Now that the last of my friends due in August & September has popped out their beautiful creation, I’ve been reflecting on the arrival of Nia Rae. A few people have asked me what it was like to give birth at home so I thought I’d write down my birth story second time round…
Will had been busy on the Isle of Wight taking part in Cowes week during the week of Nia’s due date – a little nerve-wracking but we had contingency plans (there was a spreadsheet and everything) and Will came back each night rather than staying on the island. As is the nature of his job, you have to take work when it comes and knowing that Finn was 2 weeks ‘late’ it seemed silly to pass up the work.
I was getting pretty grumpy being huge and trying to look after our active boy, but it had only been a few weeks since I broke up for the summer holidays and I definitely didn’t have everything ready. I think my mind told my body to hold on, that the week of the due date wasn’t a good time for a baby to arrive!! I got a lot sorted in that week – even freezer meals!
On the Friday that Will finished sailing, I felt I could relax. I woke up on Saturday morning and felt what seemed like period pains. I didn’t really know whether to get excited as I had no early labour experience with Finn due to being in the hospital, being induced, my waters breaking straight away and contractions ramping up quite quickly. Our friends were taking Finn out to Birdworld for the day to celebrate their little boy’s birthday so I got everything ready for him whilst the pains came and went. I told Toni that I was having some twinges and we secretly got excited that there might be a baby by the time they got back and that they were happy to keep hold of Finn for as long as we needed (amazing friends)!
Will and I set off for a long walk to a café near the beach as we suspected this would be the last chance to have some time just the two of us for quite a while. It was a beautiful sunny day and as we walked, the pains increased and were definitely coming in waves. I told Will it might be interesting to time them and that was the first time he realised that this could be it!! I was able to talk and walk through them but they were about 7/8 minutes apart. However, as soon as I would sit down, they would slow down to about 10/12 minutes apart. We walked, ate and walked some more but by the time we got home, I was too tired to keep upright and had to snooze on the sofa, slowing my contractions completely – I was pretty disappointed.
By the time Finn got home, the contractions were coming in waves again. I found that by walking up and down the step at the top of our staircase, I could keep up their momentum and the pain had moved to my back – cue the tens machine, which really helped, and timing the contractions was keeping my mind focussed. They still weren’t too painful but I had to breathe through a few and sometimes stop. I knew that gravity and movement would help. I even walked and jogged a little around our local park by myself in the dark during the early evening – looking like a bit of a loony! However, again, I felt exhausted and conceded that this couldn’t really be real labour if every time I sat down (even on the birthing ball), the contractions would stop. After seeking some advice, I decided to go to bed – if nothing happened, at least I’d get a lovely night’s sleep or if labour was going to kick in properly, I’d need to let it happen spontaneously really.
After about half an hour’s sleep, at about 9.30pm I woke up with much more intense pains. Will was watching a film downstairs so I text him that it was probably time to finish pumping up the birth pool – we’d had a practice run putting it all up before Cowes week and during the day we had got it all out and half inflated, ready for the liner to go in. I still thought it could be a while, but the pain quickly increased so I came and joined Will downstairs. Although we had the pool ready, the rest of the room wasn’t ideally laid out so we set about moving furniture and putting down sheets etc. This was another good distraction but the pain was getting quite intense and I had to stop quite regularly (at one point, Will was concerned I might pull down the bookshelf I was holding onto!). Soon I was lying on our sofa bed gripping the arm in a lot of pain while we waited for the pool to fill up. I was still able to talk in-between contractions so I called the maternity ward and they told me what I was expecting (but hoping not) to hear – there was unlikely to be anyone available to come out to our house in the next couple of hours. The midwife who broke the news was really kind though and seemed genuinely sad to have to disappoint me, which helped, but I felt a little worried that I wouldn’t be able to last much longer without pain relief …
I had ummed and erred about homebirth a lot during my pregnancy. On the one hand, I knew it would be a lot more logistically straightforward to be at home, not having to ship Finn off for a long period of time (I had some visions of him being in and out of the room if it was during the day and him hopefully providing some distraction from the pain, but in reality I’m not sure that would have been as enjoyable as I thought!). I had read about how cats give birth – they find a safe, dark, quiet space and need to be left alone to birth their babies. If they are interrupted, have distractions or bright light, their labour actually stops because they don’t feel it’s safe to bring their babies into the world. We were able to create a beautiful, quiet, dark and relaxed space whilst we were at hospital with Finn, but I learnt quickly that I didn’t really want anyone to talk to me or really be involved in the birth (poor Will! And the midwives were pretty bored!). I didn’t like being observed or having time pressures put on me and I just thought that my favourite safe, quiet, dark cat-like birth space would actually be in my own house, in our newly beautiful middle room with all it’s Hygge (look it up) lighting and atmosphere. Furthermore, when I gave birth to Finn – I was in the pool, pushing by myself, and eventually giving birth and catching Finn myself. I knew technically, my body could do this without any help and that took away a lot of the fear! (Obviously midwives do an amazing job at checking mother and baby, guiding the mum in what to do, keeping everybody calm and in all the aftermath of birth, but really – we were designed to do this!! No-one else can tell our bodies to give birth!)
However, I was also aware of how selfish it was as a choice – I would be taking one mid-wife away from the busy maternity wards for a good chunk of time and then a second midwife would be required for the birth itself. I hate that limitations on the NHS were making me feel I couldn’t have the birth I wanted! I was very aware too that, of course, if anything went wrong, there was a risk being at home. However, my own midwife seemed confident that things should be fine and actually my second choice of birth location would have been the midwife-led unit at St Mary’s hospital, just down the road – if I had complications in either location, it would have taken the same amount of time in an ambulance to get to the labour ward at QA hospital. Also there is a lot of evidence that women who feel safe and comfortable in their labour have a lot less complications, and therefore less risk to mother and baby anyway…
Therefore, I decided that I would prepare for a homebirth whilst being totally happy to move to hospital if necessary (that way I felt I wouldn’t be disappointed either way). I wanted to try and stay at home as long ass possible so knew the birth pool would still be helpful (we bought one on ebay and then a brand-new liner, let me know if you’d be interested!!), also, if I were able to stay at home, I wanted to only call the midwife when things were very close to the end or I couldn’t handle the pain any more, so that I didn’t take her away from other women for hours on end and so that I didn’t have one more bored person observing me!
SO, I got into the pool at about 10.30pm, hoping to survive a couple more hours before ringing the midwives again and before having to make a decision about going into hospital (the thought of gas & air was making hospital really tempting! But the thought of getting in the car and going anywhere really didn’t appeal – as I had thought it wouldn’t!). Will had turned on the lovely fairy lights and started our chilled birth playlist (mostly Ludovico Einaudi and Sigur Ros), we had been burning lavender oil and the room was so calm. The water really helped with the pain and helped to relax me but the contractions were really intense now and I found myself writhing, bouncing and making a bit more noise than I did in my first labour (although I’d been in the pool and using gas and air for many hours by that point when giving birth to Finn). Will was on the line to my amazing friend Emma who reminded us that it is our right to give birth at home and that agency midwives or paramedics would have to be sent if no midwives were able to be sent from the maternity ward, we did not HAVE to go to hospital. This made us more confident when Will called the maternity ward again (the contractions were too close together for me to call now, and Will told them this). I was expecting to hear Will having to fight for our right to stay at home but miracle of miracles, the midwife at the end of the line said that someone was available and that, this being my second labour and that things could progress very quickly, she would come straight away. Will told me that she should be with us in the next half an hour.
I told myself to hang on for just 30 more minutes (I had hated having the clock in sight during Finn’s labour, feeling pressure and disappointment in the hours passing, but this time it was helping me to hold on)! I tried to use some of my hypnobirthing strategies in-between contractions, I imagined being on a beautiful beach and was able to go into myself to manage the pain a bit with a lot of deep breathing and saying to myself ‘3,2,1 relax’, but at one point the pain was so much I did hit the wall a bit (literally) and the handles on the side of the pool were very handy! Will gave me electrolyte drinks and pop-tarts to keep my strength up and let me squeeze his hand very tightly. He encouraged me in-between contractions telling me that he was proud of me, I was his hero and that I could do this!!
Half and hour came and went and I was getting a little panicked that I wouldn’t be able to stand the pain – Will then informed me that they’d actually said 30-45 minutes (grrr) so I added 15 minutes to my pain timer and soon the angelic midwife with the magical canister of Entinox arrived at about midnight! I was able to talk to her a little bit but she said she would have to give me an internal before giving me the gas and air to check I was in labour (I couldn’t believe it – more waiting, more trying to be strong)…two powerful contractions later and she scrapped that idea and gave me the mouth-piece. Sooooo much relief, I had something to focus on during my contractions and felt I could handle the rest as I’d got this far without it.
I was able to get out of the pool and onto the sofa bed so that the midwife (Olwen) could check me over and listen to the heartbeat. Amazingly I was 8cm dilated (I felt like super woman!) and she said that she would call the 2nd midwife as things could happen very quickly. She was right. As soon as I got back into the pool, my waters broke and I felt the head was very low. With Finn, I suffered a 3rd degree tear – largely due to a long period of pushing, feeling time pressure and that I needed to get out of the pool, standing up and pushing his head out rather quickly. This time I was desperate to avoid that – the recovery wasn’t actually too bad, but with anything above a 2nd degree tear, I would have to go into hospital and have an epidural and surgery – after all that! I remember that whilst feeling the urge to push, I desperately said to Will ‘I don’t want to tear’! When you are in the final stages of labour, part of your mind tells you to push (and all the media representations of birth probably!) however, I knew that my body would do the work without that. I needed the logical pat of my brain to override the urge to get this baby out of me as quickly as possible! This almost worked – I did push twice (making a lot more noise than I did with Finn) but once Nia’s head was out, I allowed my body to do the work and it was amazing to feel her body turn and flop out with only the power of my contractions! Her little self shot to the other side of the pool and I had to grab her slippery body – she was here! Nia Rae was born at 12.45, about 3 hours after labour was established.
I held her close to me and physically it all felt very similar to when Finn was born – she was heavy and slippery from all the vernix, she looked up at me with big eyes. She was a little quiet so Olwen encouraged me to rub her back and get out of the pool – although, looking back, I remember that Finn was also very chilled once he was born and there probably wasn’t so much need to rush – still, you don’t want to risk anything at that point do you. Once I was on the sofa bed, snuggled up with my girly bundle, the 2nd midwife turned up! She was in and out with various bits of equipment so the front door was letting in a lot of breeze, I was keeping Nia warm in a towel but I remember thinking that the adrenaline was making me not notice the cold (I did start to shake a little afterwards with all the hormones rushing around my body)!
We had some lovely skin-to-skin time and established breastfeeding within the hour. Will drained the pool and disposed of the pool liner and all the accessories to birth quickly and we almost had our room back to normal within a few hours (although I can imagine it wasn’t very pleasant, I think it felt good for Will to have something to do – although, he did update us on the events at the Olympics that day ‘Oh Mo Farrah’s won gold’ was a particular highlight!). My brilliant first midwife left soon after and left me in the care of the 2nd midwife. I was glad to know that I had only stolen one midwife away for about and hour and a half and the 2nd was only with us for about the same amount of time – I didn’t waste NHS resources too much! I managed to only have a 2nd degree tear so the midwife could sort me out at home (while Will got Nia dressed upstairs and had a cuddle with her on our sofa). Soon after that – we went to bed. It was so lovely! We hadn’t heard a peep from Finn all night (although he did fall asleep on Will’s lap at church at 11am the next day, so perhaps his sleep had been a bit affected?!). Will slept in our bed and I fed Nia in the spare bed whilst we both dosed on and off – we would only have a few hours before our first baby would realise he was a big brother.
I was awake with Nia when I heard Finn. I gave Nia to Will and went to my boy (it felt important for me to be with him that morning and to cuddle him without a baby in my arms). I had hoped to prepare him a little before he met his sister, but he heard her squawk and immediately said ‘baby’ and ran to our bedroom. He was fascinated but a bit overwhelmed and cried! I took him away for a cuddle and we grabbed his dummy (usually this is strictly restricted to his cot but I would have done anything to help make this huge transition easier for him). Soon he was stroking her hair and cuddling this little being and the love for ‘my Nia’ began!
I am so glad and so grateful that I was able to be in my home, relatively undisturbed and unwatched, able to snuggle in my own (spare) bed and cuddle my boy first thing in the morning. I often turn on the fairy lights in the middle room and light the candles now and remember the beautiful memories of bringing my daughter into the world in that room (the smell of lavender also brings it all back) and I feel powerful and in love all over again.