I went into labour on a Tuesday afternoon in July whilst out food shopping in Tesco with Ben! I knew that familiar feeling of things getting started and felt thankful in that first moment for having experience on my side to guide me and to help me feel at ease to trust the process and my body. My waters began leaking that evening as Ben was watching a World Cup football game and Jasmine slept upstairs. I decided not to call the Midwives at that stage, knowing that they may suggest I come in to hospital to be examined if things didn’t start on their own and any trips to hospital were not part of my birth plan, unless of course, it was absolutely necessary. I felt assured in this very early stage that everything was OK so I distracted myself by doing the washing up and getting the house “birth ready,” (tidying up) then went off to bed hoping to catch some sleep whilst trying to ignore the building feeling of anticipation that my home birth journey was really about to start, after all this time and preparation.
It’s a funny feeling going into labour. You wait 9 long months to meet your baby, wondering what they’ll look like and who they’ll be and on which day they will be born. Then all of a sudden, just as nature took control to grow them from a single cell into a fully formed human, nature takes over once again to signal to your body that your baby is now ready to be born and a whole series of events unfolds. I’ve always been in awe of and humbled by the magic of this moment, the moment your body decides, “it is time.”
At 3 AM I was restless in bed and so I came downstairs, lay on the sofa and spent a few hours resting and breathing through early contractions, now certain that this was my labour starting. My biggest concern at this point was making a plan to get Jasmine off to nursery before things amped up any further. Having Jasmine (aka an unpredictable, highly sensitive 2 ½ year old) present for the birth was not something I wanted and I knew that I would relax far more knowing she was out the house. “Relaxation” by the way, was a key theme for me for birth, surprising as it may seem. For several hours I soaked up the calm of lying in the quiet of the house, listened to my hypnobirthing tracks and worked at conserving energy, staying comfortable and breathing through those early contractions with an enormous sense of gratitude that so far, all was good.
Jasmine left for nursery at 8 AM and as predicted it was as if my body then got the green light it had been waiting for and “labour” could really now begin. The midwives were called, the birthing pool was set up and filled in the middle of the living room and I bounced away on my yoga ball timing my contractions with the help of my Mum. I felt in control, comfortable and even a little excited, working hard to maintain a positive mental attitude that did not allow for fear or self-doubt.
Another hour later and things had cranked up a notch. It was still just our little birthing team, me, Ben and my Mum, who helped me apply the TENS machine and rubbed my back as the contractions deepened. By now I felt a strong desire to create a safe space for myself, one where I could be comfortable yet comforted, relaxed yet in the zone, protected from external influences yet open to receiving support. I kneeled on all fours and rested my arms and head onto the sofa, closing my eyes, focusing on my breathing and listening to positive affirmations over and over again. I think consciously and sub-consciously I was creating a sacred space, much like mammals do in the wild. I needed to be in the driver’s seat of this birth, not anyone else. This motivation enabled me to build an imaginary “zone of protection” around myself, choosing what I let close and which things I kept at a distance. I was able to confidently advocate for myself and my wishes with the help of my birth partners who knew exactly what experience I wanted to create.
As my contractions were becoming more frequent and took more of my energy to manage a part of my became aware that no midwife had yet arrived and although that didn’t phase me in that moment, I didn’t want them to take much longer either! I managed to urge Ben to call them again, suggesting that I felt the need to push may come soon, and I was right. “They’re 7 minutes away,” Ben relayed to me. 7 minutes. “I can do 7 minutes,” I thought to myself.
In the final stage of my labour, things were significantly more intense, as was to be expected! My contractions were long and painful, with little time to recover in between and I was desperate to get into the birthing pool, particularly having not had this experience at Jasmine’s birth. I was determined not to lose my unwavering focus and keeping my eyes closed helped so much with this. I uttered only the words I needed to in order that Ben and Mum knew what I needed and otherwise it was just a case of breathing, in and out, over and over and over again. My internal dialogue became a repetition of positive mantra. “Every contraction brings me closer to my baby.” “My body knows how to birth my baby.” “I am calm, I am strong, I am in control.” “Relax. Just stay relaxed.”
Finally (half an hour before the actual birth) the midwife arrived and to me she was like an angel with a halo! Saskia, who I’m sure I’ll remember forever, was perfect. She respected every single one of my wishes, carefully and gently guiding me with her soft words, encouraging me but keeping her distance, very much leaving me to it. Of course she did the necessary checks, monitoring baby’s heart beat and looking for signs that I was in fact ready to push. “You know this, Naomi,” she repeated to me. “Your body knows what to do, keep going.” I did know. My body knew. With Saskia’s help, I was able to get into the birthing pool for the birth itself. The deep warm water provided instant and welcome pain relief and that, coupled with my semi-hypnotic state, meant that I even forgot about asking for gas and air!
Saskia coached me gently during the pushing stage and within a few long minutes, Summer’s head had been born! Several more minutes passed before my next contraction came, the room filled with an excited silence and even in that very last moment, even when I knew I’d all but gone and done it, I still couldn’t let myself open my eyes for more than a few seconds, scared to burst the bubble of protection I’d created for myself. But then, as if by actual magic, on the 4th July at 11.10 AM, in a birthing pool in our living room, my baby was born and lifted up onto my chest. Before I even had the chance to look, the words, “Nemz, you were right!” rang in my ears and I knew in that moment, she was a girl!
Baby Summer, all 7 pounds and 2 ounces of tiny new-born perfection, lay on my chest in the birthing pool, covered in a thick layer of white vernix, her face all wrinkled from her journey to the outside world. “I did it, I did it,” I said, elated, bewildered and overjoyed. Even then, in that moment of her birth and the minutes that followed I truly felt enveloped by peace. I felt like superwoman. I felt healed. I felt triumph and I felt utter joy.
I had barely realised that alongside Saskia, there was also another midwife, Lucy and a student too, and I hadn’t even known they’d arrived! I delivered the placenta in the water a few minutes after the birth, Summer having been passed to Ben after some initial skin to skin contact with me in the pool. As I started to climb out the pool, the enormity of everything hit me like a sudden wave and I burst into tears. Tears that wouldn’t stop. Emotion that wouldn’t stop. Happiness, relief, pride, astonishment, healing. I was a blubbering mess in that moment and for several minutes afterwards too.
For means of completeness, I suppose it wouldn’t be the whole story if I didn’t also say that once again, I needed some stitches. This was the part of Jasmine’s birth that left me the most scarred and traumatised and when everything about Summer’s birth had been so totally perfect, I did feel a slight sense of disappointment (as if somehow again, it was my fault) that I would need stitches again. However, this time, it was anything but traumatic. I was in my own home with my Mamma Mia music on and I had a midwife who fully understood my fears and concerns and treated me accordingly, with respect, patience, care and kindness. Once finished, I went back to Summer, every fibre of my body longing to hold her and stare at her and soak her all in. She was placed on my chest to latch for her first feed and there are few moments in my life that will beat that one. Soon enough I was having a cup of tea and a toasted bagel whilst the midwives did their notes, we took photos and told family and friends about our news. The July sun filled the room through the sky lights (of course the curtains were closed) and we all just sat there together, euphoric and blissful, in our home with our new baby, almost as if nothing had even happened in the hours before.
If there’s anything Summer’s birth taught me about myself it’s that I now believe I can achieve anything I put my mind to if I want it badly enough. Anything. Giving birth at home was an idea that I worked hard to manifest into a reality and I believe with my whole heart that it was the right decision for me. I feel a huge sense of privilege that I was able to have this birth experience and I know that birth stories cover the widest spectrum imaginable. So for anyone considering a home birth, I whole-heartedly encourage you! I’ll never forget the experience and I look back at every moment of it with happy memories and feelings of joy.