I knew that I wanted to aim for a homebirth as soon as I discovered I was pregnant. However, I was living Brussels, Belgium. Births in Belgium are, for the most part, medicalised and interventionalist (with high rates of epidurals, episiotomies and inductions). However, if you choose to birth at home and can find a midwife who will do so, you can. If you have a homebirth, there is no reason to see a doctor at all during your pregnancy.
My pregnancy, birth experience and post-birth care were enhanced by being looked after by my chosen midwife (Reike). My labour was an amazing experience that has made me glow and grow. Throughout my pregnancy I was reasonably relaxed about due dates – and ended up with three along the way – 2nd, 5th and 9th August. By 9th August I had still not engaged and I was starting to feel anxious. I decided to go to an osteopath – he made me feel great and relaxed, yet another week went by.
I went back to the osteopath. As I walked out I felt as though I could crouch down on the pavement and give birth. I arrived home feeling strange (I can’t easily explain this feeling... a little distant and fuzzy headed perhaps) to find my husband having my nesting instinct – he was vaccuming and dusting, rather than reading as he had planned to do.
That afternoon Reike, my midwife, came round and we discussed in detail what would happen if I hadn’t had the baby the following week. She would only support me at home to that date, but she would be able to be my main carer in the hospital. She really helped me to feel that I could have a positive birth experience via an induction. Equally she was adamant that I would not need to be induced – which made me feel even better!
She left at about 6pm and I continued to feel odd. She left some essential oil mix by Pranarom called Harmonious Childbirth. It felt very calming and seemed to promote contractions once I had begun.
That night at about 9pm I had my first contraction, right through my thigh, which was strange and unexpected. By about midnight I was having a contraction every 30 minutes or so – they were not too strong – but I did little more than doze all night.
By 7am I was starving hungry and persuaded my husband that we really needed to walk to buy some egg tagliatelle, cos nothing else would do. I then diverted us to a café for almond croissants before returning home for pasta. Contractions were continuing at about every 30 minutes and not too strong. I enjoyed being out, so we walked to a local pizza place and I relished sitting there feeling my body open up. It felt like the biggest secret that I had ever had, no one else knowing that I was starting labour. At some point we rang Reike who said to keep her in touch with developments.
That afternoon the intensity increased and I managed to doze whilst watching episodes of The Simpsons. Back to bed that night and even less dozing this time.
We got out of bed at about 4am and I embraced labour proper (previous 24 hours was just’ babe engaging and my cervix starting to open we think). For the next 5 hours, for most of my first stage, I had a great time, strange as it may sound! I had one wobble where I was wishing the contraction away, and then suddenly thought Bring it on I may never have this experience again, it´s not such a bad sensation, just go into it’. And from that point on my endorphins were running high. Soon I was having 1 minute contractions about 5 minutes apart. I became a bit hyper and then decided to have a bath with neroli and lavender oils, which was fantastic.
In Belgium there is no gas and air available, either at home or hospital, and I had decided that I did not want either a Tens machine or a birthing pool. Both seemed to detract from the reasons that I wanted to birth at home yes, a more intimate experience, and definitely less likelihood of intervention, but also no strange stuff/people around me. I had read so many wonderful stories about water births, but having a pool sitting in my lounge whilst in the last weeks of pregnancy would have made me feel nervous I think. So I had some massage oil, essential oils, a birth ball, which had doubled as my chair when I spent most of my second trimester finishing my PhD.
I spent quite a long time circling around my birth ball whilst clinging onto my husband and singing the whole of Abbey Road at the top of my voice, often with tears running down my face.
And then I realised that the best way of dealing with the strong sensations of the contractions was to bounce up and down against the wall, which I did from then. I also went into our bedroom, which was nice and dark. At one point I considered leaving to go to the lounge area, but looked along the corridor leading from the bedroom to the living area, and could not face the bright daylight that all looked scary and wrong, so I turned about heel and went back into the darkness.
I remember dancing around to another track (Golden by Jill Scott) around this point again with tears running down my face. I felt so extremely alive and living every moment.
By about 9.30am I was finding contractions pretty all-consuming and they were coming thick and fast. I don´t know how much because my husband was just discreetly texting Reike rather than bothering me about it he was an absolute star. In a sense for the majority of the 1st stage I laboured by myself, other than he just positioned himself where I seemed to need him. He gave me space and did not freak out at any point. Once I shouted for him to come because I just needed his physical support during a contraction, but otherwise he was always in the right place at the right time.
Anyway, we ran another bath and I got in, doing my bouncing up and down in a horizontal way up and down the bath every time a contraction developed. Richard sat there watching me, and I spent a lot of time giggling. He reminded me of my private beach (a visualisation technique on Maggie Howell's hypnotherapy CD) and I sank into that, doing little hand movements to him to demonstrate that I was thinking about the crabs moving along my private beach. I was completely in labour land’ at this point. And I think we both started to want some support. Richard said later that he became a bit worried because I was so out of it’ and not sure whether this was normal or not.
I was just getting out of the bath when Reike arrived at 11ish. She saw me and a huge smile came over her face, as it did mine. She asked whether I wanted her to examine me...I kind of did, but said that I would only consent if she thought that I was nearly there. She said that she was pretty sure that I was (I imagine her thinking, look woman, you´re standing up in the bath naked grinning away, have just been doing signs for crabs and giggling your head off I think you are getting there’!). At that moment I had a huge contraction and she knelt down, put her hand on the base of my spine and made exactly the same noise that I was making. That was the most beautiful sound I heard throughout my labour, until the birth of Beatrice, I felt so truly supported. Richard commented later that he realised at that moment how important women are to support other women at this time. Reike seemed to instinctively know exactly what I needed.
When she managed to examine me I was 8 cm dilated. Hurrah! Not long to go now. In the next hour I continued as before. About an hour later I was ready to push and the whole mood changed. I mostly lost my euphoria from that point on, apart from one point when I was overcome with tenderness for my husband and we started kissing enthusiastically on the bed.
The second midwife, Liesbet, arrived as I was beginning my transition, and I really resented her presence. She is a lovely woman, but seemed to arrive at completely the wrong time. Perhaps I also picked up that she was a little more conventional than Reike I found out later that she would have taken me to hospital in the hours ahead if she had been the leading midwife.
Anyway, I had a difficult transition. I could not understand the change in sensation and what I was meant to do with it. I had read so much about breathing out the baby, but that didn´t seem to make any sense to me. I was lying on the floor regularly changing between being freezing cold and boiling hot. And I felt extremely scared not of anything in particular, just the whole universe. I started to become frustrated and feel desperate I wanted to do’ something, to regain either the feeling that I had had, or at least to gain a feeling of control.
Finally, the transition period waned, my mind cleared, and I started to understand how to push. So, fine, I began to push. And babe began to move. Yeah! But then the babe would not stay down but would come back up. We went on like this for over 3 hours. Me pushing, babe moving down, and then going back up.
At some point around the beginning of the second stage I had thought that my waters had broken, because I could feel fluids trickling down my leg, and I felt inside my vagina to feel my baby´s head all smooth at the time I thought that this meant that s/he was completely hairless.
Baby´s heartbeat remained fine throughout this so for a long time there was not too much urgency. However, soon I could feel the anxiety seeping through. Reike and Liesbet began providing me with instructions about how to push. I tried but I kind of thought that I was pushing with all my might. I wanted to be in a standing squat, which I tried, but it made no difference. And so on, and so on. Despondency crept in.
Reike said that my waters had not broken and she could try breaking the membrane to see whether it helped I don´t think she really thought it would help but that anything was worth a try. I was sad for about 5 seconds, because I had had this romantic idea of baby being born in their caul. Anyway, it did not seem to help with the problem of babe bungey jumping back up inside me.
The midwives left the room to give me and Richard some space and for a discussion presumably. When they came back Reike explained that I had been pushing for 3 hours and that they did not know what the problem was. I was pushing, but the baby was not staying down. There was no physical obstacle, there was plenty of space. She couldn´t let me just keep on going to push because I had been losing a regular, although small, stream of blood. She suggested that she give me an episiotomy, and reassured me that she gave small, neat episiotomies whenever she had needed to do one. I was sad, but decided that was the best thing to do.
My husband, however, asked for a couple more contractions, which she was happy to give, and he really talked me through the next couple. I remembered from the back of my mind about the golden light that Maggie Howells talks about on her hypnotherapy CD and with the second contraction baby's head crowned. I was on my hands and knees at this point, and was so very relieved!
Reike told me to lean forward whilst awaiting the next contraction in order to get some rest I didn´t want to and said that I was worried that babe´s head would move back inside. She insisted it wouldn´t, so I followed her instruction, and whoosh, back moved the baby´s head. I was really pissed off! She and Liesbet took over at this point. Later she said that they were both worried that I would go into a rage from which I would not be able to emerge and concentrate. They encouraged me onto my left hand side and she held my leg, promising that babe´s head would come out again, no problem. And, of course it did crown again after another couple of contractions.
I was so relieved, but really determined now to push out the baby I did not wait for another contraction but pushed out the shoulders within the same contraction and felt pain, which I was slightly confused about, because I though it was the crowning that hurt (I had felt a sting when the head crowned going up towards my clitoris, and thought that I had probably torn). Reike moved the baby and passed babe to me.
I gazed at this amazing creature that I had spent so much time with over the previous 9 months and said hello’. And my babe gazed at me intently. Richard was crying, but I felt so very calm at this point. When Richard spoke babe looked towards him and I said, yes that is your daddy. Reike suggested we look at the sex but I could not deal with having to work it out (sounds stupid but I just needed her to tell me) and she said it´s a girl’.
Beatrice Joy was born at 4.34pm on 18th August. She was 2.56 kg or 5.6 lb smaller than I had imagined (I thought she would be about 7lbs). She began feeding about an hour after birth only on one breast though. She did not want to take the right breast, although the next day, she did.
I had a first degree tear up towards my clitoris. This gave me little trouble and healed very quickly. I did not have a natural third stage (as I had wanted) because I had lost quite a lot of blood over the second stage and Reike wanted to manage the placenta delivery. She did wait for the cord to stop pulsing (which it did very quickly), Richard cut the cord and she gave me an oxytocin injection, apologising as she did because she knew that I would have a couple of painful contractions.
So, why the long second stage? Firstly, it transpired that the cord was wrapped three times, very tightly, around Beatrice´s tummy. The pain that I felt on Beatrice´ shoulders coming out was because Reike had needed to unwrap the cord in order to pass Beatrice to me. Secondly, Reike said that I had very stiff vaginal muscles which seemed to contract Beatrice back up. Reike also said that she had found that I pushed much more effectively if she placed her fingers in my vagina something which she generally did not do because she liked to leave women to push alone. Beatrice was also smaller than we imagined, on basis of family birth weights (generally between 7 and 8lbs), and we wondered whether she had had difficulty getting nutrients during the last few weeks.
I am very thankful that Reike was my midwife she placed great trust in me, Richard and Beatrice to sort it out, at a time when the second midwife, Liesbet (who is lovely) would have bailed out and transported us to hospital.
I write this a year on from Beatrice’s birth and have the opportunity to reflect on what birthing at home provided. I would not have done anything differently. Next time (if/when?) I will probably be in the UK and I’m concerned that I might not have the same level of care, if independent midwives are prevented from practising in the UK.
Oh – my top tip for drink throughout labour and afterwards is fresh coconut water (made by Dr Martens). I bought this in healthfood shops here and have seen in Fresh and Wild and other places in the UK. It was the best!
I have felt incredibly empowered since Beatrice was born. I feel confident and alive, which has had an effect on all aspects of my life. I believe that we have developed a strong bond as a family, where Beatrice’s existence is celebrated every day. And, if you believe that there is a message to learn from every experience – I do find it difficult to finish things and often rely on my instincts will carry my through, perhaps hard work is sometimes necessary!
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Waterbirth at home
First Babies and homebirth
You may be expecting a small baby - what are the issues regarding homebirth?
Independent Midwives - what they do, and where to find one.
Transferring to hospital - why it might be advised.
Hypnotherapy for childbirth
The Third Stage of Labour - what are your options, and the pros and cons of each?
Home Birth Stories
Home Birth Reference Page