On the morning of the birth I knew I was in very early labour but on the spare of the moment decided to keep it to myself and just get on with the day. I was pregnant with our third child and had fairly long labours in the past. I was already nearly two weeks beyond my due date. My husband went off to work and I got our daughters up and off to school and went to set up the toddler group in the church hall across the road as usual. I do remember having to hide in the toy cupboard for a while when the contractions were strong. Finally my sister caught me contracting! We hadn’t planned on her being my birth partner, it just happened. She agreed to do whatever I felt best. I said I wanted to get on with the group and then take it from there. I even helped put the toys away with my contractions getting stronger and closer.
My first two babies had been born in the midwife led unit in Newham General Hospital, where you stayed for six hours after giving birth and then went home. When I found out I was expecting my third child I just announced I would give birth at home. I remember everyone being supportive. I did not feel was an unusual choice; I had been born at home and I had friends who had given birth at home. There didn’t seem like a good reason to go through the fuss of getting to hospital for six hours. It did not seem like a big decision to make. I felt this would be my last child and that I wanted to do things whichever way I wanted.
We went home to labour for a couple more hours, mostly just going with my intuition. I spent a good deal of the time hanging on the hallway bannister. I found counting breaths helpful – knowing that even at their strongest and most painful, the contractions would only build for a count of 20 or so and then ebb away. I can’t remember us timing anything – perhaps my sister did. We just went with what I felt which was to be fairly quiet and focused during contractions, but chat and move about between them. Eventually we phoned both my husband and the midwife. I must have sounded fairly relaxed as they both came an hour or so later, by which time I was well into transition. I think I called a midwife mainly to have gas and air on hand for the final stage. The midwife was very calm. I think she add protective sheets to my bed and said she wanted to examine me. She was setting out all her equipment on my bedside table and speaking to the trainee she had bought with her. I think I was still swinging away on the hall bannister. I can remember feeling quietly naughty to myself, knowing that she would never have time for all these preparations. By the time I climbed on the bed I was actively pushing. I gave birth squatting on my bed, hanging on to my husband (who looked a bit shocked that it was all so imminent) with my sister cheering me on. I remember trying to ‘shhh’ her but she thought I was breathing. So I had to wait between pushes to tell her to be quieter. It was a regular, painful labour but I felt calm and confident. I felt I knew what to do and people were there to love and support me. I felt very natural in my own home and I did feel it gave me confidence to do what I wanted.
My son was born and, unlike my hospital births, I instinctively reached down to pull him up from between my legs to hold him against me. My husband cut his cord and we all cuddled on the bed for a good long while.
The trainee kept congratulating me and saying she had never been to such an easy birth. Perhaps it looked easy! I don’t think it is. But it is easier if you feel loved, listened to and informed about the process of birth. I felt calm and in control. I felt my body could be trusted.
I am not sure home birth is for everyone. I do think women should be allowed to do what helps them to feel secure, cared for and relaxed. For some women this means lots of high tech surroundings. For me it meant having a morning with friends, my sister, my husband, an unfussy midwife, some pain relief and my own home.
Sally Mann is a Sociology lecturer and Baptist Minister. She was born in Newham, still loves living there, and has three adult children aged 27, 26 and 22. This story relates to her 3rd child’s home birth in November 1995