From very early on in my pregnancy I thought about having a home birth. I asked the midwife about it at my first appointment at a central London hospital but I was told that I was outside their area for home births. The midwife there confirmed the experiences of my friends, that my nearest hospital is unable to guarantee a home birth due to staff availability. My pregnancy was progressing well so I had no reason to think I would need medical intervention and the more I found out about home births and hospital births, the more sure I was that I wanted to have a home birth.
As the NHS was unable to give me what I had decided I wanted, I looked into independent midwifery and arranged to meet Elke when I was 5 months pregnant. I was immediately impressed by her – she is well-informed, very good at explaining things, confidence-inspiring and friendly. It already felt very different from the appointments I had attended at hospital, where I had not seen the same person more than once and, as I didn’t have any complications, were perfunctory and impersonal.
As it was my first pregnancy I had a lot of questions and concerns and my regular visits from Elke which were always at my home and often lasted over an hour allowed us to discuss different aspects of my pregnancy and labour in lots of detail. Elke made it clear on several issues that she could provide with all the information I needed to make an informed decision but that ultimately all choices were mine to make. In some ways this was daunting but it allowed me to have complete control of my birth experience from the choice of lighting to my decision not to give my baby an injection of vitamin K.
As my pregnancy progressed and my ‘due date’ came and went, Elke was constantly available in person and on the phone and she gave me invaluable support and reassurance. The policy in most NHS hospitals is to induce labour if the pregnancy continues more than 10 days beyond the due date so had I been with the NHS I would have been under considerable pressure to opt for induction even though both me and my baby were fit and healthy. As Elke had explained to me, the process of going into labour is extremely complex and I did not want to be kick-started before my body was really ready unless there was a very good reason. Elke gave me the confidence to continue my pregnancy until I went into labour naturally which was 16 days after my due date on christmas eve (at which point a home birth on the NHS would have been a very remote possibility even if I had resisted induction).
So it was with great excitement and relief that I rang Elke on christmas eve morning to tell her that it had finally started. She sounded almost as pleased as I felt and advised me to have a bath and try and go back to sleep, which I managed with the help of a couple of paracetemol.
The contractions continued throughout the day but they were manageable and I felt I was coping well - getting into forward positions, breathing, humming and making ooh, aah noises (which I found helpful for the pain). I thought 'I'm going to be able to do this'.
Richard rang Elke again at about 7pm to tell her that the contractions were getting stronger and closer together. She told us to call again when we would like her to come over and that she’d carry on with her christmas meal until then. Richard prepared the flat by pumping up and part-filling the birthing pool while I watched ‘A Christmas Carol’ and moved around the sitting room using various bits of furniture and Richard for support. I asked Richard to ring Elke again at 9pm and she arrived 20 minutes later.
Elke was very encouraging throughout the labour telling me how well I was doing, massaging my lower back and providing drinks. But at the same time she remained very unobtrusive allowing Richard and me to get on with things in our own way.
The set-up was just how I hoped – the room was cosy and dimly lit with candles and an open fire. David Attenborough's ‘Blue Planet’ was being projected on the wall which had some great images of coral reefs with colourful fish and some less appropriate ones of seal pups being savaged by killer whales! I moved around the sitting room and went to the loo frequently. At several points I reflected on how glad I was to be in my own familiar surroundings and not in a hospital.
As the contractions got stronger we turned off the dvd and when the pain got difficult to manage I got in the birthing pool. I was in the pool for over 4 hours and the water felt great - it really is a form of pain relief in a way that is hard to imagine beforehand. The water supported me during contractions and helped me to relax in between. Richard was kneeling outside the pool and I held on to his arms tightly during contractions. In between contractions I often rested my head on one of his hands and allowed the water to support the rest of me and I sometimes drifted off to sleep for a few minutes.
Around midnight we wished each other a happy christmas and talked about the fact that we were having a christmas baby.
The contractions were getting stronger and stronger and I began to think that I could not cope. I was making quite a bit of noise during contractions although increasingly the oohs became ows and the aahs became more like screams. I said a few times ‘I can’t do this’. Elke replied ‘you are doing it’ and another time ‘who else is going to do it?’
When I felt like I couldn’t carry on I decided it must be time to push so I told Elke that I wanted to push and she told me to do what my body was telling me. I knew in my heart that I did not have the overwhelming urge to push that had been described to me, I just wanted to be at that stage. Elke offered to examine me to see if I was fully dilated but I declined. I did not have a single vaginal examination during the labour. The idea seemed unappealing both physically (any interference in that area even by the gentle Elke seemed unbearable) and emotionally (if the findings were not what I was hoping it would really set me back).
The second midwife, Nina, arrived at about 2.30 am. The next hour felt like an eternity and I felt desperate. Finally I realised that I was pushing and there was no way that I could not push. I tried to shut off my mind and just go with my body’s instincts but even at this stage I was still aware of my surroundings and it was Elke’s reassuring words and Richard’s physical support that kept me going.
Elke suggested that I go to the loo to help me open up and to allow gravity to help me along. I was helped out of the pool and Richard and I were left in the loo together. I had five or six contractions of such mind-blowing strength that we both thought to ourselves that the baby was going to be delivered into the loo. When we went back to the sitting room, I got down on all fours on the floor and pushed as hard as I could. I was also yelling as loud as I could and I felt relieved that my neighbour had gone away for Christmas!
Elke suggested that I get back in the pool and I thought she was mad to imagine that I could be moved at that stage. She reassured me that if I wanted to get back in the pool then it would not be a problem so I agreed and magically the three of them helped me into the pool.
The baby was delivered into the water at 4.30am and Elke presented me with a crying pink baby girl. She was so beautiful and evidently healthy and strong that I could not believe my luck. I felt an overwhelming rush of happiness and relief.
After delivering the placenta in the bathroom I was helped into the comfort of my own bed and Richard and my new baby Peggy joined me. Peggy fed at my breast straight away and was awake and looking around.
After we had got our breath back and Peggy had finished feeding, Nina and Richard checked and measured Peggy while Elke checked me. We were both in good shape! My perineum remained intact and my uterus had contracted well. I felt tired and happy and ready to cuddle up with Richard and Peggy for a rest.
Nina and Elke left at about 7.30 am. Richard, Peggy and I enjoyed christmas morning together in our home before my family arrived with gifts and most importantly Christmas dinner for us to eat in bed!
I feel incredibly lucky to have been able to give Peggy such a great start.