Anna and Paul’s homebirth
I usually have time to meet couples I work with at least twice before a birth, but fate had other ideas. Anna and Paul booked me quite late on and their little one arrived before we had chance to do any of our preparation sessions.
Anna called me on Thursday at 8.30am – she was not quite 38 weeks pregnant. As I wasn’t on call yet I was away in Birmingham but when I heard Anna’s voicemail message letting me know that she thought her waters might have broken, I got the little flash of adrenaline and excitement I always do when a birth is imminent. Anna and I spoke and she let me know that, the day before, she felt as if she’d wet herself and that as it had kept happening today she was beginning to wonder if it was waters breaking. We talked through her options (sit tight and see what happens, call midwives etc) and Anna felt she didn’t want to call anyone yet, was monitoring her own temperature and baby’s movements and felt all was well. She was still half-convinced she was wetting herself and wishing she knew what was happening definitively. Paul was at work but on standby.
I decided to make my way back to London that night, as I didn’t want to make a last-minute dash down the motorway in the middle of the night. I arrived home at 1.30am and had a restless night checking my phone hourly, but didn’t hear from Anna until the morning. She had decided to call the midwife and said the midwives didn’t seem bothered and she was feeling hugely energetic, had had a full night’s sleep and was just happy and excited. She was still feeling a bit crampy, especially when she walked. It was lovely hearing her sound so full of beans and ready for action.
I didn’t stray far from my phone all day and got a call at 3pm to ask if there was any chance I could go and meet Anna in Camden. She’d decided to go to an acupuncture appointment and was feeling cramping every three minutes. The acupuncturist had only agreed to the appointment on the proviso that someone met her and went home with her afterwards. So, I met Anna at Camden station at 4.30pm. It was pouring with rain and as she strode towards me with her hood up you could barely tell she was pregnant let alone (it turned out) in labour. She was full of beans and my initial thought was that she wasn’t in any more than very early labour as she was so chatty and felt able to be in central London. At this stage I still thought I would be going home once Anna had met Paul (though I did have my doula bag with me just in case).
However when we got on the tube I noticed Anna was contracting at least once between most stations and they were lasting for a good long while. She just totally switched off, went silent and in to herself during contractions and then popped out again smiling and laughing the other side. I tried to tune in to her contractions and sit quietly with her during them, but couldn’t help looking around the carriage to see if anyone was noticing – they weren’t!
On our way to meet Paul at London Bridge Anna was contracting at the bottom of the escalator, at the top, before the barriers, after the barriers: very, very regularly. I don’t think anyone could really tell though as she was so quiet and calm. For each contraction Anna just lent forwards and became quiet, but she seemed to be needing to lean forward more each time and I noticed the time between each contraction diminishing and the duration of each contraction increasing.
Anna suggested I leave at that point, so I didn’t have to pay to go through the next set of barriers and said that she’d call me later when labour started in ernest! While we were talking about this she had two contractions in very, very quick succession. There was no way I was going anywhere, but I didn’t want to insist as Anna was so relaxed and I didn’t want her to have to realise consciously that she was already in very active labour. I suggested I come back with them on the train and plan to go home once they were comfortable (knowing I would be staying put).
We met Paul at the bottom of platform one, after several contractions in the midst of rush-hour chaos for which I tried to spread the coat I was wearing out to protect Anna from being jostled.
Paul seemed pleased to see me, especially as this meant he could go and buy the initial baby supplies they needed! Paul and Anna were so affectionate and loving to each other it was brilliant. There were lots of cuddles on London Bridge platform and at one point Anna became overwhelmed with emotion and started to cry. It was a lovely moment as through her tears she seemed full of joy, excitement and very strong feelings.
On the train we found a little corner and at Lewisham Paul got off the train to go to Mothercare, armed with a little list we’d made on the back of an envelope.
On the usually five minute walk back from the station to their house, Anna had nine contractions, including one in the midst of some roadworks. I’d usually be encouraging quiet, dim lights and no distractions but Anna was contracting so well, even in the middle of a traffic jam, that we continued to chat and laugh between each contraction. I’d say to Anna ‘do you think you can make it to that lamppost, that car etc’ and she laugh and say ‘of course’. I’m not sure that she ever made it to the ‘goal’ without having a contraction!
When we got home Anna immediately adopted an all fours position which she stayed in until she delivered her baby. I got a rug from upstairs and the birth ball for her to lean on and started to look through the cupboards to work out where water glasses, jugs, snacks etc were. Anna was still quite alert between contractions but beginning to disappear a little as labour progressed.
When Paul got back, laden with nappies, blankets, vests and a very sweet little pair of grey leggings with feet, he and I set to the task of clearing the room they wanted the pool in, setting up the pool, getting the things they needed together. The room was full of boxes, frames and art work but somehow in under an hour we’d cleared it, filled it with candles, music and filled the pool (with buckets!!). I whispered to Paul that I thought Anna was further along than she realised and he agreed, saying it was amazing (as he’d never seen anyone in labour before) but he really felt he knew what was going on just by listening to and being with Anna.
While we were performing an ‘extreme makeover’, Anna made her way up the stairs on all fours, stopping regularly to contract, and then went in to the bathroom – still on all fours. She spent some time under the shower and after a while asked Paul to stay with her. He sort of crouched under her so she was leaning against him, hugging him. He closed his eyes while she contracted and breathed with her – he was so instinctive that I felt very able to continue in practical mode – getting water, snacks, birth plans etc. upstairs as Paul was supporting Anna so beautifully.
Once the room was ready Anna crawled in slowly and they adopted the same position but now with music, ambient lighting and a bit more calm. Anna was now totally in a zone and was beginning to make noises that helped her during the contractions. Paul seemed to have joined her in the zone (which is the first time I’ve ever seen a birth partner be so connected with a woman in labour). I placed my hands on Anna’s lower back as she found the warmth helpful and we stayed there for a while. She got more and more vocal.
I began to mention to Paul that maybe it was time to think about calling the midwives. I could see that Anna’s contractions were coming every minute and were now very strong. She was more and more vocal. Then I heard a distinctive tone to the contraction suggesting they were beginning to be accompanied by pressure that precedes the urge to push. Anna also let us know she thought she ‘needed a poo’. I then told Anna and Paul that it was time to call the midwives.
We spent a while trying to get Anna in to the pool as we thought she’d now be more comfortable surrounded by the warm water. It was tricky for her to imagine how she would be able to stand up and get in but eventually she made a heroic effort between contractions. Almost immediately the midwife arrived.
I met her at the door and tried to show her (both through whispering myself and describing the atmosphere and the birth plan) that Anna needed quiet and calm. She was very keen to examine Anna, who had got out of the pool to go to the loo. We managed to explain that Anna didn’t want internal exams but she was very keen to talk to Anna during contractions and her loud manner was really throwing Anna off her stride. Amazingly Anna herself managed to tell her she was being too loud!
The midwife wanted to palpate and check baby was head down but Anna couldn’t get in to the position she needed and was finding it very stressful to be interfered with. The midwife left room and I suggested to Paul that he go through birth plan with her again and be assertive. He did that brilliantly and the midwife changed and became much more respectful and quiet. Result!
Anna couldn’t get in to the position the midwife needed so we negotiated that she would get in the pool and try in there. I felt we needed to get Anna in there so she’d begin to feel secure and protected again. As Anna got in, at around 8.30pm, the second midwife was called. Anna quickly adopted a squatting position instinctively (as soon as the midwife had successfully established that the baby was head down) and her contractions became very pushy almost as soon as she got in the pool. At first I was behind her and Paul was supporting her face to face. I noticed, as she began to make very classic pushing noises, Paul’s face for the first time filled with concern. I caught his eye and mouthed ‘It’s ok’, which seemed to help.
Anna was amazingly in tune with her body and very aware of what she was feeling – saying ‘I’m getting very wide, something is moving down’. I don’t think midwife really believed things were that imminent until Anna said she could feel the baby’s head. Paul was swiftly asked to get a mirror and Anna, quite amazingly, told him where one was even though she was minutes away from giving birth.
Paul became the second midwife, holding a torch and the mirror and unpacking the midwife’s kit for her and I stayed by Anna’s head breathing with her to encourage her to take slower breaths and relaying the midwife’s instructions. Anna was magnificent – a total warrior goddess. She completely gave in to what her body told her to do.
I suggested Paul tell Anna what he could see of the baby to encourage her (“dark hair”) and very swiftly the newest member of the family was out. The midwife was saying ‘take it, take it’ to Anna who couldn’t quite understand what was happening. So I said ‘take your baby’ and she reached down and took hold of her baby and placed him straight on her chest. It was a wonderful, emotional moment.
After exclaiming her surprise and delight that he was here some of Anna’s first words were ‘That was so amazing. It was easy. I want to do it again’. The baby was born less than two and a half hours after we’d been on the platform at London Bridge and just over four hours after I’d met Anna in Camden.
Anna got out of the pool, still holding the baby and snuggled with him on the bed. After a while (during their natural third stage) Paul took a look at the sex of the baby saying ‘It’s a boy. I think it’s a boy. Is it a boy?’ It was a boy, who was very quickly named ‘Levin Barney’.
Everyone was delighted and even more so when we discovered she hadn’t torn at all. Levin stayed and snuggled up with his Mummy for a good long while. Paul couldn’t have looked any prouder of his family if he tried!
I made tea for the midwife, unpacked some baby clothes, did a bit of tidying and made the bed comfy to give the new family a bit of alone time. Levin was rooting, but not quite latching on yet and I reminded everyone he’d find his way.
Paul began to empty the pool and tidy up and after a while Anna was ready to get up and have a shower while Paul had his first cuddle with his son. When Anna was feeling fresh from her shower she and Levin had another go at feeding and, while Paul was making veggie sausage sandwiches, he latched on like a pro. Paul returned and for a while all four of us were eating on the bed, though Levin missed out on the red wine.
At around 1am I boarded a Speedy Car for home leaving Anna, Paul and Levin in bed and looking like they would swiftly be asleep.
I was so overjoyed to have been present at this birth. It was emotional, fun and incredible and had made me even more confident in the amazing power of womens’ bodies as well as privileged to have seen such a natural and instinctive response from Paul who has a career ahead of him as a doula should he decide to retire from the legal profession.
Welcome to the world Levin, you lucky little chap!