Nina was born at home in Edinburgh on 12th December 2007. I had had a very straightforward pregnancy, although I’d had several extra scans: on two occasions, there were concerns that the baby was on the small side, so I had growth scans; and late in the pregnancy they thought she might be breech, so I had a scan to check her position. I’m pretty sure that these extra checks were all because I was having a home birth – one of the midwives indicated that I wouldn’t have had the extra scans for a hospital birth. It was a bit of a faff, but I was prepared to put up with the inconvenience to guarantee staying at home! All the scans came back fine – as I expected.
My husband Keith and I had opted for a home birth from early in the pregnancy and this decision was well supported by my local midwife team, even though this was my first pregnancy. My antenatal appointments were arranged with a variety of midwives so that I would have the chance to meet as many of the team as possible – there were 13 midwives in the team, any two of whom might attend the birth. The plan was that whoever turned up on the day would hopefully be a midwife I’d met before.
Nina’s due date was the 10th of December and after this date came and went I became convinced that she’d be really overdue – so I was really surprised to wake up at 2.30am on the 12th with a show of blood and a trickle of what I thought were my waters breaking. I couldn’t be sure, though, because there was quite a lot of show, and I wasn’t sure what was show and what was amniotic fluid. I woke Keith up to tell him things were happening and shortly afterwards I started to get contractions. Right from the beginning they were quite close together, and lasting 30-45 seconds. This took us by surprise, as with a first baby we expected to have a very long first stage. By about 4am we had timed a few contractions and as they were less than 5 minutes apart we thought we should phone the midwives.
The on-call midwife was with us by 5am, however in the meantime I’d had a bath and things seemed to have slowed down. The midwife checked my blood pressure and I had a few mild contractions while she was here. She wasn’t able to establish whether my waters had broken (apparently they have to do some kind of swab to check, and she didn’t think it was worth doing at this stage) and because the pain of the contractions was entirely in my back she suggested that we were seeing signs of very early labour. She left at about 6am and told us to get in touch again later on once things had progressed. I was still getting pink, liquidy discharge and needed to wear a thick sanitary towel – this continued all morning.
Feeling a little sheepish we decided to go back to bed to try and get some sleep, but as soon as I lay down, the contractions started up properly again. I left Keith sleeping until 8am whilst I went through to the living room and tried to distract myself by watching a DVD. By the time Keith got back up the contractions were quite close together again, and increasingly painful – but still concentrated in my lower back with little pain around the bump. Keith helped me to put a TENS machine on which immediately gave some relief. We timed the contractions again and they were lasting about 45 seconds and coming less than five minutes apart – however they weren’t particularly regular and therefore, with the concentration still in my back, we thought we were still seeing just early signs.
At about 10am we decided to go for a walk in the park! We thought this might help to move things along a bit – still being convinced that I wasn’t in established labour. I had the TENS machine in my pocket and every few minutes I had to stop and grip Keith’s hands while I had another contraction. When we got back I spent some time moving around the flat, rolling on my gym ball, and asking Keith to massage my lower back really hard (which helped a lot!).
By midday the contractions were much more painful (but still only in my back!) and we thought we should phone the midwife team again to give them an update. Before we could do this, they called us to say they would be out for a check-up at about 1.30pm. I carried on with the pacing and back massage until the midwife, Karen, turned up. She had a student with her and was obviously expecting for me not to have progressed much from when her colleague saw me early in the morning. I was having a contraction when she came in the room, and then when she saw me having another two minutes later she realised that things were moving. She offered to examine me, and reported that I was a good 5cm dilated! This was a real relief as I’d convinced myself I wasn’t in established labour. Karen said that she needed to go and pick up some stuff and would be back within the hour to stay until the baby was born.
By the time Karen got back at 3pm the contractions had got very intense and I was feeling an urge to push. Karen examined me again and to everybody’s surprise I was fully dilated! Having survived on just the TENS machine up until this point I requested (demanded!) some gas and air which Karen set up for me. She then went to phone the second midwife, and arranged things in the flat for the second stage. Keith had already liberally spread some plastic sheeting around the living room.
Karen told me that I could start to push and that’s when things started to get a bit more difficult. It took me a while to get the hang of breathing effectively with the contractions; and things were made a bit complicated by the fact that Nina had her hand up in front of her face and some swelling on her head – all of which contributed to a long second stage: 2 hours 40 mins of pushing! Karen and the second midwife, Marie, were very supportive and encouraging, and got me to change positions frequently to try to move things along.
Having spoken to some friends and my NCT teacher about the local hospital’s approach to the second stage, I found out that they don’t let you push for more than an hour before they move towards intervention. I’m so pleased I was at home, because otherwise I’m sure I would have been pressured into a forceps delivery. As it happened, every time Karen listened in to the baby, the heart rate was absolutely steady and showed no signs of distress. I remember, quite close to the end, Karen saying "this baby’s not fazed by anything!" So they were quite happy to let me carry on at home.
I was pretty out of it on gas and air, didn’t speak much, and just did as I was told in terms of moving positions. I still had the TENS machine on, which wasn’t really doing much by this point – Keith tried to take it off me, but one of the sticky pads got caught on his finger and gave him an electric shock! Finally, Karen said the best thing I’d heard all day – "don’t push on the next contraction" and Nina’s head was born. Karen said that Nina was sticking her tongue out at her! With the next contraction I gave a really big push and Nina came out.
Karen caught her and I sat back to have my first hold of my daughter! I felt really overwhelmed and started to cry a bit, then Keith came round to my side and we both looked together and discovered that she was a girl – I remember repeating "I knew it was going to be a girl" over and over again, along with "she’s so beautiful!". Nina was born at exactly 6pm – only 12 hours after being told I was in the very early stages of labour; not bad for a first baby!
I had opted to let the placenta come out naturally, and Karen helped me to turn round and sit down against the sofa. I was so tired from a long second stage that after a few minutes I decided that I wanted to get everything over with and asked Karen to give me the injection to speed up the placenta. It came out within 10 minutes, much to my relief! Karen and Marie checked me over and to my amazement I hadn’t torn and didn’t need any stitches. They helped the three of us through to our bedroom and left us alone for about 45 minutes to have some time as a family. In the meantime, they did a fantastic job of cleaning up the flat – they even made us cups of tea and some food! After this, Nina had her checks and weighed in at 6lb 11oz; Karen cleaned her up while Marie helped me to have a shower. Then, after helping me to give Nina her first feed, they left us to get on with our first night as a family! Keith phoned us a pizza (I was starving!) and we sat in our bed marvelling at our beautiful daughter.
We had a really fantastic experience and would definitely have another home birth in the future. We were very well supported by our midwives and they played a huge part in making the experience so positive – we can’t thank them enough. I would definitely use a TENS machine again; it was really effective in the first stage and the booster button provided a good focal point for the beginning and end of contractions. The only slightly difficult thing about being at home was that I didn’t get the hang of breastfeeding too well, and the midwives had left at 9pm and weren’t back until the next morning. I don’t think this would have been a problem with a second baby, but because she was my first, I wasn’t managing it very well and neither was Nina. This ended up being a bit stressful, but all in all it didn’t detract from what was a great experience overall.
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