It never even occurred to me that I could give birth to my baby at home until I met my friend Cara when we were pregnant with our first babies. Up until then I was conditioned, as I think many Western women are, to believe that babies were born in hospital. Not so for Cara. She was determined to have her little one at home, as hospitals were a place she feared deeply for various personal reasons. I was impressed by her bravery and positive mindset. And she did it! Her bright and curious daughter entered the world in a pool in her parents’ front room, with Bob Dylan’s ‘Queen Jane Approximately’ trumpeting her arrival. It was perfect.
As for me, I had to have my first baby in hospital. I was scared and had no idea what to expect. I wanted doctors, I wanted beeping machines, and I wanted drugs. Lots and lots of drugs.
My birth story of my first child Sonny, is beautiful because he was born. The midwives looked after me well and my baby boy was delivered safely. All was well. Yet I couldn’t help but feel that it could have been even more special, even more beautiful, perhaps even serene? So when I saw that second stripe appear on the pregnancy test eighteen months ago, I knew that I was going to go for it the second time around. I was going to have a home birth.
This was not a decision I made lightly. My husband and I discussed it at length, and I read every book I could get my hands on, keen to hear the bad stories as well as the good. My midwife was extremely supportive; here in our small seaside town of Bournemouth in the UK, the Maternity Unit is midwife led. They are pro natural birth and encourage particularly second time mothers to consider home births. As I was low risk I was good to go.
We prepared the house for the big day, hired a birthing pool, and even visited a specialist shop for the needs of the elderly to purchase industrial-style bedsheets in case I wanted to have my baby in our bed. We were fully prepared with every eventuality covered. I knew that home births did not always work out, that sometimes women had to be taken to hospital to have their baby. I kept myself informed of all possible outcomes, but tried to remain positive, and believe that I could have the birth I dreamed of.
The day I went into labour, my step-mother came to pick up Sonny. It was half past five on the bright and unseasonably warm October evening. This was it! We said goodbye and I remember thinking, in a few hours-by midnight maybe-our baby would be here, in this house. I would be bathed and tucked up in our bed, nursing my newborn and drinking sweet tea. In our home. I would be committing every little detail of the last hours to memory. My special, unique and perfect birth.
We called the midwife and she came to check me. At about half past seven I was just 2 centimetres dilated. She told me to rest, have a bath and call her when the contractions were closer together, and/or my waters had broken. By midnight nothing had really changed. We went to bed and tried, in vain, to sleep.
Things did not start to pick up until 9 o’clock the next morning. We called the midwife again. This time Janine came and checked me. I was seven centimetres! She got me sorted with some gas and air, and called her colleague Linda. I knew that calling the second midwife meant that the baby was coming. My husband Chris started to fill up the pool, and set the baby’s clothes and towels to warm on the radiator. I got into the pool, and I remember looking at the tiny white babygro, hat and vest, certain that in just a few hours our baby would be here in our home. As Chris played me my favourite records, I tried to focus my mind on the pain, telling myself that the baby was coming soon and this would be over. But my waters still had not broken.
The early autumn sun beat through the window, a beautiful day to bring a new life into the world. My all-time favourite record was playing-‘Bob Dylan’s Gospel’-a gift my dad had given my mum in the late ‘60s, before they were married. I remember feeling overwhelmed-I was emotional, I missed my mum, and I was exhausted.
Janine and Linda decided it was time to break my waters and I agreed with the plan. It was gone midday, and my contractions were starting to slow down. After a few painful tries my waters finally broke. Linda left the room and Janine held my hand and looked into my face as she told me quite gently but firmly, that there was meconium in my waters, and that Linda was calling the ambulance. There was a chance that my baby was in distress. We had to go to hospital. It was no longer safe for this birth to happen in our home. My contractions sped up and became more intense. The midwives let me push, making it very clear that myself and the baby would still have to go to the hospital-but he was not ready to come out yet. The paramedics arrived and I was taken on a stretcher down our garden path and into the ambulance parked in our road. I was so frightened and distressed-how the hell was I going to get to hospital? How the hell was I going to get through the next 20 minutes in the back of an ambulance, which let’s face it, is not much more than a transit van.
The journey was excruciatingly painful. I clung to the gas and air as Janine rubbed my back. I tried to picture the journey to the hospital, feeling every turn around every roundabout, every speed bump. It was the longest journey of my life.We finally arrived and were taken straight to the delivery room. Janine had to hand me over to another midwife.
“You’re leaving? You can’t stay?” (She did tell me this before we got in the ambulance, but I suppose I was still in denial) More devastation, more tears. Janine assured me that my new midwife, another Chris, was the best. I was in safe hands. Still, I had built up a strong bond with this woman, and I wasn’t ready for her to leave. (In fact, Janine was such a special midwife, she called me a few days later to ask if she could come and visit the baby and me, and talk through what had happened. I was so happy to see her again)
Midwife Chris was the opposite of Janine; she was big, brash and most definitely the boss. She was exactly what I needed. I did everything she said and concentrated as hard as I could. I delivered my baby boy at 4:30pm on the 10th October, 2013 in hospital. He arrived screaming and red-faced, his little fists clenched and trembling, as if in a terrible rage at leaving the warmth and comforting dark of my belly. He was perfect. He was beautiful. Despite the meconium, baby Emrys was healthy, and I was unscathed.
We were left alone; my husband, me and our newest member of the clan. We were in a hospital room, with stiff white sheets and strip lighting. There were no baby clothes warming on the radiator, there was no Bob Dylan on the record player, there was no promise of the comfort of our bed after a shower in our own bathroom. But that was OK. My baby was here, and he was safe. I had got through a long labour and had done most of it at home.
I do not regret trying for a homebirth, and it hasn’t necessarily put me off trying again if we were to have a third child (although my husband would have something to say about it). My home birth did not go as planned, it wasn’t exactly what I wanted, but I look back on the experience fondly and with no regrets. And now nine months later, when I look at my baby boy I can’t help but feel that his birth is such a small part of what will be his story.
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