Having a home birth is not a decision I took lightly. At 38, I was an older (terminologically geriatric but we won’t go there!) mother, and it was my first birth. I was also diagnosed with gestational diabetes, but that’s a story for another day.
My dear partner (DP) was born at home, as was his little sister (he was 7 when she was born so he remembers it well). He recently admitted he wanted me to choose a home birth but hadn’t said anything at the time as he didn’t want me to feel any pressure, and ultimately he wanted the decision to be mine.
I think deep in my mind I had already chosen where I wanted to give birth, however just to be able to consider all our options, we went to check out the midwife led unit at the Lister hospital in Stevenage, our closest maternity unit. Having seen the amazing facilities on offer there (honestly, the rooms looked more like a spa than what you would expect a labour room in a hospital to look like) made my decision slightly more difficult, however I went away sure that I would feel most comfortable giving birth in the surroundings of my own home.
Do I have any regrets? Not at all!
Did I ever doubt for a moment my body and its capability to birth my baby? Nope, not for one millisecond. I honestly believe this positive outcome is down to my hunger for knowledge (I read intently during pregnancy all the natural birth movement greats- Grant Dickly Read, Milli Hill, Ina May Gaskin and more) coupled with the skills and empowerment I learnt in The Wise Hippo hypnobirthing program.
Did we make any mistakes? Yes, but not life threatening and in hindsight they make for quite a funny story! Being my first birthing experience, I wasn’t sure what to expect or how the different stages would feel. So when I woke up in the early hours of the morning (around 3am) with a wet puddle in bed, and on a trip to the toilet making another puddle on the floor, I thought things were starting to happen- which of course they were, I just wasn’t as far along as I thought!
Returning from the toilet, I excitedly woke up DP to tell him about the puddles, and we both thought the time was right for him to set about filling the birthing pool so it was full and the right temperature for when the big moment arrived. I was having regular surges (contractions) but they weren’t intense at all, and they in fact made me question if everyone was hamming it up when it came to how much labour hurts. We called the midwives to let them know we were in labour, but when they heard me speaking in the background they said it wasn’t time for them to come yet! We went out for a walk with our furry baby to get things moving.
Upon our return, DP continued climate control duty on the pool all day and at the end of the day a midwife came to check on us… imagine our surprise (and disappointment!) when she discovered I was just 1cm dilated! She recommended I went to bed to get some sleep, which I duly did, leaving DP on pool duty… we have an old house with limited hot water supply so I’m not even sure he slept that night!
Some 24 hours after I thought my waters had broken, I woke up feeling the need to pee, and had my “bloody show” (what a name!) After that, things really did get moving. The midwife came at around 10am to assess me, I was 4cm dilated which meant it was a good time for me to get in the pool.
And it was there I mostly stayed, besides my toilet trips, for some 6-7 hours. You see ladies and gentlemen, I was involuntarily opening my bowels in the pool left, right and centre (too much information?!), but no matter how much I needed to pee I just couldn’t get myself to! So whenever I felt the urge I would climb out the pool, dash upstairs to the toilet, then dash back down in the hope I made it back into the pool before my next surge. Which I did almost every time, but due to the couple of occasions I didn’t I can vouch that birthing pools do offer substantial relief from discomfort!
Whilst I was in the throes of birth in the pool, our midwife stayed mostly in the kitchen, but did come and monitor mine and baby’s heart rate every 15 minutes just to make sure everything was going as expected. Through monitoring like this, midwives can usually foresee any necessity to transfer to a hospital in good time. DP spent most of his time either with me, on climate control duty of the pool, or in the kitchen entertaining the midwife chatting, making tea and offering biscuits.
When primal instincts took over (the midwife told DP he would know when, and after the birth he confirmed that yes, the guttural outbursts from me were a dead giveaway!), the lead midwife called for a second midwife to be present for the birth, a standard and very reassuring practice.
After a relatively short second stage of labour, at 4:44pm, over 36 hours since the first puddles in the bed and bathroom, our baby arrived safely with DP catching her, before the midwives whisked her not too far away (as she was still attached by the umbilical cord to our placenta) and gave her a little rub down with a towel to stimulate her/wake her up. I was exhausted by the end, falling asleep during surges exhausted, but I was in the comfort of my own home. I can remember the elation I felt immediately after giving birth, crying tears of joy and exclaiming over and over again “she’s here! She’s here!” and just holding my baby and holding her in my arms and welcoming her into the world.
Just as we had planned, we achieved a natural birth and having requested delayed cord clamping once I was ready, DP and the midwives helped me and baby out of the pool and onto the (plastic sheet-covered) sofa. The third stage of labour (delivery of the placenta) took a little while longer than usual and I had lost slightly more than a normal amount of blood, however the midwives were respectful of our wishes to not use syntocinon and waited patiently with us. Sometimes if the placenta does take a long time to deliver, or if you have lost a lot of blood, midwives might want to hurry the delivering of the placenta just to make sure it is healthy and most importantly that it is not retained as this is a common cause of postpartum haemorrhage.
Definitely one of the best takeaways from my experience was the care received immediately after the birth. We had two midwives with us who not only made sure both baby and I were in good health, but they also made sure that my baby was latching on correctly before they left. This was an issue I was slightly concerned about as I know many new Mums struggle with breastfeeding and feel they don’t get enough support to do it right. They also offered to help clean up the bloodbath (quite literally!) and other remaining detritus, which DP politely declined but which freaked out our first visitors somewhat who in later days likened our home to a murder scene!
From my personal experience, I don’t think my home birth could have been any more positive. I did a lot of mental preparation to be in the right headspace for it. If you think you might want a home birth, speak to your health care professional and your birthing partner to explore the possibility and see if it is right for you.