I massively enjoyed reading birth stories whilst I was pregnant. Birth is an intimidating prospect, once you’re pregnant and you decide that you want to keep the child you’re committed to birth- without really knowing that much about it (as a first timer)…. And a lot of what you think you know is possibly wrong. Hollywood films with women whose waters break in the middle of an emergency or a party, who then go into full cow-mooing labour within seconds. Even better the portrayals of women in labour- ALWAYS in a hospital, always covered in sweat, lying on a bed, legs in stirrups, surrounded by medical professionals who are telling them what to do, whilst the woman is screaming and swearing they’re going to kill their partners. My personal bile inducing tv-shouting trope is the woman who has spent the film eulogising about a drug-free natural birth, who two seconds into labour is screaming for drugs, drugs and more drugs (insert canned laughter).
This is bullsh*t. This is not to say that some women’s births aren’t like this, or have elements of this to them but in real life… Women give birth ALL THE F**KING TIME!!!! In many cases, more than once! And the majority of us aren’t easily panicked, screaming harridans who need a room full of doctors to tell us what to do, we’re intelligent, strong, able humans whose bodies generally know what to do.
So welcome to my birth story, I can promise you that the swearing may be plentiful but it is done with gusto and intention, not from fear or panic. There was no screaming, stirrups, doctors, drugs or death threats to my partner.
My story starts before I fell pregnant. I had always wanted to have a home birth, with little intervention. I have had little to do with medicine in my life and I want to keep it that way. I trusted that my body would know what to do at the time and that interventions would only get in the way. My partner however had 2 children from a previous relationship- both of whom had been delivered by emergency caesarean. The mention of home birth, away from the doctors and interventions which had saved his first 2 children, sat very uneasily with him. I never wavered from my determination to have a home birth, especially once we fell pregnant. I don’t know what exactly changed my partner’s mind. I expect it was a combination of the following: steadfast resolve on my part (he’s learnt that when my mind is set, there’s little can be done to change it!), a drip feed of positive information on the lack of risk/ how risks can be managed, attending home birth meet-ups and competitiveness at those meetings- to be the most positive/ well informed dad, information from the home birth team, knowing that there would be 2 midwives looking after us exclusively, proximity to the hospital (less than 15 minutes drive away) and support from our doula- who he had known for over 10 years. Fortunately he was fully on board very quickly, especially when I assured him that if there was any real risk to me or baby we would transfer into hospital.
Once pregnant, the plans for our home birth started from our first appointment where I told the midwife we would be having a home birth. From that point we were referred to the care of the home birth team (now disbanded). We attended home birth meet ups, I joined facebook groups, we became friends with other parents planning home births, I engaged a doula- a wonderful woman called Caz (Starfish Doula in Bradford) whom my partner and I have known for years and I wrote the worlds most aggressive birth plan! After meeting women whose birth experiences had been horrific or undermined by the medical professionals involved I was determined that no one and nothing was going to stop me from having the birth I choose.
My EDD was 17th August and throughout my pregnancy I had told everyone that I fully expected to go over. I spent the evening of the 17th sitting on my birthing ball trying to relieve some of the tiredness and back ache which had become normal at this point in pregnancy, we watched Ghostbusters 2 and went to bed early.
I woke up at 5am to feeling some liquid trickling between my legs. I didn’t know if this was my waters going or something else, but I moved a towel under myself just in case. A few minutes later and the trickling hadn’t stopped. I turned to wake up my partner to tell him things may be starting. He made me laugh and my waters went properly with a gush- there was no maybe about it anymore! He asked me if I was going to phone the hospital. Knowing that there could be a long wait between waters going and labour becoming established (and that Calderdale have a policy of trying to bring women into hospital 24 hours after waters break) I decided to hold off calling until things became more established. He decided to go into work and that he would keep his phone on. I tried to go back to sleep but very mild contractions had started and to be honest I was too excited to get any sleep. I phoned my mum to tell her that things seemed to be happening then went downstairs to potter around.
I put on the tens machine by about 7am on its lowest setting. I was still able to change bedsheets, clean up the kitchen and move things around. I had text Caz at 5am and was keeping her up to date with occasional messages. I downloaded a contraction timer on my phone, they were coming around every 5 minutes but I wasn’t worried about anything and was still happily pottering in the house on my own. My contractions slowly increased in intensity- and I turned up the tens machine to match them. By 8am I decided to phone the hospital who said midwives would attend around 9.30. I managed to have a bagel and huge mug of tea for breakfast and sit on the sofa to watch 2 classic episodes of Frasier (perfect birth preparation!)
I put on my birthing playlist ( you can find this on Spotify as ‘Lydias Funky Birthing Playlist‘) after eating- I love the tradition in some tribes for the birthing woman to be supported by the women of the tribe during birth. I couldn’t have my female tribe around me for the birth but I had the next best thing. I sent out a Spotify playlist to my tribe-mates a month before birth. I asked them to add any songs which remind them of times we have had together, big nights out, holidays, events, moments, anything. There were also prizes for songs which would make us laugh during labour. I added songs to remind me of times in my life- living in a chalet in Wales, studying at Stafford College, working at the Habit in York. I ended up with a playlist 17 hours long filled with memories and laughter. You can hear the playlist by searching for Lydias Funky Birthing Playlist!!! on Spotify where it is freely available (and it is a pretty awesome mix!)
By 9.30 I was ready for some extra support, I called Joe and Caz to ask them to come and soon after the midwives arrived, one was a student only 2 weeks off qualifying and the other was a qualified midwife. They were both friendly, open, happy to talk over my birth options without judgement. They were supportive which was exactly what I needed at that time since things had become more intense. Despite writing the worlds most aggressive birth plan I never actually showed them the written document. Our conversation had covered everything, there was no confusion, no dispute, no attempts to change my mind and I fully trusted them to do what I asked.
Caz arrived soon after and started to set up the pool in my kitchen (we bought the house 18 months previously and the moment I walked into what was to become my kitchen I knew that this was where I would birth my children, we put in an offer as soon as we left the first viewing). The midwives left to make other calls with the promise to return when we let them know contractions were every 3 minutes or so. Joe and Caz set to filling the pool whilst I spent my contractions walking up and down the stairs. I skyped my friend Sarah in Canada, she was the only person I was happy letting know I was in labour (other than my mum). We had lovely conversation and from across the Atlantic Sarah timed my contractions. She suggested I call the midwives back when they were less than 3 minutes apart so I finished the call and asked Joe to call the midwives back.
By 11.30-12.00ish the pool was up, full and ready. I changed into a bikini top and prepared to jump in. I was nervous about coming off the tens machine which by this point was ramped up to half strength. The midwives returned with gas and air which I had to hand and as a contraction finished Joe and Caz whipped the tens machine off, I jumped into the pool and started on the gas and air. Fortunately the pool provided great pain relief and between contractions the gas and air helped me relax.
I spent all of my time in the pool sat up leaning against the side with my legs folded under me and my eyes closed almost all the time. I was constantly supported by either Joe or Caz who were knelt next to the pool always in some kind of physical contact with me whether we were holding hands or they held my arms or shoulders. The contractions increased in intensity but were always manageable, I found myself concentrating through them, taking deep slow breaths. In between Joe and Caz would offer me water and occasionally Cliff energy Bloks (similar to concentrated jelly cubes). By the time I had recovered from one contraction I would be wishing the next one on. Whilst they were intense whilst happening I knew that I had to get through them to meet my child so I willed each one on.
Fortunately I had read up on transition and therefore I knew what it was when it happened, however this didn’t stop it being a challenging experience. It only lasted about 10-15 minutes, but the flood of adrenaline and nervousness made me slightly panic during those contractions. Knowing what it was, what was causing it and that it was finite helped me manage my panic and not let it get on top of me.
After transition the nature of the contractions changed. Whereas before they had been like cramps increasing in intensity they now had a pushing sensation to them, they were also significantly less painful. I had told the midwives that I would listen to my body, allow things to take their natural course and that I did not want any coached pushing. The pushing sensation of these contractions felt the same as the muscle contractions I have had when my body has decided to be sick- but working in the opposite direction, down rather than up. Slowly I also wanted to actively push with each contraction. Labour had been progressing well but after an hour or so of little progress the midwives asked me when I last had a wee, it had been before I got into the pool, which by this point was at least 3 hours ago. They encouraged me to have a wee, and I tried everything to do so for the next 45 minutes, in the pool, out of the pool, on the loo- but all the muscles and nerves which would normally help weren’t in the right place or doing the right thing.
Our main midwife was hovering outside the bathroom (in case I pushed too hard and a baby came out!) when I asked her if there was anything they could do to help. She offered to use a catheter and I practically bit her hand off- desperate to do anything to get things progressing again! I returned to the kitchen where a towel had been laid out on a pile of cushions. I laid down after a contraction had finished and had the catheter. Now, even though I didn’t feel like I needed to pee before the catheter, the enormous feeling of relief once it was in proved that I really had needed one! After that was done, she asked if she could do a vaginal examination (I had refused all V.E.s in my birth plan). I was happy for her to do this, but the moment she started another contraction kicked in, whilst I was laid on my back, out of the pool with no gas and air. I jumped a mile and I suspect, startling her. I jumped up and into the pool as soon as possible and no-one attempted to suggest a V.E. again!
Labour progressed once I got back into the water, by 5pm I asked Joe to get in the pool because it felt like the baby would be here soon. Despite refusing V.E.s I was checking myself every so often and I could feel the top of my baby’s head- before anyone else saw, I knew our baby had a head full of hair! Being able to feel the head gave me encouragement and determination to carry on- I knew the baby was almost here, that everything was getting very real and soon I would be a parent.
I was now actively pushing. I had my legs folded under me but between every contraction I was trying to spread them further apart, willing every fibre of my body to birth this baby who I was impatient to meet. The midwives had forgotten to bring a mirror to help them see what was happening, the only mirror Joe could direct them to was a tiny hand held hand-bag mirror, less than 2 square inches. Then none of the midwives could reach to get it into position, so despite our initial plan being that Joe wouldn’t be too up close and personal at the business end of the birth- he ended up being directly in the line of fire as he held this mirror for the midwives!
My memory of contractions during the last few hours were that they were no longer so painful. As they moved to a pushing sensation they seemed to have purpose and direction. In the last hour or so I didn’t even bother with gas and air as it didn’t seem to be doing much other than drying my mouth out. My last few contractions I felt the head almost come out, then disappointingly retreat back in over and over again. It felt so frustrating and I started to worry that things weren’t going to plan and that the midwives would start discussing interventions. I’m guessing Caz could tell I was getting wound up because she leant into me and reassured me that this was completely normal and that this happened to ensure that everything stretched slowly to avoid tearing. Once I knew this I was calmer.
As my baby started to crown I could feel the ‘ring of fire’, something I had read about and the only part of labour which had concerned me. It was certainly ‘stingy’, but I kept in mind what other mums had told me- as soon as that bit is done your baby is out and it’s all over! It probably took me 3 contractions to build up the courage to really push and get her head out, but it was a HUGE relief when I finally did it. There was quite a long gap between that and the next contraction. I must have been pretty out of it because I felt her head move slightly a few times and each time I thought she was going to wriggle out on her own and float to the top of the water like a balloon. The next contraction came and with an easy push she was out into Joe’s waiting hands. I had no push left when I heard Joe shout, ‘there’s still a foot stuck!’ It took a deep breath and another good push to ensure she was completely born. It was 18.05 in the evening.
Whilst I was dazed and coming around, Joe scooped our baby up, unwound the cord from around her neck and held her to his chest whilst he rubbed her face with a towel. She was wrapped up in a towel to keep warm and held by Joe whilst I came around. I remember turning to face them and us sitting in a tight circle with our baby held by Joe in the centre.
Once I had come around, the midwives advised us that the baby should go onto my chest for a while. I took my child and attempted to lean back with legs which were no longer working after being in the same position for so long. With some effective man-handling and help from Caz, Joe and the midwives I could sit back with our baby. She was still wrapped in a towel as someone asked the gender. I held her tightly and told everyone that it didn’t matter what the gender was. We looked into each other’s eyes and in my amazement all I could keep saying was ‘hey!’ and every so often- ‘you came out of my fanny!’ both in a pitch of awe. Eventually we had a look- we had a girl.
Joe went for a very quick shower then returned to take our baby into the living room whilst I tried to birth the placenta. Contractions were happening but nothing was moving. I tried in the pool, standing up (which took 10 minutes to achieve), squatting but nothing. In the end I went into the living room, which was the first time I saw the wealth of medical equipment the midwives had bought. I am glad I didn’t see all of it during labour as it may have worried me, but knowing in retrospect that my living room had been practically transformed into a hospital room was very reassuring. I have complete faith that had anything not gone to plan those midwives with that equipment would have meant we were in extremely safe hands. I sat on the sofa- which was covered in inco-pads, with the tens machine on again in an unconscious recreation of how the day had started 13 hours previously. I put my baby on to feed and the urge to push kicked in as the whole placenta came away in one quick push. I felt complete relief as now the entire birth was done, there was nothing left to worry about. Caz made me a placenta and fruit smoothie- which I demolished! The midwives checked me over, detecting only 1 small tear and 1 graze, neither of which needed stitching, they checked the baby who was also fine and they left us alone, me feeding the baby, Joe and Caz putting the kitchen back together at 8pm.
Possibly one of the greatest advantages of having a home birth was being sat in our own home at 9pm only 3 hours after birth, with Caz and our new baby eating homemade lasagne and chips (make freezer meals in advance- it’s possibly the thing you will most appreciate in the weeks after birth!!!)
I am so happy that I was able to have the birth I had been planning and looking forward to since before I fell pregnant. Every medical professional I have encountered has been open, supportive and understanding. We were cared for by the Aveta home birth team at Calderdale and Kirklees NHS, unfortunately the team was disbanded and we were one of the last couples to be under their dedicated care. I sincerely hope that people planning a home birth in the future are as well supported as we were. The community midwives who attended the birth were not part of the home birth team but were amazing. I couldn’t have wished for a better, more empowering, safe and happy experience. I want as many parents to be to know that birth doesn’t have to be scary, that YOU can make choices and be listened to and respected, that there’s no such thing (outside of medical emergency) as ‘the doctors/ midwives won’t let you ……..’ or ‘the doctor had to do …..’
It’s YOUR body, YOUR choice, THEY NEED YOUR CONSENT, YOU DON’T NEED THEIR PERMISSION.
In no other situation would you allow a stranger to stick their hands up your fanny without your full informed consent- so don’t be fooled into thinking your birth is any different.
You can do it xxx
Lots of love