After a traumatic hospital ventouse delivery with my first child, Hugo, I was determined not to repeat the experience the second time.
I had wanted a homebirth and had hired a pool and discussed it with my community midwives. What I hadn't looked at was my own inner confidence and this let me down at the last hurdle. When doubt was cast because of the presence of meconium I was immediately transferred, already at 10cms, into an ambulance with sirens going. I could have refused to move but I was afraid. My midwife was alarmed and Anton thought it was a life or death situation. But Hugo was not in distress at any point. At the time I put my trust in others who did not know me or want to communicate with me. A distressing and lonely experience.
So now happily pregnant, 3½ years later I was dreading the birth. Not a great place to be. I got a book on gentle birth and read up about hypnobirthing which is about relaxing and visualisation. I'm a natural ‘escapist’ from the nitty gritty of life and I recognised this time as the perfect opportunity to test this ability. I signed up immediately. The course was key to putting my anxieties into perspective, letting go and hearing that birth is a normal mammalian process that happens even if you're in a coma! Nothing to worry about. I drank up the positive information and ignored anything negative such as other people's traumatic birth stories, TV images etc.
At this point, 5 months pregnant, I had just moved and I went to see my new community midwife. Hugo was born 10lbs and I had thought this was a reason for the difficult birth. I mentioned this fear. Before listening to my story, the midwife suggested a homebirth would therefore be unlikely and that I would be better off at hospital. She recommended a scan at 36 weeks to assess the size of the baby. I didn't bother mentioning that I hadn't had a scan in this pregnancy and didn't want one. I had been very unhappy with my antenatal tests for Hugo. Even though his 20 week scan was fine, the next day I was told over the phone by my midwife that the results of a blood test at 16 weeks was a 1:50 chance of Downs Syndrome and I immediately doubted my baby's health and had to deal with a high level of anxiety for the rest of the pregnancy. I think that the anxiety was more to do with the feeling that ‘outsiders’ knew more about my precious baby and thus more control than I did. Aborting was out of the question so I turned down the offer of an amniocentesis.I had read and heard enough stories of successful births of large babies (my grandmother for one) to know it is possible. I had heard enough. I was definitely going to invest in an independent midwife. I also wanted to know who was going to be with me at the birth. This time I was taking control.
Talking to some independent midwives on the phone was an emotional experience as they actually listened to my story and empathised with me. It was a therapy in itself and I realised how much I needed to talk about it. I felt excited at the prospect of being properly cared for.
I felt very fortunate to be able to choose Sheila and Fiona. Both experienced, beautiful and elegant, they inspired confidence and glowed with a gentleness and sensitivity that I craved. They listened to and validated my story. Neither thought I'd have a problem this time. They thought my labour would be really quick. At last a positive attitude, doubled!
Sheila was happy to travel an hour each way to visit us for antenatal appointments. I so looked forward to these. The first time she visited she gave me a warm hug and I instantly relaxed. She spent over 2 hours getting to know me and going through any issues I had, suggesting ways to work through things. We went through my old hospital notes explaining some things which helped me come to terms with it. I was glad she could see for herself what had happened too. At the next appointment she gave me notes made after the last visit, a record of how I was feeling at the time, something I would not have bothered with myself but which I am so glad to have now. A lasting impression of the experience. We didn't do an official birth plan, but she listened to my wishes and lent me information on issues such as the management of the third stage and vitamin K that helped in making decisions. She did visualisations with me which I found relaxing and a chance to connect with the baby, not easy with an excitable 4 year old around! Hugo was around for all our appointments and Sheila accepted as natural that he was there and allowed him to get to know her which made the experience easier and fun for him too. He looked forward to seeing my blood pressure being taken and my bump being measured and touched. It was really fantastic to be at home for these visits, much easier for me and not at all stressful, an utter joy, in fact!
I think this was why I was so sad when the pregnancy was over!
Two days before my due date around 5pm I felt discomfort as if baby had changed position and I started to feel backache. Hugo wanted to sit on my lap but I couldn't bear it and felt irritable. His arrival had been 7 days late so I was convinced that this one would be late as well. The backache became more persistent and Anton told me to call Sheila. I looked up ‘signs of labour‘ and one of them being backache. I felt incredulous! It can't be now! I called her at 6.30pm and she asked me if I'd had a bowel movement. I couldn't remember and said I think so. She told me to call back in 2 hrs. Then I did have a bowel movement and regular but mild tightenings and I realised I was in labour! I started flapping about the house issuing orders to Anton to get the pool ready, putting things on my birth altar, having a shower and making myself scrambled egg. I felt so nervous. This is it! The contractions felt very regular, every 2 minutes but weren't uncomfortable. I phoned Sheila at 7.45pm and she said she'd come straight away. She arrived at 8.45pm. My contractions were coming about every 5 mins. Hugo who had been very excited and not settling finally fell asleep at 9pm. We were both hugely relieved and started to relax. It was getting dark and I went into the garden to listen to the trees and calling upon my guardian angel and any others available! The contractions were getting stronger and I breathed through them. Anton was busy filling the pool and got some food for Sheila. I came in and knelt on the birth ball listening to my relaxation cd's. Sheila checked the baby's heartbeat and that I was ok. All I wanted to do was visualise my special place and relax as much as I could. My contractions were getting uncomfortable so I lay on the sofa and asked Anton for hot flannels (tip: hot water in slow cooker v useful for this) for my abdomen and lower back which helped enormously. I hadn't wanted to order a TENS machine this time and didn't miss it. Hot flannels much more effective. Then my waters broke as I was lying there. Sheila called Fiona who left straightaway. There was a lot of meconium again and it was thought better that I shouldn't be in the pool. I thought ’oh well at least no ones panicking about it‘.
Now I started to feel powerful bearing down sensations that I was tempted to resist. It felt scary. I held on to what I learned in hypnobirthing. That your body knows what to do and all I have to do is relax and let it get on with it. It was a comfort to know I didn't have control now, I could go to my beach and relax! I didn't feel like pushing. I was on all fours clutching my hair and making myself say YES! to encourage myself to open up and let go. I was pushing into the birth pool and squeezing Anton's fingers and my bottom was sticking up for a while so Sheila suggested I stand up and hold onto Anton and sway to loosen up and encourage baby to descend. I was reluctant to move, to let go. I felt it was taking too long and was concerned that it wasn't happening. Sheila reminded me that this was always going to be difficult after my 1st experience and Fiona reminded me that there was no time pressure. (With Hugo I went over the 2 hour limit for the second stage and ’given‘ an extra ½ hr before being advised to accept intervention). I was very glad to hear it and relaxed. But I felt like I'd had enough, I was tired and I said I wanted to lie down and go to sleep! I stood up to lie down on the sofa and suddenly I felt a powerful sensation that made me scream out so loud I was sure the neighbours could hear. Suddenly I had the urge to push out the baby, an overwhelming feeling. I fell to me knees and Sheila immediately told me to start panting so that baby's head emerged gently. The burning feeling was very uncomfortable and I visualised talking with a dear friend about her crowning moment a few days before to take my mind off the intensity. I was holding on the Anton's belt loops for dear life, begging him not to move. Afterwards Sheila told me that bit had taken 10 minutes. It had felt much shorter. Time had stood still. Apart from a small internal cut, I'm proud to say I didn't tear. Then finally baby was born and Sheila passed her through my legs. I looked down expecting to find a boy and discovered she was a girl. I felt ecstatic and disbelieving. I had really wanted a girl. I picked her up. She was very slippery covered in vernix. I got onto the sofa to lie down. I lost some blood so Sheila asked Anton to cut the cord and gave me a syntometrine jab. The placenta emerged awkwardly.
Sheila told me that her hand had been at the side of her face as she came out. A few days before she was born I had a dream of her hand reaching out of my tummy. A sign that she was ready to emerge, perhaps. I will never forget the pride and happiness of that night. My body had done what I knew it could do. A 5 hour labour. Fiona and Sheila left us alone to marvel at our new daughter, while she suckled, born at 1.05am, July 4th 2007. While the Americans were about to celebrate Independence day we were celebrating our independence from the NHS!
I really wanted to know how much she weighed, so Fiona fetched the scales. 8lb. Sheila ran a bath for me. I enjoyed a few moments luxuriating alone, on cloud nine. Then I got into bed with baby while Sheila and Anton brought me tea and a huge piece of sticky chocolate cake. Breastfeeding was straightforward. Hugo had never stopped so it felt natural to be feeding another. That night she slept peacefully, and I got some sleep. At 6am, Hugo woke up and came into our bed where we introduced his sister. We all enjoyed gazing at her. 5 weeks later and she was finally named Naomi Olivia Saxton. She is very relaxed and content and exclusively breastfed. During Sheila's postnatal visits we went through what happened and it was lovely to celebrate with her and share my hormonal ups and downs. I missed her very much and it was nice to know I could call her if I needed to.
Sheila and Fiona accompanied us on our journey, never coercing or dictating but always attentive and calm. We gently grew as a family in many ways and Sheila was the perfect support for us.