This is my birth story…
Throughout the last few weeks of pregnancy, I had regularly been experiencing practice contractions, which steadily had gotten stronger the further along my pregnancy progressed. Dean and I had joked that when it finally all started, that we wouldn’t know if it was really it, until a baby arrived or not… which turned out not to be that far from the truth!
At 4am on Tuesday 14th April I was awoken (once again) with strong contractions. These were strong enough to make me need to get out of bed and move around and went on until around 7am when I fell asleep for an hour. I awoke up feeling pretty drained and tired out!
I met friend and Natal social media manager Kate for a coffee that morning, then I went to the supermarket, getting home at about 2.30pm.
I had been having very intermittent contractions all morning, but nothing different from usual. The children came home from school and all three played in the garden while I started dinner and Dean popped out to the shop. While running in and out from the children and cooking, I noticed that despite being on my feet the contractions had not stopped. I still hadn’t had my show and while I knew it was not a given that things would start in the same way, with all other three births, that had been my first sign – so I still was not that convinced anything was going to happen anytime soon.
Dean was back home by 4.30pm. At 4.45pm I went to the loo and suddenly there it was, my show! I told Dean that things would probably start soon – I still thought it would probably be the next day before anything happened, so I finished making dinner and we all sat down together at 5pm to eat.
Then, I went to sit on my birth ball in the living room, I was still getting contractions but as they still felt like the practice ones I had been getting for the last few weeks, I wasn’t convinced that they wouldn’t just disappear again as they usually did at this time of night. At 6pm, Dean decided to inflate the pool and start to fill it ‘just in case‘ – we weren’t sure how long it would take as we don’t have the most reliable source of hot water! So the plan was to partly fill it and then add to it as and when needed. Our older two children went upstairs to play before bedtime and our youngest, Brock, was watching cartoons Netflix next to me in the living room.
Over the next hour the contractions did suddenly get stronger and more frequent, and we decided at about 6.30pm that things had now probably started. The kids came down to say goodnight to me, and then went to bed while Brock, (20 months old) who doesn’t usually go to bed until later, stayed with us.
As well as using my birthing ball at the start to gently rock and tilt my pelvis, I used a breathing practice which we use in MummyNatal called mindful breathing. The way that each person does this differs, but for me it was about just breathing normally but consciously, focusing on the sensation and sound of my breath in and out through my nose each time I felt a contraction.
As the contractions started to get stronger from about 7pm, and I knew now that things had definitely started, I found myself using a combination of three other MummyNatal mindful practices. The first was a grounding practice. As a contraction began, I would press my hands on the wall or sofa and focus in on what I could feel. On the wall I was focusing on the smoothness and cold, on the sofa I was focused on the rougher textures of the fabric. This grounding and focus really allowed me to keep rooted in the moment.
I also started using sounding at this point and was humming through each contraction. Again this gave me a great focal point as I focused on making the noise and knowing there were just a few repetitions of sounding and then the contraction would have passed. Using sounding to deal with labour sensations is something which I have always found really helps, and as usual, it worked brilliantly!
The last MummyNatal practice which also worked really well for me, was purposely and mindfully placing my focus on the rests. Rather than focusing on the contractions, or thinking ahead to the next one, each time one passed I just relaxed and focused on enjoying the rest between them and how good these breaks felt. This made the rests feel SO much longer and the contractions feel SO much shorter and manageable!
The only issue was that these practices were all working so effectively, it meant it was only obvious I was contracting for about 30 seconds of each contraction, so they still looked (and felt!) quite short and spaced out. From observation Dean said it looked like they were lasting 30-40 seconds and every 3-4 minutes. I was also quite alert and able to chat between them, rather than being very tired or zoned out. At about 7.45pm we decided to time a couple of contractions, with me specifically saying when they started and stopped. We were both surprised to find that by Dean’s timing, they were actually lasting well over a minute each and only had about 90 seconds between each one. I was starting to get a fair bit of pressure at this stage and feeling like I needed the loo. While my brain was telling me that these were all signs things were progressing, I felt so comfortable and calm that I was having trouble believing it, especially as it had only been an hour of strong (but still very manageable!) contractions.
I got into the pool at 8pm and immediately sunk into that familiar soothing sensation which is just so amazing with a birth pool. At this point everything seemed to stop and for what felt like five or ten minutes nothing happened – no contractions, no pressure. Knowing that a change of position or the change in environment to water could have slowed things down, or indeed, maybe just being earlier in labour than I thought, I rested. At this point I felt birth might still be a long time away, and I was enjoying just being comfortable and relaxed in the beautifully warm pool!
Brock was still sat in the room with me, watching cartoons on the TV, not exactly the relaxing soundtrack I had in mind but familiar and reassuring all the same! (At one point mid contraction, me even brought me the WiiU pad to ask me to change his cartoon!)
Then suddenly I got my first contraction since getting in the pool, at about 8.10pm. It was strong like before, and as it eased away I suddenly felt my body give a little push of it’s own accord. I said to Dean, ‘I’m pushing!’ It wasn’t really until this contraction, and the specific familiar sensation which I know is of my body transitioning into the second stage, that we suddenly knew this was definitely happening NOW!
Over the next couple of contractions I was telling Dean that I felt I like I was going to poo myself! Dean was already on the phone to labour ward, however the person at the other end did not appear to be in any rush and was trying to get all the details of my pregnancy and labour so far. As I came out of another strong contraction with my body instinctively pushing of it’s own accord, I could tell she had asked Dean when the contractions had begun and I shouted at him to just tell her that there was no time for this, I was pushing!
My body was instinctively pushing with each contraction now, so I just relaxed and trusted it to do what it needed. The noises I was making were completely uncontrollable at this point, and the power of my body instinctively pushing was so strong I was kneeling upright, holding onto the handle on the side of the pool to help brace and ground myself.
Then the phone rang again – labour ward rung back to tell Dean they advised he called 999 for assistance. We didn’t know at the time (as they didn’t explain) but this was because they couldn’t get hold of the on call midwife who had been called to another birth, and even though they were going to redirect her to us once she arrived there, they knew she wasn’t going to get to us in time.
As Dean came off the phone I told him that he’d better call someone as I could feel the head! Although we both trust in my abilities to birth, should there have been an emergency situation in which I or baby needed help, having a professional present could make a huge difference, which was why we did choose to call the emergency services as advised.
Dean explained to the emergency services operator the situation, and then he was given instructions about what he ‘should’ do. At this point Dean briefly went out of the room. The emergency operator was instructing him to place his hands on my vagina and to tell me to push… Neither of which were how we wished to birth, and we believed to be unnecessary. The operator was fairly insistent, so Dean wanted to firmly explain why he wasn’t going to do that (but out of my earshot to try and not bring any more adrenalin into the room). I won’t go into the details here though, as from my perspective I wasn’t involved in the phone call, and I am sure Dean will want to write more about this in his own birth story!
As he stepped out of the room, another contraction came and I felt baby’s head move even further down with it. At this point I knew with certainty that no medical professional was going to be there in time, but felt pretty calm about that. As I felt the sensation of the head start to crown, (which was really slow and gentle) I put my hand down to touch the presenting part to check it was a head, not a bottom or anything else!
Dean looked in the water and told the 999 operator that baby was crowning. With the next contraction I felt baby starting to be born, and with a little push the head and shoulders slipped out both together. As Dean reached down to lift our baby out of the water I felt the legs (which were still inside me!) being pulled out – a very strange sensation! As he lifted baby up, the phone which had been tucked behind his ear slid free and suddenly fell straight into the pool with a big splash! ‘The phone!!’ I exclaimed – I was MUCH more shocked that he had just drowned our phone than having just given birth unassisted!
Dean passed me our baby and I saw that they had a large piece of membrane over their head and face – it looked like they had a veil on! I peeled it off so baby could breathe and I could see their face. This was very instinctive, I didn’t even think about it until later when the midwives asked me what it was floating in the pool!
I also noticed the cord was wrapped around baby’s body, so I unwrapped it making it easier to lift him close for a cuddle. I was also checking the water to make sure I could see my feet at the bottom, as I knew that meant my blood loss was within a safe amount!
Baby let out a little cry, and then calmed as we cuddled. He was obviously fine and well, looking up at me, moving, breathing. I asked Dean if he was going to have a look and find out whether we had a boy or girl. Dean had a look and told me that it was a boy! We had only that morning finally agreed a name for a boy, and so we now agreed that it still felt right and that this was baby Heath.
At this point Dean also told me that it was just after half eight! I was gobsmacked everything had happened so quickly, given that at 6pm I thought I was just having some practice contractions as usual!
Our planned quiet, dark, private golden hour after birth came to a little of an abrupt end with the arrival of the professionals though. Seven minutes after Heath arrived, the first paramedic arrived with quite an entrance, bursting through the door, calling for the lights to be put on! He did very quickly observe though that all was ok with me and baby and so then retreated into the background a little. One thing he was able to do for us was find out the time of Heath’s birth, as he radioed the emergency control room to find out what time they had lost the call to us (as obviously the point Dean dropped the phone into the pool was when Heath arrived!) The operator confirmed that they lost the call to us at 8.35pm and 19 seconds – which was a pretty unique way of finding out the time of birth and will be a great story to tell Heath when he is older!
Twenty minutes after birth a midwife and a student midwife arrived, closely followed by an ambulance and two other paramedics.
Ironically, this was probably the most surreal part of the whole experience – sitting in the birth pool in my dark living room, lit up only by my candle and the blue pulsating lights from outside, while Brock was still watching his cartoons on Netflix and five medical professionals were stood talking in my hallway!
Although it was not what we had planned for our golden hour, we managed to get it back on track. I was feeling pretty elated (the best I have ever felt after just giving birth) and I hadn’t moved from my position in the pool. The midwives asked if I was still attached to baby and said they would get the clamps etc. I said that I didn’t want the cord cut until after the placenta had been birthed, so they left me be. I sat in the pool just cuddling Heath and after a short while, got a couple of strong period ache type sensations. This was the first time I had got this far into a physiological third stage, so I was unfamiliar with the sensations. The midwife said that if I felt like giving a push I could, and literally the smallest of tiny pushes and I felt a little fluttery sensation as the placenta slipped out, and that was it! I honestly barely noticed it, it was so different to the managed stages I’d had previously, I was still kneeling comfortably in the pool just having a lovely cuddle.
My third stage was noted as taking 50 minutes, which given how much disturbance there was with unplanned strangers arriving quite noisily up to half an hour after birth, and the potential impact on the hormone production needed for the third stage, I thought was actually still pretty quick!
Dean remembered that I wanted a photo of our baby still attached to the placenta, so I passed Heath out to the student midwife, and went ‘fishing’ at the bottom of the pool for the placenta and passed that to the other midwife. Both were laid onto a mat and we got our photo. Everyone looked on in amazement at how white the cord was. Delaying cord clamping until after the birth of the placenta really meant Heath got every drop of blood, and it was really quite beautiful to look at. Dean then cut the cord and we tied it with our rainbow cord tie rather than a standard plastic medical clamp.
The part which came next was the one I was most anxious about! The midwife had already let me know that she couldn’t suture so if I needed stitches, I would need to be transferred by the ambulance to hospital. I had gotten stitches after all three previous births so it felt almost an inevitability. However, as I find vaginal suturing quite distressing, I had already told the midwife that I would only consent if we all deemed it absolutely essential. Added to this, the idea of going into hospital after birthing at home felt really frustrating, and I didn’t want to be separated from my new baby for a transfer. So gas and air at the ready (while I don’t need it for birthing, I do for the examination after birth!) they checked me. I can honestly say I have never been happier than to hear the words ‘two minor grazes, perineum intact’! I couldn’t believe it, and think it is so interesting that it was this birth experience, with only my husband and son present, which was quite literally the gentlest on my body.
From there, I moved into a comfy position on the sofa where I cuddled and fed Heath while Dean sat next to me. The midwives brought me tea and biscuits and then went to do their paperwork in our kitchen, leaving us alone to marvel at the fact it was only just 10pm!
Later they came in to check Heath over and weigh him. He weighed 7lbs 9oz, a very usual size for my babies! Then they left and we went to bed just before midnight – not that much later than usual.
It was an awesome experience. It didn’t all ‘go to plan’. It wasn’t my plan to be labouring to Team Umizoomi playing on the TV next to me! It wasn’t my plan to birth without a midwife present for back up. It wasn’t my plan to have a house full of strangers chatting and disturbing the first hour after birth. But it was still awesome. I had the physiological third stage which I had wanted previously and not managed. I had a wonderfully gentle birth experience. I felt so good during the labour that we didn’t realise it was really happening until our baby was literally emerging! I felt elated in the minutes and hours after birth, in a way I hadn’t experienced before. This was all a world away from the experience I had 7 years ago when I had my first baby.
Despite going to bed, I couldn’t sleep. I was still so euphoric! In fact, every time I thought about an aspect of the birth in those first two days I would get a contraction! The happy hormones were still flowing that powerfully!
While not everything went ‘to plan’, having a plan was still so important. The practices I planned (and practiced!) to use in labour were so important for it being the great experience it was – keeping me calm and focused, and making the contractions so manageable. When things went off plan, the fact we had a plan meant we had a steer for what we needed to do/request to get things back on course when appropriate. In the absence of a plan, it would have been easy to get carried away down another path, which would have changed the whole feel of the experience. Even though it wasn’t our plan to birth without a midwife present, being mindful of what was actually happening in the present moment (rather than any ‘what if’s’) and trusting and allowing in my body to work as it needed, meant what could have been a stressful or scary experience, was actually the calmest and gentlest birth I’ve experienced.
I got so much from my fourth birth experience, and feel so thankful for it!
Welcome to the world my very lovely, baby Heath 🙂
Steph is co-founder of antenatal & parenting programmes MummyNatal, BabyNatal and DaddyNatal.