When I was 38 weeks pregnant, I just knew I would give birth soon. I said ‘goodbye and good luck’ to the other expectant mums at the Birth Resource Centre (now the Pregnancy and Parents Centre) antenatal yoga class that Wednesday, and waited with growing excitement. On Thursday evening, I lost the mucus plug, and gentle contractions started overnight. I stayed awake, timing them, though I knew I ought to sleep. I felt so happy – I was going to have a baby soon, and at home! I had had to fight hard to book my homebirth, as my GP was set against it, saying it was ridiculous for a first time mother of my ‘advanced age’ (38) to consider home confinement. However, I had persevered, and endured hostile interviews with the consultant and the senior practice GP. Once in contact with the supportive community midwives, however, things had gone well, and I had a healthy pregnancy. My blood pressure, which at one point had been borderline high (probably with stress) came right down to normal as I relaxed and enjoyed the pregnancy.
On Friday morning (after a slightly farcical moment when I thought I was going to have the baby in the toilet), a lovely community midwife came to examine me – 3cm and in early labour. However, as I was being examined, I started to bleed. This could be the warning sign of a serious problem – placenta praevia, or placenta abrupta – both potentially life-threatening for mother and baby. I was put to bed, and told to lie very still to let the bleeding settle, while we all contemplated the next step. Although the bleeding stopped, clearly home was not the place to be if another haemorrhage was likely. However much I wanted a homebirth, I had no desire to bleed to death, so Martin packed a hospital bag for me, and I mentally prepared myself for the possibility of an emergency caesarean. We drove in convoy to the Simpson – contractions were agony while driving over cobblestones – and I was taken to an admission room for observation. I was hooked up to the monitors, and given a detailed scan of the placenta, to try to identify the cause of the bleeding. To our delight, the placenta looked perfect, the baby’s head was descending nicely into my pelvis, and the kind doctor gave us the thumbs up: ‘Go on home and have a lovely homebirth!’ We left the Simpson giggling, stopping every so often for me to double over during another contraction, to the amazed looks of the gateman and incoming patients!
Back home (it was now around 5pm), it felt like we were really in business. As the midwife unpacked her kit and I started putting baby clothes on the radiators to warm, I felt my labour revving up a gear – maybe it had been ‘on hold’ while we worried about the bleeding. We prepared the living room as the birthing room, and settled in. I was prescribed a cup of tea and a jam sandwich to keep my strength up, which I enjoyed as we watched the six o’clock news. The midwife remarked that the contractions were really beginning to do work at this point, but as we were happy and coping, she went home to have some supper, leaving us to relax and enjoy ourselves.
Contractions were still around three minutes apart, and getting stronger. I became restless, and spent some time on the birthing ball, rotating my hips. I’m sure that I felt the baby’s head rotating as I did this – my body was clearly telling me which movements would help the baby move into the right position; she had been stubbornly posterior until this time. I then decided that I wanted a bath. Bliss! The warm water felt so good. Martin and I chatted and joked, and I started to sing through the contractions. They now started at the peak of the pain, not ramping up slowly as the books say. I would squawk with shock if unprepared, so I had to make an effort to keep my vocalisation low pitched, or sing down the scale from a squeaky start. The contractions got ever stronger, and I had to concentrate hard on staying relaxed and not panicking; I was astonished at the power flowing through my body. I used the relaxation and breathing techniques we had practiced in antenatal yoga to release the tension gathering in my neck and shoulders, which helped to reduce the impact of the pain, and I managed to continue laughing and singing.
Finally, I could not stand being in the bathtub on my back any longer; I needed to change position. I tried being on hands and knees with the shower running on my back, but that was worse. I got out of the bath, thinking I would walk up and down for a while, and the next contraction hit me like a truck – my legs turned to jelly and I could not stand unaided. I wanted my midwife back here NOW! She arrived almost immediately, as Martin was phoning her.
I was helped back to the living room, and examined – 8cm and entering transition! My memory of this time is very blurred; I was high as a kite on endorphins. I felt like I was floating in space, and my only contact with reality was Martin’s hands, to which I was clinging with white knuckles. Dealing with the pain in ‘hyperspace’ was possible, but if a distraction brought me back down to earth during a contraction, the pain was overwhelming. There were a couple of moments when I nearly lost it, but Martin got me back on track by encouraging me to sing with him! Time passed in the real world. I was dimly aware of the midwife quietly monitoring me but not interfering, and I was reassured by her calm presence. At one point during transition, I felt I could not handle the pain any more, and asked for the gas and air. However, even as I took the first suck, I worried that it might make me nauseous, and as the next contraction struck I threw the mouthpiece away – I could not deal with pain and nausea and remembering how to breathe all at the same time.
Suddenly, my waters broke explosively, and I felt the first pushing contraction – what a different sensation! The second midwife had arrived, and together they got me into what must be the hospital default pushing position, semi-supine with my legs pulled up. I snapped out of my spaced-out trance with the agony of this position – the baby’s head was being crushed against the inside of my tailbone. I begged to be moved, and they quickly got me onto all fours with my forearms supported on a beanbag, and I almost wept with relief.
Pushing was hard work, but very satisfying. My body knew exactly what to do, and I could feel the baby moving downwards with every push. Yo-ho, heave ho! The head crowning was very painful, but it was an ‘everyday’ pain, unlike the bewildering surreal pain of transition. I heard the second midwife behind me saying ‘Hello, darling!’, and I thought indignantly that this was no time to be taking personal calls on her mobile! In fact she was talking to the baby; I hadn’t realised that her head was out, eyes wide open, just waiting for the next contraction to be fully born. A moment later it was all over – I was holding a pink, wriggling baby in my arms! There was an expectant pause… I peered between the waving legs and cord, and announced ‘It’s a girl, I think!’ She didn’t cry, just made a questioning ‘What happened? Where am I?’ sort of noise, then settled down to gaze at her parents and new surroundings. It was 9:14pm.