I had a pretty uneventful pregnancy; which is very good as it lasted nearly 43 weeks! Towards the end of my first trimester I decided to plan for a homebirth and was being looked after by Newham homebirth team.
As my due date came and went I felt under increasing pressure from medical staff to go for an induction. I resisted, as I was well and felt that my baby was well, too, and would come naturally when he was ready. I attended the maternity assessment unit for foetal monitoring several times, and during a scan, learnt that baby was ‘back to back’, i.e. not in the optimum position for birth. Upon hearing this I was instructed by an unhelpful doctor that I would be having an “epidural then”. I smiled and kept quiet, thinking “not if I can bloody help it!”
As the 43rd week of my pregnancy approached I started to feel a change. I felt less comfortable, more anxious and my body felt heavy. I now believe this was my body preparing for birth, but at the time I was concerned and agreed for an outpatient induction. I felt confident that I would decline further intervention should the pessary not work.
On the Friday morning I attended Newham hospital for my outpatient induction. They inserted the pessary behind my cervix and sent me home, advising I call the homebirth team should any contractions begin. Shortly after returning home I went to pee and heard a ‘plop’. The pessary had fallen out. Not wishing to spend the entire day in hospital we held off calling them and went to the supermarket. As the afternoon wore on I was experiencing regular tightenings I didn’t tell my partner Joe right away as I’d had tons of braxton hicks and didn’t want to get his hopes up. Latter we spoke to my homebirth midwife and told her what had happened. She was covering a shift in the hospital and asked me to go in for monitoring. I agreed. The monitor showed a stable foetal heart rate and my tightenings increased in frequency until they were roughly four minutes apart, although I was not feeling any pain. There was some disagreement then about what the next steps should be. I wanted to go home and wait. The attending doctor wanted me to go upstairs and have the pitocin drip. A well-meaning midwife suggested another pessary. Thankfully, there was one voice of reason amongst the medical staff. A second midwife raised concerns of hyper-stimulation, should there be further intervention; due to the fact that I was actually contracting, albeit not yet strongly. We were thankful she was there and supported our decision to go home. Whilst waiting to be discharged at around 6pm, my tightenings increased in intensity. These were real contractions. All I wanted now was to be at home.
In a brainwave of prior planning my other half had left a bolognese bubbling away on the stove. While he cooked the spaghetti I put some music on and swayed during the contractions. I only managed half a bowl. It was time to blow up the pool we had borrowed from the birth centre. We set me up with some cushions in the bedroom whilst Joe started to blow up the pool downstairs. I closed my eyes and tried to relax. After a short time he crept in to the room and gently said “Jen… it doesn’t fit.” I knew exactly what he meant. I had bought the wrong adapter for the tap. In all the weeks and extended days of my pregnancy we had neglected to make sure it fit. The birth had become some long awaited, distant event that I felt would probably never happen, I was just going to be pregnant forever; so no need to test out the pipes. Being the more practical person in our partnership, I offered to try to resolve the pipes issue whilst he continued to blow up the pool and fit the liner. I look back on this memory and laugh: to-ing and fro-ing between the kitchen, the bathroom, the outside tap, unscrewing hoses and adapters, pausing and leaning over to ride out a contraction. I eventually found a combination that worked. I had unscrewed the shower head and run the pipe down the stairs and into the pool. I returned to my nest in the bedroom while I waited for the pool to fill. I was finding it difficult to relax, my contractions felt painful, I was pacing up and down the landing.
I couldn’t get a hold of my thoughts and I started thinking ‘I can’t do this, I need to go to hospital’. Then the pool was ready. The relief from the warm water was instantaneous. I felt energised and confident. It was here that I really managed to get into ‘the zone’.
I swayed in the water and sometimes groaned through the contractions. I could tell that things were really moving along as there was barely any respite between them.
The first midwife arrived around 9pm. My partner had telephoned as I had gotten into the pool. They had taken around an hour to arrive. She introduced herself and began asking questions. I smiled and lowered my head, Joe had been briefed to field all questions, allowing me to stay calm and remain focused. It wasn’t long before she called the second midwife. Around this time my contractions began to feel deeper and longer, my body wanted me to push. The next three hours were hard.
I knew my body needed to turn the baby before I could birth him. I was trying to visualise my baby turning and moving down through the birth canal. I was struck by how each contraction had its own identity; some made me feel strong and powerful whilst others felt so overwhelming all I could do was hold on to Joe and wait for the descent.He says he still finds himself emotional remembering the look in my eyes.
At one point I remember the first midwife saying I had been pushing too long and we needed to transfer, she was phoning the ambulance. There was no way I was going anywhere. I had a surge of energy, I redoubled my efforts and focused hard during each contraction to move my baby down.
I could feel him in the birth canal, he was almost here. I got out of the pool for the final push and he was born all at once into the midwife’s arms, shortly before 2am. She passed him to me and I introduced myself, I felt so alert and energised, he was pink and perfect.
We waited for the cord to stop pulsating then he was passed to his father for skin to skin while I birthed the placenta. Our baby had his first bowel movement on his dad before I held him again and he began to feed. I will never forget these moments of pure bliss as we sat together as a family for the first time.
Some time later we transferred to hospital as I needed some stitches. The care we received was faultless. Our midwife stayed with us throughout and we were able to get the baby checks done, so we didn’t need to return to hospital in the forthcoming days. I was given breakfast and we all had a chance to rest and be looked after, before returning home to finish the spaghetti bolognese.
Jen lives in Plaistow with her family, Joe and baby Stanley, who was born in December 2017. At the moment she can’t imagine returning to her previous life in youth work and child protection.