Our Home Waterbirth

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Hello. My name is Angela, and I live in London with my six children. All were born at home - this page covers our first child, L's birth story.

The photo shows L and me when he was about 6 months old. One of the many good things about carrying your baby in a sling is that you can fit a cat in, too!

We live in Greenwich Borough, London, UK, where about 5% of babies were born at home at the time of L's birth.

We chose a home birth because it is one of the safest places for a baby to be born, if the mother is healthy and her pregnancy is normal. This was based on sound research, rather than a desire for the ultimate 'birth experience', which always seems a very dismissive term.

My husband and I both felt that, for us, a home birth would be the best way to start family life. I did a lot of preparation for labour and birth which helped on the day, and was particularly careful to make sure that my baby was in a good position (anterior, not posterior). Here's what happened:

L's Birth Story


Early Labour

I awoke at around 6.15AM on my baby's due date, according to my own calculations. When I got up, a small trickle of amniotic fluid ran down my leg. It was watery and clear with white flecks of vernix - not what I expected. For some reason I thought amniotic fluid would be thick, so I spent about half an hour reading pregnancy books to check. I was having contractions every 4-5 minutes from the time I woke up.

I tried to go back to sLp, but found lying down very uncomfortable so I told DH (husband) that he wouldn't be going to work that day, and got up. I tried to eat, thinking that I would need energy to sustain me through labour, but I really didn't feel like eating.

I felt fine and the contractions were no real problem, still coming every 4-5 minutes or so. They were like the Braxton-Hicks contractions I'd had throughout pregnancy, and which had been becoming stronger recently. I thought that this was pre-labour, and that it would probably go on for a day or so as this was my first baby. From stories I'd heard of other natural labours for first babies it was not uncommon for contractions at 5 minute intervals to indicate that there was still a long, long time to go, so I didn't think that this was anything to get too excited about.

When a contraction came I leaned forward, standing up, rocked my hips and focussed on breathing out slowly and calmly. I'd practised this so often in Active Birth classes that it was second nature. I tried a few contractions sitting, leaning forward on a chair, but found this really uncomfortable - I felt too restless, and needed to be on the move - so after that I took them standing up, and later kneeling or on all fours. At around 8.30AM I phoned the community midwife.

Aside: So much for dates!
I knew exactly when the baby was conceived - I had been charting my temperatures, because I had very irregular cycles and didn't want to have all the hassle of people telling me my baby was overdue when it wasn't. So, I knew the baby was due on 6 January 1998, but based on conventional (last period) dating, the baby was due on 31 December 1997. Although I explained all this to the midwife who booked me in, the 'conventional' date was still put on my notes, with the odd random scribble and question mark nearby. Hmmm...

At around 19 weeks, I chose to have one ultrasound scan. Based on measurements of my baby's body at that time, the scanner's program computed that my baby's head was 19 weeks and 5 days gestation, but his body was only 18 weeks and 6 days. So much for the accuracy of scan dating! I pointed out to the scan operator that I am broad, DH is tall, and we both have big heads. Scan dating software doesn't take account of variables like this. After about 14 weeks' gestation, scan dating is notoriously inaccurate. If all babies were born at exactly the same gestation, with exactly the same length, weight, and head circumference, then scan dating would be accurate. As things are, it's just a computer's guess.

So, I knew when my baby was due. Some of the midwives on my community team of 6 did not seem certain about how long cycles would affect a baby's due date. Fair enough I suppose - midwives are experts in normal pregnancy and childbirth, not in general gyneacology, conception or the menstrual cycle. I got fed up with explaining my dates all the time, so I found a simple solution. I just took a pen, and changed the due date on my notes. No problem at all - each midwife assumed that another midwife had done it. I didn't mislead anyone, or cause trouble - I simply corrected my notes so that they were accurate.

Back to the birth story:

I wonder, in retrospect, if I had been in pre-labour for a while. I had been getting very strong Braxton-Hicks contractions for months, but in the last week or so they had got stronger, and I would often have to stop what I was doing because of them. The day before I went into labour (5th Jan), I did an hour-long Aqua-aerobics class. I felt strong contractions whenever I jumped up and down - so I put plenty of energy into the exercises! The aqua-aerobics teacher was pointing at me accusingly, saying "I can see you're having contractions in my pool! We don't want a water birth here, thank you very much!". I think the contractions had been coming every 20 minutes or so for a while, but since they only felt strong enough to interrupt my activities if I was doing something, like exercising or walking briskly, I just considered them to be practice for the real thing. Anyway, on 6 January it definitly *was* the real thing...

I used these early hours of labour to do all the jobs that I wouldn't want to do later - checking my pets and phoning friends. I felt contractions coming on long before they required my full concentration, so I could say 'I need to go now' and finish the calls. The activity took my mind of the contractions and I didn't find them difficult to deal with. Some were more intense than others - for the tougher ones I dropped onto all fours and rocked my hips backwards and forwards. When the midwife phoned back I was feeling inexplicably emotional and didn't want to talk to her - I actually cried a little bit, but wasn't really distressed. I wasn't scared at all, just excited - I put the tears down to my hormones, and the emotional patch only lasted about 10 minutes.

The MidwifeArrives


At around 9.30AM the midwife arrived; it was Norma, who I'd met a couple of times before. She was supportive, confident, friendly and very hands-off. We talked and she observed me for a while, then she offered to do an internal. I had discussed with the midwives previously that I would prefer not to have any internals in labour unless necessary, and Norma made it clear that it was entirely up to me whether I wanted to have one or not, but reassured me that she would be gentle and would stop if I wanted, so I was happy for her to go ahead.

I thought that it couldn't be established labour, because it wasn't difficult to cope with, so I was surprised to be told that my cervix was 4-5cm dilated, and that the baby was likely to be born in the early afternoon (it was about 10AM at this point). Norma could feel the bag of waters bulging in front of the baby's head, so the fluid I'd seen earlier must have been a hindwater leak - as the baby's head descended it was preventing any more fluid from leaking away, and the forewaters were still cushioning its head. The head was 2/5 palpable, ie 3/5 engaged; before labour it had been 3/5 palpable for the past 6 weeks.

Labour Can Be Fun!


I asked DH to start assembling the birth pool, and found that I needed to devote more effort to dealing with the contractions. I put on some music, turned the lights down and turned on the lava lamp; the christmas tree was still up, complete with fairy lights, and the whole effect was lovely. I have very fond memories of grooving along to my favourite music, feeling perfectly normal in between contractions and rocking on all fours during them, singing along with the music.DH needed some help with the pool, so I didn't get to 'groove' for very long.

Norma just chatted and watched me, checking the baby's heart rate and my blood pressure regularly. We were talking about animals, and Norma said 'Well, you've seen animals give birth - you know what to do. Just do whatever feels natural to you'.

Helping to sort out the pool was a great distraction. DH and I chatted and worked, and it could have been any normal day - except that every few minutes I had to excuse myself and deal with a contraction. Our three cats found the pool very interesting and stood on the side watching the water; one of them fell in! I wasn't worried about the hygiene aspect as the pool came complete with a non-chlorine water sterilising kit and filter.

The contractions got closer and more intense, and by 11.30AM I definitely wanted the pool right away, so I got in while it was still filling. This was a good move, as I could direct the hose on my back and tummy during contractions.

Music was playing all the time - rock and pop songs with rousing choruses (turned up loud during contractions) which I could sing along to were my main form of pain relief. I didn't need Pethidine - Jimi Hendrix and Abba were quite effective and had few side-effects!

I am normally very self-conscious about singing when anyone can hear me, because I've been told so often that I have an absolutely dreadful singing voice :-( However, I was completely uninhibited about singing when in labour, and also about making noises later on.

How The Pool Helped


The pool was a great help - although it didn't take the pain away, it was warm and soothing and I certainly found it easier to cope with contractions in the pool than out.

The support of the water made it very easy for me to switch quickly between positions - I had to be on all fours for contractions, but between them I was floating, squatting, sitting or standing. Squatting positions were far easier to hold than on land.

Sometimes I went completely under the water during or between contractions - it was very relaxing to feel surrounded by warm water, and to feel quite alone in this peaceful place.

The water helped me to focus on breathing out slowly too. Breathing out under water, or with just my mouth under the water, I could blow bubbles and watch and hear the breath, as opposed to just feeling it. It was a rhythmic process and a good distraction during contractions - duck under the water, breathe out slowly, surface and breathe in, and then duck under again.

During some moderate contractions I tried wearing a snorkel and staying underwater for the whole contraction. This was quite fun at first, but having the mask on my face got a bit annoying later. Sometimes I kept my head above the water and sang or made other sounds as I breathed out.

When things got really intense I hummed and vocalized in other ways, again as practised in the Active Birth classes. When I could have cried out in pain, I hummed 'Ommmmmm' during the out-breath; not that I attribute any special qualities to that particular word, but it was a convenient sound to make, and it helped a lot. I thought that crying out would not be helpful; it would make me more tense, and might make those around me tense.

I put some Lavender and Clary Sage essential oils in the water - regardless of whether they help labour, they smell nice and it was relaxing to be surrounded by fragrance rising from the surface of the warm pool.

Water Temperature

The water temperature was around 34C for the first stage - any hotter and I think I'd have felt sick. During the second stage I would have liked it to be warmer, but I was too preoccupied to ask or to do anything about it. Next time I would try to remember.

Norma recorded the water temperature at intervals, and asked if I was comfortable. Characteristically, she was focussing upon what would make me feel good, rather than trying to tell me what temperature the pool should be. Don't let anyone try to tell you what temperature the pool should be; as long as you are not overheating during labour (which would make you very uncomfortable), and your baby is not hanging around in cold water after birth, all that matters is that the temperature is right for the mother.

I got out of the pool a few times to go to the loo - I knew that pee was sterile so it was OK to go in the pool, and let's face it, a cat had already fallen in there so I could hardly get fussy about water hygiene! However, I also knew that it was good to move around as much as possible, and that the process of climbing in and out of the pool involved major leg-raises and hip-hitching that would help the baby to move down. Contractions outside the water were far harder to cope with.

Tips for using a birth pool, or 'What I was glad I did, and what I wish I'd done':

I look forward to using a birth pool when I have my next baby. I would make a few changes, though, such as:

I am glad that I did these things:

For more information about waterbirth, see The Waterbirth Website

The Hard Work Starts..


As the labour progressed I felt sharp pains in my hips, and the all-fours position became vital to take the pressure off my sacrum. DH rubbed my back during contractions, and kept me supplied with drinks of hot water with honey and lemon juice.

I needed to have DH there; I missed him when he left the room. He was very calm - we all were - and very involved in the labour. In fact, I had far more physical contact with DH than I did with the midwife.

Norma seemed instinctively to know that I wanted to be touched as little as possible, and that I did not need her to 'deliver' the baby, but just to check that the baby and I were both well while I got on with the job of giving birth.

During what was probably transition, the contractions were very intense and close together and overwhelming, yet I felt dreamy. I still felt the pain, yet seemed able to fit a lot of rest into the minute between contractions. My body's natural pain-managing mechanisms were working well.

Although dreamy, I was still rational, still myself. I felt quite romantic during this 'dreamy' time, and kept looking at DH and thinking soppy things, like how much I loved him and how wonderful it was that I was having our baby.

Suddenly I felt wide awake and perfectly lucid, and asked Norma if I was in transition. She said that normally people got very ratty in transition - I'd not been at all ratty so far, in fact I was probably more polite than I am usually.

Norma offered to do an internal if I wanted to find out, but I thought that either I was or I wasn't in transition, and an internal wouldn't change the fact, so why bother? Anyway, it turned out that I must have been because, during a very hard contraction, I felt the waters break - fluid gushed out under pressure, and Norma said the cervix was probably totally drawn up.

At some point in transition or second stage, the second (backup) midwife arrived - this is normal procedure, just in case both mother and baby need attention after the birth.

So, What About Pain?


Next, the contractions became more spaced out, and more painful. The pain of the contractions themselves was more just a sensation of intense muscular effort - uncomfortable, but not sharp pain, like any other form of exertion in sport or physical work. I wouldn't call the sensations of contractions 'pain', although they did need to be dealt with. However, that is not meant to imply that I had no pain in labour!

For me, the hardest part was that early second stage. The pain I had was joint pain - sharp, shooting pains in my hips, as though the joints were being stretched. DH said later that he could see my hips moving apart, almost bulging out of their sockets.

Although the peaks of these contractions hurt a lot, during the pauses between contractions I felt fine but tired, and the intensity of each contraction built up gradually so that I had plenty of time to get myself onto all fours, call DH to start rubbing my back, and to turn the music up.

This predictability made the pain easier to manage. I also knew that each contraction would only go on for a finite time - even during really intense periods when the contractions were close together, there would be a break between them, however short.

It also helped to remember that this pain was positive pain - that strong contractions meant things were moving along. This pain was telling me how not to hinder my body - no surprise that labour is harder to bear in the positions which make it harder for the baby to be born, such as lying on your back.

At no stage did I ask for pain relief, or want it - although at one point I remember thinking 'OK, I've done natural childbirth now. Next time maybe I'll try a Caesarean'! The midwife later commented that I must have a high pain threshold. Balls - it still hurt, I just dealt with it in my own way. It hurts, but pain itself doesn't kill you, and you soon get over it. I was far more afraid of losing control than of pain - of losing control of my mind through fear, panic or mind-altering drugs, and of losing control of the situation through medical intervention.

On the day I had a wonderful midwife, I was in my own home with my husband, and I had nothing to worry about. I had gone to great lengths to make sure that I was fit and healthy, and to the best of our knowledge the baby was healthy too. In the face of all these positive factors, pain seems such a transient thing - like homesickness or feeling lovesick, you can reassure yourself that it will get better, and that soon you will feel normal again.

It was easy for me to be calm. I did not feel afraid at any point. I was on my own territory - if there was anything I did not like about my environment, I could change it (or ask someone else to) without asking anyone's permission. No-one could tell me what to do, and no-one was going to start treating me like a child. For me personally, I'm sure it would have been much harder in a hospital room, where all I could focus on was the labour, and whether the hospital's procedures or policies were going to affect it.

Nearly There...


At one point I decided to get out of the pool and walk around, to help the baby descend. Having told everyone that I was going to get out for a little while, I stood up and then a contraction came. My precise words were 'Stuff this for a game of soldiers!' - I went straight back in the water, and didn't get out again until the baby was born!

When I felt the urge to push, things became primal. Low, bellowing, moose-like noises came out as I pushed. It was like vomiting - huge convulsions over which you have minimal control.

Norma said that when the head crowned, I should push it out however felt natural, and bring the baby to the surface in my own way. Crowning seemed to be a long way off when she said this. I poked a finger inside and the head felt like a lump of spongey meat; I wasn't sure that it was a head at all, but what else could it be? I remembered my ante-natal class teacher saying that the head would not feel like a head at this stage because of moulding, and was reassured.

The head crowned around 15 minutes later. The burning sensation was intense, and I thought "Aha! This is what they mean by the 'Ring of Fire'!", but it didn't matter because I knew the baby would be born very soon.

I was kneeling upright with my knees wide apart, so gravity was able to do a lot to stop the head receding. I remember instinctively making small movements to give the baby more space to come out. At this stage I was very alert and was giving a running commentary on what the baby's head was doing, because there was no way anyone outside the pool could see what was going on.

I realised that I could make voluntary pushes between contractions, and that they really did move things down. I knew that voluntary pushing was A Bad Thing, but hey, it could still get results! 'Norma, I can push in between contractions. Shall I?' No, came the reply, there's no point in pushing in between contractions. Just wait for the contractions to do the work. Huh - no official sanction. I pushed anyway, when I thought she wasn't looking.

With a huge push and a contraction, the baby's head was born. I felt around his neck to check that the cord wasn't around it. The baby's body was firmly clamped inside - there was no way this one was going to just slither out. I waited for the next contraction - it felt like at least ten minutes, but according to my notes it was only one minute - and then I thought 'Sod it!' and gave a huge shove anyway, but there was probably a contraction there too.

The baby's shoulders , arms and chest were born, but he was still stuck fast again at the tummy.

I thought 'Stuff this, I'm not waiting for another contraction', so I grabbed hold of the baby under the arms, gave a big push and pulled the rest of him out.

I brought the baby to the surface. He gave a huge yell and turned bright red, and I was amazed to see that it was a boy - L. We had been convinced that it was a girl.

Then I noticed the midwives saying things like 'Look at the size of that!' and, ominously, directed at the baby: 'I dread to think what you've done to that perineum'. He was big and strong, very solid, covered in vernix and obviously vigorous.

I climbed out of the pool, holding him close to me, and sat on the bed next to DH. The baby was covered in a towel, but with his skin bare next to mine. I offered him my breast - he wasn't very interested in sucking, but he made an attempt.

It was a great relief to sit down after nine hours on my feet and knees. I felt perfectly normal, if a little tired. I certainly didn't experience the post-delivery euphoria that many women have, even though it was a great birth in perfect surroundings. I felt very businesslike about it, and, being English, I just wanted a cup of tea!

I cuddled L and comforted him - he didn't cry for long, just briefly at the initial shock of being born - and we waited for the cord to stop pulsating, so that he had his natural quota of blood. After about 15 minutes there was no detectable pulse in the cord, so DH clamped and cut it.

No-one had touched our son apart from us, for these first minutes of his life. No-one handled him roughly, stuck tubes in his nose or mouth to suction them, put him down on cold surfaces, or subjected him to any 'standard procedures'. They weren't necessary - all he needed was a cuddle and the warmth of his mother's body.

The Third Stage


I had a natural third stage, but the placenta took an hour to turn up. Norma wasn't worried about the time as there was just one large gush of blood and clots, then very little blood loss. I think the placenta was sitting there, waiting for me to push it out - I could have done with more direction here, but both midwives were busy with the baby and paperwork. I did feel slightly abandoned, but I guess I should have asked for help.

L was in excellent shape, and was huge: 4.250 Kg, 9lb 6oz.

I had a second-degree tear straight down the midline, which didn't need to be stitched as it wasn't bLding. Perhaps if I'd resisted that voluntary pushing, I could have avoided the tear. Norma commented that being in the pool would have helped to minimise tearing (like having a hot compress it situ, it provides warm counter-pressure against the perineum).

I lost at least 500ml(just over 1 pint) of blood - that was what made it to the measuring jug, but there was plenty that landed elsewhere. I was healthy, my blood pressure was fine, I didn't feel faint or even unwell, and blood tests three days later showed that I wasn't anaemic.

When everything was over, I felt absolutely fine - tired, but not exhausted, and very happy. That night the three of us slept together, L curled up against me in the most secure and natural way for a baby to sLp.



I would do it all again, just the same way - tomorrow! It took nine hours to deliver L, including a second stage of about 1 hour 15 minutes. It might seem that I was lucky, but it took a full 13 months of careful preparation - exercise and research - to help luck produce the goods! Of course, there are some eventualities that you cannot prepare for - but there are others which you can do something about. Perhaps preparing for those things I could do something about, stopped me worrying about the factors I couldn't control. See the page on preparing for birth for some things which helped.

If there had been some complication and transfer to hospital had become necessary, it would have helped me to know that I'd done just about everything I could to have a normal labour and birth, and that if intervention was necessary in spite of all that preparation and my best efforts, then I would be very glad that it was available.

The midwifery care I received was excellent. Throughout my pregnancy, the community midwives I saw were all supportive of home birth, and seemed confident and well informed on the subject.

During the labour, although I found that I did not want to be fussed over, it gave me confidence to see that Norma was so calm and relaxed. The impression I got from her throughout was that she was perfectly sure that this labour was going to progress smoothly, and I felt that if she was so confident, with all her experience, then I certainly didn't have anything to worry about. Having said that, if there had been a problem then I have no doubt that she would have been well prepared to deal with it - and I would have trusted her, and accepted her recommendations. Thank you, Norma!

Feeding and Sleeping

L was exclusively breastfed until he was about 5 months old when he started to pinch pieces of fruit from my plate! He carried on breastfeeding until he was a toddler. When he was little, I breastfed fully on demand and carried L in a sling most of the time - he was a very demanding baby and there were many days when he apparently wanted to feed all day long. He was around 6 months old before he ever went more than 2 hours between feeds. However, this wasn't a problem - I didn't have have anything to do that was more important than feeding my baby, and I found that breastfeeding f orced me to sit down and rest, which was good for me. I also found it a great opportunity to catch up on my reading!

L has a tongue-tack, which means that his tongue is tightly fixed to the bottom of his mouth. This was inherited from his father, and is frequently implicated in breastfeeding problems as the baby's tongue is less mobile and can't 'milk' the breast as efficiently, and it means soreness may be a problem for mum. I got very sore nipples in the first 10 days but was prepared for this by the breastfeeding workshops I'd attended while pregnant, so I knew that the solution to most problems was positioning, positioning and positioning! With careful attention to getting L latched on properly, the soreness stopped. I'd set myself a deadline of 10 days for calling a breastfeeding counsellor if it hadn't cleared up, and lo and behold, it went suddenly on day 10! I avoided nipple shields as all the evidence I'd read suggested that they do more harm than good - they can reduce milk supply and teach the baby bad sucking technique.

We have a family bed and this works very well for us, as it means that when the baby wants a feed during the night, all I have to do is latch him on to the breast and then go back to sLp. He has never had to wake up fully and cry in order to get food, so getting him back to sLp is not a problem. It took me a couple of weeks to learn how to breastfeed while lying on my side, and I wish I'd worked on this earlier. Since then, the only sleepless nights I've had have been when L has been ill.


PS: My second baby, R, was born at home in 2000.

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