I have always like the idea of a home birth. I would have loved to have one with my first, but we lived in a small flat a long drive from the hospital and it just wasn’t going to happen. However, the words of the midwife who delivered Carys stuck in my head: “Next time, come straight in or stay at home”. So, as soon as I found out we were expecting baby number two, I knew I’d try and have the baby at home.
Several people I told about my plans thought I was absolutely mad. What if something goes wrong, they all said. Only 2.1% of births were at home in 20191 – roughly 45% of first time mothers are transferred to hospital and 10% for women in subsequent pregnancies. However, transfer to hospital doesn’t always mean an emergency. The most common reason is that things are progressing slowly, the mother is too tired to continue at home and needs hospital support. Other common reasons are the mother needing an epidural or a lot of stitches, or the baby needing additional hospital monitoring. For women having a second or subsequent baby, there is no increased risk of a poor outcome to the baby2. In fact, there is a much lower incidence of emergency caesareans, episiotomies and instrumental delivery. I was fortunate to have a low-risk pregnancy and I ticked all the boxes for home birth. So the risk of ‘things going wrong’ wasn’t any more of a concern for me than it was in any other birth setting.
The second concern many people have is about the mess. I know birth isn’t the cleanest process, but having now had kids for several years, I’ve learned it’s definitely not the messiest thing that will happen!! The midwives know what they’re doing and prepare you well for what you’ll need to have at hand. All your pre-natal appointments are at home, so they will also be familiar with the environment. In the end, I wasn’t concerned by mess or complications. I put my faith in the home birth midwife team and focused on the benefits. During my first labour, keeping active and having a ‘safe space’ to nest in were the things that helped me progress well. I knew being in my own space, feeling safe and familiar, would help me focus on the task at hand. I’d be able to pace around if I wanted, watch TV if I wanted, have a sandwich if I wanted. In fact, I did all of those things.
The day before I went into labour, I travelled 50 miles into London to meet some friends. Perhaps an ambitious move just 9 days before my due date, but I’d only finished work the day before that so it didn’t seem too much of a stretch. The trip involved a lot of walking and I credit this with starting my labour. On the train home, I went to the loo and found my mucus plug. Cue much frantic Googling that I wasn’t going to have a baby on a train outside London Paddington, before realising it could be hours, days or even weeks until baby arrived. So I went about my business and put it to the back of my mind.
The next day, we had decided to put up our Christmas tree so that we had it sorted before the baby arrived. We went to IKEA to pick it up and then decorated it with Carys. It was a really wonderful family moment, one of our last as a three! In the afternoon, we had friends round for festive drinks and laughed about how I’d had so many Braxton Hicks I wouldn’t know what real labour felt like. Around 6.30pm, Carys was just getting ready for bed when I noticed that the tension in my lower abdomen was getting more regular and consistent. I just jotted the times down on a piece of paper and when I realised they were almost exactly 8 minutes apart, we kicked into action. Because of my quick first labour, everyone had prepped me for an even quicker second delivery so I did start to panic a little! The first thing we did was call my mum to come and collect Carys and then the midwife. Meanwhile, Tom prepped the living room to be my birthing area.
This is what we had prepared:
- Spare sheets and towels – my friend kindly gave us a whole load destined for the charity shop
- Shower curtains – I picked up two from IKEA for about £3 each, one to protect the sofa (under a sheet) and one to have handy
- Candles – we went totally overboard on candles, but they’d asked us not to burn any oils
- Music – we basically turned our living room into a treatment room at a spa!
That’s really it. I did have an emergency hospital bag ready, just in case. But I really didn’t have anything else. About 20 minutes after I called, the first midwife arrived. Because it was late on a Sunday, I was being looked after by the on-call team but they were all fabulous. Once she’d examined me, the second midwife and a student arrived with all the kit they had collected from hospital. They bring resuscitation equipment, just in case. And gas and air. Whilst both of these things are a bit intimidating sitting in your living room, I’d far rather they had them than not!
Once the midwives had first assessed me, they just left us to it and sat in the kitchen writing notes. My contractions weren’t really painful yet but were now very regular – 3-4 minutes apart – so we had some dinner and watched a David Attenborough. After we’d eaten, I just paced the house trying to kick things off a bit. The stairs were really working, so I just stomped up and down them for the next hour. When the contractions got a bit more intense and I started making a bit more noise, all the midwives made their way into the living room to check baby’s heartbeat, see how I was doing and set up the gas and air (which I had asked for). It was a slightly odd experience contracting with four other people staring intently at me. Between each one, I’d look up and feel a little like a zoo animal. But I know they were all just there to support me and it was comforting that we were all just sat in my living room, like any normal Sunday evening.
I tried my hardest to remember the sensations of my last labour to try and picture what would happen next. I knew the contractions would build in pain and intensity until I felt like I couldn’t continue. The really intense contractions seemed to last longer this time, but my midwife explained this was probably because my waters hadn’t yet broken so there was a huge amount of pressure on my cervix! The contractions changed and I felt like I needed to push, but my waters still hadn’t gone. Then, suddenly I felt and heard a pop and they totally went. A very swift-handed midwife grabbed the spare shower curtain and saved the rug. After that, Alastair was born very quickly. I did have to actively push much harder this time. Carys shot out, but I had to work to get Alastair’s head out.
If you’ve read my earlier post about the expectations vs. reality of having a second baby, you’ll know I hated pretty much every second of my pregnancy. But the instant he was born, I was madly in love with my baby boy. I had given birth on my knees, leaning on an armchair so the midwife passed him up through my legs for me to hold and I made my way to lie on the sofa. He snuffled his way straight on to the boob (maybe a sign of the hungry boy he was going to turn into!) while the midwife delivered the placenta. I didn’t need any stitches this time so once we were both checked over, the midwifes printed my birth report, started clearing up and got ready to leave.
All in all, the first midwife arrived at 7.30pm and by 1am they’d left. You would never have known they’d even been there! They took all the kit and the dirty sheets and towels with them, so we were only left with our wonderful little boy. Being able to have a shower and crawl into my own bed with my husband, newborn in the crib next to us, less than two hours after his birth was absolutely magical.
I do recognise how lucky I am to have had the positive birth experiences I did. I know that this is not the case for everyone and in no way am I trying to show off or insinuate I did anything differently to have a ‘better’ birth. Instead, I think it’s important to share positive birth experiences, as I had only ever heard horror stories until I had my first baby. Knowing what might happen and how you can respond to whatever situation you find yourself is very important. Birth can be a scary and painful process, but it can also be empowering and beautiful.
If home birth is an available option for you and you’re even remotely interested, I would highly recommend looking into it. People overlook it as an option, assuming it’s dangerous, messy, hippy or old-fashioned. But, in the right circumstances, it can be a truly wonderful experience for you, your birth partner and your baby. Speak to anyone you know who’s had one (my inbox is always open!) and to your midwife to see if it’s something that might work for you. I felt relaxed, in control and calm, all things which I believe helped me have the birth I’d planned. I feel incredibly lucky to have had everything go to plan and I am so glad I was able to have the home birth I’d dreamed of.
1Birth characteristics in England and Wales: 2019 – Office of National Statistics – https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/livebirths/bulletins/birthcharacteristicsinenglandandwales/2019
2The Birthplace cohort study (2011) – Brocklehurst P. et al (2011) Perinatal and maternal outcomes by planed place of birth for health women with low risk pregnancies :the birth place in England national prospective cohort study. BMJ 343:d7400.