My pregnancy with our fourth child had come a good 3 months ahead of schedule, as usual, but I was delighted and excited at the prospect of a simple pregnancy and birth, on my terms. Although my first pregnancy with Mya had been straightforward, I took all medical advice at face value and gave birth in hospital with the typical 2 hours of purple pushing resulting in a lovely baby but a second degree tear and stitches. When I fell pregnant again when Mya was just 5 months old, we were blessed with identical twin girls, but as a result I had consultant care and scans every 2 weeks which made for a very stressful 8 months and a highly medicalised delivery, with ventouse, episiotomy, and more stitches. This time was going to be different. My experiences had encouraged me to become a doula, and so I had educated myself in the science of birth and along with this deeper understanding of the delicate process of birth came a greater trust in it.
I had decided before I became pregnant that I would not have any scans. As I had been charting my cycles and knew when the baby would be due, and given that I would allow the baby to come in its own time regardless of gestation, then there was little point in a dating scan. I also knew that I would give my baby a chance at life regardless of any complications, so I declined the anomaly scan as well. I could see with hindsight that my body had worked perfectly with my other children, and that medical interference had only caused anxiety and unnecessary problems at delivery, so I avoided anything that I felt would question my faith in my body, and had a very relaxed pregnancy.
When I finished doulaing in October I felt that I was finally able to focus on my own upcoming birth, and I gave a lot of thought to how I wanted it to be. Slowly, and after lots of visualisation, I came to the conclusion that my birth space needed to be as private as possible, perhaps even labouring alone, but that my husband, mother, doula, and possibly my children could attend for the birth itself. My midwife had been perplexed and concerned about my choices from the outset, and upon hearing that I did not want fetal heart rate checks, blood pressure monitoring, vaginal examinations, or in fact any involvement at all from the midwife who attended my birth she would throw various “what ifs…” at me, and when I answered them all, she simply put her head in her hands in dismay. It was this simple gesture that directed me towards freebirthing. I could see that my midwife feared birth, when I trusted it, and I was not prepared to let someone else’s fear endanger me and my baby. So I read or re-read Unassisted Childirth by Laura Kaplan Shanley, Gentle birth, Gentle Mothering by Dr Sarah Buckley, Birth and Sex by Sheila Kitzinger, The Functions of the Orgasms and Childbirth in the Age of Plastics by Michel Odent, The Power of Pleasureable Childbirth by Laurie Morgan and The Birthkeepers by Veronika Sophia Robinson. My confidence that I could birth without medical assistance grew and grew.
Initially my husband Ian was very much against freebirthing, and he told me that he had sat in his car and cried, imagining that the baby had got stuck and that I had bled to death. I was deeply touched by his fear of losing me and our unborn child, and whilst I was frustrated and disappointed, I respected his wishes. Yet over the coming weeks, we addressed each of his concerns, and I explained my beliefs and the science behind birth, and Ian concluded that he was able to trust my instincts. I reassured him that if at any point I felt that something wasn’t right, then I would call the midwife.
In the lead up to the birth, from around 37 weeks, I started having stronger Braxton Hicks and would lose the odd bit of mucous plug here and there. The baby seemed incredibly low. My heated birth pool was due to arrive on 29th November when I would be just over 38 weeks, but given the pre-labour symptoms I asked for it to be delivered early, and we set the pool up on the 27th and 28th November. It was very luxurious, but for the first time I felt an unexpected bout of nerves, I was actually going to have to give birth to my baby, here in this pool, under my own steam. I was taking full responsibility for mine and my baby’s safe, pleasurable birth.
On the morning of December 5th Ian was preparing for an overnight trip to London, planning to return the following evening, hopefully with an Estate Agency award in his hands. As I got in the shower that morning I lost fair bit of the mucous plug, and said to Ian that if he went to London and I did go into labour, I didn’t think that he would make it back in time. We had already discussed the possibility of him not being there anyway, as he finds birth quite stressful, and I had decided that if he was struggling with it, then he should leave so as not to affect me. So we were not hugely concerned about his trip, and I didn’t really believe I was going to go into labour that night anyway. That day I had the typical nesting burst of energy, and when I had an unannounced visit from some friends, and my doula Hannah, the sofa cushion covers had been taken off and put in the wash, and I was hoovering behind them! I could see Hannah’s mind ticking and whirring! She had brought me some incredibly thoughtful gifts to help me birth, some affirmations printed on coloured paper, and various bits of birth art, some of which she had hand made, and I adorned my birth space with them all.
That evening was uneventful and I went to bed at just after 10pm. Around midnight Sienna came into bed with me, and I recall waking up 3 or 4 times after what I assume was about 3am with contractions, but I went straight back to sleep and thought nothing of them. When the girls woke up for the day at 5:30, I was aware that the contractions were still there, but they were lasting only around 20 seconds and were perfectly manageable. I put the TV on in my room and let the kids watch it for an hour or so, and I drifted in and out of sleep, with the contractions still coming. I felt sure that once I got up and about that they would stop, but I was excited at the thought that my baby would arrive later that night. I got in the shower at around 6:30 and saw a bloody show, a sure sign that I would meet my baby soon! I was excited, but distracted by the children. At 6:48 Ian sent me a text to say he was up and about, so I called him and told him what was happening. I still fully expected that this was early labour and that it would shortly break for the day, so I told Ian to stick with his plans and that I would let him know how things progressed.
I was finding the kids a bit irritating as they were very curious about my behaviour during the contractions, so they were asking me questions (the same ones over and over!) and I was struggling to be patient with them. I called my mum and asked her if she could come and keep them occupied and then walk them to playgroup for me. Mum took a while to arrive so I made the kids their porridge, kept the lights low and listened to Emile Sande. The contractions were still short but each time I would head to the stairs and drop with my knees on a lower stair and my arms resting on a higher one. I tried to breathe slowly which had helped me through my last labour, but I couldn’t get into a rhythm so I just got on with it.
My mum left with the kids sometime after 8:15am, and I decided not to cancel the reflexologist I had coming to the house at 9:30. The appointment was a little disjointed however, as I kept dropping to my knees mid-treatment, so Fiona left early and I decided I would go up to my room and try to watch some TV. I found myself unable to concentrate though, and the contractions were growing in intensity, still every 5 minutes or so as they had been for the last 3 or 4 hours, and even though they still seemed short lived it was beginning to dawn on me that I was in labour. In all my visualisations of the birth, one thing that I felt sure of was that labour would start at night, so I was genuinely thrown by this turn of events. I had the urge to do something different, so I decided to get in the shower. As I didn’t know how long I would be there I took the big step of asking for Hannah to come. I sent her a text: “I would like you to come soon, I’m struggling a bit and I’m worried about being on my own. I’m sure there is no rush but they are getting strong now” (11:01). I felt better in the shower, it was really hot, and during a rush I would lay my hands and my head on the tiles and blow and rock. Within a few minutes I started to spontaneously wail loudly. It felt good to make so much noise. There was nobody there to hear me, but I thought that if anyone was on the street they would know I was having the baby soon. I got louder and louder until right at the end of each rush the sound would get gutteral and I would feel pushy. I tried not to give too much thought to what that meant, but I had heard that sound often enough and knew it was time to get out of the shower.
I went downstairs, took the cover off the pool and got in. The rushes kept coming at the same sort of pace but with a greater intensity. There was a definite sharp stretching pain across the underside of my bump and I had to work to relax so that my body could do what it needed to. I took notice of the baby moving at the end of each one, sometimes seeming to turn his head, other times to give an almost agitated kick with both feet like a donkey. My phone rang between contractions, it was Ian, and I managed to answer just as another rush came over me. “Hang on”, I said, and then I mooed really loudly, once, twice, three times in quick succession. I envisaged him in a huge room full of people at his conference, all of them able to hear me yelling down the phone. “That sounds serious”, he said, “I’m coming.” I didn’t speak to Ian again until after Hugo was born, and I knew he wasn’t going to make it.
Soon after, I heard Hannah letting herself in. I was on all fours facing away from the door of the dining room, looking towards a cabinet where I had stuck the affirmations. I heard her put her things down and come into the room. It felt strange not to greet her with even a “Hi”, or give her an update on how I was feeling, but I had been totally clear in my plans that I did not want to be spoken to, and I was keen to follow this. I felt better now that I knew I wasn’t going to give birth on my own. At one point I turned my head to look at her, and she was kneeling on my hard floor looking down as if praying. I smiled inside – she was perfect, totally calm and unassuming. I turned back to what I was doing, resisting the urge to tell her to grab a cushion to sit on or the comfy chair from the conservatory. My noises were the only things I could hear, and I could tell things were changing from this. Instead of long wails, I would let out several short ones that were more tense and high pitched. The pain was getting lower and I was resisting any feeling I had to push. With my other babies I had found the second stage most physically draining, and crowning had been unforgettably intense. I was starting to become afraid of that pain in this labour, as I had known that I would. I kept looking at one of the affirmations, “All I need to do is relax and breathe – nothing else”, and that is what I tried to do. I knew that people could have babies in a coma, and that if my body really needed me to push then it would force me to do so. I was going to wait for the fetus ejection reflex and I had faith that this would get my baby born.
I felt suspended in this part of my labour for an age, thinking that I ought to be pushing, but that I was too afraid to do so. After thinking this for a while I broke my silence, feeling that perhaps I just needed to get it out there. “I’m too frightened”, I said. I think I perhaps even said that I couldn’t do it, but it didn’t occur to me that I was in transition, and that everything was as it should be. Hannah gave me a few words of softly spoken reassurance, and I felt safe. I could still feel my baby moving as if he was telling me that he was making his way out just fine. I found myself facing Hannah for the first time, briefly holding her hand and squeezing her fingers, it was all I needed.
During one contraction my waters popped with force. I hadn’t expected it, as I had completely forgotten about the waters, but to my surprise it gave me a stinging pain. I noticed that I was slowly moving round the rim of the pool, clinging onto the sides, or nearly hauling myself over them (I was very warm by now), and at one point I stood up all the way out of the water and wiggled my hips from side to side until sent to my knees again by the next contraction.
It wasn’t long before I was able to let go, and begin to gently give in to the urge to push. I began to tell myself, and the baby, that it was okay. I read aloud another one of the affirmations over and over until I really meant it, “I am not afraid. I am not afraid”. I felt him start to descend, the first stretching sensation inside, we were nearly there. A few more rushes, more stretching, and I began to wonder with each one if this was the one when the head would stop slipping back. My fear had gone, and I was feeling impatient to meet my baby. I hadn’t wanted to touch the head before the birth, but I needed to be sure I wasn’t just imagining it, so I reached down at the end of a contraction, to feel the head just inside. With the next big push he crowned, and it was uncomfortable for sure, but not unbearable, and I was encouraged by the certainty that I was about to meet this baby. Another big push and the head was all the way out. I felt paralysed with the intensity of the sensation. And I waited. Where was my ejection reflex? Where was my next contraction? I knew I shouldn’t be thinking, but I was, “I haven’t got a contraction!”, I said. I hadn’t realised Hannah had been out of the room lighting my candles, so she didn’t know the head had been born, and the pool was so deep and dark that she hadn’t noticed. I can’t remember what she said, but I felt the need to clarify, “Head’s out!… It’s been a while…” It felt like an age had passed, although I suspect now that it hadn’t been more than a few minutes. Nothing was moving, so I pushed as hard as I could, and something popped out, an arm or a shoulder perhaps. Still no contraction, so I pushed again, then the contraction I had been waiting for came. The body came out to what I can only imagine was the waist, followed by a pause, and I was almost screaming. Then with one final agonising movement he finally shot out behind me in the water. Wow! I felt amazing, instantly! I didn’t look for him, I instinctively reached between my legs, lifting my right leg over the cord, and grabbed him under the water. I pulled him up, amazed to see that he was the right way up and facing me! (This was around 13:13)
His eyes were open, he was a fine colour, and his mouth was opening and shutting like a fish, trying to take a breath. It looks like a boy, I thought, but I was waiting for him to breathe properly before I looked down. I spoke to him, calmly asked him to breathe for me and blew gently on his face. I could see he was attempting to breathe so I turned him over my left arm and gently rubbed his vernix covered back. He made a few squeaks so I eagerly lifted his body out of the water…It’s a boy! I knew it. I was unbelievably happy. I would have dearly loved a girl too, but I felt delirious that we finally had a boy. I was desperate to tell Ian. Hannah dialled his number but it went straight to answer phone. I didn’t leave a message, Hannah sent a text, “Call ASAP!” He immediately called back. “Hiya…” I said, “Say hello to Hugo!” I knew he was happy, and relieved that we were both okay.
Hannah took herself off to make me some anti-bleed herbal tea as per my wishes, and Hugo and I spent the next half an hour or so in the pool, just me and him, though he was asleep for most of this time. He didn’t look as big as I had expected him to be, Hannah and I guessed at around 8 to 8.5 lbs. Hannah also put the cushion covers back on the sofa for me that I had taken off and washed the previous day, and made up a sort of bed for me. We giggled as I shuffled from the dining room to the living room on a towel to save any mess on the carpet. I decided to try sitting on the toilet to encourage the placenta, which worked (this was about an hour after the birth). Again, I felt triumphant, my first physiological third stage! All my instincts and research had been right, I could do this, birth is a normal event. I asked Hannah to call for a midwife, I felt like everything had gone to plan, and I thought about Ian and his concerns for me, and I felt that it is what he would want to do if he were there. I could hear the midwife at the hospital talking to Hannah over the phone, informing her that she thought the homebirth service had been cancelled, and then her complete confusion upon hearing the baby was already here, like something impossible had occurred.
My midwife arrived shortly afterwards, and confirmed that Hugo was perfect, my placenta had been delivered complete, and that I had no tears. I was over the moon, I hadn’t dared to hope I would come away totally unscathed. Listening to my body and my baby without any outside interference of any kind had given me the birth I had dreamed of. I had been surprised at how ‘present’ I had felt throughout. I never once felt that I had entered an altered state of consciousness, and had been very aware of my inner voice and of Hugo’s moves the whole time. Nevertheless, everything had worked just as it was supposed to, and I wondered how different the experience could have been if midwives had been present, or if any of my family had been there in the final minutes of his birth.
Ian arrived back home shortly after the midwives and I greeted him at the door with our son. I called my mum, who had picked the girls up from playgroup, and felt very awkward explaining that the baby was already here. Mum said she had expected it to happen this way, and indeed she had commented the night before that Ian was going to arrive home from London to find me with the baby in my arms. She was delighted that we had a boy and said she would bring the girls straight round so we could surprise them with their baby brother. Meanwhile we got round to weighing Hugo, and to our surprise he came in at a hefty 9lb 9oz – that would be why it felt like he came out sideways! I was pretty thankful that he had decided to come a bit early.
Hugo is now 2 and a half weeks old and is an absolute dream. He spends the vast majority of his time asleep either in bed with us, or in a sling on my chest, and every day I marvel at his birth and the magical bond we share.
Hugo Jack Preston, born at home 13:13 on 6th December 2012, 9lb 9oz, 39+2