My mother was a midwife and I grew up sneaking into her home office and looking at the baby pictures that covered the walls. I grew up hearing stories of strong women, birthing at home, drug free and surrounded by their loved ones.
I was never sure that I would have children of my own but when I fell pregnant there was no question that I would have a home birth. I felt so strongly about my choice that I didn’t attend the local antenatal classes and opted for some homebirth ones instead.
My midwife was fantastic, she gave me homebirth resources to read that included plenty of natural pain management options.
I saved up all my holiday leave and finished work at 30 weeks which happened to be just in time for the Christmas holidays. I was exactly 34 weeks and had been home from our holiday for only about 3 days when I woke up in the night needing to pee. Except I didn’t make it to the loo and called out to my partner “babe, babe, I can’t stop weeing”. He was less than impressed as it had just gone midnight and he wanted to go back to sleep. I persisted with my complaints until it dawned on us… I wasn’t peeing at all. My waters had broken and it was far too early.
I contacted my midwife who instructed us to rest as much as we could and meet her at the hospital at 9:00am. I relaxed, breathed through the contractions and had eggs on toast for breakfast before we left. I expected to simply be checked and sent home – it was too early for the baby and the contractions weren’t that painful – no big deal right?
Once we arrived at the hospital we were taken to a birthing suite. After being checked I was told that the baby was coming and we weren’t going home.
I wanted to cry, I didn’t want to be in this sterile room with its foreign smells and harsh lighting. I started to panic, “this isn’t how it’s supposed to happen”. I tried to calm myself and read my birth skills book (it was a fruitless effort but I didn’t know what else to do and I had to do something).
I was offered steroids and intravenous antibiotics. I didn’t want anything, I wanted my natural home birth and I wanted to be left alone to find my birthing place and space. I accepted the steroids and asked for more information about the antibiotics; was my baby sick? – not that they could tell – so why did I need them? I read the information and still wasn’t convinced but this didn’t stop different nurses and midwives coming in and offering them to me (while my midwife was having lunch). After five different people had pushed antibiotics, I eventually caved. I didn’t want to take risks when it came to my baby’s health and I wanted people to stop asking me so I could focus on making the best of the situation and get into my birthing zone.
While my midwife was away hospital midwives hooked me up to a monitor to track my baby’s heartrate. I wanted to be untouched and move through the contractions freely. They tried a bluetooth monitor first but it kept slipping and needing re-adjustment. The second hospital midwife gave up on the bluetooth monitor and strapped me to a new monitor. I was now stuck to the bed, the opposite to what I wanted. Her perfume burned my nose and the hospital lights were giving me a headache. When I asked to switch them off the midwife said “No, it’s a health and safety issue”. I wanted my midwife back, I was scared, I felt out of control and trapped.
My midwife came back, saw how distressed I was and fixed everything. She took the monitor off me and got out her doppler to monitor my baby’s heartrate, then switched off the lights and suggested I hop in the shower. I took a sigh of relief and felt at peace. I moaned low and loudly in the shower as the contractions got stronger and closer together.
After three hours in the shower my midwife suggested a change of position and I moved to the hospital bed, hung over the back of the bed and had some gas. My partner was amazing throughout, giving me slips of iced water, back rubs and cuddles on demand.
At 7:00pm my midwife asked to check my dilation. I was fully dilated and had no idea! Upon reflection, I’d say it was the gas that had suppressed the urge to push. I moved around the room trying to find the pushing position that worked for me.
In between pushes, my baby kept slipping back and after 1 hour 45mins my midwife suggested that I lay on my back. I wasn’t sure but I trusted my midwife. My partner held one foot and my midwife the other. My partner and I locked eyes and he proceeded to coach me through breathing and pushing. I was surprised at how much force I needed to use. I’d always thought my body would guide me. In reality it was my partner who guided me as I birthed my baby girl at 9:00pm surrounded by the two people I trusted the most. I had declined any other assistance during the birth of my baby, I knew I could only muster the strength to do this with people I knew in the room with me.
Arabella was born in the posterior position, (facing towards the front of my body) and my midwife put her straight onto my chest for skin to skin before pressing the call bell.
The Neonatal Team were waiting at the door and swiftly checked Arabella. She wasn’t crying. My heart froze. They rubbed her back and she let out a small mew, I relaxed. My partner cut the cord after it stopped pulsing and the NICU team took Arabella to the other side of the room for extra assistance with my partner watching closely.
My midwife stayed with me as we waited for more contractions to come so that I could birth the placenta, but they didn’t come. I felt a small contraction and pushed but no luck. The call bell was pressed again and more people entered the room. Someone pulled on the umbilical cord and it broke off. The anaesthetist came in and talked to me about pain relief for a manual extraction of the placenta and gained my consent.
My baby was born drug free and ironically here I was without her but with 3 IV lines in and on the operating table. Once the spinal was in, I cracked a few cat jokes, relieved that the pain was over. Afterwards, I was reunited with my partner in recovery where I expressed some colostrum to send to NICU for my daughter.
Arabella was born at 9:00pm on 13 January but I didn’t get to see her again till the next morning. Arabella’s Dad went with her to NICU and my midwife supported me in theatre. I can’t remember what time I first went to NICU in the morning but I didn’t get to hold my daughter on that first visit. On my second visit in NICU at 11.15am I finally got to cuddle my baby. She had breathing prongs in her nose and a tube in her mouth. She needed breathing support and was on caffeine and was being fed via a naso-gastric tube. Arabella didn’t make any attempts to breastfeed for quite a few days. She slept a lot during skin to skin with her father and I. After 3 days I dripped some milk from my breast into her mouth and she smacked her lips. I have a photo of her learning to breastfeed on the 21st of January. Arabella was in the hospital for 25 days.
My midwife continued to visit me at least twice a week while I was in the hospital. We borrowed a hospital room to check my stitches and she was able to sit with me (and Arabella) in the NICU too. We were also fortunate to receive a few home visits from her before the 6 weeks postpartum period was up too.
I sent my placenta for testing to see if it could provide a reason for my premature labour. I got a letter back saying that it was likely an infection that precipitated my labour.
I wasn’t able to have the birth that I wanted, but I was able to have aspects of it. This is because of my fantastic LMC, I will never forget what she did for me and my family. My midwife took notes during my birth and emailed them to me after our visits were over. She included everything and even added compliments about how strong I was. It’s was really lovely to read in my own time and another example of her going above and beyond. I am also thankful for the team at the hospital who were able to act quickly and keep me and Arabella safe.