‘Blessedly, wonderfully straightforward’: the birth of P

Now look here. Never in a gazillion years did I think I would be a person who could – who willingly would – give birth at home, in my bedroom no less, and be sitting up in bed cuddling the baby and eating a bowl of shredded wheat not long afterwards. But I did it. And you can do it too.

P was to be my second baby. My first – L – was a traumatic experience. I went in with no particular expectations of a glorious natural birth and thought I was pretty level-headed about the whole thing. But after 48 hours of contractions, several midwife shift changes, a malfunctioning epidural and a panicking anaesthetist, a threatened emergency caesarean and eventually forceps with an excruciating episiotomy, I was pretty freaked out when baby L turned up, seemingly from under the table in the operating theatre. I remained freaked out for about a year afterwards, and suffered from pretty bad postnatal depression. I felt alienated from the baby and completely daunted as a mother.

As part of getting my head round daring to get pregnant again, I went through my notes with head of midwifery at the hospital and began to understand that a lot of the things that happened in my first birth only happened because of hospital rules, which I hadn’t been in a position to question. Perhaps, I thought, if I had someone to stick up for me, someone who knew what I wanted and could act as my advocate, perhaps things could go better. I decided to ask Rebecca if she would be my doula.

From our very first meeting, she was a rational and compassionate presence. I always felt I could be completely honest with her (e.g. ‘I’m really scared of how much it’s going to hurt’), and always felt uplifted after meeting her, which is no small feat at all if you knew how many sleepless nights and tears I had previously had thinking about giving birth again. She was very thorough in debriefing our first birth experience – we had a helpful session where she got my husband W and I to write up our experience of the birth separately and then discuss them. She pointed me to lots of useful resources, lent me books and hypnobirthing CDs (which I listened to religiously, although more often than not drifted off into a lovely nap while doing so). But I never once felt she was forcing her opinions on me – in fact she possesses an almost uncanny knack of intuiting what to say and how to support people, and empowering you to make your own decision. After much talking, and thought, and research, I found myself contemplating a homebirth, something I never would have dreamt of doing had I not met Rebecca. But I thought – imagine if I could have the baby, under my own steam, with no interventions from by turns surly, bossy, or downright uninterested hospital staff – well, how great would that be? We borrowed a birthpool from Rebecca, had a trial run filling it up, and as the weeks went by I started to feel more and more relaxed about the idea. Which was extraordinary. Perhaps the hypnobirthing CDs were doing something after all.

A week before P was born I had gastroenteritis and had to go into A&E and be rehydrated with a drip. It was so helpful being able to text Rebecca things like ‘They won’t make me have it here will they?’, and be reassured. When it came to it, it was all very quick – I could write you a book practically about my first birth but this one was just so simple. I started to feel twinges around 8pm, while watching Eurovision. Had a candle-lit bubble bath around midnight and chatted to my husband while listening to music. Sent him to bed and tried to sleep, decided I couldn’t and grudgingly decided I really ought to time the contractions, and realized they were about once every three minutes and about a minute long by that stage. I texted the midwife and Rebecca, not sure if I was being ridiculously premature (bear in mind L took 48 hours of contractions to come). Luckily Rebecca set off from Kent to our house in Hackney then, as it turned out things were moving on. The midwives turned up about 4am and the contractions were pretty strong – I was dealing with them by walking round in small circles in my living-room, trying to do low moaning but with the occasional ‘Bugger! Ow.’, interspersed. I remembered Rebecca had told me I could ask them to set up in another room from me so they wouldn’t put me off my spacey vibe by chatting and note-taking, and it was really helpful not to have them right there with me – I’m sure I would have suffered performance anxiety. Rebecca arrived soon after and asked me what I would like her to do. I asked her to send W up, who had been faffing around with the birth pool downstairs in the dining room and I hadn’t seen him for what felt like ages. I had a few more contractions and kept going for a wee, as I couldn’t empty my bladder in the first birth and had to be catheterized, which was not good. After about my fifth wee trip in about five minutes, I was hanging off the edge of the bathroom sink having a pretty intense contraction when my waters burst. I looked down and noticed they were kind of greeny-yellowy. ‘Oh, is it meconium?’ I said dreamily to Rebecca. ‘I think it probably is,’ she said. From then I started to feel a bit like I wanted to push. The midwife immediately wanted to examine me to see if I was fully dilated. I was vaguely aware meconium in the waters could mean the baby was in distress, but I wasn’t panicking – which is a testament to Rebecca’s calm and all the prep we’d done. It turned out I was dilated so then they wanted me to push. I asked if I could go in the birthpool but they said it wasn’t ready, so we went into my bedroom. (Spoiler: I never made it to the birthpool. It turns out the hose had detached from the tap and all the faffing W and Rebecca had been doing downstairs had been essentially trying to prevent a full-on flood. I understand the carpet was pretty soggy down there for a few days afterwards. Frankly I would happily have submerged the whole house if that’s what it took to get such a good birth.)

t was quite surreal in my bedroom at dawn with W, Rebecca and two midwives, and the gaps between the contractions started getting bigger and bigger, through exhaustion and I think a bit of performance anxiety (well wouldn’t you have, with a roomful of people looking expectantly at your undercarriage?). We tried out a few positions without much luck. I was still quite chill but I overheard the second midwife muttering something on the phone to their head of midwifery about ‘episiotomy… meconium…’ Remarkably I remained calm despite another episiotomy being one of my worst fears. I think I just had such confidence in Rebecca that she wouldn’t let anything awful happen to me. Rebecca got me a spoonful of honey to fortify me and I realized I was just going to have to push through the pain barrier, so I positioned myself leaning over the side of the bed holding my husband’s hands and the next few pushes, I just thought to myself ,‘Shit the melon. Shit the melon.’ (Not much of a Zen mantra but it worked for me.) Rebecca did a great job of keeping me posted on what was happening (‘that’s the hardest bit done now, the head is there’ etc.), and all in such a calm way I honestly think she’s missed her vocation in air traffic control. And before I knew it P was in my arms on the floor by the bed, within about two hours of the midwives turning up. We waited for the cord to stop pulsing then W cut it, and then while W looked after the baby, Rebecca held my hands while the midwife checked me to see if I needed stitches. A small second-degree tear which they proposed to stitch but Rebecca quietly said, ‘You can ask about letting it heal by itself you know’. So I did. And it healed absolutely fine, and I avoided any stitches. RESULT.

Because I’d had meconium in the waters the midwives had to advise us (hospital protocol again) to go into hospital to have the baby observed for 24 hours. But Rebecca quietly reminded us that we could ask questions about this kind of thing while she checked with the midwives on whether they could observe us more frequently at home instead, which of course they could. So we didn’t go into hospital, and instead Rebecca helped me have a shower in my own shower (HEAVEN) and then got me a bowl of shredded wheat and a cup of tea to have in bed.

I could not believe the difference from last time. I actually felt happy to be holding my baby girl, and am really enjoying having a baby – an experience utterly denied me with my first child. More than this, experiencing the second birth on my terms has made me a happier and more confident mother to my son too.

If I had to describe this birth in one word, even though everyone says (and I don’t disagree) childbirth is obviously magic, spiritual, a miracle – the word for this would be: straightforward. Blessedly, wonderfully so. P has fitted into our life without missing a beat and straightaway I felt confident that I knew exactly what to do with her. A homebirth. Have the baby at home. Well – of course.

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