Archie is Rachael's second baby and he was born at home, in water, weighing 9lb 4oz. Rachael booked with independent midwives because she did not want a repeat of her first birth. Verity's birth story is where it all starts, written before Archie was born:
I gave birth to Verity on 17th Feb 2000 in hospital after losing a battle to give birth at home. I got a lot of support from everyone on the NCT list who listened to my woes as I fought with uncooperative midwives, a slightly more cooperative Supervisor of Midwives, a consultant who was unbearably rude to Keith, my DH, and I, and in the end I was so worn out and scared and miserable and doubtful that when one day I had raised BP (blood pressure), one + for protein and some oedema around my ankles, I took their word for it when I was categorised 'high risk' and suspected pre-eclamptic. My BP had risen and a huge fuss was made over that but no-one seemed to recognise that I had a serious case of white coat hypertension and the fact that in the last week of pregnancy and during labour it was perfectly normal showed that there wasn't any problem with it.
I had loads of supportive emails and information from people during my battle with the hospital, but I hadn't learned how to be assertive properly! When Angela emailed me the number of Beverley Beech (Hon. Chair of the Association for Improvements in the Maternity Services) I didn't call because I was too shy and thought she would be far too busy to deal with me - I'm so cross at myself for that! Friends who had already given birth (and received that magical helping of self-confidence that you get in doing so) kept telling me not to go to the hospital appointments the obstructive midwife kept making for me, but I didn't want to make too many waves in case she transferred me the minute I was in labour. We had a hideous war over the 'home birth box' which she refused to deliver to the house until I had virtually leapt through hoops. Even then she arrived unexpectedly with another midwife to give me the "how will you feel if your baby dies or you have a PPH (postpartum haemorrhage) or a placental abruption" lecture.
I desperately wish that I could turn the clock back and take out an overdraft to pay for an independent midwife instead of hoping that things would all work out in the end.
A thread on an email group about feeling you should just be happy to have a healthy baby brought me out of hibernation and forced me to think about some things I'd been trying to keep suppressed. I realised 6 months after Verity's birth that I was suffering quite badly with postnatal depression as a result of desperate misery at the way my birth experience had ended up. For a while I thought I'd done okay as far as hospital births go - then when I really started to think about it I realised that I wasn't facing up to how I has really felt and that trying to block it out was making me feel more depressed.
Verity was posterior, turning the day I went into labour. According to my mum, I did the same, as did my sister's baby who was born 3 weeks ago. We both did lots of OFP (optimum foetal positioning exercises - see 'Get Your Baby Lined Up')but there must be some reason why our babies twirl round to posterior position in labour? Having been told after an internal on arrival at the hospital at midnight that I should go home as I was only 3cm, I ended up with an epidural which I am trying to stop beating myself up about. By the time they'd finished putting it in I had dilated from 6cm to 10 and gave birth half an hour after they'd finished (at 4.30am - just as well I didn't go home...). I did feel everything, so I don't feel that I was cheated out of the physical experience of giving birth. No stitches, only a tiny graze and we were out of hospital the same day. Verity is still breastfeeding (one thing we do have here is an incredibly supportive Health Visitor) and is a wonderful little girl who brings us vast amounts of happiness.
But 14 months later and with the wonderful 20/20 vision of hindsight I am still angry at myself for not fighting harder for my homebirth. It's been quite therapeutic to put it into words which have to remain unsaid the rest of the time because everyone I know subscribes to the 'just be glad you have a baby and what does it matter how she got here' point of view.
I booked with Elaine and Melanie at Thames Valley Independent Midwives to avoid having a bad experience with the same midwife again, and because, regardless of what my NHS Trust says on paper, I don't believe they really do embrace the concept of home birth. However I have to say my GP was brilliantly supportive and positive after both births.
I would absolutely hate for anyone to go through what I experienced in trying to have a home birth with Verity - they made my last few weeks of pregnancy absolute misery and I'll always be angry about that.
Archie's due date (26th March) came and went, which was a big surprise to me as I went into labour with Verity on her due date and I had been told by everyone that second babies were usually earlier, not later.
A few days later, on Friday the 29th of March, I spent the day with period-type pains which made me think something was imminent and I said as much to a friend by email. We had a lovely day with Verity and took her out for lunch - I was feeling very at one with the world which I had been all week and took as another sign things were going to happen soon. I spent the night looking up home birth websites and sending emails (looking back, one of them said I felt nauseous and knackered which was a fairly good sign!). I didn't go to bed till nearly 1am and remember thinking I'd suffer as it was my turn to get up with Verity at her usual 6am.
I woke up on Saturday morning after a bit of a disturbed night (again feeling something might happen and odd dreams and thoughts) and I lay in bed for a few minutes, still having the period type pain. Lying on my side I felt a slight popping/tearing sensation and water ran down my leg. I hopped out of bed and into the bathroom where I checked the liquor for signs of meconium but it was clear and streaked with vernix. I had a bit of a ridiculous experience trying to clear up the waters as there were no towels and as soon as I'd mopped up some, more would gush out and I went round and round in circles for ages!
I went into the bedroom feeling a bit shy and told Keith what was happening and we put on the TENS machine. I called my mum at 6am and told her what had happened and she said she'd come through to collect Verity for the day. Verity got up and played with Keith while I gathered together the bag of things for her which I'd sworn I was going to do earlier in the week (!). I also ironed a shirt as for some reason I had decided I wanted to look nice and be in clothes - think this is because with Verity I ended up in a hospital gown and I don't like walking about in my nightshirt in the daytime anyway. I called Elaine, my midwife, at 7.30 and left a message on her mobile, then decided I'd better try her pager as well. I wandered around eating crumpets and reading the newspaper and realised I was having contractions once every 10 minutes exactly.
Elaine called me at 7.45, and I told her what was happening but that I was fine and she was just to get on with her day. We agreed I'd call her later and update her on what was happening. By 8.15 the contractions were becoming quite painful and I called my mum to find out if she was nearly here - she was just leaving Richmond, having thought there was no real rush! I did rather bad swearing and she said they'd get a move on and be there ASAP. It was the combination of the contractions, not being able to focus on the labour because I found Verity's presence distracting, the realisation that I had to give birth again and the thought of it being sore that was making me feel quite stressed. I tried going upstairs to be by myself but that didn't make me feel any better.
By the time Mum and Chris arrived I'd gone from 'I don't want them in the house - I can't deal with conversation' to feeling ok about it again. They arrived at 10.15 and packed up Verity's stuff and left quite quickly. I instantly felt better and I settled down in the conservatory leaning over my birth ball, with clary sage, geranium and lavender oils (my favourites) in the oil burner. I felt wonderful - the sun was on my back, I read the paper and some baby magazines and rocked with each contraction while Keith put together the pool and started to fill it. We settled down and I read and rocked while he looked at the computer. I called Elaine at 10.35 and told her I was fine and that she needn't come over. I sent emails to let people know things were happening and checked a couple of home birth websites for some inspiration, reading birth stories to remind myself I could do it and that we'd all be fine.
I called Elaine again at 1.30 to tell her nothing more was happening - the contractions were still exactly every 10 minutes which wasn't bothering me as the thought of pain was worrying me slightly (I was to be found wandering about saying 'oh no, I don't want this, it's going to be sore' in a feeble voice and even said to Keith several times that I could see the appeal of elective caesarians!). She said that perhaps it was time to think about going for a walk to get things moving a little. I had another look at the computer then we got ready to leave, having decided on a trip to the garden centre. I found my big grey bag which hid the Tens machine as I was paranoid about someone realising I was in labour! Got in the car which was blissfully comfy. Lying back in the car seat as we drove along we joked about going for a Keith-style-walk (aka a drive!) but decided it wasn't quite what we had in mind and what would we do if I suddenly went into fast labour when we were miles from home!
We arrived at the garden centre and decided to have a look round the fireplace shop, timing it so we walked in after I'd just finished having a contraction. We looked at fireplaces and chatted to the salesman about prices but I had to wander off halfway through the conversation due to a long and painful contraction. We left and went into the garden centre itself, and pretty much as soon as I walked in the door a contraction hit me and I realised it was stronger still and I couldn't speak. I looked at Keith with panic and said through gritted teeth 'can't speak can't move can't not move - help!' and tried desperately to keep walking through, past the slug pellets so no-one would realise that I was in labour! (No idea why it bothered me so much but at the time it really did...) It lasted ages and was obviously the baby moving further down and things really starting to happen. We walked back out to the car, me taking mincing steps and grimacing and hoping I wouldn't bump into anyone I knew. The car journey wasn't as comfortable on the way back - when we got into the house I had a contraction, went upstairs to the loo and grabbed a couple of pillows off the bed, stopping to have another hard-to-deal-with contraction and thinking 'argh, hours of this to go, I must be mad...' along the way.
I heaped the pillows up on the couch with the cushions and got down on my knees in front of them, hoping that I might be able to cope with the increasingly uncomfortable contractions for a while like that and instantly had another - I said to Keith that I thought they were a bit closer now than every 10 mins; he said they were actually every 4 minutes! I panicked a bit and said 'we better phone Elaine now', worried she wouldn't get here in time. Keith wanted to wait and see how close the next contraction was but as it hit I said 'call her!'. I managed to have a bit of a conversation with her after the contraction had finished and she agreed it was time to come. I spent the next 35 minutes with my head in the pillows, having to breathe quite hard through them but with the tens machine still on about 60 (out of a possible 100).
Elaine arrived at about five past four (saying 'still in your jeans, Rachael?!'). I could tell straight away things were going to slow down a bit - this happened drastically in my first labour where on arriving at the hospital I went from minute long ctx every 2 minutes to nothing. I managed to have a chat with her about how things were doing and I asked her to check the baby wasn't posterior - he wasn't - as Verity had turned round at the beginning of labour. Heart rate was fine through the Pinard stethoscope and I collapsed back into my pillows feeling a bit like an exhibit as each contraction hit. I remember saying quite a few times 'talk quietly among yourselves' as one would start as I felt quite self-conscious about the fact that they were watching me to see how I was coping. Elaine suggested Keith tried counter-pressure on my sacrum and that helped a lot when he could find the right spot although trying to say 'up a bit...down a bit' when coping with increasing discomfort wasn't exactly soothing!
I had to go to the loo and found that incredibly sore as it must have been pushing the baby down, causing a huge contraction and so I had to stand in the bathroom rocking my hips and wondering if I was ever going to make it downstairs and when they'd realise I was still missing! For some reason I decided to change out of my jeans and into a pair of floppy black trousers which was incredibly uncomfortable. I realised that standing and rocking my hips helped a bit so when I got downstairs I tried leaning against the top of the radiator in the hall for a couple of contractions, then leaning over the birth ball, but the contractinos were getting ever closer together and I was a bit stressed about nothing making much difference and paced from one thing to the next saying 'this isn't working! that's no good!'. Elaine gently pointed out that I could think about upping the tens machine which I did grudgingly, worried I was going to run out of coping methods. It made quite a difference straight away and I had some lucozade to drink and ate some glucose tablets (went a bit overboard with all that though all the way through the labour as when Elaine first arrived and checked my urine it was absolutely full of sugar!).
I realised that the contractions were starting to feel a little bit different - there was incredible pressure and I could feel a burning pain in my cervix. I explained what I was feeling to Elaine who said it was probably the baby moving down further which was a good thing. When I realised I needed to go to the loo again it didn't feel like a good thing at all - I was pretty terrified as I knew it'd mean more horribly strong contractions. Keith and Elaine were starting to do things with the pool and I felt like I was in a bubble watching them doing something highly inconsequential. I made it upstairs feeling a bit panicky and stood in the bathroom trying to work out what to do...I peeled off my trousers and decided I'd have to stand in the bath and pee! I was a bit worried I'd get stuck but the thought of getting stuck on the loo was far worse. Of course afterwards even though I was in the middle of increasingly close together contractions I still had to clean the bath (obsessive cleaning disorder...) and then I went back into the bedroom, really feeling 'what on earth do I do now?' and feeling quite irrational.
I decided I HAD to take off my clothes and that I had to time it so that I could just run downstairs and leap into the bath as I'd turned the tens machine up to 100 and while I was aware that the pulses were really stinging me, they weren't taking away the pain of the contractions. I stood having a crisis over what to wear in the pool (didn't feel comfortable with sitting naked in there, even at this late stage of labour) and in inimitable Rachael fashion, managed to try on one nightshirt, have a massive contraction, decided it wasn't a good look as it was the one I'd worn when I had Verity in hospital and I thought it might have hospital vibes on it and put on another one whilst realising things were getting closer and closer together and that I was still upstairs alone and feeling a bit lost. I'm sure I crept really but it felt like I hurtled down the stairs and into the sitting room saying 'can I get in now? yes? right...' peeled off the nightshirt - after my fashion dilemma - whilst trying to rip off my own electrodes unsuccessfully (Elaine managed them) and leapt into the pool! It was just before 6pm so it'd been 12 hours since my waters broke.
The second I got into the pool, which was quite a bit warmer than I'd been expecting (that had been one of my concerns, being quite a hot bath person I hated the idea of sitting being chilly in a paddling pool in my sitting room) I could feel that the water was even more effective than the tens machine and joked to Elaine that all I needed was a glass of chardonnay and a magazine, just as a huge contraction hit and reminded me what I was actually in there for! I rolled over instinctively into a kneeling position and held onto the side of the pool while Keith and Elaine suddenly seemed to became super-efficient and organised. One of them held a cool flannel on my face while the other did counter-pressure on my back, then I was given some water with Bach's Rescue Remedy in it to drink.
I realised that I was finding the contractions increasingly hard to cope with and said rather pitifully 'when do you think I could have some gas and air?' to which Elaine said 'I'm not sure you're going to need it, Rachael' which I took to be her stalling me because I had ages to go which was a horrible thought. I decided I had to get it by fair means or foul, so made rather more 'owwwwww' type noises with my next contraction! Elaine asked Keith to take over the counter-pressure on my back so she could sort out the entonox canister and call Melanie, who had a 40 minute drive from Windsor. That took me by surprise - I suddenly realised I couldn't have that long to go, which was a cheering thought. However the contractions were really getting hard to cope with, coming much closer together and lasting much longer and the pressure on my back wasn't doing anything to help. Later in the week when we were talking I said to Elaine that I hadn't felt I had any classic signs of transition at all, but she said that the contraction I had while she was on the phone to Melanie sounded like it to her - apparently I'd said bossily to Keith 'up a bit - no DOWN a bit - NO for goodness sake OVER a BIT. GOD this is USELESS nothing is working' by which time the worst of the pain was over! However a huge change from last time, when I'd been begging for an epidural and got one, even though by the time it was sited I started pushing and Verity was born 35 minutes later.
Elaine came back into the sitting room and handed me the lovely entonox mouthpiece which I grabbed desperately. (This was about ten past six in the evening) She said 'don't forget, only use it when you're having a contraction' to which I squeaked 'am having' and inhaled even deeper! Everything went a bit peculiar and I managed to say 'ugh -makesmefeelsickohnodidn'tdothatlasttime' Elaine said 'oh, I'm sorry Rachael' and I felt a bit worried about the amount of pain I was in and what I was going to do if the one thing I had been relying on to get me throught the worst wasn't working. I tried again with the next contraction and it dulled the pain and somehow stopped making me feel nauseous so that was a huge relief. However the contractions were really rolling onto one another now and I wasn't getting a chance to recover from one before another hit - it really did feel like waves and I felt like a very small thing being buffeted about. I had been reading an article on water birth earlier in the day (whilst I had my face in the heap of cushions) and it had recommended finding your inner voice as a method of pain relief. So I tried making a noise with each out-breath, which I was aware sounded a bit like a dinosaur or a sumo wrestler (!) but which really did help. Elaine said 'are you starting to feel an urge to push there?' but I didn't feel that I was at all.
Then another gigantic contraction hit and didn't seem to stop - I couldn't get a chance to inhale any entonox as I didn't seem to have a chance to have an in-breath and my body seemed to be going mad - I really felt I was being taken over by the contraction and just as I managed to gulp a mouthful of gas and air I felt a very familiar sensation and managed to gasp 'ohnobeenherebeforeGNNNNNNNNNnnnnnnnnnnnn' which conveyed to both Keith and Elaine quite successfully that yes I was now feeling a pushing urge! The doorbell rang - Melanie! - and I managed to say 'hello' through grunts and desperately trying to grab the gas and air which wasn't doing anything anyway. Keith gave up trying to offer it to me and concentrated on mopping my head with the flannel which felt lovely. Melanie offered me a drink and I gulped down about half a pint of water and demanded lucozade while Elaine asked if there was any way she could check the babys heartbeat. I think in the end it was Melanie who checked it quickly and said everything was fine.
I was feeling very out of it but they all worked together brilliantly, Keith reminding me to breathe deeply, Melanie saying 'remember to think about your baby, you'll be seeing your baby soon' and Elaine saying 'have a feel and tell me what you can feel'. I thought from the amount of pain I was feeling I was going to feel that the head was out so it was a real shock to feel inside and I remember gasping 'bubble-of-air' meaning I thought I could feel the waters intact. They were talking about the fact that they thought what I was feeling was the head because the waters had gone but in my little non-speaking internal world I was sure they were wrong! I could feel the head moving down with each contraction but inbetween times it would slip back up which was highly disturbing - I thought I must have ages still to go and felt a bit despondent.
With each contraction I would start off kneeling forward (as if on hands and knees but with my head and arms resting on the side of the pool) then as it peaked I would rock backwards so I was almost leaning back which seemed to help. I felt completely wrapped up in what I was doing - I knew they were all there but I felt very much in control and very private which is just what I'd wanted for this birth. Towards the end I was really willing him out, saying 'come on baby' and talking to him a lot. I also vocalised a LOT - I knew I was sounding like a waterbuffalo but it really helped me to deal with the feeling of him moving down. I remember also gasping 'f**k this hurts' and then apologising for swearing!
I used the gas and air a few times then which was around the time that his head was crowning - I could feel everything stretch, breathed gently trying not to let myself push madly and tear, and then his head popped through. I said 'head out' then realised the pain was even worse...gasped 'why is it still hurting?' and someone said 'it's okay Rachael, it's the shoulders'. Unbelievably sore! I wanted it over and I pushed pretty hard - so hard that I burst some blood vessels in my eyes as I discovered a few days later. A couple of really hard pushes (so much for my plan to breathe him out...oops) and he shot out so fast that I said 'help! where is he?!' at the same time as I looked down and saw him gliding down towards the floor of the pool. I scooped him up and sat there looking at him and him at Keith and me - he was gorgeous, huge and seemed so alert. Loads of vernix floating in the pool and quite a lot on him so even though he was 5 days over his due date (and I know it was correct) he was obviously a longer cooking baby than Verity. I'm so pleased with myself that I did the whole thing myself - no internal examinations, no-one looking in the pool with a mirror, no-one telling me when or how to push but just relying on my own body to do the work.
After a few moments I realised the pool was filling with blood and I had a vision of having to transfer due to a PPH (postpartum haemorrhage). Melanie said 'shall I draw up syntometrine?' to Elaine and I tried desperately to think stopping thoughts as I didn't want to end my lovely birth with that. I tried to get Archie to latch on but he only wanted to have a sniffand a bit of a snuzzle and not feed (we have a photo of this which is lovely). Elaine said that she thought we could wait a second and see as it seemed to have stopped. It had - but I was a bit spooked and wanted to get out of the pool so I could see what was going on.
The cord had stopped pulsating so Elaine cut it and I got out and went across the sitting room where I knelt on the couch over the arm, watching Keith holding Archie, having photos taken and getting increasingly impatient at the non-arrival of his placenta as I wanted to be able to stop working! In the end I stood up and pushed quite hard and it came out after another really short 3rd stage of about 10 mins. Elaine and Melanie estimated the blood loss at about 450mls but at a fairly substantial 5'9" proportionately it wasn't much blood for me to lose and I felt absolutely fine. Archie settled down then and fed and fed for ages -another instant scoffer like Verity who also fed straightaway for 45 minutes after being born. I sat wrapped in a towel phoning my family and friends while Keith made delicious tea and the most lovely malt loaf I've ever eaten! Between them, Keith, Elaine and Melanie tidied around me but I felt I was in a little bubble of slow motion watching them whizz around me on some other plane while I adored our new baby. The next morning when I got up the house was totally back to normal and apart from the pool liner lying on the grass there was no sign anything had happened anywhere.
It was absolute bliss to go upstairs afterwards and have a shower in my own bathroom, get into my own clean clothes and into our own lovely bed with our new little boy. I spent a while phoning people then we all went to sleep.
The next day when Archie was measured he weighed 9lb 4oz, was 21.5 inches long and with a head circumference of 14.5 inches. Quite a difference to Verity who was only 6lb 15oz! When he first came out he had a circle on his head which indicated I'd probably been walking around at 5 cm dilated for quite a while, but it had gone by the next morning.
He is 3 and a half weeks old now and I'm finally finished writing this story of how he was born. I can't imagine him not being here with us and Verity seems to feel the same way - we spent a lot of time talking to her before he was born about Archie, the 'baby in tummy' as she called him, and how he would have to have lots of 'feedles' (her word for breastfeeding) and need to be carried a lot and she seems to have accepted this quite happily - she gives all her toys 'feedles' and likes to hold his head gently while he is feeding. We all enjoyed Archie's home birth so much that we can't wait to have another baby and Keith has even bought a brand new car with room for three car seats!
very proud mummy to Verity 17/2/00 (should have been a HB but was hassled
into hospital) and Archie 30/03/02 Home water birth
Rachael @ homebirthsite.littleself.co.uk
(remove 'homebirthsite' to get the real email address)
PS I wanted to add how utterly brilliant and wonderful Elaine and Melanie were - they were everything I could have hoped for, and more, and Keith feels the same way.
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