After 18 months of trying for a baby, we found out I was pregnant one weekend when I was suffering from a stomach bug and had spent the weekend being sick. It was all very emotional – for more reasons than one!
At about 12 weeks we went along for our first assessment with the midwife. I remember being bamboozled by all the questions but when asked about where I wanted to give birth, I was absolutely sure that it would be in hospital. The midwife mentioned home births but I think my reaction went something like “only crazy people have home births!”
Everything was going very smoothly with my pregnancy and I was surprised (I was totally paranoid throughout my pregnancy) to be told I was low risk so should be able to give birth in a midwife-led unit. We excitedly decided that we should go and have a look at the hospital so went along to the Saturday tour of the labour ward. My only experience of midwife-led units before was of one where my sister gave birth 4 years ago. She had a private room afterwards with a double bed so her partner could stay and amazing care and attention for several days afterwards. The tour didn’t start well – there were about 12 couples waiting in a warm corridor and eventually a member staff appeared and said “oh has no-one come to show you round?” So half an hour late, we were shown round a very busy birthing unit. I was shocked at how dated and also how clinical it was. Naively, I’d expected it to be much less like a hospital. After looking at the higher risk unit (not really much different to the midwife-led unit) and the post-birth ward which was so open, noisy and impersonal and being told that they expect you to be released 4 hours after birth, the final straw was all the people with the beer and cigarettes outside the maternity unit. I remember being what can be best described as terrified – I didn’t want to give birth here.
My husband was incredibly supportive and wanted me to be happy. So we looked at our options. There was another local hospital, but although newer it didn’t seem much different and was further away. So I started to investigate home births. My midwife seemed delighted when I mentioned it and couldn’t have been more positive, telling me about how they’d been building up the community midwife home birthing team in the area and giving me all the information about it. I also spoke to a few people I knew who’d had home births and everyone was so positive. I also went to antenatal classes and afterwards I spoke to the course leader who was also very positive. People told me about the statistics around homebirth including how it was actually pretty much as safe as being in hospital. Another fact that stuck with me was how much less likely it was for someone even planning to have a homebirth to end up having an emergency caesarean as compared to someone planning a low-risk hospital birth. (If anyone does want to look at the studies, there is a Dutch one from 2013 and an English one in 2011 which are covered in an interesting BBC news article at www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-22888411). My mind was made up. The next issue came in trying to convince my family we were making the right decision. In the end they came round when they realised the risks were low, we’d have 2 midwives there (probably much more personal care than in a hospital!) and we’re only 15 minutes from a hospital if anything went wrong.
We also decided to have a water birth and actually went on a very good water birth course which was encouraging. I didn’t realise how many benefits there are from water when giving birth! We also had a visit from our midwife to go through what would happen and got a checklist of what we needed to get – old towels, plastic sheets, a torch, a thermometer, a big sieve (I’d recommend a pound shop buy because you won’t be using it again!) and various other bits. Another thing that’s important to know is that if you want to use pethidine or diamorphine, you need to get a prescription for it before hand as the midwives don’t carry it and that’s the strongest pain relief you can have at home. If you need anything stronger, you need to transfer to hospital.
My due date was actually Boxing Day and we had all my family round for Christmas and Boxing Day. I did get rather concerned when my Mum said “What will happen if you go into labour when we have Christmas dinner in the oven. You won’t expect us to go home will you?” I had visions of my step-dad sitting on the sofa trying to watch the TV whilst I gave birth in the birthing pool in the corner! Luckily that didn’t happen so I never did find out what would have happened.
My contractions actually started late on a Friday evening 10 days after my due date. It was a big relief as I was beginning to think I was going to have to go into the hospital to be induced on the Monday. I managed to get a few hours of sleep but woke at 4am and couldn’t sleep through the contractions any longer. So I put on my TENS machine and got on with it. I did all the things I’d been told to do – stayed on my feet a lot or on a chair. I actually found sitting backwards on a chair really comfortable. We called the hospital to let them know I was having contractions and due to have a homebirth at about 10am and my midwife, who I’d been seeing throughout my pregnancy visited at about 2pm. She’d already phoned a couple of times to check all going okay. I was 2cm dilated – not far but on our way. At that point my contractions were about 6 minutes apart and she said to call again when I was having 3 in 10 minutes. Fast forward a few hours and they actually got further apart but much longer – 2-3 minutes in duration. By about 7pm the TENS machine was killing me so off it came and I got in the bath whilst my husband filled the pool in the living room. So a few pieces of advice with a water birth:
– make sure the pool is filled nice and early – I found out too late that our bath wasn’t deep enough to give much relief.
– don’t make it too hot – I had a serious near fainting moment when I first got in and my husband had made it about 40 degrees. I needed serious ice!
So once in the water, I calmed down a little. We had a couple of lamps on and in between contractions things were quite relaxed. I had some relaxation CDs but actually ended up listening to chill-out dance music for a while and it helped me focus. I’d not done a hypno-birthing course but had used a hypnotherapy CD to help my fear of flying a few years earlier and actually found using the techniques in that really helped. By around 9:30pm, I was beginning to struggle a little and called the hospital. My contractions weren’t 3 in 10 minutes (they never actually did get that frequent!) but were getting closer and still really long and I felt I needed pain relief. I think the next hour until the midwife arrived was actually the worst part for me. I’m guessing if you’re going to hospital, that bit is normally taken up with getting there but I was at home and I think my husband’s hand really suffered in that time! The first midwife arrived with gas and air but then stupidly, I was so scared that it would make me sick that it took about 20 minutes for me to use it! When I did I loved it – I’m a keen scuba diver and crazily it made me relax like I do when breathing under water. I got out the pool so the midwife could examine me and was 8cm dilated so she called for a second midwife. After that I think the benefits of being in my own home really kicked in. I was actually really relaxed. It wasn’t quite as I planned; I didn’t have the music – I found it actually put me off breathing! I just focussed on breathing and chatting to the midwives. They checked the baby in between contractions whilst I was still in the water. It was really calm and actually all seemed to happen fairly quickly from there – my waters only actually broke shortly before giving birth. Our daughter Roseanna was born at 2:33am on the Sunday morning in the water and into my arms. It was amazing and so emotional. About 5 minutes later, I was going to get out the pool to deliver the placenta but actually as I stood up it was just delivered really easily.
We were lucky and all went to plan. The midwives checked us both out and a few hours later left us cuddled up on the sofa – our new little family. I’ll be honest I found the next few hours hard – when I got up, I’d lost a fair bit of blood and had no idea if it was normal or not but a quick call to the midwife and they said it was fine. We actually called my Mum to come over and help at 5am! My Step-Dad and husband had the unpleasant job of emptying the birthing pool – one of the downsides of a home birth. Although it was great having them round, we did make the mistake of actually having quite a few members of my family round that afternoon. That was way too soon! I did also really struggle to establish breastfeeding, but I don’t think that would have been any different if I’d have spent a few hours extra in hospital.
I’m sure it’s not right for everyone, but overall a home birth worked for us. It was a really good experience and it’s lovely to think that our daughter was born in our lounge. I’d certainly do it again if we get the chance.
I thought it might be quite interesting for my husband to have the final words about what he thought of the whole experience…
Dad’s view of a home birth:
Initially I was very hesitant about the idea – surely hospital was safer? Well, you probably can’t get much safer than having two dedicated midwives. And so it proved. Indeed, the whole process was incredibly smooth; the midwives alternated between chatting, reassuring my wife, checking the baby’s progress, and requesting a cup of tea. As the baby approached, the lead midwife paid close attention, but their interventions were minimal until the baby popped out. My job was then to hold my new daughter, whilst mum was seen to.
There was a personal element to a home birth that put paid to any of the fears I had previously. There was also no journey home from hospital in the middle of the night, meaning I had some extra time to work out how to fit the car seat. The only downsides are that you are left on your own within an hour of the birth – we really didn’t know what to do with a crying baby, who took a few days to learn how to feed properly. The first few days were tough, but fortunately there is help to call on for things such as breastfeeding.
For us, the home birth was a real success, and we would have no hesitation doing the same for number two.
Wendy, David & Roseanna