Birth Stories, GentleBirth workshop, Home birth, Labour toolkit, Pregnancy after miscarriage, Pregnancy Diary, Siblings, Third baby, Third stage of labour
This story is going to be disproportionately long but it will be my last time to write a birth story and I feel the context is necessary! I am so grateful to be able to say that all of my births have been peak life experiences.
I had a lovely planned hospital birth with my first child, a birth that was empowering and wonderful in a way I could never have imagined before becoming a mother. It wasn’t perfect, but it was a genuinely incredible experience. We had thought about a home birth after attending the GentleBirth workshop at around 26 weeks and realising that home was probably more suited to the sort of birth we wanted. But I didn’t really know how to go about arranging one and we were happy enough to stick to the original plan, and so we did. My first birth was the perfect birth until the third stage, which was far from the perfect ending – but it faded into insignificance after the magnificence of the main event! (Read the full story).
So second time around, we knew it would be a home birth from the beginning. The hardest part of the first one was probably the transfer to hospital, and then the various negotiations that went on when we got there. Home birth removed all of that and was the logical choice. Why choose to have a physiological birth somewhere that was not best set up to support it? But it wasn’t to be – I was booked with a self-employed midwife under the HSE scheme and the clock ran out at 42 weeks. Other women have had HSE home births beyond this gestation – the consultants I saw would not sign off on me having extra days. My son was born after a hospital induction at 42 + 3. It was a good birth, but shocking in its speed. I’d expected some build up, a prelabour, time to spend with my husband and make beautiful birthing memories. My son was out before we knew it and it took me a while to process the loss of the labour experience, which I’m sure sounds slightly crazy to some, but I loved my first labour! I was lucky to have incredible postnatal care from my home birth midwife, starting from 8 hours after the birth of my son. She righted it all for me over the two weeks that followed, helped me make sense of the birth and how it had happened in the end. (You can read that birth story here).
When my son was a year old, I trained as a GentleBirth Instructor and doula and was very much immersed in the world of birth a year later when we began trying to conceive our third child. Some of the changes around the HSE home birth scheme had homebirthers very nervous at this time – the introduction of a mandatory second midwife being one of them. A second midwife not being available could now mean being transferred in labour. There was lots of uncertainty and some midwives packed up in the midst of it. This made securing a midwife in Dublin even trickier and so I was keeping in touch with my midwife from my son’s birth as to her availability. I became pregnant very quickly but lost the pregnancy so early on that I hadn’t even rung my midwife to book in yet. Two months later I was pregnant again and I was delighted when she was available to take me on. At this stage, UK Birth Centres (UKBC) (now Private Midwives Ireland) had gotten the insurance to do home births in Ireland, and I happened to be doula to the first home birth client they had. It was an amazing experience, a home birth after Caesarean, on 11th October 2014. That afternoon, as I left my client’s house, I felt ‘different’. Not as tired as before. I bought a digital pregnancy test on the way home, to see if the indicator was at the right number of weeks. It wasn’t. I tested again the next morning and no. I knew, I just knew, that this pregnancy was not going to work either. I started to bleed a couple of days later.
There were some dark days and I wondered if I should just give up altogether. I was 39 and everything I read said your fertility falls off a cliff at 39. So no more Google. What if though, what if I’d used up my last good egg? This fear made me feel like I couldn’t wait around but at the same time, putting off babymaking for a few months was a good idea. I could get health insurance in place, meaning I could go with UKBC on my next pregnancy if something came up that meant my former midwife couldn’t take me on. I decided I couldn’t wait and I’d leave it up to fate – the last good egg could be ready to go!
Some fertility reflexology and nutritional therapy later and I was pregnant again. I rang my midwife. She wasn’t available due to an unexpected family commitment. I was disappointed, but after two pregnancy losses I realised if my baby came safely at all, it didn’t matter too much who was in attendance. I rang two more self-employed midwives. They would both be away for part of the on-call period. Tried a couple more – one wasn’t taking any clients and the other said it was too far for her to come and wouldn’t be safe.
So now. Options were to move to somewhere for the last few weeks of my pregnancy where a midwife would come. Not appealing. My husband would be in the final year of college and my oldest starting school. Or to fork out for a UKBC home birth. I mulled it over for a day. We could find the money, it wouldn’t be easy and we’d be paying it back for a long while, but ultimately was there anything more important? My husband was happy to go with whatever I wanted. This was my last baby. I booked in with UKBC and requested Gail as my midwife. Once I’d made the decision to spend the money, that was it. I was at peace with it.
There were more than a few positives about going with UKBC. I didn’t need sign off for being over 40, for starters. Once they assessed me as being suitable for homebirth, I didn’t need hospital approval. This lent a very different complexion to the couple of antenatal appointments I had in hospital before care began with UKBC at 20 weeks. All the power was mine and it felt good!
It was a tough first trimester emotionally. My first pregnancy ended in loss so every pregnancy since then has always been fraught until I could feel signs of life inside. I now had three losses behind me but funnily enough, felt stronger on this pregnancy than on that of my son. I took the fact that it was costing us an arm and a leg to mean that this was the one that would work out – by not getting the insurance, it was as though I’d made a bargain with the universe and it was one I was happy with, if I got a baby at the end of it. The EDD of the baby was 11th October, which was the date of the UKBC homebirth I had been at. The omens were good! With mindfulness and some superstition, I got through until I could feel flutters and then good strong kicks around the 18 week mark. I could relax and start to believe we would have our very special rainbow baby.
This being my last pregnancy, I really appreciated the antenatal care and how amazing one-to-one midwifery care in your home is. My children at 5 and 3 were old enough to be a huge part of it, finding the heartbeat with the Doppler and measuring my belly. After the first couple of appointments, I began to feel a bond with my midwife and looked forward immensely to seeing her each time. My son fell madly in love with her which was highly unusual as he takes ages to warm up to people.
In preparation for the birth this time, I did of course listen to my GentleBirth tracks, but I found mindfulness and acceptance a really helpful tool for this pregnancy, moreso than any other. Because it was a UKBC rather than a HSE home birth, I knew that I would not be transferred unless there was a genuine medical reason and I felt very at peace with the thought that ultimately it was my baby who would decide where he or she was born. As term approached, my doula organised a Mother Rising for me, which was an incredibly soul-nourishing experience. She decorated my living room with images and words for a positive birth and I decided to leave those up until and for the birth itself. I commissioned a painting of my family at our water birth. My living room was like a giant birth vision board. We got the pool, had a fabulous trial run in it and were all set up for the perfect birth. And yet…there was a little part of me that didn’t believe it was going to happen.
So EDD day came and went, as it had on all of my term pregnancies. I had decided I wouldn’t do any of the so-called natural induction methods this time, and would trust in my baby to choose the right day to be born. 15th October came. For some reason, I had a thing about this date and thought my baby might arrive then, but no. I began to get slightly stressed and had a bad day where I felt like what happened last time was on the cards again…but then went for reflexology and a blissed out, chilled out hour took me back to a good place. An eyebrow threading later and I was all ready for my close up!
On the afternoon of 41 + 1, I started to get tightenings. I tried not to get too excited and just worked away at my computer. The kids went a bit crazy and I lost the head at them and everything stopped…not good for my oxytocin! Next afternoon, I was in the Botanic Gardens and again felt the tightenings and had a beautiful moment where I felt at one with the universe. But they tapered off and didn’t go anywhere. I had had a meltdown on the way to school that morning and cried in front of the lollipop woman (and all the way home) because I couldn’t manage my 3 year old. So I was hoping the tightenings and emotional crash meant it wouldn’t be long! I was also slowly losing lumps of the plug from the cervix so I knew we were getting somewhere.
Next evening, I had a Cuidiu meeting. Again, I had tightenings the whole way through. My doula was with me and I told her I might be calling her in the night. But no.
So it was now Thursday and I was 41 plus 4. This was the anniversary of the due date of my first baby and I thought it would be fitting if my baby came that day. I had to bus it up the road to school with the kids and felt thankful it would be the last morning as my husband was going to bring my daughter up on Friday and then it would be midterm. My 5 year old daughter had a party in school on Friday and really didn’t want to miss it – although she wanted to be there when I laboured, we’d decided this was more important so she said if it happened that night not to wake her up. My mum came in the afternoon and myself and my daughter went for a hot chocolate and she had her fringe cut. We were all ready for the birth photos!
I’d decided to have reflexology that night and Jessie Walshe came to my house. She worked on my induction points, but barely, as she said I was completely ready to go. She left at 9.45 and we took some bump pictures. Then my husband went to bed. I started to watch the Fargo series, realised it was not the right mood and put on Babette’s Feast which is an all-time favourite. I must have been in another world because it took me a full 8 minutes to realise I had the wrong soundtrack on and was listening to it in dubbed English.
At 11.50, I changed position on the couch to cross legged and felt wet. I went to the toilet and did the sniff test – it did indeed smell a little like semen as some say amniotic fluid does! I put a pad on and went back to the couch. More…I went back in and saw some pink on the pad and was now sure it was waters and a little show from the cervix. Pink was good! I texted both my midwife and my doula to give them a heads up, then went up to my husband and told him the waters had gone. As this had happened on the previous birth and labour hadn’t followed, we weren’t sure what to do. But I was pretty sure that things would kick off with all the signs. He decided to get up and inflate the pool and stick on the burco anyway, and if nothing happened in the next hour,we could go back to bed.
I had some mild enough surges going on so figured it was probably going to kick off fairly swiftly, as it often does when the waters have gone. I tried to chill out but I was a bit like a headless chicken – couldn’t decide what to do! Surges started to come regularly but very manageable, although I found myself starting to vocalise. I had the voice of my previous midwife ringing in my ears:if the waters have gone and there are surges at all – RING ME! So I rang my midwife and told her I wanted her to come, even if it was too early. Once I knew she was on the way, I felt a lot more relaxed. It was 12.55.
My husband was flying around getting bits and pieces together and sorting the pool and I felt the need for support so I called my doula. By the time she got there at 1.20am, I was retching and realised that I was fairly far on and that the baby would probably be here by 3am. The surges were getting longer and stronger and so were my moans, but I was managing fine and was still mobile between them. I had the GentleBirth birth rehearsal track on and was trying to zone into it but I just couldn’t get comfortable and I wanted the damn pool to be filled! I laboured on a yoga mat on the floor, with one arm leaning on the ball. I happened to be right beside my vision board and I focused on the photos of me holding my other babies at birth during some of the surges.
I then heard my son waking up upstairs and I headed up to comfort him. I made it as far as the landing before realising it was insane, as how the hell would I lie down beside him in bed? I did one surge on the landing, then lay down beside him to give him a cuddle. But another surge came and I ended up on my hands and knees in the bed. Thinking he might have gone asleep, I crept away, did another fairly intense surge on the stairs and managed to get back to the living room and back to my spot kneeling in front of the fireplace.
Surges were very long and strong at this stage and similar to my second labour, but with more recovery time. My son started to cry and was brought downstairs and sat on the sofa. I did another surge, then got up and went over to him and reminded him about the bit in the Hello Baby! book where the mother is birthing at home and the little boy narrating the story says she yells loud enough to let the whole town know she’s having a baby. My gorgeous 3.5 year old boy said, ‘But you’re very quiet’. He seemed completely unperturbed by events so I went back to my spot and forgot about him. It was about 1.30am at this stage and I needed help during the surges. My doula was using counterpressure on my back and it was good although sometimes I wondered if it was making things more intense!
My midwife, Gail, arrived at 1.40am and started to unpack. She came over and put a hand on my back with such a sure touch that I instantly felt better for her presence. They were still trying to get the pool filled, and all the activity was completely doing my head in and stopping me from getting into my zone. I told them to turn off the GentleBirth and put on my pool playlist and I remember singing along to Paolo Nutini. I started to feel the need for something to help me through the surges so I asked for the gas and air. I got one good hit off it but it wasn’t doing anything for the next surges and Gail realised it was gone. So she tried to change the canister as fast as she could, with me glaring at her! At this point, I could feel the surges had gotten pushy, and everyone could hear by my sounds that they had. I was trying to explain to people that the baby wasn’t coming down the birth canal yet. The surges were different to anything I’d experienced previously. They were long and strong but after the abdominal tightening went away, there was a long pushy bit. I could feel it pushing against cervix and I knew that the second stage hadn’t begun yet. I was waiting for the relief of feeling the head starting to come down the birth canal but suddenly on the next surge, I didn’t know what I was feeling and I remember shouting out, ‘I don’t know what’s going on!’. I think my baby had decided to fly down the birth canal as on the next surge I could feel pressure low down in my vagina and knew she was nearly there.
At this stage, the midwife could see the head so she asked me did I want my daughter down when it was time and I said yes. When I heard her shouting for my husband on the next surge, I knew the baby was very close. Crowning was the most intense of all of my three births and holy moly – Gail was telling me to do what I had to do but I wanted to tell her to feck off and just instruct me. The sensation was so intense I wondered what the hell size of thing was coming out of me! But I told myself aloud to relax my jaw and blew through it. Then I felt the relief of the head come out and I put my hand back and felt this gorgeous head of soft hair. My doula had asked me did I want to turn around as I had said I wanted to catch my own baby but I just wasn’t able so this was the closest I could come to it! On the next surge, I felt the baby slide out and Gail unwrapped the cord from around the body and passed it under me. I didn’t even look to see the gender – I was so happy to have my baby out safe and sound at home! A gorgeous baby and very like my first born. Born at 2.15 am.
I looked up and my daughter was sitting on the couch facing me and my husband asked her what it was and she said a boy. But I lifted up the cord – and it was a girl! A lovely surprise as I’d really wanted a sister for my daughter. This was my first gender ‘surprise’ and it was interesting how once the baby was out, I really didn’t care what it was – didn’t even occur to me to look until my husband said it! What shocked me was how small she was! My son had been 8lb 14oz so I was expecting a 9lber and after what she felt like coming out, it was hard to believe the size of her. When we weighed her a couple of hours later, she was only 7lb 6oz, my smallest baba by 1oz! Our little Lois.
It’s all a bit of a haze of wonderfulness from this point on. The kids came over to examine their new sister and my son’s amazed little voice piped up: ‘I didn’t know it was going to be a real baby, I thought it would be a pretend baby!’. We rang the photographer to come and the second midwife arrived. I was put onto the couch and fed tea and toast and Lois went to the boob like a pro and did what came naturally! The placenta came after about 45 minutes, with very minimal blood loss. I’d had difficulty in hospital with my placentas and lost 600ml of blood at both of the other births, so thought it might get a bit messy, but it was all very easy in the end. I had thought about doing a cord burning ceremony and left the placenta and baby attached until after the placenta was out but then got fed up with the awkwardness of managing the bowl of placenta and nursing baby and just decided to cut the cord. There was a hilarious moment when the midwives were checking me for tears with a torch directed up my nether regions and Liz, the lovely second, was telling me I looked good. One of the major differences between my home and hospital births was how knowing everyone meant there was so much more fun in it! This was, incidentally, the first time during the pregnancy, labour or birth when I’d been examined by anyone. Because it was the first time it was necessary.
There was a fabulous ‘after party’ type atmosphere in the room. It was such a lovely, family experience. I felt incredible. I didn’t care that I hadn’t had my water birth. I knew all along through my pregnancy that I could have a very intense labour after my second experience so to avoid thinking about it, any time I felt fear or apprehension I told myself that I was having a pain free, orgasmic birth this time. This always made me smile and completely dissipated any negative feelings. And yes, this labour was very intense and the birth not at all like my mind movie. But it was perfect in its imperfection!
We stuck on my ‘after’ playlist, and I got into the pool with all three of my babies before bed. As I was in the pool, a song that had been my theme tune for the previous year came on. At the time when I was struggling with the consecutive miscarriages, two women I knew had babies after long, arduous journeys. I heard the song ‘I Knew You Were Waiting for Me’ on the radio one day and thought how appropriate it was and whenever I felt myself getting low and wanting to give up, I’d play the song or sing it in my head and it brought me strength. And now, here I was surrounded by my family, singing it to my double rainbow baby at my breast. My last baby, born safely, born at home. Finally.
‘The river was deep, I didn’t falter
The mountain was high, I still believed,
The valley was low, it didn’t stop me,
I knew you were waiting for me.’
Read more fantastic GentleBirth stories here.