“Birth matters. It matters because it is the way we all begin our lives outside of our source, our mothers’ bodies. It’s the means through which we enter and feel our first impression of the wider world. For each mother, it is an event that shakes and shapes her to her innermost core. Women’s perceptions about their bodies and their babies’ capabilities will be deeply influenced by the care they receive around the time of birth.”
- Ina May Gaskin
Take a look at some of our birth stories below
I never imagined I was capable of having a natural birth. In fact, I was quite terrified of childbirth and had heard enough stories to know that it was LONG, PAINFUL and apparently you “PUSH FOR HOURS.” I pictured childbirth as a woman on her back in a white sterile room, with florescent lights, legs in the air, and lots of people buzzing around. AKA my worst nightmare. I had convinced myself long ago that an epidural or any other way to take away the misery would be my approach when the time came. I never realised women actually had control over their birth plan.
However, I went from dreading the birth experience to being empowered and excited, gaining a completely new mindset along the way.
Pregnancy / Antenatal
When my husband and I moved to London for his job, we decided we wanted to start a family and were lucky to get pregnant right away. My first doctor appointment was at a well-respected NHS hospital and I remember leaving apprehensive. It seemed overly process-driven, lacking compassion and personal attention. Who would deliver my baby? What do I need to know? Was I actually really pregnant? (they didn’t confirm until the 13w scan). I had a lot of questions, yet, I didn’t know the first thing to ask. My biggest concern was that I wanted to know who would deliver my baby. NHS can’t guarantee this as it’s whoever is on staff at the time of labour. I worried that I would show up at the hospital with contractions and would be going through arguably the most important (and vulnerable) experience my body has ever gone through with a complete stranger.
That’s when I decided to take control of my birth plan.
It’s been said that carrying baby to term takes the same amount of endurance as extreme sports. I grew up as an athlete so it made sense for me to approach my pregnancy like I was running a marathon — hire the best coach and train for it!
I first looked for a midwife who would get to know my body and my baby and look after me throughout my pregnancy + labour + postnatal journey. My research led me to the London Birth Company and I am eternally grateful! We talked through the type of birth I wanted – a calm, quiet room with the lights down low, a positive, intimate environment with minimal people, and me, floating in a warm pool. Sure enough, this was possible. They also referred me to a Hypnobirthing course, where I could learn how to visualise my birth experience. The course was incredibly helpful in further crafting my birth plan and provided me with relaxation tracks that I could play throughout my pregnancy + in labour to get “in the zone.”
I also focused on taking care of myself and truly listening to my body. I worked out until it didn’t feel good anymore (around 6-7 months). I listened to what my body craved and ate it. I loaded up on nutrient-dense superfoods every day to optimally grow baby’s body and brain. When I was tired, I rested. I listened to affirmations for a positive birth experience. I visualised my baby easily coming into a calm, relaxed environment.
I started noticing Braxton hicks contractions picking up on Saturday, 3 Aug, but they were inconsistent – 10-15 min. apart, coming and going. It felt as if my uterus was tightening and then relaxing — no pain, just had to slow down if I was walking around. That night, I took a bath and had a glass of wine to see if the contractions picked up. They didn’t and I slept well. I experienced similar contractions throughout the day on Sunday, 4 Aug but they still seemed like practice contractions – 10-20 min. apart and inconsistent. Then that night, things changed.
Dom and I went out to the high street for a bite to eat around 5PM. The contractions started picking up and I had to move at a snail’s pace in order to get to the high street and back. I got home and took another bath with a glass of wine around 6PM to see if the contractions would continue. I washed and dried my hair and could feel things picking up. Around 7PM, I put on my TENS machine with a robe over it and laid in bed, dialing up the power on the TENS when a surge came around. Contractions continued to pick up and at 8:15PM, my waters broke. I sprung out of bed and at that time, it finally hit me that our daughter was on her way! Around 9PM, contractions were about every 2 minutes and more intense. I was getting short of breath and we decided it was best to move to the hospital so I could get in the pool. Dom called an Uber and our midwives were already on their way. Dom sprinted around the house gathering the bags that we had packed while trying to scarf down some dinner (not knowing how long I’d be in labour, he didn’t want to be hungry but alas, there was no time to eat it!). I barely had energy to change out of my bathrobe and questioned whether it would be appropriate for me to leave the house in just a robe. In the throes of labour, I still had dignity to somehow put on some gym shorts but couldn’t muster up the energy to throw on a t-shirt. At 9:30PM, I walked out of our flat wearing my bathrobe with the wires from my TENS machine hanging out of it, cupping my basketball-size baby bump as I keeled over in between surges and waddled towards the car. Dom juggled our overnight bags and new carseat shouting at the uber, “we have to get to Chelsea Westminster hospital! My wife is going to have a baby!” The driver took one look at us and put his hands up to stop us. “no no no, I cannot take you. You must call ambulance!” Dom wouldn’t take no for an answer and hurled our stuff into the car. “It’s only an 8 minute ride, sir, we’ve got to get there!” I got in the car but couldn’t sit down so I kneeled on the floor, faced backwards, hands on the seat grasping Dom and my TENS machine, trying to keep my mouth shut as surges came and went as not to get kicked out of the uber. By this point, contractions were very intense and I needed all my energy to move through them without causing “a scene.”
Luckily we made it to the hospital quickly and I hopped into a pushchair to wheel me to the birth centre. Or rather, I kneeled on the seat, facing backwards, hands clutching the back of the pushchair as rode the waves of the contractions. I was whisked away down the emergency corridors of the hospital and arrived to a quiet, dimly-lit room. The pool was still filling up upon my arrival so I laboured on my knees on a birthing pillow for a bit.
I got in the pool once it was deemed safe. My midwives had arrived and were coaching me through my contractions which were coming fast and furiously. I was hyper-focused and fully in the zone, but had a passing thought that I wanted / needed an epidural. I remember a friend of mine had said I’d want the epidural just as the baby was about to descend. It occurred to me that she must be close! I had come so far in the past 9 months and had the best support team around me — I couldn’t get out of the pool now. My mental stamina kicked into gear and I remember muttering to Dom: “I can do this,” giving his hand an extra squeeze.
The final stage of labor — around 5 contractions back-to-back — was an out-of-body experience. I’d feel one coming on, would take some big breaths and then let out a roar that surely the whole hospital and the people across the street heard. At this point, my baby was descending and her head was slowly stretching the area so she could gently come into the world. My midwife coached me to “breathe the baby out” rather than push so that she descended down the birth canal in the gentlest and most natural way possible without stress to baby or mom. And in the final contraction, she was born into the water at 11:05PM.
At that moment, I felt relief and extreme happiness. Any pain was immediately replaced by a flood of endorphins and I held her close for the first time.
What surprised me most about childbirth was that it’s just as much a mental game as a physical one. Not only do you need to be physically tough but mentally strong. My 'training' had paid off — the affirmations, visualisations, healthy eating, working out, resting, listening to my body, and surrounding myself with the best team to help me bring my daughter into this world. While there was pain, it was fleeting, coming and going in waves. Labour was intense and powerful and I’ve never felt more like superwoman.
It was a hot day in July. And it also happened to be the day before my due date. But given this was my first pregnancy, and I had seen my midwives and mother a few days before who had all said I would likely be pregnant for another week or so, I thought nothing of it and went about the day as usual. I recall spending much of the day annoyed as I had a massage booked that was ruined by this strange aching sensation in my lower back! I called Jacqui and Emilie who said to keep them updated but that everything was fine and it could be a few days yet, so not to get too over excited.
That evening, I was having a 'last supper' with my best friend Alice in London before travelling up to North Wales to be by the sea with my family on the 5th (my due date). When I met Alice in Soho I mentioned to her that I had been having some pains since 11am and that I could be in labour - but equally that it was probably a false alarm! We had a brilliant evening with wine, big bowls of pasta and a lot of laughs. At the end of it I was pretty sure the baby was on it's way but travelled home on the tube in the pouring rain all the same.
Looking back, I am extremely grateful to have been introduced to Hypnobirthing by Jacqui and Emilie as I kept calm, laughed a lot to release those all important hormones and really just trusted in my body to know what to do. I think the best thing I did was to go out for supper. It kept my mind off things and allowed my body to do what it needed to, uninterrupted by adrenaline and anxiety.
From the moment I arrived home, I said to my husband, Mark, that we probably needed to get ready and diligently pointed out all the old towels, sheets, baby things and so on. I needn't have bothered as when the time came, I'm not sure either of us could remember anything!
I clearly recall bouncing on a yoga ball whilst watching some television with Mark but at 11pm thought that I better try and rest. I hadn't spoken to my midwives since about 2pm so when I called at 11pm to say I think this might be it, Emilie was a little surprised. She recommended I put on my TENS machine and try to sleep. I ended the call and said to my husband, "is she mad? I can't sleep through these contractions!" What none of us realised was how much further along in the pregnancy I was.
So sleep evaded me, as it has done a fair bit since becoming a mummy, and I said to Mark that he may as well sleep in the other room to get some rest. I lit some candles, ran a deep bath and watched the road outside bathed in dim street-light thinking, 'it's happening ... and me and my baby are the only ones that know.'
At 1pm the contractions were much stronger and lasting a lot longer. I called out, quite forcefully, to Mark and he rushed in. We then had a hilarious, although not so much at the time, episode with the birth pool. It was inflated but despite all the advice, we hadn't done a 'wet run'. Error. There we were, me leaning over the birth pool holding a hose heavily contracting about to enter the second stage of labour, Mark desperately trying to form a connection with his hands between the bespoke taps in the rented house, and the hose. It was never going to be a quick process. Needless to say, we gave up after we had filled it with 5cm of water. But, it did provide some laughs and meant I was in the UFO (upwards,forwards,open) position whilst on all fours clutching a hose. It was at this point we decided to call Jacqui and Emilie, who were at least 2 and 1 hour away respectively. Excellent.
But we had done Hypnobirthing, we knew what was happening, sort of, and my husband was fantastic at keeping me calm. The transition phase was not my favourite and towards the end, after sitting on the loo for what felt like forever but in reality was only about twenty minutes, I decided to make use of my personal indoor paddling pool and clamber in. It was at that moment I felt my son's head between my legs and said to Mark that I think we did need some help NOW! Luckily Emilie was close and I am sure after that call, she knew it was a definite.
4 minutes later she walked in to the room, told me to my horror that I had to clamber back out of the half-filled pool, and helped me on to the bed. 2 pushes and a bit of self-encouragement later, our son Frank was born just before 3am.
It was the most surreal, bizarre, incredible, empowering, mind-blowing and proud night of our lives. But there he was, our son. My first words were "there's a baby on the bed" which Emilie still laughs about. I just couldn't believe it. It had actually happened.
Jacqui arrived very shortly after and the golden hour passed in a blur. I just remember being so grateful I was at home with people I loved and trusted. I was popped in the bath with Frank, Jacqui and Emilie made us tea and toast and then they seemed to just blend in to the background. But I felt so reassured knowing they were there and when they left, around 6am, I was very emotional.
So that was that, a magical moment which seems all too brief now. Should I be so lucky, I am not looking forward to being pregnant again but I will look forward to, hopefully, a similar birth experience with the London Birth Practice by my side.
I would like to share my story in the hope that other women can see that natural birth against the odds is possible. I was considered a 'high risk' pregnancy from my booking appointment due to being overweight and an older mum. This is in spite of me being very active, healthy and this being my second pregnancy. I was also diagnosed with gestational diabetes at 28 weeks. For many reasons, when I got to 32 weeks pregnant, I wasn't happy with the care I received from the hospital I was at and began looking for alternative care. I found the London Birth Practice and contacted Emilie. She called me the same day and visited the next day. I immediately felt less anxious and was so glad to have someone to listen and hear my concerns.
My first child was born after induction due to my waters breaking and I was not allowed to move during labour as the monitoring did not work unless I was on my back. This was totally counterintuitive to me and very frustrating. Clearly this was not an experience I wanted to repeat.
Emilie and Mal looked after me very well and made sure I had access to all the information I needed so I could make an informed decision about the birth. They set up a meeting for me with a consultant at the Royal London Hospital and it was such a positive experience where I felt that my needs were heard and had importance. The consultant wrote my birth plan with a preference for the birthing centre and a natural birth with mobile labour. So much of what I wanted was outside their guidelines but they were willing to accommodate my wishes knowing that I was aware of any risks. The discussions of risks were very much balanced and based on sound research, none of the scaremongering I had experienced at Whipps.
I was induced at 38+6 and the pessary did not produce strong contractions after 24 hours, at which time I met a consultant and registrar who gave me four choices of what to do next, one of which was a sweep and to go home and wait for stronger contractions. I took this option and my waters broke during the process. This was at about 2pm. I was given a room in the birthing centre and I went for a walk, during which my waters did the 'movie style' gush in the hospital restaurant and I decided to go back to the room.
Emilie was with me and my husband throughout helping us to make decisions and reminding me to keep mobile. As my contractions progressed I decided I wanted to use the pool and was told I was too dilated and if I wanted a water birth I would have to move do the labour ward which would have involved a trip in a lift. I decided I didn't want to leave the room so carried on with the contractions becoming stronger and more purposeful. At one point I realised I was entering transition as I started to feel like I couldn't deal with what was happening! Emilie and my husband reminded me of how well I was doing and assured me I could do it. I had some gas and air and then it was as if a switch flipped in my head and I went for it. Not long after I felt the baby's head and in the next moment he was out!
The midwife passed him to me and I held my beautiful boy in my arms just five hours after my waters broke. I can't thank Emilie and Mal enough for the consistent care, advice and guidance they have given me. I have no doubt that my birth experience would have been very different if it weren't for their support.
My pregnancy and birth of our first child, a little girl born in April 2017 was an incredible experience.
I have only extremely positive things to say as does my husband about Jacqui, Mal and the service they provide through the London Birth Practice. I can only comment on personal experience which seemed a world away from my friends who went through the usual NHS channels. Friendly, warm, personable and time was never a factor. Friends popping in for a cuppa and chat was how each visit felt with no pressures or deadlines to be met. We felt looked after and some! Jacqui and Mal were always available day or night via phone and it made me feel so much more relaxed.
My actual labour was an amazing experience. Whilst it’s hard work, our girl was born at home, in the birth pool without any need for intervention. It was a beautiful experience and exactly what I had hoped for. I felt respected and cared for throughout with my dignity at the forefront of every decision. Once Olivia came into the world I had a bath at home and Jacqui and Mal made crumpets and tea.
The aftercare which took place over a period of four weeks was just as crucial for us as the pre natal and labour.
Whilst I appreciate some feel private midwifery is a luxury, for me it is worth every single penny and gave us the best possible start on our journey as new parents.
When I was pregnant with my first child I knew from the outset that I wanted to have a home birth. I found that my NHS care givers were not open to discussing this route until a very late stage of my pregnancy and I was passed from one person to another never speaking to the same person twice. I found it frustrating to have to keep repeating my wishes and confusing to receive differing responses. Eventually communication dried up completely leaving me completely unsupported. I was led to believe that I was with the home birth team but I never heard from them and therefore I was facing the prospect of being in labour and letting someone into my house with whom I had never met and never discussed my birth wishes.
I booked independent midwives relatively late in my pregnancy. Jacqui Tomkins immediately made up for lost time with regular visits to build our understanding of each other. My questions were answered with evidence based recommendations. Guidelines were discussed and explained so that I was able to make informed choices. The antenatal care I received was vital for enabling me to develop a level of trust in Jacqui that allowed me to switch off during labour safe in the knowledge that Jacqui knew my preferences and I knew I could trust her recommendations as labour progressed. As well as regular appointments I was able to call Jacqui at any time day or night with any concerns. As soon as labour signs began I was in touch with Jacqui and as each phase developed she provided me with options and guidance always respecting my wishes and equipping me to make decisions by providing information and support.
I had a wonderful home birth thanks to Jacqui and her team but what I have come to appreciate even more is the postnatal care which I was given. With daily visits in the first week and regular visits for weeks afterwards I was supported with the physical aspects of healing and recovery as well as the emotional process and the practicalities of having a newborn. I continued to have 24/7 support throughout.
I could not put a price on the importance of having continuity of care with the same person providing information and support. When I was pregnant with my second child I knew that I wanted to continue that care and did not hesitate to book Jacqui again.
A mother’s perspective
A friend at school who had delivered 2 of her 3 children at home, urged me to contact Jacqui Tomkins, an independent midwife working in our area. She assured me that Jacqui could give me exactly the kind of birth I wanted, but in a home environment rather than a hospital. Nervously I arranged a meeting. Within 20 minutes of Jacqui's arrival I knew I wanted her involved in my pregnancy. She was so experienced, knowledgeable, reassuring and calm. I couldn't imagine a better birthing partner. Over the next 6 months, Jacqui and Elke, who is equally as wonderful, visited me regularly at home, varying their appointment times so that they became known to my husband, Eric, and our children. I looked forward to each visit enormously. It was fun, informative and exciting - so much more enjoyable than my earlier antenatal care. I was desperately worried about breastfeeding, as my two previous attempts had resulted in breast abscesses requiring surgery. We discussed it at length and I was confident that with their guidance and support I could conquer my demons.
Sophie couldn't have chosen a more awkward time to put in an appearance. I had naively assumed that I would go into labour early evening, the boys would sleep through it all and by the time they woke up, it would all be over and I could present them with their new sibling. Wishful thinking. Contractions woke me at 5.30am. By 6.30am they were fast and furious. I called my pregnant (8-months) sister to come over so she could deal with the boys when they woke. By 7am we were on the phone to Jacqui who headed straight over. By 9am the house was slightly chaotic. I was bent over the sofa with my TENS machine, dealing with incredibly intense contractions, very aware that Jacqui was not far away. The pool was too hot, so Eric was frantically bucketing out hot water and replacing with cold. My sister was trying to convince the boys that it was perfectly normal to eat your breakfast upstairs with the TV on full volume.
By 9.15am a calm descended. My sister had taken the children to school and I even managed to kiss them goodbye in the short window between contractions. Elke had arrived and she and Eric had managed to get the pool to the correct temperature and I was completely immersed in the warm, comforting water. The shutters were closed, the lights were low and candles were lit. The postman arrived. My mother phoned. My sister returned. The contractions continued.
At 10.30am I told Jacqui that I thought the contractions were reducing in intensity. We changed positions in the pool but they were definitely lessening. I could feel my baby kicking me hard, but still high. He/she was not moving downwards, I knew it. The baby was fine - the reassuringly regular, yet unobtrusive checks showed a perfect heartbeat. Jacqui and Elke explained that they believed the baby had its hand on its head and this was halting the progress down the birth canal.
In order to give the baby more room to manoeuvre, I needed to get out of the pool. We reconvened in the downstairs shower-room. Eric and Jacqui supported me during the contractions and Elke fed me chopped-up grapes and banana in between. Jacqui asked me to try and sit on the toilet for 3 full contractions. She explained that the seated position really opened up the pelvis. I managed 2 contractions. Too painful. When I stood up I immediately felt the difference. The baby had moved considerably. With the next contraction I could literally feel my baby moving downwards.
Energised by this development I concluded that my current position was the most favourable. I was standing on the shower mat in the narrowest part of the room. I had Eric and Jacqui pinned up against the shower door and a rather hot towel rail respectively. Elke was seated behind me (on one of the stools the children stand on to clean their teeth, which made me want to giggle in a slightly hysterical fashion) giving a running commentary. When it was time to bear down, she tells me exactly when to push and when to rest. Elke called that the head was visible. An arm (which indeed was firmly lodged on a head) shot forward, closely followed by another.
Sophie Louise Watkins literally dove into the world at 11.58am. Elke stood her gently between my legs and I saw her before Eric and Jacqui. "It's a girl" I cried "a great big girl!" I couldn't believe it. I was so sure we were having another boy. Carefully I was seated back on the toilet and Sophie was placed on my lap. She opened her eyes immediately and looked around. We all stared at her. She was a big, beautiful, healthy girl. "Chunky thighs like her mother.." quipped Eric excitedly (rather bravely too, in my opinion).
My sister, listening from the relative safety of the reception room upstairs, rushed down and hugged me and marvelled at her new niece. Cups of tea and marmite on toast magically appeared.
Thirty minutes later, the placenta was delivered safely, the cord was cut and Sophie and I returned to the pool, which had been topped up with hot water. It was simply luxurious. That's the only word I can use to describe it. I was on such a high. Elke weighed the baby - 9lbs 8oz. Eric won the bet.
Jacqui and Elke visited me regularly at home over the next 4 weeks. They gave me so much assistance and encouragement with the breastfeeding - I couldn't have done it without them. At the time of writing, Sophie is 14 months old and still feeding beautifully!
There is something very special about having your baby at home. There is something very special about Jacqui and Elke. Combine the two and you have an unforgettable experience. I would recommend it without hesitation. I trusted Jacqui and Elke implicitly and at no time felt worried or concerned for me or my baby. Sophie's birth was an amazing event. Tough, painful and utterly exhausting, but overwhelmingly wonderful. If I weren't quite so old, I'd love to do it again...
A grandmother's perspective
Fiona opted for a home birth, ideally in a pool, and although I was not present at the actual birth, her account was one of a well-managed confinement. The team treated Fiona with such kindness and quiet efficiency which culminated in the birth of her third child, a beautiful 9lbs 8oz daughter.
I joined the family on the next day and met Elke and then Jacqui during my stay. I cannot speak highly enough of their after-care. The laid-back, friendly affection shown to the whole family was quite outstanding. Fiona couldn't have had better support. There were no hard and fast rules, everything was very flexible. The advice given was to be followed up only if Fiona was comfortable with it. All the normal medical observations were made, but in such an unobtrusive way that they were barely noticed. I am quite sure that it was the team's attitude that allowed Fiona to have such a speedy recovery to full strength and enabled her to breastfeed so easily without any complications.
Whether it is the methodology behind the scheme or, as I suspect, the very special ladies running it, I only wish all women could have this wonderful service - it allows childbirth to be the natural happening that it is - soothing away any fears, which helps to take the sting out if it!
The birth of our third child, baby Thomas Antony born at home April 2018, was the most precious exciting moment made even more perfect than we imagined with Mal and Jacqui looking after us.
Calm and peaceful environment with all the support we could ask for around us. Getting to know Jacqui and knowing Mal already as she delivered our second baby at home 9 years prior. We found we built up a relationship with both during our pre natal care so when our big day arrived, we trusted them completely, leaving everything in their capable hands so all was left for me to do was to concentrate on the job in hand.
Our daughters 14 and 9 years out of the house with their nan. My husband Alex filling the pool, there I was kneeling up over the sofa breathing through each contraction. My calming music playing and lights dimmed. As it progressed, into the pool I went and 1 hour and 5 minutes later our baby boy was born. Still attached to his face and around his head was part of the amniotic sac which we were told is very rare (1 - 80,000), and is called a caul birth. Tommy was scooped up into my arms instantly and it was time for us now to take in every detail of our precious boy and get some memorable photos to show our girls.
With both my previous births I had trouble with the afterbirth, my placenta not expelling without assistance, because of this I did have to get out the pool now for the management of third stage labour which was all discussed in detail prior to the big day and our needs met yet again perfectly by Jacqui and Mal.
Not long at all and I’m sat up on the sofa with crumpets and baby Thomas is feeding too. Again everything is still so relaxed, Jacqui and Mal had tidied away the pool and our front room back to normal again ready for when our girls returned to meet their brother.
Then before Mal and Jacqui left, we were helped upstairs and all tucked up into bed for a well deserved rest.
The fantastic after care of 4 weeks helped me get breast feeding established, they were always available to help, supplying us with experience, balanced information and support.
We attended our first coffee morning with the girls back in June, which was lovely and gave us a chance to get to know Emilie too. Thomas is now 7 months old already, our daughters Ellie and Lucy adore him and we are all enjoying every minute and keeping very busy.
If, I say if, we were to have another, we wouldn’t hesitate to call Mal, Jacqui and Emilie again for their care and support.