‘You’re brave’ muttered a friend’s mother when I mentioned one afternoon, in my late pregnancy, that I’d be birthing at home. ‘Hmm’ I replied, uninspired yet unsurprised by her response. This wasn’t an isolated incident, many eyebrows had been raised when I had spoken about my forthcoming birthing plans. Was it really that controversial? I hadn’t thought so, even before considering that it might be something for me and my family. Yet only just over 2% of the British population are choosing this option. I was always aware that home birth was a ‘thing’ but historically had never considered it for myself. This was not because I imagined home birthing to be a dangerous or particularly risky undertaking, these concerns were the imposition of others, but rather it was the life choice of another woman, a more serene mum, with higher eco credentials and if I’m going to be honest a nicer house, someone in a farmhouse somewhere, not me.
It was meeting the midwives that changed my mind. I’m very lucky to live in a region where there is a dedicated home birth team. My local home birth midwives are, in my opinion, a bunch of magical creatures; the perfect combination of Mr Miyagi and fairy godmother, infectious positivity grounded by a wealth of midwifery experience. I knew that with these women around me I’d be absolutely fine. And so I decided were we to have another baby, we’d jolly well have it at home. I’d read around the subject and felt confident in my conviction; there was research to show that for a low risk pregnancy, certainly with a second child, birthing at home was a very safe and in many cases, the most appropriate option. My first birth had been straightforward, I was lucky enough to have no complications and an eight hour labour brought our son into the world, via a birthing pool, inside a lovely community midwife unit. Don’t get me wrong, it was bloody hard work, but I was able to walk away (literally - always a plus) from the experience with a positive feeling, and a positive birth story. In discovering I was pregnant for a second time, I knew what I wanted, a repeat of birth number one, but in my own home, my nest, my safe place, where nature intended me to be. We all carry hopes and aspirations for giving birth, and as many mothers know, it rarely unfolds as you might expect.
The preparations began; we bought a birthing pool, we filled it and emptied it on repeat to get the drill just right. Candles were assembled, hypnobirthing CDs were played on loop. A week in advance my mother was summoned to stay with us for a fortnight in order to look after our toddler during the crucial hours of our new baby’s birth.
On the night of the birth I could feel some tweaks and tightenings during the late afternoon so I telephoned my husband to say ‘tonight might be the night, make sure you leave work sharpish!’ On his arrival the feelings had increased but not to any eventful level. As usual, I had made my son’s dinner and assembled his clothes for the next morning. Daddy then took over bath time while I bounced on my birthing ball a bit, while chatting to my mum. At 7pm I went upstairs to say goodnight to my little boy while my mum went to watch TV. After leaving my son’s room something strange happened, a sudden intensity occurred and everything multiplied. I decided to take a shower to relieve the increasing intensity of the surges. ‘Start filling the birthing pool!’ I called downstairs to my husband. ‘And call the midwife to say we’re definitely in labour and we’ll phone again when things really ramp up’. At 7.15pm I came downstairs having had my shower. I could really feel my contractions now but I was breathing through them and I felt relaxed. As I reached the settee my waters broke. The rest of this part of the story I can’t really remember, not because I keeled over and was rushed to hospital in an unconscious state and not because I was high on some kind of drug. Elevated by the natural anaesthesia of oxytocin, in my safe family space, I quietly and quickly gave birth.
I can tell you the story through my husband’s experience. He wandered into the room and began to take the cushions off the settee. On turning back he then, much to his surprise, looked straight into the face of his partly emerged son. With one more push he caught him and as I turned around he proudly handed him to me. At 7:25pm all three of us sat gazing at each other, on a rather soggy settee, on an otherwise distinctly average Monday evening. ‘We’d better tell mum’ I exclaimed. My husband swaggered out through the door into the TV room, understandably he was feeling rather chuffed with himself, and nonchalantly noted ‘It’s a boy then’. ‘What?!’ Mum asked, genuinely stunned. ‘Your grandson…’
Half an hour later the midwives arrived. Even by that point the birthing pool was only about 3 inches deep and not a single candle had been lit. Also because this is real life the dog had definitely consumed at least two pieces of my expelled innards while we were admiring our new baby, and we had one unsalvageable settee. My home birthing dream had not unfolded as I had planned. But it had exceeded all expectations. As it turned out I hadn’t needed any accessories. All I’d needed was the self confidence to do what my body was designed to do. And I did it.
We experienced immediate skin to skin, which led to a breastfeeding newborn in less than an hour. As the umbilical cord remained attached until the midwives arrived our new baby received all of his blood and nutrients through the unclamped cord. All of these things didn’t happen because I’m the ultimate earth mother (l’m not), they happened because there wasn’t really anything else to do. No distractions or procedures. There had been no wires or uniforms, only dappled sunlight in the trees outside our patio window.
My first child had given me a positive birth story, but my home birth gave me a deeply profound and empowering experience. Yet it felt like the most natural and uncomplicated thing I’ve ever done. Having experienced this I strongly believe that, should you be fortunate enough to have no medical complications, the best environment that you can give birth is in your own home. Our species has evolved to do this over millions of years. If we just had a little more faith in our own physical capabilities perhaps giving birth would be viewed differently. My body only progressed labour when my husband was home from work and when my older son had gone to sleep. Yes it was very intense but the pain was totally manageable and I had no pain relief whatsoever. In my drug free state I could hold my baby, feeling exhilarated and thoroughly in the moment. This is real life. You don’t often hear stories like mine. They’re not widely published or broadcast. But they are happening.
Helen lives in Scotland and is mum to two boys. With a background in the Arts and an interest in feminist politics, Helen balances her time between working freelance and parenting (with an emphasis on the latter). She regularly frequents her local forest playgroup and is a Breastfeeding Peer Supporter.