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Freya's birth, by Rachel

I planned a homebirth for Freya, my first baby. I ended up transferring to the local hospital for a bit of help with a ventouse in the end, due to a long second stage and Freya passing meconium. I thought I would share the experience with others as I am still convinced that home birth is a much-overlooked option for most women.

Since getting the feeling that I might finally have grown up enough to think about having a baby, my instinct was to aim for a home-birth. When I did fall pregnant, my husband Mike took some convincing. Concerns for my well-being were at the root of this, but the home-birth site helped me to convince him that I would be safe at home and in excellent hands with two midwives in attendance. At my booking-in appointment the midwife was very supportive of my suggestion that I would like a home-birth, though there was a definite 'wait and see how the pregnancy progresses' vibe - on reflection this was a good attitude as it prevented me from having too fixed a mind-set. During the pregnancy we did go on the visit of the local hospital maternity wards, just-in-case, though this made us both even more determined for me to labour at home!

As the pregnancy progressed, I was in excellent health. My main midwife was off sick for a lot of my antenatal appointments and only at around 36-weeks did any of the stand-ins actually tell me I needed to fill in a home-birth booking form. With this done, I made arrangements to meet the local community midwife team, as any one of them could have been on duty when I called. They all seemed lovely, and I remade the acquaintance of midwife Lynne, who had known me since I was around eight years old when my Mum worked as an auxiliary nurse in the local maternity hospital!

As I went to 40 weeks on a Wednesday, Lynne booked for me to have a membrane sweep the following Tuesday at 40+6 to see if we could move things along. The weekend before this, I saw my regular reflexologist/homeopath who 'did my feet' and left me with a homeopathic birthing kit, with instructions to take particular remedies over the next few days. On the Monday evening, at around ten o'clock, I began regular contractions, thus avoiding the need for the membrane sweep - very crafty, or so I thought!

So excited that we couldn't contemplate sleeping, Mike and I stayed up until around 2am and watched 'The Fifth Element' which happened to be on TV, with me bouncing on my birthing ball. We eventually decided to go to bed and try to sleep until we could call the midwives office at 9am, but had a broken night with me contracting regularly. Lynne came out to us at around 10am, confirmed that I was in early labour and advised me to keep active and busy and ring if we needed her or things got more interesting! She also did a membrane sweep, so I didn't miss out on that at all!

Tuesday daytime found us first baking a cake so the midwives would have something to eat with their tea, walking round to the park for some fresh air, doing various odd jobs around the house, having a dance in the kitchen (I'd been doing belly-dancing lessons all through my pregnancy, an excellent way to keep supple and toned and baby seemed to like it too), eating pasta with tomato & basil sauce for lunch and fitting/practising with my TENS machine, all with me carrying on having regular contractions.

We went back to bed for a nap in the late afternoon and missed Lynne returning to see how I was getting on. After the nap, the contractions started to get much more intense and I had a lovely soothing bath, using Natalia labour oils. I was coping really well with the contractions and enjoying the water but came out when I started to go wrinkly and Lynne arrived to check me over.

Having an internal gave me the news that I was 3cm dilated; having been in early labour for around 22 hours, I was now only just getting established. I was slightly deflated by the news as I hoped to be further on than that, but still happy that things were getting nearer and we would soon see our baby. Lynne left us to it once more, and we mostly stayed in the bedroom listening to our favourite relaxing music, cuddling, trying out the homeopathic remedies (including one that Mike nicknamed 'kick-ass juice' as I seemed to gain extra strength after taking it), bouncing on the birthing ball and keeping as gently active as possible.

As we got close to midnight, I once again tried the bath but somehow this time it felt very wrong - as I got back into the bedroom afterwards, I promptly threw up, completely missing the bowl Mike had left in the room and covering the bed in partly digested tomato & basil sauce! At this stage, Mike decided to call Lynne back to us as we both needed some support.

Everything goes blurry around this time, I was getting tired and still the contractions keep coming and intensifying, although I don't actually remember being in pain. We all kept going in our lovely peaceful bedroom talking about all sorts and trying to catch some sleep where we could. I remember dozing off at one point with Lynne & Mike whispering about 'the calm before the storm'. The one time I asked for use of the Entonox which had been stored in our room for a few weeks, Lynne told me to keep going without it as I was doing so well with just the TENS and she thought it would make me sick. Lynne and Mike kept trying to get me to eat small pieces of Mars Bar, something I would never normally refuse, but I somehow couldn't face eating. In hindsight, I wish I'd managed to eat some, as I hadn't eaten since the previous lunchtime and most of that had come back up when I was sick. I think my first waters broke around this time too; I only remember soaking Mike, as he was cuddling into my back at the time.

At around six o'clock on Wednesday morning, I reached transition (think I actually said 'I can't do this anymore' - the classic transition giveaway line). Lynne called in the second midwife, Shirley-Anne, and I started to get on with trying to push my baby out. Mike, Lynne and Shirley-Anne were all fantastic, keeping me focussed, rubbing my back and helping me maintain the various upright positions I wanted to be in. I was getting very tired by now and Lynne and Shirley-Anne were both getting worried about me and the baby. I was ketotic from not having enough energy on board, and they were finding it hard to monitor the baby as she was in a funny position. I was so tired, I couldn't even go to the loo for a wee and had to have a catheter as a full bladder was hampering my ability to push the baby out - not very dignified!

Note from Angela:
It's very significant that the midwives found it hard to monitor Freya because she was in a "funny position". This is probably the reason why, no matter what Rachel tried, she just couldn't move her baby down any earlier. My guess is that Freya was in the Occiput Posterior position. See 'Get your baby lined up' for more on how the baby's position affects labour.

At just before 9am on the Wednesday, things got more serious as another bubble of waters broke and obviously contained fresh meconium. I remember Shirley-Anne very gently comforting me as it became apparent my dreams of a home-birth were now not going to be realised. The ambulance was called and arrived with us at just after 9am. I was still very much in active second-stage at this time, with overwhelming needs to push - Mike had seen the top of the baby's head, she was that close to being born, but I really needed help to get her out quickly as I was so tired.

Between contractions, I made it first up and into my dressing gown, then to the top of the stairs, then down to the hall and from there into the waiting ambulance. Mike was collecting my 'just-in-case' hospital things together and getting ready to follow the ambulance to hospital. The journey with flashing lights through rush-hour traffic was the most uncomfortable thing I have ever experienced - lying on an ambulance trolley, still getting contractions and having to push but not-really push as there was nowhere for the baby to go if she was born!

As soon as we got to the hospital, at around quarter past nine, I was whisked into a delivery room and Lynne got me settled in on the bed. At this stage, she and Mike found a mouthpiece and encouraged me to have some gas and air - which was a relief, though I did have a few tears at my 'failure' to have the baby at home, maybe brought on by the effects of the gases? Lynne reluctantly handed me over to the hospital team, making us promise to text her as soon as we could with the news.

The hospital team very swiftly set me up for a ventouse delivery, with a drip to restore my energies, challenging me to beat them to it if I could! With the baby already part-way down the birth canal, the obstetrician gave her a tug with the ventouse and out came our lovely baby girl onto my tummy, with a very indignant wail.

I had just a chance to glance at her before she was taken to the resuscitation trolley for suctioning in case she had swallowed any meconium. As Mike watched our little girl being suctioned and had his first good look at her, noticing that her little fingers are kinked like mine, I hardly noticed having my placenta delivered. Not the physiological third stage I had hoped for, but at that point I was beyond caring about something so relatively trivial, and being sutured and 'tidied up'.

Although the hospital environment was not what I wanted for our first family moments, it was actually not too bad, with us encouraged to have skin-to-skin contact as soon as the paediatric nurse had finished with Freya and being left alone to share this precious time while the nurse prepared us a jam & toast feast! After having a go at breast-feeding our little girl, quite tricky with a drip in my hand and no energy left, I left Mike holding Freya to his skin while I had a shower and freshened up. We were then transferred to the ward for an overnight stay as Freya had to be monitored to ensure she had no ill effects from the meconium.

All in all, the hospital experience was not what I had hoped for, but the end result is the same and I don't think we suffered at all in our bonding with Freya because of it. The worst part was actually experienced by Mike when he had to leave his family overnight, but at least he got a good night's sleep. The only other negative I can think of is that the sheet Freya was wrapped in by the hospital was obviously laundered in something quite harsh as she became very red and blotchy and looks quite sore in her first photos, which faded as soon as we wrapped her in blankets Mike brought from home, so take your own.

I would advise anyone planning a homebirth to mentally prepare for the possibility that a hospital transfer may be required, accept that you may feel disappointed initially and be assured that this does fade when your baby has arrived safely and you are into the busy whirl of being a Mum. I am very glad and quite proud to have gone through the majority of my labour at home without the use of drugs, and won't hesitate to try it again if/when we decide to have another baby.

Do you think that Freya was in the occiput posterior position, which would explain why your labour didn't progress faster?

I do have my suspicions that Freya was posterior, though no-one ever confirmed it, and events in the hospital room went so quickly I never thought to ask the OB. Like you say, it would explain her getting stuck and my labour being particularly long with a lot of lower back/upper bum (!) pain.

Rachel & Mike & Freya (now eight months).

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