This is a hybrid story really, part birth story and part the story of me finding my fantastic independent midwife, Kay.
When I found out I was pregnant with my first baby, The Girl, I decided that by far the best place to give birth was at home. She was a breech baby and was delivered in hospital by caesarean section in December 2005. About as different a birth from the one I wanted that you could imagine. Although many people told me that the most important outcome was a healthy mother and baby I felt deprived of an experience that I desperately wanted. I felt really guilty for feeling very upset and negative about my first birth experience.
I had quite a few problems with breastfeeding and healing after the caesarean and all this made me really determined to have the birth that I wanted second time around. When The Girl was just over a year old The Husband and I were delighted to find out that I was pregnant again. Four months into the pregnancy we dutifully trotted off to see the consultant at our very local small hospital to discuss the birth. I had spent a lot of the previous 4 months researching VBAC (vaginal birth after caesarean) in its many forms (home birth, hospital birth, water birth etc.) and had very quickly reached the conclusion that I was going to have a bit of a fight on my hands if I was going to get the birth I wanted this time round. What I wasn’t prepared for was the SHO not even listening to my request and telling me in no uncertain terms that I would be having this baby in hospital, lying on my back with continuous electronic foetal monitoring meaning that I wouldn’t be able to get up, and that if I hadn’t given birth within 6 hours of being at the hospital in labour I would be having another caesarean. Some of my research included the best way to labour and give birth – lying on my back unable to move didn’t feature strongly in this research, except in the articles on what not to do when in labour.
I went away from that appointment very disheartened but soon rallied and dragged The Husband along to a NCT home birth meeting to see if we could find out how best to proceed. In my highly emotional (hormonal!) state I wanted to go straight for an independent midwife but as they’re quite expensive, The Husband, quite sensibly, wanted to explore other options first. The meeting was great – an opportunity to meet other people who wanted to give birth at home and didn’t look at me like I was suggesting murdering my unborn child when I expressed my desire! It was also very encouraging with a lovely birth story from our host and some suggestions on how I could proceed with the NHS.
The Albany Midwives (a fairly local group of midwives) were suggested but unfortunately couldn’t help me. It was also suggested that I speak to the Community Midwives at our local big hospital (slightly less local than the small hospital) where I’d be giving birth but they just put me back in touch with the midwife attached to my doctors surgery and whilst she said she would support a home birth she attached an amazing number of caveats on exactly what situation I would be allowed to home birth in. I felt I didn’t really stand a chance of meeting her criteria and would very swiftly be transferred into hospital.
At this point we decided that if I stuck with the NHS I would certainly give birth in hospital and probably end up having another caesarean so we decided to go ahead with hiring an independent midwife. Through the website for the Independent Midwives Association I got a short list of midwives who were prepared to work in my area and finally narrowed down the list to one (by speaking to several on the phone and then asking a couple to come to our house so I could meet them) – Kay Hardie of the Kent Midwifery Practice. Having an IM was fantastic during pregnancy – Kay came to our house for all of the appointments. They were very relaxed and informal events – we’d have a cup of tea and a chat about how I was feeling and all sorts of aspects of pregnancy, labour and birth. Anything I was interested in she would provide reams of information on and being able to talk about myself at length was great!
After chatting about it with Kay and quite a few other people I decided that a water birth seemed like a really good idea so off I went to do some more research. We decided that instead of hiring a rigid sided pool we would buy an inflatable pool (well, we could always use it for a paddling pool for The Girl and the new baby next summer!). We got the pool and inflated it when I was 36 weeks pregnant and The Girl had a lovely few weeks using it as a ball pit – we’d got some use out of it before I even went into labour!
At 40 weeks pregnant we started chatting about strategies for if I went over my due date. At 41 weeks I was trying very hard to remain calm but starting to get a bit worried about whether I was going to have the longest pregnancy in history. Last time round I’d had a confirmed date for having my baby – possibly the only good reason for having a caesarean (especially if you like to be in control of things!) Kay told me not to worry and that when she came to see me the following week we’d talk about me having a sweep. The Husband and I tried all the usual methods for natural induction, long walks (tiring when your circumference is 4 feet – yes, really), hot curries (neither of us really likes anything much hotter than a korma) and of course the old failsafe which was neither a failsafe, or particularly easy given the shape I was!
On the Monday of my 42nd week, at about 7pm, I started to get back ache and really crampy stomach ache. It rapidly got uncomfortable enough to put on my TENS machine which I quickly realised was faulty. When I set it to 'boost' one of the pads would not work to start with and then kick in with a little shock. I couldn’t lie down without the pain getting much worse so I spent that night surfing the Internet, watching truly terrible television and religiously writing down how long each contraction was and how long the gaps were. By Tuesday morning I was tired, fed up and beginning to wonder how long exactly it was going to take. I was reassured though by the fact that 12 hours into it I was coping with the pain really well. I was going to be disabused of that notion but not for a while.
At about 8am on Tuesday morning the contractions stopped. I trotted off to bed for a while and The Husband went out with The Girl to give me some time to rest. I sent Kay a text to let her know what had happened and she replied that it was quite normal for it all to stop and start for a while. That evening at 7pm they started up again. On went the TENS machine again (I decided that a faulty TENS machine was probably better than no TENS machine). By 7am on Wednesday, the contractions were regular enough and close enough together to think about calling Kay and The Girl’s grandparents (who were going to look after her). The Girl’s grandparents said they’d come over straight away and got to us by about 7.30. Kay told me I should give it another half an hour just to make sure that the contractions were really established. I phoned back at 7.30 and we agreed that she’d come over to see me.
By this time I was really tired and starting to find the contractions extremely painful. I was also finding that the pain didn’t really go away completely in between contractions which I found difficult to deal with. I’m not great with pain anyway and being tired as well made it very hard. I’d also had diarrhoea and I thought I’d had a show several times! Shortly after Kay arrived I went to the loo again. I was sick (which The Husband dealt with heroically, brandishing the bucket like a true professional) and then felt a pop and a definite gush of fluid. I suddenly felt a bit better as with my waters breaking I felt I was getting somewhere! At about 10.30 I got into the pool. The warm water was wonderfully soothing and the support I got from the water made me feel much more comfortable.
After this, I can’t really remember what time things happened as it all got a lot more painful! I asked for some gas and air which didn’t really help. I kept trying it in case it got better the more I had but it was no good. My back would get cold as I was kneeling forwards in the pool so The Husband helped by pouring hot water over me – he got told off for daring to touch me with the jug at one point! He was also kept busy making sure the water in the pool stayed warm by taking jugs of water out and replacing them with hot water. I’m also sure I saw him brandishing a sieve at one point – I’ll leave the reasons for that to your imagination! Sometime in the early afternoon I started to get really cold so Kay suggested I get out of the pool. I can just remember being tired, in pain and really, really sorry that I was putting everyone to so much inconvenience. I swore quite a lot and spent a lot of time apologising for that too.
All through this, Kay and The Husband were amazing – between them they kept me warm, kept me topped up with tea and water, made sure the music (Muse and Placebo) didn’t stop, but most importantly they made me feel secure, loved, looked after and they never stopped believing in me and my body’s ability to give birth. I was beginning to have my doubts and at one point even demanded a caesarean – maybe the transition period?! I had my first internal examination mid-afternoon and was ecstatic when Kay told me she could feel the head – I really felt that I was achieving something.
I spent the next couple of hours variously squatting, standing, walking and sitting on the loo with The Husband applying hot compresses to my back. Being able to change positions was so important – I couldn’t move during a contraction but I could ease all my aches in between. I think heat (both the pool and the compresses) was a fairly good pain reliever and I remember snapping at The Husband a couple times when he let the compresses get a bit cooler than I liked! Kay called a colleague to come out to us as she’d been with us on her own since about 9/9.30 that morning and things were going quite slowly. Soon after that I got back into the pool – it was such a relief to be back in that lovely warm water!
When Virginia (Kay’s colleague) arrived she brought with her a birthing stool so it was decided that I would get out of the water and sit on that. It was quite uncomfortable but Kay and Virginia thought it would help so I decided I’d stay on it for a bit. Virginia got me up and about and walking around – against my wishes at the time but in retrospect I can see that it was exactly the right thing to do. When I wasn’t walking I was on the birth stool being held up by The Husband. Things were really not moving along so we discussed an episiotomy and decided that if I hadn’t given birth in quarter of an hour Kay would do one. Having the local anaesthetic was quite unpleasant but by that stage I was so exhausted that I just wanted to give birth to my baby and go to sleep! I remember pushing once after the anaesthetic was administered but nothing happened so Kay did the episiotomy. Two pushes later and at 7.14pm The Boy was born – it hurt more than anything that day did but I was so happy!
He was passed up to me and The Husband and we were able to find out his sex ourselves. He lay on my chest (where The Husband cut his cord) looking all purple and puffy and the most beautiful thing I’d seen! He was also very slippery but I managed not to drop him. Next came the business of getting the placenta out and it was at this point that we deviated from the plan slightly! I started trying to push out the placenta but was so tired I could feel my pushes weren’t doing anything. I also started to bleed so Virginia gave me some syntometrine. Kay tried pulling the placenta but the cord snapped twice! I then went and sat on the loo and we tried getting The Boy to breastfeed (he didn’t, just had a comfortable nuzzle) and some homeopathic remedies but nothing happened. I was feeling wiped out by this time so I was taken back into the front room and lay down on the sofa with The Boy while an ambulance was called. I ended up not being in surgery until 1am so I’m guessing that it wasn’t an emergency!
Before that day I had thought that I’d be gutted to have to go to hospital but I was so elated that I’d given birth in my own home with as few people around as possible that going to hospital didn’t feel at all bad. All in all, it was a very long but very amazing day where not only did I give birth to my wonderful son but I also found out a lot about my and my husband’s strengths and the depth of our love for each other.