Dylan is Lucy's second baby, and he was born at home in August 2006. Lucy planned a homebirth for her first baby, Poppy, but had a long, tough labour and transferred to hospital for an epidural, so it was with some trepidation that she made plans for her next birth. Supported by a great midwife, things turned out very differently this time.
My daughter had been born 2 years previously in hospital despite me planning a home birth. The labour had been very long and I had been encouraged to go to hospital for pain relief (I had an epidural). However I had found the whole experience very unpleasant. I had had very little control over everything that happened to me.
I had very mixed feelings about this second birth. On the one hand I was even more convinced that I wanted it to happen at home, but conversely, didn't want to get my hopes up too much to avoid the overwhelming disappointment I had felt previously. We were therefore a bit unprepared. We had borrowed an inflatable pool from the midwife team and had a TENS machine, but hadn't really thought the whole thing through.
I was under the care of the excellent Bishopston midwife team in Bristol, who are keen advocates of home birth. I was seen by a number of different midwives (they try to book you in with all of them during pregnancy so that you know the midwife who eventually delivers you.) I was seen at home to discuss the home birth with a lovely woman called Mary with whom I discussed my distress at my daughter's birth and my hopes and fears of this one. She was massively sympathetic and reassuring and I thought at the time, 'I hope you deliver me!' I also saw her at my final antenatal appointment shortly before my due date and she told me to go into labour on Thursday (my due date) when she was duty.
Duly, at about 2.00am on the following Thursday I awoke with mild pains in my lower abdomen. They felt a little like a mild period pain and though they didn't really bother me, they were enough to keep me awake. I slept little that night but managed to get a couple of hours in the following morning. My mother happened to have stayed overnight to help look after Poppy (as I was finding looking after a lively toddler increasingly demanding as I went over term). She thought I was definitely going into labour but I wasn't so sure. The contractions were very widely spaced and weren't lasting very long. However, when I awoke from my morning nap, I had a run of several contractions back to back. I thought 'this is it!' and got quite excited. I put the TENS machine on at this time. However, the contractions subsided again and I managed to eat a small lunch.
Throughout the afternoon, the contractions came approximately every 20 to 40 minutes. They were completely manageable; I was able to breathe through them, to some extent using the techniques I had developed during my hypnotherapy course. I remained convinced that I was in very early labour, and wasn't expecting the baby to arrive until the following day. My mother thought differently and kept asking if I'd phoned the midwife. As I'd been told to phone only when the contractions were coming every five minutes, I didn't feel they would be in the slightest bit interested in my intermittent contractions!
I started to feel quite despondent as it looked like I was going to be for the long haul. My daughter had been born after a gruelling 23 hours of regular contractions and 2 sleepless nights. By 4.00pm my husband, Simon, had finished working and suggested we went on a walk to try and speed things up. We went on a short walk around the block and my contractions definitely accelerated. I had to stop every few minutes but the contractions remained manageable.
As we approached our house, two women were walking along the street with their children. I stopped to let them pass as my progress was pretty slow by that point. They obviously realised that something was up and asked Simon 'Is she?' Simon nodded and they started cheering me on, saying 'Go girl!' When I stopped contracting, I really laughed.
As I was now contracting regularly, I phoned the midwife as soon as I got back home. It was Mary on duty and she said she would be round shortly to check out my progress. I told her I thought I was still in the early stages and she agreed that sounded likely. I told her I was feeling pretty hungry and she advised me to eat. This was very different to my previous labour when I had vomited regularly throughout.
By the time Mary arrived, I had eaten a bowl of soup (which went down very well) and I had taken to my bed. The contractions were getting stronger and Simon was holding my hand and we were listening to one of my self-hypnosis CDs. Though I was definitely in more discomfort, I was still managing the pain well and the contractions weren't lasting very long. I was beginning to feel a bit sorry for myself. Mary spent some time observing me and confirmed that things still looked early. We discussed internal examinations and decided not to carry one out. During my previous labour I had had to endure a number of these and remembered how demoralising it had been to be told I was 2 cms dilated despite 12 hours of contractions. Eventually it was decided that Mary would go off to collect the home birth kit from the local hospital, and do a few other jobs, and return to me in about an hour. I was more than happy with this.
However, Mary had only been gone about 10 minutes when the contractions completely changed in their nature. Whereas before I had managed to breathe through them quite easily and remain physically relaxed for their entire duration, they rapidly intensified and I was no longer able to use the same techniques to cope with them. The pain became quite breathtaking and it was taking everything in my power to cope with it. I demanded that Simon immediately page Mary and get her back. He obviously didn't grasp how the contractions had changed and thought I was just panicking. He kept trying to get me to breathe through them and said he would phone her 'After 2 more contractions.' I was going out of my mind by this time and tried to call out to mum (who was still downstairs with Poppy) to get her to phone. Eventually Simon agreed to page Mary and she came back very quickly.
It must have been fairly apparent that the situation had changed. I remember thinking at that point that I really wanted to go to hospital to have an epidural but simultaneously realising that there was no way that I could get there as I couldn't move from the bed. I believed that I probably only about 4 cms dilated and that I was facing at least nine hours more of this pain. Mary examined me at this point and it was with some satisfaction that she told me I was almost fully dilated and my cervix was very thin. This was fantastic news and it removed any thoughts of transferring to hospital from my head. I realised that I just had to get through the next hour or so and the pain would stop.
Simon went downstairs to start filling the pool and while he was gone Mary helped with the contractions. Every time I had one I needed to grab hold of someone and clench their hand really hard. I also found I had an overwhelming urge to bite! Simon was lucky not to have lost a finger in the process! The contractions were totally all-consuming. I couldn't really say they were especially abdominal; they seemed to take over the whole of my body. After some I felt really cold and started shivering, after others I felt hot and sweaty. It was a visceral experience.
Eventually, at about 6.45pm the pool was full. I had got a bit 'stuck' on the bed, lying on my side with my legs clamped together barely moving. Mary felt the change of position would get things moving. By this time the baby's head was really low and I could easily feel it with my fingers. Getting downstairs was no mean feat and took three people to help me (a second midwife had arrived at this point). Mum also came into the pool room as dad had just collected Poppy and taken her back to their house.
I had one contraction just before getting into the pool and this was particularly unpleasant. Someone than hurriedly removed the TENS machine (which I don't think was doing much at this time but I had become psychologically addicted to it) and I hauled myself into the pool. It was absolutely lovely - very soothing and comfortable.
I had one or two more contractions before I felt the baby's head crowning. One further contraction and I thought I was being ripped in half. I remember letting out a real scream at this point and someone then said 'the baby's head is out!' The contraction didn't really subside and then the rest of the body was out. Strangely, I never remember pushing, it just all happened. Mary was completely non-prescriptive and never told me to do anything. She just let my body do it all itself.
After the baby was out, I just felt a massive relief wash over me. Simon told me the sex - it was a boy. As he floated up to the surface and his face hit the air he let out a massive yell and opened his eyes. He looked pink, alert and healthy. No one else touched him and I held him for as long as I wanted to.
I got out of the pool to birth the placenta (as per my birth plan) which was slightly more uncomfortable than I'd anticipated, but I was busy suckling my baby at this point and didn't really care. Simon could cut the cord this time - something else that had been denied me with Poppy.
I needed a few stitches but my tear was clean and uncomplicated and I healed with no problems. After being stitched up I had a blissful bath while Simon emptied the pool and mum and the midwives cleared up. Within a couple of hours there was no evidence that a birth had taken place!
Dylan's birth was everything that Poppy's wasn't. Admittedly the labour was quicker and therefore I could have a textbook homebirth, but that wasn't the whole story. I was treated so gently and with so much respect by Mary, whose approach was one of quiet encouragement rather than aggressive intervention. She followed my birth plan to the letter, never once imposing her own ideas on me. Although at times I felt overwhelmed by the pain, I never felt really frightened or out of control as I had done in hospital. I bonded immediately with Dylan, which I believe was facilitated by the immediate skin-to-skin contact I had with him. I also made a much quicker recovery from the birth and didn't suffer the agonising perineal pain I'd experienced with the stitches I'd had after Poppy's birth.
All in all, this was a fantastic event and I'd definitely have another homebirth.
Home Birth Stories
Pain relief - what are your options at home?
The Third Stage of Labour - what are your options, and the pros and cons of each?
Transferring to hospital - why it may be advised, and experiences from women who've done it.
Home Birth Reference Page