We had completed Abby’s course in 2015 for the birth of our son Reuben. Although his birth did not go exactly as we had planned, the course gave us the tools and confidence to control the things we were able to and to make informed decisions throughout the labour. My recovery from his birth was tough and I was so upset I didn’t get the water birth I had hoped for. So when we found out I was pregnant again in August 2018 we discussed a homebirth from early on. We are lucky in Leeds to have a dedicated homebirth team and my midwife advised me to go to one of their ‘meet the midwife’ sessions and she would transfer my care over to them if that’s what I decided to do. The session was fab and their whole ethos mirrored Abby’s teachings on her hypnobirthing courses, they even discussed the ‘BRAIN’ technique. I was excited to transfer my ante natal care to the team at 20 weeks and we booked a refresher course with Abby too.
At 30 weeks pregnant whilst I was at work, I became very unwell with sudden onset severe dizziness. I was taken to hospital the following day and was told I had labyrinthitis which was causing vertigo, but I continued to be unwell and was pretty much housebound. I was however determined to go to my refresher with Abby which was a few weeks later and knew that now more than ever I needed it. I will always remember the drive to Abby’s home, it was the first time I had been in the car and it was awful, I just had to look at the floor as the moving cars made me feel so ill. I was worried I wouldn’t be able to enjoy our session, but Abby is so lovely and has the special ability to put you at ease and make you feel calm. We sat in Abby’s living room, with the curtains closed as the bright sunlight was making my vertigo worse and had a positive session where we discussed our hopes for the birth. We both felt even more confident in our decision to have a home birth and Abby answered all our questions around the practicalities.
Unfortunately, I continued to be unwell and was referred to Neurology and for an MRI scan. Despite using all my hypnobirthing tools and techniques I wasn’t able to manage the MRI due to claustrophobia so could only have CT scans instead which I managed with some focussed breathing. It was a really worrying time with lots of scary medical language but surprisingly I stayed fairly calm, I really think this was due to my hypnobirthing practice and of course Alan’s support. My neurologist told me that although it wasn’t fully conclusive due to the lack of MRI, he felt I had suffered a circulatory stroke. Both Alan and I were in shock and were obviously worried about the impact this could have on our baby and the birth. We were reassured that this event would not have hurt our baby and all my scans and measurements were perfect as were his movements. I was referred to the Obstetricians to discuss my birth but unsurprisingly both Neurology and the Obstetrician felt I should have our baby in a hospital environment. The Obstetrician I met with works closely with the homebirth team and was aware that was my wish. He was very clear about the lack of evidence surrounding strokes and labouring women and explained it was more a precautionary measure should I need further medical support during or after labour but he also reassured me that it was my decision and we should take some time to think about our options.
The homebirth midwives were absolutely fantastic, and I had several conversations with them regarding my situation. They were happy to support my homebirth despite my new ‘high risk’ status. I was advised that I would need to transfer into hospital during the second stage if I was ‘pushing’ for more than an hour due to the impact this may have on my body however I had no intention of traditional pushing so this didn’t worry me too much. Alan and I discussed our options but we both felt that a homebirth was still the right choice for us and our baby, in fact it felt more appropriate now after all the medical drama. However, we agreed to not to put any pressure on ourselves or our birth plan and we could change our mind at any point if I wasn’t feeling well. I aimed to stay positive and calm which some days was harder than others especially as constant dizziness was now my new normal. Abby’s affirmation cards were such an important tool at this time, I had them all over the house but my favourite ones were on my dressing table mirror and each day I would tell myself to ‘focus on what I can control and let go of what I cant’ and ‘my body is designed to do this, it knows what to do’. I would imagine my positive birth each day and we listened to Abby’s homebirth relaxation too.
My estimated due date of the 27th April passed, and I was actually quite thankful for a bit more time to prepare, being unwell had prevented me from feeling ready. We had hired a birth pool, a tens machine and packed a box of all the things we would need when labour started so it was all in one place. I also packed a hospital bag in case I needed to be transferred but we kept this bag upstairs out of the way as I didn’t want to see it. We turned Reuben’s playroom into a birthing room with lots of fairy lights, our family photos and birth affirmations. Alan returned to work after the Easter break and I text him at lunchtime to tell him I was having regular surges and that Hugo may be on his way. They continued into the evening and through the night but didn’t get any stronger. The following day, Tuesday 30th April the surges and pressure in my back continued. I spent most of the day on the birth ball feeling calm and relaxed, but I was now sure I was in early labour. I text Alan again in the afternoon to let him know I was having surges every 10 minutes but he still went into a meeting with his phone on silent and then even went shopping after picking our little boy up from nursery! He said he wanted to make sure we were well stocked for the birth and to get some nice biscuits for the midwives. He has always been the laid back one in our relationship…
The evening routine with our little boy definitely slowed things down, its like my body knew that it wasn’t quite the right time. We all ate together and then we bathed Reuben and put him to bed, telling him that his little brother might be here in the morning. I was still feeling mild tightening’s but was able to carry on normally. We watched some tv downstairs but I couldn’t get comfortable and the surges had started again regularly so we went to bed and watched Line of Duty although we had to keep pausing as the surges were increasing in intensity and I couldn’t concentrate on both things. I decided to put the tens machine on as this really helped in my previous labours. By midnight I told Alan I wanted to go back downstairs and was confident that Hugo was on his way. The midwives had left a prescription for codeine for early labour, so I decided to take one at this point and Alan called the homebirth team and spoke to Emily just to let her know that things had started. I asked Alan to start putting the birth pool up as at least then it was ready for when I needed it. I didn’t know at this point that it was going to take him over two hours (and quite a bit of stress on his part) as the tap connector wasn’t staying on. I stayed in the living room with the twinkly lights and relaxing music and just focussed on my breathing each time a surge came. I found a comfy position on the birth ball rocking back and forth with my tens machine and had my phone in front of me where I recorded each surge. I’m not sure why I did this but actually it became a useful distraction and I got into a little routine of boosting the tens machine and starting the timer. In between surges I was pottering around the room taking things out of my birth box and making sure everything was ready.
After some time, I realised that the pool didn’t seem to be filling with water yet Alan had been in the kitchen for what seemed like hours. I kept asking how long it was going to be and he would just reply ‘not long now’. He eventually admitted that although the hose pipe connector fitted the kitchen tap (we had checked this on a practice run) the power of the water running through it (something we hadn’t practiced!) was preventing it from staying on. It took two hours, lots of pans and kettle trips and Alan standing at the sink and holding the hose pipe but the pool was finally filled to a perfect temperature. In between the pool saga my surges had increased in frequency and intensity and I think were around 3 in 10. Alan called Emily again to let her know, she was at another homebirth but explained she would call the labour ward at LGI and ask a midwife to come until she could get to us which she didn’t think would be too long. When Alan told me I was a bit disappointed as I wanted a homebirth midwife as they are so experienced in home births and they were all aware of my circumstances but I quickly moved my focus back to my breathing.
Natalie and a student midwife arrived at 2.15am and I continued to focus on my breathing on my birth ball whilst they got settled. Natalie’s face dropped when she read my medical notes as she hadn’t been briefed before seeing me, but she was very relaxed and reassuring during the labour. Natalie asked if I would like to be examined which I initially declined, she explained that of course that was absolutely my choice, but it may help to know what stage we were at. I wanted to get into the pool so although I didn’t want to be discouraged by a number I was also intrigued. I agreed to the examination but remember asking her to be quick as it was uncomfortable to lay on my back. Natalie explained I wasn’t quite at 4cm and asked if I would like her to perform a stretch and sweep, I agreed but again asked if she could do it quickly. I remember feeling a little disheartened as I was sure that id be further on than that and for a brief moment had a little panic but I was determined this time to not let that number derail my whole labour and positive mindset. Alan was really supportive at this point and told me to walk around for a bit but I just wanted to get into the pool, so he helped me to get in. The relief was amazing, and I felt calm and relaxed again. It was now 3am and the surges were regular and powerful, I felt it was taking all my focus to breathe through them. I remember holding on tight to the handle on the side of the pool each time I had a surge and repeated in my head ‘my surges cant be stronger than me because they are me’, I used this with Reuben’s birth too. After around ten minutes in the pool my waters went and this eased some of the pressure.
I asked for the gas and air at this point which was a huge help. I felt like the labour was progressing, my body was bearing down and I was making deep low noises. I remember being concerned I’d wake Reuben who was sleeping upstairs but amazingly he didn’t wake up until the morning. A short time later I felt overwhelmed by the surges, I started worrying maybe I’d made a mistake having a homebirth and remember looking at Alan and shaking my head whilst breathing on the gas and air. On reflection I know this was transition and it did pass very quickly. At 3.27am Natalie sent a text to Alans phone by mistake (meaning to text Emily) and said that I was ‘cracking on’ and she needed to get there soon.
The feeling of my body pushing down was so strong and I just knew the baby was moving down but I also felt a bit confused as it was all happening quite quickly. My body knew what it was doing though, and it started to push downwards. After several intense and powerful surges Hugo’s head was born and the rest of his body with the next surge. Natalie told me to reach down and catch him and she supported me to lift him up onto my chest. ‘I did it!’
Hugo was born at 4am. At around 4.05am Emily arrived. We stayed in the pool for around twenty minutes having skin to skin and Hugo had his first feed. However, he became a bit unhappy, we think he was cold so Alan took him to warm him up and to have some skin to skin. I was a bit apprehensive about delivering the placenta as I have never done this myself in my previous labours, so I wasn’t really sure what to do but Natalie and Emily supported me to deliver the placenta in the pool. I was then supported to get out and could get warm and rest on the sofa with Hugo whilst Alan made me the best cup of tea and some toast. Hugo was weighed, 9 pounds exactly which is the same as his brother.
The midwifes left around 6am and none of us could believe that Reuben was still asleep. At 7am he woke up and was so excited to come downstairs and find his baby brother. Once he’d had his cuddles, he lifted my top up to look at my belly and asked where the crack was, he thought my belly was like a dinosaur egg that cracked, and the baby came out. We enjoyed a few hours having cuddles before Reuben went out with his Grandad for the day. Climbing into my bed felt amazing and I stayed there cuddled up with Hugo for the rest of the day feeling extremely content.
Michelle and Alan, Leeds
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