Initially, I had a healthy first pregnancy 10 years ago, however an awful experience at hospital. My contractions started around 10pm but I stayed in bed at home. The next day, around 4pm, when contractions were getting stronger and were either 5 minutes apart or 1 minute long and I made my way to hospital.
First, I had a vaginal examination and midwife laughed in my face as I was screaming. Then nobody really helped me with the controlled breathing as I was taking gas and air. I inhaled too much and by the end and was exhausted. Being in the same position on the bed did not allow good blood circulation and when I was taken to maternity ward, I fainted. About 10 healthcare professionals walked in and out of my room that evening.
After birth, I had a tear and needed stitches. Only one male surgeon was available and he started repairing without anaesthetic and my mum had to ask for it as I was in agony.
I was kept in hospital for three nights without any explanation, sharing a room with other women and crying babies. I did not get much support with breastfeeding and resorted to formula.
No one offered a first time mum a helping hand. Visiting hours were inconvenient time slots, I was bored to death (no wonder why baby blues are on the rise). Sharing toilets with other women was another off-putting factor.
That was my traumatic hospital experience, I promised myself – never again!
Three and a half years after my first birth, I was ready for the next. This time I opted for a homebirth. I had one midwife to deal with towards the last three months of pregnancy, who’d come home for standard checks. I left work on Friday, to start my maternity leave, yet went into labour in the early hours of Monday morning. Timing was perfect.
Regardless of the contractions, I dropped off my eldest at the nursery as I wanted to keep as active as possible. His key worker asked when the baby was due. “Officially, in two days time, but ohh hold on….I’m just having a contraction now”, I replied.
She was in shock that I was so calmly having this conversation and doing the school run, while having contractions.
Anyway, I made my way back home and started organising a few bits and bobs. It wasn’t till 7pm that the contractions were full on and unbearable. I messaged my midwife, who said that 7.30-8pm is the shift changing time so she’s just contemplating whether she should come or send the night shift midwife over.
The pain was intense, I got into a hot bath to ease myself, till she made a decision. The bath was relaxing but I got out, after 5 mins and called her to say I needed gas and air now! She messaged to say they were both on their way. I got half dressed, my birthing partners just wanted to check and see if there was any sign of a baby. “Everything is open down there! When is the midwife going to get here?’, my mum squelched. I was getting agitated with the pain, I stuffed the duvet into my mouth to mask the pain from my son.
The midwife arrived in about 12 minutes. She got to my bedroom door and all I wanted was gas and air. Pheeww! Finally! What a relief. Once I got through three contractions she wanted to see any signs down there, she promised not to do the membrane sweep and kept her word.
She was so caring in her whole approach and let me make the decisions, be in control.
Then she said: “Good news, try to do controlled pushes, when you get the urge and relax in between”. I chose the position I wanted to be in. She gave lots of positive talk and assurance, things were so calm in my bedroom: it was surreal in between contractions. It was a bitter-sweet feeling, like being in the clouds and knowing that through the painful contraction I’m getting closer to meet my new baby.
“I feel like doing a poo”, I blurted out a few contractions later. “A poo is great, go for it, the water-proof sheets are under your bottom; all is ready, so at the next contraction, a controlled push ok?” said the midwife.
“Yes”, I nodded and baby’s head half crowned.
“Oh look mum! It’s not a poo, it’s the baby’s head! Well done mum, your doing so well, I think two or three more pushes and he’ll be out. Wanna see him? Hold on let me fetch my mirror”. As midwife reached for the mirror, another contraction… and out popped baby’s head!
“Wow! Well done, here it comes, relax breath, get ready for a mighty but controlled push”
And out he squirmed, looking over his right shoulder then left!
“Weheeeey, you did it mum! You wanted skin to skin contact, lets place him on your chest”.
It was the most beautiful moment of my life! He felt warm and cosy against my heartbeat, whilst I waited for the afterbirth to arrive.
Midwife was so impressed how clean baby was and how neatly my afterbirth came out too. She showed it to me and her eyes twinkled in admiration.
My mum (who’d left to perform the night prayers) came back to cut the umbilical cord. Baby’s grandma and dad watched him have a quick rinse and wash via Skype on the tablet. Later they said, they felt very much in the room. It was certainly a family bonding experience – not like in hospitals where only one person is allowed to be there and the ‘labour ward police’ keep track on how many people there are.
As my midwife monitored my blood loss, we chatted about the whole homebirth experience. I had a burning question: “How comes my birth was not a ‘messy’ affair?”
She smiled and said: “I usually find that women bleed less and make less mess at home as well as remain much more calmer and in control. You might be thinking that I’m just saying this to encourage homebirths, but, honestly, as someone with 35 years experience in births, I believe homebirths offer much more positive, ‘feel good’ outcomes!’”
And I couldn’t agree with her more. I was so proud of my achievement, using the one to one support of a health professional.
Everyone was shocked and amazed that I opted for a homebirth, they thought I was very courageous. The real truth is, that most women (prior to the 1950’s), had homebirths. In the 21st century, if I can choose and have the freedom to have my child in the vicinity, privacy and ‘luxury’ of my own home, why not? Besides, I’ve spent time to do the ‘nesting’ for my child’s environment, so I would want it to experience ‘home’ as soon as they are born.
After the birth, my midwife came everyday to check how I was healing, weigh the baby, have a chat and ensure I was happy with the way breastfeeding was progressing. I felt privileged and valued as a patient to have the one to one care. Looking back at my hospital experience, I didn’t feel valued as a patient, or dignified with strangers coming in and out of the room, nor when I was behaving delusional with gas and air.
After a long day and labour the best thing to look forward to at home is a quick shower, filling meal and a comfy nights sleep.
It was great that anyone could walk in and do a night feed or nappy change while new mum was sound asleep. Whereas in hospital I would have needed to wait for the shower to be ‘free’, wait for my meal, paid for snacks and essentials which I forgot to pack, paid lots of money for the car park and wait for a nurse to come and help me. Even after the baby is born, to attend a random ‘centre’ to get checked by a midwife would mean hunting for parking and paying for it…it all adds up.
Additionally, a day in hospital costs the NHS money. I’d like to think I’m a person who pays my tax, with sound judgement, morals and ethics, so why would I want to add to the NHS cost? I think life is about being mindful and questioning what I can contribute to wider society. If we all do our bit, every little helps.
I hope my story leaves potential ‘homebirthers’ infused, encouraged and energised. You can do it!
Kaniz Ashrafi is currently a full time mother of 2 boys and a girl, born in January 2019. In her ‘pre-motherhood’ days she was a full time intervention teacher in a primary school. She holds a Bsc in Psychology with Sociology, and a PGcE in Primary Education and an MA in Special Educational Needs. Her current interests are writing and interior design. The birth story above relates to the birth of her son in October 2012.