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Ellie's birth, by Miriam Berlow

The wail was primal, it was from somewhere else. I could feel it but I couldn't hear it, it was coming from me.  I had just been told my baby, my newborn, not yet a week old baby had to go back to hospital again as her jaundice levels had shot up.  We had only just returned home and were settling cosily back to home life. Let me start at the beginning.

Natural, earth-mother, secure, safe and home, these were the thoughts I had for my birth and my baby.  Due on the 21st December, we had a whole month to organise the house, to 'nest' and to be completely satisfied that our home was going to be the best environment to bring our baby into this world.  But of course nature works its wondrous ways and decided that our baby was arriving sooner.  Barry & I had had a house warming party the night before, the house was looking amazing, it was cosy, it was comforting, it was warmed by all our family and friends, who joked about how big I was and how earth mother I looked and how ready to drop, till well after midnight.   

We did a quick tidy up and went to bed at 3am, feeling happy and contented that we had hosted a wonderful and fun house warming party. In actual fact it turned out to be a baby warming party…the next morning at 10am, I woke up and 'woooosh' my waters broke, I stood up and was still leaking. Not believing that I could have wet myself, I woke Barry and told him. He seemed quite calm about it and said shall we phone the hospital – his stock response for the past few months to any ache or twinge! I, of course, took myself off to the toilet, still quite calm and not quite sure if this was happening. Next came the mucous plug... with slight tinges of blood, nothing worrying there either.  This all seemed a bit textbook to me, I know the plug can go and there can be delays, I know the waters can break and still nothing can happen. But for waters first, then plug... next would be contractions I thought... wouldn't that be hilarious!! Wouldn't that be real? But I was only 36+3, I wasn't ready, the house wasn't ready, the pool wasn't ready.  If it hadn't been for me pushing to get various things over the past few months, we would have had nothing.

I telephoned my sister (who is a midwife) and told her what had happened, for the next hour or so, I tried to explain what was happening, the consistency of mucus, the amount of blood, the amount of leakage. She asked me if I was having any pain. Pain? I thought as in back pain or ... oh hang on what was that... that felt tight across the bottom of my belly. I shall call these tightenings, not contractions, they can't be contractions, it just feels a bit tight.

I checked the baby's heartbeat and my temperature and my heartbeat in case of infection. This I did hourly from about 11am till 6pm. All was within normal ranges. I charted my 'tightenings' which were every 5-10mins for maximum a minute at a time. All the while I was talking to my sister on the phone letting her know the readings and confirming that things were still ok. By now it was pretty clear that this was not false labour and Barry had taken himself off to B&Q to sort out the pipes for the birth pool and Mothercare to get a floating temp gauge. He managed to take a wrong turn on the way home and ended up on the motorway to London. He was most upset and ended up over an hour late coming back.  

I meanwhile was permanently ensconced on our porta-potti as the baby was permanently ensconced on my bladder. That porta-potti turned out to be best thing we got for this labour. Every time I tried to move about I need to pee! It was so frustrating... .all my pre-natal yoga moves and aqua-natal practice was going to waste, I couldn't be in any other position except sat on the potti slumped forward on a big cushion propped on a chair!! But boy was I pleased I didn't have to traipse upstairs. In between peeing and 'tightenings', I fashioned myself a wee nest in the living room beside the heater with cushions and towels. I had a gathering of candles, light boxes and oil burners, which I had been collecting over the past weeks, and I laid them out in the back room where the pool was going to be. The pool which was still deflated, still empty but had at least been taken out its box (it needs to 'breathe' for 2hours before use, something we thankfully found out the week before).

During this time, I began calling my tightenings by their full and proper title. Contractions. When did that happen? Barry noticed it first and pointed it out to me. This was it I thought this is real. The pool was inflating and Barry was fixing taps onto hoses and hoses onto walls and I was still on my potti!

By 6pm, the pool was filling and things seemed to be going smoothly. Barry and I were timing contractions, which by now were longer and stronger. I called the hospital and told them I was in labour and they needed to send someone out. They tried to persuade me to come in to the hospital (because it was before 37 weeks), but I stood my ground and they said they would get back to me. How good of them, I thought!

Then disaster... .Barry forgot to turn off the tap in the pool and had it been running cold water for ages. The pool was almost half full, of cold water. This is when I began to panic, become upset and think this is not going to happen, whilst writhing on my 'nest'. This is when Barry started to panic inwardly, frantically empty the pool bucket by bucket and boil the kettle. All the while telling me things will be perfect, it's not a problem and he can fix it. And fix it he did. Phoning our best friend, who went to the supermarket and bought 4 kettles, he set to work boiling kettles and pots in order to refill the pool, whilst trying to be with me and help me through my contractions.

At 9pm the doorbell went and in walked the midwives. They said their obligatory 'we think you should go to the hospital' speech and, realising it wasn't going to happen, settled in for the duration.

(Note from Angela: Miriam's sister reports that Miriam actually responded "Thanks for your opinion; you will find me at home", which I think is an excellent way of dealing with the situation! The same midwife later told Miriam "You are too early in gestation for a waterbirth", to which she responded "Thanks for your opinion; you will find me in the pool".)

I obtained timings and figures later from my midwife as during the rest of the evening, I lost all concept of time and space. I was checked at 9.20pm and found to be 3cm dilated, cervix almost effaced and V+ 0-1.

For the next hour, I remained on my 'nest' and was mainly on my hands and knees, grasping Barry's hand and making incredible noises. I found that if I made moaning and groaning noises it helped the pain, so I did this for all I was worth. There was no high pitched screaming, just low guttural moaning, grunting and baying noises.

The pool was finally ready for me at 10.30pm and I was straight in there. Being the organised person I am, I had the previous day, sorted out what music I wanted for my labour. I opted for the drum and rain music and with my glowing light boxes and candles, the room was amazingly peaceful. I for one was not!!!!

This stage was the hardest, I was told not to push and it would increase my risk of tearing and so I had to blow out my contractions instead of pushing. Barry was incredible at this point and almost fainted himself with panting!! Every time I said I can't do this he was there saying I can. Every time I needed him to give me strength he was right there passing it to me.

At 00.30am I had strong rectal pressure and the midwives asked me to come out as I had been in the pool for two hours. They checked me and found I was fully dilated, V+0+1. They tried to ask me to stay out of the water as they were not comfortable with me giving birth in the water, saying don't you care about your baby, I politely declined, called her mean and 'ran' straight back in to the pool!!

I asked how long this next stage was going to be and when she told me it could be an hour I thought NOOOOoo way. So very soon after I felt a slight bulge and excitedly guided Barry's hand to touch it. He was astounded, I was astounded. It was amazing.

Then at 1.05am with one almighty push, the widest eyes I have ever made with the most astonished feeling I have ever felt, Ellie Rebecca slipped gently into the water. I remember seeing her in the water and my mind stopped. Everything literally stopped. For that split moment, nothing mattered, nothing moved, time was immobile. I gently scooped her up and cradled her in my arms. I blew gently into her face, she raised her eyebrows at me and gasped her first ever breath. In that moment Barry and I gasped our first ever breath too. I was so overawed I didn't even think to find out if she was a boy or girl. She lay peacefully in my arms until the cord stopped pulsating and was clamped by daddy Barry as he has now become.

I came out of the pool and thankfully delivered my placenta by 1.18am with no fuss whatsoever, the midwife gently pulled and out it came. Ellie weighed 6lb 11oz and had Apgar scores of 9/1 and 10/5. I had estimated blood loss 250ml, no tears.

Our first night in our own bed with Ellie Rebecca in between us was magical. We just could not believe what we had created.

Unfortunately, being early, Ellie had trouble feeding and became jaundiced, and we had to go to hospital the following day and we then spent the next week and half in and out of hospital with her having light treatment. As is the way in my life, it was one extreme to the other. All that I hoped and wished for with her birth was now the complete opposite. She was in a hospital environment, she was having blood taken, she had to feed every three hours because of the fear of dehydration and the all important skin to skin contact was drastically reduced. We were taken care of wonderfully in the hospital and we made the best of it was we could, letting Ellie know we were there for her all the way. Soon she was allowed home and the fun of babies begins!

Miriam Berlow

Related pages:

Home Birth Stories

First Babies and homebirth

The Third Stage of Labour - what are your options, and the pros and cons of each?

Homebirth Before 38 weeks - 37 weeks is officially "full term", but a few hospital trusts now advise hospital birth up until 38 weeks. What are the issues if you go into labour before then?

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