I had an interest in natural childbirth and the art of midwifery even before I got pregnant. I was lucky enough not to hear many scary birth stories during my childhood. My strongest memory of childbirth was watching a documentary about a Dutch mother giving birth at home, simply standing naked in the middle of the living room with a midwife, husband and other children present. I still remember my father wanting to switch the TV off, saying it was not appropriate for children to watch it – luckily he didn’t.
I had done my pregnancy ‘homework’ and learned about the physiological processes that happen during childbirth. I had also done research about possible complications and interventions. I think that I made an informed decision to have a homebirth. I believed that home was the safest place for me and my baby. I am not at all anti hospital but I am convinced that medical interventions should be left only for people who REALLY need them. The sad reality is that when women are in the hospital during childbirth they are much more likely to end up with a chain of interventions causing more harm than good.
I always say – Allah knows how to get the baby in and Allah knows how to get the baby out.
I believe that our bodies are designed perfectly capable of giving birth and that fear and negative unconscious believes can be the cause of the majority of complications. Nobody could make me believe that God has created most women with faulty bodies that are not able to perform their most blessed function.
I think that women have just forgotten about the power that was given to them. When women accept their own femininity they will get hold of the art of birthing. As my birth story demonstrates, this may be a hard work with pain on the way.
As I passed my due date I was getting increasingly nervous about the possibility of induction. I was petrified of having to go to hospital and not even attempting the homebirth I planned. (However I tried to calm myself down by thinking that Allah will choose the best place for my birth, be it home or hospital.) I was blessed to have a wonderful midwife, Elaine, who did not put any pressure on me and respected my wish to opt for monitoring rather than induction, should I pass 42 weeks.
I tried to speed things up naturally. From the time I was 40 weeks pregnant I walked about 4 miles every day and I had a bath with clary sage oil in the evenings. At 41 weeks Elaine performed a membrane sweep and I started to lose the mucus plug. I also took two small doses of castor oil – and nothing happened.
At 41 weeks and 6 days I woke up really fed up with all that waiting. I just lay on the sofa and thought: “I give up. All the walking and a sweep and – nothing. You, baby, you can stay in my belly. I just give up.” And suddenly I heard ‘pop’ and felt dull pain in my belly– I started to feel wet and ran to the toilet – my waters had broken. I think it was around 2.30pm.
The episodes of dull pain in my lower abdomen were coming every three minutes – I assumed that these had to be the contractions and I let Elaine know. She came over, checked me and found out that I was already 4 centimetres dilated. We both hoped for a fast and easy labour.
In the beginning, the contractions were not extremely painful; however they were strong enough to require my full attention. Elaine stayed and was doing some paperwork because I was happy on my own. After about three hours I called my husband to let him know that I was in labour and that he should come home (It was around 5 or 6 pm) The contractions were getting stronger and a bit more difficult to cope with so I decided that it was a good idea to have a bath. I was pouring water on my belly and blowing bubbles or moaning in a low voice with contractions. I was happy in the bath and I stayed there for about two or three hours. Elaine came to check on me from time to time, made sure that I had a drink by my hand and asked me if I felt like pushing several times (I didn’t).
Six hours from the first internal check, we decided that it was a good idea to get out of the bathtub and do another check around 9pm. I also started to find the contractions very painful by now and I was getting louder – we guessed that I could be approaching the transition stage. Elaine found out that I was almost dilated and that there was still a cervical lip. The options were to try to push the cervical lip back or to wait for it to go by itself. I asked Elaine to try to push it but I found it extremely painful and I think that I actually tried to kick her off me! I started to use Entonox; I didn’t find it helpful – but at least I could focus on something.
So I was destined to wait. This was the most difficult part of labour – a trial of patience. It lasted several hours. My memories are blurred. At this point I just found the contractions unbearably painful. Even though I tried not to – I was screaming with each contraction at the top of my voice. I felt sick and threw up. I had several episodes of uncontrollable trembling. I felt reduced to the basic instincts. I peed on the bed (luckily covered in towels and plastic sheets – but not that I would care at that point).
I felt like a small child – I didn’t want to be alone. I remember that Elaine wanted to go to the car for next bottle of Entonox and I didn’t want to let her go.
I was lying on the bed, propped up with pillows, and I wanted to squeeze my husband tightly with each contraction – only this numbed the pain slightly, but my husband started to feel dizzy and needed to leave the room. The second midwife arrived. I know that I was on the bed naked and struggling. She said something encouraging – and I asked her if she could give me a hug!
I moved to the toilet and sitting slightly eased the pain. Elaine checked me again, it could have been around 1am, and the cervical lip finally gave way and I was officially fully dilated. She encouraged me to push when I felt like. But at this point I started to feel totally exhausted. The pain that I felt for the last four hours was excruciating and it did not stop with the dilation.
When I read birth stories of other women they often described certain relief when the labour progressed to the second stage – but not for me. I couldn’t even sense the contractions any more, it was just continuous pain. Elaine said that I could try to go to bed and have a little rest lying on my side and wait for the urge to push kicked in.
I went to the bed but there was no way I could rest in that state. I noticed that the pain I was feeling had peaks and I assumed that these had to be the contractions even though it did not feel like it. I tried to push with what I thought were contractions but I did not progress. I started to feel really desperate at this point. I was hurting and exhausted and there was no sign of the baby coming. I would have done anything to get some pain relief (if somebody told me that cutting my hand off would ease the pain – I would have begged them to do it!) I started to ask if we could go to hospital. The words ‘forceps delivery’ sounded like the music of paradise.
I just wanted it to finish. Both midwives encouraged me not to give up when I got so far. After one hour of unsuccessful pushing Elaine made me eat a biscuit (I managed two bites) and drink a cup of sweet tea.
It was the last attempt to get my energy levels up. (Of course, the midwives kept checking on the baby; she was still doing absolutely fine.)
I moved back to the toilet to see if sitting upright helped. I felt slightly more comfortable but my attempts to push seemed to be even less efficient then on the bed. I was so tired and overwhelmed by the pain that I almost felt like my consciousness was not in my body for a short moment. I felt really far away at one point.
Then suddenly something happened (I have no idea if it was the help of my husband’s prayer, Elaine’s prayer, or simply the sugar boost that kicked in). Alhamdulilah (Thank God)! I perked up instantly and started to push properly again. It went really slowly. The midwives said that they could already see some head and hair…just about a coin size.
Some women describe feeling the baby moving down the birth canal but I had no idea what was happening. (Did I mention that I was still screaming badly with each push…I really felt sorry for the people who had to listen to me. I am surprised that midwives don’t carry earplugs with them! Or do they?). I still did not feel contractions and I just pushed when I felt I had some power. And then I rested a bit and pushed again. I knew that I had two options: to push NOW or to go to the hospital and have the baby pulled out. I was back to my senses and I knew that I did not want to go to hospital unless it was absolutely unavoidable.
The pain was still overwhelming but I slowly started to believe that I really could push this baby out. After every push I asked the midwives, “Can u see a little bit more?” And they would say, “Yes, a liiiitle bit more.” (Like a child asking every three minutes, “Mum, are we there yet?”)
I remember they told me that if I managed ten good pushes, I would have my baby. It really helped me, at this point I was in established labour for about ten hours and couldn’t distinguish the pain. It felt like it would never finish and this simple sentence gave me hope and something to concentrate on.
I was still sitting on the toilet. Elaine asked me if I wanted to move, because we didn’t want the baby to be born inside the toilet. I just hated the idea of moving anywhere else, so Elaine stretched a towel underneath the toilet seat so that the hole down the toilet was completely covered – just in case.
Then I began to feel really painful stretching as the head started to come out. I was really scared that I would tear. Elaine said to only push with contractions –well, it was easier said than done because I had no idea if I actually had any contractions. I finally got up off the toilet; I think that I was half standing half squatting. I decided to push in spite of my fear and there came the head – I did feel the tearing and saw the blood running down my legs.
It was the freakiest moment of my life. I was standing naked in the bathroom with baby’s head sticking out between my legs. It turned out that Narmeen had her hand by her head. This fact probably contributed to the slow progress of the second stage.
I pushed another time and with my last scream the rest of Narmeen’s body gushed out together with a huge splash of water. She started to breathe straight away and had Apgar score of 9.
I sat back on the toilet and couldn’t believe my eyes – I did it. Elaine tried to put Narmeen on my thigh – but I think that I pushed her away because the umbilical cord was short and the tugging hurt me. The placenta came out within 5 minutes. And suddenly – as if somebody waved with a magic wand – the pain that was killing me for last few hours completely disappeared.
I can’t explain it, but several minutes after giving birth I already felt 1000 percent better. It was such a relief. There was some pain from the tear and probably some bruising but overall I did not feel bad at all, I was only a bit weak on my feet for a while.
I was overcome by joy; I held Narmeen for a moment and then gave her to the midwives so that they could clean her up. I had a shower and got dressed and then sat down with Narmeen and was the happiest mum in the world. She started nursing as soon as I put her to my breast. She was suckling, with little breaks, for almost the next three hours.
I did need quite a few stitches. Because the tear was complicated (due to the hand coming out with her head), we decided to have the stitching done in the hospital. The ambulance took us there and we went home the same day. I was a bit sore down below for about a week or ten days, but it was nothing I couldn’t easily cope with.
While writing this story, I reflected on the whole experience. I asked what Allah wanted to teach me by making me go on this overwhelming journey to meet my baby. I don’t want to elaborate on it now – I just would like to say that, indeed, nothing happens without a reason.
I feel very grateful to the midwives who were there for me and supported me all the way till the end. I can say that I had a positive birth experience without a doubt. It was not easy but worth it!
My daughter, Narmeen, was born after 12 hours of intense labour with a long three hour pushing stage. She was in the compound presentation- the “easiest of difficult presentations”. She was born at home and was my first baby.
Katerina lives in Newham, London and is a mother of three (all born at home) and trained paediatric nurse. The story above refers to birth of her eldest daughter in 2011. Katerina also runs Middle Path Soapery, producing natural and ethical products.