stage, even though my birth plan requested that this should not happen. Adan was given Vit K which, again, I had requested not to happen. Both these were presented as 'good precautions' because of the risk of infection, and I felt I had no strength to argue. Bella took swabs from the placenta and tried to take a sample from Adan's stomach with a tube down her nose. Martin and I looked away as Adan began to scream for the first ever time - after being totally calm throughout the birth. Eventually, Bella gave up. I can't believe we even let her try.
I remember feeding Adan for about half an hour, and watching her nuzzling against Martin's chest, but I don't remember the sequence of all this.
I was taken up to the maternity ward at 6am, but told I could go home after lunch if all was clear on the swabs. Martin went home to try and get some sleep, and share the news.
After lunch I was told that the swab results would take at least 48 hours to come back, and that we would be 'kept in' until then to be sure there was no infection. I tried to argue against this, but was told firmly that the precautions were "for the sake of the baby".
In the end we were kept in hospital for three days and two nights with me constantly asking to go home. I found being in the hospital very difficult. Adan didn't really feel like 'my' baby, and different midwives kept coming either to tell me to put her back into her cot or to show me how to breastfeed by grasping my breast and pushing it into her mouth. I found this intimidating and undermining, and I felt that Martin was missing out on Adan's first few days. I was told to watch someone else give Adan her first bath while she screamed.
Being in hospital was wearing me out. I was still on the antibiotic drip, given iron tablets, and constantly being offered things 'for the pain' and laxatives to counteract the iron. After 9 months of no drinking, eating healthily, and not taking any medicines whatsoever all for the sake of The Bump I found this very frustrating. The nurses told me that they would "keep me in" if I didn't take the antibiotics and iron.
I became exhausted and tearful, and then no one would listen to me as I was not able to be calm and clear.
When the same, cheery consultant came to see me on his rounds, the midwife turned to him and said, in injured tones: "Lucy is always asking to go home." The cheery consultant laughed. "Well, you didn't want to be here in the first place, did you?" and he winked at me. But the pediatrician still wouldn't let us go.
The swab results came back on Friday, three days after Adan's birth. Everything clear. There had never been an infection. When Minnie came to visit me later, she thought that my raised temperature could have been my body's natural way of coping with labour.
When we finally came home, I slowly found my control again. The health visitor described me as "borderline postnatal depression" but she seemed unable to accept that this had anything to do with my birth experience and stay in hospital.
It was 4 months before I was able to look at my body without remembering the details of how it had been invaded. 9 months on, I am finding it almost impossible to write this birth story objectively.
I feel that I have had a taste of both hospital and home birth, and under no circumstances would I ever chose to give birth anywhere but home in the future. Next time, I am resolved to remain in control and not allow anyone to make decisions for me.
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