I was 41 weeks pregnant but there were no signs of labour starting on its own. I had two membrane sweeps, but I declined recommendations for medical induction as I wanted a natural birth. I was becoming increasingly aware and anxious that this might not happen. I was booked in at a low-risk standalone birth centre, but beyond 42 weeks I would no longer be eligible to give birth there.
I contacted Newham University Hospital (NUH) to figure out a new birth plan. The consultant midwife spoke with me about the risks of a “post term” pregnancy. I explained that I understood the risks, citing NICE research, and she was very respectful of my wishes.
To mitigate the risks I agreed to undergo a series of checks, including CTG scans to check baby’s heart rate, and all was normal. I met with her twice to reassess the situation and determine a new birth plan.
I decided to set up for a homebirth as I thought that would give me the best chance of a natural birth on my own terms. I contacted the home birth team at NUH and arranged to meet the next day. I had already gotten a postpartum doula on board, so I asked her to be my birth doula. She had an inflatable birth pool, so we bought a new liner and my husband set up the pool and the birth room.
Surges (contractions) started that night, but decreased by morning so I went about my day, taking a long walk and continuing my relaxation exercises. The next evening, the surges started up again with greater frequency and intensity, about every 10 minutes throughout the night. By 6am, the surges became stronger and longer, and started to last longer than 1 minute.
In the morning my husband called the doula and also rang the homebirth team. The homebirth midwife and student midwife arrived around 11am. The midwife checked and I was 3 cm dilated. My contractions were increasing in intensity and frequency, with only about 90 seconds between them. I began to worry at this point because I felt I couldn’t rest enough between contractions.
The midwife advised that I get in the pool to slow the surges. At this point she said they would need to leave to do a few more visits and return in about 4 hours. This got me a little stressed – I wasn’t sure I could take it for 4 more hours!
My husband filled the pool while the doula rubbed my back through the surges. The warm water helped to me to relax and allow a bit more space between the surges, but the intensity didn’t decrease. The doula and my husband took turns rubbing my lower back and pouring warm water on my back, and offering me sips of juice and water.
As the surges became more intense, the doula suggested I let the surges pass over me. I used my hypnobirthing training to try to relax my body and let the next surges pass.
At 12:45pm, the surges became much more intense. My husband rang the midwife, who said they would come immediately. Around 1pm, there was a popping sound as my waters broke. A few surges later, I felt an increasing pressure as baby’s head descended. My husband and the doula could see baby’s head – with lots of hair. My husband rang the midwife again, who advised that we call an ambulance just in case.
Suddenly, I knew that baby’s head was about to emerge. My husband was downstairs on the phone with the ambulance, and I yelled for him. He ran upstairs just as baby’s head was born, followed by the midwives. After a few minutes break, I delivered the baby with the help of the midwives.
Our baby girl was born at 1.30pm. She weighed 3.1 kg (6 pounds 11 ounces). She arrived 18 days after her predicted due date, at 42 weeks +5 days . Though she was late, the active labour itself was only about 3 hours.
I had requested delayed cord clamping and cutting, so I sat in the pool with the baby for about an hour, just resting and enjoying the company of our little daughter.
Baby was born with a lot of meconium, so the midwife suggested taking her to the hospital for observation but we declined and agreed to watch for symptoms of infection. The midwife performed some tests on the baby. She had a good Apgar score, but her blood oxygen was low. The midwife advised us that we should take her to the hospital for monitoring, and because of the low blood oxygen and presence of meconium, we agreed. An ambulance came quickly, and I dressed and we carried baby and our hospital bag outside.
At the hospital, we were quickly overwhelmed by A&E doctors and nurses. Baby was placed on a neonatal bed, had blood samples taken from her heel and was given oxygen through a tiny newborn respirator. She was then taken upstairs to the neonatal unit where in an incubator in the neonatal unit with a glucose drip and a tube into her stomach and an X-ray of her chest was taken. She responded well to the oxygen therapy and her oxygen levels were soon at normal levels.
However, her blood sample came back with very high hemoglobin levels which meant that her blood was very thick. The doctor in charge there explained to us that she had a condition known as neonatal polycythaemia, or hyperviscous (thick) blood. The therapy was a transfusion in which some of her blood would be taken and replaced with saline solution. The doctors performed it immediately, and baby recovered well.
Then the x-ray came back with a small dark patch on baby’s lungs which indicated either an infection or meconium in the lungs. The doctors recommended she be on antibiotics for 5 days, which had to be given through a drip so she had to stay in hospital. I was keen to breastfeed, but trying to have relaxed skin to skin time and lots of cuddles weren’t easy in surrounded by nurses and other babies in incubators.
After the second night once she no longer needed the oxygen, we argued for her to be out of the incubator. After a lot of arguing they gave us a room in the neonatal unit that allowed us all to be together while baby received the care she needed from the hospital and breastfeed at the same time.
While it was a shame that we spent our first few days with our new baby in the hospital, we found it reassuring to have nurses around to answer our thousands of questions. Baby recovered well from the various therapies, and we took her home after 5 days in hospital to start the real adventure of our life as a new family.
Adrienne lives in East London with her family. She works four days a week as an urban planner, and enjoys spending one special day a week with her lovely little girl, born in May 2016. Adrienne is an advocate of positive birth for all women.