Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Giving birth at home: a piece of cake?

(Different versions of this post were first published in The Journal, and on the Home Birth Association's website.)

My first baby was nearly born at home, although it wasn’t the plan at all, so a home birth appeared as an interesting option when I got pregnant with my second child. I knew I could change my mind until the last minute, so I went ahead and booked a home birth with the community midwives in the closest maternity hospital. And the more I learned about it, the more answers I got to my questions and any concerns I raised, the more certain I became that this was the right choice for me. I didn’t tell my mother about my decision, though. I thought it sad to have to hide such a big thing from her, but I just knew she would fret. Mr Grumble, on the other hand, quickly agreed.

After a miscarriage last year, I couldn’t help worrying throughout the first 3 months of this pregnancy, and I got contractions from week 15. But all went well, except for a low iron count. That meant I might not qualify for a home birth, so I had to work hard to reach the minimum levels, taking loads of iron tablets and assorted folk remedies. I felt like I was preparing an exam.

But being seen by the community midwives was a real treat. They provide amazing care. I barely ever had to wait more than a few minutes at the local clinic, and they were all so nice and easy-going. Amazingly, the first midwife I met at the booking visit had read my file and asked me about my daughter. They all had that person-centred approach that unfortunately most consultants seem to lack. I also got several visits at home. Luxury!

Finally, my baby boy was born in the night (or what some people call the morning) on 21 March — at home like I had hoped. It took a mere 4 hours in all, counting from the first twinges of discomfort, and labour itself only lasted an hour. I still can’t believe it. I’m glad I opted for a home birth, because I would never have made it to the hospital in time.

After watching me give birth so quickly, Mr Grumble tells everyone it’s a piece of cake! Now that’s slightly annoying, but I can’t help feeling I’ve been very lucky.

On 20 March, my grandfather turned 90. A milestone. I had been waiting for that big date. And suddenly, something seemed to unlock in my head. Apparently deciding it was French (they count an extra week of pregnancy in France), my baby was 5 days overdue and the suspense was hard to bear. That evening I felt strange and suspected that the show would soon commence.

Ignoring reason, I watched a film with Mr Grumble and had only got an hour of sleep when the contractions began at 1 am. They felt different from what I remembered. More like intense period pains than a terrible tightening coming in waves. I vainly tried to sleep through them. Accepting that the night was over for me, I phoned the community midwives to let them know things had kicked off. “Call back when the contractions start to bite more,” midwife Annemarie advised. My plan was to call as late as possible, because I imagined it might be harder to stay calm and focused with an audience.

For my first labour, after a long walk and a warm bath, I’d just lain on my bed and breathed through the contractions until I felt an urge to push. I wanted to follow that example. But could it be that “easy” twice? At least I wouldn’t have to worry about getting to hospital.

As a diversion, I started to organise my nest the way I wanted it for the birth, attaching balloons outside to help the midwives find the house, moving furniture about, etc., even if I couldn’t help thinking it was much too early (and neurotic) to worry about such details.

Soon it became impossible to ignore the contractions and I had to go back to bed. I didn't manage to let Mr Grumble sleep through the first hours as I had intended (for both his sake and mine: he’s not very good with sleeplessness), but it was time to forget about the plan and just adapt to how things were. Mr Grumble asked me how he could help, so we covered the mattress with a shower curtain and the carpet with plastic sheets. Afterwards, I was glad we did that then. There would be no time later on.

Yoga proved helpful, even if I never felt like having a proper practice. I coped with the contractions by rocking on all fours, as I found I couldn’t relax enough to lie still. I breathed deeply and tried to erase every tension from my neck, shoulders, jaw… I also kept working on what my brilliant yoga teacher interestingly called a “friendly face”, thinking: “I don’t want to scare my baby away!”

Two hours into it I was shaking. Was it the transition stage, or just nerves? When I had my first baby, I got the shivers just before I felt like pushing, so Mr Grumble thought we should call the midwives again. I was convinced I still had hours to go, but Annemarie decided to come straight away. By the time she arrived, I was feeling pains I definitely recognised, but I knew they were a good thing, opening a way out for my baby. Midwife Katie arrived soon after. “Oh dear,” I said, “two midwives to myself and I’m probably not even in labour yet!”

The contractions had been 1 to 2 minutes apart straight from the start, but only lasted about 30 seconds and still felt manageable. Annemarie examined me and found that I was 1 cm dilated. I was happy enough with that. Labour had started, even if it was still early as I suspected. Little did I know that the baby would be there an hour later. An hour and seven minutes, to be exact.

I didn’t mind having an audience after all. I felt compelled to tell my life story and crack jokes, which helped me relax. My midwives whispered advice from time to time, but stayed in the background and let me do things my way. I improvised a new yoga pose I called “the Gorilla”: kneeling half upright with my arms straight and my hands in fists on the floor, I giggled in the middle of a tough contraction, and Annemarie commented I might “laugh this baby out". A nice prospect for me, who’ve been training to be a clown for the last couple of years.

When the pressure became really intense I decided to go to the bathroom, as I was suddenly worried about the mess when my waters would break. They did as I sat down on the toilet. How neat! But I had no time to gloat over that little achievement. I was already feeling the urge to push. “I can’t have the baby on the toilet,” I moaned. The midwives suggested I stand up, but I didn’t think I could.

The few steps to walk (or crawl) back to my bedroom, as I had planned, felt impossible. So I knelt down right there, in front of the bathtub. Mr Grumble climbed into the bathtub so he didn’t have to stand behind two other people in our cramped bathroom and watch my backside. I looked into his eyes, pushed – or rather breathed out – twice, and the head was out. Really? Already? I was stunned.

© 2014 Niamh Lawlor

The first time I gave birth, I’d been squeamish and hadn’t wanted to touch or see the baby’s head as it crowned. This time when a midwife suggested I catch the baby myself, I didn’t think twice. I felt a soft, wet thing between my legs and pulled the baby up on my chest. It was so empowering to do it myself. Dizzy and exhilarated, I kept repeating: “I can’t believe it! I can’t believe it!”

Everybody else in the room seemed to fade away as I started talking to my baby. This time I was already a mum. I was ready for him, and we connected instantly. He gave a little cry, then settled down. I soothed him when he cried. I didn’t realise he was a boy until the midwives asked if I’d seen what I got.

Stooped over my little son, still attached to the cord, I walked back to my bed. I was so happy. I looked at the time, wondering about my daughter. Mr Grumble checked for the umpteenth time that she was still asleep, and cleaned the bathroom to make sure she didn’t see anything scary when she woke up. I had bled more than the midwives liked, so they gave me an injection to speed up the delivery of the placenta. It was a relief when it was all over. So unbelievably fast.

“I feel so lucky”, I said tearfully.

After quite a long while midwife Katie remembered to check the baby, snuggled against me. She counted his ten fingers and toes, and declared him perfect.

Everything was perfect. My daughter slept through it all, just a few meters away, and discovered her new brother in my arms when she got up around 7 am. I was moved to the tears when she shyly stepped into the room. She ran to me, stared at the baby with sleepy eyes and declared him cute. We spent the day together at home, as a family of 4. My daughter got to skip school. Bliss all around.

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