The Home Waterbirth of Robert

Lee and Robert

Lee, aged 2 years 5 months, holding Robert , aged about 1 week .

My first baby, Lee, was born at home two and a half years before this baby. Lee's birth story is online.

My second baby was due on 5th or 6th June. I was enjoying late pregnancy and was taken by surprise when he decided to arrive a week and a half early!

This birth story is in a rough-and-ready state, so please excuse the random jumps between present and past tense.

Friday 26 May lunchtime: had a show. Didn't notice this last time, but no mistaking this one - a large blob of jelly. Realise this means baby could arrive any time between that day and two weeks, and hope it's nearer two weeks as baby isn't due until 6th June, and I want him to 'cook' as long as he needs, and I like late pregnancy, and I have things to do!

Drive to my good friend Wendy's home in South-West London (1hr 15 mins journey each way) so Lee can exhaust her toddler instead of exhausting me. Maybe not a good idea in retrospect, but I wanted to carry on as if nothing was happening. Memo to self: next time you have any signs of approaching labour, get some rest!! I had period-type pains on way home - hoping nothing will happen for a few days though. Lee decides to be extremely hyperactive all evening and is quite a handful. My husband (DH) says Lee is like the actor Brian Blessed, ie his preferred volume in any conversation is a LOUD shout. I feel cold in the evening, but do not realise its significance - my mother has told me that animals usually have a temperature drop as labour approaches. At midnight I am knackered and still having period-type pains. I rub rose oil on my tummy - I know some people think it brings on contractions, but I felt a strong 'craving' for it. Lee is still going strong. At 12.30 I'm breastfeeding him to try to get him to settle down to sleep, thinking "I really hope I don't go into labour tonight", when there's a big gush of fluid. It smells salty and sweet - definitely amniotic fluid - and fortunately is clear (if it had been brownish or greenish then this would probably mean that the baby had passed meconium, ie had its first bowel movement - which can be a sign that it has been in distress).

I tell DH that the baby is likely to be born within the next 24 hours, and I think shortly afterwards I noticed mild contractions every 4 mins. DH (after a few glasses of wine earlier in the evening) gets extremely excited and starts putting up the birth pool, and suggesting that he read me Harry Potter stories through the labour to distract me. A lovely idea, but I don't fancy it at the moment! Lee eventually goes to sleep, and I check progress with the pool. DH has assembled it upside-down. He starts again. Contractions still very mild, really like Braxton-Hicks, so I'm hoping the baby might wait until tomorrow. Before long the pool is assembled, I've made sure that everything I need is in the sitting room with the pool, turned on immersion heater, checked the cats and pet rats all have food and water, and can focus on the task in hand.

Contractions still mild but regular. I phone the labour ward at Greenwich to say that I'm booked for a home birth with Vicky of Garland team, and am in early labour. "Oh no..." says the lady on the phone. Apparently they are snowed under, and Vicky is on duty in the ward for the third night in a row, but she will get her to call me. Vicky calls back and says she'll come out to assess me whenever I want, and that stresses that home birth bookings take priority so she will leave the labour ward whenever it's necessary. I don't know when I want her to come out - it all seems very mild, but I have no idea how fast a second labour might progress. My first was 9 hours and very steady. I decide to try to get some sleep and say I'll call Vicky again if things seem to step up a gear.

We go to bed at 2.30 AM - DH falls fast asleep (lucky git), while I lie on my side, with hot water bottles, having contractions every 4 mins and finding them increasingly uncomfortable. Doze in between. Give up at 3.30 AM as need to be on all fours for contractions. Look at Lee sleeping (we have a huge family bed) and feel a little sad that it will no longer be just me and him.

Start filling birth pool. Put lots of Lavender and Rose essential oils in the water to make the room smell nice. Feel absolutely knackered and just want to sleep. If I move at all, or am upright, contractions come every 2 minutes. If I lie on my side or stick my bum in the air, it's every 4 mins for the same duration. I'm desperate for sleep so go for the 4 minute option, dozing in between - but it's amazing to feel that I really could play this labour fast or slow. Drink tons and tons of fizzy water and have to keep going to the loo, which brings on a rash of contractions each time. Enjoy hearing the dawn chorus at 4AM - didn't realise it got light so early. Lovely birdsong and the garden looks very peaceful. However, I'm not 'enjoying' this labour like the last one, because I'm so tired. I could wake DH, but I'm not sure if I want company or not.

I call Vicky at 5.30 and ask her to come out to assess me, as I'm worried things could suddenly step up. She arrives at 6AM. Contractions still short but reasonably hard work, and I'd like to be in the pool but decide to save that for when I really need it. I ask Vicky to examine me - she says there's no need, but she will if I want. I want her to because I think I'll be really far along, but I'm only 3cm dilated. This is a surprise as, when I was in labour with Lee, I'm sure the contractions weren't this much work at the one time I was examined, and I was 4-5 cm then. Vicky reminds me that with second labours, a VE doesn't tell you much as you can ping open very quickly - and I think this was why she didn't really want to do one. During the examination, Vicky noted that the bag of waters was still bulging in front of the baby's head, so the large gush of fluid I'd had earlier was a hindwater leak. I was glad to hear this as it meant that the forewaters could still provide valuable cushioning for the baby's head during the labour.

Vicky decided to stay with me as I was in established labour. She is really good company - very bubbly and friendly and helpful - and I liked having her there. I asked to be assigned to Garland team because I knew Vicky and Norma, who attended Lee's birth, from my last pregnancy. Norma was on holiday, but Vicky had promised to do her best to attend this labour personally; I do realise that I have been very lucky to get this sort of care.

I stay in the sitting room with just a lava lamp for dim lighting, and music on quietly. I used a birth ball (large inflatable rubber ball, about 18" diameter) for a couple of contractions, leaning over it and rocking round and round, but mainly I have to be on all fours, rocking, circling my hips, and humming. I focus on breathing out slowly and calmly during contractions, and just let breathing in happen of its own accord. The Active Birth classes I took during my first pregnancy, and the yoga classes I have attended for the last 18 months, are still a great help in this. I also keep reminding myself of Alexander Technique directions - keeping my neck free, and relaxing my back. The body has to work so hard in labour, that any unnecessary muscle tension seems like a waste of energy - and of course, could cause pain.

I decided to save the pool for when I felt I really needed it. Vicky wanted to know if I was going to give birth in the water or out - I said I'd take it as it comes. I think I got in the pool just before 7AM, but should probably have done it sooner. The relief was not as dramatic this time as it was in my first labour - the contractions seemed to get harder more rapidly this time, whereas before they built up very gradually. However, the pool was still very helpful - it was soothing and warm, like being cuddled. It was only during brief excursions out of the water that I appreciated how much difference it made - I was desperate to get in again before another contraction came. The contractions seemed to become further apart for a while after I entered the pool, which allowed me to rest some more.

I asked Vicky to wake DH up, and I phoned two close friends, Antonia and Wendy, who I had asked to help out with Lee. During the pregnancy I had been very worried that Lee might need attention from DH during the labour, and I didn't want to have to share my husband with anyone then - it was unthinkable that I might have to labour without his support and back rubs! I stressed to my friends that there was no rush, partly because I really didn't know when the baby was likely to arrive, and partly because I was ambivalent about having people there. I was glad when DH came down, and wished that I had woken him up earlier. He seems amazed that I let him sleep in so long!

Contractions still didn't seem to last an awful long time, nor did they seem to be changing much - still hard work, but at no point in this labour were they ever as hard as the worst ones in my first labour, nor as mild as the milder ones at the start of it. The sensation was quite different, too - until transition/second stage last time, I felt contractions more as intense muscular effort than what I would call 'pain', but these felt more like pain under my bump. I tried to relax and breathe through the tension, but feel that lack of sleep was responsible for a lot of the discomfort - and perhaps my attitude, since I really did feel cheated of a night's sleep! Why couldn't it have waited until morning??!

I was aware in the labour that my attitude would affect the way I felt contractions, so I did try to focus on all those thoughts of every contraction bringing my baby closer, and my body opening like a flower, etc, etc... A song I had been listening to the previous day was stuck in my head - Jefferson Airplane (or were they called Starship by this time?), don't know the title but there was a line about "There are children being born who will amaze you with their sight....". Blame my parents for this - I was brought up in the hippy tradition! Anyway, I loved that song in labour - in my head (and sometimes in body) I was singing it, and thinking of those children being born! I also thought of an image which helped me to focus on my breathing, which I have practised when doing yoga. As I breathed in, I'd visualise the branches of a tree growing rapidly, as in time-lapse photography, and I would think about freeing my neck and spine upwards and forwards. As I breathed out, I'd visualise the roots of the tree spreading through the ground, growing as I watched, and would think about relaxing downwards... if that makes sense. I don't want to sound like a complete airhead, because really I'm not (honest!), but this really did help with contractions. As with last time, I really valued the gaps between contractions when I felt clear-headed, and just 'me'. Entonox ('gas and air') was available in the midwife's birth kit, but I didn't want to use it in case it affected my state of mind. I just wanted to deal with contractions as they happened, and to enjoy the rests in between.

At about 8AM the contractions started to feel different - not 'pushy' yet, but a lot harder, and I felt joint pain in my pelvis - my sacro-iliac joints I think. I know this means big progress, and that the baby is really moving down. Soon I start to feel 'pre-pushy', ie no urge to push yet, but I can tell it won't be long. Vicky asks if I feel any urge to push; no, and I explain that I'm determined not to do any deliberate pushing, just to let my body decide on its own, and to only push when I can't stop myself. Contractions are becoming very hard work and I'm having to hum ('Ommmmm...') and moan through them. Antonia, Lee's godmother, arrived between contractions and I immediately asked her to check Lee as I thought I heard him waking.

At some time towards 8.30 I started getting irresistible pushing urges, so I went with the flow, only pushing when my body did it involuntarily, and keeping quiet in between. At this point, Vicky started asking "Are you feeling any urge to push?" I don't manage to reply, but am thinking "What do you THINK I'm doing?". The backup midwife, Rose, arrives at 8.30. Vicky is asking me to come over to be examined, and do I want to sit on a stool, and do I feel any urge yet, and can we bail some water out as it's too deep to deliver in if I'm staying on all fours... I hear her asking Rose and what about long gloves, and I was wondering what on earth she wanted gloves for, since she wouldn't be needing to have her hands in the water! I studiously ignore all this, as I am getting on with the job of giving birth and know exactly what I am doing!! I do manage to say "No" when Vicky asks if she can examine me. Wonders of a birth pool: no-one can get near you to examine you without your co-operation! I just edge backwards towards DH with each contractions so he can rub my back. DH said later that it was completely obvious to him that the baby was going to be born soon regardless, so he didn't know why Vicky was bothering!

I pull myself upright with hands on the edge of birth pool, kneeling upright on the floor - just like last time. Feel baby's head moving down. Feel the head crowning. The head feels like it's one-third of the way out, but I'm not deliberately pushing. The contraction ends and I feel that 'ring of fire' continuing - it's so hard not to push when I know that one good shove would get the head out and stop the burning, but I don't. Another contraction, another lull, more relaxing and panting, then another and the head is born. More burning, another wait for the body. Vicky was worrying about the baby's head hitting the floor of the pool. I'm thinking "Stop fussing, woman - I know what I'm doing". I semi-stand up to deliver the body, and see hands reaching for my baby - I say "Don't grab the baby!" and keep hold of him. I stand up fully, and out comes a baby! I don't think that the midwife was trying to take the baby by the way - she was just there in case he needed to be 'caught'. I stand up and cuddle the baby, immediately check the sex and see that it's a boy. I tell DH. I remember noticing a little mucus in his nose and mouth, so I held him leaning forward over my arm so that it could drain - which it did, quickly and easily. I think of sitting down in the pool again for a rest, but decide to get out and have a nice comfy chair. Antonia brings Lee downstairs - he has just woken up, and sees his brother just seconds after birth. I look down at the pool and see that the water is clear - hey, no blood! Does that mean no tears?

DH and I had agreed that he would choose the name if it was a boy, and I would if it was a girl. He had been certain that this baby was a boy throughout, and had named him Robert.

Vicky reckons my second stage was only about 6 mins, compared to 1 hr 15 last time, but it could be a bit longer as she doesn't know when I started pushing. I had no sense of time, so can't really tell.

I get out of the pool, sit down on the sofa, and cuddle my baby, and Lee on the other side - feeling thrilled, very 'buzzy' - that post-birth euphoria. I didn't get that at all last time - I felt 'high' during the labour, but a little flat after the birth. Not this time. Thrilled with my baby, but he looks so small. I am determined not to be separated from him. We sit down and Vicky comes over to check on us.

My other friend, Wendy, arrived - with her husband Haydon, and toddler Monica as well as her baby, which I wasn't expecting. With several good friends there, it was as if we had a post-birth party! However, the house did seem quite crowded, with two midwives, and all our visitors. In future I would be careful to preserve the intimacy of the family in that special time immediately after the birth - it was very nice for me, sitting there cuddling my lovely newborn, but I feel now that DH, Lee, Robert and I would have benefited from a little private time together as a family, before the birth was celebrated with our friends.

I had planned a physiological (drug-free) third stage, on the understanding that the midwife would administer drugs if she was worried about my bleeding. I asked Vicky not to clamp the cord as I wanted to wait until the placenta was delivered, which she was perfectly happy with. One big advantage of this is that your baby has to stay cuddled up to you the whole time - enforced bonding! No-one can take him away to be weighed and measured and fussed over, leaving you to get on with the messy and boring part... I was not looking forward to the third stage as last time it took over an hour, but this time I was much more aware of contractions and pushed properly with them. I tried squatting and felt like I wanted to go to the loo - oh no, I managed to avoid crapping in the birth pool, but now I was going to do it on the floor! Vicky said that would just be the placenta, and to push, but I didn't believe her. It was only about 10 minutes after the birth, and surely it couldn't all be over that quickly? However, a little push and there it was - with just a tiny smidgen of blood (estimated 100mls). Was that it? Amazingly easy! The cord was tied with string, not a hard plastic clamp, and DH cut it.

I kept the baby with me while Vicky checked him, then I grudgingly let go of him for a minute as he was weighed. Only 8 lbs - a lot smaller than Lee's 9lb 6 oz, although with 11 more days to go he would probably have been bigger had he held on. Vicky examined me and - hooray - no tears or even grazes! Wendy and Haydon cracked open some champagne they'd brought with them, and Vicky offered to get us some breakfast. I think she should be getting some sleep instead!

Midwife Vicky is great, and was wonderful in the first stage, but I had suspected she would be more active in second stage than Norma, who sat quietly and watched while Lee was born. I had not appreciated before how unusual my first birth was, in that the midwife displayed great confidence in my ability to give birth on my own, to handle second stage myself, and in her declaration that I would know instinctively what to do. I realise now that the atmosphere of quiet and calm at the end of that first birth was also unusual. Robert's second stage was not as quiet - there was quite a lot of background noise which I found mildly offputting. This was not really a problem though - I just got on with it and did my own thing anyway. The two midwives both seemed to think this was an unusual approach, but hopefully they liked it!

I should have explained in my birth plan how I would like the second stage to be managed - ideally with the midwife just sitting and watching. It seems funny to me that I spend so much time writing and reading about home birth, but I still hadn't managed to plan this one properly! However, I didn't realise until this birth quite how I would feel about this sort of thing. One thing I was sure of - I was keen to avoid tearing, and in the event I knew what to do on my own. And I'm so glad I did, by the way... women, this intact perineum thing is great! It is worth working for!

And now, five weeks later: Robert is a wonderful baby, very calm and contented. I'm aware that this may change later (NB Yes it bloomin' did!! I now think it's a myth about homebirth babies being more contented! )! He is a very efficient feeder, is growing well, and sleeps well at night. Because we have a family bed, there have been no sleepless nights so far - I just feed him on my side lying down, frequently falling asleep while doing so, and he wakes maybe once or twice a night for a guzzle. Long may it continue! During the day he follows a fairly normal newborn breastfeeding pattern, which involves feeding perhaps every hour or so, and occasionally goes for two hours while sleeping. This may sound like a lot, but it's perfectly normal because the newborn's stomach is so small, and breastmilk so easily digested. It's no trouble at all as I usually feed him in an over-the-shoulder sling and can do it while reading a book or walking around.

I'm still breastfeeding Lee briefly, a couple of times a day, and I've fed him and Robert together a few times - quite hard to arrange, but cute. Lee is amazingly gentle with Robert so far, and likes to stroke his head while they feed together, or to cuddle Robert while he is feeding. I hope it carries on this way, and am very glad I'm still feeding Lee as it seems a great way to reassure him that I still love him and to spend close time with him. I am counting my blessings and feeling very lucky. DH and I both can't wait for more children!

Cup of tea with Vicky afterwards..

With midwife Vicky shortly after the birth. Robert having his first feed, and me enjoying that cup of tea!

Postscript: Bobby and Lee tandem-nursed for six months, until Lee was ready to stop breastfeeding. I think this helped them to bond; Lee was absolutely brilliant with Bobby and, three years on, I can honestly say that we have never had any jealousy problems. Lee was just delighted to have a baby brother - and it meant he got more milk, too! At the time, tandem nursing definitely felt like the right thing to do - Lee was very attached to me and was a bit nervous as a toddler, but he got to cling and nurse as much as he wanted, and now he is a very confident boy. Bobby and Lee do a lot of recreational fighting nowadays, but they love each other and play together well.

Bobby was more independent than Lee as a toddler - typical second child - and he was also ready to stop nursing earlier, so I did not tandem-feed him with my next baby. I'm glad of that, because I think I would have found the extra demands on my time and patience a bit much. Tandem nursing is one of those things that felt right at the time, was certainly the best thing to do by far, have never regretted it - but was glad not to need to do it again next time!

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