Teàrlach's Birth, by Angela Horn

Me and Tearlach, only a few days old.

Me and Teàrlach, a couple of days after his birth

Third baby, third straightforward labour, third waterbirth...

My third baby's due date was 10 January, but as my first baby was born at 40 weeks exactly, and my second at 38 + 2, I was banking on any time between Christmas and New Year.

This pregnancy had been a lot more tiring than my previous ones. I think in part that was because my last pregnancy ended in a traumatic miscarriage and haemorrhage at 12 weeks, and it was a lost innocence - the next pregnancy would inevitably be a time for worrying at first.

I felt like I was waiting for something to go wrong, and I'm sure that this attitude made the whole thing harder work than it had been previously. I was more nauseous and tired in the first trimester than ever before, and just when that had eased off, I sprouted varicose veins at 17 weeks. Fortunately the lovely sexy (not!!) surgical support stockings I got from the doc worked wonders - as long as I put them on every morning before getting out of bed, and left them on until I was back in bed, the veins weren't too much of a problem. Standing still was very uncomfortable, so I had a high stool in the kitchen and tried to use it when preparing food.

During the last trimester, and particularly the last month, I was getting increasing pain in my pubic symphysis joint (this is a joint in the front of the pubic bone, which you are not normally aware of because it barely moves, except in childbirth when the ligaments which hold it together stretch apart a little to help the baby fit through) and my sacro-iliac joints (back of pelvis). On the positive side I knew this joint pain was happening because my ligaments were getting stretchy in order to let my baby out easily, so I just worked around it. I tried to remember to keep my knees together where possible, as this avoided aggravating the pain.

I had no blood tests at all during this pregnancy. I hadn't had any blood tests during my second pregnancy either - I knew my blood group and antibody status from my first pregnancy, and from being a blood donor between pregnancies, so didn't see the need for it. If I had been anaemic enough for it to make a difference to my health, I was confident that I would know. I had experienced anaemia earlier in the year after my miscarriage - I think I lost around 3 pints of blood - and at that time I had found myself out of breath just after walking fast. If I had those symptoms again, I would ask for help. While I felt healthy, I preferred to avoid the stress of having blood tests.

I didn't have any scans, either. While I do believe that scans can be invaluable diagnostic tools in a riskier pregnancy, all the evidence and expert reviews that I am aware of suggest that there is no benefit in routine scans for low-risk pregnancies. I wanted to have this baby regardless of any problems it might have. Furthermore, extensive research on ultrasound had convinced me that cases where the baby benefited from diagnosis of a treatable problem before birth, in a low-risk pregnancy, were vanishingly rare. On the other hand, in my home birth support work it seemed that barely a week went by when I did not hear from someone whose pregnancy had been made extremely stressful by a false positive ultrasound result.

I do understand why most people have scans, and may well have them myself in future pregnancies [EDIT: I did indeed choose to have scans in all my future pregnancies]. I enjoyed the one scan I had in each of my first two pregnancies. But this time was different. When I was having the miscarriage, I had many sad scans - seeing my dead baby on the screen, and then my womb checked over and over again to see if there were any 'retained products of conception'. Scans and hospitals were too closely associated with my dead baby - I didn't want them this time.

Back to the birth story. The baby was due on 10th January.

On 23 December I had a show - a small but unmistakable amount of mucous plug. Oh no - I really wanted to get through Christmas before this baby arrived. Felt very fed up. Made an effort to stay off my feet as much as possible and the ever-present Braxton Hicks contractions died down a bit. In each of my pregnancies, I've been very aware of Braxton-Hicks contractions from about 14-16 weeks, and in the last trimester of each pregnancy they seemed to be about 20 minutes apart most of the time! This time I seemed to have one long BH most days after about 5 PM - my tummy would feel hard for hours, until the boys were in bed, about 9.30. After the lads were asleep, my tummy would miraculously soften!

Had a bit more of a show on Christmas eve, and was thinking "Oh no -Christmas day baby", but fortunately things quietened down. Once I reached Christmas evening I was relaxed - the baby could come when it wanted. In fact, my pelvis was getting so uncomfortable with walking relatively short distances that I was quite happy for it to hurry up! And so, of course, all signs of labour receded. This was a welcome opportunity to catch up with things I hadn't thought I'd get the chance to do, so the dining room was painted, gardening done, etc, and on the 27th I even managed to get my eyelashes tinted and eyebrows shaped!

Morning of the 28th I started to feel period-pain type cramps, and by about 1 pm these were making me feel quite irritable, so I went to bed for a couple of hours. Felt awful in bed and was thinking that if I ever had to go to hospital in labour, I would probably ask for a caesarean the moment I walked in the door. And I wasn't even in labour - this was just prelabour! Phoned my midwife team to let them know that things might start happening that evening or the next day.

Resting in bed clearly wasn't helping, so I got up and did some more gardening. Our neighbours were having a party, and when they saw me in the garden they wanted to know why I wasn't coming over. I explained that I had a very good excuse - thought I would have another baby by the end of the evening. The gardening distracted me wonderfully from the contractions - also seemed to distract the prelabour as it all stopped. Enjoyed my evening reprieve, watched telly, and had a glass of wine. Evening disturbed by 'merry' neighbours phoning up from party to ask if I had had the baby yet, and did I want them to come and shout "PUSH!!" through the letterbox? No, but thank you very much for the offer!

Lost more mucous plug later and this time it was bloodstained, so realised things really were likely to happen soon.

Went to bed and was woken intermittently in the small hours by mild contractions. By 4AM these were too uncomfortable to sleep through or handle in bed in any position, so got up and immediately felt better. Ctx were about 5-7 mins apart and about 30 seconds long. Got home birth bag out.

(It's taken me 7 months to get round to finishing this, so it gets a bit sketchy from here)

Phoned midwives at 5.20 AM. At 6.10 (after checking that I didn't need her straight away) Mei came out, who was fun, friendly, and perfectly happy to be hands-off. As with both of my previous labours, the baby's head was not fully engaged in my pelvis at the start of labour, and was still 3/5 palpable. I was having contractions about every 3 minutes and they were lasting about 45 seconds. At 7 AM I had my only internal exam (I wanted this, to check the baby's presentation - just in case it was posterior or asynclitic, or anything else which I might be able to try to rectify by adopting different positions or movements). I was 3-4 cm dilated - not that dilation means much in a woman who has already given birth, as you can go from 2cm to pushing very quickly.

Mei and I both thought that the baby would be born by around 9 or 10 AM, but unfortunately her shift was to finish by 8AM so she had to hand me over to someone else. I think she went away then came back later. The other midwife on the team who was on duty, who I had met before and really liked, did not want to come out as she did not feel confident attending a waterbirth. It was quite comical, listening to Mei talking to her on the phone: "But she doesn't need you to DO anything. She knows what she's doing. She just wants you to sit on the sofa and take observations. She doesn't want you to do anything unless it's an emergency, and in that case she would get out of the pool anyway.". Despite Mei's protestations that her colleague needn't worry, she was clearly not comfortable with attending this birth, so after some phoning round, Sara, a midwife from another team agreed to come out.

I got in the pool around 8 AM and, as in my previous labours, found it a great help. I think I woke DH up before I got into the pool. I wanted to give him a decent amount of notice, because when Bobby was born, I had to ask the midwife to go upstairs and wake him - I was too far gone to do it! Again, as with my previous labours, I needed to have DH with me, rubbing my lower back during tough contractions, and putting music on the stereo. I was aware that I needed to keep hydrated (funny to think that you can become dehydrated while in a pool, but you can), so kept sipping cartons of apple juice (bendy straws are great for labour - strange how, at some times, the effort of tipping your head back to drink from a glass seems so great, and yet you can still manage all this amazing labouring).

Sara arrived - I had never met her before, but like Mei, she was cheerful, confident, friendly, and perfectly happy to be hands-off and to just take observations and watch. I was not at all bothered by the fact that I didn't know her - I felt confident and capable, and my experience of the local midwives had left me sure that the vast majority of them would be very keen on home birth. I was really pleased when Mei and Sara told me that Norma had offered to come along as the backup midwife for the birth. Norma attended the birth of my first baby, Lee, and I liked and respected her very much. Norma wasn't actually on call that morning, but volunteered to come anyway as she knew me.

Lee and Bobby woke up about 8.30 and wanted to join me in the birth pool, but accepted without too much arguing when they were told that they couldn't! I had planned to have my sister, Kate, there to look after them, but Kate was away that night and I didn't want to call her back. I felt very private about the labour - I wanted as few people there as possible. It did occur to me during the labour that this was a bit selfish of me, because if I did transfer to hospital for any reason, it would have meant a lot more disturbance and upheaval for Lee and Bobby. They would either have had to come with us, or have been quickly rushed round to a neighbour's house, and it could have been frightening for them. Discussed this with Mei, who said that I shouldn't worry - in that sort of situation, the whole family could just come into hospital.

Lee and Bobby kept popping in and out of the room. They were interested to see what was going on and were not bothered by hearing me moaning during contractions. I had prepared them for this by showing them videos of women giving birth and talking about it, and of course DH was there and was talking to them about what was happening. Lee in particular was quite interested, but both of them were rather more interested in playing with some new toys they'd been given the day before.

As time went on, I was starting to find it a bit distracting having Lee and Bobby in the room - they kept talking to me and asking me how to put lego kits together, and at one stage, while DH was out of the room, they came in fighting and asking me to arbitrate in disputes between Power Rangers Megazord and Bionicle Robots. It was not a good time - I was having a really difficult contraction, and I shouted "F*** OFF!" at them. The midwives seemed a bit shocked and later commented that they were used to hearing that sort of language directed at men, but not at children! I do normally try not to swear at the children, but I did feel that these were mitigating circumstances! After that I asked DH to distract the boys, so he put Bagpuss videos on for them upstairs. Our children don't get to watch TV very often, so this had enough novelty value to keep them occupied for the rest of the labour.

There was one striking similarity to my first baby's birth - a cat fell in the birth pool this time, too! Unlike the first labour, I was actually in the pool this time when it happened. DH was upstairs getting the boys settled with their video and I was in the middle of a tough contraction when I heard a splash, heard the midwives gasp from the other side of the room, and looked up to see Britney Beyoncé, a daft brown Burmese girl, paddling past my nose! I bunged her out with a reasonable amount of Anglo-Saxon (really need to sort out that swearing habit...), and she shook herself, then decided that a midwife's lap was the best place to sit to dry off! Norma (who had arrived by this time) was laughing as she remembered another brown Burmese cat, Puff, who had sat on her lap while I laboured with Lee, five years before.

The labour ended up taking a bit longer than I had expected. By about 10 AM I was getting really fed up and wanted this baby to be born. Things seemed to progress well, and then to stop. I felt like I was nearly at second stage, but the baby just hadn't descended and I had no urge to push. Contractions were really painful, but there was no progress. I was tired and it hurt, but between contractions my mind was crystal-clear, and I remember appreciating the fact that I was at home, with my family around me. I knew that this was a good labour - it would be hard to ask for more - but it was still hard work, and it still hurt, and I had thought that it would be over by now! I didn't mention this to the midwives as I thought that they weren't worrying, so I had no reason to.

I knew that my waters had not broken, and thought that this was probably holding things up. I considered asking the midwives to break my waters, but decided not to as a) if the baby's head was at all malpositioned then breaking the waters could fix it in that position and make it much harder for the baby to be born, and b) I knew it was likely to make things more painful, and c) I'd never had any intervention before, and was not keen to start now! I didn't ask for an internal exam as I didn't see any need, and again, the midwives weren't asking to do one. I was considering asking them, though, in case there was some malpresentation that I might need to know about.

My notes say that contractions seemed to be gaining in intensity all the time. They were 3:10 (3 in 10 minutes) to 4:10 and lasting 50-60 seconds - very similar to my other two labours. They were at these sort of intervals for the last three hours of this labour. I was in the birth pool but kept standing up and moving about between contractions. Eventually I got really fed up and started getting in and out of the pool and doing lots of hip-hitching, knowing that this was likely to move things along - if the baby was stuck somewhere, it could move it down.

Suddenly I felt something move down - wondered at first if it was the waters breaking, but it felt different and I didn't feel a gush of waters as I had when they'd broken in my previous labours - so it wasn't that. Then the pace increased - contractions started coming every 2 minutes, lasting about a minute each (ie 1 minute on, 1 minute off) for 10 minutes, and then the pushing started. I had very little control over this - it was very rapid, very painful, and I was trying to slow things down to avoid tearing. I was blowing and repeating 'Stretchy, stretchy, stretchy' to try to focus on allowing my perineum to stretch rather than just blasting this baby out with all my might. I was kneeling upright in the pool, in exactly the same position as my two previous births.

When the baby's head came out, I got a surprise - the bag of waters still had not broken, so his head was in a bubble. It felt like a balloon between my legs. I remember thinking "How on earth am I going to pick this baby up? There is nothing to get hold of!". Just as with my other babies, once the head was out, there was a pause until another contraction pushed out the shoulders, but his tummy was still inside. The waters still did not break - my baby was still in a large, slippery bubble. Another contraction, and the baby's arms came free and burst the water bag, and the rest of his little body slithered out. I picked my baby up, and stood up in the pool. I started to cry a little with relief. It had been so painful, and I was so, so relieved to have my baby. Like so many mothers the world over, I cried "Hello, baby".

As I stood in the pool, I wanted to know whether I had another boy, or a girl. I did not mind - loved my boys and knew that it would be great for them to have another brother, but would like to have a girl too, at some stage. As soon as I thought of it, I knew without looking that this was another boy. Not because of some mystical mother's intuition, but because my hand was supporting the baby's bottom, and I could feel that I had a handful of tackle! I could hear from the sound of the baby's breathing that he had some mucus in his nose and mouth - nothing to worry about, but it was clearly there - so I held him prone, ie facing downwards, to help this to drain away naturally (which happened quickly).

DH went upstairs to get Lee and Bobby, and they came down to meet their new brother just a couple of minutes after he was born. We all had a cuddle on the sofa - it was a lovely, peaceful introduction, and felt like a special, private family time.

After a while I started to get strong afterpains and knew that it was time to deliver the placenta. I remembered a trick from last time, which was to bear down as if I were having a bowel movement. This soon did the trick - took only a couple of minutes, and I had very little blood loss - about 150 mls in total.

Afterwards, Lee and DH cut the cord, and our baby had his first proper feed. He latched onto my breast in a very businesslike way, and fed for about twenty minutes. I think this was quite unusual as most babies seem to only have a 'lick and a nuzzle' in the first hour or so after birth.

Because he was born in his bag of waters, my baby had a wonderfully round head shape - there was no visible moulding, and the midwives commented that he looked like a baby born by a planned caesarean. His head was above average size - 36cm - and I am assuming that my pelvic ligaments stretched instead of his head having to mould. I imagine this must have made the birth very gentle for him, if not for me. There has to be some upside to all that ligament pain that I was having at the end! He was, and remains, an incredibly cheerful baby - smiling at everyone he meets. Maybe he would have been the same however he was born, but I am sure that having a good birth can only help.

Our baby weighed 3.9 Kg (8lb 9 oz), was 55cm long and had a head circumference of 36cm. He was born at 11.35 AM. His Apgar scores were 10 and 10. My 'official' first stage was recorded at 4 hours 30 minutes, second stage as 5 minutes, but I think I was actually in established labour for 6-7 hours.

This labour was slightly shorter than my second, but in many respects it was very similar to Lee's and Bobby's births. In all the labours, I dealt with contractions by being upright at first, then on all fours, and in the pool. I had to move my hips around a lot, and could not bear lying or sitting down. I didn't have any drugs in any of the labours, although I keep promising myself that one day I will try Entonox - at the time it seemed like too much hassle to learn how to use it, and I thought it might interfere with my managing contractions in my own way.

I was a bit disappointed that this labour wasn't much shorter than last time, and also that it was a bit more painful. In some ways I felt that my pain tolerance was going down, rather than increasing with each baby. During my first labour I was so excited that I was distracted from the pain. During the second, the novelty had worn off - I knew that there would indeed be a baby at the end of it, but that this painful bit had to be got through first. During the third labour, it was much the same, but I was kicking myself for not having done a Hypnobirthing course! (Hypnobirthing - using hypnosis techniques for pain management. I've been interested in it for a few years but have never got round to arranging to go on a course). Next time - if, God willing, we are sent more babies - I would like to learn more about this and perhaps try the Entonox..

Each of my three boys have been born in a birth pool, with me kneeling upright - not a planned position, just the way it happened. Each time, I have caught them myself, and have felt fiercely protective, not wanting anybody else to touch my body or my baby. This time, I was explicit about not wanting myself or my baby to be touched, discussed it carefully with the midwives during the labour, and documented it in my birth plan. Each time I had not particularly intended to give birth in the water, but to see how things were on the day. Each time, although water clearly did not take the pain away, it made such a significant difference that I did not want to get out for the birth.

So there it is - I feel a bit boring in a way, having had three completely uncomplicated, similar labours. Yet again, I was very lucky to have respectful, friendly midwives who were happy to let me get on with giving birth to my baby, and yet again, we were blessed with a wonderful, healthy baby boy. I am a very lucky woman.

Our third son's name is Teàrlach Andrew McKenzie Horn. Teàrlach is a Gallic (Scottish Gaelic) name and we pronounce it 'Tarlach' with the 'ch' as in 'loch'. I understand that in the Scottish Highlands it's usually pronounced 'TCharlach' and often shortened to 'Charlie', but there don't seem to be many people here in South London who have come across it before...

With midwives Norma and Sara, and my oldest son, Lee, after the birth.

Lee, Norma, me and Teàrlach, and Sara, a few minutes after the birth.

Tearlach at 6 weeks old

Teàrlach at 6 weeks old

The birth stories of my other children, Lee and Bobby, are also on this site.

Angela Horn
angela @ robots.homebirth.org.uk (remove 'robots' to get the correct email address.

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