My home birth stories actually start with Freya, born in hospital in October 1997. She was my first baby, conceived after four years of trying. By the time I fell pregnant with her, I'd actually given up the idea of having children and dismissed early morning sickness as a tummy bug. After a fortnight of watching me throw up it was in fact my partner Nigel who suggested a pregnancy test and when the two blue lines appeared my whole mind and body just went into shock.
The first thing I did was cry. The next thing was to see my G.P., particularly important for me because I am manic depressive and was taking lithium, a long term drug therapy used to control the illness. Unfortunately lithium can also cause heart defects in the foetus if taken in the first trimester and isn't recomended for use in pregnant or breastfeeding women at all. This meant that I was facing nine months of hormonal and emotional upheaval with no lithium to keep me sane.
I spent the next week in a local community psychiatric unit, talking to doctors and nurses about how I could cope. I'd already been an in-patient in the psychiatric hospital four times, once under section 3, and most people just assumed I'd be back.
One thing I did know is that I wanted a home birth. When I mentioned this, I discovered pretty quickly that nobody else felt the same. Based on the fact that it was a first baby but mostly, it has to be said, on my illness, none of the midwives, doctors or nurses I spoke to would support me. My obstetrician refused to recomend a home birth, as did my GP. So I resigned myself to a hospital birth and concentrated instead on how I would make that a positive experience. Things do sometimes have a habit of going awry, though.
The whole pregnancy was in the end quite straightforward. I continued seeing my psychiatrist, who was brilliant, and my social worker. It would be a lie to say it was easy, and my social worker left to start a new job when I was about seven months gone, but physically I was well and there were no concerns about the pregnancy. That is, until I reached thirty six weeks and apparently went into labour.
We drove to the hospital at about eleven pm after phoning and being told to come in. My contractions were about four minutes apart and I was really frightened. A doctor examined me on arrival and told me I was two and a half centimetres and in early labour. We were left in the labour suite 'to progress'. After an hour or so the pains tailed off -
by morning there was nothing. They sent me for a scan where they decided the baby was small for dates and kept me in for monitoring.
When I saw the consultant and asked when we could go home, he told me that because of my history and concern that my baby wasn't growing they wanted me to stay until I gave birth. This, he told me, could be weeks. All the fear and the stress got to me then. Most of the day I spent crying. I began to believe that they were going to take my baby off me. In the end Nigel told the staff that unless I went home there was a real danger of me becoming ill again.
I was allowed home if I came in every other day for monitoring, which meant a journey of roughly 20 miles there and back again. This went on for two weeks. My baby's birthweight was estimated at under five pounds. Eventually, on October 26th, a full ten days before my EDD, I was talked into being induced for the sake of my health and my baby.
At about 1pm a doctor broke my waters. I'd had nothing to eat since breakfast and wasn't allowed anything until the baby was born. We waited, but nothing happened. An hour later, I was put on a drip to start labour. By half past two, contractions had started. Two hours later, they were starting to hurt, so we called the midwife. She offered gas and air - which I took!
By five o'clock, I was thinking I couldn't cope with any more - we called the midwife back and asked for an epidural. She went to call the anaesthetist, but he was attending an emergency. She examined me and told me that as I was now 7 cm it was too late anyway. An hour later I wanted to push. I remember them saying the baby's heartbeat was dipping and being told I would need an episiotomy, but not why. Freya was born after fifteen minutes of pushing. She weighed 6 pounds 2 ounces. She didn't cry, she was pink, she was perfect. I still don't know why I had an episiotomy, or why they thought she was small for dates, or why really I was induced.
With a lot of support from Maddy, my psychiatrist, and Melanie, my midwife, and Nigel, I breastfed Freya and stayed off Lithium. Then, when she was only four months old, I fell pregnant again.
We wanted more children, but after trying for Freya for so long we weren't that hopeful. When it happened so quickly I was totally unprepared and plunged into a depression. Manic depression is a cyclical illness, and although circumstances do affect it, my moods swing from a delusional high to a suicidal low regardless of life events.
After the trauma of Freya's birth I was petrified of giving birth in hospital again, and took the unusual step of safeguarding my home birth by not telling anyone I was pregnant. I'd been very small while carrying Freya, and wasn't really any bigger the second time, so I did in fact keep the pregnancy quiet for seven months. Two people knew - Nigel, and Maddy. Both felt it was better to try to help me deal with it quietly rather than involving anyone else. I was treated with anti-depressants - not ideal when pregnant, but necessary - and eventually let Maddy write to the obstetrician.
This time Melanie agreed to support me in a home birth if Maddy would offer her support in writing, as my GP still refused to sanction it. Maddy did.
This time I went into labour myself, at home, with Nigel and Freya. I got Freya, then 13 months old, into bed, and called Melanie out. We sat in the living room watching videos until the pains got strong and then went up to our bedroom, where Freya woke up and sat beside me, mopping my brow! For the first time since the beginning of pregnancy I felt that I was in control, and Branwen was born five and a half hours after labour began, weighing seven pounds one ounce. The second stage lasted under a minute - and that includes the time it took to cut the cord, which was round her neck! That night was the happiest I'd ever been.
My next pregnancy was not so happy. I started bleeding at nine weeks, walking round Tesco's with my grandmother. I lost my baby. I was still feeding Branwen, then two years old, and felt it was my fault I miscarried. I took a photo of the pregnancy test, devastated at having nothing else left of my baby, and we named the lost baby Bryn. Bryn means "hill". It was a hard hill we climbed that year. Bryn would have been due on December 3rd 2000. By the time that day rolled round I was carrying again.
My fourth pregnancy was the hardest. I spent weeks convinced I had either lost the baby again or was never pregnant in the first place. Maddy had moved to a new area and all I had was a series of locums. Foot and mouth disease hit Anglesey and our business selling home-made cards folded. Nigel had to look for work elsewhere. He found it in Bridgend, 200 miles away when I was 6 months pregnant. We couldn't afford to move us all right away, and I was worried that if I started again in a new place, I would again be forced to give birth in hospital. So Nigel moved down to Bridgend to work while I stayed on Anglesey with the girls.
Once again I was lucky that the pregnancy was easy, once again I stuggled with demons in my head. That summer was terrible, beautiful, lonely. Melanie was worried that I was going to be on my own after the birth so my brother Darren came up from London a week before I was due. My due date arrived. My due date went. Branwen had arrived on November 25th, due on the 27th, so being overdue was a new experience.
Contactions started, and stopped, and then at term plus seven I was sent for monitoring. I started to worry. I had to go back every day to be monitored. I spent my time playing football with the girls and Darren, or on the swings. Then I was told I was booked in for induction on Monday, August 13th. I went home and cried. On Saturday 11th I went in for monitoring and a midwife examined me. I was 3 cm dilated. She asked me if I wanted to stay, as home births were not sanctioned after term plus ten. I left the hospital so fast I flew!
I couldn't sleep that night. All I could think of was the following morning. I was trying to think of a plan to avoid induction. If it wasn't for the girls, I would have run that night. Then at 11.30, the pains began. Melanie was on holiday, so Petra was on duty. I called her out at about one in the morning. She arrived to find me in strong labour. We got the gas and air going and she called for backup.
Things got faster and faster and as I started to push the backup midwife phoned for directions. Darren, who had no idea how to direct her (being from London) tried his best while I gave birth on the settee on all fours. Rhys was born at 3.30am, weighing 9 pounds! We phoned Nigel and the girls woke up and came down to meet their little brother.
I sat there after the midwives had left, and Darren had gone to bed, and all the neighbours had gone, with my children sleeping in my arms, watching the sun come up on August 12th and realised that no matter what my demons do to me, or what health professionals believe to be best for me, I am stronger than all that.
There will always be bad times, hard times, times when tablets are the only answer - but there will always be good times, beautiful times too. And I believe the role of healthcare should be to support people like me, not to take my life away from me. Freya was my first baby and her birth will always be beautiful, but I wish I had been given the chance to have good memories of it, not the pain and fear and confusion I was left with.
SiobhanNote from Siobhan:
I am more than happy to discuss my illness, as I feel there needs to be more openess about these things. I feel good things are being done to pick up on and help mothers with post-natal depression but sadly there's still a lot to be done to help and support mothers or expectant women who already have problems. There seems to be generally a lack of communication and understanding between psychiatry and obstetrics resulting in perhaps less than sympathetic treatment of mental illness in pregnancy. I was never threatened with being sectioned when requesting a home birth, although I have been sectioned once before, but both the home births I had went ahead without the support of my GP.
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