A month ago, I gave birth to a beautiful, healthy baby boy. In a paddling pool in my living room. It was 8 days later than planned but weirdly, it all went to plan. No one was more surprised than me….here is my home birth story. Enjoy.
At 8 days overdue, I was beyond hacked off! I was enormous, emotional and exhausted. Having had twinges for almost two weeks, I wondered whether I would ever go into labour. My midwives had agreed to take induction off the table so I was hugely relieved and we had a Cesarean section booked in 6 days later, the Tuesday after the bank holiday. I had asked if we could move it forward to Friday. There was no way I could spend another week in my hippo-state. It sounds ridiculous – it was only 6 days! – but I didn’t feel like I could do another minute. GET OUT, BABY!
The day before d day
On Tuesday morning, the last day of April, I woke up at 6am (thanks Girlies) with mild contractions. Waves of period pain every ten minutes or so. By 11am they had stopped. I sat on the bed and cried like a 5-year old. Big shoulder-wracking, ugly-faced-sobs. Husband came in, somewhat exasperated as this had happened repeatedly over the last week. He suggested a bath. I suggested sex. I saw the resignation in his face and cried again “I’m sorry I make you have sex with a hippo…but Shirley said it would help!” He laughed and suggested that cake might make me feel better. He knows me so well.
We went for afternoon tea and sat in the sunshine amongst the old and white-haired. I felt better among people that moved at a similar pace to me. Many had the same vacant expression I did. I ate all the cake – I managed to eat an additional 14lbs worth of cake and Easter egg in the last month of my pregnancy – and I went to the toilet twenty five times in the hour we were there. We had a wander around the gift shop. I stopped every ten minutes and breathed deeply. Husband looked at me excitedly but I didn’t say anything. I wasn’t falling into the “I think this is it!” trap again. The emotional roller coaster was more than I could bear.
could it be?
Our two Girlies, aged 2 and 4, came home from nursery and went to bed. The waves quickly moved to about 9 to 10 minutes apart. Occasionally the gap between them would be 12 mins and I would panic that it had gone. Occasionally it would be 5 mins and Husband would panic that it was ‘time.’ He kept asking if he could set the pool up. I barked “NO!”, knowing how livid I would be if I woke up in the morning and it was sat there, unused.
By about 10pm they were every 7 or 8 minutes and Husband sent me to bed to rest. I didn’t go to bed. I sorted out 4 boxes that had been piled up in our room for months. I crept over the creaky bits of the floor so Husband didn’t know I was up. At about midnight he appeared at the door and I looked up guiltily. I agreed to try and get some sleep, admitting that this could be actual real-life labour, but still refused to let him set up the birth room downstairs. “I’ll probably be in this state for the next 3 days, we’re NOT putting the pool up. Besides, one of the girls will fall in it.” pleased with myself that I had come up with a reason not to.
I put the relaxation music on, torn between sleeping and timing the contractions. I laughed at my stupidity, recalling those exhausting newborn days and turned the lights out. Eventually, at 1am, I drifted into something like sleep.
At 3am, I woke up with an “owwwww, that hurt!” Something had changed. I sat for half an hour breathing through what I was now willing to admit were contractions. Well, surges, if I was to use my hypnobirthing terminology. I put on a relaxation track and visualised bubbles and balloons floating up. I was ready. This was it. I was, at last, in labour.
Around 3.30 I had a particularly aggressive contraction and thought I probably ought to let someone know what was going on. I woke Husband up and said “it’s time.” He jumped to his feet in one swift manoeuvre, rubbing his eyes, and after I answered all his questions, he disappeared downstairs to set up. I texted my Mum and asked her to pick the Girlies up at 6, thinking that would be plenty of time and put something funny on to distract myself – Russell Howard in this case. We’d used up all the good ones earlier in the previous week – Micky Flannigan, Michael Mac and James Acaster – during all the false labours and tears. Anything to avoid murder, child abuse or Brexit as I had been doing for two months; another hynobirthing requirement (possibly not Brexit, that was my own addition).
I can’t remember a word of what I listened to. I crawled and rolled around the bed in various positions trying to be comfortable. No position was comfortable but kneeling on parted knees with my upper body over pillows was the best. The surges built up to one every 3 or 4 mins. I stood up to go to the toilet and had another big one. I fell on to the bed sideways and as I did so I felt something pop (an elbow through the sack?! That’s what I imagined) then there was a warm, wet, jelly-like feeling between my legs. I knew immediately my waters had gone even though it was completely different to the watery wee-like fluid from my last labour.
I went to the loo, put a pad in and quietly called Husband, conscious of not waking the Girlies up yet.
The contractions really ramped up after that.
It was around 5am and I was starting to “hummmm” through them. Husband suggested giving the TENS machine a go. He figured it out quickly and slapped on the pads. I hated the sensation at first but then as I worked out what to do, it felt nice to be able to do something in response to the rising wave of a surge. I was breathing and visualising my bed balloon floating away but pressing a button as well somehow gave me an illusion of control. I kept it on right up to the point I got in the pool.
call the midwife
I was getting quite loud at this point so agreed that we could call the midwife. I heard the voice at the other end of the phone and was disappointed that it wasn’t Jodie or Tanya, the first midwives I saw when I approached the Surrey Hills Home Birth team, asking if they would have me. I loved every one of the team I had met after that, but Tanya and Jodie were the first.
From day one they were shocked in all the right places when I told the story of my last labour. They said “we’d never do that” when I detailed the examinations and they were horrified when Husband described how he had been forced to ‘look’ when just the baby’s head was out. Meeting them was the adult equivalent of a big cuddle and head stroke from your mum after a playground fall. They made me feel safe and protected and gave me confidence in my abilities. They told me it didn’t have to be like last time and that I could have the birth that I wanted. They knew my biggest fear was tearing again and had reassured me it was unlikely, as long as I listened to them at the critical points. I totally believed them but wasn’t sure I would be able to do it without them there.
in safe hands
It would be fine, I told myself. All the midwives in this team were wonderful and expert, even the student midwife I had met numerous times. I later reflected on my rapid and deep attachment to Jodie and Tanya. It took me a long time to forge emotional connections with other women. Was I a complete weirdo?! Did they think I was some strange stalker?! Or was this how you should feel – like the person there for the most intimate and vulnerable moment of your life believes in you and is on your side; that they know your history and genuinely want you to get what you want as much as you do? Definitely the latter. And I don’t mind if they think I’m a bit odd. I’m in awe of them all.
I moved down to the home-made birth room. The floor was covered in a huge sheet of tarpaulin (thanks to a late-stage pregnancy trip to Covers for paint) with everything else on top. Half the room was taken up with the pool and the other half was covered in duvets, pillows and cushions. The sofas had plastic sheeting and there were towels everywhere. The candles were lit and the shutters closed. I was pleased at how cosy Husband had made it. After our practice run a few weeks earlier, he had packed it all away in an order he was going to get it out again. I thought I’d be moaning and complaining for things to be moved but it was perfect. Exactly as I envisioned. He did listen after all!
my heroes tanya & Jodie
Some time later, at about 6am, I was knelt on the floor with my upper body over the sofa when I heard the front door open and some quiet whispering. I looked up to see Tanya doing a little dance in the doorway and Jodie looking at me with big concerned eyes. I was chuffed to bits. I felt a big wave of emotion that could have made me cry. Not that I let them know that, as the biggest contraction yet gripped me from head to toe. I did my best to breathe through it and relax my body.
I had moved on to ghost-like noises now as the contractions got bigger and bigger. I no longer knew how long or frequent they were, I just knew that they were powerful (in non-hypno language – they hurt!).
I did a happy dance in my head back to Tanya and focused on the task at hand. “Wooooooooooooooh….”
off with the girlies
Some people do home births with their children in the house. Not me. I wanted to be able to relax and focus, not be worrying that they might hear weird sounds coming from me. I thought I would traumatise them and I couldn’t bear the thought of not being accessible to them when they wanted to check I was OK. It was the best decision for us. Every so often I heard one of their little voices and it brought me out of my birth mind and into mum-duty mode. My own Mum (eventually!) turned up at 6.45am and I felt relieved. Now I could do my thing, and have Husband back.
I had started feeling more nauseous the stronger the contractions got. Now they were strong and I felt more sick than ever. Jodie gently suggested I get in the pool as she quietly checked my blood pressure and listened to the baby every so often. I said I didn’t want to until the girls were gone…until I had the next contraction which knocked me to the ground again. “OK I’ll get in the pool” I agreed.
The warm water felt amazing but the contractions were getting stronger still. I dealt with it by shouting, and later swearing. Hilarious as I’m so quietly spoken normally, and not much of a swearer. I had gone from humming to ghost noises to an angry kind of growl interspersed with the odd swear word. I was really conscious of the girls still being in the house!
A short while later I heard them come downstairs with Mum and Husband. I looked up ready to say bye but as I did so I was gripped by another one. “Ooooooooaaaaaarrrrrr!” I roared pushing my face into the side of the pool. I lost awareness as one of them asked why I was making that noise. “She’s singing to the new baby!” was Mums answer, I later found out. Mum joined in, making different animal sounds. She must have looked like a mental woman leaving the house.
what will the neighbours say?
I gave in to the surges more once the Girlies left, and the contractions ramped up again.
Husband finally returned to my side. I think it was around 7.30 by now. I muttered something about my knees hurting having spent the best part of 3 hours on them. Tanya suggested I move onto my back and float. I was comfortable that way. For about 4 seconds, anyway. Now, with the Girlies out of the way and me relaxing fully, the contractions ramped up another notch. I gripped Husband’s arm and shouted my way through them.
It briefly crossed my mind who was walking past the house and what they might report to the police. Murder? Torture? A mild case of assault?!
They hurt more than I could bear now and after a few more I told the three of them that I couldn’t do it anymore. The nausea was overwhelming and I spent the brief periods in between with my head in a bucket. Tanya told me I could do it. Jodie told me I was doing it. As I half cried and half shouted that I couldn’t, Jodie gave me the best news. She said I felt like that because I was transitioning. I knew that that meant I was moving into the third and final stage of labour.
I couldn’t believe it, I would have my baby soon.
the third stage
The first part of the third stage was, if I’m honest, unbearable. I want to use hypno words like powerful, but they hurt so much, so consistently at this point, they were relentless. I felt like my pelvis was being pulled apart with crowbars. “It’s just him moving everything out the way” Tanya said. It conjured up visions of a raging bull through a Spanish crowd. In a really narrow alleyway. Where the crowd was my internal organs, the alleyway my body. I didn’t want to be part of it.
I wanted the pain to stop. I tried every line in the book – I want to go to hospital, I want an epidural, whose stupid idea was this, I can’t do this, it’s barbaric – all of them. And there were some pretty colourful expletives leaving my mouth with each contraction! I was doing my best down-breathing and visualising slides and waterfalls but it was as though I couldn’t get enough air in to breathe back out.
I said I needed something for the pain. Tanya offered gas and air. That made me cry. Not with relief sadly but because I had some during my previous labour and I knew it made me feel horribly sick. Given how nauseous I was already I knew I couldn’t have any.
I resigned myself to getting through this next bit without it and instead asked for some milestones. “How much longer? How many pushes? Can you see his head yet?” I knew the answer to this last one as the urge to really push hadn’t kicked in.
“He’s nearly here Jess. You can do this. You’re doing it.” Jodie said.
“No I can’t!” I whined. “I can still feel his body up in my tummy! He’s miles away!”
A few minutes later and there was another change. A big surge followed by the want to push (you know how when a poo suddenly comes out?!).. I was scared to as I thought it would make things worse but I remembered Shirley’s “go wit’ it” and “let your body do its thing.” (she’s Irish, I haven’t forgotten how to spell).
I did a big push and something flew out. Let’s just say it wasn’t a baby, and that one of my biggest fears had been realised. I also heard, in the distance, someone mention the word “constipated.”
I need a break
I had no time to care though as an overwhelmingly huge surge galloped through me immediately afterwards. After this one I tried to get out of the pool. I’d had enough and just wanted to leave. I needed a break.
But my body had other ideas. Surges were coming thick and fast. I felt as though there was no time to recompose myself in between. I just needed a little rest before the next one and made this weird strangled animal crying noise. Tanya told me to relax my body and my jaw. I’d been holding myself rigid across the top of the water.
the ring of fire
As I relaxed and repeated “relax and soften” to myself, I knew his head was near. Tanya, Jodie and Husband were all encouraging me enthusiastically. I started to feel stretching. The ring of fire was upon me, and strangely I felt relieved. I could cope with this. The sensation was familiar because of the perineal massage, and it meant I was nearly at the end.
I asked how many pushes, knowing I wouldn’t get an answer. “Keep going Jess, you’re nearly there” came Jodie’s reassuring voice, “just a couple more.”
After two more I whined like my 4-year-old “you promised he’d be here!” We laughed about this afterwards but I was distraught at the time. Within two pushes though, his head emerged and on the third, I felt the rest of his head come out. I felt his nose pop out (I think).
The Boy is Here
I took as big a breath as I could and waited for the next push. I only remember there being one for his body but I’m not sure. I was on another planet at the very edge of my limit. As the surge eased off, I heard Jodie’s voice telling me to open my eyes and look down. He was here.
I made a strange gargled sob and asked her to pass him to me. Each of my arms were tangled amongst John and Tanya’s and I still didn’t think I could move.
I shuffled up to sitting as Jodie placed him on my chest. He lifted his chin up and had a little stretch then made the tiniest, most pathetic wail.
“Hello little one….” I said to The Boy.
I sat in the corner of the pool on the little seat, waiting for the wave of relief but I still felt full and so sick. I was wondering if anyone had ever thrown up on their newborns’ head before. The Boy had a little wail but we dipped into the water, which I noted with relief was still clear, and not brown or red. I wanted Husband to hold him but I was scared to move as the little purple vermix-coated bundle was still attached to my insides. It felt really odd, like a giant tampon string.
We studied him as he laid on my chest and just as I thought “I’ve had this baby before!”, Husband pointed out how much like Girly no2 he looked. They still look really similar now. We waited for the cord to go white while Tanya and Jodie typed up notes into their newly-introduced and much-hated iPads.
Jodie asked if Husband wanted to cut the cord. He didn’t, comparing it to a gristly steak, so I asked if I could. I was nervous about the giant scissors so close to the little willy I was now responsible for. But all appendage remained attached and intact. Well done me. First willy-test passed!
I passed The Boy to Husband, reminding him to take his shirt off so they could bond skin to skin. I was sitting in the water, itching to get out, but alarmingly felt a contraction coming. Jodie reminded me about the placenta. She promised me it wouldn’t hurt and said to gently push, which I duly did through a comparatively mild contraction.
I now trusted this woman with my life and had she asked me to hold my head under the water for a minute I would have done, even if it were brown. The placenta slid out painlessly and I remember wishing the baby had felt like jelly too. Surely that’s a design flaw?! I immediately felt better and finally had that deflated feeling I’d been expecting.
I was marvelling at how “me” I felt so soon after birth. After the previous two I had felt fuzzy and out of it, I barely remembered the first 24 hours after each of the Girlies were born.
But this time everything was crystal clear. I could hold normal conversations and my thoughts were all in order.
I asked what time it was, expecting them to say 3.30pm and I wondered whether the school kids that walk past would have wondered what was going on behind the shutters. But it was 9. In the morning. The Boy had been born at 8.25am, just two hours after I got in the pool. I was stunned.
Tanya and Jodie helped me out of the pool, dried me off and put me into some sexy lingerie. You know….those giant Tenna pants?! Hot Mumma! I laid on the sofa wrapped in a dressing gown and towels, and Tanya and Jodie looked at each other and then at me. It was time to check the aftermath.
Had we achieved what we all set out to achieve? Was my gooch still intact?! I laid back and closed my eyes. “Last indignity for a while, we promise…” they said. I saw surprise on their faces and then smiles. No blood. No tear. Just a tiny little nick that wasn’t even bleeding. We had done it! I laid back smiley and relieved. Husband put The Boy back on my chest, the three of us hugged together cozily. Tanya and Jodie left us to it so we could quietly enjoy some time.
my incredible home birth
We Facetime’d the Girlies who were in the bath at Mum’s. “Look! Your baby brother!” Girly no1 was delighted and asked if she could come home and meet him. Girly no2 showed us her rubber duck and carried on playing. She’d warm to him later, I’m sure.
This childbirth experience has taught me so much. Mostly that childbirth isn’t a medical procedure. It’s just nature’s way. It might not be the best way in today’s day and age but having played (and won) childbirth bingo (full house), I can honestly say that I was finally converted to the ‘natural is best’ school of thought.
I thought you couldn’t study for childbirth, but you can in a weird way. You can study what happens physiologically and how best to let your body do its’ thing. I particularly came round to this after learning about the woman who gave birth in a coma. Your body is programmed to do this stuff without your mental input. You can study hypnobirthing which gives you that education and then some labour management techniques. I knew I would never be one of those You Tube women that peacefully breathes the baby out, or, as a close friend of ours asked, did you “just squeak and close your eyes and he came out?” Err, no. Not that gal sadly.
I learnt that I’m not good at completely letting go and confirmed that yes, I am the control freak I always thought I was. I can relax but my thinking brain is almost always on.
But I tried to turn it off. I did the best I could.
And it turns out that was enough.
It was amazing. Every day I look at The Boy, and I walk downstairs, and I marvel at what I achieved in our living room. I think about Tanya & Jodie, and I well up. Between Tanya, Jodie and Shirley, I feel as though I have been shown a different way to use my body and cheesy as it sounds, I have a new-found respect for the female form.
The fact that I gave birth at home in a pool of water spurred on by two women who had absolute faith that I could do it, is mind blowing to me. And the hard bit was only two hours. It makes you see why women do it again and again and again….and again?! Ha! We’ll see!
I hope you have enjoyed reading this. If you are considering a home birth then I can highly recommend it. It is the most amazing experience and I’m happy to answer any questions you may have. Please share this post, it’s important that people hear positive birth stories as well as negative ones. This blog now has both!
My overwhelming and heart felt love and thanks go to the Surrey Hills home birth team. This wouldn’t have been possible without you so thank you for adopting me and thank you for believing in me. I am forever in your awe and if ever I can do anything to help then let me know. And the same to Saint Shirley, my absolute hero and the lady that kept me sane during late pregnancy. Thank you for being in my life! Thanks to Mum for taking my Girlies and making weird animal sounds. And to Husband. None of this would have been possible without you. Literally. You were amazing. Not as amazing as me. But amazing all the same! I love you.