Born at home in the pool
There have been several occasions during my career as a midwife when I have been challenged about my ability to be a midwife when I had not experienced childbirth myself. My standard response went along the line of asking if a cardiac surgeon needed to have experienced a heart attack to be any good, but also to ask what type of experience they would like their midwife to have had. Would one who experienced a natural homebirth without pain relief be preferable to one who chose an elective caesarean? I felt strongly that drawing on the experiences of all the women I had looked after gave me a rounded view of childbirth and that I did not need to have “been there, done that” in order to be any good at my job.
I have now been there… and I am not sure it will have helped my situation! Here is the story of Theo’s magical arrival into this world.
Having experienced a wonderful healthy pregnancy, at 35 weeks I developed a pregnancy rash that was miserable. It did not threaten to harm either the baby or I, but I was only getting 2-3 hours sleep a night and the itching and rash were very distressing. Of course it had to develop over Christmas while I was abroad, so our holiday festivities were cut short to return home for treatment. My husband Steven was a rock during this time and it must have been so distressing for him to watch me suffer. The hypno-birthing relaxation exercises were invaluable in helping to distract me and help me get back to sleep during the night. I was fortunate to have been attending a yoga class run by Amanda Edwards, an experienced acupuncturist, who literally saved my skin! After 3 weeks of despair, during which an elective caesarean at 37 weeks looked very tempting, the rash was under control, the itching improved and I was able to get a manageable amount of sleep. I am so grateful to Amanda as she gave me back the end of my pregnancy. I had enjoyed experiencing all the pleasures of pregnancy (the little kicks, the healthy glow, the big tummy you were proud to have and show off etc etc) that I felt guilty at wishing it over. I knew no matter how bad it was that I would not jeopardize the birth when there was no medical reason to induce, but the prospect of 6 weeks of that was depressing.
As it was I went overdue, but I feel it gave me time to fall in love again with the experience and I was in no rush to give birth, although both Steven and I were very excited about meeting our baby. The Saturday before Theo was born I went for a long walk hoping to kick start things. This was repeated Sunday, Monday and again on Tuesday, this time accompanied by the other Midwifery Practice midwives and our 3 dogs. They walked the legs off of me and even thought climbing a stile might help! I awoke the next day after a fabulous nights sleep feeling like the baby had moved down. Around 10am on Wednesday 1st February I was aware that I had backache but it had happened before. By midday I had a feeling things were brewing so I called Amanda who I was seeing that afternoon to warn her. Around 3pm I was aware that my tummy was tightening and the backache was getting stronger in little waves and I felt mild period like pains. I called Rachel Atkin to warn her she might like to get an afternoon nap and that I would update her after acupuncture. She asked if there was anything other than period pain and I dumbly responded “ like what?” (!). “How about contractions” Rachel said. I told her that the last few had felt stronger and like a contraction, but I said I was nervous to label them as such in case in 12 hours time I was truly experiencing contractions and felt like a complete whimp! Becky Coulton was busy spending money in Bluewater so I did not disturb her! Most importantly I called Steven and suggested he head home before rush hour.
During acupuncture they intensified and I had to breathe through them. Amanda predicted I would be busy in the early hours. I popped into Tesco on the way back for food provisions – we had no bread for the celebratory bacon sarnies. Once home I updated Rachel and Becky after which my Dad, Steven and I ate a hearty meal of spaghetti Bolognese. Around 18.45 I put on my TENS machine and sat on the birthing ball. My Dad found it very amusing that I was bouncing up and down on it. Making me laugh during a contraction did not help! I was aware that the contractions were now quite regular and frequent and I was unable to speak through them. I timed them for a bit and they were every 5 minutes and lasting about 45 seconds. I decided now was the opportunity for a lie down, while I had the chance. We had set up our dining room for the birth. There was a large birth pool dominating the room, but in the corner we had put down a futon mattress. The candles and fire were lit and I laid down on the mattress not sure if I was going to be able to stay there for long. At that time I felt the whole contraction in my hips and sacrum. I have an old injury to my SI joint that I had been told would cause trouble in labour so I was worried the pain was due to that and I was not dilating at all. I could not feel anything that I would have described as period like pain! My Dad left us to it around 20.30 and once Steven had finished gathering all necessary bits and pieces I asked him to time the contractions again. At 21.20 they were every 3 minutes and lasting a minute. I was beginning to huff and puff with them. The TENS was turned up a little and I knelt over a bean cube, rocking my hips as we had practiced in yoga. My hypnobirthing ‘balloon’ breathing technique came in very handy as it helped me to focus through the contractions.
I decided to update Rachel so at 21.40 I sent her a text. It read, “contracting 3 in 10 lasting a minute, all in my hips, I am huffing and puffing but have no idea what is happening. Will keep you posted…” At 21.42 I had a huge contraction and my waters broke with a flood. I was so surprised! The fluid was lovely and clear – and very warm! It was very fortunate that we had put an inco under me only a few minutes before! I called Rachel and asked her to join us, suggesting she could sleep here if it was still only early labour. After a couple of minutes of rest my contractions returned with a vengeance. I became very hot, flustered and poor Steven had only a few seconds between contractions to satisfy my requests for water, cold face spray and flannels! The contractions were one on top of another and all I wanted was a little break! I made myself look at the situation and realized if a client was describing this to me on the phone I would be running out of the door, calling my second midwife and hot footing it over to join her! So Despite not believing the labour could be progressing so fast, Steven called Rachel and advised her I thought I was in transition and could she get Becky on her way too. I felt sick, and then was sick. I desperately wanted to get in the pool but felt too hot as it was. Once all calls were made I focused on getting though each contraction at a time. I was able to draw on my knowledge to know that I was near the end, and so kept telling myself that it would be over soon. Clients had told me time and again that second stage was easier to cope with than transition, so I told myself this is the worst it gets and you will see your baby soon. The hypnobirthing and yoga came into its own at this time, as breathing was the only method of control I had.
Just before Rachel arrived, I decided over-heated or not I had to get in the pool. It gave momentary relief. Rachel arrived and with the 2nd or 3rd contraction in the pool I had an overwhelming urge to push. It came out of nowhere! Steven was fabulous at talking me through the contractions and encouraged me to breathe through the urge. At times I had no choice but to push but at others I could feel the baby move down on its own. I think I spoke to Rachel before entering a world of my own, but I know I did not really acknowledge Becky (who arrived at 23.15) until after the baby was born. However I could hear everyone’s words of encouragement and reassurance and despite the intense sensations I felt in control and very conscious of the situation. I think again my knowledge enabled me to visualize in my head what was happening and where the baby was. Rachel was having difficulty listening to the baby’s heartbeat between contractions and I found it very disturbing that in my only moments of peace I was being fiddled with! I wanted to call out “Stop it, I know it is alright” but knew that it would be worrying Rachel and Becky and needed to be heard.. So I took the sonicaid and found it myself! That sixth sense is so strong.
Rachel asked Steven if he wanted to get in and I recall him asking if it would be the 1st or 2nd. I could not believe it was not yet midnight! I had gotten into a rather unusual position in the pool, which can only be described as a floating lithotomy with my feet braced upon the side of the pool! Steven changed in lightening time and came in to support me from behind like a big strong sofa. The feeling of the baby being born was incredible – I had always wondered how women could be so lucid at this point when they are stretched to breaking point, but I found that you are so very aware that it is almost over but also in such control to know not to rush it. I was lucky in that the baby seemed so determined to be born that I did not need to push and could focus on my breathing to help slow the delivery of the head. Before I knew it was time, the head was born. I found the shoulders difficult to push out as it felt awkward, but once the body was there it was over! Rachel passed the baby to me and we looked directly at each other as he was brought to the surface. He was very vocal right from the start – reassuring for the midwives and us!
Despite being in shock, I can remember those first moments very clearly. Steven was supporting me as we looked at our first-born. I was supporting his bottom and could feel scrotum so was able to announce that it was a boy. We had not found out the sex but both of us had such a strong belief from the beginning that it was a boy we would have been so surprised if a little girl popped out!
Finally I was able to acknowledge my two wonderful midwives properly and declared “Thank God I called you when I did!” It was at this point I noticed our dog Ziggy sitting next to Becky looking very inquisitively at the crying creature in the pool with us. Having been asleep in his bed all evening, he came in when Becky arrived and witnessed the birth!
Phone calls to our family were made while still in the pool and Steven’s Mum who lives nearby came straight over to meet her grandson. The placenta interrupted the call to my Mum – I have no idea how strange that was for her! During our resumed phone call Theo was weighed and I could not believe how big he was. As he was being born I kept thinking he could not be as big as I expected as he was coming so fast! Theo weighed twice that of my little sister Rachael so my Mum could not believe it either.
After a four hour feed Theo finally allowed us to go to bed in the early hours, but not before his arrival was toasted with champagne! The bacon sarnies waited til morning…