For my final assignment at university I picked the topic of freebirth (I posted at edited-down version of this assignment here). At the time I had no idea I would have one myself.
When I discovered I was pregnant, we pushed forward with plans to move in together that we had put on hold so as not to rush the children. I was now under a different health board. I knew I wanted a home birth and was immovable on this point - Judah would have been a home birth if not for the lack of availability of midwives in Cardiff that night. Had I known what I know now, I would have insisted on staying at home. At my booking-in appointment the midwife discussed lack of availability and how that meant I might have to go to the hospital. I made it clear I would be staying home regardless and was met with disapproval and told that that would have to be 'passed on' - to who, I still don't know! The same midwife then went on to tell me story of a home birth she supported where she pressured the mother into taking pethidine by telling her she couldn't do it without the drug. Then went on a tirade about the doulas she has worked with and how clueless they were.
Needless to say I left the appointment feeling very disheartened and certain that should this woman appear at my house when I was in labour, she would not be welcome. Really I wanted as minimal intervention in this pregnancy as possible - I had declined scans but had consented to blood, urine and measurements. I then went on to hear a story from the area about midwives who had convinced the couple to go to hospital from home for no apparent reason at all. I began to be concerned that my plans for my birth would be affected by the birth attendants. My named midwife was absolutely lovely, but there was a slim chance it would be her on the night.
Freebirth began to float in my head as a very likely option. I felt confident that I was in tune with my body, as well as having a very straightforward birth with Judah. When I pictured what I wanted my birth to be like, really it was just me and my partner and my doula that I saw. We planned for home birth, with the knowledge that we could call the midwife at any point on the night if we felt it was necessary. We also had to negotiate getting the neonatal check done at our home, as in this trust parents generally take their babies to the hospital to have it as there is a lack of availability.
I experienced so much early labour this time. I was getting strong Braxton Hicks from around 35 weeks, which was stressful as my partner was gone for some time in France looking after his father, as well as arranging the funeral when he sadly passed away. When I felt stressed or anxious it brought them on more. My doula was also away from week 38-39, and I finished working just before 38 weeks. I was measuring large for the entire pregnancy and I was doubtful I would make it to 40 weeks. The day I hit 40 weeks I had a conversation with The Daisy Foundation about terminating my contract which unleashed a lot of pent up emotion, we got a takeaway to celebrate new beginnings, and I went to bed with a very achy pelvis and the knowledge that something had changed.
When my partner woke up for work at 4.30am the next morning, I had two contractions as he was getting ready. I had to breathe through them but didn't want to alarm him as it was a new job and I was reluctant for him to take any time off if it was unnecessary. I was unable to go back to sleep so I waited until Judah woke up at 6, we had breakfast and I got him ready for school. I was still getting the occasional contraction so I packed him an overnight bag just in case he would have to go for a sleepover at my mother's house, should this be the day the baby decided to come. I walked him (slowly) down to the school, still having contractions on and off, and found the walk back home a bit laborious as I struggled to breathe through them and walk!
When I got home it seemed to fade, so I sat on my ball for a while and did some online training in preparation for a course I am attending in April. Watching videos about birth - can't imagine anything better! My partner was messaging me asking me if I wanted him to come home, but I was really just happy on my own.
After a couple of hours of this I began to get tired so moved upstairs, lying on my side, breathing through the contractions that were about every fifteen minutes. I did this all day, stopping to have a phone conversation with my mum and then my doula, unable to say if this was the real thing or not because of the long build up over the past month. I was really in denial. At 2.45 I was finding it difficult to concentrate as I was closing my eyes to breathe and kneel, rocking through the contractions, so I turned the training off then glanced in the mirror. I looked flushed and dazed, my belly looked lower, and knew something was up. I put my music on instead (Carolyn Hillyer - Heron Valley).
I picked up my phone and left sweaty marks on the screen, I realised then that I was hot and shaky and the contractions had ramped up to every few minutes. I messaged Judah's father to ask him to take Judah to my mother's tonight and at around 3.15 I realised I really didn't want to be on my own anymore. My partner often doesn't have signal in work so I tentatively phoned the emergency numbers he had given me for the office, luckily they answered on the second try and went to tell him to come home.
When he got home I was still happy just breathing and rocking upstairs in our bedroom, in the dark on my own. He made himself busy downstairs making it cosy and blowing up the pool just to have it ready. I alternated between coming downstairs and going upstairs, I couldn't find where I felt most comfortable, didn't want to be antisocial but at the same time wanted darkness. I remember asking when the sun would go down so I could feel comfortable downstairs. The contractions were about three minutes apart and for a while the most comfortable place was hanging off the doorframe. It felt safe to cling to it. We were laughing about the fact that he had made the living room such a lovely cosy birthing nest and there I was hanging off the door in the kitchen! The laughter was making the contractions stronger.
At about 6pm I couldn't decide whether it was worth running the pool or not, so I decided to try a bath first. The water felt amazing and I sat there in the dark on my own. Every time I was having a contraction I was rocking back and forth on my knees, different to my first labour in that I didn't use rotations. The rotations made things feel unbearable, but the rocking helped. I didn't want to speed things along in any way. Looking back I find this really funny, I was convinced this might not even be real labour, yet it was so intense I was stuck rocking in the bath in the dark to manage the sensations. Clearly it was! My partner got in the bath with me for a bit and rubbed my back.
At around 7.15pm I caved and decided to ring my doula. That was a big step for me, as a doula myself, I really didn't want to waste her time if it was a false alarm. Sam got here at around 8pm and kept me company in the dark while my partner filled up the pool. Things got very intense then and my legs had gone dead from kneeling but it was just about manageable in the bath so I really didn't want to move, at all! I was struggling to keep control of my breathing and the controlled breath was sounding more like yelps with the more intense contractions.. I had my music on in the bathroom and it did feel lovely in there.
I was really starting to want the pool and regretting I had left it so late, but luckily it was soon ready. I was helped in and it was the biggest relief ever. The living room had been transformed into a beautiful birthing space which I felt really grateful for. I had decided ahead of time I really wanted an Indian takeaway after the birth, so we decided to order it just incase the baby was born early the next morning and we missed it. We had a good laugh about ordering a takeaway in labour ahead of the baby even being born!
I was really struggling at this point, and my partner got in the pool and applied some counterpressure which felt incredible. The breathing was predominantly yelping and I was complaining about the short gaps between the contractions. Every time they were approaching I was saying 'oh no' and leaning over the side of the pool. Really it felt amazing in between, and I remarked that I kept forgetting I had 'to do' the contractions because it felt like we were just having a lovely bath in our living room. It really amused me that Sam was there, it tickled me to think that if we were just having a lovely bath it was weird to invite her round to watch! I kept worrying I still wasn't in labour but she said that really I should have called her earlier in my labour. I could feel the baby kicking which made me smile, they were reassuring me they were happy! In between contractions I was leaning back and cuddling into my partner to drink water, I felt very thirsty.
One thing that really struck me about having no internal examinations was the level of trust that requires in your body. I remarked to Sam that I didn't realise until now how even I was slightly obsessed with numbers and dilation, now being unable to use this to confirm I was even in labour. It was a massive leap of faith and one of the biggest challenges of my labour, trusting my intuition, letting go of the need for external medical validation.
At 10pm I wanted to use the toilet. With Judah after a while I didn't bother getting out of the pool to wee, but I was conscious I was sharing the pool with my partner and really didn't want to just go in the water. I was able to be helped out shakily, I was dreading sitting on the toilet as I remembered from my labour with Judah how that would bring on even stronger contractions and I dreaded getting stuck in the bathroom again. It turns out I didn't really need to wee, but as I stood up my waters broke on the bath mat. Something shifted in me then - okay, I really AM in labour. I knew from last time this meant I was nearly done, my waters breaking was my sign that I was fully dilated on my last birth.
I rushed back into the pool and began to make low noises as the contractions immediately changed into bearing down ones. It was such a relief as I had been nearly at my limit with the ones that were dilating the cervix. I was concerned that during the second stage I would do a poo in the water so I asked my partner to get out. He went to get a towel and I panicked, it felt like he was gone for an eternity. I asked Sam to ring my mum and tell her the baby was about to be born, I felt spaced out and dazy, wild-eyed, tripping out. I wasn't able to help Sam access my phone as I felt the baby's head move down and started pushing. It was incredible to feel such an involuntary action for the first time, and in what felt like no time at all her head was out. I felt it moving from side to side under the water and was convinced that my partner had reached in and was turning it, which I accused him of! I remember being concerned about her shoulders coming out so brought one leg up into a supported squat, In another two pushes she was out (at 10.20pm) and my partner passed her under my legs to me.
It was complete bliss to finally have her in my arms. We really wanted to know the sex but I didn't want to move her off my chest, which made us laugh as we tried to manoeuvre her to have a peek. Facially, she looked like she was a girl and when we finally found out I laughed again, I had been correct all along! I had another short cord this time so I stayed in the pool for a little while, she began to root so soon after birth and latched onto the breast for a feed like a pro. The water in the pool was almost completely clear, which was bizarre to see, at Judah's birth it had been like soup. I had the urge to get out as I was concerned about her losing heat, and just as I had planned we were curled up in my 'spot' on the sofa. The takeaway then arrived, perfect timing.
I called my mum to let her know the amazing news, just before she got into bed. We decided to call the midwives then as I wanted my perineum checked, but there was virtually no blood loss and I was not concerned at all. We emphasised it was not an emergency and we really didn't want paramedics sent, something that often happens for BBAs (birth before arrivals). The midwife rang me back and was chatting to me, asking me questions, then asked who I was, friend or relative? I said I was the mother and she couldn't believe I was chatting to her so casually over the phone.
The midwife arrived at 11.20pm, an hour after Autumn-Violet's birth. The placenta had still not come away and I was apprehensive, I had never stated on my birth plan that I had a time limit on how long I was willing to wait, and just as I had expected, her first suggestion was to cut the cord and inject me with syntometrine, neither of which were an option for me at this point. She began unloading her things in the kitchen, going through my notes, declaring I hadn't been booked for a home birth as I didn't have an official plan in there, and chatting loudly with a colleague on the phone how she was going to convince me to have the syntometrine. This was exactly what I had feared. My partner took charge and stated very clearly my wishes, but I began to feel anxious about the placenta as I knew this woman wouldn't leave until it was out.
I tried standing and squatting. I remember very clearly at one point having my head in Sam's lap while the midwife was chatting on the phone, and thinking shut up shut up shut up. I thought to myself - what would I suggest to a client in this situation? Sit on the toilet in the dark. I needed oxytocin to give the contractions to birth the placenta, and that was the best way I knew how. My partner kept me company in the bathroom as I sat feeding Autumn-Violet and waiting for the placenta to detach. I was feeling quite desperate about it as it had now been two hours. It did eventually come away but was left hanging by a membrane - he suggested I stand up, so I did and the rest followed. That was almost as big a relief as birthing the baby!
We put the placenta in a tub and I went back to my cosy spot on the sofa. The midwife checked my perineum which was perfectly intact, and we weighed Autumn-Violet who came in at 7lb10oz! The midwife left at 1.30am and we decided to separate Autumn-Violet from her placenta. My partner got the cardboard shield he had made and a candle, and it took about five minutes of holding the flame to the cord for it to separate. We sat there in what can only be described as an "after-party", that mood after a night out with friends when only a few of you are awake and still feeling the effects of whatever you had consumed, just chatting and bonding. Sam was amazing and emptied the pool and tidied up for us so we could eat our food and bond with our new little one. I then felt like I wanted a shower, which I had before curling up in bed with my partner, the baby and Game of Thrones. I was so wired I only managed a couple of hours of sleep
It was the perfect birthing experience. I felt like all the intensity of my first labour had been condensed into a shorter space of time - it hadn't been easier, but had been faster. I was thrilled I had felt the urge to push and still find it amusing I didn't really believe this was it until I was practically pushing. I was so grateful to have a partner and a doula there who never doubted that I could do it, and completely followed my lead. At no point did I feel like I needed anything more than these two people. It was so lovely to have two hours uninterrupted with my baby this time, and recovery has been amazing. I would definitely choose the same if there were a next time. She is perfection and we are totally in love.