“When there is no home birth in a society or home birth is driven underground, essential knowledge of women’s capacities in birth is lost to the people of that society – to professional caregivers, as well as to the women of childbearing age themselves.” Ina May Gaskin
It has been over eleven years since my oldest daughter was born at home but the reason I am writing about it now is that she came home from school one day last week and told me very proudly that her teacher thought I was brave. When I questioned her as to why her teacher thought this, my daughter explained that during a lesson at school they were learning about the different parts of the world where they were all born. Some were born in India or China others were born in London but the majority of her school class were born in Northamptonshire. The teacher then stated that she guessed they were all born in hospital to which my daughter replied “No Miss, I was born at home in the dining room in a pool”.
And it was to this statement that my daughter’s teacher then exclaimed to the class that I must have been very brave.
I have been called brave hundreds of times for my decision to have give birth to both of my children at home. Most people would relish being called brave but it actually made me a bit sad. Not sad for myself, but for all the women and girls who truly believe that having a home birth is the braver option. I was also sad that this teacher felt the same way and passed her fear onto another generation of girls including my daughter.
Having had two previous miscarriages, and worrying that this pregnancy would also end in miscarriage, my decision to have a home birth was not taken lightly. My midwife was the first person to suggest a home birth and the more I learnt about it the more it seemed a better option for me.
I must have read dozens of books about pregnancy and labour but two books in particular convinced me that a home birth was right was me; Childbirth without Fear by Dick Grantly Read (an oldie but a goodie, it was first printed in 1942) and Birth your Way by Shelia Kitzinger who sadly died in 2015 before I had the chance to meet and thank her. The information in both of these books gave me the confidence in my body to birth my baby at home.
I also need to credit the Gentle Birth Method by Dr Gowri Motha and Karen Swan MacLeod which came free with a Pregnancy, Baby and You magazine. It was my daily guidebook and was full of advice on how to be physically and mentally prepared for labour and birth.
My pregnancy was pretty straightforward and, four days after my official due date, at approximately 6.30pm my contractions started. Little did I know then that it was going to be a very long weekend and I struggled to sleep at all on the Friday night. Therefore as my labour happened to coincide with the release of Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows and being a Potterhead I sent my husband out at midnight to get me a copy from the local supermarket.
It felt like a lifetime but after thirty six hours of being in labour (I was classed as officially in labour from Saturday afternoon when I was 4cm dilated, which is when the midwife remains with you at your home, so officially eighteen hours in labour) and after using lots of gas and air, my beautiful daughter was born at 6.50am on a glorious sunny Sunday morning in the birthing pool in the dining room. On hearing my daughter’s first cry my two little Yorkshire terriers, who had been in the conservatory overnight, popped their heads up desperate to see what the noise was. At that precise moment in time I was in ecstasy. I had my new baby daughter in my arms, my husband at my side (not in the birthing pool) and I was looking at my two little dogs who in turn were looking at me holding the new addition to our family whilst wagging their tails.
Me with my daughter immediately after she had been born, taking her first breath of air.
When I became pregnant six months after having my first daughter I knew I wanted another home birth. Although my first daughters birth went well I didn’t want to use gas and air again as I felt it using it was more of a distraction as it didn’t help me cope with the contractions. I had heard about the benefits of Hypnobirthing and wanted to see if this would make the second birth easier so I profoundly researched the subject. There were courses that I could attend but these were very expensive and as I had just been made redundant by the solicitors firm I was working for (because I was ‘popping out more babies’ was the exact reason given by my boss) I could only afford a book about hypnobirthing by Marie Mongan. This is another book I would recommend in a heartbeat. The rainbow relaxation and opening blossom visualisation techniques and the chapter for birth breathing were incredibly useful. I also attended weekly pregnancy yoga classes which helped me physically prepare for labour.
At approximately 3.30pm on a Monday afternoon, whilst at stay and play with my daughter, I could feel mild contractions starting. By 6.30pm they became stronger so I knew that it was the real deal and therefore as planned, my mum collected my oldest daughter to have a sleepover at hers which meant I could concentrate solely on the labour and birth. My husband arrived home at about 7.30pm (I told him not to rush and I also needed him to get some things from the shop). The midwife arrived at my home about 8pm. As I had unintentionally brought a liner too small to fit the birth pool it was recommended by the midwife not to use the pool for health reasons and so I just had a lovely soak in the bath.
Whilst in the bath my contraction pain really increased and even though I was using my hypnobirthing techniques I do remember thinking to myself during the contractions ‘why the hell am I doing this again’! Suddenly I felt a strange sensation like a pop down below and guessed my waters must have broken, but as I was in the bath I couldn’t be certain.
I called to the midwife to inform her and as she got me out of the bath I gave her a big hug whilst my next contraction took hold. I was wrapped in a nice, dry dressing gown and was advised to try and make it downstairs. My contractions were becoming very strong and more regular now as what seemed a very long walk down the stairs.
When I arrived in the living room, I got down onto my knees, leant on my husband and, using the hypnobirthing techniques, I breathed my way through the final stages of my labour.
My beautiful second daughter was born on the red rug on the living room floor at 9.45pm (as a budding actress she now likes to tell people she was born on a red carpet).
Me with my second daughter having her first feed.
Another benefit of being at home is that once my daughter and myself had been checked and the midwives completed their paperwork, my husband, myself and our daughters were left to relax, in peace, all together until the visit from the midwife the next morning.
I look back at both the births proudly and have relished showing my daughters the exact locations in our house where they were born.
My birth experiences and the fact that I really enjoyed being a voluntary breastfeeding supporter was the reason I applied to start a midwifery degree in 2012.
My first encounter on the labour ward was as a student midwife (not including my wedding night which is a post for another day!). As I followed my mentor into the labour room the first thing I saw as I pulled the curtain back behind me was a pair of legs both up in stirrups. The woman whom the legs belonged to had just given birth and delivered the placenta but as the current midwife’s shift had finished my mentor needed to do the stitches. This woman turned out to be someone from my daughter’s nursery (who I did not know by name) and although we can laugh about it now I know she was mortified that I had seen her nether regions in that position before we even realised we knew each other.
On one particular shift on the labour ward, my mentor and I were caring for a woman in the early stages of labour. The woman was laying on her back on the bed, using entonox (gas and air) to help with the contractions. My mentor (who had stated to me that she found natural birth “boring”) went for her lunch break so I was to be mentored by another midwife for the next hour. The new midwife asked if the woman wanted to get off the bed and sit on a Swiss ball so that she could rock back and forwards on it whilst the midwife gave her a back massage. The lights were dimmed and for the next hour we took turns in massaging the woman’s back and checking the woman’s and fetus’s vital signs. The room was so calm and the only noise was the sound of the women breathing through the contractions and us two midwives giving words and encouragement. However when the hour was up and my mentor returned from her lunch break the lights were turned back on and she told the woman she needed to get back on the bed. It was at that moment I realised, unless you are very forthright in your birthing plans, labouring women in hospital are generally at the mercy of the midwife who is caring for them as to how they give birth.
Three years of training as a midwife meant I personally deliverered forty two babies (including twins) and cared for hundreds of women and babies antenatally and postnataly. I was mentored by many different midwives all with differing styles of care. Some loved the high risk births whilst others prefered a low risk natural birth. I loved caring for women during the antenatal, birth and postnatal stages and a personal highlight of mine was visiting women, whom I had attended antenatally or during their labour, at their home once their babies had been born.
So getting back to my reasons for this blog and why I personally believe that women who give birth in hospital are far braver than me are for the following reasons:
- In hospital your birth experience is dependant on the attitude of your midwife and whether she likes the drama of a high risk birth or relishes a calm holistic birth.
- In hospital any member of medical staff can enter the labour room at any time without your say so.
- In hospital you are either confined to a small room or you can walk up and down the labour ward walkways.
- Your partner cannot stay with you on the postnatal ward for your first night as a family.
I do understand that a lot of women feel safer being in the hospital in case of an emergency but I had full confidence in my midwife’s ability in an emergency situation. I also live just a few miles from the hospital if I did need to be transferred. Therefore, I felt this was a risk worth taking. I know that a home birth is not right for everyone and I have friends who have had amazing births in hospital and they couldn’t think of anything worse than giving birth at home (mainly due to the ‘mess’ they think they will make, in my experience though there is a lot less ‘mess’ in a homebirth than a hospital birth and we only ruined one towel, which was the one my second daughter was born on!).
My birth experience was dependant on me and it was my decision where and also in what position I wanted to deliver my babies. No one could enter my home without mine or my husbands permission and I was free to wander wherever I chose.
I wanted my labour to be in similar conditions as when I make love; a dimly lit and comfortable room (not necessarily the bedroom, I didn’t venture into my bedroom at all during either of my births), a loving partner listening to my needs, relaxing music playing in the background and no clockwatching if I take too long! And no, I do not normally have a midwife with me when I make love as it is not a legal requirement! Therefore, I felt safer at home rather than in hospital and so with my husbands support we both decided on home births.
And they were both the best decisions I have ever made!
Having been present at hundreds of hospital births and a few other home births, some good, some amazing but others totally shocking and, also experiencing many ranges of care from my mentors, I believe that it is the women who give birth in hospital who show real bravery.
Ultimately, I just wanted to give birth where I felt safe and, for me, the safest place was at home with my husband and two dogs. So please don’t call me brave for having a home birth as I truly don’t believe I am!
* I finally got round to reading Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows about nine months after my second daughter was born!