My name is Sarah Harradence. My husband and I planned a home birth from the moment we found out I was pregnant after eight seemingly long months of trying for a baby. Our decision was mainly based on my aversion to hospitals and my desire to stay in control of my situation. Another major factor that made us comfortable with the idea of home birth was the fact that we live 5 minutes from the hospital. Also the midwife I was assigned to was very encouraging and supportive of the idea. I did come across a few people who thought I was mad even to consider a home birth, some said I wouldn't or shouldn't be allowed with my first and the majority of people said I was very brave. However, the more we investigated home birth vs hospital the more I felt convinced that it was what I wanted. The idea of an epidural frightned me more than anything else and I was worried that I would get swept along with suggestions of procedures I wanted to try and avoid as I would have, politely, felt I ought to do as I was told in the hospital.
My pregnancy went brilliantly, no morning sickness or usual pregnancy symptoms, just very puffy feet and ankles towards the end. This meant I was well on track for a home birth. I was fully aware though that at the end of the day if I needed to go to hospital for the safety of the baby's or my own health then I would. I did try to make sure that I was prepared for a change of plan so that I wouldn't be too disappointed if complications occurred.
I attended Lamaze classes which were brilliant and helped me to decide that I wanted an active birth, possibly with a birth pool and certainly with lots of lovely things such as massage, calm music and energy giving food. Sounded like a wonderful day out at the spa to me, with the added stress of actually having to give birth between relaxing pleasures! Still the classes prepared us brilliantly and we felt equipped to deal with all possible scenarios including ones that were at the other end of the spectrum to our birth plan. I felt I had some idea of how the pain would feel and it turned out that the descriptions given were pretty spot on.
My husband and I were now as ready as we would ever be. I had shopped till my poor feet gave up and the nursery was ready. Baby, however, wasn't. We knew we were having a boy and had named him Ethan (subject to change if he didn't look like an Ethan). Ethan decided to stay inside for an extra 10 days. We were very accurate with our dates and I was convinced he would only be a couple of days late. I was wrong! I felt huge by this time and was climbing the walls (if only climbing was possible when 9 months pregnant!) with boredom.
Finally on, Saturday 2nd December in the morning, I began to feel twinges in my abdomen, just like mild period pain that came and went every so often. Luckily the classes has prepared us for false alarms and pre labour pains that could last ages, this didn't stop us feeling incredibly excited that meeting our child was now imminent. We were due to go out to lunch with my family in Thame (we live in Reading) so after a short discussion we decided to go as I wanted to get out of the house and see everybody. We had a big lunch and told no one that we thought things were beginning to happen. I was convinced that at some point my waters would break dramatically and I would cause an exciting drama, this didn't happen though and we had a long walk/ waddle around the shops before heading home.
We had finally decided on a water birth after my new midwife sang their praises. We plumped for an inflatable pool that you buy rather than the type you hire. Weirdly it worked out cheaper and looked comfier. I was so excited about using it, hoping desperately that nothing went wrong and we had wasted money on a large paddling pool that was sat in our dining room. We debated whether to fill it that evening but decided that as I was still only experiencing light contractions that we would wait, we tried to get an early night that night as we both thought we may be up later for the birth. Next morning arrived however and the situation was still similar except my husband had had a full night's sleep and I had had a terrible night sleeping in a chair, waking every ten minutes to breathe gently through a contraction, all still very manageable at this time.
We felt by now that it couldn't be a false alarm as the contractions were continuing steadily but we were concerned at how slowly things were progressing - we kept looking at books and our lamaze notes to determine which stage we could be at. Sunday lunchtime we rang the midwives, who sent someone to see how I was progressing. I was keen not to have lots of internal examinations but decided that I wanted to know if I was actually dilating or not. I was told that I was only about 2 cm dilated. I felt rather disappointed that it wasn't more and pleased that it was actually happening. The midwife did a stretch and sweep, which was not as bad as it sounded, and left us to it again with instructions to call if we needed to or if the contractions were 5 minutes apart.
We had a light supper, my husband began to fill the birth pool and we settled down to watch a lot of television. We watched Lost, about 4 episodes of 24 and then tried to watch the film V for Vendetta. I was annoying my husband by loudly panting every 10 minutes or so as a contraction swept over me- still nothing to take the breath away yet. Finally though, at about midnight, I realised that I was missing what was going on with the film as the contractions were forcing me to focus on the pain and they were getting stronger and more frequent. We rang the midwife. We were really disappointed to be told that we may have to go into hospital as there may not be enough midwives available to spare two for us. We felt rather resigned to the fact that we would probably end up in hospital and decided that perhaps I ought to get into the pool just to say we had used it. We were advised not to though, as it can slow progress, and I had had a sleep earlier which I felt had slowed things down a bit already. One midwife was sent to see how I was doing and it was hoped that another would be found later in the night who could attend.
Note from Angela: Due to staffing problems it is increasingly common for women to be asked to transfer to hospital because "we can't spare any midwives". You do not have to agree to go to hospital; if you state clearly that you are staying home, midwives are usually found. See Home Birth in the UK for more info.
I was feeling tired by now but still really excited. The pain of my contractions by this point meant that I needed to move about and stand up. I leaned against our dresser and kept lifting up on to my tip toes, pacing through each wave of pain, my eyes were closed and I leant forward and chanted my mantra in my head as I breathed very deeply. My mantra was "the contraction will end, you can get through this". It was the piece of advice that I clung to most, that when the contraction was over you could rest and the pain would go; it was true and that was how I got through each time. My husband massaged my back and offered drinks, reminded me to keep going to the loo and put soothing music on. I had a sudden memory that someone had said I could take paracetemol, so I had two at about 2am!, they did nothing but I think I was getting more and more detached by this point. I felt like a lot of the time I was watching from afar and had mentally focussed so much on the contractions and I was so tired that things felt very distant at times.
The midwife was very supportive and helped me get into to the pool to relax; it felt absolutely wonderful, warm and dreamlike. I floated on my back and bobbed around between contractions - it was fantastic not to feel so heavy and huge. I kneeled on the inflated, soft bottom and leaned over the wide edge and gripped the handles or my husband as the contractions came over me. As I felt one coming I moved into that postion every time. I got out agaign after an hour or two; apparently my husband was topping up the heat with kettles at that point, but I don't remember. My husband then went to get a couple of hours sleep as not a lot was happening and I was thinking that by now I was so tired that I wouldn't be able to look after the baby when it finally arrived.
At 6am the midwife suggested that she break my waters. They still hadn't gone, despite many hours spent during pregnancy of imagining they would gush everywhere in John Lewis or such like. I agreed and while I sat leaning back in a chair (I refused to lie down) the midwife had a good poke around. This was very uncomfortable and nothing seemed to happen but as I stood up a disappointingly small amount of water did trickle down my legs onto the towel ready on the floor (so not on the new carpets in a huge bloody gush, as my husband had feared!). A much stronger contraction soon came over me and we woke my husband. I got back into the pool - the hardest part about the pool was getting in and out. It was very undignified but I was over any embarrassment by that point and was happily floating naked like a huge white whale in the middle of the dining room.
In my head I suddenly knew that I was going to start pushing soon. I didn't say anything and tried to hold back for a while as I knew that I was going to need all my energy. The midwife kept trying to get me to eat but I didn't feel like it. At some point my husband fed me a spoonful of honey for some energy. The midwife was, by this point, rather desperately ringing around to get someone else to come out to me. I finally had to give in to what my body was telling me to do and I started pushing. I was totally in my own world by this point; during each push I couldn't hear or see what was going on around me and as each contraction subsided it was like coming round from being unconscious - I could gradually hear and see again, although I could barely speak, then I would go off again as the next one built up and overwhelmed me.
The poor midwife was rather worried by this point and, as she hadn't done enough water birth deliveries and was on her own, decided I should get out and move to the sitting room to deliver. They hoisted me out and I settled down to kneel on the sofa cushions leaning up against the back of the sofa. Still pushing down as if doing a poo. (not pleasant but a very accurate description). I tried a puff of gas and air at this point but after two quick puffs felt nothing and pushed it away. Later I realised I hadn't breathed deeply enough or at the right point in the contraction. As I pushed I was slightly aware that another midwife had arrived - he was male. He said he had experience of lots of water births and it was decided to get me back into the pool for the delivery. I was so pleased as I wasn't sure my knees could stand the weight of me without the water to help, and kneeling up was definitely my preferred postion.
Note from Angela: It's not clear to me why so many midwives are nervous about attending waterbirths, as the training and additional skills required are not that onerous. For more discussion, see Waterbirth at Home. You do not have to leave the birthpool even if the attending midwife says she's not qualified to attend waterbirths, but if you are considering taking such a stand, obviously you and your birth partner need to know what the issues are. Most important is not to let water temperature go above 37C as this can lead to the baby overheating in the womb, and to give birth either under the water, or out of it, but not in between; if baby's face emerges above the water then you have to keep his face out, otherwise he might try to breathe underwater. And once baby is born, make sure he is warm - and get out of the pool after the birth if it's much below 36C.
Back in the pool I was now crying and saying I couldn't do it and I felt like we were never going to see the baby. I knew that as I was pushing I was pooing in the pool but the kit had contained a sieve for this purpose and it was put to good use! I thought I would be so embarrasssed by that happening but I couldn't have cared less at that moment. I even had a sort of 'ha serves you right' feeling about the thought of my husband cleaning the pool out. Everyone was very encouraging but I had lost some of my focus and was so tired by now that I was making quite a lot of noise as I pushed. Finally the male midwife made me look right at him (I couldn't have even told you what colour hair he had before that moment) and said to use all the effort I was putting into making noise into pushing down through my bottom. I really latched onto his words and went for it with renewed determination and I made each push last longer.
I could, at last, feel the baby's head coming between my legs. I kept waiting for a burning sensation that I wouldn't be able to cope with and it was agony but I realised I was okay and I kept going. The midwife kept asking if I could feel the head and could I reach down and touch it, but I'm so squeamish and it all felt so strange that I didn't want to. He kept asking and then asked if he could feel for it. I nodded and he confirmed to the others that the head was there. With the next push I could feel the whole head was out and between my legs, just sort of hanging there. I remember vaguely thinking that the rest of the baby should just sort of slither out like it did on the programmes I had seen, but I realised it wasn't happening and I was going to have to push more to get the body out. I did another two long pushes to get Ethan out; he apparently had very wide shoulders which got stuck. The midwife scooped up Ethan as he floated up behind me. I was in an absolute daze and remember hearing them say "Don't worry that he's not crying, he's breathing and he's fine." I remember thinking that I wasn't worrying about that and maybe I should have been! My husband cut the cord. I was now shivering despite the warmth of the pool and I think I went into shock at that point. My husband held and cuddled Ethan. I vaguely remember him showing me the baby and I kissed him but I don't remember what he looked like at that point. It was 8.42am. Ethan looked long according to my husband, he was a gorgeous colour and very clean looking. He weighed 8lb 7oz.
I was hoisted out of the pool again and I staggered through to the living room to deliver the placenta. I really couldn't seem to get warm and was wrapped in blankets as I pushed a very large and gross placenta out. I tried not to look at it but was told it was impressively large, I wasn't sure if I was supposed feel proud or not?! I had not torn, I was just extremely bruised, sore and tired. I felt totally overwhelmed by the whole thing, that I'd actually done it and it was over. I attempted to breast feed there and then but struggled with that pain on top of everything I'd just been through. Eventually we gave Ethan a bottle and I'm afraid we never got to grips with breastfeeding.
Note from Angela: Sarah was very unfortunate here - it's really unusual for breastfeeding to be painful at the very first try. Although it's very common to get some soreness after a day or two, if this doesn't pass quickly then a positioning problem is a possibility. Pain on the first attempt at breastfeeding would normally be caused by an awkward latch. See the links page for breastfeeding support organizations - it's good to have their details handy before you give birth, so that they are easy to contact if you need them.
The midwives swapped over as they had stayed beyond the end of their shifts and another lovely midwife stayed while I showered, had hot, sweet tea and some food, she did some paperwork, weighed Ethan etc and then we were left alone. After marvelling at our new son and the miracle of birth, how amazing that one minute the baby is inside you and the next out in the world perfectly formed and developed. Ethan and I then went to sleep for a while in our own comfy beds and my husband emptied the birth pool! We awoke later as the midwife came back that afternoon and I felt much more relaxed and less tearful - the high hormones were starting to kick in! I recovered very quickly from the birth and we definitely want to have the next baby at home. It was a very positive experience and my husband and the midwives were brilliant.
Home Birth Stories
Pain relief - what are your options at home?
Waterbirth at home
First Babies and homebirth
Home Birth in the UK - your rights, and what to do if you're told that staffing shortages threaten your birth plans.
The Third Stage of Labour - what are your options, and the pros and cons of each?
Home Birth Reference Page
Home Birth Reference Page