When my wife was pregnant with our second child she began to talk about having a home birth. I somehow thought this would involve giving birth at home without medical supervision. I had visions of my hopelessly impractical self attempting to deliver our baby on my own.
To humour my wife we went to talk to our local midwife. She was a no nonsense, deeply practical, Scottish woman. To my surprise when we mentioned the idea of home birth her face lit up and she said that she was very much in favour of homebirths, if that was what the expectant mother wanted. She calmed my fears with descriptions of how a team of two experienced midwives would come to your house and stay there for the birth. She described how the local maternity ward would have a space prepared in the event of complications necessitating a trip to the hospital.
Encouraged by this we joined a local home birth support group. The group was held in a local Steiner Nursery and was run by a student midwife and a Doula. At the group we met a wide variety of like-minded people who were planning a home birth. Through the group I got the chance to speak to a variety of women who had chosen to have a home birth. One common theme to all the births was the feeling of calm, in contrast to the drama and haste of a hospital birth.
Mo Black, a West Yorkshire midwife I spoke to about home birth said, ‘I have been a midwife for 25 years and have delivered a great many babies. The experience of homebirth is one of my particular favourites and it constantly amazes me what women can achieve. In my experience, I find that women who labour in familiar surroundings appear to be more relaxed and require less intervention or pain relief.’ She went on to explain how partners and other family members get to be more involved with a homebirth.
Jodie Jones, 21 year old mother to Eartha, had a home birth in a water pool. She describes it as, ‘an amazing experience. Being in hospital would have been like being in an alien environment, with harsh, artificial light. This was dark, cosy, snug. When the midwives arrived they said that I couldn’t be far along because I was too relaxed.’
Her experience of a home birth echoes the majority of women who I spoke to about their labours. They almost always said that the atmosphere and sense of being in their own realm let them draw on their own inner resources and focus on their own instincts and rely on their own inner strength.
‘It was the most empowering experience of my life,’ Jodie says. ‘I felt like I owned my birth. The birth felt like a way of connecting to my own personal power. The whole experience was silent, serene, it felt like my body knew what it was meant to do.’
Sian Grayson, another mother I spoke to from our homebirth group described how she felt safe in her own space. ‘Because I was in a comfortable environment I was calm and relaxed about waiting for contractions,’ she says. ‘Because there was no one else rushing in and out, I could do my own thing. It was my own space and my family space.’
The lack of people involved in the process means that many couples find it a very bonding experience that lets the man take an active role in the birth. Sian explains: ‘My husband was able to take a very active role in my birth. He was the best birthing partner I could have hoped for. We were side by side for the whole experience, it felt like it was just the two of us.’
Jodie describes a sense of timelessness and introspection. ‘I went into myself, it was silent, calm, peaceful, people spoke in whispers. The baby got stuck behind my pubic bone but I wasn’t worried, I was following my instincts. One midwife said to the other, “I don’t know if she’s actually pushing - she’s too calm”. It didn’t feel like day time, I went inside myself, it felt like having a day time nap, where you’re not awake, but not asleep long enough to dream and you can hear the noises of the house around you.’
Angela Georgeson, another mother from the group describes her birth in similar terms, ‘It was the most amazing, transformative four hours of my life. I felt like I had gone within myself. My husband could be there with me in strength and in tenderness for every contraction. Being at home meant I could switch off, and move from my mind to my instincts and stop thinking about it. I could focus on the idea that we are mammals and we need to let the body do what it needs to do.’
Crucial for my own conversion to the idea was meeting a group of like-minded people I felt I could relate to who had decided to the same thing as us. Before I began going to the home birth support group I felt like home birth was something that no one else ever did. I was frightened by the idea of us being on our own facing an event we had no experience of. Meeting a whole host of other couples who had had home births made me realise that this was something that lots of other people did and that they had all found it a positive experience.
Speaking to several women from the group gave the impression that this was important for them as well. Sian describes the support she had from her local home birth support group, ‘We went to an NCT ante-natal group for home birth. After my waters broke, I didn’t have contractions for two days and my local heath authority was pressuring me to go to hospital. Because I had been to an NCT group on home birth I knew about the time scales for when I had to go in and was aware of my options and knew when it would be dangerous for me stay at home. As a result I could stay at home until my contractions began and I could give birth at home.’
Monica Duke, a second-time mum spoke about the importance of the support she received from the group, ‘With my first birth, I had a long early first stage and went to hospital although I had planned for a home birth. From then on it felt like a cascade of interventions. It is very hard to resist when you feel you are alone against a system that wants to medicalise everything. But having joined the group I felt I had support from a network of local people who were also in favour of the idea of homebirth. It meant that I didn’t feel that it was me against the system because before and during the birth I knew that there were people around who had had similar experiences and values.’
As Angela Georgeson described, ‘I felt like I only progressed when I was able to switch off and not think about it. I feel that, like making love, you can’t enjoy giving birth if you think too much.’
PREPARING IN LOVE
With all this in mind I waited with excitement for the arrival of our second child as summer drew on and my wife and I prepared the house for its newest arrival. Having met other couples who had home births meant my sense of fear at the unknown was replaced by a sense of anticipation and joy.
We were lent a water pool by a support group and practised inflating it and filling it with water. We went on walks in the countryside around our cottage with our three year old daughter, Ruby, and wondered what our new baby would look like. And then, our son, Owen, was born on a warm summer night in a water pool in the middle of our sitting room while our daughter slept soundly upstairs.
During the birth of our first child in hospital I felt like a helpless observer, the second time I felt I was an active participant. The midwife who came for the early stages was quiet, capable and discrete and it felt as though the birth was about the two of us as a couple having a baby together that we had conceived in love.
After the birth of our daughter the hospital gave my wife toasted white bread and a cup of tea. To recreate this we had decided that I would bake bread during the early part of labour so she could have freshly baked bread after our son was born.
Our son was born at three o’clock in the morning of June the 18th 2013 and for me the strongest memories of the labour are the smell of freshly baking bread and a sense of calm, peace, unison as a couple, and love.
DISCOVER Read articles, find support groups and more at homebirth.org.uk/homebirth1.htm.
READ Any books by Ina May Gaskin, Shelia Kitzinger or Janet Balaskas.
LEARN Birth stories telling of many different experiences can be found at homebirthersandhopefuls.com to help inspire and prepare you.